Greg's recent activity

  1. Comment on There used to be a people’s bank at the US Post Office in ~finance

    Greg
    Link Parent
    For a huge number of customers, a bank’s primary and often only purpose is a safer, more comfortable alternative to stuffing cash under the mattress. You might be comfortable installing and...

    I don't understand the first two, why do I need fraud protection or FDIC if I self-custody?

    For a huge number of customers, a bank’s primary and often only purpose is a safer, more comfortable alternative to stuffing cash under the mattress.

    You might be comfortable installing and securing a proper safe and keeping your assets in bullion (literal or metaphorical) - you might even consider it preferable - but the vast majority of people absolutely do not want to deal with that, or with its digital equivalent.

    Even at the most basic practical level, I’d expect to pay a lot more in disaster insurance if I’m looking after my own valuables rather than leaving it to the professionals with centralised security.

    11 votes
  2. Comment on I was the poster girl for OCD. Then I began to question everything I’d been told about mental illness. in ~health.mental

    Greg
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    This seems closer to home than a lot of articles I’ve read, but it still swings across at the end to a satisfying conclusion, and I think that’s a problem. I understand why it does - the very act...

    This seems closer to home than a lot of articles I’ve read, but it still swings across at the end to a satisfying conclusion, and I think that’s a problem.

    I understand why it does - the very act of thinking experiences through leads us to want a neatly wrapped up lesson and the comfort of closure, the act of writing them down makes that doubly true, and the act of writing for an audience practically requires it. But if we want to have a more meaningful conversation around mental health we need to admit that for now, we (i.e. humanity) are still way out of our depth.

    That’s no reason to give up, or to undervalue the massive scientific and social progress in the field over the last few decades, but it’s important to acknowledge how much we don’t know. Give it 50 years, maybe 100, and I expect things to be radically different. Hell, 50 years ago there were no MRIs, no gene sequencing, no SSRIs, certainly no real spaces to openly talk about mental health issues - we’ve really only just developed the tools to even attempt to figure out and fix what the hell is going on inside our heads, so it’s amazing we’re already as far along as we are. But for me, at least, hearing “we haven’t figured it out yet, but we’re with you for the long haul if you’re willing to keep trying” would have brought far more comfort than being told time and again that this new round of treatment would be different, the last 15 has just been mistakes but this is correct, only for everything to collapse again a few weeks or months later.

    I did, eventually, hit on a medication that seems to work extremely well for me. I’m immensely grateful to the patient, caring, extremely intelligent medical professionals who tried to help me along the way. But the fact remains that most of them didn’t actually manage to help. It still took over a decade, a huge chunk of good luck, and ultimately one or two pretty significant coincidences for it to work out. I’d rather we collectively admit that than trying to convince ourselves that this time, surely, we’ve got it figured out.

    27 votes
  3. Comment on Have we reached peak AI? in ~tech

    Greg
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    I'll lay out my bias up front here, I'm the guy in the second panel on this one - so definitely influenced by how goddamn cool I think the tech is, but I was also working with it a good decade...
    • Exemplary

    I'll lay out my bias up front here, I'm the guy in the second panel on this one - so definitely influenced by how goddamn cool I think the tech is, but I was also working with it a good decade before anyone (including me) saw it as much more than an obscure academic tool and I'm largely disdainful of the hype cycle here.

    If the main point of the article is intended to be that "AI" is overhyped, companies are throwing giant buckets of money at it with no clear plan, and the media are fuelling the whole thing with nonspecific and emotive reporting, then yeah, I'd say pretty much the same. But the author is flat out wrong on enough specifics along the way that it undermines the credibility of the whole, and incoherent enough on other points that I'm genuinely not sure whether that's even what he's intending to say.

    A few key snippets for now:

    ...one problem that has poisoned reporting on generative AI is an unwillingness to clearly describe how these things work, instead referring to its actions as some sort of magical process done on a big, scary computer.

    Agreed on this in isolation, but it seems to form a broader undercurrent to the rest of the piece that's conflating "I don't know" or "reporters don't explain" with "nobody knows". You can go read the research papers, the LLaMA or Mistral or Stable Diffusion source code, the mathematical underpinnings of the whole field - most people can't or don't want to do that, and frankly I don't blame them, but the information is there. The big players have a definite edge, but we've seen open source catching up within a few months of most major breakthroughs, leading the way on some others, and the theoretical academic papers are often published from a university lab somewhere before the techniques make it into commercial models anyway.

    Science reporting has always sucked, this field isn't unique in that. If anything it's more open than the average - the vast majority of what's important goes through arXiv and GitHub rather than commercial journals and closed labs.

