Techbros are hilarious


No, really, they are. Hipster libertarians are the new street mimes, so enjoy them while you can before everyone gets tired of them. The latest example is this silicon valley entrepreneur, Rob Rhineheart, who has written a paean to his lifestyle. It starts with a complaint about the horrors of alternating current.

The walls are buzzing. I know this because I have a magnet implanted in my hand and whenever I reach near an outlet I can feel them. I can feel fortresses of industry miles away burning prehistoric hydrocarbons by the megaton. I can feel the searing pain and loss of consciousness from when I was shocked by exposed house wiring as a boy. I can feel the deep cut of the power bill when I was living near the poverty line. I can feel the cold uncertainty of the first time the power went out due to a storm when I was a child. How long before the delicate veil of civilization turns to savagery with no light nor heat nor refrigeration?

This summer, I met an electrical engineer who also had a magnet implanted in his hands. It sounded useful in his occupation -- he could tell when a wire was live without actually touching it, which is a good ability to have when you're poking around electrical gadgets. If you're just using it to stoke your paranoia about electricity in the walls, well, I'm sure there's nothing anyone could do to prevent you from being silly.

Rhineheart's claim to "fame" is that he's selling a product called "Soylent", which is supposed to be a complete liquid replacement for regular food. This kind of thing has been around for a long time -- when my grandfather was recovering from cancer surgery that removed his entire lower jaw, he got by on Ensure. He didn't enjoy it. I can't quite imagine wanting to eliminate all flavor and texture and variety from my diet that way voluntarily, but apparently someone thinks there's a market for tastelessness (they probably aren't wrong.) But making the case for Soylent in environmental terms is absurd, and adding a nice dollop of privileged elitism on top makes it revolting.

First, I never cook. I am all for self reliance but repeating the same labor over and over for the sake of existence is the realm of robots. I utilize soylent only at home and go out to eat when craving company or flavor. This eliminates a panoply of expensive tools and rotting ingredients I would need to spend an unconscionable amount of time sourcing, preparing, and cleaning. It also gives me an incentive to explore the city’s fine restaurants and ask friends out to eat. In fact, I find soylent has made me more social when it comes to food. I can spend the money I saved from groceries and take out to buy a friend lunch or dinner. When soylent 2.0 reached private beta, I was thrilled to learn that thanks to aseptic processing the product does not require refrigeration, and will still keep its nutrition for at least a year. It tastes better cold but I think it’s fine warm. Getting rid of my fridge was one of the greatest days of my life. Nevermore will I listen to that damn compressor moan.

After all his babbling about going off the grid and the disgraceful wastefulness of coal plants and public power, his answer is to just buy his weird processed liquid food (which, apparently, requires no energy to make or transport!), and go out to fine restaurants to eat, which in turn must be entirely solar powered and are synthesizing their food by fixing CO2 directly out of the atmosphere.

In what universe do you save money by buying processed food in a bottle and going out to restaurants all the time, rather than cooking from fresh ingredients in your home? This is completely contrary to a lifetime of experience, and makes no sense whatsoever. But the entire essay is a bizarrely disconnected fantasy. He loves Uber, that capitalist wet dream that outsources all the labor from a business that profits the owners exclusively.

Public transportation is leagues more efficient and I love trains. Still, the energy costs are substantial and the infrastructure requires a lot of maintenance. I take Uber around the city and to work (most of them are Priuses which use DC motors so I’m good there). I take the bus often too. It’s pretty good in LA. Runs on CNG.

Perhaps a cross between a subway car and an automobile: some sort of self-driving electric pod that carried a dozen people in a UberPool model would improve on this. Either that, robot horse cheetahs, or drone multicopters.

Robot horse cheetahs. This is my new catch phrase to perfectly capture the delusions of Libertarians. All our problems will be solved by Robot Horse Cheetahs that will be constructed by 3-D printers, no labor involved, and that will run entirely on DC current beamed to them by the beneficent sun, with the all-knowing love and guidance of Holy St Tesla.

