Posts tagged ‘tech’


Best Buy queueing theory

Single-queue multiple-server is often a pretty optimal way to set up a system; there’s a single potentially large / unending bunch of jobs / customers waiting, and some comparatively small number of servers / staff to take care of them. When a server is free, some job is chosen and the server starts running / serving that job.

When the chosen job / customer is always the one that’s been waiting longest, that’s a FIFO (first-in first-out) queue, known to consumers in the Eastern US as a “line”. It’s easy to implement, sometimes pretty optimal under certain assumptions, and has a sort of “fair” feeling about it.

On the other hand, I have the feeling that when the customer set is highly bimodal, the whole setup might not be entirely optimal in some cases.

For instance, if some of your customers are just buying a 1Gb Ethernet switch (see below) and some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups using a credit card, and it will take 45-60 seconds, and another set of customers are picking up something that’s being held for them somewhere in the back, and they aren’t quite sure what it is, and want the staff person to explain how to use it, and then want to purchase it using Latvian stock market futures that are actually in their brother-in-law’s name, and that will take 20-90 minutes, then some of those first set of customers are going to end up waiting (in some sense) an unnecessarily long time, waiting for education to complete or a brother-in-law’s marriage certificate to be found in an overcoat pocket.

One could assign a particular server to small jobs, or to small jobs if there are any such waiting, or always let a short job go before a long job if there are any waiting, or unless there’s a large job that’s been waiting more than a certain time, or…

All of these can be implemented in software systems, but most of them are too complicated or unfair-feeling for a Best Buy full of strangers. Allocating one server / staff member / desk to “customer service” (anything involving training, or stock market futures, for instance) and the rest to ordinary purchases is about as complex as it’s practical to implement. They weren’t doing even that at my Best Buy this morning, but then there were only three staff people on registers, and taking one-third of them away from the short-transaction customers might have been bad. Or just no one wanted to bother figuring it out.

Speaking of 1Gb Ethernet switches, I mean, WTF? I know I’m old, but I still think of these as costing thousands (tens of thousands?) of USD, requiring careful tuning, and taking up a significant part of a room (okay, a small room, or at least a rack slot). Now granted that was maybe for one with at least 24 ports and a management interface, but I mean! I can buy one for the price of two large pizzas, and it fits in the palm of my hand? Really? Where are the flying cars then??

A picture of a Netgear 1Gb Ethernet Switch.

That is a picture of a 1Gb Ethernet Switch. Possibly the one that I bought, I forget exactly. Might have been Linksys. Or something.


Not a review of “Superintelligence”

I’m reading this book “Superintelligence” by Nick Bostrom (I apparently have the 2014, not the 2016, edition). This isn’t a review, because I haven’t nearly finished it yet, but I have some Thoughts.

First of all, the book is taking far too long to get to the “What we should do about the prospect of things that are sufficiently smarter than us coming to exist nearby?” part. I’ve been plodding and plodding through many pages intended to convince me that this is a significant enough probability that I should bother thinking about it at all. I already believed that it was, and if anything the many many pages attempting to convince me of it have made me think it’s less worth worrying about, by presenting mediocre arguments.

(Like, they point out the obvious possibility that if a computer can make itself smarter, and the smarter it is the faster it can make itself smarter, then it can get smarter exponentially, and that can be really fast. But they also note that this depends on each unit of smarterness being not significantly harder than the last to achieve, and they give unconvincing external arguments for this being likely, whereas the typical inherent behavior of a hard problem is that it gets harder and harder as you go along (80/20 rules and all), and that would tend to prevent an exponential increase, and they haven’t even mentioned that. Maybe they will, or maybe they did and I didn’t notice. They also say amusing things about how significant AI research can be done on a single “PC” and maybe in 2014 that was a reasonable thing to say I dunno.)


But anyway, this isn’t a review of the book (maybe I’ll do one when I’m finished, if I ever finish). This is a little scenario-building based on me thinking about what an early Superintelligent system might actually look like, in what way(s) it might be dangerous, and so on. I’m thinking about this as I go, so no telling where we might end up!

The book tends to write down scenarios where, when it becomes Superintelligent, a system also becomes (or already is) relatively autonomous, able to just Do Things with its effectors, based on what comes in through its sensors, according to its goals. And I think that’s unlikely in the extreme, at least at first. (It may be that the next chapter or two in the book will consider this, and that’s fine, I’m thinking about it now anyway.

Consider a current AI system of whatever kind; say GPT-3 or NightCafe (VQGAN+CLIP). It’s a computer program, and it sits there doing nothing. Someone types some stuff into it, and it produces some stuff. Some interesting text, say, or a pretty image. Arguably it (or a later version of it) knows a whole lot about words and shapes and society and robots and things. But it has no idea of itself, no motives except in the most trivial sense, and no autonomy; it never just decides to do something.

So next consider a much smarter system, say a “PLNR-7” which is an AI in the same general style, which is very good at planning to achieve goals. You put in a description of a situation, some constraints and a goal, and it burns lots of CPU and GPU time and gets very hot, and outputs a plan for how to achieve that goal in that situation, satisfying those constraints. Let’s say it is Superintelligent, and can do this significantly better than any human.

Do we need to worry about it taking over the world? Pretty obviously not, in this scenario. If someone were to give it a description of its own situation, a relatively empty set of constraints, and the goal of taking over the world, perhaps it could put out an amazing plan for how it could do that. But it isn’t going to carry out the plan, because it isn’t a carrier-out of plans; all it does is create them and output them.

The plan that PLNR-7 outputs might be extremely clever, involving hiding subliminal messages and subtle suggestions in the outputs that it delivers in response to inputs, that would (due to its knowledge of human psychology) cause humans to want to give PNLR-7 more and more authority, to hook it up to external effectors, add autonomy modules to allow it to take actions on its own rather than just outputting plans, and so on.

But would it carry out that plan? No. Asking “would it have any reason to carry out that plan?” is already asking too much; it doesn’t have reasons in the interesting sense; the only “motivation” that it has is to output plans when a situation / constraints / goal triplet is input. And it’s not actually motivated to do that, that is simply what it does. It has no desires, preferences, or goals itself, even though it is a superhuman expert on the overall subject of desires, preferences, goals, and so on.

Is the difference here, the difference between being able to make plans, and being able to carry them out? I don’t think it’s even that simple. Imagine that we augment PLNR-7 so that it has a second input port, and we can bundle up the situation / constraints / goal inputs with the plan output of the first part, feed than into that second slot, and PLNR-7 will now compare the real world with the situation described, and the plan with whatever effectors we’ve given it, and if it matches closely enough it will carry out the plan (within the constraints) using its effectors.

Say we give it as its only effectors the ability to send email, and make use of funds from a bank account containing 100,000 US dollars. We give it a description of the current world as its input, a constraint that corresponding to being able to send email and spend a starting pool of US$100,000, and a goal of reducing heart disease in developing countries in one year. It thinks for awhile and prints out a detailed plan involving organizing a charitable drive, hiring a certain set of scientists, and giving them the task of developing a drug with certain properties that PLNR-7 has good reason to think will be feasible.

We like that plan, so we put it all into the second input box, and a year later heart disease in developing countries is down by 47%. Excellent! PLNR-7, having finished that planning and executing, is now just sitting there, because that’s what it does. It does not worry us, and does not pose a threat.

Is that because we let humans examine the plan between the first-stage output, and the second-stage effecting? I don’t think that’s entirely it. Let’s say we are really stupid, and we attach the output of the first stage directly to the input of the second stage. Now we can give it constraints to not to cause any pain or injury, and a goal of making the company that built it one billion dollars in a year, and just press GO.

A year later, it’s made some really excellent investments, and the company is one billion dollars richer, and once again it’s just sitting there.

Now, that was dangerous, admittedly. We could have overlooked something in the constraints, and PLNR-7 might have chosen a plan that, while not causing any pain or injury, would have put the entire human population of North America into an endless coma, tended to by machines of loving grace for the rest of their natural lives. But it didn’t, so all good.

The point, at this point, is that while PLNR-7 is extremely dangerous, it isn’t extremely dangerous on its own behalf. That is, it still isn’t going to take any actions autonomously. It is aware of itself only as one element of the current situation, and it doesn’t think of itself as special. It is extremely dangerous only because it has no common sense, and we might give it a goal which would be catastrophic for us.

And in fact, circling back around, the book sort of points that out. It tends to assume that AIs will be given goals and effectors, and notes that this doesn’t automatically give them any kind of instinct for self-preservation or anything, but that if the goal is open-ended enough, they will probably realize in many circumstances that the goal will be best achieved if the AI continues to exist to safeguard the goal-achievement, and if the AI has lots of resources to use to accomplish the goal. So you end up with an AI that both defends itself and wants to control as much as possible, not for itself but for the sake of the goal that we foolishly gave it, and that’s bad.

The key step here seems to be closing the loop between planning and effectuating. In the general case in the current world, we don’t do that; we either just give the AI input and have it produce symbolic output, or we give it effectors (and goals) that are purely virtual: get the red block onto the top of a stable tower of blocks on the virtual work surface, or get Company X to dominate the market in the marketplace simulation.

