Thursday, 22 June 2017

Frantic Times

Round here everything goes eerily quiet in hot weather. During the recent spell we spent a large chunk of our time sitting in the garden, mostly in the shade and often with a beer. Retirement eh? I love it.

Meanwhile the mainstream media seem to be increasingly frantic in what feels more and more like a doomed battle for relevance. Hysteria rules but is anyone listening and more importantly, are their advertisers likely to remain on board? When will their advertisers give up on shouty newspapers nobody under fifty reads anyway?

The impression is partly explained by a series of major news stories from Brexit to Trump to the Grenfell horror, but not entirely. Great changes are abroad which are not encouraging. 

Back in 1952  Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth wrote a science fiction novel called The Space Merchants

In a vastly overpopulated world, businesses have taken the place of governments and now hold all political power. States exist merely to ensure the survival of huge trans-national corporations. Advertising has become hugely aggressive and by far the best-paid profession. Through advertising, the public is constantly deluded into thinking that the quality of life is improved by all the products placed on the market. Some of the products contain addictive substances designed to make consumers dependent on them. However, the most basic elements of life are incredibly scarce, including water and fuel. Personal transport may be pedal powered, with rickshaw rides being considered a luxury. The planet Venus has just been visited and judged fit for human settlement, despite its inhospitable surface and climate; the colonists would have to endure a harsh climate for many generations until the planet could be terraformed.

Pohl and Kornbluth's fictional world is dominated by vast advertising agencies where governments are merely clearing houses for business interests. I read it decades ago when to me it seemed like an ingenious but fanciful attack on rampant capitalism, a product of its time. It doesn't seem like that now.

When we remind ourselves that the old mainstream media are struggling to survive in a world dominated by the colossal reach of social media and vast internet advertising businesses. When we add in global elites with no ties to time or place, when we add the growing power of international bureaucracies and their willingness to direct human behaviour - 

Well then - with a few modifications Pohl and Kornbluth's ghastly fictional future seems somewhat less fictional.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Damp spot

A pair of coots building their nest on Carsington Water. Their nest may be tethered to the bottom in some way but the essential feature is that it floats and that helps chicks survive. It's what coots do but unfortunately and with no wish to criticise the experts, this one seems a little flimsy. 

We watched while they busily added a fair amount of material, mainly lengths of weed and and what appeared to be waterlogged oddments dredged up from the bottom. The whole structure never seemed to inspire confidence though - they climbed onto it very gingerly. Reminds me of government projects but no doubt they know what they are doing.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Broken Kindle

My old Kindle has given up - charge it up one day and the battery is virtually flat by the following morning. I could buy a new battery off the internet but that may not be the whole problem so I've decided to treat myself to a new one, a slimmer, lighter touchscreen version which I'll hate at first but eventually I'll get used to it.

The old Kindle lasted about five years which isn't bad considering how intensively I use it and how often I drop it. At the moment I'm enjoying a beautiful sunny morning in the garden while waiting for the Amazon man to deliver the new one. Only ordered it yesterday. Modern life eh? Amazing technology and amazing organisations all mixed together with amazing insanity.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Is Higher Education a Scam?

Some very interesting and uncomfortable points made by Peter Thiel. Higher education as a zero sum tournament for example - not something we are ever likely to see presented by the BBC or hear from mainstream political parties.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Voting for bums

I voted for our sitting Tory candidate in the recent general election. Doing so went against the grain, but our MP seems to be a decent enough chap who does his best for the constituency. During the previous election he came to the door and seemed a little overawed by Sajid Javid who was also with him and did most of the talking.

During the run-up to the recent election I saw him walking the streets on his own and almost felt sorry for him. His is a thankless task from the look of it. I don’t think he’ll ever be a minister or see the inside of his party leader’s clique. 

As we know, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill were key people heading Theresa May’s clique, a pair of political advisers nobody actually elected because that’s how things are done in our post-democratic age. It is obvious that these two were almost certainly more powerful than anyone you or I voted for. Most of us voted for one of the bums on seats or some poor soul who didn’t even get that far.

We have known this forever, particularly since Tony Blair’s political machine swept all before it. Now Nick and Fiona have reminded us that voting for a party is much the same as voting for its leader. Or rather it is much the same as voting for the leader’s clique. Conservative and Labour leaders both have their cliques through which things are done. If your MP isn’t in the clique then he or she is merely one of the bums on Parliamentary seats, at least as far as the real power is concerned.

That being the case, not voting at all is an entirely understandable attitude. For most of us it cannot possibly make a difference to political outcomes. The leader’s clique is democratically inaccessible and voting for bums on seats merely perpetuates that reality.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Deep Sentinel

This isn't new, but an interesting piece from principia-scientific briefly outlines Deep Sentinel, a home security startup which proposes to use AI to protect our homes.

Deep Sentinel pairs AI with off-the-shelf cameras. The startup’s software recognizes potential threats in the video footage — distinguishing someone stealing your mail from a neighbor walking their dog, for example — and alerts you to them in real time. That means unlike with a traditional security camera, you don’t have to spend all day watching the video footage for it to do any good.

Deep Sentinel’s technology is about 99 percent accurate, Selinger said. It uses the same type of technology that self-driving cars use to navigate objects in the road, and Facebook uses to identify people in photos.

Ultimately, Deep Sentinel hopes to not only alert you to threats but also to issue some kind of deterrent to scare away bad actors. That could be anything from turning on automatic sprinklers to sending in a remotely piloted drone.

Even incurable optimists must wonder if this kind of development is desirable. Yet there seems to be little doubt that it can be done so it will be done even if Deep Sentinel itself fails to perform as expected.

The message seems to be that permanent, accurate surveillance may become cheap enough to be used everywhere. Sounds like a great improvement on the Telescreen. No doubt there are people who know where we are headed and why. The rest of us may have to acquire a taste for Victory Gin.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Navvies seducing our women


Derby Telegraph has an interesting piece on the history of the Friar Gate railway bridge and local disruption caused when the railway came to Derby 140 years ago.

Imagine the outcry today if anyone suggested the demolition of Friar Gate railway bridge. It would be at least as vociferous as that which erupted when the bridge was built 140 years earlier.

Not only were our Victorian forebears horrified at the prospect of one of Derby's most historic thoroughfares being defaced, they were also so terrified by the imminent arrival of hundreds of what were regarded as uncivilised, uneducated navvies that plans were laid for missionaries to visit the itinerant population.

As ever, vested interests were decisive and the local council easily brought on board.

The railway, which needed the approval of the town council to proceed, had conveniently commissioned a local man, George Thompson, to survey the line. Thompson ran his own practice, but also served as borough surveyor. The GNR also acted wisely in its choice of solicitor – Samuel Leech, Liberal town councillor and Mayor of Derby.

The Mercury also pointed out that the support of the rest of the council – half of whom had industrial businesses that were nearer the proposed GNR route than the existing Midland line, and many of whom owned the land on which the railway would be built – was hardly surprising.

It was, perhaps, little wonder, too, that the Chamber of Commerce, which shared many members with the town council, also put forward its enthusiastic support.

While the middle classes were concerned about a huge influx of navvies, poorer people had more pressing problems - the demolition of their homes.

In total around 265 houses were destroyed, making homeless around 1,500 people. Most of these were poor labourers and the like, almost all of whom had rented low-cost housing, of which there had already been a shortage.

The GNR was under no obligation to replace the lost homes, and it was difficult to persuade property speculators to build homes that could earn only a tiny sum in rent.

Some compensation was offered to the displaced, but this was a matter of shillings and was of little help.