April 11, 2016

QotD: What can a billionaire buy that most people can’t?

Filed under: Economics, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In a way most of us don’t really understand how differently we live from even a very short time ago. Read the comments in this excellent piece from Sarah Hoyt.


The fact is that right now just about everybody in the Developed nations can afford products that are better and cheaper than anything has ever been made. For instance my car is almost ten years old and has never required major maintenance and the body is as free of exterior rust as when it was new. The computer I’m writing this on is more powerful than ANY computer that you could buy in 1980. The clothes I’m wearing are more durable and sewn better than anything you could buy in 1950. And everything is essentially so cheap that just about everybody can afford it.

The fact is that, because of the constant improvement of manufacturing techniques the difference between the highest quality and lowest quality goods has become essentially nonexistent.


The great gap in lifestyles due to wealth is by and large gone, which begs the question, what can the wealthy buy with their money? The answer isn’t very pleasant.

What they buy is access and power. You don’t have to look much further than Warren Buffett, George Soros or Tom Steyer to see that. Or the Koch Brothers for that matter. All of these people and other have created large influence building organizations for the sole purpose of influencing the rest of us stupid schmucks to do what they want us to. What they want us to do all too often is to give up the liberties and standard of living that our parents and grandparents worked so hard to build and retreat back to a lifestyle that will not compete with our “betters.” Sorry, but I’m not going for that.

J.C. Carlton, “What Can A Billionaire Buy That Most People Can’t?”, The Arts Mechanical, 2016-03-30.

April 4, 2016

Inventions That Changed the World – The Gun

Filed under: History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

March 29, 2016

Why did Apple suddenly grow a pair over consumer privacy and (some) civil rights?

Filed under: Business, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross has a theory:

A lot of people are watching the spectacle of Apple vs. the FBI and the Homeland Security Theatre and rubbing their eyes, wondering why Apple (in the person of CEO Tim Cook) is suddenly the knight in shining armour on the side of consumer privacy and civil rights. Apple, after all, is a goliath-sized corporate behemoth with the second largest market cap in US stock market history — what’s in it for them?

As is always the case, to understand why Apple has become so fanatical about customer privacy over the past five years that they’re taking on the US government, you need to follow the money.


Apple see their long term future as including a global secure payments infrastructure that takes over the role of Visa and Mastercard’s networks — and ultimately of spawning a retail banking subsidiary to provide financial services directly, backed by some of their cash stockpile.

The FBI thought they were asking for a way to unlock a mobile phone, because the FBI is myopically focussed on past criminal investigations, not the future of the technology industry, and the FBI did not understand that they were actually asking for a way to tracelessly unlock and mess with every ATM and credit card on the planet circa 2030 (if not via Apple, then via the other phone OSs, once the festering security fleapit that is Android wakes up and smells the money).

If the FBI get what they want, then the back door will be installed and the next-generation payments infrastructure will be just as prone to fraud as the last-generation card infrastructure, with its card skimmers and identity theft.

And this is why Tim Cook is willing to go to the mattresses with the US department of justice over iOS security: if nobody trusts their iPhone, nobody will be willing to trust the next-generation Apple Bank, and Apple is going to lose their best option for securing their cash pile as it climbs towards the stratosphere.

March 24, 2016


Filed under: Economics, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Published on 7 Apr 2015

What is tying and how is this a form of price discrimination? An example of a tied good is an HP printer and the HP ink you need for that printer. The printer (the base good) is often relatively cheap whereas the ink (the variable good) has a high markup, and eventually costs you far more than what you paid for the printer. Other examples include cell phones and data plans or the Kindle Fire and the accompanying books or music you purchase from Amazon. The base good is sold close to marginal cost, and the variable good is sold at above marginal cost. Why do companies tie their goods? Tied goods make it easy to price discriminate in a way that increases output and social welfare. Does tying increase or decrease social welfare? What is the difference between bundling and tying? We discuss these questions and others in this video.

