Results for 2018

Calculated and incessant propaganda actually works

14.8.2018 kl. 10:31 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

The following passage from William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich made me think of FOX News and the obstinate lunacy of the American right.

I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.


The decline of generations

12.8.2018 kl. 20:45 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

There's a famous American saying: The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it, and the third generation blows it. Often true.

Earlier tonight I was pondering why this might be the case and developed a theory perhaps worth sharing: In reference to my earlier post, I think it may have something to do with increased abstraction, increased distance from the concerns being managed, the shadow-on-the-wall phenomenon.

The first generation, the founder and his kin, starts with next to nothing and builds something enormous, experiencing and learning along the way.

The second generation - the founder's progeny - is raised with some awareness of the family business, brought to work, taught the basics first hand from someone who knows how it's done. Perhaps they acquire, at least partially, the work ethic that lead to the creation of the business in the first place. Never the less, they live their adult lives in luxury.

But the third generation, knowing nothing but luxury and indolence from birth, has no interest in how the family business actually works and is content to reap only the rewards, thereby squandering the fortune painstakingly accumulated by the previous two generations.

Anyway, just a thought.


Meritocracy and metrics from a comfortable skyrise office

11.8.2018 kl. 22:10 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

When I moved to London in 2006 to study philosophy, I audited several additional courses at the university during the first weeks to ascertain which ones were worth taking. One of them was a new, experimental course called "Philosophy and Social Policy", taught by a respected philosopher of science. During the first session, we students drew lots to determine the order of presentations during the semester. Unfortunately, I was first in line.

Although by no means sure I would take the course, I never the less ended up doing the presentation, which involved reading several journal articles on the subject of "meritocracy." As I went through the readings, I found myself strangely in agreement with F. A. Hayek, although I had long ago given up on his classical liberalism, or libertarianism, as a sterile and sloppy political philosophy.

A week later I gave a critical presentation where I argued that, practically speaking, any formal public indicator of "merit" would be useless for public policy-making. It would only end up as an arbitrary and poisonously selective aggregation of other indicators easily gamed by the elite. If it were ever put to use, people would simply adapt their behaviour to the criterion, just as some US students receive expensive private tutoring when they prepare for the eminently "gameable" SAT.

My central argument was that public indices based on ambiguous and unavoidably moral concepts such as "merit" were a terrible idea since they neither would nor could capture what they were supposed to represent. The paradox of measuring and evaluating in the social sciences is that it changes us, the very things being measured and evaluated. This is seldom understood by people making decisions at the top.

The professor did not respond at all well to my presentation and, as I recall, delivered a long and unfocused harangue on how I had a typical "analytic philosophy" outlook. She also questioned me in front of the whole class about the nature of my undergraduate education and on some points of Bayesian probability theory, a topic I did not understand well. I was offended and humiliated by the experience and decided not to take her course.

Now, many years later, I'm reading a wonderful book, Two Cheers for Anarchism (2014) by James C. Scott, the finest thing I have read in ages. Much to my satisfaction, it makes many of the same points as I did in that presentation back in the day, albeit much more intelligently and eloquently.

Scott is absolutely right. One of the true evils of our times is that the people in charge of important decisions live in a fantasy world of statistics, indices and Excel spreadsheets. We humans have become so numerous, and our our social organisation so complicated and hierarchical, that we have to gather data in order to attempt to understand how it all works. But data has no intrinsic meaning and cannot inform without accurate interpretation, without context and experience, without at least some inkling of the underlying social reality.

Still administrative and economic professionals are invariably trained to focus only on the numbers, at the expense of complex, messy, qualitative social context. Most of them don't even have a birds-eye view. They have a shadow-on-the-wall view. Say what you will about the industrialists of the early 19th century, they at least understood many aspects of their business, from the factory floor to the high offices of finance. Our contemporary technocrats and business managers see only partial, Plato-cave-metaphor shadows on the wall from the comfort of their skyrise offices - abstract numbers, statistics, indices, charts, many of which poorly reflect the world of humans. This is the source of many of our troubles.


The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

5.8.2018 kl. 22:19 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Ég las The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich eftir William Shirer fyrst þegar ég var 15 ára gamall að byrja í menntaskóla. Bókin stóð alltaf uppi í hillu í safni pabba frá því að ég var yngri, tætt og marglesin með stórum hakakrossi á hliðinni. Á þessum tíma hafði ég sérlegan áhuga á Þýskalandi nasismans og lét vaða, ákvað loksins að lesa þetta fræga verk. Ef ég man rétt þá tók meira en mánuð að klára allar 1400 blaðsíður, en efni bókarinnar hefur setið í mér alla tíð síðan. Frekar brútal, heilsteypt og vel skrifuð lexía um hatur, heimsku og heilalausa búrókrasíu mannskepnunnar, svona eftir á að hyggja.

