Why our Meta data laws are a joke and Only one of us us laughing.

I like a good joke. I really do.

Like “I used to think the brain was the most important organ. Then I thought, look what’s telling me that.”

Or “How many kids with ADHD does it take to change a light bulb? Let’s go play on our bikes!”

Or “There are two fish are in a tank. One turns to the other and says “I’ll fire up the turbine, you man the gun”

But the fact is that the governments meta data retention laws that have been signed into law this week are a little expensive for me to laugh at despite Malcom Turnbulls best efforts. More on that later.

The whole scheme smacks of trying to put the Genie back in the bottle. Where it just freaking won’t go.

Seriously? Your saying NOT a demon...?

Tony! Have you heard there’s a way of transferring information that’s not via Pigeon?”

tony-abbott-smirk

Ridiculous, I can tell you that nothing in the world has changed since my journalist days in the 80’s and if it has I want to be stopped or monitored!

So $400 million dollars a year. That’s how much it will cost to retain your data…or at least to attempt too.

art-George_Brandis_Senate-620x349

“The government has indicated that it will make a substantial contribution to capital cost. I refer you to the estimate in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report as to the likely average cost per customer per annum. Those discussions have not been finalised. Ultimately, this is a matter that will be determined in the budget process.” – George “potato head” Brandis

Oh yeah don’t worry!! The government will pay for it. Or at least a substantial contribution to the cost..hrum…I wonder where that money comes from…oh WAIT! That’s right it comes from us!

And the supposed purpose of all this data retention? To foil the terrorists!! Uh huh.

So it’s somewhat puzzling why Malcom “Fuck it all” Turnbull would be on national TV telling people (although he was speaking to journalists, I assume that he figured everyone else would block their ears and it’s not like journalists would report what he said) how to circumvent the system that the government is spending $400 million dollars of our money on.

And yet he did, and it’s not the first time he’s been seen spruiking wares from the app store.

“I use Wickr as an application, I use a number of others, I use WhatsApp, because they’re superior over the top messaging platforms; hundreds of millions of people do” he said in February.

He once again spoke of how great and secure these apps are especially from “The prying eyes of this sneaky, sneaky government” he said as he narrowed his eyes and made a start on a tin foil hat.

He then reminded everyone that according to the legislation:

“ISPs will not have to store “records about communications sent or received using third-party communications services running ‘over-the-top’ of their network or service” including popular overseas webmail platforms Gmail and Hotmail.”

And when asked if Journalists have anything to fear “Well, they’ve got nothing in addition to fear. Those call charge records have been accessed by police investigating leaks for decades, but of course you now have the ability by using over-the-top applications – it might just be something straightforward like Whatsapp, it might be a more encrypted over-the-top application – to avoid leaving a trail.” He said. Basically encouraging all in sundry to circumvent the law. I wonder if he has shares in Whatsapp?

“If, on the other hand, I communicate with you via Skype, for a voice call, or Viber, or I send you a message on Whatsapp or Wickr or Threema or Signal or Telegram – there’s a gazillion of them – or indeed if we have a Facetime call, then all that the telco can see insofar as it can see anything is that my device has had a connection with, say, the Skype server or the Whatsapp server … it doesn’t see anything happen with you … It’s important I think for journalists to remember.”

He said whilst burning an effigy of Tony Abbot and George Brandis kissing.

Seriously I think he has shares in Whatsapp.

So basically the Meta data laws are a stupid tax. Anyone not tech savvy enough to circumvent it are the only people that it will affect and I suspect that most cyber criminals are smarter than that.

The only people it benefits are people with shares in Whatsapp (eh, Malcom) people who own VPN’s and…..yep that’s it. The rest of us will be paying for it. Good thing we don’t have other things to spend the money on like indigenous affairs or welfare or Medicare for the elderly. I wonder which of Tony’s friends in business is really benefiting from this?

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Forgivness

I rarely if ever block people on Facebook, or defriend for that matter. I try not to. I have many people on Facebook that I don’t agree with politically or religiously for instance. If they post something that really annoys me I might post something back and I often get put in the role of the internet’s fact checker but when it comes right down to it I believe diversity is good. I believe that exposing yourself to different opinions and dissimilar points of view is a good thing. I try not to have my feed as an echo chamber that only reflects what I think or believe although I know that I fail on that quite often. I also realise that those people are clearly putting up with me so they are being exposed to my viewpoint and opinion too. This is the marketplace of ideas in action. Where we can sit and have a coffee and quietly disagree with each other without raising our voices.