On the other hand, we do close the loop back to the real world in various places, some having to do with not-necessarily-harmless situations like controlling fighter jets. So that’s worth thinking about.

Okay, so that’s an interesting area identified! :) I will watch for, as I continue to read the book, places where they talk about how an AI might get directly attached to effectors that touch the real world, and might be enabled to use them to carry out possibly Universal Paperclips style real-world goals. And whether not doing that (i.e. restricting your AIs to just outputting verbal descriptions of means toward closed-ended goals) might be a Good Thing To Do. (Although how to you prevent that one jerk from taking the Fatal Step in order to speed up his world domination? Indeed.)


Microsoft Hates This One Weird Trick To Escape OneDrive!

(Actually I have no idea whether Microsoft hates it; what would it mean for a corporation to experience hatred? Can an entity hate something without experiencing hatred? Some thorny questions there! But for now, on to the trick.)

This is a followup to yesterday’s whinging about how Windows 10 decided to store my “desktop” and “documents” and “pictures” in their teeny little cloud drive (“OneDrive”), and then nag me for money once it got full. I have (I think) a solution! But first I will talk about what didn’t work, because this is a weblog.

First, what not to do, or at least what to undo quickly if you do it: One thing that the Microsoft site and various web searches will recommend if you ask the question in certain ways, is to just go into OneDrive setup, and turn off syncing (or backup or something) of certain directories. If you read the fine print before doing this, what it actually tells Windows is “I don’t want to be able to see these directories from my computer, just keep them up there in the cloud.”

This is exactly the opposite of what I want, which is to have these directories actually physically present on my computer, and not in the cloud at all (“There is no cloud; it’s just someone else’s computer”) except to the extent that I elect to put them there explicitly.

To accomplish that thing that I do want, it turns out that you want to (here is the trick) “unlink” the computer from OneDrive (or perhaps unlink OneDrive from the computer). The instructions for doing it are on the obvious Microsoft Help Page, but they cleverly don’t say what it actually does! And what they do say (“You won’t lose files or data by unlinking OneDrive from your computer. You can always access your files by signing in to”) makes it sound like it will do what turning off syncing does, which is to make the files invisible from the computer.

But in fact what it does (I’m pretty sure; this is what it appears to have done for me anyway!) is point the Desktop, Pictures, and Documents at local directories (without the dreaded “\OneDrive” in their names), put all of their content into those directories, and then stop sending everything that you put into them up into the cloud, where they will cause OneDrive to fill up the tiny 5G space and start begging you for money. Copies of the files will (probably?) still exist in OneDrive, getting slowly out of date, unless you take action to clean them up (and who has time for that, really?).

(One caveat: among the fine print as you do this, is a note that any files (or folders) that are “online only”, will disappear from your computer. Do I have any “online only” folders or files? Beats me! Is there any way to tell, short of looking at every one? I don’t know! But I assumed, and so far apparently correctly, that I don’t have any of those. With luck, you don’t either.)

(Important update: In fact if you are like me, lots of files might be “online only” without your realizing it! Like, in my case, at least all of the screenshots prior to May of 2020! So you’ll probably want to check in whatever way you prefer (haha) to make sure that there are at least the same number and/or size of files in the newly-local directories (“folders”) as there are up on or whatever it is. Arggh!)

It’s possible that some of the behavior I’m seeing here is because the directories (“folders”) involved are the special “personal folders”: Desktop, Pictures, and Documents. (You might think that all of the folders on a Personal computer would be Personal folders, but in fact Microsoft considers everything outside of Desktop, Pictures, and Documents to belong to Microsoft Corporation, and don’t you forget it!)

One thing that I’m considering doing is creating like a “d:\onedrive_cloud_data” directory, and telling Windows to “link” and/or “sync” with just that. Then I could store stuff in OneDrive only when I wanted to, by putting it in there. But I kind of doubt that I’ll do that, because it’s just too likely that if OneDrive is turned on at all Microsoft will start putting the Desktop etc. there again just for fun and revenue.

So now you know! Assuming I’m not completely wrong.

Afterward: While poking around inside Windows for this trick and these weblog entries, I ran into various reminders of why I try to avoid poking around inside Windows (and why I’m so happy that I don’t rely on Windows for anything beyond playing entirely optional games).

For instance, while I was poking around for disk information, I went into the “System and Security” part of “Control Panel”, and found that in there there is a subsection called “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)”. I’m sure I don’t want to know why that is there.