Nú, mörgum, mörgum árum seinna, með langa sagnfræðimenntun og fjölmargar aðrar bækur að baki, hlusta ég á þetta verk sem hljóðbók, og það er linnulaust déjà vu í gangi. Ég virðist muna bókina nokkurn veginn kafla fyrir kafla. Ég heyri byrjun á setningu og get oft klárað í huganum áður en hún er lesin. Rosalegt hvernig þetta situr í minninu. Ansi hræddur um að þeir tímar séu liðnir þar sem ég tók bækur svona djúpt inn á mig og varanlega.

rise and fall third reich

Faktískt frekar margir

31.7.2018 kl. 18:09 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

„Hvor mange udlændinge har Island i øvrigt taget imod?“ spyr Pia Kjærsgaard.

The population of Iceland at the end of the second quarter of 2018 was 353,070... Foreign citizens were 41,280, or 11.7% of the total population, at the end of the quarter. (Statistics Iceland)


Óttaslegnir, nafnlausir hægrimenn, gungur og aumingjar

29.7.2018 kl. 01:05 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Þeir sem skrifa nafnlausar háðsgreinar um opinber mál á Íslandi eru mestmegnis gungur og aumingjar, og ekki þess virði að lesa. Andríki, AMX, Morgunblaðsleiðararar eru það sem kemur upp í hugann.

Það er hins vegar merkilegt að fólk sem gerir hvað mest af þessu er yfirleitt lengst til hægri í pólitíkinni, fólk með valdið á bak við sig, fólk úr Sjálfstæðisflokknum, fólk sem hefur hvað allra minnst að óttast þótt það væli ad nauseam um meinta kúgun ríkisvaldsins.

En þetta fólk er nógu óttaslegið til þess að skrifa ekki undir nafni. Það óttast eitthvað, en þetta eitthvað er ekki ríkisvaldið. Það óttast réttilega vanþóknun þeirra sem það deilir samfélagi og náumhverfi með, óttast að vera dæmt fyrir sínar ömurlegu skoðanir af nágrönnum, samstarfsmönnum, vinum, fjölskyldu. Kannski einhver von í því.


Sýslumaðurinn í Kópavogi

26.7.2018 kl. 10:35 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Þegar ég fór að kjósa í sveitarstjórnarkosningunum í sendiráðinu í Berlín um daginn stílaði ég óvart umslagið á Sýslumanninn í Reykjavík. Daman í sendiráðinu leiðrétti þetta hjá mér. Sýslumaðurinn á höfuðborgarsvæðinu var það víst. Í tvöhundruð og fokkíng einum. Tvöhundruð og einum í fokkíng Kópavogi.

Ég spurði hana af hverju Reykjavík hefði ekki lengur sitt eigið sýslumannsembætti. "Sennilega vegna sparnaðar," svaraði hún. "Þeir sameinuðu þessi embætti."

"Reykjavík er stærsta sveitarfélagið og þar búa flestir. Af hverju spöruðu þeir ekki með því að láta Kópavogsbúa fara til Reykjavíkur, frekar en að senda Reykvíkinga í Kópavoginn?" spurði ég.

Við þessu hafði hún ekkert svar.

En þetta er góð spurning. Allt þetta úthverfapakk í Kópavogi keyrir um á bílum, enda hverfið bókstaflega hannað fyrir hinn heittelskaða einkabíl stolta Sjálfstæðismannsins. Af hverju keyra þeir ekki til Reykjavíkur, frekar en að bíllausir Reykvíkingar séu píndir til þess að taka strætó í þetta sálarlausa, guðsvolaða Smárahverfi?

Sýslumannsembættið er farið, pósthúsið er að fara, allt krökt í lundabúðum og okurverslunum, og ferðamenn bókstaflega kúka í görðunum okkar. Og svo erum við með verstu áfengisverslun á höfuðborgarsvæðinu, með ömurlegu úrvali og hræðilegum opnunartímum. Hart þykir mér vegið að okkur miðborgarfólki!


Úrkynjun tungumálsins

24.7.2018 kl. 12:47 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Sú tilhneyging að nota „passive mode“ í töluðu og rituðu máli er mesta meinsemd íslensku okkar tíma, verri en sletturnar, verri en málvillurnar.

Í vinnunni sé ég þessa úrkynjun alls staðar í íslensku samfélagi: í fréttum, fréttatilkynningum og opinberum skjölum, í viðtölum við talsmenn stofnana og fyrirtækja, hreinlega alls staðar. Enginn virðist nokkurn tímann gera neitt eða ætla að gera eitthvað. Hlutir eru bara „gerðir“ eða „unnið verður“ að einhverju. Mjög þægilegt að enginn sé gerandi því þá ber enginn ábyrgð.

Heilu fréttirnar eru jafnvel skrifaðar í passífum stíl.

„Greint hefur verið frá því að til standi að endurskoða innheimtu veiðigjalda.“ (RÚV)

Hver greindi frá því? Hvenær stendur það til? Hvers eðlis er endurskoðunin? Af hverju er verið að gera þetta? Hver ber ábyrgð á þessu?

