Writer, musician/songwriter, hobbyist coder. Contributing writer to New York Times Magazine and Wired. Author of "Coders". Blogging at clivethompson.medium.com, archive of writing at www.authory.com/clivethompson #science #technology #coding #software #writing #literature #poetry firstname.lastname@example.org
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#FrancisSpufford's Cahokia Jazz is a fucking banger: it's a taut, unguessable whuddunit, painted in ultrablack noir, set in an alternate Jazz Age in a world where indigenous people never ceded most the west to the USA. It's got gorgeously described jazz music, a richly realized modern indigenous society, and a spectacular romance. It's amazing:
Every time I teach my election tech course, it gets a little easier. Not because I'm getting better at it or because there's been some new technical breakthrough, but because I no longer as often need to have That Conversation with students. The one where I have to explain that no, blockchains don't solve this.
ATTENTION ALL CITIZENS OF MASTODON 📣
It's time for ...
... "the opposite of doomscrolling" 🌞
The latest issue of my newsletter "The Linkfest" just dropped 📬
Free to read here (and subscribe! free or pay whatevs you want): https://buttondown.email/clivethompson/archive/linkfest-14-indoor-clouds-a-ferrofluid/
🌥 indoor clouds
🏸 why lefties have the edge in badminton
🚢 decoding container-ship markings
🐦 pigeon data-transfer
📸 the "Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards"
🧪 Lord Byron's vinegar diet
#️⃣ tic-tac-toe made using only HTML
I started my career as a freelance science/tech writer in the mid 90s
I wanted to write climate stories -- but back then, editors were leery
About five years ago, things changed: They started greenlighting those ideas
In the last five years, I've published more pieces on climate, mobility and lower-carbon power than I did in the previous 25
I generally have found the trend towards "let's illustrate this blog post / new story with a Midjourney image" to be a little dreary ...
So many of the images tend towards "sci-fi hyperrealism" that it gets boring after a while
(And man, I'm someone who grew up on Omni magazine covers, so normally I'd love this stuff, lol)
But, I will say, the Midjourney illustrations for this Boing Boing post are total <chef's kiss>
Okay people 📣
It's time for "the opposite of doomscrolling" 📖
The latest issue of my newsletter, "The Linkfest", just dropped 📬
Free to read here, subscribe via pay-whatevs-you-want, including free: https://buttondown.email/clivethompson/archive/linkfest-13-17th-century-chatgpt-the-merovingian/
This issue includes:
🏛 17th-century ChatGPT
🎀 the "Merovingian" knot
🎧 CT scans of Airpods
🧊 "superionic" ice
☀️ pixels made of bioluminescent algae
❓ the "blood footprint" mystery
⚔️ how historically accurate is the armor in Baldur's Gate, anyway
Progressives: if you want to lose to conservatives, all you need to do is reflexively praise and support everything conservatives turn into a culture-war issue, without considering whether they might be right. Because sometimes...they're right.
If you'd like an essay-formatted version of this thread to read or share, here's a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:
A bot that automatically does stock trades …
… by identifying trades being done by US politicians …
… who probably have inside (I.e. and thus basically illegal-to-act-upon) knowledge of market-moving government info …
… and doing the same trades
He’s up 20% since May 2022
This is apparently an internal Automattic memo making the rounds on Tumblr, indicating that they’ve failed to get Tumblr activity/revenue up since its 2019 acquisition and it will now be maintained by a skeleton crew of Trust & Safety and support folks, with the majority of its 139 employees moving to other projects inside Automattic.
Trump, by all reports -- including what he says, quite openly, at his rallies -- intends to turn the Justice Department into a tool to attack his perceived enemies
Another report on this from the Washington Post (free friend link): https://wapo.st/3sqYKNF
The rule of law already has plenty of problems in the US ... but this would be an enormous shift in magnitude
“The Literary Style of Alt-Text”
For years, I didn’t add alt-text to my online images
But I’ve started doing it all the time now — being on Mastodon is what showed me how important it is!
Along the way, I’ve started noticing …
…. what an oddly literary activity it is
Here’s an image I wrote alt-text for when I blogged a few weeks ago, below
My essay on alt-texting: https://clivethompson.medium.com/the-literary-style-of-alt-text-9f1595cd8f0c
A free “friend” link in case you don’t subscribe to Medium: https://clivethompson.medium.com/the-literary-style-of-alt-text-9f1595cd8f0c?sk=1d9cd685997cb08d8909da687a2d03cf
A screenshot of a story written by the author, describing how he wrote alt-text for the attached photo. I reads: And at first I just wrote a simple description, something like "a cyclist going down the street." Then I added more details, including that the cyclist is in the center of the picture, and behind them are a bus stop and a brightly lit store, and that the cyclist is moving quickly. But as I was writing that last clause - "the cyclist is moving quickly" - I realized something curious about the composition of the photo: The cyclist is crisp, while the background is blurred. That's not an easy effect for the photographer to achieve! And it' precisely what gives the image its power. So I wound up writing the alt-text thusly ... “A cyclist going rapidly down a city street. The photo is taken from the side, and the cyclist is in the center of the image, heading towards our right. In behind the cyclist we see a bus stop and a brightly lit store. Interestingly, despite the fact that the cyclist is moving quickly, they are unblurred and crisp in the photo - while the background is blurred. The ultimate effect is curious: It's as if the store were moving quickly, while the cyclist was standing still” One could critique this alt-text for being too damn long. Fair enough! And there's something a bit narcissistic about me focusing on the internal experience I have while puzzling over how best to describe this image.
Christine Dierk designs a dress made from light-diffusing panels -- using them as pixels to change the patterns on the fly
Item #1 in my "Linkfest" newsletter, free to read here online and subscribe: https://buttondown.email/clivethompson/archive/linkfest-12-tyromancy-point-nemo-and-why-movie/
(Hover over that gif to watch it loop)
YOU LUCKY PEOPLE 🍀
The latest issue of my "Linkfest" newsletter just dropped! 📬
I call it "the opposite of doomscrolling" 😃
Read it for free here, subscribe via pay-what-ya-want (from free to whatevs): https://buttondown.email/clivethompson/archive/linkfest-12-tyromancy-point-nemo-and-why-movie/
This issue includes:
🚀 "Point Nemo"
📱 why movie villains never use iphones
🕹️ 36 versions of Pong
🎨 next-gen Spirograph
🚗 the "boot girls" of Atlanta
⚓ Christopher Columbus, tech bro
🎶 1924 pocket-sized record player
"A Gloriously Fixable Laptop, Pt. 2"
In which I continue my blubbering praise for the Framework laptops ...
... observing how folks who've owned an older model can, with trivial ease, put in a whole damn new processor to make it run faster
In like 15 minutes
This is how all laptops should be
A free "friend" link in case you're not a Medium subscriber: https://clivethompson.medium.com/a-gloriously-fixable-laptop-pt-2-53d7c2fd3fb9?sk=f1d5b7714dc00c4c33cd1c57be15b6da
"How I Grew To Love the Aesthetics of Rooftop Solar"
I used to worry the panels on my roof were ugly
Now, five years later, I think they look amazing
A wee cyberpunk glimpse of a better future
A free "friend" link in case you don't subscribe to Medium: https://clivethompson.medium.com/how-i-grew-to-love-the-aesthetics-of-rooftop-solar-eda118df0290?sk=14bbcf0c2b43a3bd2ea9b044180329cf
"Let's Stop Calling It 'Content''
I first starting noticing the word "content" in the late 90s
Companies looking to put writing, animation, video or art on their web sites would call it "content"
It flattened innumerable forms of culture into a sort of goo, extruded from a tube
25 years on, the term "content" has metastasized, eating whole the way many people talk about -- think about -- culture.
Let's stop now
"The Cognitive Style of Subtitles"
Subtitles are becoming much more common these days -- on TV, in films, on livestreamed video conferencing, and in social media
It's damn interesting
Research finds that subtitling has really good effects on comprehension and recall
A "friend" link in case you're not a Medium subscriber: https://clivethompson.medium.com/the-cognitive-style-of-subtitles-f1e9d9f27dd0?sk=583af74146da6cfdf387414f0d048ff0
On the deep pleasures of posting practical advice online
A "friend" link in case you're not a Medium subscriber: https://clivethompson.medium.com/why-you-should-post-your-practical-advice-online-105afcae9e0?sk=1f244090d20df8dcf0d93300b25d1dab
"It's Time To Kill The Lawn"
Between their voracious thirst for water, the flattening of local biodiversity, and the gnarly pollutants coughed up by mowing ...
... American lawns are the products of an exquisite mania for Order
Time to uproot them
A "friend" link in case you're not a Medium subscriber: https://clivethompson.medium.com/its-time-to-kill-the-lawn-46ecb2e1ba9a?sk=dfd130469d2659410259f1365778dcea
Canadian doctors do ballet dance moves in N95 masks to show it's easy to breathe, and breathe heavily, in them: https://boingboing.net/2023/09/19/canadian-doctor-dancers-demonstrate-how-easy-it-is-to-breathe-in-an-n95-mask-respirator.html
I co-sign! Back in the first nasty pre-vaccine summer of 2020, I cycled 100 miles in a day from NYC to Philadelphia, wearing a mask the entire way
It's actually a wonderful way to protect from gnarly traffic fumes!
And yeah, even with my heart rate up high most of the way, no trouble breathing
"Why Parking Makes Housing More Expensive"
Most cities have strict rules -- if you wanna develop a new piece of housing, you have to offer parking, too
This winds up jacking up the price of housing considerably. Parking is expensive to build
One study found that providing parking added an average of $34,945 to the cost of building each low-income housing unit
A "friend" link in case you're not a Medium subscriber: https://clivethompson.medium.com/why-parking-makes-housing-more-expensive-6c64b0749503?sk=3876a3e658f46c6a9418ff093b155aac
One reason it's eminently possible for the FTC to take action against big tech firms -- for their anticompetitive, customer-gouging actions?
Because the FTC needs to establish intent
That's normally very hard to do ...
... but tech executives have a habit of carefully writing down all their malign intents in memos 😂
Here's @pluralistic's post about it: https://doctorow.medium.com/big-tech-cant-stop-telling-on-itself-f7f0eb6d215a
A superb essay by Karawynn Long pointing out a central challenge in today’s language-focused AI — which is the assumption that fluency with language is intelligence: https://karawynn.substack.com/p/language-is-a-poor-heuristic-for
As Long notes, many folks with autism are exceptionally intelligent but don’t possess high fluency with spoken language — and they get regarded as unintelligent: https://karawynn.substack.com/p/language-is-a-poor-heuristic-for
Making buildings out of stone apparently can reduce the emissions in construction — and in everyday use — quite a bit: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2023/aug/06/back-to-the-stone-age-the-sustainable-building-material-weve-all-been-waiting-for-amin-taha-groupwork-webb-yates-the-stonemasonry-company
Amazon is crawling with travel guides written by AI -- vague, crappy, and pushed up in search results by astroturfed fake five-star reviews: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/05/travel/amazon-guidebooks-artificial-intelligence.html?unlocked_article_code=Gmcb6fkRXSAX7JUdbTpFyhH1lSBWBcI0RuiXgcku3gVTdQV7s_SPvl1tKw76F_txTehAmHdU0bZ3PUoPyH0h-dybeb8_bGL7UzysZynt-SFcx9yByC4wr37_65cVodjr_Z-sRcqUfioeOsUAKJpEECejhG2SlL4jPCoaBG8PFnu_YLKDXA0hkzvhrJnGuD5kw59N8Bz7T7D7UOeJXLkowJnnoB6IDt6bHn6XiBvlH--t6M_9xmGCkNlYdtiiScdbS3ebGG5C3xKkCxwacaT96yLi9NK5dx9YHwhHSPdoVJPqslvVGAwQFvpSQvDvgHZGOFxW09EeUVAHYZl6uI-aSYS0_UfYhcXjDi6J2-M1oFlpWg&smid=url-share
That's a "gift" link so you don't need to be a New York Times subscriber to read it
It's a great investigation, and highlights the real problem, which is ...
... unsurprisingly by now, Amazon seemingly does little-to-nothing to stop this
The site is just soiled top to bottom with fake crap in every category
Every time someone talks to ChatGPT for 20 exchanges or so ...
... Microsoft's servers use a half-liter of freshwater to cool down
AI is thirsty
My essay on some implications of this: https://clivethompson.medium.com/ai-is-thirsty-37f99f24a26e
A "friend" link, in case you don't subscribe to Medium: https://clivethompson.medium.com/ai-is-thirsty-37f99f24a26e?sk=f5b2ea10c649a34236577139fecfd86a
When I get some time free I'm gonna program a version of Pac-Man where you play as the fruit
Tight close-up on the part of the maze where you appear
When you appear, you have no control over anything
All you do is wait
If you're going to get eaten
You can hear, in the distance, the sounds of the game; see the ghosts go by; hear the approach of Pac-Man, hear him fade further away
If you don't get eaten in that round, you score one point
If you do get eaten, the game's over
When did people stop being drunk all the time?
A fascinating historical analysis: https://lefineder.substack.com/p/when-did-people-stop-being-drunk
Here’s my essay in praise of video-game piracy!
tl;dr — a new study estimates that 90% of classic video games aren’t in release any more
They’re vanishing from the marketplace at the pace of silent film and radio serials, despite being only a few decades old
Basically, the game industry (often understandably, mind you) doesn’t want to preserve older games
So, the only force that’s keeping this legacy alive?
“Machines, pretending to be humans, talking to other machines that also pretend to be humans: I had not expected our technological future to be scripted by Samuel Beckett.”
My column on the “boring apocalypse” of large-language-model AI: https://clivethompson.medium.com/the-boring-apocalypse-of-todays-ai-6365345444a8
A “friend” link in case you’re not a Medium subscriber: https://clivethompson.medium.com/the-boring-apocalypse-of-todays-ai-6365345444a8?sk=d3fc1a0c86c558e0bf22dcfdbdcead52
People of mastodon in NYC!
@traceylindeman is appearing Thursday, July 13 at the KGB bar (7-9 pm) as part of an event on sex, gender and power
The speaker lineup is amazing, and so is Tracey’s book
Back in the early 1800s, a popular American conspiracy theory held that nunneries were hotbeds of sexual exploitation
On August 11, 1834, a large group of Boston residents decided — having carefully, publicly, and even leisurely laid plans — to burn down the Ursuline Covent in what is now Somerville
They boasted to the nuns that they’d liberated them
Here’s a superb essay about it, and how US conspiracy theories about sex cults go back centuries: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/07/conspiracy-theory-burned-convent-down/674599/
I asked ChatGPT to recommend some of “the most interesting articles written by the journalist Clive Thompson”
Of the nine it listed …
… seven were ones I hadn’t written, and a few didn’t exist at all, by anyone
One was a pastiche
Only one was truly correct
This performance is so unbelievably terrible it’s almost charitable to call it “bullshit”
My essay, showing ChatGPT’s responses: https://clivethompson.medium.com/you-know-nothing-of-my-work-chatgpt-66d3ac542f3f?postPublishedType=repub
A “friend” link in case you’re not a Medium subscriber: https://clivethompson.medium.com/you-know-nothing-of-my-work-chatgpt-66d3ac542f3f?sk=8765f2e9dffa3d0151c66ce12a0ac2e6
Denver last year offered subsidies for buying electric bikes
Their first 600 were snapped up in 10 minutes. Demand was huge
Denver ended up issuing over 4,700 (about 2,300 of which went to low-income residents)
Research shows it reduced car-miles driven in the city by 100K a week
We should have ebike subsidies everywhere, and now. Cheaper than electric car subsidies, and arguably even more catalytic
“Myst” remade for the Atari 2600: http://deater.net/weave/vmwprod/myst_vcs/