why is it only now that folks think Uber is evil?

I’ve always been fascinated by the selective enforcement of opinion some folks display. This is because, in general, I try to be somewhat consistent in what I say and do. Like all humans, I fail at this all the time, but I do try.

For example, for half-a-decade Uber has been the cool little thing for folks to use. It’s been the trendy, young, urban way to get around oh so many metropolitan areas. But now, all of a sudden, Uber is evil. Why?

Well, first off the impression was (incorrectly) that Uber had sided with Trump (that guy folks don’t like) against airport taxi drivers striking against the immigration plan. Then, Uber’s Overlord Travis Kalanick had flamed one of his own drivers with the oh so memorable line, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.”

So now, folks want to delete Uber. There’s a hashtag or a messenger pigeon that says so, or something like that. Why?

A few things here:

1) Uber has always been evil

Since its beginning, Kalanick has always had a reputation (even within the Silicon Valley lifelines, which is saying something) of being a dirty asshole. For instance, once upon a time Uber got caught creating fake Lyft profiles which called for Lyft rides when nobody was actually there. Generally speaking, you would think one would like to purchase a product from a company that at least tries to conduct itself in a moral manner. But I specifically remember this incident getting largely ignored. I doubt anybody gave it even a second thought before they opened the app those few years back. Why was there not a delete Uber campaign back then?

Sure, Uber taxis were cleaner and their drivers polite and usually well dressed, but did folks realize that in most cases those same drivers were making substantially less money than a normal taxi driver? Or that Uber basically railroads them on costs and percentages? I have in my mind, a bunch of cool, hip youngsters. They go protest for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. They get back and forth from the protest, by taking Uber.

2) This is how Silicon Valley thinks

“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” should now become the motto of Silicon Valley. I’ve got some news for all you cool earnest young people with your cool trendy apps and expensive phones: everybody in Silicon Valley thinks this way. They just don’t foolishly admit it like Kalanick did. These are ultra-Type A people who believe that success or failure in Silicon Valley (aka Life) is almost entirely dependent upon raw skill. In other words, Kalanick is rich because he is awesome. Those who are poor or fail are not awesome. And it’s their own fault.

Generally I tend to believe in the idea that we each can make our own life. Success or failure is in our own hands. But I also acknowledge that there are various intangible factors that can shape how hard it is for folks to make it in life. Kalanick is the son or a marketer and an engineer and went to a private high school. Does he make Uber happen if he was born in say West Baltimore? Or how about if Kalanick was a recent immigrant who drives for Uber? But in Kalanick’s brain, it’s not like that. People who drive for Uber are losers. If they were winners, they’d take responsibility for their own shit and get a better job.

3) The cool factor

Again, it’s always been like this, but only now has Uber crossed over and is thus evil. Why? The cool factor. If you are cool, you can (mostly) get away with anything. Steve Jobs is basically considered a demigod. Apple is the cool of cool. But Jobs (in true Silicon Valley style) was also an asshole. At one point Apple got caught colluding with book publishers to cheat the price offered to consumers. Ostensibly it was to undercut Amazon’s growing market dominance, but it’s still basically a Monopoly Man moment. Apple cheated its customers. Jobs got caught sending e-mails to The Mini Monopoly Man himself in James Murdoch trying to boost prices. Guess what? Nobody cared.

People still think Apple is the coolest thing on the planet. Your average Apple junkie either never heard of this incident, or mentally just wrote it off. Oh, Jobs tried to cheat me? Eh, but Apple is so cool. My iPhone is the coolest!

I think it was the same way with Uber. But I guess, even cool can only take you so far. So now Uber is less cool, and perhaps even evil.

Hmm, Apple, take note!

the bizarreness of modern work communication

You need something from somebody who sits 18 feet from you. How do you go about interacting with them? Normally you’d just go talk to them face-to-face, right? After all, a family member who is 18 feet from you inside your home is just a normal random conversation. Not so, apparently, within the dreaded confines of cubicle hell.

A guy three cubicles over has called me on the phone this week. Twice. I can hear him talking to me in one ear through the phone. In the other ear I hear him talking in the same room. It makes no sense. But other people do this too. They call each other in our bank of cubicles. I can hear them both phone talk like they’re standing next to each other.

