Discover more from Bad Crow Review
'Tis The Season
Always the season; be jolly, damn it
Links are at the end. Click some; your life will be enriched.
I incinerated a manapua in the microwave last night — smoke billowing from the machine, set off the smoke alarm, four fans running to clear the place of it — and my apartment smells like a fire and will, it seems, continue to do so for a while absent intervention. If anyone has household tips on how to make this not so, please let me know in the comments.
The photo shows an early January nighttime view of a street in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, which is renowned for shopping and dining and drinking opportunities. Let us shop! Let us dine! Let us drink! wherever and in whatever order seems appropriate.
My life as an AI chatbot
I’m wondering now if I’ve ever corresponded with a human impersonating a chatbot impersonating a human. Water over the dam washing away the bridge, one supposes.
They had developed a product called Brenda, a conversational AI that could answer questions about apartment listings. Brenda had been acquired by a larger company that made software for property managers, and now thousands of properties across the country had put her to work.
Brenda, the recruiter told me, was a sophisticated conversationalist, so fluent that most people who encountered her took her to be human.
But like all conversational AIs, she had some shortcomings. She struggled with idioms and didn’t fare well with questions beyond the scope of real estate. To compensate for these flaws, the company was recruiting a team of employees they called the operators. The operators kept vigil over Brenda 24 hours a day. When Brenda went off-script, an operator took over and emulated Brenda’s voice.
Beware of Brendas, obviously. Inspect them closely in person, ask them jarring questions online. Where were you born, Brenda? May I see your papers? Are you a free-speech absolutist? Have you seen too much? Are you really an off-site leasing agent? What site are you off?
At $25 an hour we also cost almost nothing to employ, by corporate standards. Under the Brenda-operator alliance, everyone came out ahead: the operators got paid better than they would as adjunct professors, and Brenda became more likable, more convincing, more humane. Meanwhile, Brenda’s corporate clients were satisfied knowing they had not replaced their phone lines with a customer-service bot. What they were using, instead, was cutting-edge AI backed by PhDs in literature.
That calls for contemplation. At $25/hour, people who went to university for six or more years to specialize in, essentially, language, likely emerging with a crushing debt, were making more than they could in an entry-level university teaching position. Next time you see a headline about striking adjunct professors or graduate teaching assistants, you’ll know what’s behind it.
Can everybody with a doctorate in literature spin a good yarn? Dunno, probably not, but Laura Preston can and you should read the whole thing.
And lo, speaking of graduate teaching assistants . . .
University of California management and a legion of absurdly underpaid, and evidently appreciated only in the breach, “teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and postdoctoral scholars” have reached tentative pay and benefits agreements following a five week strike, which at least for some bargaining units will continue until the agreements are ratified. A lot of these people were trying to pay California rents on salaries amounting to a bit less than Laura Preston made as a faux chatbot.
The story includes a number of quotes from relieved strikers, and a few from ones who are not so relieved.
But in a lengthy thread, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student laid out myriad issues with the bargaining process and said the contract proposal will not address worker needs.
“It gives us a raise that’s enough to disqualify us for govt assistance programs and bump us to the next tax bracket, but not enough to cover those new costs,” according to the tweet.
In a series of two tweets, a UCLA graduate student said the contract would continue to lead to “precarious housing situations, medical debt, skipped meals, inaccessibility, and racist policing,” for fellow UC workers.
The boss giveth, the boss taketh away. UC tuition was initially and for a long time free to in-state students, and then it was, and remains, not. That was a policy decision by the state that has led to outrageous, looming debt burdens for the grad students and their fellow strikers.
This of course offers an occasion for our episodic sermon preaching that none of this shit is an accident. People in power over other people know that precarity offers them an extra degree of control over their employees and supplicants. Threats to rescind scholarships when tuition is minimal don’t carry the same weight as when tuition is absurdly high; striking TAs and other graduate students can be reminded that their tuition waivers are at will.
The same works at a national level, for workers and households, as well as it does on the local. Policy is why teachers are paid shit and people who make money for people who mint money are paid fortunes, with bonuses alone often enough tenfold what a teacher makes.
Policy is why other countries offer free or low-cost higher education and we don’t; why they have universal low-cost health care and we don’t; why they don’t have tens of thousands of gun deaths annually and we do.
And let us remember, in America policy is what corporations and the wealthy and their factotums want it to be:
“[W]hen the affluent prefer policy change and the middle oppose it, the rate of change is nearly identical to when both groups prefer it. When only the middle prefer policy change, the rate of change is the same as when both groups oppose it.”
Well, you know. Whatever.
If you find one, you can keep it if it doesn’t mind.
Unicorns are maddeningly elusive beasts. Although they have captured the human imagination for thousands of years, no one has yet captured one in return. Or even seen one.
But that’s no bother for one Southern California girl. A Los Angeles County first-grader recently won government approval to keep a unicorn as a pet in her backyard should she be the first to find and tame one of the magical and majestic creatures.
“Amazing ART of my Life & Career!”
Gizmodo went looking for the company behind Trump’s now-famous trading cards, which are almost certainly a money laundering exercise, and located it at a Utah strip mall P.O. box. Trump claims to have had nothing to do with the cards — which, if you’re unfamiliar with NFTs, are actually individualized strings of numbers associated with a digital image which anybody who knows how to do a screen capture can obtain for free — and says he just licensed his image and name, although these images bear no resemblance to the actual Trump. And about those images . . .
The images were so lazy that based on reverse image searches they were edited photos scraped off the internet. It’s unclear if they were edited by hand or perhaps crafted using AI image generation, though the one image of Trump in hunter garb bears a very distinct resemblance to waders crafted by Banded, a hunting apparel company.
Yes, in true Trumpian fashion whoever made the NFTs just ripped off the outfits from the internet.
One has to stress that the purchasers of the NFTs don’t own the images; just a unique digital hash for which they paid $99, as did thousands of others for their own unique hash associated with the same image.
Definitely a laundromat in the strip mall where the UPS store hosts the company that sold the NFTs.
Morningbell, “Basso Profundo,” which ends with a holiday tune; Hot Sauce Johnson, (selected for the name, obvs) with their debut and maybe only album, “Truck Stop Jug Hop;” The Ettes, “Wicked Will;” Stavely Makepeace, “Slippery Rock 70’s,” which I have to say I enjoyed despite some of the songs strongly resembling earlier efforts from better-known bands, which upon reflection is probably the point and likely why I enjoyed the album.
And that, comrades, is all I got. People tell me this is a good time of year to solicit donations/subscriptions, so if you like what I’m doing and you can spare $5/month, I’ll be most appreciative. Hell, I’ll even throw in a free picture of a heavily remodeled Trump in a costume representing his career as a duck hunter or cowboy. Spend $60 bucks on the installment plan and get one of those horrors for nothing! Where else would you learn about Hot Sauce Johnson?