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The Kia EV3 will have over 300 miles of range and a ChatGPT-like AI assistant.

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25 May 2024 at 02:29

Posts for 24/05/2024

 # My four week follow-up appointment with the doctor was on Wednesday. As expected, we agreed to up the dose of my meds from the introductory amount.

When I said that maybe the pills were just starting to take the edge off (but I couldn't be entirely sure) she said that I was under no obligation to say they were as though some people feel obliged to.

While we were discussing my current mental state and symptoms she suddenly asked if the possibility of autism or ADHD had been raised. I replied that I absolutely know I have traits of both but have always had to bring it up myself. A doctor has never before offered them up as contributory factors.

It's one thing to know for yourself that you have certain traits but another entirely to get even a glimmer of confirmation from a medical professional. I may discuss it further in the next appointment and see if she feels it worth pursuing.

Colin Walker – Daily Feed

25 May 2024 at 01:00

Audio narration in Micro.blog

 This feature went from idea to implementation quickly because it turns out we already have full podcast hosting in Micro.blog! How convenient. I’m going to use this post to break it all down.

AI is everywhere, including some places it probably shouldn’t be. If you’ve been following my blog you know that I see huge potential in generative AI. We’re using it in Micro.blog to improve photos search and accessibility text for photos. But like many tools, AI is going to be overused before we all find the right balance for what it’s good at.

When Jean and I were talking to Christina Warren at Micro Camp, I asked Christina about a talk she gave at Çingleton about 10 years ago. I actually blogged about it at the time. What struck me as particularly relevant now as we’re about to be swamped with AI-generated content is that there’s no substitute for the human voice. I don’t just mean that an actual recording is better than a synthetic voice. I also mean that things that are created by humans will increasingly be sought out.

We want to see the personal side of someone, not just the polished brand. We want to see the imperfect, the creative, the emotion. We want authenticity.

In Micro.blog, you can now upload an audio recording of one of your blog posts. Use the audio icon in the new post form on the web, which is available to everyone starting today, even at the standard $5 plan. Your blog readers can listen to the audio narration of the post if they don’t feel like reading the post. Of course it’s especially great for the visually impaired.

Here’s what it looks like on my blog, next to the posted date. Shout-out to Medium which I drew some inspiration from.

Play button screenshot.

I’m also adding audio narration to this very blog post, so you can click over to the web to try it out.

When there’s audio attached to a post, Micro.blog attempts to check if it is probably the narration for a post. If the number of words in the post and the audio duration is roughly comparable to how long it would take a human to read the post, it assumes it’s narration and not a podcast. Podcast episodes are more likely to be longer with very short “show notes” in the actual blog post text.

Micro.blog checks this so that it can hide the default audio player and transcript link. These would add clutter to normal blog posts.

Blog themes will still need to be updated to support the play button. I’ve already updated the Alpine theme and will update others later. Themes can use a new API called Narration.js. Just plop this JavaScript anywhere you want the play button in your template, likely the layouts/post/single.html file. (Note that this currently needs to be on the permalink page. It won’t work correctly on the home page with a list of blog posts yet.)

{{ with .Params.audio }}
  <script type="text/javascript" src="https://micro.blog/narration.js?url={{ . }}"></script>
{{ end }}

If you’re using Micro.blog Premium, the audio narration will also be included in the podcast feed. Any blog can effectively be a podcast, even if you don’t think of it as a traditional podcast. Some of my favorite writers have had great success with a dual model of email newsletter plus podcast version of the same content, like Ben Thompson and Molly White.

I can’t wait to see how people use this. It’s totally optional. It’s more work, and not everyone is going to want to do that extra work. I’m imagining this would be used for selective, special blog posts, rather than everything. I’m also interested in working this functionality into our companion app Wavelength, which should cut down on the technical steps.

In some ways, this feature isn’t actually about what is possible. This feature is a statement: we make things for humans, so they can make the web a little better. Along the way there will be plenty to automate, plenty of AI tools that will be important shortcuts, but we’re not going to lose our voice.

Manton Reece

24 May 2024 at 22:14

Toniebox

 

Another kid’s device we have that we’ve gotten tons and tons of use out of is the Toniebox. It’s this soft padded box with a speaker on it (or plug in headphones). You place a character on it (a “Tonie”) and it plays the audio associated with that Tonie. It basically tells stories.

We heard about it from another family where the kid referred to it as “listening to their podcasts”.

She listens to various Tonies almost every day with breakfast. She listens to them with friends. Anytime, really, except we don’t let them leave the house usually. They are cool little action figures, but they are like $18 USD so it’s not the kind of thing you wanna lose.

There are a ton of different kinds of them, ranging from popular movies to science-based ones that just blast science information at ya, to music. This pride Tonie, Ms. Rainbow, is awesome. Sometimes it seems like she is lost in thought and imagination while listening, rather than the blank stare of TV watching.

Chris Coyier

24 May 2024 at 22:00

Thinking Big and Small

 It’s so easy to start with the question, “What should I do?” And end up with a discussion about other people and what they’re doing. Here’s Paul Ford:

I’ll give you a good example. Do you go out and raise venture capital? Well, it would be nice to have more money. But then everybody tells us that VC is ridiculous. And you end up in this swirl of conversation about this thing that ends up being about the industry as a whole as opposed to what you need to accomplish.

We start with questions about ourselves but so often end up with discussions framed around other people, what they’re doing, and whether it’s “right” or “wrong”. We end up looking outward instead of inward.

Paul continues:

Over and over, we have these narratives and we have to push through them in order to figure out what success would be for us. And I see this a lot of times where people are very judgmental of relatively small efforts because they don’t behave or act like giant platform companies…And so you end up internalizing, like, venture-capital thinking and giant-platform thinking and so on, and that keeps you away from focusing on your own near-term or even long-term goals.

We internalize what success looks like in an impersonal, generalized context — for artists, engineers, startups, or organizations — and we forget the personal, individualized answer we started searching for in the first place.

For example, think of the idea of “impact”. As Paul says, we can be judgmental of small efforts because they don’t have the impact of giant platform companies — “If all I can do is recycle this one water bottle, that’s not enough. Clearing the ocean of all plastics is the only acceptable measure of success.” That’s a case of giant-platform thinking that poisons your individual thinking and action, e.g. “any small effort on my part accomplishes nothing and is therefore pointless”.

When you start to think of everything in terms of scale and impact, what can any one individual meaningfully do?

But that’s thinking about and framing your individual goals and definition of success in the language and context of large groups of people like corporations or even nation states.

“Did I pick up that water bottle from neighbor's trash that tipped over and put it in the recycle bin?” Yes? Ok, that can be success. Who cares if it wouldn’t be for a giant organization.

“Did I help that one individual?” Even better.


Reply
Jim Nielsen's Blog

24 May 2024 at 20:00
#

This blog post is a test for something new I’m working on. I think a lot of people feel overwhelmed that AI is everywhere right now. Personal blogs should lean in to the human voice. There’s a new play button on the permalink for this post on the web which will use a recording that I’ve uploaded.

Manton Reece

24 May 2024 at 19:21

The New Science of Plant Intelligence and the Mystery of What Makes a Mind

 

“Every thought that has ever passed through your brain was made possible by plants.”


The New Science of Plant Intelligence and the Mystery of What Makes a Mind

“A leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,” Walt Whitman wrote a decade before Darwin gasped at how incomprehensible “the marvelous complexity” of organic beings is, insisting that “each living creature must be looked at as a microcosm — a little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars in heaven.”

And yet this view does not come naturally to us humans, sensemaking creatures compelled to order the universe into comprehensible categories and value ranks, compelled to rank ourselves at the top. Even Darwin had to continually calibrate that impulse. “Never say higher or lower,” he exhorted himself in his marginalia on a book he was reading while working out his evolutionary theory. “Say more complicated.”

The crux of our difficulty is both profound and banal — to understand nature through degrees of complexity rather than levels of hierarchy scaffolded with self-reference is to find ourselves no longer the pinnacle of creation. We are only just beginning to comprehending non-human minds, only just beginning to concede that there are infinitely many other ways of seeing and other ways of being within the same reality; we would sooner grant consciousness to AI, modeled on our own minds arising from nervous systems crowned with brains, than consider different forms of intelligence as portals to a wider conception of consciousness.

Dragon arum (Arum dracunculus) from The Temple of Flora, 1812. (Available as a print and as stationery cards, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

In The Light Eaters: How the Unseen World of Plant Intelligence Offers a New Understanding of Life on Earth (public library), journalist Zoë Schlanger offers a mighty antidote to our tyranny of self-reference through the emerging science of organic beings we have long treated as stage decor for the drama of our earthly lives — a science rife with controversy and confusion, which is always the mark of a paradigm breaking down and breaking open, contouring a new way of thinking about questions of consciousness, communication, memory, gender, personality, interdependence, and agency. Rising from the pages is that rare achievement of meeting otherness on its own terms while broadening and deepening the terms on which we live our human lives. Schlanger draws from the world of plants “a masterclass in living to one’s fullest, weirdest, most resourceful potential,” and a counterpoint to the survival-of-the-fittest model of the natural world, intimating instead that the animating force of life may be not a combat for a kill but “an improvisation, or a collaboration, or something else entirely.”

A quarter millennium after Darwin’s grandfather popularized the young science of botany through poetry, and two centuries after Emily Dickinson wrote that “to be a Flower is profound Responsibility,” Schlanger writes:

A life spent constantly growing yet rooted in a single spot comes with tremendous challenges. To meet them, plants have come up with some of the most creative methods for surviving of any living thing, us included. Many are so ingenious that they seem nearly impossible for an order of life we’ve mostly relegated to the margins of our own lives, the decoration that frames the theatrics of being an animal. Yet there they are all the same, these unbelievable abilities of plants, defying our anemic expectations. Their way of life is so astonishing, I will soon learn, that no one yet really knows the limits of what a plant can do. In fact, it seemed that no one quite knows what a plant really is.

This perplexity, Schlanger observes, is one of the most exciting things to happen in our lifetime — “depending on how comfortable you feel with seismic shifts in what you once thought to be true.” Looking back on the past half-century of botany, she reflects on this generative discomfort:

Controversy in a scientific field tends to be a harbinger of something new, some new understanding of its subject… The more botanists uncovered the complexity of forms and behaviors of plants, the less the traditional assumptions about plant life seemed to apply.

Auriculas from The Temple of Flora, 1812. (Available as a print and as stationery cards, benefitting The Nature Conservancy.)

One of those assumptions stems from our basic taxonomic model of life on Earth, separated into six kingdoms — as though plants, animals, fungi, and all the rest are separate and sovereign territories of being, bound by borders and occasionally at war for resources. This tendency to mistake our models of reality for reality itself, universal to the human animal and manifested across all cultures in different ways, and this particular blind spot of Western science, unshared by indigenous and Eastern traditions, have left our view of plants on par with Descartes’s view of non-human animals. An epoch after the poetic naturalist John Muir observed that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” Schlanger writes:

For us to truly be part of this world, to be awake to its roiling aliveness, we need to understand plants. They suffuse our atmosphere with the oxygen we breathe, and they quite literally build our bodies out of sugars they spin from sunlight. They made the ingredients that first allowed our lives to blink into existence at all. Yet they are not merely utilitarian supply machines. They have complex, dynamic lives of their own.

Out of those lives arose an organizing principle for life on Earth. In a passage that contours the central question of the entire field of plant intelligence — how something without a brain can respond to its conditions in coordinated, adaptive ways that optimize its future — Schlanger writes:

When plants climbed out of the ocean some five hundred million years ago, they arrived in a terrestrial barrens enveloped in an inhospitable fog of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Inhospitable, that is, to everything but plants. They had already learned to unlock oxygen from the carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean. They adapted the technology to their new world. In a way, they brought the ocean up with them. By incessantly breathing out, those legions of early land plants tipped the balance of gases toward oxygenation. They created the atmosphere we now enjoy. It’s not a stretch to say they birthed the habitable world.

We know this — we know that without the evolution of flowers, we wouldn’t exist; we know that chlorophyll is the crowning molecular miracle of nature, the only thing we know that can convert the inanimate elements of air and light into sugar, that lifeblood of the living world. With an eye to our own embodiment as cathedrals of glucose, Schlanger puts this alchemy in sobering perspective:

We are made of glucose, too. Without a constant supply of the plant sugar, our vital functions would quickly cease. Think about it: every animal organ was built with sugar from plants. The meat of our bones and indeed the bones themselves carry the signature of their molecules. Our bodies are fabricated with the threads of material plants first spun. Likewise, every thought that has ever passed through your brain was made possible by plants.

Page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium

Drawing on her personal obsession with plants — a portal of wonder and optimism she discovered while suffering the psychic toll of working as a climate journalist — Schlanger seeks out the pioneers of this changing paradigm. She meets a rare-plant botanist on the brink of seventy who climbs down immense volcanic cliffs to save endangered species and self-medicates for the grief of extinction by writing poetry; she chronicles the research that led to the first clear evidence of mechanosensitive ion channels in plants — those rudiments of nervous systems, enabling organisms to experience touch at the cellular level — sparked by botanist Barbara Pickard’s groundbreaking work on plant electricity; she visits with scientists who study the most controversial frontlines of plant intelligence — research that unsteadies our grip on concepts we consider singularly human.

One botanist who studies how sagebrush send distress signals to each other has found that individual plants appear to have different risk tolerance — a metric of personality, the very notion of which in an organism without a brain-based mind challenges our central assumptions about consciousness. Other research on a family of flowering desert shrubs found that female plants heed signals from both male and female plants, but males only heed other males — intimations of preference and judgment, also features of personality and consciousness. Schlanger synthesizes some of the most provocative findings:

Plants could be said to have dialects, and are alert to their contexts enough to know when to deploy them. More than that, they have a clear sense of who is who; who is family, and who is not. They are in touch with their surroundings, and with the fluctuating status of their enemies. Their communication is not just rudimentary but complex and layered, alive with multiple meanings.

In fact, no aspect of this new botany is more paradigm-shifting than the study of plant communication. (Canadian forester Suzanne Simard’s epoch-making research into mycorrhizal tree communication was the fulcrum that began shifting the paradigm.) Schlanger considers how this very notion changes our understanding of nature:

Communication implies a recognition of self and what lies beyond it — the existence of other selves. Communication is the forming of threads between individuals. It’s a way to make one life useful to other lives, to make oneself important to other selves. It turns individuals into a community. If it is true that a whole forest or field is in communication, it changes the nature of that forest or field. It changes the notion of what a plant is.

It also changes the notion of what a mind is. We have taken it to be the product of a brain attached to a nervous system, but perhaps a mind is a complex, self-organizing system networked across the entire organism. Perhaps the whole plant is a mind.

Art by Ofra Amit for The Universe in Verse

Emerging from this particular field of science is a larger lens on the nature of knowledge. A century and a half after astronomer Maria Mitchell contemplated the fate of science, observing that “we reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us,” Schlanger writes:

The world is a prism, not a window. Wherever we look, we find new refractions.

Couple The Light Eaters with the poetic science of the ghost pipe — Earth’s most supernatural plant, which thrives mysteriously without eating light — then revisit this triptych meditation on flowers and the meaning of life.


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For seventeen years, I have been spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars each month composing The Marginalian (which bore the outgrown name Brain Pickings for its first fifteen years). It has remained free and ad-free and alive thanks to patronage from readers. I have no staff, no interns, no assistant — a thoroughly one-woman labor of love that is also my life and my livelihood. If this labor makes your own life more livable in any way, please consider lending a helping hand with a donation. Your support makes all the difference.


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24 May 2024 at 18:13
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Apple: How the company’s 100 Best Albums list proves it’s lost its way.

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24 May 2024 at 17:38
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