The latest snafu

(Wannacry)

This just in:

NHS left reeling by cyber-attack: ‘We are literally unable to do any x-rays’

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/13/nhs-cyber-attack-patients-ransomware

Ah, the magic of computers and technology rears its ugly head once again.   This time, it isn’t just business documents and pictures of your vacation.  This time, entire systems that can mean life or death for people are being compromised.   While this may have been another technological tour-de-force, at one point, someone who is responsible for these tools, or those who use them, might be faced with a Twilight Zone/karmic retribution of some sort.  Imagine those who built these tools for ‘good’ having their family members not be able to get an X-ray (see above), because the very computers their tool infected were disabled.

There’s a great Buddhist story (the details are forgotten) about someone watching a cruel person do nasty things to another.  In the story, the Buddhist weeps, not for the person receiving the blows, but the one who is giving them, since they know the karmic effects on the person who is committing those acts.

Things have a way of biting back.  It is very hard to put the ‘genie back in the bottle’, as we discovered with other weapons of mass destruction.

Questions:

  • Anybody taking more action to backup their data/update their machines because of this?
  • When do you think this stuff will really start to kill people in larger numbers?
  • The Internet of Things is going to magnify this than we might possibly ever imagine.  Anyone having second thoughts?

 

 

The unknown price

$?

While having a discussion with a younger colleague, they asked me about investing.   As mentioned by a few others, my take on the financial markets is the same – they are essentially broken, in a fundamental way.   We can’t determine what anything is worth, so “investing” isn’t investing, it is gambling – the worst kind.   Not that gambling is inherently bad; people do it all the time, but they know it is gambling – taking a measured risk for a measured reward.   What is so bad about the way the system is constructed now is that people think they are investing, but they actually are gambling without knowing they are gambling.

We can blame the Fed for the mechanics of this, of course – they artificially set the actual interest rate, which is the most critical factor in determining whether an investment of any kind is financially viable.  Since this is artificially set (and has been set close to zero for a long time), things are so out of whack, it’s difficult to tell where to even know where a price for anything might be.

Questions:

  • How do we get back to reality, in any human endeavour, even one as “simple” as finance?
  • Will only a crash bring us back?

It’s been about two years now, since this blog was started on a weekly basis.  No particularly grand ideas or overarching themes; just a variety of observations on a few interesting topics.  A few times, a muse has struck and a longer essay has been written, maps are drawn, or flags sketched, but commentary has been relatively light. The basic tenets haven’t changed much, for sure.

Much needs to be done, and perhaps writing here isn’t the best use our resources.  Yes, something strikes, a note will be written, but perhaps the well has run dry.  Time to muse on future directions, and what should be done with our time.

 

Don’t push the pink skins to the thin ice

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Prelude_to_Axanar_poster.jpg

There’s an amazing Star Trek fan film, Prelude To Axanar, that was squashed by Paramount not too long ago.

The film brings up two points; one in the real-world sense, and one taken from the fictional realm.

The first, is that a dedicated group of people who care about what they are doing can make some very impressive art.   When you watch the film, you feel like you’ve been transported to a real-life documentary about a war that happened “not too long ago”, perhaps like a documentary on the Vietnam War.   For the amount of money they spent, they created something real, lifelike, and certainly true to what Gene Roddenberry intended, and perhaps even more.   When one recalls all the horrible science fiction films that have been created with huge budgets, you can see that it is a lack of caring that probably sinks these films, not the budget.  When you care, you can create masterpieces out of (practically) thin air.

The second, from the fictional realm of the film, was a great line made by a Vulcan ambassador (around 7:24), in reference to an “Andorian acquaintance” who made the comment “Don’t push the pink skins to the thin ice.”  The essence of this was that when “on the ropes” humans will fight back with an incredible tenacity.   Mish Shedlock, recently wrote something that echoes along these lines on his blog.   When pushed to the edge, who knows what will happen?   Let’s hope calmer and wiser heads prevail.   As Jenny Holzer once wrote in an art piece, “People won’t behave if they have nothing to lose.”

Questions:

  • What are some examples of amazing art made a on shoestring budget?  Amazing pieces of engineering?
  • Backing people into a corner, in many (but not all) endeavors, is generaly not a prudent move.  But it always seems to happen, and the people who push too hard can sometimes find out the hard way that this wasn’t a brilliant plan.   How can this be avoided?  What are some of the hallmarks of getting what you want, without having an opponent “go berserker“?

The Wait

P/E ratio for the S&P 500, past 100 years

If there’s anything that seems to be a constant thought from many of the folks who see the realities of things (again, see the blog roll), it’s the concept of The Wait, or “How long can this go on?”  Listen to David Collum’s interview on the Kunstlercast a few months ago, with regard to a financial collapse/hiccup in the markets, or Chris Martenson’s commentaries.  The simple P/E graph above tells the story, if you don’t want to listen through a podcast.   Remember, regression to the mean does not indicate we’ll just touch the mean; we’ll have to go below it, and we’ve been above it for quite a while.

Wile E. Coyote and the cliff indeed.  If you read Zero Hedge, you’ll see complaints about this all the time in the comments section, when another ‘sky is falling’ article is published in all its gory detail.  Many have mentioned (and quite understandably) that if you thought the world was ending in the 1970s, you’d have missed a lot of the world, as it sailed blissfully in the future, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Internet, and the rest of the gadget filled world we’ve got now.

But, as they say in the fine print in many a mutual fund advertisement, “Past performance is not a predictor or guarantee of future returns.”

The JMG view is that we’ll see a stairstep decline, and his analogy to the “Fall of Rome” is one that is trotted out a lot, and he does have a point.  Nobody, at the time, thought “This is it!” and knew that after a given event, things were downhill all the way.   We may be waiting for an “event” that doesn’t happen; it will just be a series of miserable experiences, punctuated by lulls in the action.   Ugo Bardi, of course, trots out the Seneca Cliff, and the quick decline scenario.

The wait isn’t fun; a few people have said, “let’s get it over with,” and get to the resetting.  Not quite sure if that’s better than this maddening wait; any of the scenarios that have been showcased (take your pick of any doomer porn) sound pretty miserable.  If things do go south quickly (EMP (natural or man-made), a small nuclear exchange, bio-warfare, plague, zombies, etc.), it isn’t going to be fun, by any stretch of the imagination.  My instinct is to side with Ugo Bardi on this; complex societies such as ours might go a lot faster than we think; the start of The Great War; the fall of France in World War Two are some examples of where thing spiralled out of control pretty quickly, even though a few predicted a storm of some sort was coming.

Questions, as always:

  • Are we kidding ourselves? Is this crazy system far more resilient than we could ever realize?  Maybe it is.  If so, what are we missing here?  At some point, the physics of the real world must enter the picture, or can our delusions override things like real sea level rise, or drought?  This seems implausible.
  • Is the coming crash going to be so massive that we can’t even wrap our heads around it?  Commentary on the 2008 meltdown seems to be that we were hours from the ATMs shutting down, and if something like that happened again, some say it can’t be contained.
  • Why is the wait so annoying?  Is it the smugness of those who believe in the technofuture, and who have been growing rich, and enjoying the ride?  Again, is it possible that we are wrong, and that Science *will* find a solution?
  • The P/E graph is pretty good at telling us that things are over-extended.  Any other graphs or plots you’d like to let us know about?  What graph shows the “Wile E. Coyote – cliff moment” the best?

The new prophets and saints

Eliseu_Visconti_-_Recompensa_de_São_Sebastião.jpg

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint#/media/File:Eliseu_Visconti_-_Recompensa_de_S%C3%A3o_Sebasti%C3%A3o.jpg

With the recent Easter, the thought of prophets/saints came to mind.   The classic list from Christianity starts with the big four who wrote the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Of course, all the remaining apostles got their own sainthoods, being so close to JC and all.

When thinking about our modern era, who are our modern prophets and saints?  Yes, there are the folks on the blog roll; they might be candidates for prophets.   But who tells it like it is, and shows modern life for its true insanity?   My short list?  Comedians, most notably:

  • George Carlin
  • Bill Hicks
  • Richard Pryor

Who else?  Chris Rock?

 

EMP – Eeep.

Operation_Dominic_Starfish-Prime_nuclear_test_from_plane.jpg

Photograph of the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test explosion in course of Operation Dominic on July 9, 1962. Yield 1450 kilotons.

The most recent podcast from Radio Ecoshock covered a well known topic in prepper/doomer circles, electromagnetic pulse (EMP).   A good summary is available at Wikipedia, of course, and the corresponding article on Radio Ecoshock brings up a point that the guest made – EMP may be more important to civilization than climate change.   The article is keen to point out that there is a serous problem of those pesky nuclear reactor waste pools which won’t go away, so we’d have Fukushima times 400.

The fact that Radio Ecoshock brought this topic up makes me wonder if any of these ‘phase change like’ effects are starting to be realized as significant triggers to the ‘future we didn’t order’.     In another recent podcast (the Kunstlercast), David Collum mentioned that our economy could go through a ‘phase change’ possibility (our economy going south really, really quickly).

Yes, stairstep decline is upon us, as things go badly in fits and starts.  But there are some possibilities that are a bit too stark to write off ‘bad fits and starts.’   EMP is surely one of them.

Questions:

  • There are a few fast collapse scenarios out there; which ones are also plausible?  Pandemics?  Rogue AI?
  • The collapse of the grid, and the corresponding release of radioactivity from even a small fraction of those nuclear reactor waste pools isn’t discussed much.    What is the source of this cognitive dissonance?
  • What happens when you engage regular people about such possibilities?
  • What happens when you engage people with technical degrees, and knowledge of this effect?