[This fragment is available in an audio version.]
I hope everyone’s winter (or summer, depending) is going well. I find myself much busier recently, but still the browser tabs add up. Herewith another curation of long-form pieces that few will have time for all of, but a subset of them may be enriching for a subset of you.
Marc Brooker is one of the most senior engineers over at AWS; I was proud to think him a peer. Here he writes important things on an important subject: the power of writing. Writing Is Magic is pretty magic, ten paragraphs of sharp observation and wisdom you’ll be better for having read. If you only have time for one Long Link this time around, pick this.
Marc’s subject was focused writing, with a purpose, to explain and convince. On the other hand, Darkening Days In Summerland: A Personal Compendium, by Tom Cox, is about, well, not much except how he’s feeling, and some things he did here and there around the UK. But it held my attention.
Neolithic is a Twitter thread by Andrea Matranga, an economist and historian, about how Homo sapiens moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture, starting with the observation that this seems to have happened in the same brief historical period in at least seven places scattered around the world. Why? (With lots of pictures.) (I know, I know, Twitter thread. Better read it while it’s still there.)
Now let’s talk about life online. The Internet Is Rotting, by Jonathan Zittrain, starts with the unremarkable observation that URLs are fragile (go back a decade or two in this blog and try to follow some links). What makes this interesting are his proposals for addressing the problem, some of which take the form of initiatives in progress in the academic community, most of which I hadn’t known about. Important stuff!
Speaking of information failure, well, uh… Twitter! In The Age of Social Media Is Ending : It never should have begun, Ian Bogost goes very deep on the nature of social media and its history, and concludes, essentially, that it was doomed. Out-take:
“It was never a terrible idea, at least, to use computers to connect to one another on occasion, for justified reasons, and in moderation (although the risk of instrumentalizing one another was present from the outset). The problem came from doing so all the time, as a lifestyle, an aspiration, an obsession. The offer was always too good to be true, but it’s taken us two decades to realize the Faustian nature of the bargain. Someday, eventually, perhaps its web will unwind. But not soon, and not easily.”
I can’t be sure he’s wrong, although I retain hope that something decentralized, for example Mastodon, will arise from the ashes and become a net good.
Speaking of things that are good, one of them is privacy and thus so is encryption. And thus, so is Signal. You should use it if you care about your online privacy, and you should care about your online privacy. If you agree with this paragraph so far, you’ll be inspired by Why Signal won’t compromise on encryption, with president Meredith Whittaker. If you don’t agree then I strongly recommend you read it anyhow. Ms Whittaker is what I call a leader.
Now, Dear Reader, I ask forgiveness as I offer a peek into an abstruse and strange corner of mathematics: A “repunit” is a decimal number written only using the digit “1”. The question is, which such numbers are prime? Now, before I go further, let me share a photograph from 11,111km on the Odometer, one of the very first entries in this blog, from March of 2003.
This was in a little diesel VW Golf we drove at the time. When I looked at that number, I wondered if it were prime, and further, could such numbers containing only 1’s could ever be prime. I poked around and concluded “I betcha there's one out there. Not in 32-bit space though…” This attracted the attention of at least one real mathematician, who introduced the notion of repunits. For example, 1,111,111,111,111,111,111, with 19 digits, is prime; a repunit prime must have a prime number of digits! The mathie said that In 2003, only 7 prime repunits were known.
One reason I remember this episode is because back then, some other blogger, someone important and influential, blogged along the lines of “There’s this dude who posts pictures of his car dashboard, with interesting numbers, on his blog” and it got me a few hundred more readers.
OK, pardon the long intro, because I just ran across R49081 is prime! where “R49081” means 49,081 1’s in a row. It took 20 months of work on a pretty powerful CPU to establish this. Turns out my 2003 mathie was wrong because the author says there are now six known repunit primes.
Another way to write this number is (1049081 - 1) / 9.
OK, back to mundane reality. I’m going to close with three (written) voices who’ve contributed Long Links before. First, Chris Arnade, who goes to interesting places and walks around them and writes about it, offers Walking El Paso, from which I quote:
When I asked him why somebody who didn’t have very much seemed so happy, he said, because “I have a roof. I have food. I am safe. I see my family. I am not sure what more you need.”
Next, from the excellent Ada Palmer’s Ex Urbe blog, All People Are Created Educable, a Vital Oft-Forgotten Tenet of Modern Democracy. Obviously true, once you think of it, which I hadn’t.
Let’s finish off with music; regular readers know that I’m a big fan of Billy Strings, for my money the most interesting young guitarist on the scene in any genre; also a strong singer and songwriter. Turns out his songs have words in them, sometimes surprising. I offer two songs: Away From The Mire and Long Forgotten Dream. On YouTube, there’s a live Austin City Limits capture of those two songs in that order. It’s 18:44 but I think worth an investment of your time because the songs are good and the performance is very sharp, featuring some extremely superior instrumental work.
Away From The Mire ·
Spring lied to us this year again
I can't stand to face the fear again
You could always laugh about those things
It's enough to make a man feel sour
Burning minutes every day by the hour
Just to end up gone like everything else
Long Forgotten Dream ·
Can you see the empty chambers of your head begin to spin
Leaving nothing but the cavity for all the living skin?
Would you settle for the empty space within?
Or just kick and scream for something else to carry your thoughts in?
One foot before the other, let's begin