Generative AI is for the idea guys

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When I started working in tech in the early 2010s I began running in to idea guys. Upon discovering I was a developer, they would get very excited and pitch me their big idea for an app/website/service to see what I thought.

After receiving a polite reaction they would often say something like: “I think it would do really well, if I could only figure out how to get it made”. Like the idea was the main thing that mattered, and the pesky task of actually building it was an insignificant little bump along the road to success. At this point I would usually tell them that ideas are worth nothing, until they are implemented.

This post is brilliant. Sometimes, I use generative AI like cardboard to prototype an idea.

Testing out an idea is the first step toward doing the countless hours of work needed to make an idea a real thing.

Since I don’t think I’ve said it on this blog yet: “Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything.”

(I also love Rachel’s footnote after the word “guys”, saying “it was literally always guys” 😂)

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Effective obfuscation

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Some have fallen into the trap of framing the so-called "AI debate" as a face-off between the effective altruists and the effective accelerationists. Despite the incredibly powerful and wealthy people who are either self-professed members of either camp, or whose ideologies align quite closely, it's important to remember that there are far more than two sides to this story.

Rather than embrace either of these regressive philosophies — both of which are better suited to indulging the wealthy in retroactively justifying their choices than to influencing any important decisionmaking — it would be better to look to the present and the realistic future, and the expertise of those who have been working to improve technology for the better of all rather than just for themselves and the few just like them.

That’s it, I’ll admit it: I’m a Molly White stan.

Effective altruism always felt wrong to me, but leave it to Molly to explain those abstract feelings in such clear and well considered terms.

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Why I pay myself first - with my time

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We've all heard the personal finance advice popularised by Robert Kiyosaki: "Pay yourself first."

I've never liked this advice. It rings hollow. It feels selfish.

When you run a business, you don't pay yourself first. No, you have an obligation to pay your taxes first. To pay your employees second. Your vendors and suppliers third. And yourself? Dead last. This is how business works in the real world. Personal greed is a poor substitute for personal responsibility.

As an individual, yes, I find the “pay yourself first” mantra to work well for me.

As a business owner, I feel gross paying myself. I feel like someone is always gonna come after me for more money.

Maybe this is why I’m not a great entrepreneur.

But maybe there's a kernel of wisdom in "pay yourself first" that we can apply - not to money, but something far more precious - to our time.

This feels like a way more fitting application of the axiom, and it’s certainly something I’ve been prioritizing these past few months.

Maybe this advice will help you, too.

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WeblogPoMo 2024 - Song 12: Crystal Castles - Untrust Us

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Many a term paper was written to Untrust Us.

Many lines of code were generated to Vanished.

Many long walks from home to class were accompanied by Magic Spells.

The first Crystal Castles album is a prime example of how I've consumed music for the majority of my life.

The indiscernible lyrics, the rhythmic blips and bloops, and the strong repetition provide a great outlet to keep my spiraling thoughts distracted long enough for me to get something else done.

I think distraction is a perfectly reasonable purpose for music to serve.

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A Plea for Sober AI

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Below all this hype, there’s a quiet revolution happening. I keep meeting new companies and seeing new products that make practical use of LLMs. They use them to solve narrow problems and prioritize consistency and efficiency over giant, all-singing, all-dancing models. I keep meeting people who are amplifying their capacity and abilities by handing simple, mundane tasks to AIs, which they then refine and improve. AI-assisted coding has been a boon for early-stage start ups, which are shipping products with a maturity and polish beyond their years.

This is the world of Sober AI.

Sober AI is an incredible concept.

There’s so much progress that people can make using this tool. While it might not be able to solve all our problems, knowing how to wield it is a superpower in this economy.

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WeblogPoMo 2024 - Song 11: B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, LL Cool J & Busta Rhymes – Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem)

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Space Jam was my favorite movie growing up.

I didn’t own it on VHS, so it was one of those movies where I would watch it whenever an opportunity presented itself.

My oldest cousin got me the Space Jam poster for my birthday one year. It was one of the best birthday presents I ever got.

I took that poster with me into every place I moved. My dad had a thing where I wasn’t allowed to use nails or push pins to hang things on the walls (“Think of the resale value!”), so pretty much everything in my room was held up by that two-sided tacky tape which, ironically, left huge grease stains on the wall.

This soundtrack was the very first CD I ever purchased1. I didn’t even own a CD player at the time I purchased it, so I had to wait until the house was empty so I could put it into the 5 disc changer we had in the living room.

At the time, I skipped the vast majority of songs on this album. Most of the songs on this album are hip hop and R&B, both being genres that my white, suburban self had exceptionally low exposure to.

I mostly skipped around to the same songs I’d hear on Radio AAHS: Fly Like An Eagle, I Believe I Can Fly, Space Jam, and Buggin’.

Over time, I found myself gravitating toward the non-kid radio songs. The most compelling of those is Hit ‘em High (The Monstars Anthem).

