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February 17 2020

05:00
9204 1acc
Phylogenetic Tree
And I was kicked out of my March Madness pool because I wouldn't shut up about the evidence for NBA/ABA endosymbiosis.

February 14 2020

05:00
2876 c161
Further Research is Needed
Further research is needed to fully understand how we managed to do such a good job.

February 12 2020

05:00
3126 020d
Blockchain
Blockchains are like grappling hooks, in that it's extremely cool when you encounter a problem for which they're the right solution, but it happens way too rarely in real life.

February 10 2020

05:00
1324 da0c
Leap Smearing
Some people suspect that it started as a "No, I didn't forget Valentine's Day" excuse that got out of hand.

February 07 2020

05:00
0501 8ee1
Tax AI
I ended up getting my tax return prepared at a local place by a really friendly pretrained neural net named Greg.

February 05 2020

05:00
2069 5e67 500
Satellite
If you're going to let it burn up, make sure it happens over the deep end of the bathtub and not any populated parts of the house!

February 03 2020

05:00
6126 c8c1 500
Cicadas
After a while you adjust to the new cicadian rhythm.

January 31 2020

05:00
4921 54a0
Parker Solar Probe
It will get within 9 or 10 Sun-diameters of the "bottom" (the Sun's surface) which seems pretty far when you put it that way, but from up here on Earth it's practically all the way down.

January 29 2020

05:00
1083 39a0 500
Worst Thing That Could Happen
Before I install any patch, I always open the patch notes and Ctrl-F for 'supervolcano', 'seagull', and 'garbage disposal', just to be safe.
Reposted byjessamine jessamine

January 27 2020

05:00
2490 737e 500
Reaction Maps
If Google Maps stops letting you navigate to (Clay County District) A in West Virginia, you can try Jump, OH -> Ina, IL -> Big Hole, TX.

January 24 2020

05:00
8227 6314 500
Networking Problems
LOOK, THE LATENCY FALLS EVERY TIME YOU CLAP YOUR HANDS AND SAY YOU BELIEVE

January 22 2020

23:32

DeHumanize

Back before Christmas, Bakka-Phoenix hosted a launch for Sentient Tumor. In  the course of that event—during the traditional Reading Of The Excerpts— I revisited a 2015 scenario in which gut flora reprogram the brain’s anger and image-recognition macros via the Vagus Nerve. People thus weaponized could be driven into a violent rage at the site of specific corporate logos; anyone working at a Bell Canada kiosk (in the original scenario) or wearing a Google t-shirt (in the story that ultimately resulted from it) would find themselves getting shit-kicked by complete strangers. Fearing for their lives, they would quit in droves; the CEOs standing on their backs would lose their balance; evil corporate empires would collapse for want of cheap labor. As Peter Watts fantasies go, it was one of my more heartwarming.

 

During the Q&A that followed, a friend in the audience reminded me that the violence I was so gleefully imagining would be directed against a bunch of overworked and underpaid grunts who were barely making a living under terrible working conditions. After all, how many of Amazon’s warehouse employees would be working there if they could find anything better? Was I a Utilitarian? Did I think it would be fair to inflict even more hardship on those already hard-done-by, in the name of the Greater Good?

Taking the question literally, the answer’s obvious: it wouldn’t be called “the greater good” if The Good was not, by definition, greater. That may not sit right in the gut, but then again the gut is an idiot: always opting for morality over ethics, for what feels good over what can be defended rationally. The gut doesn’t like Truth, as Stephen Colbert so eloquently put it; it prefers “Truthiness”.

Still. The question got me thinking out loud, right there on the spot; someone remarked on Twitter how entertaining it was to watch Peter Watts trying to work out, in real time, whether he wanted to see the world burn. Ultimately I reaffirmed that I only wanted to burn part of it, and that would only be to save the rest. But it had been an obvious question, easy to anticipate, not something I should have had to work out in real time. The answer should have been preloaded and ready to fire.

Now it is, and that answer begins with another question: what’s the current exchange rate between genocide and extinction? How many species, to pick an obvious example, would you be willing to wipe out in order to prevent the Nazi Holocaust?

