The Camel’s Nose In The Kid’s Cage, Plus DadLogic

It was all fake. Every bit of it. The kid in the cage, staring forlornly out from his literally padded cell in the company of children wearing $69.95 Vans Sk8-Hi shoes? Fake. The picture of TRUMP CHILD CONCENTRATION CAMPS? It was from President Obama’s administration. The refugee child crying on the cover of TIME while Trump looks on with disdain? Not a refugee, and never separated from her family.

But if the coverage was entirely fake, the motive behind it was tiresomely real. After two years of trying every avenue of attack possible, the media has learned NAZI FUHRER DRUMPPPPPPFFFF’s weak spot: he is sentimental and doesn’t like to make people unhappy. The whole point of the fake-cage tempest-in-a-teapot was to get Trump to move the line on immigration a bit. Which he did, promptly stating that he would work to overturn the 1997-era legislation that governs the separate detention of children. Approximately an hour after he agreed to that, the media line changed.

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The Man In The Arena

It’s an unpleasant thing to say, but it’s true: This world is divided into those who do and those who watch. Which is not to say that most of us don’t wind up falling into both of those categories depending on the situation: even Presidents have favorite television shows, and Gore Vidal apparently laid off the criticism long enough to clean his house from time to time. In general, however, it is usually possible to judge someone’s credibility, legitimacy, and even character by how much time they spend doing as opposed to watching.

Elon Musk spends most of his time doing. A simple list of his favorite side gigs make you wonder where he finds the time: flamethrowers, massive underground tunnels, a breathtakingly viable private space program with VTOL rockets. And then there’s the matter of his day job, which involves nothing more than the creation of the first viable large-scale independent American automobile company since, oh, the Second World War or thereabouts. You can call him a Bond villain, which is the proverbial praising with a faint damn, or you can call him a megalomaniac, which is the typical bomb lobbed at the confidently successful by the socially-awkward unaccomplished. But you cannot deny that he is out there Doing. Big. Things.

A hundred years ago, or even fifty years ago, Elon’s innovations and ideas would have spawned a flood of strong-willed competitors; look how many American men took Henry Ford’s success as both a personal insult and a spur to attempt great things of their own. In this modern, sickly, navel-gazing age, however, what’s happened instead is that a million mewling nonentities have re-imagined their pathetic lives as wriggling suckerfish clinging to the Great White Musk Shark, hungrily scarfing up bits of waste and detritus as they congratulate themselves for adding parasitic drag to the whole enterprise.

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This Is Where The Small Car Rides Away And The 9.9 Percent Take Over

Richard Herriott at DrivenToWrite has a mildly caustic piece up regarding FCA’s — that’s FIAT’s to you non-automotive-space normies — decision to abandon its traditional focus on small cars. Citing fears that small cars are becoming “commoditized”, FCA will shift the majority of its development, engineering, and production efforts to vehicles from brands like Maserati and Alfa Romeo, which face no danger of commoditization because traditionally commodities are known to be in more or less constant demand.

Mr. Herriott worries that FCA is going to lose what we’d call a “customer pipeline” as a result of this. He points out, quite rightly, that buyers are statistically loyal to the last brand they’ve purchased and that FCA’s lack of small-car development will cost it customers for its large-car lineup. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, I would have agreed with him. Today, however, we live in the world of the 9.9 percent.

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Twenty-Two Speed (Of God’s Blood And Burial)

As the rain starts to fall, I take a moment to chide myself. I’m not pushing the bike hard enough. I know this because I have all these thoughts in my head: concerns about my son, some agenda items for a writing project to which I agreed a few months back but which is only now starting to eclipse all other worries as the deadline looms, the vague outline for a piece I’d like to write about Joni Mitchell’s song “Carey” and the Saturnine (as opposed to merely saturnine) pull of nostalgia for days spent in vain with a worthless lover. Were I truly pushing, there would only be the ball bearing.

