Will my Mac fly?

A MacOS port of No Man’s Sky dropped this past week. Let’s try it out! This will be a short stream (half hour?) at 10 Central time today, and I’ll give it a quick trial.

This is all shiny and new, so I’m not going to be shocked if it crashes a few times. I also have no idea about performance — I’ve been running this on an Intel machine running PopOS Linux before this, and now I’m going to try it on a Mac Mini with an M1 chip and 16GB. Fingers crossed — it would be nice to see the Mac become a viable machine for gaming.

Wow, that went smoothly. No crashes. Performance was far better on my inexpensive little Mac then it is on my bigger, fancier Linux box (but to be fair, the Linux machine is 7 or 8 years old).

Apologies if you tuned in expecting nothing but gamer/gearhead talk, I mainly chattered away about our current research project. And spiders, naturally.

Snake oil salesman, grifter, flimflammer, scoundrel, swindler…I could go on

If you’re curious about who would sign up for a Neuralink implant, as I am, you will discover that the volunteers have been seduced by lies.

“I would love to be on the cutting edge of medical science, to be able to bridge the gap of humans and technology,” says Adam Woodworth, a 40-year-old security manager for a museum in Indianapolis who suffers from short-term memory loss due to a military injury. He is swayed by the notion — one Musk promotes heavily — that Neuralink’s device may be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and brain disorders like his. “I understand there are risks, but someone has to be willing to step up and take that risk,” he says. “I am willing to be one of those people if Elon and the Neuralink team will be willing to allow me to participate.

“Also not sure if it will be possible right off the bat,” Woodworth adds, “but I am also a Tesla owner, and it would be pretty rad if I could communicate with my car using just my mind.”

Dear god. It will not help with short term memory loss. It will not treat Alzheimer’s. I imagine this is, at best, a Phase 0 trial — they’ll plug the widget into this guy’s head, and if his brain doesn’t bleed out and he doesn’t have seizures, they’ll chalk it up as a great success. That’s it.

If Musk is telling volunteers that they’ll treat Alzheimer’s and memory loss, that’s fraud, plain and simple. Medical fraud. He’s making false promises he can’t keep, that will trick people into getting invasive brain surgery.

Of course he’s lying at a phenomenal rate. He’s Elon Musk.

Yet Musk, who has poured at least $100 million of his own money into the venture, makes far broader and fantastic claims about the capabilities of his company’s implant. Apart from declaring that it “will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using their thumbs,” and “paraplegics to walk again,” he’s speculated it could eventually treat blindness, schizophrenia, depression, autism, obesity, and insomnia, and one day meld human consciousness with AI. This is in addition, of course, to creating a direct channel between minds and machines, not to mention the global internet. Oh, and did we mention that Neuralink could, according to Musk, allow for telepathic communication? (Neither Musk nor Neuralink responded to a request for comment as to whether these claims were somewhat hyperbolic.)

It will do none of those things.

Here, I have a pill that will reverse aging, restore libido, make you lose weight, increase your brain power ten-fold, and give you the power to read minds. (In small print on the label, it mentions this pill can’t do all that yet, but research is continuing that will eventually produce a pill with those powers.)

Am I a quack if I peddle a pill, claiming it has those powers, even if it has that tiny disclaimer? Should I be arrested, fined, and possibly imprisoned for that kind of fraud? I think so.

Why aren’t the police on Musk, or at least the consumer protection office, or even the better business bureau? This quack is taking advantage of people with real illnesses!

A night visitor

Last night, a bat got into my office and was flying around in circles. It got tired eventually and landed, very conveniently, in a wastebasket. I put a piece of paper over it and carried it outside. Fly free, little bat!

Then we discovered this morning that it was still in the wastebasket. We dumped it out on the porch but otherwise left it alone — we put a box over it, very loosely, with plenty of gaps for escape, and left it a little bit of water, but otherwise, it’s on it’s own.

All we got for our care was some weird little clicky growls.

We might have a bat ‘problem’. They nest above our garage, and their exit is right above our mailbox, which I’ve noticed is getting covered with a lot of bat poop. I’m not complaining — I’ve always wanted to live in a house full of bats and spiders.

We’re in the Spider-Verse now

We’re in summer research training mode. Mary & I took one of our students to see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse so that she could learn what the life of an arachnologist is like.

It was a little more kinetic and colorful than I expected. But good! These spider-verse movies are spectacular and intense.

To bring us back down to earth, this morning we’re headed out to Glacial Lakes State Park for some real spidering, which is a little more sedate.

Tom Morello is too mean to Nazis

The NY Post claims — consider the source, and be skeptical — that Tom Morello is being canceled by his fans for being against Nazis. Tom Morello! Rage Against the Machine Morello! He said something on Twitter.

Rage Against The Machine rocker Tom Morello, 59, is getting blasted on Twitter for sharing an anti-Nazi quote…

Wait for it,  w a i t  for it…

…with fans accusing him of fascism and intolerance.

“Fans.” I don’t think actual fans would be mad at Tom Morello for being aggressively anti-Nazi. Have they listened to any of his music? Especially since this is the quote they found offensive.

German saying: If 9 people sit down at a table with 1 Nazi without protest, there are 10 Nazis at the table

Uh, yeah? That’s right. The people who are complaining are the “change my mind” folks. The debate bros.

“While that sounds principled, it isn’t,” one Twitter user wrote. “It’s a mechanism to stop conversation. 9 people can sit down at a table with 1 Nazi and talk and educate said single Nazi on the issues and the truth with evidence and convert that Nazi. It’s called diplomacy.”

“So do you think it’s impossible to politely converse with someone to change their mind?” another asked.

You can’t debate Nazis, full stop.

Hey, man, shouldn’t you go back to listening to Hootie & the Blowfish? Rage Against the Machine isn’t your jam.

Backlash incoming?

How about some optimistic news? These right-wing idiots have become caricatures of themselves, fulminating over the most absurd and trivial things, and believing that they are justified in radical action against fundamental American ideals, like schools and libraries. Stories about school board meetings where some angry nitwit stands up to rant about the “wokes” are commonplace, like this one in Florida.

At the meeting, right-wing parents and a minority of the school board amplified the usual attacks: Pornography in classrooms, indoctrination, wokeness. Watching them, it was impossible to avoid the sense that they were relishing every second of the tumult they’ve unleashed.

At the meeting, Shannon Rodriguez — a favorite of the right wing Moms for Liberty that led the attack on the Disney movie episode — kept robotically repeating phrases like “woke ideologies” and “woke agenda,” not even slightly disturbed by any sense of obligation to define their meaning. She proudly brandished her solidarity with boycotts of Bud Light and Disney as a badge of anti-woke heroism. Another conservative parent practically shouted, “You have awakened the entire alpha male blood of this country!”

It’s all fury for the sake of fury — they’re getting high on their own outrage. It has an effect, though. Fifty teachers in Hernando County, where this meeting took place, are resigning (come to Minnesota, we’d love to have you here). Ron DeSantis is basically destroying the educational infrastructure of the state, all in the name of stoking that moronic subset of the population that vote for him, and there are signs that the citizens are waking up.

But the real story of the night was the response. Again and again, parents and students forcefully defended teachers. They cast the right’s attacks, the censoring of educators and the removal of books as the real threats to education.

“War on woke?” one student said pointedly. “More like war on your children’s future.”

“It’s me and my fellow students who are feeling the effects of this,” said a second student. A third said the removal of books from classrooms is what’s really “indoctrinating students.”

Things like this are happening all over. As Sarah Jones of New York magazine reports, liberal parents in states as far-flung as New York, North Carolina and Montana are organizing local groups, pressuring school boards and running for office to challenge the right’s education takeover.

We can’t get too over-confident, though. Keep in mind that Hernando County elected DeSantis with a 41 point margin, and would probably re-elect him if a vote were held today. It would probably be by a smaller margin, though, and that’s where we are at — we need to keep chipping away, pointing out how incompetent and destructive the Right has been, and try to get incremental advantages that weaken them.

The triumph of form over content

That’s all ChatGPT is. Emily Bender explains.

When you read the output of ChatGPT, it’s important to remember that despite its apparent fluency and despite its ability to create confident sounding strings that are on topic and seem like answers to your questions, it’s only manipulating linguistic form. It’s not understanding what you asked nor what it’s answering, let alone “reasoning” from your question + its “knowledge” to come up with the answer. The only knowledge it has is knowledge of distribution of linguistic form.

It doesn’t matter how “intelligent” it is — it can’t get to meaning if all it has access to is form. But also: it’s not “intelligent”. Our only evidence for its “intelligence” is the apparent coherence of its output. But we’re the ones doing all the meaning making there, as we make sense of it.

I think we know this from how we learn language ourselves. Babies don’t lie there with their eyes closed processing sounds without context — they are associating and integrating sounds with a complex environment, and also with internal states that are responsive to external cues. Clearly what we need to do is imbed ChatGPT in a device that gets hungry and craps itself and needs constant attention from a human.

Oh no…someone, somewhere is about to wrap a diaper around a server.