Friday digest (4.9.2021)

A few long essays in here, basically it's just like school again with the assigned readings

Happy end of the week to all my dear girls, goblins, ghouls, and gremlins alike. I hope you’re gearing up for a strong weekend, maybe get some ice cream and lay out in the sun for a bit? Just some thoughts. This weekend I’m organizing CMU’s first National Biomechanics Day which is a huge responsibility and a big fun way to rant at 13 year olds who think I’m a weirdo scientist. It’s all virtual, which makes it roughly 20 times more stressful (what if a presenter’s wifi goes out? what if a student says a bad word? what if they get bored and leave?) but I’m certain it will go great. Science is all about making mistakes, probably.

1. A tweet

2. Musically, I am here

G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END! by Godspeed You! Black Emperor (2021)

A pleasant and field-recording-y post-rock ambient soundscape etc etc pick a buzzword and put it in. Godspeed makes me happy, they’ve largely stuck to what works and I love them for it. Excellent music for a long walk.

3. Revisiting an old favorite about Walter Pitts and Warren McCulloch

Pitts is best known for his work with McCulloch on his paper “A Logical Calculus of Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity” where they explain what is now called the “McCulloch-Pitts neuron”. It’s a mathematical model of a biological neuron, and the foundation of neural network research and the future of computing as we know it. But their story is not so much the story of scientists as it is about grappling with reality, the disillusionment that can accompany the ability to formulate everything as a simple process of logical operations. It is a very sad story.

Pitts wrote that his depression might be “common to all people with an excessively logical education who work in applied mathematics: It is a kind of pessimism resulting from an inability to believe in what people call the Principle of Induction, or the principle of the Uniformity of Nature. Since one cannot prove, or even render probable a priori, that the sun should rise tomorrow, we cannot really believe it shall.”

The first time I read this essay by Amanda Gefter was a few years ago, back in Seattle. I was surrounded by people who knew more than me about logic and neuroscience, so I was spending a lot of my free time confused and trying to figure out Russell and Quine and Whitehead and Turing and Wiener and von Neumann and how that all related to connectionism and the logical underpinnings of what is now machine learning. It all seemed very abstract and distant, and I also felt very abstract and distant. It popped up randomly again this week, so I wanted to share it with you.

4. The Veg King and Gucci

This is the best thing I’ve seen all year, maybe. One of my personal inspirations, Gerald Stratford, a retired fisherman who posts his giant home-grown vegetables and sweet old man anecdotes to his Twitter, collabed with Gucci on a delightfully styled photoshoot and little guide to growing veg.

Being a fisherman, you always want to catch something bigger than the last one. Now I'm not fishing, I was looking at carrots and thought, "What would it be like to grow a bigger carrot or a parsnip?"

He is so positive, so sweet and so kind, loves his wife so much, interacts with his followers as best he can, and even started including captions in his videos after someone mentioned they were hard of hearing. All-around the best guy.

See the full Gucci shoot and story here. He’s also signed a book deal, which I will be supporting and endorsing wholeheartedly!

5. Incredible video game packaging design from Hock Wah Yeo

This week is a week of long reads! It’s about Hock Wah Yeo, a graphic designer from the 80s who was pushing the boundaries of what a video game box could look like — the packaging, the structure itself, not the illustration on it. Before computer games were standardized in 2000, there was so much innovation happening: this essay by Phil Salvador captures the forces at play and the history of creative minds facing off against business constraints.

6. Cursed innovation: a digital workspace to manage your own family

I cringe at hyperoptimization and this one is pretty bad. Maple is a Shopify-backed (why) SaaS1 ecosystem for managing your family’s tasks, complete with unnecessary machine learning.

Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done.

It seems their vision of the future is reducing genuine interaction to a series of virtual transactions, so we can liberate more of our time to do… what? Maybe I’ll eat my words, I don’t know, but with over $3mil in startup funding they’ll probably get pretty big and as unavoidable as Slack or Trello.

7. Find of the week: street billiard balls

The box was open like this, on the side of the sidewalk on someone’s retaining wall. Didn’t seem to belong to anyone, but it was gone a few days later? Very strange.

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software as a service. horrible acronym