rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)


Photo under CreativeCommons licence by UnusualImage on Flickr



I recently went to a talk by Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross on “Resisting the All Seeing Eye”. Surprisingly, since I was there with [livejournal.com profile] hano, [livejournal.com profile] coughingbear and [livejournal.com profile] sierra_le_oli and a horde of other web-savvy folk, I haven’t read anything about it on the internet, so I thought I’d post my thoughts.

The event was organised by and in support of the Open Rights Group, who were also very active at the Conference on Modern Liberty.

That title - the all seeing eye - was deliberately controversial; for me, it raised an image of Bentham’s panopticon: all of us under surveillance all the time. Modern technology makes it possible, and I believe we all need to be aware of this, rather than blindly stumbling into a future in which everyone is a suspect all the time.

Both Doctorow and Stross agree with me. And more or less everyone else in the audience. They were really preaching to the converted. And yet the evening was set up as a debate, with the speakers taking turns – as if they were rebutting each other’s comments. Instead, it felt like they were trying to outdo each other in painting dark pictures of a dystopian future – and a pretty bleak present, too.

I preferred Doctorow’s style to Stross’ – it seemed much more discursive and exploratory where Stross came across as a bit of a know-it-all (sorry!).

But – and a big but – I don’t actually know what the purpose was. It certainly served to scare me, but hey, most people there were scared enough to be there. There were a few very practical technological things we can do to avoid online surveillance - switch off Javascript, control the action of cookies, block Flash, opt out of Phorm (although ORG has said this isn’t sufficient), use ad blockers and so on. But that was about it: I wanted some real actions that we could take to oppose the onward march of overt and covert surveillance, and I didn’t get it.

This surprised me: here were a couple of hundred people sufficiently concerned to spend a Friday night listening to two well-respected technologically minded commentators, and we were sent away depressed and unenergised.

This should have been a rallying call! Get out there and do something! Make this a political issue – complain to your MP, shout about this from the rooftops – hell, even storm the cameras!

But no. The scary future seemed just too scary to do much about.

So I am doing what I can. I am talking about the issue, and writing about it here. I may start a phone campaign – I have just noticed that many CCTV cameras have a phone number on them; I think I shall start phoning the number, just for the hell of it. Maybe I’ll start photographing CCTV cameras, too – why not?

Because I really think we should be doing something.


Photo under CreativeCommons licence by NoLifeBeforeCoffee on Flickr

rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
Yesterday I wrote about the impact that Philip Pullman made at the Convention on Modern Liberty. You can now see a video of his speech.

They seem to be uploading videos of the different sessions; I'll post when they link to videos of speeches to which I have referred.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
When I posted about CoML, I had wanted to include an excerpt from David Davis' closing speech, but it wasn't available on the CoML website.

They have now put it up. You can read the whole speech if you wish.

I am posting the excerpt here rather than editing my previous post so it doesn't get lost.
In fact I would like to respond to Jack Straw, not with an answer but with a question. Tell me, Jack, when does it become a police state? When the Government knows everything? When the Government knows - this is a long list I am afraid - everything about every citizen anywhere in the country? Where they know every text, our every e mail, our every web access, our every phone call? When they can track every citizen through their car, to wherever they are in the country? When the police are able to enter your computer and search it without you even knowing about it? When virtually any state organisation can put you under surveillance without supervision or control, even including Local Government. When the police can arrest you for heckling the foreign secretary? You should deserve a medal quite frankly! Or for wearing a bollocks to Blair T shirt or reading out the names at the cenotaph. The police can now arrest you for photographing a London Bobby, which will lead to a lot of very surprised Japanese tourists, at some point.

So is that a police state, Jack? Or does it become a police state when MPs are arrested simply for doing their job of holding the government to account and, yes, occasionally embarrassing them. Or, very much more seriously, is it a police state when the governments collude or condone in torture as an act of policy? Is that a police state, Jack? Are we there yet? And if the answer is no, now let’s turn it round and say to him, okay how many photographers do we arrest before it becomes a police state? How many innocent people on a DNA database before it becomes a police state: a million, as now, or 2 million? How many days do you lock people up without charge before it becomes a police state? 42? 90? And before you answer, Jack, remember that 90 days detention without charge was the first number picked by South Africa under apartheid and it becomes 180 and then indefinite. I am glad to say that state fell and was replaced by a better one.

