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Digital tulips.

Government-issued currencies have value because they represent human trust and cooperation. There is no wealth and no trade without these two things, so you might as well go all-in and trust people. There are no financial instruments that will protect you from a world where we no longer trust each other.

So, Bitcoin is a protocol invented to solve a money problem that simply does not exist in the rich countries, which is where most of the money is.

Mr. Money Mustache on fiat value.

To understand the Bitcoin delusion you have to understand the fundamental delusion of the libertarian and other miscellaneous conspiracy wingnut types who advocate it. That is, that financial markets and trade exist as some kind of gravity-like natural force in the universe, rather than as a by-product of the monopolization of violence by some sort of central authority, i.e. the state.

Incidentally, I know “monopolization of violence” is not the most PR term in the world, but it basically refers to the idea that, in modern state-based societies, you’re not allowed to hit other people in order to resolve differences. Only the state is allowed to “hit” people, e.g. via policing internally or the military externally, and the conditions under which that allowance is made are part of the primary defining character of that state. For example, when a majority of citizens generally agree on the ways and circumstances in which the state is allowed to hit people, you get a democracy.1 When the state hits its citizens into “agreeing” that it’s allowed to hit them, you get a dictatorship. And so on. This isn’t a new concept; it’s been around in (Western) social sciences for over four hundred years, which is coincidentally about the time (Western) political bodies began dragging themselves out of theocratic feudal anarchy and into the secular, law-and-trade focused entities we’re used to today.

Humans have always traded with each other, but the scale of trade—particularly between unrelated groups—is basically inversely proportional to the availability of non-market-based means of acquiring resources, also known as the “I kill you and take your stuff” method of redistribution. When the state starts making murder, theft, extortion and general banditry illegal—i.e. by actively hitting (jailing) anyone who is caught trying it—people are more likely to resort to trade to get what they want from others, not just because they have to, but because they have more trust that the other party won’t try and cheat them (or will be punished if they do).

Again, this is all very Social and Political Sciences 101 stuff; it’s well-studied, understood, verified, and defined, far beyond my crappy hundred-word summary. The point is that the central delusion of libertarianism and other extreme “free market” ideologies is to reject this notion of the political model of the origins of trade. I have no idea why, but it makes trying to argue with them on any financial or economic issue basically like trying to argue about the flu with someone who doesn’t believe in the germ theory of disease. The foundational premises are all wrong. It’s also one of the main reasons libertarians think Bitcoin is clever,2 despite the fact that, as mentioned above, it “solves” a problem that is essentially made up.

Tl;dr, Bitcoin is digital tiger dust, and most certainly not a financial “investment”.

  1. Note there’s nothing about frequency here; democracies can be peace-loving hippies just as easily as they can be militant bullies. []
  2. As I’ve mention before, the other is dogwhistle antisemitism, so… there’s that, also. []
2018-05-22T09:01:53+10:001st July, 2018|Tags: economics, politics, tech, xp|

CSFG panel recap: Authors vs. platforms.

So as mentioned previously, last Wednesday I was on a panel at our local SFF writer’s group, talking about author platforms along with co-panellists Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Chris Andrews. It wasn’t a super-formal panel, and I didn’t take notes, but I’m sure some of the discussion will be of interest to some people, so I’ve done my best to recap the salient points below…

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2019-07-31T09:37:37+10:0022nd June, 2018|Tags: blogging, csfg, publishing, sff, writing, xp|

Continuum XIV!

I’m back! I survived!

So this is my third Continuum in four years, and even in that short time the con has changed quite a bit… for the better. The programming this year was especially excellent, moving into more meaty takes on topics and the “Deep Dive” stream, which was basically two twenty-minute single-person presentations back-to-back, followed by a Q&A.

For panels this year I decided to combine my habit of sketching during the talking with my general desire to take notes/livetweet. I’m not entirely sure the end results are legible in any way, but I’ve included them below, with advanced apologies to all the panelists I attempted to draw…

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2018-06-26T13:50:10+10:0012th June, 2018|Tags: cons, continuum, continuum 14, fandom, sff, xp|

Continuum XIV TTRPG night!

It’s become something of a tradition that a bunch of us (Rivqa, Elizabeth, Lyss, and Alex) get together to play a tabletop RPG at cons. We started with Elizabeth running Dungeon World at Conflux 12, then Alex with Feng Shui 2 at Continuum 13, and Elizabeth with Monsterhearts at Conflux 13. We also had an out-of-season get-together (minus Alex, who was a piker for reasons I don’t recall) to introduce Rivqa’s daughter to the Wonderful World of TTRPGs, with Elizabeth running another session of Dungeon World.

Anyway, at Continuum 14, I dobbed myself in as GM, with the original intent of running a Changeling: the Dreaming game. Except the actual story I got into my head was designed for D&D, so I switched tracks to a 5e game.

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2019-07-31T08:34:43+10:0011th June, 2018|Tags: cons, continuum, continuum 14, gaming, rpgs, tabletop rpgs, xp|

SSL is terrible, pt. 495.

Tl;dr, like everything else with SSL, EV is fucking broken.

Because I will forever be, at heart, a huge brat, one of my favorite questions to ask people who pretend to know about INFOSEC is, “So what, exactly, is the point of SSL?” (Or TLS, or HTTPS, or however you want to word it.)1

Pretty much no one, in the field or out of it, gets the answer to this question correct. I’ve written about it before2 but, tl;dr version, the original intent of SSL was to link an online presence with a real-world entity. The problem is that the validation requirements were, well. Expensive. Like, thousands of dollars worth of expensive, which is how much a “real” SSL certificate is supposed to cost. Because the CA that issues it is “supposed” to investigate you—to actually meet you, face-to-face, in fact—and make sure you’re really who you say you are, before issuing the cert in the first place.

“But Alis!” you say. “I can get an SSL cert free from, like, Let’s Encrypt! Hell, you get free certs from Let’s Encrypt!”

Yeah, I do. And the thing about Let’s Encrypt? It’s a perversion of the entire point of the system. And it provides exactly squat in the way of security, because in a world where anyone can get a cert issued to basically anything, for any purpose, under any name, how do you know that the entity you’re communicating with is, in fact, the entity you want to be communicating with?

Spoiler alert: you can’t, see original linked article.

“Wait,” you say, confused. “If SSL is so broken, why do tech companies like, say, Google push it so hard?”

Well, Dorothy, because, firstly, the one thing SSL does do is give carriers a level of plausible deniability when it comes to government requests to wiretap internet traffic. “Well. Here are the traffic logs from the server! Oh, well. No, you can’t read them because it’s all HTTPS. Sorry, not our fault! We did what you wanted!”3

But, mostly? Google in particular pushes SSL so damn hard because one of the thing SSL does in change the way HTTP referrers are sent. Why does Google care about this? Well, because it means webmasters suddenly don’t or can’t know where some or most of their website traffic is coming from, including search requests. So isn’t it great that Google can sell them this information as part of its ad platform! Phew, thanks Google! What a win for “privacy”!

… yeah.

Tl;dr, SSL is still terrible. And the “good” news? There’s still really no better option.

  1. The difference? Very briefly, SSL and TLS are two implementations of a secure communications protocol, with SSL being the older-and-now-deprecated version. HTTPS is basically “the web but with SSL/TLS.” In most cases the three terms are used as synecdoches, though HTTP isn’t the only thing that can be used with SSL/TLS. []
  2. At length. It’s a bugbear, what can I say? []
  3. It’s worth noting that this is mostly security theater; nation-state level actors, specifically intel organisations, can and do actively tap backbone networks. The thing they mostly don’t do is share the information gathered from these sources with law enforcement agencies, who desperately want it. In other words, yes. Most Current Issues In Government Surveillance are a dick measuring contest between spys and the cops. []
2018-05-22T09:01:53+10:008th June, 2018|Tags: infosec, privacy, ssl, xp|

Upcoming appearances!

For whatever reason, winter always seems to be my busy season for Author Appearances™, and this year is no different.

Panel assignments for Continuum have been handed out, so those of you who’re in the area will be able to listen to me ramble at:

  • Out in the Open. Fan fiction used to be hidden away, subject to takedown notices, and sometimes kept secret from friends and family. Now there are successful mainstream novels about fic writers and readers, and some creators allow writers to earn money from their work. Is this legitimisation or exploitation? What has been gained and what’s been lost in the process? (Sunday 10th June @ 4pm)

Continuum is always a lot of fun, and this year is looking to be especially awesome, with some amazing panels (and panelists) lined up. If you’re able to make it down to (or, alternately, live in) Melbourne over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend you should absolutely grab some tickets and go along.


While it’s still a little way away, I’ll also be assisting in a panel on Author Platforms for the CSFG June member’s meeting (20th June). We did one of these two years ago, and it seemed to go down pretty well, so it’ll be interesting to see what has and hasn’t changed in the intervening time (spoiler alert: the social media landscape is very different in this our post-CA/-GDPR world).

The meeting is open to all CSFG members, and if you’re in the area (i.e. Canberra) it’s absolutely worth joining up.


And, finally, to round off a busy authorial month: I’m taking a week off! By which I mean, “I’m taking a week off Day Job to try and finish up the dragon book, which got halfway done last year then put on hold for space demons.” So, yanno. A working holiday.

In other words: it’s gonna be a busy month.

OG cards for WordPress link posts.

Some of you may have noticed recently that alis.me has started displaying OpenGraph meta information at the head of link-type posts (e.g. this post).

I admit I stole this idea from Tumblr, or rather I stole it from updating my (unreleased) WordPress-to-Tumblr crossposter plugin to support Tumblr’s support (“support”) of OG cards.1 I figured the idea would be cool to implement locally as well, and when I couldn’t find an existing plugin that did exactly what I wanted, I decided to write my own.

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  1. I say “support” because Tumblr doesn’t auto-populate OG cards for link posts created by the API because… reasons, I guess. Also, I still can’t get it to accept the photos property, because… fuck you Tumblr, I guess. []
2019-07-31T09:37:34+10:0015th May, 2018|Tags: php, wordpress, xp|

I, for one, welcome our new self-driving overlords.

A minority of individuals may elect to have personalized [transport] modules sitting at home so they can leave their vacation stuff and the kids’ soccer gear in them. They’ll still want that convenience.

The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.

The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents.

Bob Lutz, former vice chairman and head of product development at General Motors.

I keep thinking “gee, fifteen years seems kind fast…”, until I realize modern-style smartphones (i.e. the iPhone) have only been around for a decade. And look how much they’ve changed the world.

Lutz’s other point, which I think is very prescient, is that he doesn’t think the transition to autonomous vehicles will come from consumer adoption: it’ll come from rideshare companies (e.g. Uber, Lyft, traditional taxis) and logistics services (e.g. the post office). Also local councils implementing public transport, although Lutz doesn’t mention it per se; as I type this, for example, there’s an electric, self-driving bus tootling itself around outside our local mall promoting the concept.

For what it’s worth, I also think Lutz overstates the impact of companies like Uber and, by extension, markets like the US and Europe. The US in particular is not going to be the country at the forefront of autonomous vehicle adoption. It’s going to be somewhere like China, which has both the congestion/pollution/infrastructure issues to solve as well as the political clout to simply decree “okay, we’re doing this now” and, yanno, is already well on its way with similar things. Ironically, the “futurist’s dream” of the flying car really might not be that far off… except it’s not going to be a privately owned car. It’s going to be a human-carrying heli-drone run by the local public transport provider (be that organization private or public).

Either way, as someone who loathes driving? I can’t wait.

2019-01-17T08:35:30+11:0012th May, 2018|Tags: tech, xp|