Something's going on, I'm here to pick at it.

Has the Singularity Happened Already? And Is Life Already Sucking Because Of It?

March 3, 2013
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First, let’s look at a blog from mini.quietbabylon.com:

One of my favourite recurring tropes of AI speculation/singulatarian deep time thinking is mediations on how an evil AI or similar might destroy us.

Here’s a recent example, Ross Anderson on human extinction as quoted/linked by Kottke. It’s a discussion about how a benign AI might be poorly designed and lead to our downfall. What happens is the AI is given a goal that is proximate to helping people but not identical to (because no one even knows what that means).

The scenario imagined is one where there is a button that humans push if the AI gets an answer right and the AI wants to get a lot of button presses, and eventually it realizes that the best way to get button presses is to kill all the humans and institute a rapid fire button-pressing regime. (This, by the way, is the same instrumentalist train of logic that leads to sexbots.)

You would have this thing that behaves really well, until it has enough power to create a technology that gives it a decisive advantage — and then it would take that advantage and start doing what it wants to in the world.

And all I can think is: we already have one of those. It is pretty clear to anyone who’s paying attention that 1. a marketplace regime of firms dedicated to maximizing profit has—broadly speaking—added a lot of value to the world 2. there are a lot of important cases where corporate profit maximization causes harm to humans 3. corporations are—broadly speaking—really good at ensuring that their needs are met.

I don’t think that it’s all that far fetched to suggest that maybe they’re getting better and better at ensuring their needs are met. Pretty much the only thing that the left and right in America can agree on is that moneyed influence has corrupted American politics and yet neither side seems able to do much of anything about it.

What if the private pursuit of profit was—for a long time—proximate to improving the lot of humans but not identical to it? What if capitalism has gone feral, and started making moves that are obviously insane, but also inevitable?

For a very long time, the AI dedicated to maximizing profit saw the path forwards through innovation, new products, better living for customers. But then at some point it realized that is had the ability to just reshape the planet in its image. So it did that instead.

Imagine these thoughts—hastily thrown together to make a point about the devil we fear, vs the one we face—accompanied by about a million caveats having to do with long histories of systemic racism/sexism/colonialism and many other important isms that make making claims about the relative benefits to humans from the private pursuit of profit very difficult and likely to fall apart under careful scrutiny.

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So, how can corporations be seen as AI, and an evil form of that? And how can they be seen as working for the good of the people…until they grow their own brain, and don’t?

Consider the issue of Wal-Mart.

Through the Seventies, Eighties and part of the Nineties – during which Sam Walton was still controlling the company – Wal-Mart was a mix of things, but in the balance a good thing. They may have destroyed a lot of downtowns in the South and the Plains states, but they also made sure the factories that produced the stuff were in the United States (heck, they even advertised it). Also, while a lot of the downtowns were destroyed, one could make the point that the consumers were getting a benefit in the form of everything they could have wanted within reach. One can see this with the sudden rise of Country Music from a steady format with a strong fan base (if a bit low on sales) to the massive amount of sales during the nineties, to the point where stations kept trying to become country without success (one of the more entertaining versions was in Lansing, where the Top 40 station suddenly turned Country, only to be beat at its own game by a station with half the range and even less reach).

Then two things happened:

  1. Sam Walton Died
  2. NAFTA and the deal with China

Suddenly you no longer saw “Made In The USA” (how true that may have been was open to debate, but there was enough “Made in USA” products in their stores for them to advertise it as true), but instead “Lower Prices.” Suddenly all the clothing worn in the USA came from China (which is why I can’t blame the South for voting full-on Republican – Clinton the Democrat made it so that the South lost its industries first) – and Wal-Mart benefitted, using its excess profits to expand into new areas and kill off even more downtowns.

Wal-Mart even started killing off other corporations that wouldn’t follow its “Make your stuff in China and make it cheaper still” dictates. Rubbermaid, Huffy, Vlasic and many others prospered under its umbrella of protected markets, only to find their margins gleefully butchered for the sake of the umbrella company. Rubbermaid and Vlasic eventually disappeared into Bankrupture, Huffy sold off its good bikes to its competitors and is now known as the maker of crap bicycles.

And the stuff that couldn’t, in good stead, be imported? Other dictates were given. Many places had to build crates in such a way that the Wal-Mart corporation wouldn’t have to do any of the sorting of the products.

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So, what does walmart* (the present name of that corporation) have to do with dystopian singularity? Simple: imagine that the “Artificial Intelligence” starts figuring things out. It should be able to see that there may be ways to game the system so that it benefits instead of the humans that run it. And if it can do so subtly, it can have the humans working to the support of the AI, to the point that the AI becomes the masters and the humans supporting it its slaves.

Basically, a corporation is built with the idea of doing its own thing and benefitting the people around them (defined as the population at large, but actually being the owners of the corporation first, its employees as a distant second and MAYBE the customers if it makes sense). The corporation runs in a controlled way (usually with a specific leader) and its good leads to the good of the customers, employees and owners… and in that order.

However, when a corporation grows big enough to be able to control a market, things change. It begins to change the environment to fit in with its own benefit. And it begins to change the people within it to benefit itself…starting at the top, so that the owners and those who work directly for them benefit (the corporation can’t yet benefit by itself, so even then it must give its goods to the people who benefit it the most, i.e. the CxOs and the owners; but be sure that if it could benefit by itself it would.).

So the corporations start acting in seemingly irrational ways. Irrational to the greater part of the people, but rational enough to those who benefit – both personal and corporate.

It even extends to those forces supposed to control it. What was originally a minority opinion piece becomes the center part of legal decisions by the Supreme Court (personhood of corporations, taken to its defining extreme to mean personhood becomes to corporations and NOT to human beings). Structures set up to regulate Corporations eventually beg for the Corporations to run them (the folks looking over our food). And laws are set up with Corporations in mind, even those laws obstinately made with humans in mind (RomneyCare 2.0, known as Obamacare).

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

And if you think of Corporations as Artifical Actors with a mind of their own, then you have a malevolent form of AI coming to take over things. After all, a Corporation has to act so as to survive…and if there’s not one known person in definite control of things, it becomes its own master.

The thing is, people tend to react against self-determining corporations. If we see a human face on the top we’ll forgive it a thousand trespasses because we know what is on top, remove the face and the first trespass becomes the unforgivable sin.

As an example, look at Apple Corporation. As long as Steve Jobs was around everything was workable. They could make crappy computers but they were forgiven because you knew they were working at making better items (and they did). Their iPhones may have been flawed but that was forgiven because we knew what the flaw was meant to do and that Steve would make sure it was fixed (and it was). Remove Steve Jobs, and you get an iMaps program that didn’t work out of the shoot…and thus was forever tarred by it (never mind that I’ve never had an issue with it that I couldn’t work around, and that there’s stuff that GoogleMaps STILL doesn’t do). and from the iMaps introduction fiasco, the name becomes tainted.

As for walmart*, it’s questionable at this moment whether they’ll be made to pay for their sins. After all, they supported Romneycare 2.0/Obamacare because they saw that many larger corporations would come to see the wisdom of treating their hourly workers as badly as walmart* has always done. Why improve, after all, when everyone else treats their workers like shit as well?

Will they improve? Maybe…but I don’t see it at the moment. Old habits die hard. Having changed a few habits of my own, I know…imagine a corporation that has grown fat off them.


So…Who Cares About Chicago’s Free Papers Anymore?

February 28, 2013
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A few weeks ago I got me a few of the “weekly” papers in Chicago and noticed a couple of changes:

1) The New City has become a biweekly. They seemed able to hold out against the winds of the new economy for a long time (although I believe they had once been rectangular and now are square), this seems like a last line of defense against the inevitable.

2) I found three weeks of Onions in an Onion box. The two non-current Onion papers were neatly folded up, as if someone might want them later on.

And since then I haven’t particularly cared about getting the Chicago freebie papers. I still get them whenever I can, but “whenever I can” has been redefined to me having to have enough free time to justify it – I’m not going to go out of my way to pick up consistently thinner papers, especially when it appears that other people seem to no longer care about them either.

I’m pretty sure that The Reader will still find a space – even as an upscale weekly version of the doomed Red Storm, and the Chicago Weekly/New City will keep on finding interesting things to write about as it winds its way down to disappearing from Chicago streets. But the Onion…it seems that people no longer want to deal with a paper that has grown so thin as to be almost nonexistent.

It’s not like the early seventies, when Readers could afford to be four pages and would be devoured so quickly that you had to skip work to get your copy. We remember what we had before, so when things get too thin we’re likely to turn our backs.

And so where I’m at at the moment. If I can get some newspapers from Chicago, I will…I’m just not going to work at it so much anymore. It’s not worth the effort anymore.


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Guns….

January 13, 2013
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I find it rather interesting that there’s suddenly so much debate on Gun Control, when people seem to be going out of their way to forget stuff. Founding Fathers quotes get thrown around as if they had everything figured out back then and we’ve only grown stupider since then (Rich Men as Gods? Who’d’ve thunk it?), criminals are posited as the sole source of wisdom, even if in reaction to them, and now I’m getting inundated with comments about SSRIs, The Media and of Conspiracy Theories.

First, let’s go over what’s happened:

  1. In Mid December the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the remaining State law in the United States banning “Conceal-and-Carry,” the freedom to carry armed guns around outside one’s home. This made “Conceal-and-Carry” the law of the land.
  2. Before this happened, there had been rumblings that the NRA wanted to make it illegal to ban guns from a house, church, school or hospital. Nothing major, of course (I’m sure the first thirty states to pass “Conceal-and-Carry” weren’t noticed), but one could already tell where they wanted to go next: Change the freedom to carry armed guns outside the home (freedoms being limited) to the RIGHT to carry armed guns wherever (rights being unlimited).
  3. Sandy Hook. Bad enough that there was a hurricane named “Sandy” that wreaked havoc in New York City and New Jersey – two Democratic states, the Republican Governor of New Jersey notwithstanding. Interesting that the right-wing conspiracy world blamed Obama with setting up something to fix the election when it seemed the path of the hurricane would have knocked out the Democratic Center of New York State (which could have turned NY Red in 2004, if my calculations are right).
  4. So now we have our debate: On the left, the need to limit “assault weapons” (Never mind that the 2nd Amendment was meant so that guns that kill PEOPLE are allowed into mainstream society. Nothing about sport, or hunting – it’s SOLELY about the ability to kill people. Hence the “Well Regulated Militia” reference – the government wanted to draw upon people who know what they were doing when it came to killing people), and on the right, the necessity of guns to be freely used on School, Hospital and Church grounds (thereby poisoning what remains of the public commons – why leave one’s house unless one has to if one feels unsafe when outside it?).

What do I expect from this? I expect the discussion over “controlling assault weapons” to go nowhere (except in keeping the pro-gun lobbies motivated and angry); and a year later you’ll start seeing states passing laws making it a FELONY to ban guns from hospitals, schools, churches and private residences. And while the Supreme Court refuses to revoke State Laws in support of gun-control regulations, they are also likely refuse to deem unconstitutional a law that makes it a FELONY to ban guns from hospitals, schools, churches and private residences. The Tenth Amendment will be used, however the only Amendment mentioned will be the Second Amendment – and that mention of that Amendment alone will end up changing many laws state-wise (thereby giving it the patina of public acceptance that is now given to Conceal-and Carry).

I say this because of a few things I’ve heard over the past few years:

  • When the Left talked about the legality of Health Care, they referenced three mandates from back in Washington’s day. Two of them, of course, had to do with health insurance of sailors, but the third one was a requirement that all free men of certain means had to arm themselves with heavy guns meant to kill people.
  • “The Trend Is Your Friend.” And since the trend over the past forty years has been for freer guns and more of them, I expect that the laws against banning their access to schools, hospitals, churches and private homes will pass. Not sure if the Brady Bill will be rescinded, but it may become moot anyway with a few more laws passed.
  • Who’s getting killed – Mostly Liberals, Leftists and their children. And as long as this low-level, undeclared war is going on, the Gun-lovers on the right will happily add more guns to the stew and give them more freedoms and rights.

And that’s all I have to say about it at the moment.


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Romney’s Economic Beliefs, in short and reworded two generations down.

November 4, 2012
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Robert Reich has put together that there is indeed a system to Romney’s beliefs that he has stayed true to in his campaign.

It actually makes a sort of sense, if you’re a believer in the Austrian/Chicago/Randian economic/political school that presently is the de facto law of the land. It’s interesting that, with all the people shouting about Rand (a novelist who started off from an anti-communism stance and went extreme in a quest for economic purity) it’s the Chicago School (and the Austrian school that probably gave the Chicago school its philosophical pinnings) that has had its effect on this nation.

Anyway, here’s my parboiling of Mitt Romney’s beliefs as sussed out by Mr.Robert Reich:

  1. Corporations are citizens, people are not.
  2. Corporations, being citizens, have full and complete rights over her workers.Workers, being people have no rights over corporations.
  3. Efficiency and Profits are the sole goal of corporations. Service to customers is but a means….
  4. There is no such thing as a negative effect of profit seeking. What people falsely imagine as negatives (pollution, unsafe products, unsafe working conditions, financial fraud, et al) are actually POSITIVE side effects.
  5. Money (the objective measure of the claim on future production based on past production) is the sole measure of a Corporation and a man. Nothing else has any measure on Corporations or men.
  6. Charity (money, goods and services given to the poor) is pure waste, destroying the items given with no positive effect on the givee. Offerings to the rich are always made good, even if there’s no trickle-down to the rest of the people.
  7. Government, being nonproductive (and indeed, incapable of being productive), is evil. Taxes is how government funds itself. Therefore taxes are evil, and the willingness to pay (or inability to avoid) them is the measure of a Corporation’s (and man’s) evilness.
  8. Politics is a Zero-sum game. You win in politics, you make the rules and affect the future. You lose, you are subjected to the rules both present and future. This stems from the historical reality of governance.
  9. An aristocracy made of men of wealth (preferably men made wealthy by their own efforts in their lifetime) are the only people who should be allowed the reigns of government. Having proved their worthiness by their service to their corporations (measured by their ability to gain money), only they deserve to give proper service to their nation as its leaders.
  10. Relationships can only be measured measured by objectively measured benefit to both sides (Family, Salvation and Money). All else is the enslavement of the good by the bad/evil.

I’m surprised that there’s no number 11 that states that eventually the state will die on its own (not drowned in the bathtub), as all its necessary uses are taken over by private for-profit (by necessity, since profit is the sole measure of usefulness – follows from #5) corporations. Maybe his strong belonging with the Mormon Religion keeps him from taking this step.


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One Year After The Death Of Steve Jobs, and Things Are Getting Clearer…

October 8, 2012
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It’s been a year after Steve Job’s Death, and things seem to be going gangbusters. With a collection of releases coming around in the fall, it seemed that everyone was waiting with baited breath at what Apple would come out with.

Leaks happened, of course. the iPhone 5 would be a bit taller, but no fatter. Same with the iPod Touch. The MacBook line would be fattened with Retina Displays. Some lines would be a bit delayed, but that meant they’d all have the most up-to-date inputs and chipsets. Plus, everything would be coming out at one time – the Apple line of computers/phones/music players would be all new in time for Christmas.

Of course, chinks were beginning to show up.

First, of course, were the delays. This almost didn’t happen before, but people didn’t question things. After all, better to get things right than to rush things.

Then came the issue with the Retina MacBook Pro being so tightly packed that one couldn’t repair it if it were to get into trouble. There was a bit of problem with a certain standard of replaceability of the parts, but the company seemed to skip past that problem.

Then…came the iPhone 5, with the iMaps program. A program with a reputation of being an absolute disaster – not fully undeserved, but not nearly as bad as people were ready to believe.

The thing is, there was insane greatness in the program. Whereas most maps (including Google) used multiple scales that one could notice whenever one pinched the map for a much tighter or wider view (try it. Go from a town view to a street view in a second on your smartphone – or the opposite direction. You’ll see either a fuzzy map that gets slowly better as the map gets downloaded, or the lines get VERY SMALL until a new map comes in with the streets either disappeared or resized to fit in with the scale.

With Apple iMaps, the roads rescale themselves as the scale changes. You can go from State to Region to Town to Block view and you’ll see roads pop into view, names fade in and fade out, and details come in as you get closer. The changes are pretty much seamless, with roads popping in when they fit – the more minor the road, the later they pop in and the later still they take up more than a line’s worth of space on the map. No fuzzy lines when you go from far to close, and no micro-roading when you go from close to far.

However, nobody noticed this insane greatness because everyone noticed the lack of detail, various inaccuracies in roads, the ugly way the 3D view handled bridges and isolated tall buildings, and just generally the fact that they went from the hyper-detail of Google Maps to the general detail of Just Another Map Program. That it was put out by Apple itself turned the release into an absolute disaster.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Of course, this wasn’t something that never happened before.

Two years before there was the iPhone 4, which promised new advances in technology and a sharp look to boot. The highlight was, of course, the two antennas on the outside of the phone, making for better reception and making the antennas part of the structure (and the insides a bit more spacious).

Soon after the phone got out into the public sphere, there was a major problem discovered: One could kill off reception by placing a finger at a certain point where the two antennas sit by each other but don’t touch.

We heard about it for a while. Apple gave out free bumpers so as to protect the antennae from the touch that would kill off reception. They also fixed the antenna display on the screen so that it showed a more linear (and larger) measure of reception. And in the end, I purchased my iPhone 4 with a joke about two million first adapters.

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So what’s different between then and now?

Steve Jobs.

He was around during the iPhone Antenna issue. He had given the reasons for the antenna setup, why they were moved outside the phone instead of keeping them inside, and how it helped the phone with both reception and in creating space within the phone. In short, he gave the reasons why, and people learned to accept it.

Were he around during the recent iMaps issue, he would have pointed out how the lines in the maps changed and expanded as you got closer to them. He would have shown you how details got better as you got closer, and how the 3d was supposed to work. He may have even come upon something that looked stupid, at which he would have uttered an apology for the faux pas, thereby laying in the expectation of an insanely great work that was still in progress.

Two years. Two different outcomes. One person – once around, now missing.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

There’s another way to look at it – one which should be familiar to the reader once it’s stated:

The Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field is no longer in effect.

It’s not so much that we can now crap “crap” (although for many, my brother Matt included, that is EXACTLY and SOLELY what it means). It means that one guy’s view of things Apple is no longer affecting how the rest of the world views things Apple. We’re now making our decisions on what we see, not on what Steve Jobs tells us to see (or imagine).

It also means that Apple is now just another company. A company that’s rich and fat with intellectual property that allows it to sue half the electronics world, but just another company nevertheless.

And the LAST time it was just another company it almost went under. Indeed, it was a wild gamble that brought Jobs back into the company, after him failing at his own computer company and having had some success making 3D cartoons. A gamble that worked for a long time…

Thing is, we’re back to those days.

Say what you will about the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field, but it put a sheen around the company – a sheen that Apple would come to live up to. When Steve Jobs wanted perfection, he would get it – and all imperfections ended up referring to the perfection Steve wanted and knew would come about.

The iPhone 4 would become the iPhone 4S, with the antenna issue fixed in a way that worked better than anyone else could have conceived. Maybe iMaps will come out the same way (like I said, there IS insane greatness in there, you just have to look), but now it will just be iMaps trying to become Google Maps, not iMaps reaching for perfection.

And that’s the bad side of the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field disappearing: We no longer  have an idea of what could be, just what is and its flaws. We don’t see the smooth translation between scenes, we just see that it’s so far from Google maps that it hurts to look at it.

No “what could (and should) be.” Just what is, and why it shouldn’t have been.

And it’s a loss.


Requiem For the Chicago Reader

October 4, 2012
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For me the story goes back to the mid-nineties. Yes, I know the actual story goes back to 1971, but the mid-nineties is where I first saw the paper – all four sections in proud newsprint.

As it happened, that was when the megabookstores (Borders and Barnes & Noble) were moving into Chicago and taking up massive spots in the middle of town, causing independent bookstores to close down all around them. And the Reader was busy reporting on every move made by both the megastores and the independents.

(They would end up getting ripped later on for ignoring the death of the record/CD store during the 2000s, but that’s another story.)

When I moved into town I started picking up The Reader whenever I made it into town (which was quite frequent once I discovered the poetry scene going on around me). I didn’t necessarily focus on the front page story (more likely I was to hunt down the comics up and down the cavernous classifieds section), but I often read it since it was often interesting.

By this time the internet was beginning to flex its muscles. Music stores started closing down all around, starting with the Chain stores and eventually hitting up the independents. Bookstores were feeling it as well, as Amazon.com made it easy to order whatever books you wanted, both cheaper and without sales tax (thereby thumbing it to two “the mans” at the same time, never mind that a new, bigger, more powerful “the man” was rising up). And Craigslist was starting to hit at the true profit-center of the newspaper – Classifieds.

At first, there was massive talk about the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times putting out daily microtabloids (Red Eye and Red Storm, respectively). The Sun-Times had the better microtabloid, but they gave up on that war, leaving the Tribune to continue giving the paper out for free.

Then the two major papers started bleeding red ink. Turns out both of them were under severe mismanagement during the ten years before they both declared bankruptcy, and plummeting classified sales were one of the drivers towards the bankruptcy and shrinkage of the papers.

