Highlighted passages from Huxley's Island

Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics is not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.

One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that I must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world wholly indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death.

The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.

"Which brings me back to those American doctors. Three of them were psychiatrists... We just couldn't believe our ears. They never attack [illness] on all the fronts; they only attack on about half of one front. So far as they're concerned, the physical fronts don't exist. Except for a mouth and an anus, their patient doesn't have a body. He isn't an organism, he wasn't born with a constitution or a temperament. All he has is the two ends of a digestive tube, a family and a psyche. But what sort of psyche? Obviously not the whole mind, not the mind as it really is. How could it be that when they take no account of a person's anatomy, or biochemistry or physiology?

Mind abstracted from body — that's the only front they attack on. And not even on the whole of that front. The man with the cigar kept talking about the unconscious. But the only unconscious they ever pay attention to is the negative unconscious, the garbage that people have tried to get rid of by burying it in the basement...

... it's not idiocy. It must be something voluntary, something self- induced—like getting drunk or talking yourself into believing some piece of foolishness because it happens to be in the Scriptures.

A rationalising, traditionally religious outsider:
"Don't try to behave as though you were essentially sane and naturally good. We're all demented sinners in the same cosmic boat - and the boat is perpetually sinking."

Encountering the horrible Messiah-complex theosophist:
What a spiritual way of saying, This is what I want to happen! Not as I will but as God wills — and by a happy coincidence God's will and mine are always identical. Will chuckled inwardly, but kept the straightest of faces.

"Does your Little Voice say anything about Southeast Asia Petroleum?" he asked.
The Rani listened again, then nodded. "Distinctly."

We neither encourage nor discourage. We accept it. Accept it as we accept that spider web up there on the cornice.

Given the nature of spiders, webs are inevitable. And given the nature of human beings, so are religions. Spiders can't help making fly-traps, and men can't help making symbols. That's what the human brain is there for - the turn the chaos of given experience into a set of manageable symbols.

Sometimes the symbols correspond fairly closely to some of the aspects of the external reality behind our experience; then you have science and common sense. Sometimes, on the contrary, the symbols have almost no connection with external reality; then you have paranoia and delirium. More often there’s a mixture, part realistic and part fantastic; that’s religion.

a federation of self-governing units, geographical units, professional units, economic units with room for initiative and democracy but no place for a dictatorship.

[Modern industrial society]: Take one sexually inept wage-slave, one dissatisfied female, two or three small television addicts; marinate in a mixture of Freudism and dilute Christianity, then bottle up tightly in a four-room flat and stew for fifteen years in their own juice. Our recipe is rather different: take twenty sexually satisfied couples and their offspring; add science, intuition and humour in equal quantities, steep in Tantrik Buddhism and simmer indefinitely in an open pan in the open air over a brisk flame of affection.

"Cement?" Will questioned.
Dr. Robert nodded. "One of the indispensable industries. We produceall we need and a surplus for export."
"And those villages supply the manpower?"
"In the intervals of agriculture and work in the forest and the sawmills."
"Does that kind of part-time system work well?"
"It depends what you mean by 'well.' It doesn't result in maximum efficiency. But then in Pala maximum efficiency isn't the categorical imperative that it is with you. You think first of getting the biggest possible output in the shortest possible time. We think first of human beings and their satisfactions. Changing jobs doesn't make for the biggest output in the fewest days. But most people like it better than doing one kind of job all their lives. If it's a choice between mechanical efficiency and human satisfaction, we choose satisfaction."

..."Sampling all kinds of work — it's part of everybody's education. One learns an enormous amount that way—about things and skills and organizations, about all kinds of people and their ways of thinking."
Will shook his head. "I'd still rather get it out of a book."
"But what you can get out of a book is never it. At bottom," Dr. Robert added, "all of you are still Platonists. You worship the word and abhor matter!"
"Tell that to the clergymen," said Will. "They're always reproaching us with being crass materialists."
“Crass,” Dr Robert agreed, “but crass precisely because you’re such inadequate materialists. Abstract materialism — that’s what you profess. Whereas we make a point of being materialists concretely — materialistic on the wordless levels of seeing and touching and smelling, of tensed muscles and dirty hands. Abstract materialism is as bad as abstract idealism, it makes immediate spiritual experience almost impossible.”

A dread world-historical hallucination:
...Onward Nazi soldiers. Onward Marxists. Onward Chris tian soldiers, and Muslims. Onward every chosen people, every Crusader and Holy War maker. Onward into misery, into all wickedness, into death. And suddenly Will found himself looking at what the marching column would become when it had reached its destination—thousands of corpses in the Korean mud, innumerable packets of garbage littering the African desert. And here (for the scene kept changing with bewildering rapidity and suddenness), here were the five flyblown bodies he-had seen only a few months ago, faces upwards and their throats gashed, in the courtyard of an Algerian farm. Here, out of a past almost twenty years earlier, was that old woman, dead and stark naked in the rubble of a stucco house in St. John's Wood. And here, without transition, was his own gray and yellow bedroom, with the reflection in the mirror on the wardrobe door of two pale bodies, his and Babs's, frantically coupling to the accompaniment of his memories of Molly's funeral and the strains, from Radio Stuttgart, of the Good Friday music out of Parsifal...

Nobody needs to go anywhere else. We are all, if we only knew it, already there. If I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am; and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am...

...in the remoter background, the great world of impersonal forces and proliferating numbers, of collective paranoias, and organized diabolism. And always, everywhere, there would be the yelling or quietly authoritative hypnotists; and in the train of the ruling suggestion givers, always and everywhere, the tribes of buffoons and hucksters, the professional liars, the purveyors of entertaining irrelevances.

