My Ugly Bathroom

Sarah Miller at The Paris Review:

My bathroom is ugly. My bathroom is so ugly that when I tell people my bathroom is ugly and they say it can’t be that ugly I always like to show it to them. Then they come into my bathroom and they are like, Holy shit. This bathroom is so ugly. And I say, I know, I told you.

Let me list the elements of my ugly bathroom: the sink has plastic handles and it’s impossible to clean behind the faucet. Or, you can clean behind it but it’s difficult, so it’s always grimy. The sink itself, the basin, is made of some sort of plastic material that probably used to be white and is now off-white.

The water pressure in the sink is almost nonexistent. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the sink itself but when your bathroom looks like this you don’t think, Oh wow, I really want to improve the water pressure, because bad water pressure goes with the decor.

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Caring For A Poorly Thing

Matthew Mead at Cabinet Magazine:

To my eye, the clock looked like a ruin. Frostbitten shards of its face lay about in the weeds. In places, northerly winds had worn the gilt ornamentation around the dial’s circumference to a sandy, amorphous mass. Everywhere, paint flaked. Mold grew on a slender lip above the lower numerals. At around fourteen feet high, the clock was only just accommodated on the side of the old barn. Brickwork was visible beneath the whitewash at the center of its face. The clock’s movement had stopped months before my arrival, but the downward-dragging force of ruination continued to act on the clock’s hands, pulling them from five-after to half-past three. There, the hands had finally seized. All else moved on: vines crept over the top of the barn and down the north face of the pitched terracotta; weeds grew seven or eight feet tall; cracks ran in the walls of the barn.

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The Casual Villainy of Greek Heroes

Claire Heywood at The Millions:

In the early fifth century BC, the Olympic boxer Kleomedes was disqualified from a match after killing his opponent with a foul move. Outraged at being deprived of the victory and its attendant prize, he became “mad with grief” and tore down a school in his hometown, killing many of the children who were studying there. Kleomedes managed to escape the angry mob that soon pursued him, and disappeared without trace. When the community sought answers from the oracle at Delphi, they were told that Kleomedes was now a hero, and should be honored accordingly with sacrifices. This the people did, and continued to do for centuries to come.

This story, recorded by the ancient writer Pausanias, feels bizarre to modern readers. But to the ancient Greeks who honored Kleomedes, even after he had murdered their children, the oracle’s answer may not have seemed strange at all.

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A memory prosthesis could restore memory in people with damaged brains

Jessica Hamzelou in the MIT Technology Review:

A unique form of brain stimulation appears to boost people’s ability to remember new information—by mimicking the way our brains create memories.

The “memory prosthesis,” which involves inserting an electrode deep into the brain, also seems to work in people with memory disorders—and is even more effective in people who had poor memory to begin with, according to new research. In the future, more advanced versions of the memory prosthesis could help people with memory loss due to brain injuries or as a result of aging or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, say the researchers behind the work.

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On Cars as Art

Mark Rollins in The Common Reader:

In 1961, the Jaguar E-type sports car (called the XKE in the United States), designed by Malcolm Sayer, premiered at a major auto show in Geneva Switzerland. Enzo Ferrari declared it to be the most beautiful car ever made. Ferrari himself is, of course, a legendary figure in the history of car design. Ferrari’s judgment was thus stunning in a certain respect. It is very common for cars to be put into stereotypical national, cultural, or ethnic categories. So, for example, there are sleek Italian sports cars, elegant but staid British sedans, and powerful American “muscle” cars. Ferrari’s assessment unsettled these standard categories. This was an Italian expert heaping praise on the beauty of a British car.

About 35 years later, Ferrari’s assessment would seem to have been vindicated. A version of the original Jaguar E-type was put on display in the Museum of Modern Art. It could be argued then that what Ferrari called the most beautiful car ever made—a functional design object—had finally come to be seen as a work of art.

