1. 1

    I agree it seems like a very productive system. It’s also quite hierarchical, isn’t it? It’s one person’s full time job to sort out the requirements. Don’t split hairs, don’t argue. Is it realistic or fair to decree NO TECHNICAL DISCUSSIONS to team members whose vocation is primarily technical?

    Agile proponents seem to fundamentally misunderstand the Agile-skeptic by making assuming productivity (measured on the access of stakeholder expectations) is the only important thing.

    1. 7

      This is a really interesting look at a casual keyboard user doing some sound dampening to their keyboard with “simple” modifications.

      I’m glad that they talked about switches, but was interested in the fact that they found silent tactile to produce a noticeable amount of noise. I would attribute this to them probably checking out the more common models from the major manufacturers (which is extremely reasonable given this wasn’t an enthusiast endeavor). I have found Kailh Purple Pro and Zealios to be extraordinarily quiet in my real world usage. If there had been a run of Zilents or Zealios I am sure they would have found them as quiet while still providing the tactile response (which helps prevent bottoming out). My personal recommendation (if they are available) is the Tacit. switch from Keebwerk. It provides a noticeable tactile bump while being very quiet, and as far as I am concerned it’s black magic.

      Also it’s interesting they mention wanting heavy linear switches, then showing Gateron Whites (also known as Clears) in their testing. While these are linear they are one of the lightest linear keys widely available with an actuation force of only 35g which is super light.

      For anyone thinking of doing this themselves, I highly recommend lubing your stabilizers. Stabilizers are often overlooked in these kinds of projects but can account for a lot of noise. The ErgoDox-EZ uses costar stabilizers which can be pretty noisy, but with a small amount of lube they get extra quiet. You can also lube the key switches themselves though this is way more effort compared to everything else mentioned.

      1. 4

        “casual” :)

        1. 6

          Agreed. Dude has a split keyboard without labels. I shudder to think what a real “hardcore” keyboard looks like.

          1. 6

            I assume it must look something like this!

            1. 4

              (Crocodile Dundee voice) Now, this is a keyboard!

            2. 2

              I mean, you can start getting into the compact ortholinear if you really want to start getting spooky hahaha, but I was referring to the user, not the keyboard. And for a few examples of that kind of hardcore keyboard builder: https://twitter.com/tinymakesthings , https://twitter.com/qlavier , https://www.instagram.com/koobaczech/

              1. 3

                hahahahah, yeah, I said casual (and forgot the hobbyist after) because they seem to be doing keyboard stuff as secondary (they need their keyboard to be quieter for video) and not for the sake of doing keyboard stuff. rereading that it sounds pretentious as hell >.<

              2. 2

                I agree. Lubing stabilizers will have a huge effect in sound and feel, though maybe it will be less on a split ergo keyboard since there isn’t going to be a big rattly spacebar. So far this is the best stabilizer lubing/tuning tutorial I’ve seen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usNx1_d0HbQ

              1. 25

                Let’s reframe this: maybe it’s more challenging to be an engineer (or a software manager) in a small company with a small customer base. Where building the wrong feature is a mistake that will cost you a year’s revenue. Where alienating your main client will lead to insolvency. Where you can’t just launch a new product and sunset it two years later.

                FAANG’s enormous scale and customer-lock in makes it very inconsequential for them make mistakes. I’m sure that’s very comfortable for the engineers working there. But I wouldn’t make the mistake of confusing the dividend of those companies’ enormous success with the source of it.

                1. 5

                  This is an important point. The motivations of an individual engineer (learning, problem solving, building a CV) may not automatically align with the motivations of a company (sustainable operations). This is not to say that large slathers of management are needed to align the motivations, it’s just that this alignment is needed.

                  1. 3

                    I’m not sure size is the key factor here. I worked at Google and now I work at a series B startup (joined at 3, now at 50) and we do a lot more of “makers (engineers, designers, etc.) talking to customers” at the startup than at Google. In fact, one of my biggest complaints about Google was that the game of telephone between the person making something and the person using the thing that was made was so long that it was very difficult as a maker to get meaningful feedback on whether you were building the right thing (because feedback from customers got passed through various PMs, etc. and lost detail at each step).

                    1. 1

                      I’ve worked for a company that prided itself on its customer support. And to be fair, their people were really good at talking things over with customers, making them feel appreciated, maybe offer a little discount for the next month. Anything rather than admit there’s a bug and escalate it. I think that strategy worked well for the company, but it made product development rather frustrating.

                  1. 1

                    This is just a bunch of product reviews.

                    Also, it’s a little weird seeing somebody drop hundreds of dollars in kit without even knowing what they’re gonna be streaming.

                    Finally…when the hell did we get to this coding as performance art thing? This dramatization and theatrical approach just runs me the wrong way. When did we decide that production value and presentation matter more than, you know, awesome or useful or clever code?

                    1. 4

                      This is just a bunch of product reviews.

                      I’m sorry you feel that way, I tried to write down most of the things I learned from watching countless youtube videos (since this stuff is rare to read in written form), but I guess it’s not perfect… But really, try to forget you read that and go buy a setup. What do you buy? How do you even put a camera on your desk?

                      Finally…when the hell did we get to this coding as performance art thing? This dramatization and theatrical approach just runs me the wrong way. When did we decide that production value and presentation matter more than, you know, awesome or useful or clever code?

                      When I was 20-ish years old, I was sure that good code and great functionality is all that a world needs. And look at me now! I’m using Ecamm Live, because interface of OBS is ugly. Design and experience and marketing are crazy important.

                      Also, it’s not a performance art in my case, I’m just doing the usual stuff I do, but I hate those videos where you sound like a dying dog inside of a steel pipe filmed through a peephole. Honestly, I’m not doing that just to fill YouTube servers with useless data, I hope some people will watch that stuff — and nobody will watch low quality content. Nobody watches it right now, actually, hahaha. :))

                      Also, it’s a little weird seeing somebody drop hundreds of dollars in kit without even knowing what they’re gonna be streaming.

