The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Footsteps | a Short Documentary

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Foley is like percussion. When it’s really well done you really don’t know it is there. It’s hopefully really transparent.


A short documentary on Foley artists - the people who create the sound effects for movies and TV shows. Amazing beyond the curtain look at an art form that we all take for granted.

Researchers Push to Develop mRNA Vaccines for Other Diseases

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Now that it’s proven itself against Covid-19, mRNA technology will be used to develop improved vaccines for influenza and new vaccines for HIV, hepatitis C, malaria, and tuberculosis. And they will be developed at unprecedented speed and efficiency.

With traditional methods of making a vaccine against influenza, developers must modify the virus or protein being made. That modification can require changes in manufacturing. For example, the modified virus might grow a little differently than expected, which might require changes in a vaccine’s formulation. Plus, vendors usually start making vaccines against influenza six months in advance of using them, so by the time people get the vaccines, they might not provide protection against the most prominent influenza strains of the season.

With an mRNA-based approach, Dormitzer says, “swapping one gene for another with mRNA changes its properties very little in manufacturing, which is much easier than changing a viral strain.” Speed also matters, and developers can quickly make mRNA vaccines. “The closer you can move the strain selection to flu season, the more accurate you will be,” Dormitzer says. By being able to make mRNA vaccines faster, manufacturers can select the influenza strains to target later than they are able to with traditional methods, which should increase the efficacy of the treatment.

The engineering behind mRNA vaccines also allows scientists to build multi-valent vaccines. “We can go up in the number of antigens being expressed,” Dormitzer explains, “which could increase the robustness of a flu vaccine.”

The Day Prince’s Guitar Wept the Loudest

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At the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for George Harrison - Harrison’s son Dhani, music legends Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Steve Winwood, and Prince perform While My Guitar Gently Weeps. At about 3 minutes and 30 seconds in, Prince absolutely rips the place apart with a 3-minute guitar solo for the ages.

Tom sort of went over to him and said, “Just cut loose and don’t feel sort of inhibited to copy anything that we have, just play your thing, just have a good time.” It was a hell of a guitar solo, and a hell of a show he actually put on for the band. When he fell back into the audience, everybody in the band freaked out, like, “Oh my God, he’s falling off the stage!” And then that whole thing with the guitar going up in the air. I didn’t even see who caught it. I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders where that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder where it went, too.

One of the musical greats - and a truly underrated guitar player. He left us way to early.

The Amazon 'Flywheel'

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The oldest anti competitive tactic - use your advantage in part of the market to crowd out and marginalize your competitors. Look I like Amazon as much as the next person - but they really need to be reigned in. Mat Stoller as an excellent writeup:

To understand why, we have to start with the idea of free shipping. Free shipping is the God of online retail, so powerful that France actually banned the practice to protect its retail outlets. Free shipping is also the backbone of Prime. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knew that the number one pain point for online buyers is shipping - one third of shoppers abandon their carts when they see shipping charges. Bezos helped invent Prime for this reason, saying the point of Prime was to use free shipping “to draw a moat around our best customers.” The goal was to get people used to buying from Amazon, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about shipping charges. Once Amazon had control of a large chunk of online retail customers, it could then begin dictating terms of sellers who needed to reach them.

This became clear as you read Racine’s complaint. One of the most important sentences in the AG’s argument is a quote from Bezos in 2015 where he alludes to this point. In discussing the firm’s logistics service that is the bedrock of its free shipping promise, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), he said, “FBA is so important because it is glue that inextricably links Marketplace and Prime. Thanks to FBA, Marketplace and Prime are no longer two things. Their economics … are now happily and deeply intertwined.” Amazon wants people to see Prime, FBA, and Marketplace as one integrated mega-product, what Bezos likes to call “a flywheel”, to disguise the actual monopolization at work. (Indeed, any time you hear the word “flywheel” relating to Amazon, replace it with “monopoly” and the sentence will make sense.)

G.E Smith - One of the Real Cats

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G.E. Smith on Dylan, SNL, Clapton, Van Halen and and his time with SNL.

He claims to not be that talented. Well I call BS -G.E. Smith is the real deal. One of the real cats.

What Does U.S. Health Care Look Like Abroad?

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To know that I can get sick, I can get injured but I will still be able to get taken care of - that is freedom. This is not freedom.

