Sat, Nov 09, 2013
Seen in a comment thread on a Reddit post in regards to this graph:
Kind of sums up the Internet in one go, for me :)
Thu, Aug 08, 2013
If you're a heavy command-line user, you're likely to find the pathetic handful of colours available as standard to be too limiting.
So you'll be running a 256-colour terminal. Much nicer.
You may also use GNU screen, or tmux, to allow for persistent sessions and multiple terminals within a single window. Also nice.
My problem started when I started needing to access multiple machines at once. One screen connected to multiple machines just resulted in too many terminals to try switching between. So I went the slightly more difficult route: Screens within screens.
You can do this with the defaults so long as you know that "Ctrl-a a" will send a "Ctrl-a" to the screen within the screen. But it's tortuous, so I advise you instead change the escape key. I moved mine to Z, since I rarely need to use Ctrl-z. Just add "escape ^Zz" to your screen config file to do this.
Job done, I now switch between machines with Ctrl-z and between screens on the machine with the usual Ctrl-a.
Just one problem: I lost my 256 colours :(
The problem was odd, because the screens were all 256-color. There's a nice little perl script I found ages ago - 256colors2.pl - which simply outputs all 256 colours to the terminal. My local screen displayed them perfectly. My remote machine's screen displayed them perfectly. But the remote machine's screen within my local screen didn't.
I asked around on #screen but although the problem sounded familiar, nobody could offer a solution.
I figured the problem had to be something in my environment, so I checked my TERM. it was 'xterm', then 'screen-bce' within a screen session. All fine. Then I noticed that when I ssh'd to the remote machine from within my local screen, it too picked up the 'screen-bce' setting. Which makes sense and is clever and all, but I had a hunch..
Yep. Exporting TERM=xterm on the remote machine before running screen solved the problem. In fact, running it before re-attaching to my existing screen fixed it, too. Finally, my vim syntax hilighting was back to full-colour!
It turns out the screen-bce terminfo on the remote machine isn't set to have 256 colours:
$ infocmp screen-bce # Reconstructed via infocmp from file: /lib/terminfo/s/screen-bce screen-bce|VT 100/ANSI X3.64 virtual terminal with bce, am, bce, km, mir, msgr, xenl, colors#8, cols#80, it#8, lines#24, pairs#64,
See? Eight. What use are just EIGHT colours?!?
So, let's fix this problem properly, shall we? We need to fix the terminal settings.
Now, you could do this by modifying the termcap:
$ infocmp screen-bce > screen-bce.ti $ vi !$
^ dumps the current definition into a text file and opens it for editing in vi. Edit colors from 8 to 256, save and exit.
$ sudo tic screen-bce.ti
^ As root, compile the modified source file into the binary that'll live in /usr/share/terminfo/
However, an examination of the /usr/share/terminfo/s/ directory shows a termcap called screen-256color-s, so rather than change the termcap on every server, it seemed to make more sense to just update my settings so that screen would set my TERM to be the 256-color one.
This I duly did, and w00t! I have 256 colours everywhere, regardless of whether the screens are contained in other screens. Yay!
Tue, Jul 30, 2013
tl;dr: How I went from being too weak to get out of bed, to being the strongest I've been in my life, in six months.
I'm 36 years old. I have been in pain every single day for more than half my life.
In my teens, it was backache. Not severe, not enough to lay me up in bed or stop me doing things. Just low-grade discomfort in my back.
Nothing seemed odd to me (or others) about this. I've always been the tall skinny type, and back pain is just something tall people are prone to. Everyone knows that. I couldn't magically shrink myself smaller, so back pain was just something I had to put up with.
So put up with it I did, through the rest of school and on through university. It still wasn't bad, just a bit wearing. I even took up scuba diving as a hobby, lugging heavy dive gear around. Not comfortable, but do-able. The constant aches and pains just didn't seem a big problem.
Then I graduated and got a job. Processing clinical safety data, eight hours a day typing on a PC. Plus my hobbies of hacking and writing in my spare time. Most of my waking hours were spent on one computer or another. This was where pain started to become a bigger issue. My wrists started to hurt - the onset of RSI.
This wasn't like back pain - it wasn't constant. My wrists were fine when I woke up, fine when I walked out the door. Fine right up until I sat down at my desk and started typing, whereupon they caught fire.
