Another aspect of this story I should have mentioned, while spending on digital effects has exploded, it's still difficult for the effects houses to turn a profit.
Monday, August 30, 2021
Idea that higher education is a good example strikes me as the least convincing one possible; instructor salaries aren't what is driving tuition increases.— Mike Konczal (@rortybomb) August 13, 2021
And the things that are (admin bloat, declining state dollars) don't have anything to do with BCD. https://t.co/Jasal2v7HN
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17, 2013
Friday, August 27, 2021
From Walter Isaacson's recent NYT review of two recent books on Elon Musk:
In his famous “Think Different” ad for Apple in 1997, Steve Jobs saluted people like himself: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels… Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Musk is in some ways the current incarnation of Jobs. As these two books show in vivid detail, Musk can drive people hard. He can drive them to distraction. But he can also drive them to do things they never dreamed were possible. “Please prepare yourself for a level of intensity that is greater than anything most of you have experienced before,” he wrote in one staff memo. “Revolutionizing industries is not for the faint of heart.”
Like Jobs, Musk has a reality distortion field. “In meetings, Musk might ask his engineers to do something that, on the face of it, seemed absurd,” Berger writes. But unlike Jobs, Musk has an understanding of physics and thermodynamics that has helped him know what boundaries could be successfully pushed. “When they protested that it was impossible, Musk would respond with a question designed to open their minds to the problem, and potential solutions. He would ask, ‘What would it take?’”
By drilling down to fundamental principles and the underlying science, he has built the globally dominant private rocket company whose Starship vehicle might lead the way in bringing humans to Mars, and Tesla has become the world’s most valuable auto company, one that will help wean humanity from fossil-fuel cars.
Regular readers will know I disagree with quite a bit of this. While the talented engineers at SpaceX and Tesla have accomplished some remarkable things and Musk certainly has proposed things that most engineers consider impossible or at least ridiculously impractical, those two sets do not overlap. The first consists of accomplishments that were seen as ambitious but feasible at the time such as using controlled landings to recover rocket boosters. The second consists of really bad ideas (like using air-bearings in a high speed vactrain) that have all been allowed to die quietly when Musk unveiled the next big thing. (When firms started raising money on the vactrain buzz and realized they'd have to come up prototypes, every last one of them discarded Musk's concept but kept the name.)
The idea Musk's success comes from his grasp of science is laughable. The man is a terrible engineer and whenever he goes off script, things go badly. He does have a tremendous talent for fundraising, generating PR, and creative accounting, but Isaacson lost me when he painted Musk as the next Steve Jobs, only smarter.
Of course, I'm not the target audience.
If you’re curious about Tesla, SpaceX & my general goings on, @WalterIsaacson is writing a biography— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 5, 2021
Thursday, August 26, 2021
Provocative thread on the human-automation relationship, anchored by a provocative metaphor: the centaur. Question is, does technology serve the human (centaur) or does the human serve the technology (reverse centaur)?— E.W. Niedermeyer (@Tweetermeyer) March 19, 2021
We should be asking this about driver assistance systems... https://t.co/RPng9x6uTa
Jalopnik's Jason Torchinsky uses the embarrassing Tesla Bot debut as a stepping off point for a clever discussion of technology and autonomy.
Tesla’s big AI Day event just happened, and I’ve already told you about the humanoid robot Elon Musk says Tesla will be developing. You’d think that would have been the most eye-roll-inducing thing to come out of the event, but, surprisingly, that’s not the case. The part of the presentation that actually made me the most baffled was near the beginning, a straightforward demonstration of Tesla “Full Self-Driving.” I’ll explain.
What’s being solved, here? The demonstration of FSD shown in the video is doing absolutely nothing the human driver couldn’t do, and doesn’t free the human to do anything else. Nothing’s being gained!
It would be like if Tesla designed a humanoid dishwashing robot that worked fundamentally differently than the dishwashing robots many of us have tucked under our kitchen counters.
