November 1, 2015

Links 2015-10-31 Sat: self-driving cars, short fiction, Nigerian lolz, ship photos, Volkswagen's embroilment in ship engine number fudging, planes landing on cargo ships, the Palestinian Authority and more!

Filed under: linkpoasten — Benjamin Vulpes @ 12:00 a.m.
Links 2015-10-31 Sat: self-driving cars, short fiction, Nigerian lolz, ship photos, Volkswagen's embroilment in ship engine number fudging, planes landing on cargo ships, the Palestinian Authority and more!

I am now a father, but mammals have been reproducing since the dawn of time. Moving on…

(Tesla) Owners Are Now Training Their Cars to Drive Autonomously

Most of the systems we currently use aren't built to improve through use. They have locked in performance and capabilities. These systems can only improve through revisions and patches made by technical experts.

That approach is on the way out.

Systems can now be improved operationally ….

Further, for the most complex activities, this will be the only type of system you will be able to buy.

There's this great (for Doctorow) Doctorow story about nation-states using "alternate reality games" as covers for their espionage activities in each others' territories. The thing never stuck with me (like most of Doctorow's work, for good reason), and so I haven't thought of it in years until this piece of Robb's popped up. The book has an entertaining little scene wherein the protagonists must escape from an autonomous vehicle that has been hijacked by the (iirc) nameless, faceless Chinese antagonists to of course terminate said protagonists.

Anyways, it's pretty obvious that the systems in question will of necessity leverage the Bayesian "machine learning" systems, and produce black boxes nobody can reason about because operating in the real world is a difficult proposition requiring a brain, and the ML techniques are the closest that humanity has come to constructing one of those without, you know, going home and talking to the wife. And, because these are black box systems, they're going to suffer from crashes whose root causes are going to be devilishly difficult to run down (just ask any "ML" expert about how much fun it is to debug their production systems, much less keep them stable over time ).

All of that aside, I am bullish on the future and propagation of self-piloting vehicles. I have encountered and ridden with my statistically fair share of bad drivers, and I look forward to the actuaries pushing them off the road and into vehicles that at the very least have lower error rates than the average human driver. I doubt that Tesla will succeed as the winner in this game, as they're competing against other car manufacturers who have millenia of institutional memory around producing vehicles with excellent lifetime maintenance cost profiles, and deployment of genuinely new technologies does not always a winner make of the first-to-market (hilariously, Nikola Tesla's life is an excellent example of this). It frequently goes to the most well-capitalized and those leveraging the new technologies in extant businesses.

My naïve Tesla "buy" call was predicated on the American green fetish at the time and a complete ignorance of the history of electric vehicles:


Since they can't actually make cars that age gracefully, they're either going to have to have to fix their quality issues. Take it from a onetime production engineering cog: that cannot come from great amounts of investment in robots. That comes from being in business long enough to accumulate failure reports and build institutional knowledge about how to make quality products that last a long time.


I love Aramchek. EOM.

Experimental mobile apps by Devine lu Linvega

So much strange:

    An example of the not entirely bad implementation of a lot of current design trends that are almost universally a mistake. Trigger warning: lots of JS and CSS.

    OScean, the project name of this site, was started in 2006 and was meant to be a personal time tracking system. This project evolved into a wiki and my main website as it stands today, a system overarching all of my experiments and releases.


    …Paradise is a procedural interactive fiction and multiplayer novel, in which you can be anything and anyone, travel to the oddest of places, entirely user-created. You may choose to make a mess, or to create order, in the comfort of your teacup.

  • issue tracker, duh!

Making Sense of Dell + EMC + VM

How Dell and EMC put this deal together is interesting, as a lot of experts thought a buyout deal of this size could never happen — and certainly not in technology. The sheer size as a leveraged buyout is unprecedented. The amount of debt used to finance the deal is staggering. And all three companies involved were already incredibly complex — not just in their organizational and business structures, but in their ownership and capital structures as well.

Mega article from a VC firm, which, lolwut? Are they pumping this deal in some regard? Still working through this piece myself.