This happened alongside the collapse of the daily newspaper throughout the United States. Papers grew slimmer, smaller, tackier, less well colored and less and less read.

Then it started affecting the Reader. At first, it was a drop-off from four sections to three, with a select shrinkage in the posting of in-town happenings (Poetry/Spoken Word listings were amongst the first to be dropped off the printed page). Then came the sale to a weeklies conglomerate – at the peak price, it turns out (the silent partner was finally right). Then all the in-depth reporters that were digging up stuff on Chicago on a regular basis were cast out from the paper. Finally, it was turned into a magazine-like format in one section, with the main paper on one side and the music section on the other.

Most recently, the paper was sold to the Chicago Sun-Times conglomerate. That news was confirmed by two things:

  1. The Sun Times box at a bottom corner of the Main part of the paper.
  2. “Kicking Ass Since 1971″ on the masthead.

Most telling is the “Kicking Ass Since 1971,” since it makes obvious what most of us have known: The Chicago Reader can no longer kick ass. Sure it can try to do some journalism, but its shrunken size betrays the weakened state the paper is in.

Sure, it’s nice to have an article on squirrels and everything about them, but there is something about a paper that was able to independently expose the dirty underbelly of Chicago. I’m not sure it can do that anymore, though I’m sure it will try.

Maybe we’ll know they’re back when they no longer need to talk about how they’ve been “Kicking Ass Since 1971.”


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Apple iOS Maps: an opinion.

September 22, 2012
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Having watched half of MacLand have a holy cow over the Apple Maps app in various iOS6 forums, I checked out the Mac Apps program earlier today. I have three different views on it:

(Note: this stands for the experience of one in the United States, looking at United States data and information. Elsewhere it seems the bad and ugly are MUCH GREATER and even seem to go out of their way to make themselves noticed.)

  • Good: The maps use vector graphics.
    Why this is good: You look at most digital map displays, they’re all bit-mapped boxes that expand up to a certain point, then are replaced by a map with streets redrawn in step with the scale. If you focus closer a bit quicker than you “should” or are in a place with slow access or bad reception you end up having large roads with fuzzy borders. What Apple is doing here is having a map that you can move in or out on without fuzzy roads or big empty spots outside where you were focused; instead you will be able to move in our out smoothly.
    And…? It’s pretty much a curio at this point; but it’s again symbolic of what Apple stands for: Thinking different. Instead of trying to change what by now has become the standard of digital maps (yellow background with varying widths of roads, locations and other bits of information on top – a standard started by MapQuest way back before Google jumped on the mapping wagon) they’re trying to make certain aspects of map usage smoother (changing views).
  • Bad: Quite a bit, actually. The maps are incomplete, if not woefully so.
    How bad can it be? Roads missing (or there if they’re not supposed to be), business sites misplaced (or wrongly placed), transit information badly missing, and just the level of detail that Google Maps has made us dependent on has suddenly disappeared. From what I’ve seen there’s the basic level of information, but the extra bits are missing as of right now.
  • Ugly: The 3D view is misbegotten. It can’t handle Bridges (it tends to drop them onto what it perceives as ground level, making for an ugly, bumpy-looking “road”) or Tall Buildings (squashes them and makes them look flatter than they are). As for the satellite images from which the “3D” views are made; there’s a lot of incomplete information being used for views, a bunch of cloudy views, a radical variety of photo sources (including black-and-white pictures) and lots of plain bad decisions on what shows up.

So: Why would Apple put out a half-assed effort like this?

My guess is that they had to do SOMETHING. With all the warring now going on between Apple and Google/Samsung, a lot of sharing that was going on between Apple and Google was stopped. Amongst the stuff no longer shared was YouTube and Google Maps – the first cut off by Google, the other cut off by Apple.

Apple allowed YouTube as there wasn’t much int he app store that did what YouTube did, but Maps was another story. Even if Apple Maps couldn’t do the job, there was MapQuest and Bing and a couple others. If there was nothing that did what Google did, there were enough companies out there doing maps well enough to make it.

So…hell be damned, iOS 6.0 was going without Google Maps…whether the people wanted or not…and whether the company wanted or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple wanted another year or two to work out kinks in their mapping program but had to go with what they had.

And don’t be mistaken – using vectors for roads and stuff makes for a pleasing experience. Much smoother, makes translating between wide-scale and neighborhood scale effortless. Given time, and that technology could make Maps the app of choice when the choice is between Apple Maps and Google Maps.

WHEN. Not Now.


Requiem For WTMX (101.9 FM)

August 27, 2012
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I remember when I first started heading to Chicago (to visit a friend who had moved there). I found the Alternative station at the time (101.1, WKQX) and tried listening to it for a while…but found myself turning up the dial a little bit to what I eventually would learn was 101.9 FM, WTMX. It was probably because of how they handled “alternative” music – WKQX handled it as a young, angry teenage/twentysomething male would, WTMX looked at things as if you had graduated from college, listened to the college station for much of that time and knew what you’d like to hear. Yes, WTMX skewered towards women, but they had to pay the bills through advertisements (unlike WDBM, the East Lansing College Station I listened to back home).

Eventually I moved to a location near Chicago and would come soon to take part in the life (and nightlife) of the place. My friend moved out VERY soon after (have never blamed him for doing that, but I would have liked to have done some stuff with him while we both were there) and while I missed my alternative station I listened to WTMX and found it workable.

For many years that choice held right. 101.1 kept to the harsher side of alternative, eventually glomming onto a form of music that seemed to make an exercise in seeing how many could be bored to death in less than three minutes, and a challenge from WZZN (94.7 on the airwaves) ended up melting into “neo-heavy metal” after their distinctive all-female morning crew went into death-match mode one morning (I remember listening at that moment while driving my car to work and thinking “94.7 is dead,” and within a year that station went to the “Classic Rock” format).

Now as it happened, WZZN didn’t do the full suicide route immediately. They did it in three steps:

  1. Ozzy, Guns-n-Roses, and Metallica were added onto the lineup. I thought it odd, but then thought that I had nothing against these three groups (Ozzy supported the Alt Scene and was even influencing it, Metallica had risen on their own with help from the Alternative scene, and GnR was the acceptable exception).
  2. Three new groups was added, one of them being Motley Crüe. At this point I was listening more through habit than anything else, that point proven that I just remember The Crüe as one of the three groups being added onto the lineup.
  3. The rest of the Alternative groups were tossed aside for the Metal stuff. Needless to say, I couldn’t listen to them anymore.
  4. Failing to hold onto the men they were trying to get, that format was tossed aside for Classic Rock.

A few years later, I found this happening over at WTMX as well:

  1. Bon Jovi suddenly starts showing up at the station, both as a guest and on the playlist. An artist whom I thought I had said “goodbye and good riddance” to by the late eighties was suddenly showing up in my morning alarm…with the eager support of the morning crew.
  2. Enter Pink and Def Leppard. One being some pop-tart with a harder edge, another a band who chose to fossilize into a more successful version of Bernard Rhode’s vision of The Clash (Cut The Crap, an album that couldn’t…).
  3. Enter the worst of what was playing at the top forty stations. Lady Gaga caterwauling on the air, Rihanna singing about S&M and signing a contract with the Devil, and other lame stuff.

The station no longer broadcast itself to people who listened to College stations and knew what they liked, they now broadcast to women whose sons and daughters were dictating their musical tastes to them. And since it seemed to them that the kids were all listening to Top Forty radio when it glommed onto Dance Music, WTMX changed itself to match.

Thankfully I still have some operating choices. 87.7 WKQX has added DJs since my last posting (yeah, it’s just been over a month – I think DJs give personality to a station that plain music doesn’t have), and I’ve been able to wake up to WDBM on my alarm (Thank You Broadband and Wi-Fi!). That doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss the old WTMX – just like I missed the unique (and staggeringly sexy) all-women morning crew of 94.7FM WZZN when that station was degenerating before my ears.

And as a reminder to that woman with whom I had a discussion about DJs becoming idiots in the mid-nineties, I WILL bellyache about losing a choice I had once picked. I have grown sick and tired of everything I like being destroyed by idiots looking for more pliable ears to sell stuff to, and I’m not about to just say “okay” to the loss of another once-viable choice. The moment I start doing that is the moment I’m better off lying six feet under some over-decorated rock – and I’m hoping that that mom.


Missing FM News WIQI Already (???)

July 17, 2012
1 Comment

Was listening to the radio late in the morning today (Tuesday, July 17th) when I decided I wanted to check out what was going on with traffic, so I went over to the 101.1 preset in the van I was driving.

Heard music. For four minutes. Sounded like a black funk version of the Smooth Jazz format that had (evidently) been finally banished from the Chicago airwaves.

