This morning’s weird impulse

I woke up curious about what Linux desktops are like these days. I haven’t felt that sort of curiosity in a while.

I’ve got that Mac Studio sitting upstairs that today is mostly just a Zoom machine – I live out of my MacBook. So it’d be a reasonable experiment to stick Parallels on it and give the VM a ton of resources.

Why? Just curious. When I think about my golden age of Linux use, I don’t feel a ton of nostalgia for the Peak Desktop era toward the end of that time: I had made the mistake of monetizing my hobby by working in Linux media, and had come to feel such a withering irritation with the people I had to interact with every day that I spent a chunk of my time going out of my way to irritate them. Most of the people who irritated me the worst spent much of their time screwing around with GNOME or KDE or whatever, writing impassioned treatises about humanity will never colonize space if we all settle on one desktop standard.

So my peak period was after I’d found Blackbox.

I suspect any attempt to use Linux as a desktop machine today would probably result in mounting fury over attempts to have as minimal a UI experience as possible without having to put up with the bizarre and self-defeating primitivism of most other minimalists, who want to live in a world with no affordances, or the brittle and baroque dependency chains of the maximalist distributions.

Oh, I think I do know what got me thinking about it this morning: Nyxt looks mildly bananas and there’s no official Mac build.

I think my increased Emacs use has stimulated a part of my personality that got a lot of exercise when I was running Linux as my desktop machine. Like, the big desktop projects and mainline personal productivity stuff were all just sort of tedious recapitulations of existing software. Underneath, though, there was a lot of ferment. Weirdness. Curious little passion projects from some person at MIT or somewhere who read Vannevar Bush and combined their middling C++ skills and their love of psychedelics with a willful misreading of a key paragraph.

Running Emacs, you get some cultural leakage. It’s an older, stranger computing culture than most, and it still startles me when I realize how vibrant it is. I mentioned to someone this morning that, if anything, its online community only seems more robust than it did a decade ago. It’s so much easier to get help than it used to be because there’s a proliferation of online content, and there’s a sense of engagement with the rest of the world that used to go missing.

That’s not to say that mainline Mac culture isn’t somewhat permeable to novel things. For instance, you get some interesting little UI enhancers like Superkey that suggest Mac’s UX team doesn’t have all the answers, often delivered at a level of high polish. It’s just to say that macOS is not where fun, mutant things spawn or proliferate.

A very scientific spider chart of assorted factors compared among the different operating systems
Very sophisticated data that supports my assertions.

I can see that diagram being very alienating. The “practicality” part in particular is probably going to bug some people. In my mind, “practicality” means “sit down to do work that people who first used home computers in the 1980s think of as ’normal computer things’ without having to do a bunch of weird stuff, recompile your kernel, or perform the task perfectly adequately but with your thumbs.”

I am really just trying to hold out the possibility that “Populist Linux” may be the objectively superior operating system for people who both like doing stupid stuff on their computers and getting things done.

Longboard dancing

Of the assorted longboarding tribes, longboard dancers are the ones that feel the most beyond me. I have an inkling of what it would take to be good at downhill, or long-distance pumping, but I watch people like Lotfi Lamaali and it makes my head spin.

(Inspired by a MeFi thread)

re: the downhill tribe, there’s the pure joy of Longboard Girls Crew:

… the utter lunacy of Cooper Darquea:

… and there’s Lillian Barou, doing what I’d be doing if I could back up my consciousness to my orbital’s local Mind, or at least count on painless 3d printing of a new femur:

It’s a human problem

This confused and reactionary post about digital de-aging is a good on-ramp to generative AI discourse. Its assertions include:

  • Digital de-aging doesn’t work.
  • Except when it does.
  • You can tell it doesn’t work because you have to use it selectively for it to work.

And quoted in full:

“De-aging effects in Hollywood still need to be fine-tuned, and Hollywood should only use them once we can perfect the technique.”

Nothing in the human world works this way. Nothing. It didn’t work that way when we were making bricks out of mud, or machines out of iron. It will not work this way when we can iterate at digital speeds.

It might feel like the correctly humanitarian impulse to go straight to the thing abetting all the implications we’re worried about: displacement of workers, job loss, debasement of quality, the feedback loops that will accelerate all of the above. It might feel like the temperate response is “the technology isn’t ready so don’t worry about it,” or “this isn’t living up to the hype, so quit panicking.”

I disagree. We should be thinking upstream.

The temperate and humanitarian response is to ask how well we’re equipped to deal with these things that are going to happen. The thought that neoliberal governments are going to sit and have a think about what to do about the technology is just … absurd. They should be thinking about the effects of the technology, how our economy is organized, and whether they exist to do anything but facilitate the transfer of wealth to a smaller and smaller class of extractors and rentiers.

Actually, we should be asking that last question. The answer right now is that they self-evidently do not.