Thoughts from John Karahalis. Powered by thoughts, a "quieter, slower, more personal" alternative to social media.

Jul 23, 2024 - 6:13PM

Here's another mobile game that doesn't suck: There Is No Game: WD. Great graphics, lots of humor, and extremely creative gameplay. The story is surprisingly sweet, and you get to "play" classic games along the way. It even parodies games that are ruined by micropayments. Yes, please!

Jun 27, 2024 - 11:46PM

Building software is easy. Maintaining software is hard.

May 25, 2024 - 9:55AM

Asking questions is a superpower.

May 05, 2024 - 6:21PM

Thanks to social media, we all know too much about each other. We broadcast opinions to the entire Internet that a reasonable person would never mention at Thanksgiving dinner.

I only fully appreciated the flip side of this phenomenon very recently, however. As Jamie Bartlett writes in You are not an embassy, and as simple observation proves, social media companies work very hard to motivate us to share our thoughts publicly. More people sharing more thoughts means more readers, more commenters, more fights, more addiction, more ad impressions, and ultimately more money for these companies.

I can't claim the moral high ground here. I was guilty, too.

We know too much about each other because we've been manipulated into saying too much about ourselves. We've been convinced that we should say things online that we would never say in polite company. Is it any wonder the world is so divided?

I know this may seem hypocritical at first. The platform I'm using to publish these words is called "thoughts." However, I consider thoughts to be a calm technology. It doesn't beg for my attention. I don't get any buzzes in my pocket letting me know that someone thought I was wrong. Nobody can like or comment at all. As a result, I write when I want to, not when the platform wants me to. I say what I want, not what drives outrage and enriches Mark Zuckerberg. We need more platforms like thoughts… and fewer like Facebook.

May 04, 2024 - 6:21PM

It turns out that in a country as large and diverse as ours, a certain amount of benign neglect of other people’s odd folkways is more conducive to social peace than a constant, in-your-face awareness of clashing sensibilities. Little is gained when people in my corner of Brooklyn gawk at viral images of Christmas cards featuring families armed to the teeth. And people in conservative communities don’t need to hear about it every time San Francisco considers renaming a public school.

—Michelle Goldberg, an Opinion Columnist at The New York Times, in We Should All Know Less About Each Other

May 04, 2024 - 6:20PM

The social corrosion caused by Facebook and other platforms isn’t a side effect of bad management and design decisions. It’s baked into social media itself.

There are many reasons Facebook and the social media companies that came after it are implicated in democratic breakdown, communal violence around the world and cold civil war in America. They are engines for spreading disinformation and algorithmic jet fuel for conspiracy theories. They reward people for expressing anger and contempt with the same sort of dopamine hit you get from playing slot machines.

—Michelle Goldberg, an Opinion Columnist at The New York Times, in We Should All Know Less About Each Other

Apr 26, 2024 - 2:25PM

If you're getting your news from a floating head, angrily pointing at some article or video in the background, reconsider.


Apr 25, 2024 - 8:59AM

My position on banning TikTok hasn't changed. I don't know if I support banning it, but I do encourage everyone to stop using it. It's digital tobacco, every bit as harmful to the mind.

Apr 20, 2024 - 3:16PM

I often wonder why there isn't a business that resells streaming subscriptions. Such a business could offer, for one price (and, importantly, one bill, one app, one password, and one user interface) access to content from several streaming platforms. The business could renegotiate deals with the underlying platforms based on how popular their content is with viewers.

I know, it sounds like I'm reinventing cable. Still, I think customers would appreciate this convenience. I certainly would. There must be a reason someone hasn't done it already, though. If you know more, let me know!

Apr 17, 2024 - 9:27PM

Throughout history, every single time something's gotten better, it's become somebody has come along to say, "This is stupid. We can do better." It's the critics that drive improvement. It's the critics who are the true optimists.

—Jaron Lanier in The Social Dilemma

Apr 16, 2024 - 9:21PM

How does social media drive political polarization? Justin Rosenstein explains in The Social Dilemma:

You look over at the other side, and you start to think, "How can those people be so stupid? Look at all of this information that I'm constantly seeing. How are they not seeing that same information?" And the answer is, they're not seeing that same information.

This is by no means the only way social media drives political polarization. It turns out, showing users gradually more extreme content is also a great way to keep them addicted. More addiction means more screen time, more ad impressions, and ultimately more money for these companies. Still, it's a great place to start when describing the problem. The other side is not seeing what you see. In fact, they're getting a constant stream of information about how wrong you are, and you'll hardly ever see a drop of it yourself.

Apr 15, 2024 - 10:32PM

A five-word movie review of Civil War:

No backstory. Stunning final act!

Apr 15, 2024 - 9:36PM

If your happiness depends on other people acting the way you want, sooner or later, you're guaranteed to be unhappy.

Apr 11, 2024 - 8:13PM

We can all do a better job of communicating that science is valuable because it works. How is it that astronomers correctly predicted, years in advance, exactly when and where Monday's total solar eclipse would occur? That doesn't happen by accident. That's science! I don't know of any other tool, new or old, trendy or not, that can make such a detailed prediction and be precisely correct.

Apr 11, 2024 - 7:37PM

These days, with entertainment sometimes so blatant in its messaging, about as subtle as a brick to the face, I find the 1982 song Goodnight Saigon by Billy Joel beautifully refreshing. The song describes the experiences of American soldiers in the Vietnam War without making an overtly political statement.

We had no home front

We had no soft soap

They sent us Playboy

They gave us Bob Hope

We dug in deep

And shot on sight

And prayed to Jesus Christ

With all of our might

Rolling Stone music critic Dave Marsh once wrote that the song is "obscene" because it "refuses to take sides." I dare say he doesn't get it. I have an opinion about the Vietnam War, too, but I don't need to hear that opinion parroted back to me. Yes, validation can be immensely gratifying, but no man's land is much more interesting.

Apr 02, 2024 - 10:50PM

Simplistic is easy. Simple is hard.

This is a slight rewording of something Alex Limi once said during an internal presentation at Mozilla. The point is not about usage, but rather creation. Building something simplistic is easy, but building something simple is hard. The observation stuck with me, and I think it's a great little maxim.

Think about it in product design. Flickr is simplistic; Instagram is simple. E-Trade is simplistic; Robinhood is simple. eBay is simplistic; Mercari is simple.

To be clear, I'm not saying Flickr, E-Trade, and eBay are incapable. On the contrary, they're too powerful. I prefer the designs of Instagram, Robinhood, and Mercari for what they can't do. (Of course, whether anyone should use Instagram is another story. Even cigarettes can be thoughtfully designed.)

Mar 24, 2024 - 3:03PM

I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.

---Unknown, dubiously attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Mar 24, 2024 - 2:59PM

Don't put too much stock in the opinion of someone who's justifying a decision they've already made.

I remember reading this many years ago, while comparing two different camera brands. I think it's great advice for much more than shopping, though.

Mar 18, 2024 - 10:25PM

I find "retention" emails so creepy. A friend recently received one from GrubHub, which guilted him for not using the service enough. They practically read like ransom notes.

"Why haven't you been using GrubHub? What can we do differently? Who's that person you keep hanging out with? Did someone slash your tires?"

Life is hard. Maybe I don't have time for GrubHub right now. Chill.

Mar 18, 2024 - 5:17PM

Think AI is moving fast? Check this out.

Less than one year ago, I wrote that AI would soon be able to generate new music on demand. As an example, I imagined it generating a Beatles/Skrillex mashup about hoverboards.

Well, here it is… almost. It's not perfect. It wouldn't allow me to use real artist names in my request, and it doesn't have enough Beatles influence, in my opinion, but it's still a massive leap forward. Here's what it generated for "A 1960s rock / dubstep mashup about hoverboards."

Mar 17, 2024 - 1:25AM

Here are some mobile games that don't suck. Most are paid. Most don't have advertisements or in-app purchases. Some offer to remove ads for a fee, which I recommend paying.

Not everyone can buy games, yet we all pay eventually, either with our money or with our attention. We buy the product or we are the product. This list is for those who would rather buy the product.

Why compile this list? I'm hardly a gamer. I just want to highlight games that offer exceptional experiences by avoiding ads and in-app purchases. The lesson? Choose a business model that supports your art, rather than ruining your art to make money.

Mar 02, 2024 - 5:20PM

As a rule of thumb, I try not to get worked up about people I haven't met in real life. "Supporters of Political Candidate Want Toast Banned," a headline might read. Well, I've never met anyone in the real world who wants toast banned. Until I do, I'm not going to worry about it.

Of course it's important to notice and criticize bad ideas before they take hold. At the same time, with social media and the lazy, clickbait journalism it fuels, every bad idea now has a moment in the reactionary spotlight, and most will never affect much. Let's focus on the big problems of the day, the ones we'd notice with or without sensationalism.

Feb 28, 2024 - 8:03PM

A film’s need to entertain has obscured the reality about change. Montages set an expectation that personal transformations are practically microwaveable; just find the right mentor, find the right program, make the perfect plan, do it a few times, and you’ll reach your goal. I call this the montage fallacy.


The truth to personal transformation is much more boring—and ugly—than a montage will let on. You show up every day. You mostly make small gains, and experience the occasional leap—and persevere through setbacks. You have to choose the things you prioritize, which means you’ll decide to give up things you want to do.

—Herbert Lui in Montage fallacy

Feb 26, 2024 - 9:53PM

If I'm wrong about the dangers of social media, so be it. In fact, that would be a good outcome. We would need to find another cause of the discord and the weird rebellious conformity of our time, but they wouldn't be caused by the tools that are now so intertwined with society, and that would be a good thing. On the other hand, if I'm right about the dangers of social media, popular opinion will inevitably come to understand that harm more clearly over time. There will be many casualties along the way, but learning the hard way is sometimes necessary. Either way, it will be fine. I don't think I'm wrong, which I why I continue not to use social media, but it will be fine.

Feb 12, 2024 - 1:18AM

The nice thing about an opinion is that no one can take it away from you.

Feb 05, 2024 - 7:14PM

A fatal bicycle accident recently caught my attention. I don’t know what happened, but some basic advice may be worth repeating. As usual, I’m writing this partly to remind myself.

Please don’t text and drive. Please don’t drive recklessly in public; your fun is not worth another person’s life. When bicycling, please wear a helmet and reflective gear. For sufficient protection, be sure to replace your helmet from time to time or immediately following an accident, as recommended by Consumer Reports.

Jan 25, 2024 - 11:05PM

One of the trickier aspects of digital life is the constant pressure to opine. To have a strong opinion on a subject, and to share it with the world. It’s literally baked into the design of the most popular platforms… ‘What’s on your mind, Jamie?’ wonders Facebook. Some of the finest minds in the world work extremely hard to encourage you to tell everyone what you’re thinking and feeling. No wonder it’s hard to resist.


If I am honest, I know very little about most bad things going on in the world. Certainly not enough that sharing my view will inform or educate or enlighten. Yet whenever I see a news report, an urgent need rises up: what shall I say about this? I have a feeling about it – which must be shared! (And ideally in emotionally charged language, since that will receive more interactions).


What social media has done is to make silence an active – rather than the default – choice. To speak publicly is now so easy that not doing it kind-of-implies you don’t know or don’t care about what’s going on in the world. Who wants to look ignorant or indifferent? And besides, who doesn’t want to appear kind or wise, or morally upstanding in front of others?

But the result is an undirected anger from all sides: frenetic, purposeless, habitual and above all moralising.

—Jamie Bartlett in You are not an embassy

I agree. Of course we should criticize wrongdoing, but knee-jerk, impersonal, emotionally-charged reactions are sometimes profoundly counter-productive, and that's precisely what social media selects for. I actually wrote a blog post in August expressing very similar concerns, and I wish I could have quoted Jamie in it.

Jan 19, 2024 - 7:34PM

When people complain that baseball is slow, I wonder if they really mean that defense is boring. The best a defending team can do is prevent their situation from getting worse, and unlike some sports, baseball does not have turnovers. That does feel slow!

I also like to joke that being slow used to be the point. "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, I don't care if I ever get back," has become, "Put a runner on second, I've got places to be!"

Jan 16, 2024 - 10:47PM

Certainty is impossible. Show me someone who's certain, and I'll show you someone who's underinformed.

Am I guilty of overconfidence in my views? Of course. I think many people are. It's something I'd like to continually, imperfectly correct for, however.

Jan 09, 2024 - 11:29PM

I created some chatbots which pretend to be historical figures. They respond to messages based on the knowledge, values, and personality of the people they represent. To use one, simply click its link and follow the on-screen instructions. None of the money currently goes to me.

I'm sure there will be hiccups, as there always are, but I'm proud of them. I think they'll be especially useful in education. What better way to learn than by talking to the topic of one's studies?

The GPTs are built on top of ChatGPT and will launch with the GPT Store some time this week. To use them, one must sign up for ChatGPT Plus, which currently costs $20/mo. None of that money goes to me, and there's currently no way for me to charge an additional fee to use one of my GPTs. OpenAI may adopt a revenue-sharing model in the future, but it hasn't been rolled out yet. I have opinions on that ("Let's make the marketplace less like the App Store and more like Spotify!" —No creator ever), but there isn't much I can do about it right now. If I become annoyed enough by the enshittification, I'll consider removing my GPTs in protest. Besides, I don't honestly expect I'll make much money (or any money) doing this. It's just fun.

I have to share credit with my dad, who expressed an interest in chatting with an AI version of Abraham Lincoln. Now it's possible! I'm sure I'll add more historical figures in the future, so keep an eye out. When the GPT store launches, perhaps you'll be able to search my name or otherwise search for GPTs made by me.

Jan 09, 2024 - 10:26PM

Here's another thing I do to make my technology less addictive:

I use the Clickbait Remover add-on in every browser that supports it. It replaces ridiculous, attention-grabbing YouTube video thumbnails with images that are actually grabbed from the video. In that way, it defeats the dishonest alarmism that creators employ to win your attention. It's one more reason I disable the YouTube app on my phone, using Android's wellness tools to limit the app to 0 minutes per day, and only use YouTube through web browsers, where these add-ons can take effect.

There's another add-on, DeArrow which de-shittifies both thumbnails and titles. I don't use it because I feel it's a little overzealous and because I think its settings UI is overwhelming, a pet peeve, but others might like it. It's made by Ajay Ramachandran, who also made SponsorBlock, which skips over sponsored content in videos.

Jan 09, 2024 - 9:09PM

"You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards… Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference."

—Steve Jobs in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Jan 09, 2024 - 9:04PM

Don't trust others' plans for you. You'll soon discover they don't have very much planned at all.

I'm not sure where I first heard that advice, but it appears to be derived from a quote which is, accurately or not, attributed to Jim Rohn:

If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.

I tend to prefer the shorter version, but they both have their strengths. In any case, I think the advice is sound, and I hope to remember it.

Jan 08, 2024 - 7:45PM

Here's another technique I use to keep my phone user-friendly:

I use the Unhook add-on in all browsers to remove all addictive and manipulative features from YouTube's website: recommended videos, trending videos, shorts, autoplay, and even the homepage, which has become a hodgepodge of the others. As I've mentioned before, YouTube is just too good at wasting my time. I've actually disabled the YouTube app on my phone, forcing myself to use their website instead, so that I can always benefit from Unhook. I recommend everyone install it.

Jan 03, 2024 - 1:33PM

Here's another technique I use to make gadgets less manipulative and addictive:

I use Focus mode on Android during work hours. The fearure disables apps of my choosing during the specified timeframe. It's actually not quite as helpful as it might seem, largely because Google makes it so easy to work around, almost encouraging the user to stop using it, but it's one small piece of a larger puzzle. I'm sure iOS has something similar, and perhaps it's not quite as self-defeating over there.

Jan 02, 2024 - 6:09PM

As part of my ongoing effort to share techniques for making modern devices less addictive and manipulative, here's another trick I use:

My smartwatch is always in Do Not Disturb mode. It only makes noise when an alarm or timer goes off, and it never vibrates. There are no other exceptions because Wear OS apparently doesn't allow them. (I wouldn't mind getting a buzz from FitBit when it's time to move, but configuring that does not appear to be possible.)

Some might wonder why I have a smartwatch at all. It's a good question. Aside from knowing the time, I mostly use it to track my sleep. I honestly don't care about most of the other features.

Jan 01, 2024 - 9:06PM

I can become absorbed by technology like anyone else, but the nature of my absorption sometimes looks different because I work hard to make my gadgets less addictive. Over time, I'd like to share some of the techniques I use. Here's the first one, which I've mentioned before:

My phone is always in Do Not Disturb mode. I don't get any beeps or buzzes, except for emergency alerts, alarms, calendar reminders, phone calls within certain parameters (close contacts, repeat callers, etc.), and Slack messages from colleagues. I almost never need to be immediately alerted about anything else; I check my phone often enough already.

Interestingly, this isn't very easy to configure. Modern devices mostly require that we opt out of distractions, rather than opt in. Put another way, if the mode that respects our attention is called Do Not Disturb, what is the ordinary mode called?

Jan 01, 2024 - 8:35PM

"If you take on a role that’s beyond your capabilities, you not only disgrace yourself in that one, but you’ve also passed up the role that you were capable of performing well."

—The Enchiridion of Epictetus, as newly translated by Robin Waterfield in The Complete Works

Dec 26, 2023 - 6:30PM

I don't care about likes, comments, and shares. I don't care how many people subscribe to my blog.

Sounds pretty bold. Of course, it's a lie. We're all human. We all want to be liked.

I don't want those metrics to change my behavior, however. I don't want to be manipulated, however subtly, by algorithms and the faint praise of fake online friends. I'd rather be underappreciated than sell out. I'd rather be ignored than say things I don't believe.

Dec 26, 2023 - 2:49PM

Every movement needs their boogeyman.

Dec 26, 2023 - 2:48PM

We define ourselves by who we aren't.

Dec 18, 2023 - 5:29PM

What was the point of giving SARS-CoV-2 variants names from the Greek alphabet (Delta, Omicron, etc.) if all the sub-variants of Omicron are given unusable names like BA.2.86 and JN.1? Surely, the alphabetic names helped us communicate about the virus and take its mutations seriously. That seems almost impossible now.

Dec 18, 2023 - 1:19AM

In researching alternative shells, I came across zx, a JavaScript runtime for shell scripting. It looks great! Perhaps I'll use it some time.

Dec 17, 2023 - 5:13PM

Bash has always felt like a programming language designed by someone who sleeps upside down and eats soup with a fork. I kind of love it, though.

Dec 09, 2023 - 4:35PM

After sharing the previous post with my dad, he reminded me of a story involving Papou's workshop that reveals how just how analytical I've always been. I don't say that as a boast. There's more to life than logic.

One day, as children, my older sister and I played in Papou's workshop, emulating our beloved grandfather. We hammered at a bench, striking not nails, but rather at the flat surface of the bench itself. Our naive pride must have been cute. At some point, a confused expression came across my face. My subsequent question made everyone laugh:

"Why are we doing this?"

Dec 08, 2023 - 1:23AM

After honing them for many years, I've finally open-sourced my dotfiles. For those unacquainted, dotfiles are small files that customize a computer and its programs, as well as a set of utilities that make day-to-day operations easier. If a computer is a workshop, dotfiles are the shelves, pegboard, and carefully crafted tools.

I've actually never thought of dotfiles that way until writing that sentence. I'm reminded of my papou's workshop, which he loved just as much, if not more. I guess his skills really do live on in me, albeit in a different form. I also have no doubt he would cry if he could read this. He was extremely sensitive and sweet, a WWII teddy bear. I also inherited some of that from him.

In any case, I'm open-sourcing my dotfiles because I hope they can be useful to others. I licensed them under MIT, which basically means anyone can use them for any purpose as long as they give me credit. It's another departure from my past ideological support for the GPL, which enforces something like mandatory cooperation. I definitely admire and see the value in the GPL, but I don't think it makes sense for a simple project like this. Use my code! I'm just glad it may be helpful.

On the technical side, I'm really proud of my shell scripts, Bash functions, and methods of organization. I started using docopts in shell scripts about one or two months ago, and it's a real game-changer. I encourage everyone to check it out. It may even help others reuse my code.

Have at it!

Dec 02, 2023 - 5:16PM

What is clickbait? Some people define clickbait as any headline, thumbnail, or similar (let's call them teasers) that is factually incorrect. I don't agree. I don't think correctness is the point. I think clickbait is any teaser that is psychologically manipulative, that uses our emotions against us to win engagement.

Nov 25, 2023 - 12:00AM

Our opinions are powerful. They affect others, sometimes more than we realize, and no one can take them away from us.

Nov 17, 2023 - 7:36PM

Here's something I never expected would happen. Apple says it plans to support RCS. Does this mean Apple is done with its dirty tricks in messaging and elsewhere? Of course not. It's a baby step in the right direction, though.

