The musings of Mr Monkeysized

Mapping why Europe still matters by monkeysized
March 10, 2011, 15:18
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I have a day job, working for a particular think tank that covers European foreign policy. That’s why I have this as an outlet – so that I can express views that are my own, rather more freely. But sometimes I do something there that I want to share here. For instance this blog post.

The idea started with this ace map from the Economist:

Which led me to this:

And the slightly more complex this:

It knows where your head is. by monkeysized
March 5, 2011, 13:53
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If there’s one thing I enjoy predicting it’s the coming war against the robots, when humankind is finally consumed by the technology that it created but can no longer either control or understand.

And now, I feel, that war is one step closer. Thanks to a games console.

I was walking along a stretch of scrub land in the surprisingly pleasant city of Johannesburg, listening to the Babbage podcast from The Economist, which covers technological matters. The two journalists were talking about a remarkable device – a games console that works in 3D without any need for those funny glasses that they started handing out in the 1970s.

Remarkable. And how does it work? A sensible enough question, but a chilling answer.

It knows where your head is.


In the future, as the survivors of the war against the robots tramp soullessly across the wastes, in search of shelter and whatever slimy half-rotten potatoes they can find, they’ll think back to this grim games console, and shudder.

Of course there’ll be a new version of this Nintendo 3DS in a year’s time that knows where your face is. And another after that that knows what you fear. Then another that wants you to help it. Then one that can’t let you do that.

It’s time to start stockpiling those tins of beans.

I wouldn’t start from today if I was you by monkeysized
September 5, 2010, 17:20
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As mentioned in a previous post (in connection with Zoroastrianism), humans often have to be reminded that today isn’t necessarily the best place to start from in judging something a success or otherwise. An excerpt from a book review in the greatest magazine in the history of the world – The Economist – sums it up marvellously.

The review is of Marek Kohn’s book on how Britain might be affected by climate change.

To quote The Economist:

In the process of immersing the reader in a fully realised set of tomorrows, Mr Kohn also recasts his perception of today. Nature writing which takes the future and its possibilities as seriously as the past allows the reader to look at the present in a way that the declinist narratives so common in environmental writing disbar; the reader can see today as being in the middle of things, pulled in many directions, not pressed down at the end of time.

I have subscribed to the magazine for what must now be something close to a decade. If you don’t read every issue you’re missing out. This fact was made clearer by a sift through the Sunday papers while eating a club sandwich in Sussex earlier today – dismal stuff, with the exception of a couple of columnists, and certainly not to be confused with news.

And while I’m mentioning Sussex, I might as well share this photo that Mrs Monkeysized took on a farm just outside East Grinstead.

Progress doesn’t always allow for sensible revisions by monkeysized
June 17, 2010, 09:36
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The Sunday Times soft-shoe-shuffled into the blog yesterday on the back of a quote about the majesty of air travel from The Economist. It reminded me to revisit the newly paywalled site for a marvellously monkeysized review of a car by Jeremy Clarkson.

On Sunday he made the point that

if the motor car were invented now, in its current form, no government on earth would allow ordinary people to drive around in one.

This single monkeysized line is worth an unadorned blog post all of its own, so I won’t ramble on too much. But it tells you something about both the nature of progress and the need to step back from the banal and obvious and think about them once again in relation to our over-evolved and under-cooked apelike selves. Driving a car is an extraordinary and largely unnatural business. It requires responsibility and a sense that what you are doing is a privilege. It is not a right.

Go outside, look at the old streets near where you work, where you live, and where you grew up. Imagine them without 80% of the cars, without any of the cars. That’s often how they were designed. The car is a fantastic invention, but don’t take cars and their impact for granted.

Rushing for a window seat by monkeysized
June 16, 2010, 13:51
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It’s not just me: other people, no doubt having read Mr Monkeysized’s thoughts on this here computer and then having discussed it while having a wee in their local pub, have made a rush for a window seat.