Here, you’ve got five of the biggest names in hip hop collaborating on a song for the heels of the movie, and it goes hard.

To this day, this song is what I play when I’m driving my kids up to their track meets.2

(If this song isn’t your jam, might I recommend Coolio’s The Winner? I hadn’t really listened to the lyrics to this song before, but given all my mental health struggles in the past few months, I think it appeared at the perfect moment for me. The song is impressively positive and reaffirming.)

  1. I know I’ve mentioned that on here before, but I wanna be crystal clear in case someone is trying to steal my identity down the road. 

  2. I’m writing this post at my desk in the kitchen and playing this song to help spark memories. My daughter just walked in the house, heard the song, and started rapping along with Coolio’s part. I think I’m nailing this parenting thing. 

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Non-Euclidean Doom: what happens to a game when pi is not 3.14159…

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Once again, I’m amazed and terrified at how good YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is, because this is my kind of content.

I’m sure most of you non-nerds who read my blog will pass over this (as you maybe should), but I thought it was neat to see what happens to the physics of a game when π doesn’t equal 3.1415926535.

Fun fact: I didn’t know that Doom’s creator misremembered the tenth decimal of π when coding the game. I suppose it’s easy to forget that it’s only pretty recent in human history where we have instant, accurate recall to that sort of detail.

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Solar Storm Knocks Out Farmers' Tractor GPS Systems During Peak Planting Season

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The solar storm that brought the aurora borealis to large parts of the United States this weekend also broke critical GPS and precision farming functionality in tractors and agricultural equipment during a critical point of the planting season, 404 Media has learned. These outages caused many farmers to fully stop their planting operations for the moment.

This is a big deal, but like many technical things that are a big deal, you’re not gonna hear about it until people start blaming politicians for it around November.

It’s obvious that we need to keep coming up with innovations to combat the threats associated with manmade climate change, but it only takes one major solar storm to knock out major satelite and communication infrastructure.

This seems like an area in which we collectively should be paying attention to and investing in… but fighting culture wars is way more productive.

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WeblogPoMo 2024 - Song 10: Michael Jackson - Man In The Mirror

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I’m working through a blog post right now that discusses the properties of the perfect karaoke song.

Man in the Mirror is my go-to choice for karaoke night. I love singing Michael Jackson, but MJ is a risky karaoke choice. I’ve tried nearly all of his songs, and most of them are extremely conditional bangers.

A song like Earth Song can bring the house down if you are able to throw your entire voice into it, but it can also fall completely flat if you don’t have a crowd that’ll interact with a ballad1.

A song like Will You Be There suffers from a recognizibility problem. Part of a good karaoke song is getting the crowd to sing along. People might recognize a song like Will You Be There if they grew up watching Free Willy, but almost nobody knows the lyrics or melody well enough to join in.

A song like Billie Jean has the recognizability, but it contains a lot of repetition towards the end. Repetition is a surefire characteristic of a bad karaoke song. Nobody wants to hear someone sing the same thing over and over again for two straight minutes. It’s a crowd killer.

Man In The Mirror, though?

Here’s a song that starts out with a lot of classic MJ “chee hee” action, then gives you a chance to warm up with something in a good range, then continues to build with more of those MJ vocal fillers, a killer key change, and ample opportunity for crowd participation.

It took years of weekly karaoke sessions to figure out what songs fit me best. Man in the Mirror offers plenty of fun Michael Jackson vocal action, the song is catchy and instantly recognizable, it’s in a pretty high range so it takes a little skill and practice to make it sound good, and most importantly, it makes me happy every time I sing it.

  1. These crowds are some of the rarest, and are usually packed with karaoke regulars who are engaged and encouraging of others. If you’re in one of these crowds, you’re well on your way to experiencing the perfect karaoke night. 

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What If Money Expired?

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For most of us today, money is assurance. We live in a culture in which the pursuit of security is paramount. Save money, we are told — for a health crisis, for our kids to go to college, for retirement. But is it possible to have any guarantee, through money or anything else, of our safety in life?

This article explores the idea of money automatically losing value unless you continue to pay tax on it.

For example, let’s say you earn a hundred dollar bill. Every week, you’re required to buy a stamp from the government which lets that bill maintain its full value. Otherwise, come next week, your $100 becomes a $99.90 bill.

This encourages you to spend your money rather than hoard it. It incentivizes earning money through work rather than loaning your money out and earning it through collecting interest.

This feels like a weird concept until you sit back and reflect on what money means to you right now. Money makes me feel more anxious than any other abstract concept because the threats associated without having it feel so dire.

In her new book “The Age of Insecurity,” the activist Astra Taylor writes: “Today, many of the ways we try to make ourselves and our societies more secure — money, property, possessions, police, the military — have paradoxical effects, undermining the very security we seek and accelerating the harm done to the economy, the climate and people’s lives, including our own.”

Astra Taylor, it turns out, is married to Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel.

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