This stuff has also occurred recently:

– The boss e-mails an employee who works 30 feet from him saying “come see me”

– The boss shouts from his office at somebody who works 50 feet from him asking if they’re in the office

– The other boss talks to somebody over a cubicle wall, and then says they’ll just instant message the work task instead of telling them

– People say they will respond to an e-mail, but then call somebody instead

– People will call you and make decent shit happen, but then ask you to send an e-mail to work out all the details again

– Folks will e-mail somebody who works 10 feet away asking a simple question

I think all this text messaging, Snapchat, mind meld, e-mail, Internets, etc, etc has destroyed normal human communication. Any one of the above scenarios is best handled by two people talking face-to-face. Instead, this easy straightforward method of interaction is devolved into a whole plethora of ineffective means. This ineffective nature increases stress and otherwise further harms an already unhappy place to work.

Just talk to people face-to-face. It’s better for all of us.

Or, just go off the rails. Whatever.

– E-mail your boss when you arrive at work saying “I’m now at my desk”

– Call the person who works in the cubicle next to you to say “Good morning”, then immediately hang up

– Instead of handing your boss a printed 53 page report with a face-to-face explanation, scan each page individually, then e-mail your boss the document as 53 attachments

– Instant message somebody 17 feet away and ask them their lunch plans, then regardless of their actual response, tell them to send you an e-mail calendar invite for lunch

– Put up a sign with skull and crossbones icons all over it that says, “today I can only be reached via e-mail”, and when people try and engage you in face-to-face conversation you just tap the sign without saying a word

– Bring a small bird into the office and inform coworkers you’ll communicate via carrier bird only, but never ever actually do this, you just have the bird in the office for months without ever using it

– Shout over the cubicle walls, “what day is today?”, “what’s the deadline for that bullshit product we owe to the boss?”, “where are my keys?”, “is the concept of anti-matter an oxymoron?”

– E-mail your boss, “I’m coming to see you”, before leaving your cubicle to go speak with her

– Write “I went to lunch” in your own blood on a single white sheet of paper, leave it on your desk, then dump a 28 ounce can of tomato sauce all over your cubicle floor and walls, then go hit the pub for about three hours before nonchalantly returning to work

gadget makers to turn humanity into amorphous liquid sphere based creatures

Just how lazy does Silicon Valley and the corporate world think you are? Apparently, very much. Everything you currently do is too hard. Just think about the difficulties you confront every day:

a) You need to remember to set your own alarm clock

b) Pull your corporeal form out of bed on time even though you’d rather sleep in

c) Let your dogs outside so they expel waste on grass instead of your floor

d) Feed your dogs in order that they might live

e) Take a shower so that you might live

f) Start your car in order that it might move

g) Drive your car so that you can go someplace requiring your presence

Hell, that’s all just in the first 30 minutes of the day. What horror. But don’t worry, the freaks are out to assist you. Every single one of these actions will soon be performed by a gadget. Pretty soon, you won’t need to do anything. You can just sit back and let machines do all the hard stuff. Your self-worth will become wrapped up in how much of your daily life is monetized by somebody you’ll never meet. How fulfilling!

You know, I think one of the main arguments behind this technology is that it’s supposedly liberating. If you’re not worried about feeding your dogs or setting your own alarm clock, that’s time you could be painting sweet art or writing a novel. I kind of get that, but eventually such thinking reaches a point of no return. Once you take the most basic and menial of human tasks and turn them over to a machine because it’s convenient, people are basically just ceding their humanity. They’ve crossed over from liberating, to stupid, or even lazy.

Doing basic human level stuff is necessary to have a rich and fulfilling life. A lot of it is a colossal pain in the ass. Who on Earth loves to do laundry? But that’s called life. It keeps you honest. I get the idea that the imagined end state of Silicon Valley’s quest (other than to get all your money) is to place a live human inside a liquid sphere where all they do is feel pleasure while all their worldly tasks are handled by machines. To me, this is a version of waking death.

To that liquid sphere end, CES is the annual gadget, electronic freak show in Vegas. It’s the chance for the world’s technological elite to show off how insane they are. I’m beginning to think that if every year we hired a bunch of twisted alien mercenaries to carpet bomb the convention hall, that we’d all be better off as a human race.

Oh my, just take a gander at some of these supposedly “cool” new gadgets. This is the future. Today!

1) Cheaty Fishing Drone [Link Slide 1]

This thing streams video, fish finding, and soon even VR. It also lures fish with a blue light so it’s that much easier to catch a live creature for somebody’s own financial value or personal amusement. Catching a fish using this kind of technology is like constructing a hover drone that goes out, lassos a deer, and walks it over to a guy so he can shoot it with a shotgun at a range of six feet. Dude might as well be allowed to throw dynamite into the water like some brain dead moron from 1878. It’s the same thing.

cheaty drone.jpg

2) Kuri the Child Predator [Link Slide 2]

Kuri (named after the famous Japanese anime character that eats flesh) is a robot that roams around a home with cameras allowing people to keep tabs on their children and dogs when they’re either out of the house or too lazy to do it in person. It’s also equipped with a creepy robot look that CNET think is “cool just for that”. Meaning it has just the right style to give children and pets nightmares for decades. Just look at the horror of this thing. In 2043, a grown man will be asked to identify who told him to burn down the shopping mall killing hundreds. The police sketch artist will converse with this man for eight hours, and at the conclusion will have drawn a picture of Kuri.

evil kuri.jpg

3) Devolvement Shower Assembly [Link Slide 13]

See above note (e). Everything, and I mean everything in your home must go on the Internets. Every basic action is worthy of an online twist, for whatever reason. This delightful piece of technology turns your shower on and off. That’s about it. It costs $1,160. One of the most basic of human actions is yielded to a machine, for some reason. We need to pass a government law that anybody purchasing technology that replaces a basic act (such as moving one’s hand to a shower handle) should be evaluated for devolvement to caveman status, thus requiring permanent internment in a cave to match their status.

evil shower.jpg

4) Robot Assistant [13 of 37 Link Slides]

I’ve ranted enough about the Amazon Echo on this degenerate forum, I’m kind of tired with it. I guess I’m just shocked at how many companies are fighting with razor blades to be that one guy who assists people with everything from their own calendar, check weather, Internets searches, whatever. Why does any of this require help? People need to do their own shit.

5) Adult Distraction Charger [Link Slide 26]

Uses the kinetic energy of a child stroller to charge a phone or other device like a distance tracker. Because nothing says a person loves spending time with their young child like using it as another opportunity to be constantly on the phone. Nothing says a human is an evolved higher form than by having a machine tell them how far they’ve walked, rather than looking at a map and figuring it out themselves.

evil charger.jpg

6) Human Corrector [Link Slide 25 of 37]

Our winner for this year’s trip to the crypt is the “Funky Bots Atomic Bands for klutzes”. This thing apparently wraps around limbs and then coaches the person into more “graceful movement”. You heard it right. A company apparently has the gall to state they know how each human on the planet is required to walk. That most basic of human tasks since 10,347 BC. How do you tend to walk? You’re wrong. This company is right. Never mind that each human being is inherently unique in both a mental and physical way. Nope, you’re just an algorithmic calculation away from being instructed and corrected on how you transition from your bed to shower, or car to front door. Hey, I get it, life is hard. But walking? This act needs correction, assistance, technology? Instead, let’s just buy people who buy this product one of those little motorized carts people ride in the grocery store. I’m sure the cart is cheaper than this wearable technology. I’ll even buy it myself using my own international gold reserves. My only caveat is each cart user I buy for must display two pennants from the back of the cart. They say “I am an amorphous creature!” and “I’ve given up!”

evil corrector.jpg

algorithms are never going to drive your car

The wave of the future is you sitting in your car reading a book or drinking a beer on the way home from work. Man, that’d be sweet. Trillions will be spent trying to make this happen. But I still don’t believe it’ll ever happen in large scale.

Once upon a time I dabbled in computer science. It’s been so long since I did that, that in writing the word ‘algorithm’ in this post’s title I had to re-spell it like ten times. But I remember enough to know just how flawed computers are. It’s why everything eventually breaks, at least once. Or has to be restarted every now and again.

I mean, airplanes don’t tend to crash anymore, but remember those are always human input at the end stage. It’s interesting that in all these autonomous car dreams (experimentally on the road today) that nobody seems to be seriously considering autonomous airliners. I’d bet a substantial amount of my freestanding international gold reserves that your average person would be a hundred times more comfortable getting in a robot car over a robot plane. Even though the fatality rate on the roads is astronomically higher than the skies.

The challenge with the robot car is not the computer hardware, or the sensors, or even trying to rewrite thousands of federal, state, local, and insurance road laws. It’s the algorithms. These algorithms will guide the way the car drives, navigates, how it responds to failures, how it handles emergencies, dangerous situations, and so on. If the algorithms don’t work, or are flawed, at least some badness will always occur. And in my mind, since algorithms are always written by humans, the flaws are never going away. And you can’t restart your car while you’re driving 65 mph down the road. Though I suppose the car could pull you over and then restart, if the algorithm handles the error resolution correctly.

But also, it comes down to what humans are willing to entrust to an algorithm. For example, I heard this used in a play on that morals exercise, if you’re in a car at 45 mph and you go left you run over one person, if you go right you run over three people. What do you do? But in more relevant terms for our discussion here, at 45 mph if you go left you run over one person, if you go right your car hits a jersey wall. Your significant other is in the passenger seat.

Or, with different circumstances, what if you go left it’d be two people you’d hit. If you go right you still hit the wall, but it’s just you in the car. How does the situation change if you’ve got kids in the back? Do you go left or right? Both these options suck, but it’s a decision that determines the fate of other fellow humans, or you and your car partner.

Yet in the self-driving car world, the algorithm makes this decision for you. You have no say. Then the programmers have to turn around and pre-program (somehow) for the car to handle a limitless number of other eventualities. Would you let your car decide any of these situations for you, for your family? I wouldn’t. An algorithm doesn’t get to make those kinds of choices for me. Only I do.

from comical Bond villain to dreadful oppressor

For those that make the fervent case that we need Facebook in the business of deleting fake news, I give you in response a perfect example of why we don’t want that. It’s a rather short road from policing fake news to policing all reasonable speech. As we’ve previously written, Facebook (specifically Zuckerberg) has been in the sucking up to China’s dictatorship business for some time now.

And how! Courtesy of the New York Times (who like the Post occasionally bothers to engage in actual journalism):

The social network has quietly developed software to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas, according to three current and former Facebook employees, who asked for anonymity because the tool is confidential. The feature was created to help Facebook get into China, a market where the social network has been blocked, these people said. Mr. Zuckerberg has supported and defended the effort, the people added.

How would this delightful tool of oppression work?

Well, for example, say a belligerent blog author took it upon himself to publish some thoughts on how Xi Jinping, Dictator & Overlord of the Chinese People, rose to power as one of the most corrupt dudes on the planet to the tune of billions in cash. And made the point that Xi’s current anti-corruption campaign is the biggest hypocrisy since Stalin called Hitler “a bad bloke”. Xi and his family made billions, but now Xi’s suddenly a paragon of virtue. So one can only come to the conclusion that he’s using anti-corruption efforts to purge those who oppose him.

Then say said blog author posted that on Facebook. And then say one of that blog’s six demented followers liked that post? Well, using Zuckerberg’s fancy new tool, Xi’s goons could preconfigure the system so that it would automatically purge from the planet. Nobody in China would ever read those words because the following terms would not be allowed in any post seen in China:

Xi Jinping

Dictator & Overlord

Delicious Stout Beer

Hypocrisy

Amateur Jai-Alai Extraordinaire

Kleptocrat

Stalin

Kute Kitties

Hitler

You know, one can occasionally hate Google equally as a partial anti-liberty bully. But on this count, Google’s conduct has been quite admirable. For well over half-a-decade Google has fought China on censorship. The result is Google’s profits and scope in China are in the tank. But at least they’ve made a stand. In contrast Zuckerberg is just drooling for those extra one billion eyeballs, because $. And if freedom of speech loses in the process? Oh well.

I don’t understand this line of thinking. If you’re in the free speech business, how do you ultimately increase your future bottom line by getting into the anti-free speech business? That’d be like Coca Cola sending an employee into the White House to restock the machines with Coke, then he goes into the Oval Office to campaign for an ultra-tax on sugary drinks. Zuckerberg’s behavior makes no sense. That is, unless you see it through the lens of Silicon’s Valley’s cynical elite. As in, Zuckerberg and Xi are both in the extreme 0.1% of all humanity. And that means they have more in common with each other than the rest of us. So they think they can cut a deal, and damn the consequences.

My final point, any company should be wary of selling its soul to do business in China. It’s a trap. If Facebook got into China without restrictions tomorrow, it’d probably get it’s clock cleaned by China’s own businesses. Uber China no longer exists for a reason. If the vicious-rule-breaking-barbarians at Uber can’t even break into the Chinese market, what chance does Facebook (or anybody else) have? WeChat already has 700 million Chinese users and is specifically tailored to China’s users, by folks who live there and understand the culture. Zuckerberg can’t compete with that. But he appears happy to mortgage his honor to try.

Uh [shakes head], the problem with comical Bond villains is that in cold reality, outside the scope of fun movies, they’re actually dreadful oppressors.

Hat tip, to the Facebook employee who’s honor is intact, for leaking this info to the New York Times. We who are free, salute you.

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“Why yes Mr Xi, yes Sir!  I am selling out.  Are you buying?”

who gets to decide what’s fake?

We got through most of this entire lunatic campaign season without nary a word about fake news sites. I find this amusing as for the most part I consider Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc, etc, to all essentially be fake news sites. They don’t actually report news so much as they seek to shape public opinion to serve whatever interests they champion. There’s also the ever delicious The Onion which is usually a good place for a decent laugh, though even they have an obvious slant they push, but they’re obviously an admitted satire site.

But what folks are actually talking about are the sites that are totally off the deep end. They have no purpose except to play people for morons to move the election needle. Some of the examples I’ve heard over the last week were popular articles that said something along the lines (my paraphrase) of, but all of these were lies:

– The Pope had endorsed Trump

– Trump had commuted to Valhalla before the campaign ended

– Machines will not be our Masters

– Trump won the popular vote

– Going vegan makes you happy

– Trump was seen at Putin’s dacha alongside six former Olympic gymnasts (I too thought this one 99% accurate)

– The Walking Dead is a good television show

So now that the election is over a whole bunch of folks are stating that these fake news posts were in some way responsible for altering the course of the election. This point of view is mostly for those in the Hilary camp who ascribe some of the last minute push towards Trump as caused by said nakedly vicious pro-Trump fake news. Facebook, Google, and your local school newspaper are now thus under pressure to filter and delete said fake news stories from their feeds. The idea is that you the voter will no longer see this fake news so you can know the news you read online is legit.

First off, I feel sorry for Facebook and Google on this because no matter what they do everybody is going to hate them for it. One side will claim they’re not doing enough to police fake news or hate speech, the other side will claim censorship. Both sides will be simultaneously right and wrong. Facebook and Google will be caught in the middle of the broader cultural wars. Zuckerberg will become progressively more frustrated and insane, thus laying the groundwork for his impending slide into the oblivion of Bond villain darkness.

Because honestly who gets to decide what’s fake? As I understand what Facebook and Google are being asked to do, they have to hire somebody to edit their feeds. Then that person upon viewing some news they deem fake is supposed to delete it so folks can’t see it. Well, what’s fake?

– The Pope had endorsed Trump, fake, delete.

– Okay, what about The Onion? Well, that’s fake too, but that’s satire, so, do not delete? I guess. Well, what’s satire and what’s fake news? Who determines the difference?

– Okay, what about Salon or National Review? Well, they’re flamethrower sites for the acolytes, so it’s analysis and not technically news, so, do not delete? I guess. Who gets to determine the best way for remembering where you put your keys?

– What about that random Facebook post by normal average human that becomes popular but is chock full of lunacy, lies, and opinion? Well, but that’s not from a news site, so, we do not delete? But it’s still fake, so shouldn’t that person be made to shut up? Even if that person is just an average person they’re still shaping public opinion, aren’t they? Who decides who is made to shut up?

– But what if somebody reposted that person’s post as if it was news? Do we delete them too? What about somebody’s random blog post, is that news? Who decides what’s a blog post and what’s fake news? Who decides if Lady Gaga is hot or not?

– What about a 1930’s Looney Tunes cartoon clip with Speedy Gonzalez, is that hate speech worthy of deletion? Who determines what is hate speech, what is stupidity, what is fake news, and what’s just normal average painful human discourse to resolve our problems? Have you contemplated your future bleached skeleton status lately?

– What about a scene from Frozen which falsely gives the impression via fake news that Elsa would not have been put to death by the Catholic Church for witchcraft in real life? Shouldn’t we delete that too?

And on and on and on.

Where does this end? Where do you draw the line on what should be seen and deleted? What is fake and what’s not? The answer always will end up being the opinion of some screener, likely guided by policy that a bunch of folks from Facebook and Google got together and wrote. And thus, a bunch of random people you’ve never met get to determine what you’re allowed to say and read. This is not healthy in any aspect.

Facebook and Google are private companies and can essentially do whatever they want within the law. For example, if Google decided it hated cats and deleted all cat content from its site I’m pretty sure there’s nothing anybody could do to stop them. But Facebook and Google are also so ubiquitous to society you could make an argument they’re becoming an intrinsic part of our culture, infrastructure, lives. Do we really want two of the global Internets backbone sites to be in the censorship business? For any reason at all?

I come down to two points on this:

1) I am an open season kind of person on free speech and thus to all the Internets. Facebook, Google, Twitter should not be in the business of removing content whether it’s fake, hateful, whatever. This means you can post fake Trump news, evil ISIS propaganda, incorrect tips for how to properly cook an egg, Tweet how much you despise [insert anything here], and so on. Dealing with all this nonsense is a price worth paying rather than living in an online society where strangers get to police thought.

2) Humans as free individuals are responsible for what they do and do not read and how they process information they acquire online, in newspapers, from ads, from their neighbors, from their imaginary friend, from their own fears, from their own dreams. If somebody read fake news and believed it, that’s their own problem and responsibility. Living in a free society is hard work. It requires you to think for yourself, do your own research, and make your own decisions. It’s not the responsibility of society to do that job for the citizen. Indeed, if society did, then said citizen would never be truly free.

And I want us all to live free.