Oh, and mandatory SMBC link.
Yes, I know it's supposed to be XKCD, but we're working on a budget here...
Oh, and mandatory SMBC link.
Yes, I know it's supposed to be XKCD, but we're working on a budget here...
Some perspective would always be welcome, even on Slashdot. Cooking is still by far more dangerous and effects far, far more people and as such is a public health hazard. http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/cookingstudy.pdf I can only hope one day we will be living in an evidence-based society where cooking will be outlawed as a public menace. That said of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with studying and reducing health hazards, and many printer manufacturers have long since responded with filtered air printing enclosures etc. But this particular one has been known for years, and postulated for far longer. One thing that has not yet happened but would be somewhat welcome is some sort of "chemical safety labeling" for printer filament; avoiding, of course, reducing choice or increasing the price, but as of currently there's no way at all to know what kind of chemicals each different filament batch contains. I see a lot of people jumping on demanding to know printer styles and brands, but I expect the filament source to have significantly more effect, and when the filament is used to print anything that comes to contact with skin or even food, this is many times more important.
Posted here first this morning (couple of types fixed): https://ma.tt/2016/01/minsky/#...
Wow, sad to hear the news. Marvin Minsky and I were academic peers of a sort -- he was one of George A. Miller's first students, and I was one of George's last students.
I met Marvin Minsky once in his MIT office in 1985 as I was graduating from Princeton. I likely gave him a copy of my thesis -- "Why Intelligence: Object, Evolution, Stability, and Model". I also wrote to him once in the 1990s about getting computer time for space habitat simulations (he was responsive in a positive way, but then I met my wife and so just let stuff like that drop). And I saw him in passing about fifteen years ago when he gave a talk at IBM Research while I was a contractor there (he spoke about multiple simultaneous mental representations, and picking from the best one). A nephew of his even lived down the hall from me my senior year at Princeton in 1903 hall, too, but I never talked with him about his uncle. But we never really connected any of those times, sadly.
One of the biggest mistake I've made in my life careerwise (or so it seemed at the time) was when visiting Marvin Minsky in his office to talk to him about the triplestore and semantic network ideas in my thesis (stuff that indirectly helped inspire WordNet which George started as I graduated). I casually mentioned in passing to Marvin Minsky very early on in our meeting something about neural networks (MIT had a spinoff then of the Connection Machine), and I guess that may have put him in one of those mental states where some of the 400 different little computers activate.
So, instead of MIT, I spent a year hanging out in Hans Moravec's and also Red Whittaker's robot labs, and that was interesting in its own way. That experience also set me to thinking about the implications of most of the CMU robotics work being funded by the US military, which ultimately lead to my key insight about the irony of using robots to fight about material scarcity they could otherwise alleviate.
I sent Marvin Minsky an email in 2010, with a subject of "Vitamin D, computing, and abundance", warning about the health risks of vitamin D deficiency for heavy computer users. I also thanked him for his interactions with James P. Hogan, an author whose writings have been very inspiring to me (like Two Faces of Tomorrow and Voyage From Yesteryear), as James acknowledges Marvin in the first as a major source of ideas and inspirations, so some big ideas went from Marvin to James to me at least in that sense.
I have since some to think that, short of improved subsistence via 3D printing and flexible home and agricultural personal robotics, or a radical change to a gift economy, or broad government grants totaling in the hundreds of billions of years to any programmer who asked, about the only thing I can think of that would really fix that situation of limited time for programmers to be creative, that would really give most programmers some financial freedom to innovate, not just a few (like Marvin) who manage (often by technical brilliance of a sort, and so seemingly "deservedly") to work their way up the social/funding hierarchy, would be a "basic income" for everyone. Then any programmer who wanted to could live life a graduate student their entire life (but without grad school restrictions like pleasing an adviser) and turn out free/libre and open source software. And others might choose to do other things with that freedom (have kids, teach, write books, paint, whatever). Most such creative programming projects would fail of course, but we might still see a lot of great innovative socially-useful stuff, where programmers would have the time to really support it.
I included in that email links to my Post-Scarcity Princeton writings. That email to Marvin Minsky was also when I first created my email sig, to, as I said to him, sum up the most important thing I've learned over the past 25 years by following the road less traveled (via CMU).
It is a sad day for us and his family, but Marvin apparently had one of the most fun careers of anyone I can imagine, so I can't feel too sad for Marvin himself. I am sad though that I said the wrong thing incidentally in his office and so never got to be part of that fun. But a deep question to ask is, how can more people have a fun and creative life like Marvin Minsky had?
The below is from me originally from 2001: http://www.pdfernhout.net/on-f...
Although see also this idea from a couple of weeks ago: http://www.pdfernhout.net/pled...
Consider again the self-driving cars mentioned earlier which now cruise some streets in small numbers. The software "intelligence" doing the driving was primarily developed by public money given to universities, which generally own the copyrights and patents as the contractors. Obviously there are related scientific publications, but in practice these fail to do justice to the complexity of such systems. The truest physical representation of the knowledge learned by such work is the codebase plus email discussions of it (plus what developers carry in their heads).
We are about to see the emergence of companies licensing that publicly funded software and selling modified versions of such software as proprietary products. There will eventually be hundreds or thousands of paid automotive software engineers working on such software no matter how it is funded, because there will be great value in having such self-driving vehicles given the result of America's horrendous urban planning policies leaving the car as generally the most efficient means of transport in the suburb. The question is, will the results of the work be open for inspection and contribution by the public? Essentially, will those engineers and their employers be "owners" of the software, or will they instead be "stewards" of a larger free and open community development process?
Open source software is typically eventually of much higher quality ( http://www.fsf.org/software/re... ) and reliability because more eyes look over the code for problems and more voices contribute to adding innovative solutions. About 35,000 Americans are killed every year in driving fatalities, and hundreds of thousands more are seriously injured. Should the software that keeps people safe on roads, and which has already been created primarily with public funds, not also be kept under continuous public scrutiny?
Without concerted action, such software will likely be kept proprietary because that will be more profitable sooner to the people who get in early, and will fit into conventional expectations of business as usual. It will likely end up being available for inspection and testing at best to a few government employees under non-disclosure agreements. We are talking about an entire publicly funded infrastructure about to disappear from the public radar screen. There is something deeply wrong here.
And while it is true many planes like the 757 can fly themselves already for most of their journey, and their software is probably mostly proprietary, the software involved in driving is potentially far more complex as it requires visual recognition of cues in a more complex environment full of many more unpredictable agents operating on much faster timescales. Also, automotive intelligence will touch all of our lives on a daily basis, where as aircraft intelligence can be generally avoided in daily life.
Decisions on how this public intellectual property related to automotive intelligence will be handled will affect the health and safety of every American and later everyone in any developed country. Either way, the automotive software engineers and their employers will do well financially (for example, one might still buy a Volvo because their software engineers are better and they do more thorough testing of configurations). But which way will the public be better off:
* totally dependent on proprietary intelligences under the hoods of their cars which they have no way of understanding, or instead
* with ways to verify what those intelligences do, understand how they operate, and make contributions when they can so such automotive intelligences serve humane purposes better?
If, for example, automotive intelligence was developed under some form of copyleft license like the GNU General Public License, then at least car owners or their "software mechanics" would be assured they could have access to the software in source form to ensure safe operation. What might be "street legal" in terms of software modifications might be a different story -- in the same way people can't legally drive with a cracked windshield or a broken headlight. For example, software changes might need to first be proven safe in simulation before being provisionally "street legal". But, the important thing is, foundations or government agencies funding code development could insist on some form of free licensing terms for automotive intelligence as a matter of public policy.
There are many other areas of human activities that the exponential growth of technology will effect. Automotive intelligence is just one of them that is here now and which I am familiar with from tangential interactions at universities with people developing it. In enough time similar issues will arise for the software behind household robotics or intelligent devices that assist the elderly or handicapped. The IBOT wheelchair by Dean Kamen using complex software to balance on two wheels is just the beginning of such devices.
Note the IBOT wheelchair was developed entirely with private funds it seems, so the reasoning in this essay does not apply directly to it. Also, in general Dean Kamen is a role model of a socially responsible for-profit inventor. Still, the issue arises of whether "Johnson & Johnson" should be funding such development, as was the case, as opposed to, say, the "Robert Wood Johnson Foundation", as was not, given the public policy issue of whether individuals should be continually dependent for personal needs on proprietary software. In either case it would be worth it to pay billions for such innovation, and the public will pay that in the end as a toll on for such devices.
