Fed.

So when I changed servers the other month I finally switched from Fever to FreshRSS for my RSS feed reading needs.

It’s a bit less slick-looking (though, admittedly, Fever’s interface had gotten *very* dated), but I do most of my actual reading reading in Reeder, and FreshRSS’s API is lightning fast.

2021-07-20T09:20:31+10:0027th July, 2021|Tags: , |

Megamart dot com

The internet has been gentrified. All the small cute houses and mom & pop shops have been shut down and replaced by big corporations that control everything. I’ve been making webcomics for twenty years, and at the start, the internet was a beautiful wild place. Everyone had a home page. It was like having a house and people came to visit you and you would visit other people in their houses. Now, we don’t visit each other in personal spaces anymore. It’s like we have to visit each other in the aisles of a megamart. Everything is clean and sanitized and the weirdos who made the internet what it was are no longer welcome. No space for freaks anymore.

Megan Rose Gedris on online spaces.

Strong tip to anyone with basically any kind of internet presence, particularly any kind of creative internet presence: buy a domain name and a basic hosting plan and make yourself a website. It doesn’t have to look special or fancy1 but the thing is no one can really take it away from you. Even if your host un-hosts you for some reason2 you can just . . . upload your site to a new host. The URL won’t even change because it’s the domain name you own.

Social media sites (and popularity) come and go. But your website? That’s forever.

  1. Actually, web brutalism In; one of my current favorite personal homepages looks like a basic text file and is literally just straight-up unstyled HTML. []
  2. Only once have I ever been suspended from a webhost, and it was for posting pictures of Star Wars: The Old Republic that EA decided to DMCA-SLAPP me over. This is, incidentally, why I no longer use US-based webhosts. []
2021-07-15T07:38:12+10:0024th July, 2021|Tags: , |

Crumbled infrastructure.

Looking back at the “lost infrastructure” of pre-social media blogging.

One of the things that’s striking reading this — and remembering how things used to be in Ye Oldene Dayes — is just how many small, interesting services no longer exist. They pretty much uniformly got bought out by one of the big players (mostly Google, sometimes Facebook) and either dismantled or vanished into the silo of walled-garden social media, or both. The web is now much more consolidated and much more boring but also, conversely, weirdly fragmented because of it. It is legitimately hard to find independent blogs nowadays in the way it wasn’t ten or even twenty years ago, when there were far fewer out there but also far more services designed to try and connect you to them . . .

2021-07-01T06:10:36+10:0018th July, 2021|Tags: , |

hack.ai

AIs don’t solve problems like humans do. They look at more types of solutions than us. They’ll go down complex paths that we haven’t considered. This can be an issue because of something called the explainability problem. Modern AI systems are essentially black boxes. Data goes in one end, and an answer comes out the other. It can be impossible to understand how the system reached its conclusion, even if you’re a programmer looking at the code.

In 2015, a research group fed an AI system called Deep Patient health and medical data from some 700,000 people, and tested whether it could predict diseases. It could, but Deep Patient provides no explanation for the basis of a diagnosis, and the researchers have no idea how it comes to its conclusions. A doctor either can either trust or ignore the computer, but that trust will remain blind. [. . .]

Separately, AIs can engage in something called reward hacking. Because AIs don’t solve problems in the same way people do, they will invariably stumble on solutions we humans might never have anticipated­ — and some will subvert the intent of the system. That’s because AIs don’t think in terms of the implications, context, norms, and values we humans share and take for granted. This reward hacking involves achieving a goal but in a way the AI’s designers neither wanted nor intended.

Take a soccer simulation where an AI figured out that if it kicked the ball out of bounds, the goalie would have to throw the ball in and leave the goal undefended. Or another simulation, where an AI figured out that instead of running, it could make itself tall enough to cross a distant finish line by falling over it. Or the robot vacuum cleaner that instead of learning to not bump into things, it learned to drive backwards, where there were no sensors telling it it was bumping into things. If there are problems, inconsistencies, or loopholes in the rules, and if those properties lead to an acceptable solution as defined by the rules, then AIs will find these hacks.

Bruce Schneier on think different.

2021-06-30T09:19:39+10:0018th July, 2021|Tags: |

Fog of coin.

Tl;dr, and tremendously ironically, the FBI recently arrested a person accused of running a massive cryptocurrency money laundering ring by, in effect, proving that the services he was selling couldn’t stop them from finding him.

The short version here is that true anonymity is next to impossible; basically the only thing you can do is make it sufficiently difficult for someone to find you that they give up . . . under the understanding that some people don’t give up (in this case, because they were the FBI, had all the resources of the state at their disposal and, also, it was literally their job). Cryptocurrencies in particular, despite touting being “untraceable”, are actually ridiculously easily traceable purely because of the way that, once a transaction has been registered on the blockchain, it’s there forever by definition. And because cryptocurrency is not actually useful for anything — and sometimes even the most die-hard crypto fiend needs to, for example, pay rent or buy food — at some point things always come back to the fiat economy, and thus back to real-world identities.

The other thing is that, because of its price volatility, pretty much the only things people can actually buy with cryptocurrency (other than more cryptocurrency) are illegal to some degree or other. Whole new categories of crime, in fact, have been created fueled pretty much exclusively by cryptocurrencies, with ransomware being the prime example. Authorities the world over have noticed this, and in the next few years you’re going to start seeing harder and harder crackdowns against cryptocurrencies in retaliation. The flip side of this (a-har) coin is, of course, that at the same time all of this is happening, institutional finance has noted there’s potentially a craptonne of money to be made in cryptocurrency, with effectively zero regulation . . . so long as the markets don’t get so flooded by crime and/or environmental regulations that trading in the coins themselves gets made illegal (or, worse, taxed).

In other words, with great success comes great institutional scrutiny. And cryptocurrencies are still trash.

2021-06-30T09:12:05+10:0017th July, 2021|Tags: , |

User agent.

I’ve always liked the way that web browsers are called “user agents” in the world of web standards. It’s such a succinct summation of what browsers are for, or more accurately who browsers are for. Users.

The term makes sense when you consider that the internet is for end users. That’s not to be taken for granted. This assertion is now enshrined in the Internet Engineering Task Force’s RFC 8890—like Magna Carta for the network age. It’s also a great example of prioritisation in a design principle:

When there is a conflict between the interests of end users of the Internet and other parties, IETF decisions should favor end users.

So when a web browser—ostensibly an agent for the user—prioritises user-hostile third parties, we get upset.

Jeremy Keith on who the web is for.

This is technically, albeit not solely, about Google’s FLoC experiment. Also, for what it’s worth, my site now opts-out of cohort profiling.

2021-06-25T06:48:22+10:009th July, 2021|Tags: , |

IndieAuthenticated.

A step-by-step guide to signing in users with IndieAuth, mostly as an aspirational own future reference I will tell myself I will totally use (then probably never will . . . oh well).

2021-06-24T09:10:16+10:008th July, 2021|Tags: , , |

Microsegment.

Tl;dr Signal took out a bunch of ads on Instagram for specific market segments that explicitly described what market segment they were for. Maybe.

It’s worth noting that Facebook denies Signal’s account of what, exactly, happened next and honestly it’s a bit of a Team No-one situation for me (Facebook is a global adtech empire with a known history of lying; Signal has a history of sensationalist-but-dubious stunts). Still. Always worth remembering just how intrusive adtech actually is . . .

2021-06-21T20:50:30+10:0029th June, 2021|Tags: , , , |
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