Quality content on the internet is a rounding error when adding the ninety percent utter shit and ten percent malicious fuckery.beggs
Never before have so many people understood so little about so much.James Burke, in Connections [wikipedia.org] episode 1 “The Trigger Effect”
James Burke said that in 1979, a year after I was born, in his TV show Connections. As a kid watching reruns of Connections I doubt I understood what he meant. That as society advances people come to use and depend more and more on technology that requires specialized knowledge to understand. We are surrounded by technology that our lives depend on, but few of us understand very much of it at all. Think about all the technology you use every day do you understand it? Even the basics; electricity? The turbines that generate it and the grid that delivers it to you can charge your phone, or laptop, to read this? Forget about the phone or laptop themselves with literally hundreds of components that are each a technical marvel —touch screens, accelerometers, radios for bluetooth, cellular and wifi, and the processor, even the battery. And don’t forget the tens or hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code that make all those physical bits work together so you can look at cat memes on the internet. What about the technology required to grow food on far off farms to feed more than half of the world that lives in cities today? The trains, planes and automobiles that deliver it in an edible state? The list goes on. How many of us could really survive an apocalypse?
The complexity of the world has increased in what feels like an exponential rate over the 40-plus years since Connections was made. Each of us has been reduced from a cog in vast machine to a single tooth on a very small cog in a massive world spanning machine. When I was a kids cars were complex machines but I could learn enough about how they worked, as mechanical things, to understand them. I was far from a gear head but I could even do basic maintenance and little repair. I could change the oil or clean the spark plugs because I could understand what was going on under the hood and apply that knowledge with my hands. Today, the principles haven’t changed (as long as we are talking about internal combustion engines, ignoring hybrid and electric cars for now…) but cars are computers and they require specialized equipment to even diagnose many problems. My car throws an error if you replace the battery without the manufacturer provided software to tell the car what you did. As the world gets more and more advanced we all see less and less of the overall machine and it can be overwhelming. More and more we are surrounded by black boxes we don’t understand. It reminds me of another quote:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.Arthur C. Clarke, in Profiles of the Future
Everything around us is magic today, the technology behind you seeing these words on your mobile phone requires armies of people to design, build and manage. You can’t even name or imagine all the people and tasks along the way much less how it works, unless it’s your job to design it or build it or manage it, or to study it. And that would make you what we call an expert. But these days people don’t seem to believe they need to listen to experts about the things they don’t know.
Even the most venerated experts, the canonical example of an expert: doctors, aren’t safe from the disrespect for expertise today. There are many issues with the practice of medicine [ted.com] but when I’m sick I still want an expert to take a look, to diagnose and to treat me. I want someone who trained for years to understand how the human body works, continues to keep up with advances and is certified to apply that knowledge. The human body is magic to me, because I don’t have the knowledge. How is it that people can think a random talking head on the Internet knows better than almost all the trained doctors and medical researchers in the world? People are drinking bleach! Or worse making their autistic kids drink Clorox like Kool Aid in Jonestown.
Do you remember, before the Internet, that it was thought that the cause of collective stupidity was the lack of access to information? Yea… It wasn’t that.Anonymous meme
I can’t find a source to cite for that, I’ve seen different versions of the theme on the internet many times over the past few years, it seems appropriate. But we did know, or some people knew, that the idea, in the early days of the Internet, that access to information would make everyone smarter, was bullshit. We were warned:
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”Isaac Asimov, “A Cult of Ignorance”, Newsweek (21 January 1980) (more about it on Open Culture [openculture.net])
This thread of anti-intellectualism is the direct parent of the disrespect, and hostility, towards “experts” on display today. And there does seem to be something fundamental about it as it affects people on both sides of the political spectrum, liberal anti-vaxxers and conservative anti-maskers alike, rich hollywood stars and struggling middle class workers, and don’t get me started on flat-earthers. Ignorance, individualism and the internet are a potent brew.
