Quotable (#111)

Spontaneous emergence of the Shanzhai Lyric:

Made in China but bearing English text, ubiquitous garments spotted across the globe feature texts and aphorisms which appear to be mistranslations from some obscure fashion manual. These phrases connote trendiness but exist as intriguing nonsense. Brand names and major cities abound — Proenza Schouler, New York, Paris — alongside the lesser-known Tofyo, Zondon, Cnanel, while pop lyrics and celebrities run the gamut of widely recognized (William Shakespeare, Allen Ginsberg) to the eccentrically misprinted misfit (Andy Warnol, Carfield). Hallmark sayings are interwoven with military slang, and then there are long strings of gibberish curbed by mysterious numbers and dates claiming alleged typologies and histories. The prerogative of fashion, as Caroline Busta writes, has always been that of “metabolizing the surplus of one’s environment.” Indeed, the manic mash-ups of realms and registers often read as poems distilled from the detritus of consumerism. …

Precious Wisdom

Algorithmic market-making among book resellers can get seriously weird:

A few weeks ago a postdoc in my lab logged on to Amazon to buy the lab an extra copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly – a classic work in developmental biology that we – and most other Drosophila developmental biologists – consult regularly. The book, published in 1992, is out of print. But Amazon listed 17 copies for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping). … Amazingly, when I reloaded the page the next day, both priced had gone UP! Each was now nearly $2.8 million. And whereas previously the prices were $400,000 apart, they were now within $5,000 of each other. Now I was intrigued, and I started to follow the page incessantly. By the end of the day the higher priced copy had gone up again. This time to $3,536,675.57. And now a pattern was emerging. …

(Eisen works out what’s going on.)


The subtext here is that we’ve scarcely begun talking about acceleration:

Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman says the secret of Silicon Valley success is not the startup. It’s the scale-up. […] Over the past 20 or 30 years, he explains, the rest of the world has realized the value of the Silicon Valley-style startup. “We’ve beaten the drum very well — and a lot of people have heard — that it’s good to build a small team that is willing to take a bold risk, to assemble some knowledge and some capital and really take a run at it.” What the rest of the world has yet to grasp, he says, is that success — true success — requires something else. In a modern market accelerated by the long reach of the internet, once you have something that people want, you also need the means and the wherewithal to expand your operation at ridiculously fast speeds.

“What most people don’t appreciate about why so many great companies come out of Silicon Valley is the knowledge of how to do scale-up. It’s not just that you build an app and everything works out,” says Hoffman, a partner with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock. “What first mover means is first mover to scale. If you don’t play the move-fast game, you can frequently lose out to someone who is.” […] Hoffman calls this blitzscaling

(What I especially appreciate about these guys is their extreme sensitivity to any possible accusation of technofascism.)

Cosmic Sociology

From the prologue to Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest (follow up to The Three-Body Problem):

“See how the stars are points? The factors of chaos and randomness in the complex makeups of every civilized society in the universe get filtered out by distance, so those civilizations can act as reference points that are relatively easy to manipulate mathematically.”
“But there’s nothing concrete to study in your cosmic sociology, Dr. Ye. Surveys and experiments aren’t really possible.”
“That means your ultimate result will be purely theoretical. Like Euclid’s geometry, you’ll set up a few simple axioms at first, then derive an overall theoretic system using those axioms as a foundation.”
“It’s all fascinating, but what would the axioms of cosmic sociology be?”
“First: Survuival is the primary need of civilization. Second: Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.”

“Those two axioms are solid enough from a sociological perspective … but you rattled them off so quickly, like you’d already worked them out,” Luo Ji said, a little surprised.
“I’ve been thinking about this for most of my life, but I’ve never spoken about it with anyone before. I don’t know why, really. … One more thing: To derive a basic picture of cosmic sociology from these two axioms, you need two other important concepts: chains of suspicion, and the technological explosion.”
(pp. 13, 14)