“On a bike your consciousness is small. The harder you work, the smaller it gets.” That’s what Tim Krabbe says in The Rider, an absurdly perfect 148-page story of a meaningless cycling club race from 1977. Krabbe said in this book what all of us had been trying to say about road cycling for a long time. I read it on a friend’s recommendation in 2011 and immediately I thought: yes, this is it, there’s no need for any more books about bicycles, you can let that long-simmering idea go. “During the race,” Krabbe writes, “what goes round in the rider’s mind is a monolithic ball bearing, so smooth, so uniform, that you can’t even see it spin. Its almost perfect lack of surface structure ensures that it strikes nothing that might end up in the white circulation of thought.” The harder you push, the less you think. In 1999 I rode 107 miles in five hours and change as part of a two-day tour. I rode a Klein Pulse mountain bike in a long paceline of roadies. I spent the entire time attempting to not vomit. When I arrived at the finish I realized I did not remember a single thing about the ride, nor did I recall having a single useful thought for the whole time.

Krabbe is 75 years old now and still covers a weekly 45-mile ride around Amsterdam, riding at the same pace as the young Dutch hotshot roadies. I am 46 and I am struggling to get 26.2 miles done in under one hour and 48 minutes. In 2014, a Kenyan ran this same distance in 2:02. Barefoot, I think. Whereas I am on a brand-new titanium road bike of exceptional specification and unjustifiable expense. On flat ground, a domestique in the Tour de France averages 27mph. I’m averaging an unimpressive 16.7 on the move, which drops to 15.1 average for my trip because I have to wait several minutes for stoplights and crossings.

It’s time to think a little less and pedal a little harder. So that’s the trick about road cycling: it has to be mindless.

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It’s Important To Win, It’s Inconvenient To Not Lose

Nothing ever changes. This past Sunday, I lined up on the starting gate of the Dayton, Ohio indoor BMX track next to a fellow named Brian. Thirty-one and a half years ago, Brian was the hottest 14 Beginner at Phase IV BMX in Pataskala, Ohio, winning three races in a row and effortlessly dominating the two dozen or so kids who would show up on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings to challenge him. I was a whippet-thin, sullen-faced kid on a hastily-assembled bits-and-pieces special, strong and fast but perilously unbalanced. It took me through the long summer and into fall to finally beat him, which I managed to do maybe twice before I turned fifteen in November and he did not. I can still remember crouching over my Patterson Pro next to his Diamond Back Silver Streak, eyes forward, waiting for the lights and horn to sound.

Everything changes. Brian and I have children now — his four-year-old son who wants nothing to do with BMX, and my eight-year-old boy who after just a few weekends has internalized the rhythms and the statistics and the casually bloody heart of the sport. I quit riding in my early thirties and redesigned my life around the automobile; Brian stayed with it and just kept getting better, mastering that deft touch some people have that lets them soar into the air then place their wheels back on the ground with the delicacy of a Nureyev or Baryshnikov. He was at the race to win a thirty-six-inch trophy and further his standing as a top-ranked 45 Expert. I was there because of a fiction I created, one in which my son and I are just racing because I want to do it and therefore there is no pressure on him to win. In this fiction, which is a mirror image of reality, he is merely my fellow traveler in a BMX journey that I decided on a whim to reanimate after fourteen years without so much as a practice lap.

A few slots down from us on the gate was another old soldier, a man who had been both a champion pro rider and a homeless alcoholic, now returned to the sport with a young man’s fervor but with a body broken by years of substance abuse and indifferent medical care. Yet there were moments in practice where you could see him ride up the face of a jump, rear up and balance his brand-new DK Professional on its back tire, then lean it into the next turn like a MotoGP superstar at Suzuka. We had briefly met at the registration desk earlier in the day, chatted for a moment, then walked towards the paddock with the same sort of cripple’s limp, each of us secretly and cruelly hoping the other fellow had less cartilage in his knees.

“Everybody ready?” the starter asked, and we all nodded. Brian, the other fellow, and I nosed up to the gate and sat there balanced, both feet resting on pedals, eyes forward, hands tensing then relaxing on the handlebar grips. The first two of us to cross the line would go on to the main event. The third-place racer would go home. Alright riders, the electronic voice intoned, random start. Riders ready… watch the gate! Four lights, four horns, and three men going from zero to 130 revolutions per minute in the space of four hard shoves at the pedals.

