No Food for Thought

Food is something you should provide to your brain long before coming to this blog. You will find no food recipes here, only raw, serious, non-fake news for mature minds.

Crise d'adolescence ou pic démocratique?

admin Thursday April 28, 2022

Le monde évolue. Enfin... certes, il change, mais depuis quelques temps, on se demande si c'est pour le mieux. Déjà, la crise environnementale a débuté il y a bien des décennies. Depuis quelques années, c'est la démocratie elle-même qui est menacée. Et ne parlons même pas de la pandémie...

Tout cela est-il une simple crise? Une crise dont on pourra apprendre pour en sortir renforcés? Ou sera-t-il trop difficile de se relever?

Si nul ne le sait, admettons que notre confiance est au plus bas. Selon le baromètre de confiance Edelman, en ce moment, nous nous fions beaucoup plus aux compagnies qu'au gouvernement et aux médias (page 5). En plus, la fracture s'agrandit entre la population favorisée et les moins informés (p. 16). Peut-être le plus inquiétant : la confiance est plus basse dans les États démocratiques que dans les autocraties (p. 21), et le premier monde a beaucoup moins confiance en l'avenir que les second et tiers mondes (page 22).

Ironiquement, Edelman étant une société privée, je ne me fie pas aveuglément à ces résultats. Mais même s'ils étaient inexacts, l'ampleur du phénomène reste inquiétante. D'un autre côté, l'optimisme n'est pas interdit. Une baisse de la confiance en l'avenir pourrait être considérée comme un indicateur rassurant d'une prise de conscience. Les pays développés se rendent peut-être enfin compte que nous sommes en crise. Et peut-être cette réalisation nous permettra-t-elle de réagir, et d'ainsi éviter que cette crise ne se transforme en pic démocratique... voir en pic civilisationnel. Encore faut-il éviter une réaction pressée.

Méfions-nous de nos manières actuelles, et optons pour une remise en question posée... mais ne perdons pas confiance en notre capacité d'évoluer en une humanité consciente, unie et prête à se réguler elle-même, avant que la nature n'ait à faire tout le travail. Il est encore temps de faire de cette situation un simple creux, que nos descendants regarderont comme une phase de l'histoire à laquelle nous aurons su réagir brillamment. Tous ensemble, relevons ce test de volonté.

Vladimir Putin's Undeclared Wars

admin Sunday March 27, 2022

3 weeks ago, shortly after Russia expanded its invasion of Ukraine, I wondered how Russians would react. And I wondered if they could react, given how bad repression is getting. I wondered what would happen if a citizen was to go out with a sign reading "I am not protesting against anything."

It turns out I was quite naive, as others have now proven. While Vladimir Putin never declared war on free speech, his war against it has reached such a terrifying point that Russians can no longer hold a blank, letter-sized sheet of paper in public. No need for the sheet to be blue and yellow to be arrested.

In 2014, Vladimir Putin did not declare war on Ukraine when he "secretly" invaded it. Nor did he declare war in 2022, when he launched his "special military operation".

It turns out Putin has been skilfully exploiting democracy's worst flaws to weaken his opponents for a long time, with grave effects in the last decade. While our media focus on covering refugees and dead children, Putin has managed to legalize theft without even getting democracy's attention, discretely adding yet another colossal weapon to his arsenal for future wars. Putin knows better than to trigger a conventional war against NATO. Putin prefers to target democracy's weakest, corrupting or manipulating them with just enough discretion to avoid full-scale war.

Unfortunately, if Putin will not declare war on democracy, democracy still has to stop pretending there is no conflict. Putin's undeclared war against Ukraine may be our last occasion to acknowledge his war against democracy. And finally react accordingly.

Filelight and drive space usage analyzers for Microsoft Windows

admin Thursday March 10, 2022

One of Microsoft Windows's weaknesses has always been drive space usage analysis tools. My reference on that front is KDE, which often comes with an appropriate tool. In the old days, KDirStat, and more recently, a Dolphin plugin.

But on Windows, I always resorted to WinDirStat, which - unsurprisingly - is based on KDE's KDirStat. Last week, when I went to download again WinDirStat, for my new business PC, it felt a bit strange to download a package which is almost 15 years old. So I checked if I was missing some fresher fork of WinDirStat.

Doing so, I was pleased to discover that the newer KDE utility, Filelight, was available for Windows. So I considered installing its latest version, which is from 2021, rather than 2007.

I found that Filelight from Windows is obtained from the Microsoft Store, which offers Filelight 20.12.2. I was about to download it when I realized the package was... 299 MB!! A supposedly "light" utility which helps clearing space takes 299 MB?!!?

I hope it's just poor packaging, but in light of the current status, I decided to stick with the good old WinDirStat, which - despite weighing less than 1 MB - still works just as well on Windows 10.
Thank you, WinDirStat

Sergey Naryshkin, relativity and the teachings of conflict

admin Monday March 7, 2022

Russian Foreign Intelligence Service director Sergey Naryshkin would, at first look, seem like an evil fraud. And yet, right before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Naryshkin dared, in a way, to disagree with his orders, despite the huge pressure. Another proof that evilness—just like everything—is relative; all humans - no matter their camp, their ideology and past - have some rationality and honor. Dissent, too, is most relative. Naryshkin, and many more of yesterday's villains, could quickly become tomorrow's heroes.

Whether we want it or not, conflict is a formidable source of change. War can bring destruction, but it can also teach us a lot about our weaknesses. Vladimir Putin will have choices to make after his invasion: slow down his already dangerous brain drain, or turn into an extreme dictator, keep preventing any media against him, and get rid of those who did not fully support him.

Democracy also has an occasion to learn from this conflict. We can learn that Russians are evil. Or, we can realize how dangerous autocracy is, how disunited we are despite the "United Nations" and how dangerous our disagreements have become. And we can realize how relative and surmountable our differences are, and finally make a real effort to actually unite. As Kyiv's mayor came to realize when his city was besieged:

Unity is key

Here's hoping the democratic world can use this as a learning opportunity, before autocracy unites us all in mediocrity and oppression.

Patently sad hurdles for interoperability progress

admin Wednesday March 2, 2022

It has already been more than 2 years since No Food for Thought rejoiced about the arrival of JPEG XL. Needless to say, the last 2 years were quite disappointing.

And unfortunately, it turns out our legal systems may keep photographic standards from catching up with this "new" century for even more years. Now, if only I could patent "software patent deliverance", perhaps we would manage to bring patent grants close enough to a halt for software to evolve!

Technological evolution, a promise of unsurpassed repression?

admin Friday February 25, 2022

If the 20th century was generally favorable to democracy, many see the 21st century as a different story. And many populations agree.

For sure, autocrats still face difficulties. At times, integrity may prevail, as their victims may have more ways to access quality information and more tools to organize dissent.

Unfortunately, autocrats also have much more information, more repressive tools, and ever-evolving ways to spread propaganda and misinformation. As autocracies fuelled by nationalism and xenophobia prosper, their collaboration and opportunities to share population control techniques and technologies reach new highs.

IEEE recently explored how artificial intelligence could go wrong. Personally, my immediate concern is rather how technological evolution in general favors autocracy:

In the past, the ability of autocrats to repress their populations relied upon a large group of soldiers, some of whom may side with society and carry out a coup d’etat. AI could reduce these kinds of constraints.

Technology, whether it is "artificial" or not, largely helps detecting and quashing dissent. Modern technology allows combining ultra-powerful and highly automated arsenals with sophisticated surveillance, which could make dissent a souvenir from the past. And recent times have demonstrated it can help exploiting flaws in competing regimes to destabilize them.
Is there a name for the fear that technology will favor autocracy?

Autocracy expands thanks to many factors:

  • Disregard for integrity and how citizens (from their country or others) fare, propaganda and cult of personality
  • Efficient enforcement
  • Uniformization and unity
  • A greater compatibility with historical beliefs

For its part, democracy currently struggles due to several factors:

  1. Hyper-individualism, sacralization of property, liberty, equality and cultural differences, and hyper-fragmentation
  2. Huge barriers preventing citizens from exerting their theoretical power, cynicism and polarization
  3. Substance abuse and other addictions (computers / video games, overconsumption)
  4. State-granted collective bargaining monopolies
  5. Hyper-complex legal systems, normalization of disregard for rules and poor prevention of external negativities
  6. Separation of powers, the "principle of checks and balances" and a general tendency towards "consensus" governance

Whether or not autocracy better exploits evolution than democracy, and whether or not that fear is named, we do not have to accept that situation. While we cannot do much about the first list, we have control over much of the latter. Many self-proclaimed democracies, such as Canada, the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, still contribute to the cult of personality, proudly keeping their autocratic past alive.

A naturally fragile crown
A naturally fragile crown

Technological advances have allowed democracies to make great progress. And recent advances allow us to make huge leaps forward. Our slow pace is not the result of having reached the objective, but rather a sign democracies are resting on their laurels.

But what does it mean to rest on our laurels? The first meaning is to get tired/lazy. But there is a much more dangerous sense; it may be that we have also associated our current state with the reasons why we took the lead, and chosen to remain in that state, as if it was a ultimate goal. In fact, the United Kingdom's direction is worst than resting on its laurels - it might be an attempt to go back to where it was when it won the most races, as if that was still a valid winning formula.

Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, and playtime is over. If democracies want to keep impressing autocracies and to stay their envy, they need to get serious and do a real self-examination, distinguishing their true advantages from their less desirable properties which are merely obsolete ways, or even historical accidents.

Let's not give up on centuries of fighting. There is no need for everyone to get a gun and enroll. Our first defence should be to strengthen our democracies. The weapon democracies need the most is greater performance. Even superior economies, environments, education, health, and everything else. We can replace many guns by educating ourselves, reforming governance, building new tools, or just keeping ourselves healthy. Proper decision-making alone would represent a weapon of mass destruction against autocracy.

The path to good governance is a long road. If we have enough will to keep innovating, we can still keep our lead, one step at a time, until we hear a distant competition peacefully concede. Current dangers, however worrying, may just be the challenge we need to stand up again and refresh our laurels.

Unprotocolary protocolist

admin Tuesday January 4, 2022

As a progressive and free (not to say atypical) spirit, I am nonconformist. I have always had difficulty with Protocol.
But as a computer scientist, as a champion of open standards and interoperability and as a world citizen, I love protocols. From HTTP to Kyoto's, protocols are at the center of sustainable software and sustainable development. Uncapitalized protocols are clearly capital.

So, as a green Quebecer, although I was still a baby when it was adopted, I can't refrain from feeling a little pride about the Montreal Protocol. It is remarkable that the world managed to set its course towards recovery without even fully realizing how catastrophic the situation would have become.

Hopefully, that realization and satisfaction will provide enough will to comply with the recent and future protocols or other mechanisms needed to mitigate the climate crisis (without taking the ozone's recovery as granted).

Happy 20th anniversary, €? Oh, and mea culpa

admin Sunday January 2, 2022

2022 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Euro becoming tangible. 20 years ago, we could have hoped a lot from that experiment. Greater European unity, more countries adopting the Euro, and perhaps even an enlargement of the Union.

While a few small countries did adopt the Euro during that time, the United Kingdom did not. Instead, it recently left the Union. Those who were hoping for an unprecedented simplification in the global economy may be disappointed.

Rather than that, the currency landscape has arguably gotten even more complex, with the appearance of "cryptocurrency". Or rather - since that wasn't enough - of tens of "cryptocurrencies". Which brings me to the apologies.

In the second half of 2018, I publically declared, on this very blog, that Peak Crhypeto was over. For once, I allowed myself a bit of optimism. The world had come to its senses before losing any contact with reality.

Although statistics are highly vulnerable to manipulation, I was visibly mistaken (crhypeto trading was already full of washing in 2018).
How could I get things that wrong?

Obviously, the pandemic. With travel bans and inventory shortages, individual savings skyrocketed, boosting the stock market to unprecedented levels. With increased prices for all investment assets, investors looked elsewhere, to all investment opportunities, either real or imaginary. Crhypeto's value reached new highs.

Second, so-called stablecoins. By bridging crhypetocurrencies with actual currencies, "stablecoins" created truly valuable cryptocurrencies.

But that's only a small part of the explanation. The other impact of the pandemic was to disrupt everything. It disrupted offices, causing remote work to explode. It disrupted IT teams and law enforcement, as well as politics, causing a rise of rogue states and criminality. The damages caused by ransomware attacks reached incredible levels.

But I am not writing this to apologize for failing to predict the pandemic and the breadth of scammer imagination. I am apologizing for missing a phenomenon which was already visible in 2018. In 2018, I thought greater fool theory was the only explanation for crhypetocurrency's value, since these "currencies" didn't store value. I knew criminals used crhypeto. What I didn't realize is that money laundering has been solving the one essential property crhypeto lacked to become an actual currency: storing value. With billions of USDs at play, laundering gives crhypetocurrencies huge value.

Crhypeto is basically Switzerland. But it's even better than. Crhypeto is Switzerland-on-demand: a way to create a credible tax haven, without any territory nor any cost. The recipe couldn't be simpler. Basically:

  1. Create a new currency. No need to coin, just coin it with a credible, apparently legitimate name.
  2. Create a website that justifies why Dogecoin is unlike all the others.
  3. Try asking your fellow crooks to trade some Dogecoin with their variant so it looks a little better.
  4. Attack organizations and demand a ransom paid in Dogecoin.
  5. Sell some Dogecoin to your victims, in exchange for real currency.
  6. In case you failed the last steps, offer Dogecoin at a discounted price to foolish investors.

...and if you're more technological than charismatic, you can avoid the first 3 steps and do without any marketing by hijacking another Dogecoin instead.

Do the black market and "stablecoins" alone justify a valuation of trillions of USDs? Unlikely, but what matters is that money laundering and stablecoins give crhypeto some actual value, which somewhat stabilizes its market value and brings the much-needed bridge with the real economy, attracting non-foolish investors. And that important value fuels fools. The increasing number of participants in turn brings greater credibility to the concept. So both sides build upon each other: dreamers enjoy the criminal side's laundering capacity, while criminals profit from the credibility brought by fools and backed crhypeto, multiplying the hype. The system is complete.

Peak Crhypeto may only come at Peak Ransomware, or even Peak Crime. I can only hope that time will come soon.

The approach I used to advocate towards crhypeto was laissez-faire. At some point, the bubble would burst, providing a learning opportunity to all those involved.

I assume most of the market value of unbacked crhypetocurrencies still comes from hype, so I still think valuing economic education should be our first protection. But in light of these evolving dynamics, the proper response needs to be reevaluated. Each unbacked crhypetocurrency should probably be treated like a country which facilitates money laundering.

Wishing the next decades will see more Euro and less crhypeto,
Mea culpa, and happy 2022

Free Speech, Freedom to Exploit the Poor

admin Friday December 31, 2021

Democratic societies value free speech. But how much free speech is valued varies in each society.

The USA is probably the greatest champion of free speech, to the point where it no longer has a value, but rather a holy status, which may only envy the right to self-defence. It may then not be a great surprise to notice that the public in the USA has become so misinformed. The right to speak freely cannot come without the condemnation to be misinformed by unimputable actors.

One famous source of profitable misinformation is advertisement. But advertisement promoting the health benefits of cocaine drinks and - cough - cigarettes - cough - is long gone, so can the advertisement industry remain such a problem today?

The poorest half of the world's population may only possess 2% of global wealth, but it still earns more than 8% of income. That may not be much, but the advertisement industry cannot neglect that revenue source... in particular when its low education is taken into account. If the public is easy to disinform in the USA, imagine the situation in the Third World. With a much higher informational vulnerability, the Third World can offer a more interesting benefit-to-cost ratio for disinformation than the First World, in particular if these countries struggle to control misinformation.

Flagship corporations of the First World like Facebook and Alphabet could not be blind to such opportunities, and have been exploiting these flaws for years. Oh, not directly. The burden of creating (or even just plagiarizing) disinformation is left to clickbait operators and other disposable publishers. Tech giants do nothing more than funding them and pretending ignorance. Until sometimes opening an eye when the resulting chaos threatens their own country and shareholders.

The first defence again disinformation should be to create and promote quality information. But given that nuance and complexity will never be as inflammatory and evocative as disinformation can be, regulation of the information market is also necessary at some point. When an entity uses a business model allowing it to profit from disinformation, the state must ensure that minors are protected. And unless that's enough, adult victims - just like cigarette smokers - need to be warned about the threat disinformation consumption poses to their health. Properly disincentivizing disinformation won't be easy, but there's no way around such a market failure.


admin Wednesday December 29, 2021

Découverte est depuis déjà quelques décennies une de mes émissions préférées. Mais côté divertissement pur, les œuvres qui m'ont le plus fasciné et marqué sont probablement la série de jeux Civilization et la série télévisée Les Mystérieuses Cités d’or. Peut-être est-ce que parce que j'ai toujours eu un esprit découvreur.

Ou peut-être est-ce juste que la recette pour réaliser une séquence titre qui m'impressionne était simple!
Introduction des Mystérieuses Cités d'or
Introduction de Civilization II

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