Seriously. They burned. Backache paled into insignificance as I spent hour after hour trying to work through the pain. Except it didn't, because as the RSI got worse, so did my back problems. From discomfort I progressed into real pains and occasional episodes where I would tweak something back there so badly that I lost range of movement for days at a time. And then I started noticing never-ending tension in my right hip, which started to also develop into real pain and also tingling numbness in my right thigh sometimes.
At its worst, I was in a special ergonomic chair, with a special ergonomic keyboard and wrist support gloves, on the highest dose of painkillers I could get away with, taking frequent breaks in which I would often go and run my wrists under the cold tap just to ease the burn. And I was only just getting through the day. Even after a week's holiday in which I didn't even see, never mind touch, a keyboard; I went back to work, sat down and Bam! Feel the burn.
I almost quit the job just to get away from the pain. But then I was recommended a book, by a professional physiotherapist who said she had found it revelationary. A fair endorsement, it seemed. So I ordered a copy - Pain Free, by Peter Egoscue.
It made a simple observation: Chronic pain in one place was typically due to misalignment somewhere else. The "oh!" moment in my case was when I was reading the chapter on wrist pain, and it showed a diagram of the typical posture of somebody who needed Carpal Tunnel surgery: back rounded forward, shoulders rounded forwards, head bent forward... and I suddenly noticed that I was sitting in that exact position.
I sat up pretty fast. At the weekend, I started doing the recommended stretching exercises the book advised for wrist problems. Remarkably, the main stretch for curing my wrists also did a good job of easing the tension in my right hip. I went back to work on Monday and, between the stretches and a determination to sit properly upright with wrists not bent back, the RSI was gone. Not banished completely and forever, but something that would just crop up now and then when I was too tired to notice my posture was slipping.
Years slipped by, and although the book had cured the worst of my symptoms, it couldn't get me all the way fixed - my posture still felt bad, my right hip just would not relax, and of course my back was always grumbling about something. But it was only little aches and pains. Nothing too worrying.
Then came my banner year: 2011 began with a motorcycle accident. I hit a patch of black ice, went down, and broke my right shoulder. That was me stuffed for any type of physical exertion for a few months, then. Plus, constantly supporting my broken shoulder really exacerbated my lopsided posture - I started to feel severely crooked.
I was just beginning to feel healed enough to get back into hobbies, such as running and rock climbing, when 2011 dropped its next surprise. Getting a lift back from the dentist, I was in the passenger seat of a Mini when it hit a patch of oil on a country road. It duly got into an argument with a tree, which it decisively lost, and I wound up being stretchered to hospital with head and spinal injuries.
They dug the glass out of my head and stitched it back up, confirmed that my spine was severely whiplashed but not actually broken, and sent me home.
For the rest of the year, and for a good few months of the next, I was borderline crippled. We'd hit the tree hard enough to break the driver's ribcage, to give you an idea of the levels of trauma involved. Physical therapy sessions came and went with no noticeable difference, my back slowly healed from the damage, and then it just stopped getting any better.
Not because everything was now fine. If anything, it felt like my spine had just given up and stopped bothering to try and get better. It was no longer the pain of damage, though - that was pretty much healed. It was the pain of weakness. The muscles in my back and core had simply lost so much strength that everything, literally everything, was a painful strain.
Let me put it this way: You know when you get out of bed in the mornings? When you sit up and throw the covers off you?
I put my back out doing that. I was literally so weak I could barely get out of bed. Lifting the duvet off myself was something that could sprain my back.
Scuba diving? Forget it. Shopping for anything heavier than a pack of biscuits? Forget it. The months of inactivity from a broken shoulder followed by the months of inactivity from whiplash had seen my core muscles shrivel and fade away. I'd tried yoga and pilates and they were no help at all. I took up running again, and that did actually improve things a little - you may think of running as an entirely lower-body activity, but it also makes you swing your arms and firm up your back some, too.
Apparently, then, what I needed wasn't bed rest; nor was it passive stretching and bending. It was actual exercise.
I tried boxfit, since it seemed like spending an hour punching things would (a) boost my upper body strength, and (b) be a good way to let off steam. It helped: I slowly worked my way up from one session a week to two, and then three. My shoulders and arms improved a lot, and my back eased up a little. But then it stopped really doing much else, and my lousy posture, which I was still unable to correct, started to make itself felt with joint pains from the fast-paced movements of boxfit classes performed whilst unbalanced.
When the boxfit class closed for Christmas, I had a couple of weeks of downtime. It was time to try something new: A book I'd seen highly recommended on sites such as Reddit and Hacker News. And with very good feedback in the Amazon reviews: Rippetoe's Starting Strength.
It's considered old-school by some, but effective by just about all. And when you're as chronically weak as I was, a book that's all about how to slowly and incrementally build up your strength, without some of the macho no-pain-no-gain BS you sometimes see in such guides.. that was attractive.
My biggest worry was that I was still in really bad shape. I was genuinely at risk of doing myself damage by carrying a heavy bag of shopping. My biggest worry when I first tried a back squat wasn't that I would look stupid, or have bad technique, or anything else. It was that even the unloaded bar would be too much for my long-suffering spine to take. I was honestly worried that even an empty bar would put me on the floor.
You know what? It almost did. Because on that first day, there was no bar in the rack, so I had to take one that was leaning against the wall in the corner. Having to pick up and carry a bar, then lift and rotate it to horizontal to put it in place, was almost a game-over move.
Almost, but not quite. I managed it and, confidence boosted a little bit, I took the bar's weight onto my shoulders and lifted it out. Five sqauts, bar back in rack. Job done.
And you really can't imagine how good it felt.
Not the triumph, not the fact that I'd managed to do five squats. But the actual feeling of supporting a weight, of exercising my atrophied back. The pages and pages of detail SS goes into, hammering home how to do a squat right; the dozens of illustrations; the sheer insistence on correctness and descriptions of how to achieve it - for many people, SS is annoyingly wordy and goes into too much detail for trivial things. For me, that was a lifesaver - my posture was so poor, my entire body so mis-aligned, my back so unused to being put to work.. after over a year of enforced inactivity, I was in such appalling condition that being able to finally take a step back towards health & fitness felt indescribably good.
I even risked putting a little weight onto the bar and doing a few more sets. Just a few kilos, weight that a healthy twelve year old would probably have sneered at. But I didn't care, for me it was huge.
That was it for me for that day - I didn't want to ruin things by overdoing it. But it was an encouraging start, and as Rippetoe points out, the barbell is awesome because you can incrementally increase the weights at whatever pace you need, to ensure you make progress every time. I worked up to adding in the press and the deadlift. The bench was out - my misalignment was at its worst on the bench, I simply couldn't hold the bar level. And the clean was similarly out, I just didn't have the range of motion to work with.
But those three core exercises - squat, press, and deadlift - were doing me the world of good. Not just because I was slowly inching up the numbers, but because you get more and better feedback doing a movement with a weight than you ever could without. The press, in particular, gave me a LOT of feedback - it was (and still is) my weakest move because any postural problem sucks out your ability to bring force to bear. I could only put a meager 7.5kg on each end of the bar and I was at my limit. Not so much because there was no strength there, but because I could feel I was doing myself damage - my left arm hurt every time I straightened it above my head.
After a couple of months, I stopped even trying to increase the weights I was working with - strength wasn't the problem, technique was. Every move I made, I could feel that I was doing it wrong - too much weight on one side; too much strain on the wrong muscles; or just pain as muscles were impinged due to my being unable to get the movement right.
Three times a week, for months, I worked with the same weights and put all my focus on feeling what I was doing wrong and trying to correct it. It was six months from my first gym visit, some eighty sessions, before I managed to get through every set without getting a warning twinge that I was making a bad mistake.
But that was the first time in more years than I can count that I got solid evidence that I could actually work my way back to not being so misaligned. It was the first real progress I ever made towards a day when I could say "Nothing hurts".
It was still slow going, though, and every improvement required constantly watching every move I made and trying to learn how to make it better. I was quite literally relearning how to walk. Relearning how to make every move, in fact. It's so hard to do, because although we think we're in control of our movements, we're really not. When we want to stand still, we think "stand up" and it Just Works. We know nothing about all the work that hundreds of muscles all over the body are doing to keep us that way. We think of standing still as being an inert, motionless thing: Our brain is hiding from us all the complexity involved in balancing, all the little adjustments it makes every second to keep us apparently still.
You can't just think "I'm moving wrong, I will correct it." You have to think "I'm moving wrong, what do I need to do to retrain my brain to correct it?"
And I was learning how to do this, slowly. But then I got pointed at one more book, the Leopard Book by Dr. Kelly Starrett. Or K-star, if you prefer.
I was a little dubious, to be honest - I mean, how seriously can you take a book with a title like "Becoming a Supple Leopard"??
But it got rave reviews, and then someone mentioned his video project. Apparently, the good doctor decided he'd spend a year putting up one video a day, for free, on YouTube, with some piece of useful advice.
I watched a few. I picked a couple of the physical problems I had - jaw tension, and misaligned right shoulder - and watched the corresponding videos.
Jaw tension, he said, was down to holding your head wrong: letting it slump forward. And a few seconds experimenting confirmed what he said: If you push your head forward, your jaw is dragged back. If you pull your head back, your jaw can relax and move forward again. Moving my head back not only removed the aching tension that had been there for years, not only fixed the bite position my dentist had described as "totally weird", it even helped me get a better night's sleep as it turned out to be the cause of my snoring.
That was impressive.
For the messed-up shoulder, he advised laying down, taking a dumbell in one hand, and then holding it up with a straight arm at 90 degrees to the floor for a couple of minutes. This would cause my shoulder to relax into a non-rotated position, he claimed. And it had to be two minutes at least, because stretches aren't really effective unless you hold them for at least that long.
So I tried it. And **** me if it didn't give me the most noticeable improvement in my shoulder position I've ever had.
And the two-minute rule? That's worth the price of the book on its own. I have one persistent ache in my left mid-back from a muscle that I can stretch out, but it only ever gives a few minutes of minor improvement, so I usually don't bother. Holding that stretch for the two minutes, though? Not only does it take AWAY the pain, it also stops me going right back into the dysfunctional position that causes it.
All in all, those free vids were pretty dramatic evidence that this guy knew what he was talking about. I ordered the book.
I'm still working through it - it's a big book - but it's totally worth the money.
I've seen some reviews where people claim it's of limited effectiveness; not as good as claimed; doesn't give them any real improvements. To them, I say: Good for you! You're clearly someone with pretty good posture and technique. But I'm a walking disaster area - my left foot has a collapsed arch; my right shoulder is rotated; my spine is crooked; my neck isn't straight; my hips aren't level; and every time I move I can feel that some joint somewhere is getting abused by my lousy non-upright position.
And the sheer number of helpful things I've already come across in just the first third of the book are (for me) genuinely, seriously, literally life-changing.
Even something as simple, as taken-for-granted as climbing a flight of stairs: This makes my left ankle and knee ache. Page 93 told me why this was: My left knee is collapsing slightly inwards, putting huge strain onto the joints. After reading that, I climbed my stairs forcing myself to keep both knees, not just my right, pushed outwards.
Know what? It's the first time in several years that I haven't felt something complain when climbing a flight of stairs.
The amazing thing about the human body is how well it can work even when so badly compromised. Lest my shoddy posture give you the wrong idea, I should highlight that even with all those problems, courtesy of the workouts I've been doing since December, I'm in better shape than I ever have been before in my life.
Six months after starting with Starting Strength - six months after having to be very cautious moving an empty bar - I've gone from having a back so weak it couldn't take a bag of groceries to one that can deadlift my bodyweight. A few weeks ago I was in the country and I saw a tree that looked like it would be great fun to climb. A year ago, I would have just looked at it and sighed. Six months ago, I might have made it if somebody had given me a boost. Now? I just reached up, grabbed the lowest branch, and hauled myself up. And then turned and hauled my (somewhat smaller) friend up behind me. I moved home, and the dozen big heavy boxes that all my worldly goods were packed into, I simply carried down the stairs of my old home and up the stairs of the new one.
My posture is lousy, and full of flaws, but it too is getting better. And although I'm still in pain every day, it's less than it has been in a long, long time. And I stress again: It only took six months to get my back from "so weak I couldn't get out of bed in the mornings" to "stronger than ever before in my life".
So my message is, if you're someone who would like to get stronger and/or fitter, but feels embarrassed about going to the gym because you're in lousy shape: Unless you too have been laid up for over a year with broken bones and spine trauma, I gaurantee you're in better shape than I was. Get a good book, or a good coach, or just a friend who knows what they're doing. And get to work.
You'll be amazed how fast things can change.
Sun, Jul 07, 2013
At the end of last year, I came to a decision - I needed a change of job.
Long-time readers might remember that the last time I felt like a change, I quit the pharmaceutical industry, retrained as a teacher, threw that in too and went travelling round Europe for a while before settling down as a programmer.
So you're probably not expecting to hear that I moved to a different office a mile down the road. And indeed, I didn't.
One thing I'll say for being a Perl programmer these days - you really don't have trouble finding a job. Quite the opposite - supply is massively outstripped by demand, even when you've only got a few years under your belt. So despite the recession, I got three job offers before settling on the one I'd take.
The downside of being a Perl programmer is that most of the Perl jobs are in and around London, and I was living on the south coast.
I didn't really want to live in London - I'm not a great fan of city life. But I did have to accept that changing jobs would almost certainly mean a move of home, too. This was going to be a real wrench, because I was sharing a house with my best friend. Which worked out rather well for both of us. Plus I had a cat - not popular in rented homes, and very definitely not a bold adventurer type. Moving her away from the only home she'd ever known, half the humans and all the cats she likes (Tina and Tina's cat), was going to be stressful for her. And by extension, for me.
In the end, the job I accepted was the one that offered (by far) the highest salary - a big increase over where I had been working. I had a 3-month notice period, which I used to find a new place to live. Sick of commuting - my old workplace having been an hour each way by car - I was determined to live within walking distance. Which limited my options considerably. And it had to accept cats. Which dropped them to zero, on paper.
But only on paper: when I finally found a place I liked - a little one-bedroom house in a quiet district and handy for the shops - I said I'd take it on the condition that I could bring Aidy. The landlord was perfectly straightforward about it - if anyone else who'd come to the open day applied, they'd get it. If not, he'd rather have rent from me & my cat than have a house with neither cat nor renter.
By mid-afternoon, he admitted defeat and the house was mine. Sorted.
It *did* mean a higher deposit, though. Two months rent as deposit, plus half a month's rent as agent fees, plus the usual month up front. Bang went my savings account. Sigh.
Moving was stressful. Moving always is. I hate moving at the best of times, and moving out of a place you share with someone you're close to so you can move to a place you know nothing about to start a job you know nothing about.. not fun.
Space was, in the end, a bit tight - I still have quite a few bits to collect as soon as I can get back down - but most stuff got carted to the new house okay. Including my cat, who was very displeased about the whole business. She sat next to me in the car and cried the whole way up. Didn't really help my mood, that.
Still, everything got carted into the house - not easy on such a hot day - but things were a bit primitive until my parents arrived the next day to bring such ameneties as a kettle and a microwave. And a BED!
An inflatable one, it's true, but much more comfortable than the camping mattress I had been making do with.
Albeit more stressful - an inflatable bed in the same house as a cat who habitually claws beds... hmm...
It survived.. but by the end of the week I was topping it up about three times a night.
This weekend, though, my new bed arrived! A nice solid wooden frame and a pleasantly-springy yet firm mattress. And I had the time to get to Ikea, too, to sort out some shelves and drawers that I could finally unpack some boxes into.
Naturally, then, the weather was blisteringly hot (30C) and hideously humid so it was not at all fun to move all this stuff up the (spiral!) stairs and assemble it all.
But it was worth it - the bedroom is finally organised, free of boxes and nothing on the floor but furniture. A joyous end to a week of rushing about getting stuff organised.
Oh, and then there's the new job, of course.
Well, the location is very nice - the enterprise center on a university campus, lots of greenery and life, even a river & lake.
And the company seems nice so far too - free lunches and ice creams have already been in evidence, and I've (been) signed up for the 5-a-side football too. The pace is very different to what I'm used to - far less frenetic, the pace is much more relaxed. Even so, by the end of the week I had made a few code commits. (In SVN. Sigh. I miss git already)
So.. so far so good. But it *has* been a bit too busy to really get to know what the place is really like, yet.
I'll reiterate my love of SatNav at this point, though. It really is one of the best inventions of the era: Even though in an area I know nothing about, I can still easily get to wherever I'm going without any trouble. It's awesome. Android's integration with Google Maps is a really Good Thing (TM)
And my poor Galaxy S2 has really been taking a hammering lately, because it's the only thing giving me reliable unlimited internet. Poor thing has come close to melting once or twice. But video calls make it much nicer to stay in touch with people when you're a stranger in a strange place.
So, in summary: Home & job has changed; the house is nice; my cat is settling in (but still wants a catflap fitted); the district is nice; the new job is nice; and modern technology is awesome.
And the weather is too damn hot.
Mon, Jun 10, 2013
It's been hard to *not* hear the news that it's been confirmed that the US government has been spying on Internet traffic; obtaining data from such heavyweights as Google, Apple, and Facebook; and doing so under a massive cloak of secrecy.
Naturally, a whole bunch of people, all over the world, have responded with "Why should I care? I have nothing to hide."
And I have a lot of sympathy with that viewpoint, if I'm honest. Do I care if anyone, be they government or corporation or basement-dwelling hacker, can see everything I've put into Facebook?
I've always maintained that only a total idiot considers Facebook anything other than public domain, so nothing I've put there is anything I'd cry about being made know to people I haven't Friended.
So I can put my hand on heart and say I have nothing to hide. But that doesn't mean I don't think we should care about the privacy invasion. Because the "nothing to hide" attitude hides a problem, and that is that it's an answer to the wrong question.
The "nothing to hide" contingent make a very bad assumption: That privacy consists of nothing but the option to hide things. And that you only need to hide bad things. You can highlight why "I have nothing to hide" doesn't equate to "I don't need privacy" with some simple questions: "Why do you have curtains?" or "So can I install a video camera in your bathroom?" or "Great, so I can put copies of your credit card statements online?"
But hey, we're not talking about petty criminals or the unwashed public having that kind of access to you. We're talking trusted government officials with Top Secret clearance. So those questions don't count, right?
Sadly not: For starters, I've lost count of how many stories there've been in the last few years about government servers getting cracked; unsecured laptops left on trains; passwords published... you really can't assume that any governement *can* keep your secrets, let alone that they *will*
But it's the *attitude* behind this massive invasion of privacy that's the danger. It shows that the people in power are only thinking of privacy in terms of "something to hide", and this attitude is becoming pervasive in the population as well: Only people with something to hide can possibly be wanting to maintain privacy, and only bad people have something to hide.
So first let's debunk that privacy is only needed by "the bad guys" and then think about whether or not the people in charge should be given an exception to a "right to privacy"
Let's imagine today's world with all right to privacy removed. Not just the usual "Facebook and Google know all about your Internet habits" but a genuine, absolute abolishment of privacy. And let's assume that you're someone who honestly has nothing to hide.
Let's imagine a dating site. Here's two interesting facts about dating sites: Nearly half of single Americans have signed up to a dating site; most of them wouldn't admit to it when asked in public.
So there's our first "I want privacy" moment already - even being *on* a dating website is something most people don't want everyone to know.
But now let's go further. Usually, dating websites have a certain amount on anonymity. Your real name, your address, your email, your phone number - you're advised not to give any of these out until you've gotten to know someone reasonably well first.
But privacy has been abolished. So now all dating websites give out all that data and more besides. To everyone. So everyone on that dating site knows who you are. They know where you live. They know how much you earn. They know your Facebook profile. And they can access all of it. So instead of looking at that flattering photo you carefully chose to put on your dating site profile, they can go look at all the photos of you on those wild parties. They can see the photos of you with your exes. They can see everything.
But that's not all. They can take a look at your medical history, too - that's no longer private. Every medication you've ever taken, every illness you've ever had. Ever suffered from depression? An STD? Do you have an inheritable genetic disease? They'll know about it if so.
They can see your google account too. And they can use it to review your search history. Every search you've ever made. Ever searched for porn? Erotic fiction? They can see all that.
Hey, they can check your browser history too - so if you've been watching kinky stuff on Redtube or reading exotic slash fiction lately, they can read all about it.
They can check your bank balance. They can review your credit history. In a world without privacy, no matter how clean-living you are, anyone, anywhere, can see EVERYTHING about you.
That's what loss of privacy really means. Everything in that description is completely feasible and could be implemented with today's technology - the only reason people can't read all about you is that it would be an invasion of privacy, and that's still considered a bad thing.
That's what people are fighting to protect when they argue for a right to privacy - not for an ability to hide bad things that they're doing; but for the right not to have every detail of our lives be available to anyone who wants to look.
Imagine a world without privacy. Can you honestly say you want to live in that world?
