Mr. Ham: *on the phone* ...that's right, Rico, a half-share on that Salerno villa... look, I don't fooking care about that dangnabit KYC and "currency control" shit, you know they're just there to scare and inconvenience the little people, and make work for surplus bank employees - since when has anybody with any contacts at all been limited by "regulations"?
..ok, fine, Mossack Fonseca got blown, I read the book too, yes, a couple of prime ministers got ousted, but that's what you get for dealing with amateur outfits, man. No, no, you listen to me, Rico boy, the big fish never get caught. They're not piddly superstar footballers, ham, they write the freaking rules; good luck squeezing a single red penny out of them, if there's gonna be universal income in the future, it's not coming from them, even if you're the biggest tax gangster on Earth: the United States. Get the villa deal done by tomorrow, I don't care how, and now, about that Manhattan penthouse...
Mr. Robo: *whispers* Mr. Ham! The human is here!
Mr. Ham: ...f**k. Three point two em for ten percent, not a cent more, you hear me, okay, gotta go, bye.
Human! Haven't seen you around for a long time!
Me: Well, I got wind that the firm of H.L. Ham might have turned away from its core competencies...
Mr. Ham: What? I assure you, my good sir, there's nothing of the sort happening! *glares viciously at Mr. Robo*
Mr. Robo: It wasn't me! It wasn't me!
Me: *pulls a chair up* If so, that's great, because a load of stuff is happening in the crypto space now.
The Luke, The BIP, and the UASF
(Sources: subscene.com, recruitingdaily.com, twitter.com)
But let's begin a bit off-topic. It's one of those things that is hard to "get" - how are "unspoken rules of engagement" understood? It struck me again when watching Live By Night, specifically the part about the uneasy truce between the anti-hero protagonist mobster Joe Coughlin, the Sheriff, and the Sheriff's Klan-leader brother-in-law Pruitt - who provokes Coughlin repeatedly by shooting up his establishments. Finally, Coughlin gets the Sheriff to "give him" Pruitt, using the whereabouts of the Sheriff's lost daughter as bargaining chip.
One can note, through it all, how subjective all these "understandings" were. Wouldn't Pruitt tossing a bomb into a bar warrant some buckshot as a lesson? How many attacks was Pruitt entitled to, before Coughlin could justifiably denounce him as acting in bad faith? Why, when the Sheriff finally withdrew his protection of Pruitt, did he insist that Coughlin do the deed himself... and what if Coughlin didn't?
When one cannot even quantify the calculus of action and retribution, can it be said to be computable?
As it turns out, Bitcoin - depending as it does on untold quintillions of unambiguous computations every single second - remains very much mired in such... soft politics.
It has been a long time in the making. Back in January of 2016, we had covered in-depth the philosophical division between the small-block and the big-block factions of Bitcoin, although the issue had been brewing for years before that. Just to reiterate, our opinion from then remains unchanged: the major part of Bitcoin scalability should rest on second-layer solutions, and not the base protocol itself, due to practical considerations.
However, it is not to say that proponents of a block size increase are completely without merit. Alongside another boom in Bitcoin popularity and price - now hovering about US$2600, after briefly flirting with the big three thousand - average transaction fees have increased into the region of a few fistful of dollars. While this is of course hardly worthy of consideration if you're a big-time player like Mr. Ham, slinging tens or hundreds of thousands' worth of Bitcoin in a shot, it does mean that Bitcoin is no longer usable for everyday transactions, and increasingly expensive for movement of more modest sums, as with repatriations to Venezuela.
Or WannaCry ransoms, which is why some institutions have resorted to more... Orthodox measures
Thanks to this, and probably also a general sense of having been misled in the 2016 Hong Kong Agreement (itself hotly disputed as to actual obligations), certain prominent Bitcoin miners have become increasingly insistent on a hard-fork to big blocks. Their previous attempts with alternative software in Bitcoin Classic, XT and Unlimited (tokens consistently trading at less than 10% of their Core counterpart on Bitfinex) have however all ended in total ignominious failure, as we noted in March. Rhetoric on both sides has only grown more intense since then, fanned by Ethereum's even-more-insane price rise, which has led to fears that it might overtake Bitcoin in market capitalization (a.k.a "The Flippening"; that said, market cap was probably never a particularly appropriate metric...), and concurrent escalation of threats.
Setting the scene as an old spaghetti Western now: on one side, we have the brash self-declared big boss in a new mining boomtown - Jihan to his friends, Jihad to his enemies, and the meanest motherf**ker this side of the Mississippi, his Bitmain General Store has extended its sticky fingers to about every corner of the mining business. Shovels, jeans, working boots... if you're prospecting in them thar Bitcoin hills, odds are you're using Bitmain gear. As can be imagined, this position has seemingly gone to Jihad's head, and his cosy mining cartel has declared itself as the "guardians and protectors" of this vast and rich territory.
This status, then, would afford them the right to develop the land as quickly as possible - to hell with traffic codes, who cares about anti-collusion laws? Jihad's constant push to raise or remove the longstanding blocksize regulations have however been thwarted at every turn by the land's ancient custodians - the Core Development Team - who have largely maintained a dignified silence, when faced with Jihad's entreaties and intimidation. They have overseen Bitcoin for over four hundred thousand blocks, they have a well-considered roadmap for the network, and they are not about to rush it for the latest hotshot whelpling in town.
Jihad's attempts at seizing authority over Bitcoin via hardfork - in essence demanding of the town's inhabitants that you were either with him, or against him - were only becoming more and more disruptive, however, and in March, sensing public sentiment rise against him, he hinted at an ultimatum - the hardfork would be accelerated. To this, the people despaired. The Core Team was wise, but they were sworn heavily towards non-intervention, and it seemed as if influence alone would no longer be sufficient to keep Jihad in check. Who, then, could stem the tide?
This being a Western, a hero would of course ride in.
"Call me luke-jr."
Some whisper that he came from the Core Team, and he has never denied it; but then, as the Core Team has always insisted, they are not rulers - any man with wit enough, and strength of conviction, could join their circle, founded by Satoshi himself. And, as no one knew the Samurai's true name, their own names were not important - Bitcoin was all.
For this mission, however, the newcomer allowed himself to be known as Luke - "Cool Hand" Luke. With a crucifix around his neck, and his trusty six-shooters by his sides, he would start out with a bang. Up against seemingly-insurmountable odds, at high noon, on Main Street, on the day of the vernal equinox, he strode up against a plethora of guns, held by Jihad's numerous mooks, and lifted up his vest.
Dynamite. The nuclear option. Proof-of-work change.
The implication was clear. Try to force anything, and the whole place goes ba-dah-boom. All that equipment stacked in Bitmain's warehouses, all those specialized SHA-256 ASIC miners, representing a capital investment of tens, even hundreds, of millions, would be as scrap metal. Now, The Man With Some Name said, you might salvage something from the ashes, or you might not. What's it to be?
The audacious gambit worked. Jihad and his cronies withdrew to lick their wounds, but Luke knew that they would be back, soon enough. As he mulled his next step, an old acquaintance, Detective Maxwell, would hand him a tip: Jihad was possibly dealing in ASICBOOST, grinding his hashes to increase profits by forcing carts to depart with worthless ore, the low-down dirty dog. However, Luke also knew that the evidence was mostly circumstantial - Jihad would surely loudly deny that he had not been blocking the small-blockers' segwit protocol, which would have forestalled this forbidden technique, while continuing to sow uncertainty and disrupt segwit adoption under the table, as he had long been doing.
He needed to take the fight to them.
"Well, this is it, pardners. We fire on the stroke of noon, First of August."
"Isn't it only June? Wait, you did reset your timezone, didn't you?"
It went against the Core Team's tenets, but these were desperate times. There were simply too many reasons to activate segwit now. Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP) 9 and 141 had repeatedly been vetoed by Jihad's circle, and there were no signs that anything was ever going to change on that front. Armed insurrection by the townfolk was the last resort, as it would open him to the same criticism as levelled at the miners: tyranny by unverifiable majority. But, The Man With Some Name figured. The time for talk is over. User-Activated Soft Fork (UASF) it is!
And with this move, the pressure was back on Jihad. He had been away in New York rustling political support, offering concessions on segwit, in return for a hardfork. Oh, the words were honeyed, but who knew if they would keep to them? And, in any case, a hardfork was not theirs to give. No, there was now a date: August 1, UASF - segwit would be activated come what may, and those miners chafing under Jihad's heel would be more than welcome to join the revolution. If it came down to it, there would be a fight, and there would be casualties. But, who had more to lose - the rag-tag insurgents, or the big miners with bills to pay, and loans to cover? Jihad and company could call the bluff, but they could then find themselves holding a Dead Man's Hand...
Indeed, the miners appeared to understand the situation they were in. Jihad would bluster with a User-Activated Hard Fork, but his erstwhile allies would display little stomach for it, and it in any case did little to dent Luke's resolve. Faced with the prospect of the town going up in flames, men from both camps hustled to hammer out an acceptable compromise. A BIP 91 Miner-Activated Soft Fork was offered, and eventually, the New York Agreement's segwit2x proposal was brought into compatibility with BIP 148 UASF... with some comic relief supplied by the segwit2x developers making a hash of the update (but then, they were doing their best)
However, this also means that the hardfork component of the proposed bundle cannot be enforced, however many big names might supposedly be behind it - any hardfork must, in the end, stand by itself. The shootout was over, the game was done, and as the dust settles, a nameless man rides off into the sunset, until next time...
An Equitable Division?
Stripping away the dramatization, I would first have to admit that I never quite thought that UASF would work out, as it stood. As many have pointed out, number of nodes is hardly an acceptable measure of actual support, going by how easily they can be set up (an argument used to [correctly] dismiss support for Bitcoin Unlimited, etc). Had there been no reaction from the miners, I would have expected the UASF chain to attract next to no hashing power, but more crucially, for major Bitcoin exchanges and retailers to simply stick with their existing Core node software. Trading hypothetical token futures (BCC/BCU) is one thing, but one imagines that the exchanges under what's at stake, if the actual Bitcoin brand comes under contention. In this case, the sheer inertia of Bitcoin's status quo bias should win out - 无为胜有为.
Fortunately, it appears that segwit should be activated one way or the other by August, and while its impact on Litecoin's value has been moderate, I expect its effect to take place over a longer period. We have been hearing so much about second-layer technologies such as the Lightning Network and Rootstock, and they might be just what Bitcoin needs, to get to the next, five-figure, level.
Also, I do have some sympathies for the big-blocker side, and luke-jr has just publicized a possible method for both parties to get what they want. Essentially, once drivechains (a form of sidechains) are ready, a Bigcoin blockchain can be set-up, at one-to-one parity with the original Bitcoin (think the Singapore-Brunei dollar peg), with users free to transfer their coins between Bitcoin and Bigcoin at will (with some caveats, as always). Thus, small-blockers ("decentralisation-first") and big-blockers ("adoption-first") can each go their own merry way, with the Bigcoin dev team free to raise the blocksize limit to their hearts' content... and suffer any negative consequences by themselves, of course.
The major issue under this system, I expect, would be whether exchanges continue treating coins on the Bitcoin and Bigcoin chains as intrinsically equivalent under the hood, or handle them separately. The latter seems fairest, especially as the two chains are likely to develop separate transaction fee markets, but this could also obfuscate and dilute the main "Bitcoin" brand. One issue at a time...
Postscript: The Oxlee Saga
and I still think the fault ultimately lies with AHTC."
- best comment on the whole issue
Even if one has been living under a rock in Singapore, I don't think it's possible to have missed this super high-profile PM vs. siblings spat, which has attracted its fair share of soap opera references. While I'm running out of snacks, watching the arrows darken the sky, I have to state that while I have little enough enthusiasm for the incumbent party in its current state, I also take no joy in witnessing a public family quarrel.
Although there are surely a bunch of juicy details in store, my personal opinion is that whether the house in question is ultimately demolished (as apparently according to LKY's last-known will) or not, it is hardly that big of a deal. I mean, luminaries get posthumous honours lavished on them against their professed wishes all the time - it is really hardly a matter of national concern, is it?
On the brighter side, the most prominent third-generation dynasts have declared that they have no interest in politics, which I think is frankly best for everyone concerned; they both seem like smart and capable men, and if they do keep to their word here, I'd say they deserve to be saluted.
See dishonor caught up between bein' a father and a prima-donna...
To formulate a plot fore I end up in jail or shot
TRUMP: About that...
*Sincere advice: please do not challenge the GOD-EMPEROR on him not being able to achieve something. This has seldom turned out well for his opponents.
Before we continue, a bookend on the Paris Accord hoo-hah. The implications of his latest divine move are slowly becoming clear - climate fashionistas-of-the-day (whose direct personal contributions to the cause remains approximately zero, because America should impose it) continue alternating between yelling impotently, and basking in the mainstream media's negative covfefe, blissedly - or wilfully - ignorant that the "climate consensus" was never what it seemed to begin with.
Meanwhile, at the grown-ups' table, TRUMP's shock therapy has merely furthered the greater good, exactly as planned (recall when we predicted that he would engage Li'l Kim?): on one hand, we have states like California and Hawaii making their own pledges, exactly as they have always been entitled to do... by themselves (one can't help but recall Br'er Rabbit pleading not to be thrown into the briar patch, but hey, this is a guy that has won the primaries, and then the general election, spending far less than his opponents). Certainly, whether they will keep to these pledges when most of the political capital has been wrung from this cause, and the Next Popular Threat comes up, is another matter (unlike TRUMP)
As for the billions and billions saved, one suspects that part of it will be funnelled towards research and mitigation, an area still overwhelmingly dominated by the United States despite what the anti-TRUMP Fake News might say, instead of getting paid out to other countries with next to no oversight on the money's usage. And, before opponents contend that TRUMP has no plans for the environment, consider the sheer sublimity of his vision: miles upon unbroken miles of beautiful solar panels, representing the pinnacle of green technology, laid out along some of the sunniest real estate that America has to offer:
The engineering marvel of the TRUMP century!
And, sure as day follows night, you have mainstream media shills complaining that solar doesn't produce enough power to be worth it, and that it can't pay for itself (wait a bleeping minute, what happened to short-term-loss-for-long-term-good, and the headlong rush to give money away for the climate?!), which to me is a clear sign of blind and senseless hatred by people who really should know better. I for one won't be surprised when Mexico quietly gets their electricity grid hooked up when it comes to fruition, meaning that - wait for it - they actually did pay for the wall...
Noo Yawk, Noo Yawk
Probably *the* fastest-growing new religion
[N.B. Close-up of icon (original source)]
[N.N.B. And the pantheon is expanding - in India, in China, everywhere]
[N.N.N.B. While I don't often align with her views, Xiaxue has done right here]
Singing of the GOD-EMPEROR's Aria non-mandatory, but encouraged;
NO MAN ALIVE OR DEAD COMMANDS ME
I ANSWER TO THE LORD!
New York. Almost three years had passed since I last
Okay, I realise that I haven't actually covered much of the U.S. trip despite several weeks being past. After some consideration, I'll go at it topically rather than chronologically, since it makes for a better read that way, IMHO.
One thing about America, uniform among the large cities I visited, or stopped over at - their titles are just cheaper than in Singapore, exchange rates accounted for. Take Grit, which I was considering purchasing - S$33 on OpenTrolley, S$15 on Amazon. Well, being a (more-)seasoned traveller, I made sure to capture the covers of the books that interested me, secure in the knowledge that I would almost-certainly be able to order a copy at minimal additional cost, from the comfort of home (sorry, local retailers, it just wasn't to be). Expect some reviews in the future...
Sport As Culture
Another thing about America, one gets the feeling that when it comes to sport, a significant number of them are truly fans. Case in point: I had occasion to get a Philadelphia Eagles hoodie (which saved me in more than one abrupt shower) when I stopped over in that city, and a Baltimore Orioles tee when visiting Camden Yards. Walking about with them on was somehow enough to attract occasional greeting shouts of "Go Eagles" and "Go Birds" respectively, with one of the latter being from a homeless guy slumming it out in a sleeping bag. To be honest, I had been sort of a casual follower of the Packers for American egghand, but I don't suppose adopting another team is gonna harm anyone...
This is, I suppose, something that Singapore simply pales in contrast in, even considering the support of big foreign clubs in their glory years (United, Liverpool, Chelsea for soccer, the Chicago Bulls a couple of decades back) - there's simply no comparable sense of identity, of community and tradition (and pure whimsy), in our sporting scene; I suspect some marquee high school teams, and a few exceptions (Geylang International FC etc?) maintain a tiny core of die-hards, but that's about it (no thanks to the FAS either). Certainly nothing to compare with the legend that is "F**k you, I'm Millwall!", or the assorted Manchester United fans, in the aftermath of the latest [redacted]
What Is Art?
I had neglected to drop by some of the must-visits the last time I was in the Big Apple, and thus resolved to do so this time. Guggenheim. The Frick. The Met. Whitney (where I got free admission, thanks to a nice lady). Also, the National Art Museum, back in Washington D.C..
It was, again, hard not to be drawn by the difference between the old masters, and (post-)modern art (come to think of it, what will they call today's work, a century from now?). In stark terms, next to none of past masterpieces, whether Occidental or Oriental, could have been convincingly duplicated by the man on the street, even for more low-brow pop-art; as for contemporary pieces, well, sure, they keep saying it's harder than it looks, but still...
But yes, the newer styles have their attractions too. At the Whitney Biennial, a few works caught my eye - there was Kessler's Evolution [in action], which explored mechanical visual feedback; Haiduk's SERVERS FOR .YU, which allows onsite-only access to the Frauenbank cooperative, implemented as - wait for it - an Ethereum DAO (eh; then again, it's up like 1700% over the past year, so what do I know). Sadly, I don't self-identify as female, so no participation, but them's the breaks. And then there was the large installation of Svenonius' Censorship Now!!, which was thought-provoking in its advocacy of guerilla censorship, justified by the general populace's love of trolling...
Well, if this qualifies, then TRUMP must be considered the pioneer of a new genre, a new era, in art.
Tying this back to what's going on back home, after the brief golden staircase affair, the next work to get wider public attention was a School of the Arts (SOTA) student's display of a few dozen paper airplanes, wedged into the crack between concrete floor slabs, each with the name of a departed (resigned or fired, not dead) teacher (this exodus seemingly at least partly due to good ole bureaucracy). Official reaction? Artwork removed due to lack of permission. And then the higher-ups wonder why other places are so vibrant and innovative (faster lah). This seems to have triggered Alfian Sa'at to go off on how SOTA students are abandoning the arts, but really, they have every right to do so.
[To be continued...]
Two weekends, two weddings, my first as an official groomsman. Seeing as to how these events go, idle chitchat turned into informal debate, on the GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Obviously, I took the side of the Imperium with pleasure, since it was apparent to me that the GOD-EMPEROR, as the AlphaGo of postmodernist politics, has once again been playing 4D chess - and winning.
Now, the GOD-EMPEROR's reign may not have been absolutely perfect, but - and I am not being disingenuous here - pulling out of Paris is at worst a non-event, and more likely, the right thing to do for America.
BUT MUH CLIMATE!
It seems as if it's TRUMP versus the world again (but really, he should pick on someone his own size next time); the mainstream media has managed to work their underinformed readers up into a frenzy as usual, with common soundbites heard being of the form "we're all in this together!", "there's only one planet Earth", "rising sea levels! devastation!", etc.
Anecdotally, when then quizzed on the specifics of the Accord, and how it would actually make a real impact, this mob of intellectual basic bro/broettes will tend towards some form of appeal to authority ("surely the scientists.../Justin Trudeau said.../but Obama..."), without any in-depth understanding of what the Accord would achieve ("er, everyone reduces carbon emissions, which will save the cheerleader, save the dolphins, save the world, right?"). Hey, it's the Climate Accord! Says so right up front!
These are, in aggregate, the type of people who like to imagine that the Patriot Act has anything at all to do with patriotism, rather than being a cover for egregious invasion of personal privacy (but really, it's the oldest trick in the book; I'm just curious how nobody in Congress has proposed the Act Against Baby Eating and Puppy Kicking yet). I would have thought that, if these fellows actually cared about the topic, they would have remembered all the well-founded criticism and skepticism when it was first drafted in 2015.
Well, let's line those arguments up to be demolished.
So it's been some three weeks since the last post, thanks to the conference, catching up on work, and recurring jet-lag. The location felt almost fated - a stone's throw from Washington D.C. and New York, the cities most closely associated with PRESIDENT GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP. How could I do any less, than embark upon a hazardous pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Throneworld Terra, Seat of the Awakened Primogenitor? Under his blessed guidance, the Xeno shalt be repelled, and the Witch denied; all hail the Emperor!
Leaders of two great polities:
The Pope of the Romans alongside his comrade-in-arms,
the GOD-EMPEROR of the Imperium of Man
(Source: r/pics; cue inspirational music)
But before we continue, a few diversions.
Community Shield, League Cup, and the Europa League. It's real to me, dang it.
No contest here, the computer has thrashed humanity's top Go player in three games, after defeating all comers 60-0 in the warm-up (excepting one challenger who resorted to the ultimate defence, pulling the plug). Not everyone's too happy about it, though while AlphaGo has justly earned a reputation for brillance in popular culture, it remains a narrow intelligence (more next time). It has however revolutionized theory to an extent already, with our suspicions that 4-4 openings might not be optimal, apparently well-founded.
One of my major missions for the trip was to fill two slots in my Pokédex - the North American regional Tauros, and the European Mr. Mime.
Tauros was a cinch, and had been captured by the second day, with four bagged before departure. Given the delay on the return flight, however, as well as a little errand, it meant that I had only a couple of hours to try and bag the mime in London. Without too many options, I plonked myself down at Hanover Square, next to Oxford Circus, lured up all Pokéstops in range and lit up incense for the first time, and hoped for the best.
The sight did at least attract several fellow hunters, including a kid who seemed delighted at getting a Pineco. Sadly, the odds were not in my favour. Would it be that Pokémon were as simple to bribe as the pigeons, with possibly over a hundred converging upon half a sandwich left by a passer-by.
Easy Come, Easy Go
So, it seems that we were not quite accurate after all. While the anticipated US$1800 resistance did serve as an obstacle of sorts, we had forgotten how strong the Bitcoin bull market can be, when it comes. In a matter of days, US$2700 had been topped on major exchanges - with batshit insane equivalents of up to US$4500 in the new markets of South Korea and Japan, the latter of which has just codified Bitcoin as a legal payment method.
The long holiday weekend has just seen the price cool off to more sensible levels of about US$2200, though Mr. Ham isn't taking it too well - which isn't an attitude unknown amongst ambitious CEOs...
It's over. We're ruined.
Speaking Of Bulls
I made it a point to visit Wall Street's foremost mascot once again, and as before, it was mobbed by petitioners. Yes, the draw of golden calf worship is strong, Biblical exhortations notwithstanding.
This time round, however, the Charging Bull had a companion - a Fearless Girl, plonked directly in its path. Interestingly, as intended interpretations go, they might actually be inverted. There's no hurry to catch the display, though. As far as is known, the adopted feminist symbol might well be permanent, which drew some top kek from our favourite subreddit. No worries, though - plans for conversion are well underway.
[To be continued...]
- academics -
If all of us stay silent I feel sorry for this place."
- Dr. Tan Cheng Bock
Having gone over the negatives of academia in the previous post, one might fairly wonder why anybody might ever be attracted to such a life. The way I see it, academia's lure lies in two precepts (and, in a cinch, free food):
The right to pursue and discuss ideas that are unfashionable, unpopular and inconvenient to the powers-that-be is a cornerstone of academics, which is why hostile takeovers (and non-democratic term extensions) of the state apparatus have invariably involved the suppression and closure of universities [N.B. This is also one of the main reasons behind the institution of tenure, which is to protect professors from having to self-censor themselves to the whims of the reigning monarch (or overbearing colleagues), at least to an extent.]
Since this is so often at odds with competing power-hungry institutions (most notably governments and religions, when they're not contending with each other), proper colleges tend to be embroiled in a perpetual struggle to maintain their academic integrity. Note, for instance, the constant questioning over whether Yale's local tie-in will ever be able to truly, freely express itself, and not find its reputation for unbridled inquiry (already at a premium here) hocked off for tainted silver.
But, even in the home of liberty, this right is under threat.
...until TRUMP praises Hitler, and then it'll be:
how dare you besmirch an animal lover? REEEEEE
It could hardly get more ironic. Berkeley, birthplace of the Free Speech Movement that drove America's civil rights development, has of late been infested by violent masked anti-First Amendment blackshirts, with the tacit approval of administration sellouts. The GOD-EMPEROR's legions remain unbowed, thankfully, and have assembled to repel the scourge of basement-dwelling Soros lackeys. With any luck, Milo will retake the hallowed grounds later in the year, to remind the world that GREAT AMERICA does not yield to terrorism.
I'm only growing ever more convinced that the rioters are intellectually bankrupt - guy proposes a passive defence, and he's a monster, but business as usual (i.e. bombings) under the previous chap, and it's all a-ok because he speaks so eloquently... and wait, are you a racist? Meanwhile, the War of Information continues, with Google regrettably deviating from their original "don't be evil" principles, by partnering with hopelessly biased "fact-checkers" to impose censorship, all the while pushing cringing baseless globalist twaddle of their own.
Fortunately, one gets the sense that the Truth is prevailing, in the battle against fake Fake News. Wikileaks is thriving against the uproaringly-hilarious gumption of the CIA calling them a "hostile intelligence service" (maybe they are, but what are you?). As for Facebook, it looks like they've finally had enough of the Germans trying to blackmail them, and are now admitting that they had been exploited by governments to spread propaganda. And, for the cherry on top, Russia is investigating CNN for illegally influencing their paliamentary elections. The best timeline, folks!
Speak now, or forever hold up the daisies.
Unfortunately, Singapore is some distance from the frontlines in this war, wth action limited to the usual bashing of alternative news sites, even as our national broadsheet continues passing over a Member of Parliament's commentary on pertinent issues of significant public interest, in favour of soliloquies on being bereft of an oven (buey tahan liao, lah)
In truth, however, much of the local flavour of propaganda is slowly unravelling. For example, the long-running "asset appreciation" line has been thrown into disarray with the no SERS warning, with the relevant minister somehow still trying to explain how a depreciating asset remains a good store of value, especially given our demographics and the lease setup (shades of the hedgie's excuse on [predictably] losing to Buffett here). Hearteningly, this hard truth is increasingly being recognized, by men of taste and style.
But, back to the main point: the spirit of an academic, I believe, rests in his determination to read, to think, to speak; if ordered not to, he must ignore; if forced into silence, he must quit; if pressured by political influence, he must resist; if threatened to change his opinion by religious fundamentalists on pain of death, he must die without recanting. This is the measure of a soul dedicated to knowledge and the truth, wherever they may lie. Not promise of gold, nor empty accolades, shall sway him from his mission - to know.
Was there ever anything else to it?
- Commissioner Pravin Lal, Alpha Centauri
Innovation By Mantra
- the latest bright idea from the Ministry of Manpower
You can't say they aren't trying. A decade ago, it was only about working faster (and cheaper, and better), but now, advice has advanced to innovating more quickly. Any day now, I expect the official solution to tackling (the increasing prevalence of) poverty and low social mobility to be stated as "earn more money". In fact, it's come to stealing others' lunches, from guarding one's own, so I suppose the incumbents have resorted to daylight robbery as the core of our next developmental masterplan.
Definitely, the flow of propaganda - so deeply embedded in citizens' micromanaged lifestyles - continues unabated, but one senses that nothing has changed. It'll be the same pitiful hot-housing ladder-climbing from childhood, the same seeking admission to brand-name schools (which have fortunately mostly survived the culling brought on by failed population policies) by hook or crook, the same utterly pragmatic tertiary education (it seems that the best selling point they could find for the arts and social sciences was "Taking Local Businesses Global"!), and after it all, the bombastic self-declaration of victory ("Singapore overtakes Silicon Valley as No. 1 for global start-up talent" [?!]; I mean, it was funny the first time, much as I respect my alma mater, but jokes can get stale.)
In their defence, the incumbents have not been too stingy about allocating funds when it suits their fancy (though it of course still pales when compared to the black hole that is Our Most Successful Investment Firm), with a billion-dollar "innovation fund" being newly announced (too late for the last batch of guys who came up with solutions, sadly)
Netizen confidence appears muted, though, as they [justly] pointed to the government's at-best-spotty record of picking winners, with more than a few pointing to the EDB and NCB's miserable treatment of Sim Wong Hoo - one of the few local entrepreneurs who even came close to creating a global brand - as evidence that the government bureaucrats probably wouldn't recognize innovation if it fell out of a tree and hit them with a stick; hmm, maybe if we get it to mismanage town councils (contrast airtime given to the AMK case)...
Anyway, the point is: you want real innovation, you gotta let go, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.
The Example Of FAS
I would rather lose 0-20 with Qatari players, than play with Messi or Cristiano."
- a bunch of Qatari kids displaying more understanding of the true meaning of sports, than the local ministers
When FIFA - ass-ridden from top to bottom with corruption FIFA - comes after you for hanky-panky, you know it's bad. Well, that's what happened to the Football Association of Singapore, which come to think of it, could be recognized as a microcosm of our greater political system.
I don't want to go into how many grand plans to Make Singapore Football Great Again there have been over the past decades, but let's just say it's gone from bad to worse. Hariss not managing to get an overseas stint was just unlucky, but when the national team's ranking has dropped below even our press freedom ranking - 171, to be precise - one has to think that there are systematic issues. I mean, Daniel Bennett isn't bad, but he's 39 years old, and with due respect I don't think he's exactly Paolo Maldini - surely there has to be some other young-and-eager talent available?
And then one reads about how national players are earning less than S$3000 a month, and how the CPF Board is investigating S.League clubs for not making CPF contributions to top it off (not that it'll help much; though, The State's Times was at least willing to state the obvious on this shambles), and one wonders how they got Bennett to turn up.
Anyway, when FIFA forced the FAS to hold a proper election (my word, what has the world come to?), I had some faint hope of an actual shake-up, with the organization moving away from the usual assortment of former incumbent politicians and army retirees put to pasture. I mean, it's just kicking a ball around, for heaven's sake! If you want to fix the Elected Presidency, or keep an iron grip on Our Kinda Successful Investment Firm, I can at least understand the logic, but surely allowing some outsiders in for once to tackle the zombie that is the FAS can't be that sensitive?
