On Mastodon at @ssweeny@fosstodon.org Opinions are my own, not those of my wife, employer, child, or pets. In fact there are few areas in which we agree.
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Electric vs Gas

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An idling gas engine may be annoyingly loud, but that's the price you pay for having WAY less torque available at a standstill.
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ssweeny
2 days ago
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Pittsburgh
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3 public comments
kazriko
19 hours ago
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Electric motors would be good if not for the tons of expensive, inefficient, flammable, fragile, degrading to uselessness within 10 years batteries you have to drag around. Electric motors with Fuel Cells might make it actually feasible for someone beyond the rich. Though, I think in the short term series hybrids with small batteries might work out better for those who aren't rich.
Colorado Plateau
iustinp
3 days ago
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Touché!
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WorldMaker
3 days ago
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😼
Louisville, Kentucky

Hey Journalists: Not Every Elon Musk Brain Fart Warrants An Entire News Cycle

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So on Monday you probably saw that Apple announced it was more tightly integrating “AI” into its mobile operating system, both via a suite of AI-powered tools dubbed Apple Intelligence, and tighter AI integration with its Siri voice assistant. It’s not that big of a deal and (hopefully) reflects Apple’s more cautious approach to AI after Google told millions of customers to eat rocks and glue.

Apple was quick to point out that the processing for these features would happen on device to (hopefully) protect privacy. If Apple’s own systems can’t handle user inquiries, some of them may be offloaded to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, attempting to put a little distance between Apple and potential error-prone fabulism:

“Apple struck a deal with OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, to support some of its A.I. capabilities. Requests that its system can’t field will be directed to ChatGPT. For example, a user could say that they have salmon, lemon and tomatoes and want help planning dinner with those ingredients. Users would have to choose to direct those requests to ChatGPT, ensuring that they know that the chatbot — not Apple — is responsible if the answers are unsatisfying.”

Enter Elon Musk, who threw a petulant hissy fit after he realized that Apple had decided to partner with OpenAI instead of his half-cooked and more racist Grok pseudo-intelligence system. He took to ExTwitter to (falsely) claim Apple OS with ChatGPT integration posed such a dire privacy threat, iPhones would soon be banned from his companies and visitors would have to leave theirs in a copper-lined faraday cage:

This is, of course, a bunch of meaningless gibberish not actually based on anything technical. Musk just made up some security concerns to malign a competitor. The ban of iPhones will likely never happen. And to Luddites, his reference to a faraday cage certainly sounds smart.

Here’s the thing: nearly every app on your phone and every device in your home is tracking your every movement, choice, and behavior in granular detail, then selling that information to an international cabal of largely unregulated and extremely dodgy data brokers. Brokers that then turn around and sell that information to any nitwit with two nickels to rub together, including foreign intelligence.

So kind of like the TikTok hysteria, the idea that Apple’s new partnership with OpenAI poses some unique security and privacy threat above and beyond our existing total lack of any meaningful privacy whatsoever in a country too corrupt to pass an internet privacy law is pure performance.

Keep in mind that Musk’s companies have a pretty well established track record of playing extremely fast and loose with consumer privacy themselves. Automakers are generally some of the worst companies in tech when it comes to privacy and security, and according to Mozilla, Tesla is the worst of the worst. So the idea that Musk was engaging in any sort of good faith contemplation of privacy is simply false.

Still, it didn’t take long before the click-hunting press turned Musk’s meaningless comments into an entire news cycle. Resources that could have been spent on any number of meaningful stories were instead focused on platforming a throwaway comment by a fabulist that literally didn’t mean anything:

I’m particularly impressed with the Forbes headline, which pushes two falsehoods in one headline: that the nonexistent ban hurt Apple stock (it didn’t), while implying the ban already happened.

I’m unfortunately contributing to the news cycle noise to make a different point: this happens with every single Musk brain fart now, regardless of whether the comment has any meaning or importance. And it needs to stop if we’re to preserve what’s left of our collective sanity.

Journalists are quick to insist that it’s their noble responsibility to cover the comments of important people. But journalism is about informing and educating the public, which isn’t accomplished by redirecting limited journalistic resources to cover platform bullshit that means nothing and will result in nothing meaningful. All you’ve done is made a little money wasting people’s time.

U.S. newsrooms are so broadly conditioned to chase superficial SEO clickbait ad engagement waves they’ve tricked themselves into thinking these kinds of hollow news cycles serve an actual function. But it might be beneficial for the industry to do some deep introspection into the harmful symbiosis it has forged with terrible people and bullshit (see: any of a million recent profiles of white supremacists).

There are a million amazing scientific developments or acts of fatal corporate malfeasance that every single day go uncovered or under-covered in this country because we’ve hollowed out journalism and replaced it with lazy engagement infotainment.

And despite Musk’s supposed disdain for the press, his circus sideshow has always heavily relied on this media dysfunction. As his stock-fluffing house of cards starts to unravel, he’s had to increasingly rely on gibberish and controversy to distract, and U.S. journalism continues to lend a willing hand.

First it spent fifteen years hyping up Musk’s super-genius engineering mythology, despite mounting evidence that Musk was more of a clever credit-absconding opportunist than any sort of revolutionary thinker. After 20 years of this, the press still treats every belch the man has as worthy of the deepest analysis under the pretense they’re engaging in some sort of heady public service.

The public interest is often served by not covering the fever dreams of obnoxious opportunists, but every part of the media ecosystem is financially incentivized to do the exact opposite. And instead of any sort of introspection into the symbiosis the media has formed with absolute bullshit, we’re using badly crafted automation to supercharge all of the sector’s worst impulses at unprecedented new scale.

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ssweeny
11 days ago
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Editor's note: This is a special cartoon Gary drew for Earth Day 1990, as part o...

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Editor's note: This is a special cartoon Gary drew for Earth Day 1990, as part of a project in which many cartoonists participated to bring more awareness to the state of the environment.
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ssweeny
61 days ago
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Eclipse Path Maps

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Okay, this eclipse will only be visible from the Arctic in February 2063, when the sun is below the horizon, BUT if we get lucky and a gigantic chasm opens in the Earth in just the right spot...
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ssweeny
65 days ago
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A gut-check (re-run)

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This seems urgently relevant again. Still. Always. So here is a post from 2016 about a famous "thought experiment" that is no longer only that.
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ssweeny
114 days ago
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A Self-Enforcing Protocol to Solve Gerrymandering

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In 2009, I wrote:

There are several ways two people can divide a piece of cake in half. One way is to find someone impartial to do it for them. This works, but it requires another person. Another way is for one person to divide the piece, and the other person to complain (to the police, a judge, or his parents) if he doesn’t think it’s fair. This also works, but still requires another person—­at least to resolve disputes. A third way is for one person to do the dividing, and for the other person to choose the half he wants.

The point is that unlike protocols that require a neutral third party to complete (arbitrated), or protocols that require that neutral third party to resolve disputes (adjudicated), self-enforcing protocols just work. Cut-and-choose works because neither side can cheat. And while the math can get really complicated, the idea generalizes to multiple people.

Well, someone just solved gerrymandering in this way. Prior solutions required either a bipartisan commission to create fair voting districts (arbitrated), or require a judge to approve district boundaries (adjudicated), their solution is self-enforcing.

And it’s trivial to explain:

  • One party defines a map of equal-population contiguous districts.
  • Then, the second party combines pairs of contiguous districts to create the final map.

It’s not obvious that this solution works. You could imagine that all the districts are defined so that one party has a slight majority. In that case, no combination of pairs will make that map fair. But real-world gerrymandering is never that clean. There’s “cracking,” where a party’s voters are split amongst several districts to dilute its power; and “packing,” where a party’s voters are concentrated in a single district so its influence can be minimized elsewhere. It turns out that this “define-combine procedure” works; the combining party can undo any damage that the defining party does—that the results are fair. The paper has all the details, and they’re fascinating.

Of course, a theoretical solution is not a political solution. But it’s really neat to have a theoretical solution.

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ssweeny
126 days ago
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Pittsburgh
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