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]

Lavabit shuts down

Lavabit was, until a few hours ago, a secure email hosting company with something over 400,000 customers. One of their users was (apparently) Edward Snowden.

They have shut down, apparently because they refused to assist in spying on their own clients, as similar companies such as Hushmail are reputed to do.

Unfortunately, US law now makes it a crime to discuss requests from our masters for “assistance” of this sort, so we can only assume that this is what has happened. Presuming the guess to be true, I commend them for their sense of honor. Many would not ruin themselves when faced with a choice between keeping their promises and obeying the authority of a police state.

Quoting their “goodbye” page:

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

On the sort of sofa I am looking for – and on the impact of digital photography on trade

My last Friday of the month meetings are now under way again, and they are accomplishing everything I here hoped they would. Worthwhile thoughts are being thought. I am making new friends. I am also reconnecting with friends from way back, which is a bonus I should have seen coming but did not. The most recent meeting was especially fine. About it I will surely be saying more, by and by.

Meanwhile, however, I continue making my small living room into the best place that it can be for these evenings. What I need next is one of these:

SofaInPret

I came across that in a Pret a Manger (it seems they allow you to forget about accents) near Waterloo Station. The Wi-Fi there proved unsatisfactory for my purposes, but the above item of seating is exactly the sort of thing I now want.

It seats three in comfort, as do many sofas on sale these days. But it also has two other features which seem to be harder to come by.

First, unlike most the sofas I am now looking at, this one is not too deep from front to back. This comes partly from this sofa not also being a sofa-bed. I already have a sofa-bed. The last thing I need is another sofa-bed. A sofa(-bed) that sticks out too far into my small living room is no good to me. But many sofas that are not sofa-beds also stick out into the room far too much for my purposes. A sofa like the one above is what I need.

Second, the above sofa does not have wide and rather squishy arm rests. Instead it has narrow wooden ones. So just as it economises on depth space, it also makes the most of sideways space, space that I need every inch of for more seating.

Such wooden arm rests, in between meetings, can be easily used to rest a big plank on, which is helpful for when I am battling with paperwork, which I am, now and always. Also, during meetings, the wooden arms would be good for resting drinks on, in the way that big squishy arm rests are not.

Nevertheless, I would definitely consider something which is the same shape as the sofa in the picture, but without any arm rests at all. The important thing about this sofa is how well it uses space, compared the usual lumbering monster sofas that are to be seen in every furniture shop or furniture website in such abundance. Pret a Manger presumably have a problem not unlike mine, that made them want what I want. I want one sofa that helps me get as many people into my small living room as I can. They want as many sofas as possible, to get as many people as they can get into a larger space.

The sofa I seek doesn’t have to be any particular colour, or in as good condition as the one above. Rather battered would probably be rather good, because cheaper. It just needs to be that particular sort of shape, or as near to it as I can find.

So, can any of my London friends, or for that matter anyone reading this and living in London, or, really, just anyone, help? All relevant information would be gratefully received. (Comment, or email me by going here and clicking where it says Contact, top left. (That needs to be a slightly complicated process, to deter spammers.))

In order to rescue this posting from being an unadulterated personal advert, let me adulterate it with a broader observation about modern life. Notice how much harder it would have been for me to get across what kind of sofa I am seeking, had I not been able, at zero additional cost to me, to include a photo in this posting of what I am looking for.

→ Continue reading: On the sort of sofa I am looking for – and on the impact of digital photography on trade

Open source software vs. the NSA

From a security point of view, the trouble with cloud-based applications and closed source software in general is that you can never tell whether there are flaws that will leak your information or even back doors put there deliberately to allow third parties to get at it.

Open source software gives you many advantages.

You can understand exactly what the software will do when run. Strictly speaking you can understand what any software does, but source code written in a high level language serves the purpose of both telling the computer what to do and telling humans what the program is intended to do. This is because classes, functions and variables in the program are given English names. Programmers may even write comments in the source code to annotate it. The names and comments may be misleading but this becomes apparent when you look at what code does as a whole. If you can not personally understand the program, you can be reasonably sure others do. One thing that gives me confidence is that previous flaws have been found and fixed.

You can be sure you are running the same software you have gone to the trouble of understanding because you can compile it yourself. You can compile the user applications, libraries, operating system kernel, drivers and even the compiler yourself if you want. More usually you will entrust most of this work to others such as Linux distributions. Programs downloaded from such sources are cryptographically signed. Becuase the source code is available anyone can check that the source code produces the same program that is provided pre-compiled.

So there is little likelihood of a back door in open source software. Linus’s Law states that many eyes make bugs shallow. This means that bugs in open source software, especially the most important and most widely used open source software, get fixed quickly. In The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric Raymond described how the Linux style of development leads to superior code quality. All this means there is less likelihood of accidental leakage of your secret information.