Ah, but we can come back to this race later. It’s not the important one.

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The Creature From The Tech Lagoon

I first saw the kid in the corner of a “meeting space” about two months before the end of my contract. Tall, skinny, basement pale, awkward bowl haircut, bewildered look. Polyester slacks. Yellow stripe shirt with these absurd white contrast French cuffs and collar. Two-thirds of a prom outfit from the white-trash site of urban Columbus, really.

The purpose of this particular meeting was to hear a mutual pitch from RedHat and Microsoft, trying to get our department to set up its own little kingdom of servers and “container architecture”. This is a constant struggle in pretty much any major corporation, a battle that’s being fought behind the scenes 24/7. Once upon a time, each company had a mainframe and it was under the direct control of the tech department. Then when minicomputers like VAXen came along, you had individual departments setting up their own systems. When small “servers” came along, the problem got a thousand times worse. Then you got Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA and FINRA, laying a complex web of compliance regulations on all those small servers. So the Fortune 500 companies swept everything back up into one central department. This made life much tougher for all those individual departments, who now had to go to corporate IT and wait a year for something they used to get done in a month. So they started… cheating, setting up their own stuff on the sly.

My ex-wife had a job for a while where she would sniff out these “shadow servers” and even the “shadow helpdesks” set up to support their users. Hundreds of $20,000 computers and hundreds of full-time jobs, all shuffled off the books and reported to headquarters as something else just to avoid the hassle of dealing with central IT and their deliberately difficult processes. Once she arrived in a city to find that the department she was investigating had built a whole server room, a million-dollar operation listed as something else entirely. She tore the place down to the ground like Samson. A couple years afterwards, she heard rumors that it was being set up again. The heart wants what it wants, you see.

Anyway. The company for which I was contracting had spent a billion-with-a-B dollars on a central tech architecture and container platform. But that didn’t stop my sub-department from wanting to spend a million-with-an-M dollars on its own private little playground. So the RedHat and Microsoft people had arranged a meeting to show us all the benefits we would get from buying their products. And that’s where I saw the kid, whom I would later come to think of as The Creature From The Tech Lagoon.

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Enter The Bitcoin, Part One: Hashes Explained

This morning, we published a guest post by Pete Dushenski about Bitcoin. Tomorrow, we’ll have the conclusion to that.

In the meantime, I want to briefly discuss “hashes”. In my experience, the inability to understand hashes is what keeps a lot of people from getting a grip on modern technologies like encryption, security, and cryptocurrency.

What follows is an explanation of hashes that I absolutely guarantee you will understand, even if you’ve called tech support in the past because your computer was on but your monitor was off — Hi, Dad!

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Ghosted, Buster

A few right-of-center blogs are having a field day with a certain Ms. Aimee Lutkin and her borderline heartbreaking story entitled “When Can I Say I’ll Be Alone Forever?” Ms. Lutkin, a writer for Jezebel, has openly and honestly spoken about her inability to find love or even consistency in a relationship. In the above-linked article, she writes that

It’s your life, and a life that confuses and depresses people… I wanted to cry at that dinner table, because keeping up the farce that I’m still waiting means staying still. It means diminishing the life I do lead, which is a good one. I’ll never be free to say that I’m alone forever, only that I’m in a holding pattern until real life begins.

The alt-right take on her predicament is obvious: a not-terribly-attractive woman “rides the carousel” until the music stops and then she has to face the consequences of her decisions. The feminist take is equally predictable: she’s a strong woman who “used men for sex” and just needs to get back in the habit of dating so she can be fulfilled again. The question of whether or not “casual dating” is fulfilling for a woman as she heads towards her fifties and sixties is never asked, because it’s irrelevant to young feminists and terrifying to old ones.

So far, none of this is terribly interesting. Here’s what is interesting: what she did to try to fix her loneliness problem, and why it failed to work.

