Further to yesterday’s SQotD, which was an MP dissing the Climate Change Act, I spotted this propaganda, on the big expensive greenhouse type front door, in Victoria Street near where I live, of the governmental organ that now calls itself the Department for Business Innovation & Skills:
Those wanting to say that my title for this posting is nonsense won’t have to go very far to prove themselves right, in their own eyes. All they need to do is go to the Department for Business Innovation & Skills website, where they will find no prominent mentions of anything about Energising Britain with such things as oil or gas, but plenty of mentions of things like Offshore wind industrial strategy and Multi-million pound investment in offshore wind industry to unlock billions in UK economy. Unlock billions from the UK economy, more like.
I agree, sort of, in other words, with a commenter on that SQotD, who said:
Too late, the scam has been running long enough that there are now too many snouts in the trough.
The above piece of propaganda that I photoed may not be an actual lie, in the trivial sense that 13.5 billion quid may indeed be being invested in Britain this year in oil and gas, despite everything that the Department for Business Innovation & Skills may have done to discourage such investment by instead prattling on about wind farms for the last decade or more. But as an exercise in saying what the Department for Business Innovation & Skills is now concentrating on, it is a lie. The racket continues.
But this is often the way with big government bureaucracies. The truth, and a consequent forthcoming shift of policy emphasis (that later cascades into a truly new and totally different policy), often first impinges in the form of public lies about what they are now doing, even as they persist behind the scenes with the old discredited nonsense.
Never underestimate the reverse-impact of public relations departments, in the form of them telling the other people in the building what they now all ought to be doing. The collapse of the USSR, no less, began as a big old Soviet lie about how the USSR was going to start being efficient and nice and good, by doing something called “Glaznost”. It was wall-to-wall bullshit, but it was wall-to-wall bullshit that helped to change the course of history. The USSR, like “green energy”, “climate change” and so on, was another huge scam that went on for far, far too long, and by the end snouts in the trough was all it was. And the snouts only changed things when the trough was getting seriously near to totally empty. But change things they did. Millions had already died, and millions more had endured lives of utter misery, and in this sense, the change came too late, far too late. But change like that is never not worth doing. There is still a future worth improving, for many millions more.
Suppose you were a green fanatic who had weaselled your way into the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, and got yourself a job giving money stolen from British taxpayers to friends of yours who construct wind farms for a living, and emitting Niagaras of lies about how that was going to “energise Britain”. How would you feel about walking past all this stuff about oil and gas, every time you went into work in the morning?
You might think that all that lovely oil and gas tax revenue would perhaps enable you and your lying friends to keep the wind farm scam going that little bit longer, and if you did feel that, you might well be right. But I don’t think, on the whole, you’d like what you were seeing every morning. Just keeping your little scam going for a few more years until you are safely retired is hardly what you had in mind when you began it. Then, it was a cause, and you and your pals would be all over the history books, in a nice way. Now, history is looking like it might be taking a somewhat different turn.
For starters, there is no mention in this big lump of verbiage, of green, either as a word or in the form of the actual colour green. There is only a rather garish, shamelessly industrial, orange. “BRITAIN” in big letters also has a nasty, nationalistic taste to it. Whatever happened to saving the world?
More fundamentally, “oil and gas” is everything you hate. Oil and gas is vast, clunky metal structures noisily gouging dirty old energy to set fire to out of defenceless Mother Earth like it’s 1925, or if it now isn’t that, you still think it is, as do millions of others who also think: Hurrah! It’s a whole generation of people saying: Bollocks to wind farms, let’s get rich, again. It’s the whole world saying: “Climate catastrophe? Let’s not worry about that when it doesn’t happen, okay?” Despite all the wind farm idiocy that the Department for Business Innovation & Skills is still shovelling out, I think I smell change here, and for the better.
LATER: Green bloodbath in Australia.
SEE ALSO: Alex Singleton, at the ASI blog, says that Parliament’s cushy consensus over climate change is dead.
No one worries too much today about causing pain and suffering to our computer software (although we do comment extensively on the ability of software to cause us suffering), but when future software has the intellectual, emotional, and moral intelligence of biological humans, this will become a genuine concern.
- Ray Kurzweil, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. At some point a computer ceases to become property and becomes an individual.
There has been a 60 per cent increase in the amount of ocean covered with ice compared to this time last year, they equivalent of almost a million square miles. In a rebound from 2012′s record low an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia’s northern shores, days before the annual re-freeze is even set to begin.
From today’s Daily Telegraph. The article goes on to explain how we might now be in a cooling period for the Earth, rather than, as the CAGW alarminsts say, a warming one.
The changing predictions have led to the UN’s climate change’s body holding a crisis meeting, and the the IPCC is due to report on the situation in October. A pre-summit meeting will be held later this month.
I bet that meeting will be a barrel of laughs.
