Ironies of Automation

“…the more we automate, and the more sophisticated we make that automation, the more we become dependent on a highly skilled human operator.”

-Adrian Colyer, “Ironies of automation.” the morning paper. January 8, 2020.

A robot surgeon might be a great idea, but it’s going to handle the routine, the easy surgeries. What’s left is what’s hard. That’ll be the new work for human surgeons.

And who fixes the surgeries that the robot got wrong? Who watches the robot surgeons and steps in when they can’t do they job?

This is true of automation in every area. The jobs it eliminates are the easy, routine jobs. With more automation, the level of difficulty simply goes up.

If the robot does the job better, then they get the job. But, someone who does the job better than robots will always have to evaluate their work and step in when the work is beyond them.

Where will we find such people, if we don’t become them?

Comforting Illusions

“William Sloane Coffin tells the story of a scientist from Harvard flying on an experimental mission in a private plane over the lake country of northern Alabama, measuring with elaborate instruments the fish populations of various lakes. Sighting two fisherman out at some remote lake he had just surveyed, the scientist figured that as a favor he would land his plane on the water nearby and tell them that his instruments had discovered that there were no fish to speak of in those waters and they would have better luck if they went on to another lake. So despite the delay, he landed near the anglers and explained the bad news to them, expecting grateful thanks. They were outraged, instantly, and told the scientist in rich Southern expletives where he could take his plane and his instruments and what he could do with them, whereupon they baited their lines once again and kept fishing. The scientist flew off, much abashed and much puzzled. ‘I expected their disappointment,’ he said later, ‘but not their anger.’…But of course we all react that way to unpleasant truth much of the time: it upsets our preconceptions and our comforting illusions and therefore angers us, and often as not we choose to ignore it. None of us wants to be told, even though deep down we may know it, that there are no fish.”

—Kirkpatrick Sale, Human Scale

Words & Phrases, 2019

When I come across an interesting word or phrase during the course of the year, I make a note of it. Previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016.

  • entropy bats last
  • nonspecific effects
  • hadal zone, depth of 20,000
  • kaka felota, floating shit, Belter
  • parrhesia, uninhibited thought, free expression
  • twenty-four hour water
  • …clue-poor, but rich in opinion.
  • skidmark sky
  • djellabas
  • fakelore
  • …scholar magicians of the Zone
  • Mexican saying: “The way you dance is the way you sleep, the way you sleep is the way you fuck.”
  • wabi-sabi, Japanese idea that imperfections are what make something beautiful
  • kairos, the fullness of time
  • execution dependent
  • “‘It’s the Jellicle Ball, motherfuckers!”
  • fear is a freeze on the future
  • club spirit of chaos
  • six-fingered path
  • load bearing skeletons, things you have forgotten about that you rely upon
  • aperçus, brief comment or reference that makes an illuminating or entertaining point
  • skeuomorphic, an ornament or design on an object copied from a form of the object when made from another material or by other techniques, as an imitation metal rivet mark found on handles of prehistoric pottery.
  • cupiditas oculorum, lust of the eyes
  • carefree bricoleur, building with materials laying around
  • surveil l’amour, surveillance of your love life
  • anesthetized heart, the heart that does not react
  • cholent, a kind of stew
  • sealioning, trolling by repeatedly asking for evidence or asking questions to no good purpose
  • computational propaganda
  • carpenters of unmade things
  • justmets
  • Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill
  • doubting the sanity of one’s companion
  • Samhain, Gaelic festival that marks the darker half of the year
  • harmless bruising
  • feuilleton, section for articles of general entertainment in a newspaper
  • Chernobyl fleshlight
  • counterphobic, do what you fear
  • dead and irrelevant, however, the renegades of the past can be commercially useful to us.
  • social media-ready kitsch delivered in unnourishing experiential baggies for the ’gram
  • every city is a place of perpetual erasure and recreation
  • inexorable slow-motion aggression of a glacier
  • man is born free but everywhere is in salad chains
  • modern culture is a garden culture
  • quiet moments of self-hatred
  • sanity warning
  • dialectical moral algebra
  • insufficient evidence
  • violent fags seeking revenge
  • hoarder’s wankbank
  • technofishwife cyber-Amish electroecclesiastical Hildegardian Mad Max babushkacore
  • haiku-muezzins, Islamic crier for prayer says haiku
  • mono no aware, the ahness of things
  • exponential imagination
  • a creeping Kardashianisation in the fast cycle of the dopamine-reward loop
  • volitional expatriation
  • needs must suck at the great wound
  • Divert and subvert
  • Why wasn’t I consulted (WWIC)
  • keto-crazed stroller moms
  • opinions embedded in mathematics
  • implacable factotums, someone with a lot of responsibility and not easily stressed
  • Fashioned but not fashionable.
  • The whole world is a sad maze of thinly disguised press releases.
  • innulluxuls, coinages, something to do with ee cummings
  • Who bells the gorilla?
  • epistemic pluralism
  • The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders
  • The Future Is Here And Everything Needs To Be Destroyed
  • golden sticky monkey flower
  • eating Cheetos with the crows
  • autochthonous, original inhabitants
  • mythopoeic, creating a new myth, like Middle-Earth
  • ghosts of ourselves in the rain, standing silently by the singing rails, trying not to make eye contact with each other as we wait for the last ride home.
  • this idea has no serious defenders
  • weirdo safari
  • two lost matching suitcases, on a carousel going nowhere
  • sovereign and expressive
  • gökotta, the act of waking up early with the intention of going outside to hear the morning birds sing
  • You may know some of it more than me, but I know all of it more than you.
  • complete donkey balls
  • paralysis by analysis
  • picking the fly shit out of the pepper
  • ergodicity, systems that, over time, return to a previous state
  • dinosaur before his time
  • Müllerian mimicry, co-evolution of similar patterns
  • les bas-fonds, “lower depths”
  • lost loves lamented
  • imaginations unloaded
  • reductive seduction
  • unexotic underclass
  • coulrophobia, fear of clowns
  • diaosi, Chinese for “loser”
  • orthosomnia, worry about quality of sleep interferes with sleep
  • chauffeur knowledge
  • Thermidorian Reaction, easier to kill the dictator than send everyone else to the guillotine
  • predatory packaging
  • chronesthesia, mental time travel
  • somewhere, above, another underground awaits
  • analytical virgin birth
  • gris-gris, voodoo, good luck charms or talismans
  • mountweazels, fake words in dictionaries to identify plagiarism
  • lagom means “Not too little. Not too much. Just right.”
  • Veblen good, luxury item where demand increases as price increases
  • 蜂采, Fēng cǎi, bees collecting honey, Chinese government surveillance app
  • Schneckenhaus, snail house
  • fact-blindness, fake stories blind us to the true ones
  • nature fakers, people who tell tall tales about animals
  • bei lüyou, “to be touristed,” China practice of sending discontents out to the country side, see the Civilian Conservation Corps.
  • neurodivergent people
  • absolute bell-end, total jackhole
  • hippie-adjacent, replace with your own chosen noun
  • “left of bang”, before the bad thing
  • the gravediggers of online privacy
  • petrichor, scent after the first rain after a long dry spell
  • guerraregle, war rules
  • vafanculo, fuck off in Italian
  • Kishōtenketsu, four act narrative without conflict: introduction, development, twist (analogy), conclusion
  • archimime, the chief buffoon or jester
  • quale, the quality of subjective experience of something
  • The Miasma, the Internet
  • bematists, professional walkers
  • one-eyed neurosurgeon