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Zeno’s Left Arrow: A Story Of Interface Design

The more we understand about the human genome, the more we understand just how vague its directives truly are, and how thoroughly we are reliant on external forces and pressures to shape our eventual form. There was a time when we thought that DNA controlled everything about our appearance and that creating new species would simply be a matter of learning the language of the genome. Now we know that it is a combination of DNA, the rate at which various tissues can grow, and environmental effects, creating our eventual characteristics through the long and patient application of gravity, blood pressure, and so on. Human beings who grew up on the moon would be deformed; human beings who grew up under even light water pressure would be shaped differently. In outer space we might develop like the most horrifying teratomae, tumors with teeth, hair, and brain tissue intermixed to repugnant effect.

This is bad news for people who were charmed by John Varley’s Gaea Trilogy. In those books, the genetic wizard known as Gaea uses its mastery of DNA to create unbelievable creatures, ranging from the merely mythical (centaurs!) to the oddly inventive (creatures that grow film inside their bodies, use a lens to “shoot” with it, then excrete the film into the mouths of “producers” that develop the film in a chemical-bath stomach) to the batshit crazy (biological jet planes that grow, then fire, explosive rockets). We now know that DNA just doesn’t have that much creativity built into it. It relies on a lot of natural processes to direct development. You can have a pressurized poison gland, no problem; you’re not going to assemble cellulose film of a precise width in a series of mucous-secreting chambers.

In that way, potential DNA-manipulating superbeings are in the same position as engineers from what I think of the First and Second Eras Of Interface Design. The First Era was the era without electricity; think about the first person who created a hand-crank drill or the fellow who designed the first H-pattern manual-transmission shifter. The Second Era was the electromechanical, pre-general-purpose-microchip era; that would be the folks who came up with the astounding Nakamichi Dragon or the first remote-controlled cars. These engineers had some distinct limitations in designing the interface between their products and the human beings who would use them. Most of us think of those limitations as second nature because we grew up with them.

Consider the following example: If you’re a motorcyclist, you’ve no doubt had to stop short at some point while you were in a gear besides first or second. Once you’ve stopped, you then have to kick the gears down to neutral. That’s an example of a mechanical limitation at work. The obvious way for a shifter to work is this: If the motorcycle is stopped, pressing down should engage first gear every time, no matter what gear you were in when you stopped. But with a mechanical shifter, you can’t just magically “skip” gears. If you came to a halt in fourth, you need to kick down three times. Also, you’re expected to remember what gear you were in: comp-sci people call that “maintaining state”. An old-school motorcycle has no way of telling you what gear you’re in. You just have to know.

Well, we are now in the Third Era of Interface Design, where all those limitations have been removed. Virtually every interaction we have with a machine nowadays is moderated by a microchip. It doesn’t matter if you’re operating an automatic transmission, changing the temperature in your home, or choosing which song you want to hear next on your phone. You’re no longer directly connected. You express your wishes to the computer, and the computer decides how to make them happen. Which leads us, quite naturally, to Zeno’s Left Arrow.

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The 80/20 Rule And The Civil War To Come

The often-perceptive folks at the Economist have uncovered a link between polygamy and violence. If you read it through, you can learn some stuff that you might now know — I certainly didn’t know it. Turns out that a lot of terrorist/paramilitary organizations recruit members by promising them access to women and/or access to the tools they will need to acquire women in explicitly polygamous societies. It also appears that young men are rendered more susceptible to participation in terrorist organizations if their personal circumstances deny them access to women.

The prime example cited by the Economist is South Sudan, which gained its independence just five years ago and which has been the target of a comprehensive but indifferently successful campaign on the part of China to mold it into a satellite state for purposes of resource exploitation. Some dudes in South Sudan have a hundred wives. Some have two. Some just have one. And the vast majority have no wives at all. As you’d expect, South Sudan’s involuntarily-celibate crew has little to no interest in preserving the current political situation. They’re willing to do anything from cattle poaching to mass murder to outright political revolution if it gives them a chance at getting laid.

In other words, South Sudan is a place where 20% of the guys are getting 80% of the action, leaving 80% of the men disaffected, angry, and ready for trouble. Does this sound familiar? Maybe just a little bit?

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