Sydney "The Riddle Of The Meds" Falk is a user on You can follow them or interact with them if you have an account anywhere in the fediverse. If you don't, you can sign up here.

Broadening a thought: We'd be better off if we stopped talking about "the internet of things" and started talking about "computers don't always look like we expect them to".

Instead of saying "internet-enabled" it might be wise to say "regardless of what it looks like, that's a computer and you should treat it like one".

"Somebody hacked my fridge!" Yes, your fridge has a computer built into it and you should treat it like a computer (and demand that the manufacturer treat it like one).

@noelle Whilst I agree, good luck with that.

We've added fundamental complexity to a whole class of objects. I'm trying to think of a similar parallel and what its consequences were.

My first thoughts are automobiles and telephones, though various aspects of chemistry might be more apt, in that through synthetic chemicals we attained several useful characteristics, but also numerous slow-to-be-realised harmful ones.

Related #TechOntology thought: #TechnologyIsDebt

@dredmorbius @noelle

maybe "computers aren't always obvious" is memetically small enough to get traction?

I don't like that it could be read as implying deceit, but "isn't obvious" is generally pretty neutral

@noelle @dredmorbius

really, the fact is that something needs to happen to make people recognize that devices MAY have more implications than they were prepared for, and I don't know how to get humanity to do that :\ it seems like a pretty rare phenomenon for the vast majority of humanity to focus their attention on anything, and "computers" seems like an already known topic to a lot of people who may still think "it's the screen, right, not that boxy thing"

@sydneyfalk @noelle This gets to notions of complexity, mediation, and /complexity depth/ -- sort of an indirectness-of-action issue, that makes realising implications difficult.

In our meatspace world, we almost always deal with very direct interactions. In tech, you get pathways that are many nodes deep, even for simple stuff. Typing these words: keyboard, its scan cycle, bluetooth or USB channel, system interrupts and bus, screen compositing, transfer to/from Mastodon, etc. Vs. ink/paper.

Sydney "The Riddle Of The Meds" Falk @sydneyfalk

@dredmorbius @noelle

The problem isn't complexity, IMO.

I mean ink and paper are actually shockingly complex things, but the 'interface' of 'writing on paper' has been relatively standardized in the collective human mind at this point -- but that's still pretty recent. The evolution of pens, of water-soluble ink, of papers made with varying materials and thicknesses and purposes, etc. It took a long damn time.

So computer interface use may not be 'standardized' for a much longer while yet. :\

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@sydneyfalk @noelle I disagree, though it's hard to put in words exactly /why/. Complexity is, shall we say, /complex/.

There are some approaches to this problem, and some people doing excellent work (look up virtually /anything/ associated with the Santa Fe Institute, particularly Goeffrey West, W. Brian Arthur, Doyne Farmer, John C. Holland, David Krakauer.

West has a book just out on Scale that I am dying to look at:

@dredmorbius @noelle

oh, I'm not denying that the complexity is there, but we have created use interfaces for things that are very complex, and I suspect that over time computer interfaces will become more standardized in a lot of ways -- at which point, they're going to be accessible enough that our primal brains have a 'feel' for them (which does happen to a degree already, but pretty rarely and only for minor phenomena, IIRC)


@noelle @dredmorbius

it may be that computer technology is literally more complicated than all the technologies that have come before (I think so) and it might even be the case that we can't ever standardize it enough -- but in that case we're pretty much guaranteed that the world as we know it will end

and then we've got a host of new, fresh, urgent problems

(well, not the ones who die, but the rest of us)

@sydneyfalk @noelle Some good stuff in here, even though we seem to be on different sides of the discussion. Mind, I /like/ that and it's what I seek out.

You're also hitting hard on a lot of concepts I've been kicking around, and the words we associate with them: complexity, computers, interfaces, standardisation, accessibility, technology.

I've been wading my way through this space slowly over about the past 5 years (and before, but far more intensely). Some thoughts on navigating.


@noelle @sydneyfalk First: you mention we've had interfaces for things that are complex. I think it helps (and would very much like to hear) what specific examples you've in mind. Because I keep thinking through similar examples, and of just what an "interface" is.