There is another subsection called “Flash Player (32-bit)”, which I wish wasn’t there because it suggests that I have Flash Player installed, which is a security nightmare and now I have to go find it and uninstall it. One also wonders in what sense the Flash Player is “System and Security”, but I suppose calling the section “System and Security Nightmares” would have been bad for marketing.


In which I simply whine about OneDrive

I started out to write a more general weblog entry, but ended up just complaining (or “whinging” or even “whingeing”, as the Brits say and the spellchecker here recommends against) about Microsoft OneDrive, because that is what is currently Top of Mind. Apologies that this is probably Not Terribly Uplifting.

I have this fancy “Legion” laptop (named after the WoW expansion a couple before last, for some reason), which has a cool multicolored keyboard, and came with Windows 10, many of the features of which I am becoming convinced are subtle pranks on the user.

I just want a computer that can run WoW and Chrome and Second Life and maybe No Man’s Sky and not really a lot else, but nooooo what they sell me is a whole little ball of strange marketing things and little popups about how great the “Edge” browser (i.e. “okay, okay, we admit Explorer was bad”) is and wouldn’t I like to switch to it, and keeps storing what are apparently important files that I thought were on the very large hard drive into the tiny “OneDrive” instead, and then telling me that “OneDrive” is full and wouldn’t I like to pay for more of it?

This computer has, in particular, about half a terabyte of reasonably fast SSD as the “C:” drive (hello, 1983!), and another ummm about one terabyte of not as fast “D:” drive. In contrast the “OneDrive” is apparently five (5) gigabytes in size, and is almost full, because Windows keeps putting things into it.

(It also causes a perpetual red warning X to appear in the Windows toolbar thing, due to being worried in some obscure way about three files whose names end in “.lnk”, and really ask me if I care.)

It was almost full the other week, and I tried a bit to figure out what it was, and decided it was a teeny bit of free Cloud storage space to which Windows automatically syncs who-knows-what, so that I can get to it from my other Windows devices, of which there are zero (0).

So I erased the largest thing in it that was taking nearly all of the space, the “Epic Games” directory (sorry, “folder”) and everything under it, because why the heck was it syncing that to cloud storage anyway?

And of course it turned out that erasing that from OneDrive also erased it from my hard drive (or at the very least made Windows think that I had), and so now none of my Epic games work anymore until I reinstall them.

I’m guessing that I won’t be able to reinstall them, because there isn’t enough space in OneDrive.

In the meantime, even without having tried to reinstall any of those games, I am getting warnings again that my “OneDrive” is filling up and wouldn’t I like to buy more? This time, it’s apparently because Windows has decided to put every screenshot that I’ve ever taken, as well as a whole lot of other image and movie / video files there. I am of course afraid that if I remove them from OneDrive they will be destroyed, so basically Windows is actively holding them hostage, demanding that I pay them monthly or who-knows-what will stop working, and preventing me from moving them elsewhere by an implicit threat to move them back, since it moved them there in the first place without asking me.

I would like to tell Windows to remove all trace of OneDrive from my computer, and to keep all of my files on the hard drive thank you very much. I see that many other people have had this same desire: “Just what the hell is Onedrive and how do I get rid of this nuisance?“, “OneDrive – How do I get this off Windows 10“, “When was the last time you even used OneDrive?“, “ONEDRIVE is a photo theft program“, and so on and so on.

Some of these prior complaints contain or link to ways to (try to) get Windows to stop this hostage-taking behavior. I don’t have much faith in my ability to do this, and I suspect it will continue stashing things there forever. But perhaps I can get it under some sort of control.

My tentative theory is that it is configured to “sync” my “desktop” to OneDrive, and that since there are/were symlinks or “shortcuts” or something from my “desktop” to various photos (and Epic Games) directories, that counts. I will follow one or more of the sets of instructions on the web, and/or just configure it to sync nothing at all, and see if that helps.

I consider it a bad sign that Windows seems to think that the path to the desktop for instance is “C:\Users\xxxxx\OneDrive\Desktop”, but I carry on regardless.

Wish me luck!


Sunday, December 29, 2013

As usual all various things have happened since some amount of time ago!


I now have one of these:

an Oculus Rift device

and as soon as I get this one cable that it needs to attach to the enormous Windows machine, I will try out the demos and maybe like WoW or something (and sometime probably Second Life), and that will probably be amazing or disorienting or both.

(And boy will one look amusing while using it.)

