Monday, September 26, 2011

my love affair with GSM hardware

Even more trivial than the last one! Some mobiles I loved.

Samsung ???

This was the first of them all in 2000-2001. A weird reverse-clamshell design that very rapidly developed dodgy contacts in the joint. But eh, I had a real, lasting relationship and I could send her texts from the union!

Siemens c55i

Neat and sort of German. With a big square INTERNET key to remind you that you could look at a small subset of the Web on it, if you wanted to spend an absurd amount of money. I took this one away to Vienna and ran up horrible roaming bills (see above) and went without for six months.

Nokia 3210

First Nokia. Smaller, thinner, more future-y. Lit up like a squid from within.

Nokia 6210

Ah, an enduring design classic. Really great, clicky but soft, good sized keys with lighted markers. Less Star Trek than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Real European design. Series 40 OS. Sound hardware. And when we moved into the new flat, I remembered that Royal Holloway computer centre still had a dialup pool, so we aligned the IR port and dialled in over the circuit voice channel, and we could load the blog. 2003 was a bit late for dialup though.

Nokia 6210i

Same as the 6210 but with a 1.3 megapixel cam. Operators had finally repented of trying to make everyone use MMS and therefore squeeze photos into the size mandated by the 3GPP standards group. Sadly, they also made the keys silvery and destroyed its austerity of design. This was the only one I ever lost, from a boozy working lunch at MCI.

Qtek 8100/HTC Amadeus

Working at MCI made that a nonproblem. Very soon we got one of these as a gimme. Technically this was the first smartphone I had, with MS Windows CE and an SD card slot. The back was designed fairly obviously to look a bit like some Apple products, and the whole thing was meant to be a "music phone". That didn't mean it came with any real storage capacity, and I added a 2GB SD card - at the time those cost real money. Having worked out how to configure the data access point, it meant I could read NANOG on the train of a morning until I got banned for three months for swearing. I also managed to permanently reduce the default camera resolution, so a whole holiday's worth of snaps were thumbnails. It was this phone that I took to Singapore and Cape Town in one month and set my personal record mobile bill of £132.

BlackBerry ?

Vodafone sent us one of the BlackBerrys before they were designed to not be hideous, as a review of their hosted BlackBerry service. This was quite impressive, even if it was hard to stop it getting my colleague Sean Jackson's e-mail. My partner was horrified by the blinking, commanding red light, I was delighted by the clickwheel. I took it to 3GSM in Barcelona. VF asked us for it back soon afterwards. I wonder why?

HTC ?

I had this one in early 2006. I can find similar ones, but only from at least a year later - or perhaps we got an early prototype? Anyway, it was similar to this one but with even fewer hardware controls, so only the horribly crap touchscreen. The first one I had with a touchscreen, or WiFi. Didn't really work. It also destroyed the SD card full of songs. Bastards.

HP iPaq 6915w

This one was actually quite impressive in a slightly grim enterprisey way. It provided a touchscreen, a QWERTY keypad, WiFi, and GPS, and it worked when it wasn't crashing. It also had a hard plastic cover that flipped over the screen. I remember deliberately taking a photo on board a plane from London to Dubai to get a GPS fix, and finding that the camera app would look up photos on Multimap (Multimap!) if it could. Also, looking up questions on the Buddha Bar's WiFi from IMDB to settle an argument.

HP wanted it back.

BlackBerry Pearl

Around then, RIM discovered product design and suddenly BlackBerry devices didn't need a tea cosy over them. The first of the new breed was this one, and RIM sent me one, which I took to Cape Town. It worked well and looked good, although it was made of glue and phone calls sounded really odd.

Nokia N73

3 UK announced a new product - the X-Series tariff, which offered Skype! on a mobile. They sent us one. I was impressed and paid for one myself. It was a damn good photo phone and a good all rounder, even if it wasn't pretty. The Skype implementation was disappointing. But the camera was great.

HTC TyTN

I went to an Orange UK product launch. They said there were Nokia E61s going, but I got there late and they were all gone. I got one of these instead - a preview of the future, really. Windows again, with a large but not good touchscreen, and a slide-out QWERTY, and basically top specifications in everything, and a handy click-wheel. The first 3G device I had. My sister then needed a phone and the N73 turned up, so I offered her the gadget. She renamed it the Beast of Telecom but used it for ages.

Nokia E65

I changed operator to 3UK for the X series and stayed for the cheap Internet service. The E65 was part of Nokia's attempt to outcompete RIM on looks - a shiny slide-out device. But the bit that got me was the fact it could read RSS feeds. I could check key blogs on the train!

