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]

Kardeshev 1.5?

I am sure most of you have by now heard at least a garbled version of the discovery of a very unusual object in the skies, a possible alien mega-structure. I have not been following the mass media but they probably went for the spectacular in their reporting.

Well, it could be spectacular, but only if after a few years or even decades of hard science it does not turn out to be something else. Some science news outlets have compared it to the discovery of the pulsar by Jocelyn Bell. There was no known explanation at the time for something in the heavens that could generate a pulse train that was so precise you could set your time standard to it.

Still, an alien civilization is a candidate explanation, even if the only thing we can say is “We’ve got something we’ve never seen before and some of our wild ass guesses, including an alien civilization, have not yet been ruled out”. I want to make this absolutely clear before I get to the fun stuff.

Now… what if it turns out to be true and we find we have a neighbor who is building structures in space large enough to obscure up to 20% of its sun’s output for significant periods of time? That is one serious civilization, one that is well on its way to becoming a Kardeshev Type II.

But let us turn things around. If they exist, what do they know about us?

The star in question is about 1400 light years away from us. That means what we are seeing happened back in the dark ages, back in an era oft written of in books by Dr. Sean Gabb in his historical novels. Whatever we are detecting now of their technology happened that long ago. Fourteen Hundred Years of advancement beyond what we can see. One and a half millennia. Just imagine it.

Lets go further. Fourteen hundred years ago they were building structures that could block 20% of their star’s light when passing in front of it. That is not the capability of a new space faring civilization. In our terms, it is probably several millenia beyond where we are in our space capabilities, possibly even more.

So how many thousands of years ago did they map a lovely little life bearing world? They almost certainly have thousands of years of data on our star and planets. But their data shows no sign of civilization because their most recent data about us comes from our 600AD.

Unusual situation then. We would know there is a space faring civilization out there… and they would only know there was a life bearing world with no signs of a technological civilization here.

So… I wonder when the generation ships of the colonists will show up?

I’m just having a bit of fun. But What If?

Get your climate popcorn out

From Breitbart:

The plan by climate alarmists to have other scientists imprisoned for their ‘global warming’ skepticism is backfiring horribly, and the chief alarmist is now facing a House investigation into what has been called “the largest science scandal in US history.”

These are the RICO20, and if everything works out it will be very funny indeed. And ironic, as the “scientists” wanted to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to silence their critics.

You can follow along at Watts Up With That and Climate Audit.

Uber and how it makes the case for laissez faire capitalism

Uber has been hit with complaints that it’s running “an Objectivist LARP,” a live-action role playing of a capitalist utopia from an Ayn Rand novel. That’s pretty much what it is doing, and the results are awesome. And the benefits don’t stop with more drivers and lower rates. Uber is ploughing a fair portion of its profits into another wave of technological innovation — self-driving cars — that promises to offer even greater improvements in the future.

All of this should counter some of the despair about how to promote free markets, especially among urban elites who have been programmed by their college educations to embrace the rhetoric of the Left. Give them half a chance, and they will flock to capitalist innovations run according to the laws of the market.

The problem is that they don’t want to admit it. That’s where the euphemism “ride-sharing” comes in. To cover up the capitalistic nature of the activity, they tell themselves they’re “sharing” something that they are quite obviously paying for, and paying at market rates. Imagine what could be accomplished if they were just willing to drop the euphemisms and embrace the free market.

Robert Tracinski


Samizdata quote of the day

On the other hand, robots, when they are not seducing us, are supposed to be taking our jobs. It doesn’t matter that UK productivity has slipped even further towards the bottom of the developing world, as the use of immigrants, women and older people by far outweighs the deployment of new machines. It doesn’t matter that, at 5.1 per cent, unemployment in the US is at a seven-year low. It doesn’t matter that investment (automation included) is weak throughout the West, that the cash hoarded by IT companies speaks volumes about their unwillingness to take robots much further, that the 225,000 robots sold worldwide in 2014 merely match the number of new jobs typically created in the US in just one month. People still insist that robots and IT generally are about to change the workplace forever, create mass unemployment and heighten inequality.

James Woudhuysen

An Anti-Soviet agitator retires from the BBC

Seva Novgorodsev, dubbed: ‘The DJ who ‘brought down the USSR’ has retired. Well I was pleasantly surprised to learn that an anti-Soviet even got a look-in at the BBC, but this was at the World Service, until recently funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (even greater wonder!) and in Russian language broadcasts. I have no idea if this man is as well-known as the article states, but I do like the sound of his using ridicule against the Soviets, something we should all use for Statists.

Seva’s programmes were meticulously prepared and scripted. He timed the intros to all the songs he played and crafted links that fitted perfectly.
“Then gradually I started to insert some jokes,” he recalls. “I knew that people were bored stiff in Russia, especially the young people, who were under oppression of their family, of the school, of their youth party organisation. And Russia is a huge country and especially in provincial places, life is excruciatingly boring.”

He would also take a dig at the Soviet love of ‘science’, and I don’t mean Lysenko.

Beatlology was the name given to a series of 55 short programmes about the Fab Four – it was, he says, “a pun on a lot of unnecessary scientific papers that the Russians used to write, because if you had a degree it would add 30 roubles to your wages”

The latter reminds me of the some points on Samizdata, science is hard here and credentialism here. Oh dear, are we having the gap left by the Soviet Union slowly filled in?

The Unbearable reality of arctic Russia

Terrible news from the far north of Russia as the autumnal equinox nears. Russian scientists in a weather station are unable to take daily readings of sea temperatures, as they are besieged by polar bears. Unfortunately, it seems, bears are not scared of flares, the scientists’ only means of defence, and the scientists have no weapons to ‘deter’ the bears. Perhaps Bjørn and Benny, as I shall call the bears, think of the scientists as a pleasant change from seal.

The BBC blames warming of course. What a dreadful irony, polar bears preventing the gathering of data on global warming. Now if hippos were to turn up, these concerns might be taken more seriously. In the meantime, some warmists might become vocal advocates for gun rights…

The blockchain and what it might do to banking and finance (and other things besides)

In a matter of months, this word, blockchain, has gone viral on trading floors and in the executive suites of banks and brokerages on both sides of the Atlantic. You can’t attend a finance conference these days without hearing it mentioned on a panel or at a reception or even in the loo. At a recent blockchain confab in London’s hip East End, the host asked if there were any bankers in the room. More than half the audience members, all dressed in suits, raised their hands.

Bloomberg Magazine.

Okay, what the F**k is a blockchain (one word or two?), I hear you cry?

A block chain is a transaction database shared by all nodes participating in a system based on the Bitcoin protocol. A full copy of a currency’s block chain contains every transaction ever executed in the currency. With this information, one can find out how much value belonged to each address at any point in history.  (Wikipedia.)

Here is a book by Dominic Frisby, whom I have met and is known to Samizdata contributors such as Brian Micklethwait, about Bitcoin, and the blockchain system. There is now quite a literature about Bitcoin, some of it with a strong “hell with fiat money” sort of bent, others with a more agnostic approach. Here is one such example by Paul Vigna. Going onto Amazon or other search engines for such books brings up a lot of hits.

More broadly, the point of the article to which I linked at the top here is that very serious financial industry figures are now piling in; sure, some of them will have problems, and the history of how some people get carried away is instructive. But just as instructive is that, even after a period of difficulty, such as when the dotcom boom went sour, we were left not just with a lot of garish stories of excess, but some valuable business models that worked. And that, I suspect, will be the story around Bitcoin – not that this will be the one to succeed, but that the technology surrounding it will have a major change on how finance and other activity happens.

Science is hard

Science is really, really hard. Someone posted a report on Reddit about an attempt to replicate some psychology experiments, and how hard it was. The comments thread is fascinating. I particularly enjoyed a description of how research results can be “turtles all the way down”. This comment also suggests to me a mechanism for the formation of group-think.

These sorts of difficulties need to be borne in mind when reading excited reports in the media that simply paraphrase the university’s press release about the research. And when considering claims that particular branches of science are “settled”.

3D printed glass!

One of the dominant themes of architectural development of the last few decades, and never more so than right now, is the architectural use of glass. Architectural glass used to be a means by which Architectural Modernists could fry, freeze and embarrass the lower orders, in the name of Architectural Modernism. Transparency, “structural honesty”, blah blah. But in the last few decades architectural glass has got hugely better and more varied, and architectural modernity has gone from ugly and clunky to really quite stylish, at least when they are trying.

And now, here is favourite-website-of-mine Dezeen, reporting on what the fact of and the possibilities of 3D printed glass are and might be:

Designer and researcher Neri Oxman and her Mediated Matter group at MIT Media Lab have developed a technique for 3D-printing molten glass, meaning that transparent glass objects can be printed for the first time …

Cool. Metaphorically speaking.

Oxman’s team have used the technique to produce a range of vases and bowls, but Oxman said that the new glass-printing technology could be used at an architectural scale.

Which is what gets Dezeen’s juices flowing, because they are very big on architecture, as am I.

The process, for which a patent application has been submitted, can create an infinite variety of glass forms, just like a traditional 3D printer.

“The additive manufacturing of glass enables us to generate structures that are geometrically customisable and optically tunable with high spatial resolution in manufacturing,” Oxman told Dezeen. …

“Because we can design and print outer and inner surface textures independently (unlike glass blowing) we can control solar transmittance.”

By the look of it, the early uses of this kit will not be for building. They’ll be for making weird bowls and drinking glasses and lighting kit and jewellery and the like, and to begin with only for people with money to burn. But, that’s all part of how start-up and R&D costs are paid. Capitalism soaks the rich, and thereby eventually brings wonder-products to the mass market, in the form of cheap stuff that the most rapacious monarchs of the past could only dream of possessing.

Another use for this sort of technology might be for such things as solar panels, including quite small ones. The phrase “solar transmittance” certainly suggests that this thoughts like that have not escaped Neri Oxman and her collaborators. My techy friends are telling me that solar power is nearing economic viability. 3D-printed glass can surely only help with that.

Yet another reason why I would really like to live to the end of the next century, instead of only half way through it this one if I’m very lucky.

Automotive security bill

I was somewhat surprised to learn about the possibility of taking complete control of a Jeep Cherokee using a laptop and a mobile phone. It seems as if the car makers have added software features to their cars without properly understanding how to make them secure. I work with embedded software that merely has to prevent movies from being copied. If the hacking methods described by Wired are accurate, there are some quite obvious precautions we take that the makers of Jeeps appear not to. I am glad not to be working on life or death software; I expect more from people who do.

Nonetheless, this should all be fixed soon.

Carmakers who failed to heed polite warnings in 2011 now face the possibility of a public dump of their vehicles’ security flaws. The result could be product recalls or even civil suits, says UCSD computer science professor Stefan Savage, who worked on the 2011 study. Earlier this month, in fact, Range Rover issued a recall to fix a software security flaw that could be used to unlock vehicles’ doors. “Imagine going up against a class-action lawyer after Anonymous decides it would be fun to brick all the Jeep Cherokees in California,” Savage says.

Free speech and free markets seem to be working, then. Which makes this seem unnecessary:

It’s the latest in a series of revelations from the two hackers that have spooked the automotive industry and even helped to inspire legislation; WIRED has learned that senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal plan to introduce an automotive security bill today to set new digital security standards for cars and trucks, first sparked when Markey took note of Miller and Valasek’s work in 2013.

As an auto-hacking antidote, the bill couldn’t be timelier.

Meh. It sounds to me more like the government has come along after the problem is already being solved to take the credit. I suspect such a bill will end up protecting car makers from civil suits if they merely have to show they have complied with inevitably flawed regulations.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger

Scientists find mutation that protects against ‘mad cow’ disease after studying cannibal group

Scientists have found a genetic mutation that imparts complete protection against the human form of “mad cow” disease, which could lead to new ways of tackling similar incurable brain diseases.

The researchers discovered the mutation after studying the genes of the Fore people of Papua New Guinea who until recently had practised a form of cannibalism where a related disease was transmitted by eating the brain tissue of the dead.


At the height of the kuru epidemic in the mid-20th Century, the disease was killing about 2 per cent of the Fore population every year. Some villages had become so severely depopulated they risked dying out, with few if any women of child-bearing age left alive.

However, the scientists believe that people who had been born with the resistance mutation may have helped to re-populate the Fore villages, leading to a rise in the number of individuals who were resistant to kuru.

If I had more brains my first thought on reading this article in the Independent would have been, as it was for Professor John Collinge, director of the Prion Unit:

“This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans – the epidemic of prion disease selecting a single genetic change that provided complete protection against an invariably fatal dementia.”

But if I had more brains I wouldn’t need a second thought.

The Police State tentacles are everywhere

Yesterday a medical doctor friend told me that these days you have to show ID and sign for laboratory glassware. You may perhaps even be asked why you need it.

When I was a kid, you picked up an Edmunds Scientific or other catalog, used the money you earned mowing lawns and bought your gadgets and glassware by mail order – unless you were lucky enough to live in the same city in which case you went to their outlet and came straight home with it on the same day. No questions were asked. Lab glassware was just part of being a future scientist in a nation of free people.

Why has this changed? The Drug War. It is yet another culturally disastrous bit of police state monitoring enabled by fear mongering about meth labs. Well, to put it simply, I do not care. The people responsible for these sorts of regulation are much more socially damaging in their efforts because they undercut our liberty, our ability to act as free and autonomous citizens. It is my right to buy something ‘because I feel like it’ and to use it for ‘whatever the hell pleases me’ just because I am an American. I need no other reason.

I have no sympathy for the drug warriors. I want them unemployed. As to the people who think up these un-american regulations…

“Hangin’s too good for ’em.”