...their uniformed victims would go on obediently marching and countermarching, go on, always and everywhere, killing and dying with the perfect docility of trained poodles. And yet in spite of the entirely justified refusal to take yes for an answer, the fact remained and would remain always, remain everywhere—the fact that there was this capacity even in a paranoiac for intelligence, even in a devil worshiper for love; the fact that the ground of all being could be totally manifest in a flowering shrub, a human face; the fact that there was a light and that this light was also compassion.

The heart has its reasons and the endocrines have theirs.

Lot more I could have quoted just to disagree with but I want these 'Highlighted passages' to be less neutral in selection and more neutral in tone than that.


the great toolchain

(c) PuppyOnTheRadio (2011)

To do web dev, I need an incantation:

"ES6, Atom, Mocha, Mongo, V8, Node + Promises, npm, Express, Docker, Grunt, Ractive, VMware, Git, Gitlab, JIRA!"

Together, these technologies form a toolchain and a stack. (To clarify: each of the above are different programs, or frameworks, all used in making one other program. Each link in the chain has quirks and an internal mini-language to learn. And this is all besides the home-grown scaffold the target program actually uses / consists in.) Two months ago, I'd no idea that people use a dozen widgets to get large projects up and talking; I had no acquaintance with most links in the above chain.

But I'm being melodramatic: we use these because the project I'm working on is so large; all of the links make my life easier, and most are unobtrusive (to the point where they don't need launching, even). And it is easy enough to get by with only a fewer components. It's just that I learned code by writing toy single-thread synchronous desktop applications first, and never wrote without stabilisers (an IDE) that did all of these tasks for me, silently. This was a bubble.

Anyway, if you're interested, here is an example of a very modern web-dev toolchain:

Coding: (Virtual) platform:
  • VM: VMware,
  • Virtual container: Docker

Runtime platform:
  • Server: Node
  • Compiler: V8, just in time
  • Optimiser: V8
  • Engine: V8

  • Package manager: npm
  • Library for superior asynchrony: Promise.js
  • Source control: Git
  • Repository manager: Gitlab
  • Project management: JIRA


This post actually started out as a little rant about one particular obnoxious buzzword in an industry full of them: 'the full stack developer' (i.e. someone totally skilled in every layer of development). But I was confusing the above toolchain (the production line) with 'the stack' (the product), and got into the former topic much more.

Anyway, trying to understand everything – 'working your way down the stack', nearer and nearer to bedrock protocols or hardware – is as admirable a goal in computing as it is anywhere: it is good to be less complacent, more aware of The World, even without the practical benefits it yields (in fixing problems faster and so on).

In this case, though there is the additional matter of appreciating what one is actually doing when one deigns to order 1 or 8 billion robots around, badly.

'The Mirror of Nature and the Image of Art' (1617) by Robert Fludd


Update for October 2015: a new job, much more organic system.

  • Text editor anarchy.*
  • Laravel: PHP web framework.
  • VM: Vagrant over VirtualBoxes. Here, replaces Docker.
  • New Relic: Server manager: identify slow queries, APIs, lines.
  • Git and Gitlab
  • : source control.
  • Kibana: Centralised analytics
  • Jenkins: Continuous Integration watcher.
  • PHPErrors
  • PHPMyAdmin: **
  • Phing: PHP build manager. Also Capistrano: Fancy modern build manager.
  • Slack #ops: Just a chat suite hooked up to the rest to shows all the build and migration messages in one place.
  • Navicat: DB editor

* One person is stuck with DreamWeaver because of some nice legacy code they can't be bothered porting.

** What an awful Web 1.0 name.


official research miscellany

(c) DCLCQ (2014)

I made a Markov chain of my social media data recently. Here are my cherry-picks (out of perhaps 300 seeds):

  • What an option for underhand comments made as just data.
  • I'm being a first-world problem?
  • I think the inevitable is still on loan from the History Department. will smash them.
  • ran out of your 'reality' bullshit.
  • We're the lowest of others; we continue in our children, and in Libya.
  • scratching a certain region of spacetime. gee thanks bud.
  • Ah, my cruelty.
  • I am currently reading Robbie Williams' thought-provoking autobiography...
  • metaphysics really want us to perve.
  • A city full of men die like dogs, for telling your name, sacred music in the matter. I think, too
  • account for the softer tribes living in the missing beats.
  • I'm moving closer to you, but it never fully comprehend woman's concrete situation. my epaulettes, ripped off
  • While desire focuses on the line of flame that characterizes the universe in terms of bogon sources such as the other class, they mean when it feels hot to you, but I wonder what they won't trouble you
  • Some economists, admittedly, survive the baws.
  • Well, let's be patient and say I don't listen so to enjoy the masterpieces of the left.
  • Renowned/notorious Oxbridge iconoclast who deserves a boot. one mornin' the sun was reused firstly for their probable zero turnout.
  • poetry is weathered away by sea air, tree roots shatter concrete.
  • economics tutorial trying to convince everyone he loves women it's done.
  • being told about rationality. it's about not being checked out of the question?
  • Free riders get the fuck out of credit


I am very disillusioned with higher education at the moment. But one indispensable* use occurs to me: I use formal education when I need to bully myself into learning superficially boring things.