Don't get me wrong. I have a love-hate relationship with Apple. They build great products, but they also refuse to play nice with others, even admitting it's for their own selfish gain. As the article explains, software executive Craig Federighi once wrote in a private email that publishing iMessage on Android, let alone supporting an open standard, would "remove obstacle [sic] to iPhone families giving their kids Android phones."

Nov 15, 2023 - 5:32PM

"It doesn't seem to conventional-minded people that they're conventional-minded. It just seems to them that they're right. Indeed, they tend to be particularly sure of it."

—Paul Graham in Orthodox Privilege

Nov 14, 2023 - 6:09PM

The best design is invisible.

In most music players, I inevitably leave shuffle mode on for longer than I'd like. I might enable it when listening to a playlist. When I later listen to an album, I might get halfway through before realizing shuffle is still enabled and the songs are playing out of order.

This never seems to happen on Spotify, however. Spotify seems to automatically disable shuffle whenever it's no longer wanted. I don't know what heuristic Spotify uses to determine when shuffle should be disabled, and as a user, I don't really need to care. All I know is that shuffle never seems to be on when it shouldn't be.

Nov 11, 2023 - 1:57PM

"You can't deal logically with an illogical person."

My dad developed this phrase after working in a psychiatric hospital, and it's always stuck with me. As usual, there’s no subtext here. I’m not trying to be mysterious or send someone a message. It's just something I think about often.

Nov 11, 2023 - 1:55PM

A five-word movie review of The Adjustment Bureau:

Clever, fun, tidy. Hat trick!

Nov 10, 2023 - 11:34AM

I'd like to see a grassroots campaign to ignore daylight saving time. If enough people participated, maybe we could finally force the issue.

After that, let's switch to the metric system!

Nov 06, 2023 - 10:51PM

I subscribe to the daily Mutts comic by email. A recent message included a quote by Marc Bekoff which resembles something I wrote in Saying goodbye to Taggy.

I wrote the following:

All animals are conscious. All animals feel comfort and pain. In that way, we are equal.

Bekoff put it differently:

Although other animals may be different from us, this does not make them less than us.

I don't know which version I prefer, but I'm relieved not to be alone in my thinking.

Nov 04, 2023 - 1:08AM

I dreamed about Taggy last night. Taggy was a beloved cat who passed away recently. It feels wrong to call her a cat, really. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call her a friend or a non-human person. In any case, I shared the longer story on my blog.

I don't remember much about the dream, except that I was so relieved to see her again. I also remember other black cats approaching me, to my annoyance. I find it beautiful that, even in my dream, I was able to tell the really Taggy from the impostors.

Do we really connect with other souls in our dreams? I don't personally think we do. I would like to believe it, though. I'd like if Taggy had really been there with me, making her true self known.

Nov 02, 2023 - 12:15AM

Windows and macOS should not allow users to save items to the desktop. Saving to the desktop is the equivalent of carelessly throwing papers on a desk. It also inhibits learning. Why use bookmarks, folders, or search when everything can just be thrown on the desktop?

Whatever convenience or advantages the ability offers, it's not worth the confusion and frustration it inevitably creates. As just one example, I know someone who has a half-broken monitor and who could replace it, except that a new monitor with a different resolution would cause the desktop icons to move, a price he's not willing to pay.

Nov 01, 2023 - 10:17PM

The new blink-182 song Dance with Me is extremely catchy, but it can't really be added to playlists or played at the gym, for example, because of the sexual joke spoken at the beginning of the track. Individual sensibilities differ, but I wouldn't want to play it in polite company.

I've encountered this problem before, usually with bonus tracks that play after several minutes of silence. They can be great songs, but there's no great way to add them to playlists. Technical solutions exist (it wouldn't be hard for an app to apply a time offset), but they may not be worth the added user interface complexity. Perhaps the easiest solution would be for publishers to release alternate cuts more often. Let's get a version of Dance with Me without the joke. Let's get A Soft Hum sans silence.

Nov 01, 2023 - 10:13PM

I dislike when online platforms are split into multiple sub-sites (sometimes called servers, instances, organizations, or groups), such that each user has one profile on each sub-site and each profile has its own settings. Slack works this way, as do Meetup and Stack Exchange. For example, if I change my personal Slack settings in one organization, my settings for other organizations do not change.

Why do these platforms work this way? I see no upside for the user. Even if there is some esoteric benefit, I suspect most users find it incredibly confusing. I certainly do. Sure, there may be cases where I want settings to be different for different sub-sites, but that should be the exception rather than the rule.

Oct 29, 2023 - 11:59PM

How do things change? Slowly, then all at once.

This paraphrases Ernest Hemingway and Cory Doctorow.

Oct 29, 2023 - 11:31PM

Being wrong doesn't always feel like being wrong.

As usual, there's no subtext here. I'm not trying to be mysterious or send someone a message. I just think some truths are best summarized concisely. They may also be easier to remember that way.

Oct 28, 2023 - 1:49AM

Five word movie review of Five Nights at Freddy's:

Great cinematography, good music, strange

Oct 25, 2023 - 9:48PM

What's wrong with hyperpartisan media? (Pick your favorite example of a one-sided TV channel, YouTube channel, website, radio show, podcast, or magazine.) If the problem is that these outlets promote overly simplistic, slanted perspectives, never reporting the other side of the story, then why are we not equally worried about social media filter bubbles, given that they are designed to do the same thing?

Facebook and other social media platforms show us what we want to see. They reinforce our existing worldviews. One doesn’t need to think hard to understand why; anything else would be bad for business. Nobody logs on to be told they’re wrong. Nobody enjoys having their reality challenged.

I’m concerned about old-style hyperpartisan media, but this new, "social" version is much worse. Many of us walk around with personalized, digital propagandists close by. They push our buttons and beg for our limited attention—buzz, buzz! Sometimes, we spend more time with them than with real human beings, with their nuanced and thoughtful perspectives.

Should we be surprised the world is so divided?

Oct 24, 2023 - 9:02PM

I’ve often wondered what I do differently that makes me "good" with computers.

Being willing to make mistakes is huge, although I empathize with anyone who is unwilling to take that risk; a single button press can destroy hours of work… or at least appear to. Sure, many things can be undone, but what good is that if people aren't taught how to undo them? You might be like a high school friend of mine, who was amazed when I reminded him that his "lost" paper was probably just in the "Recycle Bin."

In thinking about this question, I’ve also noticed one habit that seems to help: when I install a new app or set up a new device, I immediately peruse the settings. Doing so is a great way to learn what the software is and isn’t capable of. It makes the software seem less "magical." It bounds the possibilities. I recommend giving it a shot.

Oct 17, 2023 - 10:51PM

Five-word movie review of The Endless:

Don't be controlled. Just leave.

Oct 13, 2023 - 1:44PM

My love-hate relationship with Apple continues. In my earlier post on the topic, I only briefly mentioned what may be my biggest gripe with the company: vendor lock-in.

I'm honestly bewildered by how easy it is to export data from Google products. What is Google's incentive for helping with this? On the other hand, exporting data from Apple products can be almost impossible. Want to take your to-do list with you when you switch to the next big thing, without jumping through hoops? Good luck.

Using Apple products is like staying at the Hotel Cupertino: you can check out any time you like, but your data will never leave. As much as I admire Apple products, with their attention to detail and their focus on usability and user experience, this problem may be the one that prevents me from moving to Apple's ecosystem.

Oct 04, 2023 - 6:38PM

In the past, I wrote that we may need a digital equivalent to the awkward pause. At the time, I couldn't find the blog post where I first encountered that idea, but now, almost exactly one year later, I've found it. It really stood the test of time. I couldn't agree more!

Imagine you're at a dinner party, and you're getting into a heated argument. As you start yelling, the other people quickly hush their voices and start glaring at you. None of the onlookers have to take further action—it's clear from their facial expressions that you're being a jerk.

In digital conversations, giving feedback requires more conscious effort. Silence is the default. Participants only get feedback from people who join the fray. They receive no signal about how the silent onlookers perceive their dialogue. In fact, they don't receive much signal that onlookers observed the conversation at all.

As a result, the feedback you do receive in digital conversations is more polarized, because the only people who will engage are those who are willing to take that extra step and bear that cost of wading into a messy conversation.

—Devon Zuegel in The silence is deafening

Oct 02, 2023 - 11:14PM

Here's a five-word movie review for Synchronic:

Inventive, fun, but lacking believability

Oct 02, 2023 - 11:09PM

Inspired by a series from my former colleague, Eric Shepherd, I'd like to write five-word movie reviews from time to time. I'll start with the movie Jules:

Adorable until fuel plot point

Oct 02, 2023 - 9:24PM

"Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback."

—Dutch proberb

Oct 01, 2023 - 2:01PM

Politics has become a means of self-realization rather than a tool for solving practical problems. Views on enlightenment differ, of course, causing intense conflict and distrust. To restore our trust in each other and the political process, now may be a good time to focus on common-sense legislation with broad appeal. Let's eliminate daylight saving time, outlaw deceptive resort fees, and begin to regulate social media. Let's stop tech support scammers, strengthen online privacy, and standardize on one charging connector for electric cars. Let's make browser vendors work together to prevent identity theft. These things may seem inconsequential, but getting along couldn't be more important. Along the way, we might discover that politics doesn't always have to be so acrimonious.

Sep 24, 2023 - 2:46PM

An occasional reminder may be prudent: I'm not the John Karahalis who writes letters to the editor of the New York Daily News. I'm not taking a position on those opinions. I just don't find it productive to discuss religion or politics in polite company.

For the most part, I regret discussing religion and politics on social media. Doing so accomplished little good. Moreover, the ubiquity of such content is one of the many reasons I find social media intolerable. Of course, religion and politics take many forms. The line between them is becoming less distinct, and often, they disguise themselves as simple reality.

Sep 19, 2023 - 9:44PM

Venmo includes the following warning with MFA codes that they send over SMS. It's the clearest warning I've ever seen, and I applaud Venmo for being so thoughtful.

Venmo here! NEVER share this code via call/text. ONLY YOU should enter the code. BEWARE: If someone asks for the code, it's a scam. Code: [CODE]

Sep 18, 2023 - 7:16PM

Spotify’s new AI DJ feature is superb, and it's only in beta!

Sep 16, 2023 - 7:02PM

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. I love that phrase.

Here's a new one. Many working clocks are wrong infinitely many times per day. How can that be? There are infinitely many decimal numbers between 1 and 2, and unless a clock has a sweeping second hand, it can't correctly represent any of them.

Sep 15, 2023 - 12:20AM

“If our goal is to live in a shared reality with our neighbors, what if our current approach isn't bringing us any closer to that?"

—Peter McIndoe in a TED talk about his satirical conspiracy theory, Birds Aren't Real

Sep 13, 2023 - 6:33PM

"In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car."

Sep 08, 2023 - 10:25PM

Social media is dead. At least, that's the conclusion of a recent Business Insider article.

The premise is that young people aren't posting on social media nearly as often as people used to, partly because they're sick of being judged, partly because they're sick of looking at ads. Fine by me! The article also suggests that young people are sending more private messages, leading app makers to prioritize those features.

It's hard to see a downside, as imperfect as this improvement is. Why not go a step further by using Signal? It's a truly private messaging app from a non-profit that doesn't want to spy on you. In fact, Signal pretty much couldn't spy on you if it tried. The app is painstakingly designed to use end-to-end encryption, so that nobody, not even Signal, can see what you and your friends are talking about. How many apps can make that claim? (Spoiler alert: almost none.)

Sep 08, 2023 - 2:30AM

"Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse."


Aug 26, 2023 - 12:09PM

"What are human beings without animals? If all the animals ceased to exist, human beings would die of a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the animals will happen soon also to human beings. All things connect."

—Chief Seattle, from an inscription at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport

Aug 20, 2023 - 3:22PM

The Beatles never set OKRs.

Aug 19, 2023 - 11:51PM

I asked GPT-4 (with the BrowserOp plugin enabled) to read this page and write three new posts in my style. Its initial response leads me to believe it only considered about the last two months of posts when emulating me, but that's good enough.

The first post summarizes my views on technology very well, albeit imperfectly. I'm struck by how gentle it is, and I wonder if I should strive to write more like this:

The Paradox of Progress: As we advance into an era of unprecedented technological growth, I find myself pondering the paradox of progress. On one hand, technology has undeniably made our lives more convenient. We can communicate instantly, access vast amounts of information, and even use AI to mimic human creativity. Yet, with every leap forward, there seems to be an unintended consequence. The same platforms that connect us also divide us, feeding us tailored content that reinforces our existing beliefs and isolates us from diverse perspectives. The tools that promise efficiency often lead to increased distractions and decreased human interactions. It's a reminder that progress isn't linear, and with every innovation, we must pause, reflect, and ask ourselves: Is this truly betterment, or just change? As the great thinker Aldous Huxley once said, "Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backward."

The second post is interesting. It makes the case for minimalism, which is important to me, but it also loses focus and veers off at the end:

The Ephemeral Nature of Digital Memories: In an age where every moment is captured, shared, and stored in the vast expanse of the digital realm, I've been contemplating the true essence of memories. Physical photographs once held a tangible weight, each one a frozen slice of time, carefully chosen and cherished. Now, with the ease of digital photography, we capture hundreds of moments, only to let them get buried in the depths of our devices. But does this abundance dilute the significance of these memories? Or does it simply offer a richer tapestry of our lives? As I sift through old digital photos, I'm reminded of the words of the poet Maya Angelou: "We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." Perhaps, in this digital age, our shared experiences and memories serve as a bridge, connecting us in ways we've yet to fully understand.

The third is my favorite. I hadn't considered this, exactly, but I agree almost completely:

The Quiet Power of Solitude: In our hyper-connected world, moments of true solitude have become increasingly rare. The constant pings, notifications, and digital chatter often drown out the quiet introspections that once defined our quieter moments. Yet, it's in these moments of solitude that creativity often sparks, and self-reflection deepens. Virginia Woolf once wrote about the need for "a room of one's own" for deep thought and creation. Today, perhaps we need not just physical, but digital solitude—a space free from the relentless influx of information, where our minds can wander, explore, and simply be. As we navigate this digital age, it might be worth seeking out these pockets of quiet, for it's often in the silence that we truly hear ourselves.

Soon, I won't be needed at all. AI John will trade words with AI Zuckerberg without either of us lifting a finger. (I'm not worth the real Zuckerberg's time, but AI Zuck might have some cycles to spare.) On the other hand, maybe my digital mind will debate someone who's not so oblivious, who actually appreciates the dangers posed by today's weapons of mass distraction. Now there's a zinger GPT couldn't come up with!

Aug 15, 2023 - 12:55AM

For most people, most of the time, there is almost no line between wanting to believe and actually believing. I'm guilty of this, too, in ways I don't even notice. The fact is illuminating, though. It explains so much.

Aug 13, 2023 - 12:28AM

Pets are not good gifts, no matter how many YouTube videos suggest otherwise. Gift-givers want to witness joyous reactions from gift recipients, and many people are genuinely joyous the moment they receive a surprise pet, but caring for an animal is a responsibility that lasts for much, much longer than that one moment. Unless the recipient has met the animal, knows for certain that the animal will be their gift, wants the animal to be their gift, and is completely prepared for that responsibility (i.e., unless there is no element of surprise at all), please do not give an animal as a gift. Even then, please think twice.

Aug 10, 2023 - 9:23PM

For the time being, at least, when using ChatGPT and other AIs, we need to remember a simple rule: trust, but verify.

I dislike the political baggage associated with the phrase, but there's not much I can do about that. It's good advice.

As a curious person, ChatGPT is an incredible resource. When I want to debug a computer programming problem or get into the weeds of a philosophical issue, I often start by engaging with the chatbot. I've learned important things this way, but I've also noticed ChatGPT making major mistakes. In one particularly bad "hallucination," as they're called, ChatGPT invented a horrific quote and attributed it to someone who said no such thing.

These things happen, and technologists don't currently have a solution. For that reason, I strongly recommend double-checking any important claim made by one of these mechanical minds. Trust, but verify.

Aug 01, 2023 - 11:29PM

Grief is not as it appears in movies. It's confusion and disbelief, it's dull and numb, with periods of intense, breathless sadness when one is least expecting it.

Jul 28, 2023 - 9:23PM

I started using Signal years and years ago, back when it was called TextSecure. I've always appreciated its commitment to privacy, including its use of end-to-end encryption, and its focus on usability. Precursors like Enigmail were great, but few people used them. Glenn Greenwald famously couldn't be bothered to set up a secure communication channel when Edward Snowden implored him to do so. When he finally got around to it, Snowden sent him the documents that changed his career forever.

Now, I'm finally replacing some Google services with equivalents from Proton, another company that aims to make privacy easy. I'm impressed with their growing product line, and I don't want to fuel the attention economy any more than I have to. Consider checking them out! A healthier internet awaits.

Jul 24, 2023 - 2:45AM

In recent weeks, I've spotted one Etsy retailer and one physical retailer selling art under their own names that I'm almost certain were wholly generated by AI. (For now at least, it's sometimes not hard to spot when you know what you're looking for.)

We live in strange times.

Jul 23, 2023 - 5:04PM

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."

—John Muir

Jul 23, 2023 - 12:16PM

My phone is perpetually in Do Not Disturb mode, with few exceptions. It only just occurred to me how strange that name is. If the unobtrusive mode is called Do Not Disturb, what is the ordinary mode called?

Jul 22, 2023 - 3:16PM

If it’s important, do it first.

For years, I’ve tried to remind myself of this. Work expands to fill the time allotted, and with so many distractions vying for our attention every minute of every day, it’s easy to see how the things we care most about sometimes go undone.

If it’s important, do it first.

Jul 17, 2023 - 8:27PM

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

According to Quote Investigator, this was not spoken by Carl Sagan, as some claim, but rather written by reporter Sharon Begle.

In any case, I'd like to offer a corollary:

Somewhere, a song you'll love is waiting for you to hear it.

Jul 16, 2023 - 10:32PM

Let's hope you never leave, old friend

Like all good things, on you we depend

So stick around 'cause we might miss you

When we grow tired of all this visual

You had your time, you had the power

You've yet to have your finest hour


Radio Ga Ga by Queen

I've loved this song since hearing it in the film Bohemian Rhapsody. The music is great, but I'm even more attracted to the message. There really is something special about audio as a medium. Podcasts are huge for a reason. Interviews, drama, news, comedy, true crime. Freddie was right.

I wonder if people will lose interest in podcasts when truly hands-free, self-driving cars become more widely available. I myself will certainly have fewer reasons to listen and more opportunities to be distracted by my phone. How strange is that? As a result of having more free time, I may spend less time doing something I enjoy. The attention economy at work?

Jul 16, 2023 - 10:28PM

Many years ago, my dad discovered a manual ad-blocking technique for TVs: when commercials start playing, mute the device. It's surprisingly effective. The otherwise captivating ads immediately become uninteresting.

To my surprise, my dad wasn't the first to come up with the idea. In The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu explains that the Zenith Flash-Matic, the first wireless remote control, was partly designed to "shoot out" the sounds of commercials. Clever!

Jul 16, 2023 - 10:25AM

Multitasking almost never works. I want to show respect to the people around me. I want to fully engage with them. That means not looking at screens that they aren’t looking at. It's easier said than done.

Jul 12, 2023 - 6:59PM

Please don't text and drive.

Of course, drivers who are distracted by their phones aren't always texting. I would guess many are checking their notifications. It saddens me that people sacrifice their lives to check their "likes" when those likes aren't worth much anyway.

Should app makers be held liable for contributing to these horrific accidents? I think they should. These aren't neutral tools. They're designed to be as addictive as possible. Who could blame teenagers for giving into the temptation to check their phones behind the wheel? TikTok and their rivals could go quiet inside moving vehicles, but they don't. After all, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Perhaps you can't become the #1 social network without cutting a few thousand lives tragically short.

Jul 11, 2023 - 12:06AM

I’m not optimistic about Threads, the new Twitter alternative from Meta. I’m told the community is pleasant now, but I have no doubt the shitstorm will roll in soon. Fool me once…

Jul 08, 2023 - 12:11AM

Tuesday was Independence Day, America's holiday commemorating independence from Great Britain. There are many reasons to celebrate, of course, but I find it a little strange that we continue to focus on independence when we're now so friendly with our former adversary.

With our country and our world so divided, aren't there other achievements we could more wholeheartedly honor, filled with genuine pride and excitement? Juneteenth is a deeply worthy observance. How about humanity's first steps on the moon, women gaining the right to vote, the invention of the computer, or the eradication of smallpox? We need to find better ways of getting along. Celebrating these meaningful, non-partisan accomplisments might be a step in the right direction.

Jul 04, 2023 - 1:18AM

I once wrote a blog post entitled Less is more. It did fairly well on Hacker News, and two people commented in situ. I was pretty excited. (The comments weren't able to be migrated to Medium.)

Years later, I read the following article from the Washington Post, which dovetails nicely with it. I recommend giving it a read:

We instinctively add on new features and fixes. Why don’t we subtract instead?

Jul 04, 2023 - 1:09AM

Sometimes, I think this page is too cynical. Other times, I think it's too personal. I don't want it to resemble an adolescent diary. I don't want to be melodramatic. I do, however, want to refine my thinking and help others understand me. Writing helps tremendously with both. I'm much more clear in writing than I am in speech. I'm also much more clear in writing than I am in my own head. Do others care what I have to say? I don't know. They probably care much less than I'd like. Nevertheless, writing feels good.

The irony here is not lost on me. This post itself is rather revealing and pessimistic. That's life. Perhaps there's even a lesson there.

Jul 02, 2023 - 11:22PM

I’m glad this page, as insignificant as it is, may marginally influence some artificial intelligence in the future. After all, it’s my understanding that LLMs like ChatGPT and Bard are trained on public data. Perhaps the next ChatGPT will be just a bit more informed about issues that I care about.

Jul 02, 2023 - 11:22PM

It’s not possible to correct someone who is committed to being wrong.

Jun 18, 2023 - 2:47PM

Email is dying. So many people never see the emails I send them, only paying attention to Signal, Slack, SMS, and other messaging services. Who could blame them, with all the promotions, feedback requests, privacy policy updates, and other junk we receive in our inboxes?

Jun 13, 2023 - 10:16PM

Sir Paul McCartney says artificial intelligence has enabled a 'final' Beatles song

Jun 06, 2023 - 11:20PM

As harmful as TikTok and YouTube shorts can be, in terms of spreading misinformation, shortening attention spans, and so on, I really love Mark Rober's new short video explaining why Earth's rotation does not affect airspeed. I linked to an article that discusses this in earlier post, but as usual, Mark's demonstration is way more clear.

Jun 01, 2023 - 8:25PM

Conversation is not performance. Performance is not conversation.

May 31, 2023 - 7:33PM

Every so often, I'm reminded that the web is almost unusable without an ad blocker. I'm amazed anyone can tolerate it for more than 10 seconds.

Use an ad blocker.

I recommend AdGuard because it's thoughtfully designed. It has the user interface I've always wanted from an ad blocker, where the user can select broad categories of ads and annoyances to block or pick and choose from more specific filters, which are hidden by default. uBlock Origin is more popular with technologists, but I find its settings UI to be overwhelming.

I genuinely believe in supporting publishers, but not through modern advertising. If a website you like offers an ad-free experience for some price, consider paying for it. Otherwise, I think you're more than justified in using an ad blocker to protect yourself from the sludge being thrown at you. Doing so is arguably an ethical obligation. Online advertising has completely run amok, harming our privacy, our digital security, and our sanity. The attention economy it fuels has tremendously harmful downstream consequences—addiction, misinformation, political extremism—that threaten society at large.

Use an ad blocker.

May 29, 2023 - 9:54PM

I know I'm late to the party, but Cory Doctorow's essay on "enshittification" is brilliant.

"Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die."

—Cory Doctorow in Tiktok's enshittification

May 28, 2023 - 8:12PM

"Social media users see affirmation when they receive a thumbs-up or a heart. But that's not really why we're sending them."

—Chris Taylor in The 'Like' doesn't mean what you think it means

May 23, 2023 - 10:02PM

"A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

—Paul Simon

May 23, 2023 - 9:57PM

A while ago, I wrote that artificial intelligence may soon author new Beatles albums. In hindsight, I feel silly for suggesting that only 50 such records might be produced. If an AI could create 50 new albums in the style of the Beatles, and in their voices, it could create 10,000. It could create them on demand. Want to hear the band singing about hoverboards in a collaboration with Skrillex? Sure.

Today, this is even closer to becoming reality. As Andy Meek writes in BGR, "Thanks to the increasingly creative potential of artificial intelligence… Beatles fans like me can get a small taste of what it might have been like had the Fab Four either stayed together, or gotten back together, to produce new music."

His article includes some amazing AI-generated mashups as examples, like Paul singing "Imagine," as well as an unreleased song that AI was able to finish from an incomplete fragment. I'll admit that the reporting is light on details, and there's plenty of "fake AI" stuff going around on social media (no surprises there), but for the moment, I'll take Meek and the creators at their words. If any of these songs was not created with substantial help from AI, they might as well have been, and a future AI will be able to do the same, given how quickly things are accelerating. Our difficulty distinguishing between "real AI" and "fake AI" says something on its own.

I recommend reading his full article, As a lifelong Beatles fan, this AI-generated Beatles music is blowing my mind, or at least listening to the audio. We're still a little ways off from artificial intelligence producing entirely new songs, but it may not be very long.

May 21, 2023 - 7:48PM

"I want to leave the world better than I found it."

I used to say that, but I've come to appreciate that many things are not within my control. Through no fault of my own and despite my best efforts, the world may very well worsen in the future. Society may be devastated by climate change, nuclear war, artificial intelligence, or social media. Would that be a personal failure? Of course not.

I later settled on alternative wording: I want to leave the world better than it would have been without me. Even that sometimes seems impossible, given my contributions to pollution and my consumption of limited resources, given the number of ants I've inadvertently stepped on, and so on. Still, it seems like a more reasonable goal.

May 21, 2023 - 2:28PM

I don't remember where I heard this, but it beautifully summarizes an important issue:

Every explanation fits the past.

In other words, any theory can be molded to agree with previous observations. A theory's usefulness and validity depends more so on whether it can correctly guess what will happen in the future, whether it has predictive power.

May 16, 2023 - 5:32PM

Some time ago, I came up with a little mnemonic to remember how direction of travel affects flight times:

East to west, you'll need rest. West to east, not in the least.

That's right, flying eastbound is faster than flying westbound along a similar route. For example, flying from California to New York takes about 5 hours, but flying from New York to California takes about 6 hours. The difference is not caused by Earth's rotation, but rather the jet streams.

May 14, 2023 - 6:26PM

Cross-platform messaging is a mess. That is, sending a message from an iPhone to an Android phone, or vice versa, still doesn't work right. Want to create a group chat or respond to messages on your computer? Good luck.

One solution would be for everyone to buy Apple products. That's not realistic, and it only rewards bad behavior; Apple's "our way or the highway" attitude is the reason this is so bad in the first place.

Another solution? Use Signal. Seriously. Just use Signal. Get everyone you know on Signal and never look back. It's time to text like it's 2023.

May 13, 2023 - 4:23PM

"We need to find a way back to reality, and the only way to do that is to have conversations that aren’t mediated by technology that is financed and animated by third parties who hope to persuade us. We must fight to speak to each other outside of the persuasion labyrinth."

—Jaron Lanier in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

May 12, 2023 - 11:33PM

"We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, thumbs up—and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth, and instead, what it really is is fake, brittle popularity."

—Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of Growth, Mobile, and International at Facebook, in a conversation at Stanford

May 11, 2023 - 5:06PM

I'm intrigued by Boring Report, a news aggregator that uses artifical intelligence to offer "boring" coverage of current events, free of sensationalism and clickbait. As one example, it offered the following headline:

Shakira and Lewis Hamilton Spend Time Together in Miami

for an article originally titled:

Newly-single Shakira enjoys cosy boat trip with Lewis Hamilton just days after pair were spotted at secret dinner

It's not perfect, but I like it. Imagine if all news read this way. How much more normal would the world feel?

May 06, 2023 - 7:18PM

"If a person had delivered up your body to some passer-by, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in delivering up your own mind to any reviler, to be disconcerted and confounded?"


Even this English translation is difficult to parse. I read it like this: if we wouldn't want others to physically control us, why do we allow others to control our minds by getting under our skin?

May 06, 2023 - 3:36PM

Mick West's skeptical analysis of recent UFO videos blew my mind. It's so clear that there are reasonable, natural explanations for these sightings, yet even some in government seem convinced that something else is going on. It's a nice reminder that the government is made up of people, and people don't always think critically. We believe what we want, and we ignore contrary opinions. We insist on getting a second opinion before scheduling car repairs, but we accept that grainy, black and white videos might prove the existence of extraterrestrial visitors.

As Professor David Kipping reminds his viewers toward the end of the video, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the evidence in these videos isn't even mildly significant. Call me when we have a video of an alien pilot turning knobs in the cockpit.

May 03, 2023 - 10:16PM

"We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric… It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave."

—Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP of Growth, Mobile, and International at Facebook, in a conversation at Stanford

Apr 28, 2023 - 6:39PM

I'm a paying YouTube Premium customer, but YouTube is getting worse every day. I especially dislike the over-the-top thumbnails that some creators use, often showing their surprised faces reacting to something incredible that never occurs in the video. The many "news reaction" videos are almost as bad, wherein creators pad 10 seconds of a real news clip with 3 minutes of blabbering; the thumbnail shows the real news clip.

The race to the bottom of the brainstem, as Tristan Harris puts it, continues.

For those who feel similarly, I recommend the Clickbait Remover add-on (get it for Firefox, get it for Chrome), which replaces custom thumbnails with real video frames.

Apr 28, 2023 - 5:42PM

Not everything that is natural is good. Not everything that is unnatural is bad.

Apr 27, 2023 - 1:02AM

Stop helping people who don’t want to help themselves.

Apr 27, 2023 - 12:58AM

"Science is more than a body of knowledge, it's a way of thinking. A way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we're up for grabs for the next charlatan… who comes ambling along."

—Carl Sagan

Apr 24, 2023 - 8:34PM

I think of social media like the cigarettes of our time. Of course, cigarettes still exist, but most people today understand their harms and abstain from them. Not so with social media.

One consequence of thinking this way is that I’m particularly horrified when I see very young children using social media. They’re inhaling digital tar and forming habits that will be difficult to unlearn, but the cartoon characters and DIY slime videos make it seem okay.

Apr 24, 2023 - 8:33PM

Should we eat healthy foods because it’s good for our minds and bodies or because it’s the right thing to do? The latter is simpler and more poignant, but it’s meaningless without the former. Maybe we need both, rational justifications to inspire change followed by simple rules that motivate more immediately gratifying habits. This order may be important, too; some find it difficult to follow rules without reason.

Apr 18, 2023 - 6:44PM

Never underestimate the power of the human mind to believe what it wants.

Apr 16, 2023 - 5:13PM

When we don’t engage with our ideological opponents, our arguments weaken and our naivete becomes painfully obvious to them. When we don’t engage with our ideological opponents, we don't notice this.

Apr 16, 2023 - 4:58PM

"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day."

—Carl Sagan

Apr 16, 2023 - 4:56PM

We should ask ourselves these questions more often than we do: Is this true, or is this only thought to be true by people in my circles? Do I want it to be true?

Apr 16, 2023 - 4:23PM

When did preaching to the choir become such a virtue? I can take a guess.

Apr 15, 2023 - 1:39PM

I'm not sure if I support banning TikTok. I do, however, very much encourage everyone to voluntarily stop using it.

Apr 11, 2023 - 11:39PM

"We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster."

—Carl Sagan

Apr 11, 2023 - 10:17PM

I think less of Wegmans for its obviously anti-competitive actions against Whole Foods in Rochester.

Apr 10, 2023 - 6:45PM

There's a fine line between being a skeptic and being a cynic. In fact, there may be no line at all, but inevitable overlap.

I'm not sure I like that.

Apr 04, 2023 - 9:56PM

It pains me to watch others learn the hard way, and yet, almost every important word of caution was inspired by someone doing just that.

Apr 04, 2023 - 8:59PM

I genuinely worry about people who use TikTok heavily.

Mar 25, 2023 - 10:52PM

"What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe, not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

—Carl Sagan

Mar 23, 2023 - 11:41AM

I'm really enjoying Seth's Blog. Today, he published an excellent, short post about why proper data archival is so important.

Passwords are lost, providers are hacked, and people pass away. Moreover, as Seth mentions, most companies aren't incentived to make data reliability a priority because data reliability isn't exciting. Besides, human beings aren't very good at making long-term decisions. Very few people are clamoring for safeguards.

The lesson? Back up your data! Make extra copies of important files and share them with people you trust. If you have the need and the means, work with a company that truly understands archival. Otherwise, you may find, at the least opportune moment, that no one is doing it for you.

Mar 22, 2023 - 12:03AM

Small habits, repeated consistently, add up fast.

Mar 21, 2023 - 11:56PM

"Somehow, we survived as a culture for centuries without exposing ourselves to thousands of profit-driven manipulations dumped on our living room carpet all day, every day."

—Seth Godin in Shields up

Mar 20, 2023 - 8:29PM

I don’t generally change my beliefs based on what’s popular, convenient, or expected of me. Being raised in a religion I now repudiate innoculated me against that. This doesn’t always make life easier, but it’s who I am.

Mar 20, 2023 - 5:19PM

"Don't make the mistake of thinking you're Facebook's customer. You're not. You're the product. Its customers are the advertisers."

—Bruce Schneier

Mar 20, 2023 - 5:18PM

"The advertising man is the enfant terrible of the time, unabashed before the eternities. He does not conceal his awareness of the fact that he is the cornerstone of the most respectable American institutions; the newspapers and magazines depend on him; Literature and Journalism are his hand maidens. Even war needs him."

—S. N. Behrman in The New Republic, 1919

Do social media advertisers realize they have the same power today, by funding the new engines of literature, journalism, and war?

Mar 19, 2023 - 2:19PM

Not all science is created equal.

Mar 17, 2023 - 11:40PM

"As anyone who has actually gone outside to touch grass will attest, what you see in social media is typically so exaggerated and distorted that it may as well be entirely fictional."

—Viktor in Are you okay?

Mar 15, 2023 - 9:24PM

Don't let anyone make you a jerk, no matter how pure their intentions.

Mar 14, 2023 - 8:11PM

I've been listening to The Attention Merchants, my first foray into the world of audiobooks, having begrudgingly ceded more freedom to DRM. I was struck by this passage, discussing the disillusionment of Walter Lippmann, a journalist and media critic:

"Any communication, Lippmann came to see, is potentially propagandistic, in the sense of propagating a view. For it presents one set of facts, or one perspective, fostering or weakening some 'stereotype' held by the mind. It is fair to say, then, that any and all information that one consumes—pays attention to—will have some influence, even if just forcing a reaction."

—Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants

It's easy to notice this happening today. So many memes, videos, and tweets advance ludicrously simplistic perspectives. Fake news spreads 6 times more quickly than true news. Whether we agree or disagree with the content we see, we react, and antisocial media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok monetize those reactions.

If Lippmann is correct that "any and all information that one consumes… forces a reaction," and if the information we consume today is vast, simplistic, and even wrong, then perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the extreme reactions we witness.

Mar 11, 2023 - 1:42PM

Text-based conversation is inherently hazardous. I’ve known too many people who can be jerks in writing, despite being pleasant in person, to believe otherwise. I myself have done the same too many times to believe otherwise. We didn’t evolve to talk this way to the extent we do. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language are so important, as is the compassion that shared space instills.

Of course, none of this excuses (anti)social media, which is even more terrible for so many reasons, like a house of horrors built along a fault line.

Mar 11, 2023 - 9:08AM

When others are unkind or unpleasant, I take comfort in the power I have over them: the power to lose respect for them. No one can force me to feel otherwise.

Mar 04, 2023 - 8:07PM

I tweeted the following on April 2nd, 2019, about one month before deleting my account:

Our technology is evolving faster than we are. We have built ourselves a twenty-first century library when we possess stone-age critical thinking skills. What did we think was going to happen?

I later learned that Dr. E.O. Wilson once made a similar point, in a statement often quoted by the Center for Humane Technology:

The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology.

I prefer his version, and I'm comforted not to be alone in thinking this way.

Feb 25, 2023 - 4:23PM

"[When social media makes us behave like pack animals], we become obsessed with and controlled by a pecking order. We pounce on those below us, lest we be demoted, and we do our best to flatter and snipe at those above us at the same time. Our peers flicker between ‘ally’ and ‘enemy’ so quickly that we cease to perceive them as individuals… The only constant basis of friendship is shared antagonism toward other packs."

—Jaron Lanier in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

I'm afraid I've seen this happen often in Facebook groups. Pleasing the in-group and attacking the out-group are primary objectives. To hell with learning from the other side and bettering ourselves; it's better to ascend the ranks by espousing ever-more extreme views and by demonstrating allegiance through performative discourse. The results are unsurprising, with hostility, righteous indignation, closed-mindedness, and emotional and intellectual fragility on display for all to see.

Feb 22, 2023 - 7:33PM

I'm sorry to say this, but of the two people in my life who are most misinformed about current events, one is addicted to cable news and the other is addicted to TikTok. I think they would despise each other, yet they're more alike than they realize.

Feb 21, 2023 - 7:47PM

I endeavor not to be a conformist nonconformist.

Feb 20, 2023 - 8:32PM

Every day, there's a new story about how social media inspired someone to commit mass murder, engage in political violence, withhold healthcare from their children, or steal a car. That's in addition to the division and envy these platforms create between friends and family every day.

It's important to remember that these aren't neutral platforms. They decide what we see. The shape our reality. Even worse, as Jaron Lanier explains, they manipulate us. They intentionally make us angry.

It begs the question: when will we finally start calling it antisocial media?

Feb 20, 2023 - 7:00PM

I've been using Android for more than ten years now. I originally chose it in an ethical commitment to open-source software, but it's become less open over time.

Some people might be surprised to learn that I think Apple makes better products. Apple understands usability and user experience better than almost any software company, they pay exceptional attention to detail, and they've done genuinely important work on privacy. Still, they're not perfect. I think Apple too often prioritizes form over function, with the overuse of gestures being a good example, they lock users into their ecosystem, they position their products as status symbols, and they don't play nicely with others. In my opinion, they also market privacy more effectively than they actually protect it.

As an aside, I'm disappointed that Apple has become "the privacy company" when Mozilla should have claimed that title long before them. In hindsight, Mozilla may have been mistaken not to strike while the iron was hot in June 2013. Of course, it's easy to play Monday morning quarterback; it's harder to be in charge. At least Mozilla is doing great work on privacy today. Hi, Luke!

In any case, I'm considering making my next phone an iPhone, but switching now would be a hassle. Vendor lock-in is real and Google is almost as guilty as Apple. Interoperability matters.

Feb 20, 2023 - 6:12PM

It's 2023. We have incredible technology like DALL·E 2 and ChatGPT, but iPhoto and Google Photos still can't collaborate on a shared photo album. Texting is even worse. Then there's collaborative playlists, collaborative note-taking, videoconferencing, the transmission of large files, and so much more. Any of these things can be achieved if all participants are using the same software, but different applications with similar capabilities refuse to work with one other. If I use Spotify and you use Apple Music… too bad.

This is understandable, but so unnecessary. I can't even imagine how much time and energy we lose to this segmentation. Interoperability matters.

Feb 16, 2023 - 10:45PM

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."


Jan 28, 2023 - 5:28PM

I’ve been an ideologue at times. I’m sure I still am in certain ways, in ways I don’t even notice. Perhaps we all are. Still, I find ideology exhausting and uninteresting. I rarely enjoy talking to people about meaningful issues when I can predict their beliefs. For this reason and others, I’m frequently saddened that our current environment has made so many of my peers so closed-minded. Of course, it wouldn’t be right for me to end this post without blaming social media, and true to form, I do believe the filter bubbles of social media play no small part in this phenomenon.

Jan 24, 2023 - 9:58PM

"Empathy is not endorsement."

—Dylan Marron

Jan 21, 2023 - 12:19PM

When we talk to others one-on-one, especially about difficult topics, we have a responsibility to ensure that our message is heard. However, if it becomes clear that the message won't be heard, because the listener isn't genuinely curious and open-minded, we owe it to the listener and to ourselves to move on. This fact seems obvious, yet we seem committed to forgetting it.

Jan 19, 2023 - 10:27PM

I think of science as a verb, a process for discovering what's true, rather than a body of knowledge. Some people might say it's a process for discovering what's not true; that might be more accurate. In either case, when I run into people who distrust science, I wonder if they see it the same way.

Jan 17, 2023 - 10:26PM

I dislike when companies treat their customers like free, full-time product reviewers. I don't mind using email filters, but average users shouldn't be burdened to set them up, especially when the list of forbidden phrases becomes as long as mine has:

This is just one of many email filters I maintain. I have another for things like privacy policy updates which is almost as long. Then there's promotional email: coupons, limited time offers, and so on. We used to call this kind of thing spam. What happened?

Jan 13, 2023 - 1:42PM

I support the One Click Safer proposal for safeguarding social media. The concept is simple: instead of allowing users to reshare content indefinitely, social media platforms should remove the share button once a piece of content is two hops from its original source. If people three degrees from the author continue to find the content valuable, they would need to use copy and paste to share it further. In fact, I would go even further and propose that social media platforms remove the share button altogether; it's a simpler proposal that would be easier to explain.

In either case, these ideas make eminent sense to me. Sharing is a kind of chain reaction, and sharing on social media is wholly uncontrolled at the moment. Physicists have a term for uncontrolled chain reactions: explosions. Indeed, social media is dropping bombs on society daily, bombs of misinformation, lies, hatred, and outrage. Like the control rods of nuclear reactors, which slow fission enough to prevent meltdowns so that useful energy can be harvested, social media needs digital control rods, so that we can harness the power of information without destroying ourselves.

Jan 13, 2023 - 12:56PM

The internet used to be fun.

I just encountered a funny easter egg in the Wask shop of strange objects, darted off a quick email to the owner expressing my delight, and immediately received a response thanking me for finally noticing. There were no likes, no Retweets, and no comments from onlookers. My reputation didn't improve and I didn't gain any followers. Instead, two strangers connected over a common sense of humor and shared a quick laugh.

Isn't this what the internet was supposed to be about?

Jan 05, 2023 - 6:39PM

"Twitter and TikTok and all of the engagement economy companies are rewarding people, paying people in likes and comments and influence, for discovering the fault lines in society and inflaming them. That is, they are paid to be division entrepreneurs."

—Aza Raskin on Your Undivided Attention

Jan 02, 2023 - 12:37PM

We need to do away with the myth that cults are simply religions that are new, strange, or misunderstood.

Unitarian Universalism is very new, having formed in 1961. Few people really understand the group and it is unusual in its acceptance of diverse beliefs. Still, I don't think it's especially dangerous, destructive, or controlling at this time.

Cults punish disobedience. They demonize doubt. They rip families apart, attack critics, and teach that critical thinking is a trap. They convince their adherents that the world is out to get them and they demand that authority is never questioned. Cults treat dissent like a virus, hastily exiling nonconformists and freethinkers before their views can spread. They treat their doctrine as perfect and their people as disposable. (Of course, their doctrine can become more perfect over time.)

Focusing on beliefs misses the point. All religious groups espouse beliefs which others find strange, but not all religious groups behave this way.

Cults destroy lives. When we fail to label them properly, we give cover to that destruction.

Dec 31, 2022 - 10:31PM

I hope movie theaters move to a private rental model. I would pay good money to watch a classic movie with a handful of friends in a small theater with a good sound system and some popcorn.

Many theaters offer something like this, but it's pricey and the movie options are limited. With smaller theaters (2-5 seats), simpler accommodations, and customer-provided media (e.g., via movie rental apps), perhaps prices could be brought down and options expanded.

Dec 27, 2022 - 12:46PM

Although I strive to only relay accurate, evidence-based information, when I'm asked about medical issues, I nonetheless habitually remind listeners that I'm not a doctor and that my advice should be taken with a grain of salt. I think this is especially important online, where commentary from a medical doctor and commentary from a nutjob are visually indistinguishable.

How many conspiracy theorists and self-certified Facebook epidemiologists do this?

Dec 25, 2022 - 10:14PM

It’s so interesting watching older generations use GPS. My parents treat its directions as just one input into their decision-making process, like the clueless advice of an apathetic gas station attendant, whereas I just do whatever Google Maps tells me. I guess old driving habits die hard. On the other hand, they might say I'm too dependent on technology. Maybe they have a point.

Dec 24, 2022 - 3:13PM

As someone who is fairly minimalistic and tries to be charitable, I generally don't like exchanging gifts. When the podcast Hidden Brain recently published an episode about gift-giving, then, I had to listen. For this episode, Hidden Brain host Shankar Vedantam interviewed CMU professor Jeff Galak about scientific research into this subject.

Some findings surprised me. For example, researchers found that givers generally believe the element of surprise is crucial, whereas recipients care very little about surprise. They also discovered that recipients often appreciate inexpensive, sentimental gifts, like framed photos, significantly more than strictly material gifts that are much more expensive.

Other findings confirmed my intuitions. Recipients tend to value experiences over things, when all is said and done. Givers also optimize for the moment the gift is opened, hoping to witness a joyous reaction, whereas recipients care much more about how the gift will serve them in the long term. A funny mug garners a laugh, but does it really benefit the recipient?

One finding was particularly depressing, but ultimately unsurprising: gift-giving makes terrible economic sense. Someone with $100 to spend on themselves is very likely to spend it on something that they value at $100. However, a $100 gift is very unlikely to be worth $100 to the recipient unless the giver is psychic. When we consider that adults often reciprocate gifts with gifts of similar monetary value, it's clear that almost everyone loses. We would be better off buying things for ourselves. (Of course, the world at large would be better off if we donated our time and money instead.)

Ultimately, givers and receivers do a pretty poor job of understanding each other, despite their experiences in both roles. Galak's advice to givers? Just ask your recipients what they want. They may not mind and their answers might surprise you. Better yet, in my opinion, spend time doing something special with the recipient. If you end up spending less money, consider donating to an effective charity with the funds you would have spent on material things.

I can't do the episode justice in this short summary, so I really recommend listening to the whole thing. Our traditions around gifting need to evolve. This episode could help.

Dec 22, 2022 - 10:55PM

"The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking."

—Albert Einstein

Dec 21, 2022 - 7:42PM

"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom."

—E. O. Wilson

Dec 21, 2022 - 7:39PM

I'm struck by this point made by Josh Faga in his article Starving for Wisdom:

It used to be the case that we had to make up our mind about something. But, the advent of modern mediums has been so successful at packaging intellectual positions into digestible vitamins that they have essentially "made up our minds" for us.

We don't make up our minds at all. Instead, we are presented a pre-packaged intellectual position that the medium we consume it over conveniently places into our minds for us; a process not too dissimilar from placing a CD into a CD player. Then, also not too dissimilar from a CD player, when in the appropriate situations, we are conditioned to push a button and "play back" the opinion that was burned on the CD.

To complete the feedback loop, whenever we 'play the songs' on our CD players, we are rewarded by those that have the same CD. We regurgitate the opinions and information we consume to the group of people that have also consumed it and receive our reward for having successfully consumed and spit back what we have 'learned'. This process is at the bottom of our ideologically possessed and polarized political landscape. We are educating, organizing, and rewarding ourselves for simply putting a CD in a CD player and pressing play.

Dec 20, 2022 - 10:33PM

I pay for YouTube Premium, yet find YouTube so effective at commanding my attention that I've completely disabled the app on my phone. As an alternative, I've painstakingly set up Firefox Beta with Unhook, an add-on that removes YouTube's most addictive components. (It feels wrong to call them features.) When I'm using my phone, I only watch YouTube through this browser.

I'm struck that even paying customers are subject to addictive, engagement-driven designs that serve to increase ad impressions, despite the fact that they see no ads. Does YouTube, or any other company for that matter, care when their paying customers want their product to be less addictive?

Dec 19, 2022 - 7:24PM

The Helix text editor fascinates me.

Vim has been my primary text editor for more than ten years now. (Technically, I've been using Neovim for two or three years, but for the sake of simplicity, I'll use the term Vim generically in this post. The two editors aren't that different, in the grand scheme of things, and their differences aren't relevant here.)

I think of Vim as an IDE that one builds themselves. That can be good and bad. I have a deep understanding of my editor's capabilities, for example, because I enabled many of its features myself. It's also completely free and it supports just about every popular programming language out there. However, configuring it takes time and handling conflicts between plugins can be annoying. I also find that it's difficult to keep abreast of the state of the art in text editing this way. It took me a while to discover that other people were using multiple cursors, for example, because that feature wasn't added to my editor automatically. I'm sure there are lots of other useful features I could add to Vim, if only I knew they were common in other editors. I don't know what I don't know.

Ultimately, if I were just starting out today, I'm not sure that I'd make the same investment in Vim. When command-line editing is truly required (my original motivation), Micro is a great choice, being much easier to use and more than powerful enough for most tasks. For everything else, JetBrains IDEs are pretty magical, if occasionally overwhelming.

Helix seems to sit somewhere in the middle. It's console-based, with modal editing and Vim-like keybindings, but with Everything Everyone Wants built-in: LSP, tree-sitter, fuzzy-finding, etc.

I'm not sure which editor I'll be using in ten years. Maybe I'll still be using Vim because it's comfortable, or JetBrains because it's straightforward. I'll add Helix to the list of contenders, though.

Dec 13, 2022 - 5:16PM

In a recent podcast, Cal Newport shared his view that the internet is best when it's decentralized, disorganized, and weird. Life was simpler when content from crazy people actually looked crazy, with green text, yellow backgrounds, wacky mouse pointers, ugly scrollbars, and bald eagle GIFs polluting the page.

I think he's right.

The thoughts webring is old-school, low-tech, and scatter-brained. It's sometimes nauseating, occasionally delightful, and definitely weird. I love it.

Dec 12, 2022 - 11:54PM

I consider myself a skeptic. I try not to believe anything that isn't supported by commensurate evidence. In my mind, a claim is a sacred thing, something to be carefully considered, not taken for granted or believed for some practical purpose.

Moderation is important, of course, but this is my default outlook. I want to know what's true about the world. Very little is more important to me.

Maintaining credibility is useful, too. I want others to take my views seriously. That might be harder if I had a reputation for believing things that aren't true.

Dec 10, 2022 - 8:31PM

Streaming is great if you like cable, but you want every channel to have a different password.

Dec 04, 2022 - 11:10PM

It may be true that everyone is a genius at something. There is someone on Earth who is better than anyone else at small talk. Someone is the world champion of adapting recipes or napping for just the right amount of time.

It can be fun to search for these abilities in others. What are you a prodigy of? Is someone you know expert at something amusing or unimportant? Consider sharing it with me. Don't comment here; thoughts wisely eschews comments. Instead, let's have a conversation about it. If we haven't met, you can find my email address on my website.

Dec 01, 2022 - 5:16PM

Nov 30, 2022 - 11:02PM

On the Internet, nobody knows you're just making stuff up.

Nov 30, 2022 - 11:01PM

If we knew the true identities of people who post on Reddit and Twitter, I think we'd be amazed at how confident and persuasive children can be.

Nov 30, 2022 - 10:31PM

Again, I'm guilty of what I criticize. I was never as smart or as clever as my Facebook notifications made me believe. It was all a mirage.

Nov 30, 2022 - 10:26PM

"Never proclaim yourself a philosopher, nor make much talk among the ignorant about your principles, but show them by actions. Thus, at an entertainment, do not discourse how people ought to eat, but eat as you ought… For sheep do not hastily throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten, but, inwardly digesting their food, they produce it outwardly in wool and milk."


The irony of this post is not lost on me. This page exists to communicate my ideas.

