Adam's Brain Dump

📽 Watched Interstate 60.

Fun coming-of-age-roadtrip type movie about a young man who is torn between following the life he wants as an artist vs the life his rich father and girlfriend should want, as a lawyer with a fancy red car.

After suffering an injury he ends up in a hospital where he learns that everything is perception, and perception isn’t necessarily reality. Somehow this gets him into a parcel-delivery mission down a non-existent highway, accompanied at times by a unusual genital-free man who grants peoples' wishes for better or worse - shades of a much more relaxed and horror-free Wishmaster - via smoking a weird monkey-shaped pipe. Guided by an extremely prescient Magic 8-ball and visions of a lady only he can see, he sets out to delivery his parcel and of course along the way make those all-important life decisions.

Whilst this might imply existential wrangling, it’s pretty much light-hearted fun and games in this case. It’s written and directed by Bob Gale who also co-wrote Back to the Future. A couple of the same actors appear - Christopher Lloyd who was Back to the Future’s Doc Brown, and Michael J. Fox who of course was Marty McFly, and it often has similar kinds of vibes.

A lot more enjoyable than I first expected given I’d never heard of it before.

Interstate 60 film poster

Please let's not fight the next election on who can damage the environment the most

The clowns are at it again. When Sunak took over the British premiership from the last Conservative mess of a Prime Minister, someone who must have set some kind of record for their damage-to-tenure ratio, I did have a little hope that he would at least try and be the “sensible adult in the room” that was promised. No hope at all that he’d come up with thoughtful or progressive policies, but maybe at least he’d manage to be some kind of boring technocrat before losing the next general election.

I guess I was wrong. It seems like he wants the next election to be fought over the issue of which party can promise to damage the environment the most, with a side-helping of who can make the roads as dangerous as possible for us, their valued citizens. My fear is Labour will actually sign up to that battle, throwing away the last remnants of the only policies of theirs I positively liked to the wind. “The wind” of course being the next devastating hurricane the ongoing climate catastrophe summons up.

A few days ago he was promoting his slightly 2017-robot-disguised-as-human visage via a photo of him supposedly sitting in Margaret Thatcher’s old car.

Inevitably this turned out to be another lie, albeit probably an accidental one, insomuch as the car he was sitting in was not in fact Thatcher’s vehicle, but rather one that her protection squad used.

Sunak of course has form for pretending he’s in other people’s cars for PR reasons, namely the famous incident him filling up his Kia with post-tax-cut petrol that in fact wasn’t his Kia. At least it shows he has wherewithal to feel some tension between showing off his own extremely expensive fleet of cars and unnecessary helicopters and appearing as, same as they all want to pretend to be, yawn, “a man of the people”.

Anyway, why was he polluting the media-waves pretending to be in Thatcher’s car? Well a part of it was no doubt the weird obsession many of the wannabe Conservative movers-and-shakers and their acolytes have with their former Prime Minister who it must be said did actually manage to get things done. The wrong things, sure, but things. Things with even more impact than the best of today’s cabinet sponsored warm-take cringe-tweet.

But also following the only Conservative hold in the recent “Day Of 3-Byelections”, the Uxbridge result where they managed to lose only around 93% of their previous majority, it’s been decided by all and sundry that the reason they won was because they campaigned against the “ULEZ”.

Despite it’s name, the ULEZ is not a species of war-mongering aliens, but rather the Ultra Low Emission Zone. It’s a London based policy whereby if you have a vehicle that emits above a certain threshold of polluting emissions then you have to pay £12.50 a day to drive it within the specified zone. The zone now includes Uxbridge after the (Labour) Mayor of London extended its scope. So this was admittedly potentially going to get pretty expensive for folk who have cause to regularly drive. Labour seems to agree, with their leader, Kier Starmer, deciding he’s also against it.

It seems a reasonable criticism that making people with with non-compliant cars pay probably biases the charges towards older cars, which in turn means that the average owner might likely be poorer than someone with a newer, compliant, car (but much richer than someone with no car, plus not all new cars are compliant). Whether the charge will be tilted towards folk with a lesser ability to afford to pay it or not is a factual matter. I’m sure someone has looked into it. And if it is, and it’s seen as unfair, then sure, let’s dream up a new policy that actually gets at what we really want to do here - which is to protect the environment, rather than let people pay to damage the environment.

But somehow the issue of a certain constituency saying they don’t like a very specific fairly punitive-at-the-individual-level scheme has developed into the idea that all pro-environmental policies are evil. Hence the Sunak tweet, sitting in his fake car, “talking about freedom” (cringe) blasting out how he’s the true motorist’s friend.

And it’s not just bad tweets.

He’s ordered a review of all current low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). Despite the fact in reality they’re quite popular, even if Conservative MP Nick Fletcher does believe them to be an “international socialist concept”, whatever that means.

