Five Things: February 2, 2023

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Comixology update: Strange doings at Amazon | Todd Allen

Deep down, most people knew integration was likely when Amazon made the purchase. Would Comixology have remained a separate website and interface if it had continued to grow its user base and revenues? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to say. Growth did not seem to be in the cards once the payment systems switched. Honestly, total integration into Amazon-proper could be the best hope for digital comics growth at Amazon – much further down the line, if they fix a lot of things and haven’t permanently alienated their user base.

Speculation about anything Amazon does has always been a sucker’s game, and I tend to avoid publicly commenting on anything related to comiXology because of the day job, but Todd Allen offers some useful history and context while speculating about what’s really happening there in the wake of a botched integration and massive layoffs.

He paints a plausible picture without going too far out on any limbs, and I think he nails the underlying reason: comics aren’t audiobooks, and comiXology was never going to be Audible. Some of that is Amazon’s own fault, of course, but as we all know, accountability rolls downhill in Corporate America.


Tesla’s Problems Go Way Beyond Elon Musk | Jeff Link

But Tesla stock was already falling in April 2022, when Musk launched his bid for Twitter, and analysts say that the carmaker’s challenges run deeper than its exposure to the struggling social media platform. Tesla and its CEO have alienated its core customers while its limited designs and high prices make it vulnerable to competition from legacy automakers, who have rushed into the EV market with options that Musk’s company will struggle to match.

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the elongated muskrat here and elsewhere, and it existed long before he blew up Twitter, so I’m a little annoyed by the wave of clear-eyed critique that’s belatedly appeared over the past several weeks poking holes in the “Great Man” myth that’s propped him up and inflated his companies’ valuations for years.

I don’t know enough about Space X to have an informed opinion, but the truth about Tesla being revealed more openly has been a pure delight to watch. And hear. And read. EVs, for better or worse, will be just fine if this fraud finally crumbles, but I’d much rather see his fall from grace and the few good things about the company put in the hands of responsible adults.


Exclusive: The $2 Per Hour Workers Who Made ChatGPT Safer | Billy Perrigo

ChatGPT’s predecessor, GPT-3, had already shown an impressive ability to string sentences together. But it was a difficult sell, as the app was also prone to blurting out violent, sexist and racist remarks. This is because the AI had been trained on hundreds of billions of words scraped from the internet—a vast repository of human language. That huge training dataset was the reason for GPT-3’s impressive linguistic capabilities, but was also perhaps its biggest curse. Since parts of the internet are replete with toxicity and bias, there was no easy way of purging those sections of the training data.

ChatGPT is the new crypto is the new enhanced ebooks is the new [insert your favorite scam here], but as so often happens, it’s uncritically exploded into mainstream conversation and most people have zero clue what’s actually happening behind the scenes. There’s never much appetite for critical analyses of tech’s latest new shiny unless there’s an entertaining villain to drive eyeballs and clicks, so kudos to Time Magazine (?!?!) for putting in the work for this investigation. I hope more people read and share it even if its main subjects are in Kenya.

Content warning: the story contains descriptions of sexual abuse.


WTF is ChatGPT – a No BS Breakdown | Bradley Robb

ChatGPT isn’t magic. It isn’t sentient. It’s not generalized AI. But it will earn at least a mention in the history of Artificial Intelligence. Right now, ChatGPT is a tech demo that is approaching being useful as a tool. As with any tool, it’s important to understand the shortcomings of the tool before using it.

If you’re like me, Artificial Intelligence is probably above your paygrade. If you’re not like me, you may have been tempted into playing around with ChatGPT and/or are just curious what the fuss is all about.

Either way, this explainer / critique / prediction from Robb is an insightful read, and if you come away with nothing else, I at least hope you’ll stop voluntarily helping train these things for free.


On Shadowrun: Nostalgia for a Game I’ve Never Played | Me

I honestly don’t know how Shadowrun escaped me all these years, but its combination of D&D, The Matrix, and Mission: Impossible is 100% my shit! Imagine: fantasy races, magic, cyberpunk, and elaborate heists sitting atop an intricately fleshed out near-future world that uses the Mayan Long Count calendar and corporate greed as its main pillars. It’s as problematic, corny, and compelling as you’d think — and I’m totally digging it.

I’ve been deep in a Shadowrun rabbit hole the past few months, so much so that my Mastodon account probably makes people think I work in games. Because I’m trying to avoid making the same mistakes I made with Twitter, I gathered my thoughts on my recent experiences into an old-fashioned blog post on ye olde fashioned blog.

3 thoughts on “Five Things: February 2, 2023

  1. Ughhhhh, Comixlogy; it used to be such a beautiful, perfect thing, and I actually intended to use the old version until it physically wouldn’t let me, but I suppose that’s what I get for turning on automatic updates.

    I’ve considered just switching to the Kindle app for comics now, try to get ahead of the curve some, but it’s like trying to use a smart pictureframe to store and listen to all of your music; technically doable, but not really built for it and not worth the trouble. (One grump’s opinion, your mileage may vary.)

    I’ve only played tabletop Shadowrun once; it was BONKERS and Not For Me but not in a bad way, and I remember fondly my Dwarven action-demolitions specialist McBoom, who used his beard-hairs for fuses and whose ears rang so badly it would crack glass. I’ve heard good things about the video games but was always kinda overwhelmed by them (not unlike with 40K), but a handful just came to Switch, including Returns, so I’ll have to check them out because they sound like my kinda game based on your article.

    Great post!

    1. (P.S., I’m posting this reply through the WP Reader; when I tried to do so on the actual post page it gave me a Nonce Verification Error even after I disabled plugins. It might just be me being bad at having a website, but might also be a security setting to look into.)

    2. The Returns trilogy is great if tactical combat and narrative RPGs are your thing. I just started Hong Kong, looking forward to some of the tweaked mechanics making the gameplay even stronger. All of them should be fine on a Switch, depending on how they handle the text. (There’s A LOT of text to read.)

      The more I learn about the original RPG, the more I doubt I’ll ever play it because it’s heavy on the crunch. I love the setting and worldbuilding so much, though, and McBoom sounds like a perfect fit!

      I mostly read digital comics through the day job and Hoopla, so the comiXology debacle hasn’t affected me too much, but it’s still sad to see.

      PS: I posted this comment and edited it via the web without a problem, and don’t see any security alerts on the backend, so maybe it was a momentary glitch? Thanks for working around it!

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