The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Private vs Public Affluence

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There is a cost to our hyper capitalist society. One where the culture of greed and private ownership is an assault on community and our environment. Jeremy Williams in his excellent post:

But the thing I wanted to highlight is the difference between private and public affluence. Private affluence is individuals gaining things for themselves – possessions, nice homes and experiences, trampolines. Public affluence is money spent lavishly on things that are shared – libraries, parks, buses, playgrounds.

Capitalism pushes us towards private affluence. We aspire to acquire our own things. Shared things are seen as second best, something of an inconvenience. Politics responds accordingly, prioritising economic growth and ‘more money in your pocket’, rather than shared goods and services. So everyone has their own lawnmower while the grass grows long in the park. People get their own exercise bikes or rowing machines, and the gym at the local leisure centre starts to look tired and under-funded. The wealthy pay for childcare or hire a nanny, but the early years nursery closes down.

Having access to your own things looks like progress, but there is a cost. Community is one of the victims. Shared spaces are places where community happens, where people mix and meet. Nobody makes new friends on their own rowing machine, in front of the TV. Inequality is another. Those who can afford their own won’t notice, but those on lower incomes rely much more on shared resources. When a library closes, it’s those on the margins of society who lose access to books, internet access, or a warm place to sit and do their homework. There is also an environmental cost, as private ownership means endlessly duplicated goods, many underused objects across many owners rather than a few well used objects that are shared.

We Need to Keep Wearing Masks

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I have to say - I am not happy about the CDC’s decision to state that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most situations indoors or out. In the US 600 people/day are still dying of Covid-19 and our case positivity rate is still above 3% - not to mention most children are still not vaccinated.

Holding off for a few more weeks could have improved things tremendously. The CDC’s decision to lift the mandates seems to be guided by economics rather than science. Zeynep Tufekci’s piece in New York Times

It’s difficult for officials to issue rules as conditions evolve and uncertainty continues. So I hesitate to question the agency’s approach. But it’s not clear whether it was responding to scientific evidence or public clamor to lift state and local mandates, which the C.D.C. said could remain in place.

It might have been better to have kept up indoor mask mandates to help suppress the virus for maybe as little as a few more weeks.

The C.D.C. could have set metrics to measure such progress, saying that guidelines would be maintained until the number of cases or the number vaccinations reached a certain level, determined by epidemiologists.

A Cult of Ignorance

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There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through out political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that "democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

US Quarters to Honor Women

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Starting in 2022, the US Mint will release into circulation quarters featuring notable American women as part of the American Women Quarters Program.

The American Women Quarters may feature contributions from a variety of fields, including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts. The women honored will be from ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds. The Public Law requires that no living person be featured in the coin designs.

The first two quarters to be released honor astronaut Sally Ride and writer Maya Angelou.

Dune

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Dune is one of, if not the, greatest science fiction epic ever put to print. It’s influence, even today some 50 years later, is far and wide. Hard to imagine Star Wars would have ever existed with out Frank Herbert’s masterpiece. Hari Kunzru has an excellent write up in The Guardian:

Every fantasy reflects the place and time that produced it. If The Lord of the Rings is about the rise of fascism and the trauma of the second world war, and Game of Thrones, with its cynical realpolitik and cast of precarious, entrepreneurial characters is a fairytale of neoliberalism, then Dune is the paradigmatic fantasy of the Age of Aquarius. Its concerns – environmental stress, human potential, altered states of consciousness and the developing countries’ revolution against imperialism – are blended together into an era-defining vision of personal and cosmic transformation.

[..]

Actually, the great Dune film did get made. Its name is Star Wars. In early drafts, this story of a desert planet, an evil emperor, and a boy with a galactic destiny also included warring noble houses and a princess guarding a shipment of something called “aura spice”. All manner of borrowings from Dune litter the Star Wars universe, from the Bene Gesserit-like mental powers of the Jedi to the mining and “moisture farming” on Tattooine. Herbert knew he’d been ripped off, and thought he saw the ideas of other SF writers in Lucas’s money-spinning franchise. He and a number of colleagues formed a joke organisation called the We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society.

They did make a Dune movie staring Sting in 1984 - avoid it at all costs. Wait for this to come out sometime this year:


This trailer exceeded my expectations. I am so hyped to see this in theaters.

