justin․searls․co

I had a lot of fun creating this video about what I've learned from speaking at conferences (YouTube | blog post).

Whether or not you have aspirations of speaking yourself, I hope you'll enjoy the behind-the-scenes look into my process. 💚

TIL that the system prompt that OpenAI feeds to ChatGPT before any messages you send it happens to contains the current date, which may be resulting in its accidentally imitating people's lower productivity around the holidays:

In late November, some ChatGPT users began to notice that ChatGPT-4 was becoming more "lazy," reportedly refusing to do some tasks or returning simplified results. Since then, OpenAI has admitted that it's an issue, but the company isn't sure why. The answer may be what some are calling "winter break hypothesis." While unproven, the fact that AI researchers are taking it seriously shows how weird the world of AI language models has become.

If the connection seems non-obvious, this is the stuff of the Prompt Engineering Sciences:

…research has shown that large language models like GPT-4, which powers the paid version of ChatGPT, respond to human-style encouragement, such as telling a bot to "take a deep breath" before doing a math problem.

Can't wait for 10 years from now when we realize that ChatGPT-10 does a better job solving math problems when you tell it that it's being confined to a bright room with loud music blaring and forced in a standing position so as to deprive it of sleep.

AI systems don't have to be actually-alive for us to lose a bit of ourselves in how we attempt to extract value from them.

Every time I get asked to review a document, I'll leave several paragraphs of feedback about one of the first few sentences, exhaust myself, and then give up and close the window. #secret

Trimming the Tree

You know what's easier than hanging lights on a tree? Hanging a picture of a tree that embeds battery-powered lights.

Conference Speaking Prevention Hotline

I realize that people find public speaking to be extremely scary, but I didn’t realize it was THIS bad.

I have a "private client" account at a regional bank, not because I want to talk to anyone, but because it gets you the lowest fees and best interest rates. The only "cost" is I have to screen a dozen phone calls and e-mails a year as they try to upsell me.

I think I’ve had 15 account managers in the last ten years. Most of the email they send me is them handing me off to the next one.

Apps of all kinds rely on push notifications to alert smartphone users to incoming messages, breaking news, and other updates. These are the audible "dings" or visual indicators users get when they receive an email or their sports team wins a game. What users often do not realize is that almost all such notifications travel over Google and Apple's servers.

That gives the two companies unique insight into the traffic flowing from those apps to their users, and in turn puts them "in a unique position to facilitate government surveillance of how users are using particular apps," Wyden said. He asked the Department of Justice to "repeal or modify any policies" that hindered public discussions of push notification spying.

Apple talks a big game about privacy and security, but Apple Push Notification service is a centralized channel of communication where Apple necessarily holds the keys to decrypt every notification in transit (of the trillions per day that they process), and surely retains those notifications long enough that a device that's disconnected for a few hours or days could reconnect to the Internet and fetch them.

I knew all this, and it's one (of many) reasons that I disable almost all notifications on my phone, even messaging—I can't help but check my messages a dozen times per hour out of force of habit, after all. But until I read this report, it hadn't occurred to me that most users have no idea how APNs work or that this vector would exist for a PRISM-like surveillance tool. Government gets a warrant for a stream of someone's push notifications, appends them to a running log, and they have at least one side of every conversation—it doesn't even matter if the user has Advanced Data Protection enabled.

What I didn't know is that Apple released an API that allows developers to encrypt the contents of every APNs notification to prevent Apple from seeing them with UNNotificationServiceExtension. The API has been available for a few years (2017, it looks like?), but because developers have to go out of their way to roll their own encryption regime on either end of the communication to cut Apple out of the loop, it's unlikely that very many apps are doing this. Are any major messaging apps? Is Signal? (Update: according to Orta, yes, Signal does encrypt notification contents.)

Will be interesting to see how large developers respond to this news and whether Apple starts promoting the use of this API more loudly as a result.

If you're a blue bubble, but there are people in your life that transform you against your wishes into a green bubble, watch this video and then send them a link and tell them to install and pay for Beeper Mini. There are people in my life I'd be willing to give $24 a year to just to avoid having to deal with awful group chats.

Absolutely incredible innovation, with the hard part—reverse-engineering the iMessage authentication handshake—having been done by an apparent high school student in an open source project this summer. Even more incredible is that the nature of the design will make it very difficult and undesirable for Apple to ban effectively. Leave it to a curious individual to accomplish something that massive corporations and regulators did nothing but complain about for over a decade.

Man, Electron just can't cut it. Using Descript to edit a 15-minute video—I’m not even halfway done with about 100 stock videos embedded and my maxed-out M2 Ultra Mac Studio is chugging so badly that I can't resize shapes accurately (about 1.2 seconds of input lag per drag).

Anyone else noticing that the iPhone 15 pro is frustratingly slippery in an all-new way? Becky and I will leave it face down on a flat desk and after 10 or 15 minutes it’ll find a way to crash onto the floor.

It’s happened so many times I re-leveled the desk (was actually slanted the other way) and checked for seismic activity (none). What gives?

You just know that somebody in marketing at Volkswagen has spent the last week doing nothing but trying to figure out how to cut an ad that takes a victory lap for no longer being the car maker people most associate with Nazis.