    ...OpenAI's models continually prove themselves unable to match even the dumbest human beings alive

    Seriously? Text model output is far from perfect, but we're already way past Turing test territory here. AI detection is a hot topic because people can no longer be certain whether they're seeing human or machine output. And that's just text - how many average humans can create images comparable to DALL-E or 3D animation comparable to Sora? And that's just considering models from a single largely closed source organisation.

    There are sometimes telltale signs of machine generated content because the failure cases are often distinct from the way a human would fail, but that doesn't make even the bad outcomes inherently worse than human: the fact we're even comparing the models to the best of humanity's work, to the famous artists and authors rather than to the mediocrity that most of us would manage when working outside our own fields, is a sign that it's already well above the average human in many verticals.

    These models do not "know" anything. They are mathematical behemoths generating a best guess based on training data and labeling, and thus do not "know" what you are asking it to do. You simply cannot fix them. Hallucinations are not going away.

    Large language models are by far the best data parsers we've ever come up with. You need factual accuracy, you point it at the database and tell it to sift through and link back to the primary information when it's got an answer - exactly as you would with a human. We don't expect a person, even a subject matter expert, to have every fact and figure memorised; we expect them to filter information and cite sources.

    While Joanna Stern may have said that Sora's generative video clips "freaked her out," much of what makes them scary is the assumption that OpenAI will fix hallucinations, something that the company has categorically failed to do

    This is just a weird statement - hallucinations are an issue for data accuracy, that's important if you're doing something like using a text model to compile statistics, but conflating them with creative output and then calling it a blocker doesn't make sense. Images and videos don't need perfection, and when glitches are visible or distracting you'll by definition notice that and hit regenerate.

    If you stop saying things like "AI could do" or "AI will do," you have to start asking what AI can do, and the answer is...not that much, and not much more in the future.

    I can't draw, I'm a shit photographer, the last time I did any 3D modelling was in the late 2000s, the list goes on. Those are all things I can now get a model to do for me, in high quality, in the space of seconds, at a cost of pennies. AI gives me capabilities I simply didn't have before.

    Is that a good thing? Does it have implications for the value of the skilled professionals who would otherwise do those things for me (if I needed them enough and had the budget to pay, neither of which is a given)? How much will that shift the commercial or economic landscape, if at all? What does it mean for understanding of truth and misinformation? Will this all shake out to be profitable for anyone? Is copyright law going to implode? Those are interesting and meaningful questions. But to ask what the systems can actually do, and then claim that generating content on demand is "not that much", just seems absurd to me.

    39 votes
  4. Comment on Hackers can read private AI-assistant chats even though they’re encrypted in ~tech

    Greg
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    I love this kind of research: it’s impressive that they managed it at all, it exposes a flaw that a lot of people just wouldn’t have thought of, and as far as I can see it gives a very...

    I love this kind of research: it’s impressive that they managed it at all, it exposes a flaw that a lot of people just wouldn’t have thought of, and as far as I can see it gives a very straightforward mitigation in just padding or chunking tokens to disguise their length.

    Haven’t had a chance to read in detail yet, but it’s interesting that Google’s platform is already immune - they do love their protobufs, so I’m thinking maybe that’s inherently obscuring the individual tokens?

    9 votes
  5. Comment on Fun programming challenge: figure out which sets of passports grant visa-free access to the whole world in ~comp

  6. Comment on Unique things to do in Las Vegas? (and Los Angeles) in ~travel

    Greg
    Link Parent
    I wandered into the Neon Museum pretty much just on the basis that I'd seen one or two cool and vaguely apocalyptic looking photos from there, and ended up having an amazing hour long chat with...

    I wandered into the Neon Museum pretty much just on the basis that I'd seen one or two cool and vaguely apocalyptic looking photos from there, and ended up having an amazing hour long chat with one of the staff. My answer to "let me know if you have any questions" was something like "I honestly don't even have enough context to know what to ask - what do you think is most interesting here?" and she just lit up, talked me through the historical context, the engineering, the weird social circumstances that led to huge fucking neon signs being a key part of the local culture, everything. Pure good luck to catch the right person in the right mood on a quiet afternoon, but it was a great experience!

    1 vote
  7. Comment on Bitcoin tops $72,000 for the first time in ~finance

    Greg
    Link Parent
    I guess it depends on what you’re counting as an advocate; the loudest and most numerous generally fall into one or more of those buckets, but there are plenty of serious financial types gambling...

    I guess it depends on what you’re counting as an advocate; the loudest and most numerous generally fall into one or more of those buckets, but there are plenty of serious financial types gambling on crypto just as they do on any other asset class.