Should they decide they do not like us encrypting our files or obscuring our online activity, it would be very hard for authorites to take open source software away. The nearest they have got is the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act which was intended to protect music companies who wanted to put DRM into music by making trusted computing compulsory. The idea was that computers would be required to have a special chip that would only let them run programs that would be cryptographically signed by some authority. You would not be able to run your own programs.

The bill got nowhere and such laws are unlikely to because open source software is so ubiquitous. It runs the Internet. Samizdata runs on a computer running the Linux kernel using GNU libraries and uses an open source web server, database and blogging software written in languages compiled by open source compilers and interpreted by open source interpreters. So do everyone else’s web sites. Most of the electronic gadgets in the world that have any software at all have open source software in them, including phones and TVs. None of this is going away.

As much as Google and Microsoft have brands to protect, if the government makes laws big companies have to follow them. Governments have no such hold over open source programmers who are geographically, organisationally and ideologically dispersed.

The people who write GNU Privacy Guard or OpenSSL are not going to put a back door in their software. If they did it would be spotted and someone could simply fork the project.

It is possible that certain algorithms have mathematical back doors and that the NSA has hired all the people clever enough to find them. It is possible that the NSA tried this with a cryptographic random number generator and were caught out. We can be somewhat confident that the NSA can not break AES encryption. There are other encryption algorithms available.

Nothing is certain, but open source software gives us some control over our computers and some defense against governments that closed corporate software never can.

It has nothing much to do with ‘porn’

The dismal David Cameron wants to block people from accessing ‘porn’ from WiFi in public places and ‘semi-public’ places. Which presumably means all WiFi as almost every WiFi in the world is capable of being picked up in a ‘public’ place, such as the side walk in front of your house.

And the usual coercion addicted statists will smile and nod that ‘the children’ are being protected. And once the slope has been created, these are the people who will be working to make it as slippery as possible.

So of course once the notion that protecting ‘the children’ from stumbling across porn is accepted, next will be protecting them from seeing ‘hate speech’… and then from anything that is held not to be in ‘the public interest’. Held by who? Why by people like them, of course.

It is not about porn, it is about control. It always is.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a web site that allows business people to pitch their ideas to the general public instead of venture capitalists. In return the general public gets to fund projects in the hope of seeing them come to fruition and other rewards depending on the amount donated to the project. In a video interview, David Braben, who along with Ian Bell wrote the classic space trading computer game Elite, talks about the advantages of making a computer game funded by Kickstarter over using a conventional publisher:

We want the game to very much evolve over time. It’s quite hard to do that in a conventional contractual delivery structure where you end up being beholden to things that are no longer the most important. So you’ve got to have an arrangement that has that level of flexibility, and it’s quite hard to create that. [Kickstarter] seems to be an extremely good solution to do it. We’ve got that direct connection to fans and a lot of the constraints that get in the way just aren’t there.

When David Braben started making computer games in 1984, individuals could make them in their bedrooms, but there was no Internet so publishers were needed to distribute them. Today distribution is easier, but a top computer game needs a large team of programmers and artists, so lots of funding up front which publishers can help with. But, like movie studios, games publishers mostly want predictable money makers and understandably to impose constraints on the game that gets made. Kickstarter means developers can work directly for gamers, or movie fans, or people who want to experiment with home aquaponics.

Kickstarter is an example of something the Internet is particularly good at: disintermediation. I can buy coffee beans very nearly directly from the farmer; I can buy gadgets from some bloke in Hong Kong; I can vote with my wallet for the computer games I want to see made. People with niche interests can find each other anywhere in the world and cater to each others’ needs.

Incidentally, the original Elite taught me all about trade when I was 8. This sequel will have proper celestial mechanics and Newtonian physics too, but still needs funding.

Milton Friedman on big business and big government

Following the Rothbard talk I mentioned yesterday, here is another performance by a dead great guy, in this case Milton Friedman, supplied by Sam Bowman at the ASI blog.

What a shame, as Rothbard so regularly noted, that Friedman didn’t include banking in his list of big businesses that the government should not be giving money and power to.

I say dead. Thanks to their books, but now especially thanks to video and audio, and to the internet that now allows us all to choose what video and audio we will pay attention to, these great men live on.

Distributed defence

Incoming:

Dear Samizdata,

Defense Distributed, a libertarian student partnership, is announcing a project they’re calling the Wiki Weapon. This project’s goal is to test and prove a design for a completely printable, one-use ABS plastic .22 handgun, and to take that design from CAD and port it to a .STL file that will then be freely shared across all major file-sharing platforms to the world. DefDist is anticipating a world where 3D printing becomes much more economical and ubiquitous, and the Wiki Weapon will be one step in providing political and personal leverage to the peoples of that world. The value of such a file’s existence in the future cannot be overstated.

We ask that you please share the project or its video, located at http://PrintableGun.com and http://Indiegogo.com/wikiwep, with your readers and help spread the word that there are intellectual entrepreneurs dedicated to preserving Liberty in a time of almost unopposed statist planning.

Please find the attached press release for your convenience.

Thank you for your time.

You’re welcome.

Brian Micklethwait versus Jimmy Carr – Laurie Penny versus David Starkey

I have just been reminded by a spam commenter that long before denouncing Jimmy Carr was fashionable, I denounced Jimmy Carr, in September 2008. Quote:

I am watching the late night rerun of 8 Out Of 10 Cats on the telly, and I have a complaint. Carr has just said that: “It’s true. 68 percent preferred brains to beauty.” No Carr. If you join me in thinking about this, Carr, what you will realise is that 68 percent of people said they preferred brains to beauty.

Time was when we ordinaries just had to put up with media distortions of this kind, but now, the internet has changed the balance of power. We can now shout back at our tellies, and be heard. The world will never be the same again.

Indeed not. Don’t bother following the link to read the whole thing, because you just did.

More seriously, on a related note to the one sounded by me in para 2 above, here is a posting at Guido’s about how Laurie Penny threw some mud at David Starkey, calling him a racist, and he then threw some more mud back at Ms. Penny. Two short video clips show both bits of mud flying through the air.

This is the first time I have ever see Laurie Penny in action. I definitely prefer her beauty to her brain.

Time was when the original mud thrown by Ms. Penny would have stuck, and Starkey would have been muddied for ever, even in the minds of those who would have sympathised with what he said, on account of the original performance by Starkey on Newsnight that was the basis of Ms. Penny’s accusation not being available for anyone to check, even if they saw it first time around. But the game no longer plays out like that.

As is further illustrated by the fact that, in trying to recover her position with subsequent tweeting following the debate shown in those video clips, Ms. Penny only dug herself deeper into her hole, also exposing her original racism accusation to yet another audience and enabling commenters to clarify the whole spat still further.

The complete video of the event over the weekend is still, alas, stuck behind the Sunday Times paywall. It will surely emerge soon.

Keep the faith, brothers, they will hear us eventually

Declare free trade unilaterally, says Tim Worstall in the Telegraph. Good and true are his words, but since you all know that already, allow me to draw your attention to an exchange you may not have seen in the comments that manages to be both entertaining and at the same time slightly sad.

“davidaslindsay” wrote:

A perfect illustration of how there is nothing more anti-conservative than capitalism.

The Cold War is long gone, so there is no remaining need for Tories to be corralled out of fear into voting for Conservatives and other such Liberal parties

Imagine, just imagine, if a site not unlike this one in structure, if in nothing else, were to give a platform to people who recognised that there was no patriotism without economic patriotism, set within a broader appreciation of the rural, the provincial, the socially conservative, and the classically (and Classically) Christian, with the consequent pronounced aversion to global capitalism, to American hegemony, to obeisant Zionism, to wars to make the world anew, to wars generally, and so on.

Just imagine such a voice in the debate. Just imagine it. Even if only for one moment, just imagine it.

“TimWorstall” replied

David, this is a blog.

You have a blog. Thus there already is a blog which reflects such views.

Very democratic place, the internet.

What is both funny and sad about David Lindsay’s cri de coeur is that he does not just have a personal blog but has, or had in 2009, a slot in the Telegraph, a privilege that most bloggers would give their best stripy pyjamas to obtain. Lindsay’s cry of “Just imagine such a voice in the debate. Just imagine it. Even if only for one moment, just imagine it” makes him sound like a combination of Galileo facing the Inquisition and Captain Kirk trying to get the Fabrini to believe they are on a generation ship in For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Yet he scarcely had to stretch his imagination to conceive of a voice exactly like his being given a platform even beyond the one offered by davidaslindsay.blogspot.com. All he had to do was remember as far back as 2009.

What is the appeal of believing that you are silenced when you are given a megaphone?

Some of it is persecution envy, or to be more accurate, envy of the chance to be heroic. Mr Lindsay is of the nostalgic Right and appears to me to suffer a little from this condition but the phenomenon is most common and strong on the nostalgic Left. How they do hate being the rich, safe, privileged ones. How they love to reminisce about standing up to Thatcher, or at a pinch, their resistance during the grim Bush years. How they would have loved to have been a Freedom Rider. They would have been heroes, honest.