Nokia E71

Ah, a genuine design classic this one. So much so I've still got it. Mine came in a mix of chrome, white plastic and white leather keys on the QWERTY. The late version of Symbian S60 it ran worked very well unless you wanted to write code for it, in which case you were basically in for a world of tiresome. It felt and looked great and everything built in worked great. And you could just USB it to any computer and wvdial it to get online.

Bizarrely, Nokia shipped it with a 200MB(!) SD card with some apps on it, rather like they sent out crappy tinny headphones with "music phones". Also, the phones socket was at 90 degrees to the phone, so it wouldn't drop into a pocket and never worked well.
Eventually I dropped it and the screen crazed, and I thought it was time for Android.

Samsung GT-i7500

A hacky mess. No QWERTY, which annoys me. Seriously buggy in every way. Made of tickytacky, ugly. Atrocious battery life and radio performance. Crashy, although that's the Google's fault. At least the headphone cockup was avoided. Perhaps some of the 'droid issues are fixed in updates, but the updates never come. (On the other hand, Nokia announced in about 2008 that you could update your phone's software to the latest version...but it would overwrite all the data on it. Thanks!)

And if it runs out of internal storage, it silently drops SMS messages. Fail.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

it wasn't Thursday, and still isn't, so...

So there was this thread with music. It went like this, and then like this, and this, then this, this, this, and finally this. Also a fair amount of stuff about shwi-vet Erik Lund and the most popular man in Britain. But mostly music.

Meanwhile, someone defined a last.fm tag for "oh yeah this is funky".

...like it's 2008!

Having fixed the Viktorfeed, I notice with some pleasure that the activity levels continue to decline. It looks like the last gang in town is "Reliable Unique Services", ICAO:RLB, an alias for Rus Aviation, operating five Il-76, a couple of which served with various version of Click Airways.

Sometimes history is written by the losers

A good post on the notion of "hard Keynesianism" raises some important questions about the recent past of the Labour Party. Hard Keynesianism is the doctrine that, if the government should run a deficit when there's a negative output-gap and therefore unemployment, it should run a surplus when there's a positive output-gap and therefore inflation.

It's trivially true that the government can't increase its indebtedness as a share of the economy forever, so obviously if you do any fiscal stimulus at all you need to think about a budget consolidation some time in the future. But the hardness in the hard Keynesianism comes from the idea that the average balance of the government budget ought to be zero. That is to say, between recessions the government should always be running a surplus, and it should just unwind that to deliver stimulus.

There are several problems with this idea. First of all, getting to the point of running a semi-permanent budget surplus is an enormous job and we ought to be very sure it's a good thing before undertaking it, especially as it involves offering everyone whacking tax rises.

Secondly, big private companies or nationalised industries don't usually target zero net debt just for the sake of it. After all, if you can get a return on investment higher than the cost of capital, i.e. the interest rate you pay, you ought to raise the capital and invest it. In so far as this doesn't happen, running the public sector as a structural saver might cost us all in terms of economic growth. It's not obvious that major infrastructure projects should wait until a recession comes along and gives us an excuse to build.

Thirdly, a permanently reducing supply of government bonds might have unforeseeable consequences in the financial sector. Pension funds are big buyers of government debt because it's considered relatively safe and it's available in different maturities, so they can match the flow of income from it to the expected flow of pensions. If it was in short supply, they'd have to pay much more for it, and as a result, pension rates would be worse. Banks park their spare cash in government securities. The Bank of England trades them in order to manage the interest rate. We don't really know what would happen here.

But finance could react to a shortage of AAA-rated bonds in a couple of ways. One would be to push money into riskier investments. That might in fact help the economy, by getting more money into industry, but you try telling that to people whose savings vanished. Another would be to do what they're doing now, which is just to sit on their cash and do nothing, so we have a demand-deficient recession. A third would be to do what they did a couple of years ago, and invent new AAA assets. And look how that turned out!

And fourthly, we'd have to think hard about what to do with the surplus money. We couldn't risk it, and it would have to be liquid so as to be available in a crisis. Obviously, foreign government bonds...you see where I'm going here.

Now, as far as I can see, the main attraction of hard Keynesianism in Britain is either that it sounds easy to sell because it uses the rhetoric of tough-osity, or else that it's something to throw at Gordon Brown. After all, there is little point complaining about surging public spending in the mid-2000s - because public spending didn't actually surge in the mid-2000s - or that we can't plan on expanding the public sector as a percentage of GDP - because it wasn't historically big or fast-growing in the mid-2000s.

So if your aim is to support the Blairite king-over-the-water, and you're not willing to simply pretend that there was a public spending blowout in 2005-2006, you need an alternative and hard Keynesianism is it. Oddly, if you take into account some of my objections, you end up with something rather like Gordon Brown's fiscal rules.

is there a Corby trouser press, miniature kettle, and teabags in Room 101?

