Dear Mims Davies,

I write to express my disgust at the Prime Minister hiding behind Sue Gray’s enquiry.

He may have spent his over privileged lifetime being able to pay people off, or litigate his way out of trouble. But he can’t pay off the British public, and litigation won’t work this time around. Nobody cares whether Gray can find a technicality that lets him off. He’s done the wrong thing, and if he won’t fall on his sword it’s time for you and your colleagues to pull out the knives for the 1922 Committee process.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Swan


December 2021

31Dec21

Pupdate

Max’s second Christmas and Milo’s first, the outfits came courtesy of their mums’ doggy mum, and caused much excitement when they arrived as they brought the distinctive smell of her house.

A very Covidy Christmas

As I was drafting this post I left myself a note to comment on getting a booster jab, but that all got overtaken by events.

My wife called from outside the school where she teaches on Thu 16 Dec to say that she’d tested positive on a lateral flow test, and needed to book a PCR test. We weren’t at all shocked when the confirmation came through, but our plans to host her family for Christmas were ruined.

Two days later it was my daughter’s turn, two days after that my son’s. We scheduled Christmas 2 for Sun 2 Jan.

And now that won’t be happening as planned either, as I’ve just had to go for a PCR test. How it took me two weeks in a house full of infectious people to succumb will probably remain one of the mysteries of the universe.

Streaks

When my daughter has previously commented on keeping up app streaks whilst we’re on holiday I’ve scoffed at how silly it is. But my streaks are different…

Apple Fitness

Since early on in the pandemic I’ve been closing all three circles for move, exercise and standing, and doing a workout each day. Not travelling all over the place has been very good for consistency.

But on Dec 27 I neglected to do a top up VR workout after what must have been a not quite sufficiently vigorous dog walk, and that’s the end of a 651 day streak.

Stack Overflow

I created an account on Stack Overflow in 2014, and then found that I couldn’t do what I needed to do without jumping through many hoops to earn sufficient reputation. So it’s been fallow since. This month I found a topic to answer questions on (GitHub’s GraphQL API), so I’ve finally started earning some reputation and badges.

The ‘enthusiast’ badge for visiting 30 days in a row seems like an easy ask, but maybe not over the holidays. I’ve managed to drop the ball twice already.

iPad SSH

Just like the best camera is the one you have with you, the best device is often the one in your hands, and when I’m away from my desk my iPad is usually in reach. My main use of SSH from it is checking on my Raspberry Pi Sous Vide, but there are times I need to jump onto other hosts.

iSSH was one of the first apps I bought for my iPad 2, and it was excellent, but sadly the maintainer threw in the towel on keeping up with iOS updates. So when I got my iPad Mini 5 I started using Reflection, as it was free an perfectly adequate.

Sadly it seems that iOS15 has broken Reflection, making it very forgetful of keys and connections :(

So… time to try something new. I’d seen recommendations before for Blink Shell, and it’s a one off purchase rather than a subscription. I’ve not done anything to push it yet, but so far so good, it seems easy and intuitive.

Always Be Celebrating (ABC)

There’s a lot of dire stuff going on, but there’s also some great stuff happening, and it’s good to celebrate even the small victories life throws.

I’ll definitely be raising a glass of something fizzy to toast the start of 2022.


TL;DR

My ad blocker has been hiding things from me. Mostly things that I don’t want to see. But what we do see, and what we don’t see, is all part of crafting bespoke realities.

Background

My friend Ben Ford frequently says “What we perceive as reality is an internal simulation of our interaction with external events.”

Are we living in a simulation? Yes and no. Not a simulation, but billions of simulations, as each of us roams the planet with a different simulation running in our heads[1].

Sam Harris has done a number of interviews related to this on his podcast, and I’d particularly recommend ‘The Future of Intelligence‘ with Jeff Hawkins and ‘The Limits of Self Knowledge‘ with Stephen Fleming.

Until very recently (in evolutionary terms) at least those simulations were being fed from the same thing – the physical reality of planet earth. But now they’re not. The simulations are being fed by the screens in front of our eyes and/or the buds in our ears, and those things are serving up bespoke realities. Though I shudder to recommend anything to do with Joe Rogan, it’s a topic he takes on very well with Tristan Harris (of ‘The Social Dilemma’ fame) and Daniel Schmachtenberger in episode #1736 of his ‘experience’.

This is also a bug/feature of ‘Filter Failure at the Outrage Factory‘.

A glitch in the matrix

A little while ago I caught up with Charles Humble for lunch, and as always he was on the lookout for cool stuff for the Container Solutions blog. One of my suggestions was Swim.ai, and perhaps getting their CTO Simon Crosby to write something about it. Here’s the resulting post – Analyze Then Store? You’re Kidding Right?

As I started reading I was struck by something missing in the second sentence:

But the recent at Facebook

The recent what at Facebook? They’ve been so embroiled in scandal recently there’s plenty to choose from.

Charles is generally a top class editor, so how had this slipped by? I asked him, and he promptly replied with a screenshot from his phone of the article showing that the sentence read ‘But the recent name change at Facebook’.

I tried my mobile, and saw the same.

Then I tried another browser on my desktop, and the text was missing again. Computers are weird.

Use the source Luke

Time for a look at the source:

<p>If I bumped into Zuck’s avatar at the virtual water cooler I’d quit on the spot. But the recent <a href="https://www.googleadservices.com/pagead/aclk?sa=L&amp;ai=DChcSEwj13ObC_o70AhWGMyoKHd8TDxkYABAAGgJ0bQ&amp;ei=DVuMYfrcEs3e2roPg5GpyAU&amp;ohost=www.google.com&amp;cid=CAESQeD22EXOHXjBXtrAaLC0wn83SPHxjiEKX6UUkWvBKn-InbEn-AM1NXmThU8fqrpg9hlqxHPPp-zk5R237tZ_noAW&amp;sig=AOD64_1FVDus-IxiN-yxQFfAnBNn1UgMAw&amp;q&amp;sqi=2&amp;adurl&amp;ved=2ahUKEwi6l9_C_o70AhVNr1YBHYNIClkQ0Qx6BAgCEAE">name change</a> at Facebook,

‘name change’ is definitely there, but wrapped in a link to Google Ad Services, which my ad blocker (uBlock Origin) has chosen to drop from the page.

Targeted advertising is a defining part of our bespoke realities, and in this case the hole in the page where the advertising isn’t showed up as a wrinkle in my bespoke reality.

Conclusion

‘Surveillance capitalism’ is serving up bespoke realities to our eyes and ears. Even if you take measures to block it out, that still ends up crafting a different sort of bespoke reality. And then we take that input and feed it into our own little simulations of what’s going on.

Note

[1] Could the substrate for all those simulations also be a simulation? Maybe. Does it matter? No. I’ve run containers inside VMs. VMware will tell you that due to better scheduling their VMs run containers faster than bare metal.


November 2021

30Nov21

Pupdate

It’s been pretty mild for the season, but as we passed the middle of the month it was time for the boys to start wearing their coats out on walks.

I’ve bought a couple of extra latch clips to poke through the hole in their coats from their harnesses, otherwise it’s a right faff putting their leads on.

Heat pump

Back in April I got a quote for a heat pump system from local specialists H&D. It then took ages to get an electrician to put the external supply in place, then a further wait for an install date.

I went for a Daikin multi split system, with outlets in the kitchen/lounge/dining room (for heating in the winter), master bedroom, and office (for cooling in summer). Thankfully it was all done before the cold weather came, so we’re now able to enjoy a warm room in the evening without having to put a fire on.

The installers did a really neat job, inside and out:

Heat pump outside

Though there’s no hiding the ugliness of the external unit.

I’ve yet to see the impact on my electricity bill, but it’s claimed that the pump will give 3-4x input energy as heat, so I should get 2kW of heating for 500W of electricity.

I now need to wait for the summer to see if the cooling is effective and quiet.

So far I’m impressed with the system, but it does raise some practical questions about the proposed wider use of heat pumps in place of gas boilers…. That pump is ~6kW, my boiler is 24kW, so I’d need 4 pumps to produce the same output, which is a LOT of big boxes on the wall outside. There’s also a prevailing view that prices will come down and efficiency will go up as more people buy them, but these things (whilst new to most Brits) are commodity items in warmer climes that already sell by the millions.

Green Earl Grey Tea

When I gave up coffee in 2004 Twinings were doing a big marketing push for their flavoured green teas, and so I’d often get samples thrust at me on my commute to the office. It worked, I found that I really liked their Green Earl Grey. Sadly Twinings don’t do it any more, but thankfully Waitrose were selling an (almost) identical blend, so I had a reliable supply of my daily starter. Until they stopped, and my stockpile ran down…

I’ve been able to get some of Taylors blend, which I switched to the first time Twinings stopped making it, but it’s not as nice (too much green, not enough Earl Grey). So I’m now using the Nothing but Tea blend, which comes loose, meaning I have to make a pot each morning. It’s a faff, but worth it for the taste (though that’s not notably better than what I’d been getting from the Waitrose blend). I’d switch back to Waitrose (or Twinings) in a moment if they started making it again.

DIY jobs

Our house is coming up on 20 years old, so we’re at a stage where things routinely wear out or break. This month it was…

Garage door

The wire on one side of our Cardale door snapped. Thankfully pattern replacements are cheap and readily available. I was able to get CD45 cones and cables for £7.95 from Amazon, along with a punch to remove the old securing pins. Getting the parts was the easy part though. Fitting them was a bit of a nightmare, firstly because the pins took a LOT of hammering to remove, and then I had to release the tension from the spring system to allow the mechanism to be moved away from the wall to switch cones; followed by lots of re-tensioning afterwards. Hopefully it will be another 19 years before I need to do that again, though I fear the door itself might rot before that (despite my best efforts at repainting every few years).

Toilet seat

Last time (about a decade ago) the hinges went on the Roca Giralda seat in the downstairs loo I replaced it with the fancy ‘soft close’ version, which if nothing else seemed more robust than the regular version. But it turns out that the hinge caps are made of plastic, and they don’t last for ever. I thought I’d need another whole seat assembly, but they sell replacement (metal) hinge caps so I just got a pack of those (at roughly a third of the price of a whole seat). I suspect those new parts might now outlast the other components around them.

Aerial Amplifier

The TV in our bedroom started playing up, first with dropouts, then no signal at all. Although the TVs in other rooms still seemed OK it became clear that the LabTech distribution amplifier installed when the house was built 19 years ago wasn’t performing as it should (as bypassing it returned a perfect picture again). This was the easiest fix of the month, a new SLx Amp arrived next day from Amazon, and it was a few minutes work to unplug the old one then wall mount and plug in the new one.

Of course I took apart the old amp to see what had gone wrong with it. Nothing obvious. No burning or bulging capacitors. It made me wonder what makes a bunch of mostly surface mount transistors ‘wear out’ over time, and it turns out the IEEE has the answers. Though if I was betting on it I’d go for the 7815 rectifier being the culprit, as it was (literally) taking all the heat.

Raspberry Pi

After 4 years since backing the Curious Chip Pip on Kickstarter mine (serial number 0030) finally arrived.

I’ve not had the chance to properly play around with it yet, but I can think of all sorts of things to do with a Pi powered device in a handheld gaming package

Aeron chair

I bought myself a used Aeron back in 2014, and it’s served me well. I got a second one a couple of years later for the loft conversion office, but that disappeared into my daughter’s room during lockdown. So there was a gap to be filled, and I work from home all the time now, and when I took a peek at the Herman Miller site they had a Black Friday Sale.

The new lumbar support system seems nice. Everything else is pretty much what I’m used to (including the slight axis wobble that I always thought was down to age with my used chair, but seems to be an inherent flaw).

Reading

I’ve read a LOT more fiction than usual this month.

Anne Currie asked me to do a launch day review of Heliotrope, which meant finishing Dystopia X and Mars Insurgent. When launch day came I had only just started on my advanced review copy. Things hadn’t been helped by the launch of Charles Stross’s Invisible Sun, though I devoured that in a matter of days – I’ve loved the Merchant Princes books and then the Empire Games sequels.

Back to Stross again now with Dead Lies Dreaming, which is off to a great start.


###
Letter #16 Delivered 28 Nov 21

Hi Craig,

I expect this will be my last letter to you by this means, as you look forward to your release in a few days time. Hopefully we can continue our dialogue by email, though I expect your time and attention for the next few months will be mostly on family and catching up on the things you’ve missed. Out of habit I’ve attached a reply sheet, though I’d be surprised if you have the time to reply. It was nice to get a bonus reply this week to one of my earlier letters :)

This week has been a nice return to normality after the disruption of getting an air sourced heat pump installed last week. The dogs just wouldn’t settle with the installers coming and going, which then made it hard to concentrate on much else. At least the system was in place before the recent cold snap. My wife’s very happy to return to a nice warm home after spending her day in a freezing classroom with doors open to the outside to keep Covid at bay.

Thanksgiving week is also a special time for anybody working with Americans as it means a couple of precious days without the interruption of meetings, which provides a good opportunity to focus on stuff and get things done.

My son asked me this morning what we’re going to watch now that Foundation season 1 has come to an end. I think we’re going to try Wheel of Time, as the reviews seem pretty positive, though I’m totally unfamiliar with the source material.

Apart from writing to you, last Saturday ended up being completely consumed with finishing Anne Currie’s ‘Heliotrope’ (the latest in her ‘Panopticon’ series of a near future post climate disaster world where society gets along with ubiquitous video surveillance). I was only 20% into the advanced review copy when my pre order landed, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel so fast, but in the end it was a fun read, and I was on time for a launch day review. I’ve now started on Stross’s ‘Dead Lies Dreaming’, which so far seems to take the premise of his earlier ‘Laundry Files’ series – what if magic is real, and founded on a branch of maths, then we’d need a covert government agency to keep the lid on things – the Laundry; and then throws it at – what if the people in power got there by wielding paranormal abilities? Or put another way, what if Priti Patel really was an evil witch? It’s been very entertaining so far, and I can feel my engagement with it gathering momentum.

Best of luck for release day on Tuesday. I look forward to what you have to say and write.

Regards,
Chris


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Craig’s reply 29 Nov 2021

Chris,

Well 5 days to go so my last message for you!

I am hoping that, when free, Julian will turn his attention to recovering freedom on the Internet. I share your analysis 100%.

It seems there will always need to be a primarily social or entertainment portal that can lead the way to political thought. Entirely high-minded initiatives just don’t tack enough of the population.

But attempts to use a similar model to Facebook and Twitter, minus the censorship (e.g. “Me We”) can’t get traction.

I don’t have a solution, just musing.

Craig.


###
Letter #15 Delivered 21 Nov 21

Hi Craig,

It was great to get two replies from you this week :)

There’s a cartoon by John Jonik that I’m sure you’ve seen many times, with Uncle Sam pushing forward a box labelled ‘Control of Internet Speech’ and a man labelled Corporate Media asking ‘How would you like this wrapped?’ with rolls of paper labelled ‘Anti-Terrorism’ and ‘Protect Kids’ hanging behind him.

We know from Snowden that the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ wrapper was working in full flow eight years ago, and there’s nothing to suggest that the edifice has been torn down.

So we now have a situation where ruling parties have a decade or so of getting their way with the corporate gatekeepers of speech, and they want more of the same. They KNOW that the gatekeepers can do what they want, but the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ wrapper only stretches so far, and is also limited by a pervasive cloak of secrecy. So it’s time to bring out the ‘Protect Kids’ wrapper, which is what lies at the heart of the ‘Online Safety’ Bill.

The suppression you’ve encountered is evidence of over reach at the margins of the existing status quo. An arguable grey area between those with a peaceful ‘purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause’ and those willing to enact violence for such a cause (which we see time after time is hard to pin down until the violence happens). But that suppression is just the amuse bouche for what’s about to come.

There’s no doubt that the corporate gatekeepers have behaved atrociously in their pursuit of profit. ‘Filter failure at the outrage factory‘ has promoted extremism and conspiracy because it looks like ‘engagement’ to the algorithms, and more engagement = more $advertising. The use of algorithms has allowed the gatekeepers to become ethical vacuums, as the decisions aren’t being made by humans. But the answer to that problem isn’t to hand decision making power to ruling parties. That’s not how we’re going to win back democracy.

We caught a glimpse of something better – a world of dialogue without gatekeepers. The open Internet, and its blogs and RSS feeds and comments sections. But those things were encircled then shut down by the gatekeepers. The means are still there, but the attention economy bulldozed the ruins and set up its strip mall on top.

We may have free speech, but we struggle for meaningful reach. I hope you can continue to be a strong voice in that struggle, as it may be the most important struggle of our time.

Keep well as the days count by.

Chris


Things have got a little out of order as Craig works through his backlog of correspondence. Here’s letter #11 that he’s replying to.

###
Craig’s reply 14 Nov 2021

Hi Chris,

Continuing to work my way through old mail, I came upon your wondering how many people worldwide really do influence events: you set parameters of 7k or 7m. This is an interesting question, and I think I would set it at around 200k worldwide. All of whom, of course, would be connected in to the international mesh of interests of the wealthy.

Best wishes,

Craig


###
Letter #14 Delivered 14 Nov 21

Hi Craig,

I hope you’re well, and that each day brings fresh optimism about your impending release.

I came across a thread on Twitter from my friend Ian Grigg, which very much remined me of your predicament:

“”
A friend introduced me to Samizdat which is “a form of dissident activity across the socialist Eastern Bloc in which individuals reproduced censored and underground makeshift publications, often by hand, and passed the documents from reader to reader.”

What piqued my attn was the very last section in Wikipedia:

After Bell Labs changed its UNIX licence in 1979 to make dissemination of the source code illegal, the 1976 Lions book which contained the source code had to be withdrawn, but illegal copies of it circulated for years.

“The act of copying the Lions book was often referred to as samizdat. In hacker and computer jargon, the term samizdat was used for the dissemination of needed and hard to obtain documents or information.”

What a laugh! I have copies of those books, I did the late Prof Lions course way back when. So when I mentioned this to a mate from those times, he said, DID YOU KNOW…

“It’s now released for sale on Amazon!!!

“looks like you and Swine doing a copy…”

holy smokes batman… it does a bit :) Swine’s the big hairy guy on the left, leaving the bespectacled weed on the right. And yes it was always me that was caught red handed, in this case with book on photocopier.

But actually, probably wasn’t us. Not that time. Not with that photocopier…

But the meme is true – these books were the first DRM’d in my experience, I still recall the little slip of paper to get the special text, pay the special fee at a special window, with signed contract.

The more rebellious of us fought to get copies. I’ve still got mine, with many pencil scrawls, in a box on some continent.

It was fun to play at Samizdat, to bite the thumb at AT&T, but we didn’t really risk more than a slap – not like those in East Europe, who risked death.

These days I’m more interested in how to play high stakes Samizdat. Which is being played for real today in courts in the UK as Julian Assange, as the Samizdatel-in-chief of WikiLeaks is slowly killed in a British prison.

For the same crime as Samizdat – spreading the truth.

Samizdat is coming to the West. If Assange trial goes badly, and they manage to kill him in British or American jail, all of journalism will be too scared to publish the truth.
“”

This system does NOT like emojis in the text :(

Best,
Chris

###
Craig’s reply 18 Nov 2021

Hi Chris,

Thanks for that food for thought. The publication of “Spy Catcher” also comes to mind, a happy parallel to the Streisand Effect. It was in fact a very dull book.

It is however interesting how much knowledge of the Salmond Trial truths for which I am imprisoned is spreading following the end of lockdown. Just talking to people continues to be socially important.

But the biggest problem remains the development of Twitter and Facebook as corporate gatekeepers to Internet traffic. I don’t think any of us predicted that danger well enough ten years ago.

Best

Craig


As it had been a while since I’d heard from Craig, I published my 13th letter to him (along with #10, #11 and #12) without waiting for a reply. But I’m pleased that he has now written back:

###
Craig’s reply 15 Nov 2021

Hi Chris,

I must apologise for replying to you so seldom. I can assure you that every word you have sent has been read and appreciated.

Alternative honours schemes have been floated before from time to time. That is no reason not to try again, but I am rather in despair of the space to get an audience for any “alternative” views at all. That is due to both the ever more rigid conformity of the mainstream media and the stranglehold on the Internet of the gatekeeper corporations.

So the problem I’d see is not so much funding from the activist community, as outreach beyond the activist community.

Yes, I think quite a lot about what I will say, and then what I will write, on release. I have learnt a huge amount about lives destroyed and those left behind by society. How far this will affect my writing I’m not sure. It is not that I learnt much conceptually, but to know it experientially is very different. I guess it alters priorities a bit.

Best wishes

Craig