Friday digest (2.19.21)

Has anyone else tried the chili spiced dried pineapple from Trader Joe's? All I can say is wow

I don’t know what stars are out of alignment or who I’ve karmically pissed off this week, but technology has had it out for me: 1) My laptop got frozen during a new software install and had to be wiped, which means I lost a lot of my writing. Most of it is still in my brain somewhere so I’m not too worried, and I think rewriting it from brain-stores alone will help me break it down into only its most important components, but still. This is your reminder to check your backups! 2) While trying to file my taxes, I found out that my identity was stolen and used for unemployment benefits in California. 3) My GPU keeps making weird noises every time I try to train a neural net and I’m mildly suspicious that I’ve fried it somehow.

Ok, complaining time over, here’s what you really came here for:


1. Good tweet

2. Been listening to 90s Russian pop rock

Морская by Мумий тролль (1997)
(Morskaya by Mumiy Troll)

Presented without comment because this album is full of hits and you don’t need me to tell you that. Did you know Lagutenko was one of the vampires in the Nochnoy Dosor movie?

3. Karpathy and Johnson’s RNNs hallucinating LaTeX

This is old news in AI development (c. 2015), but Andrej Karpathy and Justin Johnson, building on their work in using RNNs to spit out Shakespearean grammar, trained an LSTM net on LaTeX formatting to generate fake math. “Proof. Omitted.” gave me a hearty chuckle. A full-page example output is here.

I’ve spent a lot of time wrangling LaTeX formatting to get it to play nice, and now here’s a recurrent net trying to take my job away from me.

4. Moor Mother and Rasheedah Phillips are awarded residency at CERN

Black Quantum Futurism, artists Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) and Rasheedah Phillips, will be doing a research-led residency at CERN (particle physics collider lab in Geneva). The residency award is called Collide (nice), with the aim to inspire artwork driven by the most pressing challenges of fundamental physics research.

The project seeks to understand the ways in which quantum physics can influence how people think about, experience and measure time in everyday reality, exploring the possibilities that quantum physics offers beyond the limitations of traditional, linear notions of time.

I wish I could find the painting that briefly was on rotation in the Victrola Coffee on 15th Ave with a title that had something to do with physics, time, and Boltzmann brains. I remember really loving it but google yields nothing.

Moor Mother’s latest collaboration with billy woods was really excellent:

5. Finished reading/listening to Antifragile

Let’s say this is the month I’m finishing all my neglected and out-of-date reads. But my reading stack is Hydra so I’m not confident. This one was long-forgotten on an Audible account — I don’t love audiobooks (no tactile experience, can’t bookmark), and you know how I feel about Amazon, but I’ve been taking extra-long snowy walks lately and an audiobook suits the frostbite.

Taleb is a cranky and abrasive writer, which was funny at first but got old about halfway through. He gets away with his targeted harassment of the academics and economists he finds unsavory because he lives by his principle that being publicly dragged (my words) is “convex optionality” and will make you “antifragile” (his words). I.e., will give you huge benefits at the extremes and make you the opposite of brittle: will make you get stronger as a result of stressors.

I’ve been familiar enough with Antifragility as a concept, because it’s reached a critical saturation point on VC-adjacent Twitter1 and I absorbed the definition by osmosis. But it was nice to feel it out in context. Another thing I am thinking of that gets stronger due to stress (up to a certain point), and weakens with no stress, is your cartilage (so get your exercise in). Generally, this was a fine audiobook and I like the central principles, but can’t shake the squeamish feeling of how it’s been subsumed into self-help mantras.

6. Started watching the new Adam Curtis

At the time of writing, I have watched Hypernormalisation Guy’s first two episodes in his new six-part BBC documentary series. And though I would like to tell you how I feel about it, because it looks like everyone I know who has read more than 50 pages of Capital claims it’s life-changing, I am scheduled to discuss my thoughts later with my dear friend Emily who claims she reads my newsletter, so I don’t want to preemptively disclose2 my hot takes here just yet!

Some facts, devoid of opinion, are that: Curtis uses a lot of Helvetica font, there is an excellent soundtrack3, and it profiles, among others, Jiang Qing (Mao Zedong’s wife) and Afeni Shakur (Black Panther, Tupac’s mother). Here is some other material that is also devoid of opinion:

7. Find of the week

One sad rose. I hope your Valentine’s Day did not look like this!

Thanks for reading, friends and loved ones.

Yours haunted by the poltergeist in my devices,

N

1

I don’t know who it is that I follow that keeps pushing these people to my feed but I’ve accepted that I can’t leave Silicon Valley no matter how hard I try. Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

2

I try to do a good job of controlling for intervening variables even if it’s low-stakes real life

3

Objective fact