This is old news to some but new to me, and to the Huffington Post, judging from their headline. I had thought Clooney to be the standard Hollywood “liberal”, looking down from a lofty height on the barbarians below. Instead he is looking down from a lofty height on one particular barbarian below in order to deter him from atrocities and warn his potential victims. Cool.
Next stop, armaments.
Which might get hairy, given that some private individuals and nearly all states of the satellite-owning classes are prone to think of themselves as gods already, even without the power to strike down malefactors from the heavens.
Here is a short (under four minutes) video, of a designer and exhibition curator Tom Dixon talking about the changes being brought to the world by 3D printing.
Whenever something new comes along, people typically describe it with a noun which says what it is like, but also with an adjective attached to explain how it is different from that. Think “horseless carriage”. (What will “driverless cars” be called twenty years from now?)
So it has been with 3D printing. This is “printing”, sort of, but not printing as we know it.
Listening to Dixon makes me think is that “3D printing” is actually less like printing, and more like blogging. The crucial difference it makes is in enabling people with opinions about how a … 3D thing … should or could be, but who has not been able or who could not be bothered to interest a Big Manufacturer (think Mainstream Media for bloggers) can now just go ahead and make it (just like a blogger publishing his hitherto ignored opinions). And this new-style designer can sell his new design on the internet too, because distribution has also, already, been taken out of the hands of old school Big Distributors (unless you count Amazon and eBay as Big Distributors). Not all such new designers will do as well as they hope, in fact almost all of them will not. But a few will surely succeed spectacularly, and many will presumably be making lives and livings that could not have been made before.
Dixon uses the phrase “taking matters into their own hands”. These words were my first version of the title of this posting.
“[T]here is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”
- H.L. Mencken
A growing movement in the United States seeks to dramatically increase unemployment by imposing ever higher price floors on salaries. The recent conversion in the US of millions of full time jobs to part time to evade new health insurance requirements for full time employees was apparently an insufficient increase in human misery – the elimination of most entry level work on even a part time basis is now also apparently a goal.
For example, see this New York Times article reporting on a recent on fast food workers strike”one day strike by workers at fast food restaurants.
Now, to be fair, most of the people clamoring for new impositions on employers like health insurance and increased minimum wages are in fact unaware that their efforts will simply throw people out of work rather than helping them. Their goal, and I take them at their word, is to attempt to help the poor, not to destroy all hope they have for the future. The fact that their proposals (and sadly, in many cases, actual laws) do exactly the opposite of what they intend is difficult to convey to them.
This seems to be for two reasons. The first is that they are often completely unacquainted with economic thinking, and are unashamed of it or at least believe this ignorance to be irrelevant as economics is not needed (in their view) to analyze their proposals. Second, and worse, they completely focus on their desires over the likely real world effects of what they propose.
Attempts to point out the actual effects of a proposal (and how they are the opposite of what was intended) are often met with one of two responses, and sadly sometimes both. The first is blind repetition of the original rationale (e.g., “but poor people can’t afford to raise their families on what they earn at a fast food restaurant!”) without any attempt to address the question of whether the proposed remedy will in any way fix the original problem. The second is the demand “well, what would you propose doing?”
(As an aside, I will describe one my more vicious tactics, which I’m mildly ashamed of and invoke only when particularly frustrated by combined cases of “well what do you propose?” and “but there is a problem!”
I sometimes mention that my father has been dead for years and I miss him terribly. When I propose to sacrifice the children of the minimum-wage advocate to Baal to propitiate the god and ensure my father’s resurrection, and mention that, if they don’t like the proposal they should give me an alternative, frequently they decline to offer one. Sadly, they rarely see the parallels to their own suggested fixes for the problems of the poor either.)
The desire to help by destroying extends everywhere these days — one can barely open a newspaper without encountering it. For example, there is now a “labor activist” jihad against unpaid internships, which has, sadly, seen some considerable success in US courts and regulatory agencies.
The result is already predictable. Internships are starting disappear entirely. People clamored for such internships not because they enjoyed working for free but because they desperately wanted to get real-world job experience onto their résumés so they could get a paying job later. Legions of college students, deeply in debt from loans pushed on them by the state and having majored in utterly useless topics like “Communications”, will soon find themselves unable repair the damage their education has done to them even by offering to work for free in exchange for experience, and will be even less employable. Victory for the self-proclaimed “advocates”, misery for the putative objects of their “assistance”.
A sort of minor victory for the market appears to be brewing, however.
It will not, sadly, provide jobs for the poor and unskilled. Jobs can only be provided by an employer who stands to make more by employing an individual than that individual costs to employ, and, in the case of workers at the bottom of the skills ladder, paying an employee less than they cost has been made illegal by the state.