On U.S Elections:


On America’s response to climate change:


The American Dream is dying. Our country is quickly turning into a third world country. The really sad part is that it isn’t the government, corporations or hoards of immigrants at boarders - it’s the ignorance and irrational fear of government by the citizenry.

The End Is Near

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The end is near. Normally, that sentence does not portend anything good. Then the times we live in are not normal.

Every interaction is both precious and an opportunity to delight. %}
Herd immunity is not a moment in time. President Biden is never going to say: “Today, at 9:04 A.M., on the deck of the U.S.S. Moderna, the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 signed our general terms of surrender.”

Instead, this virus is slowly becoming endemic: something we live with.

We will probably have bad seasons and good seasons, as we do with flu. We may have annual shots with a blend of the South African, Brazilian, Indian or whatever variants are circling the globe that year. Luckily, because coronaviruses mutate more slowly than influenza viruses, they will probably be better matches than flu shots are.

1000 Musicians Play Rock Songs

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I came across Rockin'1000 full concert at Stade de France of 1000+ musicians playing rock classics from past and present. Rock music was ment to be a communal experience. Just you and 20,000 thousands of your best mates head banging and reveling in the sonic chaos. Hundreds of drums, guitars, bass and singers in sync. Musicians from all walks of life - no politics, no religion, no race or color, no nationality, no gender, no age difference, no national boundaries, just pure music where everyone is beautiful.

Be excellent to each other and rock on!

The Great Wave of Kanagawa

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For all you Seiko watch fans - ever wonder what that wave in the back of your watch is? Host James Payne has a great series in which one the videos explaining it:

New Remote

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I have been an Apple TV user for the last 7 years. And I absolutely love the little black box. However, I hate the remote. For a company that consistently designs fantastic UI and physical products - the black Siri apple remote is a horrendous design. Just use it for a few minutes and its obvious whats wrong with it:

  • It’s easy to pick up backwards because the buttons are centered.
  • It’s easy to click the trackpad inadvertently - because you picked it up backwards.
  • The bottom is a smudge magnet - and quite frankly disgusting looking after a few hours of use
  • It’s black - how are you supposed to know what you are clicking in the dark?

You have to wonder how it ever made it out of the prototype stage like this. The new aluminum Siri remote fixes every single one of these problems. Just look at it:

This alone justifies upgrading to the new 5th generation Apple TV. You have to wonder what the hell took six years to fix this mess.

The Apple Silicon Era

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But then a funny thing happened.

[..]

With the new M1 iPad Pros, Apple has achieved equilibrium. It’s literally the exact same chip. The iPad Pro has the speed of the Mac and the Mac has the incredible power efficiency and thermals of the iPad Pro. I saw this coming years ago, yet it’s still hard for me to believe.

Believe it. Apple is about to do to the CPU industry what it did to cell phone industry. The upcoming M2 chips will be the nail in the coffin for x86 dominance.

Private vs Public Affluence

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There is a cost to our hyper capitalist society. One where the culture of greed and private ownership is an assault on community and our environment. Jeremy Williams in his excellent post:

But the thing I wanted to highlight is the difference between private and public affluence. Private affluence is individuals gaining things for themselves – possessions, nice homes and experiences, trampolines. Public affluence is money spent lavishly on things that are shared – libraries, parks, buses, playgrounds.

Capitalism pushes us towards private affluence. We aspire to acquire our own things. Shared things are seen as second best, something of an inconvenience. Politics responds accordingly, prioritising economic growth and ‘more money in your pocket’, rather than shared goods and services. So everyone has their own lawnmower while the grass grows long in the park. People get their own exercise bikes or rowing machines, and the gym at the local leisure centre starts to look tired and under-funded. The wealthy pay for childcare or hire a nanny, but the early years nursery closes down.

Having access to your own things looks like progress, but there is a cost. Community is one of the victims. Shared spaces are places where community happens, where people mix and meet. Nobody makes new friends on their own rowing machine, in front of the TV. Inequality is another. Those who can afford their own won’t notice, but those on lower incomes rely much more on shared resources. When a library closes, it’s those on the margins of society who lose access to books, internet access, or a warm place to sit and do their homework. There is also an environmental cost, as private ownership means endlessly duplicated goods, many underused objects across many owners rather than a few well used objects that are shared.

We Need to Keep Wearing Masks

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I have to say - I am not happy about the CDC’s decision to state that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most situations indoors or out. In the US 600 people/day are still dying of Covid-19 and our case positivity rate is still above 3% - not to mention most children are still not vaccinated.

