There are consequences?

Chris Licht, the former head of CNN who pushed that disastrous, mismanaged Trump town hall on us, seems to have faced some kind of rebuke from the men who control the pursestrings. He has undergone some ambiguous lateral transfer or downgrade — he’s not in charge anymore.

Anyway, the guy made no friends with his “let Republicans lie” brand of journalism because, really, that’s not what journalism is supposed to be. It’s supposed to inform people of the truth. CNN’s staff hated what Licht was trying to do. The viewers hated it, and left in droves. Freaking Newsmax started beating CNN in ratings. And the business suits hated it, because if money isn’t being made, what’s the point? In short, he shit the bed.

It’s not much of a consequence, but it’s something. If nothing else, all his rich friends know that he is in disgrace, which is probably what hurts him most. Being outright fired would hurt him better, though.

Are you middle class?

I took this little survey in the Washington Post that takes into account your income, number of dependents, and region of the country you live in, and it tells me that I am officially and totally middle class. I’m right smack in the center of the arbitrarily defined boundaries that delimit “middle class” — and that the way I got to this point was by getting rid of those pesky kids who were holding me back. Fifteen years ago, I discovered, I was way down deep in lower middle class territory.

Your household has a middle-class income, and you have the financial security associated with the middle class. Your income is similar to others in your Zip code above the median for rural Minnesota. Rural Minnesota is an inexpensive place to live, and you would still be considered middle income anywhere in the country.

It’s a comfortable place to be, but there is no hope that I will ever be wealthy. That’s good enough.

I won’t ask you what class you fall into, because only a grifter cares about that sort of thing.

But I was joking!

You know this podish-sortacast that Freethoughtblogs runs? At the end of the last one, we were talking about new topics, and I casually threw out “SPIDERS” expecting everyone would actually pick something of broader general interest. The jokes on me, because guess what we’re talking about on Saturday?

I can probably think of something to say. Whether it is of interest is a different question.

Only Apple could pull this off

Apple unveiled a shiny new gadget today: Apple Vision Pro.

This looks really good! I want one. But as the summary of the glorious widget went on, it was clear I was not in their market. It’s a complete wearable computer, with a whole new interface — it’s everything Microsoft and all those cyberpunk authors dreamed of, integrating the real world (it’s transparent) with virtual reality. As I listened to the WWDC presentation, though, every glowing adjective and every new tech toy built into it made me cringe. The price was climbing by the second. Then at the end, they broke the news: $3500. Nope, not for me. It’s about what we ought to expect in something so shiny and new and packed with every bit of advanced technology they could pack into an extremely small space, though.

That price is not going to stop Apple, I’m sure. This is going to be the new must-have technological marvel that every techbro and marketingbro and rich person with ludicrous amounts of surplus wealth is going to want. Apple is going to clean up, I predict.

The good little robot

Look at that thing. It’s beautiful.

That’s Ingenuity, the drone that was sent to Mars on the Perseverance mission. It was intended to be a proof-of-concept test, expected to fly for only a couple of excursions, and then fail under the hellish Martian conditions. Instead, it has survived for two years.

Ingenuity defied the odds the day it first lifted off from Martian soil. The four-pound aircraft stands about 19 inches tall and is little more than a box of avionics with four spindly legs on one end and two rotor blades and a solar panel on the other. But it performed the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet — what NASA billed a “Wright brothers moment” — after arriving on Mars in April 2021.

It’s made over 50 flights. Apparently it’s a bit wonky, losing radio connection to the rover when it flies out of line of sight, or when the cold shuts it down, but when it warms up, or the rover drives closer, it gets right up again.

NASA has still got good engineering. It might be because of all the redundancy they build into every gadget — this little drone cost $80 million dollars! — but I have a hypothesis that the real secret to its success is what they left out. There’s no narcissistic and incompetent billionaire attached to the project, just a lot of engineers who take pride in their work.

The problem isn’t artificial intelligence, it’s natural stupidity

A Texas A&M professor flunked all of his students because ChatGPT told him to.

Dr. Jared Mumm, a campus rodeo instructor who also teaches agricultural classes,

He legitimately wrote a PhD thesis on pig farming, but really — a “rodeo instructor”? I guess that’s like the coaches we have working in athletic programs at non-Ag colleges.

sent an email on Monday to a group of students informing them that he had submitted grades for their last three essay assignments of the semester. Everyone would be receiving an “X” in the course, Mumm explained, because he had used “Chat GTP” (the OpenAI chatbot is actually called “ChatGPT”) to test whether they’d used the software to write the papers — and the bot claimed to have authored every single one.

“I copy and paste your responses in [ChatGPT] and [it] will tell me if the program generated the content,” he wrote, saying he had tested each paper twice. He offered the class a makeup assignment to avoid the failing grade — which could otherwise, in theory, threaten their graduation status.

Wow. He doesn’t know what he’s doing at all. ChatGPT is an artificial expert at confabulation — it will assemble a plausible-sounding mess of words that looks like other collections of words it finds in its database, and that’s about it. It’s not TurnItIn, a service professors have been using for at least a decade that compares submitted text to other texts in it’s database, and reports similarities. ChatGPT will happily make stuff up. You can’t use it the way he thinks.

Mumm was unwarrantedly aggressive in his ignorance.

Students claim they supplied him with proof they hadn’t used ChatGPT — exonerating timestamps on the Google Documents they used to complete the homework — but that he initially ignored this, commenting in the school’s grading software system, “I don’t grade AI bullshit.” (Mumm did not return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.)

Unfortunately for him, Mumm was cursed with smarter spectators to his AI bullshit. One of them ran Mumm’s PhD thesis through ChatGPT in the same inappropriate, invalid way.

In an amusing wrinkle, Mumm’s claims appear to be undercut by a simple experiment using ChatGPT. On Tuesday, redditor Delicious_Village112 found an abstract of Mumm’s doctoral dissertation on pig farming and submitted a section of that paper to the bot, asking if it might have written the paragraph. “Yes, the passage you shared could indeed have been generated by a language model like ChatGPT, given the right prompt,” the program answered. “The text contains several characteristics that are consistent with AI-generated content.” At the request of other redditors, Delicious_Village112 also submitted Mumm’s email to students about their presumed AI deception, asking the same question. “Yes, I wrote the content you’ve shared,” ChatGPT replied. Yet the bot also clarified: “If someone used my abilities to help draft an email, I wouldn’t have a record of it.”

On the one hand, I am relieved to see that ChatGPT can’t replace me. On the other hand, there is an example of someone who thinks it can, to disastrous effect. Maybe it could at least replace the Jared Mumm’s of the world, except I bet it sucks at bronco bustin’ and lassoing calves.

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.