0.0 Station Ident
8pm on a Wednesday night and I have gone to the gym at the hotel and gone to town on an elliptical. I know I have gone to town on an elliptical because my watch told me so and it showed me an animation. While I was going to town on the elliptical and (finally) trying an experiment my therapist introduced me to over a month ago, I listened quite effectively to Jacques Lu Cont’s Thin White Duke Mix of The Killers’ Mr. Brightside which I imagine people can easily use to quickly make an estimate of my character and personality.
1.0 Things that caught, etc.
1.1 Thank you, William Gibson, you’ve made your point
Item: Reality Leigh Winner is, as Wikipedia says, a “former American intelligence specialist [who in 2017] was charged with “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.” The material in question was a top-secret NSA report detailing Russian hacking efforts before the 2016 election, published by The Intercept.
Item: Zephyr Teachout is a candidate for Attorney General of New York. New York’s AG will be elected on November 6, 2018. I imagine Teachout to be pretty ideologically aligned with people who might be reading this: she was the Sunlight Foundation’s first national director, and also stepped into Lawrence Lessig’s shoes as CEO and board chair for the Mayday PAC aiming to reform campaign finance.
In response, and via Bjorn Larsen (@bjorn), we also have:
All of which is to say, thank you, William Gibson, we get it. This is your world and the rest of us are clearly the badly named (or not-yet-named) non-protagonists in it.
1.2 Still Not An Engineering Problem
There is now significantly less shortage of platform for digital humanities people to communicate what they’ve been saying for a long time, which is, at a very simplistic and high level: maybe don’t (completely) believe what the technologists say? Maybe, say, going all-in on STEM and missing out the A part to make STEAM might not have been such a great idea?
In any event, we now have (and this sounds dismissive but it totally isn’t) an op/ed from Grant Wythoff in the Washington Post, which has from my point of view a not-necessarily helpful headline (“Silicon Valley's attempts to self-police are anti-democratic. They're also not new.”)
What I learned from Wythoff’s piece was the existence of the Technocracy Inc political movement, which I *would* have known about were I an *actual* digital humanities scholar and had done my homework. Because I have been going about this in my own bumbling, haphazard and admittedly stupendously privileged way (e.g. one of the only reasons why I learned about the Californian Ideology was because I worked with one of its co-authors, the late Andy Cameron and through him, met the other co-author, Richard Barbrook.
The technocracy movement (obviously, just the high-level skim based on the Wikipedia article and Wythoff’s piece, which I’ll fully admit is *one of the problems with society these days*) is really interesting. Right in the opening paragraph, it advocates for “replacing politicians and businesspeople with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to run the economy” and boy does it feel like we never really resolved that issue. There is, I suspect, something of an underlying narrative of the meritocracy and socially shunned scientists and engineers - in some ways, I imagine, systems thinkers - wanting to finally get a turn at running these things. And there we have it, back to good old CP Snow again and the idea of The Two Cultures: that *for some reason* there’s this weird artificial divide between the science-type-people and the arts-type-people, at least, as it exists in Western civilizatinos, and at the very least, the symptom is interesting, right? Wouldn’t that be something to want to look into, to see an underlying cause? If, of course, there can be said to be anything like *an* underlying cause and not, in retrospect, a complex system of shifting pressures and responses.
So, anyway. All these technocracy people treating society as an engineering problem and thinking they can do better than business people and politicians. All these politicians and business people, presumably, thinking the opposite and that the scientists and engineers need to get out of their ivory towers and actually solve some real problems with real people. Why is it that it’s so easy to separate into us vs them (quiet, you evolutionary neuroscientists in the back, you, I see you raising your hands) and along these lines when, maybe, we might need a bit of both?
This comes up again because in today’s episode of The Smart Stuff Casey Newton Continues To Write About Facebook, Newton covers Facebook realizing that maybe they might have to implement something like a Supreme Court? If Facebook wants to solve things like content moderation at scale, then… it will probably need to do something like that. The next question, of course, is whether *Facebook* should have a Supreme Court or whether Facebook (or others! Hello, Your Government Needs You!) might be able to help out scaling out governmental infrastructure so that it better meets society’s needs. *In theory* anyone should be able to use the court system to, say, contest an intellectual property claim but *for some reason*, it always seems to be newspapers ripping off photographers and *for some reason* it seems to be pretty hard, or harder, for amateur photographers to enforce copyright claims against large(r) corporate entities. Why might that be? (Hello, you knew there would be an appeal to government service at some point, right?)
Anyway. I refer you to this article, From Territorial to Functional Sovereignty: The Case of Amazon and the related concepts of digital capitalism and the creeping encroachment (not that it wasn’t obvious, in some respects?) of state functions from very-powerful and treated as public but not actually public private corporations.
1.4 Carbon nanotube non-volatile memory
Forgive me this one. I can’t remember how I got to it, but it *looks* like maybe carbon-nanotube based *somethings* might be on the market and fill a genuine product need within about 18-24 months? (Just like, you point out, they have been forecast to do so in the next 18-24 months for the past 10 years, with their friend fusion hanging out nearby).
Here’s the deal:
Right now, the Hot Chips conference is happening where chip designers are coming together to talk about how their stuff is all the hot chip right now. Hot Chips is normally interesting because, you know, computers and software eating the world, but I’d put forward the idea that Hot Chips is *especially* interesting now because you’ve got a bunch of companies that, for the first time, have what are profesionally referred to as “ridiculous amounts of money”, plus an industry that has moved much closer to a fabrication-as-a-service model, so right now AFGAM are becoming ever more vertically integrated and designing not only software, but the hardware that runs their software. This is not news - Apple has been designing computers for ages - but again, the news is that Apple isn’t just buying Intel’s chips - they’re designing their own and have a third party ‘fab them for them. Then Google followed suit because they know what they need for, say, AI training (big data sets, fast) and AI inference (low power, less data) and it’s not just for stuff like “AI” it’s also stuff like “so that your phone can take better pictures”. This latter is because it turns out that making a good photograph is a bit like how your eye works in that it’s got hardly anything (well, obviously quite a bit) to do with the sensing of actual photons on a CMOS whatever, and turns out to have *more* to do with processing that data to make, well, “good looking photographs that match what, frankly, our brains lie to us about”.
Anyway! Hot Chips is where people are talking about Chips and you can read liveblogs of presentations like what
And then, to get the point, while you’re busy reading about whatever it is Intel and nVidia and Google and ARM are doing with their chips (they are very hot), you might read something about how nanotubes as dynamic random access memory might… be a thing soon? This is really interesting! Right now, broadly, there’s two different kinds of memory, there’s the fast stuff - RAM, and the slower stuff, which used to be spinning disks of rust (hard drives) and is now more likely to be a solid state drive, which uses something called flash memory. Flash memory is great because it’s faster than spinning disks of rust and that’s because, well, you don’t have to spin a bunch of rust around. Spinning rust around is hard! It gets so hard (and you end up having to do stuff with the rust, because you end up dealing with really small bits of rust) because you want to fit so many… “content” on your rust that you do things like stuff the box that the spinning rust is in with helium.
Anyway, people are really excited about solid state drives because they’re faster than spinning rust but then the technology behind flash memory is kind of getting old and might be bumping against some sort of storage limit. What are we to do? Where am I supposed to store all of the Steam games I have bought using illegal campaign funds?
Enter the futuristic carbon nanotube-based non-volatile random access memory which, if I squint at the papers just right, means that you pour a (patented) *slurry* of carbon nanotubes between two electrodes and if you apply a little bit of… current, then van der waals forces do their thing and you can flip between a bit and not-a-bit. How often do I get to write a sentence like carbon nanotube slurry and it not be science fiction? Anyway, here’s a paper on nanotube-based storage devices, here’s the bit where Fujitsu says it can use existing manufacturing procesess and use CNTs (there’s even an acronym!) as a drop-in and they hope (ha) to be delivering in 2019, *here’s* the Wikipedia write-up on Nano-RAM and *here’s* me showing you that I just added EE Times to my RSS reader by linking to the EE Times coverage of the Nantero presentation at Hot Chips.
Unrelatedly, I ended up learning that the term for the dot-pattern that the Kinect sensor displays and that the iPhone X also throws out in order to get depth data is structured light which, I don’t know, is also the title of a novel.
1.3 Other things that caught, etc.
* content warning - establishment gatekeeping: on Quilette (a “platform for free thought”), while you may express your unpopular opinion that there are too many mediocre artists which honestly reads like nothing more substantial than gatekeeping. I will note that the author’s original piece, published in The Spectator, further asserted that “if it’s shallow to publish books by Kim Kardashian because she’s pretty, it’s equally shallow to publish books by Roxane Gay because she’s fat” and I do not know what book the author means? Also, was this cut from the Quilette version because it was too far, or because it was too much “free thought” for a free thought platform? And more to the point, did the author mean Gay’s “Hunger, A Memoir of (My) Body”? I ask this because the second quote on Gay’s page about Hunger, from the New York Times, says “At its simplest, it’s a memoir about being fat” and then directly goes on to point out what’s deep (NYT: “Symphonic”) about Hunger, which… disproves the author’s point? The value, the reviewers are pointing out, is in the depth of Gay’s work. But, you know. Maybe the author just thinks that publishers are just publishing works by historically under-represented and marginalized people because they’ve been under-represented and marginalized and not *also because they are good*. I honestly don’t know how to end this other than some sort of lame gesture toward Pixar’s Ratatouille, pointing out that a good cook can come from anywhere, and if we only look in the same old places (e.g., to mix metaphors, where the streetlight shines) then we’re only going to find (or not find) the same stuff. I am honestly annoyed that I ever saw this article in the first place and am now sorry for bringing it to your attention. Let’s just ignore them and keep doing what we’re doing.
* content warning: we though living in space would be awesome If you read one thing about architecture this month (and there aren’t that many days left for your… one free architecture article a month from… this newsletter?) then read the extract from Fred Scharmen’s book about LIVING IN SPACE. SPACE, I TELL YOU.
Look. I’m tired. It’s 6:30pm the following day after I started writing this and for a number of reasons, I only got about 3 hours of sleep last night. I’m also scared. What I thought might be a horrible work day ended up not being one, so I’ve been on an emotinal rollercoaster. But tomorrow morning, I have an appointment wiht a dermatologist about a dark-ish vertical line on my right thumb and the problem is, if you have black vertical lines on your thumb then you might have a melanoma. The good news is that the dark vertical line (I have two now, which is not great) is *supposed* to be black, and mine is not. The bad news is… mine ticks off a bunch of symptoms but not others? So my doctors want to do the responsible thing and get a referral to a dermatologist.
And I’ll just say this: I’m scared. It’s probably nothing. It’s probably fine. It’s probably something like I have a freckle or something and some melanin is getting to go on a joyride down my cuticle or whatever. But the thing about probabilities is that it’s not just the probability that matters, it’s the severity. And I really could’ve done with *not* knowing that if you’ve already got a melanoma on your nail bed like that then you also don’t want it down in the bone of your thumb because, hey, maybe the best way of getting rid of that is to also get rid of some of your phone.
And I’m a worrier. I am an overcontrolled person who likes to know what’s going on and to be in control of their environment. (This is not a great trait to have, to be honest). So I’m overtired, I’ve been away from my family for 3-4 days at a time for the last 5 weeks in a row, and I have a potentially scary (but also potentially really not-scary, right?) appointment at stupid o’clock tomorrow morning.
Oh, and here's today's mental health affirmation: I don't have to do this on my own.