Links: The Math of Genealogy, Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Techno-Utopianism, Eric Holder, Pope Francis, etc

A few links, as I prepare some more substantive posts.

  • Laurie Penny, I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the New Statesman. (Opening lines: “Like scabies and syphilis, Manic Pixie Dream Girls were with us long before they were accurately named.”)

  • I recently started using Amazon’s S3 for highly durable, inexpensive cloud-based backup system, via the Mac program Arq, which I highly recommend. I was quite happy with this until I discovered an even better solution—S4: Super Simple Storage Service. Now I’m kicking myself for not going with this from the start.1

  • A lovely essay by Robert Littell from the 1930s in Harper’s: “What The Young Man Should Know.”

  • It’s an interesting fact that pretty much everyone of European descent alive today is a descendent of Charlemagne—and of every single other European living a thousand years ago who has any living descendants. An article about this, via Terry Tao, who provides a little mathematical commentary.

  • Even Terrorists Have to Fill Out Expense Reports

  • Evgeny Morozov: Future Shlock: Meet the two-world hypothesis and its havoc. The new New Republic is still very much a work in progress—can someone tell Chris Hughes that the design is horrible?—but they continue to have excellent reviews. Morozov’s polemics are always fun, although they’d work better if they were half as long.

  • The Chronicle of Higher Ed (paywall, though probably accessible through library proxies at most universities) discusses the role of faculty clubs in encouraging informal interaction between professors. These things matter a lot, not just within the confines of academia but throughout life.

  • From NPR’s Planet Money: The 17th Century Version of the Fight over Uber

  • On Eric Holder and the pardon of Marc Rich

  • Harvard Business School is changing its application requirements, replacing standard word-limited essay questions with an optional open-ended prompt “What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?” without any word limit. I like the idea of this broad essay; I wish there were more places in life where you could do this, rather than fill out more cookie-cutter prompts. (It would be interesting to see this apply for college admissions, though I’m not sure that would be a good idea…)

  • This is a bit late but still worthwhile: a quote from Pope Francis, via Andrew Sullivan. There is both great beauty and grievous wrong-doing in the Catholic Church, but there’s much that’s inspiring about this new pope, who strikes me as an almost Dostoevskyan figure. (I say this as a secular conflictedly half-Jewish agnostic2 who follows in the long line of Jews fascinated by Catholicism.3) By the way, Andrew Sullivan does a great job writing on Catholicism from the stance of someone who appreciates the power and majesty of the faith without forgiving it for its social sins.

  1. In all seriousness, S3 + Arq is a great combo, I’m backing 150 gigs of stuff up for $2 a month, with Amazon’s incredibly durable services. (I can save my important things on S3 for $.10 a GB a month, and things that I’d only need to recover in a horrible disaster–music, photos, etc.–I store for a cent a GB a month [sic!].) Arq runs very quickly and efficiently in the background, providing easily accessible incremental backups. It’s not as fully customizable as I’d want, but it’s all done by one developer, who seems to be actively improving the product. h/t to this interview with John MacFarlane (author of the fabulous pandoc) for the suggestion. 

  2. I once saw someone characterize themselves on Facebook as a militant agnostic: “I don’t know and you don’t either.” 
  3. Cf. Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, p. 526:

    Like many gifted Jews, Naphta was by instinct both a revolutionary and an aristocrat… The first statement that the presence of a Catholic theologian had elicited from him, even though a purely analytical comparison, had been a declaration of love for the Roman church, which he saw as an elegant and yet spiritual power—that is, anti-worldly, anti-material, and thus revolutionary. And his homage was genuine, rooted deep within his nature; for, as he himself explained, Judaism—thanks to its earthy, practical character, its socialism, its political spirituality—was far nearer to the Catholic sphere, was incomparably more closely related to it, than to the self-absorption and mystical subjectivity of Protestantism; this meant that it was decidedly less intellectually disruptive for a Jew to convert to the Roman church than for a Protestant to do so.