Using a Shell Script to Automate the Building and Deploying of My Hugo Blog

blot.blog is powered by Hugo, which is static site generator. So basically my blog is a bunch of Markdown and other files that then gets ‘built’ into HTML, CSS, etc. files and then uploaded to the web. But the thing is, this all has to be done manually by command in the Terminal. It’s a pain and adds an extra layer of friction when it comes to blogging. And it also means it’s a huge pain to update the blog via my phone.

So I’ve finally gotten around to automating it via a shell script to reduce this friction. Here’s what it does:

  • Hazel checks if there’s a Markdown file in my drafts folder with the word publish in it. If so, the script is run.
  • The script edits the ‘front matter’ metadata of the post by marking it as no longer a draft and inserting the current date and time.
  • Extracts the title from the post and renames the file as YYYY-MM-DD - blog-post-title.md and moves it into the non-drafts folder.
  • Builds the blog and deploys it to Amazon S3.
  • Does a git commit and push.

It’s worked well so far. And as the script runs on my always-on Mac mini I can write a post on my phone and all I have to do is add publish to the beginning of the file name to automatically publish it.

Hopefully this will mean I blog a bit more often.

(Here’s the code, if you’re interested)


Movie Review: Your Christmas Or Mine? (2022)

Through a transport and communication mishap, a couple accidentally spend Christmas at the others' family home. One family is cold but rich. The other warm but less rich. That’s the premise.

I was annoyed at first when the couple got ‘split up’. How can you have a romantic comedy without them being together‽ But I got over that and I warmed to this film. It took quite a while to find its feet, but once it did it had just enough charm to keep me interested and satisfied. And whilst the ending doesn’t quite land this was still a worthwhile watch. Well, judge for yourself. If you’re totally against romantic, cheesy film that give this one a skip. But I can tolerate even middling examples of that category, so for me it was worthwhile.

Though I freely admit that if this wasn’t a Christmas film I wouldn’t have rated it as high and probably wouldn’t have even given it a go at all. And is it good enough to make the Christmas film yearly rewatch list? Unless it particularly speaks to you, probably not.

59%

Streaming on Amazon Prime.


Shane MacGowan Has Died

“The Pogues were once described as a tight, professional bunch of musicians fronted by a total shambles.”

Shane MacGowen, frontman of The Pogues, has died aged 65. A decent innings in some ways, considering his lifestyle.

I haven’t listened to pretty much anything of The Pogues and the limited knowledge I have of MacGowen is just of his hellraising. But there is one song of the band that I know very well: Fairytale of New York.

I’m not sure of its reputation outside the U.K., but here it is one of the big ones. So much so that it was voted as the nation’s favourite Christmas song°. It’s certainly one of my absolute favourites. It cuts a nice contrast against the usual sickly sweet Christmas songs, and it’s an actual proper, good song. I always listen to Driving Home For Christmas (by Chris Rea, Spotify link) and Fairytale of New York when I officially want to kick off Christmas.

Below is a good live version of Fairytale of New York. But here’s the album version if you prefer.

Alexis Petridis of the Guardian has written a brief summary° of his life and music that’s worth your time.

Obituaries: The Guardian° / BBC°


Little Links & Notes 7

Recipe timings before the invention of clocks (Making Darkness Light: The Lives and Times of John Milton).

Recipe books, if they needed to tell their readers how long to undertake a given action, would often say things like: ‘Let it remain boiling, while your pulse beateth two hundred strokes' or The water is to remain upon it, no longer than whiles you can say the Miserere psalm very leisurely.'


New York City has 340,000 millionaires. That’s more than Cincinnati has residents (The Daily Upside).


AltTab. The power of Windows’s “alt-tab” window switcher to macOS (via Dense Discovery)


Protesilaos Stavrou. I always discovering new personal blog/homepage. And I like Protesilaos’s one.


A mistake repeated more than once is a decision. – Paulo Coelho


Little Links & Notes 6

‘A new ‘miracle’ weight-loss drug really works — raising huge questions’ (Financial Times°).

It’s pretty pricey right now. Costing $1,350/mo in the US.

Something interesting about being obese:

Once it becomes obese, the human body tends to push itself to rebound to its previous highest weight. Scientists don’t fully understand why, or how to stop it.


The 100 best TV shows of the 21st century (The Guardian°). I usually hate these sorts of lists and massively disagree with them. But this one is actually pretty good.


The Fireplace Delusion (Sam Harris°).

The case against burning wood is every bit as clear as the case against smoking cigarettes. Indeed, it is even clearer, because when you light a fire, you needlessly poison the air that everyone around you for miles must breathe… By lighting a fire, you are creating pollution that you cannot dispose. Your neighbors should not have to pay the cost of this archaic behavior of yours.

I have discovered that when I make this case, even to highly intelligent and health-conscious men and women, a psychological truth quickly becomes as visible as a pair of clenched fists: They do not want to believe any of it. Most people I meet want to live in a world in which wood smoke is harmless. Indeed, they seem committed to living in such a world, regardless of the facts. To try to convince them that burning wood is harmful—and has always been so—is somehow offensive. The ritual of burning wood is simply too comforting and too familiar to be reconsidered, its consolation so ancient and ubiquitous that it has to be benign. The alternative—burning gas over fake logs—seems a sacrilege.


The Seasonality of Weight Gain (Prime Cuts Newsletter°).

If you miss the single best day of the year in stocks, your performance suffers badly over the long run… I was thinking about how the average adult in the US gains around 1-2 pounds per year… All of it (and then some) comes during the winter months.

[…] I wonder what would happen to that 1-2 pound average annual weight gain per adult, if we removed three days: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Eve. These three days alone account for the majority of the weight adults gain annually in the US.


AI can ‘hallucinate’ (Every / Dan Shipper°).

Hallucination is a technical term that refers to the model’s propensity to return nonsensical or false completions depending on what’s asked of it. The model is like a smart and overeager 6-year-old. It will try its best to give you a good answer even if it doesn’t know what it’s talking about. OpenAI and other foundational-model companies are actively working on this problem, but it’s still common. It’s compounded by the second problem.


The fifteen-hour days and long walking commutes of Victorian Britain (The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London).

Many of those [workers] walking long distances [5-10 miles] then worked twelve-, fourteen-, sixteen-hour days, at the end of which they then walked home again. The great journalist of working-class London, Henry Mayhew, noted in passing what he considered ‘the ordinary hours’ of employment: from 06:00 to 18:00…

Shifts for drivers of hackney cabs were always long: the shorter shifts lasted eleven or twelve hours, the long shifts from fourteen to sixteen hours, sometimes more. (The horses could work nothing like these hours: two or three horses were needed for a twelve-hour shift.) Even worse were the hours of many omnibus employees: frequently drivers and conductors worked twenty hours at a stretch, beginning at 4 a.m. and ending at midnight, with an hour and a half off during that time.

The industry average, however, was fifteen hours: 7 a.m. to midnight, with seven minutes for dinner, and ten minutes between journeys at the termini. Shop assistants worked equally long hours. One linen draper told his fellows at the Metropolitan Drapers’ Association that he had started to close his shop at 7 p.m. instead of 10 – thus working an eleven-hour day – and had found it saved money: ‘so cheerful and assiduous’ were the staff made by these short hours that he could manage with fewer employees. Henry Vizetelly, later a publisher, worked his apprenticeship as a wood-engraver, walking ten miles daily from Brixton to Judd Street in Bloomsbury and back, leaving his lodgings at about six and arriving home again around ten. And, he pointed out in his memoirs, he was lucky: City hours were longer.


For me, magazines (and newspapers too) are such a poor value in comparison to books. Today when I was in my local newsagents I noticed that a copy of the New Scientist costs £7. It’s a slim, weekly magazine. BBC History Magazine – a monthly – was £6.

If you’re interested in science or history why not spend a little more money to get a long, detailed book instead? Something that will really help you understand and grasp the subject, rather than a 500 word cursory article.

I understand that certain magazines are time sensitive and are about recent news or might not have a book equivalent. But there’s plenty of new science books published each month on new and groundbreaking subjects. And if you’re into history there’s a wealth of books, new and old.

Whenever I pick up a magazine the moment and notice the price I nearly always just think to myself “I’d gladly rather just spend double this to get a book instead that will have hundreds of times more content.”


Niccolò Machiavelli in “The Prince".

“When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.”


Watched

  • Tim’s Vermeer - 76%. Documentary. Rewatch. An inventor thinks that the painter Johannes Vermeer had the help of an optical device to paint his masterpieces. He goes to extraordinary and practical lengths to prove this. It’s shot and looks like a web documentary. But this is so great and compelling that you don’t care.
  • Hellboy - 76%. Rewatch. The Nazi’s raise a demon from the other side to help their war effort. But the twist is that the demon falls into the hands of the allies and becomes the good guy. In my mind this is a little bit like a supernatural Indiana Jones. It’s one of my favourite comic book film adaptions. A little corny. But it’s also a great, slightly dumb fun. I consider this a ‘pizza’ movie.
  • Role Models - 68%. Rewatch. Two screw-ups have to mentor two young kids as part of community service. This is one of my comfort films. Quietly heartwarming. And Joe Lo Truglio’s small role as a chap who takes LARPing a bit too seriously is wonderful (spoilers from 02:20 in).
  • Avatar: The Way of Water - 48%. The second Avatar film. It looks pretty, but I just didn’t… care. Turned it off about half way in.