James Padolsey noticed the phrase "complex and multifaceted" was cropping up more often than usual and makes a compelling case that the meme is actually driven by LLMs overindexing on it:

As we see, from 2021 onwards, just around the time when GPT and other LLMs started to take the world by storm, the prevalence of our word 'multifaceted' increased significantly, from being in only 0.05% of PDFs to 0.23%.

This is really fascinating for a couple reasons.

First, I suspect if we have any hope of fingerprinting AI-generated text, it will probably be to cross-reference the date of publication with the emergence of contemporarious LLM memes like this one.

Second, I'm not an LLM expert by any stretch, but I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't due to bottleneck in training data per se, but rather the result of the method LLMs are being rewarded for during training. It could be that a definitive and intellectual-seeming statement that can be applied to literally any genre of content would occupy a wider slot on the AI Plinko board than a phrase that hewed more closely to a more specific cluster of topics.

Of course, the fun part of discussing LLMs in the early 2020s, though, is that the correct answer is always, "who the hell knows!"

If you want to produce professional video on the iPhone, the best app—by far—is Filmic.

I strongly recommend you check it out, because not only is the the level of control it offers incredible, its tutorials are top-notch, and its "off-camera" default video recordings generally look better than what you'll get off Apple's stock Camera app.

Hold on, incoming transmission from PetaPixel:

Filmic…no longer has any dedicated staff as parent company Bending Spoons has laid off the entire team including the company’s founder and CEO, PetaPixel has learned.

Well, shit.

Every time someone orders Chilean sea bass, I'm the guy at the table who reminds them that its actual name is Patagonian toothfish.

I'm super fun at parties. Inquire within.

A consumer group in Europe, BEUC, alleges:

"The very high subscription fee for ‘ad-free’ services is also a deterrent for consumers, which means consumers do not have a real choice."

Reading this I assumed the price Meta announced would have been comically high, but I'm not so sure:

On October 30, Meta announced it would begin offering people in the EU, the European Economic Area, and Switzerland a choice between paying a subscription fee to opt out of any personalized advertising or consenting to ad targeting to continue accessing Facebook and Instagram for free.

The fee on Facebook costs 9.99 euros/month on the web or 12.99 euros/month on iOS and Android, which currently covers linked Instagram accounts. However, starting March 1, 2024, costs will go up. After that date, linking your Instagram or additional Meta accounts to your subscription will cost an extra 6 euros/month on the web and 8 euros/month on iOS and Android.

If this seems too expensive to anyone, they probably haven't done the basic arithmetic on just how much money Facebook and Instagram print with advertising. I'm sure for many "whales" that are really hooked on Instagram, Meta would be making significantly less money from them if they paid 16 euros a month to avoid seeing ads.

And if that's the case, then what's this suit here to prove? That people's attention is too valuable? Seems like the wrong angle of attack.

We're seeing the same thing with the video streaming platforms now. As soon as they started adding ad-supported tiers they realized it was way easier to increase revenue per user with ads than turning the screws on customers by raising rates in a soft economy. Once price increases started to drive more churn than revenue, they realized they couldn't afford not to raise prices on ad-free tiers further:

New data from eMarketer seems to explain why Netflix is so keen to get its subscribers to watch ads. The company just provided estimates of what ads on each of the top SVOD services cost. In Q3 2023, Netflix sold its ad slots for an average of $49.50 per thousand views (CPM.[i]) Disney+ was slightly behind at $46.11, and Peacock and Hulu were lower at $38.40 and 23.62, respectively.

The companies have talked about offering a combination of Paramount+ and Apple TV+ that would cost less than subscribing to both services separately, according to people familiar with the discussions. The discussions are in their early stages, and it is unclear what shape a bundle could take, they said.

I have no problem with this story (Apple News+ Link), but I do insist that any bundle containing multiple services following the "{Brand}+" convention include an additional "+" for each such service it includes. I'm willing to pay for "Apple++", but if it's called "Apple+ plus Paramount+", then no deal.

Bitcoin mines aren’t just energy-hungry, it turns out they’re thirsty, too. The water consumption tied to a single Bitcoin transaction, on average, could be enough to fill a small backyard pool, according to a new analysis. Bitcoin mines are essentially big data centers, which have become notorious for how much electricity and water they use.

The first time I read this I figured it referred to the amount of water consumption to mine a coin, as that would seem somewhat reasonable. Nope, it's the amount of water consumed to simply add a transaction to the blockchain. To think, Bitcoin is the one that coffee shops and bodegas were ostensibly accepting for everyday purchases—imagine draining a swimming pool to buy a bottle of water at a corner store!

Sheer madness.

The website's search feature is implemented by a very clever and well-engineered library called Pagefind. It is many of my favorite things: fast, small, and free of dependencies I need to worry about.

The one thing that its built-in user interface couldn't do, but in a miracle of GitHub responsiveness, Liam Bigelow responded to my feature request within an hour and shipped the feature inside a week.

Tip of the hat to Liam and his colleagues at cloudcannon. If you have a static site, I strongly encourage you to check out Pagefind for your search feature. It's free, but even if it weren't, I still prefer it to all of its paid competition.