Inside Apple's perfection machine

An amusing puff piece dedicated to a company whose software quality has done nothing but go downhill for the past six years (that'd be the release of 10.6, the last OS version that didn't have rotating chairs glued to the ceiling), and don't even get me started on the utter shitshow that is iTunes connect. That godawful web application has been responsible for more strife at my office than anything that we've written or worked on. UGH.

The Vanguard (a Nigerian publication)

Punching down is wrong, except when it's so, so right:

This is where you're going, America, Mr. and Mrs. cartoons excepted. The American sex life is too impoverished for jokes about sex and infidelity to amuse at scale. We're far more of an "Ow My Balls!" iPad game kind of country anyways. And hey, there's a thought: Candy Crush : Americans :: Mr. and Mrs. : Nigerians.

Implementing pgloader: from python to common lisp

Little did I know about the Global Interpreter Lock when
I convinced myself that a parallel approach is what pgloader
needed to be faster at what it did.

Those two approaches have been implemented in pgloader
using Threads and a BoundedSemaphore in the main controler
thread. Of course, the GIL makes it so that no improvement
has been experienced from there.

Switching from threads to multiprocessing has been on the
todo list for a while, but didn’t get addressed before the
rewrite, and wouldn’t have possibly solved the problems of
copying too much data in memory, nor the command language

Poor guy. Python is a notoriously painful language in which to implement parallel designs due to the aforementioned GIL. Pythonistas will of course disagree, and point towards such libraries as multiprocessing, or the libev wrapper gevent. I'm not really a fan of the pythonic concurrency and parallelism constructs, but then again I'm not really a fan of the lawless Python object-orientation implementation or the language in general, so I'm probably not the right person to talk to for opinions on library quality in the language. Reitz' requests isn't half bad as these things go, though.

Meantime, the great question had to be answered: which
version of Python to target in your applications, Python2 or
Python3 ? Note that any answer here is not going to help
solving the three main problems of pgloader at this point…

Poor Python. It's forked even harder than Bitcoin! Their competing implementations are even less compatible than ours…

Ship Photos of the Day – First LNG Cargo Shipped from Australia’s Santos GLNG Plant

Great photos of a new LNG terminal and its first tanker fillup.

Ship Photos of the Day – BigLift’s Happy Star Arrives in Rotterdam Carrying 22 Vessels

Another Gcaptain link, this one to photos of a boat that ships ships.

Dispute Over Rigged Ship Engine Tests Adds to Volkswagen’s Woes

Another Gcaptain link (don't worry, I'll get bored of this eventually). Volkswagen's in trouble for more engine cheating! This time it's an acquired subsidiary in hot water for manipulating efficiency numbers.

Oldies and Oddities: The Alraigo Incident

I think that I got this one from Gcaptain as well—once upon a time a pilot landed a Harrier jet on a cargo ship! The cargo company even managed to successfully claim salvage.

What drives the new, lone wolf attackers?

Commentary on how the Palestinian Authority is losing the battle for "hearts and minds" in its own territory.

Hamas now appears to [this young generation] as a beleaguered movement that is begging for its life and is courting Israel.

What would you do if Andre the Giant had his hands wrapped firmly around your throat?

Once the landlords in the area, Fatah members are described as cowards and corrupt, who have long relinquished the armed struggle against Israel to enjoy benefits and perks.

The problem here seems to be that there's a rentier class that's at least getting to eat, but nobody below them is getting on the hedonic treadmill. I prescribe a civilizational course of HFCS, CNN and MTV.

mega painting

Socialismos! Impressively scaled, though.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalism's Leaks Database

Discovered this a few links past the piece by the lady who "studied to be a wealth manager" that did some rounds recently:

The database contains ownership information about companies created in 10 offshore jurisdictions including the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and Singapore. It covers nearly 30 years until 2010.

And relatedly, from 2013: Data Leak Shakes Notion of Secret Offshore Havens and, Possibly, Nerves

The embarrassment caused by Thursday’s revelations has been particularly acute in France, where the Socialist president, François Hollande, who wants to impose a 75 percent tax on millionaires, has been struggling to contain a political firestorm touched off this week by a former budget minister’s admission — after months of denials — that he had secret foreign bank accounts.

Contrast the fiat approach to wealth and the Bitcoin approach to wealth: in fiatlandia, a judgement gets rendered by some soi-disant government against some individual with assets. In fiatlandia, assets are typically bound to a jurisdiction, be that non-alloidal property whose title can be reassigned at will by the government in question, money in a NATO bank account that can be "frozen" (read: stolen), or stocks/bonds/misc. financial contracts in a brokerage account that can be similarly ripped from their rightful owners. In The Most Serene Republic of Bitcoin, the problem is turned not only on its head but also inside-out: firstly, nobody holds title to any Bitcoin, regardless of what words individuals use to describe their Bitcoin "holdings", and assets may only be stolen by crypanalysis thermorectal or traditional, and secondly, "hiding" or "sheltering" assets is simply a subset of the actions that any responsible holder of private keys must undertake in order to protect their keys from threats physical or mathematical.

In B,TMSR~, litigants must be in the web of trust to bring suit. The only governing body is the forum, and unlike all states with which you're familiar, it posesses none of the powers of coercion that your soi-disant governments claim for themselves. Participation is voluntary, taxation is voluntary, and should the forum render a judgement, compliance with even that is voluntary. Even though everything is voluntary around these parts, refusing to comply with the WoT's judgements may result in negratings and expulsion from the forum. Isn't setting precedent fun?

The Suburb that Tried to Kill the Car

Hey, I spent the first 6.5 years of my life in Evanston! I have lovely memories of talking to the garbagemen in the alley through the fence in my back yard, jumping off the front porch into what felt like six feet of snow, jumping off of the top of a decommissioned firetruck that had been emplaced as a clambersite at a playground, and climbing a firetruck's ladder into the second story bedroom of the fire chief's house on the 4th of July (the latter two clearly things that would never fly anywhere in the States at this point in the trajectory of child-protectionism).

Anyways, my father and mother moved the family to Portland from Chicago as they studied at Lewis and Clark and Reed back in the day and saw the little town for the underpriced idyll it was at the time. It's funny to see the town in which I spent my first years of my childhood chasing the image of the town in which I spent the rest of my childhood and returned to make a meatwot and family.

The essay lauds Curitiba, a city that was heavily pushed during my truncated study at Parsons' Product Design program as a marvel of design and my hometown in the same breath:

The stunning success of Curitiba’s master planning revolution, which would place it at the forefront of the global urban architecture movement alongside cities like Helsinki and Portland, Oregon, transformed Lerner into an international urban-planning celebrity. And these bold new ideas came onto the world stage just as inner-ring American suburbs like Evanston were facing their own special set of problems.

In 2013, Chicago aldermen passed a TOD ordinance which encourages developers to build within 600 feet of a commuter rail or metro station by sharply lowering the parking requirements and increasing a building’s permissible height. That means higher density buildings with more units for the developer to sell without having to build as many costly parking stalls. Last month, the city’s 50 aldermen passed an amendment to the ordinance that essentially eliminated parking requirements within a TOD zone, and doubled that zone to a quarter mile from a transit stop—a move that increased tenfold the amount of Chicago now eligible for parking-light development.

Parking requirements, along with more or less every intervention in the free market, are insane and counterproductive. I am unsurprised that zoning-happy Evanston (a classic white-flight suburb) would be built (and ossify) around the car and not the train, and as the era of personal car ownership drew to a close seek to undo those mistakes. A quarter mile is an entirely reasonable walk—fifteen minutes for anyone in decent shape carrying ~15 pounds (which is what I bet the portable computers my father lugged from Evanston into Chicago proper on the El weighed in at). Topic of my father and the El, I remember quite vividly getting caught in a hailstorm while walking him home from the train. Great big thumpers, and random strangers inviting us into their homes and out of the storm.

Meanwhile, millennials, who have seen their young careers affected by the economic recession and high levels of student debt, are more interested in keeping their costs to a minimum from the start. “They’re choosing to work smarter rather than harder, and part of that is giving up things they don’t need,” explains McLean, the developer. “And one thing they certainly don’t need is a car.”

