Dispatches from the Empire


Crash and Burn

I watched the sun come up on Portland
I waved goodbye to all my friends
I packed my car and headed to L.A.
I gave away all my loose ends
Somebody said you gotta get away
To wanna go back home again…

What It’s Like to Be a Sociopath

I think my sociopathy is entirely beneficial to me. I see my friends struggling with guilt. On an almost daily basis I think, I’m glad I don’t have that. The psychological characteristics of sociopathy are not inherently bad. Lack of remorse and shame and guilt has been misappropriated to mean this horrible thing, but again, just because I don’t care about you doesn’t mean I want to cause you more pain. I like that I don’t have guilt because I’m making my decisions based on logic, based on truth, as opposed to ought or should. Now, there is a flip side. I don’t have those natural emotional connections to other people, but I’ve never had those. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Just because I love differently doesn’t mean my love doesn’t count.

This, strangely, describes a tension I feel within.

I am at times consumed by guilt and remorse. I am also fiercely logical, and when I let logic guide my decisions, I feel far more at peace, yet far more isolated from others.

Because this is the internet, I feel I have to disclaim: I don’t think I’m a sociopath, nor do I have sociopathic tendencies.

But I know a few people who are, and they are each intelligent, kind, relatable people. There is an ease with which they move about the world that I envy, and often live lives that are far more interesting that most.

What I find as I age is that empathy is exhausting. It has become draining. I have a hunch this has something to do with our culture. Perhaps the Internet has twisted our ability to relate to one another, because there are precious few interactions I have other people that don’t involve projection.

Many of us are desperate to be understood. Myself more than most, and now more than ever as I embrace middle-age as an only child and most of the people I love and relate to have begun the slow process of dying.

This profound-yet-unsated desire to be understood has become fuel for my anxiety, my anger, my disappointment.

A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men

A mother in Alabama said parents couldn’t ignore the reality of this new economy.

“Social media is the way of our future, and I feel like they’ll be behind if they don’t know what’s going on,” the mother said. “You can’t do anything without it now.”

One 12-year-old girl in Maryland, who spoke with The Times alongside her mother, described the thrill of seeing other girls she knows wear a brand she represents in Instagram posts.

“People are actually being influenced by me,” she said.

U.S. Moon Landing Live Updates: Odysseus Has Landed

For the first time in more than 50 years, an American spacecraft has landed on the moon.

The lander, named Odysseus, was built by Intuitive Machines of Houston. Minutes after beginning its landing sequence at 6:11 p.m. Eastern time the spacecraft touched the ground, making it the first privately built spacecraft to land on the lunar surface.

Fifty years? Funny, with the two big memorable Mars missions in the last 15 years, I thought we’ve been landing things on the moon at least as often.

Generative AI like Midjourney creates images full of stereotypes

Bias occurs in many algorithms and AI systems — from sexist and racist search results to facial recognition systems that perform worse on Black faces. Generative AI systems are no different. In an analysis of more than 5,000 AI images, Bloomberg found that images associated with higher-paying job titles featured people with lighter skin tones, and that results for most professional roles were male-dominated.

A new Rest of World analysis shows that generative AI systems have tendencies toward bias, stereotypes, and reductionism when it comes to national identities, too.

Of course.

So let’s not give up control of our society to these algorithms, eh?

iMessage gets a major makeover that puts it on equal footing with Signal

One of the biggest looming threats to many forms of encryption is quantum computing. The strength of the algorithms used in virtually all messaging apps relies on mathematical problems that are easy to solve in one direction and extremely hard to solve in the other. Unlike a traditional computer, a quantum computer with sufficient resources can solve these problems in considerably less time.

No one knows how soon that day will come. One common estimate is that a quantum computer with 20 million qubits (a basic unit of measurement) will be able to crack a single 2,048-bit RSA key in about eight hours. The biggest known quantum computer to date has 433 qubits.

Whenever that future arrives, cryptography engineers know it’s inevitable. They also know that it’s likely some adversaries will collect and stockpile as much encrypted data now and decrypt it once quantum advances allow for it. The moves by both Apple and Signal aim to defend against that eventuality using Kyber, one of several PQC algorithms currently endorsed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Apple is a corporation and I am proud of their stance on user privacy.

Just a friendly reminder: turn on Advanced Data Protection.

Air Canada must honor refund policy invented by airline’s chatbot:

On the day Jake Moffatt's grandmother died, Moffat immediately visited Air Canada's website to book a flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Unsure of how Air Canada's bereavement rates worked, Moffatt asked Air Canada's chatbot to explain.

The chatbot provided inaccurate information, encouraging Moffatt to book a flight immediately and then request a refund within 90 days. In reality, Air Canada's policy explicitly stated that the airline will not provide refunds for bereavement travel after the flight is booked. Moffatt dutifully attempted to follow the chatbot's advice and request a refund but was shocked that the request was rejected.

According to Air Canada, Moffatt never should have trusted the chatbot and the airline should not be liable for the chatbot's misleading information because Air Canada essentially argued that "the chatbot is a separate legal entity that is responsible for its own actions," a court order said.

Nothing Matters

OpenAI’s Sora Turns AI Prompts Into Photorealistic Videos

Powered by a version of the diffusion model used by OpenAI’s Dalle–3 image generator as well as the transformer-based engine of GPT–4, Sora does not merely churn out videos that fulfill the demands of the prompts, but does so in a way that shows an emergent grasp of cinematic grammar.

That translates into a flair for storytelling. In another video that was created off of a prompt for “a gorgeously rendered papercraft world of a coral reef, rife with colorful fish and sea creatures.” Bill Peebles, another researcher on the project, notes that Sora created a narrative thrust by its camera angles and timing. “There’s actually multiple shot changes—these are not stitched together, but generated by the model in one go,” he says. “We didn’t tell it to do that, it just automatically did it.”

The Meaningless Incoherence Of "LGBTQ+"

The trouble is that words have meanings, and the term “LGBTQ+” — like the term “Hispanic” or “Latino” — is not like NATO. It doesn’t refer to a single, identifiable group, experience, or community. It refers to multiple ones. And each is distinct, discrete and often very different. When you examine its component parts, you realize that the Ls and Gs and Bs and Ts, let alone the Is and the +s, differ dramatically in basic things like psychology, lifestyle, income, geography, education, and politics.

Lumping them all together and treating them as a single unit is like treating Jews and Arabs as the “Middle East community,” or Cubans and Salvadorans as indistinguishable “Latinos.” “LGBTQ+” is a term that obscures and misleads more than it enlightens and clarifies. And it has made any study or understanding of homosexuals as a discreet [sic] group close to impossible.

Protein biomarkers predict dementia 15 years before diagnosis

Of 1,463 proteins analysed, aided by with a type of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, 11 proteins were identified and combined as a protein panel, which the researchers have shown to be highly accurate at predicting future dementia. Further incorporation of conventional risk factors of age, sex, education level and genetics, showed for the first time the high accuracy of the predictive model, measured at over 90%*, indicating its potential future use in community-based dementia screening programs.

Jon Stewart Returns to The Daily Show

Holy hell, I’ve missed him.

It wasn’t as good without him, and he wasn’t as good without it. But my god, they are made for each other, and watching all the way through to the end of this clip is a catharsis for my belief in the democratic process.

Democracy is work, for all of us. It’s not just voting once every four years (or two if we’re “civically engaged”). It’s volunteering, being kind to neighbors, talking with people that don’t think like you do, being kind to strangers, pushing back on bad ideas, writing letters to the editor and to friends and to everyone you care about (and maybe a few you don’t).

I am not willing to let 2024 be the year nihilism wins, for nihilism is far scarier than Republican authoritarianism or whatever nonsense the Democrats are doing.

Democracy is work.

The History of the Word ‘Crush’ in The New York Times

Ms. Stamper said that this meaning, which arrived in the late 19th century, developed from the literal sense; the weight of your feelings “become so intense that they feel like they are crushing you,” she said. In the 1880s, she said, it became popular to use “crush” or “mash” to refer to an infatuation that could be one’s undoing. “A crush” could be the infatuation itself or the object of the infatuation.

Like the etymology of many words dear to me (‘sarcasm’ and ‘nostalgia’ chief among them), the meaning of this word isn’t necessarily a positive one.

Noted.

Are You Alright?

Shit.

I’m really, really fucking depressed.

Apple Watch Ultra succeeds where Watch Edition failed

The Watch Ultra is different. Its large screen, clear yet dense interface, and rugged yet refined physical design all suggest that it must be far more expensive than the rest of the Apple Watch lineup. Yet, at $799, it’s only a mere seven percent costlier than the $749 stainless steel model.

The Ultra is second only to my phone as my favorite piece of Apple hardware. For my lifestyle, habits, location, and interests, it’s close to ideal (though I’ll never say no to more battery life), and the goodwill inspired by its utility is notable.

Pricing it just above the stainless steel regular watch was smart — Apple convinced me the Ultra was a bargain, effectively obfuscating their infamous profit margin.

The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning

…while Americans have today given up the old dream of liberalizing China, they should maybe look a little closer. It’s true that China never remotely liberalized—if you consider liberalism to be all about democratic elections, a free press, and respect for human rights. But many political thinkers would argue there is more to a comprehensive definition of modern liberalism than that. Instead, they would identify liberalism’s essential telos as being the liberation of the individual from all limiting ties of place, tradition, religion, associations, and relationships, along with all the material limits of nature, in pursuit of the radical autonomy of the modern “consumer.”

I am my best self only when I'm alone for prolonged periods of time.

Most Republican Senators Are Barred From Re-election in Oregon After Walkouts

Yes, and.

Indeed the will of the voters, but the divide between the east and west sides of the state is profound. Democratic legislators and the bulk of Oregon’s population on the west side of the state (majority democratic) don’t often represent the values of people around here. (Whether I agree with them or not.) It’s fostering real resentment, and I worry about what that means long-term.

Those that win elections should be as gracious as the losers, and in this state, that doesn’t always feel true.

(That said, I’d much rather live here than in almost any other state.)

‘Star Trek’ Spatial Experience Set To Launch On Apple Vision Pro

Oh my god 🤗

To be ON the bridge of the USS Voyager?! That’s been a life-long dream.

Introducing Juno for Apple Vision Pro

Then I remembered for years my old app, Apollo, played back YouTube videos submitted to Reddit pretty well, and I developed a pretty good understanding of how YouTube worked. That sparked the idea to reuse some of Apollo’s code there and build a little YouTube client of my own for visionOS, and after a mad week of coding “Juno for YouTube” is born.

What a lovely, perfect, welcome surprise.

Will tomorrow be the start of something new?

I’ve lived most of my life with and on computers. While I understand why so many people feel alienated by them, I adore them. They are playgrounds, spaces to tinker and make magic, to compose and to explore.

Computers, if you know how they work, are delightful. If you don’t, you will live at the mercy of the people who do.

So what will tomorrow bring? Will it be an event horizon?

Why Tim Cook Is Going All In on the Apple Vision Pro

This was as far from a VR headset as a kid’s Schwinn bicycle is from a Gulfstream G800 private jet. Just as when I scrolled my finger around the wheel of the first iPod or used my finger and thumb to zoom into an image on the first iPhone. With the Vision Pro, I could look at an app icon and simply tap my fingers together, and the app would open. And then it was hanging in front of me. In the clearest resolution I’d ever seen in my life. I could swipe through images with my hands, move things with my fingers. Unlike other VR headsets, where you have to use a controller that feels like you have lobster claws for hands, with the Apple Vision Pro your eyes become the mouse absolutely seamlessly. “It’s mind-blowing,” Cook said to me when I told him about my experience. “We live in a 3D world, but the content that we enjoy is flat.”

And here it is:

I know deep down that the Apple Vision Pro is too immersive, and yet all I want to do is see the world through it. “I’m sure the technology is terrific. I still think and hope it fails,” one Silicon Valley investor said to me. “Apple feels more and more like a tech fentanyl dealer that poses as a rehab provider.” Harsh words, but he feels what we all feel, a slave to our smartphone, and he’s seen this play before and he knows what the first act is like, and the second act, and he knows how it ends.

To my surprise, I am in a dark place.

I’ve been focused on other people, not myself. Lest this sound selfless, fear not — it’s a compulsive habit more than thoughtfulness. And now that I have a few moments of time to myself, I’m evaluating my life and don’t love what I see.

I’ve lost my sense of purpose. Work, i.e. staring at a screen and telling other people what they’re doing wrong, isn’t fulfilling like it once was, perhaps because it goes against the impulse of what I know I need less of in my life: certainty. I know, deep down in my bones, my life is a house of cards predicated on the illusion of certainty. People will die, I will age, things will change. The more I resist, the more control I attempt to wrest, the more miserable I will become.

Right now, I feel pretty miserable. I’m not accepting inevitabilities, being terribly honest or gracious or thoughtful. I’m afraid — of what, I don’t quite know — and the fear is shaping me into someone I don’t want to be.