Living in the Future

Last Saturday, Youtube celebrated its 10th birthday. We’ll skip the whole Valentine’s Day and move swiftly onwards to what Youtube means to me.

Youtube is the future writ large. Right now, if I want, I can watch pretty much any figure skating competitive performance from about the last 30 years by means of a simple search on Youtube. I watched the 1988 Olympic figure skating championships through a haze of static. If you told me when I was 15 years old that less than 30 years later, I’d be able to watch all that stuff, on demand, pretty much for free, I’d have looked at you as though you were completely made. At the time, Ireland had all of 2 official channels and okay, so there was multichannel of a sort…

The idea you could sit in front of a screen and choose what you wanted to watch rather than what the controller of RTE One was up for, well that was the stuff of dreams. It Is Never Going To Happen.

It did.

It’s not just the figure skating of course. It’s all the concerts of classical music, the videos by bands that you can watch ANY TIME YOU LIKE and not just between 7.30 and 8 on a Thursday evening, when Top of the Pops was on. It’s all the stuff that I’d never heard about much like Jon Stewart and John Oliver. Seriously, can we have John Oliver over here please? I watched Neil Finn and Paul Kelly live from Sydney Opera House early one morning. Live from Sydney, in a dining room in Dublin.

And it’s not just all those 1980s pop bands I’d forgotten, or bits of Bosco and Fortycoats. Or classic clips from various talk shows. Or clips out of Dara O’Briain shows.

Youtube is full of educational stuff. A lot of the Khan stuff turned up there first; there are any number of university lectures up there. People sit in their dining rooms and write and present Photoshop tutorials. SOmeone in Spain carefully put together three “how to do bobbin lace” videos. If there is a craft you want to try, someone, somewhere, has made a video showing you how to get started. You want to write programming code? What language? Someone’s done it.

You want to see a review of someone unpacking a new gadget? Name your gadget. Someone somewhere has made a video of the box opening of whatever your favourite newest mobile phone is. You want to learn how to draw or paint? Take your choice. There must be a million trillion art videos on Youtube. You want to see a review of some other product like, oh various different types of fountain pens or water colour paints? Someone has done it. You want to see a cute video of a 4 year old singing the song from Frozen? Every single parent of a 4 year old has made it available on youtube.

You want to see planes doing weird landings in high winds? Youtube. You want to see the sheet music of an obscure piano concerto while someone plays the recording? Youtube.

You want to see what it’s like to surf the tube of a wave? Youtube.

You want a first person experience down a high ski jump? Youtube.

You want to see classic 1980s ads involving frying eggs on a rock if you only had a rock? Youtube.

Youtube is the sort of future I never imagined and it’s hear. It’s amazing. When I talk about the future, I remember that thanks to Youtube, I’m living in the sort of future I couldn’t conceive 30 years ago.

shop review: Casi One, Brussels

Way back in the mists of time, I bought a Caran D’Ache Ecridor in a stationery shop which stuck in my memory by location, rather than by name. It may have been a Prisma (which you cannot currently get by the way). The location was pretty much “down that street off Place Debrouckere, parallel to Rue Neuve, but not Boulevard Anspach. This is how I remembered it anyway; a little more scraping my memory would have revealed that it’s Boulevard Adolphe Max. It’s where Waterstones used to be. Not sure if it still is.

Anyway, sometime before I finished in UCD I had to give a run over to Brussels, and between the meetings I went for, and the plane rides there and back, I went back into the stationery shop which, after 15 years, was still there. I like that sort of continuity in shops – you see it in Dublin with the Pen Corner as well. I bought another Caran D’Ache there, a limited edition pink one designed by Claudio Colucci. I liked the colours.

Casi One is a wonderful stationery store. They have every mechanical pencil I want, a decent range of Clairefontaine paper; lots of other things that I crave. I draw from time to time (this is not something that I broadcast much) and after a lot of failures, I’ve settled on water colour pencils as my tool of choice. They have all the collection sets of Caran D’Ache Supracolor II pencils. They look gorgeous; I stood in front of the window display with a deep wish I could buy all the stuff.

I haven’t been in Casi One much in since I left Brussels, mostly because I haven’t been in Brussels much since I left Brussels. On the last occasion I was there, they remembered me from the previous time, which was about 9 months previously. I have found them immensely helpful but also, very happy to leave me browsing around their wonderland. I love the Pen Corner in Dublin but it’s a toss up as to whether I prefer it to Casi One or not.

Bucket List: Ireland

Any listicle is going to be subjective but having looked at this list, and having knocked off 14 items, plus a half for doing Newgrange not on the winter solstice, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t really a great list.

So I’m making my own.

  1. Malin Point and Mizen Head. No point in doing one without doing the other.
  2. The Giant’s Causeway
  3. Killarney National Park
  4. Hook Lighthouse
  5. Swimming in Banna
  6. Surfing in Lahinch
  7. Whale watching in Clare or Cork
  8. Achill Island – driving to Keem Beach
  9. National Museum Kildare Street
  10. Hunt Museum Limerick
  11. Cashel
  12. Powerscourt Demesne and Glendalough
  13. Galway City
  14. Crawford Art Gallery Cork
  15. Gunpowder Mills, Ballincollig
  16. Chester Beatty Library and Dublin Castle
  17. Local GAA match anywhere in the country, preferably junior level
  18. Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in one of the cities
  19. Titanic Experience
  20. Newgrange and the other Boyne Valley burials (I prefer Knowth btw)
  21. Poulnabrone Dolmen and the Burren
  22. Aran Islands
  23. Skelligs and Valentia
  24. Stay in one of the Irish landmark properties
  25. Clonmacnoise

How dare people voice an opinion…

Via Stephen Kinsella’s twitter feed I got linked to this, by Noah Smith.