My generation can't afford the things our parents took for granted, and are going to great lengths to convince ourselves that not owning a car and riding mass transit with the rest of the cattle is a Good Thing. While my father certainly rode the train into Chicago, we also had a few cars and he did so because operating one's own car in cities like Chicago, New York and Buenos Aires is just…nuts. Portland's derpy as sin, but I still wouldn't recommend driving in every morning and parking downtown.

Evanston’s economic development division manager, Johanna Leonard, says she overheard a conversation between two of the city’s young residents, explaining, “My Uber was only $150 this month—that’s still less than a car payment.”

This will only become more common. Every American owning a car was a horrid civilizational misstep—just look at all of the capital equipment that sits idle every day, and all of the otherwise useful real estate dedicated to parking that equipment while it's not in use. I do hope that fractional ownership of autonomous vehicle fleets will undo this great mistake.

And with that, adieu!


aha! I just recalled that "Human Readable" is the title of the thing, as it revolves around systems that are not inspectable by humans. A thread that's cropped up in #bitcoin-assets lately, most recently in the context of how completely impossible it is to reason about software that attempts to handle character sets other than ascii.

An incredibly important point that hasn't been called out by anyone yet. Developers using machine learning in ecommerce applications have trouble keeping these systems stable—and I'm expected to accept that Musk's whiz-kids can handle the massive influx of data points and keep their models stable over a decade or more? I mean fine, that's a bold proposition to make, but I'm going to continue building out my stockpile of old Toyota Land Cruisers.

The worst thing that can happen to a man is for him to invest speculatively as a sideline and for it to work. He then runs the risk of considering himself a good investor. The man who invests speculatively on the side and sees no return does not run this risk. Even were he to consider himself a bad investor, it's not the end of the world, as it won't significantly alter his perception of himself, as he can still delude himself about how good he is at whatever he actually does and the image of himself that he constructs thusly.

Union Pacific, via Mircea Popescu. Also, in case you're under the illusion that the quality of goods is going up over time, note carefully that the car is from the 1920's (it looks strikingly like the Milburn 27L, but the proportions of the rear window are either off or foreshortened to the point where I can't pin it precisely), and the photo from 1953. The ancients made cars that lasted for at least thirty years, in lots of perhaps 5,000 over the lifetime of the manufacturing company. It strikes this naive product of the American shitocracy that things were vastly better in the past when fewer things were made, made better, and made for better people. I can only surmise, though, because everything I have the privilege of touching is made as cheaply as possible, to wear out as quickly as possible, and for as many people as possible. The last item clearly precluding that anyone even targets "better people" with their wares.

Since I'm on the topic, let's do the Apple Watch. The thing's highest price point is what, $12K? I was just browsing a magazine in which Cartier was advertising a bracelet for nearly six times that. A bracelet that has no electronics in it, selling for nearly 6x the cost of Apple's most expensive luxury item. The whole thesis (as explained to me by fanboiz) of the watch was that rich people with disposable income will get them as status symbols. Status symbols, apparently, that cost a fraction of status symbol bracelets. What is actually going on is that Apple is attempting to signal to the derps who willingly buy their fashion goods that actual rich people also buy those things. Sure, this may be true in the sense that even a billionaire might like a laptop that doesn't actually smell of VOC's upon unboxing, but is categorically false in the sense that anyone with any fashion sense will be so plebian as to wear a computer on their wrist. There's this inverse correlation between how much technology you're seen to use and your apparent status in this country, a thing that is unsurprisingly impossible for American programmers to wrap their heads around, living as they do at the center of a world designed to make them feel…at the center of the world.

I have only seen conspicuous consumers and Apple fanboys wearing the things. Not even the girls will condescend to it, and if you can't sell fashion goods to the girls, you can't sell the goods.

I actually had the privilege of laboring at a shop that catered to only the most well-capitalized of their market, and sold whole-office solutions so as to capture the absolute most value from every relationship. Yes, some 60% of what they sold was somewhat marked up off-the-shelf goods, but they got those sales of OTS goods by being the unquestionable leader in the quality of heavy equipment that those offices needed to even exist, and by dispatching sales people to sell whole offices in one fell swoop, and manufacturing the cabinetry as well.

They've been in business for fifty-one years. Institutional knowledge of quality methods is a hell of a drug.

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