There is a real question here of how our society will proceed -- mainly closed or mainly open. It is reflected in everything the non-profit world does -- including the myths it lives by. The choice of myth can be made in part by the funding policies set by foundations and government agencies. The myth that funders may be living by is the scarcity economics myth. How does that myth effect the digital public works funding cycle?
On ageism, it's not just whether programmers work, it is the quality of the work and the independence of the workers. Where might that matter? Consider the democratic need for programmers to follow ethical standards about privacy and democracy and openness and user empowerment (in their designs) that much centralized proprietary behind-closed-doors big data CS just ignores.
As I found in academia (for example in the PU CE&OR department in the late 1980s), when half or more of the graduate students in an academic department are foreign nationals being paid by their governments to get degrees, where when going back home without a degree would be a huge disgrace and maybe loss of career, the atmosphere of the place changes. That might explain why dealing with systematic financial risk was not a big topic at the time then.
So, if most programmers are nervous about their jobs with tons of H1Bs and cheap young labor, what effect is that going to have on taking a stand for important issues? And these are not just ethical issues, they are even issues like pushing back on inefficient or brittle designs, or designs users won't like, or whatever. It takes a certain level of confidence to do that (a confidence that includes knowing you can always easily get a job elsewhere, which may be true for a fifty year old civil engineer but is less true for a fifty year old programmer). And I'm not talking the brash confidence of youth or even a willingness for self-sacrifice like Snowden or Manning -- which is a different thing. I'm talking about a well-earned confidence in the context of a supportive community which is the basis of day-to-day successes by a democracy accountable to the needs of citizens.
"Smile or Die" (which discusses the financial crisis in part resulting from no one being able to point out systemic risks without losing their jobs)
And even my other post here mentioning John Taylor Gatto who talks about compulsory schools as being designed specifically to shape compliant workers.
My latest folly is based on remembering what computers and our democratic culture were like in the 1970s and 1980s, is to want to help create software that respects a citizen's needs for private data controlled locally and shared peer-to-peer (like via email) instead of a typical web business' needs (like Slack or gmail) to centralize and control other people's data:
I started that with the news that Mozilla, supposedly about internet freedom and privacy and user empowerment, is going to kiss off Thunderbird, meanwhile billions of dollars are poured into the web space to make the opposite of Thunderbird (and some of those dollars are going to Mozilla in a way as a conflict-of-interest). See also my post here:
The USA should be funding thousands of people to work on such FOSS tools. Meanwhile, Thunderbird suffers for lack of a funding model. Volunteers and open source go together well -- but relying on volunteers is problematical when you have literally one gigabyte of legacy C++ and XUL source code that need to track every security issue in Firefox.
If this was really about increasing interest in computers, just give green cards instead of H1Bs, insist on overtime for programmers, require every employee have a window (like in parts of Europe) and do basic stuff like that. It might also help if we reduced the churn in "new" technologies that are often not as good as the old one (still waiting for something a lot better than 1980s Smalltalk, for example). Getting rid of software patents would also be a big help in the USA, as would reducing copyright scope and duration to make building materials more available.
LOL! Thanks for your moral support -- I think?
Check out John Holt, too. That's all a big reason we homeschool/unschool.
More links: http://p2pfoundation.net/backu...
Enjoyed your informative post from the trenches, thanks! Especially your point about teacher incentives. You get what you measure -- so, as you imply, if you incentivize teachers to dumb down kids faster and better, that's what you'll get more of.
Long term, I feel a basic income may be part of the answer:
As for what you can do in the short-term, it's tough. If you walk away, your (virtually adopted) kids will suffer. And you'll lose your income in a tough economy.. And one less voice for change in the system will be lost. But it's a painful situation if you care about what you do (although you run a high risk of burnout). Don't know what to advise, but at least you are not alone!
AC wrote: "We've lost the arms race for content over presentation in this medium. Pages with perhaps a kilobyte of text take over a megabyte to download and 10 seconds to render. Firefox is mortally wounded. Safari and Opera are hobbled. Chrome is a trojan horse. Guys, I think the Gopher people were right."
This is a very insightful AC post. That is a big part part of why for the last week (since hearing about the Thunderbird uncertainty) as a sprint, I've been working towards a webapp / server called Twirlip as a proof-of-concept for a server version of Thunderbird. The idea is to support the same functionality as Thunderbird (and more) but use standard Firefox as the client loading a Thunderbird-like webapp from a local Node.js server. The project repository is currently here:
The sprint is not "blessed" by Mozilla or the Thunderbird Council at the moment. It is just my own take on things and to demonstrate what is possible. And given I just blew all our cash/credit writing another FOSS project (NarraFirma, a webapp in TypeScript/Mithril/D3 with Node.js and WordPress backends) over the past year or so, financially, this is so stupid for me to be doing right now instead of finding a paying job.
