Age of Corporations

In 2017, Charlie Stross talked about corporations as slow AI, and he identified some ways in which they have supplanted humans as first-class citizens.

I remember reading, as a teenager in the early 1980s, a story about a world where humans were not citizens of nations but employees of companies and the whole thing was some battle among the big three companies in the world. That meant that when I read Snow Crash the idea of burbclaves and the quasi autonomous states didn’t strike me as novel so much as just natural, in a hyper capitalist dystopia.

A recent Reset episode, “When Big Tech Calls 911,” talks about how the Tesla gigafactory in Reno uses lots of public infrastructure for workplace accidents (like, ambulance and fire dispatch, every day — to be fair, there are 7k employees at the one site, so it’s a 100% employed small town) yet it doesn’t pay for any of it (because of tax breaks to lure the company there). As well, it talks about Facebook and how they’re building out a bunch of housing in Menlo Park, which will, like, double the city’s population — so Facebook tried to get ahead of this by funding a big expansion of the city police near their campus. Which makes people feel a little weird, like, the company somehow owns the cops. The point being, though, that public services are usually funded by the public via taxes, and Facebook doesn’t pay enough taxes to Menlo Park to cover the infrastructure costs they incur. Because yeah, they’ll need police, but they’ll also need schools and roads and emergency services, won’t they? But police, they’re gonna fund that.

And there was some other podcast I was listening to (probably Make Me Smart) where it was mentioned that, hey, some of these big companies have yearly budgets bigger that those of a medium-sized country (which has been true for a long, long time and is news to nobody, I’m sure).

And yet. All of this still gets reported on as though it’s some kind of surprise to people.

Here’s the bottom line, my readers: corporations have no empathy. They do not care about human lives as such. They are economic sociopaths and they optimize for economic return, not for human welfare. They don’t like you.

Right Thing, Wrong Time

Cryptocurrency, quantum supremacy, imminent death of the Internet.

So, Google recently announced that they’d achieved quantum supremacy. One of the things that quantum computers are supposed to be really good at is cracking crypto really fast.

The past couple of years have seen an explosion of cryptocurrencies, which are one application of blockchain, which relies heavily on crypto.

I have a Keybase account, because of lots of reasons, but mostly nowadays I use it for backing up my private git repos. But, as a consequence of having a Keybase account, I am being given Stellar Lumens (XLM), which is a cryptocurrency. I wondered what good these things are, and did a little bit of poking around. It seems to be the case that this is principally for moving other currencies around. I have dollars, I want to give you euros, I can turn the dollars into lumens, send you lumens, and then you turn the lumens into euros. So, remittances with better (maybe?) exchange rates, and with less (maybe?) government oversight.

But now, here’s the thing: you and I don’t have quantum computers. But nations and companies with budgets the size of nations’ do. So, how secure is cryptocurrency, really? And what good is blockchain when Google or Amazon or China or whoever can diddle the crypto? I dunno. Maybe someone smarter than I am can explain it to me.

Well, duh

So, Iran has reconnected to the Internet, and there’s this quote way down in the Washington Post article about it:

“Why did (the Americans) get angry after we cut off the internet? Because the internet is the channel through which Americans wanted to perform their evil and vicious acts,” Fadavi said.

I’d say that this, right here, is an excellent example of a thing politicians do all the time. It is absolutely true, to the point of being bleeding obvious, that of course the Americans want to perform their evil and vicious acts through the Internet. It’s cheaper that way. And yet, it is also not necessarily true that the protests were instigated by Americans, and I find it extremely implausible that nefarious Internet posters could get the whole population out on the streets in protest, getting shot, beaten, and arrested.

Regression

I’ve been ignoring Facebook for a few months, now, and my engagement with Twitter has mostly been retweets and likes. Yesterday, a friend who takes what other people say more seriously than I do decided he needed to back way off and go back to writing blog posts instead of tweets. Frankly, I would way rather read his essays, as I think his analyses are interesting and insightful and I’m really a fan of the long form. I’ve always felt that if a position is short enough to fit on a bumper sticker, it’s far too simplistic to be useful.

So then I thought, “Man, I sure don’t want to miss his writing, but I also sure do want to miss these 18 screens of ignorant hot takes and performative dunks; I wonder if there’s a decent RSS reader…”

There is.

And then I thought, “You know, I like being able to work offline and then occasionally connect to the world to send and receive. I wonder if there’s a decent[1] client app for my blog.”