Turned back to what I had been listening to before then, then returned to 101.1. Heard Right Said Fred on the radio.

Came to find out that FM News 101.1 decided to try for the “Modern Rock” format.

In other words, they decided to become what WTMX was (music for women who went to college and know what they liked from then) before WTMX became what it is (music for women who have their musical tastes dictated to them by their daughters who listen to what passes today as top forty dance (s)hits radio).

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Bad enough that the radio station decided to load up on yet another overdone format; but I liked the fact that someone tried to do a different take on news. It may not have been the most successful take (and it did seem to take on a present-day conservative view on things), but it made for some different information…plus their traffic and weather was done at a different time. I could miss the WBBM take on traffic and turn to WIQI to find out their take on traffic and weather. Between the two they were accurate enough to figure out what needed to be done.

It made for something different, even if it appeared that talk radio was getting ready to invade the one-prestine-for-music FM dial – what with WIQI and WBBM taking up space in the FM section of the dial and Rush Limbaugh moving to FM in Philadelphia (Speaking of which, where’s the continued outrage? Does it only exist when there’s a threat of a source of pussy about to be denied to men?) it looked like MP3 file sharing was about to take its toll on music on the FM dial. Already I saw the loss of dance music to Progressive Talk, now Alternative Radio (or what passed for it in Chicago) had become a casualty, taken out by soft-conservative news (WIQI got their news feeds from ABC; the conservative station before Fox was brought to existence).

Now the news is different. Alternative Radio (right down to the KQX moniker) has returned to Chicago, although stuck on the 87.7 band (where zombie formats go to die, it would appear), and the FM News format has died both in Chicago and New York. And while I can’t say I was much of a fan of the old WIQI (which seemed to have trouble finding its way), I can honestly say I miss it…if only for the choice of news and the ability to get needed information when it was missed.

And as for KQX….I hope to hear DJs on that station someday. That would mean there’s enough interest to keep the station going, and maybe for it to move up the dial to a more mainstream frequency.


Why Our Roads Suck – A Forced Remembrance.

July 3, 2012
2 Comments

You know what keeps amazing me? Everyone talking about how “The Government’s gathering up all this money, yet they fix nothing.” The sad thing is that the information is out there, only people don’t care to think about it.

Take the example of roads, bridges and transit:

Right now we pay 18.4 cents/gallon in federal gas taxes, with one penny per gallon dedicated to Mass Transit. This is where it’s been since 1997, when the last bill relating to the Federal Gas Tax was passed.

Fifteen years. Which makes the dollar in 1997 worth seventy cents today, if you’re an optimist…and believe the governmental CPI…and ignore that gas (increased 200%, if my recollections on gas prices are right), material and food prices have shot up much more than what the Governmental CPI is willing to admit.

Add in the fact that much of the construction work today isn’t so much “plant two new ribbons of concrete through miles and miles of farmland” (or even “shut things down to work on everything at once”) but is instead “tear up four lanes to put in six, remake interchanges into SPUIs and make sure traffic keeps moving during the work,” and you have a recipe for less and less being done and costing more and more. Shifting transit funding (all one cent per gallon of it) over to highway funding would just add drops to the bucket.

What’s needed is to change how gas is taxed.
First, peg the tax as a percentage of the tax – like they do with gas taxes in Indiana and Illinois.
Second, base that percentage to what we paid in 1997. Basically, it would be a tripling of tax money at the moment – at least in step with gas inflation, plus keeping up with the rising prices of other materials (and wages). Even if the percentage was dropped (Say…down to 10%, from the de facto 15-18% between 1997 and 2000) it’s definitely higher than the present 5% de facto rate.
Third, instead of a penny of the tax going to transit, put in a certain percentage written into law. Like…20% of the tax going to transit, 80% going to Roads. Some places are just NOT going to be amenable to highways, ramps, parking lots and lawns.
And Fourth: for the first five years, take ten percent off the top for a slush fund, so that when revenue drops commitments made during better times could be completed.

(Not that I expect this to come about. Too many Americans would rather bitch about decaying roads than put their money towards fixing the roads.)


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    Why I Have This Blog:

    I tend to react over a period of days, not minutes. I also work ten hours plus during the day, so whenever something happens I'm getting my thoughts organized as the Internet chews through fifteen levels of reaction. Hence this blog: A place where people can seek out intelligent thoughts (and, God Willing, I can provide them...)
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