It’s sad to see an occasionally-rational politician demonstrate how out of touch they are with such batshittery, but John McCain has decided to suck it up and step forward. In response to documents released by Edward Snowden demonstrating the illegal and unauthorised actions of the NSA, McCain participated in an interview with Der Spiegel in which he stated that the director of the NSA should resign or be fired.
“Writing code on a laptop” has been replaced as my biggest annoyance by “Debian not recognising my trackpad can right-click”.
The two are…strongly related.
Thank you very much for providing me with your new Amazon Cloud Music Player, to which all my music is automatically sent. There seems to be one small piece of miscommunication between us, that I thought I might clear up.
I WANT MY MUSIC.
I don’t want to play my music online. I don’t want to be forced to navigate through a mass of screens to find my music. I definitely don’t want the memory requirements for my browser to quadruple.I want my music. I want to be able to download it and play it not only when I’m connected up to your services, but when I’m on the tube, or a plane, or driving.
Instead of allowing me to simply do these things, you’ve presented me with a highly-obfuscated, mandatory music player to which all my purchases go. This is great if I plan to spend the majority of my time on the computer, but, as said, I don’t. I just want my music. So: give me my damn music.
Lots of love,
P.S. next time, consider testing the site on something other than a 2013-issue iTwat, if you please.
I write R; it’s what I do. Not well, or gracefully, but I can make the language do occasionally-interesting things, and I can make it answer the questions I’m asking it.
In this I’m in a distinct minority at work – to my knowledge, I’m one of only two R-fluent staffers in Engineering. Most people who have to muck around with data use Python for all of it, or treat R as “a suboptimal language that happens to have ggplot2″, processing and triaging data in Python and then exporting the aggregates to R solely for the purpose of graphing it. There are actually efforts to push the holdouts begrudgingly towards Python so that we’re all standardised and such.
I’ve tried. Lord knows, I’ve tried, and continue to try – but I can’t get over the feeling that however much you try to make Python look like a data-centric language, through NumPy or Pandas or SciPy, it simply doesn’t work. The language is fine, the modules people have written to make it data-centric are fine, but the structure and design philosophy get on my tits. The fact that you have to write modules to make it data-centric automatically puts it a step behind R.
This isn’t to say I’m going to give up – I’ve had the goal of learning Python as a general-purpose programming language for quite some time, and have had some successes. Python has a lot of features I really enjoy (the ability to declare regexes to be raw, for example). Things that are difficult in R are trivial in Python – but the inverse is true, too. So, for now, R is my tool of choice when it comes to data.
One of the aspects of the Snowden story (and the wikileaks story. And the…name your story here) that I’m really enjoying, right now, is the hope it gives me for course-correcting governments in the 21st century.
A fundamental problem in western society at the moment is this: governments take their authority, if they are democratic, from the moral authority of the electorate – the electorate consisting of human (rather than legal) persons who each have one vote. In practise, however, they all, to various degrees, exercise their authority in the direction dictated by private industry.1
This isn’t new, but what is new is the sheer disparity in power between the electorate and private industry. There are corporations with a higher income than most countries, who can budget more to pushing the government than the population ever could. Corporations that are, more and more, weaselling their way into how we interface with the world as individuals. And they’re fundamentally amoral.
By that I don’t mean that the people who work for them are amoral; they may have strong opinions about a variety of topics – but that the overall whole is. The job of a private company is simple: make money. If it makes money, it survives. If it doesn’t make money, it falls and dies. As a result, every action a company takes tends to be in the direction of making money. Lobbying is a part of this: companies want government policy that is best-suited to allow them to make the maximum amount of money.
This isn’t to say companies can’t appear to be doing good things. A lot of corporations have civic or social responsibility programmes, but I’d argue that these exist primarily to boost the PR value of the company, which is linked to how easy it is for that company to make money. No CEO wants Walmart-style boycotts and protests; it’s bad for business. So they end up putting on society-benefiting events or paying for programmes that contribute to the public good. And the thing to draw from that is that while corporations are not driven by the same aims as civil society, they occasionally end up intersecting in terms of their desired outcome. This applies in lobbying, too.
Take Golan v. Holder. For those who weren’t following it, it was a lawsuit seeking to clarify whether it was constitutional to put works that had fallen into the public domain back into copyright, post-hoc, through the Marrakech Agreement. Amicus briefs arguing that it wasn’t came from the usual suspects – Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, and those prize lunatics at the Cato Institute. More surprisingly, one was also submitted by…Google.
Why? Google have never previously shown themselves to give a crap about the public. And the answer comes back: well, Golan has implications for its business model. Google Books exists to provide public domain (and other) works to the end user, in the hope that the user will want to go buy copies, allowing Google to get a cut, and in the knowledge that even if they don’t, Google gets yet more data about user browsing habits and interests. Removing works from the public domain means removing pieces of shiny that Google books can host, and that can attract users to the service. Google’s self-interest, in other words, intersects with the public’s interest.
Snowden’s actions, and the actions of the Guardian, are another useful way of demonstrating this point. Snowden is, for want of a better definition, part of civil society; he wants to educate, to inform, to permit transparency about various administrations so that the tug-of-war over power between a government and its electorate can be fairer. The Guardian, however much they argue for left-of-centre positions, are a private company, and are amoral. Again: this is not saying the individual journalists or editors are amoral, and it’s not saying that the Guardian lacks a political position – it’s saying that the Guardian has cornered a particular market (sociology professors from Milton Keynes) and maintains certain positions to continue attracting them.
