MJD 59,004

This entry is part 7 of 19 in the series Captain's Log

I’ve been thinking a lot about experiments. In an interview last year, James Mattis described America as “this great big experiment of ours.” I made a 2×2 to think about this. America falls in the Grand Design Experiments quadrant. The x-axis is self-explanatory, the y-axis is ordinary versus extraordinary in the sense of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I wrote about this before in Extraordinary Laboratories.

As an experiment, America is a set of extraordinary (and not coincidentally, exceptionalist) claims about the nature of government.

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New E-Book, and a Portfolio Update

I have a new Kindle ebook out: Breaking Smart Archives: Selected Newsletters, 2015-19. This is a sequenced selection of 32 of the better essays from the Breaking Smart newsletter from the last few years, covering the period between the original 2015 Breaking Smart essay collection on software eating the world (also available as an ebook), and my recent pivot of that whole project to a subscription newsletter for serializing my longer projects.

As I’ll be the first to admit, the collection is weirdly choppy, both in form (a mix of essays and twitter-style threads), and content. But it was oddly satisfying to put together (thanks to Alex Wagner for his help), and I did my valiant best to impose some sort of coherent thematic structure onto it.

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Leaking into the Future

Liminality is hard to navigate, and one can be forgiven for flailing gracelessly when attempting to do so. What makes me impatient though, is people not even recognizing liminality when it is all around them. People continuing to march into non-existent futures, like non-playable characters (NPCs) in video games making walking motions with noses pressed up against impenetrable walls. When there’s masses of such people all around, the liminal turns into the surreal. I made up a visualization to try and get at this sense of surreal mass obliviousness to liminality.

It’s not complete, and you could argue with the particular patterns of forks and merges I have illustrated, but the important thing is the topological structure, and the cowpath-like tracks leaking away from the entire paved system, in a fundamentally new direction. History hasn’t just been knocked off course; our normal processes for constructing history have been knocked out. What I called the Plot Economy in my March 9 post (has it already been 2 months? Wow!) has shut down. Collectively losing the plot means our ability to keep a constructed sense of historical time going has shut down.

Instead of “progressing” or “declining” into a future mapped out over decades, from within the safety of grand narratives shared with millions, we are leaking into the future, one day at a time, sans narrative support.

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Quarantine Art

I tweeted a sketch of the view from my balcony, from an abandoned project to make a proper art piece, and slashdottir made this rather snazzy quick study out of it. Sometimes twitter is very liminal. Also check out people’s interesting art projects.

Liminality?…Well, there’s a free sample!

One of my favorite jokes in Herge’s Tintin comics is a bit in Prisoners of the Sun (1949), where the Thompson twins ask Captain Haddock what’s in a pile of sacks on the dock labeled “guano.” The captain umms and ahhs a bit, but then a seagull poops on one of the Thompson twins’ hats, and the Captain brightens up, having been handed the perfect short answer: “Guano?… Well, here’s a free sample!”

For those wondering why sacks of bird droppings would be on a dock, guano was once a major industrial commodity, an input for nitrogen fertilizers and explosives. The rise of Chile saltpeter as an alternative, and the adoption of the Haber-Bosch process after World War 1, slowly made it obsolete.

A few years ago, I was challenged by a Twitter friend to explain liminality, and I came up with a thread in response that I think is still roughly right. But if I were asked today, I would gesture vaguely at the world around and say, “Liminality?… Well, there’s a free sample!”

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Now Reading: Pandemic Edition

Just updated my Now Reading page. I have suspended my regular reading queue for the most part (except for continuing to work through Terry Pratchett) and made a special section for Pandemic reading. Here’s a quick rundown on what I’ve been reading/plan to read, and why.

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Pandemic Dashboard: 3

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series State of the Pandemic

Unanticipated Consequences

Accidents down, so insurance companies refunding some premiums. Billboard advertising down because nobody out to look at them. Crime down.

Beyond Fat and Lean

Food getting tossed at farms while people face shortages. Toilet paper panic is partly legit because office/commercial toilet paper supply chain is different.

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Pandemic Dashboard: 2

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series State of the Pandemic

Flattening the Curve

We’ve moved on from the innumeracy edition to the “spot the inflection” phase as bureaucrats everywhere try to solve for the flattening and claim success.

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Scorpio Season: A New Talk Show

My friend Lisa (@niftynei) and I decided to start a talk show. It’s called Scorpio Season, since we’re both scorpios. You can subscribe to it as a podcast, or watch/listen it on YouTube. At the moment the video version is just the two of us as talking heads, but we might throw in some graphics in future episodes.

Scorpio Season is a show about everything… in alphabetical order. Since we both have a lot of random little interests that are all over the place, we figured it would be a good, discordian disorganization scheme for our improv ramblings.

The first three episodes, A-C are up.

The first two episodes featured A for Astrology and Aesthetics, and B for beefs, bitcoin, and Biden/Bernie. If we get to 26 episodes, we’ll cycle back to A. As you might guess, in the most recent one, there’s a lot of C for Coronovirus here, but also C for Cartoons.

The next episode is D: for David Deutsch, Doja Cat, and Dark Age. That will be up soon.

Pandemic Dashboard: 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series State of the Pandemic

I’m starting a new blogchain to track the COVID-19 pandemic, in a new, modular, block-based format. Each part will be a variable number of tweet-sized status assessments in titled blocks, coded red/green/yellow, like so:

Flattening the Curve

The innumeracy of the initial versions has given way to an appreciation of the actual level to which the healthcare system will be overwhelmed, but no actual solution.

I call this format a blocktrace dashboard: a dashboard in the form of a blogchain of blocktraces evolving across parts. For this first dashboard, I have 15 status blocks, most of which I think I’ll be tracking for a while. But most updates will probably be 3-4 blocks. If you want to make your own blocktrace dashboard to track the pandemic (or anything else), scroll to the bottom for the how-to. It’s really easy in WordPress.

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