The Braindump Blog

A couple of 'DuoLingo but for computer rather than human languages' options

Started learning how to be a ‘Full-Stack Developer’ with Mimo.

Being a DuoLingo streak addict, as well as a not-entirely-proud owner of such fine web properties as this one (along with a heady mix of being desperate to learn things in a world where a 2 minute break is too much to ask for) it was hard to resist when a friend tipped me off that there’s Duo equivalents but for coding.

I’m trying Mimo. It’s got basically identical types of gamification as Duo - streams, leagues, gems (well, coins) and similar 2 minute fill in the blanks and/or finish the line type exercises. The path I’m on promises to tech me everything web from html through to backend databases. Some of which I kind of know at least substantially outdated versions of already But I learned, as many of us did back in the day, more from the View Source menu option of a browser than actual education. A further variety of languages are available to learn if this isn’t your cup of tea - Python, SQL, Swift, JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

Sololearn is a similar looking competitor if Mimo doesn’t do it for you. They have a few extra languages on top of the above including C, C++ and Java as well as some more general fundamentals courses like ‘Tech for everyone’ and a new offering on using generative AI.

It’s too early to tell so far whether 3 minutes a day is going to make me the world’s best web programmer or not. Mimo’s site does proudly suggest one can ‘get hired’ after working through their offerings. But given I still don’t think I could hold a conversation in Spanish even after literally 1000 days. I guess I’ll see what it feels like if and when I get into topics I’m not already sort of familiar with.

Screenshot of the Mimo app

Is the UK housing crisis more about who owns the houses rather than how many houses there are?

TIL that an astonishing (to me) 1 in every 21 adults in the UK is a landlord.

The article I learned that from has made me question my thinking a bit. Previously I’d assumed that the broken UK housing market is essentially a problem of supply and that we should basically get over our NIMBYism and build, build, build. That still feels like it would be a good idea, and actually attracts mainstream political support these days, at least to some extent.

But apparently the statistical evidence isn’t tremendously in favour of this being the only, or perhaps even primary, problem. The ratio homes to households has actually grown over the past 25 years. And it’s not an especially bad ratio compared to other countries, the UK having about the average homes per capita for an OECD country, 468 per 1000 people in 2019.

So perhaps a large part of it is also a problem of legislation. Houses are simply getting into the hands of the wrong people. If so, then the argument goes that what we really need is some far less friendly policies when it comes to (private) landlordism.

It’s not clear to me that people’s homes should really ever be investment vehicles. They should be high quality, decent and healthful to live in. That may not be compatible with unbridled capitalism in a country of great economic inequality.

The definition of Botshit

In a recent paper “Beware of Botshit: How to manage the epistemic risks of generative chatbots” , Hannigan et al. introduce (I think) the concept of ‘botshit’.

It relates to a particular style of use of output from one of the currently-fashionable generative AI models - ChatGPT, Bard et al - and is defined as:

Chatbot generated content that is not grounded in truth and is then uncritically used by a human for communication and decision-making tasks.

And “not grounded in truth” is a common feature of today’s large language models, as at the end of the day:

…generative chatbots are not concerned with intelligent knowing but with prediction.

An obvious example of botshit in practice might be the hundreds of websites that NewsGuard identified as having been created by generative AI and then published without care or concern by humans

Botshit can be distinguished from “bullshit”, which necessitates the same style of applying potential nonsense to a task, but in this case the content is specified as having a human origin.

Human-generated content that has no regard for the truth which a human then applies for communication and decision-making tasks

And it’s distinguishable again from “hallucinations” which is what occurs when chatbots produce:

…coherent sounding but inaccurate or fabricated content

Because botshit requires not only that a hallucination may have occurred, but that a human actively used the results for a given task.

Once LLM content potentially containing a hallucination is used by a human, this application transforms it into botshit.

To date I’ve quite liked the “fluent bullshit” formulation for describing generative AI nonsense output, although botshit is both catchier and makes is easy to distinguish the specific act of using AI generated ramblings for a specific task from other adjacent concepts.

