(Roughly) Daily

“Men often applaud an imitation and hiss the real thing”*…

… a tendency with which Bjørn Karmann has some timely– and thought-provoking– fun…

Paragraphica is a context-to-image camera that uses location data and artificial intelligence to visualize a “photo” of a specific place and moment. The camera exists both as a physical prototype and a virtual camera that you can try… 

The viewfinder displays a real-time description of your current location, and by pressing the trigger, the camera will create a scintigraphic representation of the description.

On the camera, there are three physical dials that let you control the data and AI parameters to influence the appearance of the photo, similar to how a traditional camera is operated…

The camera operates by collecting data from its location using open APIs. Utilizing the address, weather, time of day, and nearby places. Comining all these data points Paragraphica composes a paragraph that details a representation of the current place and moment.

Using a text-to-image AI, the camera converts the paragraph into a “photo”.

The resulting “photo” is not just a snapshot, but a complex and nuanced reflection of the location you are at, and perhaps how the AI model “sees” that place.

Interestingly the photos do capture some reminiscent moods and emotions from the place but in an uncanny way, as the photos never really look exactly like where I am…

Want to memorialize a moment? Why take a photo when you can have AI just imagine the scene for you? “Paragraphica,” from @BjoernKarmann.

Try it here.

* Aesop


As we point and click, we might recall that it was on this date in 1949 that George Orwell published his masterpiece of dystopian speculative fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and introduced terms like “Big Brother,” “doublethink,” “thoughtcrime,” “Newspeak,” and “Memory hole” into the vernacular.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 8, 2023 at 1:00 am

“A cigarette is a pinch of tobacco rolled in paper with fire at one end and a fool at the other”*…

Joe Camel’s late mannerist phase, when the writing was on the wall

Any number of social and culture issues that one might have thought resolved, have come unraveled over the last decade or so; issues thought resolved are again open. Max Read suggests (in a not altogether tongue-in-cheek way) that smoking might be next…

One way of thinking about this newsletter (Read Max) is as equities analysis for the discursive marketplace, answering important questions for the armchair take trader: What discourses have peaked? What concepts should you short? How are you balancing your take portfolio?

My longtime professional and personal experience as a poster has left me adept at seeing the hidden structures that lurk behind the peaks and valleys of “the discourse”; paid subscribers in particular are well-positioned to profit from the insight offered by Read Max’s sophisticated and proprietary models.

For a while now, Read Max analysts have been intrigued by what is often called on Twitter “smoking discourse,” as in “cigarettes.” Now, following certain recent events on Twitter, we’re prepared to advise clients that we believe strong “pro-smoking” positions grounded in socio-political identities are poised to have a “moment” soon. Our analysis indicates that certain structural factors are in place to encourage arguments like “smoking is good for society, actually” and “anti-smoking laws are bad science/policy” to move past “trolling” and be adopted as common sense by a loose confederation of IDW [“intellectual dark web”] Substackers, trad nutritionists, and downtown cool kids, building on the ties formed between these groups around the COVID-19 pandemic…

Read on for a too-plausible take on the future of public debate: “The coming pro-smoking discourse,” from @readmaxread.

* George Bernard Shaw


As we brush away the ashes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that recently-appointed Surgeon General Luther L. Terry announced that he would convene a committee of experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on the smoking question. In June 1961, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the National Tuberculosis Association, and the American Public Health Association had addressed a letter to President John F. Kennedy, in which they called for a national commission on smoking, dedicated to “seeking a solution to this health problem that would interfere least with the freedom of industry or the happiness of individuals.” The Kennedy administration responded the following year (after prompting from a widely circulated critical study on cigarette smoking by the Royal College of Physicians of London).

Terry issued the commission’s report– highlighting the deleterious health consequences of tobacco use– on January 11, 1964, choosing a Saturday to minimize the effect on the stock market and to maximize coverage in the Sunday papers. As Terry remembered the event, two decades later, the report “hit the country like a bombshell. It was front page news and a lead story on every radio and television station in the United States and many abroad.”

U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry addressing press conference at the release of the 1964 Report on Smoking and Health (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 7, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Mathematics has not a foot to stand on which is not purely metaphysical”*…

Battle of Maida 1806, part of the the invasion and occupation of Naples by Napoleon’s French Empire (source)

Lest we forget…

A forgotten episode in French-occupied Naples in the years around 1800—just after the French Revolution—illustrates why it makes sense to see mathematics and politics as entangled. The protagonists of this story were gravely concerned about how mainstream mathematical methods were transforming their world—somewhat akin to our current-day concerns about how digital algorithms are transforming ours. But a key difference was their straightforward moral and political reading of those mathematical methods. By contrast, in our own era we seem to think that mathematics offers entirely neutral tools for ordering and reordering the world—we have, in other words, forgotten something that was obvious to them.