Literally: it is a boundary between two systems, and one which /defines/ the boundaries of the system(s), /accepts inputs/, and /communicates internal state/.

NB: Ideas are interfaces to reality.

(What's "truth" then?)


@noelle @sydneyfalk Second: think about what various systems do and don't have in common. Is there some beastiary you can tease out of the mess? (I've been mucking at that with my ontology of technological mechanisms, which covers a related ground.)

Third, *what is complexity itself?*

How do you measure it?
What are its attributes?
What benefits and costs does it present?

And how does this relate to the notion of computing IoT / IoS, etc.?

Is there a "physics" of complexity?


@noelle @sydneyfalk And fourth: as you navigate the space, what does it get you?

Are your precepts falsifiable? Do they provide any sort of predictive or explanatory power? (Good science may provide one, the other, or both.) *Do they clarify understanding of existing systems and problems?* (My tech ont does that for me, frequently.) Are there parts you're leaving out?

That's the sort of approach I try. And then invite constructive criticisms. Again, good points from you.


@dredmorbius @noelle

I don't have a full response in me, but bullet points:

truth: not a real thing in a provable way

systems have in common: I think tech's best analogy is mathematics but really it's unlike everything else that's come, because it can build arbitrary complexity to a degree nothing else has been able to

what does it get you: nothing, personally. I get nothing out of analyzing these things, so I usually don't.

I'm nobody, so I can't do anything with it but discuss it. :\

@sydneyfalk @noelle My view on truth is informed by information and systems theory. "Truth" is a measure of model validity, or better, /fitness/. This creates a lot of friction with a few thousand years of philosophical tradition, but seems to offer some useful insights.

When you say "tech's best anology is maths", are you referring to /information technology/ (which seems to be what most people mean), or /all/ technology. Which, as I view it, /includes/ maths (arguably).

What it gets you:

@noelle @sydneyfalk *A better understanding.* Which is to say, /a better truth/.

Even us nobodys can do that. I'm a Space Alien Cat, and poke at this stuff because I can, because I like doing it, and because I'm trying to understand the world a little better ... and the extant models seem wanting.

Discussing things can make changes.


@dredmorbius @noelle

> better understanding

Oh, I grasp this. What I'm saying is that I've come to understand a lot of things much better over my life, and people have even claimed I'm "wise" or "insightful" at times.

And it hasn't improved my existence very much, if at all.

A better understanding of the world, when your entire life is that of prey, only tells you how to hide from the world better.

I'm really, really good at it.

I don't know how to do otherwise, so it doesn't help me.

@noelle @dredmorbius

as for

> Discussing things can make changes.

I've yet to see this in provable example. Discussion leads to changes, but the way they go is essentially random for me. I can watch people discuss a topic, but their conclusion is as often rational and compassionate as irrational and fear-driven as inane and cruelty-inspired.

I view humans like weather. They just happen, and the consequences are what I have to deal with.

That's how I know I'm not people.

I just react.

@dredmorbius @noelle

Now, contrast this for a moment with a Somebody: Even someone, say, not 'powerful' or 'rich'. Someone who could potentially get power over resources or someone who could create something worth selling (and be willing to sell it).

They could do things that matter. It makes sense to me that they would be interested in these discussions. They want to know they're going to do the right thing.

But humans almost always justify after the fact. (Hopefully.)

@noelle @dredmorbius

(Hopefully it's 'almost always', that is.)

You're a somebody. I'm not.

I'd know if I was.

But you clearly do matter in some way -- you have goals, you consider thought worthy of examining, etc.

And from that I'd surmise you have access to people/materials/money/time/equipment/whatever -- and you want to do right by the world in some form.

I wish you luck, but I am not such a person.

I want to do right by the world (better than it's done me, anyway), but I'm nothing.

@dredmorbius @noelle

I really do wish you luck. You have a chance, and the world may actually not be able to stop you from making things better.

Any number of a jillion things can go wrong with the effort, of course -- but one has to try.