Það veit ég ekki. Hlutir „gerast“ bara í kerfinu ógurlega og órannsakanlega, og síðan er „greint frá því.“ Guð forði okkur frá því að benda á embættismennina, pólitíkusana, lögfræðingana, banksterana og Excel-glæponana sem öllu stjórna og ráða og stela. Neinei, hitt og þetta „stendur til“ eða „hefur verið gert.“ Og það „hefur verið greint frá því.“ Þetta er andstyggileg úrkynjun hugsunar og tjáningar.

Orwell hafði heilmikið til síns máls í ritgerðinni frægu um stjórnmál og enska tungu:

„If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient... a continuous temptation.“


Bjóðumst til þess að taka við handritunum

18.7.2018 kl. 16:36 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Nú þegar KPMG-PricewaterhouseCoopers töflureikniliðið hefur í allri sinni óþrjótandi visku ályktað að best sé að leggja niður fornnorræn tungumál og fræði við Kaupmannahafnarháskóla, hví stökkvum við Íslendingar ekki á tækifærið? Bjóðumst til þess að taka við Den Arnamagnæanske Håndskriftsamling í heild sinni, reddum Excel-bókhaldinu hjá gamla nýlenduveldinu.

Annað hvort verður þetta svo niðurlægjandi fyrir okkar fyrrum lénsherra að þeir hugsa sinn gang, eða Ísland fær allar þessar gersemar í hendurnar og verður langbesta setur fornnorrænna fræða um ókomna tíð. Win-win!


Vox populi, vox dei

13.7.2018 kl. 12:16 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Sannur maður fólksins. Það gerist náttúrulega ekki alþýðlegra en að slá um sig með smá latínu.


Vælukjóamyndir um Víetnam

11.7.2018 kl. 12:54 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Um þessar mundir er ég að horfa á Ken Burns heimildarþættina um stríðið í Víetnam. Ágætir þættir, svosem, en það fer alltaf í taugarnar á mér hvernig Ameríkanar fjalla um tilgangslausu stríðin sín í fjarlægum löndum. Þeir mæta á svæðið gjörsamlega glórulausir, enda á því að brenna þorp, nauðga konum, drepa börn og gamalmenni, sprengja allt í tætlur og eyðileggja landið varanalega með eiturefnum á borð við sneytt úran og Agent Orange. Síðan framleiða þeir allar þessar sjálfhverfu vælukjóakvikmyndir um hve hrikalega erfitt þetta var fyrir bandarísku hermennina. Greyið þeir, að þurfa að upplifa annað eins!


Orban og Orban

7.7.2018 kl. 16:49 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Annar dagurinn í Búdapest og borgin er þegar komin á listann minn yfir fegurstu borgir Evrópu ásamt Prag, Vín og Edinborg. Gotneska þinghúsið er ein glæsilegasta bygging sem ég hef augum borið.

thinghus budapest lowres

Ætli Viktor Orban og vinir hans í Fidesz sitji þar nú og bruggi ráð um að vega að lýðræði og frjálslyndi hér í landi? Ætli útlendingahatarinn Viktor viti að nafni hans, ungverjinn Orban, smíðaði risafallbyssuna sem sprengdi niður veggi Konstantinopel fyrir Mehmed tyrkjasoldán á 15. öld?

Dardanelles Gun Turkish Bronze 15c


Ragnarǫk at the University of Copenhagen

3.7.2018 kl. 14:45 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Sadly, the Danes, of all people, are scrapping their Old Norse and Old Danish university programs. Madness!

From Ragnarǫk at the University of Copenhagen:

It is very obvious that the managerialist, pro-business, pro-free-market assault on universities is the major contributing factor ... One might try to address the KPMGs and PricewaterhouseCoopers of this world on their own terms, and make a case for why studying a small language does make you a better employee. But I’m not terribly interested in doing so:

1) I’m not at all convinced that captains of industry really know what they want

2) even if they did, I’m not convinced they would stick to it – the Tony Blair government in the UK spent years getting universities to offer vocational courses, often working closely alongside industry to design them, and many industries now aren’t interested in students who studied those courses,

3) even if they did know what they want, even if they could stick to it, there’s no reason to believe that what’s good for capitalism would be good for human happiness.


Gott að Gylfi hverfi á brott

20.6.2018 kl. 20:06 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Þetta eru góðar fréttir.

Það má vel vera, og verður jafnvel að teljast líklegt, að Gylfi hafi meint vel þegar hann fór að starfa fyrir verkalýðshreyfinguna árið 1989, en menn verða svo samdauna kerfinu með tímanum. Þeir hætta hægt og rólega að sjá eða skilja neitt út fyrir sinn litla heim, sérstaklega þegar þeir hafa lengi vanist góðum launum og keyra um á stórum jeppum í úthverfunum.

Fyrir mitt leyti fagna ég að þurfa ekki lengur að hlusta á Gylfa romsa um hófstilltar kröfur og stöðugleika á meðan "bullshit jobs" elítan í landinu skammtar sér stærri og stærri hluta af kökunni. Vinnandi fólk á Íslandi á skilið betri, skilningsríkari, aggressífari málsvara.

Það er nefnilega eins og Nietzsche sagði: Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird.