Back in the forties, six million was about 0.24% of the global Human population. The Rwandan Genocide of the nineties took out a measly 0.01%. So the real question is, How many other entire species would you sacrifice to save a quarter of one percent— a hundredth of one percent— of this one?

You might immediately reject the very question, along with the calculation it demands.Which species? you might ask with equal parts derision and defensiveness. Are you asking if we’d let six million Jews die to save the coelacanths? The Florida panther? Smallpox? And even if I answered (Let’s make it simple— let’s say the species we’d be sacrificing all belong to the charismatic megafauna, species we would value— or at least not be actively hostile to— under normal circumstances) a lot of people would still reject the question because it’s just so stupid. It’s contrived, it’s artificial, nobody would ever have to make such a decision in Real Life and how do you hang a value on a “species” anyway?

Well, obviously the scenario is contrived and artificial. Realism is not a prerequisite for thought experiments. Platonic Caves and Trolley Scenarios exist not as NSERC research proposals, but to throw light on the nooks and crannies of the Human condition. The cranny illuminated by my Genocide/Extinction exchange rate is, paradoxically, clear in that last rhetorical question, delivered with eyes rolled, meant to highlight the absurdity of trying to hang a “value” on a species. It’s paradoxical because those asking it have, in all likelihood, already ascribed such a value.

That value is zero.

The very idea of weighing “animal” against “human” life is meaningless— nay, downright offensive— if your default position is that nonhuman life is valueless unless it serves our interests in some way. How dare you even imagine some, some conversion factor between Humans and muskrats; the very idea invites one down the road to a ridiculous scenario in which some arbitrary number of muskrats, obscenely, becomes more important than a Single Human Life. The very idea!

This, I would submit, is the position of many— even most— of our species. So let’s return to that poor bastard working for some bastion of ecocidal capitalism because they really need the job, and send them back in time to a more acceptable iteration of the same question:

Suppose the only job available was janitor at Auschwitz?

At least now we’re comparing the competing interests of Humans. No one’s going to deny that there are values worth considering on both sides of the equation. So: do you forgive the janitor because jobs are hard to come by? Do you give them a pass because they’re just a tiny cog, with no hand in the decisions of the monstrous machine in which they’re embedded? If some resistance fighter devises a plan to cripple that machine by damaging the cogs, do you object because the cogs have already suffered enough, and would much rather be working in a bakery?

I’m guessing a lot of people would say no— Just Following Orders never really cut it as a defense, after all. At the very least the lines would be a lot blurrier. And yet it still doesn’t sit right, does it? You remember my original question, and the analogy feels cheap, exploitive. Disrespectful to all those millions of (Human) victims across the generations. Amazon may be evil, but it’s not Nazi-level evil. Exxon-Mobil may have set back efforts to combat climate change by decades, but they didn’t set out to eradicate whole populations (not Human ones, anyway). Nike, Apple, Nestle— well, their business practices may cause deaths in sweatshops and totalitarian regimes and places where there’s not enough water to go around any more, but they’re not doing that out of ideological hatred; they’re just doing it for the money. That’s not as bad, somehow.

No one knows exactly how many species we’re wiping out. The estimates I’ve seen1 range from 70,000 to over 120,000 per year. At those scales you can be as flexy as you like with the details. Fossil-fuel capitalism has gotta be the prime driver behind a big chunk of that, but there’s lots left over for the commercial fishing industry (which, even a decade ago, had already wiped out an estimated 80-90% of the world’s commercial fisheries biomass). You might expect Amazon to be small spuds on the ecocidal front— it’s not like they directly strip-mine the oceans or finance tar-sands extraction— but their carbon footprint is the size of a small country’s, so it’s not unreasonable to lay at least some of those extinctions on Bezos’ doorstep (Amazon is, after all, the 4th-largest company on the planet in terms of market capitalization). A measly one percent, say: seven hundred to twelve hundred extinctions per year. Seven thousand to a hundred-twenty thousand per decade, more or less. Change your assumptions all you want, within reason. Make Corporation X twice as destructive, or half. Tweak the numbers; the orders of magnitude remain.