Many fields – including all the formal ones – are hard to get into from a standing start; the average scholar (me) finds it difficult to get over their barriers to entry. (These barriers are so galling because they are cognitive rather than economic or social: learning the formalism, coming to knowing the silent conventions of proof and basic reuse, slowly building up a sense, against so much evolutionary moment, of the impalpable-yet-real. A usual reaction to being limited, rage, feels out of place where the cognitive is involved. One can rage about being too poor to get something, or too discriminated against to be allowed something, but it would be strange to get angry that one is too stupid for something.)

* Yes, ok, I could very easily use Beeminder for my problem, unmodified and at a tiny fraction of the cost of higher education. But economics sings me to sleep.


Words I enjoyed or hated recently:

  • Banausic (adj. pej.): Menial, crushing, deformative. Like, or befitting, a βάναυσος.

  • Pallard (n.): Person of pallor; white person. Neologism of Asimov's.

  • Cepstrum (n.): A spectrum transformed by log and inverse Fourier. (This word is onomatomathematical!: the first syllable is the 'spec' of 'spectrum', backwards.)

  • Quefrency (n.): The y-axis of a graphed cepstrum; the inverse of 'frequency'.

  • Lifter (n.): A cepstral filter.

  • Tocqued (adj.): Of hats, brimless. Of people, wearing a brimless. Strongest implication is of a cartoon chef's hat.

  • Democtator (n.): democratically elected dictator; controls their country through graft, electoral fraud, constitutional amendment, and abuse of law, rather than murder (e.g. Chavez, Putin, Shwe, Sein). See also the ugly and hamstrung 'democratator'.

  • Jerktech (coll. n.): Peer-to-peer technology aimed at low-grade immmorality, e.g. occupying public parking and selling it on; dating apps for racists, etc.

  • Avel (v.) : to disengage. The word's obscurity gives it connotations of.

  • Jomo (n.): The joy of missing out.

  • Sound whore (pej. sl. n.): Person who uses expensive headphones to hear the footsteps of distant approaching players in Call of Duty. For some reason this is not a clever and standard move but dishonourable. (Perhaps due to inequality and the gear doing the work.)

  • Redology (n.): The ancient and venerable study of Dream of the Red Chamber. For your entire life.

  • 獞 (pej.) or 僮: the Zhuàng ethnic minority; the first character includes the character for 'dog' on the left-hand side; the modern version replaces this insult with the component meaning 'human'.


I love people who manage to be in two camps and none. Or, better: two teams and none. (Call team the identities that people choose; call camps what we are crowded into.) Schema clashes: both trans and libertarian; colonel and private; stockbroker and utterly beautiful person.

Going by this revision, the idea of a 'race traitor' is totally hollow; race is a camp we are allocated to; and you cannot owe allegiance involuntarily; and you cannot betray what you owe no allegiance. If anyone cared what I thought, I would get in trouble for pointing out the similarity to 'class traitor'.

* Certainly people don't much recognise the distinction; certainly many people take their race as their team; certainly even anti-racists are in the business of hardening camps into teams (via self-identification), for the purposes of mobilising (using) people.


For all kinds of reasons, all kinds of people see the standard model of economics (the one taught to undergraduates) as an unscientific ideological mess. (The main and most understandable reasons being that this view absolves people of having to read economists.) However, this is only partially true.

While the field's replication rate - the best indictment we have of either the validity of a field's results or the statistical power of its methods - is just 34%*

Reach me down the concepts observable and unobservable object: for actually there is a clear empirical hierarchy in these theories:

  1. Actual price and quantity: observable in real-time.

  2. Elasticity: directly inferred from price and quantity. ("it requires only a pair price/quantity points that occur in what you’re willing to accept as the same market at the (nearly) same time.")

  3. Demand: unobservable; inferred very indirectly from data. "It can be estimated from visible market data with some additional assumptions about functional form, or from surveys conditional on the extent to which they are thought to reflect real potential market behavior. It can be validated ex post for prices actually offered in markets."

  4. Utility: unobservable; second-order inference from the inferred curves. "It can be contradicted (and is) by measured subjective well-being (MSWB), but this just means that MSWB is not the same as utility. Utility has the same scientific stature as the soul."

(All ideas Peter Dorman's)

* Though this is actually not so pathetic in context: compare psychology's 39%. Couldn't find an estimate for physics; I would guess above 60%, wouldn't you?


(c) DCLCQ (2014)

An engineering model of human strength:

  • Tensile strength: ability to deal with one's own contradictions, dilemmas, workload.

  • Flexural strength: ability to parry social manipulation.

  • Compression strength: ability to deal with limitations, poverty, without reduction in style, integrity, virtue.

  • Shear strength: ability to bear stresses for others, even if not in one's personal circle.

  • Elasticity: ability to absorb shock and still return to oneself.


This kind of thing brings out the compulsive streak in me and my mate, so:

  • R: The Unbearable Lightness of Being vs. Predator
  • Me: Wall-E vs Predator
  • R: Noah vs. Predator
  • Me: Marvel vs Capcom vs Predator
  • R: Nymphomaniac vs. Predator
  • Me: Epic Movie vs Predator
  • R: Don Quixote vs. Predator
  • Me: Twelve Angry Men vs Predator
  • R: Armageddon vs. Predator
  • Me: The Pursuit of Happyness vs Predator
  • R: Gandhi vs. Predator
  • Me: Paranormal Activity vs Predator
  • R: Spinal Tap vs. Predator
  • Me: Freddy Got Fingered vs Predator
  • Me: Indecent Proposal vs Predator

(c) DCLCQ (2014)


Been Reading, Q2 2015

(c) Ben Orlin (2015)

Increasingly, people seem to interpret complexity as sophistication, which is baffling – the incomprehensible should cause suspicion, not admiration. Possibly this results from the mistaken belief that using a mysterious device confers [extra] power on the user.

– Niklaus Wirth

“I’m afraid I don’t understand that” was a reply uttered in those days with great self-righteousness, the implication being that what you had said was deficient in true ordinariness… It was felt to be a very strong defence, not only intellectually but also morally. (“You are confused or pretentious, or both; my inability to understand is proof of virtue.”)

– Jasper Griffin

1/5: No.   4/5: 4/5: Very good.
2/5: Meh.   4*/5: Amazing but one read will do..
3/5: Skimmable.   5?/5: A possible 5/5.
3*/5: Mind candy.   5/5: Encore. A life companion.

Had my Final exams, but that didn’t stop me doing these, for reasons of perversity.

I wonder about books that would take me a full 3 months to read. Infinite Jest seems to take people at least this long (not me, cause I'm a fanboy who flatters himself as living very near to DFW's own native frequency). I’ve just gotten the LessWrong bible, but that is more of a single happy month, to be administered whenever one feels that human history is futile... There's the giant crunchy formal bastions: Kendall’s Advanced Theory; University Physics; TAOCP. (Though, as DFW points out, the reason these would take 3 months is not their difficulty, really:
If you said, ‘I spent the whole night in the library, working on a sociology paper’, you really meant that you’d spent between two and three hours working on it and the rest fidgeting and sharpening and organising pencils and doing skin-checks in the mirror and wandering around the stacks opening volumes at random and reading about, say, Durkheim’s theories of suicide.


  • Rip it Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978-1984 (2006) by Simon Reynolds. Exhaustive essay on art and/versus pop, politics and/versus aesthetics, intellect and/versus passion, and on how seriously music should, in general, be taken. He reads post-punk as far wider than the sombre anti-rock art-school thing people usually take it to be – so he includes Human League and ABC as post-punks with emphasis on the post: His scope is total: everything’s here (except for oi, hardcore, Ramonescore – i.e. the people who failed to make it past punk). Reynolds divides the genre in three broad camps:

    1. modernists (PiL, Cab Vol, No Wave, industrial, SST prog-punk),
    2. New Pop and synth,
    3. retro-eclectics (two-tone, Goth, Northern Soul).

    He has more critical acumen than any of the mooks in the brainy bands; more love than the fey melodists. I have lived in the post-punk woods – too jaded and too hopeful to be a punk – for getting on a decade, and I thought myself a connoisseur: until now I was not. Full review here.

  • Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World (2005) by Bruce Schneier. Some hard lessons taken from computer security are spun out into a general theory of Defence. His language is sometimes a little banal, but there is a fully worked-out and rigorous model of the world underneath, without deference to the creeping establishment or the splurging radicals.
    3*/5. [Library]

  • Algorithmics: The Spirit of Computing (1991) by David Harel. A thing of beauty: Harel’s attempt to write a work of computer science that doesn’t date. The general abstract introductory matter. The field is hugely consequential: different algorithms for the same task can differ in performance by massive orders of magnitude. Bible quotations book-end each chapter and give this a frisson of something other.
    4/5. [Library]

  • Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999) by David Foster Wallace. Draining, scarifying, funny, hyperactive, elevating. ‘Content warning’, as we now say. For instance, the person described in this passage is one story’s hero, a remarkable and powerful agent:
    [her] prototypical sandals, unrefined fibers, daffy arcana, emotional incontinence, flamboyantly long hair, extreme liberality on social issues, financial support from parents they revile, bare feet, obscure import religions, indifferent hygiene, a gooey and somewhat canned vocabulary, the whole predictable peace-and-love post-Hippie diction…
    i.e. He comes up with a perfect encapsulation of a facile social trend, but throws away his anger about it, makes us realise that our efforts to be tasteful / rational / grown-up are, here, making us small. DFW was an early mover in the revived Third Culture<> we can all enjoy: writing about the technical in terms of its meaning. But he was different: his syncretism came out of the negations of high postmodern theory, rather than the usual humanists with science backgrounds.
    Or like just another manipulative pseudopomo Bullshit artist who’s trying to salvage a fiasco by dropping back to a metadimention and commenting on the fiasco itself.
    ‘On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand’ made me cry long.

  • Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2009) by Donella Meadows. I was a tad hostile to this at first – mostly because her field bred a generation of pseuds who use ‘reductionism’ as an insult (rather than as an ontological term or useful way of thinking, instances of which denote the highest achievements of the species). This is the power behind the quotation from Niklaus Wirth, above. It is an attempt to make holism rigorous; given holism's deep intuitive appeal for people, the attempt is worthy attempt. But let's get clear:
    “REDUCTIONISM” (to the pseud): The claim that complicated or immeasurable things do not exist.
    “SYSTEMS THEORY” (to the pseud): The only way of understanding things is as a whole. Everything else omits and so isn't full.

    REDUCTIONISM (ontology): The claim that complicated things are made of simpler things. Only the simplest of them are physically real; the rest are mental models of their interactions.*
    REDUCTIONISM (methodology): The attempt to isolate causes and treat phenomena in terms of their most basic units (whether quark, string, person, transaction).
    SYSTEMS THEORY: When things get together, they exhibit features the individual things don’t.
    So stated, there is no conflict between good old reduction and shiny systems thinking. But Meadows distils the juicy bits into <200pp here, and freely admits that systems theory has an intractable indeterminacy built into it, and says this, too:
    Ever since the Industrial Revolution, Western society has benefited from science, logic, and reductionism over intuition and holism. Psychologically and politically we would much rather assume that the cause of a problem is “out there,” rather than “in here.” It’s almost irresistible to blame something or someone else, to shift responsibility away from ourselves, and to look for… the technical fix that will make a problem go away.

    Serious problems have been solved by focusing on external agents — preventing smallpox, increasing food production, moving large weights and many people rapidly over long distances. Because they are embedded in larger systems, however, some of our “solutions” have created further problems… Hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, economic instability, unemployment, chronic disease, drug addiction, and war, for example, persist in spite of the analytical ability and technical brilliance that have been directed toward eradicating them. No one deliberately creates those problems, no one wants them to persist, but they persist nonetheless.

    That is because they are intrinsically systems problems – undesirable behaviors characteristic of the system structures that produce them. They will yield only as we reclaim our intuition, stop casting blame, see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it.
    Systems talk is not just interdisciplinary, but meta-disciplinary. But it can rarely resolve empirical questions in the way that physics does. In saying, probably rightly, that a flow could go either way, depending on the state of the rest of the system and neighbouring systems, you lose or sideline crucial power to find out a single cause's influence, and thereby know more or less exactly what to do to the system. In other places, knowledge comes from isolating causes. A reductionist can agree with all the clever diagrams in this, happily concede that they illustrate the gnarly problems of collective action and other ecosystems very clearly, and not give up their peerlessly successful ontological stance at all.

  • * Also PHYSICALISM: Everything is made of physical things. (However, the physical may be stranger than you think.)


  • The Conquest of the Useless: Diaries from the Making of Fitzcarraldo (2004) by Werner Herzog, transl. Krishna Winston. I have a weird relationship with Herzog. The films’ typical tone and message (Nietzschean tragicomedy) doesn't really appeal to me. I watch them – and I watch them all, even since Dinotasia – for their literal and figurative voice: his relentless Teutonic ecstatic absurdity. I watch, waiting for that voice to roll out and make me hurt or laugh. (Since his humour is only sometimes on show, I am often laughing at him – and yet, out of mawkish brutalism, through my irony, rise the most affecting scenes I’ve ever seen: the beach shot in Cobra Verde; the clouds in Heart of Glass; the wandering penguin in Encounters; above all the final shot of My Best Fiend.)

    These diaries show him to be more thoughtful, rational, contrived and poetic than I had guessed. His sincere interest in the locals’ territorial plight, his physical participation in the set construction and management, his absorption in the suffering of jungle animals, his incongruous bright-eyed interest in mathematics, his astonishing codependency with Kinski, are all deeply disarming. The prose takes some getting used to, since the plain unflinching goth awe of it is the kind of thing we are primed to mock. It is well worth acclimating to: each entry is both bleak and hilarious, and the translation is rapturous and pellucid. There is such a lot of death.

    He certainly views the natural world right: as overwhelmingly a place of horrifying and pointless suffering, cooed over by rationalising pseuds from cars. There’s not a lot of technical info here, or explanations of the crew’s role or background; there's no timeline or context added; nor even very much about the film at all. But who cares? This is incredible as nature writing, dream journal, and logistical poetry.

  • Preliminary Assessment of Linux for Safety-Critical Systems (2002) by RH Pierce. UK government commissioned this to sanction what was happening already. Clears it for SIL1 and SIL2, and SIL3 is said to be accessible after some more testing. Because this report has a very specific aim, it actually provides a very clear introduction to the Linux movement and the technicalities of OS safety, both.

  • Reread: What the Hell are You Doing?: The Essential David Shrigley (2006). Hilarious, abject, shoddy magical realism. Voices from the last bus and the dawn of time, from dank cells and strip-lit service stations. Against institutional art and other pretences, and against indifference, and against no fun.

  • Authorship and the Art of David Lynch (2012) by Antony Todd. Pompous and shallow, with less intellectual content than the Rotten Tomato summaries of the films, let alone the films. (“Chapter One: Towards a Textual Historicity.”) Wields critical-theory Freudian shite to justify writing a book without any real discussion of the films, or the films' themes, or even any real biographical aspersion of Lynch-as-seen-in-his-films. Instead there is second-hand gossip dressed up as historical context and post-structuralist intertextuality (“Jaussian reception theory”: the discussion of reviews, ad campaigns, corporate manoeuvring). Materialism (in critical theory): the position that both artwork and authors are irrelevant to the study of the artwork.
    Let us, then, register modern auteurism in a reception practice whereby the authored film can compete for the reader’s attention in a coming together of inter- and extra-textual determinations through which the modern film spectator composes the aesthetic text for herself or himself...
    I’m not suggesting Todd is dishonest, or intentionally vague: instead, I think film studies has deluded this man into thinking he’s doing intellectual work when he shuffles these words around.

  • Note for your calibration of my opinion: I was very much looking forward to this book, and so I fell far. Also it’s been a while since I read any academic Arts work that didn’t strike me as hollow and fatally decoupled from the work at hand. Let alone its coupling to the world. I will strive to cherry-pick in future.

  • Neptune’s Brood (2013) by Charlie Stross. Extended essay on the macroeconomics of space bitcoin and the Graeberian lightness of debt. Also dead good breakneck fun, as always. Protagonist is a historian of finance and a gentle soul in ravenous space capitalism. Set in the Saturn’s Children world, with perhaps too much in common with that book (a powerful, psychotic matriarch antagonist; economic pressure as main plot driver; a serially manipulated and unviolent lead; space travel is shit). But good.

