jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Future Work and AI

January 26, 2023

I’ve been trying to wrap my small monkey brain around what ChatGPT will mean in the long run. I’m going to try to think this through here. In many ways the advances we’ve seen in AI this past year perpetuate the automation trend that’s existed since… well, since humans started creating technology. I’ve seen arguments that seem to be on two ends of a spectrum, that the AI is often wrong and unreliable, and we shouldn’t use it for anything important, to AI is so good that it’s going to put us all out of jobs. As with most truths, I think the reality is somewhere in between.

It’s my opinion that jobs that AI can replace, it probably will replace a lot of. But not all. Referring back to our discussion about the current state of Apple news sites, if the site is a content farm pumping out low-value articles for hit counts and views, I can see AI handling that. If your site is well thought out opinions and reviews about things around the Apple ecosystem, that I think will be safe. Because it’s the person’s opinion that gives the site value.

For more enterprise-y jobs, I could see fewer low and mid-level developers. Fewer managers, fewer secretaries, fewer creatives. Not all gone, but certainly less than before. If your job is to create stock photos and put together slide shows, you might want to expand your skill set a bit.

I think… the kind of jobs that will survive are the type that bring real value. The kind of value that can’t be replicated by a computer. Not just the generation of some text or code, but coming up with the why. What needs to be made, and why does it need to be made?

Maybe AI will help free us up to concentrate on solving really hard problems. Poverty, clean water, famine, climate change. Then again, maybe it’ll make things worse. I suppose in the end that’s up to us.


Iowa School Choice

January 17, 2023

The Prairie City Monroe district school board invited state senator Ken Rozenboom to their board meeting Monday, January 16th to discuss his support of the “school choice” bill currently making its way through Iowa legislature. The superintendent started off asking some tough questions of the Senator, who is the chair of the education committee. As he puts it, “school choice is in his lap”. He’s worked on different forms of the bill for seven years.

A lot was said about numbers and funds, percentages and estimates. The superintendent fully expects that the bill will negatively impact the PCM school district, and that the funds to cover the loss will have to come out of school programs. The senator was unconvinced… or at least he couldn’t admit he was convinced. I think the super is right.

But…

None of that matters. None of the numbers or dollars or percentages or estimates actually matter. At one point the Senator said something along the lines of asking us if we knew what was happening in some of the public schools in the state, calling out Lynnville-Sully in particular, where he claimed middle school girls were forced to shower with transgender students1. He also called out another school who spent a week on Black Lives Matter2, with a look of pure disgust. He said that public schools brought this on themselves.

He brushed off any and all criticism as being union talking points, with a smug grin and wave of his hand.

After the meeting was over, a few of us met with him in the hall to ask a few more questions. Again he said that you’d have to have your head in the sand to not know what was going on in public schools “out there”. I raised my hand and said “my heads in the sand. Seriously, I don’t read the news, I have no idea what’s going on.” I was hoping that he would explain or give a few more examples, but somehow the conversation moved on. I suspect he had no concrete evedence to provide.

What I got from the Senator was that it’s not really about kids, it’s not about education, it’s about the right-wing culture war. That’s what he said, but also what he couldn’t really admit. He said it’s not the republicans, it’s the left, it’s the teachers who are shoving this progressive ideology down our throats. He also said that the median household income across the state of Iowa is $61,000, he followed that up by saying that the median teacher income in Iowa is $61,000. He asked me if I knew how many teachers there were out there making $100,000 a year. I asked him if he knew how many there were in PCM, and said zero.

I was flabbergasted at the number of times the Senator would say something, and immediately claim that he didn’t say it.

In the Senators mind, schools are funded appropriately, or possibly overfunded. Public school teachers are overpaid and actively poisoning our kids minds. He said that the social contract has been irrevocably broken, that we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I’m guessing what he means by that and the “school choice” program is that public schools should be relegated to serving only those whom the private schools turn away. Student in need, students with disabilities or behaviors, students with non-Christian parents. Creating an evermore stratified society of haves and have-nots.

We ended the night with me trying to explain to the Senator that what I heard was that instead of investing in our public schools, we are taking funds away from the schools. Even though we spent the past hour talking about exactly that, the Senator claimed that wasn’t at all accurate. We shook hands and parted ways.

  1. I could find no mention of this online, including in the published school board minutes. Of course, I’m not on Facebook. It’s unknown where the Senator gets his information. 

  2. I assume he’s referring to the 2021 Ames Community School District choosing to spend the first week of Black History Month featuring Black Lives Matter. 


Solar-powered system offers a route to inexpensive desalination - MIT News

August 3, 2022

Now, a team of researchers at MIT and in China has come up with a solution to the problem of salt accumulation — and in the process developed a desalination system that is both more efficient and less expensive than previous solar desalination methods. The process could also be used to treat contaminated wastewater or to generate steam for sterilizing medical instruments, all without requiring any power source other than sunlight itself.

That’s good news, more of this please.

Link


Use One Big Server - Speculative Branches

August 2, 2022

We have all gotten so familiar with virtualization and abstractions between our software and the servers that run it. These days, “serverless” computing is all the rage, and even “bare metal” is a class of virtual machine. However, every piece of software runs on a server. Since we now live in a world of virtualization, most of these servers are a lot bigger and a lot cheaper than we actually think.

Link


Future Trains Could Provide Carbon Capture on Wheels - IEEE Spectrum

August 2, 2022

Now, researchers propose a portable, practical solution that relies on retrofitted train cars that capture and store carbon dioxide as they shuttle around on their normal routes.

Trains and carbon capture, two of my favorite ideas together at last.

Link


Why Study Functional Programming?

August 2, 2022

Learning functional programming is an opportunity to discover a new way to represent programs, to approach problems, and to think about languages.

I’m interested in functional programming. It might be time soon to sit down and start wrapping my head around it.

Link


Coding as a greybeard - Hacker News

August 2, 2022

“I’m 51 and I’ve been active in this industry since I was 14. I watched it grow from computers with 4k of memory to having a supercomputer in my pocket. I was learning in the age of Apple II and the Commodore PET. When I realized that I could create an explosion of data with just a few lines of code, I was hooked forever. It was such a magical thing. I found some other guys in my high school that were also into computers and we started meeting regularly on Fridays and Saturdays to… Well, to do some things that were, perhaps, not allowed. Since then, I’ve started three companies, and I don’t think I could have found the same satisfaction in any other industry. I am mindful, these days, that I’m 51 because I know ageism is a thing in tech. There’s a moment when you walk into a room and people think, ‘Oh, he’s a greybeard.’ I don’t have a beard, but you know what I mean. But when I start to talk about things and find solutions, that disappears. I can’t change my age but I am in full control over what I do and what I read and how much time I carve out to write code. I can still see myself doing this when I’m 60, 70 years old. Even older. Because I want to keep doing meaningful things.”

Interesting thread, especially for those of us with an increasing amount of grey.

Link


Why I Hate Frameworks

July 27, 2022

So you don’t have any hammers? None at all?

This is a perfect explanation of what’s wrong with modern web development. Scary thing is it was written in 2005.

Link


Non-Obvious Docker Uses

July 25, 2022

Many developers use Docker the old-fashioned way – a docker build and a docker run. Some non-obvious ways to use Docker.

Clever.

Link


More shell, less egg - All this

July 25, 2022

Relating to the previous link, I can’t believe I’ve never posted a link to this Dr. Drang classic about Donald Knuth and Doug McIlroy’s differing approaches to the word counting problem.

Knuth wrote his program in WEB, a literate programming system of his own devising that used Pascal as its programming language. His program used a clever, purpose-built data structure for keeping track of the words and frequency counts; and the article interleaved with it presented the program lucidly. McIlroy’s review started with an appreciation of Knuth’s presentation and the literate programming technique in general. He discussed the cleverness of the data structure and Knuth’s implementation, pointed out a bug or two, and made suggestions as to how the article could be improved.

And then he calmly and clearly eviscerated the very foundation of Knuth’s program.

Classic.

Link