Posts from December 2022
It’s been oddly foggy in the last two days and the result is hoar frost like I’ve never seen before!
As he stepped out of the elevator, walked across the lobby, and out into the midday sunlight, he found himself truly realizing: this was it. Twenty-two years and this was his #last day.
Approaching the idling car, he leaned down and grinned at his wife through the passenger side window. As he opened the door and sat down she turned to him. “So, you ready?”
He laughed, feeling an unseen weight slipping away. “Oh yeah. I’m ready.”
Approaching the headwall he saw the feature which gave this hike its name: the entrance to a massive crack in the stone.
Entering the #crevice he saw a band of blue sky above, a rill of water trickling past his feet below.
This place was its own world, of cool water and moss and granite. He watched as a dragonfly flitted past. “Hello!” he shouted, listening to his voice echo off the sheer walls.
“Hello!” a voice answered back. A voice not his own.
He knew that experienced divers moved with #minimal effort, allowing them to burn their air more slowly and extend their dives. But on his first trip down he quickly learned that theory and reality were very different things.
As he added more air to his BCD, trying to arrest his descent, he looked over to see an enormous sea turtle gliding past. Astonished, he watched in wonder, his heart rate and breathing slowing as the world paused around him.
As he looked at the confused crowd before him, he knew he’d need to #repeat the instructions. Not that he was surprised. His students rarely got it on the first try.
He restarted the song on his phone.
“Alright,” he began, the first notes of “Fishin’ in the Dark” filling their air, “you tap your right heel twice, then your right toe twice. Then tap your heel, tap to the right, then your toe, and then…”
He examined his fingertips, the faint remains of calluses a #vestige of his long love of music. He couldn’t remember making a decision to stop playing. Yet somehow days between practice turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and before long he’d just… stopped.
He lifted his old guitar out of its case, the sweet scent of spruce filling the air. As he played a chord, the bite of the strings both painful and familiar, he couldn’t help but smile.
She opened the book and picked another question. “Alright,” she said, looking up at her husband, “What do I want my life to look like in five years?”
His husband paused. “You know, I really don’t know,” he replied.
“Well,” she said, “I want to create a new technology, become enormously influential, a hero to the people, an #icon, a beacon of the future.”
“Huh,” he replied. “I was gonna say we’d finally gone to Australia.”
The idea of privacy as a modern form of inequality has been rattling around in my head for a while, now, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts, particularly in light of the recent rise of Mastodon.
Typically, when people talk about inequality, they are focused on the obvious forms of socioeconomic inequality that result in advantages being conferred to some groups and withheld from others. The most obvious example is economic inequality–the recognition that economic benefits accrue primarily to the wealthy. But there’s a wide range of other forms of inequality out there, most of which are incredibly old and are structural in nature. For example, zoning laws frequently allow polluting industries to be built up next to minority communities, resulting in increasing environmental inequality. Jobs occupied by those lower on the economic ladder are more likely to be subject to unsafe workplaces, resulting in health inequality. And these same communities are the least likely to have the political and economic power to change these circumstances, an example of political inequality.
In the world of software and technology, we’ve seen the rise of surveillance capitalism, defined as the “widespread collection and commodification of personal data by corporations.” In this new world, individuals are, either unknowingly or voluntarily, subject to vast data collection operations which scoop up, collect, and connect these datasets. These datasets are then fed into systems designed to derive additional data about individuals–data about their economical and political interests, personal relationships, consumption patterns, and so forth.
Today, these massive apparatus are then used to deliver hyper-targeted messages intended to influence purchasing decisions, voting decisions, and so forth (though just how effective these techniques are is the subject of significant debate).
However, the uses of these data are vast, and they’ll soon be used (and in some cases are already being used) to influence things like hiring decisions, insurances rates, loan approvals, and so forth. The result is that one poor choice, one incorrectly interpreted data point, one broken or biased algorithm, could result in individuals being denied access to critical social and economic infrastructure.
Until and unless governments catch up, these trends will only continue. That means individuals have to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, protecting ones privacy requires knowledge, skills, and resources that are often the domain of a select few. As a result, privacy itself is increasingly becoming a mark of privilege.Continue reading...
