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]

All are subject to the people’s surveillance

A little over a week ago I came across a little “gotcha” story of political news, or rather gossip, which stuck in my mind, not because of the of the commonplace instance of political insincerity it revealed, but because of the way this story reached what we still call the newspapers.

Celebrity Corbyn cheerleader Paul Mason caught on video expressing his doubts about the LAB leader saying he should be replaced by Clive Lewis

One of the tireless advocates of Corbyn during the prolonged LAB leadership battle in the summer was the ex-Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason. As you’d expect he’s articulate and good on the telly and figured prominently in the coverage of the election.

But there’s one video of him which he’s probably less keen about. He was caught by someone sitting near him in a bar in Liverpool as he talked about Corbyn’s failings and lack of electoral appeal. This has now found its way into the hands of the Sun which is giving big coverage this morning.

This is one of the dangers about the modern world. Most people have smartphones with pretty sophisticated video facilities which they carry with them all the time.

The quote is from by Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com. The emphasis was added by me. It is funny to see the “postcapitalist” journalist Paul Mason caught out, but disquieting to think that this is the future for everybody even slightly famous.Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s famous meeting at the Granita restaurant in Islington in which Blair is said to have promised to pass the sceptre to Brown would not now be possible. Famous and powerful people must now remove themselves even further from normal people in order to have any hope of privacy. Is this on balance good? I don’t know.

However much I worry, the ability of every ordinary person to spy on the media-political elite (a category that most certainly includes the former Newsnight Business Correspondent and Channel 4 Economics Editor) is one of the few things that might temper their belief in their right to spy on and “expose” everybody else. It also reminds them that what constitutes “news” can be decided by other people than them.

Related: Perry de Havilland’s post from 2010: Why I Support Wikileaks

Decolonise your mind!

David Thompson has up a most interesting post:

Don’t Oppress My People With Your White Devil Science

In the video below, filmed at the University of Cape Town, members of the science faculty meet with student protestors who wish to “decolonise” the university and not pay their bills. During the meeting, one of the staff, one of the “science people,” points out that, contrary to claims being made by a student protestor, witchcraft doesn’t in fact allow Africans to throw lightning at their enemies. He is promptly scolded for “disrespecting the sacredness of the space,” which is a “progressive space,” and is told either to apologise or leave. The offended speaker, the one claiming that Africans can in fact throw lightning at each other – and who disdains “Western knowledge” as “very pathetic” – then uses the apparently scandalous reference to reality as the sole explanation for why she is “not in the science faculty.”

There follow some related links. I’m afraid I can’t remember which I read first to give proper credit. I think my brain has been frazzled by all the witchcraft flying about.

A quick science lesson for the #ScienceMustFall idiots. I sincerely hope that the unnamed staff writer who wrote this reply for what seems to be a Zimbabwean online publication is more representative of the state of scientific thought in Africa than the Social Justice Witches.

Tim Blair reports that science is a product of the (very pathetic) West.

What did Newton know? Rioting students determined to defy gravity, reports the Times. It’s behind a paywall but sufficiently decolonised people can overcome that with a spell.

Science Must Fall: it’s time to decolonise science – The Spectator‘s Coffee House blog.

Fallism: Into the intellectual abyss – Michael Cardo, a South African MP for the opposition Democratic Alliance, wrote a good post lambasting the cowardly response of the UCT authorities.

This might be the ur-video, posted by someone called “UCTScientist”.

Oooh, here’s a good one, from the University of Cape Town Left Students Forum: “As the UCT LSF we will like to clarify our position on a recent statement by a member of the movement, captured in a viral youtube video #ScienceMustFall”. I bet you would.

By the way, “#ScienceMustFall” is not a parody name imposed upon these students by imperialist Western witchcraft-deniers. It is what they call themselves.

It seems these people do not want to pay fees for university, and also do not want to be taught Western science. Thinking about it, that might not be so difficult to achieve. Could they not go to learn at the feet of a shaman, who obviously would not take money to pass on his wisdom, and let the silly people willing to pay to learn Western science do that?

Deserts of vast eternitea

John Stuart Mill, 1848:

“Hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish.”

The Guardian, 2016:

“English man spends 11 hours trying to make cup of tea with Wi-Fi kettle.”

Encryption, terrorism, privacy and security

Ars Technica ran a story about a man in Cardiff charged with using encryption to aid terrorism. A VPN provider wrote about it on their blog. Scotland Yard supplied more details about the charges.

Count 3: Preparation for terrorism. Between 31 December 2015 and 22 September 2016 Samata Ullah, with the intention of assisting another or others to commit acts of terrorism, engaged in conduct in preparation for giving effect to his intention namely, by researching an encryption programme, developing an encrypted version of his blog site and publishing the instructions around the use of programme on his blog site. Contrary to section 5 Terrorism Act 2006.

It appears the charges include that he used encryption (probably HTTPS) to secure his blog, and that he had a USB stick with an operating system on it (probably Tails). This is just silly. Use of encryption is not related to terrorism. We use exactly the same encryption to protect our communication with shopping sites and banks as we do share our family photos with other members of our families. Learning about encryption or teaching others about encryption is not a crime, so why is doing these things in relation to terrorism listed as a separate charge? Terrorists might eat eggs for breakfast but they are not charged with eating an egg in connection with terrorism. If there is evidence he was doing terrorism, charge him with that. There is no need to bring encryption into it at all.

There is a risk in connecting such things with crime in the public psyche. People need to be encouraged to make use of privacy tools, not be afraid of them. They need to use these tools to protect themselves from crime. It is not helpful if encryption becomes to be seen simply as a tool of terrorists and criminals.

It is a short step from there to demands for the state to Do Something About It. The state will inevitably do silly things, like insisting on back doors in encryption systems. As our own Perry Metzger pointed out on Fox Business, it is impossible to weaken encryption used by terrorists to communicate without also putting people at risk from fraudsters attempting to manipulate their bank accounts.

Metamaterial mechanisms

Dezeen is, for me, a daily visit website. Why? Well, partly it’s for the, sometimes amazing, big modern buildings they feature, in among all the, usually boring, small modern buildings which are their daily bread. And partly it’s for postings like this one which appeared today, entitled “Metamaterials make it possible to create mechanisms from a single piece of plastic”.

How on earth can a single piece of plastic be a mechanism? Follow the link, and watch the little scrap of video which shows you such an object in action. Maybe you’ve already seen a door handle like this, but I never have.

What this video doesn’t show is the details of how on earth this was accomplished. If you want to know that as well, keep reading the Dezeen posting linked to above. And if you really want to get to grips with who they are and what they are up to, try reading this paper, entitled “Metamaterial Mechanisms”. I won’t be doing this myself, but this is why Samizdata has commenters.

Even though the names of those doing this (Frohnhofen, Lindsay, Kovacs, Lopes, Chen) seem to span the world, my impression, for whatever it may be worth, is that what we see here is Germany doing what Germany does best. Which is: taking some newly discovered form of creativity which more Anglo-inclined tinkerers have been tinkering with for the last few years, for the fun of it, and studying it systematically, so that it can then be studied properly, by many more people, and then done properly, on an industrial scale. Fun, in Germany (as this guy is fond of explaining), is what happens after the working day has ended.

There is a lot wrong with the world, now as always. But one good thing that shows no sign of stopping is the invention and development of amazing new gadgets, processes and manufacturing techniques. Long may this continue.

Twenty Five years ago today, the world changed forever…

And no one realised what a revolutionary change the web would be.

But now we know exactly what revolutionary change looks like!

Boring Jobs vs. Automation

The BBC have been soliciting stories about boring jobs. An example:

I put pepperoni on 14,000 pizzas per day at a factory in Nottingham. If the conveyor belt broke down, we made smiley faces on the pizzas with the pepperoni. So if you ever see a smiley pizza, that’s why.

It is mostly a list of things that can be automated away, because boring implies repetitive. In software development we try to never do the same thing more than a few times. Software is easy to automate compared to physical things like putting toppings on pizza, but any boring job looks to me like an opportunity for an inventor.

Food production seems to be the source of a lot of these jobs. Perhaps robotics lecturer Steve Davis can offer some insight:

More recently, the availability of highly effective pick-and-place robots allowed automation to move upstream and undertake operations with actual food products on production lines. However, these systems are currently only generally installed on the high-volume, long-life, single-product lines. Smaller companies, which constitute over 90 percent of European food manufacturers, have been much slower to incorporate automation. The reasons for this include limited low-cost labor and expertise, market volatility, a belief that automation is unsuitable for the assembly of soft, variable, fragile, slippery/sticky natural products and the predominance of short-term orders, which discouraged capital investments in automation.

The cost of the machinery might be reduced by making more general purpose machines that can be sold off the shelf in larger quantities. And the skill level required to configure the machines can probably be reduced, to a point, with clever user interface design.

Pick and place robots are fun to watch, too.

Samizdata quote of the day

Present reality is that science is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That’s the not-so-tongue-in-cheek message in Science on the Verge, a new book by European scientist Andrea Saltelli and seven other contributors. Science on the Verge is a 200-page indictment of what to the lay reader appears to be a monumental deterioration across all fields, from climate science to health research to economics. The mere idea that “most published research results are false” should be cause for alarm. But it is worse than that.

Just about everything we take for granted in modern science, from the use of big data to computer models of major parts of our social, economic and natural environment and on to the often absurd uses of statistical methods to fish for predetermined conclusions.

