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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


ai, meta, curiousity

More things that I’ve noticed about integrating LLMs into my workflow:

I also spent some time today catching up on that last piece of hype, Meta’s VR bid. I don’t like to dismiss anyone’s work, but it’s strange how Meta has been shifting tone from Oculus’s gaming vibe to something more … generic? Flat enterprise? People poke fun at Mark Zuckerberg’s avatar, but honestly it’s really hard not to look like cyberzuck in the new environment. It’s just got this very bland feel to it. Also, the rough edges from the old Oculus Quest software still seem to pervade the whole platform, but without the wow factor to drive it. It was kind of fun to mess around trying to get your hands to work on the Quest. In this new world, I mostly spend my time trying to link user accounts and clicking on privacy options. I feel like I’m moving slow over broken things.

(350 words)


zero to sum

Sad about the District Court decision in Hachette vs. Internet Archive; not just because of the ruling against the Archive, but because of many people’s reaction to it online. People have strange intuitions, not just about the status of the law, but also of how it progresses. There’s some tut-tutting that an august institution like the Archive should be wandering this close to the spirit of the law, instead of playing safe.

But the Archive wouldn’t exist if it was playing safe: if you ever wonder why there is only one of them (and there should be thousands of them), the idea of just going out into the Web, and recording everything, is not playing it safe. Of course, nobody thinks that now, because we live in a world that is erected on the edifice of freely available search-engines, and a presumed right for us all to take data from the Net, and use it for many different things. But that is not the model that sit in the heart of a maximalist IP theory — or indeed, most jurisdictions that don’t allow for ad hoc exemptions and limitations to copyright. Under that model, everything is copyrighted, the moment it is fixed, and you don’t get to see it, or touch it, digitally, without negotiating a contract with the rightsholder.

That’s such a violently different world from the physically-bound, pre-digital world of copyright. I don’t need to contract with anyone to read a physical book; I don’t need to beg permission to lend someone else that knowledge.

Now, I know that alternative model of digital copyright seems to be also at odds with reality to many: that we can make as many copies as we want of non-physical data, give them to everybody, at zero cost, by default, and to stop that from happening, we must adopt a set of encumbrances that seem barely capable to stem that flow. But really, these are the limits of intellectual property as a model for either providing income, or effectively restricting the supply of knowledge

So we have a choice: it’s unclear what the middle-ground is, and whether there is a middle-ground at all. I used to think that this was the nature of digital technology — that there was no clear perimeters to how much copying, or how much transformation or derivation was tolerable, and that because of that, we’d live in an increasingly enforcement-heavy world, as one side attempted to draw a line in the sand, even as the sand shifted and writhed underneath them. To throw out another metaphor: that the punishments and locking-down would escalate, like the impossibility of making real advances in World War I led to a tragic no-man’s land. People would copy for zero cost on their do-anything-machines, so lawmakers and rightsholders would increase the fines, and lock down the machines by force of law.

I still think this is a fair outline, but I’m beginning to think maybe intellectual property was always like this. Fixing ideas onto a scarcity-based economic model, like nailing jelly to a wall.

What makes me sad, though, is even as the copyright maximalists attempt to create a government-enforced property system out of metaphors and thin air, people who claim to want justice, join forces with them. Or not so much justice, but fairness.

I talked a little about this with Nathan Schneider today in The Decentralists, my interview thing that will soon be a podcast. Nathan noted that some people benefit unduly from public goods — in his example, venture capitalists extracting value from open source — and if we wanted to have a fair system, then we needed to work out a way to stop this.

I don’t think that way at all: in many ways, public goods are always going to have free riders, freeloaders, pirates and exploiters. That’s why they’re public goods! We can’t exclude people from benefiting from them. But that doesn’t mean we need to work out how to fence them away and ration their benefits, based on who gets them. What we need to do is to work out how to free-riding from undermining the commons itself.

We are, as a species, peculiarly sensitive to cheats and slackards: it inspires our most immediate and profound sense of ire. It’s amazing how much brain matter we silently attend to calculating who has done what in our social circle, and how many fights start from disagreements about that assessment.

The positive version of that is that it inspires in us a desire for justice, and for equity. The negative side is that it breaks our brains when we have resources that everyone can keep taking from, without reducing the total amount.

If you just decide to walk away from the idea that free-riders must be punished in a digital space, you often get so much more done. One of the ways that the Internet beat every other digital networking project is that the rest of them were bogged down in working out who owed whom: protocols and interoperabilty foundered because so much of it was spent meticulously accounting for every bit. Same with the Web. It just got hand-waved away.

I think that some of the worse ramifications of the modern digital space is because of that hand-waving (the vacuum got filled by advertising, most notably), but it certainly wasn’t all bad. And, most importantly, ignoring who was free-riding on who did not immediately kill the service, as it collapsed under the weight of parasites. It turned out that, in many cases, you could still manage to maintain and create a service that was better than any pre-emptively cautious, accounting-based system, even when it had to deal with spammers or pirates or those too poor to theoretically justify their access to the world’s most precious information under any less generous model.

I think you can construct justice and equity as an exercise in carefully balancing the patterns of growth: those worse off get the benefit, those already well-off don’t get to fence it away from the rest. What I don’t see as useful is to zero-sum everything, just to make the calculation tractable. If you can work out a way to make everybody better off, we should allow it, without trying to judge whether those who benefit are worthy. The Internet Archive, clearly, makes everybody better off, in almost every axis. And it did that, even in a world where many such things are seen as too risky or destabilising to be considered.

(1000 words)


On Stable Diffusion

A good friend made a Facebook post saying

“Sadly it turns out that the latest AI photo app y’awl using to look hot and sexy is built off the back of a training set full of work stolen from artists without payment.

How disappointing.

We sorted this shit years ago with Creative Commons licensing. It’s not hard to get right. #paytheartists”

It led to a heated debate! Here’s (with some few modifications) how I replied, which was sufficiently long that I felt I should pluck it out of the Facebookosphere, and settle it here:

I understand that people worry that large models built on publicly-available data are basically corporations reselling the Web back to us, but out of all the examples to draw upon to make that point, Stable Diffusion isn’t the best. It’s one of the first examples of a model whose weights are open, and free to reproduce, modify and share: . Like many people here in the comments, you can download it, inspect it, run it locally, and share it. You need a GPU to run it at a reasonable speed, which makes it a little pricey to run. The cost of building these models is very pricey — around $600,000 or so, which means that there’s currently a power differential between large corporations who can afford to speculatively build and experiment with these models, and the rest of us. But the knowledge of how to do it is built on open science, and a number of orgs are doing it truly in the open — for example, . All of these things, as ever, will get cheaper, and spread in use and experimentation.

Most importantly, the tool itself is just data; SD 1.0 was about 4.2GiB of floating-point numbers, I believe (taken from ). I’m currently using (literally, right now!) another open model, Whisper, which is 3GiB, and allows me to convert most spoken audio into text, and even translate it. I use it to, securely and privately, transcribe what I’m saying to myself through the day. I expect it will be encoded into hardware at some point very soon, so we will have open hardware that can do the kind of voice to text that you otherwise have to hand over to Google, Amazon, and co.

The ability to learn, condense knowledge, come to new conclusions, and empower people with that new knowledge, is what we do with the shared commonwealth of our creations every day. Copyright has not always been a feature of that process, but in many ways, it’s been an efficient adjunct to it: a way to compensate creators by taking a chunk from the costly act of copying itself. It’s a terrible fit to the modern digital world, though, just because that act of making a copy is now practically zero. Attempts to update it, have unfortunately revolved around trying to recreate the physical limits of previous copying equipment, and bolt it onto a system where that’s not where the revenue comes from.

It’s always been hard to stop these temporary monopolies from impeding the open commons that they all draw from, especially after we built a automatic copyright system post the Berne Convention, where everything was maximally locked down by default. That’s why Creative Commons was invented — because without that work, it was costly and near impossible to grant back to the commons, with legal certainty, the way that the commons could exist by default before the 1970s.

Again, I understand if people are worried that, say, Google is going to build tools that only they use to extract money from our shared heritage. But the problem isn’t that those tools should be illegal, and that anyone building or using them (like me, like EleutherAI, like any one following the instructions spelled out by the increasing, accelerating field of machine learning, and drawing on the things around them). It’s that the tools should be free, and open, and usable by everyone. Artists should get paid; and they shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of building on our common heritage. They should be empowered to create amazing works from new tools, just as they did with the camera, the television, the sampler and the VHS recorder, the printer, the photocopier, Photoshop, and the Internet. A 4.2GiB file isn’t a heist of every single artwork on the Internet, and those who think it is are the ones undervaluing their own contributions and creativity. It’s an amazing summary of what we know about art, and everyone should be able to use it to learn, grow, and create.


o’brain worms

I guess it’s appropriate that we can’t agree on what the brain worms metaphor’s original vehicle actually is. In his description of the Internet culture term, Max Read claims, reasonably, that the originals are maybe like tapeworms or toxoplasma. But I always think about the Ceti Eel in Wrath of Khan (but then, I’m always thinking of Wrath of Khan, especially, these days, the imminent off-Broadway musical).

To be infested with a brain worm is to have become a one-note (or a cacophony of discordant notes) speaker. To have all your behaviors, at least online, collapse into one strident position. To shore up every exit from that position with every mental barricade. A mind trap.

I will insist that I’m right about the best analogy. Like the Ceti eel, the modern brain worm usually gets in via your ear (or Twitter feed). It “render[s] the victim extremely susceptible to suggestion,” as Khan notes: Chekov later confirms that “the creatures in our bodies… control our minds …made us say lies …do things”. Madness, then death follows. Metaphorical brain worms, with COVID and measles, can kill you nowadays. In happier times, you could get away with just agyria.

Brain worms certainly seemed to have grown more virulent, more vicious, recently. I worry about my proximity to them. As I’m hinting, I’m considering slinking into punditry again, and woah nelly, do brain worms seem to be an occupational hazard in those dark woods. I think I’ve lost more friends and acquaintances to brain worms than the pandemic. From 9/11 truthing, to whatever it is that’s slamming around Glenn’s cortex these days, from election-disbelievers to Russia-runs-it-allism.

Since I was a young man clutching the Loompanics catalog for the first time, I’ve actively explored strange new views; sought out new lies and new inclinations. But watching good people all around me just be consumed by an idea, possessed and ridden by these loa, trapped by an illusion that if they just moved one foot to the left or right, would dissolve away, has given me serious pause. If I open my mouth and speak my mind again, will the brain worms get in that way? Start polishing up my prejudices until they’re clean, consistent, and shiny, and one day find myself unable to drag my eyes away from their distorted mirror image?

Or you know, maybe the brain worms have already got me? Like most people who read books or say long words, I have a few brain worms that I keep as pets. They’re fun, they’re conversation pieces, and you can bring them out for people to coo at during parties. 

I’m still confident that if they turned rabid and started attacking my friends, I’d have the sense to put them down — the worms, not my friends, of course (oh no maybe they have already got me)?

My pet brain worms: the Internet (still with its capital letter); anarchism of a harmless, de-fanged kind; a litter of related ones bred from the same pedigree. These days, decentralization would be the obvious one, I guess. My friends and relatives, watching me wading in booty-shorts through the cryptocurrency swamp, worry, but I think that’s a little too obvious to snag me.

But, of course, nobody with a brain worm thinks they have brain worms. So how do you protect yourself? Alan Moore’s old trick was to tell his closest that they should retrieve him from whatever mindfuck he was pursuing, but only if he started becoming less productive. I’m not sure I want to take advice from Alan Moore on this matter, however, especially as I suspect a brain worm would make far more prolific, not less. I mean, this is why pundits have them — they’re superspreaders. A brain worm that doesn’t target pundits would not be a successful brain worm. Just ask Richard Dawkins: a man who, on some deep level, must know that the memes are now defining him, not the other way around.

Making hard-to-wriggle-out-of testable predictions — make your beliefs pay rent, as the origin of so many geek brain worms whispers to me from his wicked lair — would, I would hope, help ground me. But I need to avoid pattern-matching as I seek out those beliefs! Or else there’s a mountain of evidence awaiting me that supports my position! You just need to let me devote more time to finding it!

Ultimately, all I can assume is that the best practical guard against monsters is to make sure you’re not hurting anyone — or inspiring others to hurt themselves or others. No one deserves it, no matter what the worms say. It may make you a quieter, weaker source of thought: but tell the voices in your head that worms who prosper long term will be the ones who don’t kill their hosts.


Unwanted thoughts

You can hear in the background of this blog, like a creek at the end of a field, a constant wash of attitudes changing. Not much, to be honest, or not as much as I’d hope. At the end of college, a friend of mine was terrified of backing into just one role, ending up stuck in just one life. I, optimistic and insufferable, told her that I was looking forward to transforming into many different people, bouncing around the mental state-space as the world changed around me. The truth seems to be that you can steer between these two camps, and thank god. How we change is under some of our control, or it feels that way.

There’s certainly a lot of character pinballing around, with those slow Ron Paul->Bernie arcs being overtaken by Mises->Nazi, SomethingAwful->Tankie, PostModern->Mencius, KPop->Antifa, slam tilts. One constant that I see people in their forties and above refer to is the old pseudo-Churchillian (maybe Batbie? Maybe Burke? Probably anonymous Tory.) line: “If you are not a democrat/liberal/socialist at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35 you have no brain”, followed generally by a humblebrag that they’ve switched from being a liberal as a youth to being, in these present times, a flaming communist by thirty-five.

This one lands weirdly for me because, in some ways, being a Labor-left, unionizing, nationalizing, we’ll see the Red Flag flying here, type, is, within my messed-up internal political compass, actually pretty old school. I was raised on the Left. At that time, it felt like less of a political stance and more like a refugee movement. In the UK and US, that branch of the Left was summarily ejected from the electoral power it needed to execute its plans, and nobody seemed to have good ideas on how to get it back. Chernobyl and the collapse of the Soviet Union were, to that whole ideological space, what the 2008 recession was to free-market, free-trade fans — an undeniable, universally damaging unwinding of the best arguments for its dominance. Something like, “In the Nineties at twenty-five, if you weren’t seriously questioning socialism, you had no friends; if you were not spending some time considering the benefits of neoliberalism at 35, you probably had no job.” (Don’t write in, I know you met a lot of cool people at Red Wedge, I’m just trying to bend the quote to fit, dammit.)

Anyway, when I hang out these days with the youngsters quoting theory at each other, I am thrown backward, not forward in time. I got into Benjamin Franklin when I first came to America — a very 2000s thing to do, but also, obviously, pretty 1770s of me too. Eventually, I snapped out of it by thinking: I’m pretty sure Peak Nation-Building did not end in the late 18th century, and there may have been more advancements in political science by non-bewigged professionals since then.

On the other hand, I definitely would not have considered upgrading to Marx as much improvement. Partly because it would only have been a jump forward from the founding fathers by fifty years or so, but mostly because it would have felt like a shift backward for me personally, to 1979. It would have been an act of internal conservatism. 

I guess now, faced with new information, I should thrash ahead to a new neo-Marxist vision. Alas! I am not changing as quickly as I did. The lightcone of my character has been narrowing since my thirties. Back then, I would amuse myself by wondering what it would be like to be an aging hippy of the future. And here I am, as 90s as they were 60s: Eyes blurring with tears, I will, unprompted, relate how you can almost see, with the right eyes, the high-water mark on the Internet, where the decentralization revolution washed over the world, and then broke and fell back. Re-litigating long-dead arguments about SMTP and NNTP as much as I heard warmed-over fights about the SWP or SDS in my youth; thinking myself a radical who avoided the Churchill rails, but actually a conservative sitting athwart any progress.

But! There is a twist here, and I clutch onto it. The weird thing about the Left in the eighties was that it kept its beat, even if that wasn’t the main rhythm of the time. It is hard now to describe how sidelined it was and how it held itself together, even when everything– at least in the anglosphere — was working against its success. I remember thinking: how odd and inspiring to keep on believing in something when everything conspires (maybe through class war, maybe through your own movement’s recent fuck-ups) to undermine your conclusions.

Grudging respect! I thought unpopular thoughts at the time (“information wants to be free!”, “fast, cheap and out of control!”, “we reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code”), but they weren’t actively being rejected – they just weren’t very well known at the time. While they were obscure, they had the advantage of fitting the current setting; they made predictions, and then the predictions came true. So when more people came to believe them, it wasn’t a surprise. It was barely a validation. Like those old school (with a slave-owning asterisk) heroes would say, we held those truths to be self-evident.

So brave to think new thoughts: but holding onto your beliefs when they’re well-known and yet disregarded is another matter entirely. I ignored the Left in the eighties because it was both well-explored and curiously mismatched to the world I saw around me. You can put that down to insidious capitalist propaganda: but, again, the fecundity of thought at the time came, for me, from imagining a world outside stagflation and the 70s, plotting an escape from a utopian vision whose roof had fallen in. 

And yet, some people stuck around to carefully rebuild the roof: tedious thankless work.

So, ironically — conservatively? — the lesson I’ve learned is that there is some value to being an aging hippy, to be a person who squats on creaking knees with the tired ideas of the last decade and learns the lessons, and stitches on patches, in a quiet corner. The fact that the Left managed to roar back into relevance the moment the last age wobbled is perhaps why leftist thinking has evolved the way it has. It’s designed to pop back up. And if that’s so, maybe it’s resilient to be unwanted for a while. Sometimes we make a wrong turn and need to back up a little to go forward again.


style project

I’m halfway through a memo for work. I’m struggling a bit with the style, because it’s stuck between being broadly informative and terse, and rah-rah-inspiring, and I’m not sure which way to go with it.

It’s also the first bit of writing I’ve done for a while (and certainly the first since my heavy flirtation with Covid, which of course means I spend some of my time going “wait, is my inability to choose the right noun here due to novel holes in my brain?”).

The last year or so, since I left EFF, have been ingesting a huge amount of new information, hobnobbing with lovely new people, and, in terms of communicative output on my behalf, providing a great deal of hand-waving and anecdotalising in Zoom calls. (If you want the flavor of that last category, here’s a recorded version of said hand-waving that I gave at Protocol Labs’ Funding the Commons event last week. Don’t know if it’s interesting, can’t bear to watch me or my hair in it.)

Honestly, the change of career flavor been pretty nice. I’m delighted to be learning new tricks , and it’s charming to have a new audience for what transpires to be a near endless supply of slightly too long tales of the early Internet. I guess looking at my long line of irish uncles, I should have assumed I’d slowly transform into a barracking raconteur, but from the viewpoint of someone who was a awkward, shy teenager, it’s still a shocking development. I still have a constant refrain in my head of “perhaps it’s time to shut up now”, but my internal hearing appears to be going. This is how you become what you — well, not hate, but certainly eye-rolled at — in your own past. Would awkward teenager have hated me? Nah, I’d have been terrified of me, but with a sort of grudging respect. Like, huh, seems like a bit of an ass, but maybe an aspirational ass, too?

Time-travel paradoxes aside: But but, but, the writing. And worse, the public writing.

I have started to realise that I have now processed verbally so much new information that I really have some kind of obligation to blurt it out to a wider audience. Yes, this may also have come with the barracking, and possible the long covid dementia.

Does forcing myself on the body politic mean writing? Well, it does if I don’t want to change my t-shirt or comb my hair. I could do some more Youtube Videos, I guess, and have previously enjoyed my forays into livestreaming. (The podcasting, too, has been effective I think, though that’s not really been down to me, I’m just a cog there in a much smarter pod mechanism.)

Anyway, the challenge in all of these environments is less the creative act of writing, and more the orchestration of the personal brand. The last seven years at EFF, has involved in increasing subsumption of my voice into managing and guiding the EFF voice. This was something I found a bit frustrating when I first joined the org, because I HAD MORE THINGS TO SAY AS A HUMAN DAMMIT. But come the 2010s, and the replacement of the joie-de-vivre of blogging punditry with the dodging-velociraptors-while-escaping-over-a-lava-field-in-mid-meteor-strike that is the modern Internet landscape, my enforced personal radio silence gradually turned into constant background sigh of relief. Speaking as EFF was a regular terror, but at least people mostly didn’t judge me on that basis, and on a million different mutually contradictory axis, most of which I had no control over. I enjoyed to sinking into well-deserved obscurity, while watching my friends ascend into micro-celebrityhood, with all the pain and cancelling and damnation that now involves.

But now: god, do I have to gear up again? And if so, what is my personal punditry outfit going to be?

I still see the Internet, unavoidably, as a meta-medium. To my mind, it reamins a protoplasm that you can shape into different media, as different from each other as a book is from a newspaper, or a newspaper from a radio show. And I do feel very at odds with the current, limited menu of media that we are given from on high. Part of it is aging inflexibility, of course (no I do not think I am a born TikToker), but part of it is because I think to engage, is to try and construct your own format. And I’m still in mid-mull about what that format could be.


spoolfeed, or the new news

Ever since I worked at the Guardian’s New Media Lab in the Nineties and it was my actual job, I’ve been thinking about how news media is produced.

A lot of my thinking was originally driven by just extrapolating out where things were headed. The increasingly high frequency of the news-cycle, for instance, was so blatant an issue when I was writing a weekly newsletter, because the collapse of the news-cycle meant we went from a news-breaking weekly, to a news summary weekly, to a news creating weekly. The obvious thing was to just slam the dial on that, and plot out what it meant for news to be on a minute-by-minute hype cycle. I think we’re probably there now, but it was a useful, Moore’s Law-like extrapolation to imagine what that should look like.

Some of it was just futurist ideas that I couldn’t keep out of my head (reading about prediction markets in Extropy, for instance, and wondering how to actually guide columnists, journalists and commenters onto a self-correcting truth-seeking trajectory, rather than what I saw the current incentives being). Most of that hasn’t really played out — yet?

And some of it was just the regular frustrations of the early days of working within traditional media institutions. Newspapers, like any other institution, failed to seek to preserve their real value (their archives, for instance, or their research department), in the pursuit of what they and others thought was their value-add (their pundits, stature among elites or whatever). That problem seems to be ongoing, with the hand-wringing never stopping.

Anyway, I’d occasionally write up my thoughts in the form of a business-plan (when I was feeling ambitious), or a manifesto (when I was feeling righteous). The last draft was a couple of years ago, and rather than have it rust away in my drafts folder, here it is.

Feel free to steal these shadows of ideas. I called the product that I was hand-waving about, “spoolfeed”. It had four rules:


A single article provides some insight into an emerging news story. But right now, the elements of that story are scattered across dozens of news services, thousands of witnesses and experts, millions of online participants on social media.

Gathering these threads requires as much work on the part of an involved reader as being a professional journalist: visiting dozens of sites, curating lists of experts, filtering and fact-checking opinions.

Imagine one page —- one permanent home on the Web, or within the searchable app space—for each news story. The majority of these pages could be  machine-generated: summaries, with links, to document clusters, together with other relevant indicators (associated hashtags, images or live streams near the source, links to TV reports whose closed-captions indicate deeper coverage.

But the biggest stories are individually curated, pulling together every accessible online source into a coherent and critically-appraised whole.

When you want to find out what’s happening ‘right now’ in a story you care about — and where to find out more— that page will be the place you visit, where you link to, and even where you contribute your thoughts or other comments.


Until now, journalism has emphasised two aspects of the story: its present state, and future possibilities; reporting provides the now, editorial speculates on the next. With few meaningful exceptions, the past is lost to the archives.

Newspapers and other media organizations sit upon an unused and, in the main, inaccessible  ‘goldmine’ of previously collated information, resources and data, which moulders in archives and is buried from the public behind barely utilized  search boxes – either by the organisations themselves or their users.

Yesterday’s news is an invaluable resource to be integrated and exploited, not discarded.

Stories are far more long-running and timely than mere articles (the story page on the Turkish coup will still be seeing updates now; as does the story page on the 2008 economic crisis.) That means those pages become more than just a first draft of history: they become the most complete historical record (ever?) available.

A permanent place for a story should let readers see, and link to, what it looked like at any moment in time and from multiple entry points or perspectives.


Q. Where’s the value in history? 

A. In predicting the future.

News services’ value exists entirely  in assisting their users to anticipate (or influence) the future. But they shirk the feedback loops that could sharpen their predictive ability. Failed predictions are buried in those archives. The churn of the ‘constant present’ means nothing much is learned — or revealed.

Others’ opinions can be aggregated, and turned into tangible bets. Probabilities can be attached to those predictions. An aggregated story page can record who got what right, and wrong, and adjust its priors for the next round of predictions accordingly.

In a future where prediction markets are legal, a story page could be the venue for the best of those markets. For the present, we’ll work to bring accountability back to the op-eds of news culture.


But the past and future may be how people use the news, eventually. But the impulse to seek it out is always driven by novelty. The audience for news wants to know what’s happening *right now*.

Most news services are surprisingly static in how they present the news. Headlines may be tweaked, new articles added, but the fundamental view of the day’s stories stays constant. TV news repeats on the hour; front pages of sites settle for all but breaking stories.

An aggregator of sources will never be the first with the news. But it will always be the second — *in* seconds.

When people come to see the news, they come to see something new. We bang on reload on Google News, Reddit, Twitter and our own email because we want to see it change.

The goal of a story page should be this: every page reload, an update. That may be an impossible goal, but it’s the beast we’ll seek to feed, because that’s what the news audience wants.

(And your back button will take you to what you remember seeing, but forgot to bookmark or share.)


Peaceable publicity

I know the world is going to hell in a futuristic handbasket — I know this because All Media Tells Me So, and who am I to question all the signals. But I can’t help but note that I’m really happy at the moment. I guess I’m always fairly countercyclical in my weltanschaung vs the zeitgeist: others have noticed how much I perk up at the sign of a recession. I don’t remember being exactly happy after the financial crisis, but I wasn’t that gloomy either.

Anyway, things are pretty calm for me. I’m recently, cheerily, married. My work and co-workers continue to amaze me. I’m — even as I type — livestreaming my screen and blurred, nighttime webcam face onto Twitch, which as I mentioned below, seems to work wonders for my sanity, if I’m not too jittery and nervous to do it. I like the quiet companionship of the world right now.

It’s all hubris, of course. Just writing this is inviting the Gods to trash my backups, evict me from my home, and smother me in my own just world fallacy. But that’s always going to be the case. I can be hubristic with my mouth shut. I can be hubristic with a half-smile.

How are you?


current obsessions, 2019

I feel like my political and cultural inclinations are slowly but determinedly turning into proto-retirement hobbies. And I can’t even imagine that I’ll ever have enough money to retire! It’s another one of those Pak Protector transformations, where our versions of what it is to be older are a mixture of strange new instincts, and aping what we can glean from role-models.

(It’s pretty easy to deduce what roles Lizzard and I are aiming for here; I believe us to be successfully morphing into eccentric-looking, reasonably approachable benign cultural fossils with Something To Relate With Colour For Your Neighbourhood. Expect us to pull up in your small seaside town in our wooden maker car and start setting up a retro-computer repair shop any decade.)

Anyway, the primary obsession for 2019 so far has been, as I may have mentioned, Lisp! Or rather, LISP. I have now moved back in time, past my brief flirtation with Plan 9 and Bell Laboratories’ UNIX™ fundamentalism, into the AI labs of the fifties.

Last week, I spoke at Stanford at EE380, which was a regular weekly talk that I loved to attend when I first came to Silicon Valley (well, actually, I mainly loved reading the emailed announcements, which as ever were just as good if not better than leaving my house.) I did not have enough insight into the generational strata of the valley to recognise that EE380 was primarily run by old school AIers and their colleagues; I stuck in a few McCarthy references into my talk just because I wanted to convey some sense of long stretches of chronological time, and only belatedly realised the audience was full of people who’d lived through all that history. They kindly took me out, and scattered entertaining gossip my way, including the fine, fine tradition of Les Earnest claiming, convincingly, to have invented everything. Anyway, it’s always a little embarrassing to garnish your talk with references to the Glorious Past, when the Glorious Past are in the room, still fresh with the injustices and the memories of an eternal moment of youth.

(Video of my talk is now online; it’s a bit all-over-the-place, even for me, but as a confused snapshot of how I think the international regulation of technology is going, it’s got some value. I’m playing my part in the historical archives, which are really something and probably a better use of your video-watching time.)


locating your grumpiness

I am constantly, delightfully surprised by how gung-ho and ungrumpy I am online. I can’t really be anything else, honestly, because my absolute determination to be ungrumpy, against all odds, prohibits me from exhibiting any other kind of emotion. This means that in my normal life, I scowl constantly, and am forever punching people on the nose.


Well, maybe? The policing of mood online does rather mean I’m boxed in. I’ve grown more and more sensitive to other people’s tirades — not just the ones aimed at me (or variants on the theme of me), but just venting in general. I mentally suck my teeth whenever someone turns on someone else. It’s a family trait, I’ve noticed. My family loves personal stories and anecdotes and tales, but they must be either at the expense of the teller, or at the very least, full of generous concessions to the antagonist(s). You can be really quite cutting, but if it is not from a self-declared place of love, we will scowl constantly and punch you on the nose. (You are not expected to live in perfect tolerance; that place of love can be cheaply rented by the hour).

I know many people who vent online, and they are okay in real life. Even the ones who are convinced the other people who vent online are monsters, are themselves not monsters. Well, not full-time. I’ve been randomly monstered (and seen monstrosities perpetrated on others) by so many different kinds of people I now try not to extrapolate. I have fallen back on my family’s default of “they probably have some horrific back-story, one that will not be as funny as the stories we are telling each other now about them; we should at worst leave them to be trapped in their sad story for the rest of their lives, that is their punishment, which is undeserved.”

I pondered briefly about this, in an online place which I frequent which is pretty much defined by being bitter. They’ve been bitter there since about 1986. They commented about how gung-ho and happy and optimistic they are in the rest of their lives, and I wondered how much that was true generally. Are we all participating in some strange, pissed-off masquerade?

Are we all, in our own ways, happy?


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.