One more fragment of elitism:

I enjoy doing laundry about as much as doing dishes. I get my clothing custom made in China for prices you would not believe and have new ones regularly shipped to me. Shipping is a problem. I wish container ships had nuclear engines but it’s still much more efficient and convenient than retail. Thanks to synthetic fabrics it takes less water to make my clothes than it would to wash them, and I donate my used garments.

Yes. You can save energy and money and the environment by throwing away your clothes when they get dirty, and having new ones shipped to you from China. And it's OK, because when his t-shirts get sweaty and dirty, rather than washing them himself and wasting water, he gives them to poor people, who will wash them for him, apparently without using any water.

I'm actually kind of impressed. Silicon Valley is breeding a whole new class of uniquely clueless asshole.


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All the info I can find says the Prius has a permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor. The drive motors of modern diesel-electric locomotive and of "self-propelled" transit train cars use the same type of motors. Dippy isn't "good there" for either the Prius or his trains. (You can make a case that the motors are still "DC" but it is pulsed, not constant-magnitude.)
Since there is no magnetic field around a conductor unless there is actually current flow through it, magnets are useless for detecting if a conductor has some potential applied.

I do electronics and handle small ferromagnetic parts. I'd be extraordinarily surprised if I found magnets implanted in my fingers anything but hideously annoying. Just a few days ago I had a conversation with a friend about placing tiny surface-mount parts onto circuit boards using forceps. I commented on how magnetism in the forceps is a major nuisance and he commented about how he'd arrange equipment so he could readily demagnetize his forceps at very frequent intervals. The magnetism in the forceps comes from simply working in the Earth's magnetic field. I can picture a couple hundred parts clinging to a finger with an implanted magnet.
Magnets in fingers?! Kooks!

Much worse than mimes. Mimes just mime. They don't toss their dirty clothes in donation bins, nor do they wank up a fresh batch of Robot Horse Cheetahs as a solution to every real-world problem.

By Suzanne R. (not verified) on 04 Aug 2015 #permalink

The only thing worse than hipsters are people complaining about them.

Oy!, so many gerbils, so little time. (or Robot Horse Cheetahs, thanks for the meme!)

1) If you really want to detect AC fields, get an inductive probe, commonly used by telephone systems technicians, along with a warbling oscillator for tracing wires. All you'll need is the probe. I'm a PBX eng. and I still have use for one in the field: the 200 EP made by Progressive Electronics. Yes it also picks up 60Hz nicely, and as I just discovered, also picks up the siren-like buzz of a compact fluorescent, which sounds good & weird as it powers down.

2) Magnets in hands: reminiscent of the latest medical quack fad that might be debunked by Orac in his column in these pages. If you want to experiment, get a small powerful magnet and tape it to the back of your hand with a piece of masking tape or a bandage (no surgery needed, unless you have a cyborg fetish). I'm inclined to think this is an exercise in time-wastage but I may be wrong.

Oh, and I take it that Rob Reinheart doesn't handle magnetic storage media or use any device with same, such as hard drives and the like. "Hey, where'd my porn go? Uh-oh..."

The worst of the worst of the Robot Horse Cheetah crowd are the true believers of The Singularity. This is a computer-god religion that's more chock-full-o'-pseudoscience than Deepak Chopra, but has gained popularity based on its promise of immortality (which is particularly obnoxious quack nonsense, see below).

1) Singularitarians claim that within 20-30 years we will have human-level conscious AIs, that will bootstrap their way to godlike intelligence faster than you can say "Colossus: the Forbin Project." That's the God in the box, and it's also bunk: you can't get consciousness in a classical digital computing platform.

For one thing, neurons are not digital switches: they use analog computation in the form of neurochemicals, many of which are the causal mechanism of emotions. For another, simulation is not replication, so any algorithmic simulation of neurochemistry, even with chaotic functions built-in, will not produce actual consciousness any more than the "automata" of 18th century clockmakers (mechanized replicas of animals, including famously a duck that appeared to eat, quack, and poop) were capable of reproduction.