In this essay, I’ll use the case of revolutionary Naples to argue that the rise of a new and allegedly neutral mathematics—characterized by rigor and voluntary restriction—was a mathematical response to pressing political problems. Specifically, it was a response to the question of how to stabilize social order after the turbulence of the French Revolution. Mathematics, I argue, provided the logical infrastructure for the return to order. This episode, then, shows how and why mathematical concepts and methods are anything but timeless or neutral; they define what “reason” is, and what it is not, and thus the concrete possibilities of political action. The technical and political are two sides of the same coin—and changes in notions like mathematical rigor, provability, and necessity simultaneously constitute changes in our political imagination…

Massimo Mazzotti with an adaptation from his new book, Reactionary Mathematics: A Genealogy of Purity: “Foundational Anxieties, Modern Mathematics, and the Political Imagination,” @maxmazzotti in @LAReviewofBooks.

* Thomas De Quincey


As we count on it, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Regiomontanus (or Johannes Müller von Königsberg, as he was christened); he was born on this date in 1436. A mathematician, astrologer, and astronomer of the German Renaissance, he and his work were instrumental in the development of Copernican heliocentrism during his lifetime and in the decades following his death.


“Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.”*…

From ancient empires to the industrialized nation-states of our globally-interconnected world, complexity theory offers a fresh perspective on the past and possible futures of human societies. Dries Daems explains…

… Civilizations rise and fall, sometimes at the stroke of a sword. Myriad explanations have been posited as to why this happens. Often, hypotheses of collapse say more about the preoccupations of contemporary society than they do about the past. It is no coincidence that Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (01776), written during the anticlerical Age of Reason, blamed Christianity for Rome’s downfall, just as it is no coincidence that recent popular accounts of civilizational collapse such as Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (02005) point toward environmental damage and climate change as the main culprits.

I’ve been fascinated by the oscillations of human societies ever since the early days of my research for my Ph.D. in archaeology. Over the last 12,000 years, we’ve gone from small hunter-gatherer groups to highly urbanized communities and industrialized nation-states in a globally interconnected world. As societies grow, they expand in territory, produce economic growth, technological innovation, and social stratification. How does this happen, and why? And is collapse inevitable? The answers provided by archeology were unsatisfying. So I looked elsewhere.

Ultimately, I settled on a radically different framework to explore these questions: the field of complexity theory. Emerging from profound cross-disciplinary frustrations with reductionism, complexity theory aims to understand the properties and behavior of complex systems (including the human brain, ecosystems, cities and societies) through the exploration of their generative patterns, dynamics, and interactions.

In what follows, I’ll share some thoughts about what social complexity is, how it develops, and why it provides a more comprehensive account of societal change than the traditional evolutionary approaches that permeate archeology. By recasting the rise and fall of civilizations in terms of social complexity, we can better understand not only the past of human societies, but their possible futures as well…

Fascinating– and arresting: “Reimagining the Rise and Fall of Civilizations,” from @DriesDaems at @longnow.

See also Nick Brysiewicz‘s “Creative Technology at the Timescale of Civilization@nicholaspaul26 for @_baukunst.

* Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


As we contemplate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1644 that the Qing dynasty‘s Manchu forces, led by the Shunzhi Emperor, took Beijing– sealing the collapse of the Ming dynasty, which had ruled since 1368.

Aisin-Gioro Fulin, the Shunzhi Emperor– the first Qing Emperor to rule over China proper (source)

“I’ll bet my autopsy reveals my mouth is too big”*…

MIT Press, with an excerpt from François Caradec‘s Dictionary of Gestures

We might believe that the seat of speech (without considering ventriloquists and flatulists) has no need for the assistance of hand gestures when it comes to expressing emotions and sensations. Numerous adjectives confirm this to be true: foul, open, loud, smart, foaming, pouty, watering — the mouth can be all of these things and many more still…

The mouth also knows how to keep quiet: It is upon the mouth that the monkey of Chinese wisdom places its hands to signify that silence is always worth more than an imprudent word.

5. to bring one’s hand toward one’s mouth without quite touching it
Modesty. A gesture of eloquence employed by the great orators of antiquity.

9. to insert the index finger into the mouth and use it to make the cheek “pop”
To make a face. Mockery. “Panurge bobbed and made mouths at him in token of derision” (Rabelais, “The Works of Rabelais, Book IV,” trans. Motteux, 1708). Called la babou in French, named for a witch with great big lips…

So much more at : “An Illustrated Guide to Mouth Gestures and Their Meanings Around the World,” from @mitpress.

* Calvin (Bill Watterson)


As we gesticulate, we might note that today is National Secretaries Day (more lately known also as Admin Day and Administrative Professional’s Day). It was created in 1952 by the National Secretaries Association, with the help of a variety of office products manufacturers, to recognize those office workers who, back then, made much of their contribution with dancing digits.


%d bloggers like this: