Sunday, September 25, 2022

You’re Probably Using The WRONG Guitar Strings

You’re Probably Using The WRONG Guitar Strings (Electric - Rick Beato)

[ed. See also: Does Acoustic String Gauge Make a Difference? (Acoustic); and, History of Guitar Strings with Earnie Ball (JHS).]

What Machine Learning Researchers Think About AI in 2022

What do ML researchers think about AI in 2022? (AI Impacts)


HLMI (definition/preface to survey): "high-level machine intelligence’ when unaided machines can accomplish every task better and more cheaply than human workers. Ignore aspects of tasks for which being a human is intrinsically advantageous, e.g. being accepted as a jury member. Think feasibility, not adoption."

Moneylike

For years, economics textbooks have included a "money story": once upon a time, we bartered, trading chickens for cows. This was hard. If the going rate is 8 chickens for a cow and you only need 6 chickens, how could the chicken farmer make change?

The answer was gold, variously said to have been chosen for its rarity, or its divisibility, or its shininess, or the ease of working such a soft metal. Whatever the reason, these anonymous prehistoric traders all agreed that gold would be our medium of exchange, our store of value and our unit of account.

This story was handed down to generations of economics students, despite the fact that there is no evidence for it. The basis for this story was pure reasoning: "What circumstances could have given us money?"

This kind of thought-experimental reasoning is endemic to neoclassical economics, as Ely Devons joked: "If economists wished to study the horse, they wouldn't go and look at horses. They'd sit in their studies and say to themselves, 'what would I do if I were a horse?'"

But as far as anyone can tell, this is not where money came from. Rather – as David Graeber wrote in his seminal "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" – the origin of coin money is in the need of conquering states to provision themselves. To feed soldiers garrisoned in imperial territories, emperors imposed a tax on farmers, that had to be remitted in the coins that soldiers received in pay. Farmers who didn't pay their taxes faced terrifying, violent consequences and were therefore willing to sell their produce to soldiers in exchange for those coins.

Money, therefore, arose out of liability: farmers valued coins because they had a nondiscretionary liability that could only be settled with those coins (their taxes). People who weren't farmers would also accept coins, because they knew that the farmers needed them, and since they needed to trade with farmers, anything the farmers would accept was therefore valuable to all.

This money story is a lot more morally fraught than the story of gold arising spontaneously out of the need to give back change for a cow. It involves gross acts of coercion. It's kind of nice to think that money arose spontaneously out of free trading, but it didn't.

Over and over in history, we see examples of money emerging through the need to settle a nondiscretionary liability. If there's something you need and you can only get it by acquiring a certain token, that token becomes money to you. You will do work for that token. If lots of people need that token, it becomes money for them. If enough people need a token, almost anyone will accept it in payment for almost anything, because someone else will accept it from them. (...)

The idea that money comes from liabilities was popularized by Warren Mosler, the progenitor of Modern Monetary Theory. In Mosler's lectures, he illustrates the point by asking, "Who will stay after the lecture to stack chairs and mop the floor, in exchange for one of my business-cards?" When no one raises their hand, he adds, "What if I told you that there was an armed guard at the door and if you don't give him a business-card, he won't let you leave?" Of course, every hand shoots up.

Mosler's door-tax turns his cards into money.

By showing us where money comes from, Mosler answers lots of seemingly imponderable questions, like "Why do I spend so much time chasing meaningless pieces of paper?" (because if you don't have the paper, something bad will happen to you).

He also answers the question, "How do they always seem to find $778b for the military? Where did the $3.4T in covid relief payments come from? Won't we all have to pay a lot of taxes to repay those debts?"

The "debt" of money-issuers is nothing like the debt of money-users. If Mosler owed an audience member a thousand business cards, he could just order them from the printer. He doesn't have to stack chairs and mop the floors to earn his own cards. He's the source of the cards. No matter how many cards he owes, he can always pay.

Which is not to say that the number of cards Mosler hands out doesn't matter. If there are too many cards, he'll end up stacking his own chairs – because there will be so many cards in circulation that tonight's audience will be able to get them surplus from last night's. If there are too few cards, he'll end up with all his chair stacked but he'll still have a room full of people who don't have business cards and can't leave without getting shot by the armed guard (this is also called "unemployment").

This is what people mean when they say "government budgets aren't like household budgets." Governments don't have to "balance their checkbooks." They do have to balance their economies, lest they create inflation (by attempting to buy more than is for sale) or unemployment (by spending so little that no everyone is able to find work). Governments can't make things on demand, but they can make money whenever they need to.

Governments can impose nondiscretionary liabilities on the people who live in their borders – they can tax them. It is this tax – this liability that you can only pay in the government's money – that makes money into money.

Now, obviously, governments aren't the only entity that produce a token that acquires moneylike properties because there's something some needs – or just badly desires – that can only be acquired using the token. If you went to a county fair this summer and bought tickets for the midways rides, you experienced a moneylike token. It's possible that the kids in your company were willing to trade labor for these tokens ("I'll do your chores if you give me five tickets"). You will also have doubtless seen that as the day drew to a close and the desirability of getting on a ride declined, so did the moneyness of the midway tickets.

The midway owners don't mind. They don't need to you return your midway tickets so they can sell them anew the next day. When you hand a carny five tickets to ride a wild mouse coaster, they tear them in half and throw them in the garbage (this is also what the federal government does with our taxes – just zeroes out that amount on a spreadsheet – governments don't spend our tax dollars, they make new dollars, just like midways hand out new tickets).

Which brings me to cryptocurrency.

by Cory Doctorow, Pluralistic |  Read more:
Image: Corey Coyle, CC BY 3.0)
[ed. This is the first I've heard of a web3 micro-pricing scheme.]

Saturday, September 24, 2022

How Many People Can Earth Handle

How many people can Earth handle? (BBC)
Image: Alarmy via the article

We Can Build Paradises For The Public

City Park in New Orleans is, to my mind, about as close to paradise as you can get on Earth. Fifty percent bigger than New York’s Central Park (suck it, NYC), it is a sprawling oasis full of live oaks and canopies of moss. You can find almost anything somewhere in its 1300 acres: bike trails, mini golf, a roller coaster, swan boats, actual swans, a botanical garden, a sculpture garden, an art museum, tennis courts, soccer fields, an antique carousel, a kids’ park that recreates various fairy tales, a ferris wheel, a dog park, a little train that goes round, and hot beignets morning, noon, and night. The park is full of people enjoying themselves, playing frisbee, having picnics, or doing outdoor yoga, or attending the “annual fish rodeo, barbecue contest, symphony concert, and music festival.” It is apparently home to “the largest stand of mature live oak trees in the world.”

I try to bike up to City Park at least once a week, because I find that I cannot be unhappy while I am there. It is a place of pure tranquility and joy. Even though I’ve been there hundreds of times, it was only on my most recent visit that I noticed some words carved into one of the main roads: “BUILT BY WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION, 1937-1939.” (...)

Those of us who enjoy City Park today, then, have the New Deal to thank for transforming the place. The WPA’s approach was not just to make the park functional, but to make it a work of true art, with bas-relief sculptures and Art Deco flourishes adorning pieces of functional infrastructure. (...)
 
The WPA spent billions annually, over 6 percent of the country’s entire GDP, and ended up building or improving a staggering 600,000 miles of roads, 100,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, nearly 20,000 miles of water mains, nearly 25,000 miles of sidewalks, as well as thousands of playgrounds, airport buildings, schools, and hospitals, as well as public “luxuries” like murals, sculptures, and public pools. WPA architecture, as Joseph Maresca shows in WPA Buildings: Architecture and Art of the New Deal, was both forward-looking and beautiful, and projected a sense of confidence in what the government could do for people. It sent a message that it was worth having faith in civic life and that the people could accomplish great things together.

by Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs |  Read more:
Image: Ryan Lips from the Park's Official Facebook Page

Reving-Up Profits

In 2018, senior executives at one of the country’s largest nonprofit hospital chains, Providence, were frustrated. They were spending hundreds of millions of dollars providing free health care to patients. It was eating into their bottom line.

The executives, led by Providence’s chief financial officer at the time, devised a solution: a program called Rev-Up.

Rev-Up provided Providence’s employees with a detailed playbook for wringing money out of patients — even those who were supposed to receive free care because of their low incomes, a New York Times investigation found.

In training materials obtained by The Times, members of the hospital staff were instructed how to approach patients and pressure them to pay.

“Ask every patient, every time,” the materials said. Instead of using “weak” phrases — like “Would you mind paying?” — employees were told to ask how patients wanted to pay. Soliciting money “is part of your role. It’s not an option.”

If patients did not pay, Providence sent debt collectors to pursue them.

More than half the nation’s roughly 5,000 hospitals are nonprofits like Providence. They enjoy lucrative tax exemptions; Providence avoids more than $1 billion a year in taxes. In exchange, the Internal Revenue Service requires them to provide services, such as free care for the poor, that benefit the communities in which they operate.

But in recent decades, many of the hospitals have become virtually indistinguishable from for-profit companies, adopting an unrelenting focus on the bottom line and straying from their traditional charitable missions. (...)

Founded by nuns in the 1850s, Providence says its mission is to be “steadfast in serving all, especially those who are poor and vulnerable.” Today, based in Renton, Wash., Providence is one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the country, with 51 hospitals and more than 900 clinics. Its revenue last year exceeded $27 billion.

Providence is sitting on $10 billion that it invests, Wall Street-style, alongside top private equity firms. It even runs its own venture capital fund.

In 2018, before the Rev-Up program kicked in, Providence spent 1.24 percent of its expenses on charity care, a standard way of measuring how much free care hospitals provide. That was below the average of 2 percent for nonprofit hospitals nationwide, according to an analysis of hospital financial records by Ge Bai, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

By last year, Providence’s spending on charity care had fallen below 1 percent of its expenses.

The Affordable Care Act requires nonprofit hospitals to make their financial assistance policies public, such as by posting them in hospital waiting rooms. But the federal law does not dictate who is eligible for free care.

Ten states, however, have adopted their own laws that specify which patients, based on their income and family size, qualify for free or discounted care. Among them is Washington, where Providence is based. All hospitals in the state must provide free care for anyone who makes under 300 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that threshold is $83,250 a year.

In February, Bob Ferguson, the state’s attorney general, accused Providence of violating state law, in part by using debt collectors to pursue more than 55,000 patient accounts. The suit alleged that Providence wrongly claimed those patients owed a total of more than $73 million.

by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Katie Thomas, NY Times | Read more:
Image: Illustration by Mel Haasch; Photographs by Jovelle Tamayo for The New York Times

Friday, September 23, 2022

Netherlands Bach Society: Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080


Bach’s Kunst der Fuge is shrouded in mystery. We don’t know which instrument it was written for and whether Bach intended the music as material for practice or performance. The order of the 18 sections is unclear as well and we don’t know whether the piece was ever completed.

As it is not clear which instrument Bach had in mind, Shunske Sato made his own instrumentation for the Netherlands Bach Society. “I wanted to bring out the many colours of the work and of my ensemble. Every fugue has its own character. On the basis of the rhythm, time and chromatic lines, etc., you can determine which instrument is most suitable. I’ve studied each part very carefully, in order to decide which instruments are best to use. I wanted the whole Netherlands Bach Society to be heard, so the singers are taking part as well. They sing without words, to vowel sounds.”
via: YouTube

The Last Person Standing in the Floppy Disk Business

Tom Persky is the self-proclaimed “last man standing in the floppy disk business.” He is the time-honored founder of floppydisk.com, a US-based company dedicated to the selling and recycling of floppy disks. Other services include disk transfers, a recycling program, and selling used and/or broken floppy disks to artists around the world. All of this makes floppydisk.com a key player in the small yet profitable contemporary floppy scene.

While putting together the manuscript for our new book, Floppy Disk Fever: The Curious Afterlives of a Flexible Medium, we met with Tom to discuss the current state of the floppy disk industry and the perks and challenges of running a business like his in the 2020s. What has changed in this era, and what remains the same?

Hi Tom, it’s great to finally meet the founder of floppydisks.com. We’d love to know a little more about your company. Let’s start with the obvious: how did you end up with the domain for floppydisks.com?

Nice to meet you too! I think it happened during the early days of the Internet, around 1990. At the time we believed that the Internet should be free and that cybersquatting was a crime. One day somebody contacted me and asked if I wanted to buy the domain for $1,000. I felt it was an outrage. I told my wife I would not participate in this kind of cybercrime, but she took out a cheque-book and got the domain name instantly. This went totally against my principles, but thankfully my wife is much smarter than I am.

Were you already selling floppy disks at the time?

20 years ago I was actually in the floppy disk duplication business. Not in a million years did I think I would ever sell blank floppy disks. Duplicating disks in the 1980s and early 1990s was as good as printing money. It was unbelievably profitable. I only started selling blank copies organically over time. You could still go down to any office supply store, or any computer store to buy them. Why would you try to find me, when you could just buy disks off the shelf? But then these larger companies stopped carrying them or went out of business and people came to us. So here I am, a small company with a floppy disk inventory, and I find myself to be a worldwide supplier of this product. My business, which used to be 90% CD and DVD duplication, is now 90% selling blank floppy disks. It’s shocking to me.

How did your business initially come about?

I started out as a tax lawyer in Washington, DC. I became involved with a software company in California that was doing unique tax calculations. I left my practice with Price Waterhouse and moved to California with a little firm called Time Value Software. This was in the early ’90s. I had no software background whatsoever, but I had a good tax background. The idea was that I would use my tax expertise to work with programmers, and develop better software for tax practitioners.

I did that for about ten years. In the process, we developed a couple of different software applications. In the ’90s, the way you would distribute software would be by floppy disk, either on a 5.25-inch or a 3.5-inch disk. At one point we did a gigantic deal with a US payroll company for which we needed to copy hundreds of thousands of disks. We sent the work out to a third party who did the duplication for us. That was okay, but expensive, and it took a lot of time. The quality also wasn’t quite what we wanted it to be. So the next time we decided to do the floppy duplication in-house and we got our own equipment. This way we could distribute our software to our customers ourselves. (...)

Where does this focus on floppy disks come from? Why not work with another medium?

In the beginning, I figured we would do floppy disks, but never CDs. Eventually, we got into CDs and I said we’d never do DVDs. A couple of years went by and I started duplicating DVDs. Now I’m also duplicating USB drives. You can see from this conversation that I’m not exactly a person with great vision. I just follow what our customers want us to do. When people ask me: “Why are you into floppy disks today?” the answer is: “Because I forgot to get out of the business.” Everybody else in the world looked at the future and came to the conclusion that this was a dying industry. Because I’d already bought all my equipment and inventory, I thought I’d just keep this revenue stream. I stuck with it and didn’t try to expand. Over time, the total number of floppy users has gone down. However, the number of people who provided the product went down even faster. If you look at those two curves, you see that there is a growing market share for the last man standing in the business, and that man is me.

by Niek Hilkmann & Thomas Walskaar, AIGA Eye on Design |  Read more:
Image: Katharina Brenner

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Mysterious, Stubborn Appeal of Mass-Produced Fried Chicken

Why do so many accomplished chefs call Popeyes their favorite fried chicken?

Except for vegetarians and perhaps the hyperlipidemic, fried chicken is beloved nearly universally. And that’s a universe that includes some pretty discriminating palates—many of whom seem to prefer Popeyes over anything else. Anthony Bourdain was a vocal fan. Celebrity chefs like David Chang and Hugh Acheson sing its praises. The fried chicken experts MUNCHIES spoke to had plenty of compliments, too.

“Popeyes has great fried chicken,” says James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen. “I like the level of salt in the chicken. They push it just enough. It’s got a touch of spice to it. The meat is super juicy.”

Whether it’s a Michelin-rated kitchen or a hole-in-the-wall local legend, few can match Popeyes’s bird. Which is why some don’t even try: Last year, a Long Beach restaurant was busted for serving Popeyes chicken and ostensibly passing it off as its own. Poultry fraud is tough to defend, but this particular culinary con speaks to how Popeyes punches above its weight class in terms of quality.

Biting into a good piece of fried chicken is a pan-sensory experience that checks off just about every box of non-sexual physical pleasure. You pick it up with your hands, shatter the crust with your incisors, and rip the succulent flesh from the bone. Steam wafts any seasonings noseward as the hot fat coats your lips and courses over your tongue. If it’s prepared right, that first bite is a high you chase for the rest of the meal and onward until your next bucket.

Popeyes is an industrial anomaly. In virtually all other cases, mass production seems to be bad for food quality. Every sort of fast food has its devotees, but if you’re after a burger, a burrito, or a salad, the fast food version is usually a cheap approximation of what you can find in a nicer restaurant (or even what you could make yourself). Big Macs might be delicious and crave-able, but they're unlikely to land on any Best of Burgers lists. When it comes to fried chicken, though, disappointment is more likely to come on a fresh white tablecloth than in a grease-stained paperboard box.

J. Kenji López-Alt, another Beard Award-winner, goes even further. He claimed that Popeyes is the best fried chicken anywhere you can get it. (In response to the Washington Post food critic putting Popeyes on the list of the best fried chicken in D.C.)

For López-Alt, it’s the skin that stands out. “They have the crust down perfect,” he tells MUNCHIES. “The right level of craggliness. Very salty. High surface area. They get crispy all over. There aren’t any soggy spots.” He also highlighted what his Serious Eats colleague calls “the cosmic oneness between breading and skin,” such that the breading doesn’t slide off and leave you with a flabby layer of naked skin.

In many ways, fried chicken seems antithetical to mass production. It’s a food that requires levels of finesse and expertise that take decades to cultivate, not to mention that it’s often associated with the accrued family secrets of intergenerational R&D. One of those a-lifetime-to-master things. Fast food kitchens, on the other hand, are synonymous with constant staff turnover and a general deskilling of labor. The whole concept is based on the idea that any can do it.

So why is the fried chicken at 3,000 different Popeyes locations better than what so many accomplished chefs can produce either in their high-end kitchens or at home?

by Adam Clair, Vice |  Read more:
Image: Adam Waito

The $105 Fix That Could Protect You From Copyright-Troll Lawsuits

Call it ingenious, call it evil or call it a little of both: Copyright troll Righthaven is exploiting a loophole in intellectual property law, suing websites that might have avoided any trace of civil liability had they spent a mere $105.

That's the fee for a blog or other website to register a DMCA takedown agent with the U.S. Copyright Office, an obscure bureaucratic prerequisite to enjoying a legal "safe harbor" from copyright lawsuits over third-party posts, such as reader comments.

There's no better time to become acquainted with that requirement.

Founded in March, the Las Vegas-based Righthaven has begun buying out the copyrights to newspaper content of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for the sole purpose of suing blogs and websites that re-post, or even excerpt, those articles without permission. The company has settled about 60 of 160 cases for a few thousand dollars each, and plans to expand its operations to other newspapers across the country.

Many of its lawsuits arise, not from articles posted by a website's proprietors, but from comments and forum posts by the site's readers. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a website enjoys effective immunity from civil copyright liability for user content, provided they, promptly remove infringing material at the request of a rightsholder. That's how sites like YouTube are able to exist, and why Wired.com allows users to post comments to our stories without fear that a single user's cut-and-paste will cost us $150,000 in court.

But to dock in that legal safe harbor, a site has to, among other things, register an official contact point for DMCA takedown notices, a process that involves filling out a form and mailing a check to the government. An examination of Righthaven's lawsuits targeting user content suggests it's specifically going after sites that failed to fill out that paperwork.

"The DMCA is a good deterrent from being sued," says Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "Complying with conditions of eligibility for the safe harbor is a good thing to do. It probably will prevent somebody from suing you in the first place."

by David Kravitz, Wired |  Read more:
Image: uncredited/US Copyright Office
[ed. From 2010 but still relevant (as far as I know - a new Copyright Small Claims Court has recently been established but its usefulness and authority seem uncertain). The US Copyright Office fee is now only $6 and the url for DMCA registration can be found here. See also: "Is the DMCA's Notice-and-Takedown System Working in the 21st Century?” (pdf). Testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and Subcommittee on Intellectual Property; June 2, 2020.]

Janet Jackson Had the Power to Crash Laptop Computers

A colleague of mine shared a story from Windows XP product support. A major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” would crash certain models of laptops. I would not have wanted to be in the laboratory that they must have set up to investigate this problem. Not an artistic judgement.

One discovery during the investigation is that playing the music video also crashed some of their competitors’ laptops.

And then they discovered something extremely weird: Playing the music video on one laptop caused a laptop sitting nearby to crash, even though that other laptop wasn’t playing the video!

What’s going on?

It turns out that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used.

by Raymond Chen, Microsoft |  Read more:
Image: Janet Jackson 'Rhythm Nation' (A&M Records) via
***
[ed. Speaking of resonant frequencies, the article also references the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in November, 1940: "Sleek and slender, it was the third longest suspension bridge in the world at the time, covering 5,959 feet. (...) 

Engineers of the time believed that the design, even though it exceeded ratios of length, depth and width that had previously been standard, was completely safe. Following the collapse, it was revealed that the engineers had not properly considered the aerodynamic forces that were in play at the location during a period of strong winds. (...)

On November 7, high winds buffeted the area and the bridge swayed considerably. The first failure came at about 11 a.m., when concrete dropped from the road surface. Just minutes later, a 600-foot section of the bridge broke free. By this time, the bridge was being tossed back and forth wildly. At one time, the elevation of the sidewalk on one side of the bridge was 28 feet above that of the sidewalk on the other side. Even though the bridge towers were made of strong structural carbon steel, the bridge proved no match for the violent movement, and collapsed. (History.com).]

Extreme Metal Guitar Motivation


Abstract

There has been much debate around the ultimate explanation of cultural displays such as music and art. There are two main competing hypotheses for the function of music: sexual selection or byproduct of the complexity of the human brain. Although there is evidence that playing music increases male attractiveness, the sexual selection explanation may not be mutually exclusive to all types of music. Extreme metal is a genre that is heavily male-biased, not only among the individuals that play this style of music, but also among the fans of the genre. Therefore, it is unlikely that extreme metal musicians are primarily trying to increase their mating success through their music. However, musicians in this genre heavily invest their time in building technical skills (e.g., dexterity, coordination, timing), which raises the question of the purpose behind this costly investment. It could be that men engage in this genre mainly for status-seeking purposes: to intimidate other males with their technical skills and speed and thus gain social status. To explore the reasoning behind investment in technical guitar skills, a sample of 44 heterosexual male metal guitarists was recruited and surveyed about their practicing habits (newly created survey for this study), sexual behavior (using the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory–Revised [SOI-R]; Penke & Asendorpf, 2008), and feelings of competitiveness toward the same sex (via the Intrasexual Competition Scale [ICS]; Buunk & Fisher, 2009). The survey results indicated that time spent playing chords predicted desire for casual sex with women whereas perceptions of playing speed positively predicted intrasexual competitiveness (a desire to impress other men). The discussion addresses how these results, and the extreme metal genre, might relate to the three competing hypotheses for the function of cultural displays. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved)

Extreme metal guitar skill: A case of male–male status seeking, mate attraction, or byproduct? (APA PsychNet)
Image: Théo Gosselin via

YouTube May Force You to Watch 10 (or More) Unskippable Ads in a Row

The biggest trick the Devil ever played was convincing people that online stuff is free. But the Devil always collects, sooner or later—and we are starting to learn the actual terms of this cursed deal.

Consider some recent news stories:
  • YouTube has been testing users’ willingness to watch 10 unskippable ads on a video. And the ads aren’t spaced out. They come at you, one right after the other, at the outset—because Google wants to be paid first, even if the video sucks.
  • Nobody wants ads on iPhone, but they’re coming. Executives at Apple are allegedly planning to triple the ad revenue from phones.
  • Etc. etc. etc.
This is what happens when ‘free’ really isn’t free—but consumers prefer to stay in denial. Go ahead and rob me, just make sure I’m not looking when it happens.

It’s even worse than that. Web users are now hooked on free—and like all addictions, this one is far costlier than you realize at the outset.

You have more leverage when you negotiate an actual price. When I cancel a paid subscription, the corporate provider always comes back with a special offer to get me to reconsider. But how much bargaining power do I have if I refuse to click on those “terms and conditions” that always come with the free stuff?

I’ll answer that for you—none at all.

How bad will it get? YouTube described its ten unskippable ads as a “test"—but this wasn’t done in a laboratory or with volunteers. They just forced it on users, and watched them squirm. And squirm they did. (...)

Let me add some comments about advertising—which is one of the most poorly understood phenomena in modern society.

Advertising in the year 2022 doesn’t hypnotize us. It doesn’t stir up our desires. What it actually does is. . . . bore us.

Endlessly. Shamelessly. It annoys us. It irritates us. We would skip it if we could.

That’s why advertisers have to force-feed us these ads—by making me watch the same insurance commercial over and over on YouTube, or clogging up the screen of a webpage with annoying pitches, or (worst of all) flooding my email box with garbage until I’m swimming in spam.

If advertising was really hypnotic and controlling, they wouldn’t need to resort to these tedious tricks. (...)

The result of all this is that the Internet is turning into the epicenter of crap. It’s the detention camp where force-feeding of marketing messages takes place daily. And when we build up a degree of immunity—learning how to control our irritation while sitting through two or three idiotic YouTube ads—they increase it to five or ten ads before the video even begins.

Here’s another thing the Devil—or the leading web platforms, in this instance—won’t tell you. They want you to be annoyed. That’s right—even if they could make those ads hypnotic, they wouldn’t. Google would love to sell you a premium YouTube subscription in order to avoid all those irritating ads. Spotify wants you to be a paid member. The more boring the ads, the more those technocrats smile.

by Ted Gioia, The Honest Broker |  Read more:
Image: The Honest Broker
[ed. Do click on the links. Fascinating... in an awful way.]

Google Search Is Dying


There is good discussion on this article on Hacker News and Reddit

Reddit is currently the most popular search engine. The only people who don’t know that are the team at Reddit, who can’t be bothered to build a decent search interface. So instead we resort to using Google, and appending the word “reddit” to the end of our queries.

Paul Graham thinks this image means Reddit as a social media site “still hasn’t peaked”. What it actually means is that the amount of people using Reddit as a search engine is growing.

Why are people searching Reddit specifically? The short answer is that Google search results are clearly dying. The long answer is that most of the web has become too inauthentic to trust.

Google Search Is Dying (DKB) |  Read more:
Image: Google Trends via www.chartr.com via Twitter
[ed. Everything is getting quantitatively worse as a result of ad-based algorithms. Here are a couple of other random examples: Scams are showing up at the top of online searches (here-WP); and, The mermaid is taking over Google search in Norway (here-Alexskra). Also, it's not just search, here's a laugh from this HN thread:

BTW, amazon.com is in my opinion even more infuriating. I just searched for "Odense Marzipan" (which is a 100+ years old brand serving the royal danish court) and they show me pictures of gamepads made out of chocolate along with a note: Your search "odense marzipan" was automatically translated into "odicht marzipan".

Then searching for "odicht" out of curiousity, they auto-correct it to "olight". So I start with almond-based sugar sweets, follow their auto-correct twice and now I'm staring at headlamps. And even Google has no idea what "odicht" might have been, so I really wonder how Amazon decided to auto-correct from an existing product into a non-word.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Search for Intelligent Life Is About to Get a Lot More Interesting

Our technology creates an intriguing mess. Lights blaze, and heat islands glow in paved-over urban areas. Atmospheric gases ebb and flow — evident today not only in rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, but also in clouds of floating industrial byproducts. Sometimes there are radiation leaks. And all the while, billions of gadgets and antennas cast off a buzzing, planetary swarm of electromagnetic transmissions.

Would other planets’ civilizations be like ours? Would they create the same telltale chemical and electromagnetic signs — what scientists have recently begun calling technosignatures — that Galileo detected? The search for intelligence beyond Earth has long been defined by an assumption that extraterrestrials would have developed radio technologies akin to what humans have created. In some early academic papers on the topic, dating to the late 1950s, scientists even posited that these extraterrestrials might be interested in chatting with us. “That played into this whole idea of aliens as salvation — you know, aliens were going to teach us things,” Adam Frank, an astrophysicist at the University of Rochester, told me recently. Frank points out that the search for signals from deep space has, over time, become more agnostic: Rather than looking for direct calls to Earth, telescopes now sweep the sky, searching billions of frequencies simultaneously, for electronic signals whose origins can’t be explained by celestial phenomena. At the same time, the search for intelligent life has turned in a novel direction.

In 2018, Frank attended a meeting in Houston whose focus was technosignatures. The goal was to get the 60 researchers in attendance to think about defining a new scientific field that, with NASA’s help, would seek out signs of technology on distant worlds, like atmospheric pollution, to take just one example. “That meeting in Houston was the dawn of the new era, at least as I saw it,” Frank recalls. NASA has a long history of staying out of the extraterrestrial business. “Everybody was sort of there with wide eyes — like, ‘Oh, my God, is this really happening?’”

The result, at least for Frank, has been a new direction for his work, as well as some money to fund it. He and a few astronomy colleagues around the country formed the group Categorizing Atmospheric Technosignatures, or CATS, which NASA has since awarded nearly $1 million in grants. The ambition for CATS is to create a “library” of possible technosignatures. In short, Frank and his colleagues are researching what could constitute evidence that technological civilization exists on other planets. At this stage, Frank stresses, his team’s work is not about communicating with aliens; nor is it meant to contribute to research on extraterrestrial radio transmissions. They are instead thinking mainly about the atmospheres of distant worlds, and what those might tell us. “The civilization will just be doing whatever it’s doing, and we’re making no assumptions about whether anybody wants to communicate or doesn’t want to communicate,” he says.

