A machine made of wood, metal, paint, bone and magic
33021 words

Ten thousand

I think that there is a lot to be said for the idea made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, that it takes about 10,000 hours. As with the equally famous idea about walking 10,000 steps a day, this seems to be something pulled out of a hat as well as being a conveniently round number. But in both cases the numbers are actually very reasonable.

For 10,000 steps: well, I walk at about 100 steps/minute and I suspect this is fairly average. So 10,000 steps is about 100 minutes of walking per day. This is easily achievable: walk 30 minutes each way to work, 30 minutes at lunch and do 10 minutes of walking around other than that. 20,000 steps is 200 minutes – more than 3 hours – of walking per day and is hard to square with a normal job (but if your job involves walking it should be easy). 3,000 is 30 minutes and that's clearly far too little. So 10,000, give or take, is a very reasonable number.

Similarly for 10,000 hours: let's say you work 200 days a year for 10 hours a day (or probably more days for fewer hours). So a year is 2,000 hours of work. 10,000 hours of work is about 5 years. And ... that's kind of right: 5 years is about how long it takes someone to get really good at something. 5 years is a first degree and a PhD, with the inevitable lost time due to drink & romance, and that's the point where people are going to make their mark in their field, if they have one to make.

Nature

Our knowledge of our immediate surroundings – of 'nature' – is declining. The reason for this decline in knowledge of the environment (and not just some idealised 'nature': cities are full of fascination as well, if you only take the time to walk through them) is simple: time. A human childhood, to age 15 and allowing 12 hours a day, is about 65,700 hours: the amount of time a child has to spend on anything is limited by the amount of time they have to spend on everything else. In 1913, when my grandmother was six, she spent a lot of time outside because there were few other demands on her time: school, books, playing with toys perhaps, chores. In 1968, when I was six, there was school, books, many more toys, chores, the radio, and TV. In 2013 there are school, books, really a lot of toys, chores, video games, and the vast sink of life that is the internet.

It would be astonishing if a child of the early 21st century knew as much about their physical environment – be it 'nature' or the city – as one of the early 20th, because it would mean that they had somehow stretched time.

Whether this is something to worry about depends on whether you think the physical environment matters, and whether you think the things competing with it for the scarce hours in children's lives matter: is facebook and TV more important than picking blackberries, because the time you spend on one eats the time you can spend on the others?

Clown

28th August 2020:

People will again be encouraged to go back to the workplace in a government ad campaign starting next week.

19th September 2020:

PM considering new restrictions amid second coronavirus wave

Because it obviously wasn't possible to foresee that happening, less than three weeks ago, was it? Well, obviously it wasn't possible if you're an entitled clown with a degree in showing off, guided by a crank.

Bad wolf

The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know he showed you too. That you don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away, and I just can't

Conspiracy

The scale of the climate change conspiracy really is breathtaking. The hidden superiors who benefit from the obvious hoax of global warming being real must be an enormously powerful elite.

Consider that they must convince people who work on climate but who aren't in on the hoax and who don't stand to benefit from it -- drones like me and the thousands like me -- to keep earning our meagre wages working 'for the good of humanity' rather than making the financially and socially preferable choice of going back to work for some bank or oil company for three times the money and moving back to a place three times nicer to live. I often wonder if some drug -- a sedative or a hallucinogen perhaps -- might be used to keep us docile and obedient.

For they must walk amongst us: some of the people I exchange nods with when passing in the corridors of my workplace must, of course, be conspirators. How should I recognise them? Perhaps suitable glasses, distributed by the underground cells which I pray must exist, will reveal the grinning alien mask hidden behind the apparently human features? Perhaps they can be recognised by some feature, an unusually pronounced nose, for instance? I have no idea how many of them there might be: am I one of the few remaining humans, shortly to be replaced with an almost perfect copy of myself, or is there still hope?

And it gets worse. The false models which endlessly predict global warming are constructed using the same code as the models which forecast the weather and which are tested against reality daily or even hourly. We know these models are good and improving when used for weather: there must be switches set in climate configurations to falsify the results -- a subtle bump to the solar forcing perhaps. But this cannot be: the drones have access to the sources for the models, as does anyone interested, but nothing has ever been found.

For a while I suspected a compiler trick along the lines of Ken Thompson's famous hack. But this would require the cooperation or coercion of the writers of every Fortran compiler that can build the model, including GNU Fortran. Surely RMS can not be one of them: I refuse to believe people of such exquisite wealth and taste would tolerate him, or even a simulacrum of him.

Simpler, I think, is to assume that the trick is being played on us by the processor designers. With a few billion transistors, surely no-one would notice a few hundred thousand inserted to detect a particular program and subtly adjust the floating-point behaviour of certain critical code paths. And the number of processor designers is tiny -- Intel, ARM, IBM, perhaps Oracle -- and they all, of course, have intimate connections to the deep state actors behind all this.

This, I feel, must be the answer: a compromise at the silicon level is relatively simple when considered from the perspective of the lizard kings. Nevertheless the scale of the conspiracy is breathtaking: some might suggest it was, well, unbelievable.

Cold war

The vast naïvity of the people who declared that the cold war was over, and the west won never ceases to amaze me. Did they learn nothing from history? Did they pay any attention to what happened to Napoleon in 1812 and what happened to the Germans between 1941 and 1945? The Russians are really, really good at retreating further than their attacker thinks possible, taking losses greater than their attacker thinks possible, and then winning. The cold war is not yet over, and the west is not winning.

Silicon valley ethos

People talk about the 'silicon valley ethos' as if it'a a good thing. So, let's remember what the silicon valley ethos actually is. It's the ethos that gave us techbros, gamergate and female participation in open source projects sitting at 1 or 2% (who knows what black participation is, but I expect it is very, very tiny). It's the ethos that drove down female CS & IT graduation rates in the US from 38% in 1984 to 18% in 2011. It's the ethos that gave us (male, white) people explaining that women are just less good at this stuff in terms which amount to eugenics (obviously very appealing to Cummings), despite it being trivial to show that there is no evidence for this (indeed data this paragraph shows why there's no evidence).

It's the ethos that gave us social media companies whose core business is harvesting souls and who evolve algorithms which encourage political extremism to do that, leading to the incipient fascism we now see in the US. It's the ethos of the people who continue to work for these companies while knowing what they are doing and where it leads.

It's the ethos that gave us the CEO of a large silicon valley company saying this:

I think that government said that they made a mistake. It's a serious mistake. We've made mistakes too, right, with self-driving... So I think that people make mistakes. It doesn't mean that they can never be forgiven.

The 'mistake' that government made, for which they should perhaps be forgiven, was sawing a journalist up with a bonesaw while they were alive.

That is the ethos of silicon valley: sawing a human up with a bonesaw is a mistake which can be forgiven.

Fuck the silicon valley ethos and fuck anyone who thinks it is a good thing. The silicon valley ethos has brought the US to the edge of fascism and in 48 days will quite likely bring it over that edge. The UK is not there yet, but it's moving in that direction: the Cummings-Johnson junta are clearly aiming to cause the EU to walk away from the negotiations so they can find a suitably identifiable group to blame for the disaster that will befall the UK in 107 days. Finding identifiable groups to blame for things is the fascist playbook.

Yes, it gave us really clever phones on which we waste our lives. But I'd give up the phones if I could avoid the fascism. I'd give up the phones if the 'silicon valley ethos' would help in any way at all with dealing with climate change which isn't 'let's go and live on Mars' (work out the climate impact of lifting a significant number of people off Earth sometime: we're not going to live on Mars unless, perhaps, we're billionaires). But it's OK, you see: climate change will only kill our children and their children and the people who believe in the silicon valley ethos don't care about anyone but themselves, or even in some cases know how many children they have, still less care about them. Oh and yes, it's killing some people now, but those people have dark skins and live far away, and silicon valley ethos people certainly don't care about people with dark skins, still less if they live far away.

It's so easy to laugh at them: Johnson is an upper-class twit who can write amusingly racist and sexist articles and Cummings is a eugenicist crank who, like all cranks, does not know what he does not understand. They're laughable. Trump was laughable. Hitler and Mussolini were laughable.

A theory

I'm still very puzzled by what the UK junta government is trying to achieve. Here's a theory.

While I think it's safe to say they have no long-term plans because they're not smart enough to do long-term planning, they do have the standard fascist authoritarian populist short-term plan, which is simple:

blame other people.

Blame foreigners, blame the gypsies, blame the Jews or the Muslims, blame remainers, blame experts, blame intellectuals, but blame someone else.

So they need someone to blame for the impending failure of the brexit negotiations, and the economic catastrophe that will engulf England the UK as a result.

Here's how they will find someone to blame: behave increasingly bizarrely and illegally until the EU finally says 'fuck it' and walks away. Then blame the EU for walking away. Now the economic consequences of a no-deal brexit can be portrayed as being the EU's fault.

We all know where this approach of blaming other people for everything ends up, because we saw where it ended up in the 1930s and 1940s: it ends with camps and ovens.

The rule of law

If I see the rule of law being broken in a way that I find unacceptable then, of course, I will go.

Robert Buckland, UK Justice Secretary

So if the law is broken in a way you find acceptable, why then, that's OK is it? I'll bear that in mind, then: in future I'll only break the law if I think that I'm doing it in a way that I find acceptable.

Theory of mind

As recorded, [Trump's statement that he wanted to 'play down' CV19 early in 2020] reads like a cold-blooded confession that Trump intentionally concealed deadly knowledge at a time—February and March—when that knowledge could have saved lives. But you can reach that conclusion only if you believe that Trump knows things the way fully rational people know them: as statements about reality that exist independently from the speaker. Trump’s mind does not work that way. He does not observe the world and then use words to describe it. He speaks the words he wishes you to believe, and then trusts the world to conform to his wishes.

David Frum, writing in The Atlantic

I think the problem is that our theory of mind leads us astray with Trump: we try to build a model of what he must be like in our heads and that model is entirely wrong. Trump is not really a person at all, he's the remains of a person who has collapsed in on himself. Insofar as this carcass can be said to be aware it is aware only of itself: the outside world and all the people in it are merely dim shadows and reflections of its internal processes.

Trump is the end state after a person no longer has the strength to prevent their mind collapsing under the gravitational force of their own vanity.

Their law

The English UK government is intentionally breaking the law. But of course it will expect the people it governs – especially those who are not English – to obey the rules it sets for them: not because they are laws, which count for nothing, but simply because it has power over the people it governs. There is a name for this form of government: tyranny.

Rule by idiot

In 2016, Donald Trump's Twitter password was yourefired: two English words with no substitutions and in a single case. Two English words which would be rather easy to guess for anyone who knew anything about him.

This is known because of the 2012 Linkedin leak: Donald Trump has (or had, in 2012) a Linkedin account, and the unsalted SHA-1 hash (07b8938319c267dcdb501665220204bbde87bf1d) of his LinkedIn password was included in the leak. It is easy to verify that the password above hashes to this. For instance, using Racket:

> (require file/sha1)
> (sha1 #"yourefired")
"07b8938319c267dcdb501665220204bbde87bf1d" 

We know this was his Twitter password in 2016 because he used the same easy-to-guess password on Twitter, and was too stupid to change it for four years after the leak.

This was discovered and published by three Dutch people in 2016. They tried to inform the US authorities but were ignored. The Dutch authorities did least acknowledge their report.

The English dictionary on my machine has 235,886 words in it. A brute-force attack on Trump's password, given the hash, would take no more than 55 seconds if you could compute a billion hashes a second, which is very easily achievable with reasonable computational resources.

The Linkedin hack was very well-publicised at the time: any competent security organisation would have known about it. Any malicious such organisation certainly used the leaked hashes to try and infer the passwords of people of interest to them.

In other words, it is beyond any reasonable doubt that the Russians had access to Donald Trump's Twitter account in 2016 and before, as, probably, did any number of other state security services. That means, that, for instance, they could read Twitter DMs to him, and fake DMs as him, and in fact send public tweets as him if they wished.

If we assume his password hygiene was as terrible as it seems to be, it's likely that they were all over a large number of his other accounts: for instance his email.

Rule by toddler

The UK government admits that it is planning to intentionally break international law.

It is staggering to see a British minister brazenly admit to Parliament that the government intends to breach international law. Yet that is what Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, did this week – even if he sought to qualify the move as "very specific and limited". [...] As EU leaders are already asking, how can they do a trade deal with a country that is talking of ripping up a treaty it agreed with them less than a year ago? [...] The ramifications of Mr Johnson’s threat to breach international law go wider than Britain’s relationship with the EU. Because his plan revives fears of a hard border in Ireland, it would go down very badly in America. Congress has already made clear that it will not ratify a free-trade deal with Britain if Brexit undermines the Good Friday peace process. [...] Britain is a proud founding father of international law. If it is seen to be flouting it, that will only encourage others who dislike the concept (Vladimir Putin? Xi Jinping?) and would prefer to escape any constraints that it imposes.

The Economist.

The government's most senior lawyer is quitting over the plans. The EU thinks the UK has already breached the terms of the withdrawal agreement.

But it's not fair, it's not fair mummy. Dominic says it's not fair as well, and he's always right mummy.

– Boris Johnson, aged 3

A bit of smoke in the air

The skies are orange in California, but it's 'just a bit of smoke in the air', right? CV19 is a much worse problem.

It's not. CV19 might kill 1 person in 100 as a plausible worst case, so 70 million people. And it will go away: there will be a vaccine almost certainly (and there will be other pandemics of course, and they will kill people too). Climate change as a plausible worst case might kill 9 people in 10 – more than 6 billion people – and that 'bit of smoke in the air' is an early symptom of it. And it will, in human terms, never go away: the lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is hundreds to thousands of years (the lifetime of individual CO2 molecules is much smaller as they cycle through the oceans, and global warming denialist fuckwits make hay out of this, but the equilibrium concentration takes a huge time to decline). The future is going to be some crap version of blade runner: orange skies and the ruins of cities, except no flying cars, no off-world colonies (work out what lifting significant numbers (millions to hundreds of millions) of people into LEO does to the climate sometime), no android slaves (did the current AI bubble burst yet? Winter is coming), everyone is starving, and we'll be ruled by clown fascists.

Of course climate change will probably only kill your children and their children, together with people living in far-away countries with dark skins, and no-one cares about their children and they certainly don't care about people with dark skins even if they don't live far away. CV19 might kill you, and we all care about us.

(This is not meant to imply I don't think CV19 is serious: I think it is very serious. It's just not the most serious.)

Tantrum diplomacy

So the UK has apparently not just torn up the legal agreement it made with the EU. For which read: the UK has, in fact, just torn up the legal agreement it made with the EU and shown the world exactly what its word is worth: nothing.

Populist governments: the spoiled three-year-old children of international diplomacy.