Brisées et bricolage

A place to cache fragments that might be useful in constructing glorious phantasms. In no particular order:

The pressing ethical questions in machine learning are not about machines becoming self-aware and taking over the world, but about how people can exploit other people, or through carelessness introduce immoral behavior into automated systems.

(Maciej Ceglowski, at the end of a remarkable talk on AI)

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Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy
Not my circus, not my monkeys

(Polish saying, cited in Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Winter)

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Let us remember that the automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is perfectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation, in comparison with which the present recession and even the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke. This depression will ruin many industries-possibly even the industries which have taken advantage of the new potentialities. However, there is nothing in the industrial tradition which forbids an industrialist to make a sure and quick profit, and to get out before the crash touches him personally.

(Norbert Wiener The Human Use of Human Beings (1950), quoted in Language Log 27 Nov 2016)

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Over the decades, the U.S. health care industry has matured, so to speak, into an interlocked cabal of insurance companies, kieretsus of hardware, software and service providers, and captive regulators of both. And because the system is mostly disconnected from the controlling effects of direct accountability to patients, costs and inefficiencies within the system have grown out of control. To say the least of it. (Doc Searls Weblog, 9 Nov 2016)

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Northmore himself is an honest, vehement sort of a fellow who splutters out all his opinions like a fiz-gig, made of gunpowder not thoroughly dry, sudden and explosive, yet ever with a certain adhesive blubberliness of elocution. (Letter from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Thomas Poole, 16 Sep. 1799).

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And you know cyber is becoming so big today. It’s becoming something that a number of years ago, a short number of years ago, wasn’t even word. And now the cyber is so big, and you know you look at what they’re doing with the internet. (Donald Trump)

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…in Britain, where the mainstream media is dominated by private school graduates who were trained to debate as if it were a bloodsport in which empathy is a handicap. London media wonks routinely treat one another as sparring partners and drinking buddies despite their political differences: after all, aren’t we all on the same team really? Aren’t we playing the same game? (Laurie Penny, I’m with the banned, at the Republican convention)

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Glyphosate is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, with more than 6bn tonnes of the substance sprayed on farms, gardens and public spaces in the last decade.

It is also a perennial for the agro-industry group, accounting for just under a third of Monsanto’s earnings last year before interest and tax.

Increased weed resistance to the substance has coincided with ever greater use of it and tests consistently finding that a large majority of those surveyed now have traces of the substance in their blood streams.

(from The Guardian, 29 June 2016) [what can possibly go wrong?]

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Archeology is always an encounter between a fixed past and a shifting present; we bring to it our fantasies, prejudices, and predilections—this year different from last year, next year different again. (Charlotte Higgins, New Yorker blog, 3 June 2016)

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Antarctica has always been friendlier to Christianity than to the other Abrahamic faiths. Judaism and Islam have problems at high latitude due to an unhealthy preoccupation with sunsets. Christianity works right out of the box. (Maciej’s Idle Words)

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I may be a recovering science fiction novelist, I still know how to plot: you drop some casual fact or remark into the early story, it seems like just part of the background noise, and then at some critical point later in the story that fact or remark explodes into prominence and gives the whole story meaning. This is such an old gimmick that it has a classical Greek name: anagnorisis, which roughly translates as “learning up”—the aha! moment when we glimpse what reality really is.

Also known as the “shock of recognition,” this sudden flash of insight seems to depend on connecting a newly learned fact with something already learned and assimilated. The Danish science writer Tor Nørretranders calls it exformation: the information you don’t include in a message because your reader/listener knows it already. Exformation is also the principle behind the running gag: each time we see it, we flash back to the last time, and our brains reward us by dousing themselves in various euphoric chemicals. (Crof, at H5N1)

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Perhaps the web is too complicated now. Perhaps the vested interests are too vested. Perhaps the barrage of content of and peck, peck, click, click, Like, addiction feeding, pigeon rat, behaviourist conditioning, screen based crack-Like business model has blinded us to the idea that we can use the web to build our own useful tools. (Tony Hirst, at blog.ouseful.info)

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Vellichor: the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time — filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured. (John Koenig, from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, cited by Michael Quinion in World Wide Words

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Winter storms are not named. The Weather Channel assigns names to winter storms as part of a social media marketing campaign. When you mention “Juno,” you’re participating in the proliferation of Big Weather. Think before you hashtag. (http://thevane.gawker.com/monday-morning-blizzard-update-sky-still-expected-to-f-1681763738)

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[at the end of 2014] Writers who were pessimistic about the state of the world tended to be the ones looking at the domestic situation, especially in the United States – the corrupt and paralyzed congress, the falling wages, the crushing debt burdens of our citizens, the militarization of police, the insularity of elites, the lawlessness with which the rich and powerful operate, the revolving door in government, the carceral state, joblessness caused by automation, the rising costs of housing, homelessness, falling education rates, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure, and so on. (via http://hipcrime.blogspot.com/2015/01/it-was-best-of-times-it-was-worst-of.html )

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Rules of the Garage

  1. Believe you can change the world
  2. Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever
  3. Know when to work alone, and when to work together
  4. Share tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues
  5. No Politics. No bureaucracy (These are ridiculous in a garage)
  6. The customer defines a job well done
  7. Radical ideas are not bad ideas
  8. Invent different ways of working
  9. Make a contribution every day
  10. If it doesn’t contribute, it doesn’t leave the garage
  11. Believe that together we can do anything
  12. Invent.

Bill Hewlett and David Packard

(via Bruce Sterling https://www.flickr.com/photos/brucesterling/15802072552/ )

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That seven-five pattern you see on the keyboard is only visible there because it’s the structure of the diatonic scales that we hear. It’s a pattern within the musical model our culture is dominated by. It’s not that pattern, but how it fits the hands, and the habits of the hands that become actual reflexes, that can be limiting. They can become so ingrained that they keep the imagination from roaming. That happens with the guitar fretboard too, though with different patterns, and with an instrument such as “Music Mouse” too, I suppose. Each instrument somehow biases our music in its own unique direction. Some composers manage to transcend those kinds of habits, some compose away from any instrument, others invent new instruments. But the physiological interface is sort of an algorithmic constraint all on its own, and I would think there are also similar cognitive constraints. (Laurie Spiegel)

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The public health blogger Crof is not given to hyperbole, so one perks up the ears when he excoriates:

As politically embarrassing as it is, we’d better admit that our health systems, whether in the US, Canada, Britain, or Europe, have been coasting on their successes. In the half-century since polio vaccine came in, we haven’t faced a serious challenge to our public health. SARS was scary but soon beaten (by smart Chinese experts, not by us). H1N1 was a dodged bullet, highly contagious but not quite lethal enough to knock our bureaucrats and politicians out of their ergonomic desk chairs.

Hell, we’ve been so good that our young, ignorant families could skip vaccinating their kids and get away with it, at least for a while. And we could even ignore the thousands who die yearly in our hospitals and seniors’ homes of MRSA, C.Diff, norovirus, and other nosocomial diseases. No one’s going to write a page-one headline: Senior with Dementia Dies Miserably of Diarrhea-Induced Dehydration.

Our health systems are just as happy to keep it that way. Running hospitals, clinics and seniors’ homes is damned expensive. For at least 30 years we’ve been solemnly told that paying taxes is a crime and maybe a sin, so healthcare becomes harder to defend. It’s cheaper to outsource cleaning chores to low-paid workers than to pay union scale to people who know how to do it. Better to wheel the poor old dears out to the hearse in silence, and wait for the next batch of poor old dears.

(http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/h5n1/2014/10/the-case-for-an-overseas-assault-on-ebola.html)

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Can machines learn? Sure they can, of course they can, anything that is networked can learn. Simple stupid neurons, when joined together, can learn. So can simple stupid computers. But the most interesting results happen when you take networks of humans and, instead of telling them what to do, enable them to make decisions for themselves. Now you have networks of learning networks. You get remarkable results, like memes, cat photos, and maybe, global democracy. And it’s not magic. It’s the simple, observable, science of networks.

(Stephen Downes http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2014/10/moocthink.html)

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describing Bard President Leon Botstein: “Botstein’s moral outrage, which he expresses in vivid, syntactically complex speech, conceals a relentless idealism, and to spend time in his company is to be convinced moment by moment that he is operating within an insane and crooked system rigged by villains and run by fools.” (Alice Gregory, in New Yorker, Sept 29 2014 pg 58)

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In the sublime construction of Dave Weinberger, Knowledge is seen to be forky fork forked (well, he presents it as the way Progress works on the Net, but I like it as a model for Education)

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The tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.
(Alex Ross in The New Yorker Sept 8, 2014)

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Most of the promised innovation we can expect in the coming years boils down to enhanced capacity to monitor our student activity, to mine data on these managed interactions. It’s a big part of the rationale that insists we keep online learning inside managed environments… What I realize now is that by directing our students to adapt to a world in which they can exercise no control over their environment, where every click and eyeball twitch is monitored and analyzed by inscrutable algorithms, we are in fact preparing them for the real world of work that they will be living in. The Learning Management System is in fact a near-perfect training ground for the world they will be inhabiting.

(Brian Lamb at Abject Learning)

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As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

The Ivy League is, of course, the preferred bleaching tub and charm school of the American oligarchy.
(Mike Lofgren on the Deep State)

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“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” as Jeff Hammerbacher said. And it’s not just data analysts: it’s creeping into every aspect of technology, including hardware. (Mike Loukides)

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Almost all authors born before, say, 1960 are something-ist by current standards of political judgment, which have been reshaped beyond the ability of most people in the past to imagine by the widespread diffusion of anti-essentialist and anti-naturalist philosophies through the arts and humanities: the aforementioned Doris Lessing was a homophobe, Toni Morrison a rape apologist, Saul Bellow a racist, Amiri Baraka an anti-Semite, Richard Wright a misogynist, Allen Ginsberg a pederast, Joan Didion an elitist, Susan Sontag a liberal imperialist, etc. As Samuel R. Delany once remarked, our own views, no matter how correct, will be regarded as monstrous 50 or 100 years hence. (John Pistelli)

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I think we’ve known for quite some time that science is not a set of facts that can be amassed but rather a network of interconnected perspectives or points of view. As Michael Polanyi said in 1962, “This network is the seat of scientific opinion which is not held by any single human brain, but which is split into thousands of different fragments … each of whom endorses the other´s opinion at second hand, by relying on the consensual chains which link him to all the others through a sequence of overlapping neighborhoods.” (from Stephen Downes)

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re: why Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell isn’t more influential: Perhaps it’s just sui generis, so wonderful and unique that it can’t really be an influence except as a spur to excellence? Or maybe, in the same way it doesn’t appear to have much in the way of immediate ancestors, it can’t produce descendants? It’s wonderful, but it’s not what fantasy is, it isn’t in dialogue with fantasy and it’s hard for fantasy to engage with it? (Jo Walton)

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Is it not interesting that so many males in America affect to be warriors? What does this tell us about the psychological dimensions of manhood in this country? If I have to guess, I’d venture that many people of the male persuasion hereabouts can’t imagine any other way of being a man — other than as a fine-tuned bringer-of-death, preferably some species of cyborg, with “techno” bells and whistles …the romance of monsterdom is yet another theme in the current caboodle of American manhood. Boys are in love with monsters, and want to be them, or like them, or with them, and nowadays many succeed at that. The indulgence in all these juvenile enthusiasms presents in the absence of any better models of a way to be… what are the chances that such people reared on dreams of triumphal violence will operate on the basis of kindness, generosity, and consideration of any future beyond the next fifteen minutes. (James Howard Kunstler, Warrior Land, 20 Jan 2014)

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We are going through a difficult time, one in which very strong polarization exists. Turks are a race of survivors, and I believe the situation will transform itself into a calmer state. The majority of the country is made up of rock-solid, conservative, patient people with good sense, and I am hoping that their good sense will prevail. However, there will be a price to be paid: My generation of city-born, non-religious, well-educated, Western-oriented Turks will not accept the transformation that Turkey must necessarily go through, and they will end up being marginalized. These are the people who are presently in a very emotional state, their moods swinging like a pendulum from panic to anger. It’s not nice for a country to have its intellligentsia become marginalized, but I don’t see a way out of that. Demonizing a people’s religion and cultural identity is not a recipe for peace; the Soviet Union and Mao’s China were experiments that showed that this does not work. …our mini-cultural revolution that tried to convert us into a people dressed in the French style who whistle Beethoven symphonies has come to a dead end, and is now being shed like a used-up snake skin. If we do things right, something new and healthy will emerge from this. (Ayşe Soysal, quoted in Informed Comment)

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Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. …a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. (Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, first page)

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Utility companies across America are fighting solar, imposing high fees on homeowners who install their own solar panels to feed back into the grid. This one was predictable from a long, long way out — energy companies being that special horror-burrito made from a core of hot, chewy greed wrapped in a fluffy blanket of regulatory protection, fixed in their belief that they have the right to profit from all power used, whether or not their supply it. (from Cory Doctorow, 27 December 2013)

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Luckily bureaucracy breeds, and it takes many meetings to manage the added complexity of administration required by our chronic overstaffing. There are people here who I only know of through their Outlook calendars, which are perpetually logjammed. Entire departments beaver away in anonymous quiet, building paper dams to hold the real world at bay. I shine my torch across empty in-trays, battered chairs, desks that reek of existential pointlessness. (from tor.com, 25 December 2013)

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Ruthlessly collecting every detail of online behaviour is something we do clandestinely for advertising purposes, it shouldn’t be corrupted because of your obsession over national security! (from O’Reilly Radar, 9 December 2013)

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Focusing primarily on cost, costliness, and administrative priorities takes the health of the “health care system” as the primary goal. It is a focus that provides no measurable advantage in caring for people. Persisting in this approach, and even expanding it, provides a temporary diversion, but not a solution. Neither the practice of medicine nor its infrastructure is the reason for medicine to exist. Furthermore, becoming a savvy consumer of “health care” is not what is meant by informed medical decision making. Medicine’s primary calling is to the personal, unique, idiosyncratic needs and values of each person who chooses to be (or must become) a patient. (from a SciAm blog)

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Adoxography is the rhetorical praise of things of doubtful value

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Assessment centres for accreditation are where corporations see their profits…

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