Does Not Compute · Collaborative Fund

Morgan Housel writing in Collaborative Fund makes a case for economists and others involved in finance re-thinking the role of rationality in the markets. Somehow he gets from re-thinking rationality to the importance of stories, noting toward the end of the essay:

Last is the power of stories over statistics. “Housing prices in relation to median incomes are now above their historic average and typically mean revert,” is a statistic. “Jim just made $500,000 flipping homes and can now retire early and his wife thinks he’s amazing” is a story. And it’s way more persuasive in the moment. If you look, I think you’ll find that wherever information is exchanged – wherever there are products, companies, careers, politics, knowledge, education, and culture – you will find that the best story wins. Great ideas explained poorly can go nowhere while old or wrong ideas told compellingly can ignite a revolution. (“[Does Not Compute][]”, 5 January 2022)

There is, of course, a great deal of research demonstrating that the ability story’s have of conveying to their audiences a sense of the lived experience, what some call qualia, is the source of their power. It’s sort of a version of “you were there” that is a product of our neurons firing similarly when we read about someone running as when we actually run.

There’s no sense that the same neurons fire for different people when running, nor is there much work yet, of which I am aware, that people are imagining similar running: each of us is our own heuristic horizon after all and bring different experiences and competencies to all our activities, including receiving narrative texts.

But there’s another dimension of the quote above that caught my eye, and it’s the story Housel embeds about Jim. Is it a story? Or is it simply a point of information, a fact? My sense is that it’s the latter, and thus I would argue that there are more modes of discourse that deliver up qualia than narrative. It may very well be the case that narrative discourse does it best, and I think many narratologists would agree, but we do need to get past the idea, I think that stories are the only form of discourse that do.

Does Not Compute


The relationship between social inequality/inequity and different kinds of vernacular, and institutional, responses is something I am trying to think about. Two tabs simultaneously open in my browser reveal the possibilities, and the breadth, of the topic to/in my mind:

  • A Nieman Lab report on the release of the latest Aspen Digital Commission for Information Disorder report that features a number of conclusions, one of which is “Disinformation is a symptom; the disease is complex structural inequities.”
  • Cory Doctorow musing on the relationship between Luddites and science fiction: “In truth, their goal was something closely related to science fiction: to challenge not the technology itself, but rather the social relations that governed its use.” (For those interested, the Nieman Labs report includes a link to the Aspen Institute report.)

Tangherlini in the News

I think I should start a list of the places where Tim Tangherlini’s work on legends and conspiracy theories has been featured and/or he has been interviewed. It’s impressive and delightful to see good work getting such a wide reception. The latest, of which I am aware, is in The Guardian: “Why people believe Covid conspiracy theories: could folklore hold the answer?” (Warning: the version of the article I am seeing is almost unreadable in Safari thanks to some weird pop-up pull quotes that someone at The Guardian thought would be cool.)

Denizens of a Rock

I am working on expanding an essay on repair shops for the Journal of American Folklore, and I’ve written hundreds of words and deleted hundreds of words. I think I finally have a working opening paragraph. I shared it with my partner, and her response was “I like denizens of a rock very much.”

It has been a quarter of a century since Henry Glassie observed in the pages of this journal that “tradition is the creation of the future out of the past” (1995: 395). In the consideration that follows, Glassie establishes the importance of continuity both for the human beings who make history, both in terms of actions but also representations. There can be no doubt that engaging in traditional forms of behavior is one way to defeat the one certainty available to denizens of a rock which never occupies the same space in the universe from moment to moment, change. Folklore in this model is that which we do in order to transcend such physical exigencies: meaning is produced through the interplay of change and the things we do that remain the same. Folklore studies is the study of this tension as realized in everyday interactions. The resulting definition of the vernacular is that it is found in those moments when people feel most empowered to create realities as they themselves understand them based on previous experience which is itself framed by an understanding that is permeated by the realities and experiences of others. It is the engine of culture harnessed to maximize meaning as an output.

Open Source Alternatives

I don’t know if it is possible at this point in time to avoid working in Microsoft applications. Given how many organizations now have some version of Office 365, it seems like all outputs are eventually a Word document, a PowerPoint slide deck, or an Excel spreadsheet. But those are outputs, not throughputs, and I don’t think any of those applications is terribly good to think with. Communicate to/with others who are used to things being packaged in a particular way? Okay, fine, here’s a Word document.

The process involved in getting to an outcome should be more flexible, more tuned to how individuals and teams work. For the record, Teams works well enough, but OneNote is a disaster. Personally, I use Devonthink and Scrivener for the iterative process of bigger projects, but neither of them is team-friendly. And neither is really all that iPhone-friendly, really. They have iPhone apps, which are really quite functional, but the true power of both apps is really best experienced on the Mac. (I only use two devices: a Mac and an iPhone, so the iPad version of both may very well be an incredible experience, but I decided a while ago that my version of techno-minimalism meant I only ever worked on, and worried about, a computer and a phone.)

The problem, for me, is that collaboration needs to occur across platforms, so it looks like I am stuck with web apps. That noted, there appear to be a range of open source alternatives that look pretty good. BTW has collected over 200 open source alternatives to a range of software tools that businesses use: from note-code databases to note-taking to kanban.

Clarkson’s Farm

Let’s get one thing out of the way upfront: Jeremy Clarkson is a prig. I found his persona on Top Gear virtually unbearable. That noted, his presence in his eponymous series about becoming a gentleman farmer is entirely redeemed by the fact that he, or the production crew, are perfectly happy for his priggishness to lead to his downfall time and time again. With all the gusto of a man who has made too much money too easily and now finding himself essentially a lord of the manor, which here is 1000 acres in the English Cotswalds, Clarkson lurches from one under-considered venture to another. Not once in the first few episodes does anything go right — so much so that I have to believe that the show is built somewhat around him showcasing his own foibles.

Having blown up his house in a pre-series moment, Clarkson’s Farm begins with the man himself buying an over-sized and over-powered tractor, which is something you would entirely expect of the long-time host of a show about cars. And you certainly expect to see him in the tractor, puttering about. You do not expect him to buy sheep, and then get a bit weepy when it turns out that three need to be euthanized. This is Clarkson as you have never seen him before, and, damn it, he is quite likable.

I am still at the beginning of the series, so I cannot offer anything in the way of spoilers, except to say that if you haven’t watched the series because it has Clarkson at the help, have no fear, he is far from being in charge of, well, almost anything. As the show unfolds, other characters become more and more compelling in their heroic efforts to nudge Clarkson into reality. In fact, one of the interesting dimensions of the series is how it carefully peels the onion on the alternate reality in which many celebrities live. Clarkson really has spent considerable time with reality always bending to his will, and, here, with a 1000 acres filled with plants, animals, and people who have their own ideas about how things go, he meets his match. Or, rather, we get to see a grown man come to terms with the fact that reality really does exist “out there.”

And if you don’t give a damn about the likes of Clarkson — and, honestly, the last four years have really been rather over-filled with privileged white guys going on and on about how they know better, it’s okay. The English Cotswalds are quite lovely, and you can always turn the sound down and just enjoy the scenery.

Why I Use a Reference Manager

The process I am going to describe here is drawn from my experience with Bookends, but I am sure the functionality is available in other reference management apps as well. I chose Bookends because it’s focused on Mac users and thus its GUI is native to the platform. I am fairly certain that Zotero has similar functionality, and I may end up using it when I am on Windows (and also because on Windows I am part of a team). The process I have in mind is adding a new reference and then adding its concomitant PDF.

First, an establishing shot drawn from work I am doing now for an essay about COVIDlore. This collection is built on top of some previous work on the flu. (Somewhere I also have Zika and Ebola bibliographies, and one day I will migrate them here as well — for those curious about the library just above entitled Legends/Virality it is in fact related but more focused on the notion of informational “virality.”)

Bookends Main Window

To add a new reference, I usually use the Quick Add function, which is handily called with CMD + CTRL + N:

Screen Shot 2021 08 04 at 09 57

I can paste the DOI from the website where I found the reference, which may or may not be the originating site — it could be a reference from another paper, for example, and Bookends does all the lifting. (This works 80-90% of the time, and so it is frustrating when it doesn’t, but there is a built-in browser that allows you collect metadata for a reference quickly.)

Once the reference is in the collection, I then CMD + OPT + R to fetch the PDF to the reference. (If you have already downloaded the PDF, you can use CMD + OPT + P to attach it from a local source.)

Screen Shot 2021 08 04 at 09 57

That’s it. The PDF is now in that particular collection as well as in the main library. Since the PDF is sitting in a particular folder which I also have indexed by DevonThink, I can take notes in that app, which will create an annotation file just for that purpose.