Wednesday Links -- 10 June 2015

As part of my combined "really trying to blog more, seriously, I promise" and "you know, I think I really will stop using Facebook" efforts, I might as well do what other blogs do and make a links post.

Here's some of the stuff I've read about this week that's worth a comment or two.

I randomly came across this rant against "Agile" development and Scrum. I'd love to hear opinions from people who have actually been "in the shit," so to speak, because this (and Church's other essays/rants) really feeds my biases against tech/startup culture. It's might explain why so many neo-feudal reactionary types come from Silicon Valley tech and venture-capital, and why they have a very odd characterization of Western liberal democracy as "demotism." I'd fear the plebs too if I had to work in (or subject them to) an Agile environment.

Current peak stupidity in the startup and Kickstarter arenas seems to be hydration. Witness: HidrateMe ($45), a "smart" water bottle that reminds you when to drink water because you are an adult baby who can't just plan things out for yourself; or JOHN TUMBLER ($50), a non-ironic "minimalist" rectangular black travel mug that seems like hell to try to hold or drink from; or the Memobottle ($23 – $33, various sizes), because "It is pretty much safe to say that we can all agree with the long held belief that staying well hydrated is one of the most important aspects in maintaining a healthy, beautiful being. The problem is though, we struggle on a daily basis with the nightmare of having to lug around the prescribed amount of water as most waterbottles just do not fit into our bags! Enter the Memo Bottle: A Minimalist’s Water Bottle."

Rest assured that Startup Stupidity Syndrome is only just emerging in the home appliance market, with this $1400 "smart" toaster oven that has Wi-fi, an internal HD camera, and its own app. Thankfully, the almost-assured security flaws in this Internet-of-things thing will make it much easier to burn San Francisco to the ground in future.

One of several non-obvious "fuckboy" screencaps I've seen recently. Have we reached the inflection point where "guy I personally don't find attractive" starts catching up to "guy who's a major asshole and/or pervert" as the colloquial definition? Two speculations: first, maybe the social mechanics of shaming can actually override notions of "punching up" or "punching down," so that it's too easy to lose track of what's what. Second, I wonder if guys use self-effacing photos in the same way girls just state "Not interested in hookups." What would be the reaction, I wonder, if a guy had that on his profile? I might test it out.

A rare moment when social media virality and outrage culture actually improved someone's life for the better after they messed up: This Man Learned His Lesson in the Best Possible Way After Attacking Caitlyn Jenner Online. The headline isn't actually that hyperbolic, the guy demonstrated remarkable strength of character for admitting that he was wrong and that his beliefs had changed accordingly.

Charlie Jane Anders, contra many reviewers, on why Tomorrowland is not at all an optimistic movie: "Nostalgia is closer to being optimism’s enemy than its friend. Nostalgia is a fundamentally regressive, non-constructive sentiment. Geek culture, and by extension the activities that geeks are engaging in, are overloaded with nostalgia for futures that didn’t pan out, and images that we loved decades ago. We don’t need more nostalgia." She goes on to break down, in detail, the fundamental misanthropy at the heart of the movie.

File this under Things I Did Not Expect To See Developed So Quickly: "A diverse team of physicists, neuroscientists and chemists has implanted mouse brains with a rolled-up, silky mesh studded with tiny electronic devices, and shown that it unfurls to spy on and stimulate individual neurons." The same team showed how cells can be persuaded to grow around an electronic mesh in a dish in 2012, and now in 2015 we have prototype mesh sensors in a living mouse brain. (See also the original article in Nature.)

To understand my reaction to this news, consider: the only other times I recall reading about neural mesh devices were in post-Singularity science fiction, specifically Iain M. Banks' Culture novels (where every citizen has a neural lace), and Posthuman Studios' Eclipse Phase RPG (where it's called a mesh insert):
The interconnected components of this system include:
    Cranial Computer: This computer serves as the hub for the character’s personal area network and is home to their muse. It has all of the functions of a smartphone and PDA, acting as a media player, meshbrowser, alarm clock/calendar, positioning and map system, address book, advanced calculator, file storage system, search engine, social networking client, messaging program, and note pad. It manages the user’s augmented reality input and can run any software the character desires. It also processes XP data, allowing the user to experience other people’s recorded memories, and also allowing the user to share their own XP sensory input with others in real-time. Facial/image recognition and encryption software are included by default.
    Radio Transceiver: This transceiver connects the user to the mesh and other characters/devices within range. It has an effective range of 20 kilometers in deep space or other locations far from radio interference and 1 kilometer in crowded habitats.
    Medical Sensors: This array of implants monitors the user’s medical status, including heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, temperature, neural activity, and much more. A sophisticated medical diagnostic system interprets the data and warns the user of any concerns or dangers.
The order of development is probably the reverse of this list, as the team is actively looking towards medical-research applications. Radio/wireless/Bluetooth comes with this as a matter of course. But it's really only a matter of time after this (hopefully!) gets adopted as a treatment for various brain-instability disorders (Parkinson's, epilepsy, etc.) that non-medical applications follow. Get on this, bio-techno-ethicists! It kinda seems important!