I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I do know this: every erosion of our freedom diminishes us as a people, as a nation, as a civilisation. I also know this - this is clear: that when we do know it is a police state it will be too late.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I have been trying to write about the Convention On Modern Liberty, which I went to a couple of weeks ago in London. I started off trying to write about each session, but I got bogged down – it was a very full programme – so I am going to try a different tack, and just write down my thoughts of the whole event.

Alix Mortimer did a pretty remarkable job of live blogging much of the convention, so I shall simply give my overall impressions. (By the way, Alix has also written an excellent post on why she hopes never to go to such a convention again.)

I went to this event because I have become increasingly concerned by the way the UK government has been chiselling away at the freedoms we used to take for granted. I wanted to learn more, particularly what one can do to halt the erosion. I was only partially successful. It was a very interesting day – there were some fascinating speakers, and many excellent speeches – but there was something numbingly depressing about it, too – the long list of rights and freedoms which this and previous governments have legislated away; and the way forward was far from clear.

I am not sure what I can do. Except talking about it, showing others what is going on. Which is why I am writing this.
Read more... )
rhythmaning: (on the beat)
I saw Steven Pinker recently, lecturing on language; it was tied into the publication of “The Stuff of Thought”, which was also the name of the talk. Pinker is a psychologist who has written about linguistics, the brain, and evolutionary psychology. It was his reputation that attracted me to the talk.

It was a busy lecture – I only got to go because Edinburgh University decided to move the talk to a large hall – filled largely with students and academics, at a guess.

His main thesis was that language – the words we use and how we use them – gives us an insight into the way our brains work, and into human nature.

Read more... )
rhythmaning: (on the beat)
I saw Steven Pinker recently, lecturing on language; it was tied into the publication of “The Stuff of Thought”, which was also the name of the talk. Pinker is a psychologist who has written about linguistics, the brain, and evolutionary psychology. It was his reputation that attracted me to the talk.

It was a busy lecture – I only got to go because Edinburgh University decided to move the talk to a large hall – filled largely with students and academics, at a guess.

His main thesis was that language – the words we use and how we use them – gives us an insight into the way our brains work, and into human nature.

Read more... )
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
The second lecture I went to the Science Festival was entitled “Are You Wrong About Your Rights?” There were three speakers talking about citizens’ rights and remedies; it was very interesting; but I still don’t know what it was doing in the Science Festival, since there was not really any science in it at all.

The three speakers were Kaliani Lyle from Citizens Advice Scotland, Lord Hamilton, the Lord President of the Court of Session (the head of the judiciary in Scotland), and the journalist and former editor of the Scotsman, Magnus Linklater. It was chaired once again by Heinz Wolff.

Read more... )
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
The second lecture I went to the Science Festival was entitled “Are You Wrong About Your Rights?” There were three speakers talking about citizens’ rights and remedies; it was very interesting; but I still don’t know what it was doing in the Science Festival, since there was not really any science in it at all.

The three speakers were Kaliani Lyle from Citizens Advice Scotland, Lord Hamilton, the Lord President of the Court of Session (the head of the judiciary in Scotland), and the journalist and former editor of the Scotsman, Magnus Linklater. It was chaired once again by Heinz Wolff.

Read more... )
rhythmaning: (bottle)
It was a birthday a couple of weeks ago, and the guys I work with gave me a card: one of those 3-d cards where the picture changes as you tip the card. This one showed a beer glass, and as I changed the angle, it started full, then half full, then empty. (I am a glass-half-full kind of a bloke.) I was saying thank you, and I described the beer straight as being like Schrodinger’s beer mug: simultaneously full and empty, and impossible to say which it was.

DSC_0014-1

Schrodinger’s beer glass … full.



I got a very blank look back.

You know, I said, like Schrodinger’s cat – neither alive nor dead.

The blank look got blanker.

So I tried to explain Schrodinger’s cat – the thought experiment he used to show the inherent absurdity of quantum mechanics extrapolated into the real world. And I realised how hard it was to explain these things; and how I didn’t really understand it myself. (There is no reason I should; I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician; but I have read popular science books about quantum physics, and I thought I understood it.)