That said, the leader of the Thunderbird Council (Kent James) suggested in September considering making Thunderbird into a webapp, so the idea is not completely new, or presumably unwelcome as a proof-of-concept demo:
"Future Planning: Thunderbird as a Web App"
"As we are discussing our future, both in relation to radical changes expected in the Mozilla platform, and our need to express where we are going to potential partners and donors, we need to discuss and agree on some big-picture issues. One of those was end-to-end encryption that we discussed recently. I want to discuss here our future platform, and how it related to users and their needs.
Here is an update on my last week's progress sent to the Thunderbird Planning list.
I've used Thunderbird for over a decade, and have a million messages in it totaling over 15 GB (mainly from a bunch of mailing lists). I know of others who have 50 GB in it. So, I'm obviously concerned about its future.
All that said, there is no immediate reason to panic. Thunderbird still works well for what it does.
In looking into this issue though, maintaining Thunderbird is apparently difficult though because the codebase includes a copy of Firefox, which bloats the source code by 20X or more up to about a gigabyte of mostly C++.Any security patch to Firefox needs to be evaluated and then likely integrated into Thunderbird to keep it secure. That may be the biggest issue -- and it is worse now that Mozilla has essentially defunded Thunderbird over the last few years to make it a "community" project, so synergy has been lost with the Firefox development team. (SeaMonkey, formerly the Mozilla application suite, is in the same boat and uses essentially the same codebase.) Thunderbird itself also has a lot of XUL to define UI functionality, but Mozilla has deprecated XUL (not reasonably, but there are consequences) creating an obvious future maintenance issue of sizable proportions. Thunderbird plugins likewise are written with XUL. So, while Thunderbird can be maintained, given that codebase and the size and the need to closely track Firefox, maintenance is hard and probably not a lot of fun (given the C++ and XUL) as a legacy thing.
As others have said, this is a big amount of "technical debt". And Mozilla is less and less interested in helping service that debt, let alone pay it off. So, what energy is available in the Thunderbird community generally needs to go into maintenance and not new ideas. Maintenance is important, but may not happen long-term without substantial funding given the scale of the issue. That commitment to substantial maintenance of that gigabyte of source code might happen though if a foundation concerned about democracy or privacy got behind Thunderbird as-it-is. Frankly though, as much as I feel free and open source is the way to go, it is really a full-time job to support big complex applications, and that effort should be funded somehow, whether by grants, donations, or other means including perhaps someday a basic income.
An alternative though is to re-envision Thunderbird somehow, like Kent James suggests. That is like deciding to build a new house next door because the old one has too many issue to fix cost-effectively. Disentangling a gigabyte of C++ and XUL is probably not going to be much fun, and given the nature of C++, will almost certainly lead to security issues and lowered stability for a time. But long-term, any issue in Firefox is potentially then a know and exploitable security vulnerability in Thunderbird by a maliciously-crafted email.
Ideally, both maintaining the old Thunderbird and building a new Thunderbird could be done with enough money or volunteer energy. Even with other email clients out there, given over 100 billion emails are sent every day, email is very important to modern society. There is a more general information access issue as well that AC wrote about. Thunderbird should not have to languish for lack of support on the order of millions of US dollars a year when billions of dollars a year are getting poured every year into proprietary web sites like AC implies that just make knowledge harder to access.
By the way, see comments at the next link from a few months ago about how unhappy Firefox (not Thunderbird) developers are with recent Mozilla decisions about XUL and plugins. Unfortunately, Mozilla has not invested in tooling to make migration from XUL to standard DOM easy for plugins and there are other complicating issues well as other issues related to locking down Mozilla plugins more.
That all means is the pool of people who remotely care about XUL is going to quickly shrink.
Here are comments by me on why Mozilla should reinvest in Thunderbird as-it-is and as-it-might-be as part of supporting peer-to-peer technologies like email
From an equity issue too, it is unclear to me what percent of Mozilla's previous donations received are due to Thunderbird and the email part of SeaMonkey?
Overall, the current situation is not a healthy one for Thunderbird as-it-is given the expected upcoming maintenance costs (like having a house that needs a new roof and a new foundation and a new septic system all at the same time). However, that situation could change overnight with a commitment from a foundation or some other source. Houses do get fixed up all the time even after having incurred a lot of maintenance / technical debt. But new houses get built too. And our society is so wealthy materially we should be able to afford *both*. It is only ideology that gets in the way, leading to so many resources to instead go into creating the problems AC bemoaned (in part from unbridled competition and quests for de-facto vendor lockin, such as now with Slack and before with gmail or ymail and Facebook and MySpace and so on).
As this 2008 Slashdot article on what the now-current Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation said back then when a Shuttleworth Fellow:
"Is Open Source the Answer To Giving?"
"Mark Surman, Shuttleworth Foundation fellow, writes that open source is the answer to philanthropy's $55 trillion question: how to spend the money expected to flow into foundations over the next 25 years. While others have lashed out at 'Philanthro-Capitalism' -- claiming that the charitable giving of Gates and others simply extends power in the market to power over society -- Surman believes that open source shows the way to the harmonious yin-yang of business and not-for-profit. Sun, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Yahoo, and Facebook are big backers of Creative Commons; Mozilla has spawned two for-profits. Open source shows that philanthropy and business can cohabit and mutually thrive. Indeed, philanthropy might learn from open source to find new ways to organize itself for spending that $55 trillion."
So clearly, the existence of resources is not the problem here. It is the allocation of resource to the important issue of email and peer-to-peer information exchange in general.
As I see it, Mozilla has a fundamental conflict-of-interest between relying on commercial partnerships with big companies like Google or now Yahoo which to support Firefox (funded by them to access proprietary social media and commercial search engines) and obtaining funding for peer-to-peer software like Thunderbird which provides an alternative like AC (and I) prefer.
So, as I see it, given what Mark Surman wrote in 2008, he and/or Mitchell Baker (Executive Chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation and of Mozilla Corporation) could be approaching a lot of foundations to increase support for the Mozilla mission for peer-to-peer. Here is a list they could start working through:
But first they need to acknowledge this conflict-of-interest in relying on a big centralized web company as a funding source when you claim to be interested in promoting privacy and data security and individual empowerment on the internet and reflect on it, rather than just kiss off Thunderbird (which actually supports all that!!!) as a concept (even if the current Thunderbird implementation needs refreshing to deal with accumulated technical debt).
The title says the main idea, but here are some more details in my usual rambling style...
== More details (and should be better/conciser, but headache plus other stuff to do)
When you wake up in the early morning before sunrise, you may feel you need to turn on a lightbulb to get around safely otherwise in the dark. That lightbulb seems blindingly bright -- so bright you can't look at it. You need that lightbulb though. Then, hours later, after the sun is up, you may forget the lightbulb is even on -- it is bright everywhere, and the bulb hardly stands out. Is that the story of Slashdot? As well as the story of many other tech innovations and communities and individuals (perhaps even myself)? These tools, communities, and individuals help bootstrap something greater and then just fade into the background.
As a different analogy, each year, seeds produce the next generation of plants that produce more seeds, but generations later, who thinks of (or thanks) the seeds from years ago that made everything possible? It remains important for our own mental health to be thankful for the past generations that made our life possible (an idea very strong in some Native American culture, and even made into politics by C. H. Douglas and Social Credit) -- but it is perhaps too much to expect direct gratitude for our own contributions. "We do what we must because we can"?
I can also look at old computer magazines and catalogs from decades ago and see so much diversity of hardware ideas before the PC monoculture took over. Still, as Manuel De Landa said, uniformity at one level can promote diversity at another. A lot of different software has been built on the Windows/Intel hardware/OS monoculture. Hardware and OS diversity seems also to be going up again with Smartphones and Chromebooks. Although again, with lots of soon to be forgotten developers -- even if it may mean a lot to the developer and their local community and successors that they did what they did. And even if much of this is just playing out the visions of Vannevar Bush, J. C. R. Licklider, Sturgeon, Engelbart, Kay and so on.
