Sunday, 29 December 2013 - 10:35am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 29/12/2013 - 10:35am

There's been a flurry of Bitcoin critiques all of a sudden. This is the most comprehensive I've seen (so far).

In short, there is the possibility of an unforseen technical - in the IT sense - problem with the overall security of the Bitcoin system, and there is the technical - in the economics sense - problem of how a currency which is designed to be deflationary, with no available corrective mechanisms, would work. If you know the value of Bitcoin can only go up, there's a stong incentive to hoard. But if everybody's hoarding and nobody's actually trading in Bitcoin, where's the real value? Pop!

The inescapable reality of any kind of monetary regulation is that decisions of when, where, and how to allocate resources are inherently political. As Adam Smith would tell you, there is no economics but political economics. There is no hands-off, one-size fits all regulatory system — whether it be trust in an algorithm, a relatively rare chemical element, the infallibility of unfettered markets, or the inevitable tendency of history towards communist utopia — that works in anything but the short term for a fraction of the population. In the end they all crash, and conscious decisions have to be made, hopefully democratically. In fact it would be a jolly good idea to build democratic decision making into the system, but that was the project we all decided to abandon about 35 years ago, and hasn't that gone swimmingly? In the short term. For a very small fraction (some would say 1%) of the population.

Friday, 27 December 2013 - 2:34pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 27/12/2013 - 2:34pm

I don't claim to know a lot, but I can say with reasonable confidence that Steve Martin isn't a racist. Or at least I can't say that he is one, and on balance, it seems jolly unlikely. I don't consider myself a fan of Martin's work; I hold The Jerk to be one of the funniest films of all time, I have a sneaking fondness for banjo music, and I think the way that over the last couple of decades he's shunned "success", in favour of doing what he enjoys, is admirable, but his early stand-up comedy and later films do nothing for me.

I think the joke at the centre of this putative scandal falls flat, but there's the germ of something amusing in there. On the question of whether it is clearly offensive, if you're going to insist that gags of the form "white people do X like A and black people do X like B" are inexpressible, you're going to have to erase almost all of the recordings of American stand-up comedy from the 1980s; a paradigmatic example of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Martin's joke here doesn't even really fit that form; it's a pun that depends on your knowledge of the sterotypical names that people in certain ethnosocial groups give their children. All names are funny when you stop to think about them, and they usually tell you something about when and where a person was born and what their parents were/are like.

I myself am of european descent, and raised in the outer suburbs of Sydney. The whole way through primary school in the 1970s, I was one of three Matthews in my class. Think about it. Ten percent of my class (including the girls) answered to Matthew. Matthew is probably one of the dullest names in existence, but the 1970s was a very dull decade; Australia was and is a very dull country, and the Sutherland Shire is probably the dullest part of it. No hippy ever said "I want my child to be a free spirit, to joyously roam naked and free through a world of bliss. Therefore, I shall call him Matthew!" I'd wager there are far more Matthews in accountancy than bohemia.

I have nieces and nephews who are doomed to live their entire lives with names like "Jayden", "Keely" and "Makenna" because my siblings are bogans. In most situations it is entirely unjust to make assumptions about people based on their social background, but nonetheless if you meet a "Jayden" you will not be entirely surprised to hear that his father is anglo-Australian, reasonably affluent, hates "poofs", as well as immigrants (who are taking "our" jobs), and finds his chosen profession of driving loads of dirt around in a truck immensely fulfilling.

Now you may think I'm quite a snob for saying something like that, but I've decided that I'm not going to care about what somebody thinks about me if a) it doesn't matter, or b) the person in question has ample evidence to doubt the feared negative assement. For example, last week my GP enquired about my mental health. I went on a bit of a rant about how the miserable culture in Coffs Harbour was getting me down, before realising that I possibly sounded a bit elitist. I prepared to mount a defence along the lines of "I lived in Western Sydney for years - some of my best friends are toothless junkies," but decided I just couldn't be bothered.

A few days later somebody asked me how I felt about feminism, in the middle of a conversation about something else entirely. I tried to say something to the effect that it appalls me that ideas which ought to be considered a part of fundamental morality are still marginalised to an "-ism", but made a balls-up of it and started to fret that I sounded like I was actually dismissing feminism outright. Then I thought bugger it; this person knows me fairly well, and knows my wife well enough to know that she wouldn't be married to a raving misogynist, and this isn't what I'm here to talk about, so I changed the subject back. If he wants to think ill of me without adequate justification, it's not something I can afford to worry about.

I concede that in many circumstances one should be careful about what one says on the Internet, but not because a single statement can be taken out of context. If anything, the Internet makes context more plentiful and easily aquired than ever. Charges such as racism, sexism, or homophobia are very grave, and anybody who makes them without adequate evidence, or without bothering to look for evidence to the contrary, is contemptible. Taking such people seriously, with the accompanying anxiety, overthinking, and self-censorship, is corrosive to creativity and ordinary civic or social discourse. The proper response to somebody who says "Aha! You've covered your tracks pretty well for the last fifty years, Steve Martin, but this tweet PROVES you are a racist!" is to ignore them.

I want my RSS!

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 27/12/2013 - 12:35pm

I've been meaning to post something to this effect for a while, but it ended up as a comment to a post by Mike Linksvayer:

I've recently been working on a couple of projects designed to aggregate large quantities of information (mostly news posts) from websites in particular fields. These sites range in scale from single-author blogs to mutinational behemoths, and can be from anywhere in the world (admittedly with an English language bias).

What I'm dismayed to find, across all these sites, is that (at a rough approximation) only half of them have RSS (or Atom) feeds, never mind microformats, RDFa, or the Next Big Thing from Tantek Çelik. Instead there are the inevitable buttons linking to social media silos. I've seen things like a single image comprised of the usual logos representing "social media", including the RSS logo, but no RSS feed on the site, suggesting there are now professional web developers out there who don't even know what RSS is. There's a UK think tank with a site which, going by aesthetics, has been running in it's current form for many years, that links to "/RSS/file/goes/here.rss"; if anybody's noticed this TODO, they don't think it's important enough to fix.

If you follow Zeldman et al. it's easy to forget that the vast majority of web developers are ignorant, talentless hacks. Most (approximation again) of these non-syndicating sites are built on off-the-shelf CMSes which have either built-in or plug-in RSS/Atom functionality; it's just not switched on. I'm horrified to say so, but I think the first step in fixing the Web's "social" deficit is to have an awareness-raising campaign for a 15 year old XML document type: "RSS EVERYWHERE", "I WANT MY RSS", or something. Only then can we get more ambitious and start to argue that RSS isn't the last word.

Saturday, 21 December 2013 - 11:10am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 21/12/2013 - 11:10am

I had no idea that the benefits of vocational education were so substantial as to be retrospective in effect. I'm getting a bit old to be starting a business now, but perhaps with a UTS Bachelor of Business under my belt, I too could go on to start a successful business seven years earlier.

Dr Poche completed a Bachelor of Business with the NSW Institute of Technology Sydney (now UTS) in 1979.  He went on to become one of Australia’s most successful business people, responsible for founding freight company Star Track Express in 1972.

A message to Boing Boing

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 17/12/2013 - 4:29pm

Hi, I am a very successful social marketing guru who specialises in helping old new media properties retain and grow value in an increasngly competitive post-new media landscape. While I applaud your repeated innovative and intrusive attempts to extract the most value out of your eyeballs, in partnership with the key commercial surveillance providers, I believe that I can help you take that next step across what I call the Internet Commercial Kudos (ICK) threshold.

The problem is that you have a lot of low-value content consumers (or "readers", if you want to get all "steampunk") who aren't in the affluent, vacuous, merch-consuming demographic (or "makers", in your inspired newspeak), and although you're certainly irritating them through advertorial content, outsourcing comments to Discourse, incessant hectoring to leave the open web and join parasitic data silos, you're not quite completely _alienating_ them. This is a problem if you want to provide a high-purity product.

Please don't think I'm being disparaging. You're close. You're very, very close. With the asistance I can provide, I believe we can turn your audience into a much more attractive commodity for the eyeball-consuming market, and their partners in the international intelligence community. When you're ready to take, the next step, just "like" me on Facebook.

The Incredible Shrinking Life

Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 25/11/2013 - 9:44am


Eighteen years in a Colorbond™ open air prison.

Placeholder text goes here.

Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 4:04pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 16/11/2013 - 4:04pm

I am so sick of this, that I finally reached breaking point with somebody who is far from the worst offender:

Can you please stop depicting Richard Stallman as an unreasonable person unwilling to compromise on anything? It's demonstrably untrue. For instance (unlike many) he is not opposed to the use of no-derivatives clauses in licenses for some kinds of copyrightable works, he oversaw the addition of increased compatibility between the GPL and other (including non-copyleft) free software licenses in GPLv3, and was the original author of the LGPL. The continued misrepresentation of Richard, and the FSF in general, in this way is unjust and immensely harmful to the free software movement. Moreover, presenting a straw man dichotomy between pragmatism and zealotry is an obstacle to clear thinking on important ethical issues.

Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 12:57pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 16/11/2013 - 12:57pm

Ever seen or heard or otherwised experienced a work of art that deeply touched and transformed you? Well, you can banish those often awkward and uncomfortable feelings and remain staunchly unmoved by just reminding yourself that you are merely engaged in consuming the products of the creative industries. Purchase it, maybe rate it or provide some customer feedback, then move voraciously ever onward to the next product.

As the brilliant Tressie McMillan Cottom says, as soon as we adopt neoliberal language, we limit ourselves to arguing for neoliberal outcomes.

From the noble savage to the noble nude?

Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 11/11/2013 - 9:11am

The idea that objectifying human beings isn't as straightforward as previously assumed is a compelling one. As someone who self-objectifies as a brain in a particularly unsightly container (while at times secretly yearning to be seen as a charming and eminently beddable hunk), the idea of bipolar objectification has a lot of intuitive appeal. On reflection it doesn't seem a particularly novel idea; in the visual arts nudity has traditionally been associated with purity, valor, sensitivity, and spirituality. Clothing on the other hand, no matter how fine and fancy, merely imparts one's earthly rank. And the sterotype of the emotionally barren intellectual is almost certainly as old as that of the simple-minded prostitute with a heart of gold.

This is not to say that either extreme does anything but a disservice to the individual thus objectified. I suppose I just prefer my social ills to be nuanced and interesting.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 - 7:51pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 23/10/2013 - 7:51pm

How typical for the nanny state to intervene when a family of battlers try to raise their child to be skilled, entrepreneurial and jobs-ready! What are we supposed to do? There just aren't enough chimneys to sweep and shoes to shine in Coffs Harbour, and the regulatory disincentives to employing even a small team of pickpockets are just ridiculous.