Week of March 2, 2020

First, an apology.

After a hiatus over the holidays, I had every intention of starting the weekly cadence of sending y’all interesting links every Friday again.

However, just as soon as I started, I was off to Australia (they do have Internet here). Not just Australia, but a boat off the northern coast with an Internet connection that would have made the 90’s proud.

I’m back on land now and I’ve been doing a lot of reading—the world moves on, even if you’re not fully connected to it (imagine that).

So, I’m sorry that this weekly has seemed more like a monthly. 🥂 To a more consistent and interesting (please, no) rest of the year. 🥂

And now, a few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Logistics

To quote from the article before I quote from the article: “Ingrid Burrington takes us on an idiosyncratic tour through the entanglement of infrastructures that govern our “logistics planet””.

In this tour of the logistics city from its planetary to street-level organization, logistics values — such as efficiency, inevitability, and an illusion of rationality all prioritized over human and environmental needs — permeate the landscape. But so do interruptions and glitches challenging those values. These landscapes are not tidily interlinked so much as in a state of entanglement — sometimes producing chaos, sometimes producing hope, and always in defiance of the imperative of perpetual production. From these perspectives, the logistics city begins to look quite brittle.


Struggle

Evan Osnos with the definitive longread on the struggle between the United States and China to dominate the 21st century.

Accepting censorship for profit rests on the tempting logic that reaching Chinese buyers with a bowdlerized portrait of the world is better than not reaching them at all. In fact, censored imports have helped acclimate Chinese citizens to a parallel reality, in which Freddie Mercury was not gay, and in which nobody in the N.B.A. cares about Hong Kong. When Chinese consumers erupt at something like Daryl Morey’s tweet, it indicates not a growing awareness of what the rest of the world thinks but a growing seclusion from it.

Osnos’ article was written before the outbreak of COVID-19. Peter Zeihan has an interesting take how the virus could potentially shape China’s future.

In a world where the Americans do the security heavy lifting and guarantee the world access to their consumer market – one of only a few that will not contract in the 2020s and 2030s – China’s global integration efforts aren’t simply smart, they are doomed to succeed. In a world in which the Americans’ step back and the rules by which the world works change, China is doomed to do the other thing.

Which means coronavirus is giving us a rare gift. A glimpse into a future without globalized manufacturing in general, but in specific a glimpse into a world without China.


Power

I’ve had the pleasure of flying on a private jet before, it quite literally feels like magic. I get the backlash but I don’t think it’s ever going away—it’s simply to integral to the lives of the very wealthy and powerful.

A private plane is alchemical, translating a nine-figure bank account into actual power (harder than it sometimes looks, for some people). “For people who are actually not that powerful except that they have a lot of money, it gives them a calling card to have power,” one private-equity mogul explains to me. “It’s all about currency. They get to leave when they want. They get to arrive when they want, and they get to make their friends be on their schedule. And then if they are really dicks, they can leave them when they are late.”


Lost

Geoff Manaugh on taking the time to explore a town he noticed on Google Maps.


Loss

I can’t read this story about Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison without tearing it up. It’s worth it.

Morrison knows life will be complicated. It will never get easier telling people what happened to his family, and he can never replicate what he had with them. He tries to stay in the now but regrets linger. He wishes that, just once, “I’d taken Wyatt to school and picked him up the same day.”

There is no return to normal, whatever that is. He may spend the rest of his life trying to fill some void, trying to create permanence in an impermanent world. Or at least keep the past and future at bay. “I’m not sure if I’m back where I started,” he says, “or somewhere else, just going around and around.”

So far, the best way forward he’s found is to strip it all down—to, as he says, “find calm in the suffering.” Or, as Nelson says, “I think the mountains are the only place for him.”


Boop Snoop

Robin Sloan created an app for only his family to use. He could sell the app, but, as he explains, the complexity of dealing with an unknown number of users around the globe is exponential—when you’re building for four, things become much simpler. I hope he open sources it at some point. If he doesn’t, Cocoon, like Path (sidenote: it’s bad when the only link to your app is on Wikipedia) before it, is delightful.

For a long time, I have struggled to articulate what kind of programmer I am. I’ve been writing code for most of my life, never with any real discipline, but/and I can, at this point, make the things happen on computers that I want to make happen. At the same time, I would not last a day as a professional software engineer. Leave me in charge of a critical database and you will return to a smoldering crater.

Making this app, I figured it out:

I am the programming equivalent of a home cook.


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