The Tesla Dishwasher would stand over the sink, like a human, washing dishes with human-like hands, but for safety reasons you would have to stand behind it, your hands lightly holding the robot’s hands, like a pair of young lovers in their first apartment.
Normally, the robot does the job just fine, but there’s a chance it could get confused and fling a dish at a wall or person, so for safety you need to be watching it, and have your hands on the robot’s at all times.
If you don’t, it beeps a warning, and then stops, mid-wash.
Would you want a dishwasher like that? You’re not really washing the dishes yourself, sure, but you’re also not not washing them, either. That’s what FSD is.
Now, if you want to argue that Tesla and other L2 systems offer a safety advantage (I’m not convinced they necessarily do, but whatever) then I think there’s a way to leverage all of this impressive R&D and keep the safety benefits of these L2 systems. How? By doing it the opposite way we do it now.
What I mean is that there should be a role-reversal: if safety is the goal, then the human should be the one driving, with the AI watching, always alert, and ready to take over in an emergency.
In this inverse-L2 model, the car is still doing all the complex AI things it would be doing in a system like FSD, but it will only take over in situations where it sees that the human driver is not responding to a potential problem.
This guardian angel-type approach provides all of the safety advantages of what a good L2 system could provide, and, because it’s a computer, will always be attentive and ready to take over if needed.
Driver monitoring systems won’t be necessary, because the car won’t drive unless the human is actually driving. And, if they get distracted or don’t see a person or car, then the AI steps in to help.
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Repost: "A propaganda-fed base has no capacity to self correct, rather it continues follow unsustainable paths that only gain momentum"
While the details have been unexpected, the general trends have been evident for a while.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2017
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Monday, August 23, 2021
There is a tendency to treat global warming and Western megafires as one thing when they are two related but distinct crises requiring, in a sense, opposite approaches. With the climate crisis, we need to do what it takes to reverse the trends toward higher temperatures and ocean acidification. In the West, we actually need more but better fires.
Yes, there’s been talk across the U.S. Forest Service and California state agencies about doing more prescribed burns and managed burns. The point of that “good fire” would be to create a black-and-green checkerboard across the state. The black burned parcels would then provide a series of dampers and dead ends to keep the fire intensity lower when flames spark in hot, dry conditions, as they did this past week. But we’ve had far too little “good fire,” as the Cassandras call it. Too little purposeful, healthy fire. Too few acres intentionally burned or corralled by certified “burn bosses” (yes, that’s the official term in the California Resources Code) to keep communities safe in weeks like this.
Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.
[Deputy fire chief of Yosemite National Park Mike] Beasley earned what he called his “red card,” or wildland firefighter qualification, in 1984. To him, California, today, resembles a rookie pyro Armageddon, its scorched battlefields studded with soldiers wielding fancy tools, executing foolhardy strategy. “Put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” Beasley summed up his assessment of the plan of attack by Cal Fire, the state’s behemoth “emergency response and resource protection” agency. Instead, Beasley believes, fire professionals should be considering ecology and picking their fights: letting fires that pose little risk burn through the stockpiles of fuels. Yet that’s not the mission. “They put fires out, full stop, end of story,” Beasley said of Cal Fire. “They like to keep it clean that way.”
Why is it so difficult to do the smart thing? People get in the way. From Marketplace.
Molly Wood: You spoke with all these experts who have been advocating for good fire for prescribed burns for decades. And nobody disagrees, right? You found that there is no scientific disagreement that this is the way to prevent megafires. So how come it never happens?
Elizabeth Weil: You know, that’s a really good question. I talked to a lot of scientists who have been talking about this, as you said, literally, for decades, and it’s been really painful to watch the West burn. It hasn’t been happening because people don’t like smoke. It hasn’t been happening, because of very well-intended environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act that make it harder to put particulate matter in the air from man-made causes. It hasn’t happened because of where we live. You don’t want to burn down people’s houses, obviously.
