Blog, Notes, and Other Things

08 Jan 2023

Microsoft, ChatGPT, CES & Other Things

Hey there!

Welcome to the first edition of the newsletter, which contains news that caught my eye (mostly those that broke in the last week, but no hard constraints) along with an assortment of links and my brief notes to anything that I have found interesting.
Let’s get to it!

News 🔗

  • The biggest news that caught my eye this week was Microsoft’s plan to integrate Bing with ChatGPT. Google seems to be already aware of the risks of ChatGPT as indicated by their “code red” declaration.
    • ChatGPT has already had a lot of adoption from new products built on top of it to existing companies like Notion, Todoist and even iTerm. Apart from integrating with a generalized search, it would be these contextual just-in-time prompting where I think this would be more used. Just like most of the google searches of a programmer are for code snippets and documentation, I would assume most searches by most people are bounded in their domains, and integrating ChatGPT or something like that in the relevant and predominant tool of that industry would be most beneficial.
    • Integration of this with organizational chat tools like Slack, and Mattermost is something I still haven’t seen, but done well (which is definitely within the realm of possibility) this solves one of the biggest problems in large organizations, the problem of “knowledge discovery”.
    • In other news, I also got to know that Bing already has a image create feature
  • In more AI-related news ChatGPT was banned in New York City Public Schools and Reddit’s /r/Art banned an artist because the art looked like it was generated with AI. These are the type of news articles that 100 years from now people would look back to, similar to how we look back to news articles condemning the advent of every new technology.
    • This is not an excuse to discount the critics, they do serve an important purpose in moderating the eventual consensus that gets formed on usage and putting a cap on the hysteria we see during the adoption cycle. The pushback in a lot of cases against the newer wave of AI seems more like a reaction to the lack of time to form a consensus on the longer-term impact of these technologies and where they would be best leveraged rather than the historic Luddite kind of reaction.
  • CES was this week. Just a couple of years ago my youtube feed during CES was filled with videos from tech YouTubers making dozen of videos covering CES, but this year it’s been relatively quiet. Nonetheless, Engadget faithfully covered and summarized the event with their daily recaps.
    • The most interesting thing to me that I hope gets widely adopted are integrated projector in cars (Regardless of large-scale utility it’s just such a fun idea), and the ability to plug in a headphone jack to your wireless earbud case which then pushes that audio to your wireless earbuds.
    • CES being primarily a hardware-focused show likely has a lag in terms of embedded technology adoption, there wasn’t a lot of headlining ChatGPT level AI integration, but for some reason, there was a Samsung announcement that used blockchain for some element of home automation.
  • More details on the Southwest meltdown came this week. Although I didn’t actively follow this story when it came out the surrounding discussion makes it seem more like an actual technology/management problem than I initially thought. The first pass of the blame seems to be on Skysolver (what looks like a constraint solver) software being used by Southwest. It’s still very unclear what and how exactly it failed. But like all software-related disruptions, the operators seem to have known of the fragility of the system.
    • Some of the quotes from the article

      “The key to recovery is typically, keep operating,” he said. “Typically after day three, day four you’re in pretty decent shape. We didn’t see that this time, though.”

      make it seem like a queueing system problem that got progressively complex and the only way to solve it was shedding load by canceling flights. But then again I don’t have any insight into the inner workings of airline scheduling

Movies and Documentaries 🔗

  • Nope
    • A horror movie about aliens, UFO which also feels like has an animal welfare angle to it.
  • The Act of Killing
    • A bizarre documentary on 1960’s Indonesian Gangsters (the word gangster comes from free men, as they keep on reminding you) who massacred purported communists, recreating their killings for a movie. There seems to be a meta-level directing in this documentary, where the director possibly also directs the movie that is being produced inside the documentary and by doing so eventually directs one of the gang leaders to come to the realization of his actions. I haven’t seen the behind-the-scenes of this, so I don’t know the full story of how the movie was produced. The matter-of-factness of all the people in the documentary regarding the things they did and continue to do is hard to describe.

Books 🔗

  • The Price of Time: The Real Story of Interest
    • I have a crude rule of thumb regarding economic theories, if you can’t explain it in a logically consistent way to yourself or a friend again, or if it requires you to do too many mental gymnastics to get to the results, it’s probably false. I might be wrong but when this time around last year (or mid of the previous year) there was a lot of commotion on modern monetary theory my gut instinct was it just wasn’t a sustainable thing to do.
      This book though passes that gut check for the most part, there are parts of the book which on first reading seemed contradictory (in particular I didn’t completely grasp how the ‘08 crash led to both the rich getting richer, and the middle class getting eviscerated even though they also ended up buying property, there was also a critique of Piketty’s r > g which also I didn’t completely understand), but broadly the thesis it puts forward of unintentionally holding interest rate low leads to a lot of deleterious effect on the economy makes a lot of sense. (Especially when you are going through that phase)
      I particularly enjoyed the historical context of the interest rate. A question I hadn’t pondered but that comes up early on in the book is what is the origin of interest? And how is the interest rate picked in a completely free economy? This turns out to be a fundamental question that still remains unclear. The book documents the issues that have happened due to the lack of visibility of this “natural rate” of interest combined with the effort of the central bank to “fix” this rate using multiple scenarios from the Mississippi bubble to the more recent ‘08 crisis. It also devotes an entire chapter to a whirlwind tour of China’s “economic miracle” using financial repression.
      All in all albeit a bit slow going, it’s a book that explains how a single factor i.e, interest rates set by central banks can explain so much in the economy.

Videos 🔗

  • Although the holidays are over some of the questions on Things to argue about over the holidays instead of politics are still on my mind.
  • This article on how the periodic table is visualized is a reminder that things had to be invented and the current variant of a lot of commonly accepted things is just one possible variant of the many and got wide acceptance due to a combination of historic reasons and the desire to reap the benefit of standardization. Although there is quite a bit of order and reasoning in the periodic table as mentioned in the article, it’s a luxury not enjoyed by various ordering of other things. This is a fairly common thing (for example the ordering of alphabets, the choice of the prime meridian, etc.) but nonetheless is still surprising whenever you discover something like this.
  • A collection demonstrating the power of small teams.
  • From this article on currency imaging research, I got to know about EURion constellation which is basically a pattern of what are essentially dots (in the quasi shape of Orion constellation which is what it is named after) to help detect imaging software identify currency and refuse to do nefarious things (like printing currency)
  • You probably already know this from the occasional blast from the past when you click a button in the control panel you weren’t supposed to, but this article documents it with evidence that windows still has visual elements from Windows 3.1.
  • Apart from documenting tactics on How to slow down scientific progress, the article is also a good summary of the current state of not only academic institutions but large organizations. The tactic of removing most active scientists and making them members of committees can be word for word substituted for most engineering orgs by replacing scientists with engineers and committees with org crud work. Some engineering orgs taut to have solved this with the “dual career ladder” but I still don’t believe this is a clear solution.
  • An older article on Apple manufacturing structured as a trap to avoid for hardware startups. It always stuck out to me that Apple literally brought out the entire company which made the machines to drill the sleep light indicator.

That’s all for now, feel free to share this with anyone who might find it interesting. You can reach out to me on Twitter if you want to discuss anything and you can always subscribe via email to this newsletter or follow using either site-wide RSS feed or Newsletter only RSS feed.