These new developments will, however, at least lower the cost of goods that are sold to everyone, including the poor, and they may keep the economy from contracting under the dead weight of yet more labor regulation.
I am speaking, of course, of automation. More and more companies, faced by the “helpful people destroying others lives” lobby, are figuring out ways to replace their employees with machines.
I opened by mentioning the recent fast food restaurant strikes. Should the various “labor organizers” succeed at increasing the cost of restaurant labor, one result may be that such jobs could vanish altogether. A startup called Momentum Machines is already working on fast food restaurants with completely automated kitchens. They claim that they will be able to produce a better, tastier and more consistent product as well. Whether this particular firm succeeds or not is almost irrelevant — if they do not, the idea is out there, and others will follow in their footsteps.
Similarly, faced with increasing pressure to improve pay and benefits for semi-skilled assembly line workers, Foxconn, the Chinese contract electronics manufacturing giant, has decided to replace almost all of those workers with robots. Whether this was entirely because of the helpful assistance of “activists”, including some who simply made up stories about the company for lack of real problems to discuss, or is simply because the time is ripe, I cannot say. Regardless, Foxconn has already deployed its first 20,000 robots.
I find it hopeful that, even if we cannot prevent the legions of well-meaning destroyers from wreaking additional havoc on the lives of others, we can at least bypass their more egregiously foolish ideas. They may be able to eliminate jobs for millions, but they will not be able to eliminate the industries they target, which will simply operate without human employees.
There is a lot of debate as to whether the FSF’s “free software” or the OSI’s “open source” is the better term. But I don’t think either fully describes the idea, or why it’s a good thing in this context. I prefer something like “open development”, because the point isn’t simply that you or I can read the code – I’m not much of a coder, and most people aren’t at all – it’s that as a result, the development of that code takes place in public. (It’s worth emphasizing, because although it appears obvious when put plainly like that, it’s not always immediately apparent to anyone who hasn’t been involved.) Even if the leaders of a particular project were to have closed-doors talks with some governmental agency, the code they produce will be seen and examined by all. Nothing is impossible, but this makes the sort of collusion we’ve seen between Microsoft and the NSA extremely difficult to pull off.
Hardware, as Shuttleworth points out, could still be a problem. Open drivers help, but the chips themselves could be doing nasty things that we don’t know about. Open hardware is the next frontier.
- Sam Duncan
I recently blogged about how open source software is one of the answers to government using technology against us. Mark Shuttleworth, space tourist, venture capitalist and founder of Canonical and Ubuntu, was answering questions yesterday about a new smartphone he is working on.
We’re entering a really interesting phase where in a sense our very own tools spy on us.
We will certainly have an easier time providing transparency on the origin of the code in the platform than, say, your average android device, where it’s all a big hacky mush. The core OS which will be updated regularly on the Ubuntu phones is all traceable directly back to standard Ubuntu source and binary packages.
There will be a core piece on each phone which handles the hardware, consisting of kernel and drivers and firmware and interfaces to things like the radio. That’s where unhealthy things could creep in from manufacturers and carriers. We can offer… constructive guidance there.
I am not sure the comparison to Android is entirely fair, though some phones are more open than others. What can be done about remaining blobs of closed source code on phones? The resistance to opening this code comes from device and chip manufacturers as well as mobile network operators.
There may be blobs in the first generation device. The way to a blob-free future is to show demand from folks who care about that, not to be ideological about it.
Incidentally, the same discussion also contained this nice piece of evidence of open source software creating wealth:
Thanks for empowering millions of people from developing countries like India (I’m from India) to have an alternative to Pirated Windows XP. We can’t afford OS like Windows and the simplistic nature of ubuntu (native graphic and audio support with indic language support) really helps many people in the villages to learn computers.
About a month ago, I did a posting here about the impact of digital photography on trade. The kind of trade I had in mind was the selling of stuff on the internet. That we can now easily take pictures of what we are selling makes such trade massively easier. (Or in my case take a picture of the kind of thing I was looking for. And no, I still don’t have a sofa of the sort I want, but that was really only an excuse for the posting.)
Here is another picture which illustrates another aspect of the economic impact of digital photography:
I took that photo through my own kitchen window, this morning, the big horizontal lines being my Venetian blind.
My kitchen is three stories up in the sky, and this guy was standing not on the ground but on scaffolding, bits of which you can see, and upon which workers now clamber about each morning, banging, scraping, hole-filling, painting, and so on, generally making everything look nicer and work better.
This guy was not taking pictures for fun. He was recording the progress of the job.
Think about that. Think how much easier it now is, in the age of cheap digital photography, to keep track of a job like this one. Think how much easier it is for the workers to know exactly what they did, exactly when. Any disputes about whether the various stages of the job were done, when they were supposed to be done, to the required standard? Did some damage get done, and is there a dispute about when it happened, and hence who was responsible for it? Here are the pictures. Human memory plays tricks, but cameras have memories built into them, recording not just the picture, but the date and the time of the picture. All the photographers involved need swear to is that they didn’t tamper with the timing system.
A basic part of doing work is recording the work you have done, and recording the fact that the work was up to standard. This is especially true if the work done will shortly be buried under further work, as is so often the case with building projects of course.
Think what a contribution to this recording process the digital camera has, for quite a few years now, been making.
When we learned how to make carbon our slave instead of other people, we started to learn how to become a civilised people. Thorium has a million times the energy density of a carbon-hydrogen bond. What does that mean for human civilisation? Because we’re not going to run out of this stuff. We will never run out.
So says Kirk Sorensen in a 5-minute YouTube video summarising the benefits. See also his company Flibe Energy and the Energy From Thorium Foundation. Between this and fracking there really is no need to worry about energy. That whole debate is simply between those who are for and those who are against civilisation.
I have long admired the libertarian historian and activist Stephen Davies, my previous posting here about him being this one, in connection with a talk he recently gave to Libertarian Home, in the superbly opulent setting of the Counting House‘s Griffin Room, in the City of London.
Here is a photo of Davies that I took that night:
Here is another, together with a photo of someone else also photoing him.
The Davies talk was predictably excellent, and this on a day when he had also given another talk elsewhere in southern England somewhere, to a bunch of sixth formers. I know this because I happened to share a tube journey with Davies afterwards, during which we talked about, among other things, his day, and why he was so very tired. I don’t recall where this other talk was, but do recall that it was definitely out of London and that Davies also organised for three other speakers to be present, as well as himself speaking. All this being part of the networking and speechifying enterprise that Davies masterminds from the IEA, along with his IEA colleague Christiana Hambro. LLFF2013 was but a London manifestation of a nationwide libertarian outreach programme.
The way Davies seems to operate is that he has a number of set-piece performances on particular themes, each of which he delivers pretty much off the cuff, with almost intimidating fluency but which he will typically have done several times before you get to hear it. So, when a particular audience assembles, they get to choose from a menu. There’s that history of libertarianism talk, which Davies did for Libertarian Home, having previously done it for the Essex University Libertarians and presumably for plenty of others besides. There is a healthcare talk, which I heard Davies do at LLFF2013, which he also did for those sixth-formers earlier in the day of the Libertarian Home performance. And there are several more of course, which I also asked him about, during that tube journey. I know. He was by then just about dead on his feet, but just sitting there and not asking such things would have felt even ruder than picking his exhausted brain.
A particular favourite of Davies himself, and of me now that I have heard about it, concerns history dates.
→ Continue reading: Steve Davies supplies some different and better history dates
Rob Fisher’s posting here a while back entitled Open source software v. the NSA reminded me that on April 26th, in my home, Rob Fisher gave a talk about open source software. I flagged this talk up beforehand in this posting, but have written nothing about it since. I don’t want to get in the way of whatever else Rob himself might want to write here on this subject, but I do want to record my appreciation of this talk before the fact of it fades from my faltering memory and I am left only with the dwindling remnants of what I learned from it.
My understanding of open source software, until Rob Fisher started putting me right, was largely the result of my own direct experience of open source software, in the form of the Linux operating system that ran on a small and cheap laptop computer I purchased a few years back. This programme worked, but not well enough. Missing was that final ounce of polish, the final five yards, that last bit of user friendliness. In particular I recall being enraged by my new laptop’s inability properly to handle the memory cards used by my camera. Since that was about half the entire point of the laptop, that was very enraging. I wrote about this problem at my personal blog, in a posting entitled Has the Linux moment passed?, because from where was sitting, then, it had. I returned with a sigh of relief to using Microsoft Windows, on my next small and cheap laptop.
I then wrongly generalised from my own little Windows-to-Linux-and-then-back-to-Windows experience, by assuming that the world as a whole had been having a similar experience to the one I had just had. Everyone else had, like me, a few short years ago, been giving Linux or whatever, a try, to save money, but had quickly discovered that this was a false economy and had returned to the fold, if not of Microsoft itself, then at least of software that worked properly, on account of someone having been paid to make it work properly.
The truth of the matter was clarified by Rob Fisher, and by the rest of the computer-savvier-than-I room, at that last-Friday-of-April meeting. Yes, there was a time a few years back when it seemed that closed source software looked like it might be making a comeback, but that moment was the moment that quickly passed. The reality was and remains that the open source way of doing things has just grown and grown. All that I had experienced was the fact that there has always been a need for computer professionals to connect computer-fools like me with all that open source computational power, in a fool-proof way. But each little ship of dedicated programming in each gadget floats on an ever expanding and deepening ocean of open source computing knowledge and computing power.
→ Continue reading: What I learned from Rob Fisher’s talk about open source software