skybrian's recent activity

  1. Comment on Ant geopolitics in ~enviro

    skybrian
    Link
    From the article: …

    From the article:

    Recognition looks very different for humans and insects. Human society relies on networks of reciprocity and reputation, underpinned by language and culture. Social insects – ants, wasps, bees and termites – rely on chemical badges of identity. In ants, this badge is a blend of waxy compounds that coat the body, keeping the exoskeleton watertight and clean. The chemicals in this waxy blend, and their relative strengths, are genetically determined and variable. This means that a newborn ant can quickly learn to distinguish between nest mates and outsiders as it becomes sensitive to its colony’s unique scent. Insects carrying the right scent are fed, groomed and defended; those with the wrong one are rejected or fought.

    The most successful invasive ants, including the tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata) and red fire ant (S invicta), share this quality. They also share social and reproductive traits. Individual nests can contain many queens (in contrast to species with one queen per nest) who mate inside their home burrows. In single-queen species, newborn queens leave the nest before mating, but in unicolonial species, mated queens will sometimes leave their nest on foot with a group of workers to set up a new nest nearby. Through this budding, a network of allied and interconnected colonies begins to grow.

    In their native ranges, these multi-nest colonies can grow to a few hundred metres across, limited by physical barriers or other ant colonies. This turns the landscape to a patchwork of separate groups, with each chemically distinct society fighting or avoiding others at their borders. Species and colonies coexist, without any prevailing over the others. However, for the ‘anonymous societies’ of unicolonial ants, as they’re known, transporting a small number of queens and workers to a new place can cause the relatively stable arrangement of groups to break down. As new nests are created, colonies bud and spread without ever drawing boundaries because workers treat all others of their own kind as allies. What was once a patchwork of complex relationships becomes a simplified, and unified, social system. The relative genetic homogeneity of the small founder population, replicated across a growing network of nests, ensures that members of unicolonial species tolerate each other. Spared the cost of fighting one another, these ants can live in denser populations, spreading across the land as a plant might, and turning their energies to capturing food and competing with other species. Chemical badges keep unicolonial ant societies together, but also allow those societies to rapidly expand.

    In the past 150 years, the Argentine ant has spread to pretty much everywhere that has hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. A single supercolony, possibly descended from as few as half a dozen queens, now stretches along 6,000 kilometres of coastline in southern Europe. Another runs most of the length of California. The species has arrived in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and even reached Easter Island in the Pacific and St Helena in the Atlantic. Its allegiances span oceans: workers from different continents, across millions of nests containing trillions of individuals, will accept each other as readily as if they had been born in the same nest. Workers of the world united, indeed. But not completely united.

    Expanding in parallel with the world-spanning supercolony are separate groups of the Argentine ant that bear different chemical badges – the legacy of other journeys from the homeland. Same species, different ‘smells’. In places where these distinct colonies come into contact, hostilities resume.

    In Spain, one such colony holds a stretch of the coast of Catalonia. In Japan, four mutually hostile groups fight it out around the port city of Kobe. The best-studied conflict zone is in southern California, a little north of San Diego, where the Very Large Colony, as the state-spanning group is known, shares a border with a separate group called the Lake Hodges colony, with a territory measuring just 30 kilometres around. Monitoring this border for a six-month period between April and September 2004, a team of researchers estimated that 15 million ants died on a frontline a few centimetres wide and several kilometres long. There were times when each group seemed to gain ground, but over longer periods stalemate was the rule. Those seeking to control ant populations believe provoking similar conflicts might be a way to weaken invasive ants’ dominance. There are also hopes, for example, that artificial pheromones – chemical misinformation, in other words – might cause colony mates to turn on one another, although no products have yet come to market.

    4 votes
  2. Comment on Apple to wind down electric car effort after decadelong odyssey in ~transport

    skybrian
    Link
    I don't know if this is related or not, and it seems too early to know how successful they will be selling cars in the US, but some people seem really worried about cheap electric cars from...

    I don't know if this is related or not, and it seems too early to know how successful they will be selling cars in the US, but some people seem really worried about cheap electric cars from Chinese manufacturers:

    AAM Calls Cheap Chinese EVs Built In Mexico “An Extinction Level Event” (Clean Technica)

    (AAM is the Alliance for American Manufacturing.)

    1 vote
  3. Comment on Bitcoin tops $57,000 price level for first time since late 2021 in ~finance

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    On the other hand, there’s something to be said for fixing loopholes that result in electricity rates that are too low in some places and finding alternative uses for stranded electricity. Going...

    On the other hand, there’s something to be said for fixing loopholes that result in electricity rates that are too low in some places and finding alternative uses for stranded electricity. Going after Bitcoin in particular is treating a symptom in a less robust way.

    2 votes
  4. Comment on Bitcoin tops $57,000 price level for first time since late 2021 in ~finance

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    “Scarcity” is just “number go up” and “PoW security budget” is someone’s unconvincing justification for wasting huge amounts of electricity for no reason. I don’t know a lot about Solana, but it...