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Now AI Can Be Used to Design New Proteins

Kamal Nahas in The Scientist:

Artificial intelligence algorithms have had a meteoric impact on protein structure, such as when DeepMind’s AlphaFold2 predicted the structures of 200 million proteins. Now, David Baker and his team of biochemists at the University of Washington have taken protein-folding AI a step further. In a Nature publication from February 22, they outlined how they used AI to design tailor-made, functional proteins that they could synthesize and produce in live cells, creating new opportunities for protein engineering. Ali Madani, founder and CEO of Profluent, a company that uses other AI technology to design proteins, says this study “went the distance” in protein design and remarks that we’re now witnessing “the burgeoning of a new field.”

Proteins are made up of different combinations of amino acids linked together in folded chains, producing a boundless variety of 3D shapes. Predicting a protein’s 3D structure based on its sequence alone is an impossible task for the human mind, owing to numerous factors that govern protein folding, such as the sequence and length of the biomolecule’s amino acids, how it interacts with other molecules, and the sugars added to its surface.

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For the Love of God, AI Chatbots Can’t ‘Decide’ to Do Anything

Janus Rose in Vice:

The incessant hype over AI tools like ChatGPT is inspiring lots of bad opinions from people who have no idea what they’re talking about. From a New York Times columnist describing a chatbot as having “feelings” to right-wing grifters claiming ChatGPT is “woke” because it won’t say the N-word, the hype train seems to chug along faster with every passing week, leaving a trail of misinformation and magical thinking about the technology’s capabilities and limitations.

The latest is from a group of people that knows so little about technology, last week it considered banning TikTok because it uses Wi-Fi to access the internet: politicians. On Monday, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted an alarming missive claiming that “ChatGPT taught itself to do advanced chemistry.” “It decided to teach itself, then made its knowledge available to anyone who asked,” the senator wrote ominously. “Something is coming. We aren’t ready.”

As many AI experts pointed out in the replies, virtually every word of these statements is wrong. “ChatGPT is a system of averages. It is a language model and only understand[s] how to generate text,” reads a Twitter community note that was later appended to Murphy’s Tweet. “It can ‘appear’ to understand text in the same way that AI can ‘appear’ to create images. It is not actual learning.” While it’s true that large language models like ChatGPT aren’t specifically trained to perform every possible task, it’s not because these AI tools “decided” to brush up on their chemical equations.

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Vermeer and the invocation of the human

Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:

There is a scene in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead in which the main character, John Ames, a pastor, walking to his church, comes across a young couple in the street. “The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet,” he recalls. The young man ahead of him “jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress”. It was “a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth”. In such moments, “it is easy to believe… that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash”.

It is a wonderful, luminous passage, typical of Robinson’s ability to discover the lyrical even within the mundane. Deeply Christian, and Calvinist, there is in her writing a spiritual force that springs from her faith. She would probably describe that scene as the discovery of a divine presence in the world. And yet, flowing out of that scene, is also an awareness that transcends the religious. It is the uncovering of something very human, a celebration of our ability to find the poetic in our simplest activities.

I was reminded of that passage as I was wandering through the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam last week.

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Workplace Data Is a Tool of Class Warfare

Brishen Rogers in the Boston Review:

For more than a decade, scholars, journalists, and tech leaders have focused on two ways that data-driven technologies are altering jobs: by automating tasks and therefore displacing certain workers, and by discriminating on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or disability. Those are critical issues, but surveillance technologies are having another effect on work as well. Companies across today’s vast service economy are using such technologies as tools of class domination, deploying them to limit wage growth, prevent workers from organizing, and enhance labor exploitation. Workers’ increasing resistance to surveillance is therefore also a process of class formation—and reforms that support such resistance could encourage a more democratic politics of workplace technology.

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Superintelligence may or may not be imminent, but there’s a lot to be worried about, either way

Gary Marcus in his Substack newsletter:

Is AI going to kill us all? I don’t know, and you don’t either.

But Geoff Hinton has started to worry, and so have I. I’d heard about Hinton’s concerns through the grapevine last week, and he acknowledged them publicly yesterday.

Amplifying his concerns, I posed a thought experiment:

Soon, hundreds of people, even Elon Musk, chimed in.

It’s not often that Hinton, Musk, and I are even in partial agreement.

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Notes On French Literary Exoticism

Abdelkebir Khatibi at The Baffler:

The perspective of my inquiry changed over the course of this itinerary: the more I read and explored this so-called exotic literature about different parts of the world (especially East Asia and the Arab world), the more I encountered an abundance of texts of unequal value: while Asia is the object of beautiful texts by Claudel, Perse, Michaux, Barthes, and above all Segalen, and while all this richness set me to dream and to work, I didn’t discover a single valuable text on Black Africa. Gide’s travel diaries on the Congo and Chad don’t amount to an original work, whether in terms of form or of thought on cultural difference. I was almost amused when I realized that the best French text on Africa is Impressions of Africa. But the Raymond Roussel book is completely imagined, built upon a play between two words: billiard (billard) and pillager (pillard). I remind myself: Africa is truly a black continent in this imagination, a sort of unknown planet.

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An Interview with Thomas Demand

Olivia Kan-Sperling and Thomas Demand at the Paris Review:


What does paper mean in your work?


Paper is a formidable, malleable material that everyone touches on a daily basis. We all share this experience—we know its haptic and aesthetic possibilities more than perhaps anything else. We mostly use paper for temporary purposes—napkins, newspaper, coffee cups, the Amazon box, and so on. We make notes on it and throw it away, wrap our gifts in it and rip it to receive them. I find that important to consider, if I look at the more commonplace iconography in my work, like in The Dailies. I’m also interested in paper’s relations to information, model-making, and geometry.

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Are coincidences real?

Paul Broks in aeon:

In the summer of 2021, I experienced a cluster of coincidences, some of which had a distinctly supernatural feel. Here’s how it started. I keep a journal and record dreams if they are especially vivid or strange. It doesn’t happen often, but I logged one in which my mother’s oldest friend, a woman called Rose, made an appearance to tell me that she (Rose) had just died. She’d had another stroke, she said, and that was it. Come the morning, it occurred to me that I didn’t know whether Rose was still alive. I guessed not. She’d had a major stroke about 10 years ago and had gone on to suffer a series of minor strokes, descending into a sorry state of physical incapacity and dementia.

I mentioned the dream to my partner over breakfast, but she wasn’t much interested. We were staying in the Midlands at the time in the house where I’d spent my later childhood years. The place had been unoccupied for months. My father, Mal, was long gone, and my mother, Doreen, was in a care home drifting inexorably through the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. We’d just sold the property we’d been living in, and there would be a few weeks’ delay in getting access to our future home, so the old house was a convenient place to stay in the meantime. I gave no further thought to my strange dream until, a fortnight later, we returned from the supermarket to find that a note had been pushed through the letterbox. It was addressed to my mother, and was from Rose’s daughter, Maggie. Her mother, she wrote, had died ‘two weeks ago’. The funeral would be the following week. I handed the note to my partner and reminded her of my dream. ‘Weird,’ she said, and carried on unloading the groceries. Yes, weird. I can’t recall the last time Rose had entered my thoughts, and there she was, turning up in a dream with news of her own death.

So, what am I to make of this?

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A robust quantum memory that stores information in a trapped-ion quantum network

Ingrid Fadelli in Phys.Org:

Researchers at University of Oxford have recently created a quantum memory within a trapped-ion quantum network node. Their unique memory design, introduced in a paper in Physical Review Letters, has been found to be extremely robust, meaning that it could store information for long periods of time despite ongoing network activity. “We are building a network of quantum computers, which use trapped ions to store and process quantum information,” Peter Drmota, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told “To connect quantum processing devices, we use  emitted from a single atomic ion and utilize  between this ion and the photons.”

Trapped ions, charged atomic particles that are confined in space using , are a commonly used platform for realizing quantum computations. Photons (i.e., the particles of light), on the other hand, are generally used to transmit quantum information between distant nodes. Drmota and his colleagues have been exploring the possibility of combining trapped ions with photons, to create more powerful quantum technologies.

More here.

Tuesday Poem


Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money—

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.   Remember?
There was no   Nature.    No
them.   No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up  to what we were
—when we were ocean    and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all—nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All   everything   home

Marie Howe