Why evaluate heredity vs environment?

Celia Green writes about heredity, intelligence and education. She makes an interesting point about the beliefs people hold in regards to heredity vs environment and their relation to government intervention:

One may wonder why it is of any interest to attempt to evaluate the relative importance of heredity and environmental factors on functionality. It only becomes of interest, surely, when opportunity of various kinds is not paid for directly by the individual, or his parents or guardian, but supplied by the state.

At present, many people, or at least many among the most influential, seem to wish to believe that there is no such thing as innate ability, and that there should be equality of opportunity (and hence equality of outcome). But what are we to understand by equality of opportunity? In practice, this is taken to mean that resources should be applied lavishly to those whose performance is below the average. Thus children with ‘special needs’, for example, are to be sent in taxis, accompanied by social workers, to special schools. And, although this is less explicitly advocated, those who are far ahead should be held back.

I miss you, America

The founding of the United States was one of the most impressive and admirable events in world history. For a long time this new country was the world's foremost beacon of freedom. At this point however, the US has become one of the leaders in oppressive government tactics, and disturbing reports are published every day about increasing tyranny.

Oh, America, how far you have fallen!

NSA infiltrates Yahoo, Google data centers

DHS Spends $500,000 on Fully Automatic Pepper Spray Launchers

Adam Kokesh, a modern day political prisoner

Free Speech T-shirt Maker Threatened By NSA

White House Forces Companies To Keep Quiet About Obamacare Problems

Body scanning at the candy store

Interesting experiment on the willingness of ordinary people to subject themselves to invasive forms of surveillance. A body scanner is used on customers entering a candy store. Many had the appropriate reactions - disbelief, disgust, anger, walking away - but according to the producers:

The goal was to see how far we could take this scanning and if people would let us! To our surprise, most people didn't put up much of a fight and went along with the person ahead of them in line... which was our plant that we actual scanned again and again.

Machineries of freedom

Last night I was talking with some fellow anarchists about what kind of practical projects we should be exploring and promoting, to move beyond the usual grind of politics and ideology. There were lots of interesting suggestions of course and over time I would like to explore many of them on this blog. Here are some types of projects that I am currently involved with or seriously exploring:

  • Autonomous wireless mesh networks to complement/compete with/replace the government controlled Internet. I have been talking to people, going to conferences etc to explore this topic, with the goal of building a mesh network in Stockholm. The motivation is primarily to counter government restrictions on information exchange, by creating a parallel network which the state can not control or censor.
  • New technology for small scale production of food. One of the small startups in this space that I am watching closely is AutoMicroFarm. Some friends of mine are building similar setups of their own. Don't know much about energy production, but would love to hear from some solar power enthusiasts or something.
  • The interplay between government services and free software might offer some opportunities. I have personal experience of projects where the implementation of open data standards has made a substantial difference to the allocation of money and other resources. Wider implementation of free software might shift the balance of power in a favorable direction.
  • Setting up secure mail hosting services, systems for encrypted mailing lists etc. I run a full-stack mail server to help friends and acquaintances improve their security, use encryption etc (let me know if you are interested). I provide these services for free, but it could easily be turned into a small business if I wanted it to. Lots of people should be doing this, i.e. making money helping others to become more free and secure.
  • A while ago I collaborated with a friend to create a prediction market, something like a more up-to-date version of Intrade. The project was put on hold, but feels more relevant than ever now that Intrade has been forced by the US government to shut down. Prediction markets are powerful tools for crowd sourcing intel and we should use them.
  • I have created a piece of software called Digital Demokrati, which is a decision making system based on a fluid combination of direct and representative democracy. The general idea is to challenge the conventional idea of politicians representing the people by providing a superior mechanism of representation.

If you are interested in this kind of stuff, feel free to get in touch. I am especially interested in talking to people who have practical experience of building and maintaining wireless mesh networks.

The title of this post is a reference to The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman, one of the classic works on anarcho-economy. If you have not read it, you should check it out.

How Sweden became rich

One of the central pieces of government propaganda in Sweden is the belief - embraced by almost everyone in Sweden - that conditions in this country were horrible until the Social Democrats came along and built the so-called welfare state. And of course, a lot of people around the world idolize this system and think of it as great success.

This is in fact an absurd inversion of what actually happened.

This recent essay by Johan Norberg digs deep into this interesting topic and describes when and how Sweden actually went from being a poor country to one of the richest. Highly recommended reading if you have some time on your hands and want to learn more about this particular corner of the world:

http://www.libertarianism.org/publications/essays/how-laissez-faire-made-sweden-rich

From the essay:

It was not socialist policies that turned Sweden into one of the world’s richest countries. When Sweden got rich, it had one of the most open and deregulated economies in the world, and taxes were lower than in the United States and most other western countries. The Social Democrats kept most of those policies intact until the 1970s, when they thought that those excellent foundations—unprecedented wealth, a strong work ethic, an educated work force, world-class exports industries, and a relatively honest bureaucracy—were so stable that the government could tax and spend and build a generous cradle-to-grave welfare state on them.

They couldn’t. At least not without costs. Because that welfare state began to erode the conditions that had made the model viable in the first place. And the fourth richest country became the 14th richest within three decades.

The New Libertarians

In this excellent article my favorite kind of libertarianism gets some serious love. This is exactly the kind of stuff I wish that more libertarian minded people would get involved in!

http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/the-new-libertarianism

The article describes a conference organized by the Students for Liberty. I was recently at another of their conferences and it was a blast. Even though most of the people attending were conventional political types, there were a substantial number of people there thinking outside the political box, talking about anarchy, entrepreneurship etc.

From the article:

When I was in college, I can’t remember anyone doing this. We trusted that the system would take care of us, and our job was to fit in. These young people do not have this view. The existing system is something they will use, but only on the path to bypassing it with new innovations and businesses to change the future. 

To be sure, this is a group that is very commercially astute. They see business as the way to change the world. The tools they use every day to navigate the world—buying everything from coffee to concert tickets, getting around cities, planning trips, talking to friends and family—came to them via the private sector. Government contributes nothing to their lives apart from annoyance. 

What’s more, among these libertarians, there is very little hope that political change is a viable option. What would be the mechanism of change? The two-party system? The trends in politics are inexorably worse, regardless of the promise. The trends in commercial life are toward progress every day. Which seems like the better path?


Robotrubriker?

Har kvällstidningarna mjukvarusystem för att generera rubriker? Gör de a/b-testning med algoritmer som med varierande frekvens inkluderar ord från särskilda ordlistor, t.ex. "skräck" och "bajs"? Ger de algoritmerna feedback från besöksfrekvenser för att utvärdera olika strategier?

Jag har ingen aning, men jag vet att Schibsted är bra på dataanalys. Vissa av deras bolag är rena datacrunchningsfabriker, och samtal med folk på insidan ger mig intrycket att hela koncernen jobbat länge och medvetet med att analysera sina egna data och bygga sina företag därefter.

Idag hittade jag följande fyra rubriker på aftonbladet.se som alla refererar till samma händelse, tre av dem på en och samma indexsida (två separata länkar). Oavsett om det är avsiktligt testas alltså multipla rubriker på en och samma nyhet på en och samma sida. Det börjar oskyldigt men trappas gradvis upp till nivån då man inte bara använder "skräck" och "bajs" utan dessutom kombinerar dem till ett ord:

Tv-mammans kärleksmöte - i vinglig kanot

"Ensamma mamma"-Thereses guppiga kanothångel

Hemliga skräcken under kyssen i tv

Hemliga bajsskräcken under mammans kanothångel i tv

Jag ska erkänna att jag har svårt att greppa att det över huvud taget finns både producenter och konsumenter av den här typen av information, så jag är inte den bästa tänkaren på området. Kanske sitter journalister helt enkelt och tävlar om att sätta mer och mer skruvade rubriker? Jag föreställer mig att de för det mesta har roligt, men att de ibland är irriterade över att deras CMS-system kräver att man matar in rubriken på fyra ställen istället för ett.

Encrypted mailing lists with Schleuder

I recently needed to have a way for a group of people to send encrypted messages to each other. Regular PGP is designed for one-to-one communication, so this is a bit of a tricky problem. Multiple strategies are possible, but they all involve some kind of trade-off in regards to security or practical feasibility.

One option is to use a secret key which is shared by all members. The benefit of this model is that it provides proper end-to-end encryption. The drawback is the practical problem of securely distributing the shared secret. If there is geographical separation and few other secure channels, this can be a very difficult problem. What happens if you need to revoke access for one of the members - do you create a new secret and go through the process of securely distributing it to everyone again?

The second option is to have users encrypt messages with a special public key, the list key. The list server receives messages, decrypts them with the private list key and immediately re-encrypts them with the public key of each member of the group. One benefit of this approach is that key management is a non-issue (same as normal PGP mail). The drawback is that messages will be decrypted and at some point held in cleartext before reaching the recipients. So there is not end-to-end encryption - in effect, the server does a benevolent version of a man-in-the-middle attack.

The drawback of the first option is huge - I don't think I could convince anyone to participate in my mailing lists if they were so cumbersome to manage. The drawback of the second option on the other hand is rather limited. Temporarily decrypted messages need only be stored in RAM, and never for more than a few seconds. Given that we have some degree of trust in the list server, this is probably not one of our primary security concerns.

With this decision made, I started looking for specific software to use. I quickly found a very nice open source project called Schleuder (meaning 'slingshot' in German), which had exactly the features I was looking for, a few little extras that I hadn't thought of but liked, and basically nothing else - perfect! And when I downloaded the source I got another nice surprise: Schleuder is written in Ruby which happens to be my weapon of choice for everyday scripting.

Thus began my love affair with Schleuder. About a week later it was consummated when I had a server set up and could start playing around with encrypted lists. So far there are a couple of small groups keeping in touch through the Schleuder lists on my server, and I'm working on getting more people to start using encryption and joining lists. I have also written my first Schleuder plugin and hopefully I will find the time to write a few more.

Some of the extra features that Schleuder comes with:

  • Anonymous remailer. Lists can act as mail gateways for groups, exchanging mail with any external address. Might be useful e.g. for info-type addresses or for anonymity purposes.
  • Lists are to a large extent managed by sending text commands in emails to the list server. Commands include things like adding new members, listing current members, requesting a specific public key etc.
  • Flexible plugin system, which has worked without a hitch for me. Very easy to create new mail based commands. My first plugin experiment was a mail based web browser.

For more information about Schleuder, check out the project web site. And by all means, if you are interested in this kind of thing and want to share your thoughts, please send me an email. To anyone interested in having an encrypted mailing list for some project or just messing around, let me know and I will create a list for you on my server. The only requirement is that you are able to send and receive PGP encrypted mail.

IS4WCN 2013

This is a travel report I sent to a private mailing list after attending the 2013 International Summit for Wireless Community Networks in Berlin.

Jag har begränsat med tid att skriva, så här kommer några slumpmässiga reflektioner:

  • Konferensen hölls på c-base i Berlin, vilket är ett otroligt coolt ställe. Om ni inte känner till det bör ni googla. Sedan jag kom hem har jag inte kunnat släppa tanken på att jag vill skapa en ny plats i Stockholm... Vi kommer nog aldrig att kunna skapa något i Sverige som liknar c-base, men vi skulle kunna ta både ett och två blad ur deras bok...
  • Deltagarna på konferensen var extremt trevliga, öppna, ödmjuka typer. Alla var generösa med sin tid och när jag t.ex. nämnde för någon att jag ville prata med folk från Aten, kom någon helt annan fram en timme senare och presenterade två greker. Jag är van att hänga på programmeringskonferenser och i någon mån politiska konferenser, så för mig har kanske ett visst mått av asociala beteenden blivit normala. Det var hur som helst en mycket trevlig upplevelse i Berlin och jag knöt många intressanta kontakter.
  • Det finns massor av stora meshnätverk runt om i världen. Jag blev förvånad över hur många det var som jag aldrig hittat i mina försök att göra research. Det finns både stor spridning i vilken teknik folk använder, och anmärkningsvärda likheter. Folk använder t.ex. ganska olika sorters hårdvara, routingprotokoll osv, men tjänsterna som möter slutanvändare är ganska lika.
  • De flesta nätverksprojekt står inför ett dilemma när wifi-uppkopplingar plötsligt är väldigt tillgängliga. Normala svenskar har ju obegränsat 3G-internet i sina telefoner, och ofta dessutom tillgång bra wifi-nät på offentliga platser osv. Så dessa projekt som marknadsfört sig som leverantörer av internetuppkoppling kan plötsligt se överflödiga ut. Folk pratade väldigt mycket om hur man kan få människor att stanna kvar på communitynäten, men det slog mig att man nästan aldrig pratade om varför man ville hålla kvar folk.  För mig som vill bygga meshnät som ett försök till politiskt självförsvar, framstår städer som Aten, Barcelona och Bogota som extremt lyckligt lottade i det att de redan har en parallell infrastruktur på plats. Jag undrar om de här nätverken kan ges nytt liv med ett mer aktivistiskt syfte.
  • Det är ofta mer intressant att lära sig om projekt i utvecklingsländer. Deras lösningar är lo-tech, billiga, flexibla, robusta och ofta mindre ideologiska, helt enkelt för att det krävs. Snackade ganska mycket med en person från Kamerun vars internetuppkoppling var 10 b/s (sic!). Vissa av projekten från rikare länder verkar vara mer fluff och lägger energi på t.ex. att migrera från den ena hipsterteknologin till den andra (byte från MongoDB till CouchDB diskuterades).
  • Jag är inte längre lika intresserad av att installera OpenWRT på commodity-routrar. Var på en workshop med en snubbe från Bogota som visade hur man kunde sätta upp en extremt flexibel meshnod på en Raspberry Pi med wifi-anten, minimal Debian-installation och några enstaka normala unixdemoner för OLSR-routing, DHCP-server osv. Ett exempel han visade var att med några knapptryckningar installera en Mumble-server som vi fick testa att VoIPa genom. Såklart busenkelt att köra webserver eller precis vad som helst. Och det finns bättre/billigare mikroarkitekturer än Raspberry Pi, och jag tänkte börja experimentera med några sådana.
  • De flesta projekt verkar använda en splashscreen, lite som när man surfar på hotell-wifi, men med de två alternativen "Lokala tjänster" respektive "Internet". Om man gör en sådan splashscreen bra kan den räcka som det enda standardiserade gränssnitt man behöver. Tänker att det vore en smal sak att baka in service discovery (via OLSR-lagret) och visa direkt på splashen vilka tjänster som finns på närliggande noder. Mycket mer än så behöver man inte.
  • Har inte direkt kommit på något som känns som en killer app, men tror fortfarande att grundläggande kommunikation är vad jag personligen vill försöka utveckla till att börja med. Textmeddelanden, t.ex. genom Bitmessage, VoIP-tjänster, fildelning. Det man egentligen vill är att hitta saker som inte går att göra på vanliga internet, men som går på ett lokalt nätverk, men trots alla smarta kreativa personer på konferenser fanns det förvånansvärt få idéer i den riktningen.
  • Träffade Amelia Andersdotter för första gången och kan konstatera att hon är en av de coolaste människor jag någonsin träffat. Djupt imponerad av hennes intelligens, fokus och insikter. Sverige har aldrig haft en folkvald politiker av hennes kaliber och jag hoppas jag kan hitta något sätt att supporta henne, t.ex. i valrörelsen nästa år.