Snowden has a pile of data, a goal of informing the public, and no way of tying the two together. The Guardian has no data, a substantial platform for publicising what people give it, and a goal of making money – a goal met by encouraging use of its platform. So, Snowden provides the data for the public good, and The Guardian publishes it for The Guardian‘s good. Both have their goals met in a situation where neither of them, working on their own, would’ve been able to do anything, and the overall outcome is in the public interest. This is a pretty good general model for Getting Shit Done: find people with more power than you who want the same result out of a process, even if those people have totally different motivations, and prompt them to act.
But, again: it’s important to remember The Guardian is still motivated by self-interest. If The Independent’s claims about voluntary restriction of Snowden’s materials is accurate,2 it’s making attempts at self-preservation and maintaining its government access privileges during this current crisis. It’s not intending to advance the public interest, however much it might look like it.
The internet seems to be exploding at a….I’d hesitate to call it a “performance”…airing of Miley Cyrus’s latest single, which was worked into a medley with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and something I didn’t recognise.
When I was last in SF, K and myself found that the radio would reliably play “Blurred Lines” at least once whenever we tuned in, and I think Miley deserves some credit for making an already terrible and disturbing song worse. In the meantime, the Key of Awesome’s parody of “We Can’t Stop” is worth checking out.
If you haven’t heard: Blake’s 7 is being remade as part of the Xbox TV offering. This makes me…disturbingly happy.
For those unfamiliar with it, Blake’s 7 (also known as The British Sci-Fi Show That Wasn’t Doctor Who) was the work of Terry Nation – he of the Daleks. Sat in a meeting with an executive from the BBC, circa 1979, he came up with the idea of “The Dirty Dozen in space”. He wrote a pilot script, presented it to said executive, and was presented in turn by a demand for 13 episodes.
The premise of the show is simple enough, and something that has appeared in a thousand space operas; Roj Blake is a dissident fighting to overthrow the corrupt and totalitarian Terran Federation. Having been arrested on false charges, he’s transported to a prison planet. On the way there, he leads a group of prisoners in escaping from their captors, fleeing on a captured ship, and proceeds to try and meld them into a team capable of bringing the fight to the Federation.
So far, so a thousand different shows and films.
What made Blake’s 7 different was the involvement of two people; Terry Nation and, as he began running out of ideas, Chris Boucher, the script editor. When we think of Nation, we think of his contribution to the Whoniverse – the Daleks. And when we think of the Daleks, we think…well. Grey. Dystopian. Heartless. The Daleks are arguably the most terrifying of the foes the Doctor faces not because of their relative indestructibility, but because their only purpose is to destroy. Every other species, good or bad, has motivations that are in some way human – to destroy in pursuit of a wider goal. The Daleks exist solely for the means – there is no end.
Blake’s 7 followed this pattern. The universe is cruel, dystopian and unjust from the start; the characters are complex, and in many cases the “good guys” are ill-intentioned. A good example to highlight would be the first episode; the false charges I mentioned? Those would be false charges of child molestation. Broadcast on a public station in 1979. An even better one would be the actual conclusion of the show – which also demonstrates (please read, creators of Lost) how to effectively end a show when you’re sick of it and don’t want to have to provide yet another series.
After trials, tribulations and many deaths, Blake finds himself posing as a bounty hunter on a remote world in an attempt to recruit allies – unbeknownst to the rest of the 7. A series of misunderstandings lead to his second-in-command (by that point, the lead character) concluding that he’s betrayed them, and killing him where he stands. The misunderstandings are revealed by his partner, who turns out to be a Federation agent and promptly leads a group of armed Federation guards in. Armed Federation guards who promptly gun down the entire cast, on-screen, with no avenues of escape. In Blake’s 7, the bad guys win.
This would be why it’s a remake and not an additional series, huh.
These are not scenes you’d see in Star Wars, with its black-and-white morality, or Star Trek, with the implicit immortality of anyone allowed more than 30 seconds of screen-time. These aren’t scenes you’d see in Doctor Who, a show that is, let’s face it, mostly for children. These were scenes unique, at the time, to Blake’s 7. Since then, shows like Battlestar Galactica and Babylon Five have happily picked up the pseudo-dystopian torch and run with it – but it was Blake’s 7 that lit it.
At the time, the show was a big hit, but as soon as the final episode was aired it went quietly off into the long night. In the last 30 years it’s sat there, idly, appreciated by hardcore fans and ignored by most of the population. This is understandable: production quality was frankly, terrible, even for the 80s, and the cast and crew had never intended to do the final series at all. But at the same time, as one of the shows that prompted my interest in science fiction – and as one of the shows that allows modern writers and directors to buck this happy, everyone-survives-at-the-end trend that has infected so much of modern television – I’m glad to see it coming back.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether they can make the things that attracted me to the original series – the dystopianism, the inherent cruelty – resonate with the audience they’ll get. As said, it’s now Been Done. It’s going to be even more interesting to see if they can get some of the scenes on TV (child molestation being kind of a sensitive topic at the moment). But it’ll be…interesting, however it works out. I’m just hoping that they release it more widely, since at this point, even Blake’s 7 can’t persuade me to buy an Xbox.
The current research project means mind-numbingly combing through all of the block rationales, looking for things I should be picking up but am failing to. Along the way we run into block rationales like…
The above photo is brought to you by Jorm going off to get married; whisky was drunk, stories were told, and I caught the bouquet.
“But Oliver! Surely Brandon wouldn’t fly all the way out to the UK to get hitched.” Why no, imaginary reader; I spent the last 3 and a bit weeks residing in the great state of California – a place that was, weirdly, colder than England has been. There were both highs and lows (highs: touring Alcatraz. Lows: getting smacked in the face by a homeless gentleman), but overall, it was a good trip. It didn’t leave me many opportunities in which to write, however. Hopefully, now that I’m back, that’ll change.