Steve Roy

I don’t care much about the AI bandwagon, but I do strongly believe that calling what we have now artificial intelligence is a great exaggeration. We are nowhere near sentient, let alone thinking, machines. All we have is an incremental improvement in automation. We won’t be able to use it appropriately until we see it for what it really is.

Good interview with Meredith Whittaker. In my view, tech is in the process of cementing our biases and flaws. Once anything has gotten through the LLM and AI process, it’s deemed true and accurate. It’s money laundering for data.

These algorithms are trained on data that reflects not the world, but the internet – which is worse, arguably. That is going to encode the historical and present-day histories of marginalisation, inequality etc.

It struck me today that capitalism is something we have to survive. Because if we don’t work and spend most of our waking time making money to put food on the table, we will be on the street and die.

Whereas climate is the other big one we have to survive. But most of us spend virtually zero of our time and energy on the problem, largely because the levers of power to the solutions are not within our reach.

We would love to help the revolution so the human race can survive the climate, but we’re all too busy trying to survive capitalism.

Climate vs capitalism is the ultimate battle and contradiction.

It’s easy to forget now, but before 3 years ago, finding remote work was very difficult. I should know, I’ve worked remotely 75% of the years since the 90’s but I was lucky. Or stubborn. Or both.

Nowadays I love that job postings almost always specify whether it’s onsite or remote. And in software, remote seems to be the default. What’s not to like if they get a larger pool of applicants and lower office costs.

In my continuing quest to be self-reliant after dropping Feedly, today I installed FreshRSS on my domain!

Install and configuration was actually pretty easy, thanks to the browser-based install UI.

I’ll experiment with this for a few days and see how it goes.

Since I dropped Feedly, I had been using iCloud Syncing from within Reeder. However I found it too slow and too battery intensive because Reeder essentially had to fetch from each of my hundreds of feeds. I’m excited to go back to a backend aggregator, one that I host and control.

I cannot stop thinking about this video of the timeline of the universe. And with that perspective in mind, how ridiculous it seems to think of Putin’s war, Alberta’s oil obsession, the U.S. debt ceiling, the AI bandwagon, and so many other pursuits that mean nothing other than hasten our own demise.

We don’t lose when the human race disappears. We lose every day when we don’t cherish and respect the very gift of our existence within the vastness and perpetuity of the universe.

We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.

– Carl Sagan

Two unrelated posts I read today converged to absolute meaningfulness.

On a 6.9 km long timeline of the universe, modern humanity, all of art and knowledge and religion and discoveries and society and love and you and me, all of that fits in the last few centimetres.

All of that, and capitalism.

All of that fitting on a minuscule speck called Earth. So little time and so little space, and yet capitalism assumes, no, demands infinite growth.

Infinite growth. On a tiny speck.

It’s just not possible.

For design work, it seems like all I hear is “Figma this” and “Figma that”. I’ve tried getting used to Figma and Penpot, but you know, my go-to is still Sketch.

I hadn’t visited their web site in a while and I’m impressed. They’re doing a good job telling and showing why Sketch is great. It’s still the best in my opinion and am putting this bit out there to do my part talking about it! ✍🏻

I was looking up Yoko Tsuno, which I was a big fan of as a teen, and am gladly surprised that the English Wikipedia entry has a description that neatly explains what I loved so much about it.

Despite the often exotic settings and science-fiction plot lines, the stories generally remain realistic on the personal level between the characters and friendship, love and spirituality are some of the key themes of the series.

Apologies for the bit of self-promotion, but last April marked 5 years since I started hosting my social posts on my own site. 🎉

Five years later I’m still as happy with this decision as I was then. I post to my site, and it gets cross-posted to social media. Today that means Mastodon. Eventually it may mean something else. But no matter what, steveroy.ca will always be the source of truth.

Before anyone asks, I don’t cross-post blindly and I interact with people where they respond.

I was in a conversation about phone cases today. I miss phone designs that didn’t require a case.

I would argue that, today, we have to use a case because most phones are not easily grippable without one. My iPhone and my Pixel are nice but, without a case, I find that picking them up from a table requires too much dexterity. What I often do is use two hands.

The Nexus 5 is one of my favourite phones ever, in large part because it was light, had great grip, and I didn’t need a case.

What is wrong with Bettman? It’s clear the people in Arizona don’t care about the Coyotes. It’s been going on for a decade. Why the insistence on keeping them there? Meanwhile in Canada there are cities full of hockey-crazy Canadians who built arenas that are just waiting to get an NHL team. Thirty year-olds in Canada have never seen the Cup of their national sport being paraded in any Canadian city. That’s a whole generation. The damage Bettman has done is immense.

30 years without a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup. That’s the legacy of the Bettman era.

22% of NHL teams are in Canada so, mathematically, we could expect to see a Canadian team win every five years on average. But obviously the proof is in the pudding: the Bettman era has stacked the deck against Canadian teams.

The NHL is too pricey, too big, too showy, too American. We produce enough players; I would welcome a Canada-only Pro league, WHA-style.

I just came up on this quote from Bjarne Stroustrup:

Design and programming are human activities; forget that and all is lost.

Generative AI is not what he had in mind, but it’s interesting to see this quote in this day and age. And I do agree with the general sentiment. Software development is creative work, and it’s not something we emphasize enough.

One question that comes up in social conversation now is: “my phone/computer did x, is that AI?”

The answer I always want to give is, it depends how you define AI. Artificial intelligence is not a hard line in the sand, it’s a slow evolution. For a long time we’ve had machines doing things that no human could ever match. Think Photoshop, Google, or Siri. Does ChatGPT sounding more convincingly human make it AI?

It’s still not imaginative, sentient, or able to think on its own. In my view, calling it artificial intelligence is doing ourselves a disservice.

I’ve been noticing a worrisome trend in programming advice where people increasingly give full samples of code and walkthroughs instead of just the short explanation or the specific lines of code needed to address the topic.

That’s on blogs and YouTube, but also on StackOverflow. It feels like people either don’t understand what it is in their solution that produces the result, or they are more interested in building their brand than being genuinely helpful.

I was talking with a friend about Basecamp today. I’ve never had the chance to use it professionally other than the free trial. But I was reminded of this excellent walkthrough that Jason Fried did three years ago. Everything in one place? Yes please.

I went to use Apache on my Mac but it kept dying on launch. It took me a while to find it was due to the LoadModule directive for PHP. Commented it out and it ran, albeit with no PHP.

The problem was that PHP is no longer built-in on macOS so my httpd.config was pointing to Homebrew’s php@8.1 which I’d since updated it to 8.2, so the path was no good and Apache no likey.

The solution was to update the path and do the codesign dance again.

I worry about the need or effectiveness of violent climate action too:

Our demands are – and have to be – more complex than any that have gone before. While I believe that taking out pipelines, refineries, abattoirs, coal plants and SUVs is morally justified, do we really imagine we can bring down the Earth-eating machine this way? Can we really hope that government, industry, oligarchs and those they employ or influence will conclude, “Because we cannot tolerate the sabotage, we will surrender the economic system?” If you are holding a virtual gun to someone’s head, you need to know exactly what you are demanding and whether they can deliver it.

Yesterday was my last day at Coursera. After work I took my dog out for a walk. We had beautiful misty sun showers producing a rainbow; a perfect atmosphere symbolizing the sadness of the end and the hope of a new beginning.

Starting to Write a New Chapter

It’s been an emotional week for me as I announced my departure to the Mobile team at Coursera.

It’s a small team but we do so much. Everything learners can do on coursera.org, they want to do on their mobile device, and it all goes through this team. I’m lucky to have worked with these lovely and talented people. And I’m humbled by the gratitude they expressed toward me this week. As much as I was Tech Lead, they are the ones who made me look good. I merely supported them in organizing and focusing their talent.

