Google’s attempt to enrich Google through “AI”

I feel like “AI” always needs to be in quotation marks, because while it is clearly artificial, there is no apparent intelligence involved. It’s all just an elaborate guessing game based on a giant pool of answers that could be accurate, inaccurate, made-up, sarcastic, or some enticing combination.

Google is now rolling out an “AI Overview” in its search results, a furthering of its efforts to keep everyone on its search page (to show them ads and make $$$), with the side effect of killing off the rest of the web as all other sites slowly starve for traffic, revenue and everything else.

It is easy to find examples of this overview being hilariously and sometimes dangerously wrong. Google appears to be fixing the most egregious examples, no doubt by coming across them in their own searches and then fixing the results manually (ie. with an actual human). If this is their plan, they are going to need a lot of humans.

Here’s just one story from Ars Technica and one screenshot (below) illustrating the whole big pile of nonsense. I really don’t think this is going to improve over time in any significant way. Since this is Google, I’ll go further and say AI Overview could eventually end up in their graveyard along with the hundreds of other things they’ve killed.

GIGO

This may or may not conclude AI Week on the blog.

It’s now AI week on the blog

This perfectly captures AI art1I edited out the site and author name to protect the, well, not innocent exactly. Let’s say the purveyors.:

I don’t believe I need to add any further comment to this, except this is how Diablo II (a game steeped in clichés and stereotypes) depicts an Amazon warrior:

They’re almost identical!12

Addendum: I did an image search for “Amazon warrior” and unsurprisingly, they are almost universally depicted as being Very Sexy Women in questionably appropriate combat garb. And probably drawn/inked/painted by men. But it’s AI Week on the blog, not Men and Why They Always Draw Women as Objects Ugh Men Week.

  1. Mmm, sarcasm ↩︎
  2. Also, this woman looks like she’s heading to the office (“I really hope they’re prepared for the meeting this time”), not to fight some battle. I mean, she’s dressed for battle. Maybe this is appropriate for the modern office. Who am I to say? ↩︎

Ed Zitron is zesty and as the kids say, I am here for it

Ed Zitron has a free newsletter called Ed Zitron’s Where’s Your Ed At, in which he goes into great detail about how terrible tech companies are. Or at least that’s what he’s been riffing on lately. And he doesn’t mince words when describing the villains of these pieces. The current newsletter as I write this is titled Sam Altman is Full of Shit.

Some might think he’s being overly dramatic with the way he describes the various players and manipulators, but in the current political space, it feels right to me–we need to push hard on this stuff, so the average person stirs out of their social media-induced slumber and realizes what is happening and maybe (maybe) begins to care a little about it. And then change can (or should) happen.

Here’s the full description from Ed’s About page in case you are curious about whom this guy is and why you might want to read what he has to say.

Who Are You, Exactly? And What Is This Newsletter?

My name’s Ed, I’m the CEO of national Media Relations and Public Relations company EZPR, of which I am both the E (Ed) and the Z (Zitron).

I host the Better Offline Podcast, coming to iHeartRadio and everywhere else you find your podcasts February 2024. (Editor’s note: Ed should probably update this, as it’s May 2024 as I type these words.)

I write about stuff that interests me – issues in society, primarily those surrounding tech, but occasionally move into other areas and more personal pieces depending on my mood. I try and write once a week.

I was previously a games journalist, writing for PC Zone, CVG, Eurogamer and others. I’ve been published in the Wall Street Journal, USAToday, TechCrunch, and named one of the top 50 PR people in tech four times. I’ve written two books, and you are welcome to learn more here.

I live and work out of Las Vegas, Nevada.

From the About page of Where’s Your Ed At

Check it out, but be prepared to rein in your OCD–his pieces run long, but those 20 minutes feel like they fly by for me.

Time travel: Future or past?

I saw a poll on YouTube (a post, not a video) where the person asked if people would want to visit the past or future. The future was winning by a small margin. I voted past, and thinking about it now, I think it’s because the past is knowable. It would be a nostalgia trip (depending on how far back I’d go). If I could peek at the future, but not have to worry about some weird monkey’s paw scenario happening, or a Twilight Zone-style twist, then I’d be tempted to change my vote to future. It would probably be depressing, but it would also at least be interesting to see how our world would look in, say, a hundred years. Or even 50 years.

Given the current arc of history, I’m still leaning toward visiting the past, to indulge in a quieter and simpler time (for me).

I did not “Let Loose”

From the Apple Canada website. Missing: Tim Cook saying, “Good mooorning!”

Apple had an “event” today, and I put that in quotes because the event is just another pre-recorded video showing off new hardware. Apple also decided to air it at 7 a.m. Pacific, so I assume they are past getting live views and just want the video out early so tech sites, “influencers” and the like can spend the rest of the day posting stories about what got unveiled. Unless the EC beings down new restrictions on Apple today, then all the various media will pivot to that story, because it’ll be a lot juicier.

I doubt I’ll go back and watch the video now, because what was revealed had all been leaked days, weeks and in some cases, many months earlier. The highlights:

  • iPad Pro but with OLED and M4. Thinner, just the way Apple likes it! Otherwise, it’s an iPad.
  • 13″ iPad Air (new) and 11″ (same) with M2 (new, but -2 from the M4). Gotta differentiate Pro from Not Pro. Otherwise, it’s an iPad.
  • A fourth Apple Pencil, but now it’s Pro1Next year Apple will change its name to Apple Pro Inc.. But it also works with the new Air. But it also only works with the new Air and new Pros, meaning Apple now has four pencils in its line-up that all work with different models and generations of iPad. This Pro one includes a squeeze gesture and “barrel roll” feature. It’s otherwise an Apple Pencil.
  • Apple killed the $329 ninth-generation iPad and brought the price of the 10th generation model down to $349, from $399. This means an overall price increase for the base of $20, which is not bad considering the features of the 10th generation.
  • All front-facing cameras are now on the long side of the iPad. It only took them 14 years to fix this.
  • The base model of the iPad Pro 13″ model, equivalent to the one I got in 2020, now comes with 256GB of storage instead of 128GB. That’s good. It starts at $1800. That’s bad. In fact, it’s ludicrous. Add an Apple Pencil Pro®? It’s now $1968. Fancy a “magic” keyboard, too? $2417. Now, add your taxes and…$2,707.04! Also, note that unless you go for the 1 or 2TB storage options ($830 and $1380 more, respectively), you actually get a binned M4 with fewer cores. Watch the Luke Miani video below for more on this.
  • Fun Fact: That 2020 iPad Pro I bought cost $1169. If you add about $150 to match the 256GB of storage for the new model, it comes to $1319, which is still almost $500 less than the new one. I mean, I understand Apple charging so much more. OLED is a brand-new screen technology Apple just invented, and the company is desperately in need of revenue, as it is down to its last few pennies.
The video is better than the thumbnail.

And that’s about it. Just refinements, some (rather large) price increases, more product confusion, more gating (the Apple Pencil Pro works on the new iPad Air, which has no new hardware, but won’t work on the older M2 iPad Pros, which run the same SoC) and a bunch of iPads. I don’t think these will move sales much, other than the 10th gen now being sensibly priced.

OS wars and the joy of never debating on the internet

At least in OS wars, the only casualties are your time and probably some of your brain cells.

Ruben Schade made a post on Mastodon that blew up in a predictable way, with a lot of “Well, actually…” replies. He documents what he posted with an update that collectively addresses some of the responses here. He has a longer post expanding on it here.

I generally love discussions of operating systems, because they are such an important part of our lives, yet also something we don’t usually think much about–until they do something that annoys us (or don’t do something, which also annoys us).

This made me think again how I am running three OSes across two machines:

  • Windows 11 on my PC
  • Linux Mint 21.3, also on my PC
  • macOS 14 (Sonoma) on my Mac Studio

I spend most of my time in Windows, a smaller chunk in macOS, and a sliver in Linux Mint. I do this not because of a company mandate or other official requirement, but because of the choices I’ve made in the software I use for the things I do.

There are things I dislike a lot in each OS, and also things I quite like. In the end, it comes down to the software, because that’s all it really is.

They all look fine. They all run relatively well. A lot of software is available on all three platforms, but the gaps are biggest on Linux, and I spend the least amount of time there. I still don’t have a replacement for Ulysses, where I write my fiction, and I prefer editing photos in Pixelmator Photo. Both of those are Mac-only apps.

I may have a replacement for Ulysses sometime this year, and I am continually exploring other options to replace Pixelmator Pro. With the latter, the UI is a big part of why I stick with it. Good UI is important to me, because it reduces friction in using software, it lets it just blend into the background.

While my quest for the perfect OS continues, I am glad that I made a rule to never debate on the internet some years back. I don’t blame Ruben for starting the thread he did–in fact, I think it was almost charmingly naive. But the responses are so utterly predictable. There is always someone waiting to tell you that you’re doing it wrong, then argue with you about it to the point of exhaustion.

People are weird.

I am changing email accounts yet again (confirmed)

This is just for my primary email account, which is used mostly for receiving newsletters and such. I have various others I use for various other things, but they get little in the way of messages. They mostly just sit idle in Thunderbird, just the way I like it!

My recent(ish) email history:

  • After years of using my ISP email, I switched to Gmail back when it was still in beta (to be fair, it was in beta for a very long time). The oldest messages are from June, 2005–nearly 20 years ago! This was so long ago that Google did not yet have a reputation for killing off apps, nor was it known for being an ad monopolist harvesting the data of its user base in order to serve them “personalized” ads and engaging in lots of other questionable shenanigans. I keep the account active, because there’s over 22,000 messages in it and some of it might, possibly, be useful. I do a periodic export of the data.
  • When I decided to move from Gmail, I went to HEY. HEY was kind of goofy, didn’t integrate well with other apps, but did some neat things with email. I also liked the UI. But the leadership of its parent company revealed themselves (as I’ve noted before) to be Musk-supporting tech bros, and I had no interest in sending them my money. I cancelled my yearly subscription and moved again, to…
  • Outlook! I already had a sporadically-used Outlook account, so the move was easy in the sense that the account was already there. Over time, I moved over the various newsletters and things. More recently, it has been revealed that Microsoft, intent to be a kind of Google Jr. when it comes to data harvesting and advertising, “shares” your email with literally hundreds of “partners”. So, just as bad as Google. Maybe worse!
  • After sampling both Fastmail and Proton Mail, I opted to pay for a year of Proton and see how it goes.

Now begins the task of moving the bulk of my mail over to Proton. I suspect my approach will be to do this very gradually, to minimize the drudgery. I’ll report more on actually using Proton Mail soon. So far, the UI is pretty clean, but it is mostly just email, not really trying to break no ground. But it doesn’t share my data with anyone (unless they’re not telling, which would make me sad).

Should I change email yet again?

A few years ago, I switched my primary email from Gmail to Outlook. My thought process was:

  • Google is the avatar for privacy-violating, data-harvesting “you are the product, not the customer” among the big tech companies. I didn’t want Google to oversee, prod, pry and otherwise harvest my email in exchange for, “But hey, it’s free!”
  • I chose Outlook because I already had an outlook.com account I was nominally using.

The switch took many months, but now virtually all of my email goes to my Outlook account. My Gmail account is largely vestigial at this point, though I do keep in active, in case I need to log in and find something from the Before Times.

You might see where this is going if you look at the first bullet point again. Under Satya Nadella, Microsoft has started turning into Google Jr., with an emphasis on ads, data collection/harvesting and everything I disliked so much about Google.

For example, this, when you use the new Outlook email client (which will eventually be mandatory across all platforms):

That 772 number varies by region (it can be even higher). I can duck some of this by using Thunderbird as my email client, which I do, and I’ve generally been happy with it.

But better yet may be using an independent company for my email, one that treats customers as customers, and not data to be mined. This means paying, of course, which is the primary disadvantage. I did this once before with HEY, and I found it a bit weird, but it brought some innovation to the email space. Then the owners of HEY revealed themselves to be Musk-championing tech bros of the worst sort, so I had to kill HEY. This was a bit painful, so I’m reluctant to do it again.

On the other hand, I write very few messages. Most of my email is in the form of newsletters, updates and things like that. This makes moving my account less painful than it otherwise might be.

The two options I’m considering are:

  • Fastmail
  • Proton Mail

Both can integrate with Thunderbird, both have web clients (Proton’s is prettier, the Fastmail client is more just functional), pricing is similar, though Fastmail offers more storage (30GB vs. 15 GB). Proton offers additional privacy-focused services, though both emphasize privacy and security.

I am currently undecided, but doing a trial of each right now (Proton’s is technically costing me one U.S. dollar for a month).

I’ll have to decide one way or another fairly soon, so I’ll have an update in a few weeks. Whee!

Moving from WordPress, Part 4

This will be a quick one, because it’s just me explaining why it’s been a while since I had an update. Mainly, I have been preoccupied with other more pressing matters and this has taken time away from my search. I’m also increasingly skeptical that any alternative will give me what I want, despite my issues with WordPress, which means I might just stay with WordPress. But we’ll see.

I’ll have a more detailed report in Part 5, in which I will have actually tested write.as, as promised earlier.

Oh Amazon, I am not resubbing to Prime again, no matter your dark patterny insistence that I really ought to

I try to avoid ordering from Amazon at all now, but occasionally they really seem to be the only option for certain items. When I order, it pleads with me to resubscribe to Amazon Prime by interrupting any purchase with this screen:

The part I need to click to continue with my order is that blue text toward the bottom left (I have made it considerably larger here for legibility):

After this, the observant shopper might notice the total price seems higher than it should be. That’s because if you’ve added enough to your cart to qualify for free shipping ($35 or more), Amazon will still select paid shipping for you, so you can save two entire days time in getting your items1Which is not guaranteed, of course. After selecting the “No, I prefer free and waiting an entire 48 hours longer” option, it will finally let you process the transaction.

I would not object to federal legislation that:

  • Banned this screen altogether
  • Or forced Amazon (or any offending company) to make the “No thanks, SKIP” option the top and largest thing on the page. The page would look like this:

Anyway, Amazon is a bad company and every executive that is part of it should feel bad. I also feel bad. I’ll buy something local and artisanal next time to compensate.