Democratic technology

I have a weak spot for “democratic technology” – meaning that you can be a kid with very little or no money, and still be able to buy it and use it to learn and start getting your initial experience making money. As a teenager, I had posters on my bedroom wall with HP Integral PC, Compaq Portable 386, IBM PS/2 and a HP 28c calculator, when other boys had posters of cars, girls and football stars; you can see where my priorities were. 🙂

I still have a weak spot for good quality pencils, calculators and computers, into which I projected almost magical qualities of compensating for my limitations. The irony is, I ended up in a place where I do almost all the heavy lifting in my head, and use computers as glorified typewriters, but I digress. 🙂

So, what’s the “democratic technology”? It’s basically the stuff you can actually buy and do all the work you would otherwise do on the hardware you dream of, but can’t afford.

Today, democratic technology is a cheap Xiaomi smartphone, a desktop computer you built from cheapest new or used components, running unlicensed Windows or Linux, or a laptop along similar lines, all bought with pocket money, allowing you to access stuff on the Internet that allows you to learn. Interesting, it’s very rarely the stuff that’s designed and marketed as “democratic”, such as a Raspberry pi. I would actually not recommend that as a computer for kids, because it’s seriously underpowered and not inexpensive enough to be worth the effort. You can actually get a used i5 laptop for the order of magnitude of 100 EUR, which would be greatly preferred. This would be something along the lines of a ThinkPad X240 i5-4300u, which would run either Linux or Windows, and you can install an SSD and add more RAM if required. Such a machine could be used to surf the web, learn Python, PHP or C, and basically get you started in a position where you are very low on money, and very high on motivation. Interestingly, laptops seem to be a cheaper solution than desktops, when you add everything up.

Similar examples can be found in other areas as well; photography, for instance. You can buy a ten year old digital SLR with a lens or two, get cheap macro extension tubes from Ebay, use some free raw converter such as RawTherapee, and that will get you started. Heck, you can use a smartphone to learn composition if you can’t afford a proper camera, but I’ve seen things such as a Canon 30d with a kit lens for the order of magnitude of 50 EUR, and that would be a very good way to get you started. What can you do with a 8MP camera and a kit lens? If you can add a cheap tripod, you can do this:

With only a smartphone, you can do this:

Sure, I wouldn’t attempt large magnifications from phone images, but we’re talking about learning here; in that phase, you could take excellent equipment and produce shit, because you don’t yet know how to pick light, don’t understand dynamic range, don’t know how to compose, or even how to hold the camera still. A phone will do for composition, colour and dynamic range; an old dSLR with a tripod will allow you to learn everything else.

It’s not my field of expertise, but with a piece of paper and colour pencils you can learn how to draw, and then use a cheap flatbed scanner to digitise your drawings and use them as illustrations on websites you design, to give your work a unique look. Or you can learn how to draw in some digital tool, such as Inkscape.

Sure, you need to compensate for technical disadvantages with skill and talent, but the “democratic” part of my point is that you don’t “pay to win”; people usually get the fancy gear only after they got rich using the basic stuff everybody has, or can get. If you have something meaningful to say, you don’t need a Macbook Air to write it down; any computer will do. Heck, a smartphone with a bluetooth keyboard will allow you to write books and articles if you don’t have anything else, although I wouldn’t recommend it if you have options. However, after you had been doing that for long enough, you’ll probably start healing your frustrations caused by inadequate gear the way I’m doing. 🙂 Sure, I could do it on a 386. Been there, done that, didn’t really get a t-shirt, but I did get trauma induced by having to delete the unnecessary multimedia files such as moricons.dll and *.wav from a Win3.11 installation in order to be able to fit my code builds on a 85MB HDD, and edit rich text files of the Ventura Publisher in a DOS text editor because the machine simply didn’t have enough RAM or CPU to edit the tables in the GEM GUI. Sure, it can be done, and you can get started and dig yourself out of the pit with very few resources, compensating for the drawbacks of your tools with some ingenuity. However, fuck me if I’ll do it anymore, now that I have the money. 🙂

The Mac Pro problem

Apple seems to have painted themselves into a corner by being perfectly reasonable. You see, they recently updated the Mac Pro tower, and it turned out to be the Mac Studio Ultra in a bigger box. The pci-e slots inside are barely of any use since GPUs are not supported, and the machine is inherently un-expandable; you can’t add more RAM, for instance. So, while this machine is extremely powerful, it’s by no means an open-ended system you can expand to fit your extreme workflow – for instance, trying to do fluid dynamics simulations or something. So, basically, the biggest Mac is great at doing normal Mac things, such as movies and audio, but it doesn’t extend into high-end scientific or engineering workflows. Is that a problem? I don’t think so, and let me explain why.

What Apple did right was design a range of machines that covers their professional and prosumer user base; people who make videos in Final Cut, make music in Logic Pro, or edit photos in Lightroom and Photoshop. They made excellent laptop range that covers everything from writing articles and checking Twitter in Starbucks, to the most complex software design, or audio, video and photography work. Then they made a desktop range that covers all of that and extends deeply into professional studio use, and I don’t think they left even a fraction of their traditional or potential user base uncovered. Heck, even I got a desktop Mac, which I resisted so far because all they had either came built into a display, overheated under load or cost extreme money while offering no benefits over what I had. The drawback of the current Mac lineup is that it doesn’t extend endlessly, and some, like Linus, will whine over that, while I might offer a more constructive approach.

You see, there’s only as much you can expect a desktop machine to do, and M2 Ultra actually exceeds this expectation by far. In order to exceed this ceiling, Apple would have to completely redesign the system that’s perfectly good for 99.9999% of their user base, in order to cater to the affectations of those who actually need a supercomputing cluster but aren’t technologically savvy enough to realize it. In order for Apple to try to artificially meet this almost non-existing demand, they would have to create a completely new architecture centered around a passive bus motherboard and Max/Ultra daughterboard cards that connect over this bus the way two Max chips are edge-connected to form the Ultra; in essence, combine the infinity fabric and PCIe technologies and make it work. The engineering overhead would be immense, and they would only sell a handful of those machines because the demand at such a high-end of computational needs is very slim.

Alternatively, those who actually want to perform complex computations should make their software cluster-friendly (basically, dump workload packages onto a NAS stack, and have the cluster nodes run workload processors that pop packages from the workload stack, process them and push them onto a result stack, and when that is done, have some script go through the results, check their integrity and assemble it all into the end product). Then you could have multiple Mac Mini or Studio devices connected to the LAN, processing the work you give them, and you could extend this infinitely, and the demands on an individual node would be such that you could optimize it for cost-effectiveness by buying the base Mac Mini or Mini Pro devices by the truckload. This kind of work is usually done on Linux nodes, but a modern Mac is so power-efficient that it has genuine advantages for cluster applications.

So, basically, the Mac lineup is truly powerful enough, and it allows for open-ended design for those who need endless computational power; it’s just not open-ended inside a single chassis, which is only a problem if you have unrealistic expectations, or a workflow that is poorly designed, by not breaking down the job into manageable components. Honestly, I could write such a cluster setup myself in less time than it would take me to start whining about lack of power and tasks taking too long.

Why Apple and not Linux?

I am aware of all the problems with America weaponizing IT by spying, withholding access to technology to those who defy them, and so on. So, why did I not migrate away from American technology, for instance by migrating everything to Linux?

I considered it, but eventually concluded that it wouldn’t solve anything, and would just make things difficult for me in the time before everything collapses anyway.

Let me show you my line of thinking.

I live in Croatia, which is an American vassal state. The government, police, military, courts and news/media are tightly controlled by America. In a best case scenario, I could have a computer that is not controlled by America, but the computer is the least of my problems if they really want to deal with me, as the example of Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan illustrates. They, too, lived in an American vassal state and thought they could be independent, sovereign individuals, and they were proven wrong quite easily. I am perfectly aware that the Americans can at any time pay or pressure any number of local corrupt bastards to plant fake evidence, purchase fake witnesses and lock me up indefinitely on fake charges, if they really found me a threat. They don’t, because I don’t have a significant audience, but they could. Migrating my computers and phone to Linux would not solve any of those issues. If doing it would actually contribute to my safety from any kind of oppression, I would have done it already.

The second argument is that having a technological setup that depends on being able to log in to a cloud service in America might make it all defunct if something happened to either America or the Internet. If that happened, I guess I would have bigger things to deal with than the computer, but I do, in fact, always have alternatives. I have an old laptop with Linux/Windows dual boot, everything on it is up to date, and I can open it at any time, boot into Linux and, in case Microsoft and Apple do some kind of a lock-out, I can still go online and access everything. It’s not like I would have to learn Linux from scratch or anything. I also have a spare Xiaomi smartphone with a spare SIM card, in case my primary phone ceases to function. My main worry in case of a major Apple/Microsoft denial of service is inability to contact people or perform basic tasks, such as the access to Internet banking, mail, ssh, web and so on.

The third argument is that the operating system is actually the least of my concerns, as all hardware seems to be designed with back doors in mind, such as the Intel management engine (ME), which is an ARM core on every modern Intel CPU, that listens to the ethernet port and seems to be designed to wake the computer up on remote command, and perform tasks below anything the user can see or control. Above that is the UEFI/BIOS, which is also proprietary technology that does who knows what, and only then we get to the operating system. The entire palimpsest of technology is so complicated and convoluted that I freely admit inability to secure my computer infrastructure in any meaningful way, because the American back doors are installed in every aspect of the infrastructure. It’s as if the primary purpose of it all was to extend American power and influence, and everything else, such as utility, was a secondary concern, or merely a way to market it. The way they went nuts when Huawei started to out-compete them in selling infrastructure was telling; basically, they couldn’t order the Chinese to install all the back doors and spying tools they install through the American/Western/vassal companies, and every Huawei infrastructural device meant loss of control for America.

So, I could dedicate quite a bit of my personal time and effort to attempts of securing my personal IT sphere, and it would all probably be for naught, so I shrugged and decided not to even try – instead, I decided to secure my money by keeping it almost completely out of the state/bank system, keeping connected just enough to make it easy for me to pay the bills and purchase goods and services in the system before it all fails. You see, there are several levels of true sovereignty. The first is the level of physical power and invulnerability. The second level is money and influence. The third level is all the unimportant stuff people fuss about. I don’t have anything to protect me against the first-level threats. I have enough money on the second level to make me a hard target; close my bank account and I’ll laugh. Try to cancel my credit cards and you’ll find out I don’t have any. Try to make me default on my loans and see I don’t have loans, I do everything cash. I have debit cards because I have to pay for the online stuff, and that would be a problem. I do use communal infrastructure, like water and electricity, and I’m sensitive to interruptions there. I also buy food, so I’m sensitive to interruptions in supply. As you can see, I thought things through and decided that computers are a luxury that works in the present-day environment, which is quite fragile, and it might all blow up at some point, in which case I am prepared to deal with all kinds of contingencies, but migrating to Linux? Yeah, if in some unlikely case in a world without Internet and American services I need computers, I am sure I will be able to patch something together well enough to serve the purpose, but I am more concerned with water, electricity, food, antibiotics and so on. Essentially, it’s a non-issue.

Dangers of AI

There’s been quite a bit of talk recently about the dangers of AI technology – from human jobs being replaced, to terminator-like robots killing all humans.

My take on this, after having seen some of the AI achievements, is that the name “artificial intelligence” is a misnomer – “artificial stupidity” would be more appropriate. Those things are essentially stupid as fuck, and have some extreme limitations, but they do have the ability to quickly iterate across datasets in order to find a solution, if there is a clear way of punishing failure and rewarding success. That’s basically all they do.

I’ve seen neural networks being trained to win in computer games, and the end-result is amazing and exceeds human ability, simply because it’s a scenario where there are clear win/loss events that enable the neural networks to be trained.

In essence, yes, those things can replace a significant number of human jobs; everything that has to do with data mining, pattern recognition and analysis, trivial but seemingly complex work such as programming that consists of finding and adapting code snippets from the web, or iterative “art” that consists of modifying and combining generic tropes – that’s all going to be done with AI. Engineering work that would require too many calculations for a human, such as fluid mechanics solutions – turbines, rocket engines and so on – are all excellent cases for neural networks.

Unfortunately, military use is among those cases, where it is quite easy to create loitering munitions – basically, drones that hover in the air – that can be sent to scan enemy territory for everything that moves, then recognise targets to identify the priority ones, and crash into them. Ground weapons that recognise human targets and take them down with some kind of a weapon also fit this category, as well as underwater drones that use passive sonar to scan for exactly the kind of ship they want to sink, and then rise from the sea floor and hit it from beneath. This is all trivially easy to do with pattern recognition of the kind that exists today, combined with the kind of hardware that exists today. Imagining killer drones as the humanoid terminators is silly, because such a form would not be efficient. Instead, imagine a quadcopter drone hovering above in scan mode, seeking targets, and then using some kind of a weapon to take them down – a needle with some kind of venom would do. It’s all technically feasible.

The more dangerous thing is a combination of neural networks and totalitarian-minded humans, and by that I mean all kinds of leftists in the West. An AI can data-mine the information sources in order to tag “undesirable” humans, and then this tag would be acted upon by the banks, governments, corporations and so on, basically making it impossible for one to send or receive money if not compliant with the current ideological requirements. This already exists and it’s why we must look for all the things the governments attack as “money laundering friendly” and adopt them as means of doing financial transactions, because if it’s “money laundering friendly”, it means the government can’t completely control it, and if the government can’t control it, it’s the only way for us to survive totalitarian governments aided by neural networks. Have in mind that the governments talk about controlling all kinds of criminals and perverts, but what they really mean is you. Targetting universally hated groups is merely a way to get public approval for totalitarian measures that will then be applied universally. What we will probably all end up doing in order to evade fascist governments is transact in crypto tokens, and settle in gold and silver, in some kind of a distributed, encrypted network that will be incredibly difficult to infiltrate or crack.

Basically, the payment and financial systems have been modified to accommodate totalitarian intent for decades already, to the point where now even the common folk understand that something is not right, but they cannot even imagine the danger. If someone restricts your ability to conduct business and purchase goods and services, and connects that to your political attitudes, you can kiss every idea of freedom and democracy goodbye, and that’s exactly what the American “democratic” overlords have been quietly doing, both at home and in their vassal states. Unfortunately, Russia and China are no better, because government power over the populace is just too tempting for any government bastard to resist.

So, basically, I’m not really afraid of AI. I’m afraid of AI being used by evil humans to create a prison for our bodies and minds, and only God can save us from this hell, which is basically why I think a nuclear war that would decapitate all the governments and destroy the technosphere that gives them infinite power is a lesser evil. The alternative, unfortunately, is much, much worse, because a logical continuation of “business as usual” is being completely controlled by the madmen who will cull the population every now and then to “save the planet” or whatever makes them feel good about themselves, and control us to the point where even saying the word “freedom” would put you on some list you don’t want to be on.

Computer options

I’ll write down some of my impressions regarding my recent decision to transition completely to the Apple ecosystem.

First of all, I had three options: Windows, Linux and Mac. All three come with serious issues – woke infestation, American spying, corporate spying, ideology and so on. With Windows, it seems that the quality of the product had seriously degraded since they fired their QA staff to cut costs, and they transitioned from being financed by the user, to being semi-free to the user and being financed by ads, which makes the present-day Windows as infested with all kinds of unwanted stuff they are installing without user permission, as a Xiaomi phone. That’s absolutely unacceptable. Also, since their QA is borderline non-existent, they keep pushing updates and patches and fixes for bad patches and so on, and something seems to be perpetually downloading and installing in the background, and if you don’t use your computer for any length of time, it will be absolutely bogged down by a seemingly endless stream of updates that will take most of the day to clear. Also, as they require an increasingly more closed down hardware platform in order to run, the former advantage of PC as an open platform on which you can install anything is, for the most part, lost, and a present-day PC is barely any more open than a Mac. It’s still not as bad, but it’s getting close. The advantages of Windows are that everything runs on them, as they are for the most intents and purposes the standard OS. It’s the default platform for gaming, business applications and so on. Also, the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is great, and for all intents and purposes Windows and Linux are blended to such a degree that they feel like a single system, and you can run both sets of applications on the same system without rebooting into another OS, or running a virtual machine. In some senses, Windows is better than it ever was, but in others it’s worse than ever.

The GNU-Linux project is so infested with ideology, from wokeism to communism, that it seems completely bogged down and will never overcome those issues. The basic concept of trying to avoid money as a system of rewarding utility always re-appears there as a stumbling block, and since it is very sensitive to the issue of a very limited number of developers maintaining critical components, it is also very sensitive to ideological corruption and bribery, as much as the large corporations are sensitive to government pressure and legal constraints within America. Basically, Linux has its own set of issues; they are just slightly different than those of Windows and Mac.

A Mac looks like an increasingly closed-down nightmare, where the user is increasingly losing influence, but on the other hand, on a Mac I have homebrew and macports projects that allow me to install more-less the same GNU package that I have on Linux. For all intents and purposes, I can bypass Apple’s nonsense, install whatever I want from the open source library and do my thing. It sounds closed down, but in reality the greatest restriction I feel is that my favourite games are not ported to Mac. On the other hand, it’s a refreshing alternative to the kilowatt arms race on the PC platform, where AMD, Intel and Nvidia are competing to produce the most power-hungry, hot machine they possibly can, to the point where cooling solutions for the hardware became ridiculous in the recent years. The problem with Apple is that when they decide not to produce the kind of hardware that you need, you are stuck, and I had that situation when they refused to make bigger iPhones so I got a Samsung Note, and returned to Apple once they came to their senses, but at the moment their iPhones have everything I need, their iPads have everything I need, their laptops are excellent and meet all of my needs, and their desktop lineup for the first time contains something I actually wanted to buy, instead of the all-in-one iMacs and the overpriced Mac Pro monstrosities. Also, since I have an Apple phone, tablet, laptop and earphones, having an Apple desktop as well allows me to integrate all of those things slightly better; the key word is “slightly” – for instance, I can switch the AirPods to the desktop with a click, and switch them back to the iPhone easily, where on Windows desktop this would require pairing them to the desktop, which would then “steal” them from the phone every time I log in – I tried that, thank you very much. The main advantage of a desktop Mac, however, is the absence of the Windows update nightmare. Also, the hardware ports are all modern and fast, unlike a PC where you get one or two “fast” ports, but everything else is a decade-old legacy. Having four Thunderbolt ports and all USB ports at the latest speed standard available is refreshing and liberating, because the external drives I plug in will work as fast as the internal one. Advantages of external NVMe storage are not to be underestimated, and I really missed having Thunderbolt ports on my PC, which is in all other respects a winged beast of a machine.

The Mac Studio plugged into my peripherals seamlessly; I just connected my 43” LG 4k display to the Thunderbolt port and it worked perfectly; I connected my Logitech webcam, mouse and keyboard and they worked perfectly. I connected the powered USB 3 hub to one of its USB A ports and this gave me a place to connect all kinds of dongles and charging cables that I use; all works perfectly. I also connected the Samsung T7 2TB SSD drive while I wait for the 4TB NVMe drive that I have on order, so that I can work with my photos in Lightroom, and everything works great. It’s not that my PC was some ancient legacy shitbox, so you’ll hear no raving about how fast a Mac is in comparison; it feels the same. The Windows keyboard layout on a Mac feels confusing so I took the Apple keyboard from the drawer and I’m using that now, just to see what it’s like, but for all intents and purposes the experience is remarkably similar to my Windows desktop, only without stability issues and Windows updates, which means mission accomplished, I guess, because that’s what I wanted to do.

Am I more susceptible to Apple’s whims now? I guess so. However, if I look at things from the practical perspective of wanting things to just work for me and not get in my way, Apple seems to allow me to just pay for things and get functionality, while others substitute money with either ads or ideology, both of which I detest. On Apple, I feel like the user and not like the product that is sold to the advertisers, and as for the money, my PC hardware was not actually cheap. In fact, it’s all in the same price range as Apple stuff, only designed with different priorities. The aluminium Studio machine doesn’t really fit into the matte-black aesthetic of the rest of the setup, but I guess I’ll live. The black (or, in Apple terms, space grey) “magic” keyboard and touchpad, on the other hand, fit great.

I tried Linux on my PC, yes. When I use the Nvidia driver, the screen doesn’t turn on after waking from sleep. I can solve it by using the Nouveau driver, but then the Ethernet port stops working. In short, I’m too old for this shit. When I was a kid I would have found it a challenge to get everything working, but now I just find it annoying; it gets in my way and doesn’t help me do the things I want to do any better, faster or easier, so it’s a hard pass.