Month: March 2022

Revealed preferences

The tale of how the original Mac take on a calculator program was designed is fascinating:

After playing around for a while, [Chris Espinosa] came up with a calculator that he thought looked pretty good. But the acid test was showing it to Steve Jobs, in his role as our esthetic compass, to see what he thought.

We all gathered around as Chris showed the calculator to Steve and then held his breath, waiting for Steve’s reaction. "Well, it’s a start", Steve said, "but basically, it stinks. The background color is too dark, some lines are the wrong thickness, and the buttons are too big." Chris told Steve he’ll keep changing it, until Steve thought he got it right. […]

So, as the conclusion of this story reveals the surest to get Steve Jobs to reveal his preferences for a calculator design was to give him access in development to a tool that let him use drop-down menus to set user preferences.

Given the way that Jobs-era Apple software was so opinionated, so averse to offering users options to set parameters according to their preferences, there’s a certain irony in that.

Executive summary: user preferences are a fine thing, but only if the user’s ID is

[Via Memex 1.1]

A new angle

Not exactly breaking news about climate change, but unquestionably a neat way to visualise recent temperature changes:

The visualization presents monthly global temperature anomalies between the years 1880-2021. These temperatures are based on the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP v4), an estimate of global surface temperature change. Anomalies are defined relative to a base period of 1951-1980.

To my mind, the only issue is that it’s only at the end of the visualisation that the vantage point shifts to make crystal clear the extent to which the trend has been heading in only one direction for the last 40 years, and only getting worse over the last 20 years.

Much lip service to the cause of action to prevent climate change, little visible progress in the right direction.

[Via jwz]

Station Eleven ended

I’ll have more to say about this, but first just a quick note to confirm that now that the STARZPLAY stream of HBO’s Station Eleven has come to an end I’m delighted I went to the trouble of seeking the show out.

The story and the way they chose to tell it took a few episodes to get used to, but by the time they had trained their audience in what to expect from the story their clever, lyrical approach to adapting an existing tale paid massive dividends.

Arguments about how realistic the story of this particular post-apocalyptic pocket of human civilisation was are, in my opinion, missing the point. The author of the source material wanted to tell a story that took an optimistic view of what could happen in the wake of a ruinous pandemic given an attitude that survival was insufficient, and the showrunners seem to have honoured that by producing a show that has to be one of the highlights of what’s been a little bit of a golden age for televised speculative fiction over the last couple of years, between Station Eleven and Devs and Tales From The Loop.

Good Law?

The Good Law Project poses a simple question about how senior UK government ministers have used their personal email systems for official business in recent years:

[Why…] would Ministers choose to use personal accounts rather than official channels?

They seem to believe this is a loophole to avoid scrutiny. If politicians think they can evade oversight from the Courts or dodge Freedom of Information requests by using private email and Whatsapp, the question becomes: what have they got to hide?

If you think that’s a good question, you might want to consider donating to a fund to help the Good Law Project cover their potential costs in pressing the government for an answer.

[From a recent fundraising email]

This is an important case in the battle for accountability. But going up against the significant resources of the Government is expensive. In this case we have secured a cost-capping order which means if we lose, we will need to pay £125,000 for Government costs, as well as the costs of our own legal team. So far, we have managed to raise £76,000.

If you are in a position to do so, will you donate to the legal challenge?

, 18 March 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .

Some people

Let’s see how long it takes for Amazon Go-style technologies to spread to other retailers. How long will it take for the rest of us to learn from the attitudes of … some people.

(Normally my reaction would be that it’ll be a long time before such technologies get deployed anywhere I regularly shop, but given how keen local branches of supermarket chains have been to radically reduce the numbers of staff deployed on tills during opening hours I’ve a feeling I’ll be encountering this technology sooner than I imagine.)

[Via Memex 1.1]

Apple employee #4 remembers

Paul Ford points us to a recording of a talk from 1997 from Bill Fernandez about life at Apple as employee #4.

Fascinating stuff.

[Via @ftrain]

, 18 March 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .


Having subscribed to STARZPLAY so I could watch Station Eleven – a very good decision, as it turned out – I’ve decided to compensate for the impending gap in my viewing schedule once Station Eleven ends by catching up with a slightly older show streaming via the same service, Counterpart.

As I hoped would happen way back 1 before any of us had even heard of COVID-19 when I was mulling over the prospect of Counterpart ever turning up on this side of the Atlantic, the producers/rights owners have clearly decided to take what money they can get even if the show wasn’t a global smash hit.

On the evidence of the first few episodes, Counterpart looks very promising. J K Simmons has fun playing two versions of the same person,2 and with Olivia Williams clearly destined to play a bigger part than her role in the first episode suggested this has the feel of a show that knows what it’s doing and has the cast to have some fun with such a juicy Sci-Fi premise.3

I know the show only got two seasons, and I have no idea whether the general view was that the show went off the rails as it proceeded, but the first five episodes suggest that the show-runner seems to be content to invest time in drawing us a picture of just how far the two worlds’ versions of Simmons’ character, Howard Silk, are from one another. I’m content to trust in J K Simmons and his cast mates, for now.

  1. See footnote 3 in this post from 2019
  2. One of the big questions from the start seems to be how come Howard Silk’s Earth-Prime counterpart ended up with such a different career path given that the initial split between worlds/timelines occurred during his/their lifetime. Pure chance, or something about different people around him in the two versions of his life providing/withholding opportunities for him to follow a different path? 
  3. Seeing that in episode 2 Stephen Rea is also part of the cast only adds to my expectation that going forward this show has all the cast it needs to deliver greatness. Which slightly makes me worry whether the show’s demise was down to the writers not giving their cast the material to deliver on the idea’s potential. 
, 14 March 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Fish don’t swim, they’re swum

Matt Webb1 on how human perception limits our understanding of how the world around us really works:2

Fish swim by using the surface physics of their skin to create and exploit low pressure micro vortices in the water.

fish somehow exploit the vortices to reduce the amount of energy they need to combat the momentum of the flowing water.

And, in particular:

It appears that if there are no useful vortices already formed in the water (e.g. by rocks etc) – the trout can actually make some itself – and then extract energy from them.


The skin is vital:

The scales create a ‘one way surface’.

Vortices in the water are generated by the skin, and the side-to-side movement of a trout is the fish slipping between the vortices, pinballing between them, propelled on them like a boat on wind. (Shown, says the article, by the fact a dead trout on a line in moving water will still exhibit the characteristic swimming action.)

All of which leads to this REMARKABLE line: [Emphasis added. JR]

Fish don’t swim, they’re swum.

ARGH. Too good. Am dead now.

All of which leads Matt to this conclusion:

[Emphasis added again, because this is the really important bit. JR]

LOOK: wheels are great because they make movement easier – but it turns out there are other mechanisms (surface physics, rapidly evolving vortices, one-way skin) which similarly lower the energy for motion.

But they are hard for us humans to imagine. And hard to discover! And hard to do! These new kinds of wheels operate at scales which are outside the human everyday. We don’t derive them as simple solutions to equations. We stumble around in the dark and find them in the corners.

The whole post reminds me of the truth of a quote I remembered from when I read something Arthur C Clarke wrote3 many years ago: "The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine."

  1. Apologies to Matt for the lengthy quote from his post – though it’s only a small portion of one of the examples he quotes in his original post. I urge you (obviously) to follow my link to his original post, because it’s definitely worth it. I just wanted to capture the way he gets to that last phrase he quotes from his source. Mind blown! 
  2. NB: All the phrases that Matt quotes in his post and show as second-level quotes here are from this site. Here at Sore Eyes, as I’ve never adopted the neat quotebacks system Matt uses at Interconnected I have to faff around with multiple levels of quoting text and liberal use of bold text to get something that’s at best 25% as elegant as the method he uses on his site. That’s entirely on me. 
  3. I misremembered that as a phrase from Arthur C Clarke, but in fact he was slightly adjusting an observation made by J B S Haldane. Whoever said it first, it definitely applies here. 
, 5 March 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .