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Category: Feeling


I’ve been learning to swim. It’s a rare strange pleasure to learn at 37 something most people seem to learn by 7. It gives you back those feelings of being a kid – but with the fear removed, in my case.

I’ve noticed something. That before you’ve learned, it seems like nothing you do with your body seems to have any impact in the water; no propulsion.

But once you’ve learned, it’s completely the opposite. The slightest motion propels you through the water. It’s a complete inversion. The sudden leap forward into coherence…

Bagpipes and goats

Curiosity has gotten the better of me, and I finally broke down and bought a practice chanter (to learn to play bagpipes) from Amazon. It’s a cheap one, and every bagpipe site I have ever seen likes to write, in all caps, warnings like:


Which is all well and good if you’re sure ahead of time you’re going to make this plunge and commit to it forever. But starting with a $15 trial balloon over a $100 experiment seems like a good idea to me. What do I know!

The more I’ve gotten into researching the types and history of pipes though, the more compelling it actually is. I mean, as far as “windbags” go…

This is one of my favorite piping videos for a lot of reasons:

Oddly, it turns out that goats and bagpipes seem to have been intimately connected for quite some time.

If you delve into piping history (at least the online sources I found), they put the first officially recognized mention of bagpipes to a Roman source sometime in early AD. But there’s an elemental pattern you can see behind the pipes if you look with the “eyes of the goat.”

I’m not going to pretend to be any kind of expert, but I found a bunch of different traditional forms of bagpipes which are not only made of goat skin, but which explicitly seem to reference the form of the animal, with either heads included, or else with drones, chanters and windpipes in place of the limbs of the beast.

Check out, for example, the Zaqq from Malta:

Here’s another one from Eastern Europe:

And this is included ‘just for fun’: via Duda on Wikipedia:

“…there were many legends about bagpipes that could play themselves when hung from the wall on a nail or about pipers summoned to Witches’ Sabbaths to perform for satanic hosts.”

So my hypothesis, for the moment, goes something like this:

Bagpiping is a secondary cultural artifact from raising goats (or sheep, variously–just using goats as a catch-all here). In French, we have this handy word for goat-raising, Capriculture.

Moreover, the evolution of the “windbag” is simply an augmentation of pre-existing reed flutes, like this German dude (assuming he’s German–maybe I’m wrong) makes in the Youtube video below:

Bagpipes are basically this attached to a pipe you do your fingering on – chanter – which sticks out of a bag, and which has anywhere from typically 1-3 drones, which are reeds on pipes each tuned to sound at one continuous note.

So there’s a precursor invention, the reed pipe, which is more or less a “natural” human invention from naturally-occurring material. Which is over time grafted onto this other invention: an animal skin or bladder which can be inflated or deflated with air or liquid.

Taken in this light, the instrument becomes less a strange oddity, and something more elemental, and perhaps very ancient – as ancient as the human relationships with the plants and animals from which the craft originally descended.

That’s the theory anyway. Not sure I’m ready to start keeping goats, but I’m warming up to giving piping a shot. Will keep you posted!

PS. I love how that last video shows the pipes mixed with the sound of sheep’s bells

Trust-breakers (Chinese Social Credit System)

Legal effects of automated processing, a comparison.

I’ve been reading about China’s emerging social credit system, Sesame Credit.

“The score is used to rank citizens of China based on a variety of factors like loyalty to the Chinese government and loyalty to Chinese brands based on social media interactions and online purchases. The rewards of having a high score include easier access to loans, easier access to jobs and priority during bureaucratic paperwork.”

Here are a couple articles to get you started:

Blah blah blah, obligatory Black Mirror reference. Now that we have that out of the way, from the CNBC link:

“When rules are broken and not rectified in time, you are entered in a list of ‘people subject to enforcement for trust breaking’ and you are denied access from things. Rules broken can lead to companies being unable to issue corporate bonds or individuals not being allowed to become company directors,” Creemers said.

Basically, a bunch of apps and agencies work together to rank your behavior and profile you socially as either a trust-keeper or trust-breaker as described above. Via the FP link:

“By 2020, the government says that social credit will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.””

I had a dream years ago that I used a urinal at a shopping mall, and the system automatically administered a drug test on me, which I failed. Not being a cell phone user, I needed to then borrow a friend’s phone to make a call and the system linked my voice-print to my biometric/pee test and I was disallowed from using my friend’s phone. Such a unified system may be a few years off still, but the possibility is becoming tantalizingly real. I might even say it’s, on some level of implementation, pretty much inevitable.

I’ve been following a parallel strand of research these past few months. It’s partly intuition, partly investigative leg work, but it’s lead from public records databases used by private eyes 🕵 to the vast store-houses of data kept commercially against named individuals by data brokers. I’m still largely in the dark about how data brokers operate, and, er, broker — despite hours spent around the subject on Youtube. But I have to assume that those storehouses of information about people have to be searchable — at a price. Whether it’s pseudonymized in aggregate, or traceable to an identified or identifiable individual, all this information exists somewhere out there, waiting to be linked up and put to use.

Meanwhile, half a world away, Europe is set to roll out it’s GDPR next May (2018) which will quite possibly make very difficult – or at least very different – such a social credit system were it to be rolled out to customers in the European Economic Area.

I explored this question elsewhere, of processing of personally-identifying information linked to automated decision-making, and profiling, with “legal effects”. So I won’t completely rehash it here, but to quote Article 22 of the GDPR:

“The data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.”

The recital for that article mentions explicitly as an example the “automatic refusal of an online credit application” as something that has a legal effect.

I guess this is worth quoting more extensively from second half of Recital 71:

“Such processing includes ‘profiling’ that consists of any form of automated processing of personal data evaluating the personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning the data subject’s performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences or interests, reliability or behaviour, location or movements, where it produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.”

So this is pretty much explicitly describing an all-encompassing “social credit” system such as is currently being live-beta tested on Chinese society. In other words, Europe is baking into their privacy & data protection regime this idea that the fundamental rights of humanity (from which privacy/data prot. are derived) are incompatible with automated decision-making based on data processing with (potentially negative) legal consequences.

That’s huge.

To me, as we move into the Algorithmic Society (and it’s many diverse, fascinating and horrifying forms, instantiations and iterations), this will be a fundamental tension as humanity transitions to greater and greater levels of algorithmic control, automation and governance of day-to-day life.

Quoting from Art. 22, 3:

“…at least the right to obtain human intervention on the part of the controller, to express his or her point of view and to contest the decision.”

The subject still blows my mind. Partly because we now live in (or very soon will) a society where such rules have become necessary. The algorithmic age where Trust Breakers ™ can’t buy train tickets, or make a phone call. But in exchange for keeping your score up, you’re eligible for ultra-fast lane physical access from Boston to DC in 15 minutes, with no control checkpoints, minimal surge pricing, only light deep packet inspection and limited throttling. [See full Terms & Conditions.]

Or a world where slow, boring, crappy, unreliable human bureaucratic decision-making is baked into break-points in societal algorithms to ensure some sort of fairness, humanity, tolerance, resilience (and maybe forgiveness?) into what will otherwise most assuredly become a mesh of AI’s vying for planetary control…

I’m sorry, that’s just where my mind goes when I pull out my 🔮. I think it’s why I like the GDPR as a document in the first place: it reads like a dystopian cyberpunk text that young punks in the future will repeat back verbatim to quasi-governmental robots that are beating the snot out of them because their social credit score has fallen too low.

Whoops, I went off into la-la land there again at the end*. But what can I say? I’m on vacation! 🌴🍹

* You try talking about this without landing on the subject of killer robots. It’s not so easy. It’s like Godwin’s law, but for killer robots and data processing.

Green angel

Spotted in the trees, twice. Shifting forms in wind, reveal at turns sacred and grotesque forms. May form faces and bodies.

Javascript rapid word input tool

I went off on pretty much a tear earlier investigating the possibility of coming up with some kind of rapid communication board which would allow you to input words, not letters.

I went once or twice around the bend, and found the closest match in an app called DocsPlus which gives you the ability to create customizable word-bars. There’s a 28 day free trial. It’s interesting, but my use case is to be able to rapidly paste in the results of these sentence creation actions into Firefox in a spreadsheet. It was too combersome with switching back and forth between tabs to access other word bars.

So I cooked up some Javascript I’m still tinkering with which looks at the moment like this:

Until next season

There is a state I often find myself in, when working outside. The “closing things down for the day” routine. Shutting the doors to the shed where the chickens live. Putting tools away. Knowing I won’t come back out again today to play with whatever I was working on. Or maybe I will, but if I don’t, then there will be no (extra) harm that will come because of my neglect.

I sometimes feel myself amplifying that feeling out to the end of the season. If it snows today and summer ends in a sudden bluster, it will be okay. It’s not usually (or at least not always completely) true, but in my mind it somehow has to be. Battening down the hatches against the end of the world.

I’ve never found myself thinking so much towards future years. Not in terms of what will I do one day but the future in a matter-of-fact way. That today will be roughly like the next, and the next, and the next. Perhaps on into years, as the trees planted this season grow taller, as the small jobs I do fixing or building around the house get done, and others take their places.

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