Some of it is a desire to maintain the delusion that the world would heed your message if only it were allowed to hear it. This thought hurts much less than the thought that the world has had ample opportunity to hear your message and heeds it not. Before you laugh at Mr Lindsay – or being realistic, slightly after – remember that (a) in so far as this is a delusion it is one he shares with us (have we not blogs? Seen the libertarian sentiments of the populace lately?) and (b) the belief that the people are being stopped from hearing minority voices by a semi-conscious conspiracy of the mainstream media is only just now ceasing to be true.

We do not quite match the faithfulness in delusion of those communists who have announced the imminence of world revolution every year for close on a century, but many of the bloggers whose writing I love most – Instapundit, Brian Micklethwait, me – have announced the imminent death of the gatekeeper every year for close on a decade. Yet there the decrepit old bastard is each new morning, bleary eyed, swaying on his feet, pretending not to know about the people who slipped past him while he was drunk and incapable the night before – but still manning his old rotten gate most of the time and just damn refusing to die.

Mind you, we were not exactly wrong about the old boy’s morbidity, just premature. He’ll turn up his toes eventually and the patient messengers of every suppressed creed with break through and be heard in all the land, only we’ll be heard most gladly because we are in the right. I hope. I think.

Blocking porn by default

David Cameron, who clearly does not have enough to do, has pledged to consult on campaigners’ proposals to force internet service providers to block porn by default. I am against the proposals because of the force. I also agree with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group that non-porn will get blocked by mistake. There will likely be other technical problems. And it will make the perceived problem it is trying to solve worse because parents will have a false sense of security while savvy children figure out how to work around the filters. And I am not convinced that porn harms children.

But mostly I want the government to stop messing with my internet.

My new Panasonic Lumix FZ150

A couple of months ago now, I went ahead and bought that new camera that I had for quite a while been thinking about buying. The circumstance that provoked me into making a decision earlier than I otherwise would have done was a trip, early in February, to Paris. Yes, it was cold:

4samDefenseFrozenWaterS.jpg

That’s a water feature, somewhat frozen when I photoed it, in La Défense, the big clump of modern architecture in the west of Paris.

The thing that clinched it for it, in favour of the Panasonic Lumix FZ150, was how reviewer after reviewer used phrases like “an all round winner” and “all round best”, as in best for the sort of camera that I wanted, when writing about it. Such talk suggested to me: excellence in what I knew I wanted (zoom, picture quality, good video recording) together with excellence in other areas that I would only learn about after I had started using the thing. So it is proving.

The other camera I was considering buying was the Canon SX40 HS. I can’t compare my new Lumix with that, and will presumably never know for sure if I made the exact right choice. But I can compare my new Lumix with all the previous cameras I have ever owned, and in particular with my most recent previous camera, a Canon S5 IS. And I can now tell you that I am a very happy snapper. Could I have chosen even better? Perhaps. Have I meanwhile chosen well? It certainly feels that way now.

The x24 zoom supplied by the new Lumix is wonderful, just as I expected it would be. The Canon SX40 HS has x35 zoom, but I reckoned that x24 would suffice for my purposes and so it is proving:

4samLondonViewS.jpg

That’s a snap taken last week from Primrose Hill. On a typical London day, the limits of how far your camera can see with clarity are set not by its lens but by the clarity of the air, which is mostly set at: not very. So I am very happy with my new zoom superpower.

Other improvements on my old Canon were not quite so expected. → Continue reading: My new Panasonic Lumix FZ150

It is becoming normal for websites to disappear

One minute Kim Dotcom is running a successful file sharing website, renovating his mansion, driving his luxury cars and sailing on a superyacht surrounded by topless girls. The next, his birthday party is being raided by New Zealand police with helicopters and automatic rifles. Living in New Zealand, hosting his website in Hong Kong, and running the site as a file storage service similar in many ways to DropBox or Microsoft’s SkyDrive did not help him.

The New Zealand police simply did the FBI’s bidding. The indictment states that, due to various workings of MegaUpload such as the way users could get paid for hosting popular files and unpopular files would get deleted, it is not just a file storage service like DropBox. This is not unreasonable.

But it is, perhaps, surprising that the assertions of the FBI are enough to remove a well known web site from the Internet. It turns out they can already do that, even the day after the anti-SOPA protests during which everyone complained that the government would be able to take down websites if this scary new bill passed.

Meanwhile in the UK it looks likely that ISPs will be told to block access to PirateBay.

I’m not necessarily arguing that Dotcom and PirateBay are good guys, although their copying of bits of information is arguably peaceful while states’ reactions are violent.

But there is a trend here I don’t like. There was a time when you could host your web site in the right jurisdiction and it would not be touched. Now governments are learning how to apply various laws to remove them. Forcing ISPs to block access makes life less pleasant for ISPs, and it is likely to be somewhat effective. I expect more websites to disappear, and I expect this to become more commonplace. Eventually it will be normal and no longer newsworthy.