Further complicating matters is that no-one knows what LTN even means. Depending on the definition taken, there may be more than 25,000 of them. Their main use is to stop a torrent of traffic ripping its way through narrow residential streets. Pedestrians and cyclists can pass freely, and cars can still access the streets in order reach any destination within the area - but they’re generally blocked in a way that stops you motoring your way right through a city entirely on the small, easily clogged, heavily pedestrian oriented streets where children play and suchlike.

In a further bid to lionise the act of speeding tons of metal through inappropriate routes, ministers are also apparently thinking to restrict councils' freedom to create 20 miles per hour speed limits. The RoadPeace charity is amongst many other interested parties who express sentiments along the lines of being “extremely disappointed to see roads made demonstrably less safe.”

Central government imposing these restrictions on council decisions - I guess Sunak stopped “talking about freedom” right after he left the photo-op - might not actually be be legal under current legislation. They might have to change the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act to go ahead with this.

These things are also important for reasons outside of environmental emissions, and in fact aren’t necessarily even targeted at improving our atmosphere in that way. As Devi Sridhar recently summarised, this stuff is:

…not about banning cars, but about making it cheaper and simpler to replace short-distance single occupancy journeys with alternatives that have far-reaching benefits for the city’s inhabitants and the planet.

Those benefits include staying alive. The ultimate freedom, if we must. It was a campaign group whose name translates to “Stop The Child Murder” that helped compel the Dutch government to make their cities less car focussed. Over 400 children died in traffic accidents over there in 1971. Now it’s more like 17 per year.

Over here in the UK, last year a study found that reducing the speed limit in the city of Edinburgh to 20 mph - the very thing that the government is rumoured to oppose - reduced road deaths by 23%, serious injuries by 33% and collisions by 40%. “Livability”, things such as safety, health, sustainability and living standards also improved, as did the number of people who supported and were willing to obey the new limits.

The majority of Dutch people are cyclists now, making them the one of the most physically active populations around according to an Ipsos poll , with all the concomitant health and life-extending benefits that brings. People seem to embrace pro-cycling infrastructure when it exists; increasing the number of cycle lanes in Paris led to a 54% increase in cycle usage.

And air pollution does more than cause our planet to burn up. A group of doctors wrote to the Labour leader and mayor of London begging them not to bow to the pressure to throw away the progress made so far with initiatives such as ULEZ because:

Air pollution affects every one of us from before we are born into old age. It not only causes respiratory conditions such as asthma, but also heart attacks, heart arrhythmias, strokes, child developmental disorders, lung cancer and dementia.

A recent study also suggests that air pollution may be exacerbating the rise of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance already kills 1.3 million people a year, and if it gets out of hand could in theory make a serious dent in global human population numbers. It’s “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” according to the World Health Organisation:

…we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.

The ULEZ scheme specifically seems to be helping on the air pollution front. London’s air pollution has dropped. I haven’t looked into how to quantify this directly in terms of health benefits. But 4,000 of London’s deaths were apparently attributable to air pollution in 2019 so there are some major wins potentially to be had.

One study suggested that if the mayor’s air pollution policies were followed then Londoners would gain an extra 6.1 million life years by 2050. It would be even higher, 20% higher, if they managed to meet the World Health Organisation guidelines.

The ULEZ scheme itself aims to save over a million hospital admissions, albeit this particular figure sounds like a somewhat vague aspiration that won’t be realised until 2050 so possibly one should dig into the evidence around that before parroting it too much.

The doctors raised another important point, and one that highlights that any “unfairness” or economic harm caused to some people by ULEZ is down to policy choices, not its overall objective.

The policy shouldn’t stand alone. Rather there should be “a commitment to a much more affordable, frequent and reliable public transport system” as well. People do need to get to places. No sensible person should argue otherwise. But I can easily think of several other carrot-rather-than-stick approaches that might be added to the mix, rather than removing one of the few things that seems to be working for the sake of the Conservatives desperate attempt to introduce some US-imported-style culture war banter as a last ditch effort to not get totally laughed out of office next time we have a general election.

Obviously the idea should be to put together a package of policies that improve the health of us and our planet whilst mitigating any downsides of any individual approach. Not just give up and throw them all in the landfill-destined bin because a few of those people not rendered too ill by air pollution to get to the polling station in a couple of years time might vote for you.

The insanity is not limited to the motorist love-ins unfortunately. Last week Sunak announced a vast expansion of North Sea oil and gas drilling. Living as we do in a post-truth world, he claims that this is “entirely consistent with our plan to get to net zero”. He actually seems to think that it’s positively pro-environment. More on this in a bit.

Oxfam’s climate advisor disagrees and highlights that should we want to generate more energy more locally at less environmental cost - all good objectives when the current option often seems to lead to paying war criminals big bucks to import it let alone the environmental concerns - there is an obvious alternative:

Extracting more fossil fuels from the North Sea will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments at a time when we should be investing in a just transition to a low-carbon economy and our own abundant renewables.