The piece is worth a read but the overwhelming message that I get from the discussion is that some macro economists do not want to engage in discussion with people outside the macro-economic tribe because they don’t know enough about macro economics. I think this is probably wrong.

Most people’s lives are directly affected by macro economic policy. Whether you want to claim that macroeconomics is generally descriptive, the fact remains that elements of macroeconomic research and ideas pervade macro economic policy for most governments. Those policies, with the best will in the world, can rarely be roadtested on a few people, so effectively, every time a government announces a shift in macro economic policy, it is a gamble, and that gamble directly affects people’s lives. There is no lab in which you can really experiment.

So.

I used to work in IT on operations support – this means making sure things keep working on an ongoing basis. Mostly, things kept working. It’s when things don’t work, that you find out where people’s strength’s, and where an organisations strength’s lie. Ultimately, major problems were extremely rare occurrences, and were always the cause of some learning. This is important. You could argue, for example, that if the lessons learned from the great recession of the 1930s were absolutely learned from, we wouldn’t have had the latest iteration of great recession. The narrative around that is pretty much history repeating itself, and people not learning from history. Most of the protections put in place after 1929 and its fall out were basically unpicked. Would we have had the economic crash of the 00s if that hadn’t happened? Probably not. We might not have seen a lot of the growth of the previous 20 years either. Arguably, you can question whether the growth was worth more than the ensuing cost. I don’t think there is a straight answer and if an economist told me there was, I’d question the grounds on which he made that assertion.

Macroeconomics is a large part of everybody’s lives. I think economists need to recognise this, and recognise that a key result of that is that people will have opinions on macro economics. You can, as at least one has done on twitter, argue that macro is descriptive rather than prescriptive. To do so, however, is not strictly speaking, intellectually honest. Macroeconomists do advocate for particular types of economic policies, often depending on their general ideological leaning. I am not a great fan of the labels right and left because I think they tend to be overly simplistic, but there are certainly some economists who see things from a small government, laissez-faire point of view, and some who see a certain amount of regulation being of use. Economists are fundamentally tribal. You can see it in their own labels for themselves; whether they are Keynesian or Austrian school for example. What large groups of macroeconomists often cannot do is agree on things.

If they are fundamentally descriptive in activity rather than prescriptive, from the outside, this is troubling. If, of course, they are not purely prescriptive, but biased per a particular world view, this is not surprising.

I have somewhat complex feelings about non-experts weighing in on matters requiring expert knowledge. This tends to be very troubling when it comes to assertions over various health matters (cf, vaccination, cf, nutrition as two examples of areas where non-experts (putting it kindly) have caused a lot of damage). One of the things I feel people need to learn to be aware of is where their knowledge ends and their learning needs to start. As such, I’m not sure that computer science graduates are qualified to give nutritional advice, for example. So I have some sympathy with the poor macroeconomist, a target of the great unwashed in society, daring to voice an opinion on their subject.

However, I do think that macro economists also need to recognise where their expertise ends and starts, the limitations in their field of study, the issues caused by their field of study. One of the biggest issues I have with economics as a field of study as a whole is the tendency for people’s thinking to be coloured by ideological views. I don’t know how many economists would recognise that this happens but it does. The tribalism that exists within the field could not exist otherwise. The net result is you see assertions coloured by those views rather than data, and data sweated to support those views. Historically, there is no evidence that neoliberalism is always right, or always wrong. Most neoliberalists will never understand that as a tool it is only sometimes appropriate, and at those times where it is not, they assert the problems are caused by non-pure application of neoliberal policies. People’s lives get damaged by absolutism like that.

In the meantime, macroeconomics is not the same as high level physics, nor high level mathematics. It impacts on people’s lives in a way that the latter do now. Additionally, a high level understanding of macro economics is not outside the capability of most people. I do not think that the world is helped by macroeconomists retreating into a world where they only talk to other macroeconomists about economics. In certain respects, they enjoy a position which most serious academic physicists (Brian Cox being a notable exception) do not, which is that people are interested in and have an opinion on their field of study.

Instead of fighting against it, and more importantly, moaning about it, maybe they should embrace it.

Swimming progress

Way back in early January when I started looking at the whole swimming thing again, and switched my allegiance to DCU’s swimming pool away from Westwood (Clontarf Road)’s swimming pool, I was struggling to make 225m.

Some background. Back in the mists of time, I used to swim 1600m regularly. I haven’t done that for around 9 years which is appalling now that I admit it. I also exclusively backstroked while doing it. There were two reasons for that. 1) sports injury which was what got me swimming at the time and 2) it’s easier for me. I want to highlight that I’m not saying it’s easier for everyone; I only have experience of me.

In theory, I’m supposed to be rectifying the lack of a reliable front crawl but the second last time I went to the swimming pool, my nose clip somehow got lost which made front crawl a non-runner and during the course of that back stroke, I discovered I could swim 775m backstroke with a significant amount more ease than when I endeavoured to alternate between front crawl and backstroke. So I got to my mid target which was aggregate 800m over a swimming session and thoughtfully, wondered if I could do the 1600m backstroking without any hassle.

The answer to that question is actually yes. Today’s swimming trip was 1625, all backstroke.

Now, this is a monumental success and Runkeeper thinks I’m amazing. And I’m very proud of myself. Today, in particular, I’m also rather sanctimonious about it but that will wear off later.

In the meantime, I’ll be wanting to keep that up while doing something about substituting in the occasional front crawl lengths.