exo : blah


Fri, 12 Jan 2024


I saw Matthew’s year note thing and liked it so figured, why not, let’s try something like that.


I’m not sure it was a banner year but it was a one of just chugging along. I mostly rode on the road because I like the bike and I got some fancy new wheels which added a bit of fun.

The most satisfactory riding was a round trip to Glasgow to watch the World Champs in easly August, partly as the aptness was pleasing and partly as riding to Glasgow has been on my list for a while. It was not the best ride because tbh as ridden it wasn’t the most scenic of rides, plus it was very damp on the way there so not entirely pleasant. I think there’s probably better routes to take but overall I think there’s other places I’d rather ride so I’ll probably consider that box ticked.

Had a UK holiday and took the gravel bike so had some riding in a new place which was good. As ever a bit hit and miss on the routes but always lovely to see new areas.

Not really sure there was a standout ride though. Had a lot of good rides but nothing absolutely spectacular. Which is fine.

Distance and time wise it was much of a muchness with recent years, although did lack any 200+ km rides which I’d like to resolve this year, as well as shifting the balance back towards off road a bit.


I got a proper camera again which was good. 90% of the pictures I take are still on an iPhone because I always have it and most of the photos I take on bike rides. Plus it takes good photos. However I did take a chunk of photos with the proper camera that would not have happened without it including probably my favourite of the year.

AVV chasing back on

The main obstacles with the real camera is it’s much more of a faff to get photos off it because loading from a card, and that I haven’t really settled on a process or app for browsing and editing photos. I am mostly using Apple Photos because it’s there and it does just about enough but it still feels quite klunky. I am loathe to pay the Adobe tax and start on Lightroom but thus far all the other alternatives I’ve looked at have’t been convincing. More work required.


I do not talk at all about work here so this is an exciting first, although I’m going to be brief because I don’t talk about work here. I built a crowdsourcing website from scratch which was largely enjoyable and pretty successful according to the people using it. Otherwise it was mostly improving stuff from the last couple of years of work on our Climate Programme.

As Matthew said we had our 20th Anniversary this year of which I’ve been there a bit over half. Was nice to see lots of familiar faces at the party and really heartening to hear from people who have found our tools useful. If you like that sort of thing there’s a 20 year retrospective you can read.


Elsewhere is my mostly complete list of books read so you can go look at that for the raw details.

Highlights were Matrix, Piranesi, The Midnight Lie, When Women were Dragons and Saint Death’s Daughter. Nona the Ninth was also a delight but I expected it to be so somehow that makes it not a highlight. Likewise A Day of Fallen Night.

I was a bit better at noping out on books I wasn’t enjoying although I still read all of The Stars are Legion and Babel despite not enjoying either so still work to be done. I am at least of to a good start for 2024 on that front having already given up on a book that’s been sitting half read for months.

posted at: 15:05 #

Sun, 12 Nov 2023

vogalonga and vapareto

True to form we’ve arrived in Venice the day before a festival, Vogalonga, we were unaware of three days previously. A chunk of the first day is spent sat on a Vapareto stop on the Grand Canal watching people rowing. It is not as best we can tell a race, at least by the time we sit down. It is somewhat chaotic and the police on a motor boat in charge of marshalling the participants do a lot of blowing whistles and pointing to the side of the canal appropriate for the direction of travel. In retrospect this seems hilarious as the rest of the time boats weave about the canal based on where there is space. I guess locals get more leeway than tourists allowed onto the canal for an annual outing.

The next day we again head to a Vapareto stop to make our own way along the canal. Like much of the rest of Venice the Grand Canal is very Venicey. Plenty of places manage to meet expectations in little photogenic pockets, Venice is all pocket.

It’s in the most rammed with people bits that it feels the least something else and the most everywhere else. St Mark’s, if you ignore the canal in one corner, is not unlike many other palatial Italian squares. Not that it is unimpressive, more that it is less exceptional. Similarly, the shop lined alleys directly off the square recall other old Italian centres.

The drop off in density of people as you wander away from The Sights is also in keeping with elsewhere. We do less of this than we might due to reasons, but wandering down the little alleys is hugely enjoyable. It is, again, not entirely dissimilar but for the canals. Obviously the canals are the whole point of Venice but they are constantly delightful. Partly aesthetically but almost more so for watching Venetians canaling.

There is something slightly idiotic about going to a place and marvelling at what is obvious and everyday, but the novelty of watching a supermarket get a delivery to its loading dock adds a level of background delight not present elsewhere. Partly this is because I am not a water person so find boats vaguely magical. They do not move in a way that makes sense to me, both ponderous yet unexpectedly nimble.

It is this misplaced sense of wonder that makes a day spent hopping on and off Vapereto seem more extraordinary than it really should. I can understand that it is just a bus service but it is boats so using them to travel a few hundred meters somehow feels too trivial, too casual. Boats should require ceremony and planning. It is hard to feel decadent squashed in with tourists, schoolchildren and commuters, and yet it does. I am not rational about boats.

As well as Vogalonga our visit coincides with the architecture biennial so there is a great deal of art nonsense which we largely ignore. I’d assumed that the biennial was fairly limited in both scope and time but it seems semi permanent and has offshoots all over the city. Down yet another tiny alley we chance on the shed housing the Scottish entry which, as with much of it we’ve passed, is more art installation than architecture. It is a bit weird to be reading about Ravenscraig by a canal.

