Do you have horror stories of bad meetings about A.I.?
PLUS: A video about the eight canonical laser gun sounds! Twitter and advertisers! Topical humor! Merchandise!
Greetings from Read Max HQ! My kid has been home sick with a wicked ear infection so this week’s edition is more of a newsy odds-and-ends blog than a full column--my apologies if you wanted to read me go 2,000 words and six footnotes deep about some old message board post or whatever. Nevertheless I am throwing out some good links, mediocre jokes, and and even a request of readers. The roundup will appear as scheduled (i.e. late) in a few days; we should be back to more regular programming next week.
Toddler with an ear infection sympathy fund
Send me your middle-management A.I. meeting horror stories
Lately I have been hearing from friends and acquaintances about horrifically unbearable meetings being called at their places of work to discuss, often at great length and in utterly incoherent terms, “A.I.” and/or “our A.I. strategy.” Does this sound familiar? (I suspect based on correspondence and simple deductive logic that Read Max has a relatively high concentration of subscribers in alienating middle-management positions that are exposed to the possibility of “A.I. strategies.”)
For the eventual purpose of creating content I would like to hear about how Sam Altman and his peers are making your life worse by incepting your boss into thinking that you need to be in A.I. meetings for several hours a week. (Or less.) Please email firstname.lastname@example.org horror stories, belly-aching, resignation (existential or otherwise), etc. I’ll… gather the stories into a post? Or use them as material in some fashion.
I was on a podcast
I was on Josh Topolsky’s podcast “What Future?” this week working through the same neuroses I work through here in this newsletter--technology, media, A.I., writing, labor politics, the 1992 direct-to-video masterpiece Nemesis, etc. I encourage you to listen if you think you can bear that kind of thing, which I sort of imagine you can if you’re a subscriber.
A video I wish I’d made
A few months ago my mom gave my son a little keychain laser gun and as we played with it I learned--shockingly--that toy laser-gun sound technology has not advanced at all since I was a child. The cheap plastic toy laser guns they’re selling to kids in 2023 make the exact same eight sounds made by the cheap plastic toy laser guns they sold to kids in 1990. If you are of a certain age and were the kind of child inclined to play with toy laser guns, you know the eight sounds I mean:
PEW…PEW…PEW… [laser gun]
KSH KSH KSH KSH [laser blaster]
WOOWOOWOOWOOWOO [ray gun]
DEEDLEDEEDLEDEEDLEDEELDEEDLE [gun that sounds like a telephone]
DEEDOODOODEEDOODOO [gun that sounds like Wayne’s World dissolve]
EEEEEEeeeeeee KSHHHH![best one]
CHCHCHCHCHHCHCHCHCHCHCH [machine gun]
[impossible to transliterate]
After playing around with my son’s gun a bit I spent a week or so trying to track down the origin of these sounds. Obviously I wasn’t the first person to have this question, and there are a number of enlightening threads online exploring it; unfortunately for me, after collecting a couple dozen bookmarks, I found this video above, which is a much more attractively edited version of the same rabbit hole I found myself pursuing, and comes to the same conclusions I would have. (I emailed Elenco, the creators of the Space Wars circuit, in the hopes that I could take the mystery one step further, but the company was unable to help me.) Anyway, if you have wondered about this same mystery, the video above should answer 70 to 90 percent of your questions about it.
Never trust advertisers
In the early days of Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover there was a sense that Musk’s erratic behavior, right-wing politics, and managerial incompetence would drive an existentially dangerous advertiser exodus from the platform. The idea was that Twitter’s brand had become too scurrilous, and its products and experience too broken, for advertisers to continue buying ad space.
I don’t think this chain of logic was ridiculous on its face, but I think it rested on a fundamentally incorrect idea about ad agencies and ad buyers, which is that they do not want their advertisements to appear next to Nazi bullshit, porn, spam, and other highlights of the Musk Twitter experience. In my experience, advertisers actually do not care what their ads appear next to! What they care about is making you think that they care about that stuff. In other words, it’s not some cultivated institutional moral sensibility that keeps advertisers away from “toxic” publishers or platforms--it’s fear that people will notice them advertising in those places. The minute the focus and pressure is off, they’re all too happy to return.
Anyway, the Financial Times’ Hannah Murphy and Daniel Thomas report that “WPP-owned GroupM, one of the world’s top media agencies, has told clients it no longer considers Twitter ‘high risk’, just days after Elon Musk appointed advertising stalwart Linda Yaccarino as the social media platform’s new chief.”
GroupM had been holding back until there was a “return to normalcy” in terms of the amount of harmful content on the platform, which had surged after Musk’s takeover, said one person familiar with the matter. The person said the group had been waiting for Musk to repopulate his senior leadership team, while it had also been working with Twitter on improving “brand safety” — an industry term referring to the risk that ads appear alongside problematic content and misinformation. “While the job is not done, there have been material improvements,” the person said, adding they were “cautiously optimistic” about Yaccarino’s appointment. […]
The person familiar with GroupM’s decision said that on top of Yaccarino’s appointment, the agency had been reassured by Musk allowing independent third parties to verify Twitter’s claims that the amount of harmful content on the platform had returned to pre-acquisition levels, that impressions of toxic content were low and that it rarely ran alongside advertising.
This is extremely funny because, as anyone still using the platform will tell you, Twitter, right now, is vastly worse across any measure that brands might purport to care about--non-toxicity, brand safety, user experience, platform works, spam, percentage of user base with extreme right-wing beliefs--than it was in the first few weeks after Musk took over. But no one cares quite as much, so why not dip your toes in the water and see what happens?
Topical humor: What conversations are about in New York City, in my own personal experience
“In a place like New York, you feel surrounded by people who are so far removed from where you are,” Nick Gillespie, an editor-at-large at the libertarian magazine Reason and a regular at the gatherings, told me. “Every conversation is about how capitalism is evil or how America is the most racist, sexist, homophobic country in the world.”
— “The Party Is Cancelled,” Emma Green, The New Yorker
Real estate (in New York)
Other people’s kids
People in my profession whose success I believe to be undeserved
People not in my profession whom I dislike
Real estate (not in New York)
Videos I saw online
People whom I generally like but whose behavior I find incomprehensible and requiring of discussion
How busy I am
Things I did when I was younger and more interesting
How capitalism is evil
New restaurants that opened up in my neighborhood
How America is the most racist, sexist, homophobic country in the world
Read Max hats are still available
A new batch of attractive Read Max “EMAIL SUPPLY” caps is on its way to my apartment from the printer--claim yours today! (And if you ordered one in the last week or so, stand by!)
The ‘topical’ humor about the New Yorker piece made my wife laugh and laugh. Thanks for that!