That brutal opening sequence in Coppola's Dracula

19.6.2018 kl. 14:50 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

They say Francis Ford Coppola never made a decent film after Apocalypse Now. Be that as it may, I recently rewatched an old favourite, Dracula (1992), which made quite an impression on 12-year-old me back in the early 90s.

All in all, it's a cheesy, incoherent film, featuring Gary Oldman as a silly vampire loverboy and some spectacularly awful acting from Keanu Reeves (though, mind you, not as bad as Tom Hanks in my last post).

But the music! Oh, boy. The music, by Polish master composer Wojciech Kilar, is unquestionably one of the finest film soundtracks of all time. And that brutal opening sequence. The silhouettes of savage medieval battle to the backdrop of a flaming sky do far more for me than any modern CGI crap.

Also, love that red suit of plate armour.


Spectacularly bad

18.6.2018 kl. 19:07 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

I've always disliked Tom Hanks as an actor. I know why people like him, though. He's a WASP everyman, bland, superficially charming, banal, offensively ordinary in appearance, the quintessential protagonist of the American "rise from/and/or/struggle with mediocrity" plot. But this, ladies and gentlemen, this isn't mediocre at all. Nor is it banal, or inane. It's just spectacularly, hilariously, wonderfully awful!


Absolutely out of control in a quite literal sense

17.6.2018 kl. 13:31 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

This striking quote isn't from some angry left-winger. This is Jeffrey Sachs, the cold-blooded economist best known for designing the “shock therapy” reforms that reduced Russia's GDP by 40% between 1991 and 1998:

“Look, I meet a lot of these people on Wall Street on a regular basis right now ... I know them. These are the people I have lunch with. And I am going to put it very bluntly: I regard the moral environment as pathological. [These people] have no responsibility to pay taxes; they have no responsibility to their clients; they have no responsibility to counterparties in transactions. They are tough, greedy, aggressive, and feel absolutely out of control in a quite literal sense, and they have gamed the system to a remarkable extent. They genuinely believe they have a God-given right to take as much money as they possibly can in any way that they can get it, legal or otherwise.

If you look at the campaign contributions, which I happened to do yesterday for another purpose, the financial markets are the number one campaign contributors in the US system now. We have a corrupt politics to the core ... both parties are up to their necks in this.

But what it’s led to is this sense of impunity that is really stunning, and you feel it on the individual level right now. And it’s very, very unhealthy, I have waited for four years ... five years now to see one figure on Wall Street speak in a moral language. And I’ve have not seen it once.”


Why I'm not getting into Swift

12.6.2018 kl. 22:37 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

This just about sums it up.

Also, my days with the Apple ecosystem are just about done. They're locking down the platform and that's my exit cue.


Poor, benighted Britain

12.6.2018 kl. 12:29 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

It is striking, but not at all surprising, that nine out of ten of the poorest areas in Northern Europe are in Britain. The London elites sucked the rest of the country dry and then blamed the foreigners, hence Brexit. Exactly the same sort of thing is going on in the United States with Trump.

No wonder the North still fucking hates Thatcher.

top ten rich poor northern europe

And this is why the Economist sucks

12.6.2018 kl. 10:52 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

For once, I am at a loss for words.

I've always known that the writing staff at the Economist was full of upper middle-class right-wing Tory twats with shit for brains and a PPE from Oxford, but this is quite possibly the dumbest crap I've seen from them yet:

economist investment bankers

Thoughts on Ray Monk's Russell and Wittgenstein biographies

11.6.2018 kl. 11:43 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

It took me years to finish Ray Monk's lengthy biographies of the philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell. In fact, I just skimmed the last chapters of The Ghost of Madness in the tram the other day, more than a decade after finishing The Duty of Genius. As I read Monk's searing indictment of Russell in the final pages, I found myself taking issue with his general outlook on these two men.

Monk's books are undoubtedly well-researched and well-written. His intimate knowledge of the two philosophers is impressive, and both biographies are laudable accomplishments. Monk's judgment, however, is flawed. His mostly unqualified admiration for Wittgenstein is misplaced, and his contempt for Russell unwarranted. Our disagreement is primarily a moral one, I think. We simply do not see eye to eye about what makes someone a good and admirable person.

Monk admires Wittgenstein for his honesty, his penetrating intelligence, his self-criticism, his severity, his self-denial, his austerity and his lack of hypocrisy. He sees Wittgenstein's works as towers of philosophical greatness. Russell, one the other hand, is relentlessly portrayed as a vain, self-satisfied philanderer and hypocrite who failed to practice what he preached. Much of Russell's enormous corpus of writings is quite unfairly dismissed as low-brow drivel intended for public consumption (as if that were such a bad thing!).

When I read The Duty of Genius, I was surprised by how little Monk had to say about the appalling character of Wittgenstein. The philosopher's impossibly inconsiderate interactions with others are described mostly without judgment. The man was a genius, and apparently cannot be expected to meet basic standards of human decency.

One does not have to read between the lines to realise that Wittgenstein was a bad influence on almost every single human being he came to know. He was stern, unforgiving, judgmental, temperamental, full of self-loathing and angst. He set impossibly high standards for himself and ruthlessly applied those standards to those around him. It's quite clear that he hated himself, and life in general. But for Monk, Wittgenstein's philosophical brilliance justifies these traits. This is not the case with Russell, who is never given the benefit of the doubt.

Monk's biographies show that both men suffered from depression. But Russell, at least, sought to find happiness and pleasure in life. Wittgenstein simply despised it and seems to have been wholly resigned to the misery of existence.

Russell wanted the world to become a better place. Wittgenstein just accepted the utter evil of it all.

Russell engaged with the world in his writings, preaching kindness, critical thinking, political reform and rationality, however hypocritically. Wittgenstein, in his later years, peddled harmful introspective fantasies about the nobility of hard manual labour to a flock of adoring students.

It seems to me that the former is both braver and more admirable than the latter.

When I played role-playing games in my youth, the Dungeons & Dragons system distinguished between two mental traits: wisdom and intelligence. A sensible division, since the two do not always – or seldom – go together. Wittgenstein may have been intelligent, but he was not wise. In fact, it is difficult not to question the wisdom of someone who so admired Otto Weininger's laughably preposterous Geschlecht und Charakter.

In many respects, Wittgenstein reminds me of depressed friends of mine who succumbed to drug addiction. But at least they took steps, however misguided, to alleviate their suffering, albeit through fleeting artificial pleasure – something Wittgenstein would have despised.

All in all, I cannot help but think the man was deeply in love with his own misery, a character trait much less worthy than Russell's flawed, self-deceptive attempts to alleviate his. We all need small dishonesties to find happiness. No man can be content if he constantly subjects himself to the harshest possible self-criticism. Indeed, it is often difficult to realise where self-criticism ends and self-hatred begins. Our little deceptions, our perhaps-not-wholly-honest coping mechanisms, are needed to live fruitful and contented lives. There is such a thing as too much "honesty" with oneself.

Wittgenstein may have been a brilliant philosopher, but he was an abject failure when it comes to the most important question of philosophy: How to live a decent, happy, fullfilling life. Russell, at least, tried.


King Midas in reverse

4.6.2018 kl. 14:53 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

"I felt a great disturbance in the [developer community], as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced."

This is very bad news indeed. How long until Microsoft turns GitHub into a steaming pile of unusable garbage? They seem to have the Midas-touch in reverse. Everything they acquire turns to shit: Hotmail, Skype, Nokia, you name it.

Probably time to jump ship and move my open-source projects to GitLab or some other host. It's a real shame, because I like GitHub.


Speaking of Apple's declining software quality...

1.6.2018 kl. 13:01 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Software quality on the Mac is going to the dogs. Some basic stuff we've become used to working over the last 15 years is now broken.

  • Try dragging a photo from Photos on to the Preview app icon in the Dock. You'd expect Preview to open a copy of the image. Doesn't fucking happen. Come on, guys! iPhoto did this right back in the early 2000s. Just one of many horrible bugs in the disaster that is Photos.
  • Try searching for something in, select the email, then hide the application and go do something else for a while. When you bring Mail to the foreground again, your search and selection have both been lost. Absolutely unacceptable.
  • Mail doesn't work properly with Gmail anymore. Unable to remember the Gmail password so I have to type it in every time I quit and re-open Mail, or put the computer to sleep. Yikes! This is a serious problem. Almost everybody uses Gmail.
  • Mail's message count can no longer be relied on. Sometimes, the only way to fix an erroneous message count in the Dock icon is to restart the app. That's amateurish. This kind of stuff matter.

But not just the Mac, iOS too. My pet peeve is the following:

  • Try listening to some lengthy song in the Music app on iOS. Now switch over to another app for a while, do something else, and then return to the Music app. You'll find that if it's been auto-terminated in the background, it doesn't fucking restore the song you were listening to, or your position within the song. REALLY annoying if you've paused in the middle of long audio files, e.g. podcasts, audio recordings, und so weiter.

It may be time to switch. But it's not like graphical software quality and UI consistency on Linux or Android is anything to write home about.


Faster disk image mounting with FastDMG

24.5.2018 kl. 11:12 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

I've been using this little tool for years and finally decided to spruce it up and make a proper release: FastDMG. The source is on GitHub.

It's deeply unclear to me how an afternoon or two of coding and testing can produce a solution in every way superior to Apple's DiskImageMounter. Their software is really going to the dogs these days. But to be fair, their disk image mounting tool sucked from day one.


Made many promises but kept only one

12.5.2018 kl. 12:39 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

This remarkable animated GIF map shows the speed with which the newly-founded United States exterminated the Native Americans and seized their land. The founding history of that benighted country is drenched in blood but contemporary Americans seem blissfully callous about their forefathers' long litany of bad faith, betrayal, genocide, treaty-breaking and forced removal. As if the Eurasian diseases they brought over the Atlantic weren't bad enough.

As Chief Red Cloud put it: "[The white men] made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it."