    I see it as interesting tech that could’ve found a niche, and instead became a microcosm of our insane financial system as a whole. The numbers are made up, but not substantially more so than the ones underlying some similarly volatile derivatives.

    9 votes
  8. Comment on Recommendations for wireless earbuds for extended PC use? in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    I use mine for gaming sometimes because apparently the mic in them is much clearer for everyone else than the one in my bigger headphones, and they’ve been pretty much fine with Windows once...

    I use mine for gaming sometimes because apparently the mic in them is much clearer for everyone else than the one in my bigger headphones, and they’ve been pretty much fine with Windows once they’re connected.

    There seems to be some kind of sync issue about half the time when they power on - took a while to work out but it seems like they connect to Windows individually as you take each one out of the case, and then the audio comes through with each ear a few hundred milliseconds off from the other, which is enough to be unusably distracting. Good news is that just hitting disconnect/reconnect from the Windows Bluetooth settings once they’re in your ears seems to reliably sync them up again. I’ve had a million issues with Windows audio over the years in general, across a whole range of hardware, so that counts as fine based on the expectations I’ve got here!

    4 votes
  9. Comment on Recommendations for wireless earbuds for extended PC use? in ~tech

    Greg
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    Possibly a stupid question, but if latency, charging, and cost are all important would wired be an option? That’ll likely get you the best combination of those three things if it’s a possibility.

    Possibly a stupid question, but if latency, charging, and cost are all important would wired be an option? That’ll likely get you the best combination of those three things if it’s a possibility.

    2 votes
  10. Comment on Unique things to do in Las Vegas? (and Los Angeles) in ~travel

    Greg
    Link Parent
    The pinball museum is less a traditional museum, more several hundred playable tables in a warehouse - which as far as I’m concerned is goddamn perfect and by far the best entertainment you can...

    The pinball museum is less a traditional museum, more several hundred playable tables in a warehouse - which as far as I’m concerned is goddamn perfect and by far the best entertainment you can get for $10 of quarters in Vegas, but how much that appeals will definitely depend on your group!

    At the other end of the spectrum, taking a helicopter tour into the grand canyon was truly incredible and fully worth splashing out on in my opinion, but $400 is a lot to spend whichever way you slice it.

    6 votes
  11. Comment on British pubs keep getting demolished and rebuilt in ~design

    Greg
    (edited )
    Link Parent
    Exactly where and how to draw the lines around preservation vs new development will always be at least a little contentious, but I think the balance here is actually pretty good. The planning...

    Exactly where and how to draw the lines around preservation vs new development will always be at least a little contentious, but I think the balance here is actually pretty good. The planning system as a whole is definitely far from perfect, and the broader incentives around housing are an absolute mess in a lot of ways, but I don’t generally see historic buildings as a significant part of the issue.

    The rulings around these pubs aren’t the norm, they’re newsworthy because the local councils did specifically decide to protect them, the developers tried to pull their whole “oops, looks like it burned down by complete unavoidable accident, how terrible, I guess I may as well build my original plans on the site now” bullshit, and rather than rolling over and accepting it as fait accompli the councils have started saying “like fuck you will, you’re paying to put everything back exactly how you found it”.

    It’s pretty much the platonic ideal of justice as far as I’m concerned: person who thinks they’re rich enough to be above the law and/or is trying to treat fines as a cost of doing business gets slapped right back down in a way that costs them enough to discourage others from chancing it and makes the community whole. It’s precisely the right message to be sending: fines aren’t just a cost, the laws aren’t there just to set the price, they’re there because you’re not supposed to do the thing - and while it’s a bit of a shame that enforcing that is even notable, I’m sure as hell glad that it’s happening.


    [Edit] Just to address this bit specifically, because it’s particularly relevant:

    Compromises can be made to maintain the historical facade and build a taller building through it.

    A decent number of these kind of cases were already supposed to be that kind of compromise. The developer applied for permission to build, it was granted with a requirement to preserve historic parts in a way that would make the process slower, trickier, or otherwise more expensive. Developer smiles and agrees, and then (depending on precise level of sketchiness and sophistication) either bulldozes the thing and blames it on a tragic misunderstanding and miscommunication, or just hands a wedge of cash to a low level criminal and claims total shock when they wake up to someone telling them there’s been a fire on the site.

    I can genuinely sympathise with individuals who wanted to make a modification to their homes and got caught up in the bureaucracy, but they aren’t generally the ones who go on to ignore the decision and eventually get ordered by the court to rebuild what they destroyed. There’s nothing noble about the people who find themselves on the wrong end of this, they just thought they could pad their profit margins by forcing the court’s hand.

    6 votes
  12. Comment on WhatsApp announces messaging interoperability in response to Europe's Digital Markets Act (DMA) in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Looks like it, based on the developer docs linked from the post. They explicitly require Signal Protocol compatibility, on-device encryption and decryption even when proxying messages, support for...

    Looks like it, based on the developer docs linked from the post. They explicitly require Signal Protocol compatibility, on-device encryption and decryption even when proxying messages, support for WhatsApp’s single device-tied keys, etc.

    I’m very much not a cryptographer and I won’t claim to know what the threat model here is in terms of trusting Meta’s vetting of other closed source clients, or trusting WhatsApp’s handling of client keys to decrypt messages from publicly vetted open source clients for that matter, but at least on the surface it seems like this follows the existing security model.

    4 votes
  13. Comment on WhatsApp announces messaging interoperability in response to Europe's Digital Markets Act (DMA) in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Total guesswork, but maybe Meta prefer pushing users to have more of their apps installed, even accounting for the drop off from the extra friction? Messaging apps tend to be pretty sticky, and if...

    Total guesswork, but maybe Meta prefer pushing users to have more of their apps installed, even accounting for the drop off from the extra friction? Messaging apps tend to be pretty sticky, and if someone you need to talk to uses a specific one there’s a good chance you’ll install it if you have to, so I can imagine it being worth it to use them as an on ramp/retention mechanism for their other services.

    Either that or they wanted to tell the EU that interoperability wasn’t feasible, and showing that even their own ecosystem didn’t support it was a strategic decision to support that argument, perhaps?

    3 votes
  14. Comment on Kagi + Wolfram in ~tech

    Greg
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    This is cool! I’m not sure I buy the “semantic data as a bulwark against AI misinformation” angle from the blog post, but having Wolfram’s mathematical functions built in seems like it’ll be...

    This is cool! I’m not sure I buy the “semantic data as a bulwark against AI misinformation” angle from the blog post, but having Wolfram’s mathematical functions built in seems like it’ll be really useful.

    That said, I have noticed recently that the general Kagi search has picked up a mildly annoying habit of returning the lowest fraction rather than a decimal when trying to divide something, so I’m guessing that’s related and hopefully an option in settings somewhere.

    11 votes
  15. Comment on European crash tester says carmakers must bring back physical controls. In 2026, Euro NCAP points will be deducted if some controls aren't physical. in ~transport

    Greg
    Link Parent
    One of the most frustrating things is that in many cases I'd happily pay whatever amount they're making in advertising and tracking for the option to have the product without it - TVs spring to...

    One of the most frustrating things is that in many cases I'd happily pay whatever amount they're making in advertising and tracking for the option to have the product without it - TVs spring to mind in particular here - but that's often not an option at all, and even where it is the companies take that willingness to pay 15-25% extra as a sign of "lost" profit. The company might expect $200 extra in data and ad revenue from you over the lifetime of a purchase, but the willingness to just cover that cost directly means you're classed as a less price sensitive consumer and they feel owed an extra $1,000 or more.

    7 votes
  16. Comment on FastSDXL.AI: Free demo that lets you generate AI images as fast as you can type in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Aaand I've just realised that the UI they're giving in the link you mentioned at the top of this comment thread, branded "Copilot Designer" on a Bing URL, is completely different to the "Copilot...

    Aaand I've just realised that the UI they're giving in the link you mentioned at the top of this comment thread, branded "Copilot Designer" on a Bing URL, is completely different to the "Copilot Designer" UI that's presented by selecting "Copilot" on the top menu of the Bing homepage and then "Designer" from the sidebar - even though images I've generated in the latter do show up in the history of the former - that certainly doesn't help when it comes to figuring out the subtleties here!

    What I'm seeing for context.

    2 votes
  17. Comment on What is the most reliable and affordable form of storage medium to use as a backup drive for your computer? in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    It’s all a question of risks and probabilities, really. Keep a spinning disk powered on, eventually it wears out. Keep it off, eventually the bearings seize. Write too many times to an SSD without...

    It’s all a question of risks and probabilities, really. Keep a spinning disk powered on, eventually it wears out. Keep it off, eventually the bearings seize. Write too many times to an SSD without realising, the NAND degrades. Unplug it for cold storage, eventually the charge in the cells dissipates. You’re generally better off planning for hardware failure, rather than trying to avoid it and ending up screwed if you get unlucky.

    I’ve seen conflicting things on whether keeping drives spinning may actually be safer than storing them powered off (steady state causing consistent wear vs less overall wear but happening in an inconsistent way), but the way I’d look at it is that even if keeping them active marginally increases the odds of failure, it’s worth it to get an immediate notification when that happens rather than only finding out about it after it’s too late.

