Tags: min



Wednesday, August 9th, 2023


I just described prototype code as code to be thrown away. On that topic…

I’ve been observing how people are programming with large language models and I’ve seen a few trends.

The first thing that just about everyone agrees on is that the code produced by a generative tool is not fit for public consumption. At least not straight away. It definitely needs to be checked and tested. If you enjoy debugging and doing code reviews, this might be right up your street.

The other option is to not use these tools for production code at all. Instead use them for throwaway code. That could be prototyping. But it could also be the code for those annoying admin tasks that you don’t do very often.

Take content migration. Say you need to grab a data dump, do some operations on the data to transform it in some way, and then pipe the results into a new content management system.

That’s almost certainly something you’d want to automate with bespoke code. Once the content migration is done, the code can be thrown away.

Read Matt’s account of coding up his Braggoscope. The code needed to spider a thousand web pages, extract data from those pages, find similarities, and output the newly-structured data in a different format.

I’ve noticed that these are just the kind of tasks that large language models are pretty good at. In effect you’re training the tool on your own very specific data and getting it to do your drudge work for you.

To me, it feels right that the usefulness happens on your own machine. You don’t put the machine-generated code in front of other humans.

Monday, June 26th, 2023

In new AI hype frenzy, tech is applying the label to everything now

Today’s AI promoters are trying to have it both ways: They insist that AI is crossing a profound boundary into untrodden territory with unfathomable risks. But they also define AI so broadly as to include almost any large-scale, statistically-driven computer program.

Under this definition, everything from the Google search engine to the iPhone’s face-recognition unlocking tool to the Facebook newsfeed algorithm is already “AI-driven” — and has been for years.

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

When I lost my job, I learned to code. Now AI doom mongers are trying to scare me all over again | Tristan Cross | The Guardian

Ingesting every piece of art ever into a machine which lovelessly boils them down to some approximated median result isn’t artistic expression. It may be a neat parlour trick, a fun novelty, but an AI is only able to produce semi-convincing knock-offs of our creations precisely because real, actual people once had the thought, skill and will to create them.

Monday, June 12th, 2023

Today’s AI is unreasonable - Anil Dash

Today’s highly-hyped generative AI systems (most famously OpenAI) are designed to generate bullshit by design. To be clear, bullshit can sometimes be useful, and even accidentally correct, but that doesn’t keep it from being bullshit. Worse, these systems are not meant to generate consistent bullshit — you can get different bullshit answers from the same prompts. You can put garbage in and get… bullshit out, but the same quality bullshit that you get from non-garbage inputs! And enthusiasts are current mistaking the fact that the bullshit is consistently wrapped in the same envelope as meaning that the bullshit inside is consistent, laundering the unreasonable-ness into appearing reasonable.

Monday, May 15th, 2023

Google’s AI Hype Circle

Google has a serious AI problem. That problem isn’t “how to integrate AI into Google products?” That problem is “how to exclude AI-generated nonsense from Google products?”

AI isn’t the app, it’s the UI - Stack Overflow Blog

In some ways, the fervor around AI is reminiscent of blockchain hype, which has steadily cooled since its 2021 peak. In almost all cases, blockchain technology serves no purpose but to make software slower, more difficult to fix, and a bigger target for scammers. AI isn’t nearly as frivolous—it has several novel use cases—but many are rightly wary of the resemblance. And there are concerns to be had; AI bears the deceptive appearance of a free lunch and, predictably, has non-obvious downsides that some founders and VCs will insist on learning the hard way.

This is a good level-headed overview of how generative language model tools work.

If something can be reduced to patterns, however elaborate they may be, AI can probably mimic it. That’s what AI does. That’s the whole story.

There’s very practical advice on deciding where and when these tools make sense:

The sweet spot for AI is a context where its choices are limited, transparent, and safe. We should be giving it an API, not an output box.

