Linkdump Feb 2018 (2015 vintage)

Bruce Sterling on cognition and computing, in reference to AI, shows that conflating the 2 ideas can be misleading and restricting. A different perspective to view AI through.

This is 2+ years old now but shows, very effectively, that the malware/botnet/ad-fraud space is complex. Google’s efforts with spider.io

Lot’s of short pithy bits of advice about writing, from Paul Graham. Really worth reading.

Working in top end restaurants can be like this.

Quantum field theory explained in a children’s picture book kind of way.

 


Linkdump: The Trump/Bannon administration

I’m more than slightly fed up with the huge amount of writing about the US administration that has been dominating my reading sources since the trump election. It’s understandable, of course even fundamentally important actually, and I’ve been duly consuming a lot of it to try and keep up, but I just want to get some texture back into my reading.

So, to that end this linkdump is an attempt to draw a small line under the one topic I’ve been reading more about than anything else since November 2016. I’m not signing off completely, but I am trying to re-balance what I’m reading. You’ll be able to form a quick opinion about where I sit on the question of Trump and Bannon from the sources, let alone the content of these pieces, but there are also a number of well written essays/articles here that I think are sincere and informative regardless of which side your opinions trend towards.

The Economist tries to be even handed in a high level view of the Trump administration recognising the potential for improved domestic economics while worrying about the fragility of the western world order built by the US since WW2, and largely, of course, built for the US also.

Politico offers up an overview of the kind of secrets that will now be available to Trump. Very interesting and slightly scary, regardless of who holds power.

The United States has invested trillions of dollars to ensure that its president can know more than anyone else on Earth—knowledge meant to be deployed to the country’s advantage in trade negotiations, military posturing and a thousand other ways big and small

There are a bunch of pieces raising the alarm about Steve Bannon. Some are focused on where he comes from, politically, and what he has previously claimed to be his political goals, others worry specifically about his elevation to the National Security Council.

In 2015 Bloomburg called him the most dangerous political operative in America

From the Washington Post, The danger of Steve Bannon on the National Security Council

Michael Mullen, who served on G W Bush’s security council is concerned about the potential for the NSC to become politicised.

The security council was formed in 1947 to serve a unique role in our government. It facilitates and coordinates, providing a forum through which federal agencies discuss and debate policy and, ultimately, provide counsel to the president about how best to keep the American people safe. At N.S.C. meetings, representatives from the State Department, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the intelligence community and other agencies speak freely and critically about the full breadth of options available to the United States. Those discussions can get heated at times. They can certainly get territorial. But they seldom get political — nor should they.

Foreign Policy puts together a really good piece about how incoming administrations commonly make structural changes and how a raft of seemingly innocuous decisions can be massively important. It holds the view that the Trump/Bannon setup isn’t great but the real value here is to understand the underlying reasons and history of these kind of changes. As the headline suggests understanding these things helps us to answer the question of who is the power behind the throne.

This from the New Yorker is in similar territory

And its almost certainly true that an examination of who the most powerful people in Trump’s inner circle are would be incomplete without some kind of summary of Jared Kushner

Kushner imagines his role as managerial, not policymaking. “I’m not political,” he told the audience, not entirely credibly. In D.C., as Reagan’s adage goes, “People are policy,” and no person, other than Trump himself, has been as politically instrumental in advancing the new president’s ambitions.

And Ivanka

When she was appointed to the board of directors at Trump Entertainment Resorts, at age twenty-five, the situation was “stacked all the way against me.”

This link is included almost entirely because it uses the phrase “Javanka”

There has been quite a lot of comment about whether we are seeing a slow structural dissoultion of democracy and a move through populism to autocracy. I’ve included this essay because it is laying down some markers, before the event, that we can monitor easily enough, that can help us worry, or hopefully help us to not worry.

10 ways to tell if your president is a dictator

Finally, because it’s important to be aware of the whole picture if possible, I include this from Politico. I imagine their readership to be fairly anti Trump, so it’s worth taking this on board.

Donald Trump might be more popular than you think

 

 

 

 


Video Linkdump Jan 2017

I see a Darkness – Bonnie Prince Billy

Most Things Haven’t Worked Out – Junior Kimbrough

The Claw – Jerry Donahue

Sophsticated Trump

Jerusalem – Alpha Blondy

Du Hast – Dobranotch

Come Alive (The War of the Roses) – Janelle Monae

While my Guitar Gently Weeps – Prince killing the solo

Marauder – Jesse Stewart

Adventures of an adolescent trash barrel robot

Life During Wartime – Talking Heads

Turn On Your Love Light – Black Crowes/Bob Weir/Tedeschi Trucks Band

Super Bowl Sundae – Ozomatli

Immigrant Song – Galactic w/ Chali 2na and Boots Riley


Linkdump Jan 2017

I’ve been using twitter to capture my linkdumps. But i’ve never really liked using twitter. I think it has use as a broadcast medium (if you have 10-100’s of thousands of followers), but is a terrible content firehose unless you follow maybe only 8 people and i’m not fussed about capturing running commentaries on, well, anything really.

Twitter is a great thing for certain types of real time information, so I won’t be deleting my account.It was the only relevant news source during the London riots, for example, that gave me the comfort to go back to bed safe in the knowledge that my street wasn’t going to get overrun. But I am going to try and revisit using this blog as my online home again, capturing mostly linkdumps admittedly, but hopefully getting some writing going again too.

To that end this 1st dump will be somewhat retrospective and will capture most of what I’ve dumped to twitter over the last year. Favourites marked.

The overton window and Brexit

Favourite: Love Bladerunner? Read this. Typeset loveliness

An old fashioned scandal. Light relief considering more recent controversies.

Working for the on demand economy

Yolandi

Ninja

The worst men on the internet

Favourite: An AI wrote this short movie

The soviet internyet

$50 of wonderful crap from Shenzen

A bleak perspective of a Trump presidency

Technology in rural America

Guns and computers, mad things in US regulation

Killing things in the name of conservation

Electric cars

The most exclusive restaurant in America

Thiel and Gawker

Nassim Taleb – how to own a person (legally)

Great big lakes are like batteries

The twitter founding story

The end of Roger Ailes

Peter Thiel – contrarian or inconsistent self serving power grab

Desalination

Trolling in Epic Mafia

Formalised Russian trolling?

The people Dylan Roof knew

Favourite: The old days and expense accounts

Favourite: The best war reporter of his generation

Its from 1964 but this will help you understand American politics

Favourite: Short fiction – One Star

The most British thing

Little green men

Favourite: Rent extraction – points of control

Ben Evans – thinking about cars

Hacking the Ukrainian power grid

Companies more powerful than some nation states

Estonia e-residency

Favourite: Commoditsed container shipping

Favourite: Short fiction – the end of data

Stephen Wolfram and the box of a million souls

Favourite: Learning to speak Lingerie

Edward Luttwak

Favourite: American boomtowns

Idlewords trip to Antartica

Would you do what a robot told you to

Your parents were spies

Favourite: The LIbertarian Police Department

The blockchain

Favourite: open source and proprietary software a precautionary tale

The MOVE bombing in Philadelphia


The Despair Squid – the prat version of Rimmer

Set up: The Red Dwarfers are investigating the wreckage of the SSS Esperanto. It quickly becomes apparent that the crew of the Esperanto have all killed themselves and eventually it is realized that the suicides were due to severe depression caused by a toxic hallucinogen. Subsequently attacked by a giant squid, they crash Starbug which explodes seemingly killing all. However, it transpires that in fact the entire series has been a total immersion gaming experience and that they have all been wired into a gaming terminal for the last 4 years. The great Timothy Spall plays Andy, the technician who welcomes them ‘back to reality’. It soon becomes apparent that in the game each character can in fact, and should in fact, have achieved all of their innermost desires.

ANDY (Brummie accent): he [Rimmer] was a handpicked special agent for the space corp, he had his memory erased and was programmed to behave like a complete twonk, so no-one would suspect he was on a secret mission to destroy Red Dwarf in order to guide Lister to his destiny as the creator of the 2nd universe………………………..

.

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ANDY: here hang on a minute, are you seriously telling me you were playing the prat version of Rimmer for all that time…for 4 years…ho ho ho whoa, that’s a classic that is, a classic

Observation: Back in our world, (not the Red Dwarf fictional universe) it strikes me that if there is a god, a compassionate and loving god (and the positive architectures of any of the main religions will do), then surely the only way to interpret what has happened, history as we understand it, is that God is Timothy Spall, and we have completely ballsed the whole thing up and played the prat version of Rimmer for all eternity. Doh.


JB Links (4)

This is pure gold. A wonderful way to consider the future and how it ‘arrives’, or as it seems doesn’t. The language is a bit fanny in places, and I had to really concentrate to understand some passages (which he then explained in much easier language 2 paragraphs later….doh), but the essential value in this essay is great. I Have mentioned the manufactured normalcy field before, as a marketing tool. This is the original piece and deals with the concept in a deeper more informative fashion.
“Most futurists are interested in the future beyond the Field. I am primarily interested in the future once it enters the Field, and the process by which it gets integrated into it. This is also where the future turns into money”

 

Another great read, Cocaine incorporated, a comprehensive overview of the Sinloa cartel in Mexico and the vast drug smuggling empire built by Joaquin Guzman, El Chapo. Aside from being straightforwardly entertaining this article produced the following 2 nuggets.
“It’s like geopolitics,” Tony Placido said. “You need to use violence frequently enough that the threat is believable. But overuse it, and it’s bad for business.” 

“They erect this fence,” he said, “only to go out there a few days later and discover that these guys have a catapult, and they’re flinging hundred-pound bales of marijuana over to the other side.” He paused and looked at me for a second. “A catapult,” he repeated. “We’ve got the best fence money can buy, and they counter us with a 2,500-year-old technology.”

 

 
Alan Kay is a pioneer of much of the computing landscape we take for granted today. He seems like an incredibly interesting person although I won’t pretend that I understand all of the work he has produced (at all!). In this interview we learn of his views relating to powerpoint, the web, the internet and education.

“My interest in education is unglamorous. I don’t have an enormous desire to help children, but I have an enormous desire to create better adults.”

 

This is a short view, just over a minute long, called sketches of the meta city. On the one hand it seems to be another nice, high production value view, of how and where augmented reality technology may eventually interact with our lives. On the other hand it shows how the concept of meta data is leaking out from the world of the semantic web and the data mining behemoths into everyday experience. Experiences that haven’t really been digital before, and only become so now in an observational fashion. In short, you’re still going to be riding a bus.

 

Finally a bit of Friday afternoon whimsy. I could wallop on about how young children ‘get’ technology (the star of the clip is 4 years old), but frankly that’s old hat now. Much better to just enjoy her wonderful prank !


Time to revisit Enron: ask why, asshole.

I’ve just finished watching ‘the smartest guys in the room’ a documentary which goes through the detail of exactly what happened at Enron before it went bust. I’m surprised on so many levels, but perhaps mostly by how little I had understood of the scandal’s DNA, from the coverage at the time and since.

In my mind it had been an accounting scandal, the lunacy of mark to market combined with Arthur Anderson’s complicity and some market rigging of the Californian electricity markets. It was more than that though. Enron’s position as the poster boy of free market ideology (something I had missed) was a causal factor, not an accidental correlation as many seem to believe.

The scandal is also a testament to that ultimate human frailty, the happy decision to proceed with stupidity, largely because someone told us to, and everyone else was.

There is also a wider lesson here, something that resonates with the challenges that we currently face.

Those challenges can be stated as a question; how should we structure capitalism today?