At the same time, I've adopted this approach in other contexts, on other topics that are very important to me. Boasting and moral posturing can be satisfying, but they don't achieve much. In some cases, they can even be counter-productive, turning reasonable people away from ideas and causes that we care about. There is a fine line between grandstanding and judging others, and as I've written previously, I don't know anyone who has genuinely changed their mind as a result of being scolded and judged.

It's unfortunate that social media encourages grandstanding when it can be so harmful. Why are we so angry, resentful, and divided? Perhaps we should follow the kudos.

Nov 09, 2022 - 2:35PM

Michael Pollan might put it like this:

Use the web. Not too much. Mostly learn from experts.

Nov 08, 2022 - 1:28AM

The foundational medical advice of the future may sound something like this: eat well, stay physically active, don't smoke, and avoid social media.

Nov 07, 2022 - 8:02PM

I don't want this micro-blog to come off as holier-than-thou. I am guilty or have been guilty of many of the things I criticize, especially when it comes to social media. I also know that I have blind spots. I just hope that my blind spots are different than the blind spots of others. I want to share my perspective and learn from the perspectives of others.

Nov 07, 2022 - 7:29PM

I'm frequently disappointed that, in general, people don't independently analyze claims. Rather, people join teams and allow those teams to decide for them what is true.

Oct 20, 2022 - 8:39PM

Social media is a confirmation bias machine. Facebook, for instance, is a great place to hear what we already believe. It's a terrible place to learn from the other and confront the weaknesses of our own arguments.

Is it any surprise, then, that political extremism, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience are flourishing?

Oct 18, 2022 - 5:54PM

I find it strange that we rarely hear the term "publicity stunt" anymore when they seem more common than ever.

Oct 12, 2022 - 11:19PM

I support Signal's decision to drop support for SMS and MMS. Software maintenance can be incredibly challenging and time-consuming. This decision will likely free up time for more important work.

John Carmack is rumored to have said, "Focus is a matter of deciding what things you're not going to do." I'm not sure if the attribution is correct, but it doesn't matter. It's a good point.

Contrary to the opinions shared on Hacker News, the world is not going to end. (Hacker News readers often forget that they are not the target market.) If anything, it might be easier to convince others to use Signal now. "Use this app to have private conversations with other people who use the app. It doesn't change how anything else on your phone works." In a world that remembers rouge software crashing computers, that fact is more important than it might seem.

Besides, abbreviations rarely correlate with usability. Signal needs to reach normal people. Let's keep it simple.

Oct 12, 2022 - 11:08PM

BeReal is interesting. A newly-popular social network, it allows users to photograph and share one moment per day during a randomly-determined, two-minute window. The thinking is that this will discourage curation. Users will see their friends as they really are, not as they pretend to be.

I'm not convinced. BeReal might limit fakery, but I think pretension will evolve rather than perish in this new environment.

Regardless, BeReal doesn't address the vast majority of problems with social media. I predict that users will still suffer from confirmation bias, addiction, misinformation, targeted advertising, privacy degradation, and the myriad other harms caused by social media.

Oct 07, 2022 - 11:38PM

I know many people who maintain "read-only" social media accounts. They have no intention of posting anything, but they want to see what other people are up to.

Years ago, it occurred to me that social media platforms discourage this. Almost all social media accounts include the ability to post content, whether or not the user actually intends to do so. Even my Twitch account, which I created to comment on video game streams, allows me to create my own stream. I have no interest in becoming a streamer.

It's easy to see why platforms do this: tempting users in this way is good for business. Among the millions of people who create read-only accounts, some percentage of them end up posting content anyway simply because it's easy to do so. Something similar happened to me when I created a Facebook account many years ago. I promised myself that I wouldn't like, comment, or post. That promise didn't last very long.

I find this to be so peculiar. There's no law of nature requiring that social media platforms give megaphones to people who would otherwise be passive readers, and yet this design choice is so ubiquitous that we don't even notice it. Would it be going too far to call this a dark pattern?

Perhaps this is another topic for Congress. We know that social media incentivizes outrageous and polarizing content. Why are we making it easier for people to yell at each other?

Oct 07, 2022 - 6:48PM

Artificial intelligence may soon be able to produce original music. It can already write and perform fairly convincing comedy routines. Are you ready to listen to 50 new Beatles albums, courtesy of our superintelligent machines? They may be coming sooner than you think.

I'm even more excited about live shows. Imagine watching this deadmau5 performance, except that his cuboid supercomputer is functioning autonomously. Having been trained by the artist, it taps into its otherworldly intelligence and creativity to perform unique scores in real time. It responds to audience sentiment, speeding up and slowing down with the energy of the crowd. Fans delight as they hear songs that have never been heard before and will never be heard again. It would be almost spiritual.

Oct 05, 2022 - 8:15PM

Before leaving Facebook, I ran a little social experiment. I wanted to determine how many people were actually paying attention.

My posts began triumphantly. "I'm so proud to have finally made a dream come true." The last sentence would likewise contain subtle gloating. Only the sentences in the middle gave it away. "There is no dream. Nothing came true. I just want to know who's reading this." I included a photo of myself smiling, surrounded by friends, for good measure.

I received a surprising number of likes. Some people congratulated me. Another dirty little secret of social media: many people aren't actually paying attention.

We change what we write based on what garners likes. We change who we are based on what garners likes. What are those likes really worth? Not much, apparently.

Oct 05, 2022 - 6:28PM

I'm interested in how social media relates to embarrassment. How far back does one need to travel through their feed before finding content that is embarrassing in hindsight? On Facebook, it's sometimes years. Only then does one unearth photos of funny hairstyles and bizarre fashion statements. I hope they can laugh about it. We all have those photos.

I hate to say this, but on TikTok, the most recent videos are sometimes the most humiliating. What is it about TikTok that inspires users to humiliate themselves? Is it a desire for fame? Recognition? Fitting in?

I'm not being very delicate here. I wish I could find it in my heart to be kinder, but the effect is real. Unfortunately, I think some TikTok creators would really benefit from some honest feedback about this.

Perhaps this happens because social media obscures honest feedback. As Jaron Lanier has observed, people who post on social media either get upvotes from fans or angry comments from assholes. Everyone else—the silent, uncomfortable majority—stays out of it. The content might make them cringe, but they don't care enough to write a comment saying so.

As others have suggested, we may need a digital equivalent to the awkward pause.

Oct 04, 2022 - 9:45PM

Recently, I learned that the Edge web browser references a different database of known phishing sites than Chrome, Firefox, and Safari do. A phishing link was texted to me, made to look like the Wells Fargo website. About one hour after I reported it to Google, it was banned in all of the latter browsers, but when I last checked, it was still accessible in Edge, allowing additional people to be scammed.

We should fix that. Perhaps Congress can do something; a rare bi-partisan issue. I would think it would be possible for these vendors to share lists of known phishing sites in a privacy-respecting manner.

Oct 04, 2022 - 12:12AM

I once considered adopting a rule that I would not discuss politics with anyone who uses social media.

Consider why we don't discuss politics during holiday meals. We understand that, over the course of a single dinner, we cannot possibly compete with the thousands of hours that our family members have spent watching cable news that year. In the same way, I know that my perspective, my opinions, and my questions cannot possibly make sense to most people who are subjected to hours of misinformation, half-truths, and confirmation from social media each day.

I immediately realized that my rule was unworkable. Likewise, it would have been impossible to completely avoid second-hand smoke several decades ago. Still, I think it's a good rule in theory. I hope for a future when more people recognize its appropriateness.

Oct 04, 2022 - 12:11AM

For whatever it's worth, I'm not the John Karahalis who occasionally writes short opinions in the New York Daily News.

To be clear, I'm not taking a position on those opinions. I just don't like talking about religion or politics in public, for the most part. I don't find it to be productive.

Oct 03, 2022 - 12:40AM

The other day, I was listening to an interview with John Carmack wherein he described his use of the Finger protocol early in his career. The Finger protocol, which predates modern blogging, enables the publication of status updates, simple maxims, and even longer essays. There are no likes, no comments, and no news feeds. Readers need to seek out content that interests them.

It strikes me that thoughts is very similar. I appreciate that it doesn't offer "modern" social networking features. I don't learn much from hot takes; I'm not sure anyone does. If you disagree with something I write and are genuinely interested in the subject, let's have a real conversation about it. I also welcome thoughtful written rebuttals. Comment sections don't foster these things.

Better is not always better. Ancient wisdom.

Oct 01, 2022 - 10:50AM

I don't know anyone who has genuinely changed their mind as a result of being scolded and judged.

Sep 30, 2022 - 11:57PM

As a contrarian minimalist, pack rat tendencies interest me. In particular, I've been thinking about how much time some people spend parting with their possessions.

Getting rid of things is not hard. I could throw all of my belongings in garbage bags or call a company to clear out my apartment. However, it is challenging to decide which material things to keep. It's hard to figure out which items spark joy.

Getting rid of things is not hard. Keeping things is.

Sep 30, 2022 - 11:24PM

Being right is not the same as being effective.

Sep 30, 2022 - 11:21PM

I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. Although it's often painful, I appreciate when evidence proves me wrong. The alternative is worse; running away from uncomfortable truths brings neither comfort nor growth.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:47PM

This micro-blog won't focus exclusively on social media. However, given that the service that powers it,, offers a compelling alternative to the enchanting digital battlegrounds of Twitter and Facebook, it only seemed appropriate to share those thoughts first.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:42PM

Incidentally, my biggest surprise in leaving social media has been just how little I miss it. Perhaps that's one of the lies it tells us, that we need it. We don't.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:40PM

On social media, communication is not about learning. It's not about listening. It's certainly not about changing our minds. Instead, communication serves to score points, to show others how smart and how moral we are, to perform. It's no wonder we can't get along when we use it.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:39PM

A keynote speaker once made an interesting observation that I hadn't previously considered. "The dirty little secret of social media," she said, "is that people mainly use it to brag about themselves and only incidentally see what others are up to."

I think she's right.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:37PM

I believe that social media is making us profoundly antisocial, profoundly unhappy, and profoundly stupid. By using it, we are becoming ineffective, misinformed, and narrow-minded. I believe that we would be better off without social media or with a radically different form of it.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:35PM

For whatever it's worth, I tweeted that sentiment in 2019, before it was cool to compare social media to cigarettes. Of course, I later deleted my account.

Sep 30, 2022 - 10:34PM

I believe that social media is the cigarette smoke of our time. Some day, our grandchildren will demand answers.

"You knew it was bad for you. Why did you keep doing it?"