Þetta bændalið er alveg vonlaust

4.5.2018 kl. 12:57 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Ég andvarpaði og ranghvolfdi augunum eftir að hafa skrifað eftirfarandi grein í vinnunni í dag:

Lower tariffs on hundreds of EU products as trade agreement comes into effect

Tariffs on hundreds of food products from the European Union were significantly reduced or abolished on Tuesday when Iceland’s bilateral trade preference agreement with the EU came into effect.

Iceland and the EU reached an agreement concerning trade in agricultural products in September 2015, with government spokesmen declaring that the abolition of tariffs would benefit Icelandic consumers by increasing product diversity and pushing prices down.

According to the agreement, Iceland abolishes tariffs on 340 tariff numbers and lowers tariffs on another twenty. The EU correspondingly lowers or abolishes its tariffs. All tariffs on processed agricultural products except yoghurt are abolished, including those on chocolate, pizzas, pasta, baking goods and various other products, while tariffs on unprocessed agricultural commodities such as french fries and outdoor-grown vegetables are reduced.

The agreement also stipulates that both parties significantly increase their tariff-free import quotas for various meat products and cheese. Iceland receives greatly increased tariff-free quotas for agricultural exports such as skyr, butter and mutton.

The agreement was harshly criticised by Sindri Sigurgeirsson, chairman of the Association of Icelandic Farmers, who claims the agreement puts domestic producers in a difficult position. Icelandic farmers are particularly unhappy with the fact that the size of the respective markets is not taken into account.

“In our view, [the agreement] is deeply unfavourable to us here in Iceland while the European Union gets proportionally greater access to our domestic market," Mr Sigurgeirsson said. "Of course, people sought this agreement at the time to secure better access for [Icelandic] skyr and mutton in the European market. That’s the origin of this agreement. But it’s unfavourable and … people didn’t expect this monstrosity of a deal, which makes competition in meat and cheese very difficult for domestic producers.”

Centre Party MPs echoed Mr Sigurgeirsson’s criticism in parliament on Thursday, saying Icelandic authorities made a mistake when they pushed the deal through without consulting interested parties, and without introducing countermeasures to aid farmers.

The agreement was signed by the government of then-Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíd Gunnlaugsson. Mr Gunnlaugsson is now chairman of the Centre Party.

Ríkisstjórn Simma og Framsóknarflokks skrifar undir viðskiptasamning við Evrópusambandið árið 2015, lofar neytendum gulli og grænum skógum, klappar sér á bakið.

Þremur árum síðar eru Simmi og átrúendur hans í Miðflokknum öskureiðir -- yfir samningi sem foringinn sjálfur gaf græna ljósið á! Þetta lið er gjörsamlega óforskammað.

Og af hverju eru bændur skyndilega brjálaðir yfir þessum samningi? Þetta hefur legið fyrir í að verða þrjú ár, samningurinn aðgengilegur öllum á netinu. Ekki eins og þetta hafi verið eitthvað ríkisleyndarmál, en nú skyndilega kemur þetta bændum eins og þruma úr heiðskíru lofti. Kannski þeir kunni ekki á netið.

Menn voru að sækja þetta á sínum tíma fyrir aðgang fyrir skyr og lambakjöt á Evrópumarkað. Þannig er uppruni þessa samnings. En hann er óhagstæður og okkur finnst að menn hafi samið af sér.[heimild]

Héldu þeir virkilega að þeir fengju aðgang að landbúnaðarmarkaði ESB án þess að gefa eitthvað í staðinn? Hvers konar aulaskapur er þetta eiginlega?

Ísland: Þar sem tvískinnungur og viðvaningsháttur er löngu hættur að koma á óvart.


Prokofiev's perfect piece for the Dark Continent

2.5.2018 kl. 11:49 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

A brilliant fusion of modernism and romanticism. With its strong horns, stirring bass, and doom-infused strings, it perfectly captures Europe's early twentieth century in all its horrors.


Americans and their "ah-due"

24.4.2018 kl. 15:27 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

What is it with Americans and their butchery of basic English semantics and pronunciation?

It's "I couldn't care less", not "I could care less." Think about it logically for a second or two and you'll find that the latter makes no sense at all.

Also, don't say "Without further a-due". It's "ado", people. Ah-doo, not a-due! Ever heard of that Shakespeare play?

And while we're on the subject:

Coup de grâce is pronounced "Coo-duh-grass", not "Coo-duh-grah." French may sometimes be confusing in terms of pronunciation, but -ce endings are never silent. Vide e.g. fem. name Alice.


Brilliant alliteration

20.4.2018 kl. 11:05 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Alliteration, such an important technique in Icelandic poetry, is strangely absent in most English verse. All the more respect to Nick Cave for his brilliant and beautiful alliteration in the final verse of the Song of Joy:

Outside the vultures wheel,
the wolves howl, the serpents hiss.
And to extend this small favour, friend,
would be the sum of earthly bliss.


Horrible man, sublime music

18.4.2018 kl. 12:03 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Wagner may have been a horrible human being, but his music is truly sublime.


A cloud of willful unknowing

16.4.2018 kl. 13:02 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Mark Lilla's great analysis of our current politico-philosophical malaise (from The Reckless Mind):

One of the less remarked consequences of the cold war's end has been the vacuum of understanding it left behind. If nothing else, the old ideologies focused the mind. With lineages that could be traced back two centuries, they presented clear, opposing portrayals of political reality, however distorted, and programs for acting within it. And they were not arbitrary constructs. They had roots in philosophical and religious traditions with radically different understandings of human nature and history that ran back much further. When the modern ideologies were jettisoned, so was a living connection with those traditions.

Now we are free of the old illusions. So one would expect to find our situation easier to understand and grapple with. In fact, just the opposite seems true. Never since the end of World War II, and perhaps since the Russian Revolution, has political thinking in the West seemed so shallow, so clueless. We all sense that ominous changes are taking place in Western societies, and in other societies whose destinies will very much shape our own. Yet we lack adequate concepts and even vocabulary for describing the world we now find ourselves in. More worrisome still, we lack awareness that we lack them. A cloud of willful unknowing seems to have settled on our intellectual life.


Enlightenment and religion at the roots of tyranny

16.4.2018 kl. 12:56 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Which of these two stories will our historian choose to tell? If he is like most historians that may well depend on which intellectual and political aspects of modern tyranny he feels deserve our attention. If he is trying to understand exclusively the brutality of Soviet "planning," the Nazis' chillingly efficient program to exterminate the Jews, the methodical self-destruction of Cambodia, the programs of ideological indoctrination, the paranoid webs of informers and secret police--if he wants to explain how these tyrannical practices were conceived and defended, he might be tempted to blame a heartless intellectual rationalism that crushed all in its path. If, on the other hand, he is struck by the role in modern tyranny played by the idolization of blood and soil, the hysterical obsession with racial categories, the glorification of reviolutionary violence as a purifying force, the cults of personality, and the orgiastic mass rallies, he will be tempted to say that reason collapsed before irrational passions that had migrated from religion to politics. And if our historian is more ambitious still, and wants to explain both classes of phenomena? At that point he will have to abandon the history of ideas.

Mark Lilla, "The Reckless Mind"


Heidegger the Fox

12.4.2018 kl. 13:22 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Hannah Arendt's scathing takedown of her erstwhile mentor and lover, Old Nazi Heidegger:

Once upon a time there was a fox who was so lacking in slyness that he not only kept getting caught in traps but couldn’t even tell the difference between a trap and a non-trap. … After he had spent his entire youth prowling around the traps of people … this fox decided to withdraw from the fox world altogether and to set about making himself a burrow. In his shocking ignorance of the difference between traps and non-traps, despite his incredibly extensive experience with traps, he hit on an idea completely new and unheard of among foxes: He built a trap as his burrow. He set himself inside it, passed it off as a normal burrow (not out of cunning, but because he had always thought others’ traps were their burrows). … Alas, no one would go into his trap, because he was sitting inside it himself. And so it occurred to our fox to decorate his trap beautifully and to hang up unequivocal signs everywhere on it that quite clearly said: “Come here, everyone; this is a trap, the most beautiful trap in the world.” From this point on … many came. Everyone except our fox could, of course, step out of it again. It was cut, literally, to his own measurement. But the fox who lived in the trap said proudly: “So many are visiting me in my trap that I have become the best of all foxes.” And there is some truth in that, too: Nobody knows the nature of traps better than one who sits in a trap his whole life long.

Subtle and devastating, but not nearly as much fun as Schopenhauer on Hegel.


One-dimensional, superficial and schmaltzy

5.4.2018 kl. 15:32 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Although I must confess a certain nostalgic fondness for the Indiana Jones films, I generally hate Spielberg as a film-maker. One-dimensional, superficial, schmaltzy. This hilarious review tears apart his latest debacle.


French rudeness

29.3.2018 kl. 11:59 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Well, in that case, it's a culture worth discriminating against.

After living in Paris, this could only bring a smile to my face.


Breaking news!

29.3.2018 kl. 10:05 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Breaking news! Britain starts doing what the other Germanic countries have been doing for decades.

I, for one, would like to welcome poor, backward, miserable, right-wing Britain into the 1980s.


Chopin in Rick and Morty

27.3.2018 kl. 19:30 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

I could have sworn I knew the theme at the end of the Rick and Morty episode "Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind." You know, the one where Evil Morty makes his first appearance.

Credited as Blonde Readhead but, I'm telling you, they ripped off Chopin.


Hinn brúni

19.3.2018 kl. 18:55 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

björn k. ‘bjarndýr, sérstök rándýrategund (ursus) ... Hið forna ie. bjarnarheiti (sbr. lat. ursus, gr. árktos, fi. ŕ̥kṣa-h) sýnist hafa týnst í germ., e.t.v. vegna bannhelgi, og nýyrðið beran- ‘hinn brúni’ tekið upp í staðinn. Svipað hefur gerst í slavn., sbr. rússn. medvedb ‘björn’, eiginl. ‘hunangsæta’.

Svo málum er þannig háttað að Dmitri Medvedev, forsætisráðherra Rússlands, er að hluta til nafni minn.


Modernists don't eat their own dog food

13.3.2018 kl. 12:08 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Oh, the hypocrisy... Over 80% of Sweden's modernist architects choose to live in houses built before 1920. A spectacular case of not eating one's own dog food.

As the article puts it:

Modernism är något man gör mot andra och man kan absolut inte bo i den stilen själv.

Rough translation: "Modernism is something one does to other people. One definitely cannot live in [housing of] that style oneself."



28.2.2018 kl. 13:59 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Herodotus is so hilariously Greek. From Tom Holland's translation of the Histories:

There followed next a massive escalation of what until then had essentially been nothing more serious than a bout of competitive princess-rustling - and the fault was all the Greeks'. Or so the Persians claim, at any rate - for they point out that long before they ever thought of invading Europe, it was the Greeks who invaded Asia. Granted, the Persians acknowledge, stealing women is never acceptable behaviour; but really, they ask, what is the point, once a woman has been stolen, in kicking up a great fuss about it, and pursuing some ridiculous vendetta, when every sensible man knows that the best policy is to affect an utter lack of concern? It is clear enough, after all, that women are never abducted unless they are open to the idea of it in the first place.


Banks and his spring-boiled ptarmigan

14.2.2018 kl. 20:26 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Who in their right mind would want to boil meat of any kind in a hot spring? Must have been an unpleasant meal.

The Sir Lawrence voyage through the Western Isles brought the travellers to Staffa, where their descriptions of what they learnt to call Fingal’s Cave were soon lapped up by audiences eager to learn of volcanic marvels. Hebrideans impressed Banks less. Nor, initially, was Icelandic hospitality better, since the expedition was at first taken to be a raiding party of pirates. But soon Banks’ group met with a warmer welcome: his servants were so gorgeously uniformed that islanders found it hard to tell gentlemen from underlings. They visited the volcano Hekla, lava samples gathered and the astonishing geyser visited, where Banks arranged for a ptarmigan he had shot to be boiled in the hot spring [emphasis mine].

Banks and the Icelanders impressed each other. There were honorific odes, feasts of cod and shark and collections of Icelandic literature and flora shipped home to London. Banks had Hekla and a map of Iceland on his visiting card and ‘Baron Banks’ became a favoured toast when Icelanders and British visitors met. During the Napoleonic Wars, which involved conflict between Denmark and Britain, Banks often recommended either the annexation of the island or its occupation. Ever since, romanticised appreciation of Iceland’s marvels has been tangled up with similarly challenging political and environmental issues.



Cannibalism in the Congo

1.2.2018 kl. 12:50 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Twenty-three-year-old Chantal Tsesi woke to the sound of pre-dawn gunfire. Soldiers marched into her home carrying machetes and told her exactly what they were going to do. "Today we are going to cut off your arm," one of them said. She feared for her six-year-old son, the only other person with her in the house. "They cut off my arm," Tsesi told The UK Independent's Eliza Griswold in 2004. "They cooked it, while they were drinking our mandro [traditional beer], and ate it with the rest of the beans and rice." She added, "They told me they were going to find my husband and eat his heart."


Value of the Lecture

19.1.2018 kl. 22:07 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Great article on the enduring value of the lecture.

But lecture attendees do lots of things: they take notes, they react, they scan the room for reactions, and most importantly, they listen. Listening to a sustained, hour-long argument requires initiative, will, and focus. In other words, it is an activity ... No matter how fast-paced the world becomes, listening will remain essential to public dialogue and debate.


Double negatives in prose

19.1.2018 kl. 21:17 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Hilarious letter from a reader to The Economist (cited in the paper's style guide):

At times just one sentence in The Economist can give us hours of enjoyment, such as "Yet German diplomats in Belgrade failed to persuade their government that it was wrong to think that the threat of international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia would itself deter Serbia."

During my many years as a reader of your newspaper, I have distilled two lessons about the use of our language. Firstly, it is usually easier to write a double negative than it is to interpret it. Secondly, unless the description of an event which is considered to be not without consequence includes a double or higher-order negative, then it cannot be disproven that the writer has neglected to eliminate other interpretations of the event which are not satisfactory in light of other possibly not unrelated events which might not have occurred at all.

For these reasons, I have not neglected your timely reminder that I ought not to let my subscription lapse. It certainly cannot be said that I am an unhappy reader.

Willard Dunning


Edward Gibbon on his time at Oxford

17.1.2018 kl. 18:51 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

To the university of Oxford I acknowledge no obligation; and she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her for a mother. I spent fourteen months at Magdalen College; they proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life...

In the university of Oxford, the greater part of the public professors have for these many years given up altogether even the pretence of teaching.

As a gentleman commoner, I was admitted to the society of the fellows, and fondly expected that some questions of literature would be the amusing and instructive topics of their discourse. Their conversation stagnated in a round of college business, Tory politics, personal anecdotes, and private scandal...The names of Wenman and Dashwood were more frequently pronounced, than those of Cicero and Chrysostom.


UI fail

15.1.2018 kl. 17:01 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert. […]

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

As John Gruber of Daring Fireball puts it, "this is just terrible, terrible user interface design."