Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 11th, 2022

The weirdness of the wealthy: The super-rich ‘preppers’ planning to save themselves from the apocalypse

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In the Guardian Douglas Rushkoff describes his encounter with five men who strike me as pathetic. Rushkoff writes:

As a humanist who writes about the impact of digital technology on our lives, I am often mistaken for a futurist. The people most interested in hiring me for my opinions about technology are usually less concerned with building tools that help people live better lives in the present than they are in identifying the Next Big Thing through which to dominate them in the future. I don’t usually respond to their inquiries. Why help these guys ruin what’s left of the internet, much less civilisation?

Still, sometimes a combination of morbid curiosity and cold hard cash is enough to get me on a stage in front of the tech elite, where I try to talk some sense into them about how their businesses are affecting our lives out here in the real world. That’s how I found myself accepting an invitation to address a group mysteriously described as “ultra-wealthy stakeholders”, out in the middle of the desert.

A limo was waiting for me at the airport. As the sun began to dip over the horizon, I realised I had been in the car for three hours. What sort of wealthy hedge-fund types would drive this far from the airport for a conference? Then I saw it. On a parallel path next to the highway, as if racing against us, a small jet was coming in for a landing on a private airfield. Of course.

The next morning, two men in matching Patagonia fleeces came for me in a golf cart and conveyed me through rocks and underbrush to a meeting hall. They left me to drink coffee and prepare in what I figured was serving as my green room. But instead of me being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, my audience was brought in to me. They sat around the table and introduced themselves: five super-wealthy guys – yes, all men – from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge-fund world. At least two of them were billionaires. After a bit of small talk, I realised they had no interest in the speech I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come to ask questions.

They started out innocuously and predictably enough. Bitcoin or ethereum? Virtual reality or augmented reality? Who will get quantum computing first, China or Google? Eventually, they edged into their real topic of concern: New Zealand or Alaska? Which region would be less affected by the coming climate crisis? It only got worse from there. Which was the greater threat: global warming or biological warfare? How long should one plan to be able to survive with no outside help? Should a shelter have its own air supply? What was the likelihood of groundwater contamination? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system, and asked: “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?” The event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, solar storm, unstoppable virus, or malicious computer hack that takes everything down.

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from raiders as well as angry mobs. One had already secured a dozen Navy Seals to make their way to his compound if he gave them the right cue. But how would he pay the guards once even his crypto was worthless? What would stop the guards from eventually choosing their own leader?

The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers – if that technology could be developed “in time”.

I tried to reason with them. I made pro-social arguments for partnership and solidarity as the best approaches to our collective, long-term challenges. The way to get your guards to exhibit loyalty in the future was to treat them like friends right now, I explained. Don’t just invest in ammo and electric fences, invest in people and relationships. They rolled their eyes at what must have sounded to them like hippy philosophy.

This was probably the wealthiest, most powerful group I had ever encountered. Yet here they were, asking . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2022 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Streaming content and the squeeze for more profit

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I watch a fair amount of streaming content, and I have noticed a decline in quality and range of offerings (with no decline in prices — quite the contrary, in fact). And from a report by Travis Andrews (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post, it’s going to get worse.

The morning after she gave birth last month, Lindsay Katai was in the hospital’s postpartum room with her new baby when her fiance stumbled on some bad news on Twitter. “ ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘They removed “Infinity Train” from HBO Max.’ ”

“And that’s how I found out,” Katai said.

The critically acclaimed animated show she had worked on extensively was simply deleted, thrown into a black hole of corporate cost-saving measures, along with several titles on HBO Max. The company, she added, even scrubbed every mention of the show from its social media accounts.

“It’s hard because it used to be your show would air and it could go away forever, regardless if it was on cable or network. … But we thought we were protected from that because of streaming. That was always sort of the consolation — we’re not getting paid as much. We’re not getting residuals. But at least we’ll be accessible for a long time to come. And lo and behold, that’s not the case anymore,” Katai said. “It’s a purely bottom-line-driven decision-making process that’s all about maximizing profits over any kind of artistic voice.”

“I don’t feel great about being a writer right now,” she added. “I don’t feel great about being in the industry right now.”

Streaming television is going through an existential crisis, involving the people who make it and the viewers who watch it. Its revolutionary zeal has naturally faded, as that initial wave of near limitless expansion, boundless creative opportunities and vast archival choices crashes ashore, after a spate of megamergers and a drop in new subscribers.

Just when streaming has finally attracted more viewers than cable or broadcast TV, its major players are engaged in a long-predicted war for subscribers, who are becoming all too aware of rising subscription prices and, both subtly and directly, a change in what programs get made and how long they stick around. Commercials could soon become more common, and services may be bundled (for one low monthly price!), already triggering visions of a future that recalls the dark days of cable.

The list of seismic rumblings in recent weeks is long, as chronicled in the Hollywood Reporter, Variety and elsewhere: Warner Bros. Discovery is cutting shows from its archives and unfinished movies from HBO Max as it prepares to merge it with its sister streaming service Discovery Plus, having promised its shareholders a $3 billion cut in costs. Faced with a plunging stock price and worrisome subscriber loss, Netflix plans to add an advertising-supported model for a lower price and may crack down on password sharing. Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus, which can all be subscribed to in a cable-esque bundle, are raising prices after taking a more than $1 billion hit in the fiscal third quarter. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime just debuted the most expensive show ever made — a Lord of the Rings drama — in hopes to gain ground in a crowded market.

“The streaming services are moving more toward becoming more similar to the broadcast networks and cable networks that existed before,” said Tim Doyle, a TV writer and producer who has been in the industry for more than three decades. “They’ve suddenly come up with this great idea that if you put in advertising, you can make money selling the ads! So they’re basically just kind of retreating back to the things that are familiar.”

The fear of having your show or movie deleted on an executive’s whim — a growing reality for many, including Katai — is compounded by the fact that in the post-DVD digital age, viewers may never be able to access the shows again. Showrunners might not even have physical copies of their own work. And that’s not the only downside for creators. . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2022 at 1:19 pm

The 4 things it takes to become an expert

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Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2022 at 12:18 pm

“Dying of a disease I never knew existed”

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Richard B. Woodward writes in Stat:

By this time next year, if the medical forecasts are correct, I will probably be dead, another casualty of a fatal illness that most people have never heard of: idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

This condition has been described by Michael J. Stephen in his 2021 book “Breath Taking” as the “most frustrating and disheartening of all the diseases in pulmonary medicine.” Over a frighteningly short time (the median age of survival after diagnosis is three years), patients with IPF will become increasingly short of breath as the lungs no longer perform their vital function of oxygenating the blood. The alveoli — the sac-like pockets where this process takes place — will fill with mucus and harden until, in Stephen’s disturbing phrase, the lungs “turn to stone.”

Almost as shocking as the rapid progression of the disease is its obscurity. Roughly 40,000 people die from it every year in the United States, 5,000 more than die from prostate cancer and only slightly fewer than die from breast cancer. Stephen estimates that as many as 200,000 Americans struggle annually to survive with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Yet, as he notes, there are no TV ad campaigns, road races, color-coded ribbons, or ice-bucket challenges to raise awareness and fundraise for a cure.

When I was told two years ago that I had IPF, I had never heard of it, nor had any of my friends. My main worry at the time was colon cancer. In November 2019, it took doctors five hours of surgery to remove a sizable tumor from my large intestine. The cancer had also tainted more than half a dozen lymph nodes.

Luckily, the disease had not spread to other parts of my body, so in the nomenclature of cancer I was categorized as stage 3: a seriously ill but treatable patient. I underwent 12 sessions of chemotherapy at the start of 2020, after which a colonoscopy and blood tests found no traces of cancer.

That was the good news. The bad news was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2022 at 11:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Antioxidants in a pinch

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I just revised my chia-seed pudding recipe to beef up the antioxidants. I just taste-tested the new recipe, and it seems good to me. I make a serving in the evening and put it in the fridge, then have it the next morning with my 3 pieces of fruit.

This brief video on antioxidants shows why I added cloves (and why I favor marjoram in cooking my meals).

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2022 at 10:40 am

Steve Jobs’s note to self

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Rugged Individualism — the idea that one is totally self-sufficient and owes nothing to community is a false idea for humans.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2022 at 5:08 am

Posted in Daily life

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