News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It is just after midnight in Hong Kong, and Sam Bankman-Fried stares at the trading data on his six monitors, watching a global cryptocurrency crash happening in real time.

Mr. Bankman-Fried, a 29-year-old from California, often works around the clock, as he was on that May evening. He naps on a beanbag set up near his computer. A folded up blanket sits on the floor. He’s worth at least $8 billion, on paper.

That is even after the downturn that started in the spring, where total global losses in the value of all cryptocurrency eventually topped $1.3 trillion. And as Mr. Bankman-Fried saw it play out, he knew his business played a role in the collapse.

Cryptocurrency — digital money not backed by any nation — is famous for its wild and frequent gyrations. But FTX, the cryptocurrency trading platform that Mr. Bankman-Fried runs, specializes in a kind of trade that was accelerating the global crash.

Most of his customers are betting on future cryptocurrency price fluctuations rather than buying and selling Bitcoin, and they are borrowing to make those bets even bigger.

It is a risky approach. But it can generate big wins.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

From my desk in a high-rise office building at the southern end of Manhattan, I click and scroll and scroll and click. Sometimes idly, with one eye on the clock; sometimes desperately, in lieu of the work I know I ought to be doing. I skim the sweaty Getty images on the celebrity fashion blog Go Fug Yourself and peruse the latest tidy musings from Felix Salmon, an arch Reuters blogger who covers high and low finance alike. I read everything published on The Awl (tagline: “Be less stupid”) and most things published on Consumerist. (Emboldened by that site’s recurring pieces of advice, I decide to push back one day, out there in the real world, against one of those little “$10 card minimum” signs at a grocer in SoHo. It does not go well and I will never attempt it again.) It’s the year 2011, and I can’t get enough of the internet.

I stare at The Big Picture’s gripping photos of deadly catastrophes around the globe. I parse cryptic, confusingly formatted bursts of internecine drama between tiny yet mighty Tumblr accounts helmed by people whose various blog iterations I have parasocially followed since I was in college. I read posts about ConLaw and SantaCon. I mostly keep a poker face, but when I do slip up and accidentally snicker or whisper “huh!” out loud, I play it off as though I’m reacting to something Jim Cramer or Maria Bartiromo just said on CNBC. With a critical eye I scan my own sub-rosa Tumblr as if it belongs to another, trying to imagine how my squirrely curio of online fascinations—Jason Kottke reblogs; slideshows of Martha Stewart getting stitches; links to my own unhinged and unpaid rants about concepts like “preemptive irritation”—must come across in the eyes of another person.

All of this is facilitated by Google Reader, a slim workhorse of a site launched in 2005 that uses pre-existing RSS feed protocols to turn the chaos of the web into a pleasant lazy river of content. Google Reader is not the world’s first RSS newsreader, nor will it be the last, and over the years plenty of internet power-users will sniff that it’s not even the best. But it’s the one that caught on. And using it requires little effort to yield satisfying, orderly rewards, kind of like tossing spare coins and crumpled bills into an old ceramic piggy bank and finding out, in return, that you have been granted access to a sleek, organized, and free Swiss bank account.

Read the rest of this article at: The Ringer

The Balmoral in Chestnut

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As I prepared to write this piece, my three-year-old cat, Larry, had been missing for 24 hours. I had checked under the bins, posted in a community Facebook group and Googled variations of “Lost cat how long normal before come home?” all day.

Larry was a house cat when we took him in, but my boyfriend and I had recently moved to a house with a garden so had started letting him out. Just like that, our adorable, loving, docile cat turned into the neighbourhood bruiser. He stopped snuggling with us in the morning, instead impatiently pawing at the door even before we had put down his breakfast.

At night, we would search the house for him, before giving up and going to bed. “I’m sure he’ll be back … soon,” I said to my boyfriend, with all the confidence of a mother whose teenager was out after curfew. All night, I would toss and turn, wondering if I would see his little pink nose again.

Cats demand our love freely, on their own terms, which means with no expectation of long-term commitment. The average outdoor cat may visit multiple homes assessing each on the quality of their cuddles and treats. Some experts believe that cats are, at best, semi-domesticated, meaning that at any moment, they could flounce off and do just fine.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Having made enormous fortunes on Earth, billionaires are now racing each other to space. Former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, recently announced that he will be one of four “space tourists” on his private space company Blue Origin’s inaugural human spaceflight scheduled for July 20, 2021, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The news caused Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson to speed up his own planned space trip and launch himself into space this weekend, nine days before Bezos.

The history of celestial exploration reveals how the logics of capitalism, colonialism, and corporations have always been violently intertwined.

Fellow tech billionaire, and third richest person on Earth, Elon Musk is often the most vocal about his space company, SpaceX, and his plans to make humans an “interplanetary species.” Bezos, however, is just as obsessed with outer space as the Tesla founder is. The billionaires concur that it is humanity’s destiny to settle the stars. And, without much real public debate, private space corporations appear to have settled the matter: space will be humanity’s next frontier.

The notion that private corporations ought to achieve something that states have been able to do since the 1960s—fly to space—is a peculiarly U.S. one. It combines domestic libertarianism and its idolatry of private individuals’ entrepreneurship with the more global ethos of neoliberalism and government outsourcing. However, despite these motivating philosophies, private companies have launched their schemes for space colonization using massive amounts of public money through government contracts.

As previously examined in these pages, the space race of the Cold War was characterized by a triumphalism around the power and scientific capacity of nation-states. Today’s wave of space exploration, however, is being led by tech billionaires’ private space corporations for financial gain—and, if we believe Bezos and Musk, for the betterment of human civilization. But the rhetoric and history of celestial exploration reveal how the logics of capitalism, colonialism, and corporations have always been intimately, and violently, intertwined. And, as history shows us, allowing corporations the power to colonize space may result in outcomes that even states cannot control.

Read the rest of this article at: Boston Review

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News 26.07.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It was Sept. 24, around 3 a.m., and Joshua was on the couch, next to a bookcase crammed with board games and Dungeons & Dragons strategy guides. He lived in Bradford, Canada, a suburban town an hour north of Toronto, renting a basement apartment and speaking little to other people.

A 33-year-old freelance writer, Joshua had existed in quasi-isolation for years before the pandemic, confined by bouts of anxiety and depression. Once a theater geek with dreams of being an actor, he supported himself by writing articles about D&D and selling them to gaming sites.

Many days he left the apartment only to walk his dog, Chauncey, a black-and-white Border collie. Usually they went in the middle of the night, because Chauncey tended to get anxious around other dogs and people. They would pass dozens of dark, silent, middle-class homes. Then, back in the basement, Joshua would lay awake for hours, thinking about Jessica Pereira, his ex-fiancee.

Jessica had died eight years earlier, at 23, from a rare liver disease. Joshua had never gotten over it, and this was always the hardest month, because her birthday was in September. She would have been turning 31.

On his laptop, he typed his email address. The window refreshed. “Welcome back, Professor Bohr,” read the screen. He had been here before. The page displayed a menu of options.

He selected “Experimental area.”

That month, Joshua had read about a new website that had something to do with artificial intelligence and “chatbots.” It was called Project December. There wasn’t much other information, and the site itself explained little, including its name, but he was intrigued enough to pay $5 for an account.

As it turned out, the site was vastly more sophisticated than it first appeared.

Designed by a Bay Area programmer, Project December was powered by one of the world’s most capable artificial intelligence systems, a piece of software known as GPT-3. It knows how to manipulate human language, generating fluent English text in response to a prompt. While digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa also appear to grasp and reproduce English on some level, GPT-3 is far more advanced, able to mimic pretty much any writing style at the flick of a switch.

Read the rest of this article at: San Francisco Chronicle

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.