Monthly Archives: March 2021

A Day in the Life of Abed Salama | by Nathan Thrall | The New York Review of Books

Under the shadow of the Israeli separation wall, one man’s quest to find his son.
— Read on

This is important enough that the Review is making it freely available for the next two weeks, over the period covering the Israeli elections.  As the editor of the Review says, the author is debunking the uncritical assumptions about the situtation, such as

“the view prevalent among American elites that in Israel-Palestine there are two national movements—Jewish and Palestinian—that have equally legitimate legal and moral claims to the same piece of land, which must be divided in the form of a partition”

But the lived reality is that of an intentional apartheid state. As he says,

“Every aspect of that analysis is wrong,” he told me. “Because most of the liberal elite support a two-state partition, the starting point of their understanding is not the reality on the ground but rather their preferred ‘solution.’ I wanted to put aside these ideological framings and simply describe reality as it exists today: Israel not just controls but fully administers over 90 percent of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and the Palestinians have very limited autonomy in the remaining less than 10 percent.”

The discussion of the schism amongst the liberal Zionists and the traditional and religious factions is illuminating. And the story overall is a tragedy.

Good Open Source this morning

A few thoughts while listening to the latest Open Source podcast, “The CRISPR challenge“.

Isaacson, and to some extent Hurlbut, elided the difference between science and applied science.  Isaacson especially talked about things like curiosity as an absolute good, for example, but that tends to be a feature of the former, not the latter.  Experiments into how the universe works may, but don’t necessarily have to, lead to research and development, design and implementation, commercial distribution, all of which tend to be a separate activity often undertaken by completely separate groups motivated especially by things other than raw curiosity.

Science is not created in a vacuum, but in a manner supported by government, commerce, society in general.  It’s not the heroic individual in a home-basement lab, any more than a CEO is the heroic individual who creates the future.  Most (?) of it is funded by governments as a practical exposition of societal aims, through organizations like the NIH.  Without this funding, the infrastructure that enables people like CRISPR researchers doesn’t exist.

As a counter-example, look at drug chemistry.  R&D into hallucinogens was halted decades ago in the US because society, as represented by their government, decided it was not something they wanted to support.  As such, the research became marginalized and slow.  Not arguing this was the correct outcome, we have a “war on drugs” instead of non-harmful designer drugs from the local pharmacy, but the basic research doesn’t happen just because it can.

Ben Hurlbut is a great find, thanks.  Very thoughtful exposition of the case for more work on our part, to understand how these kinds of development have worked in the past, how people have thought about and talked about it and what we need to consider beyond the stories we’re hearing.  The aside on the US’s enthusiasm for technical fixes rang my bell: the pandemic will be solved by biotech, vaccines and drug resesarch; the food crisis will be solved by GMOs; we can build plant-based beef substitutes to fix the agricultural component of the climate emergency.  In all these cases, the common denominator is that by doing these things we don’t have to change anything about our own behavior or ways of thinking about ourselves, a task for which we have many fewer tools than the technologists.

Lyden’s podcast is one of those tools.  Thanks.

What were you thinking?

I’m looking at the page of icons on my iPad I have for the 13 services I use to get video. Each app has a different way of controlling the volume. Each one has a different location for the Chromecast function. Some remember where you left off, some don’t. Some put the things you’re watching front and center, some don’t.

Years ago, we had UI wars, until the Mac showed us that if you forced developers to do all the common stuff the same way the users wouldn’t have to learn a different interface with every program they ran. Apple got quite draconian about it, and we all benefited.

Now I can’t even tell what part of the screen area is going to behave like a button on a layout, and what is just a static image or bit of text. UI is crap, because every designer thinks they’re doing it better than anyone else.

If my car worked this way, and reconfigured how I drive it based on which roads I was on, I wouldn’t drive. Is this not obvious to UI/UX people?

Senators Once Again Introduce Bill To Make Daylight Saving Time Permanent – Slashdot

A group of bipartisan senators is reintroducing a bill that would make Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanent. New submitter McTohmas shares a report: In the United States, most states observe DST — which starts on the second Sunday in March at 2 a.m. and ends on the first Sunday in November at 2 a….
— Read on

Good to know that Rubio is focused on an issue that so profoundly addresses all the emergencies we find ourselves in right now. Something about fiddling while Rome burns …

States that don’t want to follow public-health guidelines

The URL says it all. Protestors at the Idaho capital holding a symbolic mask burning, to defend “freedom” and protest “government overreach”. Many seem to have made the judgement that the information they’re receiving is unduly alarmist, and the pandemic isn’t as bad as they’re told, which is their right, of course.

If the majority of people in Idaho wish to not wear masks, nor keep their distance, nor avoid mingling in crowds, or if the state’s Supreme Court determine that state or local prohibitions against such violate state law, then let them work it out.

Meanwhile, all surrounding states that do wish to enforce public health guidelines, with the support of their majorities, should close their borders. All people crossing from, eg, Idaho to Washington should be subject to testing and a 14-day quarantine, at their own expense (not that of the government). This applies to truck drivers and others transiting the state as well, unless they can show that they never left their vehicle.

Air travel, being a federally-regulated activity, should be terminated to such states. In emergency situations, if someone needs to go into such a state, they would be subject to the testing/quarantine requirements upon return, as described above.

Since, in most cases, those states wishing to limit government interference are represented at the Federal level by people who voted against the Biden virus mitigation legislation, specifically citing the unfairness of sending money to state and local governments, they should also be considered to have “opted out” of any distribution of money from the Feds to the states and localities. The additional money available for the rest of us can be used to fund increased law-enforcement personnel requirements at the borders.

Such states might want to keep aside part of their budget to litigate the expected rash of wrongful death lawsuits from citizens who blame lack of state mandates for their relatives’ deaths, too. Or perhaps a public-health scoring of legislative changes in terms of expected deaths that will result, something like the OMB ratings on the expected costs of legislation at the Federal level. You’d want people to be clear that rescinding mandates will result in an expected number of additional deaths, in exchange for their freedoms.

The people in these states are protesting against government overreach. Fine, I too believe in individual choice. Let’s exclude them from national public-health help, as they request, and quarantine them until we can certify that they’re no longer a threat to the rest of us.

Post-capitalism as fixing technical debt

There’s a term in software development, “technical debt”, which refers to the old stuff in a codebase that over time becomes something that has to be worked around, or accomodated, or otherwise becomes an impediment to further development. People often talk of addressing technical debt incrementally over the lifetime of a project by factoring out the problem bits and redoing them with the current tech, which is hard: complex, hard to keep the whole thing running while you change it, easy to break stuff that depends on it. At some point it becomes easier to just rewrite your code from scratch.

I’m starting to think of this as analogous to what we’re trying to do with late-stage capitalism. Take an old engine that bootstrapped the world to a certain place but which is now creating more problems than it’s solving: the climate emergency, inequality, oligarchy and corporate power. We’re trying to mitigate these things within the system, while preserving the bits without which the system would fall down, fixing the plane while it’s in the air. Theoretically, at some point it becomes easier to rewrite from scratch: given a global population of 8 billion, resources of X, what’s the best way to allocate resources to make everyone’s lives work? What institutions do we just get rid of, rather than fixing? But generally it’s easier, short-term, to just patch up what we’re doing and try to redirect it to address the issues.

Google’s VR dreams are dead: Google Cardboard is no longer for sale | Ars Technica

Google Cardboard is still open source, but Google is done with the project.
— Read on

My friend Douglas and my son Ian both noted how Google has a tendency to drop things before they’re complete systems. Oh well. Sayonara, google cardboard.

Microsoft build the language I want to try for music

Overview of the Power Fx language
— Read on

Years ago, I thought about a language I’d like to build for music based on some ideas I’d had using HMSL’s “Action Table”.  Things in the language would be collections of properties, nothing more, and the values of any of the properties might depend on other properties.  Properties might include things like “density”, or “scariness”, or “lightness”.  Some properties might be objective things like “current time”, “last MIDI note played”, “number of people in the room”.  A piece would be a network of bundles of properties.

It occurs to me that this is a bit like the mental model of a patchable synthesizer: various circuits are entities with collections of properties, properties are patched into other properties, the whole thing is “live” all the time.  This is the pd/Max idea without the GUI elements.

Power FX (weird name) is a declarative, interpreted language that implements this idea.  They have incorporated the standard GUI widgets, database and other business-useful entities.  I wonder how hard it would be to add things that operate on physical musical entities, like MIDI, OSC, …