A couple of News of the World things. Just before the Met dropped their effort to bully the Grauniad with the Official Secrets Act, they ran this story about the disastrous attempt to use a supergrass in the Daniel Morgan case. Is this a coincidence? And this quote reads like a Ballardised version of Le Carré:

One of the most "concerning" events for the judge came on 5 September 2006, a month after Eaton was recruited as a supergrass and while officers were still taking his witness statements. Eaton was taken by DCI Cook to a "covert location" near Reading, and left alone in the bedroom of a hotel. He became very distressed and broke down.

Half an hour later Cook – who had been trying to get Eaton to implicate two brothers, Glenn and Garry Vian, in the Morgan murder – sent him a text message that the officer then deleted from his mobile phone, according to the judge's ruling.

An hour after Eaton had been put into the hotel room he changed his story and prepared a statement implicating the Vian brothers in the murder for the first time.


That's none other than Dave Cook, the policeman who was being followed around London by the Murdochs' private investigators in an effort to protect Alex Marunchak, on the instructions of Greg Miskiw. I wonder who else read the text message?

Also, if the police story that a junior officer on the Operation Weeting case launched the OSA effort all on his lonesome while the handover to the new chief was going on is at all true, I think we probably know who one of the moles is.

he's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy

Did anyone else read this and this and get the horrible feeling that Maurice Glasman is over-promoted, and likely to crash in some really embarrassing way, even more than he has done already? It reminds me a bit of Tony Blair at his elevenarife worst or one of those people who are caught pretending to be commanding the SAS from a Kwik Save in Eccleshill.

Not only was he advising Ed Miliband, but David as well! And it seems he was giving them diametrically opposite advice, as if to find out what would happen! Not only was he an obscure lecturer, but he was literally starving! But when he became a member of the House of Lords, he was able to build a new storey on his house in Hackney!

(Hint: probably best not boast about using your parliamentary attendance-money to build an extension. Just because it's not a duckhouse...)

Also, this: Rather than giving a single mother housing benefit, Blue Labour is more likely to give her a stake in a community land trust.

Where is all this land in, say, Islington, the borough with two grass football pitches and one of them is Arsenal, coming from? Further, where will she live and how will she avoid eviction during the years the CLT will need to round up financing and fight its way through the planning process before the project even breaks ground? Wouldn't it be easier if she could just, eh, stay in her home rather than move to some vague new construction project God-knows-where?

Also, I'm sure some of us can relate to this:

Then I suddenly thought of David, and the grief, and James [Purnell], and the party, and the bitterness, and I thought, I'm glad I'm in Shoreditch today.


Just dance, you'll be OK, right? No, actually, nothing that fun, he was at somebody or other's wedding and staring at his phone for news.

is this normal?

It seems that the Islington Gazette's usually very funny problem page isn't coming back from their recent re-design. Perhaps I should write and tell them I have a problem.

a restraining influence on the rate of retrogression

So, I had a drink with the most popular man in England on Thursday. Something which came up in the conversation was that apparently, some UK and European central institutions' press offices are handing out "tokens" to lobbyists. Tokens? This meant nothing to me, but apparently what was meant is that they are counting meetings with lobbyists and monitoring the counts to see if they appear to be giving one company or other preferential access. And the reason is that lobbying information is being analysed by journalists and other malcontents with their stinkin' computer diaries.

Of course, they can always go and meet secretly at White's or the meeting room of some dreadful wanktank, but they could do that before and they seem to find official lobbying worth their while or else they wouldn't do it. I suspect that corporate lobbyists are the sort of people whose behaviour is accurately modelled by the toolkit of neoliberal economics, like psychopaths and economists themselves.

In tangentially related news, did you know that there was a serious proposal to rebuild the Houses of Parliament as a Benthamite panopticon in the 1840s? MP Joseph Hume thought Millbank Prison had been such a success that a parliamentary panopticon might be a good idea, or at least he did a piece for Bentham's Westminster Review arguing for it. Whether he was in earnest or taking the piss I have no idea.

I suppose you could have a single citizen, chosen by lot, at the top of the tower...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

the worst thing that can happen is actually pretty bad

This is wrong, not just for the methodological reasons given. The problem is more serious. What's so great about optimal decisions after all? Absolute optimality has costs.

Specifically, even if consultation doesn't help you achieve an optimal decision, it may help avoid a decision that is dramatically pessimal for some particular person or group of people. That's worth something. Economists, especially, ought to remember this as the whole idea of Pareto efficiency comes with Pareto's further point that a step towards optimal efficiency in any given market is not necessarily a step towards perfection overall.

