A map of things we cannot see: Antonym No. 9

Don't call it a comeback.

People ask ‘Who am I?’ and expect to be told a story. The first thing you need to know about yourself, is that you are not a story."

– Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century


Dear Reader

Stewart Lee, pro-grump pot and favourite comedian of annoying, self-righteous liberals like myself, has a section in his some-time emails to his fan-base called: “I Arrogantly Recommend”. That’s what this newsletter is – a bunch of arrogant recommendations of things I find fascinating and think you should too, even though you have a completely different set of tastes, perspectives, needs and interests. It’s a passive-aggressive challenge to how you spent your attention this week with an implied instruction about how you should spend some time today. If you demur, you will just confirm my worst suspicions about your vacuousness and unsuitability to belong to this mailing list. I suggest you unsubscribe now, and download TikTok which should kill some time until the kids go back to school for little more cost than carpal tunnel syndrome from your thumb obediently scrolling and like for little dopamine squirts like the good lab rat in the Zuckerwelt complex that you know deep down you are.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. It’s been a tough week.

Here are some links and quotes to interesting things that I humbly offer for your clicky pleasure… (DON’T FORGET TO LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE)

Nerd on this: personal tech stats

This from a letter to my company this week indulged in some technology advance vertigo:

I’ve got the keys to the new office. They magically appeared in my email inbox and I downloaded the app and – Voila! – there they are!

Full disclosure: I love technology. I grew up at a time when pocket calculators and digital watches seemed like the cutting edge. My Dad won a competition for – wait for it – predicting the future of the office, and the prize money went on a ZX Spectrum, one of the first affordable home computers when I was about ten. OMG it was amazing.

The Spectrum had memory of 48K. To give that context, 48 kilobytes is enough memory to hold 23,000 words in a plain text document. A third of a novel. My watch has about 350,000 times more memory and cost about the same, adjusting for inflation, as the Spectrum did in 1982.

While we’re nerding out about tech. The app that opens all of the doors at I’ve got the keys to the new office. They magically appeared in my email inbox and I downloaded the app and – Voila! – there they are!

Full disclosure: I love technology. I grew up at a time when pocket calculators and digital watches seemed like the cutting edge. We weren’t that well off, but my Dad won a competition for – wait for it – predicting the future of the office, and the prize money went on a ZX Spectrum, one of the first affordable home computers when I was about ten. OMG it was amazing.

The Spectrum had memory of 48K. To give that context, 48 kilobytes is enough memory to hold 23,000 words in a plain text document. A third of a novel. My watch has about 350,000 times more memory and cost about the same, adjusting for inflation, as the Spectrum did in 1982.

While we’re nerding out about tech. The app that opens all of the doors at Plus X is 21.8MB. It would take the combined power of 458 ZX Spectrums to let me into my new office.

My phone has 5.6 million times more memory than my first computer. X is 21.8MB. It would take the combined power of 458 ZX Spectrums to let me into my new office.

My phone has 5.6 million times more memory than my first computer.

Read this post: Brian Morrisey on unbundling the events industry

Brian Morrisey, the former AdAge journalist and editor at Digiday, has a useful analysis of how industry events will emerge from the pandemic in his The Rebooting newsletter. These events serve a whole bunch of different purposes – sales, inspiration, networking, market intelligence, training, entertainment – all wrapped in a big, ugly package and plonked in Cannes, or Earls Court, Las Vegas, Singapore, or wherever:

The problem of this bundle is the same for every bundle. Many of the features don’t apply to different audience segments. Sales people have no interest in the programming -- most would be out by the croissants buttonholing people -- and top executives had no interest in being pitched by vendors. The CFOs hate the boondoggling. And so on.

Early on in the pandemic, at a company meeting, I urged our sales team to skip mourning the loss of in-person events and find ways instead to solve for the needs of clients because those didn’t go away. Events are a means to an ends -- most are about fostering relationships between attendees -- and inevitably, the adaptions of the past year will change events, as they’re reformulated to serve different purposes. Just as you don’t need a full cable subscription to watch live sports programming, new models will emerge that reconfigure the benefits of in-person events.

Sign up for this free thing: Caroline Webb on how to have a good day despite the pandemic

Caroline Webb wrote the amazing How to Have a Good Day, which uses sound findings from neuroscience to help understand how are brains work during a typical working day. (There’s a character called Anthony in it who may be a thinly veiled version of yours truly.) Now she’s running a series of webinars every Wednesday to talk about practical things we can do to work while dealing with the emotional turmoil of these pandemic times – “How To Have A Good Day in Uncertain Times.”

Every Wednesday on LinkedIn, at 10am Eastern Time time, I’ll pick one practice you and your colleagues can use to stay centered, upbeat, productive and clear-headed, whatever life is throwing aat you right now. Each video will outline practical science-based tips you can apply right away. The first one will be on March 10th.

You can sign up for the series here for free. If you’ve not read her book, I really can’t recommend it too highly, we very often include a copy in the induction pack for new joiners at Brilliant Noise.

Get your hit of the sublime with this map of black holes

As Tim Harford explained in the FT, amazing ideas are often overlooked:

In 1928, Karl Jansky, a young radio engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, began researching static interference that might obscure voice transmissions. Five years later, after building a large rotating antenna and investigating every possibility he could think of, he published his remarkable conclusion: some of the static was coming from the Milky Way.

It was ten years before scientists stopped scoffing at the idea and radio astronomy was born. This week we have what Nature charmingly called “the best-ever map of supermassive black holes” (full paper here). Literally a map of things we cannot see.

Believe a human wrote this

The Drum carried a piece on AI-powered creative:

In the near future, the smartest creative teams will be those that can use A.I. writers in productive ways, as a computer assist to a creative session and a source of ideas that might spark better ones.

That makes sense. I’ve not heard anyone seriously worried that humans are going to be out of a copywriting or creative job soon because of machine learning tools. The lazy thinking approach to this kind of analysis is that AI it’s an either or choice, when in fact thinking will be supported by new kinds of tech. See the concept of centaur chess for the model for this, sometimes more helpfully called Advanced Chess.

Doug Engelbart and JCR Licklider are two of the people who thought deeply about what competitors should be able to do for us and our cognitive work. If you want to see someone trying to invent the future and largely succeeding, watch Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos (or some of it, it’s about 100 minutes long. Here’s a taste of the first mouse and outliner apps being demonstrated in 1968.

AI used well, like all tech, will boost our ability to spend time on high quality thinking. According to Howard Rheingold in his book Mind Amplifiers

Licklider had been a psycho-acoustician before World War II. Returned to his scientific investigations after the war, Licklider grew frustrated with the long hours that he, as a scientist, spent “getting into position to think.”34 Like Engelbart, Licklider imagined that computers might evolve into machines to help scientists — if only there were a better way to link scientists with computers than punch cards and printouts."

“Getting in a position to think” is what we should ask of all of computing tools, including the ones we use today.

Quick links

That’s it for this week. I hope you found something interesting here.

Hasta luego

Antony