World Building in 128 Bytes

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Pitfall was one of the most sophisticated games released for the Atari 2600. While it may seem a simplistic game in 2021 - in 1983 on a machine with 128 bytes of RAM and 4096 bytes of ROM - it was an amazing feat of engineering. Just how was David Crane able to do it in such a constrained environment?

The way you make a large world without storing much data is by having some code generate it for you.

The biggest problem with this, however, is that you generally need to save the data you generated. This is what games such as Rogue and Minecraft do. They randomly generate worlds in order to give variety to players, but save the data once it's generated. The limitations of the Atari do not afford this luxury.

Crane overcame this in two ways. The first was in the way he represented a room's layout in memory, and the second was the way in which he generated those representations. The way these representations are generated actually obviate the need to store anything but the current room in memory, but we'll get to that later. First we will look at how the current room is represented.

[...]

Crane used a single byte to represent the layout of the current room. That may seem incredible given all that's going on in any given room, but it's actually quite simple.

A single byte of memory. Read the details here.

Half Renovated Houses

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When the once burgeoning coal industry in Ruhrgebiet, Germany, began to decline, many of the workers’ apartments were sold off. Oftentimes, new owners only purchased half of the building—miners maintained a lifelong right of residence to their quarters—creating a stark split between the left and right sides of the structure. Photographer Wolfgang Fröhling captures this visually striking divide in a series of images framing the renovated and original designs juxtaposed in a single structure. See the full collection of half-painted facades and disparate landscaping on Pixel Project, and find more of the Bottrop-based photographer’s work on his site.

I see this as a commentary on economic inequality.

A View From Above

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Photographer Brad Walls provides a new angle on the actions of athletes.

What Color Are These Spheres?

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A color contrast optical illusion makes it look like the balls are different colors. In reality they are all the same color and shading.

In a nutshell, we do perceive colors as they stand on their own, but also by contrast with colors around them. If I put up an image of a red square, then (assuming you have normal color vision) it looks red. But if I put up objects with other colors around it, the color we perceive changes a bit. That can be manipulated using stripes of different colors, for example. In the top row, note the colors of the stripes going across the balls. The left one has green stripes, the middle one red, and the right one blue. That changes how we see the balls.

This is called the Munker-White illusion (or sometimes just the Munker illusion), and it’s a powerful one. When you’re not looking directly at the balls, the color of the stripes pulls the color of the ball toward it, in a manner of speaking, so the green stripes make the ball look greener. It’s weird.

Sexual Violence of Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones was on of my favorite show on TV. At least until the Season 8 finally when D&D completely screwed over the audience- but I digress. What really bugged me about the show was the amount of rape, nudity and degradation of women on a weekly basis. Every season trying to top the last one.

Sophie Gilbert writing for The Atlantic:

Game of Thrones, which debuted 10 years ago this spring, has the dubious honor of being the ne plus ultra of rape culture on television. No series before, or since, has so flagrantly served up rape and assault simply for kicks, without a shadow of a nod toward “realism” (because dragons). The genre is fantasy, and the fantasy at hand is a world in which every woman, no matter her power or fortune, is likely to be violated in front of our eyes. Rape is like blood on Game of Thrones, so commonplace that viewers become inured to it, necessitating ever more excess to grab our attention. It’s brutal, graphic, and hollow. It’s also intentional. Daenerys’s wedding night isn’t explicitly written as being nonconsensual in George R. R. Martin’s 1996 novel (despite the fact that the character was 13 at the time), and it wasn’t filmed as such in the first, unreleased Game of Thrones pilot. At some point, the decision was made to introduce viewers to the series’s most significant female character via her humiliating assault—with pornified aesthetics for added titillation—by a man who had purchased her.

When Thrones was on the air, each season brought with it ample discussion of its wearying reliance on rape for dramatic fodder. My colleague Chris Orr did a character-by-character breakdown in 2015 of the exaggerated and invented instances of sexualized violence that the show’s creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, introduced in adapting the show; in response to widespread criticism, Weiss and Benioff eventually toned down depictions of rape and assault and sacrificed neither viewership nor Holy shit watercooler moments in the process, proving the show never needed them in the first place.

