Clusterfuck

In November, the official noted, three hundred Libyan soldiers being trained in the U.K. were expelled after half a dozen of them ran amok in an English village, sexually assaulting several women and raping a man.

The New Yorker dissects the crisis in Libya.

Breaking Bubka’s record

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I missed this when it happened – I guess pole vault is not big news these days – but Sergey Bubka’s long-standing world record has finally been broken. The Guardian has an excellent piece documenting Renaud Lavillennie’s feat. But almost of as much interest are some of the tangents taken by the author:

The back-story to Bubka’s records:

Bubka revolutionised the men’s pole vault competition. He was faster, stronger and more athletic that anyone that had gone before him. This allowed him to build up more speed on approach, use a heavier pole that could generate more recoil force, and grip the pole much higher than the average vaulter in order to get more leverage. He perfected a technique, first used by the Swede Kjell Isaksson, which concentrated on driving the pole upwards while rising towards the bar. This allowed Bubka to load the pole with more energy than his rivals and better exploit the recoil action to swing his body up and over the bar. Though less obvious to the untrained eye, Bubka’s model of vaulting was as big a game-changer as Dick Fosbury’s flop in the high jump 20 years before.

And the notion of the single defining moment of optimum performance:

The human body is not a machine. It does not perform in an identical way each time it is put to a task. At some point in your life, in any given action, your body produces an optimum performance. The variations are so minute that for most of us this is a complete irrelevance. For elite athletes, however, striving for records in fields were the margins are literally millimetres, it means everything.

In the 1968 Olympic Games, Bob Beamon jumped 8.90m. It bettered the long jump world record by a frightening 55cm and, when he realised what he had done, Beamon’s muscles succumbed to cataplexy and he collapsed to his knees. After that day in Mexico City he never again came remotely close to his record and it took almost 23 years for anyone else to do so. Clearly, that was Beamon’s moment of optimum performance and he certainly made the most of it.

There’s a lot more, including Bubka’s revolutionary deal with Nike, who paid him $100,000 for each world record, and, most poignantly, the belief that he may have been able to go even higher:

Can we be sure that the 21st February 1993 in Ukraine was his special moment? Watch the old footage and it seems unlikely. Sure, he cleared 6.15m that day but in previous vaults he cleared lower heights with greater ease.

Pause the videos when he reaches the summit of his vault and the amount of daylight between body and bar is enormous – at times enough to comfortably better world records by five or ten centimetres. The shame of it is that we will never know just how high Bubka could have gone.

 

 

What Drew said

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I agree with everything here, the latest weeknote from Drew Stock, an acquaintance who’s documenting his creation of Bellow, ‘a new way to call each other’. Since joining Podio I’ve struggled at times to come to terms with the overwhelming rationality of life at a tech company. Test, learn, measure, improve. Repeat. What place is there for intuition and vision in an environment where every idea has to be quickly validated?

Drew eloquently teases out the limitations inherent in the orthodoxy that permeates start-up culture:

A grad-school instructor once told me products that attempt to prioritize cultural invention over problem solving, no matter how delightful, cute, or mind-expanding, would always result in flash-in-the-pan novelties with no enduring power. Better to start from a place of real user need — at least that was the kind of ambiguity that could be managed and de-risked with best practices. I internalized this as a challenge to find (and maybe create?) examples that would tell a different story.

And, using Snapchat and its confusing UI to exemplify his argument, he makes the case for seeking out new vistas over and above the solving of problems. Inventionism over utilitarianism:

It’s funny, whenever someone points to an example of a company like this that fumbled their way into success, vocal parties will tell you to ignore whatever they did because it was a fluke. There’s no use searching for patterns between all such anomalies because whatever they did is not reproducible. Instead, you’re supposed to follow the recipe. Keep your focus narrow, your purpose clear. Make sure your hypotheses are tight, your users well-researched, and avoid noodling…

One more thing about Snapchat: to me, their contribution is as much cultural as it is utilitarian. Sure, ephemerality has become a buzzword, but it’s an important counterpoint to the permanence we assumed inherent to the internet. Not only that, but the app has introduced video as an easily capturable and manipulatable element of collage, resulting in a high-low aesthetic that celebrates authors, yet remains distinctly Snapchat. Other vistas, basically.

Above all, we oppose randomness

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Like a fractal running through human psychology, maybe we have a tendency not just to create keepsakes but to create ones with self-referential loops in them.

So I called Hofstadter to get his take. He was reserved but intrigued. I suggested that many of these passwords seem to be quiet celebrations of things we hold dear. Hofstadter concurred. His primary password, he said, was the same one he has used since 1975, when he was a visiting scholar at Stanford. It consisted of a sentimental date from his past coupled with a word problem.

“Might there be something deeper at work in these password habits and in the self-referential loops you studied?” I asked.

Some of these patterns we discover, Hofstadter said, others we create. But above all, “we oppose randomness,” he said. “Keepsake passwords are part of that.”

The Secret Life of Passwords.

Fanø

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From the summer, looking back to Esbjerg from the island of Fanø.

A few more shots here.

Everything’s been done part 5,987,563

These recent ads for Nordnet got a good reception. And for good reason, they’re honest, humble and funny, and they still convey a product message. Only trouble is, it’s all been done before: this is still one of the greatest ads ever made – a shame nobody ever saw it:

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Dive bar Christmas

Tacky fairy lights strung along liquor bottle shelves, splashes of neon diffused on begrimed wood panelling, your favourite bar stool; a vivid dream of a Christmas half imagined, half remembered.

Tech will eat itself

Scopely, a mobile-game publishing company, rewards a new hire—or anyone who can deliver one—with eleven thousand dollars wrapped in bacon, an oil portrait of himself, and a harpoon gun.

The New Yorker on tech’s talent war.

Film vs digital again again

“This is why I prefer film to digital,” Nolan said, turning to me. “It’s a physical object that you create, that you agree upon. The print that I have approved when I take it from here to New York and I put it on a different projector in New York, if it looks too blue, I know the projector has a problem with its mirror or its ball or whatever. Those kind of controls aren’t really possible in the digital realm.”

Christopher Nolan talks to The Guardian.