Not just Mr Gulliver on The Economist, but somebody on the firmly pay-walled Sunday Times, have joined that rush. Here is Gulliver‘s take, starting with the quote from the ST:

My favourite window-seat ride is crossing America — with the asphalt labyrinth of the crammed east coast giving way first to ceaseless Appalachian forest, then to the eerie geometric perfection of the farm-belt fields, then to the intimidating, jaw-dropping emptiness of the west, before the smog starts lapping at your window as California sprawls into view.

It’s like a six-hour tutorial on the most powerful combination of man and land in human history — and you, in the aisle seat, were playing online poker instead?

I suspect many frequent flyers will roll their eyes at the suggestion that they giggle excitedly at the view—they’re too busy working and they have, probably, seen it all before. But those who do retain some sense of wonderment at where they are and what they are seeing will doubtless fly more contentedly.

As you’ll no doubt remember, this fits in with my push to remember the wonder of flight when we board a plane, to spare a thought for blasting through the air in an aluminium tube, and how much Newton would have paid for a window seat on an Easy Jet flight to Malaga.

Next up: the wonder of lifts.

Get your kids into prostitution rather than journalism by monkeysized
June 15, 2010, 09:57
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I listened to a podcast from The Economist on the way to work today. The starting line was

“The notion of thinking of journalism as something you go into at age 21 or even at age 18 as used to be, and something you retire from in your sixties, I think that is no longer a wise way of thinking about it.”

It was a piece about the future of journalism. When inside the Big Corporation I felt it easy to criticise other industries for failing to reform – journalism’s own troubles made me feel mildly queasy in a slightly hidden way. It didn’t affect me in my cast-iron job. But then I jumped ship and waved goodbye to my large pay off to do so. I didn’t want to be that frog sitting still in the water as it comes to the boil. It’s one of the few brave things that I’ve ever done, and my own individual attempt to avoid being Monkeysized.

I have my own thoughts about the future of journalism now. I’m shocked at how well prepared journalists are for the outside world, but also at the denial that most journalists have about being forced to show it. One of the two men on the Economist’s pod said he’d prefer it if it his kids stayed well clear of it.

I put the pod up on my Facebook page. My journalistic friends seem to be avoiding it – they’re instead going for the Onion report that I put up about Football:

“Deep down soccer’s about a bunch of guys running around, not touching a polka-dot ball with their hands. It shouldn’t have to hide how gay it is.”

Toxoplasmosis and hoping the French lose at the World Cup by monkeysized
June 9, 2010, 09:44
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At last! Scientific reasoning comes to the aid of our grudges and ill-considered prejudices, just in time for the World Cup. The Economist’s science section introduces us to toxoplasmosis, with the aid of this little picture:

In short, it’s about a parasite that lives in cats and mice at different stages of development. To complete the cycle, when in a mouse it makes the little fellow more vulnerable to being eaten by a cat, making it a little bit dim and courting feline violence. The parasite then moves back into the cat via its stomach.

The interesting bit, however, is that it also affects humans, and makes some of them – how can I put this – more French. Maybe I’m paraphrasing and drawing on my prejudices, but this is World Cup season after all. To quote from the article’s discussion of a researcher’s findings:

The places he looked at ranged from phlegmatic Britain, with a neuroticism score of -0.8 and a Toxoplasma infection rate of 6.6%, to hot-blooded France, which scored 1.8 and had an infection rate of 45%. Cross-Channel prejudices, then, may have an unexpected origin.

In short we can now merrily conflate toxoplasmosis infection rates with everything from simple measures of ‘Frenchness’ through to tendencies to cheat at football, be underhand in general matters and to have women with hairy armpits. Horrible stuff, but at least we can now measure in advance and be forewarned. Soon we’ll be able to apply it to imponderables like suitability as marriage material, likelihood to break fiscal governance rules within the €, and potential for nicking one’s totty while smoking Gitanes and surrendering to the Germans.

For if being monkeysized means anything, it means being able to surrender to our prejudices, at least for the duration of the World Cup.