Week of November 18, 2019

A few things of note from around the Internet this week:

Rights

People don’t have rights, guns do.

If a person were found to have shown up regularly in so many places where so many crimes had been committed by so many people, how could that person not be called to account for such suspicious behavior? He would clearly be investigated for being present with such persistence at crime scenes. Did he facilitate them, making them easier by his mere presence? What could induce any innocent person to be so energetically omnipresent at so many varied crime scenes? What excuse could relieve him from the charge of being an accessory? A person with such skill and dogged effort would be considered a national menace, no matter how many excuses he could concoct for such weird conduct.

But guns can do all of those things and profess an entire non-involvement. “Who, me?” says Gun, going on:

I never asked to be part of anyone’s wrongdoing. Why pick on me? You must have a gun-persecution disorder. You accusers are the ones who show up at every crime scene, trying to drag me into actions as if I’m an agent. I am totally passive. I never asked to be bought by a homicidal maniac. Go after the nutty people and leave me alone.

So also argues the attorney for the defense, the NRA.

Culture War

On raising children in the modern age:

In his new book, The Meritocracy Trap, the Yale Law professor Daniel Markovits argues that this system turns elite families into business enterprises, and children into overworked, inauthentic success machines, while producing an economy that favors the super-educated and blights the prospects of the middle class, which sinks toward the languishing poor. Markovits describes the immense investments in money and time that well-off couples make in their children. By kindergarten, the children of elite professionals are already a full two years ahead of middle-class children, and the achievement gap is almost unbridgeable.

and

I can imagine the retort—the rebuke to everything I’ve written here: Your privilege has spared them. There’s no answer to that—which is why it’s a potent weapon—except to say that identity alone should neither uphold nor invalidate an idea, or we’ve lost the Enlightenment to pure tribalism. Adults who draft young children into their cause might think they’re empowering them and shaping them into virtuous people (a friend calls the Instagram photos parents post of their woke kids “selflessies”). In reality the adults are making themselves feel more righteous, indulging another form of narcissistic pride, expiating their guilt, and shifting the load of their own anxious battles onto children who can’t carry the burden, because they lack the intellectual apparatus and political power. Our goal shouldn’t be to tell children what to think. The point is to teach them how to think so they can grow up to find their own answers.

Charge More

A good primer on Vickrey auctions and selling mechanical keyboard kits for $1,668.

I knew nerds built their own mechanical keyboards, but I hadn’t realized just how deep this obsessive-collector subculture went.

During my visit, my friend listed their kits for sale and sold out their entire inventory of 60 kits literally within minutes.

So I did what any good friend would do: Point out that $500 is obviously below the market-clearing price and they should charge more next time.

But exactly how much more?

Burning

Quinn Norton on the infrastructural “technical debt” we’ve accrued over the last few hundreds years, how the climate crisis and ecosystem collapse are making things worse, and on the importance of having a plan “at every level from transnational to individual.” It’s a very good down to earth perspective on the current situation of most countries and probably a good posture to take towards infrastructure, the planet, and the work to be done.

This is a story of climate change, but it’s also a story of messed-up political priorities that date to when our great-grandparents were still getting used to the idea of electricity. It’s a story of disrespect and exploitation of the land, of failures in capitalism, regulation, and political will, of people who don’t want to live with the consequences of their decisions, and people who have to live with the consequences of other people’s decisions.

Backstory

Behind every great AI is a hand written system built in the 1960’s.

So, if you’re doing image recognition in 2019, it’s highly likely you’re using an image recognition system built by images tagged by people using Mechanical Turk in 2007 that sit on top of language classification systems built by graduate students prowling newspaper clippings in the 1960s.

Simply put, every single piece of decision-making in a high-tech neural network initially rests on a human being manually putting something together and making a choice.

Water

Ben Hunt on how executives use financialization to enrich themselves and widen the inequality gap.

One day we will recognize the defining Zeitgeist of the Obama/Trump years for what it is: an unparalleled transfer of wealth to the managerial class.

It’s the triumph of the manager over the steward. The triumph of the manager over the entrepreneur. The triumph of the manager over the founder. The triumph of the manager over ALL.

Facebook

You don’t need to read more than the first two paragraphs, that’s just a ridiculous amount of data.

Scribe processes logs with an input rate that can exceed 2.5 terabytes per second and an output rate that can exceed 7 terabytes per second. To put this workload into perspective, the output of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN during its latest run was estimated to reach only 25 gigabytes per second.