Anatomy of Things

“Ladies, Ladies,” Mason calls. “–You’ve seen her in the Evening Sky, you’ve wish’d upon her, and now for a short time will she be seen in the Day-light, crossing the Disk of the Sun,–and do make a Wish then, if you think it will help.– For Astronomers, who usually work at night, ’twill give us a chance to be up in the Day-time. Thro’ our whole gazing-lives, Venus has been a tiny Dot of Light, going through phases like the Moon, ever against the black face of Eternity. But on the day of this Transit, all shall suddenly reverse,– as she is caught, dark, embodied, solid, against the face of the Sun,– a Goddess descended from light to Matter.”

“And our Job,” Dixon adds, “is to observe her as she transits the face of the sun, and write down the Times as she comes and goes…?”

“That’s all? You could stay in England and do that,” jaunty little Chins and slender Necks, posing, and re-posing, blond girls laughing together, growing sticky and malapert.

The girls are taken on a short but dizzying journey, straight up, into the Aether, until there beside them in the grayish Starlight is the ancient, gravid Earth, the Fescue become a widthless Wand of Light, striking upon it brilliantly white-hot Arcs.

“Parallax. To an Observer up at the North Cape, the Track of the Planet, across the Sun, will appear much to the south of the same Track as observ’d from down here, at the Cape of Good Hope. The further apart the Obs North and South, that is, the better. It is the Angular Distance between, that we wish to know. One day, someone sitting in a room will succeed in reducing all the Observations, from all ’round the World, to a simple number of Seconds, and tenths of a Second, of Arc,– and that will be the Parallax.

Let us hope some of you are awake early enough, to see the Transit. Remember to keep both eyes open, and there will be the three Bodies, lined up perfectly,– the Heliocentric system in its true Mechanism, His artisanship how pure.” The Girls keep their Glances each looping ’round the others, like elaborately curl’d Tresses, trying to see if they should be understanding this, or,– being cruel young beauties ev’ry one,– even caring.

- Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, Ch. 9

Peter Thiel’s CS183: Startup - Class 15 Notes Essay


Here is an essay version of class notes from Class 15 of CS183: Startup. Errors and omissions are mine.

Four guests joined the class for a conversation after the lecture:

  1. Danielle Fong, Co-founder and Chief Scientist of LightSail Energy;
  2. Jon Hollander, Business Development at RoboteX;
  3. Greg Smirin, COO of The Climate Corporation; and
  4. Scott Nolan, Principal at Founders Fund and former aerospace engineer at SpaceX (Elon Musk was going to come, but he was busy launching rockets).

Credit for good stuff goes to them and Peter. I have tried to be accurate. But note that this is not a transcript of the conversation. 

Class 15 Notes Essay—Back to the Future

I. The Future of The Past

Sometimes the best way to think about the future is to think about the way the future used to be. In the mid-20th century, it was still possible to talk about a future where the weather would be precisely predicted or even controlled. Maybe someone would figure out how to predict tornadoes. Or maybe cloud seeding would work. Transportation was the same way; people expected flying cars and civilian submarines. Robotics was yet another exciting frontier that people thought would be big.

But fast-forward to the present. Things haven’t really worked out as people thought they would in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Weather still kind of just happens to us. People have pretty much accepted that as inevitable. The prevailing sense is that trying to control the weather is dangerous, and we shouldn’t tinker too much with it. Transportation has been similarly disappointing. Forget flying cars—we’re still sitting in traffic. There has been some progress in robotics. But certainly not as much as everybody expected. We wanted the General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot from Lost in Space. Instead we got the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

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(Source: blakemasters)

But back to those five minutes. Between 11:49 and 11:54, something extraordinary happened. For about 300 seconds, the computers took over. The stock, which had dropped four points in the five minutes prior, froze in an incredibly narrow five-cent range while two sets of computers put in thousands upon thousands of bids against one another. On one side, the underwriters’ computers were offering to buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock to keep it from dipping below the crucial $38 level; on the other, high frequency traders were making veerrryyy slightly higher bids at just above $38 — $38.01, $38.02 — which they would sell, literally seconds later […]

For a few minutes, the most-watched stock in the world behaved like a malfunctioning computer program. The stock that convinced untold thousands of regular people with E-Trade accounts to get back into investing behaved according to rules that literally none of them understood, traded at volumes that none of them could conceive of and effectively followed contradictory orders from two sets of screaming robots. This is what future shock feels like.

How Facebook’s IPO Got Hijacked by Computers (via @wonderlandblog)

Oh, and this doesn’t even get to the part where NASDAQ didn’t boot up correctly and $3MM in trades got DDOSed.

(via slavin)

(via slavin)

The refusal of closure is always, at some level, a refusal to face mortality. Our fixation on electronic games and stories is in part an enactment of this denial of death. They offer us the chance to erase memory, to startover, to replay an event and try for a different resolution. In this respect, electronic media have the advantage of enacting a deeply comic vision of life, a vision of retrievable mistakes and open options.

Nelson BC GoPro Avalanche FULL Video (by ryanrupke2)

The Monks Drugs in My Pocket (by Helios814)