                      Do you have a car? :) When I sold my Z4 after owning it for 20 months — and I bought it really cheap — I calculated it costed my $550/month. My brother’s WRX amortized over 6 or 7 years and after selling turned out to be $400/month. I mean that little hobby is just peanuts compared to what cars cost. And I knew I’m going to stream! I had no idea if it’ll make any sense or if I’ll like it, but that’s another thing, right? You won’t know without trying. Also, now my Zoom game is over the top, which I just love. :-)

                      1. 1

                        Well, for most of us, $550 is a (good chunk of) rent/mortgage. I’m fortunate enough to be able to live without a car, but for many people it’s a necessity - that I’m sure most try to keep well under $550/month, and $300 on a hobby we’re not sure about also isn’t going to happen :)

                        So, I admit to being icked out as well. Your story contains a lot of product photos, even of things you didn’t buy, so it looks a lot like an advertorial. It’s only the lack of affiliate links that makes me realize it’s not.

                      2. 4

                        Finally…when the hell did we get to this coding as performance art thing? This dramatization and theatrical approach just runs me the wrong way. When did we decide that production value and presentation matter more than, you know, awesome or useful or clever code?

                        This is cynical and unfair. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

                        With all that’s going on in the world these days, let’s not let the nihilists win.

                        1. 3

                          Finally…when the hell did we get to this coding as performance art thing?

                          If someone would have told me 2 years ago that one of my current favorite ways to spend my time was to watch people playing video games on Youtube, I’d have laughed in their faces.

                          Turns out, if you find the right “content creator”, it’s actually very nice!

                          Now, I don’t watch coding streams, but I’ve seen it become a thing online, and I figure, these people are enjoying it, their finding an audience, what’s the harm?

                          Now, this particular post might be off-topic for this site, but that’s a separate issue from the phenomenon of coding streaming in general.

                        1. 2

                          I’m one of those people whose desk collects random objects over time.

                          PC is a Shuttle DS67U, I think it has an i3 processor. I’ve always hated ‘fan’ noises (vacuum cleaners, electric motors of any kind) so going fanless (around 2017) is one of the upgrades I’ve been most satisfied with in a long time.

                          The desk itself is a ten year-old IKEA table. I’ve always used it as a desk, but now that I’m working from home full-time, I might cut off part of the apron, to allow myself to sit a bit higher.

                          Knowing how many of my coworkers have to work in the kitchen, on the couch, or share their workspace with others in their household, I’m incredibly happy to have a dedicated space of my own.

                          1. 2

                            <3 those 4:3 monitors

                            1. 2

                              I see a 100ISO film there! :)

                              1. 1

                                Unfortunately, it has been slowly deteriorating for months because I don’t have good fixer atm :)

                            1. 23

                              It sounds like the iPhone Timer isn’t displaying a fake time. It is just showing the rounded time. And the author tried to replicate this, oddly, by adding 500ms then rounding down. Am I missing something?

                              1. 3

                                Yeah. I remember this from programming in BASIC on the Apple ][ as a teenager. There was no round-to-nearest function, so instead you did INT(X+0.5).

                                Wasn’t expecting to see something this, uh, basic (sic) as the top post here! Slow news day?

                                1. 4

                                  Yes, It’s startling to me that someone who clearly has years of developer experience under his belt could be surprised by this. Back when we started, rounding was trivial. Making user interfaces and network servers was something out of science fiction. I guess it’s the other way around now.

                                2. 3

                                  No, you’re not. It feels like the author is looking at this and assuming it was some carefully vetted design decision, when it was likely just some programmer that, in the spur of the moment, decided to use Math.round instead of Math.floor (although IMO Math.ceil would be better than either).

                                  1. 14

                                    It’s probably intentional rounding rather than “adding half a second,” but I believe it’s a deliberate design choice. Here is a nearby clue:

                                    As the author said, if you pause with “00:00” on the timer, it will show “00:01” because there is some time left, and “00:00” would look like there is no time left. However, in some brief testing, this adjustment-on-pause did not happen at any other time that I paused except “00:00”. And on resume, the remaining duration was the fractional second, so it is specifically the displayed value that’s changed, not the underlying timer. I don’t believe this behavior would result from an accident.

                                    1. 1

                                      This is fair.

                                    2. 2

                                      The Google clock app seems to take the ceiling approach as well.

                                  1. 1

                                    A struggle for me has been finding a good camera with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is more appropriate for video calls. Best one I am aware of is the Logitech Webcam Pro 9000 from over a decade ago.

                                    Of course you can crop the image on any webcam, but I don’t expect this to be easy in most video conferencing programs, so I’m most interested in webcams that are natively 4:3.

                                    1. 1

                                      I have a 4:3 webcam (an ELP camera, I don’t know if the model is still available) with a 4:3 1/2.3 sensor. I’ve found that video conferencing programs (Zoom, Google’s solution) will crop it to 16:9 nowadays, because that’s what their UX expects.

                                      It’s a nice way to break the ice, people ask me why I’m sitting so close to my webcam, I explain that I’m not, it just LOOKS like I am, etc …

                                      1. 1

                                        I’ve noticed with Zoom that it crops to 16:9 when my image is fullscreen, but does pillarboxing when my image is in a grid or something. At least that’s what it seems like; don’t know what everyone else sees.

                                    1. 1

                                      On the contrary, I want a low budget low res cam for chatting with my developer friends. I bet there is a good market for this, but zero supply for this in my region.

                                      1. 2

                                        Many years back I bought a webcam based purely on it being advertised as ‘UVC’ and in theory therefore operable without third party drivers. It was extremely cheap and always worked perfectly - though of course the picture was only really adequate.

                                        Maybe cheap UVC cams still exist and might be an option if you’re looking for something useable but cheap.

                                        1. 2

                                          They might be sold as ‘USB security cameras’ :)

                                            1. 2

                                              Show me webcam from this link looks interesting. Will try next year hopefully.

                                              1. 1

                                                Nice, I had missed that link. Thanks.

                                          1. 5

                                            Not buying new laptops saves a lot of money, but also a lot of resources and environmental destruction. According to the most recent life cycle analysis, it takes 3,010 to 4,340 megajoules of primary energy to make a laptop

                                            Facepalm.

                                            1. Order the Printed Website. The website is available in book form and is printed on demand. Two volumes are available (1,328 pages, 427 images).

                                            And this is okay. Who needs trees anyway.?

                                            1. 11

                                              Trees are a renewable resource…

                                              1. 6

                                                Let’s calculate it power consumption of growing a tree. Printing a book. Shipping wordwide. Recycling paper. Etc.

                                                1. 2

                                                  Nobody is forcing you to buy it. I imagine there aren’t many (if any) copies sold.

                                              2. 7

                                                Assuming you don’t burn after reading, that’s some nice sequestered carbon you’ve got there.

                                                1. 3

                                                  This is a really bold claim.

                                                2. 6

                                                  What’s your problem with the lifecycle analysis comment?

                                                  1. 2

                                                    The embodied energy of a sheet of paper is about 140 kJ according to the internets, coming to about 200 MJ for a book of 1338 pages. So if you only use the laptop for browsing that website, it’s probably more efficient to buy the book :)

                                                    1. 4

                                                      You use the laptop to read not only this website, right?;) nor buying new laptop for each new site. But a book needs to be printed and delivered to each visitor of the site.

                                                      What if everyone on web will read web by books? We will be out of trees day one 🌲

                                                      This is just stupid activism without any meaningful impact on our planet. And if such people get some power… well, we all be fucked. Just take a look at greenpeace.

                                                      1. 5

                                                        The proposal obviously isn’t that everybody uses books instead. The printed web site, like a lot of the authors work, is part art-project.

                                                        Perhaps if you took the time to read and understand the people you deride for “stupid activism”, you might understand them and what they want.

                                                        1. 2

                                                          The author seems to anticipate a future of collapse; most of his writing is about technology that works without today’s complicated supply chains, or even electricity, like tile stoves (for me as a west-European, these are magical. I gather they are pretty familiar to those in Central and Eastern Europe) and wheel barrows From such a survivalists’ perspective, a printed book has advantages a laptop does not :)

                                                          As for stupid activism, the battle so far seems to be between the people who feel the environment is valuable, but never paid attention to bookkeeping, and the people who are otherwise famously good at bookkeeping, but insist there’s no value in doing it for the environment.

                                                          There’s a growing number of people jumping ship from the second to the first group, but given the choice, I’m siding with the first :)

                                                          1. 1

                                                            Who is more valuable: environment or humans? I think philanthropy is in the corner. We should think of peope first. Not environment.

                                                            1. 2

                                                              “The environment” is a nebulous term covering everything from saving pandas to topsoil maintenance. The latter is a precondition for organised human civilisation; the former is a cute creature that natural selection wasn’t choosing (yes, slightly unfair to pandas, but they really are not good at being an animal even if you leave them their habitat)

                                                              1. 1

                                                                My point is what we can consume as many energy as we want. No point in preserving planet as is. With high consumption we will get better economy which produces more money for scientist to develop fusion power, gmo food and maybe(maybe) if we lucky - immortality for humans.

                                                                1. 6

                                                                  No point preserving the systems that feed us and protect us from fire and floods, on the basis of some future technologies that may or may not come to fruition?

                                                                  1. 2

                                                                    I’m not suggesting littering everywhere, or spilling oil to the ocean. Questions of priority. Just buy a new laptop if you will be more productive with it, add a value. Not just trying keeping footprint as low as possible. No truth in that.

                                                                    1. 3

                                                                      Right, but these are points on a continuum, not separate. Littering is more convenient than finding a bin, and abandoning a stricken tanker is cheaper than rescuing it.

                                                                      “Minimising your footprint” is not a good utility function by itself, but it’s currently ignored almost entirely by many.

                                                                  2. 3

                                                                    That’s exactly what we’ve done! We have fusion power harvesters operating near the peak of what’s physically possible. These will provide effectively limitless energy, but we need to transition our economy to them in time.

                                                                    Maybe a better economy will increase scientific output. But the annual operating budget of Delta Airlines is 40 billion. 28 years of development on ITER will have cost about 65 billion, and government spending is the only reason it happened at all. There’s no good reason to believe the market will allocate most of its energy and resources to bootstrapping a fusion economy.

                                                      1. 12

                                                        There’s a lot about this article I like (and the site - powered by solar power and sometimes offline/ cute!) but the xenophobia towards Chinese people is not acceptable.

                                                        1. 30

                                                          This seems like an overreaction to me. There’s exactly two comments about China/Chinese people:

                                                          The Chinese don’t have a reputation for building quality products

                                                          and

                                                          The Chinese may not have a reputation for building quality products, but they sure know how to fix things.

                                                          But:

                                                          • statements exhibiting prejudice != xenophobia.
                                                          • reporting on a reputation is just stating a fact: this is indeed the reputation Chinese (consumer?) products have. You can’t infer the author thinks the reputation is accurate, especially given how they acted (they bought the Chinese product anyway).
                                                          • even if you believe the author does think the reputation is accurate: you don’t know how many experiences they have with Chinese products. Their belief in the accuracy of the reputation may be supported by their own experiences
                                                          • A jab against the quality of products is not a jab against the people producing the product. Even if the author phrases it using the unfortunately common conflation of a country and its people.
                                                          • it’s human and useful to generalize: a generalization isn’t necessarily problematic, unless the conclusions are extended too far. They aren’t suggesting you don’t buy Chinese products or only let things be repaired by a Chinese person, are they?
                                                          1. 17

                                                            I agree with the parent, this also rubbed me the wrong way. Even just having “the Chinese” in your vocabulary is too much IMO, no matter whether it displays xenophobia or just unreflected prejudice.

                                                            1. 9

                                                              The author’s native language is Dutch, in which it’s still idiomatic to say ‘the Chinese’ to mean ‘the Chinese people’. It used to be idiomatic in English as well, of course, but it has gathered negative connotations in the past few decades. That’s something his proofreader should’ve picked up.

                                                              As regard the statements about the quality of Chinese electronics and workmanship, yes, I could do without those as well.

                                                              1. 2

                                                                The author’s native language is Dutch, in which it’s still idiomatic to say ‘the Chinese’ to mean ‘the Chinese people’. It used to be idiomatic in English as well, of course, but it has gathered negative connotations in the past few decades

                                                                Im curious how else you would say it? Would you attribute it to the country and not the people? i.e. China (or Chinese manufacturers) don’t have a reputation for quality?

                                                                Is the issue attributing it to a people as a whole?

                                                                Not trying to be argumentative, just trying to understand the issue.

                                                                1. 3

                                                                  I just wouldn’t make unsubstantiated claims about an entire country.

                                                            2. 17

                                                              The Chinese don’t have a reputation for building quality products

                                                              The funny thing about this one is that not only does the person saying it come off as prejudiced, they’re also out of touch.

                                                              Almost any electronic device made today is built in China, with components also made in China. From high end Apple products down to bottom of the barrel knock offs. Just being made in Chna doesn’t say much about quality any more.

