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Things I learned this week #33

  • This cassette revival: Last year's (2020's) sale of tape cassettes, the 90's mainstay of car sound systems and OG Walkmans (Walkmen?) were the highest they have been since 2003. An increase of 94% on 2019. Despite having inferior sound quality to CDs and vinyl, the medium is a lot cheaper and easier to produce which means a lower initial investment and potentially higher profits, which is great for indie musicians. Especially given how reluctant modern streaming services are to pay musicians and livable or useful fee for their streams. The global pandemic has made it a lot harder for musicians to tour, and a the related economic recession has made shifting merch a little harder. The sudden demand for cassettes is part of the "you can't hold a digital download" trend which has seen a resurgence in tangible, physical things. It makes sense, if you love music or artists, then you want things that resonate with that belief: band Ts, a vinyl collection, a feeling of belonging, ya know? (link)
  • This money making chimp: Raven, who is a chimpanzee, is the most successful chimpanzee on Wall Street. In 1999, she created an index fund by throwing darts at a list of 133 internet companies. The fund saw a 213% return on investment, outperforming thousands of professional Wall Street brokers. So here's your reminder that humans like to construct stories and narratives around what is actually chaos, and like to believe that we have more control than we actually do. Anyway, yeah, Raven the chimpanzee. (link)
  • This paper computer: Magic: The Gathering is the oldest collectible card game, which had its first set of cards released in 1993. There are literally billions of Magic cards in circulation right not, which is cool. It's actually a really fun game, you should totally play some time. Anyway, Magic is technically Turing Complete, a term used to describe a machine that can take and perform any arbitrary computer algorithm, i.e. any set of arbitrary instructions. This means that (practicality be damned) Magic: The Gathering can perform anything that most programming languages could. The authors of the cited study acknowledge that using this technique might be possible but in practice "may effect an individual’s ability to successfully execute the combo due to concerns about the sheer amount of time it would take to manually move the tokens around to simulate a computation on a Turing machine. This would not be a concern for two agents with sufficiently high computational power" so I guess we should just let the robots play the game for us now. (source).

What I've had on rotation

  • Something New TIME by Jess Gillam (Classical, 2020). Gillam is a classical saxophonist, and this album is a collection of modern classical pieces. It's all really beautiful. It contains the (rightfully) popular On The Nature of Sunlight (Max Richter) and Dappled Light (Luke Howard) which act almost like the gateway drugs for lesser known composers and arrangers, and the result is an album which really fills the space without ever feeling cramped. I am far from a classical music person, and definitely not a saxophonist, but Gillam comes across as crisp and precise, supported by her ensemble. (links)
  • Something Old We The Kings by We The Kings (rock, 2007). Oh wow, I didn't remember this album at all until it started playing and then suddenly it was 2007. This is peak in-ear headphone buds plugged into my MP3 player and walking to or around college. According to Spotify, the band is most popular in Chicago (USA), Jakarta (India), and Singapore (where chewing gum is still illegal btw) - I never would have guessed that combination of cities (and city states) in a million years. (links)

Cool articles

  • Nothing breaks hearts like A.I by Pamela Mishkin for Pudding. Pudding is pretty much everything I love about the internet: nerdy cool people making nerdy beautiful things. In this piece, Mishkin uses GPT-3, probably the most advance text-generating AI, to generate part of a personal romantic essay-cum-story. It blurs the lines about what's real: the details or the sentiment. The piece is also incredibly well produced and presented. You can tap to re-generate certain parts of the text, to rotate wheels. For example, half of this sentence was generated by GPT-3: "GPT-3 doesn’t care about my friends. It doesn’t care that I work at a start-up, live in a city, that I am quarantined in a house with two other people. It doesn’t care that Omar and I didn’t have the language to say what we wanted from each other, that we fought about his insecurity and my loneliness, that I felt like I was losing myself. It doesn’t care which of my sentences are tired or stale or cliche." Could you guess which part? Which of that feels like it wasn't written by a human?
  • Why growing mushrooms at home is everyone's new pandemic hobby by Adrienne Matei for The Guardian. This is such an odd piece, and I can't explain it but looking at pictures of mushrooms makes me deeply uncomfortable. They're so alien, and they're almost in an uncanny valley: my brain can't decide if they're alive or not. They're plants but they're not. Apparently there's been a boom in growing them indoors since the beginning of the pandemic, which is cool I guess but not for me. I love when people grow (and then eat) things. Matei also reports that some people have started growing mushrooms to trade for eggs and bread - so we've been in the pandemic long enough for an emergent goods-and-barter economy to arise.
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