Hits, misses and runs

Some things I might have posted to Twitter… if Twitter wasn’t run by this guy.

So yes. Elon Musk picked a fight with a wheelchair-using Icelandic entrepreneur with muscular distrophy on a public twitter thread, hoping to humiliate a parasitic do-nothing employee, and instead revealed the damage done as he continues to smash his $44 billion toy against the pavement because it doesn’t make him feel as good as he hoped it would.

But at least he is a genius at tech. To be fair, his “make it up as we go” approach to change management is seemingly organizational best practice at this point.

They’re given contradictory advice and directions based on Musk’s ever-changing whims. Some have been told key data centres or offices will be taken offline or closed to save costs and taken preparatory work to do that, only to have orders arrive that the decision had been reversed as their owner panics at another outage on the site.

Tim Klapdor wrote an interesting post on the nature of “Heirs and Hierarchy”, and how those who benefit from it are more invested in its preservation than in the organizations they supposedly serve:

Before I struggled with the thought that hierarchy was problematic because it was the default method of organisation. What we lacked was imagination for how to do things differently to better suit the way we need to work, particularly in complex domains. That the problem was the difficulty in moving anything forward while ladened with the inertia of what is easy. Now I can see that there’s another element here: desire. That some people don’t want change because they seek power. Or that they feel they deserve it. It is their right.

It’s difficult to say to what extent this attitude bleeds over to leadership (and thought leadership) in higher education, though the example of Temple President Jason Wingard is an eye-opener:

Until this past November, Jason Wingard’s role in the potential hostile takeover of higher education was that of doom merchant. In order for the mollusk to seize control of public education funds, it has to persuade a cross-section of well-placed stakeholders, especially in government, that the existing system is hopelessly inefficient and its professionalized workforce antiquated, indolent, or corrupt. In order for the exorbitant profits, exploitative practices, and legal exemptions demanded by EdTech enterprises to be accepted, the prevailing wisdom must be that US education is not just broken but also a danger to other sectors of the economy, and thus the terms of the lawyered-up envoys from Silicon Valley and Wall Street must be accepted as the lesser of two evils.

Last summer, Jason Wingard authored what he called his “‘burning platform’ memo” for Inside Higher Ed, intended for “every university and college president and administrator, across the country.” “The value of the college degree, in my analysis, has reached its peak and is on the wane,” he warned. Wingard’s proposal: “[L]everage our industry and corporate partnerships” and “pursue entrepreneurial investments that seek to incubate alternative ventures.” In the typical fashion of crisis-mongers, he was not seeking counterproposals. “This is nonnegotiable,” he wrote. “[T]his is our only path forward.”


A fly looking like it is washing its hands


From the New Yorker, “The End of the English Major” by Nathan Heller: “Enrollment in the humanities is in free fall at colleges around the country. What happened?”

I first read Patricia Highsmith this past year, and I blasted through all the Ripley books in about two weeks. This looks like a good primer for moving further afield: “Her concepts are daring, her portrayals of men in the throes of personality disorder and psychopathic leanings are equally repulsive and propulsive, and there is enough sublimated autobiography in her work that searching out the facts of her life reveals all manner of infuriating contradictions.”

In 2013, the writer William T. Vollmann wrote of being swept up in the search for the Unabomber, and explores his redacted FBI file in “Life as a Terrorist”:

Were I to be shown in accurate detail why it was necessary for me to be kept under surveillance, possibly for the rest of my life, I might be able to accept these invasions of my privacy for the collective good. The ostensible purpose of this surveillance is to protect us, and our freedoms, from terrorists. What remains uncertain, since secret, is how terrifying the terrorists presently are, and to what extent rights and liberties may be undermined in order to save us from them. I cannot say how many intelligence operatives might be hampered or endangered by greater oversight; on the other hand, if the Unamericans continue to have their way we will never know how many innocent people they have imprisoned, tortured, and perhaps murdered. I would be abdicating my responsibility as a citizen were I to rely on the Unamericans to decide such questions.

This nifty annotated version of Sam Bankman-Fried’s “FTX Pre-Mortem Overview” by Molly White (who runs Web3 is Going Just Great) was shared with me this week.


animated gif of a mosquito sucking blood from skin

Cory Doctorow is hardly the first commentator to compare the crypto bubble to the “AI Bubble”, particularly since so many people have pivoted from hyping one to the other.

Brenna Clarke Gray has wrapped up her excellent AI-focused series on this year’s Digital Detox. I found her take on whether higher ed can be nimble enough to save itself to be convincing and sobering:

If we could release the stranglehold of the fear of cheating that stops many of us from engaging with these tools, we could consider where and how AI might be a part of the assessment conversation. It would also allow moral space to have open conversations with students about these tools, including their troubling ethics. And if the answer is that as institutions we want to stop contracting with services rooted in exploitation, we can start to ask the same questions of some of our other ed tech contracts, whether Amazon Web Services or Apple/Microsoft/Google or surveillance and captioning tools that rely on the gig economy.

Brenna also shared this policy observatory from the OECD, policies, data and analysis for trustworthy artificial intelligence and it is an impressive resource. The dashboard for Canada has already proven useful.

A few other resources on AI and ChatGPT that I found worth the time:

“ChatGPT is a blurry JPEG of the web” by Ted Chiang:

This analogy to lossy compression is not just a way to understand ChatGPT’s facility at repackaging information found on the Web by using different words. It’s also a way to understand the “hallucinations,” or nonsensical answers to factual questions, to which large language models such as ChatGPT are all too prone. These hallucinations are compression artifacts, but—like the incorrect labels generated by the Xerox photocopier—they are plausible enough that identifying them requires comparing them against the originals, which in this case means either the Web or our own knowledge of the world.

Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts and Jeffrey Watumull,  “The False Promise of ChatGPT”:

In short, ChatGPT and its brethren are constitutionally unable to balance creativity with constraint. They either overgenerate (producing both truths and falsehoods, endorsing ethical and unethical decisions alike) or undergenerate (exhibiting noncommitment to any decisions and indifference to consequences). Given the amorality, faux science and linguistic incompetence of these systems, we can only laugh or cry at their popularity.

And Kirby Ferguson’s fourth installment of “Everything is a Remix”, this one on “AI and Image Generation”:



In local news, Scott’s Inn in Kamloops has been purchased by the Rocky Mountaineer company and will no longer be a motel for the public. I’m hoping the restaurant will survive, it is a dying breed of old-school western Canadian restaurant and much of its menu can’t be found elsewhere in town.

Back in 2014, when my house burned down at the same time a sixteen year relationship had ended, I moved into Scott’s Inn. When I told my twelve-year-old son where I would be living, he exclaimed, “Dad! You will be just like Alan Partridge!” And sad to say, during that period I kinda was…


7 thoughts on “Hits, misses and runs

    1. It was my single rationale for sharing the news article with Brian. Especially as Jason, Jenny and I were cheated out of one at Red Beard last Sunday (swapped out for a Croque Monsieur – I’m glad I’m leaving this town, the gentrification is too much to take)

        1. Sadly no. They did though and had left their old menu online. When we got there there was a new menu with a different sandwich choice. Jason had THOUGHTS about the whole thing. Mostly about missed trolling opportunities. We had to have cocktails to calm us down.

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