March 20, 2016

Apple software engineers threaten to quit rather than crack encryption for the government

Filed under: Business, Government, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

It’s only a rumour rather than a definite stand, but it is a hopeful one for civil liberties:

The spirit of anarchy and anti-establishment still runs strong at Apple. Rather than comply with the government’s requests to develop a so-called “GovtOS” to unlock the iPhone 5c of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, The New York Times‘ half-dozen sources say that some software engineers may quit instead. “It’s an independent culture and a rebellious one,” former Apple engineering manager Jean-Louis Gassée tells NYT. “If the government tries to compel testimony or action from these engineers, good luck with that.”

Former senior product manager for Apple’s security and privacy division Window Snyder agrees. “If someone attempts to force them to work on something that’s outside their personal values, they can expect to find a position that’s a better fit somewhere else.”

In another instance of Apple’s company culture clashing with what the federal government demands, the development teams are apparently relatively siloed off from one another. It isn’t until a product gets closer to release that disparate teams like hardware and software engineers come together for finalizing a given gizmo. NYT notes that the team of six to 10 engineers needed to develop the back door doesn’t currently exist and that forcing any sort of collaboration would be incredibly difficult, again, due to how Apple works internally.

March 18, 2016

Explosives – WW1 Uncut – BBC

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 31 Jul 2014

The use of massive bombs and charges by the Royal Engineers was crucial during the war. See slow motion footage of them using explosive devices such as the Bangalore Torpedo today.

March 13, 2016

Are Electric Cars Really Green?

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Feb 2016

Are electric cars greener than conventional gasoline cars? If so, how much greener? What about the CO2 emissions produced during electric cars’ production? And where does the electricity that powers electric cars come from? Environmental economist Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, examines how environmentally friendly electric cars really are.

March 9, 2016

Austro-Hungarian Rifles of WW1 I THE GREAT WAR – Special feat. C&Rsenal

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Mar 2016

Indy and Flo sat down for one of our live streams about historical firearms again. Othais from C&Rsenal explained the various Austro-Hungarian rifles and pistols of the First World War. Among them of course the famous Mannlicher rifles. In our next episode we will also have a look at the iconic Austro-Hungarian pistols.

March 5, 2016

Mechanical computers

Filed under: History, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

ESR posted this video on Google+, saying “Mind…utterly…blown. This is how computers worked before electronic gate logic. There’s a weird beauty of mathematics made tangible about it.”

Uploaded on 13 Jul 2011

A 1953 training film for a mechanical fire control computer aboard Navy Ships. Amazing how problems of mathematical computation were solved so elegantly in “permanent” mechanical form, before microprocessors became inexpensive and commonplace.

February 12, 2016

QotD: Military developments from 1870 onwards

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The period of Colonial expansion coincided with three major developments in weapon-power: the general adoption of the small-bore magazine rifle, firing smokeless powder; the perfection of the machine gun; and the introduction of quick-firing artillery.

By 1871, the single-shot breech-loading rifle had reached so high a standard of efficiency that the next step was to convert it into a repeating, or magazine, rifle. Although the idea was an old one, it was not fully practicable until the adoption of the all-metal cartridge case, which reduced jamming in the breech. The first European power to introduce the magazine rifle was Germany who, in 1884, converted her 1871 pattern Mauser rifle to the magazine system; the magazine was of the tube type inserted in the fore-end under the barrel, it held eight cartridges. In 1885, France adopted a somewhat similar rifle, the Lebel, which fired smokeless powder — an enormous advantage. Next, in 1886, the Austrians introduced the Mannlicher with a box magazine in front of the trigger guard and below the entrance to the breech. And two years later the British adopted the .303 calibre Lee-Metford with a box magazine of eight cartridges, later increased to ten. By 1900 all armies had magazine rifles approximately of equal efficiency, and of calibres varying from .315 to .256; all were bolt operated, fired smokeless powder, and were sighted to 2,000 yards or metres.