The Labor Shortage

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In the media, their is a growing voice that the Covid-19 benefits are causing workers to be lazy. That is certainly one view - but Anne Helen Petersen makes a great point:

Refusing to prostrate yourself on the wheel of work is not a failure. Nor is it self-care — at least not in the narrow, individualistic way we conceive of it. It can be a means of advocating for yourself, but also your peers, your family, even your children. But here’s the thing about a reshuffle: you’re still playing with the same deck of cards, and the game of American capitalism is still rigged against the worker. Which is why business models in everything from tourism to early childhood care need to be fundamentally reconceived — and built in a way that doesn’t hinge on workers making poverty-level wages.

We should ask ourselves, our communities, and our government: if a business can’t pay a living wage, should it be a business? If it’s too expensive for businesses to provide healthcare for their workers, maybe we need to decouple it from employment? If childcare is a market failure, but we need childcare for the economy to work, how can the government build that infrastructure? If the pay you provide workers doesn’t allow them to live in the community, what needs to change? Collectively, we should be thinking of different funding models, different ownership scenarios, and different growth imperatives. Failure to do so is simply resigning ourselves to another round of this rigged game.

If you can’t find a way to pay your employees a living wage and provide them a dignified work environment - why should you be allowed to exist as a business? This perverse attitude in America of profits over Americans needs to be stop. And the only way that is going to happen is by the citizenry demanding laws that enforce those changes.

And the Winner Is ...

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From The Economist:

The bigger challenge may be persuading viewers to tune in from home. If other awards shows are a portent, the Oscars are in for a difficult night. Last month the Grammy music awards got just 9.3m viewers in America, less than half the number who watched last year. In September the Emmys, television’s equivalent, notched 6.4m, another record low.

The pandemic has not helped: most of last year’s big films were postponed because cinemas were shut, dimming the Oscars’ allure. But the decline of interest in arts awards has been long in the making (see chart). It signifies growing boredom with ritzy galas, in an age when lots of stars broadcast directly to Instagram themselves. It betokens frustration in some quarters with a lack of diversity in judging panels and nominees—and, in others, with the perceived left-wing bias of the industry. More than that, though, it is evidence of a deeper shift in the entertainment world, in which the common popular culture that awards shows celebrate is itself being eroded.

Could it simply be that the general population no longer wants to see the entitled rich and privileged preach about Covid, racism and wealth inequality?

Life in Color With David Attenborough

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A new on Netflix - Life in Color with David Attenborough.

Animals can use color for all kinds of different reasons — whether to win a mate or beat a rival, to warn off an enemy or to hide from one. To understand how these colors work, we need to see them from an animal’s perspective. With new cameras developed especially for this series, now we can.

Apple Is Redifining the Importance of the CPU

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Joel Hruska writing over at Extreme Tech:

If that doesn’t seem like a fusillade across x86’s metaphorical bow, consider the issue from a different perspective: According to Apple, the M1 is the right CPU for a $699 computer, and a $999 computer, and a $1,699 computer. It’s the right chip if you want maximum battery life and the right CPU for optimal performance. Want the amazing performance of an M1 iMac, but can’t afford (or have no need) for the expensive display? Buy a $699 Mac mini, with exactly the same CPU. Apple’s M1 positioning, evaluated in its totality, claims the CPU is cheap and unremarkable enough to be sold at $699, powerful and capable enough to sell at $1699, and power-efficient enough to power both a tablet and a pair of laptops priced in-between.

I have said it in the past - when Apple enters a market place with their own product, they don’t compete in the traditional sense. The redefine and tilt the market to its advantage.

In a world of command line machines, they jumpstarted the modern computer interface with the Mac:

The did it with the music industry with their Rip,Burn,Mix ad campaign:


They redefined the mobile industry with the iPhone:


In each of those instances, they completely changed the tech environment to their advantage. The Mac made every other DOS based machine look ancient. The iPod and the Rip, Mix, Burn campaign re-imagined the music distribution industry to an all digital mobile delivery. And the iPhone upended the status quo in the mobile industry.

And now they are taking away the importance of the CPU in the desktop. Apple is relegating the CPU to just another bullet point in the long list of tech specs. It is no longer the central driver of performance or price differentiator. Apple is making the form factor the driving differentiator.

And this plays into Apple strength. No one else can really compete with Apple on the form factor. If I were Intel I would be afraid. Very afraid.