Listened

  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1971 - New Riders of the Purple Sage - 7/10: Decent enough, though not outstanding. A nice pretty mellow Country Rock album with a few nice songs. It grew on me as it went on.
  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1972 - Powerglide - 5/10: Short and sweet. There’s some standard rock elements here, but there’s also the expected country fare. There’s no outstanding songs on this album, but there’s plenty of really solid ones.
  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1972 - Gypsy Cowboy - 5/10
  • New Riders of the Purple Sage - 1973 - The Adventures of Panama Red - 4/10: Looks like this is their most popular album. But for me this is the worst one so far. The album is less than 30 minutes long and it’s rather dull. Fast-paced, but boring songs. Lonesome L.A. Cowboy is on this album which is arguably their best song, but aside from that this album isn’t great.
  • μ‐Ziq - 2023 - 1977 - 7/10: Really loving this at the moment. It’s an electronic ‘background’ album for me, that I listen to whilst programming. It blends nicely into the background and I’ve had on a loop for a week or two.

A Stopped Watch

My watch stopped recently. I like my watch. It is (usually) reliable and has been a loyal friend for many years. And I must glance at it dozens of times a day. But suddenly it stopped.

At first I would instinctively continue to check it, only to be reminded – after a beat or two – that the time it was showing was a lie.

Despite all those thousands of instances down the years where I’d loyally turned to it for the right time and it had loyally delivered, all of a sudden none of that mattered. And it took just an hour or two for the habit and the trust to break and for me to stop looking to it.

I didn’t judge it too harshly though. All watches do stop at some point. That’s not their fault. They just need a service or a battery change every now and then. So that’s what I did. I gave it a chance for redemption.

However, problems persisted even after a service. It would stop or run slow. And the trust in it continued to erode.

It did continue to be beautiful to look at throughout. But all the good looks in the world can’t make up for it failing at its main job.

I eventually binned it. You can only trust a lying watch so many times.

Relationships are like this. Accumulative goodwill does build up. But only kind of; within limits. All you have to do is treat a partner badly a couple of times back-to-back for that trust to breakdown. For them to stop looking to you for the time.

You don’t always have to be right or perfect. But you certainly can’t be wrong or unreliable too many times in a row – no matter how long you’ve been reliably ticking away before that.


Lilacs and War

It’s early summer and a veteran of the First World War is walking hand-in-hand with his young son through the lush English countryside. His lungs have never fully recovered from the gas attacks he endured in the trenches, so it’s only a short stroll – just a gentle morning meander really.

After pointing out a rummaging squirrel and a rounded robin to his child he momentarily shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath as he soaks up the warmth of the dawn sun. He notices a smell on the breeze. It’s the scent of blossoming lilac shrubs.

His heart rate increases and adrenaline floods his body. Sheer panic sets in and he feels entirely breathless and helpless. His head hurriedly swivels from side-to-side as he searches all around for some imagined device that will help him. He collapses in a heap in the dew-soaked grass, writhing and screaming all the while.

Confused and crying, his son tirelessly tugs at his fathers cuffs as he shouts “What’s wrong, Daddy?! What’s wrong?!”


During World War I the Germans hid the smell of mustard gas by adding a tear gas. It was called xylyl bromide and it smelt just like lilac shrubs. The former soldier was experiencing a PTSD flashback and panic attack brought on by the simple smell of a pretty purple flower.


Little Links & Notes 5

‘When Coal First Arrived, Americans Said ‘No Thanks’' (Smithsonian;°

But convincing Americans to use the new fuel proved tricky… Many people hated the aesthetics of stoves because they were enclosed, and you couldn’t see the flames within as you could in a traditional fireplace. In articles and speeches, prominent citizens protested, denouncing stoves as, essentially, un-American… The cultural arguments piled up. Food cooked in stoves was baked, not broiled, and that, too, offended American tastes… “People were blaming coal-fired stoves for impaired vision, impaired nerves, baldness and tooth decay,” says Barbara Freese, author of Coal: A Human History.


‘All History is Revisionist History’ (Humanities Magazine / James M. Banner Jr.°)

This article is a tad lifeless and an editor really needed to cut down its length. But, it’s still likely worth your time.

Don’t have the time? Here’s the summary:

Distinct from “the past” are the narratives and analyses that historians offer about earlier times. That’s what we call “history.” History is what people make of the forever-gone past out of surviving documents and artifacts, human recall, and such items as photographs, films, and sound recordings. And because each historian is an individual human being… they come to hold different views, have different purposes, create different interpretations, and put forth their own distinctive understandings of “the past.”

[…] Many people find it difficult to accept such frequent challenges to what they were taught to think of as unalterably fixed and true. It’s not surprising that they ask in bewilderment: If the past can’t change, then how can the history about it do so? They’re offended to learn that at least some of what they were taught early in life as “history” is no longer fully accepted by historians and is instead taught in different ways… Many people are ready to dismiss all such interpretations as no more than “revisionist history”—the result of ideology, politics, and misbegotten negativism.