    “Scarcity” is just “number go up” and “PoW security budget” is someone’s unconvincing justification for wasting huge amounts of electricity for no reason.

    I don’t know a lot about Solana, but it seems to be proof of stake, so it presumably doesn’t have that problem.

    It doesn’t matter what people choose as long as it’s not Bitcoin, that one is bad.

    7 votes
  5. Comment on Nvidia CEO says kids shouldn't learn to code in ~comp

    skybrian
    Link
    I think that learning to do arithmetic yourself is useful even if you expect to use a calculator or spreadsheet, and similarly, an introduction to coding (which is all many kids will learn anyway)...

    I think that learning to do arithmetic yourself is useful even if you expect to use a calculator or spreadsheet, and similarly, an introduction to coding (which is all many kids will learn anyway) is useful background knowledge even if you don’t do a lot of it by hand.

    It might be more useful to look at this in a less binary way: how much about programming should schools teach? I think it should be enough that kids get a taste for it, and the ones who are really into it will likely learn a lot more on their own.

    Regarding AI, the future hard to predict, particularly in a rapidly changing field. LLM’s haven’t been around for very long and it seems too soon to say what AI-based tools will really be like. Programming jobs might still be around (in some form) when current LLM’s become obsolete.

    3 votes
  6. Comment on Bitcoin tops $57,000 price level for first time since late 2021 in ~finance

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    The use of stranded energy does make it harder to figure out the true environmental impact, but switching to Ethereum (for example) would solve the problem almost entirely. When there are close...

    The use of stranded energy does make it harder to figure out the true environmental impact, but switching to Ethereum (for example) would solve the problem almost entirely. When there are close alternatives, I see little reason to invest in Bitcoin other than “number go up.”

    AI algorithms are extremely inefficient, but I’m hopeful that it’s just a phase and algorithmic improvements will result in dramatic gains. For cryptocurrency, the algorithmic improvements are already here and deployed and the only excuse for not using them is inertia.

    And specifically, the problem is new investment. If people actually looked at alternatives and chose a better one, the problem would solve itself.

    13 votes
  7. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    It did decrease (there were complaints about keyboards, etc) but seems to have gotten better again, which is why I brought it up as an example.

    It did decrease (there were complaints about keyboards, etc) but seems to have gotten better again, which is why I brought it up as an example.

  8. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I agree in the sense that everything changes, often for the worse, and then it’s time to take your business somewhere else. I don’t agree that incentives are destiny or that it’s easy to figure...

    I agree in the sense that everything changes, often for the worse, and then it’s time to take your business somewhere else.

    I don’t agree that incentives are destiny or that it’s easy to figure out which strategy will work best, even in the short term. Companies seem to succeed with different strategies, depending on industry and market segment. Apple comes to mind. They make plenty of money, but it doesn’t seem to be by decreasing quality?

    There are some industries, like the airline industry, where incentives do seem pretty pretty powerful and result in every business doing nearly the same thing. In others, there seems to be more variety.

    There’s still plenty of room for innovation when making websites where people communicate.

    1 vote
  9. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I agree that the comments are terrible on some topics, but I don't think we can draw any conclusions about the userbase. It's not a poll. Discussions like that are off-topic for Hacker News, and...

    I agree that the comments are terrible on some topics, but I don't think we can draw any conclusions about the userbase. It's not a poll. Discussions like that are off-topic for Hacker News, and most people are going to skip topics where they don't think the discussion will be good. (And they'll probably get flagged.)

    4 votes
  10. Comment on All aboard the bureaucracy train in ~transport

    skybrian
    Link
    This is an interview with Alon Levy, a transit researcher who is the author of the Pedestrian Observations blog. It touches on a lot of things so I’ll just recommend reading the interview.

    This is an interview with Alon Levy, a transit researcher who is the author of the Pedestrian Observations blog. It touches on a lot of things so I’ll just recommend reading the interview.

    5 votes
  11. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    A perception of neutrality is good from a PR standpoint, but I think it’s less important than network architecture. Voice calls are person-to-person and that architecture suppresses viral...

    A perception of neutrality is good from a PR standpoint, but I think it’s less important than network architecture.

    Voice calls are person-to-person and that architecture suppresses viral behavior. To reach a lot of people using phones, you need phone banks, which are labor-intensive, or robo-calls. This requires an organization (like a political campaign or a business) and doesn’t happen on a whim.

    Contrast with silly stuff going viral on a social network for no particular reason than people thought it was funny. Often the algorithm doesn’t help, but the root cause is basic features we all take for granted. There’s a reply button under every post that any stranger can use, along with retweeting or boosting. And even without that, it can be emulated with cut-and-paste and screenshots.

    This is enough to amplify a lot of bad behaviors, no fancy algorithm needed. It can be a silly joke or terrible political memes or hate-tweeting, where people amplify things they hate, so you get more stuff you hate in your feed. We need moderation to suppress the bad effects of an amplifying underlying architecture.

    2 votes
  12. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I’ve never used Facebook Marketplace. How does it compare to Craigslist (for local sales) or Ebay?

    I’ve never used Facebook Marketplace. How does it compare to Craigslist (for local sales) or Ebay?

    2 votes
  13. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    What changes is that spending or cutting back on spending are not inevitable. They are often a choice. Choices do need to be justified, but CEO’s tend to be pretty good at justifying whatever they...

    What changes is that spending or cutting back on spending are not inevitable. They are often a choice. Choices do need to be justified, but CEO’s tend to be pretty good at justifying whatever they want to do as somehow best for shareholders, and many of them are pretty well insulated from having to worry about a corporate takeover. It can take many years to find out whether something like Uber’s unprofitable expansion will work out, and investors will go along if there’s a chance.

    How much competition there is varies a lot. Sure, a small business like a restaurant is often going to be in a pretty precarious condition, but putting the largest, richest tech companies in the same bucket doesn’t make sense.

    2 votes
  14. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    This is a common myth. There's a duty not to take the money and run. Some things count as fraud. But they aren't required to justify spending decisions as being profitable according to some legal...

    Ultimately, public companies are legally bound to increase shareholder value.

    This is a common myth. There's a duty not to take the money and run. Some things count as fraud. But they aren't required to justify spending decisions as being profitable according to some legal standard. There's a "business judgement rule" which means management gets to do what they want within very broad limits.

    A recent example was Facebook losing tens of billions on virtual reality. Did that increase shareholder value? No court is going to touch that.

    Another example: paying the CEO too much is usually perfectly legal. (Musk was an exception, according to some rather convoluted legal reasoning.)

    Nobody's going to go after a social media company for spending too much money on moderation. They do want to make money, but that's a cultural norm, not a legal requirement.


    It's also not necessarily true that more moderation drives away users. Too little moderation can drive people away too. Meanwhile, TikTok is apparently heavily moderated and seems pretty popular?

    More generally, it may be hard to see how things will change, but the world does change in unpredictable ways. The biggest change in the last two years was the decline of Twitter. Who predicted that? I wouldn't bet on it happening in any given year, but I also wouldn't rule out the scenario where things get better on their own due to some new social network coming along that people like better.

    21 votes
  15. Comment on Is an ethical social media platform even possible? in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    I don't know where the line is between "social media" and "a website where people can post," but I think this is largely a matter of not letting the scale of the website get too big to moderate....

    I don't know where the line is between "social media" and "a website where people can post," but I think this is largely a matter of not letting the scale of the website get too big to moderate.

    One obvious sign of getting too big to moderate is hosting content in languages you don't know and countries that you don't understand very well. (As Facebook did.) Facebook grew far, far beyond being a system that where moderation is effective. (They could have done more, though.)

    A personal blog is likely to remain small enough to keep up with. A Mastodon instance could get too big to moderate, but only if you let it. (For example, there's no particular reason to accept open signups from strangers.)

    On the other hand, I think we do need to use larger systems than that and there's no way to prevent them from being misused without also giving up on privacy. A good example of this is a phone system. You can be sure that people are doing unethical things with telephones, but someone providing cellular phone service has no way to prevent it, since they can't listen in on people's calls.

    The only way to stay sane is to say "that doesn't count as collusion." Other people's phone calls have nothing to do with us. We aren't going to try to stop them and that's okay. We aren't going to give up on telephones because someone said they're unethical.

    Social networks have lots of public content, though. They're moderated and users expect them to be moderated. That's the key difference.

    11 votes
  16. Comment on I got paid $0.33 for confirming with Google that I got a haircut where I did and paid with a card in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    Yes, except that there is no "real" value. Value is inherently subjective. A transaction is evidence that it's worth at least that much to one buyer (in this case, Google), and at most that much...

    Yes, except that there is no "real" value. Value is inherently subjective. A transaction is evidence that it's worth at least that much to one buyer (in this case, Google), and at most that much to one seller. But the way they decided that is not necessarily by doing any math, and they could change their minds later.

    My guess is that someone at Google has a budget for this, but no clear idea about how much money it will make for Google. It's an expense that seems worth it for now, but only in a fuzzy, unquantifiable way.

    This is how lots of things have worked at Google. They give away lots of stuff for free, hoping to make it back somehow. Ad sales pay for it all.

    And more generally, lots of business expenses work that way. When a business pays to fly employees to various places, they may never figure out whether an individual trip was "worth it" or not. It's something that's only done for certain kinds of accounting, like cost of goods sold.

    9 votes
  17. Comment on I got paid $0.33 for confirming with Google that I got a haircut where I did and paid with a card in ~tech

    skybrian
    Link Parent
    Google made $65 billion in ad revenue last quarter. Nothing else comes close. How do they make money from "tracking people" if not from ads?

    Google made $65 billion in ad revenue last quarter. Nothing else comes close. How do they make money from "tracking people" if not from ads?

    9 votes