Valentines Day

From Ancient.EU:

There is no way of knowing for sure if Valentine was killed on 14 February, or if he could miraculously cure diseases, or if he wore a ring with the engraving of Cupid – a pagan symbol – or if there were one or more Valentines, or if Valentine existed at all.

Its historical origins as a celebration are thought to have begun with the Roman festival of Lupercalia, where, to celebrate the mythological founders of Rome, the Romans would do very odd things:

The festival involved the sacrifice of a goat and a dog; the goat’s hide would be cut into strips and dipped in its blood, and priests, called Luperci, would then carry these strips and gently slap crop fields and women with them, with the latter being eager for this treatment as they believed that it would make them more fertile in the coming year.

That sounds more fun than trudging around looking for greetings cards, though not sure my wife would agree.


I’m not as optimistic as Elon Musk. I don’t think that we’ll choose Mars as a home, and if we do, it will only be because we’ve screwed up this planet so badly that Mars somehow seems better. Alright, it could happen. But I’d rather it didn’t happen.

If I wanted to live in the wilderness, endure freezing temperatures and live in constant fear of death, I’d move to Alaska. I’m much happier to view Mars from afar, and I can do that because NASA is getting pretty good at lobbing robots across the cosmos.

The new photos from NASA’s Perseverance rover are incredible. I can’t wait to see what it discovers.

Looking out from the Hazard Camera – NASA
The view from Jezero Crater – NASA

Not a plant influencer

Zanib Hussain Alvi writes of her love of blogs as a part of her media diet:

The last best thing I read was the blog of some random British woman at the edge of the Cotswolds, writing about cross breeding heritage varieties of peas like Gregor fucking Mendel and how to save seeds to cross breed your own plants. Her last post was two years ago. There’s something about the longer format and distribution or, rather, lack of distribution that makes blogs so special. It was interesting to me because it was interesting to her. I didn’t have to like, subscribe, or make an ongoing commitment to continue to read her blog. She wasn’t selling anything. It felt so refreshing and wholesome to consume information that no one was really trying to actively monetize. She wasn’t trying to be a “plant influencer” but it did reshape what I thought was accessible to me. I have no idea if she’s conventionally attractive, nor do I care. The contrast makes all these apps and their onslaught of notifications seem so absolutely desperate. 

I can also get behind her views on podcasts. Why are they all two hours long? Who has the time?

Podcasts have absolutely no respect for my time. Most of them could be five minutes.

Snow Days

It seemed like everywhere in the country was to get snow except us, but it finally started to fall a couple of days ago. Familiar places now look unfamiliar, the usual street sounds are muffled and snowmen are standing guard in neighbouring gardens, dressed in a diverse array of unusual outfits. Ours sports a small sun hat, rocks for eyes and bamboo arms.

I don’t think it’s going to stick around long, but we’ll enjoy it while it’s here.

Missing the point

Under the snappy title ‘Why the world would be a better place without Facebook, Google and Amazon… and Britain can lead the way in cutting them down to size’, Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, writes in the Daily Mail today about the absolute awfulness of ‘big tech’.

It’s all standard ‘social media will lead to the end of the democracy’ type stuff – which I am completely on board with – until it all falls apart:

It may seem unthinkable to live in a world without Facebook, Twitter, Google or Amazon. But along with protecting the environment, it is one of the priorities of our age. If we are brave enough to do what is right, new businesses will appear that abide by democratic regulation and work for the good of us all.

First, it is not unthinkable to live in a world without Facebook or Twitter. I think about it often, and it’s delightful. Second, he assumes that if Facebook and Google were outlawed on our shores, then a new social network would arise that would have non of the ailments of the previous lot, casually forgetting that the problem with social networks (apart from the people on them) isn’t that they don’t abide by democratic regulation, it’s that governments, including the one that Mr Ellwood works for, have consistently failed to regulate them.

There must be mechanisms and protocols to prevent the anti-democratic spread of misinformation and fake and stolen news, alongside cast-iron protections for legitimate news. These firms must make their sinister algorithms accountable and tell us what information they have on us and how it is used.

How could such an objective be achieved? Writing some laws, perhaps? Worth a go.

Google is not the only search engine. Why couldn’t Britain have a search engine of its own, or a British Facebook?

The only thing that could make Facebook & Twitter worse is if they were filled exclusively with the British. That’s why there isn’t one. It would be awful. And Britain does have ‘its own’ search engine. It’s called Mojeek, and it’s… ok?

The whole article reeks of the assumption that something being British makes it better, which hasn’t been true for a long time. The only thing that could make the social media debate worse is wrapping it up in nationalism – which Mr Ellwood has a decent crack at.

I, for one, would like to opt out of the Conservative vision of a tech utoipia.

Rating Stuff

Jamie Todd Rubin laments at length on the variety and complexity of rating systems on his blog today. I think it might be slightly in jest, but this is precisely the sort of pedantry I can get behind. Here is his suggested rating scale:

1-star: Distraught. Way below my expectations.

2-stars: Disappointed. I’d expected more.

3-stars: Satisfied. Met my expectations.

4-stars: Delighted. Exceeded my expectations.

5-stars: Blown away. Far exceeded my expectations.

The Everything Store

Few people can look back at their careers and say that they changed the world. Jeff Bezos can.

I find people like Jeff Bezos fascinating, and not just because they are fabulously wealthy and have more boats than me (I have none). I would be a rubbish CEO. I can barely drag myself out of bed in the morning. I have the drive and ambition of a lumbering tortoise. How do you build and manage a company of the size and complexity of Amazon? How do you grow it from selling a few books on the internet to what it is now? Think of how many moving parts there are in a company of this size. It’s mind-boggling.

Imagine going back in time and trying to explain Amazon to someone in the pre-internet days. A store with no shops, that you browse with a computer (let’s not bamboozle them with smartphones just yet), that sells basically everything and will deliver it to your house in under twenty-four hours. Younger me would think that older me is suffering from a degenerative brain condition.

Amazon gets a lot of stick, and so, in turn, does Jeff Bezos. Amazon has changed the way that we shop, to the detriment of our high streets, local stores and small businesses. It has become a sprawling empire with a market capitalization larger than the GDP of most countries. It employs over a million people, has its own fleet of aeroplanes and a logistics operation that will soon be bigger than Fedex and UPS. It runs the servers that power most of the internet and will be at the forefront of our experiments with AI in the future. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos became one of the richest people on the planet, and nobody likes rich people.

Is it good that a single company holds so much power? On balance, probably.. not? The regulators will have their say. I’d say it’s fairly likely that AWS, Amazon’s cloud computing platform, will be spun off into a separate company at some point. And Amazon’s aversion to paying its fair share of tax will eventually be reconciled. Even so, it’s hard to see anything slowing it down significantly.

There would have always been an Amazon of some sort. It’s a natural result of globalisation, capitalism and the internet. Bezos had an idea, implemented it before anyone else – did it better than anyone else – and relentlessly drove it forward into the biggest retail operation on the planet.

Whatever you think of the company, or the person, it’s one hell of an achievement.

As an addendum, it’s often said that money doesn’t make you happy. I think this is bullshit. I would be deliriously happy with a couple of billion in the bank. But putting that to one side for a moment, let me be trivial and remark upon the physical transformation of Jeff Bezos. You’d probably win a fight with Jeff Bezos in 1998, but 2017 Jeff Bezos could rappel out of a helicopter, chase you for ten miles and still kick your ass.

Dancing in the Dark

I get up in the evenin’
And I ain’t got nothin’ to say
I come home in the mornin’
I go to bed feelin’ the same way
I ain’t nothin’ but tired
Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there, baby, I could use just a little help

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark

Messages keeps gettin’ clearer
Radio’s on and I’m movin’ ’round my place
I check my look in the mirror
Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man, I ain’t gettin’ nowhere
I’m just livin’ in a dump like this
There’s somethin’ happenin’ somewhere
Baby, I just know that there is

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark

You sit around gettin’ older
There’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me
I’ll shake this world off my shoulders
Come on, baby, this laugh’s on me

Stay on the streets of this town
And they’ll be carvin’ you up alright
They say you gotta stay hungry
Hey baby, I’m just about starvin’ tonight
I’m dyin’ for some action
I’m sick of sittin’ ’round here tryin’ to write this book
I need a love reaction
Come on now, baby, gimme just one look

You can’t start a fire
Sittin’ ’round cryin’ over a broken heart
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark
You can’t start a fire
Worryin’ about your little world fallin’ apart
This gun’s for hire
Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark
Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark
Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark
Even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark
Hey baby