Terence Corcoran

Cryptography is good

Stack Exchange is a site, or a collection of sites, where people post questions on various subjects, other people post answers and yet others vote on whether they like both the questions and the answers. High-voted posts “float to the top of the heap”. Here is a post from the “Information Security” stack exchange that recently “trended” as one of the most popular questions overall: How to explain that “Cryptography is good” to non-techie friends. And here are extracts from the two topmost answers in terms of votes:

“If lack of encryption allows FBI to catch terrorists, then lack of encryption allows criminals to loot your emails and plunder your bank account.”

The rational point here is that technology is morally neutral. Encryption does not work differently depending on whether the attacker is morally right and the defender morally wrong, or vice versa.


I would take their argument and replace “cryptography” with “locks and keys on our houses” and see if they still agree:

If more terrorists and criminals would be caught by not having locks and keys on our houses, I would not blame warrantless searches by government and companies in our homes.

I know little of cryptography, but those arguments seem good to me.

Facebook and Tor

I enjoyed this tweet. Regulars might recognise the name.

My Number

The new unified identification system with its associated up-to-the-minute database will streamline government, reduce fraud and tax evasion, make it easier to stop people “falling between the cracks” of different government departments, provide a convenient single means for citizens to prove their identity, and protect us all from terrorism. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

What will bring about all these benefits? It sounds very like the UK Identity Cards Act 2006, but that cannot be since various malcontents forced the Act’s repeal in 2010. While it is true that for the British Civil Servant no setback is ever permanent, for now the torch has passed to Japan, where the latest version of the Eternal Scheme is called “My Number”.

Even in such a cooperative and law-abiding culture as Japan there are the inevitable troublemakers:

More Japan citizens sue gov’t over My Number system

Around 30 citizens in central and southwestern Japan filed lawsuits Thursday with regional courts, demanding the government suspend the use of identification numbers under the newly launched My Number social security and tax number system.

The lawsuits are the latest in a string of cases in which residents and lawyers argue that the right to privacy is endangered by the system, which allocates a 12-digit identification number to every resident of Japan, including foreign nationals, to simplify administrative procedures for taxation and social security.

Mitsuhiro Kato, who heads the lawyers’ group in the lawsuit with the Nagoya District Court, said at a press conference, “There were cases in which personal information was (illegally) sold and bought. Once the use of My Number expands, the state would come to control individual activities.”

According to the lawsuit, the action to collect citizens’ personal information without their consent infringes on their right to manage their own personal information. The plaintiffs are also worried about the risk of their personal information being leaked given the insufficient security measures currently in place.

My Number legislation has been enacted to make it easier for tax and other authorities to discover cases of tax evasion and wrongful receipt of welfare benefits.

But public concerns have grown over the government’s handling of personal information under the My Number system following massive data leaks from the Japan Pension Service in the wake of cyberattacks in May.

Here is a little more about that massive data leak from, or rather hack of, the Japanese pension system: 1.25 million affected by Japan Pension Service hack.

But fear not:

The hacked computers were not connected online to the fund’s core computer system, which keeps financial details of the pension system’s members, officials said. No illicit access to the core system, which contains the most sensitive information, such as the amount of premiums paid by and the amount of benefits paid to each individual, has been detected, they said, adding that they are still investigating the incident.

It is remarkable how when we read about these government data security breaches in any country, the most alarming possibilities always seem to have been avoided. Some special providence must protect government databases.

The public face of My Number is provided by popular actress Aya Ueto and a rabbit-like mascot with numbers in place of eyes called “Maina-chan”.

El Niño 2016 strikes

NASA, via The Guardian (and other old media) is trumpeting catastrophe again. “February breaks global temperature records by ‘shocking’ amount” says the headline. “We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, from Germany’s Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research.

On the other hand, towards the end of that article, they mention the El Niño. At Watts Up With That, Bob Tisdale provides some analysis and graphs. I think figure 6 provides the most useful overview, showing up to 0.17 degrees C per decade warming depending on who measures it. I suppose this might just be warming since the little ice age, or man-made but not terribly frightening.

A Guardian commenter wrote: “We spend so much time debating and arguing over things like benefits and the economy. Stories like this end up disregarded. The truth seems terrifying – this is the single biggest crisis facing all of humanity.”

I replied: “It’s either the single biggest crisis facing all of humanity, or an el Nino that fits in nicely with the between 0.12 and 0.17 degrees C per decade warming we’ve seen since satellite measurements began (which is what all this turned out to be back in 1998). Personally I hope the economy does well, because people with the wealth of middle-class westerners can cope better with a bit of bad weather than can subsistence farmers in the kinds of places that don’t have economic freedom.”