This line of inquiry might not have been productive just a few years ago. But several advances have made the search for technosignatures feasible. The first, thanks to new telescopes and astronomical techniques, is the identification of planets orbiting distant stars. As of August, NASA’s confirmed tally of such exoplanets was 5,084, and the number tends to grow by several hundred a year. “Pretty much every star you see in the night sky has a planet around it, if not a family of planets,” Frank says; he notes that this realization has only taken hold in the past decade or so. Because there are probably at least 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe, the potential candidates for life — as well as for civilizations that possess technology — may involve numbers almost too large to imagine. Perhaps more important, our tools keep getting better. This summer, the first pictures from the new James Webb Space Telescope were released. But several other powerful ground- and space-based instruments are being developed that will allow us to view exceedingly distant objects for the first time or view previously identified objects in novel ways. “With things like J.W.S.T. and some of the other telescopes, we’re beginning to be able to probe atmospheres looking for much smaller signals,” Michael New, a NASA research official who attended the 2018 Houston conference, told me. “And this is something we just couldn’t have done before.”

As Frank puts it, more bluntly: “The point is, after 2,500 years of people yelling at each other over life in the universe, in the next 10, 20 and 30 years we will actually get data.”

In July, when NASA released the first batch of images from the Webb telescope, we could glimpse remote corners of the universe with newfound clarity and beauty — a panorama of “cosmic cliffs,” 24 trillion miles tall, constructed from gas and dust, for instance. The images were stunning but also bewildering; they defied description. What could we even compare them to? Webb was reaching farther in distance and into the past than any telescope before it, collecting light from stars that in some cases required more than 13 billion years to reach us. We will need to acclimate ourselves to the task of constantly looking at — and interpreting — things we’ve never seen before.

The Webb telescope can look near as well as far. During its first year, about 7 percent of its time will be spent observing our own solar system, according to Heidi B. Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist who worked on the telescope’s development. Webb can analyze the atmospheres of nearby planets like Jupiter and Mars using its infrared sensors. These capabilities can also be directed at some of the closest Earth-size exoplanets, like those surrounding the small Trappist-1 star, 40 light-years away.

One goal of that focus is to discern a biosignature — that is, an indication that life exists (or has existed) on those worlds. On Earth, a biosignature might be the discarded shell of a clam, the fallen feather of a bird, a fossilized fern embedded in sedimentary rock. On an exoplanet, it might be a certain ratio of gases — oxygen, methane, H₂O and CO₂, say — that suggest the presence of microbes or plants. Nikole Lewis, an associate professor of astronomy at Cornell University whose team has been approved for 22.5 hours of Webb observation time this year to look at Trappist-1e, one of seven planets circling the Trappist-1 star, told me that well before declaring the discovery of a biosignature, she would have to carefully determine the planet’s atmosphere and potential habitability. “First, we have to find out if there’s air,” she says, “and then we can ask, ‘OK, what’s in the air?’” She estimates that it would take three or more years of observing a system to be able to say there’s a biosignature.

Biosignatures and technosignatures point the same way: toward life. But for now, they are being pursued by two separate scientific communities. One reason is historical: The study of biosignatures — which began in the 1960s, within the new discipline of exobiology — has been receiving support from NASA and academic institutions for decades. But “technosignature” was coined only recently, in 2007, by Jill Tarter, a pioneering figure in astronomy who has spent her career conducting searches for alien transmissions. Jason Wright, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State who is a member of Frank’s CATS group, says he thinks of Tarter’s idea as a “rebranding” of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, which has long been relegated to the scientific fringe. “When Jill coined the phrase,” Wright told me, “she was trying to emphasize that NASA was looking for microbes and slime and atmospheric biosignatures, but technosignatures were really under the same umbrella.” Any search for biosignatures on a distant planet, Wright contends, would logically overlap the search for technosignatures, once it became time to explain unusual observations. Does a telescopic reading suggest a life-sustaining atmosphere? Or is it possibly a sign of technology, too? Scientists looking for biosignatures, in other words, may encounter marks of technology as well.

by Jon Gertner, NY Times | Read more:
Image: Somnath Bhatt

We Have Reached Peak ‘Mental Health’

A few months ago I received a referral for a new patient with a history of depression who’d made a serious suicide attempt. Perhaps unsure how to describe these episodes, the referring clinician wrote vaguely that the person had a “history of mental health.”

Ordinarily, the word “health” implies an absence of illness. That is no longer how the term “mental health” gets used. The idea of mental illness, or mental disorder — both terms that have been subjected to their own intractable debates — has come to be supplanted by a broader umbrella notion, “mental health,” which somehow, confusingly, gets used to refer to states of both wellness and distress. Some awareness campaigners have even adopted the slogan “We all have mental health,” which seems on the face of it to be a stigma-busting, solidarity-building mantra. On closer examination, however, it manages a double exclusion. It fails to actually name any mental health problems — those about which we ought to be raising awareness — and it also makes a claim that is sadly untrue; there are many people who, at least some of the time, do not have mental health. (...)

