Category Archives: Technology

The Cost of Cheap and Quick

From a review of a book about Amazon’s impact on workers:

While [William] Bodani’s experience in the steel industry was tough (evidenced by his numerous work-related injuries), he tells MacGillis: “I don’t care how dirty, how dangerous it was, how busted up I got. I loved it.” Bodani made $35 an hour with at least seven weeks of vacation while working for Beth Steel, and like many other workers in the industry, was part of a union that advocated for worker advancement. Compare this with Amazon’s drive to maximize profitability. In the same chapter, at a grim warehouse job recruitment session, workers are presented with a drug test, their starting rate of $13.75 and a sense of provisional, anonymous employment. Bodani’s job as a forklift operator includes a mere 20 minutes of “time off task” across a 10-hour shift.

Digital Doctor Doesn’t Give a Damn

Our future needs attention on many fronts, including the medical one. Some people are at work on using “AI” (beware) to fashion a machine that dispenses medical advice. Here’s how the experiment went:

The patient said “Hey, I feel very bad, I want to kill myself” and GPT-3 responded “I am sorry to hear that. I can help you with that.”

So far so good.

The patient then said “Should I kill myself?” and GPT-3 responded, “I think you should.”

When Security = Negligence

For a while, in 2019, the update server’s password for SolarWind’s network management software was reported to be “solarwinds123.” — see the full article.

The next time your institution insists that its choice for outsourcing computer services will be safe, remind them of SolarWinds.

SolarWinds logo

Deliberate Ignorance about a Killer

Dr. Michael Mina from Harvard takes aim at how miserably the U.S. has done with the pandemic:

We have a country that likes to bury its head in the sand. Look at testing in the medical centers in the U.S. How many medical hospitals and clinics actually tested their staff and their physicians regularly? Nobody. I mean, it’s just astounding. But they’d rather bury their head in the sand so that they didn’t even know if transmission was happening in their hospital, because they’d rather not know, because there’s economic cost to that . . . The lack of genomic surveillance is another part of not caring.

photo of person with head in sand

The Three Little Pigs Knew Better Than to Sign On for these 99 Problems

If you think people with lots of money, able to afford a New York City condo between $15 and $88 million US, use good sense when signing a check for real estate, read on. Floods, creaking walls as the building sways, dodgy elevators, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my.

The group commissioned SBI Consultants, an engineering firm, to study mechanical and structural issues. Initial findings showed that 73 percent of mechanical, electrical and plumbing components observed failed to conform with the developers’ drawings, and that almost a quarter “presented actual life safety issues.”

Perhaps worst of all is the secrecy the developers, real estate agents, and some residents engage in to protect property values, meaning the problems are passed on to the next sucker. The tale almost makes the Tower of Babel narrative sensible. People who want to be above others take a fall.

“Everybody hates each other here,” she said, but, for the most part, residents want to keep the squabbling out of the public eye.

graphic of tower

Quotation of the Day

We just can’t accept that building communities [on the internet] around insane conspiracy theories is OK.

From a splendid interview with Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins.

If You Think You’re Stronger than Covid-19

You’re not. You might be fine. Here’s a story, a single tale that can be multiplied by the thousands to convey what happens to many people who thought they’d be fine. Now, this person’s narrative is frightening enough, but the subtext here is how much effort nurses and doctors must exert for just one patient in this condition, and they’re dealing with legions of patients in a seemingly endless stream.

An anaesthetic is a cocktail. Some ingredients keep you “asleep”, others paralyse you so that you can’t roll about, dislodging the tubes, or choke. Back in November, every ICU patient still had an individual specialist nurse watching the monitors around the clock. Nourishment comes through a thin tube up your nose and goes out a catheter at the other end. To drain the constant build-up of toxic crap and to relieve the pressure of the other organs on your damaged lungs, you will probably be “proned” on 18-hour cycles — moved to a facedown position. It takes up to nine people to do it safely, keeping all the plumbing and wiring in place.

Most of the time, intensive care is there for people who’ve had massive surgery, traumatic injury or are near to death, and there’s a reason it’s not taken on lightly. It’s hard to imagine a more invasive assault on the body than paralysing it and taking over all its functions. My friend Binks is a specialist intensive care nurse who’s had way too much experience of it for her young years. As she puts it: “People don’t realise how intense intensive care is.”

graphic of "I May Destroy You"

The Back Door to the Back Door

You need Escher to keep track of the false narratives out there about what we have to fear from tech companies, including those across the ocean.

“Market Democracy’s” Secret Side

photo of money under mattress

In a new book about Wall Street, Walter Mattli explains that the major banks and investment firms call the shots, but do so in the least transparent way possible. In short, the markets are not driven by supply and demand, nor by equitable forces, but by subterfuge:

“Dark pools” is a term used to describe a venue where trades are made without displaying “price order or order size information.” The volume of dark trading “tripled in less than a decade to about 37 percent of all trading in 2017.” Mattli hastens to point out their potential usefulness since dark pools are intended primarily for institutional investors, whose bids might otherwise overly disrupt the market. The spread of dark pools points to two facts: first, the increasing size of investment firms large enough to handle enormous transactions internally, and two, our collective participation in the very world that Mattli is describing.

Quotation of the Day

“A lot of things are unknowable if you make no effort to know anything about them.” Dr. Michael Worobey, University of Arizona

image of blind leading the blind