Simultaneously with the development of the magazine rifle proceeded the development of the machine gun — another very old idea. Many types were experimented with and some adopted, such as the improved Gatling, Nordenfeldt (1873), Hotchkiss (1875), Gardner (1876), Browning (1889) and Colt (1895). The crucial year in their development was 1884, when Hiram S. Maxim patented a one barrel gun which loaded and fired itself by the force of its recoil. The original model weighed 40lb., was water cooled and belt fed, and 2,000 rounds could be fired from it in three minutes. It was adopted by the British army in 1889, and was destined to revolutionize infantry tactics.

The introduction of quick-firing artillery arose out of proposals made in 1891 by General Wille in Germany and Colonel Langlois in France. They held that increased rate of fire was impossible unless recoil on firing was absorbed. This led to much experimental work on shock absorption, and to the eventual introduction of a non-recoiling carriage, which permitted of a bullet-proof shield being attached to it to protect the gun crew. Until this improvement in artillery was introduced, the magazine rifle had been the dominant weapon, now it was challenged by the quick-firing gun, which not only outranged it and could be fired with almost equal rapidity, but could be rendered invisible by indirect laying.

J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961, 1961.

February 9, 2016

Zeppelins – Majestic and Deadly Airships of WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 8 Feb 2016

Zeppelins pioneered the skyways, could fly long distances and reached heights like none of the British fighter-interceptor aircraft before. Because of that, they were used for scouting and tactical bombing early in the First World War. In this special episode we introduce these majestic floating whales and their usage in WW1.

How John Perry Barlow might have revised his 20-year-old Declaration

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

From a short interview in The Economist:

I probably wouldn’t have imitated the grandiloquent style of a notorious former slave holder. And I would have been a bit more humble about the “Citizens of Cyberspace” creating social contracts to deal with bad behavior online. The fact remains there is not much one can do about bad behavior online except to take faith that the vast majority of what goes on there is not bad behavior. Yeah, I hate spam, and viruses, and worms, and surveillance [by America’s National Security Agency], but the fact remains that if you can censor one of these bad behaviors, you’ve endowed yourself with the ability to censor almost anything you don’t like online. This is not an ability I wish to extend to any existing government in the physical world. If we assert it, what’s to prevent Saudi Arabia from doing the same.

And I would make it more obviously clear that I knew that cyberspace was not sublimely removed from the physical world, with which it has exactly the same relationship that the mind has with the body: deeply interdependent but qualitatively different. I think that point often got lost.

Over the decades, it has been continuously fashionable to make a straw man of my declaration, to hoist it up as the sort of woolly-headed hippie nonsense you’d expect from techno-utopians like me. This is done largely by people who have never read it, or take a strong interest in believing that government is about to come stomping into town, there to “civilize cyberspace.

January 31, 2016

“To be honest, the spooks love PGP”

Filed under: Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

If nothing else, it’s a needle in their acres of data haystacks. Use of any kind of encryption doesn’t necessarily let CSIS and their foreign friends read your communications, but it alerts them that you think you’ve got something to say that they shouldn’t read:

Although the cops and Feds wont stop banging on and on about encryption – the spies have a different take on the use of crypto.

To be brutally blunt, they love it. Why? Because using detectable encryption technology like PGP, Tor, VPNs and so on, lights you up on the intelligence agencies’ dashboards. Agents and analysts don’t even have to see the contents of the communications – the metadata is enough for g-men to start making your life difficult.

“To be honest, the spooks love PGP,” Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, told the Usenix Enigma conference in San Francisco on Wednesdy. “It’s really chatty and it gives them a lot of metadata and communication records. PGP is the NSA’s friend.”

Weaver, who has spent much of the last decade investigating NSA techniques, said that all PGP traffic, including who sent it and to whom, is automatically stored and backed up onto tape. This can then be searched as needed when matched with other surveillance data.

Given that the NSA has taps on almost all of the internet’s major trunk routes, the PGP records can be incredibly useful. It’s a simple matter to build a script that can identify one PGP user and then track all their contacts to build a journal of their activities.

Even better is the Mujahedeen Secrets encryption system, which was released by the Global Islamic Media Front to allow Al Qaeda supporters to communicate in private. Weaver said that not only was it even harder to use than PGP, but it was a boon for metadata – since almost anyone using it identified themselves as a potential terrorist.

