The cost of your cat pictures

Every month, almost three billion people use Facebook.

Those people upload photos and video and it all gets saved—about 4 petabytes, four billion gigabytes, of data every day.

Those are abstract numbers. What does it mean? How Does Facebook not run out of space?

Exactly how you think. They buy more than 1,000 hard drives every day. (As of the time I write this, the information I can find suggests they prefer to use 4TB hard drives rather than larger drives for cost and reliability reasons.)

This is a pallet of 180 hard drives:

Facebook adds the equivalent of about 6 of these pallets of hard drives to its storage hive every day. They’re placed in server computers in Facebook’s Hive data store that have 12 hard drives per server, so they’re adding data equivalent to at least 83 servers per day. (That’s only for storing user generated data like photos, and does not include extra drives for RAID redundancy or data duplication, which I imagine likely doubles that amount.)

Here’s the inside of one of Facebook’s data centers.

Imagine building after building, row after row of these. Now imagine 6 pallets of hard drives coming in on trucks and 83 servers’ worth of storage being added today.

And again tomorrow.

And again the day after tomorrow.

And again after that.

And yes, they really do order hard drives by the truckload.

This is why any time some conservative tells you “BuT fAcEbOk iS vIoLaTiNg My FrEeDuMb Of SpEeCh SoCiAl MeDiA sItEs ArE pUbLiC sPaCeS DuRr DuRr,” you can laugh in their face and walk away.

See all those servers? See all those buildings? See all those pallets of hard drives being trucked in? See all those people installing them?

Are you paying for them? No. Is the government paying for them? No. Is public money paying for them? No. They are private property. Billions of dollars of private property.

Facebook spends, as a first order approximation, about $30,000,000,000 a year on server infrastructure, not including buildings, land, facilities maintenance, installation, or salaries.

Anyone who thinks that social media sites are “public spaces” is welcome to propose that Congress gives Facebook $30,000,000,000 a year to keep up that infrastructure. Otherwise, no, it’s not. That’s $30,000,000,000 a year in private money being used to buy private property.

Okay, so.

You can’t have a service where almost three billion people communicate without having tremendous political clout. Facebook can, and arguably has, influenced elections and changed the course of nations.

And that’s (rightly, I think) got a lot of people worried. When you have a private company with no public accountability that has that much influence, that’s a bad thing, right?

Well, yes.

But here’s the thing: This isn’t new.

People forget this isn’t new. It’s always been this way. In the 1700s and 1800s, elections were decided by newspaper barons.

Remember William Randolph Hearst? Remember the Spanish American War? That was a war basically started by one man, a newspaper mogul, who totally dominated public political discourse and established a whole new world of journalistic propaganda.

This is probably the most effective fake news in history.

So what’s different?

Ah, now that’s a question.

Modern social media is different from the media empires of old in one important way: they are participatory, many-to-many, not one-to-many. In the past, “media” meant the owner disseminated information to content consumers. Today, we are all content creators and content consumers.

And this has led to a great deal of confusion betwixt “public” and “private.”

The Internet allows anyone to use it, but few people actually know how it works, or what scale it operates on. Hundreds of companies spend billions per year on the infrastructure to give everyone a way to communicate with everyone else, so what feels like a public square is actually a private space. And that leads to confusion: “Facebook banned me! My CoNsTiTuTiOnAl RiGhTs!“…when in fact you have no right to use other people’s stuff for free at all.

And make no mistake, that’s what Facebook and Twitter and all those other sites are: other people’s stuff. Billions and billions of dollars of other people’s stuff, that you’re using for free.

In the past, this confusion didn’t exist. In the past, nobody felt they had the right to someone else’s newspaper. You could write a letter to the editor, which they might or might not print, but nobody (well, nobody serious, anyway) had the notion that they had the Constitutional right to use someone else’s newspaper to say whatever they want.

We understand when something belongs to someone else, right up until the moment we’re allowed to use it ourselves…at which point we tend to assume an entitlement to it.

