We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The EU cares! And you should too!


Found on and duly pilfered from Raedwald :-D

Samizdata quote of the day

Any CEO who thinks his sexuality is the greatest gift god has given him, is not keeping his eye on the balls I want him to.

RAB, commenting on Samizdata here.

Who needs the Comedy Channel when you can have Russia Today?

I was only vaguely aware that Russia Today existed until our venerable chum Paul Marks mentioned it for the hundredth time, usually whilst he was sharpening a cavalry sabre (I may have imagined that last bit). So eventually I just bit the bullet (picked up on a battlefield in the Crimea I might add) and I actually went and found the damn thing on-line.

Oh boy what fun I was missing! Russia Today is as much of a hoot as listening to Radio Tirana back in the great old days of Enver Hoxha, which is to say, it is AWESOME. These guys actually play it dead pan most of the time, as if people are going to take them seriously! I really do LOVE them! Of course I am sure the people who work there don’t really think that, but hey, as long as they keep getting a pay check for providing us with giggles, it is a win-win for all concerned!

I mean they even have Steven Seagal! How cool is that? Seagal always wanted to be a good actor, a respected commentator and a friend of gay icon and all round great guy Vlad Putin… do not scoff! Do not titter! Face it, achieving one out of three of your life’s ambitions is more than most people ever do!

Wonderful! Marvellous! Actually to be honest I truly do not give a damn

Apple CEO Tim Cook comes out as homosexual!

Wonderful! Marvellous! Actually to be honest I truly do not give a damn.

It might be because it has nothing to do with his job. People can announce what they do with their genitalia all they want, just do not expect me act as if this is something I need celebrate. He can shag goats for all I care, just please, make iTunes better than the steaming pile of poop it became in version 12.

Should homosexuals be given grief? No. Now that we have settled that, please just STFU and run the company like a good little capitalist.

Bitcoin: The Future of Money?

Dominic Frisby’s book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? is now available.

The first chapter describes what Bitcoin is and how it works. The achievement of this chapter is that Dominic has described Bitcoin in plain English without missing any important details and without simplifying to the point of error. Too often when I read writing intended for the general audience about something I know about, I notice how wrong it is and how ill informed the general audience must be about all things. Not here.

Technical description out of the way, the rest of the book deals with the culture of Bitcoin’s early adopters, the various scandals we may have heard about and what they mean, what Bitcoin means for the state and for you, and what the future might hold for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general.

The longest chapter is about the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, who wrote the original paper and developed the first versions of the software, and who has successfully remained anonymous. It is not particularly relevant to understanding Bitcoin, but it is very intriguing, and I think there is a good chance Dominic has reached the right conclusion about Satoshi’s identity.

There is discussion of the problems of inflationary fiat currency: the author has read his Detlev Schlichter. There is discussion of how the decentralised nature of Bitcoin sidelines governments and opens up new markets with people who are otherwise difficult to trade with. And there is discussion of the problems, too: the volatility, the technical challenges, and the dangers of being defrauded in a new marketplace where we are still learning what are the best business practices and how to decide who to trust. Finally, there is some advice about where to buy Bitcoins. It is not out of date yet!

The book is concise, complete, correct, entertaining, and a very good introduction to what Bitcoin is all about.

Another kind of creative destruction: the technology driving drones-as-an-industry is…

…mobile phone technology!

VICE has a very interesting report, looking at at how the US military is adjusting to the astonishingly rapid proliferation and deployment of cheap drone technology. Faced with using multi million dollar weapons platforms firing munitions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars against these things, they are seeking more feasible ways to counter air threats costing thousands or even mere hundreds of dollars. And the threat is not hypothetical: even the daesh Islamic State claims fairly plausibly to be using cheap reconnaissance drones right now, and Hezbollah appears to have fairly sophisticated armed drones (fast forward to 1:25 or thereabouts to see the boom and hear the invocations to Admiral Ackbar or whatever). We really are entering a new era not just commercially but also militarily.

Samizdata quote of the day

Back in 2001, Brian Micklethwait once said something that has since become part of my standard operating procedure. Speaking from his experience actually organising activities, rather than just talking about organising them as is the case with most people, he said if someone starts to offer you unsolicited advice about how to improve whatever it is that you are doing, immediately ask if they are prepared to get involved and implement their suggestion themselves. If the answer is yes, listen to what they have to say. If the answer if no, stop them right there and change the subject.

Perry de Havilland

Samizdata quote of the day

If mankind can fix paralysis, we will move into a whole new era of promise and possibility. The raising up of the lame that humanity now seems capable of – which springs from decades of research into cell growth and cell manipulation, the development of new technologies, and much experimentation – crashes violently, and gloriously, against the way man is understood and discussed today: basically as a pest, a planetary poison, not capable of much besides hatred and destructiveness.

Brendan O’Neill

Robot lorries now seem to me more immediately promising than robot cars

Great confidence is being expressed about how robot cars are about to change the world. Robot cars, says a typical headline that Google (one of the prime movers in this new technology) has just today alerted me to, may be coming sooner than you think. But doubts are also being expressed:

A good technology demonstration so wows you with what the product can do that you might forget to ask about what it can’t.

Case in point: Google’s self-driving car. There is a surprisingly long list of the things the car can’t do, like avoid potholes or operate in heavy rain or snow.

Yet a consensus has emerged among many technologists, policymakers, and journalists that Google has essentially solved – or is on the verge of solving – all of the major issues involved with robotic driving.

“Essentially”. That’s a word that often means “not”. And “on the verge of” often signals a problem that turns out to be hideously intractable, as year after year passes with nobody any nearer to a definitive answer. I seem to recall an entire British high speed train project being abandoned because they just could not make the tilting of the carriages work perfectly. It worked okay, but okay wasn’t good enough. It had to be perfect, and perfection proved elusive. Here is what wikipedia says about that, for whatever wikipedia may be worth when reporting a story that remains controversial.

Even that constantly repeated refrain about how robot cars are coming “sooner than you think” is, if you think some more, an acknowledgement from robot car boosters that there are actually widespread doubts out there in the regular, non-techy world about how well these devices really will work, and how completely, above all how quickly, all the problems that they will face have really been and will really be solved. Yes, the techies will eventually get their robot cars working, probably. But for a few more years yet, there will surely be a nasty little clutch both of known unknowns and of unknown unknowns to deal with, all of which will have to be thoroughly dealt with. Crucially, such problems will all have to be solved. If robot cars get the go-ahead and work flawlessly for two months, followed by a lurid catastrophe like something out of a disaster movie, when a bunch of robot cars all follow each other into a swamp or over a cliff, or just run amuck and kill dozens or even hundreds in one catastrophe like in a plane crash, then their introduction will be judged a failure rather than given nine out of ten for technical accomplishment and an A plus for effort.

This strikes me as a lot more immediately promising:

→ Continue reading: Robot lorries now seem to me more immediately promising than robot cars

“…it may take long, very long…”

The story of the First World War so far: Germany pushed the bulk of its army through Belgium. The French, along with the tiny British army were unable to hold them and retreated. At the Marne the Germans were stopped and themselves began to retreat. At the Aisne they stopped retreating, dug in and trench warfare began. People are beginning to realise it’s going to be a long war.

However much we may hope to bend back the German right and relieve Antwerp [they didn't]; whatever confidence we may entertain that the shock of the Russian masses in the East may soon prove decisive [it didn't], we must not entertain the slightest illusion regarding the hard and trying conditions which await all the Allies in their future operations against a Germany reduced to the defensive. Germany is still united and her resources are great. All her men are in arms and all her arsenals are working at full presssure. Her unbeaten fleet and flotillas will strike when their hour comes, and probably in cooperation with her Army. The line of the Aisne, even when forced, may prove only one of many similar lines which are being prepared to the rear of it… and it may take long, very long, for the Allies to compel Germany to experience the sense of her weakness.

In other words, it’s not going to be all over by Christmas. [Not that I have actually come across that phrase in the pages of The Times.]

The writer, himself is worth a mention. He is The Times’s Military Correspondent, a chap by the name of Charles à Court Repington. A talented officer with a bright future, he was chucked out of the army for conducting an affair with a married woman. The army’s loss was The Times’s gain. While no one can predict the future with perfect clarity, Repington did a pretty good job of it as he does above. In 1913, he predicted that Germany’s main thrust would come through Belgium. The French high command did not work that out until late August 1914 when it was almost too late.

The Times 3 October 1914 p5

The Times 3 October 1914 p5

This really does worry me

Imagine audio and video bugs get better and better. Maybe in the form of tiny physical cameras, maybe as viruses that will eventually succeed in penetrating any computer, phone or similar device, maybe as some kind of broadcast or field. There is parallel progress in the science of searching through audio-visual records. Eventually every house, every room, every human body is bugged – saturated with bugs. Of course most of the time no one is interested in you. But if ever you become interesting, they can watch you, not just now, but at any time going back years. What you were doing on any given day. Every time you sang along to your ipod, had sex, mentioned the word “government”. But “they” is not just the government; it is anyone.

A tale of two paradigms

Here is an interesting observation by Jo Nova of two sets of reactions in an article titled Company stops Ebola, Bureaucracy puts it on a plane:

The rubber plantation has 8,000 workers with 71,000 dependents. It is an hour north-east of Monrovia, surrounded by Ebola outbreaks. The virus arrived on the plantation in March. Knowing that the UN and the Liberian government were not going to save them, the managers sat around a rubber tree and googled “Ebola” and learned on the run instead. They turned shipping containers into isolation units, trucks into ambulances, and chemical cleaning suits into “haz-mat” gear. They trained cleaners, and teachers, they blocked visitors, and over the next five months dealt with 71 infections, but by early October were clear of the virus. There were only 17 survivors (the same 70% mortality rate as elsewhere). But without good management, there could have been so many more deaths.

In contrast, the nanny-state takes a good brain and stops it thinking. In Texas, trained health professionals were caught unprepared, following inadequate protocols they assumed were good enough, and even risking their own lives. A nurse who cared for a dying Ebola patient — and knew how bad Ebola could be — still needed to phone someone to ask if it was OK to board a plane with a slightly raised temperature (99.5F or 37.5C). The official she spoke to “didn’t Google”, they just said yes because her temperature was lower than the official threshold of 100.4F.

Read the whole thing.