To help answer that question it is instructive to ask exactly what Jeff Skilling did to get to the top? Jeff was an ideas man. The idea he introduced was this.

When faced with the difficulty of making sufficient returns on the production, sale and distribution of power (originally the market Enron played in was gas, electricity came later) Skilling took the company in a different direction. They became traders in the energy markets. This is easy to misunderstand because, of course, they always were trading in the energy markets.

The indication here is that we are talking of 2 different meanings of the words trader / trading.

Enron originally was a trader in the sense that they sourced, extracted and distributed the raw materials (gas) of energy production. They pulled it out of the ground and sold it.

Skilling added a 2nd, but wildly different, sense of the word trader. He turned them into a company that traded power in markets. Enron traders became traders in the sense that the stock exchange floor is populated by traders.

To be clear. They reduced the focus on creating a product and selling it to their, and their customers advantage, and became a drain instead, making money as a by-product of trades of energy commodities.

They became a financial company, instead of a company that makes products.

It is past time that this approach to wealth creation is removed from the ascendant position it currently occupies as the primary and most significant driver of western economies. Effecting this change is one of the most significant challenges facing modern capitalism.

We don’t need to lose the bankers. We don’t need the bankers to be put in the poor house. We just need to get them into a support role for production capital, rather than expending their energy in endless schemes to create new money without any real underpinning wealth and value. The zero sum game needs to stop, and it needs to stop NOW.

Analyst: You are the only financial institution that can’t produce a balance sheet or cash flow statement with their earnings…
Jeffrey Skilling: You, you, you… Well, uh… thank you very much. We appreciate it… asshole.

That quote was from a public earnings call with analysts. Skilling, the CEO, could not explain how Enron made money and publicly called the analyst an asshole for asking a very reasonable question. That is probably worth repeating.

The CEO could not explain how they made money and publicly called the analyst an asshole for asking a very reasonable question.

Enron was a black box. In one end went desires, out the other end came a set of what we now know were fraudulent earnings statements. And that’s before we even start to examine the horrendous rigging of the Californian electricity market and the actions of the CFO in hiding losses.

The documentary uncovered tapes of the Enron traders talking about the market manipulations in California.

The concept of arbitrages, as used here, is quite vital to the situation. Essentially California had been experimenting with deregulation of the energy markets. Arbitrage was the process whereby loopholes were found, within the remaining regulations, and exploited. Even though this seemed legal to the traders, on paper, it is clear how they actually viewed these practices.

“He just f—s California,” says one Enron employee. “He steals money from California to the tune of about a million.”

“Will you rephrase that?” asks a second employee.

“OK, he, um, he arbitrages the California market to the tune of a million bucks or two a day,” replies the first.

There is evidence that they asked producers to turn off production to create artificial supply shortages resulting in artificial increases in price.

“If you took down the steamer, how long would it take to get it back up?” an Enron worker is heard saying.

“Oh, it’s not something you want to just be turning on and off every hour. Let’s put it that way,” another says.

“Well, why don’t you just go ahead and shut her down.”

And then there are the comments that show just how little concern these people had for the impact of what they were doing, which, for what it is worth, and in my opinion, was behaving like a pack of feral little shits.

“They’re f——g taking all the money back from you guys?” complains an Enron employee on the tapes. “All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?”

“Yeah, grandma Millie, man”

“Yeah, now she wants her f——g money back for all the power you’ve charged right up, jammed right up her a—— for f——g $250 a megawatt hour.”

Free market ideology and deregulation have been the corner stone of western economic policies since the days of Thatcher and Reagan. The economic theories of Carlota Perez show that these policies, that favour finance capital over production capital do indeed have a time and a place. I am not discounting their use in appropriate circumstances, but for now, in this part of the cycles their day is done and we need to urgently move on. If nothing else surely the Enron debacle proves such a point.

The last time we saw this changeover of ascendancy between finance and production capital was after the depression of the 1930’s. It took 13 years and a world war to complete. Let’s not be so stupid this time too.