Google is Getting Useless

Google made their name as an efficient search engine delivering streamlined results quickly and effectively. Is it just me or has Google the search engine become mostly useless nowadays. Too many paid results, and even more bad results– pages that might have a word or two of your search string but are otherwise irrelevant. I used to feel confident I would find a few useful results in the first few pages. Lately, I’ve actually– gulp– resorted to Bing, occasionally. And sometimes I just actually give up. I don’t have time to go through a hundred pages to find the one that actually helps me.

As IBM discovered when the Department of Justice was investigating them for monopolistic practices (way back in the 1960’s), too much information is as useless as no information.

In fairness, it’s not just Google’s fault.

Oh yes, it is.  By mastering the competition for profiting by manipulating search results, Google is king of turd island, the exemplar, the model for all that has made the Internet a fucking monstrous garbage heap of  excrement.  Facebook is a close second.

Inventor of the GPS

Dr. Gladys West, The Black Woman Who Invented The GPS, Gets Honored By U.S. Air Force At The Pentagon  [BusinessGhana]

That seems remarkable.  Not just a woman– a black woman!  Of course, those mean men in charge of the Pentagon made sure she didn’t get credit.   For inventing the GPS.  Everybody knows its true.

Or is it.

The first clue is that most of the websites that refer to Gladys West (the “Dr.” came much later in life– she was not a “Dr.” when she worked for the Air Force)  is the oblique tone of the reference: her work contributed to, was essential to, helped, contributed largely to, and so on.

You ask yourself: is it in the interests of the Air Force to quietly accede to some exaggeration here?  So they could be seen to be honoring a black woman?  So they could be seen to be addressing a historical injustice?  So they could be seen as progressive and enlightened?  If someone thought they were now exaggerating her role, would that person dare to speak up?

The header, “The Black Woman Who Invented the GPS”, is a lie.  She was involved in some of the research required for the project, but to say she “invented GPS” is a gross distortion of her role.   It’s the kind of lie Hollywood embraces.  It’s the kind of lie middling America adores.  It doesn’t really offend conservatives (because it makes it look like they always were colorblind when it came to talent) and it totally gratifies white liberals because it vindicates their politics and their self-satisfaction, and everyone else is glad to feel like they are not really racist because, after all, they enjoyed this film, just like they enjoyed “The Green Book” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”.

It does not help your cause to exaggerate.  To lie.  The next time I see a headline insisting that a black woman saved hundreds of lives or stopped a war or built an airplane or solved pi or defeated the Nazis– well?  Did you really?

The Uncanny Absurdity of the Uncanny Valley

The problem with programming a machine to feel for others is, of course, that the machine might start to develop other feelings, ones unproductive to her work.  But Klara’s evolving emotions are crucial to our understanding of the novel as a technology of interiority.  The reader experiences Klara’s care for Josie through Klara’s empathetic narration, in which her desire to see Josie flourish and grow fails to completely suppress Klara’s desires.   [From a review by Jane Hu in the New York Review of Books.  2021-11-04]

I am completely baffled that a Nobel Prize winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro, would be responsible for such rubbish, or that a reviewer in the New York Review of Books would countenance such an observation.

I thought, perhaps Klara is a biological creation, as the replicants in “Blade Runner” may be (it’s not completely clear that they are).   When Roy Batty demands “more life”, he is expressing a desire, a want, an aspiration, which no machine can ever have.  That might be intriguing, but, of course, that essentially makes an argument for slavery.

But no: Klara is a robot.  She is at times relegated to a closet.  In the end, when Josie goes off to college, she is sent to a dump.

It appears that Ishiguro wants it both ways, in which case, he has failed as a novelist (I haven’t read the book– so I’ll come back to that when I do).  If, inevitably, humans become aware (as they are in the book) of the fact that robots have feelings, they won’t, presumably, leave them in the closet.  I leave open one possibility: Ishiguro has imagined a new  kind of relationship that the humans experience with their robots that blurs the distinction between mechanical and emotional.  But that does not seem likely given that the characters in “Klara and the Sun” sincerely believe that Klara does have feelings and treat her accordingly.  (It is perceived as an act of kindness when one of Josie’s friends prevents another of her friends from tossing Klara into the air to see if she can land on her feet.)  On the other hand, they put her in the closet.  Which is it?

Yes, many smart people really believe that it is possible for a robot to have feelings.  The theoretical framework for this concept rests on the perverse idea that human consciousness is formed by a quasi-mechanical process that takes place in dense particles.  If you have enough dense particles, eventually a “consciousness” can develop.  This fundamental to the belief in AI.

AI, my friends, is a myth.  Come back to me in 20 or 50 years and you will see I am right.

I have argued that this process cannot possibly produce a being with an aspiration or desire or emotion or any other biological characteristic.  Where does it come from?  How can you add 1 plus 1 and get 5?  There is no component of feeling or consciousness in any of the raw elements of a machine.  No matter how many 1’s and 0’s are in a computer brain, they cannot produce a 2: only a sequence of 1’s and 0’s.   Biological cells are not mechanical: they aspire to eat, to consume, to fuck, to absorb, to kill.   A robot only ever does what it is programmed to do“.  Klara can never be sad about losing her relationship to Josie because she could never have been glad to have it in the first place, and Ishiguro’s concept is absurd and Jane Hu’s review is a hollow, empty shell of misconceived rubble.

In “Never Let Me Go” the Klara’s are biological creations who exist only to give up their organs to other humans.  It’s a strange, alien concept (to us at the moment, in the civilized part of the “civilized” part of the world) which he made believable and sad.  I have no problem believing that such a circumstance could, at least theoretically, exist.

There is no way, theoretical or otherwise, a robot with feelings will ever exist.  Whatever we get– and I’m sure we’ll get it, given our surrender to every commercialization of every device ever– will be something mimics feelings which many stupid people will believe are just as real as their own.

Fuck them.  This is a dangerous course of intellectual development which, if it happens, will have dire consequences.

 

No Comment: Copyright

I was going to comment about this book on copyright.

I do want the book cited.  The writer– himself gifted in language– strongly recommends the book.

I have been interested in copyright issues for a long time, but especially since the late 1990’s when I was convinced that the music industry had disastrously misjudged the technological landscape and invested all of their strategies into trying to kill online access to music and videos.  It was Apple who first realized that it really wasn’t about the money.  The typical down-loader spent far more on buying records and CDs than the average non-downloading citizen did.  It wasn’t that millions of users were so eager to obtain music and video without paying for it: the truth was they just wanted access.  They wanted to be able to find a recording or movie they liked and listen to it or watch it without having to go to a physical store and place an order and wait– forever– for some distributor to finally acknowledge their preference and ship it to them.

Apple charged people for every download, and, astonishingly, people bought it.

We have a reached a point now where I believe the sale of actual music or video files is no longer the salient point.  The point is eyeballs, email accounts, registrations– whatever attracts the user to the website, to the click-throughs, the data.  The question content owners are going to ask is not “did you pay for the song” but “do you have an account?”.  Can we sell your eyeballs?  Can we hit you up with ads?  Can we spy on you?

The second thing that has become apparent is that, in spite of what the industry keeps telling us, the artist is not getting paid.  The average amount an artist was paid for an album sale in the 1970’s was about $1.  The average amount he receives for a download from iTunes or Spotify is too small to measure.

Who is getting the money?

Spotify and Apple and their cohorts.

 

 

 

Qubits

The ultimate goal of quantum supremacy would be to use qubits to crack encryption codes.  NY Times

I have read this many times, about the latest advance in computer technology: it will be able to crack encryption codes.

