Friday, January 20th, 2023


Search and Destroy

Lycos. Infoseek. Altavista. Yahoo. HotBot. Inktomi. The internet landscape is littered with the corpses and zombies of the high-flying companies that fell victim to Google's search engine slash money printing empire. Will this reign be interrupted when we ask ChatGPT or one of the other up and coming AI solutions? It's worth considering. The execs at Google are worried enough that they've called in the O.G. (Original Googlers). NYT (Gift Article): Google Calls In Help From Larry Page and Sergey Brin for A.I. Fight. "The new A.I. technology has shaken Google out of its routine. Mr. Pichai declared a 'code red,' upending existing plans and jump-starting A.I. development. Google now intends to unveil more than 20 new products and demonstrate a version of its search engine with chatbot features this year." Google rose during an era when technology was changing human behavior at a breathtaking pace. That will seem like slow motion compared to AI's world-altering tempo. And with well-funded startups and mega-tech companies all viewing this moment as a gloves-off code red, you can be sure there will be no slowing down to examine whether what we're unleashing will be good or bad for us. I'd Ask Jeeves, but these days, his searches are powered by Google.

+ "No single technology in modern memory has caused mass job loss among highly educated workers. Will generative AI really be an exception?" The Atlantic's Annie Lowrey asked an expert: ChatGPT. How ChatGPT Will Destabilize White-Collar Work.


Advanced Displacement

"Books containing 'sexually explicit' content — including depictions of sexual or gender identity — would be banned from North Dakota public libraries under legislation that state lawmakers began considering Tuesday ... The bill, which would prohibit books depicting sexual or gender identity, proposes up to 30 days in prison for librarians who refuse to remove banned titles." Would it be considered sexually explicit if I told these book banners to go eff themselves?

+ Speaking of the same old BS tactics to scare voters, "Ron DeSantis, Florida's Republican governor, has rejected a new advanced placement course in African American studies from being taught on high school campuses. He argues that the course violates state law and 'lacks educational value.'" (Guys, Quiet as it's kept, slavery happened in America.)


Stolen Blind

Shoplifting numbers are notoriously questionable, but that hasn't stopped politicians and talking heads from using them to prove some broader point about a region or society in general. Here are a couple things I managed to pull from the locked, glass case. One, a lot of shoplifting is done by professional criminals and the goods end up on ecommerce sites. Two, a huge percentage of individual shoplifters are stealing to feed a drug habit and, these days, that drug is opiates. Three, like most America stories, the economic divide plays a major role. James D. Walsh in Curbed: Fort Walgreens: The recent spike in shoplifting is both overblown and real. And almost everyone is profiting from it (including you).

+ Pill-fering: Last year, Walgreens cited shoplifting as a reason that it was closing several stores in San Francisco. This year, they say that threat was overstated. Even if Walgreens hadn't overhyped crime, there's a certain irony in their complaint, given the big reason why so many of their (formerly paying) customers are pilfering. Consider this: West Virginia announces $83 million opioid settlement with Walgreens.


Weekend Whats

What to Pod: "For some, it began as a loud noise, like the sound of grinding metal. Others heard something that sounded more like a giant swarm of cicadas. Then, the intense pressure to their ears and head kicked in, which caused headaches, nausea and vertigo." What follows is a series of medical problems ... and one of the more mysterious and riveting stories in recent memory. In a new podcast, Vice set out to solve the mystery of Havana Syndrome.

+ What to Doc: Coaching high school sports is tough. But imagine coaching a football team made up of kids who are still dealing with the Covid crisis, and also live in an incredibly violent community in the shadow of the George Floyd killing. Now imagine coaching is your side-gig. Your full time job is being a police officer. Boys in Blue is a four-part series available on Showtime, Paramount Plus, and Hulu.

+ What to Read: "Such a device could help address climate change and food scarcity, or break the Internet. Will the U.S. or China get there first?" Stephen Witt in The New Yorker: The World-Changing Race to Develop the Quantum Computer.


Extra, Extra

Dropping Briefs: "The secret meeting comes as US officials are closely monitoring a potential Russian offensive in the coming months – and in the midst of a fraught debate between the US and its European allies over whether to send increasingly sophisticated and long-range weaponry to Ukraine." CIA director briefed Zelensky on US expectations for Russia's battlefield planning. I'll keep this brief: We need less briefing and more tanks.

+ Imperfect Harmony: It's ironic that a person known for his perfect harmony had so much trouble finding it in his personal life. David Crosby, a voice of an era and a founding member of two remarkably influential bands, has died at 81. He was often controversial, but always interesting. Upon his passing, even his old bandmates, from whom he was often estranged, focused on the music. Stephen Stills: "He was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius. The glue that held us together as our vocals soared, like Icarus, towards the sun. I am deeply saddened at his passing and shall miss him beyond measure." David Crosby, Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash Co-Founder, Dies at 81. You can still hear that voice echoing through Laurel Canyon.

+ I'm Nought For Teacher: "The virtual session is not a concession to pandemic learning or a stopgap for a teacher who is sick. It is how sophomores are expected to learn geometry this year after the district could not find a teacher. In the Mississippi Delta, where schools have historically been shortchanged, teaching candidates — especially those who know math — are hard to come by." WaPo: A teacher shortage so acute that students are expected to learn without one. (It often seems like these educational shortfalls in places like rural Mississippi are by design.)

+ Alphabetized: Another day, another mass tech layoff. Google to cut 12,000 jobs in 6% reduction of global workforce.

+ Reading the Thiel Leaves: "Peter Thiel's fund closed almost all of its crypto positions shortly before prices crashed last year." (You've been sold the egalitarian, libertarian version of the cryptocurrency story. The real story seems far more familiar. A phony scheme that makes the uber-rich richer and leaves mom and pop investors holding the bag.)

+ Cocky Mountain High: "It's a lot. Nims is a lot. But his hustle and bravado are precisely the things that have allowed him to break into the mainstream from Nepal's deep bench of climbing talent. I've covered mountaineering and Sherpa culture on and off for more than a decade, and while there have always been insanely strong climbers with roots in Nepal, nobody has ever amassed the mind share, as the marketers say, that Nims has. In the process he's gathered a legion of devotees and plenty of critics, all of them hoping to cement his reputation as either a generational talent among high-altitude mountaineers or else an egotistical self-promoter flying perilously close to the sun." GQ: The Controversial King of Hardcore Climbing.

+ Ja's Rule: "Today, the job of being a politician feels like a fallback option for someone who can't make it as an internet troll."Yesterday's lead item on Jacinda Ardern got a lot of responses and sharing. Ja's Rule.


Feel Good Friday

"Hody Childress, a farmer and US air force veteran, began his anonymous charitable campaign when he walked into a drug store in his home town of Geraldine in 2012 and learned from the owner that sometimes families can't afford to pay for their medicines." Alabama town learns farmer secretly paid people's pharmacy bills.

+ "David and Jeannie Smith gave up their day jobs for a life of daredevil stunts —with six children in tow. Five decades, thousands of cannon shots and multiple Guinness World Records later, this stupendous family business is still defying gravity and all other expectations." The First Family of Human Cannonballing.

+ The latest stop on the Busload of Books Tour was the Havasupai School. They don't get many visitors there. It's at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. For a truly great American story, be sure you're following along with the Busload of Books on Instagram or Facebook.

+ Brazil launches first anti-deforestation raids under Lula bid to protect Amazon.

+ A father has donated a kidney to a stranger after his own daughter received her own life-changing kidney from a donor.

+ The Colombian navy rescued a man from Dominica who says he survived 24 days adrift in the Caribbean on a sailboat by eating ketchup, garlic powder, and seasoning cubes. It was condiment to be.