The Relentless Monetization of Everything

April 12, 2024

I think the framing of everything as a Means of Monetization™ has killed a lot of the excitement and optimism that we used to feel back in the PC decades. It’s no longer sufficient to produce software and hardware for their own utility; you must also sell some subscription or disruptive network-effect technology behind it. You can’t make a living by filling a niche need any more; you must also conduct arbitrage.

The relentless monetization of everything means you can’t make a living just selling software or hardware any more; you must eventually sell a service. Not everything should be sold as a service (I’m looking at you, video games), and not everyone wants to run a service business. Unless you are already wealthy and can afford to give your work away for free (e.g. open source), there’s really not many viable ways to be rewarded for honing your computer arts these days.

Is there a market for non-monetized, well-crafted products? Yes. But that market is shrinking, and increasingly focused on the wealthy.

Only the wealthy can afford to pay artisans to create small-batch products that do nothing but what they claim to do, without constant subscriptions, upsells, nags, and arbitrage. Turns out, people actually like products that don’t try to constantly show ads, but only few can afford them any more, thanks to our current product culture.

You can still make artisanal hardware and software. But they’ll probably go into some billionaire’s home entertainment system or private jet.

Bet on human trust

March 3, 2024

Techbros will keep attempting to invent ways for people to exchange information without relying on a network of human trust, and again and again, human trust will prove to be an essential part of a functioning system.

Systems that mainly attempt to replace human trust always work great until they don’t, then you fall off a lonely cliff from which no one can help you out.

Never bet against a network built on human trust and a shared sense of personal reputation, because that’s where all human collaboration eventually gets done, and because that’s where every hare-brained “don’t trust humans” network will eventually end up, lest they perish.

A ranking system for vanity plate inscrutability

February 3, 2024

I propose these levels of understandability for (California1) vanity license plates, from most inscrutable to most understandable:

(Most inscrutable)

  1. Physical comedy, where you have to manipulate the plate to get it: X32TTU8 (read it in a mirror), 3SI73 (flip over to read ELISE), BLONDE mounted upside-down.
  2. Inside jokes. Only 4 people will get it: N4BLOOP. What the hell does it even mean?
    • 2.a. Uncommon language plates. I think this one is a subcategory of Inside Jokes because most people have no idea what they mean.
  3. Topical memes for the Chronically Online: COVFEFE, SKIBIDI.
  4. Nerd references: NCC1701, GANDALF, FFFF00 on a yellow car.
  5. Car People Things That Only Car People Get: 997C2S, RMR6MT.
  6. Car People Things That Non Car People Get: GO2FAST, REVVIT.
  7. Major sports teams: 40NINRS, KCHIEFS.
  8. Description of car ownership: WIFEYV8 or BOBSLEX.
  9. Names and nicknames: SLAPPY,JIMBOB.
  10. Nouns: 3LATTES, SHIHTZU.
  11. Common phrases: BRUHH, OHWOW, LOLOMG.

(Most understandable)

Did I miss anything?

PS: I think EV jokes like GIGWATT, LOLOIL, HIGHI2R belong to Car People Things that Only Car People Get. It was suggested that Tesla plates should get their own tier, but I think they belong on an axis of insufferability that is orthogonal to this ranking system.

PPS: There are two other orthogonal axes that exist for vanity plates. The first is getting it which is how well the plate combines with the car in a satisfying way, and the other is insufferability which is how insufferable the car owner looks because of the plate. A plate that says IMRICH on an old beater is funny and not insufferable, but the same plate on a million-dollar car is not funny and very insufferable.

  1. This ranking is based on my experience with California license plates. For what it’s worth, California license plates are typically limited to seven alphanumeric characters, and maybe a space or half-space if it fits. 

Always be making

January 13, 2024

Magnetic domains in a ferromagnetic material aligned by an external magnetic field

By MikeRun - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

I like to think of myself as a maker. I like to learn skills and construct things. But all too often, I get so discouraged by my daily busyness that I forget to want to make something. When I get an unexpected stretch of discretionary time, I sometimes don’t know what to do with it: I spend it doing random chores, playing games, or just resting—all very good things to do—but I leave a lot of potential on the table.

We often complain we don’t have time to do what we want. But the truth is, even the busiest adult has some time at their discretion; it just comes in tinier chunks. An hour here, 15 minutes there… but taken together, it adds up to a lot. The question is: when one of these precious opportunities falls in your lap, would you know what to do with it?

Read more…

Thoughts on generative AI and responsibility

January 8, 2024

Here’s an illustration of a rudimentary mental model that I use when thinking about advances in computing tools.

x-y graph. The x-axis is “resources” and the y-axis is “skill”. Concentric circles are drawn about the origin in the positive quadrant. The closest to the origin is labeled “Anyone can do it”. The next is labeled “Experts only”, and the last is labeled “Impractical”. A red line shows a dot moving from “Experts only” to “Anyone can do it”.

Computers are already (essentially) Turing-complete, so anything that can be done can in theory already be done using any existing technology. But what these leaps do is that they bring down the skill and resources needed to accomplish a certain task. The red arrow in the image is what such a leap does.

Generative AI is such a leap. The red dot represents not only something genuinely useful that people used to have to learn a skill or pay someone to do, but can now do with ease (removing a distracting object from a photograph), but also vectors of abuse that similarly gain the same level of ease (crafting misinformation, generating fake revenge porn). With every leap, thousands of these red dots move toward the origin, some good for humanity, and others bad.

Read more…

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