DALI

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Self-professed Internet Junkie™. Words on technology and politics.

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Being an Alienated Human Being

A large part of what makes contemporary living so novel from the past is that its surroundings are transient and inconsequential. There is no regard for people in our area, just a relocation away from being irrelevant again. A person might move for college, then for work, more work, or a loved one. With careers being obsoleted and jobs are filled by more highly replaceable beings, there is not even the security of a fixed location.

No wonder that San Francisco is deemed a transient city, with people moving in and out because that’s where the jobs are at. The transience is visible in all walks of life, from the homeless who were evicted or relocated to the Tenderloin, to the tech workers who just moved into the city for work. The people who will remain are those who have lived generations in their deeply entrenched communities.

Implementing a Word Filter for the Browser

At first, this may seem like a trivial task. A naive approach would be to simply find and replace on a HTML document, but it is immediately apparent that non-textual data may be overwritten, causing unexpected problems. It needs to iterate over text nodes and watch for changes to the DOM, which is especially necessary for single-page apps. This is made possible by using the MutationObserver and TreeWalker APIs.

The first thing we can do is iterate over the text nodes of the DOM when the document is loaded:

var node;
var walk = document.createTreeWalker(
  document.body, NodeFilter.SHOW_TEXT, null, false);

while (node = walk.nextNode()) {
  replaceWords(node);
}

This creates a TreeWalker on the entire body of the document, and the while loop iterates over all of the text nodes of the document. For static pages, this is sufficient, but for it to really work, it needs to observe changes to the DOM, which is where MutationObserver comes in.

var mutationFilter = new MutationObserver(function (mutations) {
  mutations.forEach(mutationHandler);
});

mutationFilter.observe(document.body, {
  childList: true,
  characterData: true,
  subtree: true
});

In the above example, an instance of MutationObserver observes the entire body, triggering when changes to all nodes occur. The MutationObserver constructor accepts a function whose argument is an array of mutations. A Mutation object contains relevant data on the type of the change, and what was changed. We are mainly interested in added or modified text nodes, so that we can run the replacement function on them.

function mutationHandler (mutation) {
  var i;
  var node;
  var walk;

  if (mutation.type === 'childList') {
    for (i = 0; i < mutation.addedNodes.length; i++) {
      node = mutation.addedNodes[i];
      if (node.nodeType === 1) {
        walk = document.createTreeWalker(
          node, NodeFilter.SHOW_TEXT, null, false);
        while (node = walk.nextNode()) {
          replaceWords(node);
        }
      } else if (node.nodeType === 3) {
        replaceWords(node);
      }
    }
  } else if (mutation.type === 'characterData') {
    replaceWords(mutation.target);
  }
}

The above example tries to find all of the relevant text nodes of the mutation. If the mutation is of type characterData, there is only one text node, mutation.target. Otherwise, we have to iterate over the addedNodes property, detect if the node is a text node or not, and walk over the node if it is not.

The mechanics of running a regular expression on a text node is not as interesting, so I will end at this point. A working UserScript is available here.

No Justification to Live

The year is 2014 and the vast majority of people are compelled to do something they would rather not do for half of their waking hours, in exchange for money that is largely spent on shelter, food, thus securing their existence. Despite approaching a post-scarcity economy in which the cost of the manufacture of goods sinks due to automation, society demands that everyone must work, for what? The march of technological progress is no match for the cruelty of the human condition.

What Is a Wage?

A wage is not something to be proud of, unless your sense of self-worth is defined by how much money other people are willing to pay you. Those who actually create value have the lowest social status, and this excludes people whose jobs involve mentioning the phrase “creating value.” Creators are often unable to extract value from their own creation, though becoming wealthy or famous is hardly their motivation. Society would rather idolize those who extract value from the work of others, than those who create it. The sooner that humanity comes to the realisation that it is a rather contrived means of control, the better life would be for the majority of people.

The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century … The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity. — Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Silicon Valley’s Latest “Innovation” Is Enabling Plutocracy

A disingenuous meme about technology is that it enables many tasks to be automated, thus freeing humans from work and giving more time for leisure. This is at least partly true: startups are offering de facto taxi services, groceries hand-picked and delivered to your door, laundry pickup, parking spots, restaurant reservations, and more. All of this is facilitated by fluffy and visually appealing “apps” (I loathe this terminology) that help automate daily chores for a fee. The audience for these kinds of apps often neglect the human costs of these services, and more glaringly the low tech nature of it all.

The average provider in the poorly named sharing economy offers their labor at below minimum wages. As independent contractors and not employees of a company, they are not subject to minimum wage laws and do not receive any benefits that an employee may have, such as insurance. In terms of career, it is invariably a dead-end job, doing menial tasks for the bourgeoisie. The only thing that Silicon Valley has managed to disrupt lately is labor laws and the lives of the formerly middle class turned peasants. Those that do these small jobs to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” as conservatives like to parrot, belong to the new underclass: the sharers, also known as suckers.

The startups that facilitate the sharing economy are technically accomplishing nothing new, read & write from a database through an user interface, as if this alone qualifies them as a tech company. Their biggest and most often discussed problem is scaling, rather than more challenging technical obstacles. Human labor is far more difficult to scale than computing power, so they stay confined to large cities where the affluent can afford their services and perpetuate the erosion of the middle class.

But what of the software engineers who are working hard (overtime, actually) on these “apps”? They must belong to the elite class with their high salaries and expensive consumer tech products, according to protestors. However, they are merely the favored pawns of the real elite, well-connected founders and venture capitalists. By circumstance of large swaths of entirely incompetent programmers and relatively limited immigration, programmers hold a middle-class standing. When given the opportunity, the elites can and do screw over everyone below them, and this includes programmers. Programmers can only lose in a race to the bottom against an endless supply of outsourced employees largely from India who are willing to work for a fraction of the cost, providing a new and larger base of people for the elites to screw over.

Towards a Future Informed by the Past

Ultimately, the new wave of Silicon Valley startups is about fulfilling retro-futuristic visions in the same vein as the Jetsons in which people can relax and not work hard because nearly everything is automated from food preparation to transportation to cleaning, except that everything is actually powered by humans and therefore only accessible to an elite.

We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living. — Richard Buckminster Fuller