                                                              1. 11

                                                                There is a condescending tone at play though, which generalises Chinese people (e.g. the guy that repaired his laptop) to members of a group and refuses to treat them as individuals.

                                                                I don’t take issue with the literal meaning of those sentences, but given their tone and cultural context, I think it’s rather insensitive and unhelpful.

                                                                1. 2

                                                                  The second occurrence was referring to a repair shop they sent it to. So unless that shop was in China (I don’t think they say so, so I assume not) they’re referring to the ethnicity of the shop worker.

                                                                2. 9

                                                                  MacBooks are made in China, so if you can agree they’re at least on par with X60 build quality, the point falls apart. Perhaps you could say Lenovo chose a subpar Chinese supplier, but that hardly indicts the whole country.

                                                                  I enjoyed my X200s until hardware failure & blue screens, and my old X61s is in a closet (some sort of display issue). Eventually, these machines wear out. I find MacBooks at least as well-designed/-built, and the M1 ain’t too shabby, so while I miss the 12” ThinkPads I’ll be fine.

                                                                1. -1

                                                                  I think the case for Firefox is lost.

                                                                  The only confidence left at this point is in their ability to identify projects of crucial importance and then running them into the ground.

                                                                  1. 28

                                                                    I have heard such phrases since several years now while Firefox is improving from release to release remaining relevant and modern browser.

                                                                    Chrome/Chromium pisses me off with its many ‘features’ like forcing me to translate pages and several other things that would require code modification.

                                                                    There are other Chromium based browsers but to be frank with you Firefox sucks the least from all this current ‘browsers landscape’ for me.

                                                                    1. 22

                                                                      I think the more remarkable thing is that Mozilla, despite its endless string of strategic mistakes, despite it being located in SV and, presumably, has to pay Mountain View salaries despite being a non-profit, continues to make a very decent browser.

                                                                      1. 5

                                                                        presumably, has to pay Mountain View salaries despite being a non-profit

                                                                        Even before 2020, a large chunk – at least half – of the Mozilla Corporation’s staff (that’s the people who make Firefox, among other things) were fully remote and distributed around the world.

                                                                        After the end of my own time at Mozilla (I worked there 2011-2015), my very next job – at a startup – more than doubled my former Mozilla salary. While I know there are people who are and were paid more than I was, I also personally believe Mozilla, at least at that time, was not generally competitive on salary with other household-name tech companies.

                                                                        1. 8

                                                                          Yep.

                                                                          They haven’t killed Firefox yet.

                                                                          Despite trying really hard.

                                                                          1. 13

                                                                            I have been using Firefox for last 10 years and all I see are improvements – at least on the browser side, the features that have been forcefully implemented (i.e. out-of-the-box Pocket integration) were easily removable and didn’t cause any additional headaches.

                                                                            Despite trying really hard.

                                                                            could you elaborate on this?

                                                                            Mozilla as a company surely went through some very unpleasant hoops in the past few years, but I think it didn’t affect the browser experience overall.

                                                                            1. 8

                                                                              I don’t think “despite” was the right word, but as they say in systems theory: The purpose of a system is what it does, and what Mozilla appears to do is attempt kill Firefox in some Pinky & The Brain style scheme every now and again.

                                                                              1. 1

                                                                                They try to expand market share. They just are trying their best, which from the outside and with the benefit of hindsight, isn’t enough.

                                                                          1. 13

                                                                            What I’m seeing is that somewhere between 6 and 13 percent of all desktop web browsing is done using Firefox. That’s not very few. In fact, I would say 13% share of a market that’s as big as “all desktop web browsing” is fairly massive.

                                                                            It’s much lower than it once was, obviously, so you may say there’s a trend here which is worrying for Firefox, and I’d agree. But taken in isolation, it’s not a terrible number.

                                                                            1. 5

                                                                              I also use FreeBSD which has a lot smaller user base then Firefox so being in minority is not a problem for me :)

                                                                              1. 2

                                                                                This seems to include also mobile. Is there a picture just for desktops?

                                                                            2. 7

                                                                              I’ve always been an avid Mozilla supporter but even I’ve run out of goodwill at this point. Mozilla is a company that doesn’t want to make an open source browser, they just want to make money.

                                                                              1. 16

                                                                                It takes an awful lot of money if you want to make a modern web browser. Even if you assume Mozilla could run on 10% of what it does, that’s a boatload of cash.

                                                                                Their money making product has historically been providing arguments that Google has competition . Since the writing is on the wall for a Google antitrust suit, it seems like this funding is likely to dry up – and even if it didn’t, reliance on that product should make you uneasy. Open source contribution doesn’t seem like it can keep up with the army of Chromium developers.

                                                                                This has always been the end game of complexifying standards. I don’t see a way out without a massive cultural shift.

                                                                                1. 5

                                                                                  Overall I agree almost entirely, but one question:

                                                                                  I’ve always naively assumed that a weak but extant Firefox benefits Google’s arguments that it isn’t anticompetitive, to the point that I assumed Google’s “paying for default search placement” is really about paying enough to ensure an alternative that captures low double digits of use exists.

                                                                                  I would think that increased antitrust scrutiny means that Firefox is likely to continue to see funding from Google, not have it dry up. Wouldn’t you?

                                                                                  Unless, of course, the end game is to break Google up… which could actually be amazing.

                                                                                  1. 2

                                                                                    The point is that if keeping Mozilla alive doesn’t protect them from the anti-trust suite, then they don’t need to waste that money on them.

                                                                            1. 19

                                                                              I find it strange that statements like “training this model had a CO2 footprint of 5 cars over their life time” are not put into more context. How often do they train a model? How many people does it serve?

                                                                              Conceivably, the researchers working on it, also had cars which might exceed this carbon impact already . 5 cars for a model of huge impact world - wide doesn’t necessarily seem like a lot.

                                                                              Edit :possibly the paper does have more context, of course

                                                                              1. 7

                                                                                Agreed. It’s interesting to note the exponential growth, though. Their 2017 model 27kWh - less than a single US gallon of gasoline. Also note that BERT and its derivatives have really captured imaginations world-wide, and the approach people use seems to be to throw more data and processing power at it. It’s not just Google doing this, it’s dozens of dumb startups.

                                                                                The problem with using judging any activity by its carbon emissions is that we’re likely to need ALL available energy, fossil or renewable, for the purpose of transitioning to a fossil-free economy by 2050, if we want to have a shot at RCP2.6. In that light, any economic activity - whether it’s training a neural network or selling hot-dogs - that’s not aimed at reducing carbon emissions, is somewhat unethical.

                                                                                1. 11

                                                                                  Not to get too political, but our society seems extremely inept at solving pretty much any problem of any worth, whether that’s climate change, Google/Facebook knowing all sorts of things about you, all sorts of muckery with food (varying from palm oil being in damn near everything to food being flow in from the other side of the world), sweat shops in Bangladesh and similar countries making our clothes, etc. etc. etc. Most polls show a vast majority of people don’t like any of these things, but … nothing happens, in almost any country.

                                                                                  In short, pointing fingers at Google and such with “you should not do that” is probably the wrong strategy, and instead it might be smarter to reconsider how we deal with these problems in the first place. I have some ideas about this, but I won’t expand on them here. I also think it’s exceedingly unlikely that this will happen anyway, for various reasons, so 🤷‍♂️

                                                                                  tl;dr: we’re fucked anyway.

                                                                                  1. 8

                                                                                    Not to get too political, but our society seems extremely inept at solving pretty much any problem of any worth, […] Not to get too political, but our society seems extremely inept at solving pretty much any problem of any worth,

                                                                                    The problem is that as long as the people with purchasing power do not feel the pain, we are happy to pay lip service to such causes, but do not drastically want to alter our way of living to solve these issues. However, if it is something that affects rich nations, then suddenly a lot is possible. E.g. see SARS-COV-2 vaccines. Western governments have thrown billions at it and within a year it’s done (of course, based on prior work on SARS and MERS).

                                                                                    Of course, climate change affects us all, but rich nations do not really see it yet, with some exceptions (fires in Australia and the US West Coast). Of course, climate change is too hard to turn around to do something when we really start caring.

                                                                                    1. 6

                                                                                      Yes. What I was trying to argue was that while saying it’s unethical to spend 600 MWh on a language model is completely true, it’s not particularly insightful, as it’s unethical to spend 600 MWh on almost anything - including those six cars that the previous commenter dismissed as a trifle.

                                                                                      I actually find that this type of argument - a new technology being unethical because of its embodied energy - understates the actual shape and size of the problem. A lot of our current technological infrastructure is ridiculous, when measured by that same yardstick. But maybe it’s unfair to judge a paper by its editorialized summary.

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                                                                                        Google/Facebook knowing all sorts of things about you

                                                                                        Most polls show a vast majority of people don’t like any of these things, but … nothing happens, in almost any country.

                                                                                        Is GDPR not a solution? After all, the reason Google knows so much at this point isn’t really search, it’s the octopus of an advertising business it’s got.

                                                                                        1. 4

                                                                                          GDPR essentially says you can continue doing what you did before as long as you ask consent: so, you get popups, and other than that little really changed. The exact interpretation of various things (such as “implied consent” if you never click “accept”) differs per member state, and there’s also the issue of enforcement which is up to member states. In short, it’s all pretty patchy. And lot of these popups are designed in such a way that opting-out is quite time-consuming (not necessarily on purpose, could just be crap design).

                                                                                          In the end, I feel GDPR is perhaps well-intentioned, but it’s also designed so that companies can keep doing what they were doing while offering an “opt-out solution”, which in many causes is a faux-solution. If something is widely considered undesirable then it should not be done at all, instead of relying on savvy-enough consumers hunt for opt-out mechanisms.

                                                                                          A lot of the other things, such as “right to access your data” and “right to have your data removed” were already part of the laws in many countries before GDPR, but no paid much attention to that because who cares what the laws are in some tinpot little European country, right?

                                                                                        2. 1

                                                                                          food being flow in from the other side of the world

                                                                                          Very little food is moved via air freight, no? Doesn’t a massive, massive majority of food transport consist of rail, truck and container ship (and combinations thereof)?

                                                                                          And I hesitate to ask this, because supply chain logistics feels a bit off-topic for lobsters, but what about that is “muckery” anyway?

                                                                                          1. 3

                                                                                            With “muckery” I meant more like sugar being added to a lot of stuff, lemons being coated with wax to make them look nicer in the supermarkets (but it’s not good if you use lemon zest), trans-fats not being very healthy in spite of being marketed as such and industry pretending it’s not a problem, I could go on and on.

                                                                                            As for logistics, shipping is never really free, especially since a lot of foodstuff are cooled. When I lived in New Zealand things were much more seasonal (you can buy imported tomatoes out-of-season, but you pay ridiculous prices).

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                                                                                              Avocados were infamous for being transported on planes (to Europe and Asia, at least), but I see that they’ve moved on to refrigerated sea containers.

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                                                                                          The entire thing reeks of performative theatre.

                                                                                          1. 2

                                                                                            5 cars for a model of huge impact world - wide doesn’t necessarily seem like a lot.

                                                                                            One of such example is the models they use to drive the PUE of their data centers to a record low value.

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                                                                                              I agree with the alleged point that the cost of pretraining new language models puts it out of the reach of most researchers, resulting in a certain amount of unfair competition. If I have an idea for a better training objective, I cannot really put it to test, because I don’t have the resources, while Google could do easily do a grid search. I don’t think we have seens such a large imbalance in computational linguistics research before.

                                                                                              However, most scientific papers that use large transformer networks do not pretrain transformers, but finetune them for a specific task, which typically only takes a few hours on a consumer-level GPU. So, even though the carbon dioxide cost of pretraining a large transformer may be very large, the ‘amortized’ cost is relatively low. Once Google, Facebook, et al. release a new pretrained models, thousands of models (if not more) models are created by finetuning the pretrained transformer. So, the CO2 impact per actual per published/deployed model is probably not that much higher than before pretrained transformers.

                                                                                              The point about biases in models and their ramifications for society are on the mark. I fear that the author’s points are not compatible with Google’s PR about these models and we should hold FAANG and others accountable for such issues.

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                                                                                                My shallow understanding of online AI products gives me the idea this is a step in a periodic CI/CD pipeline. Think nightly builds, but the inputs are both code and training data. I think if only the data changed you could just refine the previous result, but in the case of code changes (capturing a new kind of information, any changes to the network structure) you would have to start over and train from zero. This is just a remote guess; I’d love for someone who knows to speak up.

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                                                                                                I’m pretty prejudiced against Javascript, but even I think this is going a little far. I want to make sure that my websites all work without Javascript, and I test with Javascript disabled in my browser, but I don’t think it’s wrong to add some features with progressive enhancement. Minimal and optional Javascript is great, Javascript abolition is unnecessary.

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                                                                                                  Unless the site’s text changed, there’s nothing there about abolishing Javascript.

                                                                                                  But I think I can make a case for it. If I enable JavaScript, I’m giving you the ability to do almost anything with the computing power of my laptop. You can mine bitcoin, track my cursor, and try to exploit whatever security holes Doubleclick has left (or built) in my browser.

                                                                                                  Maybe you won’t, but I have to trust that you won’t. And I can’t, because we’re strangers. If you were truly trustworthy, would you ask for this kind of access? Especially if your site does nothing that requires it?

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                                                                                                      Well, it was only a matter of time before Scott McNealy’s dream emerges, fully formed, from Javascript’s brow. Although I’ve seen far more articulate arguments in other places.

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                                                                                                      You must have a very difficult time of it in life because interaction with any person or company implies (some degree of) trust. This doesn’t mean you don’t verify occasionally, but you should probably not visit any site you don’t trust. And if you worry about some dev counting mouse move events in your browser, I don’t see how you get anything done…

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                                                                                                        You do realize this very site (lobste.rs) is dedicated to linking to random - or at least unknown - websites, right? We visit sites we don’t trust all the time. What you do trust is the execution environment of the web browser (brought to you by Doubleclick) to protect you from the worst abuses.

                                                                                                        The history of web standards is filled with examples of innocuous features that, unexpectedly, turned out to allow people to steal your credentials, harvest your browser history, or track you across many different sites. Browsers consist of hasty patches upon hasty patches to deal with these issues.

                                                                                                        Javascript (and its associated API) increase that attack surface a thousandfold.

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                                                                                                      Yes! I for example use JS on my site to offer a feature that reads out loud the text.

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                                                                                                        There are good use cases for JavaScript like maps.

                                                                                                        There are cases where we could extend HTML but right now JavaScript is fine. I’m thinking about upvote buttons on lobsters for example. We did for videos but they still all use JavaScript on top.

                                                                                                        Still, for reading articles, news, or blogs I don’t see the necessity for JavaScript. Some have nice flourishing like theme changes but that should degrade gracefully.

                                                                                                        I use the NoScript plugin too have Javascript mostly disabled.

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                                                                                                        I wonder if machine learning is popular not because it leads to optimal solutions, but because it appears to be a solution path that doesn’t seem to require a lot of knowledge about the problem domain, or even much in the way of mathematics.

                                                                                                        The method used in the original video is slow, clumsy and suboptimal, but very likely to be applicable to a completely different problem. It’s presented as a general problem solving skill, rather than a way to solve a specific problem.

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                                                                                                          I agree with the author here, but, playing devil’s advocate, it is sort of handy to have a tool you can whack a lot of problems with, then move on to other problems. I’m not one of these, but I’m guessing a machine learning practitioner could whack this with a few ML hammers pretty quickly, get something working, then move on to other problems. ML seems to be doing an okay job at “general hammering”

                                                                                                          I guess another way of saying that is that I’m not sure this is true:

                                                                                                          These polynomials are obviously much faster than a neural network, but they’re also easy to understand and debug.

                                                                                                          If you’re on a team of ML people who are very comfortable hitting everything with pytorch, maybe the pytorch solution is easier?

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                                                                                                            I’m not even talking about the practical applications of the pytorch hammer (and to be clear: I also prefer the author’s approach), I’m talking about its reputation. Every day we’re presented with new, exciting applications for machine learning. One day it’s generating faces, the next day it’s generating text. It’s not strange that people see it as a generalist skill that’s worthwhile to acquire.

                                                                                                            As opposed to plain old boring mathematics.

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                                                                                                          I increasingly wonder about the feedback problem. I’ve developed an interest in domestic energy efficiency, and I’ve noticed that the bloggers still active in this space will write detailed, well-considered stories, usually backed up by months of measurements from their domotics system, but get next to no feedback.

                                                                                                          Unlike programmers, there don’t seem to be well-known online “watercoolers” where news is shared and discussed for this sector. Some people seem to use twitter, but it’s an extremely poor medium for in-depth, rational discussion. I suspect, since I don’t use it myself, that most discussion and publication takes place on Facebook.

                                                                                                          A lot of programmers and web authors seem to be in favor of decentralization. And commenting/feedback isn’t that hard, technically. Yet somehow there don’t seem to be good solutions in this space.

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                                                                                                            People go to forums where other people are to discuss things of mutual interest.

                                                                                                            Most people who espouse IndieWeb tech are interested in IndieWeb. The advantage Facebook, Twitter etc l have is that they’re meta-platforms that can discuss anything, not just the technology used to implement them.

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                                                                                                              Yes, what bothers me isn’t really “Gee, I wonder where people discuss these things?”, it’s more “Why, given the big disadvantages and widely-shared dislike of the commercial discussion platforms (Twitter, Facebook), and the seeming absence of insurmountable programming challenges, is there no good interoperable and accessible alternative to them? And why do people even keep blogging, when it must feel like shouting into the void?”

                                                                                                              The Fediverse is the closest thing to a working solution in this space, but, like Twitter, it is based on personal feeds, not mutual interests.

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                                                                                                                Thanks for clarifying. You and I are in agreement, I think.

                                                                                                                I’m just going to list some points that show where my opinion differs.

                                                                                                                • Most users of FB/Twitter etc are perfectly happy with the way things are.
                                                                                                                • Dislike of these social networks is generally a shibboleth of some self-selected subcultures, like this one
                                                                                                                • The technical challenges are non-trivial, but they are dwarfed by the marketing challenges, which people who design social networks excel at.
                                                                                                                • Blogging is dead but instead we have Substack ;) The dirty secret is that blogging was popular because SEO and affiliate marketing made bloggers money, and once that migrated to other platforms blogging withered and died.

                                                                                                                The Fediverse is a faint glow of hope, but it’s emulating Twitter, not pointing to a better alternative.

                                                                                                                A general trend is that people who try to design alternatives to the big social networks are skating towards where the puck was 10 or even 20 years ago (with Gemini). They will always be blindsided and out-developed by people who are chasing new ways to make money off social interactions.

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                                                                                                                  I caught myself thinking “We need something like Reddit, but integrated with RSS”, until I remembered that someone was involved in the creation of both of these, with radically different results.

                                                                                                                  I’d actually be happy if there were a working solution in non-commercial space. While I am sympathetic to people who want to make a living from their writing, this has never been easy, and merely making a technical platform that facilitates this won’t make things more fair. On the other side, humans are social animals, and there’s plenty of reason to assume they’ll continue blathering on, even if there’s no financial incentive.

                                                                                                                  If the marketing bloggers prefer Facetube, let them. GPT-3 is snapping at their heels as it is.

                                                                                                                  It’s easy to fall into the VC-style trap by defining success as being dependent on exponential growth. Blogging isn’t “dead”, it’s merely been overtaken by other things.

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                                                                                                                    I don’t think blogging is dead. There are still a lot of bloggers, it’s just harder to discover blogs nowadays. See my blogroll for a list of blogs I follow.

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                                                                                                              The linked demo application (Reply) brings my 2020 phone to a grinding halt. Apparently, re-implementing hardware accelerated UI components in canvas an javascript is slow (who’d have guessed?)

                                                                                                              I’m not worried about it taking over the web.

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                                                                                                                I’m not worried about it taking over the web.

                                                                                                                Why not? Because it has performance problems? Since when has that stopped people?

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                                                                                                                Let me say this again: It’s crazy to think how much the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda of pushing blame on to the individual has worked. Heck, we think our websites are killing the planet, when only about 70% of emissions can be attributed to only 100 fossil fuel companies..

                                                                                                                Some reading:

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                                                                                                                  when only about 70% of emissions can be attributed to only 100 fossil fuel companies..

                                                                                                                  That’s a misleading statistic. They’re counting downstream use as part of those emissions. If you head your home with natural gas mined in Russia that counts as “Gazprom’s emissions”.

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                                                                                                                    If the utility only provides natural gas mined in Russia, then there’s nothing I can do. That’s the point, and that’s why downstream accounting matters here.

                                                                                                                    As a consumer, we do have some responsibility, but at the end of the day, we consume what’s available. We have the responsibility to ask for something different, but we do not have the blame for not getting them from the marketplace. Unfortunately, the industry propaganda has managed to invert that.

                                                                                                                    1. 2

                                                                                                                      Of course there’s something you can do: you can set your thermostat lower or you can have a smaller dwelling (or even share one where you otherwise wouldn’t). If you own a dwelling, you can do a great deal to change its thermal characteristics.

                                                                                                                      I don’t think relying on individuals to do such things is unlikely to be effective, but also believe individuals have a lot of responsibility and that “I can’t do anything” is typically wrong. I suspect many people will think that last sentence is obviously inconsistent. I may be wrong but I’ve thought a bit about it and believe it’s completely consistent.

                                                                                                                      (FWIW: I personally do less than I think I ought to, which is awesome for the intellectual consistency of my worldview and bad for “me feeling like I’m a superb human being”)

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                                                                                                                        You setting your thermostat lower will do exactly nothing to change how that heat is being produced.

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                                                                                                                          It will have an expected effect of reducing the amount of gas used, thereby resulting in an expected reduction in carbon emissions (expected because there may be some kind of step function where the utility ramps production up or down by large volumes. In that case, your actions would have a low probability of having a large effect. I don’t honestly know if that’s true of utilities).

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                                                                                                                      It’s a decent argument that’s typically presented in this very inflammatory, self-defeating way. I think it’s more sensible to rephrase it as a question of supply and demand.

                                                                                                                      Fossil fuels and electricity are incredibly fungible, and there are about nine billion potential consumers. If a few of them voluntarily reduce their demand, it’s very likely that other consumers will increase their consumption, and demand will stabilize.

                                                                                                                      Supply, however, is controlled by a relatively small number of companies and government. If supply were to be reduced (going against the direct financial interests of the controlling parties), demand would have to follow.

                                                                                                                      The ‘demand’ knob has to overcome substantial negative feedback before it leads to significant and lasting reduction of carbon emissions. Interestingly, this is the one most people are talking about.

                                                                                                                      The ‘supply’ knob will work abruptly, and while the market will try to stabilize supply, it’ll take decades for fossil fuel production capacity to recover. Who advocates this? ‘radical groups’ like Extinction Rebellion and Ende Gelände. I actually think they have it right.

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                                                                                                                      And why do those companies emit those CO2? To make things for YOU to consume.

                                                                                                                      Reduce consumption, reduce production, reduce emission.

                                                                                                                      I see so many people demanding changes while they themselves are not willing to change.

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                                                                                                                        That’s a very valid point. It’s very human to turn this into a blame game, but it’s good to remember that all human activity emits CO₂. Let he who is without sin, etc.

                                                                                                                        Starting by reducing consumption is unlikely to be very effective; market forces will work against us. We actually need these companies’ cooperation to reduce production of fossil fuels. Treating them as war criminals may be emotionally satisfying, but it can easily backfire.

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                                                                                                                          Starting by reducing consumption is unlikely to be very effective;

                                                                                                                          Why?

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                                                                                                                            I’ve explained elsewhere, but price elasticity of demand for fossil fuels. Let’s say all programmers agree to stop taking international flights to conferences The price of crude oil drops a few cents, but this makes it more attractive for a farmer in the developing world to drive to market twice a month, instead of once a month. Fossil fuels have myriad of uses, and there are billions of people in the world who can improve their quality of life substantially by consuming more of them.

                                                                                                                            So before you’ll see global demand drop, you’ll have to overcome that elasticity. It’s possible - we recently saw the oil markets crash during the worldwide pandemic lockdown - but it’ll keep working against you until everyone agrees to either voluntarily reduce or stabilize their consumption of fossil fuels.

                                                                                                                            Reducing (and eventually shutting down) fossil fuel production avoids this. It means that any growth in our energy consumption has to come from renewables. It means prices might rise to the point where we might actually have to prioritize heating our homes over international flights instead of doing both. It also means that poorer people might see a serious reduction in their quality of life.

                                                                                                                            Don’t get me wrong, reducing your own consumption is a prosocial thing to do, and I think it’s worthwhile to do it. I just don’t see it as a very effective strategy for reducing global consumption.

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                                                                                                                              So you r argument is that if you reduce somebody else will increase consumption.

                                                                                                                              The farmer drives to the market once a month only because he couldn’t afford to. Now he can go twice a month. His life is better.

                                                                                                                              So by reducing consumption you end up with 2 outcomes. Total consumption is reduced, or somebody’s life is better.

                                                                                                                              It’s a win-win.

                                                                                                                              If your argument is welfare doesn’t matter then the solution is to kill everybody on earth, which will reduce consumption to zero.

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                                                                                                                                Like I said, it’s a social thing to do, and I definitely feel that we should - especially if you (like me) expect others to reduce their quality of life. I just expect the outcome of this to be a very limited reduction of fossil fuel emissions.

                                                                                                                                It also requires people to define a ‘reasonable’ level of energy consumption (which they will typically define by looking at their neighbours, not at some global average). It then requires them to budget and account for this (some people are terrible at this even with money, to the point that they end up homeless.), Since a big chunk of their carbon footprint comes from goods and services, you’ll have to rely on producers’ information, who are quite happy to lie if it makes their customers feel good

                                                                                                                                Yes, a voluntarist approach is the moral thing to do. The climate, however, is not a moral agent, and will not give us points for sticking to our principles.

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                                                                                                                                  By your own argument, then it’s impossible to reduce co2 emission then.

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                                                                                                                                    Unfortunately, this fits observed CO₂ emissions :(

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                                                                                                                          What I’m saying is not that individuals don’t have any blame, but that individuals don’t have all that blame. In fact, industry documents themselves reveal the propaganda.

                                                                                                                          I’ve gone vegetarian, don’t drive, try to talk to my friends, live small - all because I do think people need to change their consumption habits. But, when the average person turns on the light, they’re not thinking about where the electricity is coming from.

                                                                                                                          That’s a production side problem. Do yes, we can turn off the lights when we don’t need them. But when we do need them, we can’t make it clean.

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                                                                                                                        By comparison, if you’re in the UK, 100kg of CO₂ is likely to be around a tenth of what you use for heating your home annually.

                                                                                                                        I think that as engineers, we like to think of scenarios where our skills can help to address a problem. Consider that for most of us, when it comes to the environment, our impact is greatest if we apply ourselves as

                                                                                                                        1. Activists
                                                                                                                        2. Voters
                                                                                                                        3. Consumers
                                                                                                                        4. Programmers

                                                                                                                        Probably in that order.

                                                                                                                        Don’t get me wrong, I think we should ruthlessly optimize core infrastructure, as power savings in, say, openssl will pay dividends on millions of devices. But if we work on ‘edges’ like personal websites or line of business software, the impact of our work will be dwarfed by other things we can do.

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                                                                                                                          good list; note that programming can be activism

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                                                                                                                            As we tend to be well remunerated individuals,

                                                                                                                            1. Giving money
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                                                                                                                              If giving money solves a problem, one could set up a giving circle where each person gives money to another back and forth until the problem goes away.

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                                                                                                                                I’d put this under activism. And I’m a bit skeptical that a middle-class salary can make a dent in this problem.

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                                                                                                                                  I am by no means an expert in this area, and I haven’t done thorough research (would love to read a survey though), but my general understanding is that donating money usually is the most effective way (by a large margin) to affect positive change. Roughly, there’s usually a several orders of magnitude difference between what you can personally do, and what is the most efficient action in principle, and donations can bridge that gap.

                                                                                                                                  For CO2 emissions specifically, this article tries to give some numbers: https://www.founderspledge.com/stories/climate-and-lifestyle-report (but, again, I haven’t done research myself and I haven’t read any meta-analysis here, and any single source can be misleading).

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                                                                                                                                    Oh, under the EU emissions trading scheme, I (and I think this is not even limited to EU citizens) can buy emission rights. About 21 euros per tonne of CO₂ - it’s hard to compete with that. But then, as with charities, you have to believe in CO₂ accounting.

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                                                                                                                              There’s a weird paradox where you get lots of leeway to design new things early on in your career, but as you get more senior, your employer makes very sure your expensive hours are directed at grinding bugs on the business critical legacy system - that was probably designed by an intern two decades ago.

                                                                                                                              And even if you’re willing to take the pay cut, you can’t go back to being treated like a junior.

                                                                                                                              Even twenty years ago, I was warned that programming was a very limited career path, both professionally and financially. If I still had the same freedom I had as an intern / junior, I wouldn’t mind it at all.

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                                                                                                                                I would describe it differently: The intern gets to work on something non-critical if not optional, so they can design whatever they want. The expert works on the important stuff. While made by an intern, it evolved and accumulated a lot of constraints over time. The expert has to follow these constraints.

                                                                                                                                What you should keep in mind is that lots of stuff interns build is thrown away after a while. Mind the surviver bias.

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                                                                                                                                  Definitely, just like a painter throws out most of his paintings. That’s part of why they have such creative freedom. The software I wrote as an intern ran (and made money) for several years, but I’m pretty positive it was retired after that. To me, that matters a lot less than the fact that it was satisfying to design and write.

                                                                                                                                  I’m sure that some people derive a lot of job satisfaction from the idea they’re working on something important. But I don’t think that’s true for most of us.

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                                                                                                                                    Yes and “important” usually translates into “makes money for the company”. Not necessarily a worthy personal purpose. It might work if your company “organizes the world’s information” or “connects people”. It does not if your company exists to sell personalized ads.

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                                                                                                                                      It might work if your company “organizes the world’s information” or “connects people”. It does not if your company exists to sell personalized ads

                                                                                                                                      That’s ironic, considering those first two are the missions of Google and Facebook, respectively. And the latter sounds like both :)

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                                                                                                                                  What does “very limited” mean? I’m just genuinely curious! What are not limited career paths?

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                                                                                                                                    The way it was explained to me back then was that the salary and working conditions are very good initially, but the typical programmer reaches the upper limits of his earning / impact potential by the time they’re 35 - after which there may be other opportunities, but they don’t involve programming. Financially, this is also the age when people in other (similarly educated) professions overtake you.

                                                                                                                                    Having passed that age, there seems to be some truth to that. Talking to people in other fields, 35 is only the beginning for a lawyer, for example, whose time is presumed to get more valuable as their experience increases. In many fields, autonomy seems to increase further the older you get, whereas in software development, autonomy seems to decrease.

                                                                                                                                    I’m sure software development isn’t unique in that sense. And I still prefer programming to most other professions I can think of. But it has lost the playfulness that made it so intensely satisfying when I was younger.