The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Fears of Technology Are Fears of Capitalism

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An interesting by Ted Chiang from an (author of Exhalation) interview with Ezra Klein on our fear of technology:

I tend to think that most fears about A.I. are best understood as fears about capitalism. And I think that this is actually true of most fears of technology, too. Most of our fears or anxieties about technology are best understood as fears or anxiety about how capitalism will use technology against us. And technology and capitalism have been so closely intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish the two.

Let’s think about it this way. How much would we fear any technology, whether A.I. or some other technology, how much would you fear it if we lived in a world that was a lot like Denmark or if the entire world was run sort of on the principles of one of the Scandinavian countries? There’s universal health care. Everyone has child care, free college maybe. And maybe there’s some version of universal basic income there.

Now if the entire world operates according to — is run on those principles, how much do you worry about a new technology then? I think much, much less than we do now. Most of the things that we worry about under the mode of capitalism that the U.S practices, that is going to put people out of work, that is going to make people’s lives harder, because corporations will see it as a way to increase their profits and reduce their costs. It’s not intrinsic to that technology. It’s not that technology fundamentally is about putting people out of work.

It’s capitalism that wants to reduce costs and reduce costs by laying people off. It’s not that like all technology suddenly becomes benign in this world. But it’s like, in a world where we have really strong social safety nets, then you could maybe actually evaluate sort of the pros and cons of technology as a technology, as opposed to seeing it through how capitalism is going to use it against us. How are giant corporations going to use this to increase their profits at our expense?

And so, I feel like that is kind of the unexamined assumption in a lot of discussions about the inevitability of technological change and technologically-induced unemployment. Those are fundamentally about capitalism and the fact that we are sort of unable to question capitalism. We take it as an assumption that it will always exist and that we will never escape it. And that’s sort of the background radiation that we are all having to live with. But yeah, I’d like us to be able to separate an evaluation of the merits and drawbacks of technology from the framework of capitalism.

Malcolm Gladwell on Saturday Night Live

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Malcolm Gladwell talks about Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of Donald Trump. He is not a fan. The thing that stood out to me is his commentary on Saturday Night Live in general:

You can't be an effective satirist if you are so deeply complicit in the object of your satire.

The Last Blues Man

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73 year old Jimmy “Duck” Holmes just got nominated for a Grammy. He has already won. His legacy will outlast him. Just as blues men from the 20’s inspired British musicians to take up the art, he will inspire musicians decades from now.

When you got something to share - thats an honor.

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes

A true blues man. Three chords and the truth!

The Overspent American

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Comfort is no longer enough, people want luxury

That statement sums up the American consumer psyche. This video came out 20 years ago - before the pervasiveness of social media. Facebook, Instagram and the horde of internet influencers have taken the ‘keeping up with the jones’ to a whole new level.

Financial freedom is not making more money. Financial freedom is not needing more money.

Walking to Work - 56 Miles

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A few monts ago the dean asked me to give a lecture at the new fancy building at the mothership campus. I said sure John, I’ll do that. Why don’t I walk to the lecture? From home.

Moderna and Pfizer Vaccines Are Highly Effective

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The New York Times:

The coronavirus vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are proving highly effective at preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic infections under real-world conditions, federal health researchers reported on Monday.

Consistent with clinical trial data, a two-dose regimen prevented 90 percent of infections by two weeks after the second shot. One dose prevented 80 percent of infections by two weeks after vaccination. […]

Scientists have debated whether vaccinated people may still get asymptomatic infections and transmit the virus to others. The new study, by researchers at the C.D.C., suggested that since infections were so rare, transmission is likely rare, too.

There also has been concern that variants may render the vaccines less effective. The study’s results do not confirm that fear. Troubling variants were circulating during the time of the study — from December 14, 2020 to March 13, 2021 — yet the vaccines still provided powerful protection.

The vaccines don’t just prevent the vaccinated from getting sick, but they almost certainly stop asymptomatic spread, too. This is great news as we look forward to returning to normal. Now the challenge will be to get everyone to take the vaccine.

Using Mermaid With Octopress/Jekyll

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Markdown is a pretty nice tool for developers to write documents. But it doesn’t support creating graphs & charts easily. Mermaid is a powerful js library which can convert a text described graph or chart and render it. It’s a perfect tool when using with Octopress (A bloging tool based on Jekyll). Here I’ll show you how to integrate the mermaid with minimal effort into your Octopress (or Jekyll) website.

For the purposes of this tutorial - I will be be using Octopress, but this should be fairly trivial to also add this to your Jekyll template.

Integrating mermaid.js directly

While there is a Jekyll Mermaid plugin available, it is much more complicated to setup and use. We will be using the mermaid CDN directly. Lets get started.

