Web Miscellany: Compilation #81

Hello, friend! How are you? How has you week been? Work has been extremely busy, as my department head moved on to a new opportunity. On top of that, I’ve had a flare up of various allergy and autoimmune symptoms and haven’t felt great. However, I had the opportunity to visit my now-vaccinated grandparents for the first time in over a year and it was nothing short of wonderful. My partner has been volunteering on an algorithmic stablecoin project and with a psychedelic medicine startup company. He is so smart and so cool, and I am so lucky!

My aunt is in hospice at home and doctors have given her another week, maybe. She’s a devout Catholic and was able to receive last rites and several priests visited to comfort her and sing Latin hymns. I think she’s at peace and ready to go.

What are your plans for the week ahead? My immunologist is testing for selective antibody deficiency (as preliminary tests suggest my immune system may not recognize polysaccharide antigens) as well as Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). Based on my allergies and the presumed state of my immune system, I’m ineligible for any of the three available vaccines, so the waiting continues.

I hope that your weekend and the week ahead are filled with joy, and that you and your loved ones continue to stay safe and healthy. Here are a few links from around the web. Feel free to share anything interesting you’ve stumbled upon in the comments.

  1. Food for thought: “For me, beauty is a physical sensation, something we feel with our whole body. It is not the result of judgement. We do not arrive at it by way of rules. We either feel beauty or we don’t.” – Jorge Luis Borges
  2. From the archives: “Imagine a five-foot-nothing Italian with a heavy accent, oversized nose, and enough stories to ensure you always circumnavigate away from his porch if you’re in a rush. His goodbyes involve kisses on the checks and finger-wagging reminders that he expects to be invited to the (eventual) wedding. This is my dear, elderly neighbor, Nico.” A year ago, our dear sweet and chatty neighbor passed away while stranded in an Italian hospital with a broken hip in the midst of a burgeoning pandemic. I will never forget his kindness and the joy. My favorite Nico story is that of The Very Bad Man!
  3. Why blog?: Blogs are great. Yes, yes they are.
  4. On books as a portal: “You step into a kind of magic circle when you start writing, and you step into a magic circle when you start reading. When I step into the portal, I am not sure what’s going to happen. That’s why I keep coming back.” This brief article made me think of other “portal stories” like Ted Chiang’s short story The Merchant and The Alchemist’s Gate and the anime series Serial Experiments Lain, but also how–generally speaking–stories shape us in ways we could never predict.
  5. On the longevity of Aphex Twin: My partner has slept with ambient background music for over twenty years and, more often than not, it’s Aphex Twin in the background (Cliffs is my favorite), and he often tries to replicate Aphex Twin on the piano. “On the service there are now more than 30 covers of ‘Avril 14th‘ by electronic artists and classical musicians. Some have millions of streams of their own. There are jaunty interpretations and atmospheric ones. Others stay loyal to Aphex Twin. ‘It’s almost divorced from him as an artist,” said Jacoby, of the track’s originator. “It’s become one of those pieces that’s now exploded in its own right.'”
  6. Why computers won’t make themselves smarter: I’ve been obsessively consuming Ted Chiang’s work recently, and found this piece to be interesting. “What might recursive self-improvement look like for human beings? For the sake of convenience, we’ll describe human intelligence in terms of I.Q., not as an endorsement of I.Q. testing but because I.Q. represents the idea that intelligence can be usefully captured by a single number, this idea being one of the assumptions made by proponents of an intelligence explosion. In that case, recursive self-improvement would look like this: Once there’s a person with an I.Q. of, say, 300, one of the problems this person can solve is how to convert a person with an I.Q. of 300 into a person with an I.Q. of 350. And then a person with an I.Q. of 350 will be able to solve the more difficult problem of converting a person with an I.Q. of 350 into a person with an I.Q. of 400. And so forth. Do we have any reason to think that this is the way intelligence works? I don’t believe that we do.” I find Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 theory that The Singularity is Near to be convincing and have already pre-ordered The Singularity is Nearer. And yet, I don’t know whether Chaing and Kurzweil are truly at odds; I think both view AI as a human-developed technology that will serve human advancement, so long as we don’t become overly enthusiastic in deploying the future. At the end of the day, humans must act thoughtfully and responsibly and, unfortunately, I can’t say I’m confident that we’re up for the challenge.
  7. On energy therapy: My aunt has been employed by the oncology division of a hospital for over twenty years, offering reiki to suffering patients. And I’ve experience the healing touch myself and, without understanding the how, believe that it works. “‘We can fix broken bones, we can unclog arteries, we can help somebody survive a significant trauma, and there are medicines for all sorts of symptoms,’ Yufang Lin, an integrative-medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic, told me. But medicine, she said, is less successful at recognizing the way that emotion, trauma, and subjective experience can drive physical health—and the way that they can affect recovery from acute medical care.” (Source)
  8. The Helium Blockchain: We recently purchased and installed a Helium Hotspot. “The Helium Network is a long-range wireless network that is both distributed and global, providing coverage for IoT devices that are LoRaWAN enabled. The network is comprised of Hotspots that provide the public network coverage, and in return are compensated with Helium’s native cryptocurrency – HNT.” Basically, we host a hotspot which can be accessed by smart devices, such as electric scooters, and get compensated for the access. If you live in a high-density area or in a high rise building, it could be a profitable project to consider.
  9. A concept worth understanding: The Most Respectful Interpretation involves making the most generous interpretation of a situation, person, or words to challenge default negative assumptions and increase empathy.
  10. Love piano instrumentals: I’ve been a fan of Icelandic pianist Ólafur Arnalds for over a decade. His latest appearance on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk concerts did not disappoint.

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