On the Merits of Diverse Stupid

People overestimate the desirability of stupid people being uniformly stupid in the same way about the same things. Like in all ecosystems, the diversity of stupidity in most countries, and in this one in particular, is a source of perverse resilience. 

The Drowned Giant

Feels appropriately surreal today:

On the morning after the storm the body of a drowned giant was washed ashore on the beach five miles to the northwest of the city.
– J.G. Ballard, The Drowned Giant (1964)

Fun with Classifying Things

I’m doing some work classifying proper names, and I had cause today to see if the algorithm I was using knew whether “Jonas Brothers” and “One Direction” were bands. It handled the former fine, but not so much the latter. This seems important.

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Relatedly, and perhaps more importantly, it thinks Kanye West is an airport, which is … interesting!

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More on this project later, obv. 

Software Engineering and its Discontents

This actively made me feel a kind of despair for all of modern capitalism: The Horrifically Dystopian World of Software Engineering Interviews. While the piece is about, as its lays out fairly clearly right there in the title, software engineering, it is actually about the awfulness of a Straight Outta Matrix Pods economy where we use algorithms to force people to generate algorithms that don’t matter about the wonders of algorithms that are better than the last algorithms that are now gamed and didn’t matter anyway. 

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This is what happens when people worship at the altar of Cool Googley Interview Questions, and then people game those. It becomes an arms race of stupid and dystopic.

Basketball, Bored of the Rings, and Greil Marcus

I like finding people who care intensely about (fairly) non-trivial things I care zero about. It is pleasing in a cultural fire break sort of way to have these people out there, keeping the flaming front from advancing by their presence.

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I’ll give you two examples.

First, there is basketball, and, more specifically, Bill Simmons’ podcast fixation with basketball. To be completely clear here, I think Bill Simmons is unfairly great podcast hosts: charming, discursive, direct, intelligent, etc. He has his flaws, but he makes me listen to things I care zero about, which brings me to basketball.

Dribble. Dribble. Dribble. Fake. Dribble. Shoot.
…and on its chest were the dreaded runes, Villanova.
“Aieee! A Ballhog!”
– Bored of the Rings (1969)

I care zero about basketball. It’s the 28.8 baud modem of sports: a click whhhh rrrr bzzzz of sports-related noise that, I’ve always felt, can be fairly safely ignored. Its practitioners are incredible athletes, but the sports itself is weirdly hermetic and repetitive. Like the Ballhog in Bored of the Rings, kind of an anticlimax when you were expecting, I dunno, giants. But the people who love it, love it, and that keeps me feeling safe, so I listen: Tell me more about the Celtics, whoever they are.

My other example is Greil Marcus, the longtime music critic who now writes for the Los Angeles Review of Books. I love his columns So Much. They are listy things, with ten-is  books ’n’ songs ’n’ cultural bits that caught his eye, sometimes for obvious reasons, but mostly for Greil-ish reasons of his own. Check the excerpt below and you’ll get a sense of His Things, with ruminations on Amazon Prime series that no-one but Marcus knew existed, books that I won’t ever add to my wish list to ignoramus’s but like that someone else will. I love every dot-numbered paragraph of it, and love that he is out there keeping me safe. 2020 02 21 15 22 44