Sunday, February 27th, 2022

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radstudies:John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) – Essie,…

Sunday, December 24th, 2017


John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) – Essie, Ruby and Ferdinand, 1902

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english-idylls:Redpolls by Scott Young.

Friday, December 1st, 2017


Redpolls by Scott Young.

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astrangerhere:Gail Simone, professional comic book writer,…

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017


Gail Simone, professional comic book writer, reduced to fan-girl squee, just like all the rest of us.

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the pleasures of prediction

Friday, February 26th, 2016



The island of Madeira, where Crap Futures spends most of its time, is a fairly predictable place. The locals seem to like it that way: you don’t hear a lot of grumbling about the regular calendar of barbecues, beach trips, nature walks, saints’ days, and harvest festivals. When American visitors try to express their individualism through consumer choice it doesn’t usually go well. Try to order a venti light foam half caff flat white in Duolingo Brazilian Portuguese, for example, and you’ll get a powerful wag of the finger and a regular white coffee with over-boiled milk banged down on the counter in front of you.

Fortunately, Crap Futures is a pretty easygoing customer. Every morning we go to the same cafe and ask for two coffees and an order of toast to share. ‘Duas Chinesas, uma torrada’. (For some reason a coffee with milk on this island goes by the random and racist-sounding name of ‘Chinese lady’.) At first we had trouble pronouncing torrada because the ‘rr’ sound is difficult, but we’re getting better. After a couple of weeks the woman at the counter would anticipate our order and we no longer had to speak. We’d approach and she would say, ‘Duas Chinesas e uma torrada, não é?’ And we would nod our heads and pay the ridiculously low price.

After a couple of months – in fact this happened just last week – we unlocked a new level in this smooth daily transaction. We noticed that as we walked through the door of the cafe, the woman behind the counter would pop two pieces of toast in the little toaster oven and start the espresso. While it was being made, she would accept our money. For a day or two she would still go through the formality of saying our order out loud, and we would laugh and nod politely. Then last Friday we had a whole nonverbal transaction: walk in, see toast and coffee started, pay, move to the other counter, collect coffee and toast. Perfection!

Now that we’ve built this perfect machine, what comes next?

Four possible scenarios come to mind:

1. We keep the same order forever.

2. We change our order once and slowly re-establish trust.

3. We disrupt the harmonious state of things completely by changing our order frequently and at random to re-introduce danger and uncertainty into our lives.

4. We move to a different cafe and start again.

There are other possibilities: the staff could change (not likely, to be honest); one of us could be hit by a bus and the other carry on in his memory, but with only a half order of toast and one coffee.

The reason all of this is interesting for Crap Futures is that we seem to be on some sort of prediction precipice at the moment. The dominance of consumer prediction algorithms that has been the subject of speculation for many years is quickly coming to pass, following Moore’s Law and accelerating at an exponential rate. Amazon Echo and other kinds of ‘helpful’ surveillance technologies equipped with machine learning are absorbing our data in the form of instructions, decisions, and responses, preparing to anticipate our every desire. It is the dream of the perfect butler – who even, as in the case of Amazon’s ‘anticipatory shipping’, knows what we want before we are fully cognisant of it ourselves.

Our daily experience in the cafe tells us that consumer prediction has its pleasures. And what if it could be taken a step further, so that the person behind the counter always knew when we wanted two orders of toast (because we’d skipped breakfast)? Or beyond that, why not modify our order and present us with something that would be algorithmically certain to please our Crap Futures tastebuds, like extra buttery toast, or extra thick slices? Or something to slim our Crap Futures figures?

Why not indeed? Go ahead, sirs – says the soothing automated butler voice – treat yourself. You’re special. You deserve it. And you will deserve every minute of the agency-free consumer slave hell that it heralds.

This vision has left us in a quandary, to say the least, about the morning’s coffee and toast.

Image Javi Valdez, ‘cafe_coimbra’ (Creative Commons)

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I’m the person that reads your tags.

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015




#i’m also the person slightly disappointed when you don’t have tags to read

#tags are where the real conversation happens! (said redshoesnblueskies)

Also, one of the few places where staff hopefully will be less likely to step in and “improve” the conversation by making it prettier but harder to understand.

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Still on the train, pulling out of Union Station. LA can be so…

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Still on the train, pulling out of Union Station. LA can be so ugly in so many ways. But the sky…

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