In your Octopress blog directory, navigate to the source/_includes/head.html file and add the following anywhere between the tags. If you are using Jekyll, just add it to where ever your header tags are defined (usually in _layouts/default.html).

<script src=""></script>

Since Markdown is pretty friendly to html tags, you can simply add a diagram by wrapping mermaid markup in a div with class “mermaid” for example:

<div class="mermaid">
graph LR
    A[Hard edge] -->|Link text| B(Round edge)
    B --> C{Decision}
    C -->|One| D[Result one]
    C -->|Two| E[Result two]

Which when rendered outputs:

graph LR A[Hard edge] -->|Link text| B(Round edge) B --> C{Decision} C -->|One| D[Result one] C -->|Two| E[Result two]

You can try out your code before deployment using a live editor. Mermaid documentation can be found here.

Thats it! If you have any questions feel free to get in touch or leave a comment.

Church Organ Music With a Commodore 64

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Linus Akesson he remapped the keys of a Commodore 64 so he could play it like an accordion, ran it though a reverb machine, and created the sixtyforgan. The Bach piece he plays at the end of the video above sounds so much like it’s being played on an organ.

Spring reverb + Commodore 64. I have said it before, the Commodore 64 was the greatest home computer ever made. I can’t tell you how many fellow developers started their programming careers on that machine. Far ahead of its time.

Album of the Week: Californication

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Welcome to a new weekly series of blog posts inspired by my upgrade to a Cambridge Audio CXN V2 Stereo Network Streamer. What is a network audio streamer you ask? That is one complicated rabbit hole to go down. Simply put, its is a device that lets you stream music from the cloud. But that is a discussion for another time.

The idea here is to present an album each week that I have throughly enjoyed. For this inaugural week it is Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Greg Tate sums it best:

Historically, though, RHCP albums have been long on sock-it-to-me passion but short on the songcraft that made their hero George Clinton’s most acid-addled experiments lyrically haunting and melodically infectious. Up until this new Peppers joint, Californication, that is. For Lord knows what reasons — age, sobriety, Blonde on Blonde ambitions or worship at the altar of Billy Corgan — they’ve settled down and written a whole album’s worth of tunes that tickle the ear, romance the booty, swell the heart, moisten the tear ducts and dilate the third eye. All this inside of song forms and production that reveal sublime new facets upon each hearing.

Anthony Kiedis has found the blues. John Frusciante’s work on the guitar is right up there with Hendrix. Flea’s leads and bass lines on solidifies him as one of, if not the bassist of the past three decades. With the title track Californication, RHCP has blown past their funk-rap past outing to something that is truly a classic.

It's the edge of the world and all of Western civilization
The sun may rise in the East at least it's settled in a final location
It's understood that Hollywood sells Californication

And we are all buying it.

Whatever It Takes to Get Things Done

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David A. Graham in The Atlantic:

That writer was me, and the quick passage of now-President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief package is, among other things, a rebuke of my analysis. Biden’s success suggests that I misunderstood how his many years in the Senate have shaped his approach to politics.

David A. Graham: Biden is in denial about the Republican Party

I thought that Biden’s frequent paeans to the Senate of yore meant that he would prioritize cutting deals across the aisle above all. During his presidential campaign, Biden was happy to encourage this impression. But there’s another, contradictory lesson of the old Senate, and it’s the one that Biden has followed thus far as president: You do whatever it takes to get things done.

Meghan Markle Didn't Do the Work

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Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic:

With the calumny of the flower-girl dresses cleared up, it was time to roll a piece of previously recorded tape, featuring Meghan, Harry, and Oprah squeezed into the young couple’s chicken coop, which is populated with “rescue chickens.” (Meghan: “I just love rescuing.”) What was the best thing about their new life? Oprah asked from inside the coop. The chance “to live authentically,” Meghan said, as though she and Harry were mucking out stables in Hertfordshire, not tending to rescue chickens on a $15 million estate. “It’s so basic,” she continued, “but it’s really fulfilling. Just getting back down to basics.


Part of Meghan’s problem, it turned out, was her naïveté about the workings of the Royal Family, which she had assumed would be similar to the workings of celebrity culture. What was she, Meghan Markle, a simple girl from Los Angeles, to have understood about such an institution as the British? How was she to know that Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith was in any way different from the Lady of Gaga? One wonders whether her study of foreign service and international relations, her internship at the American embassy in Argentina, and her work with the UN might have clued her in to the fact that a whole world exists beyond the Jamba Juice on La Brea and the set of Deal or No Deal, on which she had once been one of the beautiful “suitcase girls.” Apparently, they had not.