It’s not like he’s proposing nationalising the process, or really doing anything other than let whichever company does the extraction run riot on the “free” market as far as I can see.

Per Mike Childs from Friends of the Earth:

Granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences will simply pour more fuel on the flames, while doing nothing for energy security as these fossil fuels will be sold on international markets and not reserved for UK use

Similar comments abound. Kate White from the WWF is quoted by Sky News

" [Sunak’s plan will] do nothing to cut household energy bills or shore up our energy security - it will simply line the pockets of the extractive industry while the world burns…the solution to the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis is in affordable, clean energy; better insulation for our homes; and restoring our natural world.”

Carbon Brief looked into some of the energy security related claims. Unsurprisingly they don’t stack up.

Apparently on average it takes 28 years after the granting of oil and gas licenses for the flow of fossil fuels to start. If it’s anything like as long as that then these fuels won’t come online until the 2040s. They do nothing to solve today’s security or cost of living crisis. And by 2040 we should be well on our way towards net zero, with the plan (supposedly supported by Sunak) being to decarbonise the UK economy by 2050. If we need a new flow of fossil fuel at that point then something went very wrong.

There are so many other ways the government could improve the cost of living situation for UK citizens that don’t involve waiting a quarter of a century and hoping big businesses show unprecedented compassion.

There’s certainly no reason to suspect the fossil fuel companies would by remotely shy about maximising their profits from any new gas and oil that they could possibly get their hands on. In these cost-of-living-whilst-the-world-burns crisis times Shell recently reported its largest ever first quarter profits: $9.6 billion for the first quarter of this year. BP made $5 billion profit during the same period.

Sunak et al also seem to have gotten this odd idea that “buying local” is incredibly environmentally beneficial when it comes to fossil fuels, claiming that importing fuel from elsewhere ends up releasing 3-4x as many carbon emissions.

At first this made me wonder if Sunak thinks that we import oil by putting it into small bottles and hand delivering it via single-passenger private jets or something. Once I got over myself, I actually looked into what the reality is and wrote about it in more detail here.

The TLDR would be that the “3-4x the emissions” claim for imported alternatives to North Sea gas and oil is not exactly an outright fiction but it’s very misleading. It appears to refer to only the emissions associated with the transport of fuel, only for gas, and only for the minority of gas that is transported to the UK in liquid form.

The process of shipping gas via boat involves converting it to liquid form (Liquified Natural Gas, or “LNG”) before putting it on a boat and then converting it back when it arrives. That is an energy intensive process, quite possibly generating 3-4x the emissions associated with (just) the transporting of gas via methods not involving LNG, such as via a pipeline.

However, it turns out that only a minority of Britain’s imported gas is transported via LNG. Most of it comes through a pipeline and hence does not incur anything like that process' emissions penalty.

In any case, the emissions generated by even the nasty LNG gas process are only a small fraction of the total emissions generated during the lifecycle of the gas overall. The large majority of emissions come from the actual use of the fuel itself. There is no possible way to reduce the actual emissions associated with that gas by anything like as much as 3-4x by fiddling around with the extraction or transport process when most of the emissions are associated with the end use of the gas itself.

For what it’s worth, oil isn’t affected by the LNG process so I couldn’t find any similar-in-scale emissions savings to be had there.

It’s also of note that some countries are substantially better than the UK at extracting gas and oil in terms of having reduced emissions for the extraction process itself. The trend there will also be that they improve further if they enact the process improvements that they’ve already committed to. But this is still not the biggest deal: remember that the majority of the emissions associated with gas come from the usage of the gas itself.

For what it’s worth, switching to basically any form of renewable energy would vastly outweigh even the very best case emissions savings one could get from the North Sea network. Vastly. Yes, even when you take into account the end-to-end impact of manufacturing, maintaining and disposing of the equipment needed to use renewables.

Other assumptions that one would have to make in order to see even the small North Sea emissions benefit prospectively on offer include:

  1. That the North Sea gas is all kept and used in the UK rather than being exported elsewhere. As mentioned above, there’s no reason to believe that that will happen.
  2. That any extra gas and oil extracted from the North Sea means that there will be a similar reduction in the amount extracted (and in part exported via LNG) globally. I see no reason to think that that will be true. It’s not like we’ve reached a level where the demand for energy is entirely satiated. Instead, there’s a good chance that the oil and gas market will simply enlarge. And if more gas and oil is sold then - especially as most of the associated emissions come from the use of the fuels - proportionally more pollution will be generated.

So for all Sunak’s hobby of “talking about freedom” he seems to be chatting about only very specific types of freedom.

It’s a type of freedom that values the freedom to create traffic jams on unsuitably small residential roads over the freedom to not become ill from other people’s air pollution infusing your home. The freedom to legally drive 10 miles per hour faster than you used to be able to, over the freedom to not be involved in a fatal accident. The freedom for a few to greatly profit from the harmful exploitation of natural resources over the freedom for us all to live in a planet with a bearable climate. You can’t enjoy exceeding the 20 mph limit all that much if you are too ill or too dead to drive.

The people who tend to be most vulnerable to pollution or the immediate ravages of climate change are of course on average poorer, more disadvantaged, and hold less economic and political power than the average person, let alone the CEO of whichever big oil company and the owners of very fast cars. In this way, Frank Wilhoit’s evergreen canard that conservatives naturally tend towards the idea that laws exist to protect in-groups by binding out-groups shows its face once again.

From PC Magazine:

For 16 years, Jeremy Vaught had control of the @music account on Twitter. But no more. On Thursday, Elon Musk’s company seized the @music account out of the blue, offering no advanced warning to Vaught or any compensation

A reminder that nothing you “have” on other people’s proprietary, locked-in platforms is really yours. Musk wanted “@music”, and he of course wanted “@x”. The ex-owner of the latter can now be reached at @x12345678998765.

Hope these folk don’t have their handles listed on any promotional materials, Youtube vids or the like!

Turns out the UK’s Electoral Commission has been hacked for the past couple of years.

At the very least, hackers got access to the name and address of anyone who was registered to vote between 2014 and 2022; tens of millions of UK residents. And potentially any email correspondence in the system at the time.

This includes the information about anyone who had opted to keep their personal information off the open public register.

🎙️ Listening to Brad & Will Made A Tech Pod.

The name is pretty self-explanatory. Lots of tech talk, but way less Apple-obsessed as many of the computery podcasts I’ve encountered over the years. Perhaps I’ve just been looking in the wrong place, but it’s nice to see Windows, Linux et al getting a look-in for those of us not fully uploaded to the iCloud.

Not that it’s all computer-nerding. VR, electric cars and space travel feature in the promo blurb. I learned a lot about how to make decent coffee from a recent episode. Still need to put it into practice but at least I know how disgusting my current coffee practice is now.

The call of Linux

I’ve been feeling drawn to the Linux operating system recently, partly under the guise of seizing the means of computation away from those who would surveil us, distract us with adverts each time we want to open an app or restrict us from using our devices as we wish.

Moving as much as possible towards open source software where people who have the coding skills can see exactly what it’s doing and contribute changes to anything they don’t like seems like A Good Thing overall.

It’s been double digit years since I’ve looked into Linux. I used it for a while in the past doing networking related stuff but not for more day-to-day tasks. But since then it looks like there’s been several options developed that address the challenges that were present back in the day. Namely that it was just all so complicated to set up in comparison to the more ‘consumer-friendly’ operating systems, doubly so if you wanted to use it in alongside those operating systems.

It was also potentially tricky to find equivalent software to that one may have been used to using on other platforms. However it looks like things have changed a lot in a decade, no surprises there. And, despite only having a limited amount of time to fiddle around with setting things up, it might be well worth trying it out again.

The Linux Mint distribution seems to be recommended by quite few folk for people who don’t want to spend a whole lot of time learning a new way of computing or figuring out where to get the necessary software for basic day-to-day computing tasks. It appears to come with a tool enabling easy access to tens of thousands of apps.

So I might try that one. But part of the beauty of this scene is that there’s many other options available, as well as the ability to modify any particular option that exists, if the one you try first doesn’t appeal in the end.

Screenshot of Linux Mint from their official site

TIL: There’s an estimated 3 million shipwrecks dotted across the ocean floors of our planet.

With an estimated $60 billion worth of sunken treasure onboard.

But don’t get too excited. These days you can’t just keep any such treasure you find. A state tends to own it. In one example case courts ruled that a company that had discovered half a billion dollars worth of treasure had to hand it over to Spain.

A new paper re-affirms that plant-based diets are far less damaging to the environment

A new paper from Scarborough et al. looks again at the level of environmental impact that different types of food pattern consumptions have; everything from vegan through to high meat diets.

How this paper differs from some others I’ve seen in the past is that:

  1. It standardises the dietary intake of each person, hence ensuring that any observed differences aren’t a result of meat eaters simply consuming a different number of calories than vegans.
  2. It takes into account the fact that the environmental impact of a certain type of food can vary dramatically depending on how and where it is produced.

Nonetheless, the punchline is basically the same as more straightforward analyses show.

All environmental indicators showed a positive association with amounts of animal-based food consumed.

Dietary impacts of vegans were 25.1% (95% uncertainty interval, 15.1–37.0%) of high meat-eaters (≥100 g total meat consumed per day) for greenhouse gas emissions, 25.1% (7.1–44.5%) for land use, 46.4% (21.0–81.0%) for water use, 27.0% (19.4–40.4%) for eutrophication and 34.3% (12.0–65.3%) for biodiversity.

At least 30% differences were found between low and high meat-eaters for most indicators.

Vegan diets were superior to high meat diets in every measure of environmental impact here. Whilst there is a lot of uncertainty on some measures due to not knowing how exactly each item of food was sourced, in no case at all is that uncertainty enough to make it remotely plausible that vegan diets actually aren’t superior on these measures.

Another repeated finding is that there’s good returns from simply cutting down one’s amount of meat consumption, or switching to fish. In today’s world it seems unlikely that everyone is going to seriously consider becoming vegan, but perhaps all of us that haven’t yet done so might consider reducing our meat consumption. It will help the planet.

Many of us have seen those adverts for smartphone games, often embedded inside other annoying phone games, that if one is misguided enough to think they look interesting enough to download turn out to bear almost no resemblance whatsoever to the game it’s claiming to be. So much so that sometimes they end up banned by the Advertising Standards Agency.

Anyway, someone has had the genius/madness idea to take some of those supposedly appealing fake games that are shown in the adverts and actually make them.

You too can play games that look terrible but still somehow substantially better than the game that was being advertised if you procure the catchily-named “YEAH! YOU WANT “THOSE GAMES,” RIGHT? SO HERE YOU GO! NOW, LET’S SEE YOU CLEAR THEM!”.

Available at least on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Paper notes: How much food tracking during a digital weight management program is enough...?

Below are notes I took from reading the paper: How much food tracking during a digital weight management program is enough to produce clinically significant weight loss?

It’s known that weight loss can be facilitated by lifestyle interventions.

One of the strongest predictors of how much weight loss will occur is how often participants track the food and drink they consume each day, usually with a view to remaining within a set calorie goal.

However, tracking your consumption in detail is effortful. Most people do not find it possible to do so over the longer term. One approach to improving adherence would be to reduce the amount of effort required, for example by reducing how often people are asked to track food or reducing the amount of their food they are asked to track.

It is not yet clear how much food tracking is needed to get to certain weight loss milestones. Studies so far suggest that “abbreviated” food tracking approaches do correlate with weight loss, with the possible exception of tracking by taking a photo of the food.

Using data from subscribers to a weight loss program over a 6 month intervention period, the study aims to:

  1. establish whether the abbreviated method of food tracking facilitated by by the program remains associated with weight loss.
  2. establish thresholds of food tracking that are associated with certain weight loss milestones

Aim 1 was tested with both a nonparametric and linear regression methods.

There was a significant correlation between the percentage of days participants tracked food with the percentage of their original weight that the participant lost after 6 months, r = 0.4, p < 0.001. A 1% increase in the number of days tracking food associated with a 0.08% greater in weight loss.

A ROC curve analysis looked at showed that food tracking was highly predictive of the clinically significant 3%, 5% and 10% weight loss thresholds after 6 months. The optimum predictivity threshold was defined by the sum of sensitivity and specificity.

  • For predicting achieving at least a 3% weight loss, the optimum threshold of food tracking corresponded to 29% of intervention days.
  • For 5% weight loss this was 39% of days tracked,.
  • 67% of days was the optimum threshold for predicting the 10% weight loss threshold.

Aim 2 added a time series clustering analysis method, dynamic time warping, to look for similarities between member food tracking behaviour.

This produced 3 clusters based on the number of days participants had tracked food in each week over the intervention period. The clusters differed by levels of food tracking, weight loss, participant age and marital status.

This study could not quantify the mechanisms why participants showed different food tracking behaviours. For instance, perhaps some had higher motivation or fewer barriers to food tracking and/or weight loss.

Limitations include:

  • Participants were biased towards being female, with college degrees and higher incomes.
  • This approach cannot fully establish that food tracking causes weight loss. There could be confounders.
  • Whilst the optimum thresholds for predicting 3%, 5% or 10% of weight loss were established, there was no step-change in cutoff that perfectly predicted weight loss success. We should be cautious about interpreting the specific thresholds here.
  • Food tracking was defined as tracking at least 1 food item on a given day; other definitions could be applied.

In conclusion, this study shows that participants can achieve clinically significant weight loss after 6 months even without perfect adherence to the recommended daily food tracking. In fact, no-one in this study tracked every day. Given that perfect adherence doesn’t seem to be possible for most people, and isn’t necessary for achieving significant weight loss, we should question whether it should be the default prescription for weight loss interventions.

Should one have the need to mass-download their Kindle books from Amazon without a ton of clicking around the Kindle Download Helper Python project looks to enable that.

I haven’t yet tried it, but it seems to work for other folk. Of course you’ll have to let it log in to your Amazon account which might be a deal-breaker for some, along with any risk associated with the fact that I can’t imagine it complies with Amazon’s terms of service. Although as it’s open source you can at least check in advance what the code is doing.