Owners of of media distribution companies have always had an outsized impact on social media. This isn’t new.

What’s new is that people are more aware of it, and want more of a voice. What’s unfortunate is that so many people aren’t going about it the right way. You don’t have a right to use Facebook, and if you’re kicked off you aren’t being “censored.”

What we need is entirely different conversation, and that’s one we can’t have whilst everyone is looking at the wrong thing.

Some Thoughts on Ethics in Computer Science

As I type this, Elon Musk says the release of true full self-driving cars is perhaps months away. Leaving aside his…notable overoptimism, this would arguably be among the crowning achievement of computer science so far.

Yes, even more than going to the moon. Going to the moon required remarkably little in the way of computer science—orbital mechanics are complicated, sure, but not that complicated, and there are few unexpected pedestrians twixt hither and yon.

We are moving into a world utterly dominated by computers. And yet…there’s far too little attention, I think, paid to the ethical implications of that.

Probably the biggest ethical issue I see in computer science right now concerns training sets for machine learning.

I don’t mean machine learning like self-driving cars, though that’s a monstrous problem of its own—the thing about ML systems is they’re basically black boxes that most definitively do NOT see the world the way we do, so they can become confused by adversarial inputs, like this strange sticker that makes a Tesla see a stop sign as a Speed Limit 45 sign:

Insert picture description

And of course ownership of these enormous ML systems opens whole cans, plural, of worms just by itself. If you use terabytes of public domain data to train a proprietary ML system, what responsibility do you have to make it available to the people who produced your training data, and what liability do you have when your system goes wrong?

And of course deepfake software can produce photos and video of you in a place you’ve never been hanging out with people you don’t know saying things you’ve never said, and make it all totally believable. Look for that to cause trouble soon.

But those are just fringe problems, minor ethical quibbles compared to the elephant in the room: bias in data sets.

Legal societies are putting more and more reliance on ML systems. Police use machine learning for facial recognition (and now, gait recognition, recognizing people by the way they walk instead of their facial features—yes that’s a thing).

Militaries use facial recognition in weapons platforms. Right now they don’t rely in it, but use it as an adjunct to more traditional intelligence, but the day is coming when foreign military targets will be designated entirely by things like facial recognition systems.

Problem is, those ML systems tend to be racist AF.

I’m not kidding.

ML systems rely on training with positively gargantuan training data sets. You train a machine to recognize faces by feeding it millions—or, if you can, tens or hundreds of millions—of pictures of people’s faces.

The researchers who define and build these systems tend to turn to the Internet for their training data, trolling Internet social media sites with bot software that hoovers up all the photos it can find for training data.

Let’s ignore for a moment the copyright implications. Let’s ignore the ethical issues of treating people’s property as fodder for surveillance systems. Let’s just quietly ignore all those ethical problems so we can talk about racism.

People who post lost of photos on the Internet that get scooped up to train ML systems aren’t an even demographic slice of humanity. They tend to have more money than average, be Western Europeans or North Americans, and tend to be white.

That means ML systems to do things like facial recognition are trained on data sets that are overwhelmingly…white faces.

And that means these systems—even commercial systems now deployed and used by police—suck at identifying black or Asian faces.

Like sometimes really suck.

Insert picture description

Like, as of 2018, commercial facial recognition systems had a recognition failure rate on white male faces of 0.2%, and a failure rate on black female faces of more than 22%.

If that isn’t ringing alarm bells in your head, you’re not fully comprehending the magnitude of the problem.

Here’s a rather frightening quote:

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that Amazon’s Rekognition software wrongly identified 28 members of Congress as people who had previously been arrested. It disproportionately misidentified African-Americans and Latinos.

We train AI and ML systems with data from the real world…and we get deeply racist, profoundly flawed AI and ML systems as a result.

Then we use these AI and ML systems to identify people for arrest or to send autonomous suicide drones.

Insert picture description

Any machine learning system is only as good as the training data it’s developed with. And when that training data is a snapshot of the Internet, well…

This blog post was adapted from an answer I wrote on Quora. Want more like this? Follow me on Quora!

Hacking as a tool of social disapproval

“The street finds its own uses for things.” —William Gibson, Burning Chrome

Last year, my wife, my co-author, and I launched a new podcast, The Skeptical Pervert. We talk about sex…and more specifically, we talk about sex through a lens of empiricism and rationality.

The Skeptical Pervert’s website runs WordPress. Now, I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to web security, and I know WordPress tends to be a rather appetizing target for miscreants, so I run hardened WordPress installs, with security plugins, firewalls that are trained on common WordPress attack vectors, and other mitigations I don’t talk about openly.

I run quite a few WordPress installs. My blogs on and run WordPress. So does the Passionate Pantheon blog, where Eunice and I discuss the philosophy of sex in a far-future, post-scarcity society. In addition, I host WordPress blogs for friends, and no, I won’t tell you who they are, for reasons that will soon become clear.

I automatically log hack attacks, including failed login attempts, known WordPress exploits, and malicious scans. I run software that emails me daily and weekly statistics on attacks against all the WordPress sites I own or host. I also subscribe to WordPress-specific infosec mailing lists, so I am aware of the general threat background.

Because WordPress is such a common target—it’s the Microsoft Windows of the self-hosted blog world, with everything that implies—any WordPress site will get a certain low level of constant probes and hack attempts. It’s just part of the background noise of the Internet. (If you run WordPress and you’re not religiously on top of security updates, by the way, you’ve already been pwn3d. I can pretty much guarantee it.)

The fact that I host WordPress sites not connected with me to the outside world gives me a good general baseline reading of this background noise, that I can use to compare to hack attacks against sites that are publicly connected with me.

And the results…well.

In all the years I’ve been on the Web—and I started running my own Web sites in the mid-1990s—I have never seen anything even remotely close to the constant, nonstop barrage of attacks against the Skeptical Pervert site. Joreth and Eunice are probably quite sick of my frequent updates: “Well, the firewall shows over a thousand brute-force hack attempts against the Skeptical Pervert site so far today and it isn’t even noon yet” (seriously, that’s a thing that happened recently).

Here’s a graph showing what I mean. This graph covers one week, from June 13, 2022 to June 20, 2022. The “baseline” in the graph is an average of several WordPress sites I host that aren’t in any way connected to me in the eyes of the Internet at large—I don’t run them, I don’t put content on them, my name isn’t on them, I merely host them.

Note that the attacks don’t scale with traffic; the More Than Two blog has the most traffic, followed by, then the Passionate Pantheon blog, then the Skeptical Pervert.

So what to make of this?

Part of it is likely the long-running social media campaign my ex has been running. Attacks on and increased in the wake of her social media posts.

But that doesn’t explain what’s happening with the Skeptical Pervert, which has turned out to be targeted to an extraordinary degree.

Now, I don’t know who’s attacking the site, or why, so this is speculation. It’s hard to escape the idea, though, that when a site and podcast explicitly about sex, co-hosted by two women of color, talking about non-traditional sexual relationships is targeted, at least part of the answer might simply be the same old, same old tired sex-negative misogyny and racism we see…well, everywhere, pretty much. The fact that my ex doesn’t like me (and will say or do anything to get other people not to like me) doesn’t explain what’s happening here.

It’s easy to blame conservative traditionalists, but Eunice reminded me there’s another factor at work as well. The Skeptical Pervert approaches sexuality from a rational, evidence-based, skeptical lens. In the United States, there’s a stubborn streak of misogyny amongst the dudebros of the skeptics community. A podcast with two women that looks at sex from a highly female-focused, feminist point of view taking on the mantle of skepticism? It’s possible there are dudebros who will perceive that as an encroachment into their space.

In short, I don’t think this is about me. I think this is about women talking openly about real-world non-traditional sex, and getting the same pushback that women always get when they dare to do that.

If the podcast were just me, or me with obviously male co-hosts, I don’t think the level of Web attacks would be anywhere near the same.

The street finds its own uses for things. In the hands of people threatened by or frightened of non-traditional voices, the Internet has become a safe, anonymous tool of harassment.

How Facebook convinced me democracy is in trouble

Today, in The Street Finds its Own Uses for Things:

I noticed something funny when I logged into Facebook last week. My feed, which is normally filled with ads for video games, photography gear, and complicated kits for Stirling engines you can build at home, was absolutely jam-packed with ads for far-right pro-Trump merchandise, antigovernment T-shirts and posters, gun holsters, and “conservative news” sites.

And I mean jam-packed. I’ve never seen this quantity of advertising on Facebook before; literally an ad following every single friend post.

The whole secret of advertising on Facebook is you can target your ads. You can specify exactly who you want to see your ads; for example, when we ran ads for the first porn novel we co-authored, Eunice and I targeted people with an interest in reading who were 35 or younger and lived close to a university, figuring this would likely be the sort of person interested in far-future, post-scarcity science fiction smut.

So why would Facebook, that giant creepy Hydra in the cloud, show me alt-right ads when it knows I’m a lefty Portlander?

Because the advertisers know I won’t buy their products. They don’t care. That isn’t why they’re spending tens of millions of dollars on Facebook advertising.

So first, the ads.

I’ve gotten in the habit of aggressively blocking these ads when they appear, and blocking the companies that place them. Doesn’t matter. There are a zillion other companies placing near-ident0cal ads for near-identical products, and sometimes (this is a telling bit) even with the same stock photos.

The ads look lik e this:

If you ask Facebook “why did I see this ad?”, Facebook will show you the demographic the ad was targeting. And these ads are completely ignoring the laser-focused demographics Facebook likes to brag about. They’re shotguns, not sniper rifles.

So why? What’s the point? Why target so broadly, when it increases your spend without generating sales?

So here’s the thing:

I don’t believe they’re trying to generate sales.

That’s not the point. They aren’t interested in selling you gun holsters or T-shirts. I mean, if you buy some, that’s a bonus, but I believe these ads are a propaganda effort. The purpose is to put right-wing slogans and ideas in front of as many eyeballs as possible. They’re advertising ideas, not T-shirts.

The American political right is very, very good at propaganda. Liberals sneer at “Let’s Go Brandon,” the right-wing oh-so-clever “fuck Joe Biden,” but the thing is, it works. The people who use it don’t care that it’s juvenile. It makes them feel part of something. It’s a tribal identity marker.

And human beings like feeling like part of a tribe.

The hoodie up there that says “Proud member of the LGBFJB” community? It means “Let’s Go Brandon Fuck Joe Biden.” VClever? Not really. A great identity brand for a certain kind of person? Oh yeah.

And this brand is everywhere.

Branding and marketing and propaganda matter in political discourse. Arguably they matter more than policies and proposals and all that other wonk stuff.

They want this branding everywhere, and they’re willing to pay to make that happen.

People don’t make rational decisions. People make emotional decisions and then rationalize them. Often, those emotional decisions are predicated on feelings of belonging and inclusion. The right gets that, in its creepy way. The left? Not so much.

The thing is, the political left is doing nothing to counter any of this.

Do I think this Facebook propaganda is working?

Yes. Yes, I do.

It creates the illusion that right-wing ideas are more popular than they really are. It paints a false picture of what Americal looks like and what Americans want. It lets the right dominate the discourse in ways that the left won’t even try to counter.

The modern American right is intellectually and morally bankrupt, a seething cesspool of reactionary hate. But they get propaganda. They get it on an instinctive level, in ways that confuse lefties.

And that makes them far more effective than their numbers and policies alone would suggest.

I for one welcome our new AI overlords

I’ve been thinking a lot about machine learning lately. Take a look at these images:

Portraits of people who don't exist

These people do not exist. They’re generated by a neural net program at, a site that uses Nvidia’s StyleGAN to generate images of faces.

StyleGAN is a generative adversarial network, a neural network that was trained on hundreds of thousands of photos of faces. The network generated images of faces, which were compared with existing photos by another part of the same program (the “adversarial” part). If the matches looked good, those parts of the network were strengthened; if not, they were weakened. And so, over many iterations, its ability to create faces grew.

If you look closely at these faces, there’s something a little…off about them. They don’t look quiiiiite right, especially where clothing is concerned (look at the shoulder of the man in the upper left).

Still, that doesn’t prevent people from using fake images like these for political purposes. The “Hunter Biden story” was “broken” by a “security researcher” who does not exist, using a photo from This Person Does Not Exist, for example.

There are ways you can spot StyleGAN generated faces. For example, the people at This Person Does Not Exist found that the eyes tended to look weird, detached from the faces, so the researchers fixed the problem in a brute-force but clever way: they trained the Style GAN to put the eyes in the same place on every face, regardless of which way it was turned. Faces generated at TPDNE always have the major features in the same place: eyes the same distance apart, nose in the same place, and so on.

StyleGAN fixed facial layout

StyleGAN can also generate other types of images, as you can see on This Waifu Does Not Exist:


Okay, so what happens if you train a GAN on images that aren’t faces?

That turns out to be a lot harder. The real trick there is tagging the images, so the GAN knows what it’s looking at. That way you can, for example, teach it to give you a building when you ask it for a building, a face when you ask it for a face, and a cat when you ask it for a cat.

And that’s exactly what the folks at WOMBO have done. The WOMBO Dream app generates random images from any words or phrases you give it.

And I do mean “any” words or phrases.

It can generate cityscapes:




Body horror:

Abstract ideas:

On and on, endless varieties of images…I can play with it for hours (and I have!).

And believe me when I say it can generate images for anything you can think of. I’ve tried to throw things at it to stump it, and it’s always produced something that looks in some way related to whatever I’ve tossed its way.

War on Christmas? It’s got you covered:

I’ve even tried “Father Christmas encased in Giger sex tentacle:”

Not a bad effort, all things considered.

But here’s the thing:

If you look at these images, they’re all emotionally evocative; they all seem to get the essence of what you’re aiming at, but they lack detail. The parts don’t always fit together right. “Dream” is a good name: the images the GAN produces are hazy, dreamlike, insubstantial, without focus or particular features. The GAN clearly does not understand anything it creates.

And still, if artist twenty years ago had developed this particular style the old-fashioned way, I have no doubt that he or she or they would have become very popular indeed. AI is catching up to human capability in domains we have long thought required some spark of human essence, and doing it scary fast.

I’ve been chewing on what makes WOMBO Dream images so evocative. Is it simply promiscuous pattern recognition? The AI creating novel patterns we’ve never seen before by chewing up and spitting out fragments of things it doesn’t understand, causing us to dig for meaning where there isn’t any?

Given how fast generative machine learning programs are progressing, I am confident I will live to see AI-generated art that is as good as anything a human can do. And yet, I still don’t think the machines that create it will have any understanding of what they’re creating.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

It’s time to pack up and move

I’ve been blogging on LiveJournal since August of 2001. And what a long, strange trip it’s been. In the past fifteen and a half years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the way people use social media: the rise and subsequent fall of a whole host of blogging services, the gradual fading away of USENET and email lists, Facebook’s march to supremacy.

In all that time I’ve continued to use Livejournal, partly because a lot of people know about my blog and follow me there, and partly because after more than a decade it becomes exceptionally difficult to move.

Today, when I signed on to LiveJournal, I found the writing on the wall:

LiveJournal was bought many moons ago by a Russian company, but only recently moved its servers to Russia. And since doing so, it’s been required to update its Terms of Service to comply with Russian law, which is rather odious and, well, Russian.

I don’t intend to go into a full analysis of the implications of the new ToS. That’s been done already in many places on the Web, including here, here, here, and here. (Interestingly, there’s no discussion of the change on the official LJ Policy community, and in fact there hasn’t been any discussion there since 2015.)

The bits I do want to talk about are those bits directly relevant to me and this blog.