2) Singularitarians also claim that their God-boxes will cheerfully do all of our work for us, and give us lives of permanent leisure. But as trends since the 1970s show, every increase in productivity has been sucked up by those at the top 0.1% of the economy, while the wages of the vast majority have stagnated and are now actively declining. So: what happens to the 99.9% who become permanently unemployed?, or will the "evolutionary bottleneck" due to climate change solve that?

3) If it ever became possible to produce a human-level conscious AI, it would be a _person_ in the most important sense of the word. The moral implications of building a conscious AI are equivalent to those of having a baby. Using any such creation as a worker-bot would be a new version of slavery. As with the bad old-fashioned version, we would hear the excuse that they're not people because "they look different." Singularitarians don't even address this issue.

4) Lastly, immortality: the claim of Singularitarians that some day you'll be able to "upload" your soul, er uh, your mind, to one of their God-boxes. First of all that's the worst quackery in the book: if mind is produced by brain, then no brain, no mind, no afterlife, and no hopping out of your brain and into a God-box. As it is with cloning, the clone may live, but if you die, you're still dead, and dead is dead. On the other hand, if you can reincarnate into a computer, you can also reincarnate into a cat. I'd prefer a cat.

There's another sinister moral implication or three of this upload/immortality stuff.

a) Building conscious AIs to serve as vessels for other people's minds (if any such thing were possible) is morally equivalent to having babies for use as sources of transplant parts. Scoop out their mind, replace it with yours: the stuff of which bad horror films are made.

b) Singularitarian thanatology lacks any ethical limits on how one goes about achieving eternal life. Spend your kids' inheritance? Crap up the planet in order to earn a fortune? Nothing is off-limits in pursuit of Forever. For a fictional treatment of the moral issues of immortalism, see _Bug Jack Barron_ by Norman Spinrad.

c) If such a thing were possible, what do you think would occur in society if the top 1% of the economy were buying immortality while the rest of us were consigned to whatever outcome "Nature or Nature's God" (Jefferson) had in store for us? Forecasts of civil war are safe bets.

So next time you hear Ray Kurzweil (founder of The Singularity religion, and chief of engineering at Google, with a blank check to build his God-box) cooing about immortality, ask yourself this:

Do we really want to have to listen to Sergey & Larry, Zuckerberg, Ellision, Kurzweil, and the rest of the Robot Horse Cheetahs, making their Silly Con Valley libertarian noise from inside their eternal life God-boxes, until long after the ice caps have melted and the only penguins left in the world are in Linux logos...?

Not just No, but Hell No!

How could anyone familiar with old Charlton Heston movies or science fiction have called a food product Soylent is beyond me. I wonder if it's green.

I have it on good authority that Soylent is actually made from cultured tissues from Heston's cold dead hands.

"Soylent is actually made from cultured tissues from Heston’s cold dead hands."

that is a kind of poem, thank you ;-)

I thought that Rinehart piece was parody. Surely he can't believe all that nonsense ?
it seems a version of 'all publicity is good publicity' or 'the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about'..

Please don't blame Silicon Valley. I doubt he grew up here. I did. My classmates invented the Personal Computer. (No, this is not poetic license, one of them was Steve Jobs.)

We CARED about the future. We were idealists and realists at the very same time. We talked about computers, AI, modern-post-industrialization and the dislocation of labor. We talked abou bio-ethics and yes, even the ethics of AI. All of this over 40 years ago.

Alan Kay said that the best way to predict the future is to invented it Well, with over 90 issued US patents and counting, I'm doing just that. Lately, I've been writing a SciFi novel, "All the Stars are Suns", to cover many of the issues raised by Mr.
Meyers, in this and other posts.

By Candice H. Bro… (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink