Odds and Ends…

  • How journalism may never again make money;
  • Keeping lists of books you’re read;
  • Decoding the Mandelbrot set.

More links collected the past week or so, today non-political ones.

Washington Post, Perry Bacon Jr., 27 Jan 2024: Opinion | Journalism may never again make money. So it should focus on mission.

For years there’s been a steady decline of print journalism, especially small-town newspapers and layoffs at the major papers, mostly because of the rise of the internet and the free “news” content there.

We are in the middle of one of the worst times for the news business in my lifetime. The local newspaper industry has been collapsing for two decades, since the internet began siphoning revenue from print advertising.

The same trend is affecting print magazines too, whose circulations have been decimated (using the word in the non-strict sense, here meaning reduced to a tenth, not by a tenth), including all the science fiction magazines, including Locus. In a way this trend is paralleling the music industry, in which sales of CDs and LPs have greatly reduced, and musicians are forced to find other ways of making money. So what does this article say …?

But in the future, it is likely that lots of news organizations will essentially be charities, asking rich people and also you to help them provide a critical service that the market won’t support.

So what kind of journalism should Americans be willing to fund? Three kinds in particular. Government and policy news, particularly at the local and state levels; watchdog journalism that closely scrutinizes powerful individuals, companies and political leaders; and cultural coverage, from important books and movies to faith and spirituality.

Why those things? They capture the major crises in America: the antidemocratic drift in the Republican Party; the growing, often-unchecked power of corporations and the wealthy; the rampant homelessness, drug addiction, declining life expectancy and other problems affecting America’s less fortunate; the increasing effects of climate change; and a decline in connection and community as Americans navigate a world full of social media but lacking religious congregations and other community-based groups.

And why should Americans fund those things? By the same reasoning as the UBI, Universal Basic Income: American productivity has become so high, it can afford to pay a “dividend” to citizens, in much the way it already supports public institutions and infrastructure.

I, for one, ran Locus Online for 20 years, and still contribute a few hours a week to the website, despite nominal pay. Why? Not to make money. To follow a passion, more than just a hobby. And here’s the trend, according to Harari; as technology and productivity increases, it won’t be *necessary* for everyone to work 40 hours a week to keep the economy going. Harari anticipates the era only a few decades hence in which people will need to find ways of occupying their time. The answer is here: follow your passion. Most people, despite conservative stereotyping, do not sit on the sofa and drink beer and watch TV when they don’t have a full time job. And so it will be; check back in 50 years.


Shorter items.

Washington Post, Elisa Gabbert, 26 Jan 2024: How a reading list can shape — or hex — a year, subtitled “Keeping and sharing a list of books she’s finished has changed this reader’s life for the better”

Doesn’t everyone keep a list of books they’ve read? I have since I was 15, and at age 15 reconstructed a list of those I’d read earlier.


Quanta Magazine, Jordana Cepelewicz, 26 Jan 2024: The Quest to Decode the Mandelbrot Set, Math’s Famed Fractal

Subtitled “For decades, a small group of mathematicians has patiently unraveled the mystery of what was once math’s most popular picture. Their story shows how technology transforms even the most abstract mathematical landscapes.”

Fractals were really big in the 1980s; I particularly remember having “screen-savers” — programs that would run to keep your monitor from freezing up and imprinting itself on a static image — of gradually expanding fractal sets. I tried finding one a couple years ago, and could not. As this article says,

Within the next few years, the Mandelbrot set would inspire David Hockney’s newest paintings and several musicians’ newest compositions — fuguelike pieces in the style of Bach. It would appear in the pages of John Updike’s fiction, and guide how the literary critic Hugh Kenner analyzed the poetry of Ezra Pound. It would become the subject of psychedelic hallucinations, and of a popular documentary narrated by the sci-fi great Arthur C. Clarke.

and James Gleick’s CHAOS. And then, like any other fashion, it just disappeared from public consciousness.

The Mandelbrot set was everywhere, until it wasn’t.

Within a decade, it seemed to disappear. Mathematicians moved on to other subjects, and the public moved on to other symbols. Today, just 40 years after its discovery, the fractal has become a cliché, borderline kitsch.

The article then focuses on the handful of mathematicians still exploring the consequences of the Mandelbrot set.

For my purposes, the Mandelbrot set is just another example of a very simple algorithm that generates extreme complexity. That’s how the universe works.


Every day I reread and copy-edit my post from the evening before. If this comment is still here, I have not yet done so for this post.

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