10 things that I liked in 2017

Written on 24 December 2017, 12:01am

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Time to look back at 2017 and put together a few things that I enjoyed.
You can read the rest of this post while playing the song below, one of the things that will remind of 2017:

1. A book: Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, by Yuval Harari.
If you want to explain to an alien who we are and what’s our story on Earth, this is probably your handbook. A lot of insightful ideas and explanations, but one that stuck in my mind was how evolution doesn’t care about the individual:

The Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.
The evolutionary success of a species is measured by the number of copies of its DNA. If a species boasts many DNA copies, it is a success, and the species flourishes. From such a perspective, 1000 copies are always better than a hundred copies. This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.
Quote from the book on goodreads.com

2. A photo editing tool: Photolemur. It promises to edit all your photos in one click, with the help of artificial intelligence. I like taking pictures, but I was never really into photo editing. So I am happy to leave this part to AI 🙂
And the results are not bad:

3. A place: Tuscany. One of the most amazing places in Italy, which is in turn one of the most amazing places in Europe. I spent there a full week last summer and I enjoyed every day of it!

4. A game: Really Bad Chess One of the very few games I play; really smart and so addictive that I’m playing it daily. The classic rules of chess apply, but you play with random pieces (ex. you can start with 3 queens and 4 towers).

5. A movie. I did not watch too many movies in 2017. But I watched again (after 8 years) Inglorious Basterds, and I believe that the way Christoph Waltz is playing the German detective is a masterpiece. I could watch it over and over again:

6. A learning tool. I am trying to constantly learn new things. Learning how to learn is one of them. Brainscape helps me create flash cards on my laptop and study them on my phone, whenever I have a few minutes free. Highly motivating.

7. A blog: waitbutwhy.com. Even if I know it for a couple of years, it’s in 2017 when I spent lots of time reading it. The series of posts about Elon Musk are really entertaining, but you have to see them as small novels instead of blog posts. Tim Urban (the author) has a funny way of zooming out and showing you things from a higher perspective.

8. An event: In 2017 I was lucky to attend a number of interesting sports events. I went for the first time on Anfield to watch Liverpool play in Champions League, I saw Ronnie O’Sullivan winning the Snooker Masters in London, and was present to the amazing comeback of Simona Halep in the quarter finals of Roland Garros.
But the live event that I enjoyed the most was no doubt the summer Coldplay concert in Brussels. The sport events have their own way of making you feel the moment, but once it’s over there’s not too much left. But a music concert is different. The way the songs make their way into your mind turns the entire experience into something close to magic and create long-lasting memories.

9. Writing In line with one of the resolutions for 2017, I tried to write a bit more. I had a few guest posts about snooker, football and analytics on anglofil.ro and doubled the number of posts on this blog. Turns out, writing is one of the experiences that I enjoy 🙂

10. A picture: Romanian protests in Bucharest, February 2017. To be continued in 2018…

Weekly links #3

Written on 30 October 2015, 12:11pm

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Daniel Craig on his series of Bond movies

One of the greatest problems we face today is people’s self-awareness. It’s all about “Who am I?” instead of “What am I doing?”

The best acting is when you’re not concerned about the surface. And Bond is the opposite of that. You have to be bothered about how you’re looking. It’s a struggle. I know that how Bond wears a suit and walks into a room is important. But as an actor I don’t want to give a fuck about what I look like! So I have to play with both things. In a way that works, as that’s Bond: he looks good and he doesn’t give a fuck what you think he looks like!’

Greenland is melting away

“We scientists love to sit at our computers and use climate models to make those predictions. […] But to really know what’s happening, that kind of understanding can only come about through empirical measurements in the field.”

Each year, the federal government spends about $1 billion to support Arctic and Antarctic research by thousands of scientists […] But the research is under increasing fire by some Republican leaders in Congress, who deny or question the scientific consensus that human activities contribute to climate change.
NY Times

Two interesting concepts

Negative externality – or unaccounted-for cost:

In the auto industry, CO2 emissions are the negative externality. If you have a cheap and easy way to build cars that dump garbage into the atmosphere and no one makes you pay for it, why would you ever change anything?
This kind of negative externality is how tobacco companies got away with murder for so many decades.
Wait but why

Normalization of deviance

“Social normalization of deviance means that people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for the elementary safety”
Diane Vaughan

The scandal wouldn’t have been caused by a few rogue engineers, though, so much as by the nature of engineering organizations themselves. Faced with an expensively engineered diesel engine that couldn’t meet strict emissions standards, Volkswagen engineers “tuned” their engine software. And they kept on tuning it, normalizing deviance along the way, until they were far from where they started, to the point of gaming the emissions tests by detecting test conditions and re-calibrating the engine accordingly on the fly.
An engineering theory of the VW scandal

EU does something right, but…

27 oct 2015:
The European Parliament today voted in favor of net neutrality rules that, in theory, will prevent ISPs from blocking and throttling traffic or implementing paid fast lanes. But MEPs did not adopt amendments designed to strengthen the rules by closing potential loopholes.
Ars Technica

Today, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour of a resolution to drop charges against Edward Snowden, who is currently wanted by the US under charges defined by the ‘Espionage Act’. But the vote is not as concrete as people might think it is. It was merely a suggestion instead of a binding law, thanks to Europe’s hugely convoluted legal system.
Snowden, I’m happy for you, but don’t start packing your bags anytime soon.
The Next Web