    Note: He devises a species of terrifying scavenger, the ‘Bezos worm’, which fall upon the wounded in vast packs, and incorporate their prey into their intestinal lining, to steal their genetic essence and thereby ease future cannibalism.
    3*/5. [Library]

  • Aloud: Sentenced to Life (2015) by Clive James. Poems written in the lengthening tail-end of his prognosis, mostly to his estranged wife. Plain, Classical, of cycles and renewal, death as travel, and the similarity of ends to beginnings.
    Her sumptuous fragments still went flying on
    In my last hours, when I, in a warm house,
    Lay on my couch to watch them coming close,
    Her proofs that any vision of eternity
    Is with us in the world, and beautiful
    Because a mind has found the way things fit
    Purely by touch. That being said, however,
    I should record that out of any five
    Pictures by Kogan, at least six are fakes.
    Some rage: against Assad and his torturers, against unreflective environmentalism, against Laura Riding or Gabriele d’Annunzio. Black humour relieving the strain of being wise and stoical.
    On a hard day in the Alhambra
    The Sultan sent an apple
    To the virgin of his choice.
    The logo on your Macbook
    Is an echo of the manner
    In which Alan Turing killed himself.
    Wanted to love this, but it is just good. It really picks up halfway through. His simple ones about e.g. Oxfam shops / action films are better than the cosmic ones. Best are ‘Plot Points’, ‘Echo Point’, ‘Transit Visa’, ‘Event Horizon’, ‘Nature Programme’, ‘The Emperor’s Last Words’.
    4/5. [Library]

  • Object-Oriented Software Engineering (2005) by Lethbridge and Laganiere. Software engineering is just a fancy word for design. It consists in getting a long way away from your code – procedural, data, architectural, set-theoretic abstraction – which I resented at first, but which is far more important than it looks. UML is a rigorous, machine-readable graphical logic. Rather than lines of code, design patterns are the real units of serious work. This book is exoteric to fuck (infected by the ‘stakeholder’ bureaucratese bug) and occasionally the examples are not illustrative, but all right.
    3/5. [Library]

  • The Decline and Fall of Science (1976) by Celia Green. Sullen Objectivist parapsychologist rant, aimed at convincing someone to give her £10m (“Considering how much there is to be done in this subject, that much would be reasonable”). Somehow this blared forth from elite trappings, Hamish Hamilton; it certainly bears an old, old Oxbridge sneer.
    In the early days of psychical research, that is to say, during the short period before the volume of activity in the subject petered out on account of the decline of civilisation...
    Chapter 1 is “The Decline and Fall of Civilisation”. 6 and 7 get the declines of physics and medicine out of the way in 22 pages. Chapter 14: “Psychokinesis”. Chapter 17: “Conclusion, for the Particular Attention of Millionaires”. So I admit I picked this up to laugh at it: the first page has Green declare herself an unappreciated genius, followed by pages of largely inapt aphorisms:
    When people talk about ‘the sanctity of the individual’ they mean ‘the sanctity of the statistical norm’.

    Women are the last people to entrust with children. Those who have repressed their own aspirations will scarcely be tolerant of the aspirations of others.

    ‘Social justice’ – the expression of universal hatred.
    (Though I like ‘Democracy: the idea that everyone should have an equal opportunity to obstruct everybody else.’) 2/5, extra point for her sheer force of aristocratic woo. [University! Library]

  • The Philosophical Programmer (1998) by Daniel Kohanski. Damn! Would have been fantastic to read first, before the stress and sheer pace of How To Program overcame the space I had in mind for What It Is To Program. Gentle, brief, happy introduction to the totally basic elements and history. Not abstract or sweeping enough for its stated aims, though. See Floridi for the grand social/phenomenological bits, Dennett and Minsky for its relevance to all thought.
    3/5, but 4 for noobs. [Library]

  • Reread: This is Water (2006) by David Foster Wallace. I’ve seen a whole lot of hatin’ on DFW lately – here, here, here, here. But who else marries the syrupy plain with the thrilling theoretical arcane? Could anyone fail to understand the obvious, masked point of this little lecture? (Roughly just: “It requires constant work to direct oneself from egotism and irritation; this work is the point of education and the essence of maturity.”)

    The audience titters throughout the recording; this grates on me. It’s the forced, knowing laughter you hear in theatres (or wherever large groups of upper-middle class people gather). I submit that it’s this feature of DFW’s audience that Ellis and TLP hate. I don’t know if reading DFW makes me any less self-obsessed and disdainful, but actually it feels like it might.
    5/5. [Here]


  • Aloud: Human Chain (2010) by Seamus Heaney. As ever, it’s of hands, eels, parents, wakes, digging, kennings, regret, the RUC, Cuchulain, and Caesar. Fully half are in memoriams. You have to be brave or famous to write this plainly. Plainness can be mistaken for absence of technique – ‘here, I could do that’ – but here it is very, very obvious that I could not. Feel your tongue:
    It’s winter at the seaside where they’ve gone
    For the wedding meal. And I am at the table,
    Uninvited, ineluctable.
    A skirl of gulls. A smell of cooking fish.
    Plump dormant silver. Stranded silence. Tears.
    Their bibbed waitress unlids a clinking dish.
    And leaves them to it, under chandeliers.
    And to all the anniversaries of this
    They are not ever going to observe
    Or mention even in the years to come.
    And now the man who drove them here will drive
    Them back, and by evening we’ll be home.
    Best are ‘A Herbal’, ‘Chanson d’Aventure’, ‘Miracle’, ‘Loughanure’, and ‘Route 110’, an odyssey about buying a second-hand copy of the Aeneid and then trying to go home.
    4*/5. [Library]