A bit weird is the overall vibe. Not disconcertingly so but there is much of Venice that when you stop and think doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is wilfully impractical in many ways but makes it seem reasonable and normal when you are in the bubble.

posted at: 17:50 #

Sun, 11 Dec 2022

remaking the world for the machines

Take the example of container­ized shipping. This is text­book automa­tion, but the picture is not “replacement”, a line of clanking robo-longshoremen carrying bulky cargo from the bellies of ships. Rather, an entirely new task was imagined — moving and stacking enormous, modular containers — and it’s THAT task that was given to machines. It’s hilar­ious, if you think about it: “Ah yes, we auto­mated this onerous human labor … by completely rebuilding the entire phys­ical infrastruc­ture of global shipping, fighting a pitched polit­ical battle along the way!”

Robin Sloan on ChatGPT and why automation is rarely about replicating existing tasks and more about reinventing process to allow machines to do them. It’s at the bottom after the bits about web platform experimentation which are also good.

posted at: 13:20 #

Tue, 29 Nov 2022

less useful than anticipated

  1. During the course of the inquiry, we took evidence from ministers and departments from the Government led by Prime Minister Johnson. On 6 September 2022, Liz Truss became Prime Minister. We hope the new Prime Minister and her Cabinet find this report useful.

Life moving pretty fast for the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee. It is a good report though.

posted at: 23:00 #

Sat, 08 May 2021

the mire of electoralism

The DSA is doing plenty of things that its members would want a party to do, but it is not running candidates on its own ballot line. One especially popular analysis describes DSA as a “party-surrogate,” an organization that engages on the terrain of the Democratic Party to build an independent membership with its own constituency and base, thus allowing for tactical flexibility and dynamism. As a party-surrogate, the argument goes, the DSA can help build movements without falling into the trap of movementism, and contest elections without being sucked into the mire of electoralism.

Brendan O’Connor really clearing things up.

posted at: 14:47 #

Sat, 06 Jun 2020

the renaissance wasn't all that

Petrarch wanted to end the cruel wars for light causes that were wounding Italy, but had no plan beyond sending his poem out into the world, and urging elites to have their kids read Cicero. Machiavelli also wanted to end the cruel wars for light causes, and seeing that reading Cicero had failed he proposed a new way of evaluating history, collecting examples of what worked and didn’t in the past, basing our statecraft and actions on them so the next time we try things we’ll choose more wisely.

Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages – Ex Urbe

This is long but excellent on why living through the renaissance was not great, how the notion of the renaissance came to be and why it continues to be such a popular idea. Plus, it’s funny.

posted at: 21:23 #

Sun, 19 Apr 2020

some are completely wrong

Would we encourage an epidemiologist to apply ‘fresh thinking’ to the design of an electrical substation? Perhaps we should treat with caution the predictions of electrical engineers about pandemic disease outbreaks.

Royal Statistical Society are sad that people continue to be bad at science communication.

posted at: 10:11 #

Mon, 13 Jan 2020

better if true

“Like my cat, I often simply do what I want to do.” This was the opening sentence of Derek Parfit’s philosophical masterpiece, Reasons and Persons. He believed that it was the best way to begin his book because it showed something important about people. Often we are not as special as we think we are. For instance, when people simply do what they want to do they appear to be utilizing no ability that only people have. On the other hand, when we respond to reasons, we are doing something uniquely human, because only people can act in this way. Cats are notorious for doing what they want to do, and the sense of proximity between a cat and its owner pleasingly heightens our sense of their similarity. Hence, there could be no better way for this book to begin.

However, there was a problem. Derek did not, in fact, own a cat. Nor did he wish to become a cat owner, as he would rather spend his time taking photographs and doing philosophy. On the other hand, the sentence would clearly be better if it was true. To resolve this problem Derek drew up a legal agreement with his sister, who did own a cat, to the effect that he would take legal possession of the cat while she would continue living with it.

It’s about ethics in ethics.

posted at: 20:02 #

Sat, 11 Jan 2020


To me, it’s entirely plausible that Facebook and Tencent might be net-negative for technological developments. The apps they develop offer fun, productivity-dragging distractions; and the companies pull smart kids from research and development intensive fields like materials science or semiconductor manufacturing, into ad optimization and game development.

There’s a lot of good things in Dan Wang’s 2019 wrap up about tech, and specifically the focus on consumer internet companies as being a hallmark of good at tech.

posted at: 13:12 #

Mon, 04 Nov 2019

no fault text

In 1963, Gorey published “The West Wing,” which is mostly just drawings of rooms, one with torn wallpaper, another with a boulder on a table, another with a crack in the floor, another with what appears to be a dead man on the carpet. “The West Wing” is only drawings. It has no text. The volume was dedicated to Edmund Wilson, who had given Gorey’s drawings their first truly enthusiastic review (in The New Yorker) but had found fault with his texts.

I never cease to be delighted by petty dedications.

posted at: 20:49 #

all the usual copyright stuff... [ copyright struan donald 2002 - present ], plus license