It’s Human Nature to prioritize our own interests over others’, a bias that comes standard in virtually every organism on the planet (consciously or otherwise). But if you’d allow the greater-good sacrifice of the Auschwitz janitor who played an infinitesimal role in the murder of 0.25% of one species— while also defending the Amazon employee who plays a commensurately small role in the wholesale extinction of thousands of them— well, you’re not just saying that Humans have more value. You’re saying, to all intents and purposes, that no other species has any. And that, fellow mammal, sails right out of mere bias and into the realm of outright pathology. The fact that it’s so ubiquitous throughout our society does not make it any less pathological.

Most people regard “dehumanizing” terminology as a bad thing.

These days, I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a compliment.


1Excluding denialist numbers from the likes of Fox News and the Koch Brothers.

05:00
5037 0acf 500
Solar System Changes
"Actually, Jupiter already has a very impressive ring system!" --someone who knows Jupiter is within earshot

January 20 2020

05:00
0418 b56e 500
Unsubscribe Message
A mix of the two is even worse: 'Thanks for unsubscribing and helping us pare this list down to reliable supporters.'
Reposted byszpaqus szpaqus

January 17 2020

05:00
2661 ac03 500
Bad Map Projection: South America
The projection does a good job preserving both distance and azimuth, at the cost of really exaggerating how many South Americas there are.
Reposted bymisspandorapomoorlllmQdeuyouamvairaUncommonSenseTehawankaszpaquscool-carlos

January 15 2020

17:29

Bottleneck

 

Been quiet here lately, yes.

Not that there hasn’t been stuff going on: I’ve been dying to weigh in along a hundred axes from the time they revived those disembodied pig brains right up to this very morning, when Isabel Fall’s brilliant story was pulled (at her own request) from Clarkesworld thanks to the frenzied grandstanding of rageaholics who decried it as transphobic. (Turns out Fall is trans herself, but why let that get in the way of a good virtue signal?) The deaths of influential figures, only one of which I can celebrate. There’s even some mildly celebratory news on another front, but for now at least I’m not allowed to talk about it.

I didn’t weigh in on any of that stuff because I promised myself I’d update the galleries first. You remember those: that whole other wing of rifters.com, housing book covers and fan art and various other visual tie-ins to whatever it is I do here. I’ve fallen into the habit of updating the galleries around the end of each year, as a kind of atheistic Christmas gift to you all; I shy away from doing it more often because while fan art is very cool, too many such posts run the risk of tipping the ‘crawl a little too far into self-aggrandisement. So I let the artwork pile up over the year.

This year there were over sixty new items to curate. Sixty-plus new book covers and fan paintings and videos and tattoos and AR models and even music for chrissakes. It was enough to necessitate a restructuring of the Blindopraxia wing— the category once known simply as “Fan Art” has now been split into subsections by artist and medium and (in one instance) subject (“Vampires”). It also necessitated rescaling originals for upload, and building dozens of thumbnails, and tracking down artists and sources so I could provide proper accreditation.

I thought it might take a day or two. It took—significantly longer. I started before Christmas.

Now, finally, the damn things are up and ready for viewing. What you see here is but a sample. The Blindopraxia wing weighs in with the greatest number of new acquisitions by far (52), but you’ll find another seven over in the Rifters gallery; three in Sunflowers; and four in Assorted Shorts.

So check ’em out, if you’re so inclined. They range from brilliant to frankly bizarre. And to any of you who might have been waiting for me to post something with more heft to it, apologies for the bottleneck. We’re about to return to our regular programming.

Next up: an exploration of the exchange rate between extinction and genocide.

 

05:00
9121 770b
Tattoo Ideas
The text ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US with a lengthy footnote explaining that I got this tattoo in 2020 and not, as you may assume, 2001, but offering no further clarification.

January 13 2020

05:00
2940 12c9 500
JPEG2000
I was actually a little relieved when I learned that JPEG2000 was used in the DCI digital cinema standard. I was feeling so bad for it!

January 10 2020

05:00
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Star Wars Voyager 1
There's some flexibility depending on your standards for measuring runtime and the various special editions. If you still want to have a party, I'm sure you can find some combination that works.

January 08 2020

05:00
4649 ceba
Parenthetical Names
I never got around to seeing that movie about the battle (of Midway).
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