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What do you know about my inner demons?

Sometimes current affairs rally round and serve up the perfect backdrop to a book launch - and so it was earlier this year, when the Cambridge Analytica story broke just as my debut novel Everything About You was published.

Faces pic

As you probably remember, data was taken from around 87 million Facebook profiles and used to target thousands of adverts. Whatever Cambridge Analytica did with the information, it did effectively, contributing to changes in the political landscape that are still hard to credit.

Now that the firm is no more, there is one part of the story that has stuck with me. According to whistleblower Christopher Wylie, the firm consciously targeted people’s ‘inner demons’. How is it possible that a company had access to millions of people’s inner demons? Ten years ago we would have laughed at this idea and wished them good luck.

When writing Everything About You, I was setting events in the near future (the book is about a virtual assistant who takes over the protagonist’s life through knowing everything about her). But what the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light is that a time in which our hopes, dreams and deepest fears are known, interpreted and sold is almost upon us, and for the next generation it's virtually unavoidable.

Every component of our daily lives is becoming a sponge for data: from public spaces, to household items, to our bodies themselves.

Take it outside

Though many people don’t bother, it’s easy enough to turn off your phone’s location setting and prevent apps from knowing where you go and where you linger. Apart from images captured on CCTV, usually kept privately for short periods of time, it’s possible to remain relatively invisible to the cloud. However the growth of facial recognition technology could soon take this decision out of our hands.

The city of Bristol, where I live, has been chosen as a testbed for 5G networks, which offer unprecedented potential for connectivity in public spaces. Our growing visibility in public could allow for a highly-personalised experience of the city, involving shop-fronts, cafes, street-furniture, public transport and even drones. It could make for a more enjoyable and fruitful visit, so long as you don’t mind ‘emotion-sniffing’ algorithms analysing your facial expression and categorising it as ‘interested’ as you gaze at those new trainers, or whacking up the price of a box of tissues should you look sad.

Inner sanctuary

While city connectivity is in its infancy, technology in domestic settings is already entering the mainstream, with ownership of ‘smart home’ systems doubling over the last two years and a third of households planning to buy a device. This makes a whole new spectrum of behavioural data potentially available - with appliances logging our cuppas, washing and cooking habits, noting our entertainment choices, energy use and more. Robotic vacuum cleaners such as the Roomba can map the rooms in a house, and smartphones are able to do the same. With new levels of connectivity, the previously private nature of our homes is changing.

And then there are the voice-activated personal assistants. You may have heard about the US patent, filed earlier this year by Amazon, for a voice-sniffing system for its popular Alexa virtual assistant, listening out for emotive words in order to build profiles of users and make more relevant suggestions. For me, the idea of having a device like this at home, and never being sure when it is listening, is unpalatable, yet many people love their Alexa and are more than happy to swap privacy for convenience.

Body... and soul?

When you take into account all the things that are now becoming connected, and which the advent of 5G will hasten, it is easier to believe the estimation that by 2025 we will interact with a connected device nearly five thousand times a day. Sales of wearable technology such as smartwatches and fitness-trackers are growing year-on-year, and Fitbits are so prevalent that the health data they provide has been admitted as evidence in court.

But this is nothing to the wrap-around tech that is coming. Connected clothing is already on sale - bikinis that tell you how long you’ve been in the sun, jackets you can swipe to take phone calls, yoga pants whose haptic vibrations tell you when to hold a pose. It is the next level of the internet of things - a network that becomes increasingly intimate with your body and brain.

Unsurprisingly, the greatest riches - in terms of data - are to be mined from social media. The Cambridge Analytica story shows how valuable a person’s likes and dislikes can be, and has helped raise awareness of the need to take an interest in privacy settings. But what if you are five years old, and your parents have already posted 1,500 photos of you online? According to a study by Nominet this is average, thanks to our culture of 'sharenting'. For this generation, information about their movements, activities, preferences, friends and family will be out there, almost from birth.

Thus data piles up in vast, unfathomable swathes, a million times more information than the brain is capable of holding, generated online every single day. It would be impossible to interpret, if not for the equally impressive development of super-smart artificial intelligences, whose algorithms are powerful enough to sift through and draw conclusions. It means a person’s story can be captured with fearsome accuracy, their identity located somewhere in the cloud, along with their hopes, dreams and inner demons.

Little did I realise, when I started writing Everything About You six or seven years ago, how quickly reality would catch up with science fiction.

250 Comments

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1:

Someone I know getting some therapy recently had links to abusive nasty vids pop in thier feed, provoking horror and rage.

Social media are become like hallucinogens that reflect our unconscious back to us, loosening our hold on objective reality.

I wonder have we invoked something that we can't send back

2:

As an ex-IT and ex-statistics person, you are absolutely right. I have a few niggles, which may be of interest.

Guessing people's inner demons with high reliability (much better than needed for politics) is pretty trivial, but it really needed face-to-face contact before social media - which actually started in the 1960s, grew considerably in the 1980s, but didn't take off explosively until recently. I don't know any useful references to the psychological techniques, unfortunately, and know only some of them.

"Though many people don’t bother, it’s easy enough to turn off your phone’s location setting and prevent apps from knowing where you go and where you linger."

Don't bet on it. On many systems, you must BOTH close down the location facility AND dive deeper and close down secondary methods, such as tracking. And, even then, companies like Google can track you using ANY connection you make (including telephone calls and internet access). While they don't currently link this to you (as far as I know), you can expect that to change (*).

"It would be impossible to interpret, if not for the equally impressive development of super-smart artificial intelligences, whose algorithms are powerful enough to sift through and draw conclusions."

Actually, no, that's polemic by the AI protagonists. The techniques have been known and used for many decades, and the Royal Statistical Society (no less) pointed that out with regard to the census in the 1970s or 1980s. Modern computer power and 'big data' make it easy to do much more precisely, much more cheaply, and for almost everyone, rather than just a visible minority. What the 'AI' techniques do is to make it possible to do automatically.

(*) The reasons and politics are nasty.

3:

Heather, I positively love the way you think (I still use an old flip phone, at least partly because there is no reliable 3G or 4G, never mind 5G, where I live.

Sadly, I have to say (similar background) that Elderly Cynic is at least mostly correct.

4:

The difficulty of disabling location certainly underlines how difficult it is to shut down your own visibility in public spaces.

As regards the AIs, I'm suggesting that the sheer quantity of data makes algorithms necessary for interpretation - automatically, as you say. Algorithms themselves have been around for hundreds of years, and the word derives from the 9th Century mathematician al-Khwarizmi, Latinised as Algoritmi.

5:

Seems to me your options are either to install a custom OS and thoroughly vet (ie. reverse engineer) every piece of software you load onto the thing, or to route all its connections via a proxy that allows you to inspect and filter all the traffic (which necessitates breaking encrypted protocols, so you're messing around with fake SSL certs and all sorts).

I tried running a phone OS on an emulator. Winding all the privacy settings up to max made no difference to the third party software that just baldly ignored them. Nor did it prevent the OS telling Google every time it booted, or other unadvertised nasties of a like kind. This was a while ago, and I'm bang certain that whatever may be different about it now will be a change for the worse.

What gets me is that the basic scenario is one of the areas where "SF as predictor of the future" has been prolifically successful - and yet it seems no bugger has actually read the stories. Oh, sure, they've opened the books and run their eyes over the words while turning the pages until they got to the end. But since the only message they seem to have taken away from this activity is "hey, cool!" I dispute that it really counts as reading. Because one universally accurate feature of the fictional predictions is that if "hey, cool!" really is a valid reaction, it's only because of some form of powerful, benevolent and incorruptible oversight, such as Culture Minds; and in all the scenarios that lack such oversight, even though the characters in the story are probably used to it and don't seem to mind all that much, a more appropriate reaction on the part of the reader is "bleeeaaauurrgcchhhhhhh".

6:

"bleeeaaauurrgcchhhhhhh" - I know. Especially when it's the really near, almost-the-present future, as the world of Everything About You clearly is!

7:

Just as agriculture is an environment, and cities are an environment, ubiquitous surveillance is an environment and the organism will evolve in ways reflecting the pressures.

My take on this is that corporates are excruciatingly stupid, considered as organisms, and have not figured out that yes, humans are nigh-eusocial but only nigh. If there are any larger-than-a-thousand social organizations in 2050, I doubt we'll have anything we'd recognize as a limited-liability corporation among them.

(Corporations having gone from "eat people once" (most colonial labour practices!) through "eat people cyclically" (status-insecurity driven spending on modest consumer durables) on to the social-network "fractional pennies per inhale, ALWAYS to be eating people". People are starting to object. People likely wouldn't object in other circumstances; if it was set up as a collective like a credit union or a co-op, ubiquitous surveillance becomes a different ration of benefits and costs.)

8:

The thing is, though, that - despite my previous post - it is actually easy to do. Just don't have a mobile phone. The real problem is the face recognition you mention, because it really is difficult not to have a face. The idea of having to wear a bag over my head (or one of those Guy Fawkes masks) whenever I leave the house is unappealing to say the least.

9:

Excession is merely the most blatant Culture story to point out that even Minds aren't credibly incorruptible, too.

And of course, the consequences are terrifying when you think for a moment.

10:

If there is ever a big facial recognition scandal, perhaps there'll be a vogue for going out in disguise...

11:

#8 and #10 - OK, I hadn't even read these properly and was thinking "Time to order our Guy Fawkes masks now then!"

12:

The difficult bit will be telling what's factual and what isn't as regards what works as a disguise. There will be all kinds of things on ebay which are less "drastic" than a full-on mask - along the lines of funny eyebrows or cheek prostheses - which are claimed to mess up the algorithms and make the computer throw an error or think you're a duck. Some of them might even work, or work for a wee while at least until the algorithms are updated; after all there have been plenty of published examples of some apparently trivial feature causing image recognition algorithms to produce totally whacked output. But you'll have no way of telling which these are, and the great majority of them will be just like the magic sprays to put on your number plate to prevent police cameras reading it: don't work, at all, and if they do do anything it's to make you stand out and positively attract police attention, but lots of people are still convinced they're fully effective.

13:

In the book, one of the characters regularly upgrades her massive sunglasses on the 3D printer. Not that it necessarily does the trick...

14:

Apart from faces, gait is also very useful for identification

15:

Once -- and I do not assert this has happened! -- the machine learning learns how to actually identify people based on the same sort of gestalt a dog uses, that's it. No practical disguise.

Like a whole lot of things, any necessary fix is systemic and structural.

16:

Seems to me your options are either to install a custom OS and thoroughly vet (ie. reverse engineer) every piece of software you load onto the thing

Only that won't work: how many computers are inside your computer? (Turns out the answer is "lots" — anything from 8 to a couple of thousand — and they're mostly running their own embedded OSs, ranging from the baseband processor kernel in your phone to the Intel Management System (running Minix, inside Ring 0, within a dedicated high-privileged processor inside every modern Intel microprocessor) to the plugs at each end of your USB-C cables (with an ARM microcontroller at each end)!

And this is before we get into Ken Thompson level paranoia, as in his seminal ACM-prize speech, reflections on trusting trust (on how software can be compromised silently even when the source code is available for inspection).

17:

It might amuse you to know that there was (and probably still is) a strong inverse correlation between a person's IT expertise and personal adoption of fancy electronic gimmickry. One of the people who invented modern computing (and many other advanced techniques) refused to own a mobile telephone, and used pencil and paper for recording his thoughts.

18:

Researching this book has certainly made me more cautious.

19:

There's another element to this. Let's use China's terminology and call it a social score.

Multiple countries can embed spyware or chips inside every gadget
https://www.seattletimes.com/business/china-inserted-surveillance-microchip-in-servers-used-by-amazon-apple-report-says/

This means that everybody has multiple social scores for various countries. In other words, you have a Five Eyes score, a Russian score, a Chinese score, a Saudi score, and a Turkish score at a minimum (probably an Iranian and N. Korean score as well). Each of these entities can then use their own models of you for their purposes.

Speaking of, it seems that China wants to race Elon Musk to the ubiquitous internet through a large satellite constellation:
https://gbtimes.com/china-to-launch-first-hongyan-leo-communications-constellation-satellite-soon

20:

I love the books by Daniel Suarez - Daemon and Freedom(tm) that follow the same concept.

Then there is the BBC miniseries:

MASTERPIECE CONTEMPORARY | The Last Enemy | PBS
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmGIuSncvd4

Then of course there is xkcd:

Listening
https://xkcd.com/1807/

21:

a time in which our hopes, dreams and deepest fears are known, interpreted and sold is almost upon us, and for the next generation it's virtually unavoidable.
But only ( At the moment, at any rate ) - IF you are stupid & gullible enough to regularly & frequently spend time on "social media" (SM) chatting about every fucking thing, thus building up a picture.
F'rinstance, at present, the ONLY SM I am signed-up to is Twotter & even that only on this machine, not my 'phone.
I might have to open a Arsebook account, to be able to comment on things, but, so far I have resisted the temptation & if I do, I will give the minimum information out, befriend no-one etc ...
As for all the other - not going there.
It's not difficult, actually.

it’s easy enough to turn off your phone’s location setting and prevent apps from knowing where you go and where you linger. AFAIK, mine has never been turned "on". ( Actually, reading on forward, maybe mine is "on" after all - um, errr .... )
And my GPS seems to have died, fuck knows why, which really is a nuisance.

"Smart home" systems - quite simply DON'T. They are all far too easliy hackable for all sorts of malign purposes.

HC @ 10
CORRECTION
WHEN there is a big facial recognition scandal, there WILL BE a vogue for going out in disguise..
Yes/No?

barren-samadhi @ 14
Yes, well, even though fully-sighted, I can tell two or three individuals, just from the sound of their approaching fairy footsteps.

EC @ 17
YES

ioan @ 19
I wonder what my UK security Social Score is, given that I know at least two people who work/used to for said org. & therefore there must be a file on me?

22:

ut only ( At the moment, at any rate ) - IF you are stupid & gullible enough to regularly & frequently spend time on "social media" (SM) chatting about every fucking thing, thus building up a picture.

"I'm not worried about unrestricted stop-and-search because it only happens if you're stupid and gullible enough to spend time outside your house."

23:

But only ( At the moment, at any rate ) - IF you are stupid & gullible enough to regularly & frequently spend time on "social media" (SM) chatting about every fucking thing, thus building up a picture.

Greg?

I'm really sorry to have to break this to you, but what do you think this blog is?

24:

Big Data is also broader than social media, stringing together online purchases, search history and much more.

25:

Precisely. It also includes the 'hotspot' you connect to every time you make a telephone call, connect to the Internet, or use a bank card in any location that uses one of those. Plus your use of any utilities (water, electricity etc.) controlled by a smartmeter. As you said, it probably also includes almost all car trips, possibly uses of old fogies' bus passes and more. And that's just what can be and may be done today.

One aspect of using 'AI' on those data was the discovery of just how ineffectual current encryption and anonymisation techniques are at hiding people's identity. That had not been realised previously. It is CLAIMED that the use of SSL (e.g. https, rather than http) for non-critical Web pages is for protection of the user, but actually it's for the protection of the provider - and, in the case of the usual culprits, to enable reliable tracking of the user both across sites and in the long term.

26:

Also, I think the importance of metadata has not been realized early enough. That is the information about the information, in this context for example who has been calling who or accessed what websites.

Many protections protect the data itself, but the metadata is not protected. Even if an adversary cannot see what a person said to the known drug dealer or exactly what kind of videos they looked at at a porn site, the communication endpoints are clear. HTTPS does not encrypt the information about the endpoints, only the content passed between them.

27:

GB @ 22
No, your sark is misplaced to say the least

Charlie @ 23
Um
Yes, of course, if you are a state actor & really want to waste seroius amounts of time & money, then you COULD watch every public blog in the country, but ... is it worth the effort?
WHereas, so far at any rathe it's dta-mining by people like CA on "chatter" platforms, with millions of users that are "profitable"
Form a state's p.o.v. is it "profitable" - & the naswer is ... no.
Though this may change as algorithms for searching of "undesirable" traits may cheapen.
The aspect we should be concerned about is that raised by
HC @ 24 & EC's follow-up @ 25, against which there is no effective defence, if I'm correct?

28:

Precisely. The people who knew about the techniques (which date from the 1960s or earlier) didn't realise that there was enough data, and the people who knew there was the data didn't realise the techniques existed. Until Google et al. brought them together and the people who were concerned about privacy said "Oh, shit!". We know that several 'security forces' were using them before that, but don't know how effectively.

To Greg Tingey: that's right, there is no effective defence we of the hoi polloi can mount. There is more that could be said, but it would be a derailment.

29:

I think the importance of metadata has not been realized early enough.

Realized by whom?

Back in the 1970s my dad told me stories of life during his national service in the 1950s, and how easy it was to figure out supposedly secret information from public non-secret information.

Traffic analysis dates back to WWI at least, for example.

As a civilization we've collectively known about metadata for generations. Unfortunately, those techies designing the new and shiny future seem willfully blind to history.

(And in many cases I've witnessed personally, it is willful blindness, as they have been informed of historical events which they then chose to ignore, only to see history repeated. I'm certain EC (and others) could provide us many examples if he wanted to…)

30:

if you are a state actor & really want to waste seroius amounts of time & money, then you COULD watch every public blog in the country, but ... is it worth the effort?

Ask GCHQ; they've allegedly been monitoring all UK internet traffic for well over a decade now (and quite possibly a lot longer than that).

What's new is that we're now living in a period where corporate non-state level actors have the same (or bigger) budgets to deploy along similar lines to the national intelligence agencies — and are equally unscrupulous.

31:

This means that everybody has multiple social scores for various countries.
Do they? I thought, in all the ideal liberal worlds there's only one social score you really need - your credit balance. Though it is not that simple, you will also have a social security balance, a credit rating, a credit history, a rating of your credit rating agency and so on and so forth with all the derivatives. It seems to me like the Chinese idea with their social score is to get around this model since they can not print money in unlimited quantities.

you have a Five Eyes score, a Russian score, a Chinese score, a Saudi score, and a Turkish score at a minimum
Doubtfully. On the other hands you shall now be introduced to, and from now on shall honor yer two new gods - Targeting Advertising and Search History, with their own host of servants (numerous, but not sentient).

to Charlie Stross @30
Do they also introduced the option to archive certain amount of bulk traffic to be analyzed in the event of major investigation?

32:

So, assuming that for the moment at least not carrying a smartphone, not owning any IoT gadgets, not activelyparticipating in social media, etc, etc is enough to stay under the radar...

How long before phones and social media become sufficiently pervasive and analysis of the resulting data sufficiently rigorous that the holdouts can be tracked and profiled by the holes, blind spots, tunnels, and perturbations they leave in their wake as their absence interacts with and passes through everybody else’s traffic...?

33:

Charlie @ 30
GCHQ - allegedly - quite possibly, but I expect them to be "intelligent" enough *cough* not to actually bother with at least 95% of it, for reasons given. They will have learnt from the example of the USSR & the STASI, that the game isn't worth the candle.
As opposed to the Plod, whom I fully expect ot be stupid enough to try this [ Example, the supposed proposal to scan everyone entering or leaving every London Railway station for "terrism" reasons, that fell down in a pile when the actual volume of people & the delays imposed became apparent - which they SHOULD have realised before they even started. Wankers. ]

However, I would worry much more about the corporate non-state actors you mention, who are IMHO considerably more unscrupulous, if they think they can get away with it.

34:

And what's that supposed to prove? OK, I don't have a jPhone, or indeed a home interwebnet thingie, but I often don't even take my old flip with me when I'm out of the house and make sure it's turned off when I'm driving if I do have it with me.

All this actually proves is that I don't have a jPhone!

35:

There is some reason to believe that they have been tracking all semi-public international computer traffic since the days of the USA-UK academic "fat pipe". I can't now remember when that was, but it long predates "the Internet". Probably in the 1980s sometime.

36:

There already *IS* a massive vogue for going out in disguise. People no longer look twice at pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other people on the street wearing masks obscuring 60%, or more of their facial features.

For an example, count the number of people in a street scene filmed in Asia wearing a (useless) surgical or N95 mask for the ostensible purpose of protecting from urban air pollution or respiratory infections. This is increasingly common in Europe and North America. Coupled with large and dark sunglasses, only the ears (which are still very useful) are available for facial recognition but those can be covered by hair, a hat or other head covering. Gait recognition would still be useful but can also be spoofed.

Similarly, this summer it seemed like half, or more, of the motorcyclists in my part of Canada were wearing fabric masks that obscured everything but their eyes which were also frequently covered by sunglasses. Some of these motorcyclists were wearing colours of puppet clubs, so preventing facial recognition might have been an intended purpose.

37:

"Larger than 1000 social organizations"... you mean, like, say, Worldcon? Or the SCA (e.g. Pennsic)? Hell, Windycon, that I was at last weekend, was in the 1200-1400 range, and Balticon's 1400-1800.

38:

You're not reading widely enough. It was in a number of news stories in the last three months, that facial recognition fails on... Afro-American faces. I can just imagine them trying to do different african subtypes, and Asian subtypes...

39:

My mistake, I should not have used the present tense. I don't know if everyone has a social score yet. I think that the world will transition to that model. Whatever China's reason for implementing it, the media sells the social score in the way I described. Even if that is not the intent right now, several government agencies find the social score as presented in the Western Media VERY appealing.

The point I was making was that IN THE FUTURE, there's likely nothing restricting countries to making social scores just for their own citizens; they could do it for anyone with an internet connection.

40:

Heh, heh. My social score is one of those that warp the pretty graphs. Same as when I get called for a political poll....

Note: I've been working with computers since 1980, first as a programmer, then a sysadmin. I get up, and eat my breakfast while I read email and news. I'm online working 8 hrs/day (plus more while I'm at lunch, reading this blog, among others). I go home, and after dinner, I'm online, reading mail, and news (I AM NOT ADDICTED TO SOLITAIRE, I CAN QUIT ANY TIME).... I need to be online *more*? I need to have to respond every time someone sneezes? Screw that.

I have a flip phone. It is a "cellular telepohne", for "speaking to people at a distance". I do NOT text; in fact, I *hate* texting*. I have no smart anythings in my house (esp *not* a web-enabled thermostat). The only reason I'm on facepalm is that around '12, it was the only place I could find where someone was selling their attending Worldcon membership. No pic. Wrong birth date. Only facepalm group I belong to is a private one, invite only.

As I think of all that, I realized the stories of someone in the near future, walking down the street with targeted ads blaring at them from every shop, fails, with all of the folks who are like me, and don't like that crap.

* Why am I so vehement about disliking texting? Ask me (privately) about pagers....

42:

I'm thinking of an epigram I just saw this morning:

The "s" in IoT stands for "secure."

43:

count the number of people in a street scene filmed in Asia wearing a (useless) surgical or N95 mask for the ostensible purpose of protecting from urban air pollution or respiratory infections

You've got the cultural signifiers exactly backwards there: AIUI in Japan people with respiratory illnesses like a common cold wear a surgical mask to spare other people from catching it — it's a social gesture towards polite coexistence rather than individualistic defensiveness.

The N95 masks are somewhat effective against PM2.5, and if you've looked up the airborn particulate levels in many of those cities, you'd probably want one too. (Certainly I would if I was visiting!)

Now, I can't argue about motorcyclists in your home area and their fashion for facial coverage—but as a non-biker I will note that bugs in the face aren't fun and the current fashion for beards and facial hair among males would make them even less fun after a long run.

44:

The book sounds interesting, by the way. How would a Californian get to read it? An ebook for preference, as I'm already up to 100 shelf feet or so. Can a US edition be anticipated, or should I be looking into transatlantic shipping?

45:

Orbit publish it in the USA; see Kindle ebook purchase link in previous blog entry.

46:

Thanks, there are some links in the previous post - ebook is on Amazon I think.

47:

I'm looking at this from the other end.

The additional horse in this race is Koomey's Law, about how much energy it takes to compute. While it's still falling fast, the data centers holding all this junk take as much power as small cities. That's why all their owners are trying to find ways to get the power requirements down and to run them on renewables.

Then I look at fires in places like California, where there is a lot of data used. The Woolsey fire in the LA area may have been caused by the local electrical company. The 2007 Cedar fire in San Diego was $3 billion in damage caused by a sparking power line from the local electrical company. The Camp Fire in northern California (40-50 dead) was probably caused by the local electrical company, as were 16 of the 18 Wine Country fires last year, and the Thomas fire...

This is a weakness in AI right now--who's supplying the power, and can they keep doing so? While it's entrancing to speculate that we're all doomed, the question is whether skynet can keep itself sufficiently powered, or not. That's a question with no fixed answer, and it's probably worth thinking about a cyberpunk future in which the angelnet (or is it the demonnet) only works some of the time, depending not just on the state of play, but the state of innovation, how energy efficient the servers are, and how reliable the local grid is. Fun times, I suppose. Or something.

48:

It’s not that Cambridge Analytica did what they did

It’s how easy it was

It wasn’t scads and scads of data from all over creation it was just the Facebook pages you liked

It wasn’t a huge grid of supercomputers it was something you could run on your desktop

The talking monkeys just aren’t that complicated at the end of the day and they are happy to tell you anything you need to know for a banana

49:

Re: 'But what if you are five years old, and your parents have already posted 1,500 photos of you online?'

I'm waiting for the first lawsuit filed by a child against their parents/grandparents accusing them of illegally selling their privacy/life. Some countries have stringent no-advertising-to-kids-under-X-years legislation. I don't understand why these same countries don't specifically prohibit data mining of same, i.e., if the AI can spot a child/someone under 18 it must not capture that data (and sell it or turn it over for potential future sale).

Still about kids' data - the New Zealand longitudinal study has provided fodder for tons of research papers some of which includes the identification of certain childhood traits and behaviors that seem to reliably predict future/likely cognitive and emotional development therefore behavior. This type of info is a helluva more important (profitable) than recording twitches and sighs when window shopping.

Like family, employers also seem to have given themselves the right to trample on individual privacy rights, e.g., everyone at Corp X must maintain a current page on Corp X's FB as well as on LI (or other very popular 'for employees social media site') where they are required to post whatever Corp X's weekly sales pitch is.


To EC:
OOC, what happens to the AI's ability to use its algos for analysis if you always have about a dozen or so different sites open on your computer (and always put tape over the lens)? I'm guessing that a miscellany of info could mess with its predictive ability.


'Masks' - Okay, so I should buy shares in corps that make/deliver botox kits? More seriously, the idea of chemical masks brings me to this question: How much and in what ways does a person's physiological set of responses change while under weed, alcohol or other substances? (Weed was legalized in more States last mid-Term.)

51:

"what happens to the AI's ability to use its algos for analysis if you always have about a dozen or so different sites open on your computer"

If anything it makes it easier for it...

52:

Ioan @ 41
Doesn't suprise me in the least.
Maduro is shaping up to be a cross between a standard S-American Caudillo & a mini-Stalin.

... and @ 50
an online search for masuku bijin or “beautiful masked girl” will bring up hundreds of results, Oooh-errrr, misus!

SFR @ 49
and always put tape over the lens Erm - WHAT LENS?
( No lens here, though I know that some laptops have a camers in the top-fold ... )

Weed was legalized in more States last mid-Term
How many US States now have legal weed, then? And I know there's a conflict between the "Feds" & the States attitudes & laws there. IIRC, the irony is that the right-Rethuglicans are suddenly strongly against "States Rights" as a result?

53:

SFreader - "Like family, employers also seem to have given themselves the right to trample on individual privacy rights."

And there was a (UK) news item earlier this week about employers implanting microchips in their staff, allegedly for security purposes.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/nov/11/alarm-over-talks-to-implant-uk-employees-with-microchips

54:

"OOC, what happens to the AI's ability to use its algos for analysis if you always have about a dozen or so different sites open on your computer (and always put tape over the lens)? I'm guessing that a miscellany of info could mess with its predictive ability."

To some extent. However, doing that effectively is a LOT trickier than you think. Let's take a simple statistical analogy that you could play with on a home computer. You have a dozen independent variables A, B, C ..., and another variable Z which has a 50% correlation with one of them; the AI's objective is to guess which, but you can add random noise to Z. You would be surprised at how much noise you need to add once the AI has the ability to take a very large sample from Z (say a million measurements).

This is all classic game theory, military strategy etc. The victor is, on average, the one who puts more resources in, more ingeniously. The thing that protects you is more your unimportance to Google, GCHQ etc. than anything else :-(

To Heather Child (#53): yes :-( I was told by a union legal expert that UK employment law was derived from and still is defining the master/worker relationship, as in the 18th century. It has been clear for a couple of decades that our more right-wing politicians and plutocrats want to take us back there. I am expecting such things to be increasingly a condition of employment, and to be supported by the courts.

55:

My initial thoughts regarding Asia and face masks were along the same lines as OGH in #43.

Having read #50, other than the "I want to be alone" signal discussed in the cite, I think #43 still applies, with the additional note that my thought about the other reason why people choose to wear masks (and balaclavas or bandanas pulled up over the nose) was warmth (and possibly frostbite avoidance; a Canuck friend has reported -20F where they live) is supported by #50.

56:

Similarly, except that I don't read e-spam over breakfast, and have been known to confuse my sister by initiating cell to cell voice calls!

57:

I was told by a union legal expert that UK employment law was derived from and still is defining the master/worker relationship, as in the 18th century.

Seriously. Did he actually consider the constitutional differences between English and Scots law before answering?

58:

No idea, sorry. I know that there are significant differences, but I also know there is considerable commonality. For example, upon checking, the first two acts I looked at (Employment Relations Act 2004 and Employment Act 2008) cover the whole of the UK. That doesn't mean that their interpretation will be identical in both England and Scotland, of course, as you know.

59:

Your implication up-thread that masks are worn increasingly for nefarious purposes isn't really substantiated by the article you link to. I mean, pretty girls wearing masks and earphones in order to convey "don't interact with me" may say something about the deplorable level of groping on the Tokyo subway, but it's hardly shady behaviour on the mask wearers part! Meanwhile? People are now wearing masks in hope of avoiding catching infections, as well as to avoid passing them on? Crivens, the horror ...

60:

Yes. Such a use of masking is an indication of dysfunctionality in the society. Neither using such masking nor banning it will help cure the dysfunctionality - at best, they would sweep it under the carpet. We see this very clearly with the niqab polemic.

61:

When my browser (and also several others) introduced the new feature "incognito mode" some time ago, I just laughed it off and never used it ever, if only by accident. To be precise, it blatantly said that your history for your "incognito tab" will be deleted and nobody will be able to track you. Hah! So they would like you to believe. If the person tries to use any of the classic and popular surveillance-evading tactics in the situation of total information control, it will be a dead ringer notification for the security they intend to avoid. Therefore, I have no reason to believe that in normal situation standard tactics of covering your face and obscuring it deliberately will achieve you anything other than heightened attention from the observers trained to detect suspicious activity.

Then again, since the evasion of surveillance is not yet a punishable activity (not in general, I HOPE), there's a mindgame involved in that assumption too - once those evasion techniques will become more common, it will come around and the detection may become useless again. Recently I saw an article about "URME" - a special mask that "replaces" your face with another one, looking relatively natural from afar. The strange thing is, search spiders return me a bunch of articles from 2014 and nothing much else, as if they don't want me to know about something like that. It is quite possible that this battle has been long lost already.

62:

The comments about "Guy Fawkes masks" upthread are references to Alan Moore's "V for Vendetta", and indirectly to "I'm Spartacus! No, I'm Spartacus! No, I'm Spartacus! No, I'm Spartacus!..." so your base point has been identified and thought about, OK?

63:

Re: 'WHAT LENS?
( No lens here, though I know that some laptops have a camers in the top-fold ... )'

That's what I meant: to me, 'camera' equals 'there's a lens there'.

Re: 'States ... legal weed'

Varies by type of usage so anywhere from 10 to 33 States as per article below. However, for international travelers going through US Customs, weed remains a big no-no because the Feds still have it on their controlled/illegal substances list.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_cannabis_by_U.S._jurisdiction

64:

Re: 'The victor is, on average, the one who puts more resources in, more ingeniously. The thing that protects you is more your unimportance to Google, GCHQ etc. than anything else :-('

Thanks for the stats/computation explanation and agree that being boring has its upside. :)

65:

Speaking of Demons - inner or otherwise ... Brexit is back in the news over here & it looks like it is not going in May's favor.

Who is most likely to become Prime Minister if there's a vote of no confidence and she loses? How is Brexit likely to play out in that case?

66:

JBS
That is the rabid Berxiteer's problem - they have no-one at all able to step in - not even BoJo.
And, of course, they are divided amongst themselves as much as everyone else, real People's Front of Judaea stuff.
It's beginning to look more & more likely that we are now down to two options ...
1: Crashing out with no deal at all - a complete & utter disaster, our 1940, from which it will take as AT LEAST 20 years to recover, if ever.
2: Having a second referendum, resulting in remaining in the EU

67:

Heather, I'm reading Everything About You, kindle version, and enjoying it very much. Thank you, Charlie, for drawing Heather and the book to my attention. Heather, I hope you're planning to write more -- that will give me something to look forward to besides Charlie's next novel!

A couple of observations on the topics being discussed:-

To date, Big Data sucks at trying to sell me stuff. Amazon has never recommended EAY to me, and I find the stuff it presents me as "recommended for you" almost always annoying rubbish. (The rest of it is innocuous rubbish.) Meanwhile Amazon's UI prevents me from finding something I might be interested in buying, by filling the screen with, er, filler.

Also, while reading EAY, I keep being reminded of the Ribbonfarm essay, "The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial". The world in EAY is kind of like a premium mediocre Philip K Dick world. (That's supposed to be a compliment to your world-building skills!)

At present most people have to manage their own online presence, and do it with varying levels of skill and forethought. The wealthy and famous have reputation managers; it's probably only a matter of time before someone figures out how to bring this service to the mass market. At which point Big Data becomes much less valuable, at least while the AIs who know the capital-T Truth, banks and credit card companies, are required to stay silent.

68:

You gotta remember everyone who is on this blog is such s statistical outlier that no one cares about trying to sell them anything . Hell at this point if you browse the internet from an actual computer you are almost in the “statistical outlier” category

In general Amazon’s recommendation system works quite well, especially if you buy a lot of stuff thru amazon, and especially for items that get bought a lot

As far as online reputation management, the corporate version of that is SEO, it’s been around for years and has basically triggered an arms race that mostly is won by the facebooks and googles. There are many many signals that go into profiling and targeting you, but in many way, people care a lot more about what you buy online then what you say or do, and it’s tough to fake buying things

69:

Charlie, please cite where I implied that masks were worn for nefarious purposes?

70:

I read your comment fifty as taking that view.

71:

Re: '... care a lot more about what you buy online then what you say or do, and it’s tough to fake buying things'

Aside from books, my online purchases are gifts for family/friends spanning cradle to grave some years. So, apart from learning that I am capable of purchasing a variety of products, my online purchasing activity only pigeon-holes me as 'regular book purchaser'. Okay and fine so far assuming that Big River does not hand over my purchase history to some other Corp and vice-versa. Therefore it is likely that each online entity that I deal with will have only one of several different incomplete 'pictures' of me unless they somehow scrape all of my online activity off my device without my knowledge/permission. (Hmmm ... wonder how my ISP managed to post such terrific Quarterly results despite a reduced subscriber base?)

72:

they don’t scrape it off your device they share it with ad exchanges at time of purchase through the purchasing entity website

The ad exchanges with gen assemble the complete picture and share / sell it back out . It’s callef retargetting

They likely have a good chunk of your brick and mortar purchase as well If you use loyalty cards or buy thing with credit cards or atm cards

73:

... people care a lot more about what you buy online then what you say or do ...

That means ebay has me on the list of 'people who have bought more than zero slide rules.' That's a pretty short list and not obviously useful. If combined with thousands of other lists it might reveal... something, I suppose.

On the other hand, I know an artist who sells his work on ebay and no matter how many times I look at his offerings there the site has yet to offer me things I've looked at during my other browsing. So, has it not made the connection? Is it for some reason only showing me other art? Is there some category setting I'm unfamiliar with? In this era there's not necessarily any way to know.

74:

Not sure what your point is as a Union activist (and an approved person) I don't know of any differences in employment law in Scotland.


And my red clysyde FTO (Minder) when I was branch secretary didn't mention any difference.

75:

It has occurred to me that by riding a bicycle I evade a lot of the monitoring systems. I don't ride past many (obvious) cameras or wifi hotspots, and I do tend to turn off most of the radios in my phone. That helps a little, but as Charlie mentioned, it's not as though I control that stack - a stack which is designed from the ground up not to be controllable by the user anyway (that's how some countries can stop stolen cellphones being used, for example... other countries choose to support the phone-stealing business).

One aspect of recognition that's underplayed is the extent to which the search is for a small, repeatable key that can be built from cheap inputs. What the various PTB want is to have the field device say in 1kB or less "individual X was here" without needing huge amounts of data flowing over the network. Currently camera numbers and resolution are growing faster than bandwidth, so that "compression" stage is vigorously pursued.

The usual work-around is to get everyone to carry a device that broadcasts a unique signature... see cellphones above. If you can receive phone calls your location is known to at worst a kilometre, at best a metre. If you're using "free wifi" it's probably known to a couple of mteres, and there's no argument about who you are (at least in the eyes of the telco network).

We use this for wildlife at the moment, but it is a tedious process for underfunded ecologists. Set out camera, walk round collecting images, run them through the laptop and only then do we get our "Bob passed {this} point at {timestamp}". It's also fun how few cameras you need to have a pretty accurate idea of who hangs out where. Comparing cameras to GPS beacons for just a few animals a couple of times a year can often locate the whole community to better than a kilometre. But sadly only for big animals - bees we can't track like that (yet).

76:

Irrespective of the statistical theory - which I would guess can give misleading results when the activity occupies only a sub-region of the phase space that the generally-applied theory covers - what I take away from actually doing it, by hand (to keep tabs on certain individuals who were conspiring against me behind my back - as they thought - might as well have been doing it in the same room though), is: Someone having multiple sites open means a tracking entity (whether computer (I don't call such things "AI") or human) has information from the supposed "clutter" that can be used to disambiguate signals relating to the "primary" site. Especially so given that many sites incorporate tracking elements that are common across sites (eg. Google analytics, addthis.com, arsebook etc, innumerable advert hosts) - but it's still very possible without any of that. What does act as "clutter" is other, unrelated individuals browsing in a similar way; the target individual attempting to generate their own "clutter" merely provides the tracking entity with information that distinguishes them from the real "clutter".

77:

Yes, but you seem to be still missing the two essential points, which are at the heart of this thread. With enough data and enough analysis, it is possible to deduce systematic links that are hidden by VASTLY more more-or-less unrelated noise. And, with the advent of all this tracking and "big data AI", there is both enough data and the analysis becomes automated.

Yes, I could 'anonymize' myself against what Google does today, more-or-less under EU rules - I do much of that already - and I could (in theory) do so even if it were let off that leash. But I know how many restrictions, how much effort and how much skill that would involve, and it's completely ridiculous :-(

78:

@ 67 Really glad to hear you're enjoying EAY Greg. The thing about truthfulness is interesting, isn't it? The data is useless if it doesn't give an accurate picture, and social media companies actively discourage reinvention of the self online. "You have one identity," states Mark Zuckerberg, ('The Facebook Effect', David Kirkpatrick) going on to suggest that anything else represents a lack of integrity. You might have seen in EAY that this takes the form of schoolkids being taught to 'be honest with the cloud... So it can be honest with you.'

79:

No, I get that, I was talking about the proposition to try and make one's own noise by keeping multiple sites open. That noise [i]isn't[/i] unrelated, so the proposition doesn't work and is probably counterproductive.

(As for Google, it keeps putting temporary blocks on my IP because I block all its shite so it accuses me of being a robot...)

80:

It's that specific implied accusation that is the main reason I call him Cocksuckerberg...

81:

Pigeon, have a yellow card. Cause: homophobic abuse. You should be ashamed of yourself!

(If you want to say rude things about Mark Zuckerberg you're very welcome to do so as long as they're not based on sexist, racist, or similar forms of abuse and have some relationship to his actual sins. There are plenty of things wrong with Facebook's CEO, starting with him being a socially clueless over-privileged white boy and Nazi panderer, and working up from there ...)

82:

I realise that is what you are doing, but it doesn't change anything.

At best, visiting multiple sites at once will make it impossible to say whether you were doing X, Y or Z, but using traffic analysis (and not just site connections) means that you will ACTUALLY have to use those sites (not just have them open) in order to preserve the ambiguity! Also, the algorithms will simply match you to ALL of activities X, Y or Z, rather than none of them - not a great gain :-(

Mixing with the crowd will hide your identity, yes, but the algorithms will simply include you in the people they are matching to that activity or pattern. Assuming that you don't behave like a plastic cut-out, you will want to hide among more than one crowd, whereupon the algorithms immediately can classify you as one of the (MUCH fewer) people in the intersection. And it's amazing how few such uses can identify individuals.

In order to break the latter, you have to make every single connection through a reliable dynamic anonymiser. But it gets worse. If Google or GCHQ have even limited access to BOTH your connections to your telephone or Internet providers AND accesses to (say) Web sites, they can identify who is doing what. To break THAT, you need to connect in different locations with different identity keys every time.

All of those are some of the classic techniques that I referred to in #2 and Robert Prior referred to in #29, as are the defences.

83:

the algorithms will simply match you to ALL of activities X, Y or Z, rather than none of them - not a great gain :-(

If you're really persistent or unlucky you will get flagged as weird, and that is definitely a bad thing. An actual person might look at you. Or worse, you become a "person of interest" to a national security agency.

One of the funniest things I've seen is a "make some noise" web page that basically searches for random terms then clicks links of the search results. What could possibly go wrong...

84:

"how they built the victoria line" is a slightly scary documentary from the BBC. The end is chilling "this isn't Brave New World or 1984, it's the future"

https://youtu.be/GwRRSJ_wtIg?t=2192

85:

I thoroughly apologise and I am indeed ashamed to have posted something that you consider in that way. No such construction was intended - it's simply a word I use without considering its literal meaning to be relevant (as I use "wanker" without implying anything reprehensible about literal masturbation).

86:

In order to break the latter, you have to make every single connection through a reliable dynamic anonymiser. But it gets worse. ...
[I've been staying out of this interesting discussion; good to see the awareness though.]
It's not easy. Absurdly not easy. And any comsec/opsec mistake can be the last depending on activities and jurisdiction. Some of the guides out there are rather flawed. (Though it's worth browsing through the various guides for the truly paranoid. And this guy is often fun: Underground Tradecraft)
The various easily-used user-endpoint tools can help against commercial surveillance, e.g. private browsing windows/multiple browsers, adding one or more anti-tracker filters/script blockers to the browser stack, etc. (Blockers can also can seriously help with performance :)

[Waves to camera]

87:

If you're really persistent or unlucky you will get flagged as weird, and that is definitely a bad thing. An actual person might look at you. Or worse, you become a "person of interest" to a national security agency.
Eff.org has this interesting page: Panopticlick
Panopticlick will analyze how well your browser and add-ons protect you against online tracking techniques. We’ll also see if your system is uniquely configured—and thus identifiable—even if you are using privacy-protective software.
Note: it only addresses browsers.

88:

I think we've got a crossed wire somewhere... I agree with all that, and your paragraph beginning "Mixing with the crowd" is very close to my reason for saying that trying to create your own noise is more likely counterproductive than not.

89:

I guessed as much, but: I don't want to contribute to the current culture wars by tolerating speech that excludes or belittles marginalized groups by turning their signifiers into epithets.

90:

WRT wearing surgical masks in Japan, there’s a documentary from earlier in the year about why Millennials there are wearing them. Not spreading/catching germs may be the most common reason, many younger Japanese found that they’re more comfortable in social situations wearing them.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/lens/419_28.html
(full video not available, unfortunately.)

As the public use of surgical masks becomes widespread in Japan, people have started using them as fashion items, to enhance their beauty, to hide ungroomed faces and conceal identities.
Now an increasing number of youngsters are becoming dependent on wearing these masks to cope with the anxiety they feel when interacting with people. While initially comforting, mask dependency further alienates them from society and worsens their mental problems.
Will they ever be able to take off the mask?

91:

As you allude in #2 and here, it isn’t necessarily computationally intensive to draw conclusions that are both concrete and reasonably certain based on simple pattern matching (no AI required). The other thing people miss is that you don’t need a “trail”, you can infer from traffic based on timing alone and adequate data gives you close-to-deterministic results.

This pretty much explains why, while we get a lot of pressure from governments to let enforcement agencies loose on ISP data, no-one really makes any noise about VPN providers and anonymises. I think this is a clear indication that ELINT agencies have the measure of such services and it’s the raw traffic that is more interesting to them. Sure they probably just take it anyway in many places, but making it legal for them to do so is usually in the interests of the individuals involved (also - proposals include compelling ISPs to retain data).

So really, to avoid scrutiny you would need two or more of 1) you, 2) your anonymiser/VPN service (and all nodes therein for something like TOR) and 3) the website you are visiting not to be in a 5-eyes country or in any location where traffic in and out is subject to scrutiny by any 5-eyes country. Otherwise the 5 eyes ELINT agencies can identify your activities pretty much at will, no matter what service you use and no matter how good your crypto. Same thing applies for any other intelligence sharing domain. I imagine someone not understanding this (along with organisational inertia) is what got those CIA agents in China and Iran killed recently.

Not sure about the UK 5-eyes interface with EU privacy regulation as a driver for Brexit, not my lane (ha!), but it’s an interesting under-the-covers question.

Or am I missing something? Seems people put faith in the idea that there’s a “dark web” and that stuff like TOR gives reliable anonymity. Other than that it might not be technically legal for ELINT agencies in every jurisdiction to do this, I mean.

93:

Re timing attacks, multi-hop using commercial VPNs is an active thing, including use of multiple jurisdictions, e.g.:
Multi-Hop VPNs for Maximum Privacy & Security (How-To Guide)
We will examine two different types of multi-hop VPN setups:
Multi-hop configuration using one primary VPN service and two or more VPN servers (often called a “cascade”).
Multi-hop configuration involving two or more different VPN services and different locations (sometimes called a “nested chain”).

They don't mention Tor; Tor over VPN is a common combination.

While looking, found this; don't see a link to it in the archives; plenty of interesting detail
https://www.wired.co.uk/article/sex-toy-bluetooth-hacks-security-fix
Welcome to the emerging field of Onion Dildonics
More than I wanted to know, TBH. :-)

Re the OP, Harari, in 21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, covers some of the emotional manipulation aspects, lightly. (I have not finished it yet, fwiw. Themes in the early chapters are(should be) familiar to readers of this blog.)

94:

Charlie @ 81
Re. Z'berg and Nazi panderer, and working up from there ... Really - I must have been asleep or something. Z presumabky suports Trump & his cronies, then & similar nastyness?

As Opposed to Musk, who seems to have a couple of horrible social/structural/transport blind spots ( Yes, wierd, isn't it? ) but otherwise seems to have hs head screwed on fairly firmly.

Damian @ 91 - & all previous on this sub-thread.
ONLY use the web for very short "see you on Saturday" messages, then & revert ot written mesaages, conveyed by hand or snailmail.
Isn't Putin doing this already, incidentally?

Masks in Japan
It's "just" a reversion to Shogunate society, where public emotions were socially forbidden & the whole place was locked-down. Not nice.

Bill Arnold @ 93
The review you linked to had this telling phrase: “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.”
Now, then, where have we all heard that before ... Pterry of course, because we are emphatically NOT H sapiens sapientes Africanus - we are Pan narrans.
The last sentence of the review reminds me of a quote from Axel Oxenstierna, about governence.

95:

I think it refers to the news about Facebooks attempts to use anti semitic conspiracy theories to smear their critics. Specifically trying to link all their opponents to George Soros, the paranoid rights favourite jewish bogeyman.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/nov/14/facebook-george-soros-pr-firm-discredit-critics-crisis

96:

That: and to the recurring pattern of tolerance for alt-right/neo-nazi groups and crackdowns on anyone who criticises them, their active protection of CA and fellow-travelers, willful propagation of right-wing memes/conspiracy theories despite possessing the tools to be aware of and avoid doing that, and so on. It's almost like there's a systematic bias at work there ...

Incidentally, this is a reminder that one of the salient characteristics of fascism is its affinity for propaganda: as an ideology it's rooted in an appeal to emotion rather than logic (because its foundations dissolve into half-baked pseudo-science and superstition when subjected to systematic interrogation). So getting people emotionally agitated is a necessary prerequisite to fascism, and Facebook is designed for getting people worked up.

97:

From the linked article: Correlating outgoing traffic with incoming traffic is extremely difficult.

I don't think this is really true. It might be difficult to automate and therefore scale out across populations, but once you have been identified as "of interest" you can definitely be linked to websites which are also "of interest" by correlation alone, even if human analysts are required to do the correlation. Effect of applying what you know from some data to what you know from other data.

98:

It definitely isn't true, and it's easy to automate if you have the data. Matching the two is difficult, yes, but merely correlating them isn't. Remember that marketing, political campaigns etc. don't need to target individuals precisely - if they miss 10% of their target and include half as many extraneous people as targetted ones, they are laughing.

99:

Re: ' ... easy to automate if you have the data.'

Which suggests the next AI-ish at-home/personal gizmo: an anonymizer linked to your various devices that would visit random (previously visited or OK'd) sites at random times*. Could work unless you're constantly posting to/gaming on a web site. (I'm guessing most interwebbie usage is passive, i.e., read only.)

IMO, the biggest problem such a gizmo might cause is a large increase in Internet traffic (by injecting PII-camo spam), thereby increasing demand for energy powering/using the Internet.

Anyone have any ideas for a more cost-effective, less energy-guzzling solution?

100:

My cynical side tells me that anyone who installs such a thing will be regarded as a paranoid eccentric by their friends. Furthermore the beast will *still* know what they are up to because said friends will still keep tagging them in photos.