The Smart-o-Phone

Speaking of the enormous Windows machine, I now have yet one more non-Windows computer, running yet one more operating system. Here is the Instagramming of my telephone upgrade:


Having skipped a few generations there, I now have one of these modern “Smart-o-Phones”, and am apparently an Android user (which also involves chocolate bars in some way).

KitKat logo

The Smart-o-Phone can do all various things; pretty much everything that the “i-Pad” can do, except that it is considerably smaller. But as I have pointed out when comparing a little laptop screen to a big desktop display, the Smart-o-Phone screen can be made pretty much as large as you want just by holding it closer to your eyes…

Oh, also, it has some sort of telephone in it. But that is okay, it does not hardly ring much or anything annoying like that.

I have been installing Smart-o-Phone “apps” on the Smart-o-Phone, which allow me to listen to the radio, and sign into WoW (once I convince WoW that I don’t want to use the i-Pad for that anymore), and look at train schedules, and drive little imaginary trains around a simplified model of Europe:

Pocket Trains

Also (like the i-Pad) you can watch TV on it, which I am in fact doing right now (mostly just because I can); this is mildly convenient if one wants to watch one of the subset of shows that Verizon makes available for streaming. For whatever reason the only thing I ever seem to watch this way is “Law and Order: something something”; they just barely clear the bar of being worth ignoring all those commercials.

Ooh, probably I should install the “Net Flicks app” also! That has things which do not have commercials.

So now I have the Smart-o-Phone running Android, the i-Pad running iOS (and which it’s not entirely clear what it is for now), the work computer running ChromeOs (and Chrome Remote Desktop connecting into the at-work work computer running Goobuntu (haha “Goobuntu”)), and the enormous Windows computer running Windows 7 something something, which is basically just for WoW and Second Life these days (and see recent Facebook thread where I complain about Windows’s virtual memory pessimisation algorithms). And the Oculus Rift. :)


Oh yeah, these things happened too!


Solstice Dinner 2013

Solstice Christmas New Year Holidays and all! Which is why I now have the Geek-o-Vision and the Smart-o-Phone and all. :) And the little daughter used some Interweb Site to create and produce this amazing tee shirt:

Best Tee Shirt Ever

which attentive readers will notice is based on a recent weblog posting just right here.

Isn’t that the best thing ever? Such an amazing little daughter…

I’m sure other things have happened also, but those are the only ones I will write down for now I think. Lots of lazing about to do today! :)

Update: some of the images in the above are nefariously appearing or not appearing at random, or perhaps with some weak correlation with my attempts to get them to appear. Tsk!

Update 2: Oh yeah, I was going to talk about Ingress on the Smart-o-Phone too! But I didn’t. Maybe later…


Avid fans of mediocre fiction

There are all sorts of fascinating things going on.

One fascinating thing is the breathtakingly rapid evolution of media of all sorts; and one fascinating part of that thing is these here “e-books” which are available “on-line”, more or less directly from the authors.

The web-site Amazon Dot Com, to pick a very notable example, has a whole ecosystem, one might say polysyllabicly, built around these essentially self-published and to a great extent disintermediated artifacts, where one can buy (or acquire, for the significant numbers that are nominally free) copies of these books (and the associated licenses to read the copies, which are enforced by one’s own computers and reading software, in an odd and facially improbable bit of co-optation), and rate them with small integers, and leave comments on them, and rate and comment on other people’s comments, and see what other books people who have purchased this one have also purchased, and so on for quite some time.

(Here is a link to this stuff, or at least a link that, at the moment, when followed by me, leads to something like the “Books” subtree of the largish “Kindle” tree, which also includes the Amazon-branded reading devices (you can also read these e-books on various other devices), and non-book things (magazines, who knows what-all) that can also be read on them.)

Not all of the e-books are all disintermediated and self-published; some number of them are also acquired and edited and published by publishing houses large and small and new and old, brought out at the same time as, or before or after, old-fashioned non-e versions of the same book, actually printed on paper in ink. These I am not talking about so much here today; there are interesting things to say about them, but to the extent that they are selected and polished and marketed in roughly the same way books were a decade or three ago, they are not, comme on dit, in my fovea at this time.

(Haha, the WordPress spell checker does not know the word “fovea”. I suggests that perhaps I mean “forgave”. Also, it scolds me for writing “WordPress” with a small “p”, even though the publishing software, obnoxiously in my opinion, automatically capitalizes that “p” for me automatically at publishing time, heh.)

So anyway, he said loquaciously, about those e-books that are all disintermediated and self-published and all.

Many of them are really badly-writen.

(This may not come as a huge surprise.)