She told Oprah that she had never even Googled her future husband’s name—a remark that united the viewing world in hilarity, time zone by time zone. It was an assertion that strained credulity, but it was necessary to her contention that she’d had no idea that the Windsors had not, as we now say, “done the work” when it came to exploring their own racial biases. Had she herself done some work by punching her beloved’s name into a search engine, she would have understood that she was not marrying the most racially conscious person on the planet. She would have seen pictures of him dressed as a Nazi at a costume party (his great-granduncle—briefly Edward VIII—had palled around with Adolf Hitler) and a videotape of him introducing a fellow cadet as “our little Paki friend.” The Palace said that “Prince Harry used the term without any malice and as a nickname about a highly popular member of his platoon.” But the palace had no good explanation for why Harry introduced another cadet in the video by saying, “It’s Dan the Man. Fuck me, you look like a raghead.”


And Harry sat there beside her, 7,000 miles from home, in the land of rich Californians and Meyer lemons and eucalyptus trees trailing Spanish moss. He had plighted his troth to this unexpected and very beautiful woman; he had hurt his grandmother, and alienated his father and his only brother. He had thought that having Bishop Michael Bruce Curry deliver the homily at his wedding would reverse a thousand years of English racial attitudes, but he had been wrong about that.**He was a combat veteran, a prince, the grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson of English monarchs, and now he was going to have to think up some podcasts.

The amount of entitlement and privilege on display here by these two is repulsive. I don’t feel bad for either of them - Meghan can rescue chickens the rest of her life, and Harry can spend his days in that garden thinking up the next great podcast.

I hope they do well. I really do. Just spare us the details. Please.

None of This Needed to Happen

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Now that we're hopefully on the way out of the COVID pandemic and people (myself included) are celebrating how awesome these innovative vaccines are and how great it is that we'll be able to go back to the things we've missed, I want to point out that none of this needed to happen. Many countries were able to rapidly contain COVID, including Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand. We're looking back on one of the biggest failures of our government ever, not just at the national level, but also at the state and local level. This means we need to study all the countries that aced the COVID test and learn how they did it.

YKK Zippers

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Want to know if something is high quality? Pay attention to the details. For example - I don’t buy anything that doesn’t have YKK zippers.

Josh Centers for the The Prepared:

A “pro tip” for evaluating the quality of a piece of gear is to look at the small details, such as zippers and stitching. Cheap-minded manufacturers will skimp on those details because most people just don’t notice, and even a cheap component will often last past a basic warranty period, so it’s an easy way to increase profits without losing sales or returns.

If a designer does bother to invest in quality components, that’s a tried-and-true sign that the overall product is better than the competition. Zippers are a classic example when looking at backpacks, clothing, and similar gear. And although there are a few other fine zipper brands out there, the king is YKK Group — to the point that the first thing some gear reviewers look for is the “YKK” branding on the zipper pull tab.

My dad used to do some work for YKK back in the ‘90s, so I wanted to dig deeper into why they’re the king and what makes their zippers so associated with quality.


YKK Zippers are amazing, because they self-lubricate the more you use them. You’ll notice that other brands of zippers become sticky and gritty over time. Not with YKK… They will feel more smooth, the more you use them.

I have products that I have been using for the past 25 years that use them. I have never had a YKK zipper fail on me.

Yo-Yo Ma Plays Impromptu Cello Concert at Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic

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When Ma had first visited the clinic for his first shot, he did so quietly, taking in the surroundings, staff said. But brought his cello when he returned for the second shot.

Staff described how a hush fell across the clinic as Ma began to play. “It was so weird how peaceful the whole building became, just having a little bit of music in the background,” said Leslie Drager, the lead clinical manager for the vaccination site, according to the Washington Post.

A Silly People

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Well we are the silly people now. You know who doesnt' care that there's a stereo type of a Chinese man in a Dr Suess book? China. All 1.4 billion of them could give a crouching tiger flying fuck. Because they are not a silly people. If anything they are as serious as a prison fight.

Look we all know China does bad stuff. They break promises about Hong Kong autonomy, they put leaders in camps and punish dissent. We don't want to be that. But there has gotta be something between authoratarian government that tells everyone what to do and a representative government that can't do anything.


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Tina an upcoming documentary Tina Turner, with interviews with Angela Bassett, Oprah, Kurt Loder, and Tina Turner herself. Airing March 27th on HBO.

Private Schools Have Become Truly Obscene

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In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item.

We have become a country with vanishingly few paths out of poverty, or even out of the working class. We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle. Many schools for the richest American kids have gates and security guards; the message is you are precious to us. Many schools for the poorest kids have metal detectors and police officers; the message is you are a threat to us.

Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken.