Neverendum… it’s only just beginning

(Warning: hyperbolic sentence:) Of all the terrible things the Tories have done, distracting us from real issues with the EU referendum might be the worst.

The EU issue is stupid. It is self evidently ridiculous. We should never have been granted a referendum because the issue is far too complex, and it is senseless to delegate the decision to the British public, who are a bunch of idiots.

Even ignoring the hyperbole, the arguments on both sides are dreadful and dishonest. I am still in the ‘stay’ camp, but I find the economics getting trotted out to be tedious. The UK has a very large, very looming problem with its economy in that wage growth is lacklustre, productivity is low, and house prices put people into lifetime debt. In the long term, i.e. for everyone under 35, membership of the EU isn’t really on the radar when it comes to economic risk.

If Cameron and Osborne genuinely think that the economy is so important, then instead of simply trying to use it to scare people into voting remain, perhaps they should start behaving like it’s important and put somebody competent in charge of it.

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Weather

I tried running on Saturday. ‘Tried’ being the operative word. Only a week and a half before, I walked home from work in the snow, but on Saturday it was 21 degrees C. I expected to do 8-10k but I got to 5 and gave up, shortly thereafter collapsing in a mass of sweat on the living room floor.

I did another 5 on Sunday and it was much easier in that according to Strava I did literally exactly the same pace and didn’t feel like I was dying. So apparently you can acclimatise to it pretty quickly, but it’s not instant.

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Maths…

It’s funny how you get a thread complaining about bad maths education and most people, including the OP, don’t realise that the question has no real answer because the notation is ambiguous. If you’re writing equations like this, it’s not a maths question, it’s a trick question.

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Quality reporting from the BBC earlier

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So Dr Craig Wright is still not Satoshi Nakamoto

The “Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto” story is pretty shameful journalism from the BBC. Yesterday morning they were reporting on their front page that Wright had ‘revealed’ himself as Satoshi. They’ve since changed the wording to be more sceptical, but the version I saw yesterday morning was running it as fact that Satoshi had finally been identified.

There were many ‘this is clearly not right’ signs from the story and you didn’t need to be technically competent at Bitcoin to spot them. Wright previously tried this around the end of last year and he wasn’t convincing then: Satoshi was substance over style, Wright the opposite. Wright was then caught backdating evidence that would cryptically hint towards himself being Satoshi, and claimed he had degrees from a university which denied awarding them to him. Although he calls himself ‘Dr. Wright’ and presents himself as a computer scientist, his only known real PhD is in theology (which is odd by itself). The man came across strongly as a fraud. He was also under investigation for tax fraud. More on that story later.

So now what’s changed? What’s changed is he’s now being more overt with these claims while also claiming to have cryptographic proof.

Unfortunately, nobody has managed to locate this proof. He isn’t making the proof public because he wants to be left alone and to keep a low profile, which is why he posted a load of mumbo jumbo on his blog, in between giant photos of his face. The blog contains nothing of note (except giant photos of his face). There was a private staged demo he gave to a few people, but not under circumstances that James Randi would approve of, so there are many ways he could have faked it and used cracked software, including but not limited to: tampering with the machine, an ARP attack or similar on the network, using his own wireless hotspot, paying everyone in the room to tell everyone it happened the way he said it did, etc.

The bottom line is that if he is Satoshi, then thanks to public key cryptography he can prove it to an extraordinarily high level of certainty with ease. He has gone to an awful lot of effort but produced nothing of significance.

When he first came to fame a few months ago the situation seemed to make some superficial level of sense. He used $50m (AU) worth of tax credits in building some kind of Bitcoin related supercomputer, but was also under investigation for tax fraud related to this. Pretending to be Satoshi may have been some elaborate plan to get the tax office off his back and he may not have intended for it to come under serious scrutiny from the internet at large. By ‘being’ Satoshi, this would give him access to around $400m (US) in Bitcoins, which he could claim to have ‘spent’, although I don’t know if Australia recognises this as something you can claim tax credits for.

Quite what he’s doing now though, that’s anyone’s guess. One can speculate that his increasingly high risk behaviour implies his tax investigation isn’t going well, but it’s a pretty stupid strategy to open himself up to more scepticism from amateur hour investigators like me and the thousands of other people saying similar things, which a prosecutor will almost certainly use to justify more intense scrutiny of the whole thing.

Back to my original point: The BBC should be ashamed for getting this one so wrong. They are usually poor at covering tech, but this was particularly bad. The BBC is state funded and does not need to push out ridiculous clickbait stories that undermine its credibility. However, it does need competent tech journalists, which it does not appear to have.

What I don’t want to see is in a few months time the headline “Bitcoin inventor jailed for tax fraud”.

There is an alternate theory that Satoshi is Dave Kleiman, but I don’t like this theory much because it appears impossible to prove and it seems to have originated from Wright, who is fundamentally unreliable. I don’t think there is yet any reliable evidence that Kleiman had any interest in Bitcoin whatsoever, and the fact he’s no longer around makes it a bit too convenient to retroactively start putting him into the picture since he can’t object.

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Europe

The EU thing draws ever closer.

Some unstructured thoughts:

The Brexiters bringing about a legal challenge to which one of them should be the official campaign brilliantly illustrates the abilities of the average brexiter to get along with other people. Likewise, many brexiters seem very confident of things they can’t possibly predict. Bertrand Russell springs to mind: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

But…

…it’s a huge distraction to look at this by the players involved. Both sides are headed by politicians with vested interests. You can’t condense this down to “I shouldn’t back an exit because Nigel Farage is an idiot” (which he is), because ‘remain’ has some pretty shady characters too.

The net cost of EU membership, according to R4’s More or Less, is in the region of ¬£9bn per year. This is a tiny sum; we spend 10 times that on state pensions alone. If membership of the EU has an effect on our economy, it is almost certainly an effect far greater than this number. It is a rounding error. So the statistic of “we send ¬£large_number per day to the EU” is not a useful point to consider.

Freedom of movement is a raw deal for most people in the UK. Easy supply of cheap labour undermines wage growth and productivity. Voting to leave on this issue alone is perfectly justified.

However…

…two of the most notable nations going it alone against the EU, Norway and Switzerland, both accepted freedom of movement deals with the EU because the EU is quite strict on the idea that free movement of goods requires free movement of people. It’s naive to think that in the event of Brexit we’d be able to secure sufficient levels of international trade without the EU, or manage to secure large amounts of trade with the EU but avoid being pressured into accepting some kind of migration deal. If immigration is your main reason for voting, think very carefully.

The previous point illustrates something important. The EU is an influential entity which exists on our doorstep. I don’t think in general that the existence of the EU is a good thing for Britain, but leaving it won’t make it disappear. It might reduce our dependence on it, but probably not sufficiently to justify that we’ll lose almost all of our influence over it. I think most brexiters conflate the ideas of leaving the EU and dismantling the EU.

This is explained concisely in Yes Minister, which might be even more relevant now than when it was recorded.

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British Steel

The steel issue is complex, but the general overview is simple. The Chinese government is attacking British (and other nations’) steel industries with a standard monopolistic tactic called predatory pricing; they undercut it by running at a loss and you can guarantee that when they’ve put the competition out of business they’ll hike the price up. The EU wanted to counter this by increasing tariffs on Chinese steel to make it nearer the real ‘market value’, but the UK blocked it. Note that predatory pricing is illegal under EU law too.

This isn’t a matter of the free market de-selecting an uncompetitive business, because the market here is not free.

The government’s response to this so far seems to be “oh, ok then”.

It’s important to avoid the collapse of the UK steel industry because:

1. Port Talbot has a population of around 35k and is simply not going to withstand suddenly losing 4k jobs. It will cripple the local area and since the taxpayer will end up subsiding it anyway via welfare we might as well subsidise the steel production because that way we also keep the skills and production capacity there.

2. Steel is important to the defence industry, and as we are one of the only countries in Europe who maintain a decent defence capability it would be wise if we continued to do that. China pressuring our defence capability, indirectly or not, isn’t something we should just shrug off.

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