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Etcetera #22: Rankings, Expertise, Crosswords

Matthew Culnane
Matthew Culnane
Hello. Here are the things that caught my attention this week. Let’s jump right in, and I’ll see you next Friday. (Please buy something on Bandcamp today.)

The Best Music Performances On TV Since 2000, Ranked
The true story of how Billy Joel's "Piano Man" stiffed, then caught fire
Where Are The Robotic Bricklayers?
Aside: something that runs through the various obstacles to automation here is about unconscious human expertise:
Mortar has sort of complex physical properties - it’s a non-newtonian fluid, and it’s viscosity increases when it’s moved or shaken. This makes it difficult to apply in a purely mechanical, deterministic way (and also probably makes it difficult for masons to explain what they’re doing - watching them place it you can see lots of complex little motions, and the mortar behaving in sort of strange not-quite-liquid but not-quite-solid ways).
This recalls the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, where a practitioner gains expertise over a period of years (if not decades) until such decisions become so internalised that they are completed without conscious thought, and can often be difficult to explain. A robot couldn’t do this, but an experienced builder can, intuitively. I learned about this model from Andy Hunt’s Pragmatic Thinking and Learning ten years ago and it has been surprisingly hardy in my thinking.
The overlaps between expertise and intuition pop up in many places but one of the first areas I think of is food. This may be because I am always thinking about food. Andaaza is an Urdic word that means something like ‘estimation’, and it appears frequently in discussion of a cook’s use of experience and intuition. This piece, Learning to Cook Intuitively, covers it well, and matches up with some of the recent links we’ve seen about no-recipe recipes.
Amateur–Expert is a continuum that is located close to but not in exactly the same place as Stupid–Intelligent. And in fact the opposite of stupidity may not be intelligence. Why Some Of The Smartest People Can Be So Very Stupid is a really interesting take on what stupidity is.
Lastly in this general area we can look at two types of narcissism:
Grandiose narcissists are arrogant, dominant and extroverted. They tend to have high self-esteem, be bold and assertive and feel happy and confident about their lives. Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, are withdrawn, neurotic and insecure. They tend to have low self-esteem, be hypersensitive and feel anxious and depressed.
However, these two types of narcissists also have something in common. Both are selfish, feel entitled to special treatment and privileges and relate to others in antagonistic ways.
Tag yourself, etc.
While we’re making and rating best-of lists, here are Dan Ozzi’s powerfully wrong thoughts on the best and worst of I Think You Should Leave season 2.
On cryptic crosswords. Cryptics are less popular in the US than in the UK, so you occasionally see pieces by or with cruciverbalists like this one that explain the phenomenon, their compilation and give a few ways to approach them. See also: a history of the crossword and a more in-depth look at how to solve cryptics. Way back in Etcetera #1 we saw two links, from The Pudding and Study Hall, looking at (the lack of) diversity and representation in the crossword industry.
Alan Levinovitz wrote a book in which he discussed a revolutionary new diet that places food packaging as the cause of all modern ailments. Readers loved it. The only problem: the entire premise of the book was to debunk pseudoscientific claims, and the section that discussed the ‘UNpacked Diet’ was an exercise in bringing those claims to life. It was satire, located in such a way that it would have been almost impossible to read it as anything else. Yet people did. Here he discusses how powerful rhetoric can be as a misinformation tool, as well as the power of anecdote over evidence.
I closely follow Matt Webb’s work so I was surprised to completely miss Horsehistory study, only picking up on it when it was featured in other blogs and newsletters. The first half is an exploration of word construction and how their component parts bring about and change meaning—he uses ‘horse’ as an example. The second half is a discussion of how this exploration could be automated to discover new areas of thought.
Continuing our recent look at irony in comedy, here’s a path from David Brent to Ted Lasso, from irony to sincerity. (See also Father John Misty above.) As ever this gives me yet another opportunity to link to Emily Pothast’s wonderful piece.
A time-lapse video about the 14-metre tides in Brittany and how humans have adapted to them.
A time-lapse video about the 14-metre tides in Brittany and how humans have adapted to them.
The aforementioned Ian Cohen on the 20th anniversary of Owls’ self-titled album: “Owls feels like the platonic ideal for a Kinsella family project — an inspired and frankly necessary creative outlet that kickstarted two decades of worthy art from Tim and Mike, ended when it no longer served that purpose, and revived on their terms.”
Salt Story talks about salt making: history, production, terroir and usage.
“He gives me some knowledge, I buy him some shoes.” My friend Phil on the lyrics of Arrested Development’s ‘Mr. Wendal’.
Teamonade’s This Far is an interesting mix of genre—the first song, ‘Weighed Down’, comprises sections of acoustic balladry, grungy rock and something that exists in the space between rap and spoken word. ‘Going Thru It’ features a fingerpicked intro followed by alt-rock guitars. ‘Sadder Than U’ wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack to Can’t Hardly Wait. The album is a collection of their previous EPs and singles, and this shows in its inconsistent nature, but there’s some promise here.
The Day the Good Internet Died is a nostalgic commemoration of Google Reader, the feed reading tool that shuttered nearly ten(!) years ago. This piece has a bit of the “oh weren’t the old days of the web the best” that we’re seeing a lot at the moment. There are lots of reasons why that’s not true; I’ve linked to this Tressie McMillan Cottom interview before, which goes over some of the main reasons.
Isabel Fall’s sci-fi story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” caused huge controversy when it was published, to the point that you won’t find anything else written under the author’s name. The reasons for this aren’t as straightforward as you might expect. The story went in ways I didn’t expect.
OK that’s it! Reply with any thoughts or find me on Twitter where I don’t really say much. Visit my site if you want to find out more about what I do.
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Matthew Culnane
Matthew Culnane @coldbrain

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