Thursday, April 20th, 2023

Rich Harris: Hot takes on the web 🌶️ - YouTube

I don’t agree with all of these takes-of-varying-spiciness, but Rich Harris is always worth paying attention to.

Rich Harris on frameworks, the web, and the edge

Tuesday, April 18th, 2023

The one about AI - macwright.com

Writing, both code and prose, for me, is both an end product and an end in itself. I don’t want to automate away the things that give me joy.

And that is something that I’m more and more aware of as I get older – sources of joy. It’s good to diversify them, to keep track of them, because it’s way too easy to run out. Or to end up with just one, and then lose it.

The thing about luddites is that they make good punchlines, but they were all people.

The Technium: Dreams are the Default for Intelligence

I feel like there’s a connection here between what Kevin Kelly is describing and what I wrote about guessing (though I think he might be conflating consciousness with intelligence).

This, by the way, is also true of immersive “virtual reality” environments. Instead of trying to accurately recreate real-world places like meeting rooms, we should be leaning into the hallucinatory power of a technology that can generate dream-like situations where the pleasure comes from relinquishing control.

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023

Why ChatGPT Won’t Replace Coders Just Yet

I’ve been using Copilot for over a year now, and this is more or less how I use it: To help me quickly blast through boilerplate code so I can more quickly get to the tricky bits.

There’s a more subtle problem with ChatGPT’s code generation, which is that it suffers from ChatGPT’s general “bullshit” problem.

Saturday, March 4th, 2023

Those meddling kids! The Reverse Scooby-Doo theory of tech innovation comes with the excuses baked in | Nieman Journalism Lab

Manufactured inevitability a.k.a bullshit:

There’s a standard trope that tech evangelists deploy when they talk about the latest fad. It goes something like this:

  1. Technology XYZ is arriving. It will be incredible for everyone. It is basically inevitable.
  2. The only thing that can stop it is regulators and/or incumbent industries. If they are so foolish as to stand in its way, then we won’t be rewarded with the glorious future that I am promising.

We can think of this rhetorical move as a Reverse Scooby-Doo. It’s as though Silicon Valley has assumed the role of a Scooby-Doo villain — but decided in this case that he’s actually the hero. (“We would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling regulators!”)

The critical point is that their faith in the promise of the technology is balanced against a revulsion towards existing institutions. (The future is bright! Unless they make it dim.) If the future doesn’t turn out as predicted, those meddlers are to blame. It builds a safety valve into their model of the future, rendering all predictions unfalsifiable.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2023

Brandolini’s blockchain

I’ve already written about how much I enjoyed hosting Leading Design San Francisco last week.

All the speakers were terrific. Lola’s talk was particularly …um, interesting:

In this talk, Lola will share her adventures in the world of blockchain, the hostility she experienced in her first go-round in 2018, and why she’s chosen to head back to a technology that is going through its largest reputational and social crisis to date.

Wait …I was supposed to stand on stage and introduce a talk that was (at least partly) about blockchain? I have opinions.

As it turned out, Lola warned me that I’d be making an appearance in her talk. She was going to quote that blog post. Before the talk, I asked her how obnoxious I could be about blockchain in her intro. She told me to bring it.

So in the introduction, I deployed all the sarcasm I had in me and said:

Listen, we designers have a tendency to be over-critical of things sometimes. There are all these ideas that we dismiss: phrenology, homeopathy, flat-earthism …blockchain. Haters gonna hate.

I remember somebody asking online a while back, “Why the hate for web3?” And someone I know responded by saying “We hate it because we understand it.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that.

But look, just because blockchains are powering crypto ponzi schemes and N F fucking Ts, it’s worth remembering that it’s also simply a technology. It’s a technological solution in search of a problem.

To be fair, it’s still early days. After all, it’s only been over a decade now.

It’s like the law of instrument says; when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Blockchain is like that. Except the hammer is also made of glass.

Anyway, Lola is going to defend the indefensible and talk about blockchain. One thing to keep in mind is this: remember when everyone was talking about “The Cloud”? And then it turned out that you could substitute the phrase “someone else’s server” for “The Cloud?” Well, every time you hear Lola say the word “blockchain”, I’d like you to mentally substitute the phrase “multiple copies of a spreadsheet.”

Please give an open mind and a warm welcome to Lola Oyelayo Pearson!

I got some laughs. I also got lots of gasps and pearl-clutching, as though I were saying something taboo. Welcome to San Francisco.

Lola gave as good as she got. I got a roasting in her talk.

And just to clarify, Lola and I are friends—this was a consensual smackdown.

There was a very serious point to Lola’s talk. Cryptobollocks and other blockchain-powered schemes have historically been very bro-y, and exploitative of non-bro communities. Lola wants to fight that trend.

I get it. But it reminds me a bit of the justifications you hear from people who go to work at Facebook claiming that they can do more good from the inside. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

The crux of Lola’s belief is this: blockchain technology is inevitable, therefore it is uncumbent on us as ethical designers to ensure that the technology is deployed in a way that empowers people instead of exploiting them.

But I take issue with the premise. Blockchain technology is not inevitable. That’s the worst kind of technological determinism. It’s defeatist. It’s a depressing view of “progress” driven not by people, but by technological forces beyond our control.

I refuse to accept that anti-humanist deterministic view.

In any case, for technological determinism to have any validity, there needs to be something to it. At least virtual reality and machine learning are based on some actual technologies. In the case of cryptobollocks, there is no there there. There is nothing except the hype, which is why you’ll see blockchain enthusiasts trying to ride the coattails of trending technologies in a logical fallacy that goes something like this:

  1. There are technologies that will be really big in the future,
  2. blockchain is a technology, therefore
  3. blockchain will be really big in the future.

Blockchain is bullshit. It isn’t even very clever bullshit. And it certainly isn’t inevitable.

Monday, February 13th, 2023

You can call me AI

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of initialisms and acronyms. They can be exclusionary.

It bothers me doubly when everyone is talking about AI.

First of all, the term is so vague as to be meaningless. Sometimes—though rarely—AI refers to general artificial intelligence. Sometimes AI refers to machine learning. Sometimes AI refers to large language models. Sometimes AI refers to a series of if/else statements. That’s quite a spectrum of meaning.

Secondly, there’s the assumption that everyone understands the abbreviation. I guess that’s generally a safe assumption, but sometimes AI could refer to something other than artificial intelligence.

In countries with plenty of pastoral agriculture, if someone works in AI, it usually means they’re going from farm to farm either extracting or injecting animal semen. AI stands for artificial insemination.

I think that abbreviation might work better for the kind of things currently described as using AI.

We were discussing this hot topic at work recently. Is AI coming for our jobs? The consensus was maybe, but only the parts of our jobs that we’re more than happy to have automated. Like summarising some some findings. Or perhaps as a kind of lorem ipsum generator. Or for just getting the ball rolling with a design direction. As Terence puts it:

Midjourney is great for a first draft. If, like me, you struggle to give shape to your ideas then it is nothing short of magic. It gets you through the first 90% of the hard work. It’s then up to you to refine things.

That’s pretty much the conclusion we came to in our discussion at Clearleft. There’s no way that we’d use this technology to generate outputs for clients, but we certainly might use it to generate inputs. It’s like how we’d do a quick round of sketching to get a bunch of different ideas out into the open. Terence is spot on when he says:

Midjourney lets me quickly be wrong in an interesting direction.

To put it another way, using a large language model could be a way of artificially injecting some seeds of ideas. Artificial insemination.

So now when I hear people talk about using AI to create images or articles, I don’t get frustrated. Instead I think, “Using artificial insemination to create images or articles? Yes, that sounds about right.”

Wednesday, February 8th, 2023


I hadn’t come across this before: a barebones blogging tool with built-in fediverse support—neat!

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

Fragile Technologists – Terence Eden’s Blog

If you’ve made a computer do something - anything - in a logical fashion, you’re a programmer. Scratch? Programmer! CSS? Programmer? Conditional formatting in Excel? Programmer!

Monday, January 2nd, 2023

Why Not Mars (Idle Words)

I’ve come to believe the best way to look at our Mars program is as a faith-based initiative. There is a small cohort of people who really believe in going to Mars, the way some people believe in ghosts or cryptocurrency, and this group has an outsize effect on our space program.

Maciej lays out the case against a crewed mission to Mars.

Like George Lucas preparing to release another awful prequel, NASA is hoping that cool spaceships and nostalgia will be enough to keep everyone from noticing that their story makes no sense. But you can’t lie your way to Mars, no matter how sincerely you believe in what you’re doing.

And don’t skip the footnotes:

Fourth graders writing to Santa make a stronger case for an X-Box than NASA has been able to put together for a Mars landing.

Monday, December 19th, 2022

Empty Pointers and Constellations of AI

AI becomes a stand-in term for whatever technologies and techniques are new, shiny, and just beyond the grasp of our understanding. We use it to gesture at a future we cannot fully comprehend or currently realise. As soon as we do, it will no longer be “AI.”

Sunday, December 4th, 2022

Tweaking navigation labelling

I’ve always liked the idea that your website can be your API. Like, you’ve already got URLs to identify resources, so why not make that URL structure predictable and those resources parsable?

That’s why the (read-only) API for The Session doesn’t live at a separate subdomain. It uses the same URL structure as the regular site, but you can request the resources in an alternative format: JSON, XML, RSS.

This works out pretty well, mostly because I put a lot of thought into the URL structure of the site. I’m something of a URL fetishist, but I think that taking a URL-first approach to information architecture can be a good exercise.

Most of the resources on The Session involve nouns like tunes, events, discussions, and so on. There’s a consistent and predictable structure to the URLs for those sections:

  • /things
  • /things/new
  • /things/search

And then an idividual item can be found at:

  • things/ID

That’s all nice and predictable and the naming of the URLs matches what you’d expect to find:

Tunes, events, discussions, sessions. Those are all fine. But there’s one section of the site that has this root URL:


When I was coming up with the URL structure twenty years ago, it was clear what you’d find there: track listings for albums of music. No one would’ve expected to find actual recordings of music available to listen to on-demand. The bandwidth constraints and technical limitations of the time made that clear.

Two decades on, the situation has changed. Now someone new to the site might well expect to hit a link called “recordings” and expect to hear actual recordings of music.

So I should probably change the label on the link. I don’t think “albums” is quite right—what even is an album any more? The word “discography” is probably the most appropriate label.

Here’s my dilemma: if I update the label, should I also update the URL structure?

Right now, the section of the site with /tunes URLs is labelled “tunes”. The section of the site with /events URLs is labelled “events”. Currently the section of the site with /recordings URLs is labelled “recordings”, but may soon be labelled “discography”.

If you click on “tunes”, you end up at /tunes. But if you click on “discography”, you end up at /recordings.

Is that okay? Am I the only one that would be bothered by that?

I could update the URLs to match the labelling (with redirects for the old URLs, of course), but I’m not so keen on this URL structure:

  • /discography
  • /discography/new
  • /discography/search
  • /discography/ID

It doesn’t seem as tidy as:

  • /recordings
  • /recordings/new
  • /recordings/search
  • /recordings/ID

But if I don’t update the URLs to match the label, then I’m just going to have to live with the mismatch.

I’m just thinking out loud here. I think I should definitely update the label. I just won’t make any decision on changing URLs for a while yet.

Monday, November 28th, 2022

Designing a Utopian layout grid: Working with fluid responsive values in a static design tool. | Utopia

James describes his process for designing fluid grid layouts, which very much involves working with the grain of the web but against the grain of our design tools:

In 2022 our design tools are still based around fixed-size artboards, while we’re trying to design products which scale gracefully to suit any screen.

Thursday, November 17th, 2022