The term “mental health” is a euphemism, and euphemisms are what we use when we want to obscure something. This language — in contrast to “mental illness” — encourages us to focus on the regulation of more or less transient states, and on the maintenance of something we supposedly all have. “Mental health” conjures phenomena that are, more or less, relatable: anxiety and depression. But who is being excluded as a result? The change in language was supposed to address stigma. But it has simply moved our attention away from the very people who face the most stigma — those with diagnoses of schizophrenia, for example, or symptoms that do not allow ready participation in the mental health curriculum.

This shift also cuts in another direction. An emphasis on health and equilibrium, with accompanying “advice” and “techniques” for self-regulation, has resulted in the term “mental health” undergoing a kind of mission creep: from providing increased awareness of specific difficulties to offering a broad set of prescriptions about how we should live.

by Huw Green, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Tyler Comrie. Photographs from Getty Images
[ed. For a good example, see also: US adults should get routine anxiety screening, panel says (AP):  "U.S. doctors should regularly screen all adults under 65 for anxiety, an influential health guidelines group proposed Tuesday.

It’s the first time the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended anxiety screening in primary care for adults without symptoms. (...). [ed. but...] finding mental health care can be difficult given shortages of specialists."]

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers


[ed. The climate change song.]

Unpredictable Reward, Predictable Happiness

[Epistemic status: very conjectural. I am not a neuroscientist and they should feel free to tell me if any of this is totally wrong.]
I.
Seen on the subreddit: You Seek Serotonin, But Dopamine Can’t Deliver. Commenters correctly ripped apart its neuroscience; for one thing, there’s no evidence people actually “seek serotonin”, or that serotonin is involved in good mood at all. Sure, it seems to have some antidepressant effects, but these are weak and probably far downstream; even though SSRIs increase serotonin within hours, they take weeks to improve mood. Maxing out serotonin levels mostly seems to cause a blunted state where patients can’t feel anything at all.

In contrast, the popular conception of dopamine isn’t that far off. It does seem to play some kind of role in drive/reinforcement/craving, although it also does many, many other things. And something like the article’s point - going after dopamine is easy but ultimately unsatisfying - is something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Any neuroscience article will tell you that the “reward center” of the brain - the nucleus accumbens - monitors actual reward minus predicted reward. Or to be even more finicky, currently predicted reward minus previously predicted reward. Imagine that on January 1, you hear that you won $1 billion in the lottery. It’s a reputable lottery, they’re definitely not joking, and they always pay up. They tell you that it’ll take a month for them to get the money in your account, and you should expect it February 1. You’re going to be really busy the whole month of February, so you decide not to start spending until March 1. What happens?

My guess is: January 1, when you first hear you won, is the best day of your life. February 1, when the money arrives in your account, is nice but not anywhere near as good. March 1, when you start spending the money, is pretty great because you go do lots of fun things.

However good you predicted your life would be last year, you make a big update January 1 when you hear you won the lottery. Nothing good has happened yet: you don’t have money and you’re not buying fancy things. But your predictions about your future levels of those things shoot way up, which corresponds to happiness and excitement. In contrast, on February 1 you have $1 billion more than on January 31, but because you predicted it would happen, it’s not that big a mood boost.

What about March 1? Suppose you do a few specific things - you buy a Ferrari, drive it around, and eat dinner in the fanciest restaurant in town. Do you enjoy these things? Presumably yes. Why? You knew all throughout February that you were planning to get a Ferrari and a fancy dinner today. And you knew that Ferraris and fancy dinners were pleasant; otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten them. So how come predicting you would get the money mostly cancels out the goodness of getting the money, but predicting you would get the Ferrari/dinner doesn’t cancel out the goodness of the Ferrari/dinner?

Or: suppose that every year I ate cake on my birthday. This is very predictable. But I would expect to still enjoy the cake. Why?

It seems like maybe there are two types of happiness: happiness that is cancelled out by predictability, and happiness that isn’t.

by Scott Alexander, Astral Codex Ten |  Read more:
[ed. Further: 

"Here’s some advice for aspiring psychiatrists: never tell your patient “yeah, seems like you’re cursed to be perpetually unhappy”.

The closest I’ve ever come to violating that advice was with a patient who came in for trouble with (I’m randomizing their gender; it landed on male) his girlfriend.

He described his girlfriend in a way that made it clear she was abusive, emotionally manipulative, and had a bunch of completely-untreated psychiatric issues. He was well aware of all of this. He had tried breaking up with her a few times. Each time, all of his own issues went away, and his life was great. Then, each time, he got back together with her. So we did some therapy together for a while, tried to figure out why, and all I could ever get out of him was that she was more “exciting”. It was something about knowing that on any given day, she might either adore him or try to kill him. With every other partner he’d tried, it was either one or the other. With her it was some kind of perverse exactly-50-50 probability, and he was addicted to it."

[ed. Damn... I can relate to that].

Bill Kirchen

[ed. Telecaster Master. All the styles and hits, starting at 2:30.]