📧 Reading the Garbage Day newsletter.

This often hilarious, sometimes thought-provoking, always addictive newsletter is all about what one could call internet culture, drama, beefs, whatever.

The latest edition I read caused me to learn the incredible fact that YouTube megastar MrBeast is spending the same amount on some of his mind-splattering retention-edit-pilled videos as an episode from the first five seasons of Game of Thrones cost to make. And there’s not even a dragon in the couple I put myself through. Yes, some of Señor Beast’s content apparently costs him $5 million per ep.

Want to stay up to date on the latest TikTok spat or AI growth-hack monstrosity without having to lend the actual offenders your eyes? Read about it in this newsletter instead.

Garbage Day is for folks that remember growing up in the west wild of AIM and Kazaa and message boards and know that, even though it’s probably politically destabilized most of the planet, the internet can still good and fun.

Today’s DuoLingo seems to be 100% sponsored by our dog.

Screenshot of dialogue showing a dog demanding to eat only steak and sleep on Lilly’s bed.

📺 Watched The Power.

This is the TV adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s justly-famous book of the same name. Or at least part of it.

It’d been so long since I read the book that I’d forgotten everything about it except the main premise - that women everywhere start to develop the weird ability to create and transmit electricity from their bodies at a level far more than what’s necessary to fatally electrocute people - and that I enjoyed it a great deal.

The key point being made here is around the implications for a world in which the average woman is no longer fundamentally threatened without recourse by physically stronger males; a world in which women by default have the upper hand when it comes to power. What would such a world look like? And, always of interest to me in this type of story, how would the transition phase go, how would those who today hope the power react to their potential dethronement?

Which made the start of the show a little disappointing, it being less captivating than I remembered the book as being. But as time went on either it got better or I subconsciously learned to like it. By the end I was into it enough that it’s very obviously not-really-the-end made me hanker for a second series.

R. A. Fisher’s quote from his address to the 1938 First Indian Statistical Congress remains extraordinarily true, even if the guy himself may have had some rather problematic views in other domains.

To consult the statistician after an experiment is finished is often merely to ask him to conduct a post mortem examination. He can perhaps say what the experiment died of.

True enough to make for a good email signature if nothing else.

Immediate low-key stress response whenever I see a message like this from a product owned by Meta.

Message saying that the app is updating its terms of service and privacy policy

(It popped up on my WhatsApp recently.)

‘Refugee Astronaut III’, from a recent visit to the Wellcome Collection’s exhibition ‘Being Human’.

Lifesize sculpture of an astronaut carrying possessions in a net

From their commentary:

…it is hard to see Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Refugee Astronaut’ as anything other than some sort of dire omen from an environmentally catastrophic future.

🎶 Listening to Saviors by Green Day.

I’m constantly amazed that bands that were big when I was young are still in one piece all these years later when some of us normies barely seem to have made it. How this bunch preserved enough energy to keep expressing their distaste for modern day America in what sounds like such physically demanding ways I’m not sure, but they did.

Their distaste is indeed real. Harking back non-too-subtly to their outstanding 2004 album “American Idiot” - remember that was the time of George Bush, 9/11, the Iraq war and so on - they seem no more enamoured with the American lifestyle now, with first track on this album being “The American Dream is Killing Me”. The earlier song’s critique of mass-media brain-numbing television culture with Bush-era “redneck” vibes and a kind of paranoid alienation has been updated to reflect today’s landscape, with shoutouts to today’s conspiracy culture, virulent homelessness, obsolescence and the continuing privatisation of everything all embedded within track 1.

Later on in the album we learn that “Strange days are here to stay”; days that include fentanyl addicted grandmothers, ubiquitous racism and a late-running Uber.

A real product of its time.

The benefits of eating snakes

It’s rather alien to mainstream British culture, but:

Reptile meat is not unlike chicken: high in protein, low in saturated fats, and with widespread aesthetic and culinary appeal

A new paper suggests that farming snakes - pythons to be specific - is better for the environment and a more efficient use of food, water and other resources than the typical meat fare of pigs, cows et al.