Further, in practice, people who refuse to consult in the hope of making an optimal decision are quite likely to be rationalising the avoidance of information they don't like or just their own arrogance. In that case, they're very likely to make a really bad decision. It's better to miss the cost-index speed by a couple of knots than stall the plane into the sea. Programmers are taught to remember that premature optimisation is the root of all evil.

A couple of points in the upshot. Do we lose more from not attaining perfection than we do from horrible bungling? For a practical example, are all those superbly conceptualised deadweight losses and x-inefficiencies that are meant to be in the economy in the event of any state intervention whatsoever anywhere near enough to match the lasting losses of financial crisis? Enormous efforts are made to squeeze the long-term unemployed back into the job market. But the numbers are clear - people lose work in recessions and then don't find it again.

Wouldn't it be better to hold the line, putting up with one parmesan shaving less on my martini in the good times, rather than waste time and money and bother a lot of poor bastards trying to fix it later? Kurzarbeit beats the piss out of A4E.

More generally, loss-aversion is often considered to be a cognitive bias. One of the things the recurring drama of the rogue trader tells us is that someone who tells you it's only a little loss and it's worth it for the potential upside is very often lying or deluded. Isn't loss aversion actually quite a sensible heuristic for most purposes? After all, many of the things it would warn you against are actually sure losers, like gambling, smoking, and voting Conservative.

That gets me to the final point. How dare anyone have the intellectual dishonesty to argue against social democracy on the grounds that stuff happens and we need safety first and to respect individual variety and old institutions and no plan survives contact with the enemy? Avoiding disasters and silly experiments is our thing, and if that's conservatism, well, vote Labour.

Of course, my own experiment with voting Lib Dem is exhibit A.

oh fuck hell, it's that extensive future-of-the-Labour-party post at last.

OK, I've been thinking about this for a while. My problem with the whole "Blue Labour" concept, and further, the love-affair between people like James Purnell and American "community organisers" is this: If you're so smart, why haven't you got health insurance?"

Seriously. Isn't trying to learn from the American Left a bit like trying to design a football team by studying Plymouth Argyle and the career of Peter Ridsdale? Obviously, there is much to be said for the analysis of failure as a road to knowledge. The aviation industry made a whole trade and a near religion out of crash investigation, anonymous reporting through CHIRP, etc, with excellent results. But it's far from obvious that Glassman and friends have spent much time on the failures of US progressive politics.

Part of this is the unvarying, universal force of time. We all idealise the causes and methods that marked our lives. For Maurice Glassman, it's the US civil rights movement in the 1960s. He looks at himself and remembers the marchers of Birmingham, Alabama. Other people recall the rainbow coalitions of the 80s, the 1992 Clinton campaign, the campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment running up to the Seattle G8. History defines us before we define it, in opposition to Winston Churchill's remark about shaping the things we build that thereafter shape us. That's why he's so keen on churches.

But what made civil rights work? It wasn't just grassroots organising. Neither was it the intervention of the Feds or the Democratic control of Congress and the White House. Both things had happened before.

Many of the institutions of black self-organisation had existed for years without achieving anything like it. Similarly, even Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration hadn't even tried particularly hard. Part of the problem was that not all of them even agreed that society could be changed - the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X's career before his break with the Nation are cases in point - or that it could be changed short of the final world revolution, like the communists thought.

British workers had plenty of miners' welfare clubs and brass bands in the Great Depression, too, and indeed the First Depression of the 1870s. But nobody seems to have found that satisfactory.

What I'm driving at is that neither Labour, nor the civil rights movement, achieved anything much until they lined up the movement at the grass roots, their own institutions, their influence in other institutions, and a central government that was basically sympathetic. Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were willing to send the army and the FBI to enforce the law on the unofficial powers - the flip side of the big society - of the South. Democratic appointees to the courts, the National Labor Relations Board, and a million other committees were available to hear their arguments. The grassroots institutions of Labour were there to hold Attlee and Wilson's feet to the fire, just as the Tory thinktank/lobby/academic world was there to hold Thatcher's feet to the fire.

There is no contradiction between the broader movement and the electoral party. This is a false dichotomy.

But what are those institutions today? Of course, the biggest are the unions. At the other end of the scale, perhaps the blogosphere might even count, eh.

One thing they are probably not is religious. Glassman seems to imagine that we can all win by making friends with the churches. Unfortunately, the biggest religious group in the UK is unbelief and the next biggest is Anglicanism, and there are at least as many church Tories and worse (pseudo-American rightist evangelicals) as there are fans of Faith in the City, which is a bit of a while ago now.