But I did defriend someone recently. We weren’t close, we were friends of friends but we’d hung out a bit, gone to the beach together, been on weekends away together (with other people) we’d been drunk together and were solid acquaintances. But we had a good “facebook” relationship of commenting on each other’s posts. But then this person posted something and I am frankly still I little shocked. It went like this:

“I’m so sick of all this Bali 9 bullshit, just kill them already. Why is everyone so upset over these two guys? Two less drug dealing scum in the world? That’s a win as far as I’m concerned”

Or words to that effect. But I think I got it pretty close.

I left a message that said “And defriended” and then I defriended them.

This might seem like the opposite of my policy and I agree on one level I was shocked and angry. But then I played out the conversation that we could have on Facebook and then I decided that the likelihood was that it just wouldn’t be productive and maybe just maybe the fact that I was prepared to end my association with her over this would make her pause for thought.

I perhaps don’t have to explain to people why I was so upset but I will anyway. Just in case.

“You are more than the worst thing you have ever done”- Hiro Kano

You are not, the worst thing you have ever done. Think about it. What is it? Maybe it’s sitting there like a lump in your throat that just won’t move no matter how much you swallow, jagged and irritable. Maybe even though you’ve made peace with it or you don’t talk about it or you don’t think about it yet thoughts of it return unbidden when the night is quiet and the air is still.

No matter what it is, no matter how bad it is you can’t let it define you. If you do then you remove all hope of absolution, forgiveness or change. Humans are capable of great things. A human who is capable of terrible things is also capable of great things. I’m not saying there is a great scale where good deeds wipe out terrible ones but if you don’t believe in reform, if you don’t believe in rehabilitation then that applies to you as well. And I don’t know anyone who has not done at least one thing that someone has found it hard to forgiven them for. Often that person is themselves. So there’s that.

One of the few good things that religion has given us is the idea of redemption. That sins can be absolved. That we can work to undo what we have wrought. In a way it’s simply not true. You cannot undo the past but you do have control over the future and people change. I know that the person I was when I was 19 would be an anathema to me now. I have changed and I think for the better with no more impetus to do so than I suspect that anyone has. Never mind the extra motivation that being in jail and having your loved ones not want you to die might engender. So we know people change, we know people can change we know that people make stupid mistakes and we know that they are not that mistake. So why are we murdering them? Because society is more interested in punitive measures and that blood lust makes people feel better. Frankly the desire to see people murdered is more terrifying in people I know than something stupid someone did when they were 19. I’m sorry but the idea that you might want someone dead is worrying to me.

The philosophers stoned

Ok so an interesting problem was posed to me last-night. And that was “Who are the modern philosophers?” why haven’t we heard of them as we have say Locke, Hume, Wittgenstein et al?

I think one of the answers is that first people like Descartes or even Proust are pretty understandable when you read them, in fact they write in prose rather than academic language and their audience wasn’t other philosophers they were writing for everyone. Another answer might be that they were commenting on specific common experience that we all have and trying to philosophise why that might be or what to do about it. Almost all the famous philosophical problems come from the enlightenment period. Another answer could be that very few of the issues that they were grappling with have been “solved”. Modern philosophers tend to tackle problems in tiny intricate chunks and they tend to write for academia also it tends to be a fairly insular community. In fact people like Alain De Botton who writes “popularist” philosophy often paraphrasing the great philosophers has been heavily criticised in the community for “Dumbing down” philosophy. I really like Alain De Botton and I think that his ability to contrast and connect historical philosophy and the problems that we face in everyday life today is not only useful but beautiful.

There seem to be two sets of philosophers currently. Or at least that’s how I’m splitting it up.

There are those that use or attempt to use Natural language to pose and solve problems. And those who use representational systems (such as mathematics) to pose and solve problems. Both of these approaches have their issues as I will outline later.

But there are great philosophers who walk among us today. So let’s talk about a few of them. (This might become a series on 21st century philosophers).

John Searle– John Searle has spent a lot of time thinking about intelligence, rationality, how we can recognise intelligence and what it means to be an intelligent being. These are big questions. Searle is probably most famous for postulating the “Chinese Room Problem”.

The Chinese room problem gets to the heart of “How do we know what we think we know?” it’s almost soffits in its approach. It pertains specifically to machine intelligence. How would we know intelligence when we see it and couldn’t it just be a good imitation of intelligence? How do we know that we aren’t just exhibiting a good imitation of intelligence?

And this is one of the problems with philosophising in natural language. You cannot expect to output a rational answer to a problem if you don’t have a good robust definition for the terms that you are using. And the fact is that we don’t have a robust definition for intelligence. So how can we work out if a computer has something if in reality we don’t really know what that something is?

Marvin Minsky– Marvin himself would probably not agree that he actually is a philosopher but to me the way that Minsky approaches the idea of artificial intelligence and his analysis of humans in contrast to the artificial creates great philosophical questions in his essay “Conscious Machines” Minsky poses a list of questions that we never ask.

