New Server

When I attempted to upgrade my old Rackspace server to Ubuntu 12.04 I found some incompatibility between syslogd and the kernel that cause syslogd to use all the CPU resources all the time. That is how I discovered that I was using a Rackspace-provided kernel instead of the Ubuntu one.

So after finding the problem difficult to fix I discovered that Rackspace are renting new OpenStack based servers and I could get more memory and disk space for about the same money. I’ve also organised this new server a bit better, for instance by using etckeeper, and kept better notes.

Why bother with a virtual server at all when a simple web host would be cheaper and easier to maintain? Good question. This way I get to play at running my own server, and also install obscure software on it and play with ssh tunnelling and permanently connected IRC clients. In other words it is mainly for my own amusement. I wouldn’t recommend it if all you want is a server to run WordPress on.

Budget Android Phones

My dad has expressed an interest in smartphones, but he doesn’t want to spend much money. In theory this is possible.

The trouble with budget Android phones is that a typical user is likely to be less tech savvy. People like me are happy to shell out large sums of money for the best devices. But low end users are less likely than tech savvy users to be able to cope with the drawbacks of current budget devices. These tend to be slow, laggy and stuttery, and have small screens, inadequate displays and less than responsive touch screens. All these things confuse non-tech savvy users because their mental model of the phone does not include invisible, behind the scenes processing. Tap an icon and nothing happens? The natural thing to assume is “I did something wrong”, get frustrated and tap it again. By which time the phone has started to respond and that second tap starts some other confusing behaviour.

In fact, a less tech savvy user is likely to be better off with something like an iPhone because it guarantees all of the above will never be a problem. But these are expensive.

It is only a matter of time, though. The Huawei Ascend G300 has a decent sized screen and a decent CPU. This could be the breakthrough phone. If not, a year from now I imagine the situation will be greatly improved.

Rainbows End and Accelerando continue to come true. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/02/07/googl…

Rainbows End and Accelerando continue to come true. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/02/07/google_huds/ #blog
Google is actually working on twitch-responsive sci-fi-style head-up display glasses, according to a report by 9TO5Google. And the new tech apparently includes a cursor that responds to head movements…
photo

from Plus Public Activity Feed for Rob Fisher https://plus.google.com/115288849695545002165/posts/guVBJWtcMhE

Hopefully I am now using http://ifttt.com and http://googleplusrss.nodester.com to automatically …

Hopefully I am now using http://ifttt.com and http://googleplusrss.nodester.com to automatically put Google+ posts that contain the tag #blog into my WordPress blog. I wonder if this will work?
Put the internet to work for you.

from Plus Public Activity Feed for Rob Fisher https://plus.google.com/115288849695545002165/posts/Ai8uZQyQm9u

Blogging at Samizdata

No blogging has happened here since I started blogging at Samizdata, although there hasn’t been much of that lately either for various reasons. In theory, I’ll continue to post things here that don’t fit on Samizdata.

My best bits from Samizdata:

Inside Facebook

I just caught the last half of a documentary about Facebook, which was fairly decent despite being on the BBC. This link should show you when it’s repeated:

Decent in that I learned something about the various business models that I didn’t know. And the journalist talked about technical details of a subject I understand without being wrong, which is rare. And it wasn’t a hatchet job about the dangers and risks and general awfulness of Facebook and business in general.

In fact the criticism of Facebook was pretty weak. If I “like” a company on Facebook, it can pay to display adverts to my friends that say, “Rob Fisher likes [company]“. This could be construed as using me in an advert without my consent. Or maybe not. The documentary did not seem to have a strong opinion.

And there were academics interviewed who made arguments such as: by keeping in touch with more people, we are having fewer close friendships. Well, anyone can tell for themselves whether that is true, and whether it is a problem.

But the best bits were the bits explaining how Facebook makes money. This included a demonstration of the information available to someone creating an advert. The example was a product for brides, and showed how various filters could be applied (“female”, “engaged”, “interested in beauty”) to see how many people would see the advert. This looked powerful. But not as powerful as the use of Facebook to talk to customers. This segment concentrated on companies’ attempts to get people to leave comments on their pages so that the comments get shown to friends, thereby generating a kind of word-of-mouth advert.

It strikes me that the best way for a company to use Facebook is to let your employees have real conversations, like real people. The documentary didn’t really go there, unfortunately.

High Pay Commission

The High Pay Commission have published their final report. Truly these people live in an alternate reality. The misconceptions are so dense it’s unfiskable. I’ll try with just one paragraph.

Further, our investigation has found that top pay is a symptom of market failure based on a misunderstanding of how markets work at their best.

Markets work at their best when people can trade freely.

Within companies, fair pay matters. It affects productivity, employee engagement

If it is true, free markets will discover it. The best performing companies will be the ones with the fairest pay. No commission needed.

and trust in our businesses.

This is a matter for the customers. In a free market, if they don’t trust a business, they don’t have to do business with it.

Pay in publicly listed companies sets a precedent;

That doesn’t make any sense. Pay is the result of negotiations in a free market; A’s pay is not influenced by B’s: both are affected by the presence of A and B negotiating in the market.

when it is patently not linked to performance, or rewards failure

In a free market, no-one is rewarded for failure. By definition, no-one voluntarily pays for something they do not want.

it sends out the wrong message

It is not a message. It is a transaction between private individuals.

and is clearly a symptom of a poor functioning market.

If people are paying for things they don’t want, then they cannot be doing so voluntarily, so yes, the market would be performing poorly. But the High Pay Commission does not agree with the decisions on pay that are voluntarily made.

In addition, high levels of inequality in income contribute to sectoral imbalances, regional disparities and asset bubble inflation.

Where to start? Inequality is measured wrong, anyway. Wealth is not proportional to money. The top 1% might have diamond encrusted watches, but a cheap Casio still tells the time. I don’t know what a sectoral imbalance is, but it’s probably to do with teachers getting smaller pay rises than the CEO of BP. In a free market, the top teachers might well get pay rises as big as the top executives. But then they’d be in the same sector. Regional disparities are probably caused by a combination of planning regulations and the plain fact that productivity increases with population density. Asset bubble inflation is caused by government policy that props up asset bubbles, like bailouts and manipulation of interest rates. None of this has bugger all to do with the CEO of BP’s £4.5m salary which, frankly, doesn’t even sound all that much.

I’m exhausted, and goes on like this for 65 pages.

Oh, here’s an enlightening quote:

“You have to realise: if I had been paid 50% more, I would not have done it better. If I had been paid 50% less, then I would not have done it worse.” –
Jeroen van der Veer, Former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell

This is probably true, and completely irrelevant. If they’d been prepared to pay 50% more, they could have hired someone else who was better.

The Power of SF

This is from an interview with William Gibson (H/T Michael Jennings):

It gave me the idea that you could question anything, that it was possible to question anything at all. You could question religion, you could question your own culture’s most basic assumptions. That was just unheard of—where else could I have gotten it? You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick’s brain!

That wasn’t the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn’t tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard.

And nobody knew. The people at the high school didn’t know, your parents didn’t know. Nobody knew that I had discovered this window into all kinds of alien ways of thinking that wouldn’t have been at all acceptable to the people who ran that little world I lived in.

I love the idea that SF is so subversive. I experienced it too, around the same age, but I didn’t realise at the time what was happening, and I don’t think I realised it since until Gibson pointed it out to me. There does seem to be a correlation between SF fans and, say, libertarians, who are certainly in the habit of asking more questions about the world than most people. But I don’t think it occurred to me that SF was the *cause*. Perhaps, to an extent, it is.

Libertarianism and Global Warming

Twice recently I have encountered arguments that libertarians don’t believe in global warming because if true, it would invalidate their world view. The first time was a comment on Eric Raymond’s blog, and the second a comment at Samizdata.

Presumably the idea is that since only government action could reduce emissions enough to avert global warming, you need big government to solve any such crisis. Libertarianism can’t solve this because the atmosphere is the ultimate commons.

But whatever the seriousness of global warming and whatever its causes, more freedom will always be a better solution than less freedom.

There is no conceivable problem that cannot better be solved by a free society than by a society ruled by a large state.

Free people are richer, more innovative and can respond more quickly. Governments are slow, and because they are centralised have a tendency to make the wrong choices. A government can only make one choice at a time, so it goes to its best experts and they decide what is to be done and it gets done, and then we find out what the unintended consequences are and start again. This is far inferior to a free market of competing ideas where lots of things get tried and winners emerge.

But what if the only way to prevent catastrophe is it dramatically reduce emissions immediately? Then there will be catastrophe! Governments are not able to co-ordinate the whole world into reducing emissions. They’ve been trying for long enough and not succeeding. Now, how do you want to face catastrophe? Free, or constrained?