I wasn’t going to write anything about Elon Musk buying Twitter, because I mostly don’t care. But Robin Sloan, in his newsletter, which isn’t really a newsletter, because he just sends a link to a blog post (with a few added words), says this:
An industrialist intends to purchase Twitter, Inc. His substantial success launching reusable spaceships does nothing to prepare him for the challenge of building social spaces. The latter calls on every liberal art at once, while the former is just rocket science.
I wanted to quote that because I loved ‘just rocket science.’ The common expression, ‘It’s not rocket science’ has always mildly amused me, as a physics graduate. Because rocket science is relatively both simple and easy. It’s straightforward Newtonian physics. Mass. Acceleration. Forces. The physics is simple, the sums are easy.
You don’t have to go anywhere near even Special Relativity (still straightforward, if harder), General Relativity (much more complex), or of course anywhere close to quantum physics (frankly the most complex and confusing thing of all).
All of which is just to say that physics has more and less difficult areas. Rocket engineering, of course, is quite another matter. There you’ve got all sort of complex materials science, chemistry, end even — if crew are involved — biology, sociology, psychology. Those are much harder.
As far as common similes for the ease of something go, I’ve always preferred ‘It’s not brain surgery.’ If I think about it I’m amazed that operating successfully on a living human brain is even possible, and I bow my head to those who can do it. While hoping they’ll never have to go near said bowed object, of course.
Anyway, that would have been that for this post, except that I pasted the above quote from Sloan into a text editor. But it didn’t look like it does above. It looked like this:
An indus-tri-al-ist intends to pur-chase Twit-ter, Inc. His sub-stan-tial suc-cess launch-ing reusable space-ships does noth-ing to pre-pare him for the chal-lenge of build-ing social spaces. The lat-ter calls on every lib-eral art at once, while the for-mer is just rocket science.
Where did all those hyphens come from? They look like they’re non-printing characters. Ones that won’t show up when a web page is rendered, but are there in the source code. Why? I can only imagine two reasons:
- a deliberate ploy to make it harder to copy quotes, as I have done above. But Sloan is a pro-web kinda guy, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t seem like something he’d do.
- A glitch. An artifact of the software he used to create the post. It’s most likely that. Weird one, though.
Stranger still is that the character is not even a hyphen. As I discovered when I search-and-replaced it in BBEdit, it actually appears to be this:
I don’t even know what that is. Some kind of hexadecimal representation of something. An invisible hyphen, presumably. Which I had to search-and-replace with actual hyphens to make them visible above. Looking at the source code, it’s written as the HTML entity
­, which the DuckDuck tells me is a ‘soft hyphen’.
All very odd.
I have positive feelings about Sloan, except for his closing image. I’ll risk another paste:
Wishful descriptions of Twitter as “the de facto public town square” or “the closest thing we have to a global consciousness” sound, to me, like Peter Pan begging the audience to clap and raise a swooning Tinkerbell.
You don’t have to clap.
Yeah, but… of course you have to clap. Without wanting to get all metaphysical on you, if you don’t clap when Tinkerbell is dying, you’ve got no soul.