It’s Friday April 9, 2021.
Yesterday morning, I became a first-dose vaccinated member of hashtag-team-Pfizer, which is not the same as hashtag-team-Feisar. Hooray for science, logistics and human civilization.
I’ve been trying to write this episode for around the last week now, so let’s see if this attempt sticks.
Speaking of which, writing, it feels puts on Church of England cosplay outfit, is a little like playing award-winning videogame Hades. How is that, you might ask?
For one, I have been playing Hades. It’s what’s known as a roguelike, which these days just means that the levels/environment are randomly generated each time you play the game. One aspect of roguelikes is that you get to play them again and again and again, because the random level generation lends itself to a continually new and surprising challenge each time. In Hades, the conceit is that you’re Zagreus, trying to escape the house of Hades. It is very hard! You die a lot. You see how the setting of the game matches the mechanic here. The eternal challenge of attempting to escape the underworld!
And, well, that’s like writing for me right now. A struggle to sit down in front of an empty text file, fending off a whole bunch of procedurally generated distractions, every so often a boss battle on Twitter, and all those tiny emails that peck away at you.
Writing. It’s super fun. Highly recommended.
I am listening to Last and First Men, by Johann Johannsson and Yair Elazar Glotman. I have Cameo Wood to thank for this, who sent me a teaser trailer to the accompanying film of the same name.
You may be aware if you are a) American, or b) not American — e.g. British — and grew up reading lots of books in your head, that there are words that are not pronounced the way they are spelled!
To help you (I was in my thirties before I learned that Featherstone-Waugh is actually pronounced like fanshaw), Wikipedia has a helpful (non-exhaustive, I might add) list of [irregularly spelt places in the United Kingdom] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_irregularly_spelt_places_in_the_United_Kingdom)
Meanwhile, I’m reminded of when I trained a neural network to generate British place names And British place names nearly 4 years ago.
Two things that feel like they fit together:
First, there’s April 3, 2021 New York Times story about How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations. One note:
“Officials at multiple financial institutions who dealt with complaints estimated WinRed was, at peak, 1-3% of volume — a figured confirmed by one of the nation’s largest credit-card issuers. That’s huge, considering size of U.S. credit card economy” Shane Goldmacher
The story is the usual one about dark patterns - in their worst cases, tricks designed you to do something against your own intentions, or deliberately obfuscating what will happen.
But this isn’t about those dark patterns. Mike Monteiro said this, about the recent Non-Fungible Token bubble/burgeoning scene/digital financialization and art speculation:
Believing the crypto edgelords would build anything for anyone’s benefit but their own — much less artist’s benefit — means ignoring everything they’ve done so far. Don’t believe the hype. Mike Monteiro
Take those two together and mash them up a bit, and what you get is some thoughts around explicitly scammy technical infrastructure. Phone calls in the U.S. are totally spammy/scammy now, and my gut feeling  is that this is partly down to VOIP (Voice over IP) bringing a) the cost of calling down to not-very-much, but also b) turning making voice calls into something that’s API-able/automatable, which in the end means c) scaleable. Scaleable and cheap means spammy.
So I’m wondering: what does explicitly scammy technical infrastructure look like? Where the majority or main use of the technology is solely for scams or used in dark patterns? The trendy thing to think of right now is bitcoin/cryptocurrency because the whole thing feels like a ponzi-pile-on-speculation scam (which isn’t entirely untrue?). And, you know, the NFT-not-a-bubble-honest, which has apparently slumped by 70% [The Art Newspaper].
If one were to look at, say, a list of confidence tricks and then figure out what new software or technology could exist for them (and mostly for them), what might they be? Sure, “technology” isn’t neutral and reflects the creator and so on, so what do does scammy infrastructure look like, how and where might you find it, and then, what might you want to do about it?
Caught my attention because: (not entirely facetiously) what is infrastructure, anyway? Part of what defines infrastructure is that it’s needed to operate at scale? What do people use and create software for, can you imagine the user stories, and it reminds me about how El Chapo was in part taken down by “a Columbian I.T. Guy” [yes, the New York Times, again, in El Chapo Trial: How a Colombian I.T. Guy Helped U.S. Authorities Take Down the Kingpin], and it’s always fun to imagine all of the different kinds of IT systems that must exist.
So, there’s data warehouses, data lakes (a relative of the milk lake and butter mountain, I presume), and now of course there are data lakehouses, which is a) what happens when someone wants to be sold something that is kind of a data warehouse and kind of a data lake, but you know, location location location or whatever, and b) what happens because people use the English language.
There’s also SQLite, which is a tiny (yet powerful!) SQL database that doesn’t need a server and just… sits there and stores your data and lets you query it. It’s pretty awesome! Lots of things use it (the SQLite website says there are probably over one trillion SQLite database in active use.
I like being silly and use it as an excuse to try mixing different concepts in my head to see if anything new or interesting comes out. And so: the exciting rebrand of SQLite as the Data Tiny House [tweet].
What’s a tiny house? Why, there’s a whole tiny-house movement which is more or less about concepts like domestic cozy. Things are smaller, there are fewer things, they are more artisan, they are less sprawling, they are more human-sized. They are, in other words, the opposite of large inhuman things like warehouses and lakes and certainly not unaffordable bourgeoise lakehouses. I mean, who has a lakehouse, anyway?
So you take your giant AWS managed PostgreSQL database or your Oracle Enterprise Whatever, and instead you get a nice little (but reliable!) database you can even run on your phone. Multiple instances of it on your phone. Not a big footprint. Keep your data where you can see it. So cozy!
You can’t have a fake database product without print ads, though. So I um made some print ads.
Here’s one of my favorites:
Actually it was really hard to choose one, they’re all my favorite. But why did this catch my attention?
Caught my attention because: Gosh there’s so much here.
What’s more, the Library of Congress even recommends the technology that powers Data TinyHouse as the best way to preserve precious digital content. And what’s cozier than a library?
Shorter caught my attention reasons: copying/riffing off styles is fun, taking something old and mixing it with something new is fun, taking something for culture like tiny houses and mixing it with database technology is also fun.
Glenn Fleishmann wrote that
I once thought the gig economy could benefit workers and companies, providing a third path between employment and vendor-based contracting. I was wrong. It’s been a race to the bottom, to wring as much value out of people the companies see as disposable and interchangeable. [Tweet]
which caught my attention because one of my first reactions was “it was always going to be an API for Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive People“
Other reasons why this was interesting:
This time, s3e06: Portions Of This Consciousness Are Copyrighted from March 30, 2016, which had predictions about what computers might be able to do for you by 2017, including:
… and a riff on an ad agency announcing the world’s first AI creative director (ha. ha. ha.).
OK, that’s it. I’m calling it. Around 2,150 words this time which is really time to stop. I should go outside. My non-dominant arm hurts. It’s hard to process thoughts and emotions about having my first dose of the COVID vaccine.
How are you doing?