🎶 Listening to Endless Summer Vacation by Miley Cyrus.

Came to it via the ultra-viral hit Flowers which holds the record for being the fastest ever song to reach a billion streams on Spotify amongst other such achievements, taking 113 days if I did my maths right. It got 60 million streams occurred within a single week.

That song book-ends the album: the version you know at the start, a substantially differently-vibed demo version at the end. But there’s plenty of pop-rock in-between from the current phase of Miley’s constant re-invention. Bit of a mixed bag imo, but it’s a fun enough summer listen.

Somehow only today did I realise that you can use if statements directly within R’s dplyr library filter function in order to make conditional filter criteria.

For example if you want to filter a fictional dataframe to show only scores below 10, but only if the variable x has the value “filter” you can do:

filter(data, if (x == "filter") {
      my_score < 10
    } else {
      my_score == my_score

A variable always equals itself, so the score == score bit effectively means “don’t apply a filter in this case”. You can of course use other criteria there if you want to apply different filters based on different conditions.

WormGPT is an AI chatbot designed to help commit crime

Inevitably some bright spark has developed a large language model AI chatbot whose explicit purpose is to assist with computer crime.

Based on GPT-J, WormGPT has no safety rails and has been trained on data from the darker side of the internet. So far its stated uses appear to be to write very convincing phishing scam emails, and to create and advise how to distribute malware.

Not the first area of life I’d have picked for needing to democratise and make accessible to all, but there we go. I remember listening to an episode of the Data Skeptic podcast last year where a researcher talked about the AI phishing email side of things so it’s not exactly a massive surprise that some 2023 malevolent entity went ahead and made it.

Tom’s Hardware quotes its developer:

This project aims to provide an alternative to ChatGPT, one that lets you do all sorts of illegal stuff and easily sell it online in the future. Everything blackhat related that you can think of can be done with WormGPT, allowing anyone access to malicious activity without ever leaving the comfort of their home.

A screenshot from PC Magazine:

All yours for 60 euros a month. Sigh.

Very unexpectedly, something about the apparent inanity / insanity of its plot makes me actually want to see the Barbie movie.

I’d assumed it’d be at least 80% problematic, but if it made Ben Shapiro spend 43 minutes burning his dolls in disgust at its wokeness then maybe it’s not so bad after all.

Mary Pilon reveals the real story behind the monopolising of Monopoly

📚 Finished listening to The Monopolists by Mary Pilon.

Cover of Mary Pilon's book, 'The Monopolists'

As far as board game creation stories go, the story of Monopoly’s invention is a well known one. Not least because for a while it was included in the contents of the game box itself, at least in the US.

For the un-initiated: Stuck at home having lost his job during the US Great Depression, Charles Darrow had a sudden flash of inspiration and invented Monopoly. Firstly to amuse his family during that difficult time in American history and latterly, in 1935, to sell to the Parker Brothers company. Darrow ends up as an incarnation of the rags-to-riches American Dream story as hundreds of millions of copies of the game were produced and shipped around the world.

The game certainly spread. In the end millions of groups of gamers would go on to learn the basics of capitalist economics, the dog-eat-dog winner-takes all majesty of the free marketplace, with the winner of each game ending up with reams of imaginary real estate and their respective virtual incoming rents from their non-propertied companions. A true simulation of the American Dream, accessible to all, realised like never before.

Except, inevitably, that story isn’t true. Monopoly wasn’t really invented by Charles Darrow. Or any other individual entirely. Like many other of humanity’s cultural artifacts, what we now know as Monopoly is a pastime that evolved over space and time.

The author starts the story with the person that could perhaps most fairly be termed Monopoly’s originator, Elizabeth Magie. Born in 1866, she was very interested in both politics and inventing. This of course was certainly not encouraged for women of that era. Nonetheless, in 1904 she patented “The Landlord’s Game”.

Patent submission for The Landlord's Game

Ironically, considering what it turned into, the game was intended to espouse her Georgist principles and demonstrate the perils of unbridled rentier capitalism; specifically how monopolies over land led to ruin, and how taxes could be used to ameliorate these outcomes. It was intended as part of a political argument against the massive concentration of land-based wealth in the hands of landlords, not a celebration of it.

In general, the Georgist movement was dead against the private accumulation of wealth from land ownership

From Wikipedia’s entry on Georgism:

…although people should own the value they produce themselves, the economic rent derived from land—including from all natural resources, the commons, and urban locations—should belong equally to all members of society

The Landlord’s Game could be played either with Monopolist rules, where players are incentivised to become monopolists and force other players out of the game - these will be familiar to anyone who has played modern-day Monopoly. But it also came with anti-monopolist rules, where the game is won only when every player has doubled their original money by virtue of communal wealth creation.

Educational as it might have been, it didn’t sell very well at the time. But it was taken up by certain communities - notably the Quakers and various socialist-leaning academic types - who passed various incarnations of the rules and materials of the game on to their nearest and dearest, sometimes adding or changing a few of the details. Over time it grew ever closer to the Monopoly we know today. Magie’s original version already had the property, railroads, utilities and jail squares familiar to us today, as well as idea of continuously circling a square board with no pre-defined end, a relatively rare setup at that point time. As it passed from hand-to-hand some of the properties got renamed and the Chance and Community Chest cards we’re familiar with today were developed.

What came next is a frustrating lesson in intellectual property law. After Darrow sold “his” game idea to Parker Brother, they went on to persuade Magie to sell them the patent to her original Landlord’s Game, misleading her into thinking that they would mass produce and market copies of it, with its original message intact, worldwide.

Well, have you ever seen “The Landlord’s Game” in a game shop? Of course not. In reality, they’d wanted to acquire the patent to protect themselves from the increasingly obvious truth that the real story behind the Monopoly game they were selling in such a profitable manner was not one that suited them.

If this book is to be believed - and it certainly seems very thoroughly researched - Darrow and Parker Brothers behaved somewhat deviously, probably fraudulently, to do their best to retain the sole right - the monopoly - to sell Monopoly based on its manufactured origin story. Whilst of course compensating none of the many other people who contributed towards the development of the modern-day institution of Monopoly over the decades.

Again layering on the irony, some of the truth of this came out as part of another intellectual property related court case, but one that Parker Brothers initiated. An economist called Ralph Anspach created a game called “Anti-Monopoly” in 1973 that was designed to help people understand the perils of real-life monopolies.

Parker Brothers didn’t like that the name involved the word “monopoly” and took him to court to prevent him selling his game. Preparing his defence led Anspach down a path of somewhat obsessive research into the history of Monopoly, with the resulting idea that Monopoly itself should be in the public domain with the copyrights and trademarks Parker Brother claimed to hold being invalid. A decade later a settlement was reached, but not before the case materials revealed a lot of the truth that Mary Pilon now, in turn, reveals to us.

Is it worth trying to increase your physical activity if you only have time to even think about it on the weekends? New research from Khurshid et al. suggests that yes, it is.

They find that getting at least the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week provides the same positive association with cardiovascular health whether you do most of your exercising in 1-2 days - their “weekend warrior” classification - or spread it out across the whole week.

…a weekend warrior pattern of physical activity was associated with similarly lower risks of incident atrial fibrillation, myocardial infarction, heart failure, and stroke compared with more evenly distributed physical activity.

Terrible AI-written books hit the Kindle Unlimited best-seller lists

Another upsetting outcome of the inevitable coming together of the generative AI infocalypse, enshittified subscription service monopolies, misguided algorithmic recommendation systems and the incentives of modern-day capitalism has been achieved. This time this victim is books.

According to Vice, many of the supposedly most popular entries in the Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription service’s bestseller list recently were in fact fully AI generated nonsense.

A rash of books with similar covers, quite random titles and absolute nonsense inside them apparently hit the top 100 list, at least in categories such as Young Adult romance.

Some Kindle Unlimited book covers from Vice's article

My favourite of the ones Vice reported on has to be the catchily named “Apricot Bar Code Architecture”. The introductory sentence, if you please:

“Black lace pajamas, very short skirt, the most important thing, now this lace pajamas are all wet.”

Now I don’t imagine too many readers made it all the way through these books meaning that whoever put them there probably isn’t raking in too much money per reader. It seems like Kindle Unlimited is paying something like 0.4 US cents per page read, if I understand Chris McMullen’s post correctly. But the fact that they got to the top of the rankings means they’re making some amount of money for someone, likely at the expense of the more traditional actually-makes-sense books.

Because Kindle Unlimited pays authors per page read, not per book read, if you can get 1000 people - real or imaginary - to read the first 5 pages of your effortlessly created clickbait book then you’ll get the same amount of financial reward as someone who can get 10 people to read the entirety of their award-winning 500 page novel - and more than if 5 people who read your 500 page novel valued it so much that throughout their later life they each read it another 10 times each.

I suppose it doesn’t take much for the same folk who set up fake ad-clicking farms to switch to fake book-reading farms.

The new New Conservatives faction has no new ideas

New(ish) Conservative party faction just dropped. Let’s welcome the “New Conservatives” to the party.

They join the National Conservatives and a bunch of other factions such as the European Research Group, Covid Recovery Group, Net Zero Scrutiny Group, Common Sense Group, Blue Collar Conservatism, Northern Research Group and no doubt many others that don’t quite come to the top of my mind right now. One day there will be more factions than politicians if we lucky.

The New Conservatives faction has the extremely non-unique selling point of not liking immigrants. They did manage to come up with a 10 point policy, but every point is a unsubtle rewording of “immigration needs stopped”.