  • woodchipper for your dreams and hopes
  • breaking the thread of consciousness
  • cloudbank of thought
  • logorrhea, excessive and often incoherent wordiness
  • gardener’s vision, to treat those they are acting upon as less human or not human at all and to see the process of interacting with them as one of grooming, of control, of organization
  • agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.
  • italicizing the ordinary
  • nugrybauti, getting lost while picking mushrooms
  • destroy what destroys you
  • feces-feasting snails and slugs
  • the Bizarre and the Bizarrina
  • a nesting doll of cynics
  • Lashon Hara (lit. “Evil Tongue”) is to say negative things about someone, particularly about their misdeeds, which are completely true, but you’re not trying to accomplish anything useful by saying it.
  • zugzwang, disadvantage that comes from having to play when it would be better to pass
  • perturbation in the reality field
  • living within the lie
  • saccades, transitions between focal points papered over by our brain
  • Shadowtime
  • Contextualization lab
  • Relics of a failed perspective
  • Screenshot of the afterlife
  • Reality hunger
  • Humean beings
  • “Beware of first-hand ideas!”
  • permafrost of puritanism
  • Paper queen
  • Kurzgesagt, German for “In a Nutshell”
  • dempotence, running a program and getting the same results no matter how many times it is done
  • fright mask clown
  • …slavers on the ecliptic…
  • launch determines orbit
  • candle power, intelligence
  • …we are all living off the stored fat of a dream gone bad…
  • What’s with the free-speech for assholes?
  • either dumb or don’t give a shit
  • nonpareil, without perir
  • one small part of a giant rolling upgrade
  • keiretsu, a loose coalition of business groups
  • dokkyo roujin — an elderly person who lives alone –
  • bamboo ceiling, limits on Asian advancement in Western companies
  • freeters, dropouts from career paths who take part time work at subsistence wages to have more free time
  • baifumei, a Chinese phrase meaning pale-skinned, rich, and beautiful
  • just rat cunning and a tragic history of bloodshed
  • commentariat
  • customary sequences of behavior
  • mazeways of the culture
  • stuplimity, shock and boredom
  • buffet Buddhists
  • paltering, using a truthful statement to mislead
  • Whaumau, FOMO
  • breedready
  • pixels without provenance
  • the shaggy, sharp-toothed thing with thin skin
  • wonderworld
  • foragers have attitudes shaped by their activity
  • rumination, repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion
  • chronic complainers
  • lost futures
  • dysphemisms, the substitution of a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging expression for an agreeable or inoffensive one
  • hurricane of controversies
  • moronizing mechanisms
  • creeping cretinization
  • factory fascism
  • office oligarchy
  • plausibility structures
  • usage Trekkie
  • Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto; I am human, and nothing human is alien to me
  • the Steel man, opposite of a straw man argument
  • totalitarian Tinkerbell
  • terministic screens
  • the money of fools
  • sapere aude, dare to think
  • Moravec’s paradox, easier to teach machines complex tasks than simple ones
  • joyspotting, intentionally looking for joy
  • repugnant social Other
  • lighthouse on the Sea of Nonsense
  • prefer dissection to understanding
  • apex of the heart
  • amplituhedron, An amplituhedron is a geometric structure introduced in 2013 by Nima Arkani-Hamed and Jaroslav Trnka. It enables simplified calculation of particle interactions in some quantum field theories.
  • samsara’s clock
  • life is a race against death and the time of death remains unknown
  • bardo, the intermediate state between death and rebirth
  • wandering in the bardo
  • mythopoetics, making myths
  • a Sherpa for patriarchal bullshit
  • heteropatriarchy, a socio-political system where cisgender males and heterosexuals have authority over cisgender females and over other sexual orientations and gender identities
  • phantom canon
  • the dream of life
  • the dream within the dream
  • a fatality without substance
  • Gresham’s Law, when bad behavior has taken root, and that bad behavior has a “survival advantage” against good behavior, it becomes difficult, and occasionally impossible, to drive out the bad behavior; a process akin to natural selection
  • aestivation hypothesis, advanced civilizations may be storing energy to run in a cooler environment to get energy efficiencies
  • aestivate, to spend a hot, dry season in an inactive, dormant state
  • swamping, being a stranger in one’s own country, strain on public servies, etc.
  • breaking bread with the dead
  • jungle justice
  • yevrei, Russian for Jew
  • red over red — no longer under command
  • palaver, conference or discussion
  • lotska, Russian human hibernation
  • the unthought known
  • skomorokhs, Russian folk jokester-singers
  • the designs of men are notoriously subservient to happenstance, hesitation and haste
  • Confederacy of the Humbled
  • promised heft and threatened impenetrability
  • kiasu, the Singaporean way to describe the fear of losing out
  • Most people die of adrenaline poisoning.
  • Theia, doomed planet
  • Capernaum, Chaos
  • Kármán line — beyond which is weightlessness in the atmosphere
  • acheiropoieta — not-hand-made
  • One does not judge the Eye of the Tiger, the Eye of the Tiger judges you and you score accordingly
  • exfoliate our neuroses
  • Wenqing (文青), Chinese for hipster
  • a fortiori, with greater reason or more convincing force —used in drawing a conclusion that is inferred to be even more certain than another
  • obstreperous, boisterously and noisily aggressive
  • taphonomy, the study of the conditions and processes by which organisms become fossilized 2019 Year in Review and Looking Ahead to 2020

In 2019, I posted 931 entries, all post views were up to +14,000 views by +9,000 visitors to, roughly three times the level of last year. Most of the views are concentrated either on the main page or the most popular posts:

My favorite posts of the year:

In 2019, I went for a twice a day posting schedule that expanded to three times a day mid-year as I incorporated a review of my photo archive. Frankly, this is a brutal posting schedule. I could probably do twice a day comfortably, but I think I’m going to focus a bit more on quality and only commit to doing a single post a day and maybe do something original once a week in the coming year.

I still would like to move to a format where half the posts are in a Foucault hupomnemata-style, i.e., “to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self.” And I think some of the sources I have mentioned last year are still worth exploring:

  • I have been collecting rules and maxims for life over the last 1.5 years or so, and there are now over 400 of them. I could do a year just using these as writing prompts.
  • I still haven’t included very much material from the commonplace book I kept for years before starting Adding in material from it with some reflection now that it has been several years might be interesting.
  • Open-ended stream-of-consciousness writing. However, it probably won’t be much fun to read. I beg your pardon.

Offline, I did Postcard Friday, on more of a monthly basis this year. And I think this was both good and something to do more of, perhaps with tie-in to the blog. Still thinking through how this might work, so maybe something for next year?

In short, expect some changes and fewer posts in the coming year.

Gendered Details

I was struck by two things this morning. We are staying in a hotel room, and every morning, I have to unlatch, then unbolt the door to get out. I don’t think I’ve ever latched and bolted a hotel door overnight. It simply doesn’t occur to me.

Shortly after, I was downstairs getting coffee when the lady at the front desk told her colleague that it was now OK to keep the door to the back room open because “she was there.”

I cannot imagine ever saying this to another person. And, it occurs to me that not having to worry about these things reduces a lot of cognitive overhead, thinking about mitigating risks that simply aren’t there, or are greatly reduced, for me.

All of which is obvious in 2020 after all the conversations about privilege. But, even so, noticing these details keeps surprising me.

You Don’t Need Internet Shit / Crazytown…

“You don’t need internet shit, and you don’t need crazytown.”

There’s something I call the “90% rule” and is properly called “Sturgeon’s Law“. There was a time when people questioned science fiction as a genre. Theodore Sturgeon was a popular science fiction writer at the time, and critics would point out that the vast majority of science fiction was terrible. Sturgeon’s reply: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

The solution to crap is not to consume more crap, as if you were panning for gold. The solution is to focus on reducing the ratio of crap to gold. Instead of starting the New Year with a resolution about what you are going to start doing, perhaps do the opposite. What are you going to stop doing?

Start with the bullshit. In the main:

  1. Stop litigating the obvious.
  2. Stop apologizing, explaining and complaining.
  3. Stop trying to be liked.
  4. Stop getting involved in other people’s problems.
  5. Stop looking for good and bad guys.

Of course, there are always exceptions. There are times for an explanation and apology. The problem is when the exception becomes the rule. Discerning the difference is key:

“The undiscerning mind is like the root of the tree, it absorbs equally everything it touches, even the poison that would kill it.”

-Kung Fu, the television series

The WYSIATI Prison

What you see is all there is,
a closed ideology fakelore, a mazeway garden,
fruiting failed perspectives and shared paranoias.
Quant illusions, analysis is paralysis.

Divert and subvert. Launch determines
orbit for every apex, when the monkey bells
the gorilla they call it jungle justice, a harmless
bruising, the shot before the anesthetized heart.

But, the kakistocracy provides: 24 hour water,
electric fusion fleshlights, a wankbank, weird
excretion dependent, generative of natural-adjacent,
CRISPR life, selected for a skidmarked sky.

An unspoken quale, smells like nothing else,
deep in the boojum and bafflegab, counterphobic,
insufficient evidence of normal on the weirdo safari.
Quis potest sapere audere?

Comment Chains

Man is born free but everywhere is in comment chains,
assembly-line production "memes" in social media-ready
baggies for your unnourishment, the whole world,
a sad maze of thinly disguised press releases.

The future is here and everything needs to be destroyed,
salt the field, plant your seed in the sucking wound of need,
harvest, pack in two lost matching suitcases, left circling,
forever on a carousel going nowhere being eaten by flies.

The Fruit of the Moment

We are all here for our own reasons. Those reasons aren’t important. What is important is that we came and that our time together is short. Wring magic from these transient moments, while you can.

Fear being stuck more than falling, and falling more than the crocodile by the shore or the tiger in the jungle. In the end, it is often the difficulties that matter the most. Life will find you. Eventually, it finds us all. As will its opposite.

The meaning of life is that it ends. Being in this moment, balancing on the fulcrum between survival and the sublime, our lives are spent in the shin deep mud of necessity – slippery, slick and shifting – looking to pick fruit from the fertile field. No one comes out clean, but sometimes, we find something good to eat.

Relentlessly prune abstraction. Savor the fruit of this moment. It is all we have.