I’m glad I got to make significant contributions to both the iOS and Android apps. I used to expect it in the earlier days of mobile. But that’s something that has gotten progressively harder to come by. Nowadays, virtual nobody ever hopes to find a hybrid developer.

While I wrap things up and do my best to leave my team in a good place, it’s time for me to start looking at what I’ll be doing next. Not knowing is stressful, but strangely it feels like a familiar place. I’ve been here before from the many years I spent freelancing. I’m feeling open to ideas. More than anything I’d love to work on a climate friendly initiative. Going back to freelancing? Maybe. Sticking with employment? Depends what’s out there.

So let’s see what this next chapter of my life has in store. Hopefully one day I’ll reflect on this decision and realize that it was just part of the grander scheme.

Canada’s privacy commissioner announced an investigation of OpenAI and I agree with this take:

“You might say, ‘Oh, maybe it feels a bit heavy handed.’ On the other hand, a company decided that it was just going to drop this technology onto the world and let everybody deal with the consequences. So that doesn’t feel very responsible as well.”

In the wake of the Feedly protest-tracking controversy, I’m thinking that dropping them fits perfectly with my independent stance. After all, I stopped using many companies I disagreed with like Amazon, Facebook, and of course Twitter already five years ago.

I only used Feedly as a backend anyway. So I exported my feeds from Feedly to OPML and imported them directly into Reeder. It is slower because Reeder now has to fetch each feed individually, but let’s see how that goes.

So for about 4 weeks I’ve been surfing the web using private mode in Safari. That means no history and no cookies retained. That’s been fine, actually, and I haven’t received any funny emails after running a web search or visiting a web site.

The only downside so far is that CBC.ca does not automatically detect that my IP address is NOT, in fact, in Ottawa.

So pick your poison: IP geolocation or cookie tracking?

Some time around 1992, Discover Magazine published a piece about the EV1 from General Motors. Reading about the tech behind it, it made so much sense. It only took 25 more years for me to get an EV.

I’ve been driving a dinky little Nissan Leaf first-generation for over 5 years now and I still marvel every time I hop on. It doesn’t look like much but it’s quiet, has good tork, and feels more luxurious to drive than it has any right to.

We recently passed the 100,000 km mark. Glad I have it!

Penises are not OK. But guns? Sure that’s fine.

Never mind that the penis in question is made of stone, hangs on a 500 year-old celebrated piece of art, and that nudity has been a central theme in the arts from all cultures for thousands of years.

These are the things that make me think the level of intelligence and conscience humans have achieved in the 21st century is too dangerous when it can be wielded to justify just about any nonsense.

Or more succinctly: what planet am I on?

Maybe it’s just me, but Ontario wants to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 to help the housing market and all I can see is that it’s adding fuel to the fire. More homes without more regulation won’t make prices come down, it will perpetuate the problem. Crack down on house flippers and foreign buyers instead who use housing to make a buck at the expense of regular people who need a place to live.

There’s this really annoying autocorrect bug that I think started in iOS 16: Typing “love” in Messages always gets changed to “live”. Sure there is a certain poetry to it but still, “I live you” is usually not quite what I mean.

I figured out that it’s because I have “Love” in my contacts as my wife’s nickname. Removed it and it stops. But really, removing it is a non-starter so I’ll have to keep living with the bug until Apple fixes it. 🤞🏻

I love Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car à la McSweeney’s. 😄

This car is your ticket to anywhere. Just cruising in it feels like you’re entertaining yourself. It speeds so fast it feels like you’re drunk. Which, let’s be honest, is not recommended. I don’t want to feel like I’m drunk or buzzed while I’m driving; I want to feel safe and secure and, hopefully, get good gas mileage. I’m thinking maybe a Hyundai Kona or a Mazda CX-30.