All Articles

Five things - 30/03/2020

This past week has been a bit of a weird experience for most of us. I’ll try and keep the number of serious things down a bit.

1. Lousiana Channel

Louisiana in Denmark is my favourite modern art gallery in the world, and during the lockdown it’s good to fit some culture in your day. If you’re interested in art, design, music, architecture or literature, there will probably be something here for you. There are series like “Advice to the Young” and “Artists on One Work”, but there’s a tonne of content on there, so have a browse. Here’s a few from some different artforms:

2. The Bureau

Everyone needs a good box-set to get stuck into sometimes. A lot of the Netflix programmes seem designed to be binged on, but occasionally you want something more substantial, that warrants leaving a break between episodes to ponder things. I thoroughly recommend this series. It introduces you to the French DGSE (equivalent to Britain’s MI6 or the CIA), following an agent who has returned from a life undercover. There is a lot of spycraft, some romance, and all in all it’s very enjoyable. My French is very rusty, so I rely on subtitles, but as with many foreign series, you don’t notice after a while. And I find I like the sound of French even when I don’t understand!

Here’s a recent French article recommending it. The first series is free on CanalPlus right now, but if you have Amazon Prime UK it is available there with subtitles.

3. The Railsplitters

I thought I should recommend some music that most people won’t have heard, so here’s something way outside my usual genres. I serendipitously saw this bluegrass band live in a small Scottish coastal town a couple of years ago, and really liked the music.

Here’s a couple of tracks on Spotify to get a taste:

4. Surprising study reveals what makes a good coder, and it’s not math

A piece of research recently popped up online that surprised many - it turns out that learning to program is more correlated with good ability to learn languages, than with numeracy. I’m not particularly surprised at this. Good numeracy will help with the more academic side of things (particularly the algorithmic coding interview) but day-to-day programming work is more about communicating ideas in an abstract language. I don’t really think of myself as very good at maths, but I think I was alright at learning languages back at school (and I wish I had kept it up - I suppose it’s never too late…). Maybe that explains to some extent why I do alright as a programmer; I do find it interesting to learn about new programming languages and paradigms, but solving mathematical puzzles isn’t really my cup of tea.

Whether this study holds in general, I’m not sure, but it is interesting all the same, and should give hope to people who think they can’t learn to program because they aren’t very mathematical. The original article from Nature is free to read online.

5. We Need A Massive Surveillance Program

This is a bit of a controversial one. I generally listen to what Maciej Cegłowski has to say (I’m also a big fan of his Pinboard service). Last week I mentioned Harari’s article on the difficult choices ahead if we allow governments to invade privacy in the name of an everlasting emergency. This article argues that we really could do with using the surveillance capability we have now. We have a dilemma of choosing between hurting people because the economy is damaged, or hurting people by letting the virus spread. If we have a vaccine, then this dilemma is solved. But without a medical solution, we’ll have to continue with some level of containment strategy for the foreseeable future. If we could leverage the surveillance system that exists now in the private sector, that could massively help. As ever, it raises questions about the surveillance technology that already exists.