coding along LLMs, July

AI technology

July 2024 and it is still surprising how erratic LLMs can be when they get tasked to help with very small coding jobs. I work on many projects on my Mac. For a while, I have been using my own directory simple stack implementation. Remembering paths is what the computer can do for me.

It works well and has two parts: zsh functions loaded via .zshrc and a Python program doing the actual work, naturally except for the cd, change of the prompt.

I thought it would be nice if my ‘cd’ variation could check if a Python environment under */bin/activate would exist in the directory I changed into. If so, it can source it. If there is none, then it should not care, and if there are multiple, it should list them so that I could pick and choose.

Simple enough.

Parts would require zsh shell coding. Not something I tend to do a lot. Since Sonnet 3.5 has a limit even in the paid version, I tend to use my paid gpt4o first.

For this simple thing, I should not have. Today gpt4o was stunningly stupid. It managed to do zsh syntax well enough, but then completely failed. For a while, stuck in that dreadful loop where one hopes the next version would finally work. I still abort those loops of idiocy way too late.

Claude 3.5 got it right. In my frustration, I also had introduced a bug / typo on my end. Both gpt4o and Claude would have pointed it out easily if they had seen that part of the code. Claude stood out since its debug hints let me see what I had done wrong. That was beyond my current expectation horizon.

Speaking of: I am amazed how dumb LLMs still can be. Today gpt4o was utterly stupid. Not sure why. Is it zsh that it is not familiar with? Did the system prompt that got assigned to me, or my region, suddenly change? Who knows.

It must be hard to make a living based on some expectations from LLMs. They are really awesome, but can fall off a cliff at any point. Pretty much the opposite from computer work in general.

I expect that people develop all sorts of Cargo Cults in their work with these tools.

Meta Status

AI economy history internet technology

What does Meta do? It turns people into money. Those that are on the Internet, that is—not in a Soylent Green kind of way.

At least, that was the mantra up until 2018. Then Cambridge Analytica broke. And the Q2 2018 earnings gave an inkling of the possibility that not a fixed—and also rather large—ratio of people entering the Internet would become, just like magic, Facebook users.

Later, people seemed to forget about the fact that they get algorithmically nudged in Zuck’s wonderland every step of the way. Wall Street itself realized that revenues at 1 Hacker Way actually kept on rising—until they jumped in 2021. COVID, remember?

The Metaverse, however, wasn’t really that great of a hit, and after the virus bonus revenue fell back in line the following year, FB lost a staggering two-thirds of its value. A trillion-dollar meme stock.

An attribute that it then turned into current heights via hitching itself to the AI bandwagon.

Releasing the LLaMA weights is undoubtedly a commendable move. It sounds utterly impressive when you can claim, “While we’re working on today’s products and models, we’re also working on the research we need to advance for LLaMA 5, 6, and 7 in the coming years and beyond to develop full general intelligence,” in an earnings call. Pretty much like that strange man proclaimed five years ago: “I want 5G, and even 6G, technology in the United States as soon as possible.” Numbers: They go up, up, and up.

Hype aside, I am not really aware of any practical applications for LLaMA 3. Zuck bought lots of GPUs. Both Jensen and I are happy about that. Maybe they thought they had all this data that people have entered in their apps. Maybe they could train a LLM on it. With GPT-3, there was this notion that the size of the training corpus was all that mattered. After all, OpenAI’s chatbot was such a wonder, and it jumped into existence just via the increase of its training data. I speculate that a trillion training tokens derived from FB discussions yield surprisingly little meaningful reasoning power. Especially compared to actual content like, for instance, Wikipedia.

The pressure to come up with something must have weighed heavily on 1 Hacker Way. As those two transformer-based applications (LLMs and Image Diffusers) broke into public view and kicked the world into a frenzy that seemingly became the new normal, Meta itself had just spent around $50 billion on developing, well, the Metaverse. Which received rather little positive reaction, to put it mildly.

The total and utter failure of Zuck’s idea to come up with a whole new thing left Meta with no choice but to jump on the AI hype PR scheme. And up to this day, it has worked rather well. While revenue is ticking along as expected, the stock is kissing new heights. For now.

So, what’s next?
Nobody knows.

What will happen is that Internet population growth will end. There are simply no more people left that could join. Pretty much everybody who could go online already has done so. While 25% of the world’s population are younger than 15, many of them live in underdeveloped parts of Africa. Furthermore, young people hardly flock eagerly into the Meta family of products once they get their first Internet device.