And that's a good thing. ^_^

@sydneyfalk @noelle Funny thing, and going meta again: this is an area I'm working on. The idea of "power over some thing" seems to me central to ... well, I'm not sure exactly. Power and control dynamics, but also a hell of a lot of economics, politics of course, sociology, group dynamics. *Stuff.*

But /what is the thing/?

Sometimes it's land, or resources, or capital. But can it be ideas, or an idea, or simply /an ability to work with ideas/? Maybe.

But like a key: you need the lock.

@noelle @sydneyfalk The right key without the right lock ... doesn't do you much good.

I'm trying to build a key. I'm not sure which lock it goes to. (Though I suspect that exists.)

@dredmorbius @noelle

The right key, when the lock is owned entirely by a government, corporation, or hyperpowerful billionaire is still worthless.

For you, perhaps, the lock is only guarded.

But for me?

The lock is guarded.

The lock is behind hundreds of other doors.

The lock is buried underground thousands of feet in a bunker under a bunker that's under a random McDonald's I don't have the address of.

Why would I make a key for that lock?

Why would I design for explicit impossibility?

@dredmorbius @noelle

> can it be ideas


That may seem like a flat, reductive answer, but let's be honest -- how often do you think someone's told me about their "idea" for a story...that they never wrote?

Ideas are cheap as fuck, especially in well-worn grooves like literature that have deeply matured.

Oh, there's still some value to 'ideas' in some fields, and technology's got youthful vitality and all, but it's the gap between a peso and a penny.

People who matter don't sweat either.

@sydneyfalk @noelle I'm familiar with the line of thinking.

I'm also aware of exceptions to the rule. And that most of those involve /instantiating/ the idea somehow.

But there /are/ people who've created a professional life out of an idea. Edward Tufte, say, and clear visual presentation of information. Linus Torvalds (or any of numerous other software project originators) and effectively managing the growth and development of their system. Others.

And of course, many don't.

@dredmorbius @noelle

> people who've created a professional life out of an idea

With respect: They have good ideas, to some degree.

I don't.

@sydneyfalk @noelle I've also been looking at who /has/ benefitted most from capitalism.

Mostly: monopolists.

People who've managed to gain control over something. Often a lock. Sometimes they've had the key, sometimes they haven't. But they've been able to control who, and what keys, can even make the attempt.

Monopoly === Gatekeeping

It's not a definition, it's an identity relation.

The trick is building the fence and gate.

Or finding a gate and turning yourself into its keeper.

@dredmorbius @noelle

The key to the key, if you will.

The thing is, they still had the key's key.

I don't.

@noelle @dredmorbius

> People who've managed to gain control over something.

I have no control over my life, barely any over my self, and -- that's pretty much my whole world. I don't do 'other people' much. Mastodon is about the biggest exception there is to that.

I don't have a key, I don't have the key's key, I don't have the lock, I can't build the fence, I can't play kingmaker and I can't be the king.

I can't.

I am defined by my limitations, and they're quite numerous.

@sydneyfalk @noelle There's a great quote on seamanship I ran across recently:

"The Art of ship handling involves the effective use of forces under control to overcome the effect of forces not under control."

- Charles H. Cotter

Most of us _have_ little under our control. I can assure you that's the case for me. I am, however, /trying to make the most of that little/.

@sydneyfalk @noelle Again: it's not easy, but it can happen.

Amongst the better examples I can point to in this persona is my conclusively puncturing the reality distortion field about Google+ engagement numbers. A space alien cat with a rusty laptop sucked down a few GB of sitemap files and showed that the actual public-posting engagement was a fraction of a percent.

That's the episode the "space alien cat" description comes from, BI picked up that line:

@noelle @sydneyfalk Even then it took a while, and it wasn't until another group (Stone Temple Consulting & Eric Engle) repeated and validated my results that the doubters finally shut up. And no, nobody thanks you (or pays you) for that sort of thing.

And you never know what's going to take off or make an impact. I've had the occasional success. Many failures. I keep plugging at it. Don't get too vested in any given attempt.

I've also tried very hard to react less, though that's hard.

@noelle @sydneyfalk I've been poking at stuff that interests me. Asking questions. /Looking for the right questions to ask./ And trying to structure that so I can build something out of the resulting mess.

It also means ignoring a hell of a lot that flies by.

@dredmorbius @noelle

This kind of points to the "you're a somebody" point again, no offense. ^_^ I've shown up on exactly zero websites that aren't Amazon's pages to sell my dirty books.

The real me doesn't matter, in the sense of 'can affect the world'. The fake me barely matters in that sense, TBQH.

@sydneyfalk @noelle And I have failed to sell (or write) any books.

We each have our competencies. And our actual accomplishments.

Disinhibition is a part of it:

@dredmorbius @noelle

> And I have failed to sell (or write) any books.


I burned out in a year, from what I can tell. I'm still writing. I still tell myself I'll publish more.

Maybe I will.

But realistically, this looks like failure to any rational assessment.

I wrote books.

It just didn't matter.

It didn't fix me, and that's what I had secretly hoped the whole time.

I thought ever since I was a kid that it'd change things for me, even if it didn't change the world.

Nothing changed.

@sydneyfalk @noelle There is a value and a skill in being able to put together a book. I've been working at it (across several projects) for ... going on 20 years now? Never really managed to pull it together.

I've got a few projects moving now that look book-shaped, and /might/ turn into something. Nonfiction.

Figuring out the structure, what I want to say, what I need to say, what I'd /like/ to say but for reasons (brevity, clarity, sanity, appeal) really /shouldn't/, etc., is hard.

@noelle @sydneyfalk And I'm under no illusions that writing/sellling books will make much by way of money.

(One of my projects is more-or-less geared at guaranteeing that.)

(Another project explains /why/ this is the case, and suggests alternatives.)

@dredmorbius @noelle

Nothing can make much money except luck (or being the right investor and that basically requires, ah, being someone with a lot of money already).

So, yeah.

You'll be fine. And you might release the book, and maybe you'll be the exception. Maybe you'll release it and it'll change something about the world. It does happen, occasionally, to people who are somebody.

It doesn't happen to the rest of us.

@noelle @dredmorbius

I gotta head to bed.

I hope this was worthwhile for you, I feel compelled to respond but I know deep down where this is going for me -- another spiral.

Looking at reality is hazardous for me, and I should stop doing it as much as possible.

Night night.

@sydneyfalk @noelle Pretty big believer in this, actually. Though you can shave odds and stay in (hopefully the right) game(s).

@dredmorbius @noelle

> There is a value and a skill in being able to put together a book.

If you can achieve what you want to do with it, sure.

I can't.

So there's no value.

@sydneyfalk @noelle I can assure you it's done very, very little for me of late as well.

And prey /also/ need better world models.

@dredmorbius @noelle

To survive, yes. If the prey doesn't want to survive, they become apathetic and survival comes down to instinctual pattern recognition at most.

Vaguely comfortable prey can afford to simply hide for long periods of time, so they do.

@noelle @dredmorbius

as for

> I can assure you it's done very, very little for me of late as well.

I can't imagine that's truly the case over the long game, though. So it must have provided some benefits you hope will reappear eventually, or that you hope you can reacquire access to.

It didn't do that for me.

Thinking about stuff is a surefire way for me to mess it up.

I'm bad at life. Thinking about life and reality is just more pain.

There's a reason I hide.

@dredmorbius @noelle

> model validity

The problem I have is that 'model validity' is not as easily determined as our brains like to imagine.

The more certain we are of something, the more likely it's true -- unless it's One Of Those Exceptional Things, in which case we're going to start building upon something that isn't true in any way and then all hell breaks loose down the line.

Validity cannot be absolutely tested in the real world.

Maybe it's defeatist, but it's where I am on it. :\

@sydneyfalk @noelle "Model validity" is the problem biological evolution has been trying to solve for 3.5 - 4 billion years. yes, it's a hard problem.

(In part because the validity conditions keep changing.)

I'm not saying the test is easy to solve. But I /do/ think this is the right way to think about the problem.