THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Technology" Feed

THINK - The Economics of Change | Institute of Economic Affairs

THINK - The Economics of Change | Institute of Economic Affairs.

I thought some of you might like to watch in full the talk at the IEA's "Think" conference last year that was referenced in my previous post. Dr Stephen Davis, the IEA's Director of Education, talks about driverless cars, 800 year life-spans and (which I forgot to mention, but is fascinating in its own right) "vertical farming".  

Apparently, and here's a fact to confuse a libertarian, the war on drugs has led to advances in horticulture. Driven underground, those cultivating illegal drugs have developed techniques that could lead, if more widely applied, to mankind feeding itself using 10% of the land currently being farmed. Great areas of the planet could be returned to prairie, steppe or forest. Of course it's also possible that we will simply feed ten times the number of humans from the same land and/or (I suppose, deviating imaginatively from Dr Davis's script) use these techniques to colonise other planets.

Libertarians foxed by the idea that suppressing an activity can enhance its efficiency will take cheer from the fact that these advances have only become available because several US states have legalised cannabis – at least as "medical marijuana". As the marijuana farms become public, other growers can both marvel at and copy the innovations the former criminals made in secret. 

 

Enjoy! 


Why do Progressives fear Progress?

Social networking is threatening the open public network | Media network | Guardian Professional.

When anyone writing for The Guardian identifies a conflict between "public" and "corporate" interests, watch out. That's always a small screw that they want to drive home with the pile-driver known as the state.

If Facebook or Twitter or any other ephemeral organisations (does anyone seriously believe Facebook is forever?) upset me, I can live without them. And I speak as an enthusiastic user who derives a lot of pleasure; particularly from the former. I confidently expect that something as unexpected as they were will emerge to replace them before they ever become a threat.

I walked through the Science Museum in London with my young nephews yesterday. In a few rooms we covered the progress from cottage industry through industrial revolution to space flight. Much of that was seen in the life of my late grandfather. He saw one of the first motor cars in Britain drive through our home village when he was a boy and lived to see men walk on the Moon. The pace of technological change was dramatic in his life and has continued to accelerate through mine. Only political busy-bodies who want to regulate, tax and direct forces within their mean understandings want that pace to slow.

The Guardian, and the political classes generally, are stuck in the mindset of an era when classes, institutions and social relations were constant. They aren't any more, thank goodness. Only the aristocrats have any cause to regret the end of social stasis. For the rest of us, alarming though it may be at times that change is the only constant, it can only be (if we are prepared to work to prosper) good news.

I have seen the indefatigable defeated many times in my life. Think of mighty IBM slain by mighty Microsoft in turn slain by once near-bankrupt but now gargantuan Apple. Think of the Soviet Union or the Redness in Red China. The febrile idea I must fear Facebook or Twitter is ridiculous. Neither of them existed mere moments ago. If they are to be more than commercial mayflies, they had best keep innovating faster than all their would-be predators. Somewhere, in an American garage or dorm room, their nemesis already plots and schemes. I look forward to its emergence with lively anticipation.

Whatever the merits of Apple's successful lawsuit against Samsung, for example, it means that it has already mutated from plucky David to grisly Goliath. By going on the defensive it has come off the attack. This may be the moment of its triumph as a corporation, but it probably contains the seeds of its destruction. Apple stockholders are not betting on its continued dominance. No sensible shareholders are in relation to any company. You can't just buy consols and blithely go boating in a straw hat any more. Every shareholding is just a bet that there's some more life in a company's ideas before it goes the way of all flesh. And every shareholder's hands hover over his chips.

When, then, will our political thinking adapt to the new reality? When will we stop fighting the ideological battles of the 19th Century? And when will we stop promising each other a stability that would be as damaging as it would be tedious?

Hysteria. His or ours?

How do we escape the hysteria that threatens to erode public debate? | Peter Beaumont | Comment is free | The Observer.

The linked article by Peter Beaumont cheered me up immensely. If the control-freaks of the left-wing press, so intent on setting every possible parameter of public debate, fear that;

The blogosphere, increasingly fuelled by toxic language, is hindering honest engagement rather than encouraging it

then we political bloggers are doing well. To quote (as I have not done in such style since my misguided Communist youth) from Chairman Mao:

It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear dividing line between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear dividing line between the enemy and ourselves but have achieved spectacular successes in our work.

The truth is that the elite Beaumont calls "opinion formers" feel threatened by electronic democracy. They had long ago managed to infiltrate and subvert the old media to present a consistent statist view that has been acquiesced to, but never truly accepted, by what Mao would have called "the masses" and I just think of as "us." We express this division of reality by the term "politically correct". If it wasn't different from that which is merely "correct", there would be no need for the qualifying adjective.

Beaumont considers any view that is not politically-correct as "hysterical", but I think the only hysteria here is his. True democrats seek to serve the people, not mould them. They certainly don't despise them, fear them and regard their use of language as "toxic". I only wish I could be as optimistic as he is pessimistic that his game is up.

"Opinion formers" everywhere are seeking to manage the internet. Communist China employs legions of trolls to contradict every anti-government view expressed online in an advanced form of electronic agitprop. The corrupt elites of the world will fight to keep their thieving hands on the levers of power. They will seek every possible way to hinder the resistance of those they regard as their lawful prey.


That Google Robot Car

Google Robot Car: The Future of Cruise Control, Convoys, Car-Sharing - The Daily Beast.

Forget politics for a while. This is the best news ever. Google has developed a way to get all those tedious people who don't like driving off the road. Or at least into the passenger seat where they belong. I have long thought that driving is only a suitable activity for people who truly love it. Those who say that it's "just a matter of getting from A to B" don't get it and should never be allowed to block the path of those of us for whom it is a liberating, life-affirming activity.

When most cars on the road are driven by Google algorithms, will the rest of us be able to add something to our Google account (for a modest fee) that will make them respond to a flash of our headlights by moving back into the losers' lane to let us pass? Or if that doesn't appeal, just imagine being able to take a taxi without having the driver give you a distilled version of this morning's Daily Mail and Sun editorials.

Oh but wait; how will journalists find out what "the little people" think (or MI6 discover weapons of mass destruction in potential invasion targets) without taxi drivers? Perhaps Google can build in that functionality?


You know how to whistle, don't you?

Whistle | Whistle.

Dreamstime_98707 I don't know who these people are or anything about their motivations, but they seem to have the germ of a good idea, which they describe as;

a website that offers a 'one stop shop' for political information, advocacy and debate

My only worry is that, in signing up, the closest option to define my political interests was "equality and civil liberties". What on earth have those two things to do with each other? I suspect bias, but let's give them a chance...

Too much information?

FT.com / Columnists / Lucy Kellaway - When too much information harms the office.

In the past, books were a rare luxury. Even a wealthy man's library consisted only of a collection of classics to be re-read at intervals. English language publishers today produce more books in a day than any of us can hope to read; most of them - to be kind - never destined to be classics. So we read our favourite reviewers and listen to our friends with good literary taste. Then we select our intellectual nourishment from this cornucopia. Are we nostalgic for the era when a well-read gentleman had actually read all there was to read? Of course not.

Likewise, in business, there can never be too much information. There can only be too little analysis. As the tide of data continues to rise, we will need increasingly to employ analysts to dam it and channel it usefully. The most successful companies will be the ones best able to manage that. Would it really be better if there were only trickles of data and therefore no need for such efforts? Besides, won't the same technologies that make publishing so commonplace, also develop to allow us to extract better information from data chaos?

I disagree with Lucy Kellaway when she writes that:

The trouble with the information age is that there are so many people talking simultaneously. Leaders surely need to do not more listening but more ignoring.

