Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday
In lieu of a column and a podcast this week, I recommend reading the extraordinarily well-received biography by Jonathan Eig, King: A Life. Sweeping, soaring but complexly textured, Eig manages to turn the textbook icon back into a man, reminding us all that even the greatest historical figures do indeed walk amongst us — if often ahead of us.
We’ll be back with more “Securities” next week.
- Speaking of layered narratives of humanity, Lucy Tompkins wrote a fantastic feature in The New York Times asking “Can a Big Village Full of Tiny Homes Ease Homelessness in Austin?” “In the middle of Community First is a memorial garden with the ashes of dozens of residents who have died, their names etched into a granite columbarium. The garden is a reminder of the particular challenges faced by people who were without housing for 10 years on average before joining the community. The average age of death there is about 59, 18 years less than the typical U.S. life expectancy. Life at the village is regularly punctuated by loss. In 2023, 18 residents died.”
- Grace Isford highlights Mobile ALOHA, a demonstration project at Stanford by Zipeng Fu and Tony Z. Zhao which adds mobility to the robotic learning system ALOHA. “With 50 demonstrations for each task, co-training can increase success rates by up to 90%, allowing Mobile ALOHA to autonomously complete complex mobile manipulation tasks such as sauteing and serving a piece of shrimp, opening a two-door wall cabinet to store heavy cooking pots, calling and entering an elevator, and lightly rinsing a used pan using a kitchen faucet.”
- I really enjoyed this Five Books interview between Olivia Cheung and Sophie Roell on Xi Jinping, which spiritedly covers all China-related leadership politics for the past decade. “Xi Jinping Thought is a whole package of ideas, with the goal that China must be made great again. To be great again, you need to unite around the party, and the party needs to unite around a leader. That one-ness, sameness, the party-centric nationalism—he believes in it.”
- Our scientist-in-residence Sam Arbesman recommends Venkatesh Rao’s short parable on his Ribbon Farm blog, “Knowledge Management.” “A young robot and an old robot sat by the fire, contemplating its dancing flames, their charging ports hooked up to a coughing generator. A troop of scruffy humans clambered around the derelict hulk of a century-old fighter plane nearby, looking for scavengeable parts. The striking and graceful lines of the fighter were still visible, despite the depredations of time and previous scavenging raids.”
- Finally, a delightful little article by novelist Johannes Lichtman in The Paris Review on visiting the CIA’s Langley headquarters to talk with its Creative Writing Group. “When an organization has, say, financed the overthrow of the government of Guatemala, you would think there might be a speaking fee. But I was told that, in lieu of payment, the writing group would take me out to lunch in the executive dining room afterward. I would also have my picture taken in front of the CIA seal, and I could post that picture anywhere I wanted.”
That’s it, folks. Have questions, comments, or ideas? This newsletter is sent from my email, so you can just click reply.