They’re also easier to farm, especially in a world prone to climate-change related uncertainties.

Also I’m not sure exactly how to interpret the line “They display few of the complex animal welfare issues commonly seen in caged birds and mammals” - but perhaps they’re also better in terms of coping with the capitalism-driven cruelty that most of our lifeforms-destined-to-be-meat undergo? They’re also less likely to transmit zoonotic viruses along the lines of the various bird or swine flus or, of course, Covid-19.

So there we go: if you are not yet willing or able to move to a plant based diet, but yet have similar concerns to many folk that have taken that step, then perhaps you could consider moving to a snake-based one as an intermediate step on that route. After all, it only feels weird to certain cultures - snake soup is for instance a “popular Cantonese delicacy”.

Doctorow's Martin Hench returns to sort out more all-too-real corporate crimes in 'The Bezzle'

📚 Finished reading The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow.

This is the sequel to a book I read last year Red Team Blues. Or perhaps in part a prequal insomuch as we learn more about the life of Martin Hench, forensic accountant extraordinaire, before the crypto-infused adventures detailed in the earlier book.

This time he’s up against a different variety of business-related con artists. He inadvertently gets exposed to a fairly pernicious but fixable scam whilst trying to have a good time on a rich-person’s vacation - no surprise there - the impact of which comes back to haunt him years later. Along the way we encounter a bunch of the scams which we have all, in real life, suffered from over the past few decades.

As ever with Doctorow’s work, it’s highly influenced by his point of view on various political issues. Readers of his excellent blog, Pluralistic, will find a lot familiar here. I’m sure it’s meant at least somewhat as a tool to educate people outside of his blog readership of some of the issues we see with modern-day technology, high finance, out of control capitalism, weird tech-bro billionaires, all that good / terrifying stuff. You will for instance become very familiar with the dynamics of pyramid schemes. But in a good and gripping way.

Whilst fiction, I’m certain much of what is described is very closely based on reality actually happened. Certainly the town of Avalon on the island of Catalina is real, as is its association with Wrigley of chewing gum fame. The Prison Industrial Complex is a real thing in California and beyond. The capitalists insatiable drove to profit from prisoners is real.

Presiding as a monopoly over prison phone calls has made big business lots of private money for years. The “free” tablets given to prisoners are real, and equally problematic, even down to the charges made to prisoners to purchase a “stamp” when they send an email - although there does appear to be an in-jail jailbreaking movement.

And even though for-profit prisons (only) in California were supposedly phased out around 2020 - years after the events of the book - private prison firms have still found ways to make big money by exploiting folk for whom in reality we have a duty of care for, not a duty to profit from at any cost.

The title “Bezzle” comes from a contraction of “embezzlement” and is used here as in John Kenneth Galbraith’s conception of the term as referring to:

The magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it.

You can hear an excerpt of the audio book version on Doctorow’s blog for free.

Book cover for The Bezzle

A trip to the 'The Cult of Beauty' exhibition

A few exhibits below that caught my eye from a recent trip to the Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition “The Cult of Beauty”.

Our major new exhibition explores notions of beauty across time and cultures.

Around the world, beauty is constantly seen as an ideal worthy of going to great lengths to achieve. But what are the driving forces that lead us to believe in a myth of universal beauty, despite its evolving nature?

First up, a “Vanitas” head. This one is a wax carving, representing life and death. In general, Vanitas as an art genre refers to artworks that are designed to symbolise “the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures”

Wax Vanitas sculpture showing a women’s face, half skull, half alive looking

This creepy looking thing is a “beauty mask”. A century ago, women might wear these to supposedly remove wrinkles and blemishes from their face. Modern-day versions of something similar exist today, see for example the £2000 “Cellreturn Platinum LED Mask”. This is definitely not a personal recommendation.

