exo : blah


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 #

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