Things I read in January. Brexit, navel gazing, nature, quantum mechanics and the end of techno-utopianism.

What If You Could Do It All Over? The uncanny allure of our unlived lives

Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker talks abut the sudden urge to think about what might have been, maybe the pandemic gave us all a chance to think about those different paths we may have taken.

On the one hand, we understand that we could have turned out any number of ways; we know that we aren’t the only possible versions of ourselves. But, on the other, we feel that there is some fundamental light within us—a filament that burns, with its own special character, from birth to death. We want to think that, whoever we might have been, we would have burned with the same light.

The brexit revolutionaries have barely begun. Britain needs to wake up fast

A review of a book by Alastair Campbell on his own blog, pulling together different components of the revolution that is underway in the name of Brexit. We spend a lot of time arguing over how some of these actions don’t make any sense, but this article makes it clear that it’s besides the point.

Building Anti-Surveillance Ed-Tech

Audrey Walters discusses something that I think needs to happen more broadly in HE given the number of digital tools that have been hastily adopted recently, also see: I looked at all the ways Microsoft Teams tracks users and my head is spinning.

The curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics

Miguel F. Morales in Ars Technica has written a seven part guide to something I have wanted to learn about for a long time. Morales explicitly avoids philosophical discussions, but its so hard not to let the mind wander. (Part 2, Part 3)

all particles move like waves and hit like particles….Particles really behave like waves when in motion. Asking which path a tsunami wave took when traveling between Hawaii and California really makes no sense—it is spread out. Similarly, asking which path the particle really takes makes no sense; it moves like a wave so it naturally takes all of the available paths.

The Social Life of Forests

Ferris Jabs in the New York Times. I have re-read this after the first time I read it last month, the thought of different trees communicating and sharing food has really stayed with me. I found out that the idea of not cutting certain trees is a practice that is also common in Kerala after I spoke to them about the article.

Goodbye 2010s: techno-optimism edition

Ranjan Roy from the newsletter Margins, wonders if a long overdue change is coming to the tech world. I had a similar combination of a Macbook and a beloved Google G1 (instead of the iPhone) in 2008/9 metioned in the article, hopefully the era that the latter helped bring into being is nearing a close. There are reasons for hope, but I am not holding my breath.

An unrelated but accompanying song for the article

No one knows how much the government can borrow

Noah Smith in the Noahpinion newsletter. Talks about the risk of hyperinflation from the wall of Quantitative Easing that we have had during the pandemic (and the previous decade). In summary: Macroeconomists, please study hyperinflation.