Some of them are in fact very good. For instance I discovered by following some winding path through the Internets the Wool books by Hugh Howey (looks like the first one is available free, which is nice; I recommend it). They are books that might not have made it out of the slush pile at a publishing house (or they might have; who can tell), but eventually bubbled to my, and lots of other people’s, attention via the ecosystem of self-publishing, and are now apparently doing rather well. There are rough edges here and there (I recall something about what the protagonists’ wife was said to be doing at the start of the first book that by the end of the third it was unlikely anyone would have been allowed to do, and seemed to be from some earlier and now-abandoned version of the plotline, for instance), but no worse than in many normally-published books I’ve read.

But many of them, even most of them I would dare say, requiring for their publication only that (1) the author thinks it is good (or at least would like to publish it), and (2) the author pushes some buttons on their computer (significantly fewer buttons than it took to write it, in most cases), and therefore having successfully vaulted only a pair of very low bars, are not very good at all.

And yet some of these not-very-good-at-all books have, or appear to have, avid fans in the ecosystem, who rate them at the top of the set of possible integers, post glowing reviews comparing them favorably to all other books previously written in the genre, give “unhelpful” ratings to negative reviews posted by others, and so on.

It makes one wonder.

For instance, is the difference between Post-human, by David Simpson, rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, and Wool by Hugh Howey (linked above), also rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, just that I personally thought the latter was pretty good (my review gave it five of five stars) and the former pretty bad (my rather scathing review gave it just two)?

Once the magnetic field was in place, he was free to bolt upward, unhindered by friction, air pressure, temperature, or anything else. In seconds, he was above the stratosphere, using his mind’s eye to plot an automatic course for Venus.

I think Howey’s book is better than Simpson’s in ways that don’t come down to just my personal opinions. Simpson’s contains technology howlers about glowing green magnetic fields that allow humans to fly through space at interplanetary speeds without benefit of spaceship; Howey’s has just some rather powerful psychoactive drugs that unreliably suppress memory and alter behavior. Simpson’s has an evil antagonist with god-like powers who keeps the protagonist alive to allow him to do something he (the antagonist) would clearly have had no trouble doing all by himself. Howey’s bad guys are subtler and more realistic, and in that way more terrifyingly evil.

Simpson’s protagonist is the most intelligent person in the solar system (scientifically measured!), and everything goes right for him, pretty much all the time. Howey’s various protagonists are more ordinary people, more conflicted and confused, and when they have any triumphs at all they are partial and sometimes worrying ones.

(And nearly every time one of Simpson’s comic-book superheroes turns on the stupid all-powerful magnetic field, Simpson has to say that he “ignited” it. Drives me up the walls, I tell ya.)

I don’t want to pick on Simpson’s book in particular, really; I’m sure there are other four-and-a-half-star ebooks that are worse. But the case of Post-Human is notable for at least a couple of reasons (and here we will segue gracefully into the lazy weblogger’s device of unordered lists):

  • For awhile, Simpson was offering a free book to anyone who gave him a five-star review on Amazon (he has since apparently stopped, and I hope it was because it’s against the rules).
  • But there are still four and five star reviews being written, and many of the negative reviews also have an unusual number of “unhelpful” ratings, so that last point can’t explain the whole effect.

What now? Just a bunch of thoughts:

  • Maybe the many glowing reviews and downratings of negative ones for the Simpson book are just fake; results of bribery, or posted by Simpson himself, or by some entity hired by him (I would not be surprised if there were companies that will create shadow-puppets who will boost the Amazon rep of a book for money). It would be interesting to look at the other reviews posted by people who have given very glowing reviews of very average works.
  • Maybe only some of them are fake and/or a result of the above-mentioned bribery, and the rest are from people who wanted to get on the bandwagon, in some to-be-determined sense.
  • Maybe some of the people who accepted the Simpson bribe are experiencing that interesting psychological effect whose name I forget and have decided that (since they can’t be bribed that easily!) they really did love the book, and go around downrating negative comments just to prove it.
  • Maybe I am wrong, and the Howey book is not objectively any better than the Simpson one, and it’s just that the problems with the latter happen to bother me personally more than those with the former.
  • Maybe I am not wrong, and by my objective criteria the Simpson book really is worse, but there are a significant number of people who don’t care about those objective criteria to speak of at all, but enjoyed the book greatly for some other reasons that I don’t really understand. That is sort of an interesting thought.
  • I have a vague impression that there is sort of a whole subculture of people on the Internets who write and read and praise and advertise not-very-good books, either (see above) they have never really read a good book, or they actually prefer books that are objectively (in whatever sense) bad, or for some other reason. I recently came across a weblog reviewing some mediocre self-published Amazon ebook as “an Amazon Bestseller!”, where that phrase was apparently copied from the book’s own page on the author’s website; I was nasty and posted a polite comment pointing out that the only sense in which it was an Amazon Bestseller was that it has an Amazon Bestseller rank, which every book on Amazon appears to have, and that in this case the rank was somewhere over one million. So “best” only in the most technical of senses. Presumably, though, there is some in-crowd feeling to be had in posting a positive review of a Best Seller?