Speaking of the Culture, it's never a bad time to remind anyone who's reading this why the Culture is chief among my "I want this future" wishlist. Iain M. Banks' A Few Notes on the Culture:
In the midst of this, the average Culture person - human or machine - knows that they are lucky to be where they are when they are. Part of their education, both initially and continually, comprises the understanding that beings less fortunate - though no less intellectually or morally worthy - than themselves have suffered and, elsewhere, are still suffering. For the Culture to continue without terminal decadence, the point needs to be made, regularly, that its easy hedonism is not some ground-state of nature, but something desirable, assiduously worked for in the past, not necessarily easily attained, and requiring appreciation and maintenance both in the present and the future.
There are actually more than a "few" notes on the Culture in that essay, but nothing compares to reading the actual books.

Who said cyberpunk never happened: In 1989 Oldsmobile introduced a touch screen CRT monitor to its Toronado Troféo luxury coupe. For a mere $1295 (that's just shy of $2400 in 2015 dollars) you could get this most cyberpunk of accoutrements. A cellular car phone was also an option. I'm pretty sure the bad guys in this Shadowrun core book cover are driving a 20XX Troféo.

Meanwhile, Toyota boldly embraces ultra-whiteness in this 2010 promotional video for the Sienna van... also known (by nobody) as the SWAGGER WAGON. Maybe we should have called this "mediocore."

A man experiences the terror of bleeding from his "down there":
You see, I had a super fun invasive butt surgery (a fistulectomy if you’re super curious), and the doctor instructed me to use maxi-pads to both help care for the incision and to save my clothes from certain ruin.

Of course, prideful me whooped and hollered that I could do no such thing; I’m a man, dang it, and I will simply will the blood and drainage away with my mental grit. Ain’t no maxi-pad gonna be in these $26 fancy drawers of mine with their fancy built in front-junk-pouch. These underwear are masculine and they will stay that way.

“Man up,” he told me. “Use the pads. Nobody will know anyway.”

I gave him a death stare. I Gollum-whispered. “I’ll know, doc. I’ll know.”
Strong evidence against a benevolent God, I reckon. Also, for those who have to deal with something like this every month for what, three or four decades of their lives? I have no words. Read more here.


I dunno what's more shameful, this power-tripping Warrior Cop in a Texas suburb, or the why-is-it-even-surprising-anymore mad scramble among the right wing to excuse his behavior and blame the young, trunks-or-bikini-clad black teenagers enjoying the cop's knee in their backs or gun in their faces. Fortunately, the cop has since resigned, in an undeniable victory for public sousveillance (looking from below). See also A Former Cop On What Went Wrong In McKinney.

In more light-hearted policing news, Drunk Pennsylvania Man Sets Up Fake DUI Checkpoint, Is Promptly Arrested. "When real troopers arrived, police say Shaulis tried to hand a BB pistol to the car's passenger and said, 'I can't get caught with this.'"

One of the rare Slate Star Codex posts that I find myself in vehement opposition to by the end of it: Against Tulip Subsidies. "(yes, it is nice to have college for non-economic reasons too, but let’s be honest – if there were no such institution as college, would you, totally for non-economic reasons, suggest the government pay poor people $100,000 to get a degree in Medieval History? Also, anything not related to job-getting can be done three times as quickly by just reading a book.)"  I'm all for de-emphasizing the "you must go to college immediately after high school" norm but I also really liked college, specifically because I learned things that I might not have considered learning a priori. Literature is a huge one.

This article seemed polarizing. I personally think the woman is a selfish asshole: "Why Don't I Like My Own Child?" Note that some parents legitimately fail to form attachments. This woman apparently just really wanted her kid to be this longtime fantasy of The Perfect Child. I remain nonplussed.

Theme music(s) for the week:

Rick Perry hick-hop hit is latest Republican campaign theme song
Ted Cruz endorsed in song by a right-wing Christian rap group

Actual theme music for the week: What better way to honor the simultaneous anniversaries of D-Day and the formation of the modern Swedish state, than by rocking out to a song about the former by a band from the latter? Primo Victoria (Live at Woodstock Festival 2012) ~ Sabaton, or the extra cheesy a capella cover by primo rum-diddly-dum-dum band Van Canto.

(I firmly believe that even one Sabaton video will make up for the decidedly pessimistic slant—even accounting for the aggressive optimism of the Culture novels—of this first links post.)