In a literal sense, she is right. No-one can absorb all the data out there. We all "ignore" almost all of it. But the data a leader relies on had better be the best. His team must trawl the seas of information with big nets, before bringing him the choicest specimens. The temptation will be to present them delicately filleted, poached and garnished to his taste, but his success will depend more on them being representative than tasty.

Ms Kellaway writes that leaders in business need;

...to find a way of dealing with the many beastly things that are written about them on the internet.

Is that so difficult? Few rise to the top without developing a thick skin and those few will not last long. The way for leaders to deal with "beastly things" written about them is to treat them as data to be filtered. As mass publishing becomes a commonplace, the weight of the written word will gradually decline. Postings on Facebook, blogs and Twitter resemble newspaper articles only in being written. They carry only the emotional weight of chatter in the public bar. A splash in a torrent of little-read writing should be of no great concern. Only over-reaction by those written about can make it more.


The next tech thing

TED Blog: Wireless electricity demo: Eric Giler on TED.com.

It's been a while since I posted a TED talk. This is not one of those inspiring insights into the human condition. It's just a scientist enthusiastically demonstrating something cool I can't wait to have.

The commercial side of implementing this is as interesting as the science, when you think about it. The devices transmitting and receiving power are on matched frequencies, so other devices would not receive it. What use is that? I want all my devices to be battery-free, picking up power from broadcast transmissions as I walk around. On the other hand, I must be charged for that power, or no-one will invest in the infrastructure to provide it to me. Short of taxing everyone to have the state provide the infrastructure (in which case it will be as unreliable as any service where payment is guaranteed regardless of performance) how could this be done? Will the company transmitting the power have to trust the data from the receiving device? That's not under their control and could easily be rigged.

I am sure someone will figure it out. I hope it's soon. Batteries are much of the weight in our mobile devices and wireless electricity would transform their design as much as their function.


Blogs in Virtual Worlds

I first became seriously involved in Second Life for blogging purposes. Hence my SL avatar's name; "LastDitch Writer". But while our Blogpower Awards Ceremony was a qualified success in bringing in bloggers,  there has been little scope to bring blogs themselves into the Metaverse. The latest SL software, however, has limited capabilities to feature web pages in-world (as opposed to mere links to the conventional web).

Screen_shot_001Here is yesterday's post at The Last Ditch on the screen of my avatar's in-world MacBook Pro. That is no imported screen-shot. It will change automatically as my blog updates. Given that you can only have one webpage at a time per plot of land owned and that hyperlinks (which are rather the point of the internet) don't function yet, this is all rather limited at present. Still, it's fun to be in at the beginning.

Personally, although it's easy to mock at the moment, I think SL (or something like it) is the future shape of the internet. Shopping online will make much more sense when you can "handle" your purchases in 3D, try them on for size on a true-to-scale photo-realistic avatar and so forth. Significantly, SL is the only online community where the majority of users are female. Many seem to spend much of their SL time shopping. It's a short step from buying clothes for your avatar to buying clothes for yourself (although most are going to have to be a little more honest about their avatar's shape if it comes to that!)

All other kinds of online interaction make more sense if they can be conducted in a natural human way. Although everyone there looks young (except me - I have made serious efforts to resemble my RL self) there are a lot of mature adults in SL. Most of my friends there are my age or older. Once you can move around and communicate with text or voice, there is nothing else you need to learn. How true is that of most online activity? At any rate, if we old fogeys can cope with it, anyone can.

One of the steadiest learners in SL history must be JMB of Nobody Important. She caught the tail end of the festivities last year and has occasionally returned. A friend and I gave her some tuition a couple of days ago and sent her off to explore. I hear she may be reporting her adventures and I await her post with interest.

PS: JMB's SL post is here.


Frappr Maps

This is  new site to me, but it looks useful. You can make maps and locate people or places on them for information. Then you can embed them in your blog. This example is of members of Second Life who have decided to identify themselves and their Real Life location. I am sure my more tech minded readers can think of better uses. I am pondering whether to create a Blogpower members map for the Blogpower Express. Any other suggested uses?