“It’s #Christmas, Theo,” Hans replied with his characteristic confidence, “It’s the time of miracles. So be of good cheer and call me when you hit the last lock.”
Theo turned back to the terminal. “This job would be a lot easier if that asshole actually told us the plan,” he said to the glowing screen.
Oh well. He just had to crack this safe. Then, go grab the ambulance they’d use for their escape and they’d be home free.
What could go wrong?
He always got nervous on the #eve of a launch. Thirty trips to orbit, a dozen to the moon, and still he got nervous. Yet this felt different.
He read the mission brief again, rehearsing each beat. Launch to orbit, boost to the moon, rendezvous with the Ancile, then a nine month trip to Mars.
His phone lit up with a notification. “How you doing?” Jess texted. His mission partner was always checking in.
He hesitated. Then he lied.
“‘The comedian’s japes and jests filled the jocular crowd with great #mirth.’” the editor read aloud, pointing at the offending paragraph of the draft review.
“Yes,” the junior reporter replied, a confused look on his face. “I’m sorry sir, I don’t understand the issue.”
“Are you a time traveller from the 1800s?”
The reporter paused, shifting uncomfortably.
The last few months have me thinking a lot about technology, disruption, and the metaphor Chesterton’s Fence, or why you need to think about systems before reforming them.
Back in 1929, G. K. Chesterton, an English writer and philosopher, described what is now known as Chesterton’s Fence, a metaphor about reforming systems:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’
In the context of his writings, G. K. Chesterton was using this as an argument in favour of certain socially conservative views (hence the title of the essay “The Drift from Domesticity”). But the core principle–that it’s important to understand systems before you change them–is far more broadly applicable (and apolitical!), and is something that I think the technology industry would be wise to adopt.Continue reading...
“So, how much further to camp?” he asked as he gently removed his boot, his ankle already clearly swollen.
“About 10k,” his friend replied, inspecting the ankle before wrapping it in a tensor #bandage. “Given it’s all downhill, normally around two hours. But with this injury? My guess is at least four.”
“So we’ll be setting up in the dark. Great.”
It was at that moment that they felt the first few drops of rain start to fall.
Standing before the microphone he knew he was facing #imminent disaster. When the first bars began his grip on the microphone tightened, a bead of sweat forming on his brow. Looking at the screen he saw a portent of his pending doom, a bouncing ball as cheerful as it was terrifying.
Before he knew it the moment was upon him and unbidden the words came: “You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life…”
As her fingers moved across the keys, the intricate melody filling the concert hall, she knew this performance was special, her fingers flowing instinctively, their motions smooth, precise, #flawless. When she reached the end of the piece, the last note lingering in the air, she leaned back, taking a deep breath, her eyes closed. For a moment the audience paused, stunned, before surging to their feet, transported by the magic they had witnessed.
A statement of intent about Blogmas 2022.
So looking back, once again I see a sad dearth of long-form posts here in this little backwater part of the Internet. In fact, sadly, the last “real” post I wrote was my review for Circe back in late November!
Now, that’s not to say I haven’t written a fair bit. Most recently my blog has turned into a collection microfiction posts thanks to my discovering the MastoPrompt hashtag on Mastodon.
But, just like last year, I’m once again taking an extended break over Christmas–this time two weeks plus a week of skiing!–and I wanted to use some of that time to do a little writing. And given this is the second year in a row, I’m now formally declaring the yearly tradition of Blogmas around here!
Last year I wrote a whole series of posts around the various systems and institutions that we previously took for granted, and that COVID so seriously disrupted that we could no longer ignore them. This year I’m not going to claim to have quite the same thematic through-line, but I expect I’ll revisit some of those past topics a year later. In particular, going back to revisit topics like misinformation and inflation seem worth doing given the events of the past year.
In addition, recent news in the worlds of crypto and Twitter have me thinking more and more about Chesterton’s Fence and the dark sides of disrupting the status quo, and I’d like to explore that topic a bit.
Beyond that, I might finally dip my toe into writing a bit about my profession, an area I’ve traditionally stayed away from. This past year we’ve had to really lean into remote work, and that has significantly changed the way I do my job, particularly where people management is concerned, and that feels like fertile ground for exploration.
So that’s it. That’s the plan. And I have thirteen days to do it! We’ll see how far I get between naps, Christmas movies, and playing games on the Steam Deck…
Stepping to the edge of the diving platform he felt a sudden #surge of adrenaline. He was surprised how much higher it looked up here than it did from the pool deck.
“You can do it, son!” his dad yelled from below, an encouraging smile on his face.
He felt his heart pounding, his palms sweating, his vision narrowing.
He looked down one more time, then stepped back from the edge.
He took a deep breath.
They felt the press of acceleration as the rocket engines, a cluster of metallic grey #bells visible on their monitor, began belching fire into the cosmos. She sighed and turned to her partner. “So, we still on for pizza and margaritas when we get back?”
“You’re damn right!” he replied, grinning with excitement. “After three years on Mars I am in desperate need of melted cheese and…”
At that moment they felt the ship lurch beneath them.
“So wanna hear something weird?” he said, taking off his jacket. “I just ran into #JohnMastodon on the way into Walmart. He was standing there greeting people and handing out cupcakes.”
His wife looked up from her crossword. “No kidding!” she said. “I heard he was downtown yesterday giving out free hugs. Apparently he emits the subtle odor of vanilla and clove.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I heard the same thing. Truly we don’t deserve him.”
“I’m telling you,” Paul said, his eyes following the goldfish as she circled the bowl, “she knows her #name. I’m sure of it.”
“Oh come on,” Greg replied, “how would you even know?”
“Lucille,” Paul said, waving at the glass, “hey, Lucille!”
Years later, and after a few drinks, Greg would swear that goldfish tilted its body and, with a flick of its little fin, waved right back.
“Holy shit,” he said, astonished. “We gotta tell Rich about this!”
Rich, resident conspiracy theorist, was surprisingly respectable, his closely trimmed beard and precisely styled hair giving him the air of a moderately successful realtor. “Levitation, huh?” he said.
“Yeah, like I said on the phone, a full three inches!” He could feel his friend leaning in.
“Two and a half,” she corrected.
“I’m just rounding to the nearest #inch!”
As his feet left the floor Rich leaned back, his face #neutral. “I’ve seen better.”
By some miracle the physicist kept his face carefully #neutral. “Bitcoin?” he replied.
“Yeah!” the investor said, grinning with an energy that could only be described as manic. “Bitcoin! This ‘fusion’ thing could be huge for our crypto portfolio. We used to just fire up old coal plants, but the damn government put a stop to that.”
“Wow,” the physicist replied, beginning to question his life choices. “That’s, uh, too bad.”
“The Green Mile,” he replied. “Now that movie is #cathartic. Hits me in all the feels. So what about you?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” his friend said, “The Wrath of Khan.”
“Wait,” he replied, incredulous. “Like, Star Trek?”
“Yeah man. That ending? ‘I have been and shall always been your friend’? Dude, I bawl every time.”
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Alright, let’s watch that!”
When he heard the scraping he knew it had happened again. “Damn it,” he muttered, a sinking feeling in his chest. “Doug is shoveling our walk again, isn’t he?”
His wife pushed a curtain aside. “He’s just trying to be nice,” she replied, watching their neighbour work.
“But now I have to #reciprocate!’ he said, throwing up his hands. “We can’t be in shovel debt, honey!”
She looked at her husband. “What broke you?”
He turned to her. “I wish I knew!”
The snowflake could feel the wind speed pick up as it fell, it’s excitement rising with every gust. “Oh wow this is amazing!” the snowflake said to a nearby flake as they swirled and danced together.
“This isn’t even the best part!” the other flake replied as an updraft caught them, carrying them over the #cozy houses below. “Once this #blizzard really gets going and those wind gusts pick up, it’s gonna be great!”
Replacing the tea #cozy, he took a sip of steaming oolong and smiled as his daughter scrutinized the board, the white and black stones forming an intricate pattern between them. The game was a close one, far closer than any they’d played yet, and it was now down to one last life and death problem. When she confidently smacked her stone down on the board his smile opened into a grin. “I resign.”
“Now,” he said, pushing his glasses up his nose, “having filled out form 15 stroke D you can head to the office on the third floor to fill out a form requesting a project manager be assigned.”
“Alright, and then we can get started?” she asked, exasperated, the #capricious corporate bureaucracy slowly chipping away at her remaining humanity.
“That depends on a number factors. Here, let me show you the flow chart.”
“A #frozen margarita,” he said with a sigh.
“Really?” she replied, “that’s it? That’s what you’d pick?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice wistful. “A nice lime margarita. Mezcal. Smoked salt on the rim.” He pushed his shovel into the red soil.
“Shit. Now I want one!” she replied. She looked up at Phobos passing overhead, just visible in the Martian dusk. “Alright, when we get back to Earth, we’re having pepperoni pizza and margaritas.”
“No! Quit looking at me like that!” he said, refusing to make eye contact. He could feel her gaze on him.
“It won’t work. I’m #immune to your little tricks.”
She continued to stare at him with those big eyes, a plaintive look on her face.
Minutes went by.
“Fine,” he finally said, getting up and going to the treat cupboard. “But only one.”
She wagged her tail enthusiastically and followed him into the kitchen. How did she always win?
It seemed like a good idea when he’d first gotten off the lift. “Sure, let’s do that double black,” he said. “I think I’m ready.”
As they approached the edge of the first pitch he felt his self-confidence #plummeting. “Uh. I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” he said.
“It’ll be fine!” his girlfriend replied, flashing a huge grin. “You got this!”
He took a deep breath, feeling her infectious enthusiasm. “Alright. Screw it. Let’s go!”
Well, I’m doing it. I’m taking a full three weeks off over Christmas: two weeks of staycation and then a ski trip first week of January. If I do it right that’ll mean time to hack on jekyll-webmention_io, do a bit of writing, play with my Steam Deck until my thumbs stop working, and then ski until I fall down. It will be glorious!
They stood before an enormous wall of steel, pipes, and cladding made of exotic materials, the machine a culmination of decades of research representing the absolute pinnacle of human knowledge.
“What you’re looking at,” the physicist said, barely containing his excitement, “is the first example of break-even #artificial nuclear fusion.”
“Incredible!” replied the investor. “And how many Bitcoin did you say we could mine with this?”
So for anyone following me, you should be aware that I hope to do the MastoPrompt every day in December, which means your timelines will be occupied by bad microfiction inspired by the prompt word of the day. You have been warned! Or… inspired…?
He stared at the screen, fingers poised over the keyboard, waiting for a #stroke of inspiration. Writer’s block. It had been a while. But here it was, that old familiar friend, the kind that you can lose touch with for years and then pick up right where you left off.
Maybe if he tried something different. “You know,” he thought, “I’ve never broken the fourth wall.”
At that very moment he was overcome by the feeling of being watched…
“Me? Nothing new. Still living the dream. Same job as before. Yeah, marketing stuff. And I’m still writing. Well, trying to. Uh, and I grew a mustache and shaved it off. Too much grooming. Look, I’ll level with you—absolutely nothing is going on with me, and I couldn’t be happier.”
“So you say you can levitate by sheer force of will?” the man asked, the editor of a local conspiracy theory newsletter.
“That’s right. A full three inches!”
“Two,” his friend corrected. “You gotta stop embellishing things.”
He waved her back.
“Alright, come down and we’ll test the #veracity of your claims.”
“Great!” he replied, hanging up and turning to his friend. “Alright, let’s go! But first, where’s my measuring tape…”
He gently brushed the dirt away from the new find, an Egyptian cosmetic #palette, perfectly preserved, its face adorned in delicate carvings.
“Beautiful,” he muttered to himself, already thinking of the paper he would write about the piece.
Until, that is, a man with a hat and a whip came charging through his dig site, gunfire following in his wake.
“My mom was right,” he thought, “I should’ve become a dentist.”
The sheet of paper lay before her, an infinity of possibilities. She made the first fold, aligning point to point, the crease #crisp, precise. Working, her hands traveled through valleys and over mountains, her mind calm, focused.
Done, she leaned back, sighing, only to be startled by the sound of chirping! Looking down, she gaped as her little sparrow took flight, vanishing through an open window.
Smiling, she reached for a fresh sheet of paper.
So I think (hope) I’ve got image captions working on my blog. To prove it, a little something from our trip to Newfoundland, Spillar’s Cove to be exact.