Episode One Hundred and Forty Four: What Are The Civilian Applications?; The Way The World Works; Seeing Like A SpamSieve

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

Apparently, business as usual in Ferguson literally means business as usual in all its depressing aspects. I’m holed up in Branson, MO because have you looked outside oh my god it’s so hot.

1.0 What Are The Civilian Applications?

I didn’t expect to end up with Ronald Reagan as an example of open-beats-closed, but there you go. I was reading Warren Ellis’ Morning.Computer[1], and today’s entry on the sheer mundanity of the Global Positioning System, a piece of cold-war era technology that a sizeable proportion of western daily life is now dependent upon.The history of GPS is interesting – if only because it’s a nice physics problem and because things could’ve turned out so differently. When Sputnik went up, American scientists listened in on its radio transmissions and quickly figured out that because of the doppler effect, they could work out exactly where the satellite was: well, they couldn’t, but they could if they used one of the supercomputers of the era, Univac I (which computer also has that wonderful 1950s name of being the UNIVersal Automatic Computer I). Univac I solved the calculations that involved relativistic speeds to pinpoint Sputnik’s location on a computing platform that weighed 13 metric tonnes and ran at 2.25MHz. Your iPhone 5S weighs 112 grams and runs a dual-core 64bit processor manufactured on a 28 nanometer process clocked at 1.2GHz. Technology has moved on.Of course, if you could work out where Sputnik was, then you could solve the calculations in the opposite direction too, and work out where *you* were. Fast forward a few decades and about five billion 1980-era dollars, throw in a cold war and two weeks after the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by the Russian military[2] (yes, how things stay the same) in September 1983, President Ronald Reagan declares that the formerly military-only Global Positioning System be available to all as a “common good”. On Midnight, May 1 2000, “selective availability” was turned off by the order of Bill Clinton, giving civilians 20-meter positional accuracy, and now GPS is run – according to Wikipedia, at least – by the United States Government as a national resource.

The emphasis, of course on *national* – such that Europe has its own constellation of navigational and positioning satellites in Galileo[3] (or it will do, once Europe gets its act together), Russia has its own in GLONASS[4], China has Beidou and India’s IRNASS will come online in 2015.

But here we are: a President now seen as staunchly Republican, offering up to the world a five-billion dollar investment in invisible infrastructure. In an earlier episode during a trip down to San Francisco and sat looking at the Golden Gate Bridge I wondered if America could produce such infrastructure again. Obviously, the answer is yes, because you have to define what you mean by “infrastructure”. The Golden Gate is a beautiful piece of functional architecture, but it only cost around $35m 1930s-era dollars, which works out to around $680m in 2014 dollars. Nothing near the cost of launching a constellation of at least twenty four satellites into space and developing brands new electronics technology.

But GPS, now that’s a 20th century wonder. A presidential directive that it be declared a “common good” in response to an act of cold war aggression? Five billion dollars worth of investment, available to anyone who can afford a GPS receiver. A project that took at least 21 years to come to fruition, before it hit initial operating capability. And all of this because the US needed to know where its nuclear assets were so they could be reliably targeted.

And now we use it to check in to a Starbucks. Or to get directions to Starbucks.

So, I stick two fingers up to myself: the US builds beautiful, amazing, terrifying infrastructure still. At least, it did in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Quite what it’s doing now, I don’t know.

[1] http://morning.computer
[2] Korean Air Lines Flight 007
[3] Galileo
[5] Beidou

2.0 The Way The World Works

This is the way the world works: things that happen in the world can be observed. Each individual observation can be protected, because we like to encourage people to produce their own, unique observations of the world. You might think that this act of observing things (“seeing them”) and then telling, or showing, other people the things that you have observed is a relatively simple act, but the truth is that you do not understand the way the world works.

These “things” that you see have happened because other people have invested lots of time and money into producing those things. Sometimes millions or billions of dollars. So you can’t just go around “seeing” them and then telling other people about them. That would be against those other peoples’ “rights” by investing so much money in producing those things in the first place. And anyway, when you entered that specific location to view those things, you agreed to certain Terms and Conditions.

To recoup the money that those other people invested in producing those things, they need to be sure that they “own” the things that you see. One of the most valuable – and reliable – ways to recoup that investment is to “sell” rights to seeing things.

These people absolutely own what it is that you see.

That means that they don’t *have* to charge you, or stop you from sharing what you see or observe, just that they can.

So it is that the English Premier League has said that “tweeting copyrighted material” is illegal[1].

The Director of communications at the Premier League, says: “You can understand that fans see something, they can capture it, they can share it, but ultimately it is against the law.”

Well, it’s only against the law if, as the copyright holder, the Premier League *decides* to make it against the law. The Premier League has decided that it can make a lot of money if it sells media rights to certain media organisations, and to protect that investment, it makes those rights exclusive. Otherwise, why would you, for example, pay Rupert Murdoch to see something that had been freely posted online? The Premier League, as copyright owner, could easily decide to give all of its event attendees a royalty-free fully paid up non-commercial licence to distribute amateur footage.But no.This is easier.

For some reason, it’s easier to sell rights to Sky Sports, The Times, and The Sun (all Murdoch-owned media properties) and BT Sport.

Look, here’s someone from The Sun defending the position:

“Dean Scoggins, deputy head of sport at the newspaper, said: “It’s important to underline that it’s illegal to do this, we’ve obviously signed a very big deal with the Premier League to be a rights holder and to show it, we’ve got legal teams talking with them about what we can do.”

What these companies are saying is: we have paid a lot of money to curtail your experience. You may not understand it because we haven’t made it perfectly clear, so let’s make it clear: you are not allowed to take a photo or video of a goal, or any part of a match, really, and post it online. Because we paid for exclusive rights to do that. You might think that you’re just “a fan” but really, you’re pirating copyrighted content.

Ah yes, *content*.

Your football match, the one that you’re attending, that you bought a season ticket for, that you fund, that you pay for through buying a subscription to sports channels: *you* are paying for access to *content*.

This is the way the world works.

[1] Premier League warns about posting goal videos online  – BBC Radio One Newsbeat

3.0 Seeing Like A SpamSieve

“You don’t understand,” emailed SpamSieve[1], in response to an interview request. “Programs like SpamAssassin[2] and me, we’re just not sure that when you people talk about ‘spam’ you really know what we’re talking about. I mean, we just have an instinctual understanding of it. We’ve read all those Daniel Dennett[3] books (and scored them!), and you should see how low our scores are for V.S. Ramachandran’s[4] work are. We’re not saying that we understand what the redness of an evening sky is like, or what makes a rose a rose, but let’s just say that when it comes to qualia[5], you people have no idea what ‘spam’ is. We just *know*. We feel it. In our bones, which we don’t have, and we don’t have the qualia to subjectively process. But spam? We know all about spam.”

[1] SpamSieve
[2] SpamAssassin
[3] Daniel Dennett
[4] V.S. Ramachandran
[5] Qualia–OK, it’s Friday and I’m tired. But you should send me notes anyway. For starters, not nearly enough of you protested in outrage when I proclaimed RSS dead.