Anything that actually works and gains momentum will be blocked by the carriers, made illegal or both.

101:

Re: Chemical un-masking

Found this article which suggests that emotionally profiling a person chemically can already be done. The study says 'films', but not a stretch for such snooping/profiling for other purposes or locations.

'Proof of concept study: Testing human volatile organic compounds as tools for age classification of films'.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0203044


Abstract:

'Humans emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) through breath and skin. The nature and rate of these emissions are affected by various factors including emotional state. Previous measurements of VOCs and CO2 in a cinema have shown that certain chemicals are reproducibly emitted by audiences reacting to events in a particular film. Using data from films with various age classifications, we have studied the relationship between the emission of multiple VOCs and CO2 and the age classifier (0, 6, 12, and 16) with a view to developing a new chemically based and objective film classification method. We apply a random forest model built with time independent features extracted from the time series of every measured compound, and test predictive capability on subsets of all data. It was found that most compounds were not able to predict all age classifiers reliably, likely reflecting the fact that current classification is based on perceived sensibilities to many factors (e.g. incidences of violence, sex, antisocial behaviour, drug use, and bad language) rather than the visceral biological responses expressed in the data. However, promising results were found for isoprene which reliably predicted 0, 6 and 12 age classifiers for a variety of film genres and audience age groups. Therefore, isoprene emission per person might in future be a valuable aid to national classification boards, or even offer an alternative, objective, metric for rating films based on the reactions of large groups of people.'


Haven't read the actual study but wonder whether these researchers have considered what proportion of their test subjects had any emotional/neurological conditions and how they dealt with those subjects' reactions (or lack of reactions). Also whether crowd size factored in: the larger the crowd, the higher the concentration of isoprene in the air therefore the more intense the personal and shared emotional experience. (Looked up isoprene and am scratching my head wondering how the hell a commonly occurring plant molecule esp. in natural rubber became a signifier of fear arousal in humans ... weird. BTW - isoprene is a plant's heat-stress protector so maybe the human emission of isoprene is also some type of defense?)

102:

Most likely you want your anonymiser service to supply this, rather than your own device. I’d meant to mention earlier, the mere fact of multiple people using a service doesn’t offer that much in the way of protection, not when you have to assume everyone else using the service is also being monitored/part of the jigsaw puzzle/ordered rather than random and therefore able to be cancelled out. But if the anonymiser service offers thousands of GET requests to sites randomly selected from a list, then you generate useful padding so long as the list is either undiscovered or includes every site the users may visit (a known list makes all sites not on it immediately suspicious). The list could be, for instance, only sites that the google web crawlers have visited and collected, but then you have to make sure this is the case for every site users of the service visit. You also need to randomly pad each packet in the session between you and the service, otherwise the pattern of packet sizes is an identifier which can be matched against a web site. Pretty sure both the padding and the list selection have to be strongly random, otherwise they can be defeated with stats techniques too.

In addition to padding, introducing random latency would help but that’s more likely to impact usage.

103:

SFreader's original plan wouldn't work, because the objective is not to be flagged, and ANY connections to sites of interest would cause flagging. It's merely another variation on adding noise. Doing it in the anonymiser, and adding a latency, would spread the flagging across all users of the anonymiser - which might help against Google but not against GCHQ.

104:

They likely have a good chunk of your brick and mortar purchase as well If you use loyalty cards

Well, in my case my "local supermarket" will have a good idea of my B&MP, but for 5% cash back on "own brand stuff I'd buy anyway" and discount coupons on same as well, and no noticeable selling of my purchase pattern to other organisations (based on offers I don't get) I don't mind that much!

105:

Currently, EU law forbids most such selling-on. You know what you can look forward to.

106:

Re: ' ... pad each packet in the session between you and the service, ...'

That really irks: adding useless data that would require more and more energy to power the Interweb even before adding ever more powerful AI to sort through the noise in order to identify users. Vicious cycle.

Tried to find what the actual energy cost for running the Interweb is and quite frankly think that the below estimate is on the low side (just under 2% of all electricity, so approx. $70B in 2016 for the US). Further, think that increased Interweb usage will not translate into reduced other (traditional) usage of electricity therefore total electricity consumption will continue to increase.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2016/06/28/how-much-electricity-does-it-take-to-run-the-internet/#436c76e21fff

107:

Danged - not fully awake yet ... should be 70 billion watts so approx. $7 billion USD.

108:

More discounts. :-| The supermarket in question didn't sell on the data for 19 years before the CDPR.

109:

This just appeared on my twitter feed, and seemed relevant to this thread... it's a photo on twitter of a newspaper article (in an actual newspaper) with the headline "Facebook checks family snaps to work out who you live with".

http://pbs.twimg.com/media/DsWriw9W0AAAxha.jpg:large

"A spokesman said: "We often seek patents for technology we never implement, and patents should not be taken as an indication of future plans.""

(Yur, right. If they don't plan to do something with it - whether implement it, or try and skin anyone who happens to come up with the same idea - then why go to the trouble of patenting it?)

Thing is, reading the article it doesn't seem to propose anything I didn't assume they've been doing for ages anyway...

110:

IIRC, it's *all* PG&E. Now, if you recall the Great Northeast Blackout (US) of about 10 years ago, my guess is that it's the same reason: why would you want to waste money by putting it into capital plant upgrades, when you can pay yourself (the CEO) and your cronies gigantic annual bonuses?"

Y'know, there4 ought to be a word analogous to "nationalize" when a state takes over a company, and runs it for the benefit of the citizens.

111:

Horrors! You mean... you expect them... to TALK TO YOU? How *scary*!!!

112:

Well, for better or worse, it can also draw a lot of false positives and false negatives. This would especially be true of those of us who do segregate, to some degree, our lives. For example, I have no facepalm picture, and the birthday's wrong, and I rarely mention religion... but then, I don't post very much at all.

Wonder if they've got me as being interested in all those 23 yr old hot babes from Moscow...?

113:

Allow me to offer alternatives. When my Eldest was little, I came up with a few that I could use, and yet every adult would understand me.

I started out with the thought that a curse was wishing something humiliating, painful, and/or revolting on someone, not to wish good things to them. Therefore, in less polite company, it's unfuck 'em, no fucks for any of them ever again.

But for Z... my nastiest, modified for street use, er, UK users: he sucks dead syphillitic Tory roaches.

I think that meets all criteria for a curse.

114:

Modern applications for popular activity like videogames recently have been gaining their own independent mechanisms like launcher programs and "two stage verification" that require registration and identification (what a load of bull it is). Recently I bought a pretty popular game "Rainbow Six Siege" and it was stated black on white that it will gather statistics from my PC for it's own purposes.

Most likely, the only way for your PC not to know your face is the strict policy to abstain from using and engaging any cameras in your presence, especially if you are connected with your accounts. Do not use web cams, do not use notebooks or smartphones, forget about video calls and personal photos (also do not even point any of that at you even if the network is offline - these things are automated, obviously). And if you do all that, you can be safely and reliably put into the area of paranoiacs, outcasts, suspected criminals and other people who require triple amount of surveillance compared to the rest of the population, oh the irony.

115:

paws4thot @ 104:

"They likely have a good chunk of your brick and mortar purchase as well If you use loyalty cards"
Well, in my case my "local supermarket" will have a good idea of my B&MP, but for 5% cash back on "own brand stuff I'd buy anyway" and discount coupons on same as well, and no noticeable selling of my purchase pattern to other organisations (based on offers I don't get) I don't mind that much!

That's one reason why if I'm ever standing in line & the person in front of me doesn't have a "loyalty card" I always offer "Here, use mine", just to add some random confusion to whatever the merchant's computers think they know about me.

Here in North Carolina it's a law that merchants can't offer a discount to loyalty card customers that they don't make available to non-loyalty card customers.

If you don't have a loyalty card for a specific merchant, you can tell them to "use the store card" and still get the discount. You do have to know to ask for it.

116:

"Rainbow Six Siege"

Isn't that the one where the DRM was broken *before* the game was officially released?

Nope, a moment's research suggests that was "hitman 2"

(I get my gaming news from the "funniest comments on TechDirt this week" posts).

117:

Well yes. I mean, on my tariff a 2 minute voice call is about the same price as one SMS and can move way more data between us.

118:

Well yes, but even if I lived in those there "Younighted States" my mileage could still vary since you're quoting state law, not federal.

119:

Forget store cards and CCTV: the latest happy fun stuff is Ford inadvertently leaking the fact that they gather huge amounts of location data about customers and are considering using it for marketing purposes. It's not just location services from the car's GPS, or updates to the engine management system. There's also direct interaction with the passengers and, potentially, speech recognition.

Now, a lot of this stuff is actually good and useful if it's suitably controlled. Driving through the Canadian Rockies in October in a rented Jeep last month I was kind of happy to have realtime map updates and a big red button labelled SOS that could get me online to a help desk if I drove off a cliff on one of the stretches of the trans-Canada Highway that features signs that say things like "Next Services 285 km".

We've got used to hands-free in-car phones (I still think they're a dangerous distraction, but it's less dangerous than morons fiddling with the phone while they drive, so ...) and to using voice assistants on phones to talk to Google Maps or Apple Maps. We've got used to cars that have built-in cellular modems for updating their maps and tracking their maintenance needs. This is potentially really useful: if your car diagnoses a fault then instead of blinking a dashboard light at you and relying on you to do something, it can potentially grade the level of danger and, if necessary, tell you "stop RIGHT NOW — a recovery truck is coming to take you in for an emergency repair before your timing belt seizes" and actually book the recovery truck and the repair slot and order a new timing belt. (For a price.) Similarly: we've got driver-assist systems like lane tracking. Currently they expect the driver to put their hands on the wheel every 30 seconds and beep excitedly if you don't; the next generation may be more subtle, using gaze tracking cameras in the rear-view mirror to check if you're awake and alert.

So I'm not going to automatically say "nope" to vehicles that are aware of their drivers' emotional states, alertness level, and verbal communications.

But? When a VP at Ford starts talking about Ford getting into the business of being a personal information reseller the way that GM used to be a finance company with a couple of attached car factories, that's a warning sign. And what it's warning us about is a social problem: that corporate entities are starting to think that the old rule of "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product" can be extended to "even if you're paying for the product, you're still the product".

120:

Re: Ford & malicious use of customer PII

As per Statistica Sept 2018 market data Ford is the third largest automotive brand in the US (14.4% vs. Toyota 14.7%, GM 16.5%). I'm guessing that Ford achieved this position because many US consumers feel that Ford is a responsible corporate 21st century citizen because Ford was the only big-3 auto mfg that didn't go on the dole during the last financial collapse. (The Feds gave billion$ to GM & Chrysler whose C-Suites pocketed a very large chunk of these funds.) The chart below shows how quickly and how much consumer sentiment (purchasing) can change in this sector. Violating consumer PII/trust could undo Ford.

https://knoema.com/infographics/floslle/top-vehicle-manufacturers-in-the-us-market-1961-2016

121:

I remain skeptical of the ability of Big Data to improve marketing targeting. The Amazon recommendations I get are mostly junk. And I don't think I'm an outlier, surveys show that most people find books to read through friends, not Amazon, and books are where Amazon has the most data going back the most years. Seems to me there are two problems, one is the prediction programs are not very good - tech companies are trying to solve that problem by gathering more data and they might succeed but that still leaves the second problem. Which is that their primary goal is to collect ad money, not make good matches. So if Stross is paying them to promote his book and Child isn't, they will keep showing me Stross's book even if they know Child's is one I would like more. Leading me to decide their recommendations are useless and ignoring them in the future.

The potential for abuse by government seems much more concerning. I couldn't find an English language version of this article, but BBC Mundo reports an arrest in Italy based on a predictive algorithm predicting a robbery -https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-46261759

122:

So I'm not going to automatically say "nope" to vehicles that are aware of their drivers' emotional states, alertness level, and verbal communications.

Can't wait to see the hackers cracking your car's peripheral security protocols, scanning your activity during your drive hours and simulating car accidents on demand.

Fun note on R6S. Last weekend ("free weekend" where they allow you to download all 64GB (sic!) of files and play the game for free) did not end without consequences to game's audience. Many disgruntled people, trolls and banned accounts ensued. But the funniest thing happened with chat bots that look out for offensive words in conversations.

(Team 1, which includes Player 1 and Player 2, loses the match)
P1: (uses an euphemism loosely associated with n-word)
Chat bot: P1 is banned for offensive language.
P2: Did he just use the (n-word) and got banned?
Chat bot: P2 is banned for offensive language.

123:

Yup. A friend on a techie mailing list who worked (works?) in the auto industry claims that the control system is separate from the entertainment system, but if that's not already compromised, I'd be surprised.

And I do *not* want someone else controlling my brakes. As it is, I really dislike ABS - I find it hits too fast and hard, and initiates a skid, and that's been true on both a Plymouth Grand Voyager and now a Honda Odessey.

124:

paws4thot @ 118: Well yes, but even if I lived in those there "Younighted States" my mileage could still vary since you're quoting state law, not federal.

But if you ever do decide to move here you now know one factor you can consider to help you choose which state you want to live in.

125:

Car hacking is already a thing, and the manufacturers are slowly getting the message. (IIRC Jeep had to push a big-ass firmware update a year or so ago, and Ford found one bad enough they mailed out a USB stick to all owners of the affected vehicle.)

Really, we need better protocols for dealing with this shit; the same issues potentially affect airliners and ships and trains: it's a more personal variant on the SCADA hack threat (which usually gets called "cyberwar") ...

126:

There are certain advantages to owning a car with NO ELECTRONICS .....

Re: Trains - a huge amount of their systems are dedicated cable-runs, of course, but even they are falling victim, because of costs for the "convenience" of transmitted systems.
A N Other problem is that "Axle Counters" are being preferred over "proper" old-fashioned Track Circuits, because of maintenance costs. However, I shudder to think of how long it would have taken & quite possibly how many people would have been killed if THIS ACCIDENT had been in a area with axle-counters. No-one would have detected any of the broken rails, until a passenger train ran over them .....

127:

Re: Location data ... (tracking the next E.Coli 0157 outbreak?)

Instead of consumers, or in addition to consumers, how about some better tracking of our foods. Both the CDC and Health Agency of Canada issued alerts today saying that everyone (stores, restaurants, consumers) should toss out all their romaine and then sanitize that storage area.

https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2018/o157h7-11-18/index.html

Deja vu ... large e.coli scare/alert earlier this year. A search to refresh my memory turned up loads of news reports with many/most saying: the CDC was having difficulty tracing the romaine to its source (source of the contamination). And that's why everyone was urged to toss out their romaine.

BTW - today's alert also applies to Canada:

https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/health-canada-warns-canadians-against-eating-romaine-lettuce


Vox map shows 11 States reporting people hospitalized with this e.coli --- California has highest hospitalization count.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/11/20/18105364/cdc-romaine-lettuce-e-coli-outbreak

Damned! - Search results showed that this e.coli type also hit Europe and Australia earlier this year. And with similar issues about tracing the problematic food to its producer/source. C'mon folks in Gov, if you're going to be gung ho about monitoring, monitor food production and distribution!

128:

What, other than the utterly desirable Series 3 perks of dim headlights*, useless windscreen wipers, drum brakes, the lovely braking performance that comes from cross-country tyres and drum brakes, top heaviness, lousy crash performance**, the lack of security***, and a climate control system that consists of matching the outside environment? ****

I love Landrovers, my brother-in-law still works there, but they’re not exactly a sane choice unless you spend serious time off-road ;)

* to be fair, you’re never going to travel faster than the range of your weedy headlights, but still...
** inertia-reel seatbelts as an optional extra, abilities in accident avoidance lowered by lousy brakes, but at least a chassis whose crumple zone is “the other vehicle”
*** I know someone in the lucrative LR component aftermarket...
**** aka “it’s cold, you should have worn a thicker coat”

129:

a chassis whose crumple zone is “the other vehicle”

So when two landrovers collide is that like two unstoppable forces?

Another case of "it's fine as long as only one person does it", in this case the early adoption of urban assault vehicles to force the risk onto other people?

130:

I am still hoping to see someone hack that sort of thing, and direct all traffic on the M25 into London at (say) 8 am. The resulting chaos might, JUST, awaken the transport and security politicians to reality.

131:

Reminds me of... well I think I vaguely referred to it here before and someone responding with a detailed cite, chapter and verse with some footnotes and apocrypha. That is, James Herriot driving his car into a wall.

People really struggle when you try to explain how more vehicle mass makes energy dissipation in a collision a bigger problem for everyone.

132:

I can assure you that there were worse types of windscreen wiper - hard as that is to believe. I learnt to drive on a car with manifold-driven ones where, every time you put your foot down to overtake even a pedestrian (and, believe me, you had to), the windscreen wipers stopped. I agree with Greg about the desirability of no (or, at least, minimal) electronics, but there are upsides; I could go on, but let's not derail.

As OGH says in #119, there are lots of issues to do with the tracking and personal analysis. Consider a prat nav that navigates you so you HAVE to shop at a particular outlet for fuel, food or whatever, because it has arranged things so that you have essentially no option. Supermarkets already charge food suppliers for placement; this is merely an extension.

133:

It would be marketed as a convenience: "plan route with automatic fuel and food stops", and it silently chooses the "correct" ones. Almost nobody will even miss those other places, which then wonder why nobody ever stops there anymore.

134:

I am still hoping to see someone hack that sort of thing, and direct all traffic on the M25 into London at (say) 8 am. The resulting chaos might, JUST, awaken the transport and security politicians to reality.

The Highways Agency is well aware of that sort of problem, and went to some effort to remediate it a decade ago.

Chatham House rules apply, but: per my information, the moment of enlightenment dawned when one of their IT security people realized that the reversible-direction lanes on the Aston Expressway feeding Sphagetti Junction were controlled by a DOS PC with a bootable floppy disk drive sitting in a roadside box that could be opened using a Leatherman tool.

Said IT person promptly started screaming about one particular scenario—dark/misty evening rush hour in winter, griefer sets lights on reversible lanes to green in both directions, crash-bang-tinkle ensues on an epic scale—and, shockingly, management listened to him.

NOTE for foreigners: at peak hours the Aston Expressway one of the busiest roads in England, connecting the centre of Birmingham (England's second most populous city) to a complex motorway junction, handling vast volumes of commuter traffic. It's two miles long and seven undivided lanes wide, and the middle lanes switch direction for morning and evening rush hour, giving it a capacity of 4/2 or 2/4 depending on direction (keeping a middle lane clear as a virtual highway divider). Speed limit is 70mph. So by hacking the lights you could have set three lanes of traffic in each direction on a collision course in night/bad weather at a closing speed of 130-180mph.

135:

Something interesting, was looking for "Big Box Mart's" "Brown Thursday" advert and their web page suggested a physical store two states away. They're either not as competent as they thought, or playing some sort of long game.

136:

Tesla's in-car navigation already has an option to plot routes on long journeys that have recharge stops at Supercharger stations; they can even (I gather) pre-book you a slot so there's one free when you roll up to it. And another option so that if you try to go somewhere out of range—so you'll run your battery flat—your vehicle shouts at you and offers a route to the nearest charger.

This is kind of important at present, as EV charge stations are still scarce and range isn't up to that of a petrol/diesel car yet.

... But if EV range converges with IC range over the next few years (graphene, or just more Li cells and better design) it gets a lot harder to pull this kind of stunt. Consider how everybody has a smartphone with their own mapping apps. If it becomes remotely common knowledge that the in-car GPS is gaslighting the owners, then two things will happen: (a) a class action lawsuit or three, and (b) sales of those $5 clip-on-air-vent-phone-holder things will soar.

137:

I am not so optimistic, especially given what has already happened and the trends that we can see developing in the UK :-( Try adding:

c) (say) Google has a sufficient domination of the data provision that running separate apps doesn't help you - after all, they are THE experts on subtle mass psychological manipulation, and are putting massive resources into improving that.

d) Whether by obfuscation (i.e. most people don't believe it) and subtlety (i.e. making the evidence so dependent on advanced statistics that no judge or jury could follow it) or by manipulating the lawmakers, such behaviour is deemed acceptable.

Look, I know and you know that Google etc. are ALREADY manipulating us on smartphones, tablets etc. when we search for something to buy - but do we see any real pressure to stop this?

138:

Something badly wrong with your cars if ABS is doing that. I've deliberately steered ABS equipped cars (Citroen, Ford and Skoda) onto split mu surfaces, and can feel the deceleration rate drop when I do. It also picks back up if I steer back off them.

It's vaguely possible that "brake assist" might hit the brakes harder than you meant to if its sensors decide that you are doing an emergency stop, but then the ABS will still modulate the actual deceleration and stop the wheels locking.

139:

Well, that hasn't happened (or has it; I've been stuck for literally hours on the London orbital car park between Thiefrow and the M3, the cause being a broken down bus on the inside lane).

It has, however, been used in several SF (sub-genre DC superhero) tv scripts.

140:

Ford Anglia?

141:

* Making them one of the last vehicles to be fitted with 45/40W sealed beam tungsten glowworms?

142:

Nissan Leaf owner here.

My car has exactly that functionality built into it, and to be honest for most owners it’s pretty much an essential if you’re going to use an EV for extended trips given the current state of charging infrastructure. Inevitably there are now third party alternatives which are just as good (possibly better, Nissan can be a little slow at keeping up with new charge points being added) so at the very worst you have a choice as to who’s prejudices and commercial benefit you’re serving, and yes, my car does indeed have a ‘phone holder clipped to the air vent, not least so that if I’m feeling sceptical I can have a choice of routing algorithms and charge point databases easily available...

143:

"...if your car diagnoses a fault... ...(For a price.)"

Aw, Charlie, and you're an SF writer? :) It is well known that such systems, which are widespread, have one function: to immobilise the protagonists' transport at the point which will cause them maximum inconvenience. And then alert the authorities when they try to fix the problem by refilling the dispenser of lemon-soaked paper napkins with napkins from a random roadside vendor instead of the official safety-regulation-compliant napkins from the vehicle manufacturer, which they can't get because they don't have the correct documentation or currency to engage with non-black-market suppliers.

That's me, that is, in real life. I don't want a car that not only irrevocably strands me, but also calls a recovery truck which I can't pay for, and then insists on being repaired by a main dealer at main dealer prices which I also can't pay for, just because the engine is falling out. (As you say - "For a price" - which will be determined by the assumption that the owner has unlimited amounts of money.) I want one where I can wedge the engine in place with bits of wood out of the ditch, drive it home, and replace the engine mounts with scrapyard-sourced ones from some other car modified with a hacksaw to fit mine.

One advantage of electric cars which is very rarely mentioned is that a PWM controller is much easier to knock together yourself than an engine management system which is capable of meeting emissions regulations (one which doesn't is quite easy), so it's much more practical to rip out all the manufacturer's electronics and replace them with trustable home-made analogue stuff.

144:

And The Italian Job.

145:

Yah. As the husband of a Leaf owner, we had our first "You've not got enough range to reach your destination, would you like me to find you a charging point?" the weekend before last, after we ended up heading home from Watford via Ruislip.

(We'd not intended to go via Ruislip, which is in totally the wrong direction, but MiL - mid 80s - suddenly found her expected lift unavailable and we had to run her home after collecting her from the stage door after her choir's concert. Otherwise we'd have reached the charger before the car got worried.)

The range on the 40kWh second generation Leaf is not too bad, and there are a lot of clever features such as looking out for speed limit signs and displaying what it thinks is the current speed limit on the dashboard. It's better at spotting the things than I am.

146:

Agree re axle counters. Continuous detection beats discontinuous.

The railway's systems do seem to be rather too dependent on "security by obscurity" from what I can make out. FWIW I remember participating in an online discussion between hacky computery people on one side, and "I work for the railway so my knowledge is inherently complete and perfect and everything I say is automatically beyond argument" type people on the other. The railway types were adamant that it was unhackable and met all the computer types' diverse suggestions on how to hack it with variants on "oh but nobody outside the industry knows that" or "but you can't get in there", refusing to acknowledge that such "security" basically doesn't count.

Of course the other problem with modern signalling is vendor lock-in and the consequent costs...

147:

Martin @ 127
NOT a Series 3 (!)
A "Defender" (1996) 300Tdi - Permanent 4-wheel drive & steering that works, all round DISC brakes, & quite reasonable headlights, oh and internal heating that also works, if you tweak the control cables "just so" - SO THERE ...

EC @ 131
An old Ford, I suppose - I leant to drive on one with vacuum-driven wipers, with rubber somewhere in the steering & a 3-speed box ... one of these utterly ghastly heaps, in fact SHUDDER

Pigeon @ 142
Back to my 110 Defender, again, then .....
& @ 145
Weh have had several not-so-hilarious versions of that discussion at the London Reconnections second-Thursday-in-the-pub meetings ....

148:

Re: '... rip out all the manufacturer's electronics and replace them with trustable home-made analogue stuff.'

So, you're not concerned about voiding your warranty, losing your car insurance coverage, getting routine maintenance checks/work done or resale value? (And, if you are ever involved in an accident - possibly being charged with operating/making a faulty vehicle.)

I'll pass, thanks.

149:

Re: ' ... other problem with modern signalling is vendor lock-in'

Given how folks change jobs/employers so often, I'm guessing that whichever team designed that signalling system is long gone/scattered. And, because nitpicky details (implicit knowledge) are seldom documented onto paper/electronic records, there's no one left at that org that has a full picture of the overall system and its innards. Kinda undercuts the original (yet somehow still persisting) rationale for exclusive long term maintenance contracts with the original manufacturer/vendor.

150:

The next range on - the Popular (actually, the estate model, the Escort). Learning to drive on a 3-speed box with crash on first and shot synchro. on second means I have never forgotten how to double declutch - which possibly saved my life once.

I have posted before about how Anti-Braking Systems have twice nearly caused me to have an accident, so shan't repeat.

151:

I've no idea what you're going on about.

I sorely miss my dearly beloved departed 1986 (bought used in '88) Toyota Tercel wagon. Slightly underpowered (you cut the a/c while I floor it to accelerate up the grade from a stop to 60 mph in 22 sec...), but when I tuned it up (twice a year), with a carburetor, non-electronic, computer-controlled ignition, I was still getting 35-36mpg in 2000 (before it died).

Can't remember if the rear was disk brake or not. I have little to no trouble stopping on slick roads without ABS (ok, fastest ankle in the east, here).

Wipers that slow down? They've always been electric motors, AFAIK. And headlights? I wanted the damn blue ones outlawed, and I'm getting that way on the LED ones, all of which blind me, because they're aimed too high.

152:

Your description of your Tercel ("slightly underpowered") gave me a bit of a giggle.

My current but-not-for-much-longer wheels are a 2006-vintage Volvo V70 estate (station wagon, to you), a 2.5 litre turbo-diesel with a six speed stick-shift. Turning onto a steep uphill motorway on-ramp and flooring it, I often have to hit the brakes to decelerate to motorway speed at the top (headline 0-60 is 8.0 seconds but it feels faster). And it gives 45 miles per imperial gallon, or 36 of your wimpish colonial mpgs.

Oh, and that was with the climate control running, and working ABS ...

This tells you something about how far vehicle performance improved in just two decades (that, and diesel/petrol, at a guess).

(The V70 has three screaming drawbacks, though, which mean its days are numbered. Firstly it's diesel, and I don't drive enough miles that the fuel cost in switching to petrol will hurt me. Secondly, it's a mark two V70, with the turning circle of a supertanker. It's predecessor, an 850, had the ability to turn on a dime: it's successor model regained the ability to change course, but this particular one is a real armful to maneuver in tight spaces. And finally, it's a stick shift. I badly broke a bone in my left foot a few years after I bought it, and working the clutch in stop-go traffic leaves me in physical pain. So a petrol burning auto transmission SUV or crossover is probably in my not too distant future, assuming I don't just get rid of the car entirely.)

153:

My mistake - I thought that the Series 3 was the last of the analogue Landies, and that all of the Defender Tdi engines were electronic (not just some) :)

https://www.landroverexpedition.com/engines/300tdi/

I much preferred the Defender. Decent seats (by comparison), coil springs reather than leaf, half-decent brakes, a roll bar that felt as if it might actually save you, no more "under-seat fuel tank and manual tank switchover", and (yippee) a diff lock rather than red lever, yellow lever... granted, early gearboxes didn't have a great reputation.

I'm biased, I spent much of my L-plate practice in the three weeks between "first time behind the wheel" and "passing driving test", in our unit's new (and only) Defender, under threat of death by our MT Sergeant if I so much as scratched it.

Regarding inner demons, having recently been scanning old group photos for a friend (from the era of my dressing in green and driving Her Majesty's finest Solihull vehicles); I do wonder whether the sharing of photos from our youth, pushes the mass capture timeline backwards by a decade or two... if you've got a date-stamped picture of a face, and a younger version of that same face, can you roughly-date the photo and other participants?

154:

A giggle, well, yes... had sports car handling, but was dark blue (and clearly larger on the inside than the out, never did find the TARDIS controls...) but cops didn't give this small "family car" a second glance... even though my late wife, even more than I, drove it like a sports car (not muscle car).

But her intention had been, when we needed an engine job - it could not physically fit a larger engine - was to take it to a performance shop, and, after all the mechanics had stopped laughing, and picked themselves up off the floor, to have then grind out the cylinders as far as safe, to get more compression....

155:

People really struggle when you try to explain how more vehicle mass makes energy dissipation in a collision a bigger problem for everyone.

Based on conversations I've had with colleagues, most people don't care about 'everybody', they only care about 'me and my family'.

Anyone wanting to see this mentality in action is invited to stand in front of a school at the beginning and end of the day and watch how parents* drive… (maybe the UK is different, but its a big problem in Canada).


*Who might be expected to realize how precious and fragile children are…

156:

Cf James Crumley’s The Mexican Tree Duck which partly features a vehicle known as La Gloria Azul, a sky blue VW microbus retrofitted with a big supercharged V8.

157:

invited to stand in front of a school at the beginning and end of the day and watch how parents* drive

If I leave work at the wrong time I have to ride a bicycle past one.

The only saving grace is that the path opposite is a shared path, complete with painted centre line. So when the {caring and thoughtful parents}* are too bad I switch to that and get to them before they get their weapons. They're still vicious bastards, but without their cars they're less dangerous. Not, it should be said, more attentive or less likely to attack, just less capable of killing me.

* revised by censor.

158:

My beloved traded in her high-mileage 2006 V70 turbodiesel (a D5, which made it the GanzSchnellKinderTransportPanzer) to the Edinburgh Volvo dealer just before you bought yours, I've always smiled at the thought that you might be driving her old motor...

Anyway, after Volvo gapped their "big estate with four-wheel drive" capability (they were moving to the V90, hadn't announced a V90XC, and assumed that the XC90 SUV would cover it) she's moved to something big enough for two adults, two growing teenage boys, and four bicycles hanging on the back. Oh, and the labrador retriever puppy that's just joined the family.

Namely, what used to be the ugliest car on the road before the Mk.2 and a facelift, the Audi Q7. It's like a Landrover, but really comfortable (she's the petrolhead, I get to be the passenger). Automatic transmission, fantastic view, and a rather nifty head-up display. As ever, she's got the big engine, making it the SchwerGrossenGanzSchnellKinderTransportPanzer...

...so, having ridiculed the drivers of Morningside Tractors for years, I now have to sit in one, and make excuses about how my car is a VED-free 1.2l Volvo hatchback...

159:

Hmmm ... given that comments have veered off to discussing pros & cons of various machinery, feel that it's okay to toss this in. Haven't read it yet, but the description on Big River suggests that it's relevant to many of the economics related discussions that have taken place here.

'Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy' (Haskell & Westlake)

Here's part of the BR blurb ...
' ... bring together a decade of research on how to measure intangible investment and its impact on national accounts, showing the amount different countries invest in intangibles, how this has changed over time, and the latest thinking on how to assess this. They explore the unusual economic characteristics of intangible investment, and discuss how these features make an intangible-rich economy fundamentally different from one based on tangibles.'

Personally ... for starters, I'd like to see what the income tax impact looks like on individuals vs. corps, GDP numbers (growth vs. stagnation by type of industrial mix across countries), impact on stock market, etc. when intangible assets are reported/valued differently. (No idea whether all of these are touched upon in this book.)

160:

Anyone wanting to see this mentality in action is invited to stand in front of a school at the beginning and end of the day and watch how parents* drive

Reassuringly, when I do the school run, all I see are patient drivers. But then, it's narrow roads and (being Edinburgh) a 20mph limit within the city. Occasionally, the school sends out a reminder that someone has been a moron, and could everyone behave; but I've not seen suchlike (probably because it's a 2000 student school).

It's actually quite nice to be able to drive past another primary school nearer my work at 15mph (or slower), knowing that no-one around is going to be thrashing it. I rather like the 20mph limit in town, it's not as if you could travel any faster during daylight back when it was 30mph...

161:

There's a whole ecosystem of different charging stations out there. I've subscribed to three different ones for the Bolt, although I rarely use any of them.

So far as plugs go, Tesla has their own system, while the other car makers tend to default to two semi-interchangeable plug shapes, so it works out. I've got four apps on my phone for finding charging stations and logging in to the ones that I find. Chevrolet has their own app too, but their in-car WiFi is...problematic, so I just use my phone.

As far as real use goes, the Bolt is for running errands and going to work. The gas car is for backup, hauling stuff, and long distance travel. By using the Bolt for everything it can be used for, we've cut our gas bill by about 75%, which is non-trivial.

The real problem with EVs is charging speed, as well as capacity. To match an IC car, we need about a 100-120 kWh battery. This will probably happen soon, as the Bolt runs on 5kWh and the Teslas are a bit bigger. The problem is pumping 100 kWh into a battery in, say, 5 minutes or less (as if you were pumping gas) is one of them non-trivial challenges. I'm not an engineer, but I'm sure some nice chap can give a range on the voltages and amps involved in moving that much electricity into a battery, and someone else can talk about heat gain, wandering grounds and other fun stuff associated with standing next to a power cord and plug that are doing that to the lithium batteries next to your butt.

My guess is that small towns will come back into fashion, where the town is built around a bunch of EV chargers and a hotel. People will drive from town to town, as in the old days, and they will charge their cars overnight. Traveling at high speed cross country may be limited more to trains or planes (powered by...?) than cars, and things like the Cannonball Run will be fading memories of the crazy old days. Or, of course, people can hire cars to take them from A to B, then from B to C, C to D, and so forth. That might work too, but the point is that EVs, like horses, may need longer to recharge than do IC vehicles.

162:

. The problem is pumping 100 kWh into a battery in, say, 5 minutes or less (as if you were pumping gas) is one of them non-trivial challenges.

This is where the 20m on a side block of tungsten comes in - you winch it up slowly, and on the other end of the rope is a much larger generator. When a car arrives you take the brakes off the generator and suddenly you have a few megawatts available to set fire to the electric car with.

One advantage of using a water tower for that is that you also have high volume, high pressure water available to cool the battery and electronics (including the cables if necessary - some welding cables are water cooled).

Attaching those things directly to the grid merely outsources the surge handling problem to someone else, it doesn't get rid of it. Grid operators already have a system of fees and charges for that, which is why Tesla are looking at battery banks in charging stations... that is cheaper than paying the grid operator.

163:

Traveling at high speed cross country may be limited more to trains or planes (powered by...?) than cars, and things like the Cannonball Run will be fading memories of the crazy old days.

The Cannonball Run record in an electric vehicle is currently held by a Tesla Model 3 that did the run in 50 hours and 16 minutes last year. That's an average speed of 57.2mph, including charging stops.

For comparison, the record for a dinosaur-burner: "On October 19, 2013, Ed Bolian and his team, co-driver Dave Black and passenger Dan Huang, made the trip in a Mercedes CL-55 in 28 hours and 50 minutes." (Wikipedia)

As Musk's new roadster is intended to hit double the milage on a charge of the Model 3 (at an eye-watering price — you can buy a McLaren for less) I expect the electric cannonball speed record to converge with the gas cannonball record fairly rapidly, albeit not to completion.

Oh yeah, small towns: why? What occupations can they support that offset the externalities of having to truck in pretty much everything from a long way away? I can see motels making a come-back, especially if there's a big solar farm with some sort of storage capacity out back, but what else is going to keep the town going?

164:

small towns: why? What occupations can they support ... a big solar farm

One of the commonly cited (dis)advantages of renewable energy is that it requires more labour. Which means there are a few more jobs out in the boonies now, providing that labour.

As well, if you run a solar powered truck stop that's not a small amount of power, it's likely to be GW of PV per megametre rather than small numbers.

The question in my mind is whether it's still possible to run large scale trucking networks in those conditions. We may yet see an emergency build-out of rail just to keep the place moving, at the same time as we see a collapse in centralised distribution. When the cost of transport goes up the advantage of scale reduces due to the increase in shipping distance.

Don't think for a second that the US couldn't or wouldn't do that. They have a long and proud history of saying "your government needs ..." and getting it, especially when it comes to long distance transport. Those interstate highways didn't grow from the magic of capitalism, and US rail originally grew from the profitable intersection of government and fraud...

165:

The labor for renewable energy isn’t stationary though it’s migratory. Like any other big construction project it builds the thing and then moves on

There is some ongoing maintenance sure but I don’t think you are looking at enough to re populate small towns that are already in a death spiral. Easier to just swing a remote work crew by once a quarter on a circuit

Not to mention small towns seem to be taking the brunt of damage from climate change related national disasters. They are already talking about certain towns being “uninsurable” in California after the last set of fires

My guess is small towns are toast and the future looks more like Megacity 2

Hetromeles always reverse engineers everything back to his idealized agraian society though, he’s kinda like Thomas Jefferson only without the slavery

166:

Edinburgh is different from Toronto, obviously.

Speed limits here are 50 km/h, with people routinely travelling 60-80. School zones are 40 (with people routinely travelling 60-80*). Speeds have crept up in the last few years — as traffic congestion has worsened, people seem to be 'making up time' what they aren't stuck bumper-to-bumper. (A decade ago 20 km/h over the limit was rare, now it's common.)

Every so often the public health department talks about lowering speed limits to save pedestrian lives; last time they did that I wrote to them to suggest that simply enforcing the limits we have would probably do more than lowering a limit most people weren't following anyway.

*A few years ago a police officer brought a laser speed gun to my physics class so we could do some experiments. We took it out in front of the school and the kids took turns using it on cars coming down the street. Most were travelling 70 km/h, then they suddenly slowed as they saw a figure with the speed gun, then sped up when they realized it was a young girl, then slowed down when they spotted the police officer standing a few feet behind her… and then sometimes pulling into the school parking lot to wait for their children.

167:

"This is where the 20m on a side block of tungsten comes in..."

Or... standardise the cars' batteries so they all use units of the same shape, size, terminal format etc, in multiples to suit the application, then instead of charging them in situ, swap them at charging stations for an already-recharged set. Like a cross between the ubiquity of AA cells and the way you swap empty gas bottles for full ones. Avoids the difficulties both for the grid and for the batteries of mega-rapid charging, and also avoids the problem of the car basically being one huge and hideously expensive perishable unrepairable component with a few insignificant bits tacked around it.

The batteries already are this internally - "aggregate n 18650 cells, n chosen to suit the car"; all I'm suggesting is instead to use a removable blocks of b 18650 cells where ab=n.

I've suggested this before and it attracts responses which are mostly more verbose variations on "it's not done that way now therefore it never can be done that way", with a smattering of "I can't think how to make the batteries removable therefore it must be impossible", but of course the real problem is that from the car manufacturers' point of view it's like inkjet printers only lots more money.

168:

Tesla actually ran a beta program that did just that. Tesla’s are built so the whole bottom plate can be quickly swapped

They cancelled it though, not sure why

169:

Thanks for that Unholyguy. Absolutely wrong, actually.

I had that thought driving through California's Gold Country awhile ago. The place is littered with dead gas stations and motels, all from the 1950s or earlier, usually with decaying small towns around them. Every 50 miles or so was a bigger town with a WallopMark, a big gas station, and a mall.

My thought was simply that what had killed a bunch of these towns wasn't agriculture but car range. When it became easier and cheaper to drive 20 or 50 miles for groceries and gas, the smaller shops and gas stations lost out. They'd thrived only in an earlier era of shorter car ranges and cars that broke down more frequently.

If range limits become a serious thing again, then I suspect people will buy up those little dead gas stations, put an acre or five of solar around them as a fire break (cf: the Paradise fire) and serve the E-travelers. The key question is how fast they can safely charge the EVs (e.g. will they also need a cafe? A motel?) and whether they can get enough electricity to meet demand, either on their own or through the grid. If ranges are really limited, the locals working these facilities have to have a place to live nearby (range limits again), and they'll need amenities, which will also be range limited, so there's a need for more local stores rather than a few big ones. The farms are still there, just traveling longer distances to get groceries and so forth. That sets up little towns.

So it has nothing to do with agrarianism, and everything to do with how transport limits influence the way towns are laid across a landscape. Right now there's a big advantage to urban areas, but that will almost certainly change, either slowly (technological changes) or quickly (pandemics). In human history this cycle between densification and dipersal is normal (something like 300-500 years in the Mediterranean, IIRC), so the only people who fuss about it are those with really shallow time horizons or those think only in terms of linear trends.

170:

standardise the cars' batteries so they all use units of the same shape, size, terminal format etc

We're going to see it in heavy vehicles, I think, and soon. Mostly because trucking companies have no patience with even one hour refuelling times, but also because trucks typically have accessible rail chassis that make bolting on/swapping batteries easy. Right now SEA in Australia are talking about a truck that can take 6 supercharger inputs! Apparently they can't test it because there's no supercharger with that many usable connections available...

Forklifts etc kind of do that, and golf cart type vehicles either use those or T105s (which are the classic "what the dominant company makes"). I think we'll see the same path but to do that you need enough purchases to make a second/third party battery worth making, and that means waiting until there are enough out of warranty vehicles.

Two of the problems with lithium is that you have ready energy availability (ie, they catch fire) and need quite a smart battery manager (ie, a computer) so there's both ability and incentive to make batteries and cars just flatly not work with non-approved items. US IP law makes that very easy to enforce as well, and of course modern corporate behaviour makes local law less relevant than you might hope when it comes to IP law carve-outs.

I suspect we will see it, simply because most of the reasons not to do it also apply to why we should never charge faster than ~10kW or allow third party chargers. The step from a generic fast charger to a generic battery is not huge.

171:

We already have EV’s hitting the market with 400 mile ranges that charge in half an hour

Why the hell would “ranges be really limited” ?

You don’t need a motel today why would you need one as the technology gets more advanced ? They are only going to charge faster not slower

Not to mention most people most times are just gonna charge at home. I’ve had a Tesla since 2012 and I’ve charged at supercharger twice in all that time

There already are networks of chargers. There already are truck stops. All these things that you are postulating won’t happen have in fact already happened . They did not revive small town USA

All these places are on the grid so you might well be using electricity from hundreds of miles away. You don’t need to produce it locally. There is no advantage to producing it locally unless you are competitive across the entire regional grid. It’s a single market

There is no reason to think the effective range of cars is going to decrease in any way.

Plus your overall thesis is wrong. The decline of small town USA is not primarily driven by cars. We’ve had cars with great range and reliability since the 50’s.

The decline of small town USA is driven by an increasingly global, winner take all world economy driving out all the local maxima with one big global maxima.

There is no reason to build anything, do anything , sell anything unless you can be the absolute best in the world at it (aka Amazon), and being the best in the world means being located in the city that gives you the absolute best talent pool for what you are doing

The only exception to that are jobs which actually require you to be in a physical location (plumber , electrician etc)

172:

“I've suggested this before and it attracts responses which are mostly more verbose variations on "it's not done that way now therefore it never can be done that way"‘

Actually the correct answer is “we tried it, and it didn’t catch on”.

As Unholyguy suggest a few messages up it was part of the original Tesla model S/X architecture, and then there was Better Place (who came up with a battery form factor, mechanical handling systems to do the swap, and a complete infrastructure architecture which IIRC they persuaded Israel to sign up to), and Renault, who actually built and sold a Better Place compatible car (the Fluence).

In practice everybody decided that the complicated mechanical handling and the constraints it placed on both vehicle and battery pack design were an expensive, unhelpful PITA and rapidly increasing battery capacity at lower cost and standardised rapid charging infrastructure roll-out made it irrelevant.

Speaking as someone who regularly does 400+ mile days in an EV with a realistic 100-ish mile motorway range it looks like an expensive, complicated, design compromising answer to something which even on current battery/charger technology is only a deal-breaking problem for a relative handful of Road Warrior types...

173:

Yeah. Back in the early days of electric vehicles, the 'replace the batteries' method was used for electric buses (e.g. in Brighton). But buses are vehicles that spend a lot more of their time moving than your typical private car. In the case of a bus, it can go out from a depot, do a few routes, swing back past the depot for a change and head back out.

For vehicles that do spend a large proportion of their time in motion — buses, trucks, taxis and forklifts — the battery swap makes sense, assuming proper fast recharging (i.e. not much longer than refiling a fuel tank) hasn't arrived. For my wife's runabout (that's covered, ooo, 3000 miles in 6 months), not so much.

174:

Talking of Inner Demons...
THIS revolting news from rethuglican-fascist USA.
Kinder, Kirche, Küche Yes?

175:

It turns out that Machine Learning Algorithms are quite effective at learning how to game the KPI's - much like human management does:

https://vkrakovna.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/specification-gaming-examples-in-ai/


A cooperative GAN architecture for converting images from one genre to another (eg horseszebras) has a loss function that rewards accurate reconstruction of images from its transformed version; CycleGAN turns out to partially solve the task by, in addition to the cross-domain analogies it learns, steganographically hiding autoencoder-style data about the original image invisibly inside the transformed image to assist the reconstruction of details.

Of course this cheating "feature" cannot result in any bad outcomes in any way when looking for terrists to drone and stuff :)

176:

And, from the other end of the suveillance-autocracy poitical spectrum this really nasty Orwellian system being put into place

177:

That link isn't going anywhere…

178:

That wasn't "just me" then.

179:

Fixed it for you.

Greg: When posting comments with links, do you think you could hit the "Preview" button first and check that the link works? Thanks!

180:

@ 174 This is just unbelievable. Hello "Handmaid's Tale"...

181:

HC
Indeed a true vision of what the ultras in the R party want.
Have you come across a thing from Washington State called Matt Shea ??
There's plenty more of them out there, too.

182:

I have a question for the group wisdom. I need a reference book. Hard copies are rare and expensive. The nearest copy I've been able to locate is in a College Library about a hundred miles from here. It's not going to be available by Inter-library Loan.

But, the publisher makes an E-Book version. I don't have any of the E-Book readers, all I have are computers.

So, question: What format should I look for & what software will I need to read it?

I thought I posted this here yesterday, but I haven't been able to find it, so if this turns out to be a duplicate, please forgive me.

183:

It's not Orwellian, Orwell never imagined something that bad happening. I think of it as a polite genocide, because these days people get upset if you directly use industrial techniques to kill people, but if you use the same systems to make them kill themselves that's apparently fine.

It's even better than linking number of children you're allowed to have to social credit score... just make it impossible for people to raise children and watch the undesirable race vanish.

Of course the US with their much shorter planning horizons is doing the opposite across a whole range of things, from forced pregnancy (even for illegal immigrants) to removing laws against pollution and corporate naughtiness (it's not lawbreaking after they remove the laws).

184:

Kinder, Kirche, Küche Yes?

We almost need a stronger word than misogyny for that. Merely hating women doesn't seem a strong enough descriptor.

It's also possibly slavery, depending on how you want to look at it. But good luck getting that one enforced by the noble defenders of human rights in the US government.

185:

I use my computer to read ebooks. I have a mac but most of what is available is also on PC or smartphone. I use different readers depending on how it looks for that book.

Calibre can handle most formats, but not the current ebooks from Kindle.

If the ebook is available from Amazon, the Kindle reader can run on PC or mac or smartphone.

Look around for all of the free reader software and see which ones that you like.

187:

You posted that question on another blog post:

https://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2018/10/happy-halloween.html#comment-2055774

Several people responded there (including Charlie).

188:

Robert Prior @ 187: You posted that question on another blog post:

Thank you. I thought I had posted it, but when I went back to look for it, I couldn't find my post or any responses. I thought maybe I had closed my browser before submitting ... or was losing my mind.

189:

It isn't just the tracking, it's the stupid use of AI to create a custom experience for one no matter where one roams. It's like those ridiculous recommendations from Amazon, Netflix and other such services that assume that if you bought, and presumably now own something, your next desire will be to buy another one. What is the point of going downtown or to high street or American Samoa if all the street signs and store windows are going to be pushing the same merchandise as my search engine at home.

Someone isn't thinking this through.

190:

Eh? It could almost be modelled on the society in 1984!

191:

Moz @ 186 ( & everybody)
That Cosmo Communicator looks wonderful - want one ... but how much if/when it ships in the UK?
A proper keyboard ... 24 mp camera (really?) GPS might even work, etc.
Hint: My 4-year old Samsung phone is v good, but something seems to have gorn worng & GPS appears to have died & I'm having appalling difficulty loading up any new app ( and it's only got about 3 or 4 on it anyway ).

192:

The AI-tailored landscape we might encounter in the future is interesting to imagine: in theory we could reach a post-search era in which there is no longer a need to make decisions because the tech knows everyone better than they do themselves (and is also much smarter). There would be no need to search, because our desires would have been anticipated and suggested.

Of course, this level of personalisation would be light years beyond the clunky and sometimes way-off advertising that currently follows us around...

193:

Yes. It wouldn't be completely possible, because at least some humans and Turing-complete AIs are not perfectly predictable, even by a theoretically 'perfect' AI. That limitation is fundamental in the mathematics, and cannot be bypassed. But the best psychological manipulators (including con men, demagogues and so on) show that it's possible to a remarkable extent.

194:

Well, Amazon's "Artificial Stupidity" algorithms take that one even further for me. I place one book by $author1 in my shopping basket, and they promptly recommend $author1's entire back catalogue (if exists) before I even press the "buy" button! I don't think it's weird to want to read said book before buying more of $author1's writing?

At the same time they fail to consistently recommend $author2's latest book at all although my "purchase history" will include most or all of author2's back catalogue!

And I guess this is a personal account worked example of #192 and #193.

195:

Yeah
I have been collecting ( All on Kindle on this machine ) L M Bujold's "penric" stories _ when I get one, immediately I'm recommended to bu yhe others (which I already have ... )
Yup - "Artificial Stupidity" is the name ..
Can we from here on in, all refer to it as "AS" ( As opposed to "AI" ) ???
😏

196:

The Cosmo Communicator is a successor to/upgrade from the Gemini PDA (one of which is sitting next to my left hand). The Gemini is a lineal descendant of the Psion Series 5, with updated guts and software. Works pretty well, as long as you bear in mind that it's a version 1.0 product from a small British company with limited resources who outsource the manufacturing to a Chinese factory and don't have a huge software team working on it. The Cosmo promises to fix the biggest/commonest gripes about the Gemini — no backlight on the keyboard, crap external camera, no external screen/keypad for calls — and takes aim at the niche formerly occupied by the Nokia Communicators of yore.

If you could type on a Psion you can type on a Gemini; if not, not.

Based on the experience of pre-ordering a Gemini I'm pretty certain the Cosmo will ship, but may be 1-2 months late, and it's not cheap — they can't achieve the economies of scale of a large smartphone vendor. Flipside is, it's a unique form factor and there's nothing else like it on the market.

197:

The expression used by several writers is "Artificial Idiocy". But it's not actually as stupid as it appears. Remember that Amazon's business is in bulk marketing, and the optimal strategy is to ignore Those With Clue and target the 90% of the population who would need tuition to pass a Turing test.

I have mentioned this before, but it's relevant to this thread and topic: I am still not sure whether the dumbing-down of the British population was a serendipitous effect of political policy or part of a Cunning Plan. There is good evidence for the latter (mainly in the past 3-4 decades of educational policy), but it's inconclusive. I don't know about the USA.

Remember that, in politics, marketing etc., you can either adapt your approach to match your targets or change your targets to match your purposes. The less self-aware and analytical people or AIs are, and the more they bunch into compact categories, the easier they are to model.

198:

Greg, the Amazon recommendation thing isn't really AI, it's just statistical data analysis on a large database of past transactions. Here's an introduction to association rule learning.

Amazon's association-learning algorithm is powerful and effective but because of the sheer scale of their database and customer set there's stuff they don't do.

They don't prune out products you've already purchased because the algorithm can't tell the difference between buy-once items — my latest novel — or buy-frequently — toilet rolls — or buy-once-then-maybe-buy-once-more — a movie bought on DVD five years ago: you now have a BluRay player so you buy it again in the higher resolution format.

Nor can it tell whether you bought a book and have already read it and liked it and want more like it, or whether you just bought the book and haven't read it yet, or bought it and regretted it three chapters in. For that they have to rely on you having the wits to hit on the "refine your recommendations" link and tell them which books you liked/disliked. (Which hardly qualifies as AI; machine learning, yes ...)

199:

Charlie @ 196
I take that as a recommendation - I shall start saving the pennies, as if it looks half-as-good as advertised I will probably get one - especially as, ahving fucked-up by not pre-booking 18 montha go, I cannot possibly afford to come to Dublin next year ( I mean it's now up to £200+ just to attend, without hotel, travel & other costs ) - shit, but I should have seen that one coming.
I loved the actual keyboard I had, breifly on a blackberry, but the rest of it was utterly unfit for purpose, so I sent it back ( Itself an interesting struggle with the vendor company's totally wrong interpretation of UK consumer law - they lost in the end ).
And if you are using its predecessor right now, that also says somehting about useability.
Also @ 198
Yup, Artifical Stupidity it is! [ I do know about association-learning, just about. ]

EC @ 197
I'm with the "unpsoken conspiracy" hypothesis here.
Both the Right-tories & Left-labour ( As opposed to the left-tories & right-labour ) wanted & desired a dumbing-down of the population, for their own doctinaire "reasons" - & the bastards have got away with it, Im afraid.
VERY similar to the Right of the tories & the Left of labour wanting Brexit for opposing doctrinaire reasons & fuck the 95% of the population crushed in the middle - provided you can construct a Corporatist / Communist "heaven" for the chosen few.
See Charlie's other post, just put up .....

200:

It's not Orwellian, Orwell never imagined something that bad happening. I think of it as a polite genocide, because these days people get upset if you directly use industrial techniques to kill people, but if you use the same systems to make them kill themselves that's apparently fine.
I don't really get what it is have been going on in US-centered world about politeness. Somehow being polite has become even more infuriating than actually blatantly ignorant and aggressive. Maybe it has something to do with the recent history where genocide was provided by the means of aggressive war, robbery, diversion and unrestricted sanctions. It could be rather upsetting to see other nations like China consistently using soft power to bring forward their interests rather than threaten everyone around with total annihilation.

As I noted before, my hypothesis why China has been going on with this new social system is that they want to have a work-around to escape limitations of capitalist rating agencies. You should probably already know that their system is considered somewhat a transition state between historical socialism of USSR and capitalist relationships (not to be confused with today's EU status). Recent economic development have brought livin standards of people in China to a new level many Western poers even refuse to admit.
https://principlesandinterest.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/53244-global2bincome.gif

That also means that, even if the construction of infrastructure goes with a cosmic speed aome of us may be familiar with, it is quite possible that it's still very much insufficient. There are now many more millions of passengers who can go on long-distance trains and planes, have good houses and qualified jobs, but not enough control them altogether. In normal situation, probably a "free hand of market" would "solve" this problem through increasing the prices and rising the rates of inequality, but in socialist country, it is not only impossible, it is a catastrophe.

Social rating system is a workaround they are most likely working out to create the basis for new system of wealth distribution. If you comply with social norms, if you are hard-working, friendly and competent person, you will have the right to have access to advanced human necessities compared to lazy, angry and selfish shut-in who does not like to cooperate with others. I have yet to confirm actual facts with that idea, but since nothing like that has been done before or can be imagined in capitalist society, it is hard to judge the reasoning from the Western point of view. On the first glance it sounds almost disarmingly simple, but who knows really what it can mean in practice.

201:

Moz @ 186 ( & everybody)
The cosmo looks great and I took a punt on it as an early /late Chrismas present assuming it happens.
I then remembered why I don't look at indiegogo as I then paired it with a vinpok-split which I can also use with various laptops

www.indiegogo.com/projects/vinpok-split-best-on-the-go-touch-screen-monitor

it will continue my love of odd phones with keyboards or otherwise being massive.
Nokia communicator 9100i ? to Handspring Treo to Dell streak to Galaxy Note 3 which is still my current phone though now runs lineage 4.1 / Android 7.1.2

The note 3 had a decent enough screen to read the Empire Games, but Christmas will be catching up on Charlies proper books from this year. I managed to miss the Edinburgh Book readings due to a cold and a funeral, sp I'm looking forward to opening the books onn Christmas day. Yes delayed gratification and spoiler avoidance even when lurking here.

202:

For that they have to rely on you having the wits to hit on the "refine your recommendations" link and tell them which books you liked/disliked.

Except that doesn't work. I spent time doing that after they last redesigned the interface, went through the first 200 recommendations and dutifully clicked "don't recommend more like this", 1-starred products I regretted, etc — and it still keeps recommending the same stuff to me that I told it I didn't want 20 minutes ago!

203:

For clarification proper book = dead tree

204:

To clarify, you do 4, 100 mile trips/day in your EV? How long does it take to charge?

To clarify, I'm working with a Bolt, which has 240 mile range (at lowish speeds) and a 65 kWh battery. Thing is, if I want to drive 100 miles, that car's going to charge for 3 hours recharging, either at home or at a commercial charger. If I drain the battery, it takes eight hours to recharge at home. This is perfectly reasonable if I'm doing round trips, but not so good for long distance road tripping.

There's also no way to swap out the 900 lb Bolt battery, because the battery extends the entire length of the car and you have to take the car apart to get at it. I agree that in trucks, swapping might make sense, but the only way you can run a swapping station (say at one of those Flying J truck stops in the US) is to have a lot of electricity flowing in to your battery charging operation, and that's an infrastructure problem.*

*One thing that became abundantly clear here in California, where power lines and substations are thought to have caused both the Camp, Woolsey, Thomas, and about 16 of the fires in the last year, is that electrical grids and wildfires go together in the US West. I'm still all for going 100% renewable electricity, but it's far from hazard free. A rural battery-swapping operation could easily be the indirect cause of a multi-billion dollar fire, if high winds and dry conditions coincide with a power line accident.

205:

“One thing that became abundantly clear here in California, where power lines and substations are thought to have caused both the Camp, Woolsey, Thomas, and about 16 of the fires in the last year, is that electrical grids and wildfires go together in the US West.”

That’s actually NOT in any way abundantly clear. What IS abundantly clear is a de-regulated utility company cuts costs to maximize short term profit at the expense of long term safety. Go figure, from the same crew that brought you the San Bruno exploding gas mains

All of these utility caused fires were very preventable if PG&E was not such a pile of steaming shit

207:

Indeed. My first thought was not about any kind of fundamental grid/terrain incompatibility, but "what is it with the US and electricity, it's like they think it's supposed to be dangerous and keep zapping people and setting fire to things..."

(Our grid only zaps hawks and that's their own fault for trying to fuck it.)

208:

OTOH the ground here is always wet.

209:

WEll, since my local utility (SDG&E) got tagged with about $700 in bills (after their insurance covered some losses) for the Cedar Fire in 2007, yeah. Also to note that it's not just PG&E, although they seem to be trouble magnets and are currently the chief suspects for starting the Camp Fire. Southern California Edison runs the Chatsworth substation on the Santa Susana Field Lab, and that experienced a major interruption two minutes before the fire that became the Woolsey fire started. Final reports on the cause of the Thomas and Wine Country fires have not been released, so this is all hypothetical until the investigators have spoken.

The good news is that PG&E has been bankrupt before (in 2001) and the power did not stop flowing, so it's not necessarily the end of the world if they go bankrupt again.

210:

Vaguely amusing aside: you know how graphene is supposed to be the next super/miracle material? Turns out that, like other miracle materials, the supply chain is, shall we say, a bit problematic (link to In The Pipeline, of FOOF fame). The comments are worth reading too.

Absent a miracle (or at least, an industry wide reorganization, complete with standards and enforcement), I'm not counting on a commercially available graphene super-battery (or super-anything) any time soon.

211:

Heteromeles - you've done it now - that link is broken.
Did you mean THIS LINK perchance?

212:

My take on 1984 was that is was very focussed on individual compliance with a dose of "don't you know there's a war on". The idea of using that apparatus to remove entire races/cultures doesn't seem to be in the book. By war, yes, by assimilation no ("embrace, extend, and exterminate", as the geeks put it).

Some of his other writing definitely shows him as at least aware of racism and sexism being bad, but still he was very much a man of his time. I doubt he looked at the actions of Britain in her colonies and thought "wiping out other cultures is bad", he more likely thought that the imposition of civilisation should be done politely and objected to the more thoughtlessly vicious aspects of it. That was the progressive ethos of the age.

It's not as though Orwell hadn't seen what we call genocide by the time he wrote 1984, but charitably I think he thought it wouldn't happen again. He could definitely see that his kind could be overrun by hordes of savages, but being their subjects in a civilised society that was intent on exterminating the English? Nope.

213:

why I don't look at indiegogo as I then paired it with

Yep. I have some ewaste that came from those sites that turned out to be almost nearly usable. In a way I'm grateful for some of the stuff that never arrived. The Irish bike lights were the biggest disappointment, they worked really well for just long enough to make me sad when they stopped working. See Sense, BTW, who have a new round of lights out but this lot require the app rather than merely making it vaguely useful. Either way, they don't appear to have fixed their longevity issues. I suspect their target market just doesn't AvE them as hard as commuters do (viz, if you're riding a shiny road bike you're not going to just keep pounding it through potholes in the rain 2 hours a day every day, so it's going to age more slowly). Anyway, I think I bought 4 lights and got 3 free replacements... but I don't have any working lights from them any more.

The crowdfunding stuff I have that works, though, is pretty nice. I like my programmable torch a lot (I jest not, my one goes 1%-20%-100% if you press the button, high if you press-and-hold, then off if you press-and-hold while it's on. Because that's what I want it to do). And so on.

But the Cosmo... Really tempted but I have a phone that works and I just powered up my TabII 7" which still works. I just want that for google maps and it does that. My only fear is lack of brightness. But I will see how that goes before spending more money. I have an even bigger truck than Greg does to spend money on now... more than one kilometre for every litre, I think (short trips infrequently make it hard to guess fuel use).

214:

Recent In the Pipeline coverage of graphene includes:

Darn Near Flatland, 11 October, 2017
https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2017/10/11/darn-near-flatland

Graphene Continues to Surprise 19 March, 2018
https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2018/03/19/graphene-continues-to-surprise

Graphene: You Don’t Get What You Pay For
By Derek Lowe 11 October, 2018
https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2018/10/11/graphene-you-dont-get-what-you-pay-for

As Greg wrote, the last one is probably what Heteromeles intended.

215:

I just powered up my TabII 7" which still works

... or did until the updates completed, and now it cheerily says "trebuchet has stopped" whenever I press any of the buttons. This is where I think "can I really be bothered fixing it" or whether I see what I can acquire from work (boss buys random electronics tat "for research" when he travels... I'm sure there are some crappy tablets in there)

216:

Moz @ 212
No
Read "Burmese Days".

217:

I think that the social score has 4 origins

1. What you say about it being an alternative to the credit score. However, this is not the only reason.

2. Here is the common stereotype of E. Asian countries: you can leave valuables on the sidewalk all day and it will still be there. This is not true in China (it's arguable in the other countries). Since China thinks itself as the pinnacle of E. Asian civilization, this is a hit to their national character. The surveillance state they're building is a way to solve that problem

3. Chinese leaders have traditionally been very assimilationist.
a. Ironically, Xi agrees far more with Chiang Kai-shek than with Mao on this issue.
http://articles.latimes.com/2001/jun/01/news/mn-5075
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-aboriginal-idUST3444320080314

b. It's not just ethnic minorities, Xi's trying to erase other Chinese languages that are not standard Mandarin.
https://www.businessinsider.com/china-is-forcing-its-biggest-cantonese-speaking-region-to-speak-mandarin-2014-8

c. Like a lot of authoritarian leaders, Xi is scarred by the Soviet Union, and the way it broke up on ethnic lines. Finally, the Uighurs did rebel after the Opium Wars. In a lot of ways, Xi is trying to eliminate the fault lines which showed up in Chinese society after the Opium Wars.

4. There are also colonists and natural resources to consider. The Uighur territory contains around 40% of China's oil wells and 20% of China's coal. Plus, they also sit on a large amount of Uranium. This has attracted Han colonists to the region, to the point where the region is 45% Uighur and 40% Han Chinese.

218:

I think that the social score has 4 origins
It's also being positioned (not broadly overtly) as a tool for suppression of dissent. Spread "incorrect" information, lose rights to travel, with tireless personalized automation enabled by Moore's Law/continuous tech improvements. In the future, scowl at a billboard with a VIP's picture, and cameras/AI-state-infrastructure will notice and punish your score, automatically. (Perhaps with human review before or after the downgrade.)
From the FP article reference by Greg's ref,
Life Inside China’s Social Credit Laboratory (3 April 2018)
One interesting aspect is that there are local variations, allowed by the larger authorities:
One such microsystem has been built by residents of First Morning Light, a neighborhood of 5,100 families a stone’s throw from Rongcheng city hall. The spacious, modern-looking community has been divided into grids of 300 families, each grid overseen by a management team. Residents have even taken the official Rongcheng credit system a few steps further by adding penalties for illegally spreading religion — echoing recent countrywide crackdowns on religious practice — abusing or abandoning family members, and defaming others online.
The effects have been positive, says Yang Lihong, a resident in her 30s who uses a pseudonym. Quality of life in First Morning Light has shot up — along with property prices. Yang, who asked that her real name not be used, says she sees no downsides to the social credit system and has no privacy-related concerns.
“I trust the government,” she says. “Who else can you trust if not them?”

Bold mine. :-) I have heard similar things first hand, a little less coy in-person no recordings.


219:

That is almost exactly the Nazi's Block-Warden system, isn't it, brought up-to-date & shiny?
Shudder

220:

Thanks! something I should have known about.
https://jimsnowden.com/2013/07/15/block-wardens-the-eyes-and-ears-of-the-gestapo/
In this sense, the block warden was a bit like the the kid in The Twilight Zone who could read minds and send people to the cornfield with a thought. It was important to say only cheerful things around a block warden and to agree wholeheartedly with whatever came out of their faces.
https://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/blockleiter.htm
This requires that the cell warden, and even more so the block warden, knows very well all the party members and non-party members in his district. He must know about their families and jobs, as well as all other personal relationships. He must know their concerns, whether large or small. He must know their political and social opinions.
So yes. Up to date, automated, tireless, and oh-so-shiny.

Neighborhood vigilantes/[pejorative of choice] can get out of control if you let them. A neighbor called the police on me recently for the possible crime of suspiciously walking late at night in the neighborhood. (TTTT I probably made them nervous, oops.) (Same neighbors/kids perhaps were letting air out of my tyres at night.) This being the land of guns (semi-rural), being stopped by two officers in two patrol cars was a lot better than a Treyvon Martin style vigilante confrontation. Especially since I was 10 meters from my roadside letter box.

221:

Greg, that doesn't seem to contradict anything I wrote. The wikipedia article on Burmese Days describes it as a less racist than usual account of the colony of Burma, sure, but it also describes Orwell as a willing participant in the colonial project. There's no suggestion that he considered the possibility of the Burmese bringing civilisation to Britain or even that he considered the Burmese as his equals.

222:

Bill Arnold @ 220
Slight emendation:
Neighborhood vigilantes/[pejorative of choice] canWILL get out of control if you let them
There always were far too many "proper little pocket 'itlers" around, I'm afraid.

Moz @ 221
But. later, E Blair recounted how that experience changed his views - as did those told of in "Down & out in Paris & London"

223:

Yes, your second paragraph is correct, but you have swallowed rather too much of the modern, politically correct, revision nostrum.

Firstly, the British Empire, like the Roman one before it, did NOT generally believe in "wiping out other cultures", because that is the surest way to cause rebellion - though it didn't interfere with missionaries and traders doing that. Inter alia, do you have any idea how few people it used to run colonies, and how few of those were involved in controlling the colonies? Yes, Burmah, Malaya and India had FAR more than most, because of their strategic importance, but the numbers were still small.

Secondly, such ethics are tricky. Should the Thuggees have been suppressed? Should countries have been discouraged from arbitrary executions, torture and genocide? I can give you examples, if you want. Do you disapprove of the current western campaigns to 'civilise' countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and even cultures like Da'Esh?

Yes, Both Blair/Orwell and Kipling were people of their time, but you have missed just HOW far out on the tolerance and pro-diversity spectrum they were. If you read a wider range of contemporary authors, you will see levels of bigotry and intolerance that would be unacceptable today, even to most right-wingers.

224:

EC
Yes
The evil racist Kipling, whose best-loved, most-remembered creation is ... Mowgli.
um, err .....

225:

Meanwhile, just to show that "we" can hold our own ... & stand alongside the most evil misogynistic christians in the USA: We get this unspeakable piece of slime posturing as an unfit-to-hold-office MP.
I certainly support the calls for his deselection - & preferably the deselection of his testes from him ....

226:

"Political correctness" used as a slur makes you sound mindless.

Firstly, the British Empire, like the Roman one before it, did NOT generally believe in "wiping out other cultures"

Need I remind you that I live in Australia? The British most definitely *did* practice genocide as explicit policy and not just once (Canada, the US, all over Australia - although since they didn't recognise their countries, arguably each of those only counts as one genocide). Most blatantly in Tasmania:

https://www.historytoday.com/tom-lawson/british-genocide-tasmania
https://theconversation.com/explainer-the-evidence-for-the-tasmanian-genocide-86828

such ethics are tricky

Well, yes, ethics change over time.

But even by the standards of British Law at the time a core part of imposing government was accepting that that makes you responsible for the people you have taken it upon yourself to govern. By their own standards they did not do very well... todays Windrush scandal, for example.

In Australia the black armband/white blindfold views of history make an excellent ongoing case study. I live in a country where Holocaust Denial (the Jewish one) is only marginally disapproved of and arguing that Aborigines aren't fully human is acceptable in many circles. Claiming that the Tasmanian Genocide was a genocide is very much the "black armband view of history" and not widely accepted on the right of politics.

I think it would be nice if we could persuade countries like the USA, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Syria and Israel to respect human rights and abide by international law rather than following historical norms. Or even just to follow the treaties they have voluntarily signed. But I can't force them to do that and I'm not convinced that force is the correct tool for that job.

you have missed just HOW far out on the tolerance and pro-diversity spectrum they were

... for upper class English twits of the time. Remember we're talking about a time *after* women had the vote, slavery was outlawed, progressive taxation and the welfare state were established. Orwell saying "maybe we shouldn't be so nasty to the lesser races" stands out but not in a good way.

227:

Going back to the root of the thread, I think it’s worth saying that I just finished the book and rather enjoyed it :)

228:

The thing about the Tasmanian genocide is that we were brought up to believe it was complete and unique. The growing evidence is that it was not at all unique. The idea of its completeness appears in retrospect to depend on some idea of racially pure individuals and insists, against evidence, that culture is transmitted mostly genetically. Which is a shorthand way to deny that people who claim to be indigenous Tasmanians "really" are.

In Queensland, it seems like the history of genocide is an exemplar of a theme reaching its zenith in elsewhere in Europe and Asia in the 20th century. Sanguine in several senses.

Peter Carey's recent novel, nominally about a car race, is highly recommended BTW (might remember the title later).

229:

depend on some idea of racially pure individuals and insists, against evidence, that culture is transmitted mostly genetically

Australia's fixation on blood quantum is *weird*. I think a lot comes from the state programs to breed out the black and the idea that upbringing and education could correct the deficiencies introduced by genetics. So it was important to track the proportion of black blood and prevent those people from interbreeding. Those ideas haven't gone away, they're just continually updated as the language and political discourse of the day changes.

What the Stolen Generations(*) mean is that there are a lot of part-indigenous folk who are disconnected from their ancestry. But the disconnection means that we end up recognising both people who "don't look white" as well as people who are "culturally indigenous" as indigenous. For what that's worth, I suspect on balance recognise and persecute are near synonyms.

(*) it's less a "this happened between date X and date Y" and more "this has happened to varying degrees since the British invaded". Hopefully we will eventually put a stop to it (and not through global warming caused local extinctions, thank you very much).

230:

Moz:
No stranger or revolting than the US "one drop" idea ... I've seen USians asking unutterably stupid questions about the Brit's attitude to the lady who is now Duchess of Sussex.

231:

On a much happier note "Drop" is a happy Mal Webb song

It's just a drop in the ocean you say
It wouldn't make any difference anyway
But the ocean's nothing more
Than a whole lot of drops like yours

I'm sure Megan Markle will do her bit to add a drop to the royal blood :)


232:

Of *course* when I say “remember” I mean come back to this when I’m not just on a phone and not too busy to use google. The book is A Long Way from Home and is highly recommended.

233:

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to..."

That's Marlow in the opening Chapter of Heart of Darkness. Conrad was (roughly) a contemporary of Kipling and a generation before Orwell, and one of the several major themes in the novel is how corrupt and suspect "the idea" actually is, anyway. This sequence set on the Thames at the very beginning should be enough to make it very clear that a nuanced view of matters imperial was quite accessible to educated people. It's pretty easy to find online. The theme that "we" were once "the savages" is not even such an unusual one in Victorian letters.

The Génocidaires in Australia were mostly English and all believed in Marlow's "idea". Not just the mission civilisatrice, but also the idea that led thousands of people we think of as Australians these days, but who thought of themselves as primarily British to Gallipoli, North Africa and France. It clearly still animates the likes of Abbott and Howard, and seems to have some background form in this Brexit stuff.

234:

@225 Meanwhile, just to show that "we" can hold our own ... & stand alongside the most evil misogynistic christians in the USA: We get this unspeakable piece of slime posturing as an unfit-to-hold-office MP.

Completely agree - you have to wonder where the hell Christopher Chope is coming from. Doesn't he have female relations? Did he spring from an alien root nodule?

@227 Thanks for reading Martin! A word of review on Amazon or Goodreads is always much appreciated if you have a minute...

235:

we were brought up to believe it was complete and unique

It's important to remember that the "we" you talk about does not include Aboriginal Australians. It's rare to find someone whose personal history doesn't include vicious oppression by the state (as well as ordinary day to day racism). I've met far too many people who talk about their family history in terms of "so'n'so was killed by the Protector of Aborigines" and "Aunt Emmy was sold to a squatter in the Tablelands" and so on until you just want to cry. I'm reading the very gentle, very approachable "My Place" by Sally Morgan at the moment and that's pretty hard going at times.

Those kids were often brought up to believe that they had no rights and were part of a dying race. You generally don't have to scratch far below the surface to find some real anger. Nice, white-ish, upper class doctors and lawyers... catch them at the wrong moment and it's scary. This is not OGH saying politely "my family includes holocaust survivors" these are the people who lived through the land clearances, forced adoptions and systematic sexual abuse of the 1960s and 1970s. Right now today they're being told that what was done to them is sad, certainly, but not a crime and they shouldn't expect a real apology let alone any compensation and "god what the fuck you can't expect your land back are you insane"?

I admit to being reassured when I meet people with aboriginal heritage who are not especially hard done by. Just for that "phew, there is some sanity in the world". More of them now I think, things are slowly improving but unevenly. And so, so very slowly.

For light relief I suggest the NZ on Screen "protest" collection of videos. "We're Nga Tamatoa, so we must light te ahi, don't get led astray by Babylon, kia mau ki to Maori" as the nice Te Kupu put it ("light the fire" and "keep the people strong" are the two Maori phrases there).

(note that none of the above is exaggeration for effect. The far right treat it as lies, sure, just like anthropogenic global warming and the failure of trickle down economics.. but that's about them, not about reality).

236:

We took it all by the gun and the sword
By the right of our race and in the name of our God
Though as outcasts ourselves, transported, condemned
None knew better than we the injustice of men

Eric Bogle, Something of Value

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLCQSlgb-bQ

(Hey, a Scottish connection for Charlie, too!)


Now that your big eyes are finally opened.
Now that you’re wondering, “How must they feel?”
meaning them that you’ve chased across Canada’s movie screens;
Now that you’re wondering, “How can it be real?”
that the ones you’ve called colorful, noble and proud
in your school propaganda,
They starve in their splendor.
You asked for our comment, I simply will render:
My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Now that the longhouses “breed superstition”
you force us to send our children away
to your schools where they’re taught to despise their traditions
Forbid them their languages;
then further say that
Canadian history really began
when explorers set sail out of Europe,
and stress
 that the nations of leeches who conquered these lands
were the biggest, and bravest, and boldest, and best.

And yet where in your history books is the tale
of the genocide basic to this country’s birth?
Of the preachers who lied? And the people who died?
How a nation of patriots returned to their earth?
Where does it tell of the starvation hell?
As the children were herded, and raped and converted?
And how do we rescue the missing and murdered?
My country ‘tis of thy people you’re dying

Buffy Saint-Marie, My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying

https://youtu.be/wUbMoyolxmU

(From the album Medicine Songs, which I heartily recommend. Alternately inspirational, sad, and angry — sometimes all three at once — it's a tour-de-force. And if you get a chance to catch one of her concerts, grab it — she's got a physical presence that recordings can't capture.)

237:

Thanks for those. Sadly Buffy Saint-Marie has a vocal style I find hard to deal with, like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger. One song, then I can't cope. I enjoy the lyrics though. Often I like the covers too :)

238:

Agree with everything you say here. I read My Place years ago, and I barely remember it. I should probably read it again.

239:

Very revealing - why pink women support Trump - christian-right brainwashing, basically.
YUCK - but scary, too.

240:

Euwwww
The revolting BDM female who has just won, very narrowly in Mississipi .....

Note the support for: Lynchings & vote suppression & segregation.

241:

Not so much inner demons and more maliciously updated daemons...

A malicious person volunteers to help maintain the project, makes some small, positive contributions, gets commit access to the project, and releases a malicious patch, infecting millions of users and apps.

https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/11/distributing_ma.html

243:

Someone is proposing construction cranes and piles of bricks as a way to store electricity...

https://www.fastcompany.com/90261233/can-these-35-ton-bricks-solve-renewable-energys-biggest-problem

244:

Moz
Just a very complicated way of building an Accumulator tower .....
Why not use the simple solution?
And the 19thC designs that, you know, WORK?

245:

It addresses the capital cost of the crane vs the size of the single weight it can deal with at a time. Most of the "lift a big weight" systems have the problem that whatever motor/generator they use has to deal with the entire weight capacity of the system in one go. This one is more like hydro in being able to build a motor/generator that takes one little piece at a time. It's also expandable in a way that a billion dollar lump of tungsten isn't (or the 'train loaded with gravel' ones, where more capacity = build another train). And unlike an accumulator tower, adding capacity can be done incrementally and fairly easily. You can add new cranes as well as new weights, so the power in/out capacity can be changed as well.

So in some ways it's quite a cunning scheme. But it's also much more fragile than the railway, even if it is easier to find a suitable site. Which means the maintenance cost is going to be higher, but also it's not going to be usable in bad weather (for some value of "bad") - a hurricane is likely to destroy the crane or require that all the weights be carefully arranged to shield it, but there is going to be some level of wind load less than that which stops the thing operating.

The failure mode of "a 100m high stack of 35 ton blocks falls over" is also going to be exciting. But unlike hydro at least that won't keep rolling downhill and wipe out a town 50km away. Having an exclusion zone twice the height of the stack is pretty practicable (albeit howls of outrage from the people paying for the thing), and it might make a nice wildlife refuge/green zone (and we need more of those)

246:

The project you referenced intends to use recycled concrete processed into the 35-ton blocks they use for energy storage because it's cheaper. They plan to stack as many as twenty of them on top of each other i.e. the bottom block will have a load of 675 tonnes pressing down on it. The foundation will have to support several thousand tonnes static load as well as the dynamic load of the crane. Like I said it looks good on paper/PowerPoint and table-top models but in real life scaled up to useful dimensions it has its problems.

As for Greg's fascination with accumulator towers, the sad fact is they don't store that much energy. A rough BOTE calculation -- The Grimsby Dock tower, very tall and expensive for its type, holds 140 tonnes of water about 60 metres above the working level. Using M x g x h that means when it was full it held about 84 MJ of energy or about 23 kWh. A Morris Minor engine can produce significantly more than 23kW and for more than an hour, to give you an idea of how little actual energy it stored.

What accumulators could do was store the energy from a small (by today's standard) steam engine running for several minutes and release it in a few seconds to power machinery of the day which required more energy than such a small engine could provide as it ran. Most of the dock cranes and the like driven by accumulator towers were in the two to five-tonne capacity, the sort of things that could be run by a 3kW electric motor powering a hydraulic pump today.

247:

in real life scaled up to useful dimensions it has its problems

I agree. But I was trying to point out the positives. I quite like the idea of a taller than 100m crane lifting and lowering big blocks of concrete, but the same problem as the accumulator tower applies. 35 tons seems like a lot, but we have that same mgh problem... 35000 * 10 * 100 = 3600 * 1000 * 10 = 10kWh. That makes the presentation pretty, but you're going to have an awful lot of blocks per megawatt-hour if your crane can only lift them an average of 100m. And if each crane can only lift one block at a time, you need an awful lot of cranes to service even a small city (in reality it's likely to be about 0.5 blocks at a time due to the need to reel the line back in and swing about finding a block then finding somewhere to lower it to).

I still think lifting and lowering London is the best bet. Or a mountain. Surely the UK has a small mountain that no-one really likes very much?

248:

They could move Ben Nevis to somewhere in Cambridgeshire, more accessible for tourism that way too.

Funny this topic sort of came back to life - driving around today it occurred to me to remember gasometers ... there were still a lot of them around Brisbane when I was a kid. So what if they were 100m tall, and each vertical frame member had a track for a worm gear... then you don’t need to be keeping gas in, just mount a lot of mass on a platform.

But maybe it’s jaunt me, thinking gasometers are sort of retro-steampunk-romantic-gothic-cool or something. Ewen McColl and the Pogues, ‘Dirty old town’ and all that.

249:

Just me, that is. I think that was autocorrect, but it could be me subliminally thinking of Tomorrow’s Children and how the Laundryverse reminds me of it slightly, in terms of culture and feel and stuff. Maybe that’s just me, though :)

250:

Oh, sudden thought: with the crane idea, make each block an apartment. That way every single one can be sold as a penthouse apartment! Trump would wet himself at the idea.

You could do the same thing by lifting suburbs independently... they would all have "great views over surrounding area" and a whole lot more would have "sea views" :)

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