The Unread Blog

21 Jan 2024

I bought a Tesla automobile last month... Big mistake! I strongly advise everyone to avoid Tesla now.

It's not that I hate my car, quite the contrary. I've had more fun with it than I have with any car I've ever owned, even though I haven't driven nearly as much. I like my Tesla (the car), but it wasn't worth having to deal with Tesla (the evil corporation). And maybe I shouldn't get to used to the car – it could fall apart after a thousand kilometers – and I'm very dubious that Tesla (the evil corporation) would fix it.

The main problem I have with the company is their deceptive web site. It's designed to sell cars by (not quite) lying to you. You might as well go to any cheap used car dealer. I bought at a bad time, as it turned out. If I'd waited three months, I could have got an extra $7000 worth of government incentives. And you'd be right to say I should have been more wary.

However, Tesla (the evil corporation) bent over backward to obfuscate the new rebates. It wasn't until late December that they even admitted that their higher priced cars would be eligible. They did, on the other hand, make it sound like the incentives were all going to evaporate after 31 Dec. Now it turns out that everything is eligible. Nice.

And let me reiterate – the government incentives are provided by the government. They don't cost Tesla (the evil corporation) a dime.

The worst part is, they're still doing it! As I write this, you can go to (the evil corporate web site) and read at the top, in bold letters, that the model Y dual motor vehicles are eligible for the rebate. Go down a little further and read the fine print, and you'll see that all model Y's are eligible. But hey, why be honest if we can jack up the price a little instead?

Don't buy from Tesla (the evil corporation). From here on out, I won't.

15 Nov 2023

Yes, large language models are fundamentally changing programming.

16 Oct 2023

Fast Company: Why has Europe been able to avoid so many of these rises in inequality and "deaths of despair" and the U.S. hasn't?

Deaton: Anne [Case, my wife] and I wrestled with that in our book Deaths of Despair. One reason is that we don't have any safety net here... The other story is we've got this hideous healthcare system... we're spending [almost] 20% of GDP. There's no other country that spends anything like that. That money comes out of other things we could have, like a safety net and a better education system. And it's not delivering much, except the healthcare providers are doing really quite well: the hospitals, the doctors, the pharma companies, the device manufacturers. Not only does it cost a lot, but we fund it in this really bizarre way, which is that for most people who are not old enough to qualify for Medicare, they get their health insurance through their employer...

19 Aug 2023

"'Back in the USSR' was released in 1968. If McCartney dies this year, it will enter PD in 2094. More than a CENTURY after the USSR that song is about ceased to exist and over 125 years after it was published."

26 Feb 2023

"Humans don't really like labor. That's why humans must be paid to do it. Ultimately labor automation is removing something we don't like, and that's a good thing. We will have to grapple with issues of economics, sustainability, and finding meaning in life, of course. But none of those are reasons why we should stop automating labor. A world without the need for labor is, objectively, a better world. We just have to figure out how to build an economy that works within it."

21 Feb 2023

People admitting to using artificial intelligence to write stories are being turned away. Editors claim they can spot AI (for now), but I'm not even convinced of that. How do you tell the difference between a human who happened to come up with a common idea and an AI that might have copied it?

The genie's out of the bottle, people. Get used to it.

29 Jan 2023

This is a good example of how the newer AI software works.

Notice that the software doesn't think – it only amplifies its handler's thought, in much the same way an aircraft amplifies your ability to move from one place to another. It does this using patterns of rational connections between words, gleaned from the largest collection of human thought ever assembled. It doesn't have to think, it already knows what we know.

This example involves software, but it's equally good at any non-physical task that it can read about. Of course it's just a labor-saving device, like the printing press and the steam engine were.

20 Oct 2022

The thought of my death doesn't motivate me. I've been in situations where I thought I was close to death before, and it didn't really worry me. However, as you get older, you have to watch more and more of the people you care about die. That's the real fear. I've been trying very hard lately to make the most of the time they have left.

19 Jun 2022

Programming is a lot like filling out tax forms. There's some simple math involved. You're encouraged to do things the "right" way, but it can be very rewarding to be innovative... unless you screw up. And, most of it is boilerplate that shouldn't be necessary, but you're dealing with a big, dumb machine, so you have to fill it in.

01 Apr 2022

Let me rant for a moment about zero-based counting.

My favorite language, apart from python/gdscript, is lua. Two of the things I like about lua are "everything is a table" and one-based "arrays".

I've been programming for more than forty years, so I'm comfortable with zero-based counting, and back when I started, it made sense. You asked the system for a chunk of memory, and got a pointer to it. When you wanted the first element of your array, you used the pointer (+0). That was fine for how you accessed arrays back then.

But no one does that anymore. You (almost) never see someone manipulating a raw chunk of memory, because that leads to out-of-bounds errors and other security nightmares. You always use a class or a language structure that handles all the referencing for you. So why do we still use zero-based counting? Tradition (i.e. bad habits).

People don't normally count from zero. Why would you count something that isn't there? We had advanced mathematics before anyone even thought of the concept of zero. And yet, programmers still use zero-based math, and sometimes even get annoyed at new programmers who get confused by it, because we don't remember how dumb it seemed to us back then.

/rant off

27 Mar 2022

TLDR: Always look on the bright side of life...

The problem with technological changes that help the world as a whole, is that they usually do so at the cost of human suffering.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, textiles were largely made by hand, which required a lot of labor – but it also employed a lot of people. When automation took over, it allowed a few hundred people in a factory to do the job of thousands. Unfortunately, it took a long time for the thousands to find other jobs – many of them didn't survive the process, dying in poverty. More were forced to move to cities, which wasn't a picnic for them or the existing residents.

Technology can change quickly, but societies usually lag behind.

The technological singularity was named after the mathematical concept that defines a black hole – beyond a certain point you can't know what happens because information can't come back through. By the same token, humans can't plan for what will happen after the singularity. We know that our society will have to change, but we don't know how. We may not even be capable of understanding the issues.

Of course, we might be able to do a better job with artificial intelligence guiding us, but so far AI (for whatever reason) has only a casual relationship with reality. Researchers often go through many systems before they manage to make one that gives the right result. How do you do that, when you aren't smart enough as a species to tell if you're getting the right result or not?

And to complicate matters, technological changes occur at an ever-increasing rate, which means our societies have less and less time to respond to them. When I went to college, I was only expected to learn one trade, for the rest of my life. Now, you have to assume you'll need constant retraining, which is expensive even if you can handle it.

Societies could change in response to technology when people didn't live long enough to retard the process. Children who grew up in the new conditions would adapt. What happens when two or three (or more) major changes occur in the space of one generation? People aren't wired to handle that, because they've never had to be.

How fast can you get people to support new laws and new ideas? What happens when the next major change happens faster than that?

I'm a realist. I don't believe in pinning my hopes on the supernatural or on unproven qualities of technology. I don't expect "someone" (human or otherwise) to come up with an answer before it's too late. That's why I can't always manage a zen acceptance about these things. The usual response by optimists is that we've always found a way through every major problem before. That works... right up to the point when we don't.

The Drake equation has a lot of hard to calculate factors, but one of them is how long civilizations last. If they last a long time, we should be up to our armpits in visitors... but we're not. Maybe the problems technology creates are too much for any species to deal with.

The one thing that comforts me about all of this, is that the universe has only existed for a tiny fraction of it's expected lifespan (literally: the time life can exist in it). If humans don't manage to figure things out, someone probably will... eventually.

20 Mar 2022

Now I'm going to rant about my phone problems. :)

My first android phone was a nexus one, which I kept through most of the last decade, running cyanogenmod on it toward the end, until it went unsupported, and I got worried about not having updated the operating system for years.

So, I got a moto revvlry+ cheap on amazon, since it already had a lineageos port, and I didn't want to have to deal with google. I found out why it was cheap after I dropped it in my garage, while working on a bike chain. The motos seem to all be made entirely of glass, and this particular model was peculiar in having no cases made for it outside of a few from t-mobile.

Well, I'd never needed a case before, so it hadn't worried me, but a second drop on the street, while I was riding, convinced me that I need one now. (I managed to shatter the back, exactly the way I'd shattered the front.)

So, I spent the last several months looking for a phone I liked, and found nothing. Ideally, it would have a decent screen, for a low price, and a lineageos port. More importantly, it had to work with h2o, because I really don't use my phone as a phone much, but I do need it occasionally. (I pay $40 per year with h2o – highly recommended.)

Finally, I gave up and used the old "poke a pin in the map" method, and got a oneplus n200. It's a nice phone, nothing special, but it's got all the android applications, and they're driving me spare.

The setup was crazy. "Would you like to use your google account?" No. "Are you sure?" Yes. "We think you should use it." No! "We really, really think you should." I said no! "You can't finish the setup until you use your google account." Are you kidding me?!

I actually had to make a google account with the initials B and S, just to get that nag to stop. Then I had to delete it so that the phone wouldn't dump all my contacts into it. (And they wonder why they have so many dead accounts.)

07 Mar 2022

My take on the classic bunnymark. It produces thousands of individually colored and sized sprites moving at different velocities and rates of rotation, on a simple shader background. Nothing but gdscript (apart from the shader).

or if you just want to see it...

29 Mar 2021

For those of you too young to remember, Richard Stallman is one of the founding fathers of free (as in freedom) software. His character has recently been attacked, and he was moved to resign from MIT and the Free Software Foundation.

I support Mr Stallman, and I've signed an open letter stating as much. I urge anyone who has actually examined the evidence and feels he is being treated unjustly to sign as well. (There is a similar letter condemning him, which is much easier to find. I've been following the issue for days and only today found the one linked above.)

It's very easy to find articles biased against the man – just do a web search. Stallman has made a lot of enemies for various reasons. This is the only article I've found that supports him. It's not from a popular source, but I think that it does a good job of covering the evidence.

I'm not going to argue his guilt or innocence (judge for yourself), and I don't think any amount of support will keep him from being shunned – once you fall under this sort of extra-legal character attack, you're not likely to ever recover. However, I wanted to show my support for a man that I've looked up to for years, and I think is being treated unfairly.

25 Dec 2020

14 Feb 2020

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

– Carl Sagan