From this follows some equally obvious conclusions. If wildfires are both unavoidable and a natural part of the life-cycle of forests, if trying to suppress them only delays and compounds the problem and if people in the paths of these fires is one of, perhaps the, major obstacle to the solution, then we need to have a serious debate about where we encourage (or even allow) new housing and development.
I don't want to get sidetracked by discussions about fire-adapted communities and wildland–urban interfaces. These are important topics but not the conversation stoppers people seem to think they are. The first is roughly equivalent to social distancing, smart preventative steps but hardly absolute protection. The second brings up images of of isolated mountain villages suggesting developed areas don't need to worry about this sort of thing. The reality of WUIs is more U than you might expect.
"The US Forest Service defines the wildland-urban interface qualitatively as a place where 'humans and their development meet or intermix with wildland fuel.' Communities that are within 0.5 miles (0.80 km) of the zone are included."
Here's a shot of L.A.
Lots of yellow here, particularly in areas noted for heated NIMBY/YIMBY debates, such as a big chunk of Santa Monica...
And pretty much all of La Cañada Flintridge.
Western megafires are an incredibly complex topic, but there are a couple of simple but important points we can make here.
1. We need more good fire, either through controlled burns or by simply choosing not to fight certain wildfires.
2. The more people who live in an area, the more difficult it is to pull the trigger on those good fires.
Friday, August 20, 2021
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Not surprisingly, Michael Hiltzik has the essential explanation of how we got here.
Herbert Croly, one of the nation’s leading progressive political commentators, cautioned that progressive electoral reforms such as the recall and ballot initiative would be “instruments of minority rule and usually of the rule of a very small minority.”
Enacted in response to the “flagrant betrayal of the popular interest” that took place under the traditional political system, Croly wrote, these measures “may succeed in abolishing one kind of abuse and oppression, but only at the price of its being succeeded by other kinds.”
The year was 1914. Only three years before Croly’s warning, California had established the recall, initiative and referendum as tools of “direct democracy” at the behest of its newly elected progressive governor, Hiram Johnson.
In his 1911 inaugural speech, Johnson asserted that the three measures would “place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.”
He meant protecting themselves from the abuses of the dominant political force in California of that era, the Southern Pacific Railroad. The SP had suborned almost every other instrument of political action: It chose candidates for public office and manipulated the vote to make sure they were elected.
Johnson had won the governorship through a head-on attack on the SP in a statewide campaign; now that he was in office, he intended to break its political monopoly forever.
Those who counseled caution in reforming the political system were shouted down by reformers, who were in their ascendance and had the depredations of the SP to point to.
As historian Tom Sitton observed, [reformer John Randolph] Haynes was confident that the reforms would inspire voters to “become informed enough on political issues to cast a ballot” on specific issues. Haynes “saw in these instruments a method by which groups with little power could ... compete with a plutocracy that he believed had corrupted American politics at every level.” With Haynes’ backing, the reforms were enacted overwhelmingly in Los Angeles in 1902.
Croly saw that the initiative would play to the interests of the most determined camp and that a motivated and vocal minority would often have the advantage over an indifferent majority.
“The right to force a vote on specific legislative projects ... which must be approved or disapproved as a whole,” he wrote, “places an enormous power in the hands of a skillful and persistent minority.”
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
Finally got around to reading the Big Short. (An actual physical-not-virtual book printed on paper, just like in the before times.) Lots to talk about here, but this section struck me as particularly relevant to some of our recent conversations.
On one level, Lewis knows this isn't exactly true. Though the industry did its damnedest to confuse and conceal what was actually going on, the deception was never that effective. Despite all the repackaging and misdirection, the truth wasn't that hard to see, at least not for those who were interested in the truth.
The complexity of the instruments didn't lead the trader to deceive himself; they let him. While Burry and Eisman were extremely intelligent and diligent investors, but what really set them apart was, to steal one from Orwell, their willingness to see what was in front of their noses while almost everyone else refused to.
The meltdown of 2008 was perhaps the largest self-con ever with the financial sector losing something in the neighborhood of a quarter of a trillion dollars on the worthless securities it had created, but it was far from the first time a scam artist had bought his own spiel.
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
One of the keys to the success of Elon Musk has been his ability to work the regulators, bullying, playing the martyr, suggesting (directly or through proxies) that agencies like the SEC, the FAA, OSHA, the NHTSA et al. hate progress and are trying to stop him from saving the world (you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not).
The tactics had been extraordinarily successful, perhaps in part due to the Trump administration’s lax attitudes toward regulation. It’s possible that the election made some kind of reckoning inevitable, particularly given the news about battery fires (not just a Tesla problem) and the misrepresentation of the “Full Self-Driving” option (very much a Tesla problem).
Russ Mitchell writing for the LA Times
In theory, identifying and avoiding stationary objects set off by hazard cones or flashing lights ought to be one of the easiest challenges for any autonomous-driving or driver-assist system.
Yet at least 11 times over the past seven years, cars made by Tesla Inc. and running its software have failed this test, slamming into emergency vehicles that were parked on roads and highways. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to know why.
A federal investigation announced Monday involves Tesla cars built between 2014 and 2021, including models S, X, 3 and Y. If the probe results in a recall, as many as 765,000 vehicles could be affected.
The 11 crashes at issue resulted in 17 injuries and one death. Three took place in Southern California.
The new investigation indicates that the safety agency, under President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is paying more attention to automated driving safety than the more laissez-faire Trump administration. In June, NHTSA ordered automobile manufactures, including Tesla, to forward data on crashes involving automated systems to the agency.
It’s about time, said Alain Kornhauser, director of the self-driving car program at Princeton University. “Teslas are running into stationary objects,” he said. “They shouldn’t be.”
Tesla is also under review by the California Department of Motor Vehicles for its marketing of “Full Self-Driving” technology. That’s a significant enhancement to Autopilot that allows the car to be driven on city streets, with the claimed ability to handle traffic signals and make turns at intersections. The feature costs $10,000, which includes future enhancements, but Tesla has noted that its Full Self-Driving does not make the car self-driving. DMV regulations prevent auto manufacturers from making false claims about automated driving capabilities.
Monday, August 16, 2021
I come from the buckle of the Bible belt and I stay in touch with friends from back home. Nothing here is that new to me, but even if you've heard this story before, this retelling is worth your time.
What I want to single out here is the way that MAGA and other movements can use members' deeply held (and often reasonable) beliefs to bring them in and then, once they are completely immersed, indoctrinate them into a new worldview that often directly contradicts some of those initial beliefs. This is not a simple process. It happen slowly and stealthily and its effectiveness is not limited to the stupid or the gullible. I've seen smart, reasonable people -- the last ones you'd expect -- get sucked in.
Of course, more often it is the first ones you'd expect, cruel and foolish people with longstanding reactionary tendencies. The closer to the door they start, the easier it is to get them in the temple, but even the most likely recruits are changed by the indoctrination, made less empathetic, more childish, more paranoid and yet more credulous.
From the Washington Post:
Like other families with split political affiliations, they had some yelling matches after Trump took office, especially over the former president’s immigration policies. Claire was a Canadian-born Catholic drawn to the Republican Party by her fierce opposition to abortion, and Trump had won her over with promises to champion her position. Celina, Laurie and their three younger siblings skewed left despite their conservative upbringing in South Dakota. They had never felt such disdain for a politician before.
By the end of the Trump administration, the bounds of their political disagreements had shifted, Laurie recounted, becoming at once more intense and also less about policy and legislation in Washington. They had learned to live with their disagreements over abortion. Now it felt like they were occupying different realities altogether.
Over the course of 2020, amid a presidential election, racial justice protests and a pandemic, the five siblings began to trade increasingly worried text messages and emails about some of the things Claire was saying and posting on Facebook. There were comments they noticed about child trafficking and sacrifice, a key theme of the extremist QAnon ideology. There was her vitriol toward Pope Francis, whom she had referred to as “the anti-Pope.” After Election Day, they took turns pushing back on a stream of disinformation Claire posted online, including the unfounded claim that the CIA murdered U.S. soldiers abroad to help cover up voter fraud....“Why is this important enough to compromise your relationships with your kids? Why does he mean more to you than us?”
Friday, August 13, 2021
It's all really the same thread. Back in 2011, we were talking about the consequences of the conservative movement cultivating craziness and manipulating the base through disinformation. We just have more examples now.
SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2011
Thursday, August 12, 2021
To quote Robin Williams, "Does the name Custer mean anything to you?" -- more on feral disinformation and sane vampires
Here's the relevant section from our original post.
Disinformation has gone feral when:
1. It is no longer in the control of the group that created it.
2. It has continued to grow in popularity and influence.
3. It has started to evolve in such a way that the nuisance/threat it presents is as as great to the people who created it as it does to the original targets.
The most prominent example of the moment is the right wing movement opposing covid vaccines and increasingly vaccination in general.
The Conservative Movement spent decades depicting the scientific establishment as alarmist and corrupt because undermining it served a clear political purpose at the time. Recently this narrative took on an added usefulness as the Republicans tried to contain the fallout from the pandemic. It was an unspeakably evil position to take, greatly adding to a horrific death toll, but it had a certain ends-justify-the-means logic, "had" being the operative word.
In 2021, being the anti-vaxx party is not in the Republicans' best interest. It devastates areas that voted for Trump and it makes the most comically crazy people imaginable the face of the GOP. On top of that, it's bad for business.
The best messaging for the Republicans at this point would be to start referring to the "Trump vaccines" and to work the phrase "Operation Warp Speed" into every statement and interview response, regardless of topic, then take credit for the end of the pandemic. That is, however, not an option. Control of the narrative has been lost, Things have gone feral.
Though the Conservative Movement reaped considerable benefits for decades by cultivating paranoia and conspiracy-thinking, the Republicans are now far past the cunning scheme phase on this.
Here's Josh Marshall:
Among Americans over the age of 18 fully 71% have gotten at least one vaccine dose.
As an epidemiological matter we need all that 71% to get both their shots. Currently that fully vaccinated number is 61%. And that should shift significantly over the next few weeks as many of those people get their second shots and then wait for two more weeks for the full immune effect to take hold. But as a proxy for being for or against vaccines, even the single shot is a good measure. And that means that an overwhelming majority of the people who participate meaningfully in the national political conversation and have even the right to vote are vaccinated.
This becomes even more the case when you add in the age factor. Voter participation almost universally goes up with age. The same is true with COVID vaccines. 90% of Americans over 65 have had at least one shot. And in basically every age segment from age 12 on up the vaccination rate gets higher. Point being, among the voting public the vaccinated already overwhelmingly outnumber the unvaccinated.
The Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday about how vaccination status is increasingly dividing Americans. “From family gatherings to weddings to workplaces, vaccinated Americans are drawing new, sharper lines around who they choose to spend time with amid the rise of the highly-transmissible Delta variant. And the unvaccinated are growing testy over being excluded and feeling judged for exercising their right to make their own health choices.”
At the risk of over simplifying, we have about two thirds of the country more and more annoyed and even angry at around one quarter who in turn are burrowing even deeper into their long-standing persecution complexes, with the imbalance almost certain to grow and the emotions to intensify. The sane vampires of the GOP face an insurmountable challenge on vaccines. They know how unpopular the con position is but they also know that, as a small tent party, they can't afford to alienate the lunatic fringe they cultivated.
Interestingly, one result has been, contrary to stereotype, conservative outlets like the WSJ suggesting we should be more sensitive to the feelings of the unvaccinated while the position on the left is increasingly "stop being a baby and get your goddamn shot." I'm absolutely convinced the sane vampires would like to say this too, but their window for being honest with the base has long since closed.