Another thing they are not is anything other than "urban and metropolitan". This is something both "Blue" and "Purple" like to moan about. The great majority of the British live in cities or their suburbs and quite a few of those in London. Further, they have stopped moving out of them and reversed course. If the MLK porn element of Blue Labour is an American import, this is a much less desirable one - it's the usual crap from David Brooks about Real Americans, who by definition have pickup trucks, etc, etc. We don't need this crap.

By definition, an electoral strategy that is founded on winning the hearts and minds of a shrinking minority of a minority - religious people, susceptible of conversion to Labour, who live in the countryside! - can only fail. It is a question of arithmetic. There aren't enough of 'em! Even in London, this all risks shedding Labour people like the unionised bus drivers who live around here at at least the rate god-botherers are signed up.

Come to think of it, the only solution to the equation is if the electoral turn-out keeps falling, faster. If you assume that the religious will keep voting (an assumption borrowed from the Americans), perhaps there's something to be said for clinging to the last voter. But that would work as well for the activist Left and the unions. Anyway, I somehow doubt the final extinction of the swing voter is actually what anyone wants. Even if the whole political class does sometimes seem to be trying to foster extreme cynicism as a strategy.

Anyway, to take this to the bridge. Not so long ago it looked like the Obama campaign would be the model we would take with us, what with its RESTful interfaces and ward teams and whatnot. Now that looks like a busted flush, a depressing miss, a lucky shot in an off year for the other side. The saddest bit being the vanishing of the movement.

A question: the last time the British Labour movement launched a new, independent, task specific organising effort was the Anti-Nazi League. What is the equivalent for economic aims, and would anyone dare?

tagged!

Term-extraction algorithms have the disturbing property of making things sound more interesting than they really are. These are WordPress's suggested tags for the last blog post:

community organisers, multilateral agreement on investment, plymouth argyle, james purnell, crash investigation


Way more fun than just another future of the Labour Party post. This is of course inherent in the methodology. You're trying to identify statistically significant variance in the corpus used, so the weirdness pops out from the background. Like teal and orange.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

again with the central bank thing

London Banker:
Because they now have the role of market maker of last resort, central banks should become much more active in ensuring that any asset permitted to be classed as capital by a bank can be liquidated on demand in a public market.


If this is so, then they must needs take a view on the value of all sorts of assets and therefore of all sorts of capital investment. This brings us back to a point I was making earlier on - whether the independent central bank is a valid institutional model any more.

the good news is that the No.1 lobby is no longer a bank...

OK, I've added hundreds more government meetings to the Lobster Project webscraper and run the analytics script. We're up to 3,825 lobbying events between 2,725 entities, which lobster.py reports processing in 4.63 seconds.

Here are two depressing findings. First of all, Francis Maude is still the fourth most lobbied minister, although his gatekeepership has dropped somewhat. We retain our Strong Buy rating on him and also on Oliver Letwin. Second, there's been a shakeup of the lobbies - Facebook has dropped out of the top 20 but the lobbying star is BAE Systems, which has surged into the top 5, scrabbling above Barclays Bank to become the UK's biggest single private lobby. That's right, banking has fallen behind armaments.

Is the government considering ordering the Type 26 frigates? Or backing out of the F-35? Or switching to the Sea Gripen fighter, which the Bungling Baron of British Waste O'Space has a 30-odd% finger in? Who knows...

Actually, this is probably just an artefact of the MOD being unusually conscientious about disclosing lobbying information and that theirs comes in a sensible format rather than in a locked filing cabinet, behind a door marked Beware of the Leopard...sorry, in a mangled PDF file.

Lobster Project tip of the day is probably Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton, Education PUSS. With a gatekeepership of 1.228 (i.e. a 23% uplift in influence from lobbying him) he's significantly underlobbied at a network degree of 0.075. Somebody, buy him an intern.

Although Nick Clegg is in third place overall, I note that his gatekeepership is down to 0.34 and that therefore, there's little hope of getting access to the prime minister through him.

...wi nowt taken out

What is it with Tories and loan-sharking? We all know about Francis Maude, the toxic pusher and secret ruler of the world, or at least we all should - he was a director of a company offering dodgy "debt consolidation" deals, and also Spanish sub-prime mortgages that were marketed as an inheritance tax avoidance scheme.

And then there's this purely commercial transaction:
Records lodged with the Electoral Commission reveal that the Funding Corporation Group Ltd (FCGL), based in Warwickshire, donated £105,000 to the Tories on 24 June. The company also gave £25,000 last December.

FCGL owns 99.9% of the Funding Corporation Ltd which sells cars on hire purchase plans to drivers with poor credit ratings through a subsidiary, ACF Car Finance. The Funding Corporation Ltd also owns a debt recovery business, Red2Black Collections.

The companies are ultimately owned by Lord Edmiston, a staunch Tory party supporter and Christian philanthropist, who gave the Conservatives almost £300,000 between 2004 and 2009 under his own name....