    There are tens of similar trade offs for pretty much any option, and any single option will fail eventually - so it’ll always come down to your personal balance of complexity, risk tolerance, and cost. The more you care, the more copies you want, across more locations, in more formats.

    As a minimum reasonable balance for the general user, I’d suggest a USB hard drive plus a cloud backup (Backblaze is a good option, but by no means the only good option). The drive will definitely fail at some point, and the chances are you’ll also realise you misconfigured or deleted something important from the cloud at some point, or get locked out, or forget you changed your card number and have it expire, or whatever - but the chances of both happening simultaneously are low enough to be acceptable for most people.

    I put a lot of value on my data, so my own setup is a local NAS with two drive redundancy, backed up to a cloud bucket with point in time snapshots managed from the local side as well as a six month versioned expiry period for anything that does get deleted on the cloud side in case a whole snapshots gets accidentally wiped. That’s expensive, complex overkill for most people, but I generate a ton of code and data that’d cause me way more hassle than it costs to keep safe.

    3 votes
  18. Comment on What is the most reliable and affordable form of storage medium to use as a backup drive for your computer? in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Yeah, hard drives eventually just wear out, they’ve got a lot of physical moving parts that can fail over time. They tend to follow a bathtub curve: higher failure rate when nearly new from...

    Yeah, hard drives eventually just wear out, they’ve got a lot of physical moving parts that can fail over time.

    They tend to follow a bathtub curve: higher failure rate when nearly new from manufacturing issues that QA didn’t catch, low chance of failure for a few years after that as the bad ones have already weeded themselves out, and then increasing chance of failure again as motors and bearings age, cumulative vibration damage takes its toll, etc.

    Backblaze publishes quarterly reports on reliability at scale, but on an individual level when you’re buying one or two of the things it’s pretty much luck of the draw. The major manufacturers all make decently reliable products, some will be DOA, and all will fail eventually - often at the most inconvenient possible time - so you’ll want to plan accordingly.

    17 votes
  19. Comment on What is the most reliable and affordable form of storage medium to use as a backup drive for your computer? in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Worth noting that those old CDs are going to be stamped, whereas anything writable at home uses dye, which changes the longevity significantly. That said, if you keep them in the fridge it’s...

    Worth noting that those old CDs are going to be stamped, whereas anything writable at home uses dye, which changes the longevity significantly. That said, if you keep them in the fridge it’s reasonable to expect a few decades (the Library of Congress has done some somewhat dated but highly relevant research on optical media ageing).

    Beyond temperature and humidity, the other key factors are storage density (Blu-ray will likely degrade to the point of error more easily as the physical features are much smaller) and precise manufacturing/chemistry (they saw some notable bad batches that almost all degraded far faster than the average).

    Personally I prefer a few copies on actively spinning hard drives - NAS at home backed up to a cloud provider - but if you wanted to go optical I’d imagine at least two copies of everything on media from different manufacturers would be a sensible way to go about it.

    Tape might also be an interesting one: it’s still the way big providers do large, long term cold backup, and the price per TB is hard to beat, but the setup costs are normally prohibitive for home users.

    14 votes
  20. Comment on FastSDXL.AI: Free demo that lets you generate AI images as fast as you can type in ~tech

    Greg
    Link Parent
    Totally makes sense! I will say I've found the chat context handling in Bing's "Designer" mode to be decent - probably better than the compound sentence parsing, as you're seeing - so I had...

    Totally makes sense! I will say I've found the chat context handling in Bing's "Designer" mode to be decent - probably better than the compound sentence parsing, as you're seeing - so I had reasonable luck getting it to build up the desired result step by step, waiting for it to generate an intermediate set of images each time:

    Please create an image of a brown-haired human male paladin in a D&D setting
    ...
    Add a castle to the background
    ...
    Add a teal-haired Drow female rogue standing next to him

    or

    Create a digital art image of a mythical dragon
    ...
    Please make the dragon skeletal and undead

    It's not perfect, not by a long shot, and you have to pretty much consider the intermediate images as throwaways (it'll use them as a rough style guide, but you definitely can't rely on it retaining details you liked from them in the next iteration), but the results did feel a lot better composed to me than doing it in a single shot.

    I'd still say that's not great UX, to be honest: it relies on the user considering the internal state of the system and working around it in a way that is probably less intuitive than giving it as much info as possible up front would be, and the type/wait/iterate loop does feel sluggish and kinda frustrating to me, but with any luck these are the kind of things the product people will be smoothing out as the tech matures.

    2 votes