Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Three strikes?

"Lord" the right Honourable Mandelson.

Is he right? is he honourable? I'd like to propose that he's neither of these things. He's not right, in that he's totally wrong about his proposed three strikes legislation, and he's most certainly not honourable by any definition of the word other than "it's a word you can stick in front of your name if you are a Lord". If one uses the definition that one would expect - adhering to ethical and moral principles - then he's pretty much the opposite of honourable. I'd go so far as to say that he's a lying, cheating, unethical scumbag who takes backhanders wherever possible, schmoozes with the rich bunch, and uses his position for financial gain over and above any service to our country.

And don't forget that he is unelected - he's in a position of power that was gifted to him by Gordon Brown, who is also unelected.

But, to the matter at hand. Three Strikes legislation, at it's simplest, is intended to stop people breaking copyright legislation by cracking down on people who share files. If they are identified to have broken the law enough to be given three warnings, then they get their internet cut off. At first glance, this might not seem too ridiculous, but give it two glances, and the holes immediately appear. For one - who is supposed to spot this supposed lawbreaking? ISPs in the UK are legally protected from the implications of carrying third party traffic - they have no liability for the traffic over their network, and they achieve this by one simple rule - they don't look at what you do. It's equivalent to the royal mail not being required to open everyone's letters to see what's in them.

The only way to enforce such legislation would be to force ISPs to examine traffic and report "bad" traffic to some central authority. Of course, some people in government would love the right to do this, but as soon as you start enforcing examination of the data flowing over the network, then the ISPs will become responsible for every type of traffic they carry, and that's the thin end of a very large, very fat wedge. What happens when you post a picture of your children and someone considers that child pornography? Do you think it's reasonable for some third party to have the right to read every email you send, and listen in on every phone conversation you have? looking at what the Communications Decency Act proposed, and the legal response to that, it's exactly the end result that will inevitably happen as soon as you enforce examination of the contents of your internet traffic.

The proposal also fails to take into account personal liability and responsibility with regards to who owns or maintains the internet connection. What happens if my child gets three strikes on my line? does my internet business lose connection? What happens if the line is a shared or communal line? What about one strike each for three students using the same internet connection?

The real nail in the coffin is the idea that the traffic itself will remain visible and examinable. As soon as this legislation comes into effect, then the first thing that will happen is that people will switch to using software that forces encryption of their traffic, making it much harder (and potentially impossible) for someone to examine the traffic and determine that they are breaking the law. There's proof of concept software out there already that shows that this works, is real, and is viable- the only thing stopping people switching to use it is any real reason to move away from the software they are comfortable with. Having their internet disconnected would be enough of a spur for most people.

And what does Mandelson achieve by bringing this legislation into effect? Will it make people buy more media? Will curtailing copying put more money into the pockets of the creative industries? Virtually every third party survey and poll says no. People who consume media will often buy that media, so stopping them from consuming it will reduce sales, and stopping piracy does not mean that all of those copies would be converted into sales. The math and rhetoric simply does not add up.

One thing that will add up however, is Peter Mandelson's bank balance. I'm sure he'll enjoy discussing this with his friends once he pushes it through the commons.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For Marek

One of my team at work died, last night. He was a splendid chap, very funny, always happy, and obviously deeply in love with his wife. He will be missed, by myself and all of the other folks who knew him. My deepest sympathy goes out to Virginia and his family.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Filtration system

Mass market media is often discussed in terms of being a filter on society. 50 years ago, when you could count the number of Television broadcast channels on one hand, and when most news came via newspapers published by a small subset of powerful media companies, I can see how that is relevant.

Society is comprised of individuals, and we each have our own stories. Filtered views onto this make a lot of sense - How could we possibly cope with the information overflow that would come with being directly exposed to hundreds of stories from other people's lives? How could we make rational decisions and be informed of pertinent world events when someone somewhere is dying right this second?

Except this is exactly what we are exposed to now, with social grouping tools like Facebook and Twitter and with story aggregation tools ranging from Google news to Fark. Media is no longer a filter, it's a multiplier.

The established mass media still fills a role, but that role has become less informational and more like a bragging teenager. This is understandable given that their audience has always been the buyers of advertising space rather than the consumers of the media themselves, but without the crutch of legitimacy that comes from being a relevant informational stream, many television channels, newspapers and radio channels are falling back on creating their own story streams, playing off the exposed lives of a tiny subset of the real world and creating a huge amount of noise around these people as though they should matter to the rest of us.

I find it terrifying that huge portions of our population really care about a pop singer dying (Michael Jackson or Stephen Gately, take your pick). Sharing the information once is relevant, constructing a story around that information is fiction. I find it terrifying that similarly huge portions of our population seem to think that the empty posturing of a has-been model and her washed out pop-star ex husband are deserving of such lavish media attention, when lives could actually be changed if any of a thousand other people had the same airtime to disseminate their knowledge and views. Where is the Johnny ball of the naughties?

So, we've lost that filter that mass media used to provide, and I think our society is being lead by the hand in the wrong direction by the established powers. However, their downfall has been at hand for long enough now to make them pretty much irrelevant, if you have the willpower and foresight to simply avoid them. Starting with Digg, Reddit and Wikipedia, you can construct your own filter, participate and weave your own stories. You don't need the mass media, you never did - it was always the other way around.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who's the boss?

A fantastic blog post about the hierarchy of The Office caught my attention today. I enjoyed the post and the author's writing style enough to branch out into his other posts, which is fairly rare for me. Look for Venkatesh's blog RibbonFarm in my list over to the side there.

Don't worry, I'll wait.

I occasionally (not often, I'll admit) worry about my place in the world, whether I'm doing the right job, whether I'm doing the right thing for my team, my company, and even Disney. It's interesting to see a deconstruction which implies that most people are either in this for themselves (it's all about the money, baby!) and where people who buy into corporate policy are effectively used as career fodder - where working at a company, devoting your time and effort to creating something, are seen as somehow less valuable than amassing wealth and climbing the ladder to the top.

I have always thought that the best thing to be doing is something creative. Creating something that myself or society can enjoy or derive value from (even if it's for a second, like a smile or singing a song) is more important than establishing a history or a position of wealth or power. It's a fundamental truth that you can't take that stuff with you, so you may as well enjoy the ride - and hell, if you're going to enjoy it, why not help the people around you enjoy it as well? If the joy you bring happens to last a lifetime (Say, you invented something cool like the internal combustion engine) then so much the better. Attaching the value of that thing to the concept of wealth storage seems to be the big flaw in this whole process.

I have been musing about this a lot recently, and I think I need to mull it over a bit more to get to the point where I can braindump in any form that will be a coherent read, so I'll leave it for now, but the gist of it is - it's not the love of money that's the root of all evil. The love of money is just the emotional response of people who can't see there is more to value than bartering chips. No - the root of all evil really is money itself, the separation of the intrinsic value of a thing from the thing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Where did all the money go?

some pretty interesting news over the last few days.

First off - american bank insurance.

the FDIC is, essentially, bust. It has enough reserves to cover a few more banks going bust, but given that over 100 have gone bust this year already, chances are they're going to run out of money. Who is going to stump up the shortfall? I'll give you a clue - it's not going to be the banks.

Second - gold prices.

It's been a fair set of up and down swings recently, but given the mind-bogglingly huge amount of money the US, UK and other central banks are printing and releasing into their economies, supply inflation was inevitable. Price inflation has been "negative" for the last year, but anyone who thinks that can continue given that house price falls have mostly been pegged by the governments and banks, and given that oil prices are double their lows from last year and moving up again - well, I think it's pretty safe to say that the combination of those three things only points one way, and that's big big inflation in the coming couple of years.

The governments will do everything they can to lie to the general public about the reality of this, and any business (take Nationwide as an example) that has a vested interest in green shoots, recoveries and the like will be tooting the "everything is fine" horn - but it's not. It's a long, long way from fine.

Lastly - the dollar as a world currency is beginning to show cracks.

The Chinese have a huge vested interest in helping maintain the value of the dollar, due to the massive amount of reserves they are sitting on. However, if the Fed continue to print money, China know that their stock of paper will dwindle in real value, and fast. They will have to shift from relying on exports to internal consumption to maintain growth, but given the poverty gap of the majority of their citizens compared to most first world countries, they can do that in spades as long as they can afford the energy. Which leads to the conclusion that they will most likely want to separate their dollar reserve value and their energy costs, and unless they cash in those paper reserves, the only other alternative is to stop buying oil in dollars.

Many other governments are talking about pricing oil in a basket of currencies, and if this doesn't happen soon I'll eat my gold.

Gold may be a pretty bad hedge in times of inflation (historically it's been good and terrible depending on circumstances) but there's one thing that's nigh-on useless in times of inflation, and that's cash in the bank.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reality check

One of the issues I have with the MWI multiverse theory is infinite state proliferation. Let's take some starting assumptions - reality begins with a single state, it progresses in a quantized fashion (it "ticks"), and the state change duration (the tick length) is equivalent to Planck time.

After a single tick, assuming every possible variant is explored (every "choice" that can happen does happen), you have three options, which really resolve to two possible subsequent potential states. Either the exploration of states collapses back to a single state, or every single possible state continues as a new existent reality (effectively an infinite number of new states), or a subset of that infinite set continues. Without any way to quantify the effective subset to some finite subset, that really leaves two options - one new reality, or an infinite number of new realities.

Bear in mind, that's after one tick - and you get roughly 10 ^ 44 of those every second. So the complexity of the possible choice sets (if the multiverse does not collapse to a single state after each tick) is a proliferation of an infinite number of choices for each starting reality, every tick, again and again.

If an infinite number of realities boggles the mind, how much harder is it to comprehend the vastness of allowing all potential realities to propagate, as would be required if the set of possible states did not collapse each time the state progressed?

And if the set does collapse back to one reality, what dictates the choice, and surely that precludes continued exploration of each of those infinite choices that have just collapsed, ruling out the opportunity of existing or exploring the multiverse (hopping realities, that sort of thing).

If one assumes that the complexity of the reality state is not actually infinite, but is in fact bounded by some finite but hideously complex state (as an arbitrary example, "counting up" all the available particles and extrapolating a finite state complexity from that) then that would suggest a comprehensible non-infinite set of reality choices, even though the complexity does still scale at a nearly mind-boggling rate.

However, if that's the case, then even if the multiverse is comprised of every possible alternative state that could have ever existed - it's still not infinite. That means that it's possible to rule out some hypothetical states from the actual set of available multiverse states, assuming that one states with an infinite number of possible hypothetical states.

If one takes current computational parallelism as a paradigm, it could be hypothesised that "running" the multiverse equates to execution of all available reality states each state change transition, followed by selection of the valid state. Parallels can be drawn with our current understanding of quantum computing although I wonder if the execution is speculative (leading to a collapse of the reality set) or continued. If the Copenhagen interpretation is to be believed, the observer is the fundamental cause of the collapse, but not given credit for the result of the collapse. However, given that the observer cannot be treated classically but any observation should be regarded in itself as a quantum phenomena, what does that mean in causal terms for the initial state split or propagation?

Just because I can't wrap my head around the vastness of it all doesn't mean it's true. Still, it makes my brain hurt.