One man described in an online forum how he nearly bought a £7,000 car from ACF that would have ended up costing him £325 a month over 60 months, a total cost of £19,500, equivalent to an interest rate of almost 200%. Another bought a car valued at £5,995. But the true cost when interest and PPI was factored in came to £16,445...

Measures that would have forced the lenders to curb some of their practices, were voted down by Lib Dem and Tory MPs on 28 June.


Nice mates you've got there, as they say. Eeeuww. For me it's the Christian stuff that really makes me want to throw up. Yer man had some things to say about the ethical aspects of credit, I think. And there's the surprisingly picayune, penny-ante nature of the whole deal. Did you know you could get control of the Coalition whipping operation for a mere £105k? The Yorkshire Building Society has actually offered to lend me - me! - twice as much. I'm sure I could find an issue worth enough to make the deal wash its face.

But of course some people's money is worth more than others'. The Tories bitch endlessly about the trade unions giving to the Labour Party. But the real point is that UNITE's members can fork over millions collectively and Labour will do bugger all in return. At least the Tories are honestly venal - perhaps they could adopt the motto "Good Honest Corruption". As for the other lot, well... I suspect, though, if I were to put together a syndicate of bloggers to outbid Edmiston they would find some excuse.

Circling back to the beginning, though, they say history doesn't repeat but it rhymes. When it was fashionable to whine about local authorities advertising jobs in the Guardian, I pointed out that the Sun and the News of the World were permanently full of adverts for loans and specifically for debt-consolidation. A question: how much, do you reckon, the Edmiston companies, Prestbury Holdings, and its subsidiaries spent on advertising with News International? Also, what's the betting one of these guys turns out to own Eric Pickles?

it's not Thursday, so...

Time for a non-Thursday music post.



And again:



In other "things that are good" news, I want one of these.
In Cybernetic Revolutionaries, Eden Medina tells the history of two intersecting utopian visions, one political and one technological. The first was Chile's experiment with peaceful socialist change under Salvador Allende; the second was the simultaneous attempt to build a computer system that would manage Chile's economy. Neither vision was fully realized--Allende's government ended with a violent military coup; the system, known as Project Cybersyn, was never completely implemented--but they hold lessons for today about the relationship between technology and politics. Drawing on extensive archival material and interviews, Medina examines the cybernetic system envisioned by the Chilean government--which was to feature holistic system design, decentralized management, human-computer interaction, a national telex network, near real-time control of the growing industrial sector, and modeling the behavior of dynamic systems. She also describes, and documents with photographs, the network's Star Trek-like operations room, which featured swivel chairs with armrest control panels, a wall of screens displaying data, and flashing red lights to indicate economic emergencies. Studying project Cybersyn today helps us understand not only the technological ambitions of a government in the midst of political change but also the limitations of the Chilean revolution. This history further shows how human attempts to combine the political and the technological with the goal of creating a more just society can open new technological, intellectual, and political possibilities.

Chaos as a deliberate strategy

Yadda yadda China cyberwar. I make the point that the Chinese infosec environment is characterised by chaos, there isn't a well-defined centre of activity probably enjoying offical tolerance or more like the old Russian Business Network*, and that the great firewall is about censorship and also a sort of trade-barrier protecting the locals from competition. It's an interesting point why the Chinese Internet got so awful. Structure is a big part of it; rapid economic growth, lots of software piracy, and therefore a hell of a lot of old Windows machines that don't get patches. But I do wonder, as with all sorts of other Chinese issues, to what extent internal chaos with selectively porous borders is a strategy.

Meanwhile, Four Lions is still a documentary.

*You might say we've just not found it yet. But the distinction is that the Russians wanted you to know it was out there.

Irrational policy design

David "I was right" Blanchflower's Right Blog is right. On this occasion he's right about polling results. The public apparently thinks that Osborne's fiscal policy is bad for the economy, unfair, too fast, excessive, and is affecting their lives directly. They're also worried about unemployment and public service cuts. Which they also think are "necessary" by a surprisingly strong majority (57-33) although they disapprove of them by almost as strong a majority(55-30, the don't knows making up the difference).

Well, funny old public. Consistent much? Obviously part of this is Waring's pony. The public would quite like deficit reduction as long as they didn't have to have any of the consequences. Similarly, a majority would quite like a pony. Also, hardly anyone would argue for keeping the public sector net cash requirement at recession levels forever so the question is not entirely logical.

But I think this does have some interesting political consequences. If you want a policy to get implemented, I think you need some element that opinion will stick to even if all the other indicators are flashing red. It may, actually, be the irrational element. In this case it's "necessity" and it draws on the complex of ideas around economics-as-morality. You might even come over romantic and say it would be the poetic element of policy.

don't forget the power

Because Chris Dillow has spam-bucketed me again, like quite a few TypePad sites periodically do, this comment will go here instead. Chris discusses a paper claiming that fiscal stimulus will not work because the central bank will put up interest rates and the exchange rate will rise, and quite sensibly points out that it doesn't make sense to expect the exchange rate to rise in a punishing recession with a large budget deficit. (Unsurprisingly both Tim Worstall* and George Osborne believe this or at least make out like they do.)

Anyway, my comment is that if you look at this from a political economy perspective rather than a macroeconomics perspective it does make sense. Central bank independence, as an institution, is meant to reduce politicians' discretionary power over the economy. Therefore, it's not actually surprising that the central bank might be trying to counteract the decisions of the minister of finance. I mean, Jürgen Stark and friends designed the ECB specifically to implement deflationary policies in the event that the elected power wanted the opposite.

And why would politicians accept this? In a perspective of political economy, this might be because they felt the unelected power would serve their interests, because they felt it was stronger than they were and it would get its way, or because they were simply unaware of any contradiction. Of course, what we choose to be unaware of is a deeply political decision.

Further, a Kaleckian would say it does indeed make sense to look at central bank independence as an institution whose purpose is to prevent full employment.

*Bizarrely, Tim is or claims to be unaware that the European Central Bank is an independent central bank. Let's roll the tape:
“what on earth was the ECB doing raising interest rates this year?”

That’s the problem with government as a whole really isn’t it? Sometimes the idiots get in. Far better to have a system where the idiots can’t do any harm even if they do get in: you know, that minarchist state thing?


Tim Worstall: the only man on earth who thinks the European Central Bank is elected.

Boundaries. Now there's dull for you

Just as so much Blair era culture-page handwringing about why my kids came back from university, in hindsight, was a way of not talking about wages, student debt, and housing, people tend to lose sight of the central role of politics when they make arguments about "filter bubbles". The original post over at Flipchart Fairytales is actually pretty good, but I had to take issue with the argument about Americans increasingly living in counties that swing to one party or the other by large majorities.

The problem is that it's very easy to change the boundaries of an American city or county or congressional district and they do it all the time. There are even people who make a good living acting as consultants to local politicians on how best to re-district their political opponents out of their constituency or their political supporters back in.

Movements of population are slow, but boundaries can be changed at the stroke of a pen. Thereafter, of course, they are real facts about power and they have an impact on the real world. That is of course why American politicians do it, and why a system that sounds like Shirley Porter stamping on a human face forever is allowed to persist. Both parties benefit, although the Republicans enjoy the usual hostage-taker's bonus.

It doesn't do to miss out power if you're thinking politics.

So, we're about to have our own redistricting festival. Here's Lib Dem Voice whistling past the graveyard and moaning about this Democratic Audit piece. The proposals will be published on Tuesday and there will then be some 12 weeks of "public consultation", but not public inquiries. (LDV points out that public inquiries are scary and have politicians and lawyers, but then, democracy is scary and detailed and has lawyers and politicians, and they have to listen to the results of a public inquiry.)

There is a timetable for the hearings here.

I've said before that really, everything in this exercise should be opposed as being basically dishonest. We shouldn't be having a boundary review to make Tories feel nice about the AV referendum. Any ideas?

the Conservatives really do hate you as much as you feared

In the light of this it's fairly clear that open data as a project is now over. (Hey, it was the week it turned out the government wants to just throw away the Forensic Science Service's archive, you know, just hire a skip because who wants a load of old stuff, right?)

Tory plans seem to require that eventually, with full implementation of free schools and any-qualified-provider, the entire health and education sectors be excluded from either the Freedom of Information Act or any requirement to gather standard statistics. At the same time, presumably, we are all expected to exercise "choice" among 'em.

It ought to be obvious that the purpose of this is that your local community school, or "school school" as I think of them, will still have to be listed in league tables and whatnot while your local twat-madrassa will be able to bullshit without limit about its results. It is worth remembering that, years later, Kenneth Baker admitted to the Grauniad's Nick Davies that he deliberately tried to make the state schools awful so people would go private.

Another thought: what happens to that funny "Dr Foster" thing that sort-of privately mined NHS data to provide doctors with best-practice recommendations if they're not going to bother with boring data an stuff and just hack away?

discovering the axis of barking

The Grauniad Dabatlog has produced a rather fancy network visualisation of the sources cited in Anders Behring Breivik's personal manifesto/horse-shit compendium. This is great as I now don't need to worry that I perhaps should have made one. It's very pretty and you can click on stuff, and see that some of the sources are thinktanks and some of them are newspapers, and well, it's very pretty and you can click on stuff. It also comes with a piece by Andrew Brown reprising his "Don't be beastly to the creationists!" shtick but with Melanie Phillips, for some reason.