  • The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel (2011) by David Foster Wallace. What to say? Fifty fragments: unintegrated, contradicting, only some of the time amazing. Themes are as you’d expect: self-consciousness, freedom, duty, routine; the awful effects of unconstrained self-consciousness, freedom, duty and routine; the death of American civics; ‘the horror of personal smallness and transience’; the repugnance we feel for pure virtue; the extraordinary fires that are alight beneath some people. But, where in Jest these were expressed through (burdened with) drug slang and pharmacology, valley-speak, advertising dreck, and calculus, here we get accountancy minutiae, surely intended to repulse us. Yet the style of most of them is far less mannered than his finished work, which style we might call Valley-Girl Post-Doc.
    The reason for this public ignorance is not secrecy. The real reason why US citizens were/are not aware of these conflicts, changes and stakes is that the whole subject of tax policy and administration is dull. Massively, spectacularly dull.

    It is impossible to overstate the importance of this feature. Consider, from the Service’s perspective, the advantages of the dull, the arcane, the mind-numbingly complex. The IRS was one of the very first government agencies to learn that such qualities help to insulate them against public protest and political opposition, and that abstruse dullness is actually a much more effective shield than is secrecy. For the great disadvantage of secrecy is that it’s interesting.
    Institutional tedium – the default state for developed-world adults – is a profoundly important thing to address, one it takes (still will take) an unusual mind to illuminate for us. But Pale King is actually not a Kafkan tale of the monstrous and growing horror of bureaucracy; actually he is deeply impressed and convinced of the value of the people and their work, in large part because of its inhumane strictures, and lack of glory, and unpopularity. "Big Q is whether IRS is to be essentially a corporate entity or a moral one." (Though if ‘corporate’ is there read merely as meaning ‘maximising’, the distinction can be a misleading one.)
    To me, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ and ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way… I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.
    I tried to read them as short stories rather than chapters. This half-works. Actually the entire book was an intentionally fruitless setup – the major agonists all off-stage and everyone else just enduring. Stand out bits here. A couple of intentionally unconvincing first-person authorial inserts – “I, David Wallace, social security no…” – which affirm the reality of the garish IRS underbelly he fabricates, puts him in the scene. Fragment #8 is a horrifying Cormac McCarthy lyric, childhood psychosis. One (#22) is a hundred-page monologue, the character repetitive, rambling and conceited, but also the most developed and affecting. Of this wreckage we are given to read. What to say? That you’d have to love him, that you should.
    X / 5. [Library]

  • Introduction to Speech and Language Processing (2005) by Coleman.
  • ‘A Tutorial on Hidden Markov Models’ (1989), by Lawrence Rabiner.
  • etc.

  • Hidden Markov models are interesting: they let us get at things around corners. In my case, the corner is linguistic accommodation.

  • Eloquent Javascript (2011) by Marijn Haverbeke. Verbose, thoughtful and extremely well-implemented. Part of a growing tradition of artful tech textbooks – Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby, Learn You a Haskell, . Hides the specific things you need to know about JS – its mad liberal syntax, semicolon insertion, functors, – among a My First Programming. But no harm in seeing what one knows already. 4/5, 4* for noobs. [Here]

  • The Green Isle of the Great Deep (1944) by Neil Gunn. Odd anti-rationalist fantasy on the model of TH White. (What’s the word for the pre-Tolkien, pre-swords-and-sorcery model of fantasy?) Everything is oblique, from the discussion of Auschwitz at the start, to the Kafkan bureaucracy seated in a pastoral landscape. I admire his portrayal of the totalitarian Administrators: when defeated, they are not destroyed but put in their place. There are also passages like this:
    …to achieve the blessed intention, something practical had to be done. Things could not be left in the hands of the Administrators. In the story of man, that had been tried times without number and always it had failed. (The revolving Earth, pitted with its tragedies, cried in a far voice from the midst of space: ‘You cannot leave me to politicians.’)

    But administrators are needful, are necessary. To fulfil their high function they work with the cunning of the head. But to leave destiny to the head is to leave the trigger to the finger. And after the trigger is pulled they cry above the desolation – (and the desolation was terrible to behold): ‘We will make a new earth, and share the fruits thereof and the fishes of the deeps.’ But what happens?

    The fruit is processed and the salmon is canned.
    A good children’s book: pure of heart and finely weighted. But too didactic.

  • John Dies at the End (2005) by David Wong. There was a time, as yet unnamed, before self-conscious Social Media but after broadband. It can be sketched out in its totems: LimeWire, ytmnd, Something Awful. In this time was JDatE born. Slapstick body horror, and you’ll know already what you’ll make of it from that description. This is scarier than it is funny, but not a huge amount of either. I’m very happy that he was anointed and raised by the internet, that the gatekeepers were evaded. But.

  • American Hippopotamus (2013) by Jon Mooallem. Blasted through this nonfiction novella with great delight; so much astonishing Victorian detail, so much damn fun. The story of two hardcore spies, American and Boer, who ranged over the eC20th, blowing things up and meeting presidents and dissing Churchill’s fitness level and mining by hand as an anti-fascist action and striking oil and maybe killing lords – who campaigned together to bring an invasive species in to eat another invasive species and introduce a new meat animal to America. Duquesne to Burnham:
    To my friendly enemy, the greatest scout in the world, whose eyes were the vision of an empire. I craved the honour of killing him, but failing that, I extend my heartiest admiration.
    So damn fun, and, in the last instance, also deep. Mooallem reproaches us for having clicked on American Hippopotamus to make fun of the men. But:
    Rather than diversify and expand our stock of animals, we developed ways to raise more of the same animals in more places. Gradually, that process led to the factory farms and mass-confinement operations we have today—a mammoth industry whose everyday practices and waste products are linked to all kinds of dystopian mayhem, from the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to a spate of spontaneous abortions in Indiana, to something called blue baby syndrome, in which infants actually turn blue after drinking formula mixed with tap water that’s been polluted by runoff from nearby feedlots. That same runoff also sloshes down the Mississippi River to its mouth, pooling into one of the world’s biggest aquatic dead zones, seven or eight thousand square miles large at times...

    These aren’t problems that America created so much as ones we’ve watched happen—consequences of our having ducked other, earlier problems by rigging together relatively unambitious solutions that seemed safe enough. We answered the Meat Question. But there were more meat questions ahead.
    Simple, thoughtful, astonishingly well-written.

  • Consciousness and the Novel (2005) by David Lodge. A grab-bag as thoughtful, friendly, and sensible as you’d expect. He’s certainly much, much more trustworthy than other humanities academics, on either title topic. Main question: what implications do the new cognitive and biological sciences have for yr subjective life and art? How damaged would the great novels be by decentring and anti-human stuff? (Aside from the long and thoughtful opening essay, inspired in large part by Dennett, we are given a jovial bunch to consider: Dickens, Forster, Amis elder and younger, James, Updike, with Roth and Kierkegaard the outliers.) Closing interview, with Craig Raine, is seriously stilted, but it’s because he doesn’t want to play the invited game, waffling deepity. And so this book: refusing to hide from the reality of the mind, and succeeding in holding up books against that reality against great odds.

And did I seek the Kingdom? Will the Kingdom
Come? The idea of it there,
Behind its scrim since font and fontanel,

Breaks like light or water,
Like giddiness I felt at the old story
Of how he’d turn away from the motif,

Spread his legs, bend low, then look between them
For the mystery of the hard and fast
To be unveiled, his inverted face contorting.

Like an arse-kisser’s in some vision of the damned
Until he’d straighten, turn back, cock an eye
And stand with the brush at arm’s length, readying.

– Seamus Heaney

Rip it Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978-1984 (2006) by Simon Reynolds

An exhaustive essay on art and/versus pop, politics and/versus aesthetics, intellect and/versus passion, and on how seriously music should, in general, be taken. He reads post-punk as far wider than the sombre anti-rock art-school thing people usually take it to be – so he includes Human League and ABC as post-punks with emphasis on the post:
To varying degrees, all these groups grasped the importance of image, its power to seduce and motivate. And they all coated their music in a patina of commercial gloss, some of them pursuing a strategy of entryism, while others simply revelled in sonic luxury for the sheer glam thrill of it… it’s simply inaccurate to portray New Pop, as some histories of the period have, as a ‘like punk never happened’ scenario. Almost all of the groups had some connection to punk…

New Pop was about making the best of the inevitable – synths and drum machines, video, the return of glamour. Colour, dance, fun and style were sanctioned as both strategically necessary (the terms of entry into pop) and pleasurable (now acceptable, with the rejection of post-punk’s guilt-racked puritanism).

His scope is total: everything’s here (except for oi, hardcore, Ramonescore – i.e. the people who failed to make it past punk). Reynolds divides the genre in three broad camps:

  1. modernists (PiL, Cab Vol, No Wave, industrial, SST prog-punk),
  2. post-pop (New Pop, electro, mutant disco, synth)
  3. retro-eclectics (two-tone, Goth, neo-mods).

He gives chapters to the Other Places of lC20th popular music: whether Akron (Devo, Pere Ubu), Leeds (Gang of Four, Mekons), Sheffield (Cabaret Voltaire, Human League), Edinburgh (Fire Engines, Josef K, Associates). There is a covert critique of punk (that is, the messianic punks) throughout the book:
Elsewhere, The Heartbreakers' stodge of refried Chuck Berry was barely more advanced than British pub rock — Dr Feelgood on an IV drip of smack rather than lager…

While the committed activists spouted the textbook party line, a more diffuse left-wing academic culture existed based on a sort of ideological pick 'n' mix — a trendy-lefty autodidactism fuelled by second-hand paperbacks and beginner's guides to Gramsci, Lukacs, and Althusser , garnished with Situationism…

Blending often-incompatible systems of thought, the resulting hodge-podge lacked rigour from the stern standpoint of academics and ideologues alike. But in rock music, a little rigour is rather bracing and galvanising. In the grand tradition of British art-rock, theory helped them achieve the sort of conceptual breakthroughs that more organically evolving groups never reach.

Instead, his favourites are the gorgeous misfits-among-misfits, who managed to be neither modernist nor entryist nor shill: Talking Heads, Meat Puppets, Associates, Japan. Crucially, he is charitable to all the tributaries: chart-hungry post-pop, politically-rabid modernism and the interminable ugliness of Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse and No Wave: this makes Rip It Up real history rather than hagiography, and so much more than I or anyone has managed.

He has more critical acumen than any of the mooks in the brainy bands; more love than the fey melodists. I have lived in the post-punk woods – too jaded and too hopeful to be a punk – for getting on a decade, and I thought myself a connoisseur: until now I was not.