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]

Two discussion points inspired by Stephen Wolfram

The first one is straightforward. The internet threw me a talk by the computer scientist and businessman Stephen Wolfram today. It lasts three minutes 21 seconds and is called “How humans can communicate with aliens”.The subject is one that has so often been used as the basis for fiction that we sometimes forget that when you look up at night, what you see is real. There is a whole universe out there. It might have intelligences in it. Mr Wolfram contends that we might have been seeing evidence of intelligences all the time without realising it.

Do you think he is right? And assuming we can talk to them, should we?

Alien contact sounds wonderful at first but then becomes terrifying as you think more deeply. The second topic for discussion I want to put forward sounds terrifying at first but then becomes –

Well, you tell me what it becomes. There is a very strange final paragraph to Mr Wolfram’s Wikipedia page:

Personal analytics

The significance data has on the products Wolfram creates transfers into his own life. He has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, keystrokes made, meetings and events attended, phone calls, even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. He has stated “[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives”.

One of my recurring nightmares is that as spy devices get smaller and the computational power available to analyse what they learn gets bigger someone – or lots of someones – will be able to analyse my life in that sort of detail, down to every keystroke I make. It had never occurred to me to think of it as something I might like to do to myself.

Does anyone reading this do anything similar? Would you like to?

Have a great Beltane…

Have a great or at least an interesting Beltane, or if you prefer, have a suitably reflective Gulag Remembrance Day

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge…

England’s favourite Roman-Greek dragon slayer grants us licence this day to drink beer and make appropriate Shakespeare quotes.

It’s Easter Sunday and it’s wind up day

Here in Britain, Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day have today collided. But down in Australia they threw in winding the clocks back, just to liven things up even more.

Here the rule is that April Fool’s Day wind ups can only happen before 12 noon, so this is being posted in a rush to beat the deadline, assuming I have not miscalculated by an hour. No time to think of anything truly funny, but I can still ask. What have been today’s best Easter pranks? I’m sure there are lots of anti-Christian jokes along the lines of: Christ is risen, no he isn’t, gotcha. And last time AFD and Easter Sunday collided, Richard Dawkins converted to Catholicism. But I feel sure that our commentariat can do way better than that, or can at least report on someone doing better.

Strange how wind up as in “it’s a (pr) ‘wined’ up”, and wind up as in “put the (pr) ‘winned’ up” – and here’s hoping you made sense of that – are both spelt the same way and mean rather closely related things. English eh? (The government should sort it out. No it shouldn’t. Gotcha. Etc.)

Thoughts on crime fiction – provoked by the recent publication of The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

Some time towards the end of last year, my niece Roz emailed me to the effect that she was in London, and would I care to meet up with her for some coffee? I was intrigued. Because of our differing political views, Roz and I have had a polite but somewhat distant relationship. She is into feminism and environmentalism. I am into, well …: see all my other postings here. What was going on? Why this meet-up? I knew some unusual game was afoot. But what?

We duly met up, and after some further polite chit-chat, what was afoot was revealed. Roz had written a crime novel, called The Devil’s Dice. This book, she said, was in the process of being published, by a real publisher of the sort that you have heard of. I like crime novels, and I like detective dramas on television. And I know how hard it can be to write anything even as long as a longish blog posting (such as this one is (you have been warned)), let alone a book. So, I was impressed.

Although she didn’t spell this out, it was clear that Roz was then at the stage of communicating with everyone she could think of who might be able to help her sell this book. Which also impressed me. Good for her. And good for her also, and good for me, that she was content to include me in this process. Later, an advance copy of the book arrived at my home, in a bright gold bubble-wrapped package, together with some chocolate dice, in a little bag made of bright red netting.

I read the book, and found it thoroughly absorbing and entertaining. She writes really well.

A quote from the book? Try the dedication:

To my parents.

Thank you for your support and encouragement, and advice on how to kill people.

Roz’s mum, my older sister, was a National Health Service doctor, and her husband was a psychiatric social worker. Short of having parents who were directly involved in the criminal justice machine, like detectives or coroners or forensic pathologists or suchlike, a crime writer couldn’t ask for a better start.

→ Continue reading: Thoughts on crime fiction – provoked by the recent publication of The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins

Life is short

Tehran, Iran. January 2017

Barcelona, Catalonia. January 2017

Palermo, Italy. January 2017
Helsinki, Finland. February 2017
Riga, Latvia. February 2017
A Coruña, Galicia. March 2017
Istanbul, Turkey. March 2017Jodhpur, India. March 2017
Lumbasumba Pass, Nepal. April 2017
Dubai. May 2017
Wuppertal, Germany. May 2017
Oslo, Norway. June 2017.
 Afsluitdijk, Netherlands. July 2017
Berlin, Germany. July 2017
Madras, Oregon. August 2017

→ Continue reading: Life is short

A really great way for the police to make people uneasy

Truth in advertising?

A parable for our times?

I wish I were reading a happier version of this story

Has anyone else been guiltily transfixed by the mystery of Danish inventor Peter Madsen, his now-sunken submarine, and the missing Swedish journalist Kim Wall? I truly do not wish to make light of the fact that a woman is missing, presumed dead, but I was undeniably fascinated by the whole idea of a crowd-sourced, privately built submarine. In any other circumstances I would have been delighted to learn that such a thing existed.

Here are some news reports on the story:

Danish submarine owner arrested over missing journalist

Submarine in missing journalist case sunk on purpose, Danish police say

Kim Wall and Danish submarine: What we know and what we don’t

Police in Two Countries Searching for Woman Missing Since Sub Sank

When commenting, please bear in mind that a criminal investigation is ongoing – and that all should be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

True to her principles

I was moved by this story in the Times:

French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle drowns saving children off St Tropez

A leading French philosopher who argued that taking risks is essential to life has drowned while trying to rescue two children off Saint-Tropez.

The government and the intellectual world paid tribute to Anne Dufourmantelle, 53, who was famous for decrying the caution imposed by a risk-averse society.

Ms Dufourmantelle was in the water about 50 yards from two children, one of them the ten-year-old son of a female friend, off Pampelonne beach in Ramatuelle when a strong wind worsened and lifeguards raised the red flag to indicate that swimmers ought to return to shore.

The children were saved by lifeguards but Ms Dufourmantelle was overcome while swimming against a strong swell driven by an east wind, the local newspaper, Var Matin, said. She suffered a cardiac arrest and the rescuers were unable to revive her. Françoise Nyssen, the culture minister, praised “the great philosopher who helped us to live and understand the world of today”. Raphaël Enthoven, the philosopher and former companion of Carla Bruni Sarkozy, tweeted his sorrow and shock over the death of the woman “who spoke so well of dreams”.

Ms Dufourmantelle, whose partner was the writer Frédéric Boyer, devoted much of her career to the relationship between fatality and freedom.

In 2015 she told Libération newspaper, for which she wrote a monthly column, that “zero risk” was a fantasy. “When there really is a danger that must be faced in order to survive . . . there is a strong incentive for action, dedication, and surpassing oneself,” she said. In 2011 Ms Dufourmantelle published Eloge du risque (In Praise of Risk), in which she said that “risking your life is one of the most beautiful expressions in our language”.

I am a little late. I have been busy

yir_shanghai1Shanghai, China. January 2016

Malaga, Spain. January 2016.

Jaffa, Israel. January 2016.

Evora, Portugal. February 2016

→ Continue reading: I am a little late. I have been busy

Left wingers strongly and loudly endorse Milo’s new book…

An assortment of presumably minor left-statist American figures have been howling about Milo Yiannopulis getting his book published, presumably deciding that they should not just give Milo more publicity, but given that they are of the ilk Milo targets, they should endorse his book by loudly reacting with horror to it. To be honest I have no idea who the hell Judd Apatow or Sarah Silverman actually are, and I cannot be bothered to even stick their names in DuckDuckGo to find out, but the fact they are annoyed by Milo means I doubt I would care to invite them around for a G&T.