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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Technology Will Not Solve Privacy Issues

Published December 31, 2015 in Culture , Technology - 0 Comments
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Harvard Law School professor and quixotic Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig thinks that future technology will solve our privacy issues.

The average cost per user of a data breach is now $240 … think of businesses looking at that cost and saying “What if I can find a way to not hold that data, but the value of that data?” When we do that, our concept of privacy will be different. Our concept so far is that we should give people control over copies of data. In the future, we will not worry about copies of data, but using data. The paradigm of required use will develop once we have really simple ways to hold data. If I were king, I would say it’s too early. Let’s muddle through the next few years. The costs are costly, but the current model of privacy will not make sense going forward.

If I ping a service, and it tells me someone is over 18, I don’t need to hold that fact. … The level of security I have to apply … [is not] the same [that] would be required if I was holding all of this data on my servers. This will radically change the burden of security that people will have.

He’s wrong.

Back in the nineties and early aughts when the Internet was a new and wondrous beast, all of us in the tech sector believed that technology would open up society. The internet would make everyone anonymous. File sharers and pirates couldn’t be caught – but also, free speech would reign supreme and everyone could speak their mind without fear of reprisal. Web sites would give a voice to the little people, and big corporations couldn’t compete in the data sphere.

We were wrong.

What we forgot – or never knew in the first place because we were young and naive – is that technology isn’t the decisive factor in society. Human beings are. And human beings, in aggregate, are ridiculously predictable.

“People can violate the law all they want to on the Internet, because nobody can track them!” we thought. Until the government decided to get serious about it and start tracking people.

“We can say what we want without fear of the government reading it – nobody has the resources to track it back to us!” we thought. Until the NSA proved that they do have the resources to do exactly that.

“Big corporations won’t be able to lock down their data! Data wants to be free!” we thought. Until DRM and the DMCA came about.

“We can say what we want in this big free speech paradise!” we thought. Until SJWs started doxxing people and getting them fired over social media posts.

Technology will not solve the privacy problem because big corporations and big government don’t want you to have any privacy. They want all your data to be easily accessible. Standards like Lessig describes, where corporations discard your data after they’ve made use of it, won’t catch on for the simple fact that they don’t want to discard your data.

If they wanted to, they already could. There’s no reason they have to keep most of it around already. They do it because they want your data. Big government or big corporation, it makes no difference. They want to know everything about you. Big government wants to market to you in every possible way. Big government wants to milk every penny of tax revenue and regulatory compliance they can from you. Neither cares if this is to your benefit or not.

Privacy will not improve until the people who have the power to improve it want to improve it. This is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Entering the Space Age

Published December 30, 2015 in Technology - 0 Comments
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While I absolutely agree with FuturePundit that we are not yet in the space age, I do disagree with him about what it will take to get there.

We entered the jet age decades ago. To enter a space age in the same sense in which we entered the jet age would require much cheaper energy to power the rockets, better propulsion systems for moving between planets, and an assortment of technological advances to make a space colony viable on another planet or moon. So we aren’t in the space age yet.

No, I’m not sure that we do need any of these technologies. At the $100 per pound price point that he describes earlier in the article, a lot of things already begin to change. The energy systems we have are actually incredibly cheap. The propulsion technology that we have is fine. We basically have most of the tech that we actually need to make colonies viable on other planets.

What we don’t have at all is space infrastructure. I hinted at this some with a few throwaway lines in “The Fourth Fleet,” but there’s a whole lot more detail that could be had. As Robert Heinlein famously said, once you’re in orbit you’re halfway to anywhere.

To put it more simply: the amount of energy it takes to get into low Earth orbit (LEO) is staggeringly huge. But once you’re there, it takes a whole lot less energy to go anywhere else. Note that the same general statement applies if you’re leaving any other planet or moon.

At $100 a pound, a lot of things become economically feasible that haven’t been in the past. And some of the most important things that become feasible are infrastructure. Right now, there is absolutely no infrastructure for doing anything outside of LEO – and there’s not really much infrastructure in place for LEO, either.

Start with LEO, where there actually is some infrastructure. NORAD is there to track everything around you and alert you to dangers. In a sense, there’s a kind of rudimentary “air traffic control” there. But it’s very rudimentary, and that’s not really it’s mission. Existing GPS units probably don’t, but one could build GPS receivers that provide adequate services in LEO. The GPS satellites orbit in geosynchronous orbits that are far higher, so you’d still be able to work the math out right. And there’s at least one orbital space station up there right now, even though its capacity is trivial.

Outside of LEO there’s none of that. No orbital stations, no navigational systems, no traffic control, no debris tracking. Nevermind all the other infrastructure you’d want for true solar system exploration. What kinds of things would you want?

  • Navigational systems, as I mentioned above. Ideally you’d want satellites in position to give precise navigation throughout the entire solar system. That’s not happening for a long time, though. In the shorter term you’d want an array of satellites that would provide accurate positioning on the moon, Mars, and the moons of Mars. Something that could give you accurate positioning between Earth and the moon, and also between Earth and Mars would also be nice – although the latter would be far more ambitious than the former.
  • Orbital stations. These are essential. You’d need them for refueling and resupply (more on this in a minute), transferring to other vessels (more on this in a minute, too), layover stops, and even tourist destinations in their own right.
  • Regular supply runs to the orbital stations. Remember, you don’t have to carry everything you need with you on the same vessel that you leave on yourself. To borrow FuturePundit’s own analogy, why take your food with you on your space shuttle when it would be far cheaper to ship it up separately on cargo-only supply vessels? Anything that doesn’t have to be human rated is going to be far cheaper to launch.
  • Specialized Ferry Vessels. Continuing that thought, why would you travel all the way to the moon on the same vessel you used to get to LEO? You wouldn’t – that’s not efficient at all. What you’d want to do is use a booster of some kind to get up to an orbital station in LEO, then you’d transfer to another vessel – say, an Earth/Moon ferry – for the trip to another station orbiting the moon. Need to land? You’d change vessels again to shuttle down to the surface. Specialized construction of the vessels makes them a far cheaper to construct, test, build and launch.
  • Orbital Construction Yards. Why build it on the Earth and then launch it? You run into massive size restrictions as you hit maximum capacity of existing boosters. And with all current tech, there’s a certain size booster that hits maximum price efficiency for a launch. Use those boosters and launch the raw materials. Manufacture the craft in space. But to do this, you need orbital construction capabilities.
  • Non-Terran Supply Sources. Why get all your supplies from Earth? Blasting ten tons of fuel up into LEO is expensive! Why not go mine some asteroids and process the fuel in space? If you run unmanned vehicles out and use them to haul the asteroids back for processing, the amount of fuel necessary is far less than trying to launch it from here. But again, you need regular suppliers out there doing it. And you also need…
  • Orbital Processing Facilities to process the raw materials you harvest from asteroids into usable substances like water and fuel.
  • Orbital Food Production. If you have water and energy, you can grow your own food in space or on colonies. No need to ship it from Earth.

None of this has happened yet, but all of it could happen with currently existing tech. We don’t need any major science breakthroughs. The only thing we’re really missing is the key to all of it: reliable, regular, and affordable transit to Low Earth Orbit. $100 a pound is still expensive. But it’s a price point at which some or all of the things listed above will begin to be built, because there will be a market for them. As more of the things above come online, more entrepreneurs will step up to begin creating the others – and charging for them.At $100 a pound, a person could take a trip to LEO for about the price of an average car. That’s a price that’s still too high for people to take regular trips. But an awful lot of people – not rich people, but moderately affluent – would pay to make that trip once or twice in their lifetimes. And remember: the key to cheaper LEO transit is not the propulsion technology. Fuel is a very small portion of the cost of a rocket launch. It’s primarily human factors. As the launches become more frequent, they will also become cheaper. This was the original promise of the Space Shuttle – a promise that was never delivered upon. But this wasn’t a flaw in our current engineering capabilities or known science. It was the fact that government employees and contractors, given the chance, always opted to make everything more expensive rather than cheaper. As for-profit businesses become sustainable, they’ll be looking for every way possible to cut costs.I don’t expect to see all of the above items in my lifetime. But I do expect to see at least some of them forming. As FuturePundit notes, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 should get the price point down to $250 per pound. I suspect that within 10 years that price will cut in half again – if not by SpaceX then by somebody else. And again in another 10 years.Key point: the technology industry didn’t witness massive price/performance changes because tech was improving so fast. OK, that was part of it. But the bigger reason was that it started out as an incredibly immature industry. Look at what Ford did to the price of automobiles. Space is likewise an immature industry. When it begins to grow, look for it to explode

Will the GOP Split?

Published December 23, 2015 in Politics - 0 Comments
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Franklin Graham, President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and son of the more famous Billy Graham, has announced that he’s leaving the Republican Party.

Prominent evangelical leader Franklin Graham has quit the Republican Party because the omnibus spending bill passed last week in Congress will continue to fund Planned Parenthood.

Graham, who declared himself an independent in a lengthy Facebook post on Monday, said, “I have no hope in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or Tea Party to do what is best for America. Unless more godly men and women get in this process and change this wicked system, our country is in for trouble.”

The coalition that makes up the Republican Party has been fracturing lately, finding themselves at great odds. There are at least three major groups within the party: social conservatives, neoconservatives, and the business wing – with further, smaller factions (the libertarian wing, etc) filling in the gaps. Recently it seems that these wings are finding little to agree on.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that what’s currently happening is a generation gap in politics. The Baby Boomers are on the decline as a percentage of the overall population and Generation X has started to exert its political power. But as with everything else, the Baby Boomers aren’t letting go easily. As the only generation I’m aware of that’s successfully fought intergenerational wars against both their parents and their children, don’t look to them to relinquish the reins to their children anytime soon.

Is a GOP split imminent? Many people I talk to seem to think it is. It’s happened before in American politics – but don’t get too excited. If there is a GOP split, it’s far more likely that one of the new parties will replace the GOP than it is that we’ll end up with a three party system in the long run. Game theory tells us that our “first past the post” voting system virtually guarantees that in the long run we’ll stabilize on two parties.

And Democrats? Don’t get cocky. The only reason this isn’t happening to you is because a Democrat sits in the White House right now. But over the next 8 years, you’re facing the same issue.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

Published December 22, 2015 in Movies - 0 Comments
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tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016The Force Awakens was a very surreal experience for me, and explaining my opinions on the film require a bit of a preface.

I’ve never known a world without Star Wars. I was born in 1978 – a little more than a year after the release of A New Hope. My earliest movie memory is watching The Empire Strikes Back in theaters. I barely remember it. I grew up watching the films on my parents’ old Betamax VCR. It’s a wonder I didn’t wear the tapes out from watching them so often. I certainly wore out my sister’s patience.

When the special editions were released in theaters in the late 90s, I was right there – lining up early for prime showings, huge crowds of friends with me. I had a Jedi costume that I’d put together a few years prior – a large group of my high school friends had done a Star Wars themed Halloween one year, and I picked Obi-Wan.

I wore that costume again when I camped out for the prequels. I was literally the second person in line at our local theater for The Phantom Menace. For a long time I had ticket stub #4 to prove it (the gentlemen with me bought three tickets). By morning, we had attracted rather a crowd – including a father and son who had flown in from Ireland so that they could catch the film on the US release date instead of the European release date.

Despite my disappointment with The Phantom Menace, I camped out for the other prequels as well. My not-yet-wife even joined me in line for Revenge of the Sith. And I have to say – watching all three of those movies was an absolute blast, despite all three being ultimately disappointing. It’s hard not to have fun when you’re with a crowd that enthusiastic.

This time around there was no camping. My wife and I have three young children. The oldest might have been old enough to take out with us for it, but it would’ve been a stretch. Camping would have required childcare. Also, forgive me here, but what’s the point? With online ticket purchasing, there’s no reason to camp out in line to get the first tickets anymore.

However, I did get to see it in a great group. My very awesome boss bought out an entire theater for our company. We had to wait until Saturday morning, but I also brought my two older children. The youngest stayed with Grandpa for the morning, which he loved.

So the actual experience of watching the film was a bit surreal. This was the first Star Wars since 1983 that I hadn’t camped out for, that I wasn’t at the absolute first showing for. And I was there with friends and coworkers – all very excited – but it still lacked the energy of those over-the-top fans.

And then, the movie itself. It’s true what they say – you can’t go home again. For me, the movie lacked both the freshness of the original (I never knew a world without Star Wars – but I’ve watched enough pre-1977 movies to know just how much Star Wars changed film) and the pent up anticipation of the prequels. Unlike The Phantom Menace, it hadn’t been 20 years since the last film in the series.

Also, it wasn’t George Lucas anymore. My final opinion is that this is both good and bad, but there was a very different feel to the films. Say what you want about the prequels, they definitely have a sense of feel that they share with the original films. To me, that was a bit jarring. This Star Wars is different.

So what do I think of the film? There’s a lot to like in it. It’s the Star Wars that a lot of fans wanted. But it’s also not a perfect film, and it’s not quite the Star Wars that I wanted. It took me all weekend to decide what I ultimately think of the film, and at the end of the day my verdict is still unsatisfying – because my opinion of this film ultimately depends on what they do with the rest of this new trilogy. Tentatively, I give it a thumbs up – a strong thumbs up. But this film leaves enough unresolved that the next two films could actually greatly ruin this one if they’re not handled properly.

A more spoilerific analysis is below the jump.

Spoilers Below

There IS War!

Published December 21, 2015 in Science Fiction - 0 Comments
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There Will Be War: Volume X

There Will Be War: Volume X

There Will Be War: Volume X is now available from Amazon! I’m very honored to have my story, “The Fourth Fleet,” included in this collection and I can only hope that readers find it as worthy as the rest. I just got my author’s copy yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to read the other stories yet – but I’m definitely looking forward to it!

Four Way Race in November?

Published December 18, 2015 in Politics - 0 Comments
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Headline at CNN: “Bernie Sanders and the DNC: It’s War.

But the fight is about much more than a technical breach. It’s a battle over the future of the Democratic Party with Sanders representing a progressive wing disenchanted with Clinton and a party establishment it feels is enabling her.

Things have gotten bad enough that other Democratic senators are encouraging the Bern to run as an independent:

With Trump still waffling about an independent run… are we looking at the possibility of a four way race? Clinton, Sanders, Trump and either Cruz or Rubio? It’s happened before, even if it was 104 years ago. Interestingly enough, that one involved another self-style “progressive.” Granted, Teddy Roosevelt’s idea of progressivism was substantially different than The Bern’s.

If it does end up as a four way race, I’ve got a dollar that says it goes to the House of Representatives.

Trump Can Win With 30%

Published December 18, 2015 in Politics - 0 Comments
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There are still quite a few people out there arguing that Donald Trump has a very low chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, despite leading in the polls. First, those people told us that he was following the typical trend of the many “front runners” of previous campaigns, and that his peaks would fall of soon as other candidates took their turns as the front runner.

But this cycle hasn’t been like previous cycles. We haven’t seen other candidates spike and take over the front runner spot. To be sure, though, we have seen that pattern with the other candidates’ poll numbers. But none of them has passed Trump for any serious amount of time since he became the front runner in late summer.

So they moved on to the next argument. Trump can’t win because he can’t grow his constituency above 30-35%. As other candidates drop out of the race, this argument goes, their votes will spread to not-Trump candidates. And he just can’t win with 35% of the vote.

This argument has two weaknesses. First, Trump has – so far – been picking up a fair percentage of the votes as other candidates decline. His national RCP polling average currently sits at 33.1% – the highest it’s ever been, and the trend line is clearly upward. If Trump picks up votes as candidates drop out – even if he picks up less of those votes than the other remaining candidates, then the argument falls apart.

But that’s not the true weak spot. The true weakness of the argument right now is that Trump can win with 30% of the vote. This was a deliberate choice on the part of the Republican establishment over the last four years. It was their way to ensure that an establishment approved candidate could win against insurgencies, and win decisively.

But whether you believe that or not, the fact on the ground is that Trump can win – and win big – with 30% of the vote. I popped over to RCP’s interactive delegate simulator again today. For all states that have them, I defaulted to the RCP polling average of that state. For all others, I defaulted to the national RCP average. I assumed no candidates dropping out.

The clear and simple fact of the matter is that with these numbers, Trump wins the delegate count: 1451 delegates. His nearest competitor, Ted Cruz, comes in with less than a third of his delegates (410), while Rubio and Carson both come in at around 1/7th of his delegates (212 and 190, respectively).

Here in Alabama we have a technical term for that. We call it a landslide.

Now, I still don’t think this is the scenario that’s going to play out. As I’ve noted before, I think some candidates are in it to win but have no chance (Paul, Santorum) – and once they realize they don’t have a prayer, they’ll be out. Others are in it to enhance their careers (Carson wants to sell books and become a talking head; Huckabee wants to increase his fees for being a talking head). Most of the rest are in it as vote splitters for the establishment (Kasich, Fiorina, Huckabee, Christie and Graham) and will get out once their job is done (successfully or not). They’ll probably hang on until Florida – unless it becomes clear that they’re doing no good before that.

That leaves the four serious candidates left in the race: Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Bush. Bush’s backers will force him out once the voting drives home that he’s a truly shitty candidate, and the establishment will coalesce around Rubio, and that’s when the race get’s truly interesting. My best guess is that the splitters are out after Florida, when they’ve done their job.

The question is, who will be on top by then? Because whatever the party wants, and whatever its goals were originally, as candidates drop out, the majority of voters are going to coalesce behind… the winner. Whomever that happens to be, most voters will fall in line. I think it’s going to be Trump by that point, and even the idiotic talking heads will have figured out that he basically can’t lose the nomination anymore. So at the end of the day, I think he’s going to have an even bigger landslide (in delegates).

At the time I wrote the post linked above, Trump was polling around 25% nationally. I noted that even that was enough to win – but that he’d easily win with 30% if he could increase his share that high. If he breaks 40% before the voting starts – and his current trajectory is on path for that – it’s not even going to be a contest.

I could be wrong. Other candidates may pull out at different times. Their voters could split up in different ways than I predict. Trump may not increase his lead. But one fact still remains, and it’s a doozy:

Trump can win with 30% of the vote.

Sales Through Controversy

Published December 18, 2015 in Science Fiction - 0 Comments
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File770 has graciously shared the announcement of There Will Be War: Volume X, for which I am grateful. But I’m even more grateful for TechGrrl1972, who left this gem in the comments:

I love Jerry Pournelle’s work. His politics, not so much at this point. But I absolutely will not throw one single penny into that publishing house’s coffers.

Excellent! You see, for every comment like this that’s out there, one person will go buy it just to piss off her side of the debate and two more will go buy it just to find out what all the fuss is about. As a contributor to this particular work, I couldn’t bee more thrilled to see this comment. Except perhaps by the several others that follow in the same thread.

Thank you, TechGrrl1972! Thank you!

(H/T to Vox Day, the publisher of TWBW)

The Accidental Genius of George Lucas Part 4

Published December 17, 2015 in Movies , Science Fiction - 0 Comments
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Star Wars FansStar Wars was a work of accidental genius. I mean both the original film that we now know as A New Hope and also the entire saga – although each is its own accident. George Lucas himself never understood the true reasons for their respective successes, and that’s why he wasn’t able to replicate it with the prequel trilogy.

99% of the philosophical depth of the Star Wars universe was added by people other than George Lucas. In Part 1 I noted that the original film is nothing more than a solid, fun adventure romp. The philosophical depth of it is minimal. In Part 2, I noted that the philosophy underlying everything else came from the second installment in the series, The Empire Strikes Back. Yesterday, I talked about how much depth was added by the Extended Universe (EU).

But the richest source of the depth often attributed to Star Wars comes from an unexpected source: the collective imagination of the fans. If you look at the series – the films, the TV shows, the novels, the comics, and – heaven forbid – the Star Wars Christmas Special, if you really look at them, what you’ll eventually realize is that most of the depth we’ve attributed to it for decades isn’t really there at all. Aside from the occasional trip into real depth in the EU, there just isn’t much.

But in another sense, the depth is very real. To all of those who imagined our own stories set inside the Star Wars universe, to all of us who stayed up late into the night discussing frivolous technicalities of the world, the depth that we added was very nearly tangible. Our imaginations filled in the gaps, and we created a nearly infinite mythology.

The problem is, the depth that we created was never really there to begin with. And this is why there are so many people out there who never did – and never will – “get” the movies. For better or for worse, they lack the imagination to flesh it out in their own minds. In the early days, this was a rather large portion of society. Those of us who did “get it” were the outliers: nerds, geeks, and weirdos. Today geek culture reigns, and the majority of Americans seem to get it.

But how many of them truly got it on their own? How few were there all along, right in with the fun? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not out to label anyone as a “wrongfan.” I don’t care. It’s a movie, and if you didn’t enjoy it then but have learned to enjoy it since, I consider that an act of growth. It’s good for all of us to get outside of our comfort bubble. But I do have to admit that I laugh a little every time I see an old friend or acquaintance – the kind who resolutely made fun of those “Star Wars nerds” in the 80s – now profess that they’ve been “Star Wars nerds” all along.

This is also the reason the prequels were ultimately so disappointing. To be fair to George Lucas, nobody could have created a mythology that lived up to what we’d already collectively built. But putting the man who’d only ever created the genius accidentally back in charge of it was guaranteed to be the worst disappointment of all.

Beginning at midnight tonight, many of us will get to experience the next chapter in the Star Wars saga. Early reviews are positive, which is encouraging. But as someone who camped out for all three prequels – I was second in line for The Phantom Menace at my local theater – I’m approaching this new film in a much more sober manner. It will be good. Or it will be bad. Or it might be mediocre. But now matter how good it is, it will never live up to the mythology that exists in my own head after thirty seven years of daydreaming.

So enjoy the show, as best you can. I plan to take my children on Saturday morning. My very awesome boss rented out an entire theater for our small company, and no matter how good or bad the movie is, the experience itself will be a blast (just as camping for the prequels was, despite the poor films). May all of us enjoy some more accidental genius – this time with minimal involvement from Lucas himself.

And may the Force be with you.

  1. The Accidental Genius of George Lucas Part 1
  2. The Accidental Genius of George Lucas Part 2
  3. The Accidental Genius of George Lucas Part 3
  4. The Accidental Genius of George Lucas Part 4