That afternoon, another colleague told how she had taken her young children to the opening of the Edinburgh Science Festival the night before, so I looked at the festival website and saw several talks that interested me; the first was by Marcus Chown – called “Quantum Theory Can’t Hurt Us”, the apposite randomness seemed appropriate. I decided to go along.

* * *



The lecture was introduced by Prof Heinz Wolff. This too seemed very apposite: many years ago, as a young teenager interested in science, I went along to talks at the Hampstead Scientific Society, where Heinz Wolff would chair and introduce the meetings. I went to lots of lectures there; one I remember was about relativity (I can’t remember the speaker – it was about 35 years ago, after all!): I recall understanding everything that was said, until I left the lecture theatre, when none of it seemed quite to tie up.

In the lecture theatre of the Royal Scottish Museum, Prof Wolff described exactly the same feeling: he said he had been to lots of talks about quantum theory, and they made sense at the time; but the sense seemed to decay quickly – he estimated the half life of knowledge about quantum mechanics to be about twelve hours. (So I am writing about it now, several days later, to see what I have retained; I took lots of notes – it is how I remember things – but I intend not to look at them at all, until I have finished; and then I’ll tidy this up a bit. They will be the bits in square brackets…)

What I remember from Marcus Chown's lecture! )
rhythmaning: (bottle)
It was a birthday a couple of weeks ago, and the guys I work with gave me a card: one of those 3-d cards where the picture changes as you tip the card. This one showed a beer glass, and as I changed the angle, it started full, then half full, then empty. (I am a glass-half-full kind of a bloke.) I was saying thank you, and I described the beer straight as being like Schrodinger’s beer mug: simultaneously full and empty, and impossible to say which it was.

DSC_0014-1

Schrodinger’s beer glass … full.



I got a very blank look back.

You know, I said, like Schrodinger’s cat – neither alive nor dead.

The blank look got blanker.

So I tried to explain Schrodinger’s cat – the thought experiment he used to show the inherent absurdity of quantum mechanics extrapolated into the real world. And I realised how hard it was to explain these things; and how I didn’t really understand it myself. (There is no reason I should; I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician; but I have read popular science books about quantum physics, and I thought I understood it.)

That afternoon, another colleague told how she had taken her young children to the opening of the Edinburgh Science Festival the night before, so I looked at the festival website and saw several talks that interested me; the first was by Marcus Chown – called “Quantum Theory Can’t Hurt Us”, the apposite randomness seemed appropriate. I decided to go along.

* * *



The lecture was introduced by Prof Heinz Wolff. This too seemed very apposite: many years ago, as a young teenager interested in science, I went along to talks at the Hampstead Scientific Society, where Heinz Wolff would chair and introduce the meetings. I went to lots of lectures there; one I remember was about relativity (I can’t remember the speaker – it was about 35 years ago, after all!): I recall understanding everything that was said, until I left the lecture theatre, when none of it seemed quite to tie up.

In the lecture theatre of the Royal Scottish Museum, Prof Wolff described exactly the same feeling: he said he had been to lots of talks about quantum theory, and they made sense at the time; but the sense seemed to decay quickly – he estimated the half life of knowledge about quantum mechanics to be about twelve hours. (So I am writing about it now, several days later, to see what I have retained; I took lots of notes – it is how I remember things – but I intend not to look at them at all, until I have finished; and then I’ll tidy this up a bit. They will be the bits in square brackets…)

What I remember from Marcus Chown's lecture! )
rhythmaning: (bottle)
I came across this on Donald Clark's blog (there a couple of interesting things on pledging allegiance to the Queen, and how managers fail to develop...).

TED talks is a very interesting resource - a series of lectures, recorded and published on the web. Kind of like intellectual YouTube. In this talk, neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor describes how the brain works, and what it felt like when she had a massive stroke. Rather like Alice in Wonderland, apparently.
rhythmaning: (bottle)
I came across this on Donald Clark's blog (there a couple of interesting things on pledging allegiance to the Queen, and how managers fail to develop...).

TED talks is a very interesting resource - a series of lectures, recorded and published on the web. Kind of like intellectual YouTube. In this talk, neurologist Jill Bolte Taylor describes how the brain works, and what it felt like when she had a massive stroke. Rather like Alice in Wonderland, apparently.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I went to a lecture this week, which I fully intend to write about later; it was a fascinating account of an organisation in crisis.

The thing is, at the end of the talk and before questions were taken, the chairman - he was professor of investment or something - said "of course, this lecture takes place under Chatham House rules".

He hadn't said this at the beginning; may may have meant to, but he didn't.

This was happening in Edinburgh University Management School; it was a full lecture theatre; there were many people who had been typing into their laptops throughout the whole meeting, whilst all this interesting, and suddenly possibly confidential, stuff was being talked about.

I couldn't work out if the professor was ignorant of the modern world, or just stupid. True, all these people could have been looking at their webmail, or downloading tunes or arranging their social lives. Or sitting on their blogs, writing what the CEO of a FTSE100 was telling us.

This just annoyed me; I had been taking notes (and trusting in prudence) and suddenly I felt I had been doing something wrong.

Happily, I ignored the professor. I don't believe anything I noted isn't in the public domain, but fuck it, if it is, not my fault: I was listening, not talking.
rhythmaning: (Armed Forces)
I went to a lecture this week, which I fully intend to write about later; it was a fascinating account of an organisation in crisis.

The thing is, at the end of the talk and before questions were taken, the chairman - he was professor of investment or something - said "of course, this lecture takes place under Chatham House rules".

He hadn't said this at the beginning; may may have meant to, but he didn't.

This was happening in Edinburgh University Management School; it was a full lecture theatre; there were many people who had been typing into their laptops throughout the whole meeting, whilst all this interesting, and suddenly possibly confidential, stuff was being talked about.

I couldn't work out if the professor was ignorant of the modern world, or just stupid. True, all these people could have been looking at their webmail, or downloading tunes or arranging their social lives. Or sitting on their blogs, writing what the CEO of a FTSE100 was telling us.

This just annoyed me; I had been taking notes (and trusting in prudence) and suddenly I felt I had been doing something wrong.

Happily, I ignored the professor. I don't believe anything I noted isn't in the public domain, but fuck it, if it is, not my fault: I was listening, not talking.
rhythmaning: (Default)
One of the other things Mark Fletcher said in his talk was that the more you link to people, the more they link back - and hence you can build your audience, because people trawling through those blogs will pick up on you (as long as what you say is pertinent and inteliigent - natch!).

Also, he reckoned that it made a lot of sense to search blogs for your own name - he does, with an RSS-enabled blogsearch, so presumably it just shows up on his RSS feed. So I am just waiting for him to drop by here...
rhythmaning: (Default)
One of the other things Mark Fletcher said in his talk was that the more you link to people, the more they link back - and hence you can build your audience, because people trawling through those blogs will pick up on you (as long as what you say is pertinent and inteliigent - natch!).

Also, he reckoned that it made a lot of sense to search blogs for your own name - he does, with an RSS-enabled blogsearch, so presumably it just shows up on his RSS feed. So I am just waiting for him to drop by here...
rhythmaning: (Default)
A couple weeks ago, I went to an event at the management school where budding entrepreneurs were pitching their ideas. It was a bit like “Dragons’ Den”, but they weren’t (overtly) after money. And it wasn’t multi-millionaires who were listening to them: it was people like me.

In retrospect, one of the things I find most interesting is how this event has stuck in my mind – I have spoken to many people about it.

I found it a really interesting evening. I didn’t hang around to find out more about any of the pitches, but a couple of them – just a couple – I thought were really worthwhile.

There were seven people pitching, and it was really interesting to hear what their ideas were. That was why I went along – I don’t have any pretensions to entrepreneurship myself, but I do like new ideas, and I am interested in small businesses – and they don’t really get much smaller than this.

Read more... )
rhythmaning: (Default)
A couple weeks ago, I went to an event at the management school where budding entrepreneurs were pitching their ideas. It was a bit like “Dragons’ Den”, but they weren’t (overtly) after money. And it wasn’t multi-millionaires who were listening to them: it was people like me.

In retrospect, one of the things I find most interesting is how this event has stuck in my mind – I have spoken to many people about it.

I found it a really interesting evening. I didn’t hang around to find out more about any of the pitches, but a couple of them – just a couple – I thought were really worthwhile.

There were seven people pitching, and it was really interesting to hear what their ideas were. That was why I went along – I don’t have any pretensions to entrepreneurship myself, but I do like new ideas, and I am interested in small businesses – and they don’t really get much smaller than this.

Read more... )

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