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Rhys Taylor


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Ya done fucked up, Google

For me, Google+ is the internet. But it's clear that the security concern is a mere pretext for cancellation, so I don't have much hope of a revival.

As a just-in-case move that will take about five seconds of your time and cost you nothing, consider signing the petition :

My plan is to continue using G+ more or less as normal until the bitter end. I don't currently use any other social media but at some point - not anytime soon - I'll switch to something else, possibly multiple services. I haven't decided anything yet. There's a community dedicated to this here :

Feel free to note where you're going (or other ways I can reach you) in the comments on this thread, which I'll pin. Of course, I'll also be manually checking as many people as possible to see where y'all going. I can always be reached via my :
- Website :
- Blog :
- Email :

On the positive side this is an opportunity to start anew and form new bonds in new communities. On the negative side, G+ already had a fantastic community of people I never would have interacted with elsewhere. It was a great service, poorly understood and maintained by its own developers, kept alive by its wonderful users. Yes, even - especially - the crazy ones. Because while many of you antisocial media users have some views which are frankly worrying, not a single damn one of you didn't have at least something useful to say that I wouldn't have heard otherwise. Whatever's next, it won't be the same.
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There are some genuinely excellent TED talks, of course. But overall I tend to find it a bit like a diet of pure chocolate... I suppose it depends on what the goal is. If it's edutainment, then it probably should stay the way it is. If it's actually about enacting change, then it shouldn't. For that you need historians, philosophers, politicians, psychologists, sociologists... and a lot more examination of the darker cynicism of human nature.

Snippets from the transcript :

But have you ever wondered why so little of the bright futures promised in TED talks actually come true? Is something wrong with the ideas? Or with the notion of what ideas can do all by themselves?

The first reason is over-simplification. Now, to be clear, I have nothing against the idea of interesting people who do smart things explaining their work in a way that everyone can understand. But TED goes way beyond that. This is not popularisation. This is taking something with substance and value and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not how we'll confront our most frightening problems, this is one of our most frightening problems.

TED is perhaps a proposition, one that says if we talk about world-changing ideas enough, then the world will change. Well, this is not true either. And that's the second problem.

You see, when inspiration becomes manipulation, inspiration becomes obfuscation. And if you're not cynical, you should be skeptical. You should be as skeptical of placebo politics as you are of placebo medicine.

The future on offer is one in which everything can change, so long as everything stays the same. We'll have Google Glass, but we'll still have business casual. This timidity is not our path to the future. This is incredibly conservative. And more gigaflops won't inoculate us. Because, if a problem is endemic to a system, then the exponential effects of Moore's law also amplify what's broken. It's more computation along the wrong curve, and I hardly think this is a triumph of Reason.

Our problems are not "puzzles" to be solved. This metaphor implies that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It's not true. "Innovation" defined as "puzzles", as rearranging pieces and adding more processing power, is not some Big Idea that's going to disrupt the broken status quo — that precisely is the broken status quo.

Via +Benjamin Ljung.
Benjamin Bratton, Associate Professor of Visual Arts at UCSD and Director of The Center for Design and Geopoltics at CALIT2, asks: Why don't the bright futures promised in TED talks come true? Professor Bratton attacks the intellectual viability of TED, calling it placebo politics, middlebrow megachurch infotainment, and the equivalent of right-wing media channels. Does TED falsely present problems as simply puzzles to be solved by rearranging the pieces? Digital Cosmopolitanism vs Cloud Feudalism?
It's from 2013 - but brilliant and relevant.
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Not terribly surprising, but still interesting.

When the rains came to one of the driest places on Earth, an unprecedented mass extinction ensued. The assumption was that this rainfall would turn this remote region of the Atacama Desert in Chile into a wondrous, floral haven — dormant seeds hidden in the parched landscape would suddenly awake, triggered by the “life-giving” substance they hadn’t seen for centuries — but it instead decimated over three quarters of the native bacterial life, microbes that shun water in favor of the nitrogen-rich compounds the region has locked in its dry soil. In other words, death fell from the skies.

“The hyperdry soils before the rains were inhabited by up to 16 different, ancient microbe species. After it rained, there were only two to four microbe species found in the lagoons,” he added in a statement. “The extinction event was massive.”

“Our results show for the first time that providing suddenly large amounts of water to microorganisms — exquisitely adapted to extract meager and elusive moisture from the most hyperdry environments — will kill them from osmotic shock,” said Fairen.
A view from the Viking 1 deck, showing trenches its robotic arm dug out to acquire samples for testing [NASA/JPL-Caltech/Roel van der Hoorn] When the rains came to one of the driest places on Earth, an unprecedented mass extinction ensued. The assumption…
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No trees grow in Antarctica today, but the team speculated that Cadophora may be related to fungi that lived on the continent 200 million years ago, when forests and swamps dominated the landscape. Researchers took soil samples from areas where petrified wood is found in Antarctica’s Allan Hills and Mount Fleming in order to isolate fungi similar to those isolated from historic area sites. However, they have yet to complete a DNA analysis that would allow them to determine the relationship of currently found fungi in Antarctica to those observed in the fossil record.

Many of the Antarctic fungi are highly pigmented, which gives them UV protection and helps them absorb solar energy. (In fact, many conservationists mistook the fungi in the cabins for soot at first, said McDonald.) The majority are also cold-tolerant rather than cold-loving: cold-tolerant organisms are capable of growth at 0 degrees Celsius, but grow optimally above 15 degrees Celsius, while true psychrophiles grow best below 15 degrees Celsius.

“If we take these fungi and put them into the lab, under the best of conditions, they can degrade [wood] quite fast. They have the potential for rapid decay,” said Blanchette. They are only limited by the degree-days above zero Celsius.

Via +Benjamin Ljung.
they found a vast diversity of fungi, some of which had never been identified before anywhere else on the planet. That finding launched a series of research efforts that opened up a whole new world of fungi adapted to polar environments. When they are not consuming wood introduced by explorers, these fungi are dining on penguin guano and feathers, moss, lichens and even freshwater algae, which grow in clumps in Antarctic lakes and then dry up and blow off in tendrils. Because so many of the fungi were found in extensively degraded organic matter, including peat deposits, scientists believe they play a major role in decomposition in Antarctica. “They are running the ecosystem there,” Blanchette told me in a telephone conversation from Minnesota. “They’re the nutrient recyclers.” Without them, very little life — what there is of it in cold, dry inhospitable Antarctica — would survive, he said.
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With most of their branches safely underground and just their leaves and perhaps some twigs poking up above the surface, these subterranean versions of their above ground ancestors are close to indestructible. Some can live for more than 10,000 years.

Of course almost all trees have roots that bury through the soil in search of nutrients and water, and so live underground to some extent. But the underground savannah trees, sometimes called geoxylic suffrutices, are different.

Beneath flimsy leafy shoots, some grow large woody structures as much as one metre wide, while others form branched networks of stems measuring up to 10 metres across. Their shoots are so small and thin that it makes little difference to the tree if it occasionally loses them to wildfire - they can quickly regrow.

There seems to have been a global trigger around 8 million years ago that led to an increase in wildfires, the spread of savannahs and the appearance of underground trees. Scientists know that seasonal variation became more pronounced at that time. The hotter, drier dry seasons would have made wildfires more frequent, and this may have been a factor.

While fire is something grasses that use C4 photosynthesis can live with because they quickly re-sprout in the aftermath, for most trees it spells death. As a result, savannahs can almost literally fuel their own spread.

These grasses thrive in the wet season, but when they shrivel up in the dry season, they can easily catch fire in the sun, generating wildfires that will destroy some of the neighbouring forest. Come the next wet season, it's the C4 grasses that are quickest to take advantage of the space formerly occupied by forest. The savannahs grow and the forests shrink.
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Epic. Watch it on the biggest screen you can find at a volume level liable to induce involuntary bowel movements. Don't watch it on your mobile phone or I shall personally come and spit in your eye. A strong contender for the title of "best thing I've seen all year". It might not be to everyone's taste, but those people are objectively wrong and I don't like them.
For the past 18 months, we have been working with composer / conductor Eric Whitacre on astronomy visuals to accompany his Hubble-inspired symphony “Deep Field”. The film was just released on YouTube today, and we are traveling to Kennedy Space Center for the VIP premiere tonight.

We hope you enjoy this artistic combination of evocative music and celestial wonders. More info at
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Google is unlikely to be trying to radicalize YouTube viewers. I don’t believe Facebook was, either. Instead, the explanation is that by serving up more extreme content, you encourage people to keep clicking, keep watching, keep spending time on site. What’s the best way to do that? Serve them something more exciting or incendiary than what they started with....The most depressing thing about the 2016 election, to me personally, wasn’t the victor (or the defeated candidate). The most depressing thing about the 2016 election was the number of people who thought a badly shot, unsourced YouTube video from whatever meatsack they personally favored constituted proof of evil activities carried out by either Donald Drumpf or Hillary Clinton.

There is an argument that lifts the burden of blame from Facebook’s shoulders by arguing that these outcomes were unpredictable or unknown. This is untrue. The study of propaganda and disinformation campaigns and how they spread is decades old. While the amount of research focused on the intersection of social media and propaganda has exploded since 2016, there were forerunners, like the Computational Propaganda project, that set out to analyze how algorithms, automation, and computational propaganda impacted public life beginning in 2012.

Facebook had no way of knowing the exact particulars of what it might unleash — but more than enough information existed to show that the company ought to behave cautiously. It did not. It was easier to focus on pushing growth than to consider where and what that growth might be coming from.

By choosing to take no action at any point during its own early boom or replacement of much of the traditional news media, it chose to advance a set of values in which truthful, accurate reporting was easily replaced with flagrant displays of bullshit. The platform was candy to those seeking to earn a buck with no regard for the truth of the information they peddled.

Via +Dante Johnson.
"Facebook, other social media companies, and Silicon Valley more generally have been lying through their teeth about the design of their own products and the role they play in modern life."
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