“Why nerd culture must die”

Pete Warden – “Why nerd culture must die”:

I’d always hoped we were more virtuous than the mainstream, but it turns out we just didn’t have enough power to cause much harm. Our ingrained sense of victimization has become a perverse justification for bullying. That’s why I’m calling time on nerd culture. It’s done wonderful things, but these days it’s like a crawling horror of a legacy codebase so riddled with problems the only rational decision is to deprecate it and build something better.

(Via Alexis Madrigal’s 5 Intriguing Things)

“The Best Darned Italian American Red Sauce You’ve Ever Tasted”

Must try this recipe: Kenji Lopez-Alt in Serious Eats – The Food Lab: Use the Oven to Make the Best Darned Italian American Red Sauce You've Ever Tasted

This is red sauce. The slow-cooked, rib-sticking Italian-American stew designed to fill you up with equal parts flavor and pride. It’s the kind of sauce for which you open up the windows while you’re cooking just to make sure that everyone else in the neighborhood knows what you’re up to. It’s the kind of sauce kids defend the honor of in grade school.* It’s the kind of sauce you want your meatballs swimming in, your chicken parm bathed in, and the sauce that you want not just tossed with your spaghetti, but spooned on top in quantities that’d make a true Italian cry out in distress.

Mixed Media, Sunday 5 October 2014

(Disclaimer: I received a promotional copy of Exo from Tor Books.)

I love Steven Gould’s Jumper series. Jumper itself is a classic “what if?” story about Davy Rice, who discovers that he can teleport himself to places he can see, or has been to before. Reflex takes Davy and his wife Millie into much darker territory when a shadowy organization kidnaps Davy and tortures him into working for them. In Impulse the story follows Davy and Millie’s daughter Cent as she comes to terms with her own abilities while trying to fit into a new school.

All of the books take a classic science-fictional exploratory approach to teleportation: they take the fact of it as given and explore the consequences, reactions, and workarounds using smart, likeable protagonists who are propelled into unexpected adventures. They’re brilliant. To say I was excited about Exo is an understatement.

It doesn’t disappoint. In Impulse Cent figured out that teleportation implies control over her velocity, and she learned how to fly using ballistic speed boosts. In Exo she takes the next logical step: can she reach space if she boosts upwards fast enough? How can she survive in a vacuum? And what will she do when she gets there?

The four classical types of narrative conflict are “man against man”, “man against society”, “man against nature”, and “man against self.” Exo introduces a fifth: woman against expectations. (I suppose it’s a variant of man against society, but it sounds better.)

Cent, as a young woman, spends the first half of the book butting up against, and systematically battering down, all the misapprehensions, underestimations, and objections the world throws at her in her quest to build her own space programme. It’s glorious. The second half gets a bit engineer-y with a lot of technical details, and the action sub-plot involving the mysterious Daarkon Group feels rushed. It still left me with goosebumps, and a burning desire to find out where the series will go next.


In the last few weeks I’ve been mostly listening to the new Aphex Twin album Syro, and A New House by Deacon Blue.

Deacon Blue - A New House

Deacon Blue’s last two albums didn’t move me very much, but A New House is a fantastic return to form – their best since Fellow Hoodlums. It’s fresh and upbeat, full of catchy hooks and big choruses: a great pop album. Unfortunately all of their UK gigs I could conceivably get to for the rest of the year seem to be sold out. I’d love to see them live.

Finally, in last week’s New Music Monday at work, one of m’colleagues dropped Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” into the playlist, and I’ve been kinda obsessed by that as well. I downloaded her album Red yesterday, which has been gaining me approving nods from Fiona. We listened to it this afternoon as we were making some stuffed felt Minecraft plush heads together.

Taylor Swift - Red

Sunday morning breakfast blogging

A few weeks ago Kottke pointed to some people rediscovering the fun of just blogging.

Lockhart Steele:

Back then, we’d had a ton of stupid fun linking to each other’s blog posts for no other reason than that they existed and that it amused us greatly. Who wouldn’t want back in on that?

[…] But this is not primarily a promotional undertaking, because that would suck. I’ll also blog about restaurants, travel, the South Street Seaport, the great city of Charleston, the great state of Maine, ephemera, nonsense, whatever. My hope is to relearn the practice of daily blogging, which used to be the most effortless thing in the world for me but now feels terrifying.

Elizabeth Spiers:

When I was a kid, seven or eight years old or thereabouts, I used to make copious lists of things I liked and didn’t like. I don’t remember why. I think some of it was about asserting identity and defining myself by those likes and dislikes. I remembered it a few months ago when I was skimming Susan Sontag’s notebooks and found an entry from February of 1977 where she did exactly the same thing as an adult. A sample:

Things I like: ivory, sweaters, architectural drawings, urinating, pizza (the Roman bread), staying in hotels, paper clips, the color blue, leather belts, making lists, Wagon-Lits, paying bills, caves, watching ice-skating, asking questions, taking taxis, Benin art, green apples, office furniture, Jews, eucalyptus trees, pen knives, aphorisms, hands.

Things I dislike: Television, baked beans, hirsute men, paperback books, standing, card games, dirty or disorderly apartments, flat pillows, being in the sun, Ezra Pound, freckles, violence in movies, having drops put in my eyes, meatloaf, painted nails, suicide, licking envelopes, ketchup, traversins [“bolsters”], nose drops, Coca-Cola, alcoholics, taking photographs.

Sontag would have been about 44 when she wrote that. (I too like the color blue and dislike baked beans, but I had to Google to find out what a traversin is, and I must confess: I am ambivalent.)

Since reading that, I’ve been mentally composing lists of things I like and dislike. I should write them down.

And (via) to Fred Wilson:

There is something about the personal blog, yourname.com, where you control everything and get to do whatever the hell pleases you. There is something about linking to one of those blogs and then saying something. It’s like having a conversation in public with each other. This is how blogging was in the early days. And this is how blogging is today, if you want it to be.

When I started blogging here at AVC, I would write about everything and anything. Then, slowly but surely, it became all about tech and startups and VC. It is still pretty much that way, but I feel like I’m heading back a bit to the personal blog where I can talk about anything that I care about.

Oxygen mask time

After using Twitter (again) on a regular basis for the last few weeks (leading up to the Referendum, and in its aftermath), I’m giving it up (again) for now. Mostly. The reason is that I usually find myself upset whenever I read my timeline. Some of this is Twitter’s fault, and some of it is the nature of a pervasive social network.

Twitter’s blame lies in the way it is manipulating my timeline to increase my “engagement.” I see a lot of spam now. I’m sure Twitter sees them as adverts, but it’s unsolicited commercial messaging, and I call it spam. So I use the tools on the website to block the sender (or “promoter”), and flag the message. This is tiresome, because there is just so damn much of it. (More in the UK than in NL, because of geo-targeting.) No matter how much I block, there is always more. When spam became a problem on email, we built adaptive filters that could be trained to recognize and discard a large proportion of the junk automatically. Twitter cut off the market for third-party clients, so I can’t just use a different app or site that offers a better blocker. On Twitter itself, I can block “@bmw”, but the next promoted tweet from “@bmw_uk” or “@BMWGroup” or “@BMWhateverTheFuckTheyThinkOfNextToAvoidBlocking” will get straight through.

In Twitter’s native apps, the option to flag a tweet as spam is even more deeply buried than on the website. It makes me wonder how long it will be around for at all any more.

Additionally, Twitter is now trying to make me read tweets that have a high engagement metric, by putting them in my timeline as “Favourited by @xyz” (whom I follow), and just last week by sending me a push notification to say that “@xyz and others I follow” have retweeted something. From here it is a very short step to removing tweets from my timeline altogether if they don’t meet a certain minimum engagement threshold, or to rewrite the timeline to push them below the/a fold, keeping higher-value tweets at the top. I know that the slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy, but really. Look at how Twitter has evolved to date, and tell me with a straight face that this isn’t just around the corner.

The second part of it is my own inability to cope with the volume of everyday anguish and indignation. Erin Kissane put this very eloquently a couple of weeks ago:

Mostly it’s not police killings or mourners being tear gassed or a new war. Mostly it’s a dumb thing a reporter wrote, or vile thing a politician or celebrity said, or a tech industry thought-leader defending sexist practices, or the latest schoolyard cruelty from 4chan, or a novelist nattering on about the wickedness of Muslims or gays or trans people or so on and so on forever. Often, these days, it’s an account of someone who’s been threatened and abused for having written in public while female or a person of color or trans or something else that angers the churning undernet of uncontrolled id. These incidents are necessarily anecdotal, but they’re usually representative of larger trends—and often sufficiently nasty and detailed that they’re hard to shake loose from my head. And there are so, so many things wrong that it gets hard to do anything but react (aka “engage”), in increasingly less coherent ways.

None of us are angry about everything, or even most things, but in the whole slimy pond of troubles there is something to injure every one of us in a particular and personal way that makes us turn to the stream and yell this is bullshit. And each shout makes the water rise a little higher, because how can you not respond to your friends when they’re in pain? Add in the flood of information and emotion from something like Ferguson (or war crimes or an epidemic) and there we all are, gradually drowning. So people get huffy about the volume emotion that these events arouse—angry that others are angry about the wrong things or too many things or in the wrong register. As with stampedes, we tend to blame individual or group character for these self-escalating conditions.(I am properly angry, you are merely “outraged.”) But as with crowd crushes, I think it’s more about the properties of bodies in space than about character or personal choices. PV = nRT.

Right now, I can’t handle this. I don’t like the feeling that I’m turning my back on the emotional outpourings of my friends and acquaintances, but this is oxygen mask time: I have to put on my own before helping others with theirs. I’ll be using Twitter strictly as a write-only medium (auto-tweeted links to new stuff I write here on my blog), at least for a while.