The new Terms of Service have two provisions that directly impact me: in accordance with Russian law, any blog or community read by more than 3,000 readers is considered a ‘publication’ and is subject to State controls on publications, including the provision that the blogger or moderator is legally liable under Russian law for any content posted by any user; and blogs are prohibited from “perform[ing] any other actions contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation.”

This blog is routinely read by more than 3,000 people, making me a “publisher” under Russian law.

And, more worrying, the Russian “gay propaganda law” forbids discussion of “sexual deviancy,” which includes LGBTQ issues. “Propaganda of non-traditional relationships” is forbidden by this law.

I’m not concerned that the Kremlin is going to demand my extradition to Russia to face trial. I am concerned that there’s a very real possibility this blog may disappear at any time without warning.

For a couple of years now, I’ve kept a backup of this blog over at The blog there is a mirror of the blog here, though links over there point to blog entries here rather than there. (Fixing that will be a massive undertaking, involving changing many hundreds of links in thousands of blog posts.)

I moved my LJ to WordPress, a process that was extraordinarily painful. There is an LJ importer for WordPress, and a tutorial for moving your LJ blog to WordPress here, but, as I discovered, there are a few gotchas.

First, the LJ importer plugin was not tested on large blogs. It requires enormous amounts of memory to import a LiveJournal blog with more than a couple hundred entries; at the time I did the migration, I had north of 1,600 blog posts. Second, it chokes on blog entries that have more than 100 or so comments.

Many, perhaps most, Web hosting companies place limitations on memory and CPU usage that prevent the WordPress LJ importer from working on large blogs.

Second, it won’t move images. If you have uploaded images to LJ’s servers, you must download them and re-upload them to your new WordPress blog.

I was unable to use the LJ importer to import my entire LiveJournal blog. I finally discovered a workaround, but it’s cumbersome:

  1. Create a free WordPress blog at
  2. Use the importer there (it’s in the Tools menu) to import your LiveJournal blog.

    If you’re okay hosting your new blog at, you’re done. If, however, you wish to host your blog on your own server with your own WordPress installation, there are a few more steps:

  3. Use the Exporter to export a WordPress XML file of the blog.
  4. Set up your own self-hosted WordPress installation on your own server.
  5. Import the file you exported from

Images you have uploaded to LJ will, as I’ve mentioned, need to be uploaded to your WordPress blog. (Thank God I’ve never done this; I’ve always put my images on my own server and linked to them there.)

The problem is compounded by the fact that LiveJournal has never wanted you to move. There’s no graceful way to export your LJ blog. There is an exporter of sorts, but it only exports a month at a time. The Wayback Machine at doesn’t archive LiveJournal posts, at least not consistently (it has crawled my blog only 37 times despite the fact that I have some 1,700 blog entries).

This is a huge problem. LiveJournal was one of the first blogging platforms, and a tremendous amount of very valuable information about the rise of social media is in danger of being lost.

This is, of course, the curse of the modern age. A diary written with pen and paper can be lost in an attic for centuries and then, once discovered, provide insight into the lives of people in a long-gone time. But we don’t record our lives that way any more. Today, our journals are kept on computer servers–servers owned by other people. And there’s no leaving these journals in an attic for a century for future people to find. They require constant, and sometimes very difficult, work to maintain. Anything you host on someone else’s servers for free is subject to someone else’s whims.

I am dedicated to doing the work to preserve my journal. From now on, I will not be posting new journal entries here. This blog will remain for as long as it can, and I will post links here to blog updates over on I encourage others to do the same. Anything here is subject to the vargarities of Russian law and should be assumed to be unstable, subject to deletion without warning.

From this point forward, please link to new blog posts on, not LiveJournal. Over the next few months, I plan to work on linking my most popular LiveJournal entries back to their mirrors on franklinveaux, and updating links there to point ot blog posts there rather than here.

Oh, and the last person to leave LJ, please remember to turn off the lights.

The revolution is Nigh…Impossible

As part of the ongoing development of the bionic cock project I’m working on, I’m in the process of teaching myself 3D modeling and 3D printing. We’re using 3D printing to make positives for molding silicone prototypes.

3D printing is amazing. It offers incredible potential for people everywhere to be able to make whatever they want on demand, as long as “people everywhere” means “people with access to computers and the Internet and 3D printers and spools of plastic, and the cognitive ability to be able to design things and operate the equipment.” So not really people everywhere, but no matter, right?

3D printing is also incredibly stupid. The state of the art is so appalling. The software is deplorable–a throwback to the bad old days of obtuse design usable only by the select few.

The first time I tried to make a print, I was horrified by what passes for design in the world of 3D printing. It’s a case study in why Linux has never made significant inroads into the desktop, despite being free. Open source software is still software made by developers for developers, with no thought (or sometimes, with active contempt) for users who either don’t want to or don’t have the time to learn every small detail of the way their systems work.

By way of comparison, if color inkjet software worked the way 3D printer software works, every time you hit the Print command on your computer, you’d be confronted by something like this (click to embiggen):

A twisty maze of confusing ad indecipherable options poorly laid out

This…is why we can’t have nice things. The open source community isn’t democratic; it’s elitist.

Psychic Litter: Chrome and phone menu trees

In 1995, writer David Joiner coined a phrase that I think has not received nearly enough attention: “psychic litter.” In an issue of Wired magazine, Joiner defines it this way:

“Psychic Litter” is a term I coined to mean acts of immorality so small as to be below the level of consciousness. One example is wasting small amounts of the time of many people. Bruce Tognazzini, the user interface guru, once opined that by creating a product that wastes a half hour of time for each of 4 million users, you waste 900 work-years of human productivity. That works out to about 12 complete lives.

It seems appropriate that his 1995 example involved user interfaces, as the most glaring examples of psychic litter I’ve personally ever encountered invariably come from tech firms.

Consider this: Last night, I spent some hours combing through my hard drive with a fine-toothed comb in search of some missing gigabytes that, by all rights, ought to have been there. Imagine my surprise when I peeked into my Applications folder and saw this:

Yes, that’s Chrome, the Google Web browser. Yes, it is twenty gigabytes(!) in size. No, that’s not a disk directory error.

Chrome updates itself more or less constantly, all completely silently and in the background, without user notification. That’s fine, but it turns out that every time it updates itself, Chrome (the Mac version, anyway) keeps the old version stashed within itself.

On the Mac, applications are actually “bundles,” special directories that contain the executable code plus all its required libraries. That’s how the Mac has made itself immune to Windows DLL Hell and Linux dependency hell; apps are self-contained.

You can look inside an application bundle by right-clicking it and choosing Show Package Contents from the popup menu.

When you do that on Chrome, you will see a folder called Versions. This folder contains a complete copy of every single version of Chrome that has ever been updated on that computer.

Google Chrome is about 200 MB in size. When it updates, it eats another 200 MB of hard disk space. When it updates again, there’s another 200 MB gone. And another. And another. And another.

In my case, I’d been using Chrome since 2012, and those updates had swallowed up 20 GB of space.

This shows a profound contempt and disregard for the user’s hard drive space.

Right now, by default, a brand-new Macbook comes with 256 GB of Flash storage; an 11-inch Macbook Air, 128 GB. That means my copy of Chrome would devour 15% of a Macbook Air’s standard storage.

By way of comparison, the current Mac operating system takes about 8 GB of hard drive space. That means my copy of Chrome was more than twice the size of my operating system on disk.

The simplest solution is to periodically delete Chrome and download it again, which means you’re swapping prodigious waste of your hard disk space for slightly less prodigious waste of bandwidth. The real solution is for Silicon Valley to become more conscious of the impact of their behavior on their users.

It’s not just Silicon Valley, of course. Yesterday, I had to call Services Canada about getting a social insurance number. The phone number for Services Canada took me to a voice menu tree that had six minutes of talking before the menu options were presented, and did not permit me to skip that six minutes by pressing the right number even though I knew what it was. Worse, hitting the key to repeat the menu choices caused the system to recite all six minutes of recording before offering the menu prompts again.

The design of voice menu systems is a frequent source of psychic litter. The people who record these systems rarely think about how they will be used, and often show contempt for the time of those who use them.

Sometimes, this is deliberate. Cell phone carriers have made voicemail messages longer to increase the the number of minutes of airtime used. More often, it’s careless. It stems from indifference to other people and lack of concern about the effects of our actions.

I would like to propose a radical idea: Let us all, every day, consider the implications of all our actions on other people, even the actions that we normally don’t think about. We all often find ourselves doing things that touch large numbers of other people. Even small acts of indifference, when multiplied many times, add up. We can all seek to be more considerate of other people in small ways as well as large.

What squirrels taught me about post-scarcity societies

If you know any transhumanists or other forward-looking folks, you’ve probably encountered the notion of a “post-scarcity society.”

I just got back from a two-month writing retreat in a cabin deep in the heart of rural Washington, many miles from civilization. The squirrels at the cabin are quite talented at stealing birdseed from the bird feeders around the cabin, and that taught me a lesson about transhumanism and post-scarcity society.

This might make me a bad transhumanist, but I think the hype about post-scarcity society is overblown, and i think the more Panglossian among the transhumanists have a poor handle on this whole matter of fundamental human nature.

I’ve written an essay about it over on Think Beyond Us, which includes a video of squirrel warfare. Here’s a teaser:

We’re moving toward the technology to do things in a completely different way: using tiny machines to build stuff from a molecular or atomic level. In the book Engines of Creation, K. Eric Drexler envisions a time when we will be able to fabricate almost anything we can imagine from simple raw materials and energy.

And on this foundation, futurists say, post-scarcity society will be built. If we can make anything from any raw materials cheaply or free, there is no longer a divide between rich and poor. Think Las Vegas where everyone is a millionaire whale. Want a car? A sofa? A cup of tea? Program assemblers with the characteristics of the thing you want, push a button, and presto! There it is.

In a society where everyone can have whatever stuff they want and nobody has to work, entertainment becomes very important indeed. And those who can provide it—those who can write, or sing, or perform—well, they control access to the only resource besides land that means anything.

So what, then, do we make of a society where the 1% are determined not in accordance with how many resources they control, but how creative they are? A Utopian might say that anyone can learn to be creative and entertaining; a look around the history of humanity suggests that isn’t true.

Those who own land today command one of the few resources that will matter tomorrow. Those who can entertain command the only thing that can buy that resource. And the rest of humanity? Suddenly, Utopia starts to look a whole lot less Utopian to them, and a whole lot more like the same old same old.

Check it out! You can read the whole thing here.

Unwrapping a new project: an uncensored Amazon erotica search tool!

I am a self-published erotica writer. I write BDSM fiction, including the novel Nineteen Weeks, a story I’m very proud of.

A couple of years ago, I discovered that the number of books I was selling suddenly fell off a cliff. I did some research and found that the same thing was happening to a lot of erotica writers, especially self-published writers. Amazon’s Search function on their Web site was filtering out a lot of erotica, particularly erotica with themes of non-traditional relationships like BDSM.

However, I discovered something interesting a few months back: The Amazon search API, a set of programmer’s tools that allows Web programmers to search Amazon’s book titles, doesn’t filter search results. You can log on to Amazon and do a search for a particular book and see no results, but if you write a Web site that uses Amazon’s API and do a search, ta-da, there it is!

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

On and off for the past few months, I have been working on building a new Web site, called Red Lit Search. This site has a database of erotic books in Amazon’s catalog–so far only about eighteen hundred or so, but the list is growing–and also allows you to do uncensored searches of Amazon. My hope is to grow it into a portal for erotic books; if it succeeds, I plan to add new sections with things like articles, interviews with erotica writers, and all kinds of fun stuff like that.

So check it out! Spread the word! Kick the tires, test the software, and let me know what you think!

[ Visit Red Lit Search, the erotica search engine ]