I don’t know where to go from here, I don’t know how it can be fixed but I suspect it will take many experts…
I have been reading the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations in the past couple of days. It’s full of lots of progressive liberal dreams. But I’m a pessimist, I expect most of it cannot get passed Congress in anything like it’s current form but hope springs eternal. I guess. Anyway… I came across this part:
As millions of Americans have stayed at home to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it is plain to see that in the 21st century, the Internet is not optional: It is a vital tool for participating in the economy, and all Americans need access to high-speed, affordable broadband service. Democrats will take action to prevent states from blocking municipalities and rural co-ops from building publicly-owned broadband networks, and increase federal support for municipal broadband. We will increase public investment in rural broadband infrastructure and offer low- income Americans subsidies for accessing high-speed internet through the Lifeline program, so children and families can fully participate in school, work, and life from their homes. And Democrats will restore the FCC’s clear authority to take strong enforcement action against broadband providers who violate net neutrality principles through blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or other measures that create artificial scarcity and raise consumer prices for this vital service.
I support this, I wholeheartedly support this. The lack of broadband is a detriment to anyone’s participation in the modern economy. As a worker, for more and more jobs, and, increasingly, as a consumer. COVID-19 has shown it’s an even more critical peace of infrastructure than we thought. You can’t have online classes or work from home meetings if people don’t have a good internet connection, and to do both at the same time?
I think the rollout should be pushed by the government as a common good, as centrally planned, funded and managed infrastructure. I’ve written about it before, here [confusion.cc] and even revisited it here [confusion.cc]. When I revisited the lack of broadband coverage, in 2017, I lamented how it seemed nothing had changed since I originally wrote about it in 2010. Well… guess what? It’s still shit.
I live in Singapore where we have a national broadband network, pumping high speed internet into nearly every house and small business. I still buy connectivity from a service provider, but what I’m really buying from them is the connection out to the wider world, the network from my house to the service providers is the same no matter who I purchase from. The idea is that broadband, like roads is a necessary part of the national infrastructure. When I leave my house and drive over the road to a shop or office the road is a common good connecting the two private locations. Good roads are a necessary part of the modern functioning economy. They are expensive and it makes sense that the government funds them centrally to ensure they reach everyone. The same is true of internet; connecting homes is expensive and it makes sense to let the government fund it to ensure it reaches everyone.
One benefit of the government managing the roads is planning. The Singapore government can encourage development in different areas through the management of the roads. Even in a place as small as Singapore you can see the effect of this when new roads are built, or more commonly, existing roads are widened or extended. Given, Singapore is a small place and managing infrastructure on the scale of the US is in a different league, look at roads in the US… but still I think it’s worth government investing in infrastructure for the common good. That includes bettering our investment in roads but also in new infrastructure requirements like broadband.
I should point out that Australia is also building a national broadband network, and it’s not going as swimmingly as it did in Singapore. Australia is much closer to the physical size of the US but only has a fraction of the population. So, yes, I expect it will be a much harder and longer process in the US. Dealing with federal, state and local governments and people and entrenched businesses. But we need to find the way. We got electricity to everyone only with a major governmental push after the private sector reached the point where it was not in business interest to push further. That was a hundred years ago. Broadband is the electricity of this century, and the US is falling behind. It was not until the 1950 after Eisenhower saw the benefit of good roads in Germany that we got the interstate highway system in the US. The same thing needs to happen now; take a look at the success of national broadband networks in places like Singapore and South Korea, and bring it back to the US.
As of right now there are 173 broken links in the posts on confusion. That’s out of 1888 total links. This is according to the Broken Link Checker [workpress.org] plugin by WPMU DEV. The plugin automatically changes the link color to red with strikethrough text so you will see the broken links.
A blog post that links out the rest of the Internet is a little snapshot of part of the web from when the post was written and while the Internet never forgets [confusion.cc], it’s an ever changing place and many, many sites die all time time. Many personal sites disappear because the owner abandons them, maybe they shut them down purposely or maybe they just stopped paying the bills and moved on. Big sites redesign and move things around, so much for permalinks. I see a bunch of links to still active news sites but it seems the stories are no longer reachable by the link I used ‘back in the day’. Somehow it all reminds me of the way your memories are constantly shifting, adapting each time you remember them, a memory of a memory of a feeling of a time when…
I guess it’s just the inevitable consequence of being around for so long. This blog has been going for nearly 19 years. There are a few links that seem to be broken because of typos or other simple things including, embarrassingly, internal links to other Confusion posts. Those I will try and fix but most of the broken links will just stay there, you can’t change snapshots so why should I change the links?
Speaking with a friend on the current round of riots in America, we ended up discussing what, I think, is happening with America today. So let me indulge in a little un-researched ranting, no supporting links or data, just my take. It’s my blog.
So, what is the underlying problem that ties together the current riots, against racism and police brutality, Nazi’s in Charlottesville, with the Occupy Wall Street protest and with the election of Donald Trump and the campaign of Bernie Sanders, with the opioid crisis and many, many, many other issues. The problem in America today, the number one problem, is lack of opportunity.
Racism, police brutality, out of work middle class, and many other things are problems in and off themselves —and they are big problems, racism in particular is such an foundational problem we have still not figured out how to fully deal with, but I’ve talked about that before (here [confusion.cc], here [confusion.cc], here [confusion.cc], here [confusion.cc]… here [confusion.cc])— but lack of opportunity has become such a big, entrenched problem that it exacerbates all those other problems. It has created so much fuel across so many people, ready to go up in flames, all it needs is the right spark.
Opportunity is the cornerstone of the social contract that is The American Dream. The idea that there is opportunity for all those who just work hard to achieve their dreams. That even if you are down, even if you have to fight against the other problems, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel if you march on long enough. But for most people today there is no light at the end of the tunnel —or if there is it’s an oncoming freight train.
Opportunity has always been the American answer to the question; what do I get for being American? Opportunity was baked into the fabric of America, “the land of opportunity”. It drove immigration and lingering the memory of it still drives immigration today.
For a long time, as long as we were physically expanding the nation people could follow opportunity westward; homesteaders, 49ers, and other waves (and again, racism was part of it, manifest destiny and whatnot). Later industrial expansion took over as the main driver of opportunity, it overlapped with westward expansion in the latter 19th century and overtook it in the 20th century. Or, at least for the first 50 to 75 years of the century. Opportunity was factory jobs, coal mining, and a thousand other industrial jobs as well as all the jobs created to support those industries and their workers, to provide them food, clothing, housing, entertainment, and vacations.
Since physical and industrial expansion have come to an end our society has failed to find any other way to provide opportunity that is within the reach of all. Sure there are still opportunities out there, become a famous actor or a sports star or found the next Amazon or Facebook. These sort of long shot opportunities have always been there but for the majority who fail there was still enough opportunity to make a decent living, to put food on the table and take care of your family, to do better than your parents. But that’s gotten harder and harder and for a long time now the bread and butter opportunities have been fading, factories closed, mines closed, small towns faded. For a long time we accepted this as the inevitable march or capitalism, the “menial jobs” go overseas but we were all going to be saved by jobs in “the service economy”, computer programming and banking back office jobs. Marketing and advertising. That worked for a while but the offshoring of those jobs has accelerated to the point where even the firmly middle class, college graduates can clearly hear the train whistle. People are treading water, the poor have fewer and fewer avenues to move up, the middle class are backsliding.
The dwindling of opportunity has been a long slow march, and we have not faced it head on because of our twin beliefs in Capitalism and Individualism. Uncontrolled capitalism, and the religious belief in the markets that has dominated for decades means the government has failed to take any meaningful steps to ensure people have opportunity. “The market will allocate resources in the most optimal way.” But “the market” only cares about shareholder value, and if shareholder value is increased by stock buy backs, stashing cash is low tax territories, and offshoring jobs to the lowest cost places, then it’s not creating opportunity. The stock market no longer reflects the success of the nation as a whole, while corporations do better and better, and the the rich get richer, the average American is making less money, getting poorer, doing worse than their parents. Globalization has lifted millions out of poverty, but is also creating a new poor in the very countries that created and championed the system.
I’m not against globalization. I’m not against capitalism. I’m not against individualism. But the role of the government should include guiding these things for the betterment of the nation as a whole. To ensure that the benefits of the system are spread across as many people as possible. Something both parties have failed to do as long as I have been alive. And I think the lack of acknowledgement of the problem is part of what prevents finding a solution. Until we start talking about the problem as an disease to be cured rather than individual symptoms to be managed. The disease is “lack of opportunity” while factory closures, fading small towns, inner city poverty and many more are all symptoms. We can medicate the symptoms for a time but the disease is still gnawing away at America.
Anyway, I’m running out of steam but let me consider for a few moments how to treat the disease: What treatment do we prescribe? Do the old medicines work? “Trickle down” is a favorite but it doesn’t seem to work. The extra money is no longer spent in America, it’s sent overseas to be stashed in tax free havens or invested in lower cost economies or to prop up the stock prices through stock buy backs. This won’t work without strings attached to ensure that the money is used in a way that creates opportunities for average people in America.
What about A new New Deal, a “Green New Deal”? It will have to generate opportunity in America; factories to build the turbines, research and development departments that employ people by the tens or hundreds of thousands, so that employees have money to spend on houses and goods locally to fill houses and activities to enjoy leisure time, supporting construction and the service industry.
That’s just trickle down by another name… if the factories or research and development jobs are off-shored then it won’t change anything. But we believe too strongly in free markets to do anything to ensure companies create opportunity at home, “that’s socialism!”
Universal Basic Income? Also “evil socialism”. And while it might keep people feed and clothed, create a much needed safety net how will it create opportunity for people? Once food and shelter are dealt with how do people get ahead? Masses of under employed people with no hope breed problems everywhere in the world, and it does not end well for governments and the rich. If people can’t see a better future under the current system they will look for scapegoats or other outlets for their frustration and energies. It gives rise to all of the ugly -isms of the world.
OK, enough for one post. I’m rambling. In summary: I think the political narrative in America needs to start talking about how we create opportunity and what the governments role in creating opportunity needs to be.
These are my Greenberry’s mugs. I got these mugs 25 and 23 years ago. The older one, the blue one, I got at the start of my senior year the year my caffeine addiction really started. That year I had early morning honors English at 7:30AM, and after school I was working in Ponderosa in the kitchen. To get to school on time I had to get up about 6AM and I usually got home around midnight. So, even if I didn’t do all —or any— of my homework, I got about 5 hours of sleep a night. Even those night I didn’t work I was usually out with friends or watching movies and playing games in the basement. So I can’t actually blame it on work but…
I don’t remember how I discovered coffee, I had never liked coffee before. Although to be fair coffee before was nuclear sludge at my moms office, no one in my house drank coffee at home, we were a tea house. In any case I became totally addicted to coffee over the course of senior year. This was before the Starbucks invasion, at least in Charlottesville, so there were few coffee shops. My favorite coffee was from the Mud House on the downtown mall. My friends and I used to gather there many evenings to attend the jam sessions and slam poetry; even days I had to work I would often stop by before work. I think there is still a Mud House mug at my mom’s house, it’s a smaller plastic mug that still has the yellow and orange Mud House griffin on it.
The Mud House was my favorite but I drank Greenberry’s more often for two reasons: one, the mug is bigger, and two, Greenberry’s was on the way to school. So I could start my day with a quad-shot latte. And some how my English teacher still had to tell the girl next to me to wake me up when class ended most days. I sat in the back next to a wall covered in one of those green chalkboards, I slept with my head leaning against the chalkboard, not even trying to fool the teacher. Not sure how I managed to pass that class with a good grade.
By the time senior year ended I think I was drinking two rounds of quad-shot lattes a day, plus Mountain Dew at lunch time and a couple of glasses of Coke or Dr. Pepper at work (it was free for staff). So I was totally hooked on caffeine to say nothing about the excessive sugar intake from the sodas. After school ended it shifted more to coffee but still, I was drinking the equivalent of 12 or more espresso shots a day!
This continued for a few years, somewhere along the way I got a second Greenberry’s mug so one could be at home in the wash while I had the other. Then, in 1999, while I was going through a phase of self-improvement —the same one that turned me vegetarian— I quit caffeine cold turkey for a year. No coffee, no soft drinks, no caffeine period. Also, this is where I developed a habit of drinking water, I had always had water at school and at home —until they added chlorine to our well water making it nasty— but outside tap water at home and drinking fountains at school I was used to drinking sweet tea or sodas with meals. To cut out caffeine and at the same time limit sugar I ended up on mostly ice water.
When I quit I suffered. For about a week I had splitting headaches and issues concentrating and staying awake. I was generally miserable for a few weeks. But I adjusted and eventually by 2001 I started drinking coffee again, and (diet) soda. Coffee was driven by college, sitting around drinking with friends on campus and in DC on the weekends. Soda was because there was a fridge filled with it at work —the perks of being a software developer during the dot com boom.
As an aside, my favorite coffee shop in DC was XandO’s, which later merged with Cosi. Other than coffee the best thing at XandO’s was the s’mores. A plate of gram crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars with a flaming tiki statue in the middle. Wish I had a photo of that!
These days the main tipple in my Greenberry’s mugs is ice water, it’s almost all I drink at home. Usually one or two mugs full a day. The insulated mug works well, keeping my water ice cold long enough for me to finish it and the size is great. My wife keeps telling me to get rid of the mugs, especially the blue one as it is all ragged around the lip. But this style of mug is not something you can find these days, everything is more fancy. I don’t know, maybe I’ll get a couple of nice insulated metal cups from Starbucks or The Coffee Club one day but for now my Greenberry’s mugs are still precious to me.
Oh Japan. It’s so crazy. Never nuke a nation twice, right? Well I think they were crazy first.
One of the most famous images of Japan is The Great Wave off Kanagawa [wikipedia.org]:
Hokusai is probably the most famous Japanese artist, and last November when we were in Amsterdam we can across a three book set of his wood block prints called Hokusai Manga [goodreads.com] at the Van Gogh museum shop. I didn’t buy it then but I got a copy later from Book Depository [bookdepository]. Flipping through it there are many silly, intentionally or not, prints of everyday life in Edo Japan. There are some very silly sumo and old men doing exercise. And then, on page 73 of volume one, “Edo Life” is this:
Who knew gesha could shoot death rays out of their butts? So, yea, maybe the crazy wasn’t caused by the nukes. Maybe they were already crazy.
I should have returned from Bali today. It’s spring school holidays this week in Singapore and we booked a villa in Bali from Sunday to Thursday. There was a lot of debate if we should cancel or not due to COVID19 but in the end we decided to go. We were planning on chilling in isolation in our villa for 5 days.
It all started out good, on Saturday afternoon the airport was less busy than it could be but it was not a ghost town. The flight was only half full, and we made it through immigration in Bali in less than an hour —which is a rare feat. We checked in and enjoyed swimming in our private pool all morning Sunday.
Then, Sunday afternoon we found out that Singapore was going to impose 14 day Stay Home Notice [moh.gov.sg] (SHN) to all travelers from ASEAN countries entering Singapore after 23:59 on the 16th of March. So we decided to try and change our flights from Thursday to Monday. It was remarkable painless, the Singapore Air website worked well, somewhat surprisingly. We flew in at 10:30 PM on Monday.
So, all good. Right?
Nope. Today, due to a large surge in imported cases, made up mostly of Singaporeans and residents that were returning form overseas, the government announced [moe.gov.sg] mandatory Leave Of Absence [moh.gov.sg] (LOA) for students and staff in public schools who have recent travel history to lots of places, including to Indonesia (link is for an older advisory so the list of affected countries is now longer but the rest of the order is the same)
14 days from the date of return… meaning my kids can’t go to school next week, until April 1st (ha ha ha…). And while the LOA for the kids does not mean my wife or I are locked in, effectively one of us is as no one else can come over to watch the kids. So they are stuck in here with me for the next two weeks doing e-learning…
On the bright side we did miss a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Bali [channelnewsasia.com] today.
