Drop #241 (2023-04-17): Mixed Up Monday: Ethical Quandary Edition
On (More Like “Off”) Substack; Thanks For The Code!; We Fight For The Users!
Tis an “ethics”-heavy edition of the Drop, today, but I guarantee it closes with something super-fun!
On (More Like “Off”) Substack
Most sane folks do not spend their waking hours keeping up with the machinations of technology. So, if you missed the Substack drama last week, you have both my praise and envy. You'll need to catch up before reading, and this 512 pixels summary of the situationshould suffice for that. If you want an even more concise hit (i.e., even that 512px piece was TL;DR), take a look at this 🐘 post by Sharon Machlis, Director, editorial data & analytics at Foundry.
This 🐘 🧵by Annalee Newitz is also a great summary of the problematic nature of Substack.
Both the financial and past/present ethical situation of this platform have me in a bit of a quandary. Let's start with the “petty” one (as I am a “full disclosure” kind of dude).
The worst part of me really wants Substack Notes to succeed so that the boy billionaire bird site wrecker continues to seethe in anger, jealousy, hate, and subconscious self-loathing even more minutes/hours of the day than he currently does; and so the bird site continues to decline in the numbers of decent folk who still interact there. While many (most?) readers may likely agree this is a wholly human response, it is in full conflict with my personal faith and belief system. So, I'm working through that, but I will not deny the opportunity for digital retribution, alone, is a powerful tug to stay herejust to help aid (in a petite way) to Twitter's decline.
The best part of me has seen — for decades — the tech elite toss ethics aside, and reap bonkers financial rewards from the exploitation of the disenfranchised; and, I feel a twang of guilt every single time I use ChatGPT or any of the “Copilots”, knowing how OpenAI and Microsoft (et al.) amassed the training corpora for their gigantic models.
The same is, now, true for each new Drop I hit “publish” on.
Suffice it to say, after some consideration over the weekend, that I will be spending a bit of my daily resource research time on figuring out the best way to leave Substack. They, oddly, make that easy in one way, since I can import the active subscriber email list into another platform without too much fuss.
So, please hang tight while I figure this out, and you'll know when said Substack alternate choice has been made when I pen the “Substack Alternatives” Drop in the next week or two.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that I also share Anne's sentiments:
Again, no shade on the many amazing authors who are on Substack (and whose newsletters I pay for). It's not easy to make a living writing, and Substack can be a source of valuable revenue. But let's not pretend it offers freedom, or that readers of one newsletter are somehow shielded from another newsletter's misinformation, racism, and transphobia. If you are an author, Substack is selling its network to you. If you are a consumer, you are being sold to authors.
Thanks For The Code!
Y'all deserve something uplifting after the downer of a section I just made you read through.
Thanks For The Code! (GH) helps us all pay it back/forward — with “it” being attribution — to those who have made Microsoft (and, now, Amazon?) rich off the backs of unwitting code creators.
The repo's README has an freakishly similar tone these Drops have. As a result, I will beg ye to head there for the brief (and fun!) read on how you can lean on their work to reduce the guilt pangs of using unethically trained large models to help you get stuff done.
Also: please do use ChatGPT (and the free[mium] bits built on top of it) and all the Copilots! Plus, help others to do so as well. Whether we like it or not, we are stuck with them. And, they are useful if you know how to wield them properly.
We Fight For The Users!
I want to believe all Drop readers are at least familiar with the Tron movie franchise. However, I'm stuck with my “no assumptions” rule (for at least 2023). Skip past the commentary to the bottom of the section if you would like to get to the (fun!) resource faster than a lightcycle can make a 90° turn.
Tron is a 1982 sci-fi movie that follows the story of a computer programmer named Kevin Flynn. Flynn gets digitized (“rezzed”) into a microscopic computer world and must navigate its dangers in order to escape and expose the corrupt actions of a powerful (fictional) software company, ENCOM.
The movie takes place in two worlds: our meatspace one and the cyber one inside a computer system. In the digital world, programs are sentient beings who live in a society ruled by the tyrannical Master Control Program (MCP), which has been corrupted by power and seeks to eliminate all rivals. Flynn, who has been transported to this world, teams up with Tron, a security program, and Yori, a program created by Flynn's love interest, to overthrow the MCP and restore balance to the system.
Tron's sociopolitical commentary is rooted in its portrayal of the digital world as a microcosm of our society, where the struggle for power and control is constant. The film explores the dangers of unchecked power and the importance of individualism and creativity in maintaining a healthy society. It also touches on the themes of corporate corruption and the idea of technology as a tool that can be used for both good and evil.
It seemed only fitting to tap into a Tron-based resource for the closing section of this particular edition.
I would rather not spoil the surprise and delight you'll find after typing the following in your terminal:
$ ssh -oHostKeyAlgorithms=ssh-rsa sshtron.zachlatta.com
So, no further commentary by me, except to note that some of you may not need the
-oHostKeyAlgorithms=ssh-rsa, but I run a pretty tight SSH CLI ship, and they have an ancient host key o_O.
Read more about what you see at that terminal endpoint on GH.
[Monday] Greetings, programs. ☮
they link to more detailed source material as well
also author of the ++👍🏽 book: “Practical R for Mass Communication & Journalism”, and someone who helps democratize coding and data science to help make it more accessible to all
TIL Substack’s CSS has no way of letting you know those two emojis are in an anchor tag. Click on them to see the thread.
“slave to endorphins” and all that
picking email as the exchange medium for their content services may have turned out to be a big mistake on Substack's part
These two BBC News Night clips the the substack founder came out within 24 hrs of the blunder video last week and are a lot more coherent (though not completely problem free) -
The substack struggle is real. I do wish it had some sort of activity pub model for each feature, which seems like it would get us closer to an email model of content moderation vs. the current "army of moderators" model which seems like it will only allow plutocrat giga-rich entrants into the space (thus quashing new entrants / innovation by default).
But despite the moderation PR blunders last week, it is still the easiest platform for normies to onboard onto as they move on from the birdsite - It is, ironically, a smooth onboarding (and community momentum) experience that causes shortsightedness to the underlying architecture / economic decisions that support the same kind of future outcomes many of us are trying to prevent.