Unfortunately it's almost completely intransparent, and gives little indication of what data is being visualised or on what basis, and there is really no obvious conclusion to draw from it. But did I mention pretty and click? If forced to take a view, I would reckon that the underlying data is probably a matrix of which sources appear together with others and the layout algo is a force-directed graph (aka the default in pretty much any visualisation toolkit), probably weighted by appearance count. There's some sort of proprietary metric called "linkfluence" which appears to be given by(indegree/outdegree)*len(neighbourhood) or words to that effect.

As a result, the only information I got from it was that he linked to Wikipedia, the BBC, and big news sites a lot. Well yes; Wikipedia, bbc.co.uk, etc, generate a hell of a lot of web pages and people read them a lot. Obviously, to say the least, you need to normalise the data with regard to sheer bulk, or you'd end up concluding that Google (or Bing or Yahoo) was his inspiration because he did a lot of web searches, or that he was a normal man twisted by SMTP because he used e-mail.

In fact, I thought they actually did that until I realised that RSS.org is about the other RSS, the Indian extreme-right movement, not the popular Internet syndication standard. Harrowell fail. Anyway, it does show up rather nicely that the groups "European nationalists", "Counter-Jihad", and "American Right-Wing" overlap. However, I feel there's something missing in the characterisation of MEMRI and various other sites as just "Think Tanks" as if they were just like, say, IPPR.

Also, an emergent property of the data is that there is an Axis of Barking running vertically through it: the nearer you are to the top of the diagram, the more extreme and crazy. MEMRI, FrontPage, Gates of Vienna, Melanie Phillips are near the top; the Wikipedia article on the Russo-Turkish War of 1878 is at the bottom. And the MSM is somewhere in the middle. (Although I do wonder if they allocated the sources to groups before or after running the force-directed graph.)

It seems to be one of those command the exciting world of social media with just one click! things.

Anyway, upshot. I want to avoid Project Lobster producing a diagram like this one. It's too impressionistic and fluffy and reliant on basically aesthetic reasoning. (I think we've had this point before.) Of course, that's partly the difference between the underlying data sets; it was at least thinkable if unlikely that there would be no grouping in Breivik's sources, while presumably political lobbying is nonrandom and subject to intelligent design.

Elsewhere, a reader passed this along which I need to actually watch (isn't video time consuming?). There's a shindig in Warsaw in late October. And I want this on a T-shirt.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

all is right with the world

Did anyone notice that Liam Fox had an audience of Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, or I suppose they of him although you know how these things work around here, some time this spring? It's in the latest MOD meetings disclosure, which runs up to March 2011. MOD is probably the most assiduous department for meetings disclosure - not only do they provide lists up to March, they have yet to randomly change the file format even once, insert random foreign characters, use multiple spellings of the minister's surname, suddenly start publishing PDF files, or indulge in any other quirks. (On the other hand, the Cabinet Office has suddenly developed an addiction to PDFs.)

However, I notice that this meeting doesn't have a date, nor a purpose. It's just there - Liam Fox, Rupert, and Becks. It's possible that this is a quirk, as immediately before it there is a meeting listed with John Witherow of the Sunday Times for a "Defence Briefing" in March 2011 and perhaps they interpolated the duplicate items. (The doctrine of just war, however, does require as well as just cause and reasonable chances of success that the decision be taken by legitimate authority.)

Meanwhile, WhosLobbying.com has a problem with the Home Office, in that if you try to look up the Home Office on their website, the site chokes and returns a 500 internal server error.

I suppose it's understandable. If you want any other shocking document release stories, the Daily Hell has plenty. I especially like the image of Blair in the den, plugging through the borrowed prose of Saif Gaddafi's PhD thesis. Haven't I seen this before somewhere?

as for the Mahler, I think it could do with a helipad

China's neo-con blogging fever-swamp, via (of course) Jamie K.

For instance, Gao Yi, a well-known music critic, tweeted: "Compared with a war, US$7 billion is much more worthwhile. Right now, we lack the off-shore staging capacity for a mid-intensity war.


A well-known music critic? Now that's special. You don't get detailed comment on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary's seabasing capability from Martin Kettle when he's in one of his SUCK ON MY CULTURE, PROLE moods, or indeed when he's editorialising, do you? Does Brian Sewell take a view on whether the much delayed Maritime Afloat Replenishment Ship project should go down the Dutch/Canadian JSS route, perhaps building on licence from Schelde in the UK, or stick with specialised tanker and dry-replenishment hulls?

It's a pity that this doesn't mean their politics is any more pacific.

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