We’re more than a month into COVID-19 now. Time to write something about it. Things have calmed down in the past week or so but everything is on edge. While things in Singapore seem to be under control the economy is so deeply dependent on people shopping and dinning out and Business travel, in and out, that other countries inability to control the outbreak could tank Singapore very quickly.
Singapore’s preparedness for an epidemic is impressive, I guess having a recent memory of one helps. I personally missed the SARS outbreak [wikipedia.org] in Singapore but it killed 33 people here. When I first came here in late 2004, over a year after SARS, things had settled down. Even so there were a lot of reminders, many signs in public and workplace toilets about how to wash hands, widespread use of hand sanitizers —both personal portable bottles and larger bottles at hotel receptions and other public places— and people using surgical masks when they had any cough or other sign of illness. Over the intervening years most of that has gone away…
As I said, things seem to have mostly settled down but all the precautions are back with a bang. Hand sanitizer is everywhere again; at the coffee shops, at the restaurants, in office lobbies. Many people are wearing masks —the government keeps telling people you only need a n95 mask if you have flu like symptoms, in which case get yourself to a doctor to be tested— but there is a large number of people who are just wearing them all the time. Entrances to office buildings have thermal scanners. Business Continuity Planning is a hot topic. Many companies, including one of my local customers are using “Blue-Green” teams; staff at one site are forbidden to visit the second site and vice-versa and they are forbidden to meet outside the sites as well. Our onsite teams can’t visit our company offices. Other places have staggered working hours. Schools have canceled most activities; my older daughter missed her fifth year over seas trip last year as it was supposed to be to Hong Kong and the riots got in the way, and now COVID-19 has caused school to cancel her sixth year camp week, so sad. And since Singapore has “community spread” of the virus (meaning locals with no travel history to China or other direct link have caught the virus locally) my planned travel to South Africa next week has been canceled by the customer.
And a few weeks ago it was full on panic mode… there was a lot of panic buying and hoarding, I spend close to an hour in line to buy a few things I needed for packing school lunches because I could not get a slot for delivery via Amazon Prime, my usual way of doing weekly shopping. I saw people buying 96 rolls of toilet paper, 24 two-liter waters, shopping carts full of instant noodles or rice. I didn’t take any amazing photos but the internet has not disappointed, these are from a few WhatsApp groups, all scenes in Singapore:
The government is trying to keep people informed, setting up a WhatsApp group with regular updates, which link to more detailed updates posted on government websites:
The efficiency of Singapore’s tracing of the transmission is a bit scary. I guess it’s the positive side of all the CCTV surveillance cameras around the island.
Links between previous cases found
3. Further epidemiological investigations and contact tracing have uncovered links between previously announced and new cases. This was made possible with the assistance of the Singapore Police Force.
Six of the locally transmitted confirmed cases (Cases 31, 33, 38, 83, 90 and 91), as well as Cases 8 and 9, are linked to The Life Church and Missions Singapore. These six cases are linked to another 23 confirmed cases (Cases 48, 49, 51, 53, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 73, 74, 78, 80, 81, 84, 88) who are linked to the Grace Assembly of God.
Nine of the confirmed cases (Cases 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 27, 28, 34 and 40) are linked to…Ministry of Health Singapore, “Three More Cases Discharged; Two New Cases of COVID-19 Infection Confirmed”, [moh.gov.sg] press release
I think a lot of Singapore’s ability to handle this is not replicable in other places. The foundation and the money, is just not there and the face that Singapore is so small that there is no issues with coordination across city, state and local agencies and officials.
In the beginning COVID-19 spread quickly in Singapore, we were number two after China (a very distant number two…) but we have dropped down to number six now. Hopefully the rest of the world gets things under control quickly, but I doubt it.