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]

Private space telescope

ARKYD is a crowd-funded space telescope. You can pay to take pictures with it. The funding goal is met but there are seven days remaining to pledge $200 in return for the right to take a sensible space telescope photo of your chosen space object. The satellite also has a screen on its side. For $25 you can have a picture of the satellite displaying a picture of your choice with the Earth in the background. What frivolous capitalist fun!

Edit: the company making this telescope want to do asteroid mining. They have been answering questions about this on Reddit.

Property rights and protests at sporting events

Much outrage in the Guardian because

The Australian activist who disrupted the 2012 Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race in protest at government cuts has been ordered to leave the country, after receiving a six-month jail term that many thought was severe.

The degree to which I shall miss Mr Oldfield’s anti-elitist activism when he leaves these shores is impossible to underestimate. He should regard deportation as an opportunity to activate his home nation of Australia instead. I believe you start the process by holding hold down the “sleep” button.

However the issues are wider than the question of whether he, or elitism, or the ejection of lawbreaking foreigners, is a good thing or a bad thing. One can see why the government felt they had to stomp down hard on this sort of protest. He ruined a contest for which the crews had trained for months and messed up the pleasure of thousands of spectators on the riverbanks and many more on TV. If one protester gets away with that then every sporting and cultural event is going to be liable to disruption by any fool with a grudge, particulary if, as in the case of the boat race, the event takes place on the public highway, so to speak. The cultural life of the country would be greatly diminished.

Would that actually be bad? My gut reaction says yes, but my gut would like some backup from principle.

Even if it would be bad, does “the country” have the right to stop it happening? Sure, the people who want the event to proceed uninterrupted are the majority, but so what?

Samizdata joke of the day

What’s the difference between Fleet Street and Hacked Off?

One is a consortium of the rich and powerful with little respect for the law that has been given unwarranted access to our government, and the other… waaait a minute.

– Solent Minor

Samizdata quote of the day

Government law has the same relationship to law as government money has to money.

– Jan C. Lester, last night at Christian Michel’s, during the Q&A following a talk by Mikolaj Barczentewicz entitled “Do we have a duty to obey the law?” (Here is some linkage to a performance Lester gave in 2012 to Libertarian Home.)

This is only my recollection the day after, but I reckon the above is about right.

Samizdata quote of the day

Some “experts” say that women should pee their pants or puke to avoid rape. Are they serious? Guns are better. Don’t pee your pants; make your wannabe rapist pee his pants.

Julie Borowski

Admiral Poindexter did not go away, he just went black…

How many here remember the discussions early in the previous decade about Admiral Poindexter and his Total Information Awareness concept? If one were to apply neural network techniques to VISA transactions, then a system might learn to identify subtle patterns that matched known terrorist events and might be usable to detect precursors to as yet unknown plots. The more data and the more different sources, the better the chance of training such networks to find patterns. Of course the numbers of false positives would be huge at first… and although it would go down over time, it would still remain fairly large as there is just too much noise in real world data and real terrorists would try to randomize their behavior after a few got caught.

I believe the concept is sound, the only problem is… it is utterly Orwellian. No, it is worse than Orwell imagined. It is the Holy Grail and wet dreams of the Checka, the KGB, the Stasi, the Gestapo and every other secret police system of the last century. The sad thing is that this has come to pass not in one of the many tyrannical states of the world… they are too incompentent to pull it off… but here, in our formerly free United States.

After much thought I have come to believe that Poindexter’s system was not rejected for funding and laughed out of congress as we thought at the time. That was nothing but a cover story as the whole thing slipped into the black world.

If this is TIA Black, we had better start challenging VISA, AMEX and all the others who process financial transactions. I predict that nearly every credit and debit card transaction in the US is being fed in along with the phone records and the google files and facebook pages and private email.

It is a virtual certainty. This isn’t 1984. It is much worse because as the techniques improve it becomes Skynet starring as Big Brother.

Samizdata quote of the day

Finally! A politician I have no hesitation endorsing and who, if I lived there, I would actually vote for!

– Perry de Havilland at a ruinous piss up get together of thoughtful political analysts.

Samizdata quote of the day

If big government were the key to economic success, France, with more than half of its GDP accounted for by government, would have rapid economic growth rather than an unemployment rate of 11 percent and negative growth. Yet France, Britain and the United States are demanding that the low-tax jurisdictions increase their taxes on businesses. They also demand more tax information sharing among countries. The officials of the G-8 assure us — as if they think we are all children or fools — that sensitive company and individual tax information will be kept confidential and not be used for political targeting, extortion, etc. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service had a reputation for being less corrupt and less incompetent than tax agencies in many other countries, which only illustrates how low the global standard is.

– Richard Rahn, the Tyranny of the Taxers

Brief thoughts on journalism

“Journalists have to get more creative and entrepreneurial. And I think that’s the problem. There’s not a less risk-taking crowd than a bunch of journalists who like to tell everyone how to run their businesses and then, like, couldn’t run a business to save their life.”

Kara Swisher

She was quoted on this Linkedin page here – so readers might have to log in first if they are members.

In fact, quite a lot of the journalists I know and have worked with in the smaller, more startup-style organisations are pretty entrepreneurial. They have to be. Even the process of cultivating new sources, raising awareness of who you are and what you cover, represents a sort of adventurous frame of mind that gels with business to some extent. Of course, there are journalists who despise business, want to just bank a paycheck, do a 9-5 fixed day and no more. And they tend to have a romantic view of “old Fleet Street” and its foreign equivalents, dreaming of the great days of 4-hour lunch breaks, expense accounts and all the rest of it. But in some respects that mindset is not as prevalent as it used to be, at least not based on my own personal experience.

Of course, such journalist/entrepreneurs are also, by and large, more resistant, one hopes, to the desire of the State to regulate the media in the manner suggested by the recent Leveson Report in the UK, which seems, I hope, to have lost some of its momentum (I live in hope).

At Bloomberg, it appears that some of the staff there have been a tad too entrepreneurial, if allegations are to be believed.

Fundraiser for a public space telescope

Planetary Resources is raising some of the money for a small space telescope via a Kickstarter and are close to their minimum goal of $1M. That such sums of money can be raised for worthy projects and in such short timescales strikes me as interesting in another way: might we be in the early days of a new way to deal with ‘the commons’? Could technology be delivering us a way to replace much of coercive government funding with true voluntarism?

And by the way, support these guys. I know several of them, and it is a way to push New Space forward in the public perception.

What I learned from Rob Fisher’s talk about open source software

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

An unspeakably inhumane regime

Young, ambitious, Chinese officials are being required to read Tom Friedman if they want to get ahead.

I knew the Chinese government was cruel, but until now I had no idea just how cruel.