There is.

Also, a few days ago I finally went ahead and updated my laptop to run Mac OS Catalina, which means that the GPG plugin for Apple Mail no longer works for me. I’d read that Thunderbird with Enigmail works okay, and hey, it sure does!

So now, here I am, with an up-to-date operating system and a blogging and email experience that feels like the late nineties. And that’s not bad, actually. I kinda like it.

Endnotes

1 – I do not consider a native app that simply wraps a web view and delegates all the logic and storage to the browser and/or remote host to be “decent”. If I wanted a web page, I’d just use a browser, not install a whole new application.

Why Monoculture

At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, I told my family that since I didn’t use Windows in a professional capacity and I didn’t use it personally, there was no way I was going to go to the effort of becoming and staying smart about Windows, and if they wanted me to do tech support, well, that was just too bad. I may even have been that much of a jerk in saying it, too. To my surprise, that was pretty well received. As a result, we mostly have Macintosh computers in the house.

Continue reading “Why Monoculture”

Great Man Theory

Historians seem not to like the great man story of history nowadays, preferring to talk about how the actions of lots of people wind up being at least as important as the actions of a single leader. And that makes a lot of sense, really. So why are the papers and the politicians all about the assassination of one guy? Does the death of one guy mean that thousands of aggrieved combatants are gonna say, “Fair enough, we gave it a shot, but obviously the Americans killed our guy and now we’ll just stop being mad at them.” Or is that maybe optimistic?

Next Project

When we bought our house in the woods, it came with outbuildings. There’s the Rat Shack, which looked like maybe someone was going to build a granny unit and then gave up and just parked a camping trailer there instead. And then there’s the Toxic Waste Shed, which looks like a shipping container made of plywood and is full of shelves stocked with rusty electronics (!) and half empty cans of paint, tar, and solvents. But our favorite is the Pantry, an 8×8 room with a concrete floor, stud and drywall walls, and electrical wiring but the wires terminate about a foot outside the building. Maybe it was built to house the water pressure pump, which ultimately got located elsewhere, or maybe it was gonna be a weed drying room, or…we dunno. We thought of making it a chapel, but instead we insulated the heck out of it and installed baker’s racks and use it to store bulk and canned goods.

Continue reading “Next Project”

Announcing DMS Calc

A few years back, I was playing Kerbal Space Program and had the need to convert back and forth between decimal degrees and degrees-minutes-seconds. I found some online tools to do it, but they were naive and forgot that floating point numbers are still kind of tricky on a computer. I wrote a post about that, and I also wrote a simple web form with Javascript to do it the right way. Anyway, for reasons, I deleted that code early this year and then, a couple months later, I started playing with KSP again.

Two days ago, I ran into the decimal degrees to DMS problem again, and still the free tools are doing it wrong. So this time, I wrote an app and sent it up to the App Store.

I Wrote A Thing

Hey, I wrote an app and got it published on the App Store! It’s free and it only does one thing: it lets you slide a selector back and forth and show the equivalent temperature readings in Fahrenheit and Celsius. So, if that’s a thing that you want on your phone, go check it out!

So, I took this class on iOS development with Swift, because I’m fed up with Flutter and I really like being able to program the devices I own. I got to the end of the course and was thinking, “Okay, so that all makes sense, now, what do I even want to make my phone do?” And then I thought, “You know what toy application everyone wants you to write after Hello World? A unit converter.”

The problem I have with these unit converter examples, though, is that while they’re great for giving you an example of how to use list selection tools (what unit do you want to convert from/to) and detecting user input (when do you actually compute the conversion) and update the display, they’re terrible if you actually want to get the conversion value. I mean, I’m sitting in a car and the temperature is set in Celsius, and I know it’s too hot, but what is the right temperature? This is a problem with numeric displays; unless the number is on a scale that I’ve internalized, it doesn’t really mean anything to me. Also, I don’t want to have to spend a whole lot of time typing or, for that matter, waiting for my phone to ask Google’s server on the other side of the planet. This is a straightforward calculation that could be done right here, right now, with an actual thermometer if it had the scales printed on each side.

So, I present you with a dead simple app. It’s got a slider that you drag back and forth. It shows a Fahrenheit temperature and a Celsius temperature. It’s got buttons on the interface to let you step up and down if you want to go slower. And, because I wanted to learn how to make an app for the Apple Watch, there’s one of those, too, and it uses the digital crown to do scrolling up and down of the temperature.