Wednesday December 1, 2021 — Taipei, Taiwan
In November, I finished up my time in the Adirondacks, visited NYC and SF for a bit, and biked from Sant Cruz to Monterey. Now I’m back in Taipei, currently quarantining.This is the second time I’ve quarantined in Taiwan, and I’m astonished every time that most other countries don’t do this. It’s been almost a month since Taiwan has had any local COVID cases, and the peak number of COVID cases per-capita Taiwan ever had is lower than the lowest number of cases per-capita in the United States since March 2020. Quarantining people when they arrive is a key part of this, but many people I talk to in the US think that the idea of doing that is completely preposterous. The month feels like it’s flown by, but I guess travel will do that to you.
A beautiful view from our drive from the Adirondacks down to NYC.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about they dynamics of ideology, and how ideologies grow and gain power. There’s a particular semi-fringe movementSee these threads on my private twitter for details, if you have access there. that I’ve been following for a few years and am pretty concerned about, but it’s hard to know what to concretely do about that. Someone recently recommended me the 1941 article Who Goes Nazi?, which was a interesting lens to think about this through. In general, it’s felt pretty lonely noticing and being concerned about things, and then struggling to explain to people around my why they should care. I see similar dynamics in the growing wave of cryptocurrency / NFT / web3 scams, although it seems far too late for me pushing on that to have much leverage.
The longest lunar eclipse since 1440, and until 2669, which I watched with a few housemates.
I’ve been trying to restructure my social interactions a bit — I’ve been trying to get better at texting, and dipping my toes back into twitter a bit. I doubt I’ll last long on Twitter — my thoughts.page still feels much more comfortable — but I’ve been enjoying chatting with people a bit more, and working on getting better at the skill of texting, which is something I’ve been quite bad at for a long time.
It’s been a slow month for reading — I finished two books, started two books, am continuing through one:
- Cultish by Amanda Montell (finished): I finished reading this at the beginning of the month, and my assessment of it is pretty similar to when I started — I think it’s quite good, although it is longer than it really needs to be. I enjoyed that because I enjoy easy reading about cults, but it’s probably not for everyone.
- Fully Automated Luxury Communism by Aaron Bastani (finished): I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. Its fundamental point is that capitalism responds to post-scarcity by introducing artificial scarcity, and thus if we expect to reach post-scarcity in more areas due to improving technology, we need some economic system other than capitalism to handle that. I think that point is insightful and important. However, the whole book is so techno-utopian that it makes it impossible to take seriously without researching every single claim that it makes for yourself — the breaking point for me was when the author uncritically took the predictions of the CEO of Just Mayo (fka Hampton Creek), a company most well know for being investigated by the SEC for potentially defrauding their investors, at face value. In general, there’s a lot of looking at the beginning of S-curves and calling them exponentials, instead of trying to actually figure shit out. On the whole, I can’t recommend it unless you’re very skilled at not being convinced by rhetoric, but I’m glad that I read it.
- When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut (started): I’ve only read the first chapter so far — it was excellent, although heavy.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (started): I’m rereading this, after first reading it when I was notably more young and impressionable than I am now. I’m struck by how, despite not remembering much from my first read, many of the things in this books are things I’ve spent a significant amount of time mulling over in the years after I first read it. It’s too beautifully written of a book to be able to trust it, but I love it all the same.
- Polysecure by Jessica Fern (continuing): I’m continuing to read this as part of my reading group, and it’s still good. I’ll probably publish a more full review in the future, but for the moment, if it sounds interesting to you, I recommend it!
My main programming project this month has been hacking on my script for deep-linking text selections on webpages, which I intend to release as a library eventually. I’ve made a lot of progress fixing bugs, cleaning up the code, using typescript, and adding end-to-end tests, and I’m excited to release it soon!
I did some other small bits and bobs here and there: a script for converting KOReader highlights to markdown, more work on cryptopals, fixing some timezone-handing and changelog-generating bugs in my notebook blog script, and fixing mobile styling for emotional.codes.
I have two upcoming long-term projects that I haven’t started working on but am very excited about as well. My plan is to finish up the deep linking script while I’m in quarantine, and then start another project once I’m out, as well as getting back to doing a little bit of paying-the-bills work, which I’ve been neglecting.
In general, I’ve been thinking about how I want to think about non-job programming. A lot of my social circle is really down on thinking about tech at all outside of work, which I’m very sympathetic to, but also… I got into computers before I had any conception that they might be a job, and letting capitalism destroy that joy that I used to have feels sad. I dunno, I’m sure it’s something that I’ll continue to think about a lot — and if you have thoughts on the matter, I’d be curious to hear them :)
In terms of miscellaneous media, I watched more movies than I usually do:
- Tenant (2020): I’m a snob for time travel films, and while this one is better than many, it’s still not good. I think it’s the first big-budget time travel movie to have Primer-esque time travel dynamics, but they ruin it by not containing the reverse-travelling to time machines in the way Primer does, which makes a lot of the physics and causality not really make any sense. They try to pass off their own failings as “oh you’re just not smart enough to understand,” which makes it even more annoying. The best two time-travel movies continue to be Primer (2004) and Los Cronocrímenes (2007).
- Soul (2020): It was fine. It felt a little like Disney was trying to make Inside Out over again, but they did it worse this time.
- Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013):This film comes with the caveat that the director makes a very casual and upsetting reference/simile to rape, from around 1:07:15 to 1:07:46. You can skip it without really losing any context, though. This was quite something — my friend pitched it to me as “it makes overconfidence look like so much fun,” which is definitely accurate. It’s full of ridiculous, larger-than-life tales, and makes a good case for Jodorowsky’s Dune being extremely influential in 70s and 80s scifi movies.
I started watching Bojack Horseman, which is as good as everyone says it is — it really perfects the self-aware/nihilistic animated cartoon vibe. It’s like all the good parts of Rick and Morty, without the edgelord bullshit.
Sound Hour at the Audium Theatre in San Francisco was excellent. If you’re nearby, I recommend it — it’s very well crafted.
Finally, I’ll close things out with a roundup of links that I thought were interesting or I enjoyed.
Politics and Ideology