Just another * hacker
13,897 words

Our noble masters at work

So Dominic Cummings the very wonderful UK government is in the process of buying a stake in OneWeb1 with the money of his slaves its taxpayers because, among other things, it

[...] hopes the network could also work as a replacement for the loss of access to the EU's Galileo sat-nav system.

Because, of course, it's trivial to repurpose satellites, some of which are already in orbit, to do what GPS does. Because, of course, they have sufficiently accurate clocks, and their radios work on the same frequencies that GPS receivers use, and everything is easy when you are so very clever and competent.

The UK Government: not even the smartest people in an empty room.

  1. Also, and, and

Perhaps not

A little while ago I pointed to an amazing paper which argued that there's a black hole in a naked-eye-visible star system, about 1000ly from us. There may not be:

So, that's sad, but it's also a good example of science doing its job: someone claimed something which was plausibly correct & some other people looked at the data behind the claim and found that, probably, it was not correct after all.

The fiendish hun

So, Germany has offered to help the UK with their contact-tracing app An app which is deployed, whose source code is publicly available, with all the commit messages being in English and with at least some English internationalization already complete (and, I think, all of it).

The British, of course, spent £11 million on an app that they basically knew could never work. And of course they will now refuse Germany's help because it's not British, and only British is good. Better Dead than NOT BRITISH, after all.

The UK government: a group of people so dim they think Dominic Cummings is smart, and so bigoted they would happily sacrifice the future of Britain on the altar of their hatred for foreigners.

Doing nothing

If you think we are doing something about climate change, you're wrong: almost without exception we are doing nothing. One group of people sign agreements which makes everyone feel good and pretend that this is doing something, which it's not. Another group of people pretends that it isn't happening or that, if it is happening it is someone else's fault, and this is not doing anything either, but is worse in other ways (see below). There are a minute number of people who might actually make a difference, such as Greta Thunberg, but the moment some ephemeral crisis which is going to kill a tiny proportion of the people that climate change will kill happens everyone forgets about her because we can't think about more than one thing at once, or really about long-term things at all.

Look at this chart. Annoyingly you can't specify which time-period to pick in the URL, but look at the the data from 2000 on. All the recent data is all from Mauna Loa, which is a good source (in fact all the data there looks well-sourced, even the ice-age proxy stuff smells good). Can you see any change in trend since 2016 other than the annual variation? Because I can't. I was hoping to be able to see the impact of CV19 on it in the last few months worth of data (it's right up to date), but I can't even see that.

The only thing that is comparable to climate change in terms of being able to kill us is really nuclear weapons (perhaps really nasty engineered biological agents might be as bad). Plagues can kill significant fractions – the black death may have killed a third or perhaps more of humans in the 1300s – but they have a hard time doing more than that. CV19, if it was entirely unchecked, looks like it would kill a few percent (perhaps more for countries where lots of people are too fat like the US). Climate change and nuclear weapons might kill 90% of humans or more: both are several times as bad as anything that has happened to us globally.

And nuclear weapons are not really like climate change: if you have nuclear weapons you don't just kill everyone because you didn't change anything: you have to have a war and that war has to get bad enough that you use the things, and you have to decide to use them. Climate change, on the other hand, kills you by default: you have to do something enormous, or your children and grandchildren die.

And climate change is additionally, uniquely, horrible. If you have an infestation of nazis, say, then once you've dealt with it, and so long as you work at keeping it suppressed and making sure you never, ever forget the horrors that happened, things become more-or-less OK in a couple of generations. In Germany in the early 1990s, other than looking at old people and wondering what lies they would tell if you asked them what they did during the war, everything was fine. And almost all those old people are dead now of course. If you have a plague of some kind then it kills a bunch of people and either there's a vaccine or it ends up just endemic, but it all washes out in decades. If you have a nuclear war you make a serious mess of the planet, but the dust doesn't stay in the atmosphere for that long, and it's in the nature of radioactive things that the really nasty ones have rather short half-lives as they're using up their supply of unstable nuclei faster. So, give it a century or two and the planet is mostly OK in terms of habitability, if there's anyone left to live there.