So things change. There was a time when people came to Slashdot because of the good infrastructure and good management. September 11th, 2001 was one of Slashdot's finest hours as the Slashdot servers kept going to support discussion when other websites crashed under the load. Now it seems that people come to Slashdot *despite* those things (e.g. Beta, audio ads, whatever) based on the legacy of those times. I can sympathize with the plight of Slashdot's staff given the corporate profit-making emphasis and whatever other internal corporate social power struggles are taking place, and they may be doing the best anyone could under the circumstances, but it remains a sad situation that feels wrong. I had thought the idea of selling job advertisements on Slashdot was a good one (as far as advertising as a revenue stream goes), but I can see, like other posters have suggested, that Stack Overflow or GitHub are better positioned for that in some ways. There remains a tension between a company hiring for skill (SO, GitHub) and hiring for conscience (aspects of Slashdot). Although as one of the earliest SourceForge adopters, I can be even more sad about what happened there, like with bundling stuff into downloaded software.
IMHO, at this point, the biggest value of Slashdot (or, for that matter, SourceForge) is perhaps as an archive representing a time in history relating to the emergence of the internet as a social force. There are also other historical discussions on Slashdot relating to shaping the interaction of technology and society beyond the web. Archive.org seems like a good fit in that sense. DHI Group might even get a nice tax write-off from such a donation. It seems most of Slashdot is not showing up in Google searches? That seems unfortunate to me as another loss of history. Hopefully something that could be fixed in the future especially by Archive.org, either on the Slashdot side or Google side. Archive.org already seems to have much of Slashdot archived, but having the raw archives might help -- the earliest crawl for this page is 2009, for example:
I don't mean to dismiss the value of the current community even if just a shadow of itself. It's still a good community, even if smaller and less engaged. As you say, it's strongest around open source / free software issues. I'd be proud to have started a community that grew to just the size Slashdot is even just now. But with so much competition from other news aggregator and discussion sites (including for FOSS etc.), as well as other internet distractions, it's hard to know what the future is for the Slashdot community. Clay Shirky wrote in 2003 about the interaction of communities and their infrastructure in "A group is its own worst enemy"; Doug Engelbart also wrote even earlier on that, about co-evolution of tools, community, knowledge, and processes. I like the idea of the community buying Slashdot, but with the community slowly fading and likely with DHI Group asking a lot of money even now, I wonder if that is going to happen. Is the best use of a couple million community dollars (maybe a lot less, 200K?) to ransom the Slashdot community from its corporate overlords or perhaps instead to build something new (or just move over to pipedot or Soylent News)? The fact that this article on the sale has so few posts, and that posts to Slashdot these days now tend to be a couple lines (a general trend on the internet), suggests the community is not as strong or engaged as it once was, so I can doubt it would come up with the money -- although there always might be a tech millionaire here who could do it personally. I wish I could buy Slashdot today to give it to Archive.org myself, but I can't.
Also, I feel the future of technological communications is more in the direction of a distributed social semantic desktop. I've worked towards that end myself like with my Pointrel/Twirlip/etc software. So, I also wonder how much a centralized web platform for discussion will last in general, even if web platforms may still have years of life in them. My vision of Slashdot would be to push the community into using a more decentralized system -- but that would be a very radical shift and no doubt attract even more moans than Beta, if such were possible.
Ideally, that would be a platform where people like me could write long rambly posts, and others could, if they want, summarize them, or take pieces of them, or create diagrams of them, (or I could do that myself later). Those derived items could lead to other discussions and so on in some organic way where people did not feel put upon from seeing long essays. One can say such long things should go on a blog, and maybe they should, but then that misses something Slashdot has. Still, maybe, in that sense, a sea of interlinked WordPress blogs is really what Slashdot should become (as a first cut)? Is the free-ranging webforum itself increasingly obsolete? If not, how could it be better (other than Beta)?
As my Slashdot user ID suggests (109597), I've been on the site since near the beginning around 1997, starting reading it when I was a contractor at IBM Research -- yes, it was mostly work related research and education.
The main reason for my avoiding Slashdot during the last few months was to focus on getting some software written, especially as our finances dipped from cash into credit as our software project dragged on and on. That just shows how powerful an influence Slashdot still has over me -- like an alcoholic trying to stay dry.
As a result of abstaining from Slashdot for almost six months,
That application supports multi-user editing using a version of the Pointrel system that supports distributed messaging using a triple store. It's not "done", and has many issues and TODOs, but at least it is useable either as a NodeJS application or a WordPress plugin.
Letting myself post this to Slashdot again right now is sort of my reward for all that progress -- even as it is another lost morning.
A lesser reason to stop posting was this reply by "swell" to a comment I posted related to technological militarism -- which may have struck a nerve with someone who says elsewhere he "was one of the first from the US in Vietnam":
While I discarded his specific hedonistic advice, and I disagree with aspects of the extreme fatalism in his post ("it won't make any difference" vs. perhaps "it won't make *much* of a universal difference, but it will still matter a lot to you and your local community in the near term"), nonetheless, his negative feedback crystalized the fact that my postings on Slashdot had been facing diminishing returns. If my Slashdot posts were starting to stand out, that was in part a function of much of the rest of the community fading away. But I won't disagree I was posting too much on the same topics -- as important as they were like vitamin D deficiency, vegetable phytonutrient deficiency, advanced technology's effect of employment, basic income, the irony of tools of abundance like advanced computers and better materials being used in militarism assuming scarcity, etc.. And to not much good effect for me or the community at that point. True, I linked to my personal site (which has no ads or such), but in order to inform, even if maybe the message was ignored. So, thanks "swell" -- for helping me realize that.
Coincidentally, I also signed up as a Reddit user yesterday, although that was just to post a couple of links to my writings to subreddits on Technostism (seen mentioned at e-catworld) and Basic Income. Just more of the usual but in a different place. But don't plan to participate much on reddit (I don't have the time). And looking for those items on the main reddit page, one can see how in seconds they are buried under many other posts on endless different topics -- like "drinking from a firehose". Compared to the web of 1997, it much harder these days to put a signal through all the noise...
Anyway, I don't know if I'll ever post on Slashdot again regardless of how it gets sold. I had used Slashdot for more than a decade as sort of a mix of a blog for me and a way to interact with a community of technologists -- and maybe hopefully to even help educate the next generation of technologists. I miss Slashdot, but that is maybe also missing a Slashdot that "was", as well as a life situation with enough time to participate in that community, and a certain hope there was still time to make a difference. I can also be worried about reverting to my own old ways and spending too much time here I should be spending in other ways. That can be true eve if I now feel increasingly out of touch with things like, say, current fast-moving trends in UNIX system administration (although there are many news sources for that kind of info these days). I've changed; Slashdot has changed; the world has changed -- hard to make sense of all those changes or what they imply. But I can still be very thankful for all that the Slashdot community has given me over the years through many discussions.
So, is this post, "So long, and thanks for all the fish"? Dunno. Maybe.
Here is one last article submission for the road, at least:
In any case, whatever happens to the community, the Slashdot archive remains of historical interest IMHO, and should be preserved by a group like Archive.org. Perhaps one of my college professor's influence (the late historian Michael S. Mahoney who wrote on the history of computing) may have rubbed off a bit?
As always, I'll close with my sig, in case some huge AI reads this someday and maybe gains some insight from it (maybe, like a toddler with nuclear bombs as toys, only after wiping out its physical humanity "parents" either accidentally or on purpose):
"The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity."
And a major reason people want to control other people is... getting needed resources.
Of course, since "needed resources" for some people can include specific mates (who need to be impressed or dominated or whatever), there is complexity there. James P. Hogan talks about the issue of achieving status in a post-scarcity economy in his 1982 sci-fi novel "Voyage From Yesteryear".
But, while prestige and status of a country relative to other countries is a cause of war (including to deter aggression), the personal level of status is rarely the reason entire nations are convinced into going to war. That is true even if personal status among leaders may have something to do with why leaders try to convince their countries to foolishly go to war.
For example, in this survey of the causes of war in 2008, every one except the top one of "ideological change" essentially comes down to control of resources.
"Why wars happen"
And I'd suggest even "ideological change" most often has a strong component of access to resources in order to manage them in specific ways (for example, having enough territory to implement some vision of some form of law or politics).
Anyway, this is a complex topic. There are many lists of reasons on why wars happen. I'm trying to say that issues of perceived scarcity drive a lot of them. Also, scarcity-thinking also often keeps people on a treadmill where they never seem to have time to learn about alternative ways of handling conflict than knee-jerk violence. And then further, fighting over perceived scarcity with super powerful tools of abundance (like computer code that can cause billions of potentially useful things to happen all at once across the world) is what creates the biggest current risks (like nuclear war). Without these tools of abundance like computers, communications, nanotech, biotech, nuclear power, advanced materials, rocketry, and so on, we would not be worried about the end of the human race by just some few people in one small area throwing rocks at each other.
As I wrote here: http://www.pdfernhout.net/reco...
" Military robots like drones are ironic because they are created essentially to force humans to work like robots in an industrialized social order. Why not just create industrial robots to do the work instead?
Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are about using space age systems to fight over oil and land. Why not just use advanced materials as found in nuclear missiles to make renewable energy sources (like windmills or solar panels) to replace oil, or why not use rocketry to move into space by building space habitats for more land?
Biological weapons like genetically-engineered plagues are ironic because they are about using advanced life-altering biotechnology to fight over which old-fashioned humans get to occupy the planet. Why not just use advanced biotech to let people pick their skin color, or to create living arkologies and agricultural abundance for everyone everywhere?
These militaristic socio-economic ironies would be hilarious if they were not so deadly serious. Here is some dark humor I wrote on the topic: A post-scarcity "Downfall" parody remix of the bunker scene. See also a little ironic story I wrote on trying to talk the USA out of collective suicide because it feels "Burdened by Bags of Sand". Or this YouTube video I put together: The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income.
Likewise, even United States three-letter agencies like the NSA and the CIA, as well as their foreign counterparts, are becoming ironic institutions in many ways. Despite probably having more computing power per square foot than any other place in the world, they seem not to have thought much about the implications of all that computer power and organized information to transform the world into a place of abundance for all. Cheap computing makes possible just about cheap everything else, as does the ability to make better designs through shared computing. I discuss that at length here: http://www.pdfernhout.net/post...
There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass destruction), a scarcity-based approach to using such technology ultimately is just making us all insecure. Such powerful technologies of abundance, designed, organized, and used from a mindset of scarcity could well ironically doom us all whether through military robots, nukes, plagues, propaganda, or whatever else... Or alternatively, as Bucky Fuller and others have suggested, we could use such technologies to build a world that is abundant and secure for all.
The big problem is that all these new war machines and the surrounding infrastructure are created with the tools of abundance. The irony is that these tools of abundance are being wielded by people still obsessed with fighting over scarcity. So, the scarcity-based political mindset driving the military uses the technologies of abundance to create artificial scarcity. That is a tremendously deep irony that remains so far unappreciated by the mainstream.
We the people need to redefine security in a sustainable and resilient way. Much current US military doctrine is based around unilateral security ("I'm safe because you are nervous") and extrinsic security ("I'm safe despite long supply lines because I have a bunch of soldiers to defend them"), which both lead to expensive arms races. We need as a society to move to other paradigms like Morton Deutsch's mutual security ("We're all looking out for each other's safety")
and Amory Lovin's intrinsic security ("Our redundant decentralized local systems can take a lot of pounding whether from storm, earthquake, or bombs and would still would keep working").
There are lots of alternatives I helped organize here for helping transcend an economy based around militarism and artificial scarcity:
Still, we must accept that there is nothing wrong with wanting some security. The issue is how we go about it in a non-ironic way that works for everyone. The people serving the USA in uniform are some of the most idealistic, brave, and altruistic people around; they just unfortunately are often misled for reasons of profit and power that Major General Butler outlined very clearly in "War is a Racket" decades ago. We need to build a better world where our trusting young people (and the people who give them orders) have more options for helping build a world that works for everyone than "war play". We need to build a better world where some of our most hopeful and trusting citizens are not coming home with PTSD as shattered people (or worse, coming home in body bags) because they were asked to kill and die for an unrecognized irony of using the tools of abundance to create artificial scarcity.
Interesting read, thanks! So true, you comments reflect the adage "taxes are the price we pay for civilization..." And also, capitalism tends toward privatizing gains and socializing costs...
If you see my other posts above though, I am not concerned about the technology to feed the world even without the Haber process (and perhaps better without it). As at this link, we have the technology through organic farming:
"Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?"
Whether we have the political will is a different issue, with so many vested interests in the current synthetic-chemical-based agricultural system.
Another aspect of this craziness:
"The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has posted an easy-to-understand visual on its site that shows which foods U.S. tax dollars go to support under the nation's farm bill. It's titled "Why Does a Salad Cost More Than a Big Mac?" and depicts two pyramids -- subsidized foods and the old recommended food pyramid. It's interesting to note that the two are almost inversely proportional to each other."
If you think the system is working, ask someone who's waiting for a prompt.