Although if they do ever fully exhaust our patience with anti-immigration cruelty they do have aspirations to move onto being - can you guess? Let’s all say it together: anti-woke.


I’ll let the i headline speak for itself: ‘They’re dickheads’: New Conservatives group of MPs will cost us the election, Sunak allies say

In particular they appear to be very concerned that the current Prime Minister - who constantly explicitly tells us that lowering immigration, at a time where in some ways the country might actually need immigrants more than ever even for purely selfish reasons, is one of his top priorities at basically any cost - even the cost of breaking international law - should think about adding lowering immigration as one of his priorities. How efficient they are to have achieved their goals before they even existed.

There’s a fun interview on the July 3rd episode of The News Agents podcast where the one of the high-ups of this pointless new faction really really tries to wriggle out of agreeing that what he wants to is prevent is even the most cruelly oppressed and tortured women stuck in Afghanistan from seeking asylum in the UK amongst other things, when that actually seems to be the whole point of his tediously unoriginal faction. Add dishonesty to the litany of sins.

Following some big companies such as Samsung banning or putting limits on their employees' use of tools such as ChatGPT, I wrote about some of the risks one takes when using generative AI systems to write code over here.

From the i:

Nigel Farage has criticised the Home Office’s decision to paint over murals of cartoon figures at an asylum centre for lone children, describing it as “a bit mean”.

Good grief. If Nigel Farage thinks your immigration policy is cruel that really should give you cause to question its morality.

But Sunak et al are still sticking to their story that wanting to see Mickey Mouse is a the main driver of the treacherous journey some of the most desperate children in the world make to our shores.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman suggested the decision was designed to “deter” asylum seekers from crossing the Channel as part of the Mr Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats”.

The latest deranged volley in the Conservative Government’s extremely inhumane and extremely ineffective “anti-immigration” policy has arrived.

It turns out that some asylum reception centres have cartoon images on display.

A room in an asylum reception centre with cartoon characters on the wall

(image from The Guardian)

This is, of course, Too Woke.

From The Independent:

The Immigration Minister said pictures of cartoons and animals must be removed and that staff should make sure they are painted over, as they give an impression of welcoming, which Mr Jenrick didn’t want to show.

The staff, being humans, didn’t want to do this. But it seems like in the end Robert Jenrick got his way.

Presumably the concern is that millions of children are going to willingly risk their lives at great personal cost to themselves and any remaining family that they may or may not have in order to enter a country that is actively hostile to their very existence mainly because they want to see a picture of Mickey Mouse.

I’ve been looking at options for Network Attached Storage recently, to help me be more conscientious about backups, plus eventually reduce my dependence on various big tech cloud services.

For leaning about the Synology side of things I’m finding SpaceRex’s Youtube channel quite informative.

Conservatives only like law and order when it suits their interests

Frank Wilhoit succinctly encapsulates how at least a subset of conservatives - I suppose he would say all conservatives - appear to think:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit:

There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

This may feel contrary to the classic, now feeling extremely old-fashioned, idea that conservative politics tends towards the politics of law and order.

That sentiment was never straightforward to interpret. There is more to law and order than proudly caging the largest number of people you could possibly justify in an entirely inadequate prison system. But in Wilhoit’s telling it presumably can’t really ever be the case. At least not whilst the law purports to be something that applies equally to all people.

At any moment in time the conservative parties and surrounding movement might look to be extremely pro law and order. But this just means that the law is such that it currently promotes their own interests, usually at the expense of some other group’s interest. Should this stop being the case, so will the avid conservative fandom around the legal process.

These examples are probably so obvious as to not really be worth expressing, but we can see how quickly certain branches of the UK and US conservative movements reacted with wanton disrespect for the legal process and norms as soon as their political heroes - Boris Johnson and Donald Trump - were called to account for their illegal and immoral behaviour.

Johnson was more than happy to explicitly break international law to get his own personally-preferred type of Brexit. In the mean time, some of the conservative British media attempted to brand judges who were insufficiently enthusiastic about that same event as being “enemies of the people”. Trump’s supporters, well, some of them famously engaged in a violent insurrection.

In Wilhoit’s mind then, what would anti-conservatism thinking look like? Simply put, the idea that:

The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; and it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

As a sidenote, we’re not talking about Francis Wilhoit the political scientist, but rather Frank Wilhoit the classical music composer who just happens to share the same name.

The US Federal Trade Commission is investigating OpenAI, creators of ChatGPT et al, in order to establish whether they’ve violated consumer protection laws.

The Washington Post shared the Civil Investigative Demand Schedule that’s been sent to OpenAI requesting all sorts of information around how the company deals with the risks associated with their product.

The goal is to determine:

Whether [OpenAI] has (1) engaged in unfair or deceptive privacy or data security practices or (2) engaged in unfair or deceptive practices relating to risks of harm to consumers, including reputational harm…