If you do something significant to the climate, it takes between thousands and hundreds of thousands of years to wash out, short of magic fixes which are, well, magic (if you want magic fixes, do the sums for the climate impact on everyone left of lifting a significant number of people to Mars). Climate change – and more generally hitting planet-scale resource limits – is simply not a problem like anything we have faced before. Not even slightly. Nuclear war is worse in the short-term but has nothing like the long-term effects.

And, again, we are not doing anything, at all, about the problem: look at the data, don't listen to the bullshit & lies. Because it's what the data represents that is going to kill your children & grandchildren: the bullshit & lies are just noise.

And to circle around to where I came in: we won't do anything, and things will fall apart (are already beginning to do so) in the next few decades because we chose not do anything. And it will become more and more tempting to pick leaders who tell us that it's not our fault but instead is someone else's fault, some group of people we can easily recognise and blame, people who look different than us or have different cultures to us. And, you know, shouldn't something be done about those people? And so something will be done about that group, and it won't fix the problem of course, so another group will be found, and perhaps eventually a big group who live far away who we should just nuke.

So, OK

In case you had any doubt about whether Trump was a racist, he's just made it very clear: of course he is.

I've said this before: Trump is a racist, and supporting racists is racism. That means that the people who support Trump are racists. The whole claim that somehow they are good people who don't understand who they're voting for is insulting their intelligence: no, they're not too stupid to understand that Trump is a racist, rather they voted for him because they understand and support what he is, because they also are racists.

And yes, that does mean that there are indeed a lot of really vile people in the US (as well as elsewhere): a lot of people are just horrible, it turns out. Anyone who has been paying attention, at all, knows that, so don't act all surprised.

It's always both

So, Donald Trump is doing so well at dealing with CV19: so far more than 125,000 people have died, and the true number will be significantly above that both because they won't be counting properly and also because they'll be busy suppressing the information.

But, but: the mortality rate is about 2.3 times higher for Black Americans than for other groups1. If you're a racist who does not care about taking a few casualties along the way that's very convenient, isn't it?

One comforting thing about the Trump White House is that you aren't forced to choose between malice and incompetence. It's always both.

Garry Kasparov

  1. Figure from that page on 28th June 2020. 

Sunlit uplands

Because of course Boris Johnson was stealing a phrase from Churchill, because of course brexit is like the battle of Britain. Or, at least, pretending it is lets us all wallow in nostalgia for a time only a tiny minority of us can remember.

Except this time, the nazis are on the other side.

Perhaps that should be a clue: if you find yourself on the side of the nazis you are on the wrong side.

The end of history

Famously, history has not ended.

Except it is ending: you don't get to have exponential processes with a physical component which run for ever without hitting various walls. Humans have run several such processes for hundreds of years and we're now hitting the walls. If we don't do anything about it then the walls will kill most of us: there's going to be an awful lot of history for a century or so and then none at all for a very long time. And, of course, rather than solving the fucking problem or at least admitting that the problem is your own fault, it's a lot easier to say 'this isn't my fault, it's all because of those filthy (liberals|europeans|mexicans|gypsies|jews|people whose skin is a different colour or whose eyes are the wrong shape) let's kill them'. And that's one of the reasons we suddenly have nazis crawling out of every sewer: blaming other people for their own fuckups is what nazis do. And we are fucking up.

Not Mars

If you assume that sending a person to live on Mars requires about as much fuel as sending three people to stay the Moon for a day or so did, then each person we send to live on Mars requires about 770 cubic metres of RP-11. Burning this fuel produces about 1.9
million kg of CO2. If we assume that the production and other costs associated with a launch double this2 then each person we send to live on Mars results in about 3.8 million kg of CO2 being emitted.

This is entirely negligible if we want to send a small number of people to live on Mars. But colonizing Mars means sending, perhaps, a million people to live there: now it's not negligible: now it's about 40% of the entire annual emissions of CO2 caused by all humans.

We're not going to colonize Mars while we rely on fossil fuels, unless we want cause catastrophic effects for the vast majority of people who remain.

  1. Or, rocket fuel. 

  2. This is a very conservative estimate. 

Torque and energy

I've always been confused about why the units of torque, which are force × distance (in SI base units N×m) are the same as those for work: why, in SI units, is torque measured in joules?

But it's obvious, because torque really is work: if you turn something through 1 radian exerting a torque of 1Nm, then you do 1J of work on whatever it is you are turning. The units of torque are really joules per radian, but radians, of course, are dimensionless.

I don't know why it took me so long to understand this.


If you are a narcissist and someone offers you help, you assume it's because you are so wonderful, not because they have something to gain by it. This makes narcissists very vulnerable to political influence operations: they genuinely do not realise what is going on because their understanding of what motivates people is so badly damaged.

A machine for manufacturing the future

CERN wants to build a new collider, and inevitably people will say that we should use the money for something more useful.

There is nothing more useful than what CERN does.

If we're going to have a long-term future as a civilisation ('long-term' being more than a human lifetime ahead), we need two critical bits of technology (we need others, but we need these two).

The first is really good batteries. Well, you carry around with you a machine which pretends to be a communication device but is in real life part of a large-scale test and development effort into good batteries. It's unfortunate that this effort is having bad side-effects: social media and the awful consequences of it, such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Cummings-Johnson & all the other cartoon characters who have leaked into the world from various dystopias and are busily burning our future. But battery development is proceeding well.

The second is, unfortunately, something you can't fool people into testing in bulk for you, because it's not very domestic: large-scale superconducting power systems. You need these because you are going to need to ship enough electrical power to run half the world half way around the world, from where the power is made to where it's needed, and you're not doing that unless you have really enormous, really reliable, superconducting power networks.

Well, that's what CERN is: it's a huge test and development environment for production superconducting power systems: by far the biggest in the world. Yes, there's some interesting particle physics strapped onto the side of it, but that's not what it's for: what its for is the development of really large-scale, production superconducting power systems and the people who understand how to build and run them.

What CERN does is give us the hope of a future. That is unfortunately not something you can sacrifice, unless you don't want a future.


So, for a long time, the UK has at least tried to give aid to people who need it: people who were starving, for instance.

Now we're going to be giving it to people who will help our foreign policy objectives. People in eastern Europe who are not starving, but who might help us fight the pesky Russians.

So the people who we could have saved will now die.

So Dominic Cummings has killed some more people: how many thousands of deaths is he responsible for now?

Not long ago

One of my grandparents was born in 1887. He died just before I was born. If he had been American and black (he was not either) there's a good chance his parents would have been born as slaves. If he'd lived a little longer as well I would have known someone whose parents were born as slaves. Certainly people alive today knew people whose parents were born as slaves.

This is not ancient history.

Contact tracing

So the UK is finally going to switch to the Apple-Google model for its contact-tracing app. Although they didn't tell Apple this: even though Downing Street1 said the government had

worked closely with Apple and Google

Apple commented

it is difficult to understand what these claims are as they haven't spoken to us.

Matt Hancock2 also said

we've agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together

to which Apple commented

we don't know what they mean by this hybrid model. They haven't spoken to us about it.

It's difficult to tell whether the UK government are lying, or whether they no just longer know what is real or not: do they think they can get away with pretending they've agreed things with Apple when they haven't, or are they now living in a delusional world where they have agreed things with Apple? I don't know which is more worrying. I suppose when your entire politics is based on the denial of truth, you are liable to forget what is true yourself and wander off into an imaginary world – look at Trump, for instance.

This app is the one that was going to be deployed at the end of May, and is now due 'in the autumn' (they didn't say the autumn of which year).

Well, I suppose we should be grateful: when Google – a company whose entire business model is built on acquiring personal data – say your app is too invasive of privacy, it is.

But well, if these apps do any good then another few months of delay is killing another few thousand people. Just small people though, not people who count like Johnson, Cummings and the rest of their disgusting group.

  1. For which, probably, read 'Dominic Cummings'. 

  2. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care: a government stooge.