Filtered for the end of greatness

12.15, Friday 13 Oct 2023


The universe is lumpy.

In a stellar system there are stars and planets and loads of space. Lumpy matter.

Then it fractals all the way up:

Stars are organized into galaxies, which in turn form galaxy groups, galaxy clusters, superclusters, sheets, walls and filaments, which are separated by immense voids, creating a vast foam-like structure, sometimes called the “cosmic web”.


The solar system is in the Milky Way, is in a galaxy cluster called the Local Group, which is part of the Virgo Supercluster, which is part of the Laniakea Supercluster, which lies on our home galactic filament 1.0 billion light-years long and 150 million light years wide called the Pisces-Cetus Supercluster Complex.

Then the lumpiness stops.

at roughly 100 Mpc (roughly 300 million light-years) … the lumpiness seen in the large-scale structure of the universe is homogenized and isotropized … At this scale, no pseudo-random fractalness is apparent.

Looking from this far out, the cosmos is smooth.

Astronomers call this level of the large-scale structure of the observable universe the End of Greatness.


Cosmic latte, the average color of the universe as perceived from the Earth. In hex, #FFF8E7.

The Wikipedia page has this footnote: Due to flawed calculations, the average color of the universe was originally thought to be turquoise.



The Halo is an upcoming headband device by Prophetic that zaps ultrasound into your brain to induce and stabilise lucid dreams.

Here’s Prophetic’s technology roadmap (PDF, hosted on Shopify weirdly?).

There’s a slightly odd productivity spin on the website:

In lucid dreams, you are freed from conventional laws of physics: gravity, conservation of energy, conservation of mass. This makes the experience the ultimate sandbox for divergent problem solving.

There’s a reason why history’s luminaries in science, math, and art credit their lucid dreams for their most pivotal discoveries.

(From memory, all of these came in dreams: the cybernetic anti-aircraft gun computer, possibly the first example of human-computer symbiosis; the helical structure of DNA; the structure of benzene.)

So as much as Prophetic is all about yeah so we’re expanding the range of consciousness and there’s all that psychonaut language… I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a secret pitch deck with a slide that reads “VR headsets are coming and ultrasound transducers are cheaper than GPUs, so our customers will enter the metaverse on their own wetware” – and in 2043 I’ll be running Microsoft Excel Hypnogogic Edition on my colonised unconscious, grinding out a second job between midnight and 4am.

ALTHOUGH. If this gets us closer to a transcranial magnetic stimulation helmet that walks me to the shops, as previously discussed, then let’s go.


Here’s a proposal to add a white, fourth light to traffic lights, aimed at robot cars.

When the white light is showing, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are free to choose and coordinate their own movements.

Red, green, and amber operate as usual. The fourth light kicks in when there is a sufficient density of AVs. The fallback is neat.

The white phase concept rests on the fact that it is possible for AVs to communicate wirelessly with both each other and the computer controlling the traffic signal. When enough AVs are approaching the intersection, this would activate the white light. The white light is a signal that AVs are coordinating their movement to facilitate traffic through the intersection more efficiently. Any non-automated vehicles - those being driven by a person - would simply be required to follow the vehicle in front of them: if the car in front of them stops, they stop; if the car in front of them goes through the intersection, they go through the intersection.

In simulation, traffic runs faster: when 10% of vehicles are autonomous, you see delays reduced by 3%. When 30% of vehicles are autonomous, delays are reduced by 10.7%.

It would look wild. I linked to that old Zurich Insurance commercial recently – it would look like the robot cars section of that.

But there’s something profound about this fourth light –

  • when the light is off, it’s the state that coordinates cars and tells us what to do
  • when the fourth light is on, we’re in libertarian mode, and either you’re a robot car who threads your own way through the traffic, or you’re a legacy human driver and you have to follow.

It’s like… the white light is a mode switch in the locus of the technology of coordination?

Self-driving, autonomy, emergent behaviour – it’s the spirit of our age, right? For better and worse. Maybe we’ll see more. Fourth Light for moderated social media; Fourth Light for paying your taxes; Fourth Light for, I don’t know, politeness.

You can always read culture in technology but what a thing to see it so close to the surface.


Noam Shazeer is one of the inventors of transformer models, the architecture that allows for today’s incredibly effective large language models, i.e. modern AI.

From one of his follow-up papers:

These architectures are simple to implement, and have no apparent computational drawbacks. We offer no explanation as to why these architectures seem to work; we attribute their success, as all else, to divine benevolence.

There’s something that I haven’t heard come up in the God of the gaps argument: new gaps.

Bonus link

I’ve mentioned before that I often work with a browser window open to a live stream of a waterhole in the Namib Desert. Antelope come and go. You can hear the wind and the insects. Yesterday I saw a giraffe.

I figured it deserved its own single-serving website?

So here it is: Waterhole.

See you over there!

Waterhole was a super quick hack as part of my residency with PartyKit. I wrote up why and how and all that good stuff (like screenshots) over on the PartyKit blog: A single-serving waterhole in the Namib Desert using Remix.

The code is open, in case you want to make your own waterhole with a different live stream. You’ll find the GitHub link at the bottom of that post.

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