Holding off for a few more weeks could have improved things tremendously. The CDC’s decision to lift the mandates seems to be guided by economics rather than science. Zeynep Tufekci’s piece in New York Times

It’s difficult for officials to issue rules as conditions evolve and uncertainty continues. So I hesitate to question the agency’s approach. But it’s not clear whether it was responding to scientific evidence or public clamor to lift state and local mandates, which the C.D.C. said could remain in place.

It might have been better to have kept up indoor mask mandates to help suppress the virus for maybe as little as a few more weeks.

The C.D.C. could have set metrics to measure such progress, saying that guidelines would be maintained until the number of cases or the number vaccinations reached a certain level, determined by epidemiologists.

A Cult of Ignorance

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There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through out political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that "democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

US Quarters to Honor Women

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Starting in 2022, the US Mint will release into circulation quarters featuring notable American women as part of the American Women Quarters Program.

The American Women Quarters may feature contributions from a variety of fields, including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The women honored will be from ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds. The Public Law requires that no living person be featured in the coin designs.

The first two quarters to be released honor astronaut Sally Ride and writer Maya Angelou.

Dune

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Dune is one of, if not the, greatest science fiction epic ever put to print. It’s influence, even today some 50 years later, is far and wide. Hard to imagine Star Wars would have ever existed with out Frank Herbert’s masterpiece. Hari Kunzru has an excellent write up in The Guardian:

Every fantasy reflects the place and time that produced it. If The Lord of the Rings is about the rise of fascism and the trauma of the second world war, and Game of Thrones, with its cynical realpolitik and cast of precarious, entrepreneurial characters is a fairytale of neoliberalism, then Dune is the paradigmatic fantasy of the Age of Aquarius. Its concerns – environmental stress, human potential, altered states of consciousness and the developing countries’ revolution against imperialism – are blended together into an era-defining vision of personal and cosmic transformation.

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Actually, the great Dune film did get made. Its name is Star Wars. In early drafts, this story of a desert planet, an evil emperor, and a boy with a galactic destiny also included warring noble houses and a princess guarding a shipment of something called “aura spice”. All manner of borrowings from Dune litter the Star Wars universe, from the Bene Gesserit-like mental powers of the Jedi to the mining and “moisture farming” on Tattooine. Herbert knew he’d been ripped off, and thought he saw the ideas of other SF writers in Lucas’s money-spinning franchise. He and a number of colleagues formed a joke organisation called the We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society.

They did make a Dune movie staring Sting in 1984 - avoid it at all costs. Wait for this to come out sometime this year:


This trailer exceeded my expectations. I am so hyped to see this in theaters.

World Building in 128 Bytes

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Pitfall was one of the most sophisticated games released for the Atari 2600. While it may seem a simplistic game in 2021 - in 1983 on a machine with 128 bytes of RAM and 4096 bytes of ROM - it was an amazing feat of engineering. Just how was David Crane able to do it in such a constrained environment?

The way you make a large world without storing much data is by having some code generate it for you.

The biggest problem with this, however, is that you generally need to save the data you generated. This is what games such as Rogue and Minecraft do. They randomly generate worlds in order to give variety to players, but save the data once it's generated. The limitations of the Atari do not afford this luxury.

Crane overcame this in two ways. The first was in the way he represented a room's layout in memory, and the second was the way in which he generated those representations. The way these representations are generated actually obviate the need to store anything but the current room in memory, but we'll get to that later. First we will look at how the current room is represented.

[...]

Crane used a single byte to represent the layout of the current room. That may seem incredible given all that's going on in any given room, but it's actually quite simple.

A single byte of memory. Read the details here.

Half Renovated Houses

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When the once burgeoning coal industry in Ruhrgebiet, Germany, began to decline, many of the workers’ apartments were sold off. Oftentimes, new owners only purchased half of the building—miners maintained a lifelong right of residence to their quarters—creating a stark split between the left and right sides of the structure. Photographer Wolfgang Fröhling captures this visually striking divide in a series of images framing the renovated and original designs juxtaposed in a single structure. See the full collection of half-painted facades and disparate landscaping on Pixel Project, and find more of the Bottrop-based photographer’s work on his site.

I see this as a commentary on economic inequality.

A View From Above

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Photographer Brad Walls provides a new angle on the actions of athletes.