[…] All written history is revisionist in intent or consequence. Revisionist history is a universal phenomenon. Historians’ debates and shifting views of their subjects are the principal means by which they approach, while never reaching, their goal of understanding the extraordinary complexity of human life in times before their own.

[…] In no case does a new way of viewing the past annihilate older ones. On the contrary: Discarded historical interpretations, like strata of ancient sedimentary rock, lie buried atop each other, out of sight until they’re made visible again for study and use. Renewed, reconsidered, and repurposed, they can then fuel fresh struggles to understand the past. Revisionist history ensures the unending renewal of knowledge of what came before our own days on earth. We should celebrate as well as accept that fact.


Michael Sugrue on Marcus Aurelius and stoicism (YouTube, here’s a audio-only copy). This 42 minute lecture is probably my favourite, simple explanation of stoicism. I do disagree with one or two of his points, but overall this is a great introduction to stoic philosophy and Marcus Aurelius. Worth a watch.

And here’s an article° on Michel Sugrue and how after he uploaded his old lectures from the 1990’s to YouTube he ‘became a phenomenon’ (bit of a stretch there, but still).


When I come across a word I don’t know whilst reading I will immediately search for its meaning, jot it down in WorkFlowy, then later add it into Anki (my spaced repetition software of choice) with the hope that I will learn it.

However I’ve slowed down a little on this recently. I just spend too much time and brain power learning words which the Oxford Dictionary label as ‘archaic°’. Basically words not really used any more.

My new strategy is only to learn new words that I’ve already come across quite a few times or that are particularly good words.

Though if I stumble upon a word that I don’t know in a popular magazine or online article I will nearly always learn it. Because if it’s featured in a place like that it’s probably a fairly common word and worth learning.


Last night I saw an advert for a TV show called Let’s Game° that’s made by Sky, a traditional cable provider. It’s essentially a ‘let’s play’ gaming YouTube channel, only it’s on TV (or available to stream).

Sky have obviously realised this is what the kids want and watch these days (though I’m sure quite a few executives took some convincing. “It’s a show where you watch people play video games?!") and have decided to offer them a more polished version of a ‘let’s play’ hoping to entice a younger audience to their services.

The show is aired on the Sky Kids channel, so is aimed to a very young audience, with their parents being the ones actually paying the bill. But I’m sure most young kids don’t use Sky or even know what it is these days. When they want to watch something they go straight to YouTube or Netflix, even if their household has Sky. Sky knows this, and I’d imagine with this show they’re just hoping that kids might actually become aware of their existence and get used to their (awful, expensive) ecosystem in the hope that when the kid grows up they’ll maybe consider a Sky subscription.


Little Links & Notes 4

On realising that friends often talk about you behind your back and that they don’t always give you the benefit of the doubt (New York Times°, from 2013).

Hearing other people’s uncensored opinions of you is an unpleasant reminder that you’re just another person in the world, and everyone else does not always view you in the forgiving light that you hope they do, making all allowances, always on your side. There’s something existentially alarming about finding out how little room we occupy, and how little allegiance we command, in other people’s heads.

[…] The operative fallacy here is that we believe that unconditional love means not seeing anything negative about someone, when it really means pretty much the opposite: loving someone despite their infuriating flaws and essential absurdity.

We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.


The last seven Marvel movies haven’t been released in Chinese cinemas as their censors haven’t approved them (The Hollywood Reporter°).

We don’t know the exact reasons as the censors never explain their decisions. But, the likely reasons:

  • ‘Anti-Chinese’ comments by Eternals' director Chloe Zhao.
  • The main star of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Simu Liu, made similar comments.
  • Same story with Tom Hardy and Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
  • Black Widow had some anti-communist sentiment.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home featured the Statue of Liberty too much (ha!).
  • Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness had a gay character.
  • And Thor 4 has hints of a non-heterosexual character.

A barrel of 46-year-old Ardbeg whisky has sold for £16m (Financial Times°).

That’s more than double the price the entire Ardbeg distillery° was sold for back in 1997. The value of Scotch whisky grew 14% in 2021. I wrote last year about the increasing cost of whisky.


Child sexual abuse in Greenland is rampant (CBC°).

In the 2007… a staggering 52% of women and 22% of men said they experienced severe sexual abuse during childhood.

(via Slate Star Codex’s Suicide Hotspots of the World°)


The reason you ‘see stars’ after a hard whack to the head is because the cells in the occipital lobe (the visual processing area of the brain) get shaken and start sending out random electrical signals, which the eye displays as random bursts of light, or ‘stars’. (via Life Time: The New Science of the Body Clock, and How It Can Revolutionize Your Sleep and Health by Russell Foster)


Little Links & Notes

Get Ready for the Forever Plague (The Tyee / Andrew Nikiforuk°). ‘Public health officials’ COVID complacency has opened the door to new illnesses and devastating long-term damage.’

This article is scary in its to-the-pointness. There’s a lot of bold, worrying claims within it. Some of which don’t have any links to papers to back them up. But either way, the gist of the article is:

  • COVID isn’t going anywhere and is mutating quickly.
  • Governments and the public aren’t behaving like the above is true.

One of the biggest takeaways I had from the article that I wasn’t aware of before is that each time you get COVID you’re more likely to get issues, especially long-term ones. I presumed it was the other way around. But:

Reinfections… just increase the damage from COVID, which can be profound: immune dysregulation, blood clots, nerve cell death, inflammation, lung damage, kidney failure and brain damage. […] But each and every infection will damage your immune system regardless of how mild the symptoms.

[…] A pandemic that progressively weakens its host population with each successive wave is ultimately more dangerous than one that dispatches 10 per cent of the population and then vanishes.

COVID continues to be scary. It’s now been over a year since I first got COVID (and the resulting long COVID) and I’m still dealing with the severe effects it’s had on me. Brain fog, sleep disturbances, fatigue and muscle soreness (the last two literally keep from exercising at all). Live your life, but remain cautious of COVID and just don’t forget that it is still out there.


Whilst reading this cute blog post° about someone growing to love a neighbours cat I discovered that in America it is unusual° for a cat to be an ‘outdoor cat’. Here in the UK the opposite is true.


Gulfstream’s latest £38 million private jet can’t land if there’s a brisk wind. The billionaires who bought them aren’t happy about it.


“There’s a reason why going to a high school reunion is so awkward, and in some cases so terrifying: we are re-engaging with people with whom we shared a baseline, with whom we were (and still are) close to in age, and with whom we shared a common social environment at one point in our lives. our lives. That is why it is all the more mortifying to see the disparities, and why the urge to compare is far stronger than it would be with someone who went to high school in a different state or who graduated in a different year. We’re less likely to think of ourselves as their rival.”

– Luke Burgis (via fs.blog°)


All throughout the American War of Independence George Washington was a shareholder in the Bank of England (via Till Time’s Last Sand: A History of the Bank of England 1694-2013 by David Kynaston).


The Quest by Circadian Medicine to Make the Most of Our Body Clocks (New York Times°).


Can’t Afford the Gas to Cook

(Lots of money talk in the UK today as the Chancellor of the Exchequer° has released his ‘spring statement'°).

The Telegraph°:

….surging inflation will [cause] the biggest fall in living standards in any single financial year since records began in 1956.


An anecdotal tweet coming from a Daily Mail journalist° isn’t the most trustworthy combination. But still, this quote speaks volumes about just how expensive gas and electricity is in the U.K. right now:

…some food banks are rejecting potatoes and root veg because people ‘can’t afford the energy to boil them’.

Also°:

I was at food bank in Leicester recently and heard of someone who when given fresh food commented they would now need to switch the fridge back on.


Also the Telegraph°:

The packed lunch is back. As office workers return en masse, John Lewis (for my non-UK readers, John Lewis is a shop, not a person by the way haha) reports that sales of plastic food containers are up 64 per cent on the same week last year.


Tolkien, Orwell and Simple Living

Darcy Moore° looks at the surprising similarities between George Orwell and J.R.R. Tolkien.

And I really like these two quotes by them:

“Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening, especially vegetable gardening. I like English cookery and English beer, French red wines, Spanish white wines, Indian tea, strong tobacco, coal fires, candle light and comfortable chairs.”

— George Orwell

“I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanised farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food, but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms; have a very simple sense of humour; I go to bed late and get up late.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien


Little Links & Notes

Good afternoon everyone. It’s a beautifully mild and spotlessly sunny lunchtime in southern England right now and here I am with this instalment of Little Links & Notes. A few long reads this time – but as always, they’re there because they’re worth your bandwidth. Enjoy them and your evening. – elliot


‘How Putin’s Oligarchs Bought London’ (The New Yorker / Patrick Radden Keefe°)

[Britain became] a no-questions-asked service provider to the crooked élite, offering access to capital markets, prime real estate, shopping at Harrods, and illustrious private schools, along with accountants for tax tricks, attorneys for legal squabbles, and “reputation managers” for inconvenient backstories. It starts with visas; any foreigner with adequate funds can buy one, by investing two million pounds in the U.K. (Ten million can buy you permanent residency.)

[…] The oligarchs “feel free to buy Belgravia, kill dissidents in Piccadilly with Polonium 210, fight each other in the High Court, and hide their children in British boarding schools.

[…] According to an investigation by BuzzFeed News, U.S. intelligence believes that at least fourteen people have been assassinated on British soil by Russian mafia groups or secret services, which sometimes collaborate, but British authorities tend not to name suspects or bring charges. (Instead, they have concluded with an unsettling frequency that such deaths are suicides.) In an interview with NPR in late February, Bill Browder was asked whether he would name Russian oligarchs who had not yet been sanctioned but should be. “I live in London,” he said. “So it’s very unwise to name names.”


‘The Case for Induction Cooking’ (New York Times°)

Reasons to go induction include: it’s easier to clean, doesn’t heat up the kitchen, you can be more precise with the temperature, it doesn’t pollute the planet and it also heats pans via electromagnets, which is insanely cool.

Also: “For children who live in a home with a gas stove, the increased risk of asthma is on par with living in a home with a smoker.”


A look at the “color bar” – a form of segregation – in Britain’s pubs of the past and one mans attempt to end it. (Good Beer Hunting / David Jesudason).


‘The Diderot Effect: Why We Want Things We Don’t Need — And What to Do About It’ (James Clear°)

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.


Starbucks is planning to phase out disposable cups (CNN Business°). This is the right thing to do. Customers and staff alike are going to hate it for a while, I’m sure. But it’s the right thing to do.


If you’re in the UK you should know that “Taboo” starring Tom Hardy is now on Netflix (it’s on Hulu if you’re in America). It’s an underrated, dark gem and a favourite of mine. It is long overdue a second season, but don’t let that put you off.


Little Links & Notes

Ran Prieur° on not choosing suicide:

“But I think the most universal reason to keep living is the beauty of small moments. If you look for them, you can find them all over, and think to yourself, I’m glad I’m still here to see this.”


I immediately dislike any website that has a non-standard scrollbar or does anything funky with how scrolling works. I find it unnerving and it plays havoc with my muscle memory.


6% of Ukrainians (2.5M people) have now left the country. (The Economist°)


The cover of this weeks New Yorker° is very beautiful, and very sad. Side note: I don’t really buy magazines, but $8.99 seems very expensive for a weekly magazine to me?


Live Intentionally: The Results – trms (Lorenzo Gravina)°:

Last week, I resolved to stay a day without Internet, and I said I’d let you know how it went. Well, I did as promised, and here are the results.

One result I was expecting, and which felt particularly good, was the complete eradication of gray areas… I call ‘gray areas’ those times when you’re just zombie-ing through online content, not fully conscious about what it is you’re doing. Well, since there is no “online content” to speak of, those times were gone too.

As a result, I was always doing something consciously. This is the best part about the Internet-free day, and why I’m thinking about making it a weekly occurrence. Unplugging from the Internet won’t increase your productivity, it’s not about that. I still did things I’d consider a “waste of time.” But it will make you more conscious about what you’re doing.


“The most serious problem facing any organization is the one that cannot be discussed.”

Marc Andreessen (@pmarca)°


Legs Look Weird

Alan from the Hangover has freaky and weird legs

Jerry Seinfield has talked about how there’s something about certain jokes that for whatever reason get deep inside of you and you think about them all the time.

Lines from movies can be like that too. And there’s a line in the Hangover where Alan is asked to put some trousers on because his legs look “weird” and “freaky”.

And I must think about that line weekly. It really speaks to me. Because for me nearly all legs look weird somehow.

Especially mens legs. For example, how many men actually look good in shorts? A tiny amount can pull the look off. Even if they’re good looking chaps and have nice legs most of the time wearing shorts makes them look almost chickenlike. Shorts can even transform a cool person into someone totally uncool.

I notice this on screen too – yes, the-legs-are-weird phenomenon affects movie stars too. Because not only do legs look weird, but they often move weird too.

Have you ever experienced this: you spend half the movie watching a badass character from the waist up doing badass things. But then just for a moment or two you see a wide shot, properly showing them from the waist down for the first time, and the badass illusion is shattered. They somehow move with all the grace of an arthritic middle-aged man.

There’s plenty examples of this.

There’s the famous Steven Seagal running compilation (though in this particular instance it’s more his arms than his legs that make him look uncool).

And what about Scarlett Johansson running in the Avengers:
Scarlett Johansson running in the Avengers

The most recent one I noticed was whilst watching True Detective. Matthew McConaughey has an intense conversation with Woody Harrelson where he comes across totally cool:

But then afterwards he rather awkwardly walks off:

For whatever reason legs do just look weird and it’s seemingly very tough to move them in a cool way. No wonder movie stars are actually trained how to run.


Low Birth Rates and High War Deaths

Wrong Side of History (Ed West):

It’s hard to imagine but back in the 1970s one of the most-read books was Paul R. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which contained the alarming claim: ‘The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.’

It now appears that out-of-control population growth is something we don’t have to worry about too much. Nearly all countries that move from ‘developing’ to ‘developed’ see their birthing rate slow down and often their population actually starts to decline.

So, running out of food isn’t quite the problem we thought it would become. But what are the problems and side effects of an increasingly aged world?

There’s the obvious things of course. Cruise ships and business' in the health care industry will see more sales and health issues like dementia will become a bigger problem. But it might effect war too:

Most wealthy countries have median ages of over 40, and middle-aged people don’t like starting fights. We have responsibilities and worries, our frontal-lobes have made us cautious, and our testosterone levels are in terminal decline.

In the 1930s, when Spain erupted into war, the median age was half of what it is now. In the early 1990s the median age in Bosnia was less than 30, while today it is over 40. When Lebanon’s civil war began the average Lebanese man would have been one of six children and three brothers. Today he is one of just two siblings. That is at least partly why recent political instability and financial crisis has not led to a repeat of the war. [Author Paul Morland] cites ‘studies of decade-long periods reveal that there is almost no civil war in countries where 55 per cent or more of the population is aged over thirty.’

‘While it cannot be said that youthfulness “causes” war,’ he writes, ‘or that maturity “causes” peace, a society’s age structure creates background conditions against which other things either do or don’t spark conflict.’

And what about the Russo-Ukrainian War that’s currently raging. How does ageing populations effect that? Well, the byline of the article is ‘why Russia can’t afford to spare its young soldiers anymore’, and the author says:

If the Russians turn out to have no stomach for this fight, it will probably be for the simple fact that the country does not have enough men to spare. The majority of those poor young men killed for Russia’s honour will be their mother’s only son, in many cases their only child…

Right now I think Russia does have plenty of young men left to sacrifice in this pointless – though relatively small-scale – war with Ukraine. But they will certainly run into real issues if the war drags on (which is likely) or expands in fronts and the ferocity of its fighting. Because it’s doubtless true that Russia can’t afford the long term consequences of losing too many young men in this war.

Russia has the worst of both worlds. They having an ageing population – their birth rate is lower than it was following WWII when they lost around 40% of their adult men. And Russian men also die young – 25% before the age of 55.

And the life expectancy of the men who do survive this war isn’t going to go up. They’ll likely come back not just with physical injuries that shortens their life, but also mental ones like PTSD too. One of the big reasons Russian men die young is their over-consumption of vodka. And booze related deaths will go up even higher after the war, as ex-soldiers are more likely to suffer from alcoholism.

So to summarise. Russia doesn’t have an abundance of young men. Those they do have are currently being sent to die in a war in increasing numbers. Those that survive the war will be too injured or drunk to work. And those that can work won’t have a job to go to due to the likely collapse of the Russian economy. Resulting in them – like their injured colleagues – also being more likely to die young, due to either vodka or suicide.

This war in Ukraine has already caused Russia to suffer enough economic sanctions that it will take them a generation or two to financially recover. But if you add to that a protracted war that will result in a large amount of deaths of their young men – men that aren’t being replaced by births – it’s likely to result in a total catastrophe that will take Russia close to a century to recover from – if ever.


Here’s a few other tidbits from the article I found interesting:

In China… by 2050 there will be 150 million [people over the age of 80].

More than a quarter of major Japanese start-ups… involve care for the elderly.

Europeans once expressed alarm about encroaching dominance by the world of Islam, but most Arab countries now have moderate if not low fertility.

As fertility has declined, so various governments have changed their attitudes to family size. Singapore’s official advice in the 1960s was ‘Stop at Two’ but by 1987 it was ‘Have Three or More (if you can afford it).’

Older people tend to vote for their own self-interests… Voters with pensions and homes opt for lower growth and restricted housebuilding, further raising the cost of home ownership for the young and so pushing down the fertility rate still further.


Economic Sanctions Cause Discomfort in a Very Comfortable Modern World

The Nazi’s preprepared their economy for the inevitable sanctions and supply chain issues long before they invaded Poland in 1939 – they even went as far as doing things like inventing synthetic rubber. The Russian’s have done no such thing.

It was always going to be hard for them to prepare for the inevitable economic war following them starting an actual war, when they’re trying to convince their citizens and soldiers that a ‘special military operation’ is going down, not actual said war. But the few higher-up Russian’s who did know what was about to happen haven’t even done the bare basics in preparation. And by the sounds of it their citizens are going to be out of everything from paracetamol to IKEA Billy bookcases in no time at all. And what happens then?

I’ve always suspected that a revolution or overthrowing of a government by citizens is very unlikely to happen in developed countries in this day of age. Placated by movies, fast food and fancy modern conveniences, people are just far too comfortable and have too much to risk to attempt a revolution – even if their government is a nightmare.

Modern life is in a way subjugating. It was probably much easier to find the motivation to get out there and join a revolution in times of old when you don’t own a home, your child has died due to lack of medicine, you haven’t eaten for three days, and you’re just generally uncomfortable.

But by the looks if it Russian citizens could sadly start experiencing such motivating hardships very shortly. And the question is what happens next? Will they be happy tucked up in their houses watching state propaganda television rather than Netflix, browsing government Telegram updates on their Phone rather than Twitter and YouTube and getting by on rationed food rather McDonalds and KFC? Or will their discomfort motivate them to do something drastic? Only time will tell.


Enablers of dirty Russian money in London + What's an 'Unexplained Wealth Order'?

Simon Kuper (Financial Times)°:

French economist Gabriel Zucman estimated in 2014 that 52 per cent of Russian wealth was held offshore — surely the largest-ever exportation of elite money.

Kleptocrats appreciate Britain’s rule of law as long as it leaves them alone. The kleptocratic cycle is “steal, hide, spend”… Local beneficiaries range from accountants to sex workers, bankers to dog walkers, and bodyguards to universities.

Britain’s ruling party swims in Russian money°. Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband was a minister under Putin, has given the Conservatives more than £2.1mn° since becoming a British citizen. In 2014, she paid £160,000 to play tennis° with London’s then mayor, Boris Johnson.

London’s enablers use many self-justifications, some of them true. Everybody does it. Russian money boosts London’s economy. If it didn’t come here, it would go elsewhere. Enablers see themselves as skilled, non-ideological technicians, almost like dentists: a London lawyer friend boasted to me about the complexity of the tax shelters she designed.

This “discretion” is a marker of enabler language, writes American anthropologist Samuel Weeks. Enablers protect their clients’ “privacy”, say “international” instead of “tax haven”, and use modern diversity language to suggest that anyone who questions Russian money is racist.

“Russians accused of corruption or links to the Kremlin” have bought £1.5bn worth of British property just since 2016, reports Transparency International°, while admitting that this estimate is “the tip of the iceberg” since many purchasers use shell companies.

In the first two-and-a-half years of Johnson’s premiership, the UK issued precisely zero Unexplained Wealth Orders° to investigate the origins of suspicious funds. Now, hurriedly drawn-up rules will catch more of Putin’s friends.

I hadn’t heard of an ‘Unexplained Wealth Order’ before.

Essentially it allows law enforcement to say to a judge ‘look, we have no hard evidence of any criminal activity or money laundering. But, on the balance of probability this person is a dirty crook and their money is equally dirty.’ And it then allows the confiscation of property if the person can’t prove that their money is clean.

I don’t like the sound of any of that, as it puts the burden of proof on the accused rather than the government. And the law could quite easily be abused by a dictatorial regime.

However, it looks like it was implemented in 2018 in direct response to the accusation that the UK is a ‘hub for dirty money’. And it isn’t really intended for ‘normal people’, like the many construction workers in the UK who don’t declare their income to the tax office and then use their money to buy house after house and become a land baron (a separate issue – though one that effects me directly more than Russia money in London).

And it hasn’t really used been used anyway:

having only been obtained nine times relating to four cases as of February 2022. None have been obtained since the end of 2019. Source°.

Only four cases in 2018 and none since 2019. I expect there to be quite a few more than that in 2022. And right now I’m sure that the British government is mighty glad that this law exists. Russian oligarchs holed up in their Chelsea flats? Probably less so.


Just pay Russian soldiers to surrender?

Ukraine is offering° Russian soldiers currently involved in the Russo-Ukrainian War° around $48,000 to throw down their weapons and surrender.

Bryan Caplan sees some issues° though:

  • The soldier has to somehow slip away from the Russian army.
  • They have to hope the Ukrainians don’t kill them (even after surrendering).
  • If Ukraine loses the war they will end up being charged with desertion by the Russians.
  • What if Ukraine wins the war but is so broke that they can’t pay the soldiers?
  • As part of a peace agreement they could be transferred back to Russia.

So he suggests a slight alteration:

The EU, in cooperation with Ukraine, offers $100,000 plus EU citizenship to any Russian deserter.

But won’t that be too expensive? Apparently not:

Even in a magical scenario where all of the roughly 200,000 Russian troops in the vicinity take the deal, $100,000 per soldier is a mere $20 billion. That’s less than one-fifth of what Germany now plans to spend on defense in 2022 alone.


'Why the Russians Are Struggling'

Summary:

  • Conscripts do just a 12 month term. Which is no where near long enough to learn to become a solider.
  • The front in Ukraine is simply too wide. Eventually, if/when the Russian converge into the central parts of Ukraine the various fractions will be able to support each other. But right now the Russian’s are spread far too thin.
  • The Russians were expecting a blitzkrieg, so they haven’t implemented the logistics necessary for a longer conflict. Some of their vehicles can’t even fill up their petrol tank.

National Review (Mark Antonio Wright):

As I have written before, urban combat is hell. And as the Russians are learning, fire can come from all sides. The fog of war becomes all-enveloping… In urban combat, units tend to drift towards the path of least resistance and “easy” avenues of approach such as major roadways — which can play right into the defenders’ hands by funneling the attackers into overlapping fields of fire.

It takes tremendous courage and discipline to initiate a “movement to contact” operation in an urban setting. It takes effective communication both within a unit and with the units on your left and right. There can be no shortcuts. […] As the Marines say, “Movement without suppression is suicide.”

The Russians do not appear to be good at the details, and their failures at the operational and tactical levels have made an inherently difficult task much, much harder. This is why they are struggling. It’s why they will now turn to brute force to try to smash their way into the capital.




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