What's New: Edition 2023-11-27
27.11.2023

I put a lot into the universe this week. And I asked, “is AI trending towards cultism?” Writing, art, travel. And no rest.

In this post:

Just like in my last update I have been traveling a lot. I wrote the last update having just got back from a trip and heading off to another, and here I am again, writing this update having spent one (1) night at home before heading off again. I write this from an old hotel room in Bavaria.

I enjoyed the trip nevertheless. I’d been wanting to see the rest of the Baltics for some time now—I went to Estonia a few years ago—and when I had the chance to speak at Big Data Conference Europe 2023 in person, I took the chance.

The travel meant a bit of a slowdown in my reading but I got to do some writing, see some new cities and countries, and take some pictures. I’ve now visited 34 countries in Europe and 11 new countries this year. Hot damn.

Life updates

Being away from home for the holidays kind of sucks. Not only that, but I was on the road. The last few years here in Berlin, my best friend has hosted a “Beaver Moon” festival with some other Americans. We get to cook a Thanksgiving dinner without celebrating genocide. It’s very nice. But I missed it this year because I was away. And I misesd being home with my wife and in-laws, too. They don’t tell you about these little things of emigrant life, the missing of the rituals and the holidays and stuff. No football on TV, no cranberry sauce weirdly retaining the shape of its can.

What I’m reading

Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth has been my travel companion. I’m slowly reading it while on planes—I should finish during this trip. It’s a hard book. I don’t understand the social quirks that make up the essential parts of the story. All I know is that the main character, Lily Bart, is managing to screw up her social status while also pretending not to live in poverty. I can see it as a social commentary on the times. But as resident of the 21st century, these norms seem absurd. I guess that’s the point.

What I’m listening to

I’m back to listening to Radical Face The Family Tree: Leaves. On repeat is “Everything Costs”. It reminds me of not fitting in with the family you’re supposed to belong to. I feel that.

I heard you say that you’d lost, you’d lost you’d lost your way
But I don’t think you had much to lose
That house was never built for you
And I ain’t gonna hang my head for them, for them
And I ain’t gonna let them paint the truth with sin
And I ain’t gonna tell you it’s okay
But at the end of the day
You were just something they’d blame

Art and culture

I went to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia while traveling in Riga. It was not a happy museum—Latvia’s freedom was robbed of it by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, then by the Nazi invasion, then by the Soviet occupation. It sucked. But the museum is an important reminder of why we must always fight authoritarianism.

A t-shirt saying Russia World Tour since 1944 with a picture of a tank

Travel and exploration

I went to Vilnius and then to Riga, it was great! Vilnius was such an amazing city, with an incredible walkable Old Town, lots of monuments, a beautiful river, and just a lot of charm. It was cold but pleasantly so. I’m definitely going to go back. There’s so much more I have to see. The only downside is that I was there for a conference and that meant that most of my day was inside at the event. But I did take a tour of the Old Town, and I also did some exploration on my last day there.

![Vilnius Cathedral](/photo-gallery/travel/2023/vilnius-riga/Vilniaus arkikatedra-thumb.jpg)

I got up early on Saturday and headed off to catch a Flixbus up to Riga. I’d spend the weekend there, one night really, and at least check Riga off my list. My colleagues told me that Riga was their least favorite Baltic city for some reason, but I was hopeful. The bus ride was great—I had booked well in advance and booked seats 1A and 1B. It took about 4 hours but hardly felt like that. It had snowed and the countryside was covered in a clean white sheet. I had a feeling like I was exactly where I was supposed to be on that trip.

Then I got to Riga and… it was amazing! The city is architecturally beautiful! My best photos are over in my gallery, but I’ll put a couple here. I loved it there. I walked around all day Saturday and Sunday. The people were beautiful. The parks were beautiful. The buildings were beautiful. Wow. What a winter city!

Tram

![National Library of Latvia](/photo-gallery/travel/2023/vilnius-riga/Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka-thumb.jpg)

What I’m learning

German lessons were on hold during travel. And I almost lost my Duolingo streak, but I got it back. Speaking of—I had better get that done now.

What I’m playing

No gaming. I’m slightly stressing over losing out on the weeklies in MW3. This whole grind is brutal. It plays games with my psyche too much. But I’m letting it go. I don’t need every camo ever. It’s fine.

My dent in the universe

I put a lot into the world this week. A lot of energy. Let’s start with the big one.

I wrote a massive, 8800+ word piece on AI and millenarian cultism. I tried to weave a long thread through history, from the idea of the American technological sublime and manifest destiny, through corrupting politics with data, to the repeated failures to live up to AI hype over decades. It’s long, but I am proud of it. I wrote it in a fury. It was the product of 20+ years of study brought forth from my fingertips in two furious nights.

I did this while giving three! (3) talks at Big Data. I had prepared only one talk on lessons learned from four years of Data Mesh. But I also volunteered to fill in a keynote if someone dropped out. Sure enough, someone did. So I moved my planned talk into the keynote slot. I then got a backup talk on a “moving” SLO for machine learning systems which I had given before and slotted that in to my planned slot. But then! I was also asked to fill in for an ethics in AI panel on short notice on the first day. And I had to host the second day!

Long story short—I had to speak three times, host a whole day, and that was pretty tiring. But it feels nice to speak to a live audience and I got great feedback. It’s a nice feeling when you say things that people learn something from and appreciate.

But this was a very thought-leadery week for me and I am tired. And I have to travel now for work and I have more to do this weekend. And I am going to come skidding in to the end of the year but I am going to make it.

I feel proud of what I did last week.

Posted: 27.11.2023

Built: 22.02.2024

Updated: 27.11.2023

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Words: 1266

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes