Blast from the past

My friend Rob has dug up some old cassettes, yes, tapes, from the mid-1990s when we all made electronic music using a variety of now arcane-seeming tools. My weapon of choice was “FastTracker II”, a software sequencer used primarily by amateur techno and hardcore producers at the time. It only required a PC running MS-DOS and a reasonable sound card. They were quite simple to use, but required some manual tricks and hacks to push their boundaries and sound effects. It seemed like an eternity before digital audio workstations became available to everyone. (Here is a great summary of the technology and the now-distant culture surrounding it.)

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Youthful idealism

Browsing through the deep archives of the web, I rediscovered some of my own writings from many years ago. One of the posts on my old weblog in particular caught me eye. It’s 17 years old, and about the concept of “Eurasianism”, one of Putin’s ideological foundations in his dangerously hodge-podge worldview.

I’m not going to comment on this from today’s point of view and whether or not it (still) is as relevant as some people make it out to be. But still, I couldn’t resist posting this. I wrote this entry in response to a former blogging buddy visiting a SAIS seminar featuring Aleksandr Dugin (!). I wish my analysis had turned out right, but my youthful self seems to have been engaged in some wishful thinking. Continue reading

Science fiction scenarios

“Reality out-crazied us by 10 to 15%”, says Adam McKay about the script of Don’t Look Up, which I watched on New Year’s Day to ring in 2022 in style. I am totally with Catherine Bennett and her thoughtful review of the reviews of the film.

While cinematographically a bit of a mess like most of McKay’s films, I was left breathless — also because I had to think of Peter Kalmus’s opinion headline while watching the film (he says it’s the perfect allegory to climate change inaction).

Condescension, unbelievable characters, etc. – all these attacks ring rather hollow amid the real mess that we find ourselves in these last couple of years. Craig Mod’s thoughts on the film also reverberated, did Branko Marcetic’s review on Jacobin.

I have never cared much for science fiction except for a soft spot for all things Star Trek since I am a teenager. Having said that, The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson was one of the best, if not the best book, I read in 2021.

The novel on –yet another!– UN organization (this one set up to fight global heating) must have been a very difficult one to write. Its plot does not extend far beyond the present and tackles current affairs head-on, slippery slope for science fiction I believe. It makes the bureaucratic/scientific fight against climate change accessible though, and against the odds, leaves a hopeful aftertaste.

I’ve started Saad Hossain’s Cyber Magea more out-there novel based in 2089 Dhaka. Extreme population density has become a lifesaver, for nanotechnology has enabled biologically-transformed people to create temperate zones of survival on a very hostile planet. A wild ride so far and I look forward to exploring more of this new world of science fiction once through with this.

The reason I wanted to jot these observations down: My former employer Shell is / was one of the pioneers of creating long-term scenarios and using them as an input to their operations. I came across that team’s work while in the asset management arm of the company. (The irony of global heating and Shell is not lost on me.)

I read that Dr. Cho Khong, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times, has now left Shell for a Fellowship at Oxford’s Said Business School. He had been around for a long time establishing political analysis as a cornerstone of the scenario work at the oil major.

The last couple of years have made long-term thinking harder no doubt. The scenario folks will respond that their work has become ever more important as a result. I agree to an extent, especially if that work is done properly.

It is certainly helpful to expose the methodology to the rigor of peer review and other academic due diligence – as too much of the global scenario industry lives within the limitations of Powerpoint slides and short corporate attention spans. Or in “The World in 2022” predictions littering the papers at this time of the year.

Science fiction writing seems at least as, if not more, elegant to conceptualize the future. The creators tend to be more creative. And because reality will out-crazy us anyway, why not go out on a limp even more to delineate the possible margins of our future? We might find out that our imagination has looked tame in comparison to the realities we will one day wake up to.

Science fiction?

For the record

This blog has been a true companion for much of the last decade, but it has been strangely difficult to express myself here during the last 24 months or so, two of the most difficult and eventful years.

For me COVID-19 coincided with major personal upheavals, or should I say caused one another. All this has made regularly updating this blog, beyond the usual professional tidbits, a lot harder. (Lack of) time was only one factor.

There used to be a more innocent time in which I posted travelogues here, anecdotes from around the world, as well as other reflections. My mind is brimming with these as usual, but putting them down to paper has just proven one effort too much lately.

This has created a personal precedent – for the first time in all these years, I have left little in the way of digital memory, something which I had grown so accustomed to — think of it as the annual scrolling through the year’s travails and finding pride and direction in it. Blogs are vanity projects after all.

This was brought home to me to today when my wife needed a stock photo from Myanmar for her work, and we easily found one on the archives here, taken on a trip we took a long time back.

So this blog really has really become a record of my (and her!) life. Why has this crazy recent period got such little airtime but will, in hindsight, prove so transformative? is a question I don’t want to leave unanswered.

A series of changes to my life (one of the major ones being that we are moving to Australia this December!) will allow me to “close” the preceding chapter, with some personal blog posts about to be written. That’s before I find a new professional focus, be it a new book project or whatever will keep me occupied down under.

FIRE

I rarely write on anything else than Tokyo on this blog anymore. But I have previously used this blog to reflect on some more personal financey topics, especially in this fiery treatise arguing against our real estate obsession which got a good deal of clicks.

Other posts in this category included those on impact investing and the state of economics education, among others. Anyway, this just to refresh my mind and gather some courage to stray from the all-too-familiar Tokyo and Yangon posts this blog has seen over the last few years.

FIRE (short for “financial independence, retire early”): First off, I am not among the initiated, and do approach the movement with some skepticism. I hope that such transparency upfront creates some goodwill among the believers. Continue reading

Bye bye Tokyo (2)

When skimming the back archives of this blog, I came across a farewell bid to Tokyo back in 2013. My wife and I had just spent six months there – her working and me taking a sabbatical that was to spark a passion for the city. We went back to Tokyo again in 2015, and left quite a long time ago in 2019. This reprise is thus long overdue, especially given the recent dearth of personal posts.

View towards center from a rooftop in Meguro-ku   Continue reading

Hiatus

Fatherhood and the final stretches of my PhD have taken a toll on my posting performance here. Hard to believe it’s been more than half a year since the last blog post. Long gone seem the days when my aim was to have two entries up each week. I do intend to continue writing here, especially to get some structure into my post-PhD thinking as well as reflect on my teaching. A few updates and ideas after the jump.

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