A golden beauty mask in a carrying case

A 2 metre+ high collage created by Eszter Magyar who runs the Instagram account “makeupbrutalism”, called “It makes no sense to be beautiful if no one is ugly”. The photos are closeups of herself, covered with various types of makeup.

A large wall of collage featuring closeup photos of facial features with various types of makeup centred around a mirror labelled with the caption

Finally for now, “The Black Morphew”. This is actually two photos I pasted together. The left one is what the sculpture looks like to the human eye. But if you take a photo with your flash enabled, the result is something very different; the right hand version.

It’s named after a skin lotion made of Pelican gall bladders and wine (yum?) that was supposed to make dark scars turn silver.

2 photos of a sculpture of a human head and upper torso. The left one looks black, the right one looks white

🎶 Listening to GUTS (spilled) by Olivia Rodrigo.

I’m not often a fan of “deluxe” versions of albums; often I feel like the best and most coherent stuff has obviously been put onto the basic release. But I liked GUTS enough that I’m currently giving this one a go. It’s the original album + 5 songs.

ChatGPT remembers

Once more disregarding the warnings from future-documentary Westworld, I noticed that OpenAI gave ChatGPT a memory. It’ll start self-electing to remember things as you chat, so perhaps it’s time to start acting politely and respectfully when making your demands. You can explicitly tell it to “Remember that I love robots” or whatever.

The intent is that it’ll remember facts that will help inform what or how it communicates to you in the future. Its examples include a parent who without the help of ChatGPT would apparently have forgotten that their child likes jellyfish when designing a birthday card for her.

You can manage the memory to make it forget anything or everything. And there’s a kind of incognito-mode “temporary chat” feature where no history or memories are kept, nor is data used for future training.

Otherwise though, memories are used to train their future models unless you’ve a paid teams or enterprise account - so don’t let it remember anything too confidential. And of course, like all internet connected services, no doubt one day it’ll be hacked or otherwise leak, so there’s another reason you might not want to overindulge in the feature.

📺 Watched Black Mirror season 6.

Despite the fact that I’m not sure my nerves need shattering any further now we live in a world of perma-crisis, I risked watching the latest season of Black Mirror, which was first released in 2023.

Overall, good (bleak) times, although inevitably not quite as magnificent as some of the earlier seasons.

My favourite was episode 1, “Joan Is Awful”, probably because it’s the one that seems most plausible, most contemporary, most Black-Mirror-classic “what if phones, but too much” with its themes of AI, deep fakes, the everyday surveillence technology we willingly carry around with us each day. privacy, unreadable terms of service, algorithmic-engagement-optimised streaming services and the like.

A couple of the others were a bit less phone involved, more classic horror at points. One thing I really feel like I’ve learnt from various recent-ish day media is that if you ever discover a mysterious old VHS tape lying around then for pity’s sake please do not try and watch it. Come on, it’s been at least two decades since The Ring taught us the perils of that path.

GB News breaks TV broadcast regulations once again

Here comes yet another example of conservatives hating law and order, at least those laws that seek to do anything other than protect their in-group.

GB News - a horror show of a TV channel that was Britain’s thankfully lackluster take on Fox News which an unholy number of our serving government are nonetheless much too fond of - continues to get in trouble with the regulators.

In case you’re curious about what kind of shows you’re almost certainly missing given that at times it’s been so unpopular with viewers that some of its broadcasts attracted literally zero viewers

Johnson, who was tapped to join GB News radio in December, is a presenter, programme maker and commentator. Farage presents a daily primetime show on the channel, while Rees Mogg hosts a State of the Nation programme.

Several advertisers also dropped out of the channel as soon as two days after the channel launched and they saw what kind of dross their products were being shoved in between. In a fit of pique, thin-skinned chairman-at-the-time Andrew Neil threw his toys out of the pram and decided he’s going to ban the brands who withdrew their adverts from advertising. I’m sure they were devastated at this classic “you can’t quit, I’m firing you!” tantrum.

So the channel does little but lose vast amounts of its investors' money, which is probably its main contribution towards a fair and just society. Although a fair whack of said cash unfortunately goes towards six-figure salaries for the likes of Lee Anderson, the ex-Conservative deputy Chairman who managed to say so many stupid and offensive things during his £100k side-job that even today’s Conservative party saw fit to withdraw the whip.

Anyhow, the big names mentioned above provide a clue as to their latest infraction of regulations. The regulator Ofcom recently censured the channel for breaking British rules on news impartiality.

Under the Broadcasting Code, news, in whatever form, must be presented with due impartiality. Additionally, a politician cannot be a newsreader, news interviewer or news reporter unless, exceptionally, there is editorial justification.

Dodgy biased news from people that should know better (not to mention be focusing on their primary jobs) is only one way in which GB News fails to respect GB rules. Just a couple of weeks ago Ofcom ruled that the channel had broadcast misogynistic comments made by the inane presenter(?) Lawrence Fox unchallenged and uncontextualised. The comments had generated almost 9000 complaints.

We found that Mr Fox’s comments constituted a highly personal attack on Ms Evans and were potentially highly offensive to viewers. They reduced her contribution to a broadcast discussion on mental health - in her professional capacity as a political journalist - to a judgment on whether she, or women like her who publicly expressed their political opinions, were sexually desirable to men.

As such, we considered that Mr Fox’s comments were degrading and demeaning both to Ms Evans and women generally and were clearly and unambiguously misogynistic.

Towards the end of 2023 it was noted that Ofcom had 14 open investigations into the channel. So to be honest you could just scroll through Ofcom’s news page to get a good idea of how often this particular channel likes to break the rules so overtly that the regulators get involved.

From The Guardian:

Five people have been killed and 10 injured in Gaza when they were hit by a pallet of aid parachuted into the territory as part of a humanitarian airdrop.

Further evidence we live in the worst timeline when even well-meaning attempts to save the lives of people in extraordinarily desperate situations end up killing them.

…all of a sudden, the parachute didn’t open and fell down like a rocket on the roof of one of the houses.

Theresa May's latest book educates us about (other people's) abuses of power

📚 Finished reading The Abuse of Power by Theresa May.

It may, astonishingly, be four Prime Ministers ago, but British folk might still vaguely remember the tenure of PM Theresa May. If not, maybe such trigger-words as “Article 50” or “Hostile Environment” will bring her back to memory. RIP her tenure which somehow only ended 5 years ago despite the number of, umm, “leaders”, we’ve had since then.

Anyway, she wrote a book. Not an autobiography, or at least not a conventional one. It’s a book about some of the various abuses of power she encountered in her political career; the events concerned, a theory of why they happened and how we can stop them happening.

How should we define an abuse of power? She goes with the definition of any occasion when the abusers concerned:

…chose not to use their power in the interests of the powerless, but rather to serve themselves or to protect the institution to which they belonged

The stakes are not low. As she rightly claimed, by those in charge doing otherwise:

…lives have been damaged and sometimes destroyed.

She provides plenty of important examples of exactly that. Seeing the chapter titles might convey some idea of what kind of abuses of power we’re discussing, so I’ll list them below.

She divides the bulk of the case studies up into three sections.

The first concerns inappropriate exertions within the British political sphere - “Power and politics”. The chapters in this section are as follows. The ramblings after the hyphens are my additions:

  • Parliamentary abuse - abuse of procedure, people, trust and the like.
  • Brexit - no, not its existence or circumstances in which the vote took place, of course not. She’s very much “will of the people” and all that bunkum. Rather the chapter more focussed on any efforts to alter its implementation from her personal vision of what would work well as being abuses, whether from the Remainer or Extreme Brexiteer side. Somewhat remarkably, her take basically seems to boil down to that anyone that disagreed with her must be putting their own interests over the national interest.
  • Social media - really as an enabler. Not doing more to remove offensive posts and vicious commentators an example of an abuse of power in her view. I can imagine many people who would find that open to debate.

The second batch of power abuses are considered to be topics of “Social injustice”. These seem more straightforwardly defined and, I hope, less debatable.

  • Hillsborough - the 1989 football stadium disaster where people died as a result of being crushed in a crowd.
  • Primodos - a hormone based pregnancy test from the 1960s-70s that turned out to be associated with later severe birth defects.
  • Grenfell - the 2017 fire that broke out a block of flats that led substantially more than 100 deaths and injuries.
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Rotherham - by which she means more of the previous topic, but this time the specific cases that took place at the hands of “grooming gangs” in Rotherham from the 1980s up to the 2010s
  • Stop and Search - as carried out by the British police.
  • Daniel Morgan - the investigation into the murder of a private investigator of that name.
  • Windrush - the starting-2018 scandal whereby immigrant British citizens from the Windrush generation, many of whom had come from Britain’s at-the-time colonies to mainland Britain at the invitation of the government in order to help rebuild the country after the second world war, were wrongly punished, including in some cases even being deported from the UK, supposedly because they could not provide evidence that they should be in Britain.
  • Modern Slavery

Finally, we move back to more explicit politics - although politics are of course pervasive in all the mentioned abuses so the division might be a little artificial. But this time the geographic scope is wider - “The International Scene”

  • Power on the World Stage
  • The Salisbury Poisonings - in which UK residents Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by a nerve agent called Novichok (almost certainly?) at the hands of Russian state assassins.
  • Afghanistan - a lot of this is about the admittedly pretty catastrophic US withdrawal in 2020-2021. Again though, I imagine some people would argue with the framing of it in this.
  • Ukraine and Putin - Putin’s ongoing illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, primarily the effort that started in 2022.

These are all important stories that we everyone should know about. Some of them continue to dip in and out of the new cycle today. Others are far more often forgotten, but shouldn’t be. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and so on. Although her takes on what exactly the abuse in each situation is can at times may seem a bit inconsistent. I’m not sure that Putin invading Ukraine is really. the same type of thing as Speaker John Bercow - who she appears to loathe, terming him a bully and a liar, uncharacteristically strong words - interpreting certain parliamentary polices a bit differently to how she would.

Ignoring that the the somewhat blatant grudge-bearing for one moment, her diagnosis very reasonably seems to be that what abuses of power have in common are that they tend to include:

  • A powerful person, group or institution who prioritises protecting themselves, defending their own existence and good reputation over the needs of those who become victims of abuse correctly and fairly. They do this “because they can”, an oft-repeated phrase in the book.
  • And victims who are typically ignored, looked down upon, patronised and just generally not treated at all humanely. This of course means that poorer folk, people of colour, immigrants, and so on are over-represented on the victim side. These people with little power, resources or oftentimes respect from the nation are ripe for sacrifice on the alter of protecting the reputation and position of the supposed Great and and the Good.

These are good, reliable, and all-to-prevalent rules of thumb. It’s just that, to borrow another phrase that is repeatedly used in the book, “all too often” I think one could say she has been in a position of responsibility for the commission of abuses herself.

The book goes out of its way to explicitly say something to the effect of “this isn’t about me making excuses for what I did or trying to avoid responsibility, definitely not” several times - I think it’s even the first line of the back cover. But to be honest it does in part really does come across that way to me, particularly in the abuses of the political domain. Sure, there are nods at apologies for her own misdeeds or bad thought processes, but they read to me as rather lackluster or of a downplaying nature. Perhaps even the sort of thing one says when asked what their weaknesses are in a job interview: “…I have been seen as being too careful…” et al.

On the contrary, she rarely passes up an opportunity to drag Labour and other non-Conservative parties into the fray. She seems to feel a particular enmity for John Bercow. To be fair she isn’t entirely factional; her views of Boris Johnson are clearly not favourable, nor for the No-Deal Brexiteers on the right. Dominic Cummings is also correctly on the naughty list, as is Donald Trump (who these days certain factions of the Conservative party appear to be big fans of).

But rarely does she appear to accept all that much responsibility for her own inevitable part in some of either these ad other abuses. The Windrush scandal, for instance, which most certainly came to fore during her time in high politics, she’s at pains to point out that it could have, should have, been solved by all the other governments that came before her. Especially the Labour ones. After all there have been 27 different home secretaries from 1948 until she took the position. Sure, any one of them could have put measures in place to pre-solve the potential problem, but it wasn’t really until her “hostile environment” administration that it became such a life-destroying issue. I’m not all that amazed Clement Atlee overlooked that possible future 75+ years ago - not of course that his contribution to the absolute lack of welcome and racism some of that generation received should be overlooked.

I felt there was rather scant mention of the time she carefully timed an unnecessary general election - three years before the 2020 expected date - just a year after saying that she would certainly not do such a thing. Why? Well, seemingly her decision was driven by the impression that the polls showed that her party would at that moment in time win unfettered power over all government opposition - and hence let her get her personal vision of Brexit through. That decision backfired, badly). And no mention of her restoring the Conservative whip to a couple of MPs that were under investigation for sexually inappropriate conduct essentially in order to boost the population of MPs that were guaranteed to vote in favour of her in a no-confidence vote.

One review notes that:

May’s book is not, really, about her. It’s a reflection on the failings of others and what led them to make the mistakes they did.

Now to her solution to the abuse of power. It’s mainly that we should recruit politicians and other people that are to be put in positions of power who are simply more dedicated to serving the public rather than reigning down megalomaniac power on them. To “consign the abuse of power to the past” we need to elect politicians who put “the common good above personal interest”.

The solution chapter is itself called “The Answer is Service”. We need leaders who are motivated by serving others, not their own interests For politicians it might mean, for instance, emphasising the Nolan Principles - the first of which specifically refers to serving the interest of the public - during recruitment and throughout their careers. This is all good - who could disagree? - but I feel like we could do with a plan a little more specific, a little more practical, than simply “replace the Bad People with Good People”. After all, the party of Boris Johnson - one of the Bad People - was elected to run country by virtue of a public vote; one with a far more convincing result than the one she takes as reflecting the wholesome, good and true “will of the people” (ugh) when it came to Brexit.

Some less charitable commentators have pointed out a slightly different take of her conclusion would be more like “replace all the people I don’t like with copies of me”.

Naturally, we must learn why the abuse of power is so rife in this country. Her diagnosis is simple. Our institutions do not have enough Theresa Mays staffing them.

Whether that’s fair or not, whether she’s right or not, without some kind of undescribed systemic change I don’t really see this as being a pragmatic or actionable solution.

Book cover for The Abuse of Power

Bash script to delete local git branches that haven't been updated for a long time

Here’s a quick bash script to delete all local git branches that haven’t seen a commit in the last 12 months - my attempt at cleaning up some cruft on my computer. You can see when branches were last edited via

git for-each-ref --sort=-committerdate --format='%(refname:short) %(committerdate:relative)' refs/heads/

I use a Windows machine so in the end I ended up calling out to Powershell for the date calculation. Perhaps there’s a neater way. You’d certainly want to change the cutoff_date line if you’re not on Windows.

It’s adapted from something Google Gemini wrote and I’m no git expert, so please take extreme care before running it! You can always comment out the git branch -D line if you want to just have it list what it would have deleted rather than actually doing the deleting.


# Time threshold (in months) for considering a branch as old

# Branches to be excluded from deletion (important ones)
EXCLUDED_BRANCHES="master main develop"

# Calculate date for the time threshold (using PowerShell)
cutoff_date=$(powershell.exe -Command "Get-Date -Date \$(Get-Date).AddMonths(-$AGE_LIMIT) -Format 'yyyy-MM-dd'")

# Fetch for updates from remotes
git fetch --all 

# Delete local branches that meet the criteria
git for-each-ref --sort=-committerdate --format='%(refname:short) %(committerdate:short)' refs/heads/ | while read branch date; do
  if [[ $date < $cutoff_date ]]; then
    # Check if the branch is to be excluded 
    if [[ ! $EXCLUDED_BRANCHES =~ $branch ]]; then
      echo "Deleting branch: $branch (last updated on $date)"
      git branch -D "$branch"

Perelandra Bookshop, in Fort Collins, Colorado, has a “reader-in-residence” program. A member of the public is selected to come and quietly read whatever book they like for at least a couple of hours a week over three months. They even get a stipend - $50 per month for books, $50 for coffee.

Like other artist residencies, it affords individuals the resources to practice their craft; unlike other artists-in-residence, the Reader is not expected to produce anything but their own attentive presence. By foregrounding the simple act of reading rather than what a given individual “gets out of it,” the Reader in Residence manifests literary engagement instead of value judgment. This is a revolutionary democratic posture in increasingly undemocratic times.

Honestly sounds like a dream gig.

I hadn’t realised that the directors had confirmed that the fan theory that The Matrix movie is a metaphor for the transgender experience is a fair reading.

Both directors later revealed themselves to be trans women, but had felt limited as to what mainstream Hollywood would find acceptable at the time the original film was around. One of their original intentions had been that the character Switch would present as male in “reality” and female in the matrix.

I might be overly-pandering to stereotypes here, but there’s something kind of darkly amusing to me that the phrase the often-troubled, rarely-gender-progressive, folk who claim to have been “red-pilled” online are borrowing a phrase that emanated in such a way.

Figure is putting ChatGPT brains into humanoid bodies

OpenAI is one of a number of tech companies that have provided sizeable investments into Figure, a company that makes humanoid robots. The creators of ChatGPT will enter into partnership with Figure to develop “develop next generation AI models for humanoid robots”.

Here’s a video showing their progress so far. Finally humanity is one step nearer never having to do the washing up ever again:

It’s uncanny, even though I imagine as per almost all tech demos there may have been a certain amount of fiddling around to make it look cleverer than it actually is. Unlike Elon Musk’s 2021 effort I don’t think this is just a man in a fancy dress costume.

What could possibly go wrong? Just try not to dress them up as cowboys I guess.

In case you’re wondering, no, these robots aren’t chained to the sink for your convenience or safety. Even before the OpenAI involvement they could walk around, heavy objects in hand.

At this point in time though, it’s probably quicker to just make your own cup of coffee.

The Conservative leadership leans into conspiracy thinking

Some of the top British Conservatives seem to be ever more happy to embrace a low-key version of the same kind of conspiracy theories that the Trumpian QAnoners are into.

Prime Minister Sunak seems to believe that the reason they didn’t win a recent byelection in Rochdale was not simply because the performance of him and his party have been terrible enough in recent years that even a bunch of former Conservative voters won’t vote for them, but rather:

Rishi Sunak has said democracy is under attack from far-right and Islamist extremists as he urged the country to unite to beat the “poison”.

Sure, uniting is good, and I’m not at all excited by the result in Rochdale. But it is possible to imagine that “normal” people just don’t like the Conservatives. And it was literally impossible to vote for Labour after they had their own candidate-removing scandal. Sigh.

This fresh after his claim that Britain is descending into mob rule, with the implication that the mob he’s talking about isn’t in fact his own favoured ne’er-do-well political colleagues.

Even less respectably, we have our previous Prime Minister, Liz Truss, sitting down at the US CPAC conference to complain that her plans were thwarted by none other than the “deep state”. And that the civil service is naturally being infiltrated by trans activists and environmental extremists (as if that’d be a bad thing).

She apparently even likes the same kind of media as they typically do:

In an opinion piece published on the Fox News website, the former prime minister said agents of “the left” are active in the administrative state and “the deep state”.

Nigel Farage was also at CPAC of course.

After a trial involving nearly 18000 participants, the US FDA approves Wegovy, one of the famed GLP-1 anti-obesity medications, for reducing the chance of cardiovascular death, heart attack or stroke in adults with cardiovascular disease who live with obesity or overweight. That’s currently most, about 70%, of American adults, although there are a few contraindications.

Treating obesity can save lives.