I have a simple question: if an application is programmed to deny further attempts after three, or maybe five incorrect password entries, how will even the most powerful quantum computer in the world be able to “crack” the encryption?  Sure, it can bombard the server with every conceivable combination of numbers and letters and symbols, but after each try, most servers will lock the user out for at least 20 minutes.  So it will have to wait until the application resets the login function, which, obviously, can be as long as a diligent programmer wants it to be.

So, how would a very, very powerful computer get around it?

Is that statement in the article just a glib teaser, designed to excite the reader?  I think it is.  Or perhaps they envision a computer that is so smart, it can hack into the operating system of the target device and over-ride the login time-out restrictions.  But then, maybe we could use an equally smart computer to devise an operating system that cannot be easily hacked.

Speaking of super computers…

Microsoft warns users against putting applications in any folder other than “program files”.  Why?  Because if you do, Microsoft’s “hotfixes” may not install correctly.  So why is that a bad thing?  Here’s why:

Microsoft hotfixes, updates, and security updates may not be installed correctly.
New versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer or Microsoft Windows Media Player may not be installed correctly.

In other words, if you don’t put applications in Microsoft’s preferred location, the applications will not be in Microsoft’s preferred location.  If you don’t get the most current hotfix, you might not be able to install the latest hotfix.

I install most of my applications in a folder called C:\apps, and continue to harbour a burning resentment over the fact that Microsoft will just go ahead and create folders under “program files” anyway, just to be really, really, definitively stupid.

The real message is, we own your computer.  When you browse your computer and see a label called “my computer”, it means Bill Gates’ computer– not yours.

 

Until it Stinks

Sir Joseph Bazalgette may have saved more English lives in Victorian England than any other single man.  I bet you never heard of him.

You need to know about Joseph Bazalgette because, perhaps in the future, a new Bazalgette will be remembered in the same way that he is, for saving us from global warming.  For the same reason: because the stink has become overwhelming.

There are profound similarities between Victorian-era London and the entire world today.  Victorian-era London had a major problem: it had millions of people living in close quarters who were all generating a lot of shit.  They were enjoying the convenience of not having to take any expensive measures to deal with their shit.  They just dumped it into the city drains and the drains dumped it into the Thames and from the Thames it came back.  Yes it did.  The tides and the variations in the flow of the Thames caused all that excrement to wash back up onto the shoreline where it splashed about and eventually worked its way into the drinking water and food and into the mouths of children.

This was not merely distasteful: it was poisonous.  People died of cholera and other diseases, and the smell was absolutely terrible.

Think about the government of that city.  When did it finally think that it might not be such a good idea to dump all of their shit into the river?  The truth is they always knew it was a bad idea.   They just didn’t have the courage to make the tough decisions required to do otherwise, including raising taxes to pay for what was needed.

What was needed was a massive complex system of pumps and reservoirs that took all the human waste and channeled it further out into the river at low tide.  It’s never been clear to me why this didn’t backfire as well, but it didn’t, and the system worked pretty well until they finally figured out a way to dump it into the North Sea.  Joseph Bazalgette designed and built that system.  I hope there is a statue of him somewhere in London.

You may wonder whether dumping it all into the North Sea was much of an improvement.  Well, it was for the people of London.

In any case, the similarities to climate change are uncanny.  And the lesson learned is simple.  People are too stupid to make modest measures in time to save themselves from having to take drastic measures when it is almost too late.  As the Marshall Islands sink into the sunset we can only wish that it would produce a stink that would envelop Wall Street and Washington.

Unlike London’s shit, climate change may not be so forgiving.  There is no way to take the carbon and dump it further out from the earth’s atmosphere.

I Knew I Would Regret Switching to WordPress Sooner or Later

And here it is.

Suppose you were a young, healthy man or woman.  Suppose someone entered your life and fell in love with you and invited you to move in with them.  Suppose they got you everything: every meal, every snack, every drink.  Suppose they urged you to stay on the couch, relax, eat more, relax more, sleep in, sit down, lay down, take the car to the corner grocery store instead of walking.

Eventually, you will not know how to cook.  You will not be able to walk.  You will grow fat and sedentary and stupid.

You are now the ideal customer for Microsoft, and Apple, Google, and Facebook, and WordPress.

I initially signed on to WordPress because it was free and it was convenient.  And because I had to know it because part of my job was to provide technical support to other people who were using it to update websites for the organization I work for.

Yes, I fell for it: the fatty food on a tray in front of the TV.  But I didn’t mind it too much because it still required some work to actually create content, and format it the way you like.

But the other day, I was reading some of my older posts in HTML and thinking, gee, I like the look of that.  It’s more real, more raw, less slick, and has more character than the stupid standard WordPress fonts and formatting.  I had already decided to go back to my html editor and my rather primitive looking but content-focused webpages.

And then, the update to WordPress came, and I wasn’t paying close attention, and suddenly this stupid fucking new “Gutenberg” editor appear out of nowhere, with no option to turn it off.  And suddenly my editing screen was a kludge of stupid options I had no interest in, blocking me from actually putting in the content I wanted to put in.

Gutenberg is an addition to the WordPress platform that will transform the way websites and content is displayed through a series of customizable blocks. This will allow users the flexibility to control the way their content appears on the page and create an easier building experience for anyone looking to create a website.  Some credulous tech blogger somewhere

WordPress, joining Microsoft in it’s perverse and pernicious determination to make everybody as absolutely stupid as possible, has removed the normal editor from current editions of WordPress and replaced it with an idiotic contraption intended to make it easy for idiots to drag and drop multi-media crap into their own webpages so that they have glorious content without actually providing any glorious content.  Just steal it.  Just let WordPress automatically format everything so that you lose any ability to control what your page looks like.  Your page is going to look like a million other pages.

The new editor also allows for developers to create guard rails so to speak that will guide content editors to their intended goals. Imagine that it is similar to the bumpers that are used to improve your performance when bowling.  The same credulous tech blogger.

The ability to actually see and make changes to your blog on the go – or even post a blog with custom features from your phone is just one of the many updates Gutenberg will bring to WordPress. Text pasted from Word or Google Docs will get cleaned up and converted to blocks automatically and instantly.

Seriously?  The blogger is suggesting that bumper pads at a bowling alley are what we all need.

Can anything worth reading be written on a cell phone?  Seriously?  Are you going to dictate it to “hey Google” and let the master geniuses at Google clean up your text (and censor it)?  You want the NSA to be able to scan your blogs before you even upload them?  (I know that sounds “paranoid”: the idea that such a thing sounds “paranoid” is the U.S. intelligence gathering community’s best friend).

Yes, let’s all go bowling.  There are your bumper pads.  Enjoy yourself.

Sharepoint, Sharepunt

Here’s what astounds me: Sharepoint is Microsoft’s fasting (sic) growing business ever. Faster than windows or office. It’s also a source of 1 bil+ revenue a year. YET, comments from 40+ educated people who know technology very well cannot explain its purpose or real value.   From Here

So what is it you do here?

If you have seen the movie “Office Space”, you will immediately recognize the query from a pair of consultants– the “two Bobs”–  hired to optimize the business operations of some hi-tech company that writes banking software (consequentially using only two digits for the dates).    They interview all of the staff and are sometimes perplexed at the role played by a particular individual.  They look at him, indulgent, perhaps, and open-minded, at least at first, and ask: what is it, exactly, that you do here?  One employee, desperately trying to justify his position, gets angrier and angrier as he explains that he takes the specifications from the customer and brings them to the development team.  The consultants repeat:  Yes… but what is it you do?

The truth is that “Office Space” is one of those movies that I like in spite of the fact that it really isn’t very good, on any artistic level.  The acting, script, and direction are pedestrian at best.  But it hit on an area of human life neglected by Hollywood: work.  And it’s amateurishness works in its favor there in the way it tries to show you something about working relationships that you won’t see elsewhere.  Like:  “PC Load Letter?!  What the fuck does that mean?”

In this case, the employee, Tom Smykowski, could have given an answer more in line with “I develop strategies for customer relationship development to enhance corporate branding” or something like that.  What he says instead is that he brings the specifications from the customer to the developer.  He “deals with” customers, which is actually more of a real job than what most managerial employees do.

So, in trying to inform myself about Sharepoint– what is it exactly that you do? — I found this guy.  Oh good, I thought.  He doesn’t look too corporate.  He’s sitting in a car.  Maybe, at last, I can get a real explanation of what Sharepoint does exactly.  So I watched.  He blathered on about how great it is, how fabulous, how foundational, and how it …. it….  it….

All right.   In spite of the car setting and the lack of a suit, he sounds like a shill for a consultancy group that sells Microsoft services and support.  When we need collaboration, when we need workflow… communications: few to many…  the many to many conversations crossing teams… applications … granular security… think Sharepoint.  And there’s teams: teams is where we’re doing things because we converse and we’re working on different things… where we meet and share files and the other aspects of what we do as a team…   Enhance employee engagement….  Yammer are those large  topic-focused typically self-serviced type conversational groups… teams!  Teams are where I do my work and get it done. …   They actually work together in a synergistic fashion and usage will vary from org to org depending on their own requirements.

Yes, but what is it you do?

That last line– my God!  You really hit on something there!   “Synergistic fashion”.  Something so profound and specific it will make the hairs on the backs of the necks of every high-priced consultant in North America tingle.

But what is it you do?

I think of Sharepoint, at this stage, like the layer of management just below the CEO at most organizations.  There are people who do real work at any organization, institution, or company.   When an organization starts out, that’s all anybody does, though there are always people with real power among them: the owners or appointed positions with the authority attached to them by the owners (it’s really always the owners who have the real power).  Then the organization grows and gets more money.  The appointed leaders promote themselves.  The last thing they really want to do every day is real work, so they crate new categories of “work”: management.   But even management can involve real work, like supervision, scheduling, processing time sheets, coordination, and so on.  So, as the organization gets bigger and bigger, they appoint other people to do the real management while they attend training seminars, retreats, and leadership conferences.  Eventually, they stop working altogether: their entire job consists of coming up with phrases like “synergistic fashion” and “topic-focused typically self-serviced type conversational groups” and “enhance employee engagement” to justify paying themselves more than the people who actually produce things of value for the organization.  Way more.

It provides you with an “intuitive” experience, so he says.  That’s not what “intuitive” means, really.  The experience is what you get to.  The skills required to navigate to this result are not intuitive, and real-world experience shows over and over again that Microsoft does a very poor job of making interfaces that allow users to “intuit” how to do something, like set up an international meeting via the internet with white board, powerpoint presentations, and video-conferencing.

“Your employees can create sites to share documents and information with colleagues, partners, and customers”.  Yes, it sounds like the internet.

Or listen to this (from here, an otherwise fine article):

Yammer the startup had a vision. It was to make the world of work more transparent and connected, to break open the rigid structures in corporations and to let information travel freely for the good of more collaboration, innovation and responsiveness. Yammer the platform was the conduit, the trojan-horse so to speak, to achieve such an ambitious social change agenda.

Is there any world in which you can imagine that any of this can take place without the actual work of collaboration being performed by smart, engaged, well-compensated employees?  Now, is there any world in which you can imagine that all these good things would not have happened anyway, without the expensive technological framework being sold to you by Microsoft?  There’s not a thing that Office 365 does that could not be done by Groupwise, Thunderbird, ExpressionWeb, WhatsApp, or Google.  The biggest obstacle this this process is not addressed by any software: stupid leaders who are more afraid of being exposed as the useless appendages that they are than they care about productivity and efficiency and rational management strategies.

 

 

Microsoft’s Requirements

Microsoft: “(Required) We collect required diagnostic data to keep Office secure, up-to-date, and performing as expected on the devices its installed on.”

This is the message that popped up as I tried to open Word on a new installation of Office 365 on my HP laptop.  “Required”.  Sounds powerful, doesn’t it.  It’s “required”, like, you have no choice.  Microsoft has no choice: it just has to have access to your computer to browse around and take whatever it wants while you are online.  They can’t do anything about it: it’s required.

There is nothing “required” at all.  It is pure bullshit.  There is no law or regulation that “requires” Microsoft to collect your data.  It’s Microsoft telling you to bend over and spread your cheeks– it’s “required”.

And “performing as expected”?  Absolutely, like the fat, bulky, cluttered, disordered disaster that, yes, I do expect.

But seriously, Microsoft is telling you that, finally, they are not even going to pretend to give you a choice about allowing them to go onto your computer and ransack your personal data.  Your acceptance of these conditions

Short of Short

Is Martin Short really a comic genius?  I had had him pegged as a very weak Jerry Lewis wannabe.  And that is a very low bar.  But Vanity Fair says he’s fabulous: he’s the funniest guy at the party.   He is well-liked by the comedy establishment in Hollywood and New York.   Talk show hosts can’t wait to have him: he makes it easy for them, taking on the entire burden of being witty and funny and entertaining.

Am I missing something?   Other than those parties?

The comedy I remember from Martin Short always resembled the stuff your older, untalented brother would do to taunt you, and the biggest hits from Oasis.    That whining, sneering, wildly effeminate voice and dippy moronic body language.    All of it modeled– disgustingly– on the gestures of a person with a mental and physical disability.  I have always found that kind of humor repellent, for obvious reasons.  It’s broad and offensive.  It’s the Gomer Pyle of stand-up comedy.

Short seemed unusually taken with deformity and otherness, with lots of wonky eyes, oddly recessed hairlines, and androgyny.

Decent human beings do not mock or ridicule people who were born with disabilities or defects.  You just don’t.   First of all, it’s not really funny.  If you can’t help but fail, and it’s not your fault, it’s not funny.

What is funny is, for example, a capable person thrust into challenging circumstances through his own fault– a character flaw– and then failing to keep his dignity.

Secondly, it’s an affront to human dignity.  We all know that– you don’t laugh at other peoples’ misfortunes.  But because Jerry Lewis did not have a disability– other than bad taste– people thought it was okay to laugh at him when he imitated people with disabilities, some of the very people his famous annual telethon was supposed to help.

When he’s not making fun of people with disabilities, Short sometimes plays a more complex character, Jiminy Glick, a talk-show host.   Short does the sleaze part fairly well, but where is the humor exactly?  It’s mostly humor about the humorists– narcissistic comedy.  I feel the same way about it that I feel about a mediocre novel about a novelist, or a mediocre movie about Hollywood, or a mediocre  song about a singer.  It’s not that they are bad novels or movies or songs– even if they are– it’s that these artists have chosen to make an artwork about themselves.  With a few exceptions, these works are boring.

Oh, but there’s more:  there’s bodily function and sex jokes.

There’s not much real political or social commentary: Short doesn’t want to offend half of his audience.  In an interview on PBS (where he was accompanied by Steve Martin, with whom he is touring), he was clearly a bit discomfited by the idea of political humor, probably because he knows the most respected  comics out there are political but the most commercially successful are not.

Short is personally popular– I have no problem believing that he is a nice guy.  He will get monuments and awards and banquets and honors, because he has quietly carved out an undistinguished but visible profile among establishment entertainers in Hollywood– the kind of elite that give each other prizes while they are alive.

Now, you might expect a tail here: but the real edgy comedians don’t get awards until they are dead.  It’s a little strange to me, but a few years ago George Carlin was honored at the Kennedy Center with the “Mark Twain” prize.   George Carlin himself must have read the invitation and checked his own pulse before accepting.