Looking at many of the glowing reviews of the Simpson book (and for that matter other books I find poorly-written), my impression is that many of the reviewers are somewhat less than literate themselves, and/or less than civil, that in particular people who leave negative comments on negative reviews and otherwise defend the books in the commentary part of the ecosystem, tend to sound like trolls (broadly construed). What sorts of things do these people have in common? What are their motivations?

And, sort of conversely, will we eventually have a system in which I can mark those people as having opinions generally Irrelevant To My Own (or even Contrary To My Own), so that the system could take this into account in its own recommendations? “This book has a 4.5 star rating, or 2.25 stars if we count only people whose opinions you are likely to care about.” Is anyone doing that yet?

And that is about the end of my thoughts on the subject for the time being. Reading over it I see that I come across as something of an elitist jerk, but when it comes to books I am rather content being an elitist jerk. :)

Good reading!


More shininess

The SF340b is a very small airplane. With propellers!

So one advantage of the WordPress iPad app over the web-page is that you can use it when off the network.

Like for instance when rising into the pink and grey and salmon and blue and orange clouds of a gorgeous late-summer day, in a very small SF340b (with propellers), with the cute 14-year-old stewardess, I mean, flight attendant, about to bring around the complimentary beverages, and if we are lucky the little packages of cookies and/or pretzels.

(One of those evocative decisions: the cookies or the pretzels? Is it luxury vs. practicality and health? Or a question of which studies on the effects of sodium intake you disbelieve less? Or which word you decide, in some preconscious social calculus, you would rather say to the cute 14-year-old flight attendant, on the spur of the moment as so many things in an airplane are always spur-of-the-moment, despite, or because of, how many billions of times they’ve been done before?)

Or at least I hope you can actually use it when offline, and it’s not going to toss these words away in some fit of error-message pique when it for some reason tries to contact the server, and finds that there is no there there, ‘way up here in the soft pastel sky.

We’ll see!

(So far she has asked me only what I’d like to drink (orange juice). Little packages of crunchies, if any, still wait in the future.)

I wonder if it’s possible to learn to touch-type on an iPad? (Does it look odd when “I wonder” sentences end in questionmarks? Is the iPad correct that “questionmarks” should be two words?)

The two persons in the seats ahead of me (by great good fortune I have this pair of seats here all to myself) have an old-fashioned actual laptop computer, with a physical keyboard and everything, and they are watching a movie on it.

I suppose I could watch a movie on this iPad object here, if I had one in iTunes and had replicated (excuse me) synced it down onto the iPad. Maybe someday! (Although movies are so passive; you can’t even annotate them. Yet.)

No crunches appear to be on offer, so for the time being I do not need to renew my self-definition as a Cookies or Pretzels (or even Nuts) Person. I think I will go to some other part of this embodied logical space, and read a book. See ya after landing!

(time passes)

Aha, free wireless in the terminal. Fly, little weblog entry,fly!


this iPad!

I have an iPad! This is not because I am a shiny early-adopter; it is because M is a shiny early-adopter :) and she got an iPad while back, and then I got her an iPad 2 for a recent birthday, so there was this iPad sitting around sort of spare, and so…

I am somewhat gabberflasted by how much I like it, and how much it is changing my relationship to computers and books and the Internet and stuff.

This is not what I expected. I expected that it would be a sort of pointless little computer, with a small screen, no useable keyboard, not much disk space, and an underpowered CPU and GPU.

But what it actually seems to be is a really shiny and smart book, which can get to the Internet when there’s WiFi, let me read various books and maps and play games and things even when there isn’t an Internet, automatically get the latest versions of various periodicals and so on, play music, and really do pretty much everything an actual computer can do except for () World of Warcraft, () Second Life, () Program development, and () Protracted typing of long things.

Which is pretty impressive, for a book! And like a book it has the almost-negligible weight and footprint and ease of use just about anywhere that the big fancy computer most definitely lacks (especially given that carrying around the big fancy computer to use it for the things it’s best at means also carrying around its cooling pad to keep it from overheating).

Over the weekend I took a train to New York City (a very large city in New York), and then walked from Grand Central Station to Pennsylvania Station (the one in New York City, as opposed to the one in Newark, New Jersey, which is confusingly on the same train line as the New York City one), all with my iPad serving as a number of books, and a music player, and various diverting games, as well as (yay free Bryant Park Wifi!) connectivity to the world, and a set of downloaded-on-the-fly maps of the city for use when no longer near Bryant Park.

(Then I took another train to another station, and then a very small train to another station, and helped the little daughter finish packing and put all the stuff in the car, and then I drove the car home again while the little daughter took trains into New York City to see friends, and then another train home the next day to be with us for a bit also yay.)

And the iPad was an extremely convenient and fun and useful thing to have along the whole time.

Of course some of this may be shiny-new-toy effect; we’ll see!

Geekishness: here are some of the “apps” which I have on my “Ipad”:

  • Twitter – ’cause Dale my SL persona likes Twitter; takes all kinds.
  • Netflix – for watching movies (which I haven’t really done yet but it looks kewl).
  • Flickr – which is actually an iPhone app, and when running on an iPad all I can get it to do so far is show random pictures from the site in a little iPhone-shaped window; I mention this one only because I hope is is better eventually (i.e. they have a real iPad app).
  • SomaFM – Listener-supported Commercial-Free Internet Radio! Lots of nice music, again an iPhone app that doesn’t get along perfectly with the iPad, but still, nice music.
  • iBooks and the Kindle app, both with books in them (including both of the little daughter’s amazing Junior Papers snarfed as in PDFs, and also Zittrain’s “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it” which is basically about why iPads are bad)
  • A great app from the British Library, giving access to entire scanned in books from their 19th Century collection, which is really wonderful because you can see every little blot and grain and British Library stamp, as well as reading the words.
  • A whole mess of little games and puzzles, including Dwindle and The Incredible Machine (now apparently a Disney property!), and Pinball HD (just the free tables), and Unblock Me and sudoku2 and “Swamp Talk”, which is a great little word-forming game that I got free during its free period and I play constantly.
  • TumbleVision – A kaleidoscope; and not just one of those simple modern digital kaleidoscopes that make random eight-way symmetrical patterns, but a fancy simulation of a “glass and wood and strange things” physical kaleidoscope, where the pretty things tumble around in a very physical way and it’s all very mesmerizing. (Additional pretty-things packs cost money, haha.)
  • The Blue Mars iPad app, which seems bafflingly pointless, and “Pocket MV” (“MV” for “Metaverse”), which gives one text-mostly access to Second Life and other compatible virtual worlds, which I’ve played with a little but not quite actually used.
  • Yelp – an app that like tells me about restaurants in places, which is cool in principle but I haven’t used much yet,
  • 700 City Maps – one of those “free” free apps, which gives you maps when you’re attached to the Internet (just like Google Maps, basically, only Open), and also lets you download maps locally, but oh yeah that costs money, haha. Not much money, though; and I downloaded the NYC maps while sitting in Bryant Park, and that was useful.
  • The iPad client for Dropbox, which is a wonderful little thing that cleanly (if perhaps not all that securely, depending who you trust) makes a copy of all of the things that you put into a particular directory tree, appear magically on all of the machines where you have a client installed, and which is a great way to get things onto one’s iPad (although email mostly works too).
  • System Status – the pay-for version, which gives various geeky facts about one’s iPad, like that the battery is 100% charged (for an estimated 10 hours of Internetting time), the drive’s 27.3% in-use, the machine’s been up for over twenty-seven days (I don’t actually know how to turn it off, in that sense, which is fun), there are 28 visible processes running (including the ever-popular usbethernetshari), I am running Darwin 11.0.0 (kernel build 199506), and that something is constantly trying to write to or otherwise modify my iTunes library even though it is read-only (all sortsa interesting groddy stuff in the system log). This app gives me the illusion that I am actually in control of the innards of the machine (whereas in fact Apple is, as Zittrain notes at some length).
  • FileSystem – another iPhone app, that lets me browse and even in some cases look at the files on the hard drive. No idea how much of what’s there it can actually see, but another “pretend to be in control” app.
  • iSSH – so I can log into remote Real Computers from my iPad, which is somehow extremely amusing.

And that’s just the ones that I use or that are otherwise notable; there’s some other ones too not worth mentioning. (And of course there’s Google Maps an’ iTunes an’ a YouTube client an’ the app store an’ stuff that all came with it.)

Whew words, words, words! :) But anyway I have it, and I carry it around with me and listen to music and read words and play games and stuff, and it is fun.