How do you know how to move your arm?

How do you choose which words to say?

How do you recognize what you see?

How do you locate your memories?

Why does Seeing feel different from Hearing?

Why does Red look so different from Green?

Why are emotions so hard to describe?

What does “meaning” mean?

How does reasoning work?

How do we make generalizations?

How do we get (make) new ideas?

How does Commonsense reasoning work?

Why do we like pleasure more than pain?

What are pain and pleasure, anyway?

In the context of the essay they are designed to illustrate just how intricate we are and how copying or replicating our complexity and action is a herculean feat but in the wider context of our shared experience it strikes an observer that these are questions that need answers yet if I the organism experiencing these things don’t have ready answers how can we hope to confer this experience onto a machine? Minsky himself says “This leads to what I see as a kind of irony; it is widely agreed that there are “deep philosophical questions” about subjectivity, consciousness, meaning, etc. But people have even less to say about questions they’d consider more simple, like the questions above”

Minsky then talks about “Thinking about thinking” something we do not do.

“We never discuss these in everyday life, or bring them up in our children’s schools. An alien observer might even conclude that those Earth-people seem to have a strong taboo against thinking about thinking. It seems to me that this is because our traditional views of psychology were so mechanistically primitive that we simply had no useful ways to even begin to discuss such things. This is why I find such irony in the arguments of those who reject the new mechanistic concepts of psychology — the new ideas about computational processes that promise at last to supply us with adequate descriptions of these complex processes.”

“The science of Psychology, as we know it today, is scarcely one hundred years old. Why did humanity wait so long before the emergence of thinkers like Freud, Piaget, and Tinbergen?”

Saul Kripke – Saul Kripke I won’t talk about Kripkie much but I think he deserves a mention he is the current leader in representational logic. That is representing problems and concepts as mathematical equations. An approach that I’m not particularly keen on but his treatise on language is compelling. To be frank I don’t understand Kripke and I don’t really know enough about his approach to criticise it fully.

Shuuusshh! I'm thinking

Shuuusshh! I’m thinking

Vale Sir Terry

No Joke today

No Joke today

Woke up this morning at 5am, normally I would just roll back over and go to sleep but something made me look at my phone and so I got to hear that Terry Pratchett had died from Neil Gaimen before I was really awake. This did not make for a good morning. So I got up, had a quiet little cry watched the sun rise and had a cup of tea. What else was there to do?

There are going to be a lot of these, perhaps thousands. And this is mine.

I first encountered Terry Pratchett (now Sir Terry) at the Wesley Prahran library (my school Library). It might surprise people to know that I was once a library kid. I spent my lunch times and indeed most of my spare time in the library reading. I had friends. I was social. We often played Magic (Alpha, we were totally ahead of the curve). But I also had a habit left over from the days that I didn’t have friends of being solitary and reading. And read I would. One of my friends Andrew Phillips asked me one day as I digested yet another sci-fi novel. If I’d read Terry Prachett. No, no I had not. He went over to the stacks and fetched a copy of the Colour of Magic and placed it into my hands “I don’t like the cover” I said. “Read it” he said promising that I would enjoy it.

It was instantly familiar. It was funny, clever, absurdist. I immediately felt at home and at ease even though the only fantasy I had read was Lord of the Rings. I began to think of it as Douglas Adams for fantasy. This was not damning with faint praise, I could not have spent enough time with you to tell you how much I loved Douglas at the time.

There is a certain similarity but where Douglas would take the long way round to wherever the joke would take him, Terry had a certain economy of wit that made his books laugh out loud funny.

Terry didn’t just write books he wrote a world, he spread it out in my mind perfectly formed. I have walked the streets of Ankh Morpork I know where the Unseen University is, I know better than to eat Dibblers pies, I have stood at the banks of the Ankh and marvelled at how such a solid mass still flows. I have travelled to the edge of the Disc, I have seen the colour of Magic and I have conversed with Death before my time.

Everyone has their favourites. Mine was Mort but then Reaper Man came along. Reaper man made me cry. So it gets a special place in the pantheon. Some people are fans of Grimes, others Tiffany Aching I didn’t have particular loyalty to the characters but some books spoke to me more than others. I have a real urge to go and read Soul Music, I remember loving it when it first came out but I for some reason haven’t read it since.

To paraphrase Chris Boucher talking about Robert Holmes. “He was a funny, intelligent, literate writer and there aren’t too many of those about, for that reason alone he should be mourned”

The reality is there is too much to say and as the words jostle for position in my brain they all seem inadequate. I want to talk about the way that he died but this isn’t the time. Right now I just want to curl up with a good book. The very feeling he gave me the whole time I knew about him.