Meta’s revenue growth would therefore stall together with the plateau in its user count. While they continue to make a lot of money, a PE ratio of currently around 30 is expecting something else: More money. You need to grow profits to justify such a valuation.
A quick way to bump revenues would be to reduce costs. Twitter is still up and running, despite Mr. Musk letting go of most of its workforce. A tempting move that could save the numbers for a quarter or two at Menlo Park as well. The problem is that this approach works only briefly: Costs go down to zero. But not more.

Which means that Meta needs to increase revenues while user numbers can no longer grow.

Can Zuck’s companies accomplish that? They might, but it would not be pretty: Billions of people have delegated a great part of their social existence into the “Meta Family of Products”. (What’s in a name?) A sticky situation in itself. Add to that the addictive aspects that rival nicotine, and you realize that half the planet as a user base won’t go anywhere fast.

Wealth as well as the inflexibility to change app use or social topology both tend to grow with increasing age. Meta owns people’s time and attention in staggering amounts.

Here comes the part that isn’t pretty: it is rather easy to manipulate people online. Tech is able to do it. And will increasingly be. There is a threshold after which you no longer realize that you got nudged.

When the magician manages to direct your attention successfully, all sorts of things are possible. With a serious difference: Magic lives from the effect, that the outcome shows you, that you must have missed something. You are supposed to notice that it is impossible what just happened.

Manipulation to gain, aka advertisement, has a different aim: You should be made to act in certain ways, all the while thinking that you want to do that.

The total spending of Meta family users is responsible for a mind-boggling share of GDP. And, as discussed, most of the users will not go anywhere. If Meta does not f*ck up royally, pretty much half of the global adults will continue to point their noses, eyes, minds, and wallets its way.

Turning on the manipulation engine will not be one deliberate conscious act or one magnificent large piece of software. Lots of little changes will yield lots of little benefits. With billions of people, you can do a whole lot of A/B testing. Nobody will notice. Everybody’s feed is different and the fact that you see wording that is ever so slightly different will not trigger any of the societal mechanisms that will raise a reaction.

Jacob Riis used flash photography at the end of the 19th century to show the world how poor people lived in NYC, and he changed the world for the better. I cannot imagine how we can illuminate the modern plight of getting nudged into an ultimately unhappy existence that looms on the horizon.

VW + Microsoft

M$ technology

What could possibly go wrong?



First time I heard about Clubhouse was when Ramelow mentioned that he plays Candycrush while being in a BLK Corona Schalte. Basically a glorified zoom call where Merkel tries to get the Ministerpräsidenten on board for the next anti Covid measures. A year ago Ramelow was already in den news since he didn’t get elected. Instead some hapless dude from the FDP felt it would be OK if he would form a government by getting tolerated by the right wing populist AfD.

Back to Clubhouse. Invite only. IOS only. 500 people per room only. No ability to record audio. Except via the analog loophole I would think. It is audio based, and audio still gets into our brains
via pressure waives. Which can be recorded since more than 150 years.

Do I care about CH? No. Do I like to join? Fuck no.

But Elon spoke there? Really. They even had 2 overflow rooms. A total audience of 1500 random people on the Internet? Well. OK, the people are not entirely random. Right now it is Silicon Valley heavy, then there is the press. Those who also stare at twitter and other news outlets. But Musk on CH is similar to Lee Iacocca using a CB radio.

Still not sure what CH differentiates from CB in the first place.

I wonder what the endgame is for something like Clubhouse. I don’t see it. If you talk, and a couple of hundred people can listen, what is it that is worth saying? Multi level marketing promotions and religious gatherings aside there is not anything in our culture that would benefit from the unique features of Clubhouse.

If you have something to communicate to a small(ish) audience, then you might as well record a youtube video. Where people can find it. Where you can have links, calls to action etc. And a picture along your words. You can prepare the message you have to all you like. Doing it live is not making it better in most cases.

Once the influencers all want to (and can) talk on Clubhouse there will be simply not enough people that care enough to listen. Sure many people have they mom who would chime up. But what if you happened to sired multiple influences? Sophies Choice all over again.

Think a Sahara filled with lots and lots of Stylites.

There are earnings calls and similar communications where Clubhouse could be used. Maybe if Clubhouse would have unique benefits over a phone number one can call, then it could be used here. There still would be the chicken and egg to get over though. If your simple and working call-in method gets you a more reliable audience, why should you venture into Clubhouse? Having a phone that you can dial into something is a given. Clubhouse membership not.

I personally can not imagine how Clubhouse could scale. One would need a large number of people who can talk in a way that it is worth listening live to. Yes, in theory, everybody could talk. But in reality there are only weird areas and clubs where this would make sense. The bottom feeders of the Internet will like it. Racists, Flatearthers and the like. But you can’t make money with those. Chat Roulette had content problems too.

Once CH wants to go wider, what kind of thing do they want to be associated with? I am tempted to hide the telegram icon on my phone. Not that I would use it in disgusting ways, but others don’t know that.

Clubhouse might look like a real world real estate based gathering place. After the ‘party’ is over and before those responsible for cleaning up arrived and did what they do. Not a very inviting place.

I will write in six months again here how CH is doing. My guess it will be a hot mess.

In two years somebody might bought it and/or less relevant than SNAP. Another communication concept based on a restriction. Or it will have quibied. Much as there are dog and human years, there are Internet and Media years: Andreesen and Horowitz are only 16 years younger than Katzenberg and Whitman.

will it end in tears as expected?

economy internet technology

There are layers to what happens now with stocks and stories around it. I think it will end in tears. Trading options on the phone is a reality. And weird. Other, by now established, retail traders like TD or Schwab have you go through some lengthy process before you can dabble in options. It feels like Robinhood let you do it without much fuzz. Fun game. As long as it lasts. RH is said to have $20B AUM. Almost as big as Citadel with its $35B AUM. Citadel is also a “Market Maker”. An entity that connects buyers and sellers of stocks. Something Bernie Madoff did before he went off the deep end. Bernie also invented “Payment for oder flow“. A scheme were the market maker pays for a third party to bring clients in. Robinhood makes most of its money from these kind of deals. It routes many of the trades that its 12 million customers make via Citadel. Bernie is busy right now, he can not do it, even if it he wanted to.

The plot thickens when we look at Citadell backing Melvin with $2.75B earlier this week. Melvin had shorted, among other actors, ailing games retailer chain GME. A short is a promise to provide a given stock at a given date for a given price. A great contract if you can get the stock cheaper than that. A really shitty contract if you can not. While the money you can make is limited by the price will be. The money you can loose has no such limit. If I would have shorted Tesla when I though their pricing was just outrageous, I would have lost 4 dollars for each dollar that I would have made that bet (short trade) with. I did not. Melvin did short GME though. And the price for GMA has gone up. Like allot.

What happened next? Robinhood, that company that makes most of its money with Citadel, stopped allowing people to buy GME stock on their platform. Basically manipulating the market. Preventing that the people that congregate on CondeNasts reddit in the WallStreetBets section from keeping the price up, or raising it even further.

It is pretty naive that people raise their pitch forks when in fact they only hold life sized paper cut outs of said farming devices in their angrily shaking fists. They seem to ignore the fact, that it is the people on the other side of the moat that gave them to them as a trade for the real thing and some confetti animation.

So, yes, it will end in tears. The wsb / GME story. As well as Robinhood, as well as the concept that all that money from your bail out check and that you saved by not going to Bali and that you put ‘into the market’ will get you instant riches.

In the end of every bubble the audience needs to get broadened. One needs more people to join the party. To keep the thing going for just one more round. In that it is not unlike the phase of a loosing war: All sorts of people get recruited to ‘turn things around’. The DJIA touched 31K. Where do you think would it go from here? The concept of asset price inflation can only carry you so far.

But I have been betting on a falling market since it was overpriced at 11,500. The first time. More than 20 years ago.

2 versions

media politics technology

There is this:

and that:

which one is better?

From “Obama was born in Kenya” to “Biden didn’t win”

media politics technology

The 45th President bookended his political phase with two similarly outlandish claims aimed to delegitimize the 44th and 46th President respectively.

While he jumped on the birther nonsense, he was instrumental in constructing the steal narrative that ultimately drove some looneys into congress. Through broken doors, not so much via electing them.

As of January 10 it is not exactly clear what will happen next. I was not a fan of efforts to impeach him. But then I realized that a potential impeachment on January 19th might be good thing: It gives Trump something that he can loose. It might prevent him from trying any further Hail Mary stunts during his last days in (it feels sad to write these words) office.

He no longer can start a war via Twitter. So there is that. Actually removing his Internet presence is the biggest single event that ever happened to the Internet. Others had magnitudes of more impact, of course. But launching Facebook or Youtube were gradual processes. Kneecapping this man is significant. And it is not only Twitter: Amazon stops hosting wannabe competitors. For services of a certain scale it is the end if the few very large cloud services tell you to go fish.

Switching provides isn’t that easy anyway I suppose.

Of course nonsense will not magically vanish from the Internet. Conservative people will not turn magically liberal.

Millions of people believe the story that they have been told. That Hydroxy would be the way cure for Covid, that Mexico would pay for the wall, that Clintons broken email server is the biggest problem the US faced ever.

Everybody prefers it not to up end his / her belief system. Our brains assume (falsely) that it is metabolically expensive and must be avoided at all costs. Only since a very short time can a person exist outside the direct social interaction with others. We developed while being dependent on band of our own. Presenting a consistent predictable position is helpful in creating stable social bonds.

But being stuck in a mindset, defending opinions and beliefs as if you defend your own existence is entirely stupid. In little things it is entirely random why we put the ketchup bottle not in the door of the fridge. Still two normal people can have a heated argument over it. The moment it seems that you randomly put the thing where you did your mind already and automatically has constructed a justification for it. Thoughts that make you look good, that make you feel right have magical tailwind in your mind. Strangely not unlike those that “proof” that you are a worthless POS. Later one more when you are on your own and debate with yourself.

While flipping TV channel one can come across a person that says something. In some situations it is not directly clear which party the person is affiliated with. People want to know though. You’ll be hard pressed to find a person in a US “news channel” opiniating along without also seeing a clear indication of his DEM / GOP affiliation. These days, when I see unknown congressmen or women quoted in a paper then I go to wikipedia to first check which side they are on. That is stupid.

But many people have it even more extreme. They are on the Trump Train. And they are cut off from their supply. They sit in a field somewhere. Just a week ago they were in a cozy yet noisy compartment. While they were in the checkout line, avoiding to get mad about everything they see, they could check what their guys had written. How he had created more liberal tears. No more.

I really wonder how life of some of those 80 million twitter followers is. For a while this picture

was something that I would not dare to dream off. As usual elation fades quickly. Too quickly. The orange man made us mad. By lying. By using his social media presence to bully others. To step on good ideas. To prevent things that could have saved lives. That could have made life better. DJT and his Internet presence broke things, it did not build anything to speak off. Except for a certain kind of rage in his disciples. There is a difference between the 74 million people that voted for him and the monkeys that walked on marble on Wednesday. The difference is not a hard edge though. There is no clear border between normal people trying to have the right values and those that think that HRC eats babies.

This gradient is the natural fallout from the fact that the whole right wing nonsense that started with the Tea Party is not based in any actual ideas. There is no canon. “America First” can justify basically everything. There is spirit. Just a grunt. Some feeling of injustice. Some anger. Directed at whatever & whomever. As long as the story is good.

Wednesday it appeared as if the grand children of the village people wanted to stage a quick reunion in congress. Although most of them were not exactly Friends of Dorothy. Their attire, flags, motives and agenda were all over the place. They were all equally angry and motivated. They wanted to ‘stop the steal’. But how delusional do you have to be to believe that things could be changed by their actions.

Actually their actions did change things. They sank the boat of their leader. Decisively. If they was a swamp in Washington, then they drained it in an hour. By the evening of that day it had been paved over. And those that wanted to get rid of DJT drove on it at break neck speed. It just took a couple of not well guarded doors and a bunch of amped up idiots to bring the orange phase of the American Presidency to an abrupt end. Amazing.

It is fun to imagine him fuming, trying to unsuccessfully relaunch something. Just to fail. Again and again. A downfall meme that nobody needs to create, we can build it in our head in an instant.

At this point hope that he does not cause any harm during his last 10 days. From January 21st on we then can do what would have been the best all along: Ignore him. He is an idiot with issues. And a piped piper for people that already fell for the Tea Party nonsense. Or would have were they not too young back them. Yes, they are much more numerous in 2020 then they were in 2010. And they will not go away.

Be that as it may: DJT didn’t have a good week. Lets put it that way. “All that winning”

royal gene tests

history politics technology

Royal successions are based on who is related to whom in which way. Presumably in the biological way. Since most rules for successions are not based on maternal, like for instance the much more pragmatic jewish faith, it could be interesting to back up the pedigree with actual genetic evidence. Something that could have been done since decades. Given how easy it has become it is surprising that no tabloid has gone there yet to offer proof about certain differences between the official story and the actual relationships. I wonder if there efforts on the way to protect the genetic information of people in royal families.

There are stories that latest North Korean Kim makes efforts that the output of his body remains under his control. What a strange job: Honeyboy to the dictator.

It is probably possible to go back in time as well. There are probably a couple of relics that have traces of DNA. Once Corona is in the past we have allot of PCR capacity that is sitting around. I wonder how cheap these machines will become.

once in a while

art daily life technology

I miss it that I am no longer in LA. This looks like a building worth looking at for instance.

Iowa is not around the corner. I have never been. During my American decades I did not look at much of the country at all. But pre Covid it would have been much easier to have a look at IH tractors than it would be now. And it seems that they dissolve the museum by the end of the year.

Other things I miss? People, of course, and In-n-out. Warm weather that does not end when August ends will be another thing. Coming to think of it: It will be a tough winter: no where to fly to escape the cold.

First world problems I guess.

wait …

internet technology

… there is was a message that one is all caught up in Instagram? Can not remember that I ever saw it.