Weekend Reading – May 20, 2018

1. I’ve been mulling over the article written by Dan Nosowitz for New York Magazine’s Select All page – I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore. Nosowitz laments the fact that our time web browsing has increasingly concentrated on a select number of sites (in his case, Twitter, Netflix and Facebook, in my own case, Reddit, Youtube and GMail), as opposed to the more free-form, quirky collection of blogs, discussion boards, and random webpages that made up the Internet 1.0 (otherwise known as the pre Facebook age, say 1995-2005?).

As Tim Wu and others have chronicled, this reflects a concerted effort on the part of Big Tech to monopolize your time on the internet – both via web browers and mobile.  

Incidentally, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Cyan World’s first game, the immersive Myst, I’ve been playing Myst’s sequel, Riven, which builds on everything that was so great about Myst, and improves on it. In comparison to our current age of maximalist, big budget games, the game is an incredible example of the concept of doing more with less – in this case, gorgeous art and sound production to create an immersive gaming experience.

In particularly thorny spots, I’ve unintentionally traveled back in time to the bygone internet era described in the article – the video game walkthrough. These guides were written by passionate, unaffiliated authors on old Angelfire and Geocities pages with ASCII art and walls of Courier font – no clickbait slide shows or jump-cut-laden Youtube videos. Nostalgia, ultra.

2. From the ongoing “Infuriating Accounts From Inside the Trump Administration” Series, Evan Osnos reports for the New Yorker on the ongoing dysfunction and distrust inside the vast collection of Federal agencies and departments.

3. An always upsetting check-in from the Economist on the upcoming Venezuelan elections on May 20th. Maduro is currently polling second behind an opposition candidate, but it seems unlikely to expect any semblance of a Democratic election (Maduro’s term ends in January – ample time to falsify / nullify results). Bravo to John Oliver for shining a broader light on the situation to the American, HBO-watching public.

4. In this weekend’s NY Times magazine was an article that, on its face, seems almost too logical and straightforward to be the subject of a longform piece: the importance of a long-term relationship between a medical doctor and patient in primary care.

The article accurately captures a lot of what I am most repelled by when it comes to the US healthcare system – the conflation of one’s health and the human need for care in improving livelihood with the financial concepts of profit and loss. The fact that an Economist (in this case David Meltzer, who is both an economist and a primary-care physician) needs to prove that there’s a long-term beneficial relationship between a doctor and his long-term patients is both sad and a clear statement on the current state of the US healthcare system.

As the article recounts, the inability to maintain a single primary care doctor and consistent care disproportionately effects the poor, which creates a cycle of escalating costs and poor outcome. When people don’t have caregivers in their family, longtime doctors, or funds to ensure transportation and care in the United States, they suffer. 

5. Christopher Nolan is releasing an restored version of 2001: A Space Odyssey in US theaters this weekend after premiering the film at Cannes last week. 

However, in a mix of nostalgia and the continued insistance of the supremacy of analog film by many of our greatest filmmakers, Nolan has chosen to “unrestore,” rather than “restore” the film

His goal is to provide filmgoers with the experience of seeing 2001 the way audiences saw it in 1968, with all of the imperfections of film. Nolan compares the difference between film and the digitization of the film: “the best analogy for the way the eye sees, [the] most immersive, the most emotionally involving.”

Immersive is the key word to me. Like other artifacts of the analog age, viewing movies in a movie theater may be one of the last refuges of concentration, and devoting that concentration to the deep colors and overall richness of film is certainly a worth endeavor in my eyes.

6. Trump’s actions on trade (and related sanctions) seem haphazard, impulsive, and unplanned, just like his broader Presidency to date. The Economist surveys the delicate balance in global commerce under the Trump Presidency, who has increasing used financial sanctions to pressure countries to kowtow to its political will.

The Economist asked whether Europe would be willing to impose the sort of retaliatory sanctions on the US that the Americans plan to levy on the Europeans and European companies for their ongoing commercial relations with Iran. Former Obama officials see this as incredibly unlikely, citing the increasingly dollarised world, businesses and banks are so worried about being shut out of the financial system that there is in fact “over-compliance” with the legal requirements imposed by America.

Per an US Executive: “Trump is the sort of guy who punches you in the face and if you punch him back, he says ‘Let’s be friends’. China punched back and he retreated. The Europeans told him how beautiful he was, but they got nothing.”

7. Late last year, I picked up the book Other Minds, which is a remarkable pop science account of the incredible and unique properties of the octopus and its related species (squid, cuttlefish, etc.).

The book’s author, Peter Godfrey-Hall, is a Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney. Godfrey-Smith has devoted his career to the “philosophy of biology,” studying the origin of life on Earth and its evolution.

Through his study of octopi in labs and oceans across the world, Godfrey-Smith contended that the octopus’ brain and cognitive function, including its nesting habits, range of vision and ability to intuitively camouflage, are foreign to any other known species, and therefore fall outside all known evolutionary trees.

Now, a collection of scientists have published a paper speculating on the origin of the octopus, and its prehistoric antecedents, positing that they could be “extraterrestrial imports.”

The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral Nautilus to the common Cuttlefish to Squid to the common are not easily to be found in any pre-existing life form – it is plausible then to suggest they seem to be borrowed from a far distant “future” in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large.

“One plausible explanation, in our view, is that the new genes are likely new extraterrestrial imports to Earth – most plausibly as an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized Octopus eggs.

“Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth circa 270 million years ago.

Cool stuff.

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