Close Encounters of the Missing Kind

by Venkat on July 16, 2014

My daily routine is a strange attractor.  Every morning, I decide whether to hit one of the cafes on my regular circuit or work at the desk I rent from a local business. After lunch, and sometimes a nap, I pick a different location for my second work session. My most frequent cafe choices are as follows:

  • A downtown  cafe inside an office high-rise, patronized mainly by the herds of people who work there and ebb and flow through it, guided by the invisible pilot waves of office rhythms.
  • A somewhat dingy cafe that has some mix of locals, homeless people, tourists and what I suspect are gang members who seem to hang out there in the afternoons.
  • A cafe a few blocks from downtown inhabited by a mix of office workers getting away and a few sad people, obviously impoverished, who sit for hours nursing a coffee and browsing on cheap laptops or smartphones.
  • A self-consciously alternative cafe staffed by attractive, tattooed goth baristas, which attracts more conventional looking people apparently looking for a change of scenery, as well as the tattooed classes.
  • A rather precious hippie cafe with an ideological menu of offerings, which seems to be a crossroads for the local crunchy and nightclub sets.

If I decide to take my bike, or am in the mood for a longer walk, my range expands to perhaps twice as many locations.

There are enough cafes in my bike-accessible prowling territory that I could probably go months without repeating myself, but I don’t like either a routine that’s continuous exploration or complete predictability. A strange attractor seems to work perfectly for me. I’ve been doing this for perhaps fifteen years now, and my circuit has generally ranged from two to a dozen work locations. Home, surprisingly, has rarely been on my circuit. Home offices are really hard (read “expensive”) to get right.

It’s a lifestyle on the edge between settled and nomadic and between unsociable and sociable. I think my days of experimenting with true nomadism are over. My circuit is still more cloud mouse than metro mouse, with more big-chain cafes on it than indie, but I think I’ve become more willing to self-localize lately, and less freaked-out at being recognized by baristas.

I think a lot more people, like me, are starting to lock onto a strange attractor routine: it’s more stimulating than a regular routine, but not as demanding as full-blown nomadism. The third place is not a place so much as a pattern of movement in a socially fertile zone.


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A Koan is not a Riddle

by Jordan Peacock on July 9, 2014

Jordan is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf on Google+ and

The following is a break from my Marginally Acceptable series. Venkatesh asked for a review of Gilles Deleuze’s Difference & Repetition. This is what he got instead.

Philosophy has long had two distinct approaches, embodied in the approaches of ancient Mediterranean, China, and India. The first, and most commonly recognized, is that of positing answers to elusive questions, an approach that has given birth to religions and the sciences. The second, however, is oriented towards the transformation of the disciple, sometimes radically so. In many cases the two are conjoined: Socrates’ questions about the order of the world were entwined with questions about how to live; Buddha’s wheel of becoming was implicated in his guide to right living; the metaphysics of the Stoics grounded their prescriptions.

In later centuries, these two functions were less closely coupled. The success of the sciences after the Baconian revolution and Boyle’s experimentalism led to frantic, productive activities in the former philosophical method. The latter wasn’t simply left to the moralists, however, but was intellectualized. Kant’s writings on deontological ethics were intended primarily to persuade, rather than form. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that a philosopher explicitly privileged formation over intellectualization: Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of all values” was communicated in aphorisms and parables in part to make the reader complicit in the idea’s expression.

In the late twentieth century, Deleuze’s concerns and methods are likewise complicit; his method the embodiment of the ideas he hoped to make manifest.

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Roundup: January – June 2014

by Venkat 07.02.2014

Here’s the mid-year roundup. Not counting procedural posts, we’ve had 23 essays in the first six months. The Now Reading page also been updated for the year, check it out for the current state of the ribbonfarm reading radar. Free, as in Agent Consent of the Surveilled The Poor Usability Tell (Jordan) Technical Debt of the […]

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Portals and Flags

by Venkat 06.25.2014

The point of complex debates is not to prove your side right and the other wrong. Smart people make this mistake most often, and end up losing before they ever get started. The point of complex debate is always seduction: winning-over rather than winning. You do this not through logic or even novel insight, but […]

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The Physics of Stamp Collecting

by Venkat 06.18.2014

Ernest Rutherford’s famous line, “all science is either physics or stamp collecting,” has bothered me ever since I first heard it. I’ve used it to make fun of biologists, and I’ve used it as a critical perspective on physics. Rutherford almost certainly meant it as an insult to non-physicists, but there is a deeper and non-prejudiced […]

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The Deliberate Practice of Disruption

by Venkat 06.11.2014

Recently, I concluded that our understanding of expertise, especially in the sense of the 10,000 hour meme, is seriously flawed. Even though there is something real there. And I don’t just mean the understanding conveyed by Malcolm Gladwell, who popularized the idea. I include the primary researchers such as K. Anders Ericsson on whose work the popular […]

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Saints and Traders: The John Henry Fable Reconsidered

by Venkat 06.04.2014

I only recently learned (from Sarah Constantin, whose new blog is worth checking out) of the American folk legend of John Henry, a steel driver who raced against a steam drill and won, only to drop dead right after. Wikipedia tells the story thusly: He worked as a “steel-driver”—a man tasked with hammering a steel drill […]

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Artistic Forestry: 2014 Annual Letter

by Venkat 05.29.2014

For the past three years I’ve been doing a sort of annual letter to shareholders/call for sponsorships a la Warren Buffet’s Sage of Omaha act, roughly around March-April. I am about two months late this year. I am just going to start calling this my annual letter from now on. I plan to make it approximately […]

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The Logic of Uberreaction

by Venkat 05.20.2014

I recently made up a word: uberreact. To uberreact is to  insist that regulations which exist for the benefit of  incumbent producers in a market (and their political patrons) are there to protect the interests of consumers. The inspiration for the term, of course, is the very predictable pattern of response by taxicab companies when Uber enters a […]

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Power Gradients and Spherical Cows

by Jordan Peacock 05.15.2014

Jordan is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf on Google+ and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal had a comic recently explaining the argument against evolution based on the 2nd law of thermodynamics: “Life on Earth can’t get more complex because that would require energy, and the sun doesn’t exist.” The understanding of entropy is there, […]

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