M1 iMac 24-Inch

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John Grubber on the new iMac 24-inch machines:

These new iMacs are just 11.5mm thick. How thin is that? Apple Watch Series 6 is 10.7mm thick. These new iMacs are less than 1mm thicker than a goddamned Apple Watch. They’re so thin Apple had to put the Ethernet port on the power adapter — the iMac itself is too thin. I’ve seen a bunch of Debbie Downer-type reactions to this, asking “Who cares how thin a desktop is? Just make it thicker and put more ports on it and stuff.” That’s the same sort of perspective that, 20+ years ago, had critics asking “Who cares what color plastic your computer is?”

Making these new iMacs super thin is cool. It’s a statement. From the side they look like big 24-inch iPads. If you don’t think that’s cool and that cool is something Apple should aspire to in its design and engineering, I have no idea why you’re reading anything I write.

India's Descent Into Covid Hell

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Dr Amit Thadhani, director of Niramaya hospital in Mumbai, which is only treating Covid patients, said he had given warnings about a virulent second wave back in February but they had gone ignored. He said now his hospital was “completely full and if a patient gets discharged, the bed is filled within minutes”. Ten days ago, the hospital ran out of oxygen, but alternative supplies were found just in time.

[…]

Thadhani said this time round the virus was “much more aggressive and much more infectious” and was now predominately affecting young people. “Now it is people in their 20s and 30s who are coming in with very severe symptoms and there is a lot of mortality among young people,” he said.

The haunting blare of ambulance sirens continued to ring out across the capital almost non-stop. Inside Lok Nayak government hospital in Delhi, the largest Covid facility in the capital, overburdened facilities and a shortage of oxygen cylinders meant there was two to a bed, while outside patients waiting for beds gasped for air on stretchers and in ambulances, while sobbing relatives stood by their sides. Some sat with oxygen cylinders they had bought themselves out of desperation. Others died waiting in the hospital car park.

It’s breathtaking how quickly COVID can erupt. India had just 11,000 cases a day in early February. As of yesterday, they set a record with over 310,000 cases. A warning to all of us in the United States to keep wearing masks and following the social distancing guidelines.

Ingenuity Liftoff!

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The Ingenuity helicopter took off and hovered for about 30 seconds in its first flight early this morning.

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) — 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time) — a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight. Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks.

Ingenuity’s initial flight demonstration was autonomous — piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL. Because data must be sent to and returned from the Red Planet over hundreds of millions of miles using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick, and its flight was not observable from Earth in real time.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

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A modern trailer to Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan:


This is the best Start Trek movie they every made. Nearlly 40 years on, it still holds up. Even though the special effects are looking dated. If Paramount used this before a re-release of this to the theaters, I would go see it. I’d bet a lot of people would.

Do We Still Need to Wear Masks?

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With 25% of the people fully vaccinated and 39.5% with the first dose, does it still make sense for use to wear a mask at all times? Science says that indoors - we should be masking up. But what about outdoors?

Shannon Palus writing for Slate:

In other words, as the pandemic has progressed, so has our understanding of what safety measures are truly most useful, and which aren’t worth the alcohol wipes. And I would like to calmly suggest that now is the time we should consider no longer wearing masks when we walk around outside.

I am not suggesting this simply because I am very sick of wearing a mask at all times outside my home. When it comes to coronavirus spread, evidence shows that being outdoors is very, very safe.

[…]

While it’s important to mask in outdoor crowds or if you’re hanging out close to someone in a park, Chagla explains, the main message should be that the outdoors is a safe place to be. He gave me a rough sense of how unlikely outdoor transmission is in the scenario where you’re walking unmasked on the sidewalk and briefly pass someone. First, you or the person you’re passing would have to happen to have an asymptomatic infection, he explained, and then everyone would have to be exhaling and inhaling at just the right moment, and also, exchanging enough particles to actually seed another infection: “You’re talking about a probability of getting hit by a car, and being struck by lightning.”

While I can’t really argue the points made here - it is probably safe to be outside without a mask. However, beating the epidemic at this point is more about social behavior. Collectively wearing a mask outdoors will be a constant reminder that we are not out of the woods yet, that we still need to keep our guard up.

Look I hate wearing a mask as much as the next person. Let’s keep up the effort for a little bit longer. We have already turned the corner - keep on wearing a mask so that we can finally have our lives back this year.