Saturday 7th May, 2022 - The Big Sandwich
Hello and welcome to my newsletter!
Another season 2 instalment…
I’ve changed the format of the newsletter somewhat this week.
It’s based on a structure I described in last week’s issue. It was helping me parse what the world’s been throwing at me recently, so I figured might as well just use that for the newsletter.
For the moment, until circumstances change again, expect The Big Sandwich:
Tech, protocols and standards
Culture, punk rock, hip hop, art, edm
Religion, history, procession of the equinoxes
On with the issue…
URLs being disappeared
I started using the official Twitter app a few weeks ago. I mostly use it to read, but I occasionally post stuff too. I discovered during the week that there is no way to get the URL of a tweet from inside the app. I just wanted to include a link to an interesting tweet thread in the newsletter.
From within the app it’s only possible to carry out actions inside Twitter, like retweeting, following etc. It’s as if the rest of the internet doesn’t exist. It’s like you go into a hotel room and it looks nice, then you realise all the windows are bricked up. It’s the same feeling.
If other people weren’t posting links in their tweets, there would be no way to even know that there was a World Wide Web.
It’s a real shame because apart from that, the app is pretty good, but removing URLs is a big deal. URLs basically is the web.
Come on Twitter, you can do better than that. Add a way to get the URL of a tweet!
Understanding the human body’s systems
It’s quite an interesting period at the minute because science has got to the point where we understand a great deal about the mechanics of how the human body functions. There are several major systems that regulate our feelings and behaviour. It’s an amazing balancing that our brains are able to do.
It’s cool because science and religions are intersecting, we are starting to understand why various practices that were learnt through experimentation, like meditation, why they actually work.
Examples of some of these systems:
Hormonal system (happiness)
Immune system (health)
Power system (adrenal axis)
Endocrine system (the pharmacy within us)
Happiness is governed by several chemicals that our body produces naturally such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and cannabinoids.
It’s worth spending some time to understand a bit about how these systems work. That way you gain understanding of your moods and with practice and experimentation you can learn to have more control of happiness, strength and health.
The interview with Wim Hof is super interesting. He’s quite a character. Really into cold water.
It’s a fun interview with at least some basis in science, and very motivational. A slightly peculiar, but fun place to start if you are curious about discovering more about your body, and how it is affected by the environment around you.
Bitcoin as pyramid scheme
I’ve heard this before: isn’t bitcoin just a pyramid scheme?
I was thinking about this and here was my thought process, remember I don’t know that much about Bitcoin or finance, don’t take any of this as advice.
Pyramid schemes are illegal, then why is the bitcoin pyramid scheme ok?
Some people will tell you that the whole money system is a sort of pyramid scheme. But if it’s a less good pyramid scheme than Bitcoin, then isn’t it technically less bad?
I need to do more reading about pyramid schemes…
Thoughts on some of Bitcoin’s features
Everything is public, surely that’s going to get exploited. I love the sound of many of Bitcoin’s features, but surely having all your financial transactions public is dangerous. Imagine if the neighbours that don’t like you discovered all your transactions, they could be the basis for a very malicious harassment campaign. Are there ways to mitigate this risk?
One of the biggest wins for Bitcoin is it’s ability to not loose value due to inflation. Fiat money can loose a lot of value, currently about 7% per year in the US, but in some places that are in turmoil, it’s into high double digits. Inflation sucks!
But isn’t inflation just the backup plan for when taxation isn’t covering the costs?
Stuff has got to be paid for.
The real problem is that we’re not spending the money properly, and Bitcoin doesn’t fix that. And I wonder, might it even make the problem worse?
I love the sound of all the automation features, DOA’s, the sovereignty etc, but what’s the point if we aren’t fixing the core problem? We’re just going to automate the bad and make it worse.
Tools for navigating the big sandwich
This isn’t a regular sandwich. This sandwich is big. Really really big. There are those that will tell you “there is no sandwich”. Don’t believe those people.
The difficult thing about this sandwich is that there’s a considerable cognitive load jumping between layers. One minute you are operating at very high frequencies, fast undululating waves, the next minute it’s super low frequency with, long waves that move much slower. It’s difficult to describe.
The big sandwich is a mental model to help you handle the load. Personally I found that though I’m very interested in history, that I often feel a sensation of heaviness and getting bogged down, when thinking about these topics. There is just too much. The big sandwich creates some shelf space where you can place these thoughts. Then you can come back to them later when the time is right.
The layers don’t have really defined interfaces like the TCP/IP stack does. It’s more continuous, more fuzzy. It’s not always super obvious where in the sandwich a topic is, but you get a sense, a rough approximation.
I had the thought a few days ago that it was a little bit like those earthquake proof buildings they build in Japan.
Anyway it occurred to me that we could build tools to help us navigate the big sandwich. Using AI to merge, morph, and verify ideas. Use assembly numbers to locate areas that are particularly problematic. Tools to build scaffolding for renovating and migrating parts. We’re building the world in different ways, so why not improve our tooling?
There are a lot of people in the world that are stuck in patterns from the past, many many still in poverty, there’s a lot of possibilities for making things better.
Anyway, just some ideas…
Peter McCormack interviews Adam Curry, THE original podcaster. I haven’t heard much about him in recent years, so it was awesome to hear that he’s still going strong on the web, with the No Agenda Podcast, with 1.4 million listeners worldwide. Still experimenting with new technologies, living off grid, still innovating in podcasting, currently: broadcasting money.
I first listened to the Daily Source Code
It’s wild and weird to me that someone can drift away from the mainstream like he has, but still be doing amazing work. Really worth listening to the interview.
One topic that came up towards the end of the interview was “audience capture”. I hadn’t heard that term before, it’s when the audience starts to control in an unhealthy way what the podcaster is doing. It’s good to have a term for the phenomenon which is one of the dangers of “going direct”.
For big popular podcasters it’s probably not going to be an issue, but for smaller shows it’s a real danger. It would only take a small co-ordinated effort on the part of a malicious gang to get someone into trouble.
I think this is an example of a bigger phenomenon that happens in our societies in plain sight. People get targeted, bad things happen. Anyway just wanted to highlight it.
The notion that the introduction of Ai is similarly profound as fire, electricity or water. I had this in my notes this week, but I can’t remember where from. It sounds cool so I’m keeping it in here even if I don’t have much else about it. With that note was another note about something Brian McCullogh (@brianmcc) said “AI civil war is coming for us”. That’s all I’ve got in this topic currently.
Calculus !== Calculation
What is up with everyone suddenly saying ‘calculus’ when they mean ‘calculation’. I’ve heard it on podcasts from tech nerds to philosophers to economists.
I thought this was cool at first, like a fun new turn of phrase. But now it’s starting to irk me.
I’m all for new language and slang, but are we sure this one is a good idea?
It’s twisting the actual definition of the word, and could be very confusing for folks growing up. On the other hand maybe people hearing the word being used more often is good advertising. I don’t know.
It took a long time to perfect that part of mathematics, seems like that could be a risky redrawing.
On a related note, I heard about new tools being developed to help kids learn algebra. It’s like a game with pictures, you play and get points, it’s all gamified. Then they swap out the pictures for numbers and the kids can basically do algebra! The picture game helps form the neural pathways that you need. That’s incredible.
Religion & history
As I typed this newsletter this morning, just as I got to the religion and history section, this section, literally it was the very next thing I was about to type, a monk came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder with 2 fingers. The sort of tap that is with just that little bit too much force, vibrates you right to the bone, enough to make you think it’s basically intimidation.
I looked up at him, he had a serene smile as he walked into the distance. I just said ‘No thank you’.
The last time someone taped me like that, on my knee in that case, a few days later I had horrendous abysses on both of my knees. That person was not a monk.
This actually just happened.
I got my undergraduate degree at Imperial College in London, UK. The full name is Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine. It’s one of the top universities, up there with Oxford and Cambridge. It was challenging, and there was a real sense of being in one of those old colleges in films. The place oozed with history, with old buildings and museums, even if you didn’t know the exact history. The area was commissioned by Prince Albert, a man with excellent facial hair, following the Great Exhibition of 1851. The university has a long and illustrious history.
All in all it was a great place study.
Back when I was choosing where to attend, I had a handful of offers, but I chose Imperial because it was in London. The capital city. What better place for a young engineer that liked music? It was the right choice, I soon found that among all the scholarly activities, I was able to go to live concerts of every genre of music. I even got involved with the student radio station.
I didn’t know anything about where the name came from, I don’t think I even knew what imperialism was at the time. It was the very early days of the web, there was no Wikipedia, it wasn’t even really a thing to search for stuff online. I only knew what they wrote in the booklets they sent out.
Over the years I’ve learnt bits here and there, but this week I decided to do a bit of reading about imperialism. I don’t have a huge amount to say about it at the minute, apart from the obvious shame that comes with looking back at how we used to treat people. That period is known for the subjugation and exploitation of others. It’s horrible.
I can say this though, when I was there in the late 1990’s, there was no sign of those types of views. I did a full undergraduate degree there, and not even once was under the impression that those views were being taught to students. It was on the contrary, a very multi-cultural experience.
I was tangentially aware that “we did some bad things” during the time of empire, but it seemed like it was from a totally different era. It only occurred to me many years after graduating where the university had gotten it’s name. This past week was the first time I’ve read and learnt about this past.
It looks to have been a full discipline, with an entire system that got developed, where I guess they studied past empires and designed / architected the empire of the time. That system is called World Systems Theory, and it’s structured around Core countries and Peripheral countries.
So yeah, I did that this week.
Temple of Doom much? Jesus.
Getting better all the time
There have been many many empires over the course of history. I’ve read a bunch of stuff about them, but most of it never sticks in my head. All the words and names are so different, my brain just doesn’t want to remember them, it’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall.
During my research on imperialism this week I found a map that I think is worth remembering. It shows the major empire regions between the west and east.
There’s all sorts of details that this glosses over, but very broadly speaking that’s a huge chunk of humanities early history of empires.
Until the middles ages western Europe was not the dominant empire. It was by far the eastern empires that were dominant in terms of power and riches.
The British empire only started once it broke away from Rome. Back then shit was really really f’ed up. Imperialism was much better than what was before. British decolonisation and the Commonwealth is much better than imperialism.
America has famously been very anti-empire. The whole origin story of America has been about fighting back against empires, the British, the Russians, China. That’s interesting because there’s a possibility for real change. Think about how significant that is for a second. We’ve been doing things via empires for millennia, and now we are finally finding a new way forward.
The american (empire of tech) and it’s wimpy legions is a lot better than the blood of Kali. Over the course of the past 100 years we’ve seen what can be possible when things are done differently, without exploitation, without subjugation, without slavery.
It’s a ginormous multi-generational migration that is in progress. Getting rid of slavery might be as important as the industrial revolution. Slavery doesn’t work, eventually it consumes the entire civilisation. At one point 60% of the population of Rome were slaves. It’s also morally reprehensible.
The abolition of slavery only happened relatively recently, the mindset persists in many many places. It’s expressing itself in the technologies we are building. But we are discovering universal truths like:
Avoid vendor lock-in
Avoid dark patterns
Better naming of things
There is a fight on to move those up from tech, into culture and into religion and history.
Ok. I’ve got to get this issue to the Substack printing press. I’m sorry for any inaccuracies, and I bet there are plenty, it’s just too vast to be able to be completely accurate. I’m just sone guy reading Wikipedia articles trying to make sense of the world. Trying to find a positive angle to look at things.
Wim hoff “the ice man” (Duncan Trussel Podcast)
The Power of Decentralisation with Adam Curry (What Bitcoin Did Podcast)
American Crusades (The Rest is History Podcast)
Lisp in Space (Corecursive Podcast)
On the impact of ESM in NodeJS (James Snell)
That’s all from me…
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Have a great weekend and a fantastic next week!