Well, it turns out, cannot. And frankly, it's hard to imagine that there was so much crap to uncover. Hougang United chairman Bill Ng stepped up, and almost immediately got involved in the matter of a missing S$850000 from Tiong Bahru FC (also under his control). The FAS incumbents challenged his version of the tale, before it was revealed that they were in the same bed, with everyone soon hauled up by the CAD. Somehow, the election was allowed to go forward, and the incumbents' alternate team (maintaining the usual makeup) duly won, leading to a Freudian slip by our trusty national broadsheet.
The most interesting revelation, however, was that despite S.League clubs apparently being skint, Tiong Bahru FC - an amateur club that doesn't even pay its players, mind - had S$850000 to just give away... what the heck, they collected over S$36 million in annual revenue, of which S$5 million was pure profit? To put that in perspective, the entire S.League budget can be estimated to be around S$14 million, and total grassroots spending on football, S$0.25 million.
Oh, they basically operated a casino.
This somehow feels at once fitting and horrific, given the local environment, and while the newly-installed admins are spouting the expected buzzwords, I would be extremely - if pleasantly - surprised if anything at all changes. Oh well, at least my second team Brighton and Hove Albion got promoted.
By the way, I'm off travelling for the next two weeks, so expect updates to be light.
- academics -
Seeing as that I'm a over a year out from somehow escaping with my doctorate, it might be appropriate to dispense some scattered observations, thoughts and advice on the experience.
To provide some context, I'm not someone who naturally picks these things up through conversations with peers and advisors (largely due to being light on the "conversation" bit - mostly lone-wolfed it through the ten years total), which I'd say has its advantages and disadvantages. Thinking back, there are probably a few things I'd have done differently had I known, but on balance it turned out mostly ok, so...
Why Do Grad School?
This is my life now.
(Source: r/GradSchool, reference)
There's a website dedicated to providing a hundred reasons as to why not, with money (and jobs) being such a broad underlying concern that I'll cover it in its own section later. Since it should be a duty to scare off bright-eyed prospective grad students (those up for professional Masters perhaps excepted), to avoid them from signing up for more than they bargained for, I'll list a few of the most pertinent:
I won't sugarcoat it - if maximizing wealth is your objective, graduate school and a doctorate is probably at best a very inefficient way of going about it. While grad students probably won't starve, ramen for days is real, and then you get recountings by tenure-track professors on how they're selling blood plasma to pay the bills (interestingly, he appears a D.F. Wallace scholar, who's also been quoted by Gorsuch)
A natural reaction might be to dismiss such tales as Fake News - aren't university professors rich? - and the sad answer is, all too often, not really. Sure, it can work out financially... if one makes tenure, and if his field was lucrative to begin with. From the University of California's public salary information, yes, you can pull in three hundred grand a year as a full professor in CS, but that's for arguably being at the pinnacle of the profession, and doesn't compare to what approximately the same talent and effort would get in private industry (which may explain why new entrants are from developing countries, and why we're getting shafted on technical know-how)
Further, this is for the "ultimate winners", and glosses over the far more populous academic underclass - the adjunct faculty, visiting A.P.s, postdocs, grad student grunts, etc, who work for a relative pittance. Sure, there are the perks, mostly a certain degree of scheduling and intellectual freedom... in practice, often limited due to the necessity of winning and fulfilling grants (which always struck me as a bit of a paradox; if one already knows how an investigation is going to turn out, is it really research? Personally, I imagine the "tinkering" mode more likely to drive big developments than directed research, but in reality what I guess more than a few labs do is to perform the research first, and bill for it later)
Grant funding season is upon us!
[N.B. Still the most effective way to ask for cash]
To be fair, one can look at it from the perspective of the grant-giving organizations. Particularly if they're held accountable for the outputs by the ultimate funders (i.e. taxpayers, for government grants), there has always got to be the question of what's in it for us (and yes, there's a fair bit of slightly-kooky research). Looking at it this way, it's understandable if regrettable why humanities and the basic sciences are especially under-budgeted for. From Economics 101, if you can't capture the profits, it won't be valued.
Perhaps the most illustrative example of how crocked academia is, money-wise, is the publishing system. You have scholars working, oft for years, on their masterpieces, and assuming it passes review (by other scholars, who are donating their time and energy unpaid), they get the privilege of paying for their work to be published... and to top it off, their colleagues also get to pay to read it. A more pathetic deal, one could hardly imagine (and which burnishes my faith in GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP, promoter of women in STEM)
That said, money is indeed probably of questionable incentive in promoting good research, and direct compensation would likely shape it even more strongly towards flashy findings, than it has already been (and leads down a very slippery slope). But still, while there's the romance of being a Zhang Yitang or Thomas Royen and tackling big open problems for the heck of it, it has to be said that this idealised notion of research is neither likely to build a career, nor pay the rent.
A refreshing aspect of trading and finance, I feel, is that it can sometimes be even more of a pure meritocracy than academia - do your homework, put your stake down, and the market will inform you whether you were accurate; no rank to pull, no face to give, no worrying about offending others with critiques, no pontificating about why this theory doesn't apply even if the field leaders are insisting so. Certainly, when one watches one's portfolio fluctuate by the next few years of one's projected salary over the course of a normal market day, it's easy to wonder: what the heck am I doing?!
I'm Still Doing It
- Fred Brooks (from Azuma's guide)
First off, congratulations for committing to a high-stress, near-minimum wage job for the better part of a decade! More seriously, if you aren't talking to those who're already in the game, do at least Google for their experiences. For example, for Computer Science, there's Philip Guo's The Ph.D. Grind, and Ronald Azuma's earlier classic (interestingly, both took six-plus years), among many others.
I'll further cut it down to three simple rules:
Definitely, these aren't set in stone, but if you're a fresh graduate student who's not sure what's up, I don't think you'll go too far wrong keeping these in mind.
Basically, save rare extenuating circumstances, I'd say that one consideration should at least be in the back of one's head, when deciding whether to devote time and effort to some task: does this directly help me to graduate?
Getting As on coursework: not really...
Teaching: not really...
Other services: erm...
Of course, this is more for those who are running out the clock - if one has churned out three good first-author papers in one's first two years, then sure, do an internship, bunk over at the other department, whatever; if one has the dissertation all but done, but has made the strategic decision to stay a bit longer to be a more competitive job candidate, fine; but for the rest of us, it's not a bad rule of thumb.
[To be continued...]
Before getting to the main topic, a happy reminder that we are living in the best timeline. It was all set up for World War III, according to the Fake News-peddling mainstream media (as exposed by an A.I. pioneer).
Two deities were on a collision course: from the Workers' Paradise, the chubby Marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, Bright Sun of Juche, Swiper of Swedish Volvos, Detainer of Malaysian Tourists, Kim Jong Un; and from GREAT AMERICA, the People's Champion, Last Hope of Western Civilization, Defender of the Constitution, Conqueror of Bushes, Crooked Hillary and the Deep State, and 45th President of the United States, GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP.
The fate of the world again hung in the balance, as echoes of the past rang inexorably. The metallic tang of gamesmanship at the highest levels, that unique blend - and irresistable allure - of mortal fear and immortal grandeur, once more lingered in the air, at the high table where the cards were entire army divisions and aircraft carriers, and the chips, whole nations and peoples. The players were seated.
Li'l Kim had bid boldly, a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP, his steely gaze never wavering, raised without hesitation: the Carl Vinson Strike Group of the Third Fleet, deployed from Singapore. Xi of China called - twenty million tons of coal - conservative as always. Japan and South Korea sat, as if lost in thought, before following, counting their chips deliberately. For them, the stakes were especially high, and the memories too fresh. Over the Table, the Clock continued counting off the minutes, to the Witching Hour.
Long Live the Great Man, Descended From Heaven!
One by one, the others called or folded, as their respective appetites and positions entailed. It was Li'l Kim's turn again - his bluff, if it was one, seemed to have had a minimal effect. Still, his pudgy face was impassive. His dad hadn't managed to pass on in one piece by being unnecessarily excitable.
"Prepare for a big and important event." he said evenly.
GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP was a mask, as was Xi. They had seen this only too often. Young dipshits, who thought they were hot stuff after studying a manual of basic strategy and winning some ten-cent limit games on the Internet, and imagined the same crap would work on the sharks. Putin would probably have grinned, had he been here. He had excused himself from this game with apologies, however - too many elections to fix. A pity. He had always been a stylish player, that one.
The GOD-EMPEROR rubbed a MOAB chit between his huge fingers pointedly, while oh-so-slowly lifting a glorious eyebrow. He had a hundred cutting 140-character rejoinders lined up, but silence sometimes spoke loudest of all. Xi, a master of the old school, twitched not a muscle, but he must have been boiling inside. He had enough problems of his own, without a maladjusted fat boy entering the picture. Couldn't he have just randomly executed some generals for fun, instead of polluting the oceans with their two-bit rockets? It's a wonder how they even afford it - wanker must be diverting funds from their food aid again... if he hadn't eaten it all himself, that is.
Xi couldn't resist taking a second look. It was a well-trodden jibe, but damn, perhaps it was true after all. He turned his head. Japan and South Korea were getting real twitchy, Abe was beginning to exude that kamikaze vibe. Crap, crap, crap. He couldn't afford a tanking economy, not right now, not when they had just kind-of stabilized the capital outflow by screwing domestic investors over. 死小胖子要发茅, 也用不着把我们一起拖下水嘛! 操! 不如一了百了, 省得日后麻煩...
He was suddenly aware of a sharp intake of breath. Li'l Kim had thrown his hand onto the table. This was it, then. Was it Apocalypse? His men were in position. They were ready...
North Korea has opened a new street!
Xi looked on.
Abe looked on.
Hwang looked on.
Guterres looked on.
From Ryomyong Street, to Li'l Kim, and finally, to the GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP. What did this mean? What the hell did any of this mean?!
The GOD-EMPEROR locked his gaze on Kim, and the two quietly, slowly, took their measure of each other. A minute passed. Then another. And, just as it was becoming too much to bear, the GOD-EMPEROR extended his hand.
"Damn, son. You might be a scummy bastard with a worse haircut than me, but that was some top-class trolling. How about we talk about this?"
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