Wednesday, August 11, 2021
I've been meaning to repost this for a few weeks now, ever since I saw a Twitter exchange between Ben Dreyfuss and Josh Barro whining about train travel (Barro also had a let them eat cake comment about public libraries, but I'm not sure it was part of the same thread). I was familiar with Barro, an unimpressive writer whose rapid success would be pretty much unimaginable for someone without big time family connections. ("[Robert] Barro is considered one of the founders of new classical macroeconomics, along with Robert Lucas, Jr. and Thomas J. Sargent.") Dreyfuss, though, has him beat. First his father Richard Dreyfuss set him up as an actor, then when that didn't work out, his sister got him a job as a professional tweeter.
Just to keep things in perspective, these two are, at worst annoying. The Cuomo brothers are despicable and in terms of damage done, G.W. Bush is in a category of his own. These men didn't just get a leg up; they have traveled their entire lives on greased skids. There are far too many other examples. We have a nepotism problem.
I don't want to paint with too broad a brush. While people like Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda, Randy and Thomas Newman, Chris Wallace and Maggie Haberman certainly had an advantage starting out, their subsequent work suggests that, with a little luck, they might have had roughly the same careers without the same parents.
Obviously, in a perfect world, we'd all have an equal shot, but as long as connections are merely helpful, we can live with the unfairness. When being born in the right place and knowing the right people becomes a sufficient condition for success, we're in trouble.
From back in 2014, we had an exchange with Gelman on the topic.
MONDAY, JANUARY 20, 2014
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Monday, August 9, 2021
You Only Live Twice was perhaps the stupidest of the series, with the "let Bond go so we can kill him later" tactic reaching possibly a franchise peak. It is also, if you catch it in the right mood, a lot of fun, with piranha tanks, ninjas, and perhaps the most over-the-top Ken Adam set design.
Friday, August 6, 2021
For some reason completely unrelated to the rest of the post, this classic science fiction story came to mind
For the weekend, three videos from the Common Sense Skeptic.
I assume everyone still remembers Mars One, the widely reported plan to use a reality show to finance a permanent Martian colony. The Gateway SpacePort is also a plan for establishing a privately funded foothold in space, but it's not as reputable or well thought-out.
here but this video (also by the Common Sense Skeptic) explains the problems better and in much greater detail.
Even if the orbital hotels and the artificial gravity don't work out, space travel can still be luxurious.
Elon Musk, whose firm SpaceX is building a rocket that could transport up to 100 people in space at once, has a vision for future space activities. On Wednesday, the CEO shared an image with his 31 million Twitter followers envisioning a musical performance in a ship above the Earth.
"Starship Concerto in Zero G," Musk wrote alongside the image, referring to the name of the stainless steel rocket currently in the prototype phase. It wouldn't be the first musical performance in space – Chris Hadfield famously covered David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on board the International Space Station – but the Starship could represent an opportunity for more artists than ever to be inspired by the amidst the stars.
Those passengers would have plenty of room to stretch out and get creative. The Starship is expected to offer 100 cubic meters of pressurized cabin space, similar to an Airbus A380 or the International Space Station. Musk noted at a September 2019 event that, thanks to zero gravity, space could be used much more efficiently as users would be able to take advantage of every corner of a room.
Thursday, August 5, 2021
This is Joseph
One thing that I always find intriguing is how much people seem to point to European countries as examples of better places to live as compared to North America. The envy of Scandinavia is long standing and people from the UK are seen as being classy but recently there seems to a new target: Hungary.
That said, I take Matt's point that which European country that people envy is a great way to get a sense of what is or is not valued. Not a universal point, preferences can be eccentric. But I always figured that the UK class system is what people in Canada envied -- liking the idea of social hierarchy that is a lot less present in Canada, despite the overall great standard of living in Canada. I would find envy of Russia concerning unless it was envy of something that was a very specific value (e.g., winter sports or cuisine).
In any case, it has been fun to watch the defenses of Hungary, There are some really nice features about Hungary but I am still pretty convinced the best place in the world to be middle class is still the United States. Certainly, the pattern of immigration suggests the same.