So let's say that we should have some expectation of privacy. And let's imagine that the government really is able to keep data secure from the rest of the world. And let's imagine that they have carefully-vetted agents who only ever invade our privacy when they have legitimate reason, for the greater good.
Should they be able to grant themselves that ability?
I'm going to argue that they shouldn't, and I'm going to justify it with a slightly unusual approach for an Englishman.
I'm going to use the American Constitution.
I don't believe that there will ever be a British or even English Constitution. But I do believe that there should be. Because the US Constitution was a remarkable document, for a reason that gets downplayed and forgotten more every day.
That reason is simple: In a world that had previously always considered rights to be something given to people by their all-powerful government, the constitution instead framed rights as something that all people had, that could not be taken away by the government that they allowed to rule them.
The purpose of the Constitution was not to grant the government power, it was to limit it. People had rights that nobody could take away. That's an amazing thing.
Of course, it's very inconvenient if you ARE the government, this annoying document that says you can't do things that you want to do. If you can't remove or reword a document, then what you maybe CAN do is change the meaning of the words it uses.
When you read the Constitution, you get the impression that the authors considered "freedom" and "liberty" to be pretty much synonymous. In fact, "liberty" seemed to actually be the more important - the preamble doesn't mention freedom, it says the purpose is to "secure the Blessings of Liberty". It goes on to one of the most-quoted passages: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
"Liberty". Not "Freedom".
Funny, that - you hardly ever heard an American use the word "liberty" these days unless talking about the statue. "Freedom" is everywhere. Land of the Free. Freedom of speech.
Why the shift? What's the difference between these two words?
What's the dictionary say?
lib·er·ty - The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life.
free·dom - The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
Isn't that interesting? "Freedom" means "doing what you want. "Liberty" is more specific, it's about freedom *within society", freedom *from authority*
Being at liberty means being free from the government. And liberty is a word that really is fading from common use. And so is the concept it defines.
The American Constitution, a remarkable document that takes power away from the authorities and puts it into the populace, talks about liberty a lot. The average American does not. The average American would be surprised if you were to point out that the Constitution exists not to define, but to limit, the powers of their government.
Liberty is important. Privacy is important. If you don't have privacy from the governement, you don't have liberty. By definition.
You think that you can have liberty even if the government can know everything about you?
I suppose, strictly speaking, you can. But the trouble with theory is, it only works in theory.
No government goes to all the time, effort, and expense of gathering all that data if they aren't going to do anything with it. The whole point of gaining knowledge is to use it.
You don't think that's bad?
What if the threat of terrorism worries you enough to do some research about bombs? What if the goverment sees that you're been reading about bombs and decides that that makes you a terror threat? What if you get put on a no-fly list because you're a terror threat? Banned from leaving the country?
What if you happen to go the the garden center and buy some fertilizer the day after after going to a history museum? Today, nothing. Tomorrow.. maybe a computer program will put two and two together, realise that the formula for gunpowder was on display in the museum (Sulphur, carbon, and saltpeter (nitrates), FWIW) and that the fertiliser you just bought is a huge stack of nitrates that can be readily combined with the charcoal you have stacked up for the next barbeque in order to make a very effective bomb?
Even more likely and harder to prevent: What if they simply make a mistake, and data that isn't yours makes it into your records? As somebody who writes software for a living, I can tell you that there's no system on the planet that I'd trust to be so infallible with its data that I'd trust it with decisions that could ruin a person's life.
How do you fight a decision that was made behind closed doors, based on data gathered about you that you know nothing about? How do you challenge data that you don't access?
And don't go thinking "That would never happen, I trust our government and/or legal system more than that" - These are problems that people are struggling with even today - charged with crimes on the basis of evidence they aren't allowed to see. How much worse do you think it will be when the data is top-secret, and generated by fitting together hundreds of tiny pieces of data via some algorithm so complex that a PhD would be puzzled by it?
How would you even begin to get your life fixed when a computer somewhere decides you're a threat?
I don't know how I would. And I'm a lot more computer-savvy than the average person.
Governments can talk about "nothing to hide" and "need to know" and "only the guilty" as much as they like.
But privacy is important. And given its ability to completely ruin your entire life, your right to keep things private from the government is not some tiresome necessity enshrined in an annoying bit of paperwork that we'd be better off without. It's one of the most important rights you have, and you must not be misled into thinking that it's just an argument about what you have to hide.
:: Next >>
|<< <||> >>|