Saturday, 27 August 2016

Real lives are stake, this is no time for abstract thought!

Here's an archetype of a conversation I've had in variations throughout my life:

Friend: I believe X is the right thing to do so we can all be happy. 
Me: Ok, but what if X were a Y, or if the situation was Z? Or what if the people you disagree with were advocating a minor variation of X, would you still agree? 
Friend: I distrust and am personally insulted by your attempts at analysis. You sound like one of those people who doesn't want others to be happy. 
Me: No, no, no. I like the happiness part, I'm just not sure about your specific suggestion of X. I'm simultaneously trying to find out why you think X will be effective and trying to relate X to a universal moral framework to ensure that doing X would be fair.
Friend: Real lives are stake, this is no time for abstract thought!

I'm fascinated (in the car crash sense) when people reject analysis because of the real that can't be captured by analysis. I mean it's a fair enough point that experience is richer than the symbolic, but if not for concepts, how are you going to talk about the real, and if you're using concepts anyway, wouldn't it be better if they were marginally consistent?

Of course the tumblr activism take is that consistency is just The Man's way of trying to oppress you and demands for logic and argument are really just expressions of power by the privileged within a system of deep seated and invisible oppression. Even if we were to grant that point, what's the answer? Abandoning logic to give completely free reign to your biases? Creating a new system not based on logic that nobody has thought of but works much better on a modern scale? Please try that over there and if I don't see ominous smoke clouds within a year, I may go check it out.

While I don't want to overinflate the importance of tumblr activism, it is useful in that it expresses a common tendency that many people share to some extent in unusual clarity. I'd like to dig deeper into that in future posts.


Saturday, 30 July 2016

Coalition building across ideological octaves

I think one of the problems in political discourse is that we have a tendency to oversimplify complex issues by mapping a wide variety of disparate viewpoints onto a small number of political factions.

I think this the result of our tendency to be tribal creatures first and rational creatures second. The primary distinction is whether you're in my in-group or my out-group. Rational discourse is secondary and also optional. Especially in political interactions, people will generally scrutinize you for tribal markers to find out if you're one of the Good People. This may take precedence over other concerns, such as trying to accurately understand your point of view.

Expressing political ideas serves as a flag that signal group affiliation in addition to being a contribution to public discourse. People may emphasize these functions differently. A lot of politicking revolves around strategically choosing where to plant your flag keeping in mind how other coalitions will react to you. For example, if your coalition is unpopular, you may choose to rally around an idea that most people will agree with. This forces your opponents to deny the stance, which goes some way towards delegitimizing them. Alternatively, if your cause is generally viewed as just, you may choose a slightly unreasonable idea as a flag, so you can more easily identify and target people that sway from the orthodoxy. (I think this is one of the reasons why social justice and nerds often don't mix.)

In some cases, the same flag can match coalitions that don't fundamentally have much in common, but that come to the similar conclusions on highly visible issues. For a group, this creates the choice of whether to explicitly distance itself from nearby groups at the cost of losing coherence and visibility in public discourse, or to risk being associated with those groups.

I think an example of this can be found in libertarianism, where very different motivations can lead one to argue libertarian viewpoints, but the general public generally sees a large ideological blob. One the one hand, libertarian ideas derive from a position that seeks freedom from coercion, a classical liberal project that aims to establish a society is held together by win-win cooperation and only resorts to coercive methods in extreme cases. Such a viewpoint is compatible with welfarist ideas as long as they have an opt-in component. As an example, one may imagine a libertarian charter city that uses European style welfare models, but where people are free to leave, limited only by contractual obligations they explicitly agreed to. On the other hand, libertarianism can also be an expression of the concrete desire to abolish existing coordination mechanisms and sharing arrangements. These two kinds of libertarianism, one which seeks to rebuild a strongly cooperative society on the basis of non-coercion and the other which would prefer to see society reshaped along less cooperative and more individualistically competitive lines, are very different in nature, yet look a lot alike when seen from outside.

I think a similar thing is happening with neoreaction and the alt-right. Neoreaction could be a post-post modernist rediscovery of order and structure that is informed by both the failures of naive, rigid modernism and the self-serving and dangerously ineffectual dispersions of post-modernism. The alt-right on the other hand is a more old-school nationalist or ethnocentric movement. From the outside they sure look a lot alike.

Blog - Reactivate

I've decided to try and reanimate this blog.

I've been meaning to put my writing into a more organized and less transient format than Facebook rants and reddit comments. Given the sheer amount of written content I've produced online, I find it surprisingly hard to sit down and write something that is not in reply to someone else, so I'm going to take it easy and try to start out with 200 words a week.

Since I'm too lazy to find a new name for a blog, I've decided to reactivate this old blog of mine (which, amazingly, 40000 people have visited in the meantime). The content will be different though, instead of torrenting tips, you will find my armchair musings on topics such as technology, futurism, consciousness, spirituality, game theory, video games, politics and whatever else comes to mind.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Buy steam games from abroad

I recently had trouble buying games on steam while traveling. The problem was that steam would automatically redirect me to the European store, where I was unable to buy games using my UK steam account.

I contacted support and they replied by giving me this link, which takes you directly to the UK steam store.

I assume that you can switch out "GB" with a different country code to go to different county's steam stores.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Lion Mail 5.0 can't send e-mails through Gmail SMTP

I just had the following problem: Whenever I would send a mail in Mail 5.0 it would go straight to outbox and stay there forever without being sent.

Every once in a while a message popped up asking me to reauthenticate with my password, but doing so did no good. The connection monitor (found in the menu "Window") showed mail trying to connect to the gmail smtp server for long periods of time, but without success.

I finally resolved it by forcing the port for the SMTP server connection to be 587 as is suggested here.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

MacOS: Fast key repeat

I do a lot of coding in VIM, which involves scrolling the cursor around with the keyboard. One thing that bothered me quite a bit when switching to a Mac was the slow key repeat rate in Lion, which makes using keyboard-based editors very cumbersome. Key repeat rate can be configured from the menu System Preferences / Keyboard, but I found that even the fastest setting was still too slow for my taste.

Changing key repeat speed from the command line

I’ve seen the following solution proposed on Mac world, but for some reason it didn’t work for me, but you might want to give it a try:

Everybody knows that you can get a pretty fast keyboard repeat rate by changing a slider on the Keyboard tab of the Keyboard & Mouse System Preferences panel. But you can make it even faster! In Terminal, run this command:

  defaults write NSGlobalDomain KeyRepeat -int 0

You can increase the last value to any integer to slow down the key repeat. A value of 2 corresponds to the maximum speed that can be obtained from the System Preferences.

Setting a flexible key repeat speed with keyremap4macbook

What worked for me was setting a flexible key repeat via the keyremap4macbook application. After installing, you can flexibly set key repeat speed to as fast or slow as you like, as shown below.

I’ve had some trouble getting this to work with Lion’s press & hold menu (the one that allows you to choose variations of a letter, such as umlauts). I recommend switching off press & hold and reenabling key repeat by entering the following from terminal.

    defaults write -g ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false

You’ll need to log out and in again for this setting to take effect.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

MacOS: Force torrents to use only your VPN connection

Using a VPN connection is a popular way to hide your IP address when downloading torrents. Unfortunately, you run the risk of exposing your real IP if your VPN connection drops since your torrent client will immediately reconnect using your default, insecure network connection. This seems to be the standard behaviour in Windows, MacOS, and Ubuntu, and is, in my opinion, a massive security flaw: Once a VPN connection has been enabled, the OS should NOT switch back to an insecure connection until the user has been notified. To my amazement, few people seem to share my opinion, and so I have to find ad-hoc solutions every now and again to make sure that my network activity remains secure when using a VPN.

Windows has a very powerful application-level firewall, which can be used to block any application from using an insecure connection. The process is described in this post. I've also solved the problem in Ubuntu, although I'd have to do some digging to find out how (leave a comment if you want to know).

The last couple of days I have tried to find a way to block torrent downloading over insecure connections for MacOS, and encountered a couple of challenges:
  • The application level firewall of MacOS is a complete joke. (Found under System Preferences / Security & Firewall)
  • ipfw, the ip-based firewall that comes with a mac can only be used to block ALL non-VPN traffic.
  • There seem to be no free application level firewalls for MacOS, although if you have the money to spare Little Snitch seems to be a decent piece of software. (edit: I'm not sure if Little Snitch is powerful enough)
  • My torrent clients of choice, ĀµTorrent and Transmission are not very configurable.
After a lot of searching I finally found a solution using the highly configurable torrent client Vuze (formerly called Azureus).

Step-by-step guide to forcing your torrent downloads to only use VPN on MacOS:
  1. Download and install Vuze. Make sure you do not install the additional software they push on you during the installation process. 
  2. Connect to your VPN service
  3. Open Vuze
  4. Go to Vuze / Preferences / Mode and activate advanced mode. (See picture below.)
  5. In the preferences, go to Connection / Advanced Network Settings. Find the name of your VPN network interface in the text box (e.g., "ppp0"). Enter the name of the interface into the text box "Bind to local ip address or interface". (See picture below,)
  6. Tick the option "Enforce IP bindings ..."
  7. Click save and exit the configuration screen
  8. Try out whether it works: Start downloading some torrent for testing purposes in Vuze, e.g., a Ubuntu installer disk image. The download should only work if your VPN is enabled. If you disconnect the VPN, the connections should fail, and the download should cease.
  9. Success. You have now configured your torrent client to securely download over VPN.

The above procedure is not ideal since it forces you to use Vuze, which is a big fat piece of bloatware, but it will at least make sure that you do not inadvertently expose your IP address when loading a torrent. If you know of a way to force ĀµTorrent and Transmission to only use a VPN in MacOS, let me know.

As an aside, if you use a pptp based VPN you should also consider disabling ip6 to ensure security.