“It’s brilliant!” enthused Weaver. “Whoever it was at the NSA or GCHQ who invented it give them a big Christmas bonus.”

January 14, 2016

Conspicuous consumption, firearms division

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cabot Guns is planning to forge a matching pair of 1911 pistols from a fragment of a meteorite:


It may have plummeted to Earth over prehistoric Namibia, but the Gibeon meteorite has had quite a bit of interaction with modern humans. In the years since it was found in 1836, fragments of the giant space rock have been formed into just about everything: from jewelry, to knives, to works of art. Now, a luxury firearms company in Pennsylvania plans to build a mirror-image pair of pistols from a 35-kilogram (77-lb) piece.

Tentatively called the “Big Bang Pistol Set,” the builds will be a first for Cabot Guns, a company that specializes in 1911-style firearms. “We wanted to raise the bar again,” says founder and President Rob Bianchin. “The pistol set will be a modern work of functional art.” Cabot rolled out pistol grips constructed from meteorite several years ago (pictured below), but the new set will be formed completely from the interstellar metal – something that has (according to the team) never been done before.

We estimate that the original, uncut fragment, which Cabot acquired from a private meteorite collector, would fetch around $110,294 at auction. Once completed, the company hopes to get anywhere from $500,000-$1,000,000 for the pair of pistols. “Meteorite is hardly an optimum material for firearms, so numerous technical matters have been overcome to construct the pistols using advanced aerospace techniques to make the pistols fully functional,” explains Bianchin. “The construction of each component has been a science experiment but we are confident they will be fully completed.”

H/T to ESR for the link.

January 13, 2016

The death of the duel

Filed under: Britain, History, Law, Technology, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

ESR has a theory on the rapid decline of the duelling culture that had lasted hundreds of years until the mid-19th century:

I’ve read all the scholarship on the history of dueling I can find in English. There isn’t much, and what there is mostly doesn’t seem to me to be very good. I’ve also read primary sources like dueling codes, and paid a historian’s attention to period literature.

I’m bringing this up now because I want to put a stake in the ground. I have a personal theory about why Europo-American dueling largely (though not entirely) died out between 1850 and 1900 that I think is at least as well justified as the conventional account, and I want to put it on record.

First, the undisputed facts: dueling began a steep decline in the early 1840s and was effectively extinct in English-speaking countries by 1870, with a partial exception for American frontier regions where it lasted two decades longer. Elsewhere in Europe the code duello retained some social force until World War I.

This was actually a rather swift end for a body of custom that had emerged in its modern form around 1500 but had roots in the judicial duels of the Dark Ages a thousand years before. The conventional accounts attribute it to a mix of two causes: (a) a broad change in moral sentiments about violence and civilized behavior, and (b) increasing assertion of a state monopoly on legal violence.

I don’t think these factors were entirely negligible, but I think there was something else going on that was at least as important, if not more so, and has been entirely missed by (other) historians. I first got to it when I noticed that the date of the early-Victorian law forbidding dueling by British military officers – 1844 – almost coincided with (following by perhaps a year or two) the general availability of percussion-cap pistols.

The dominant weapons of the “modern” duel of honor, as it emerged in the Renaissance from judicial and chivalric dueling, had always been swords and pistols. To get why percussion-cap pistols were a big deal, you have to understand that loose-powder pistols were terribly unreliable in damp weather and had a serious charge-containment problem that limited the amount of oomph they could put behind the ball.

This is why early-modern swashbucklers carried both swords and pistols; your danged pistol might very well simply not fire after exposure to damp northern European weather. It’s also why percussion-cap pistols, which seal the powder charge inside a brass casing, were first developed for naval use, the prototype being Sea Service pistols of the Napoleonic era. But there was a serious cost issue with those: each cap had to be made by hand at eye-watering expense.

Then, in the early 1840s, enterprising gunsmiths figured out how to mass-produce percussion caps with machines. And this, I believe, is what actually killed the duel. Here’s how it happened…

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