1 Year


As Dan Geer once said, “We all have limited time; thank you for yours.”

I’ve been doing this for a year, now. It’s been a big shift for me; for the last decade I’ve mostly fired off heavy broadsides after thinking about and researching my topic for months or years. Blogging like this has required writing more, faster, and relying less on research and more on memory.

When I started off, I said: [stderr] that I’d be focusing on:

  • Gun control (eventually)
  • Military procurement, corruption, grand strategy, imperialism
  • Computer security (“that’s my thing“)
  • The surveillance state and its many lies and incompetencies
  • Religion and philosophy, specifically, are religions much in the way of philosophies?
  • Book reports – I’m not sure what else to call them. They won’t be “reviews” – they’ll be more along the lines of “a bunch of things that reading this book made me think about”
  • Maybe some recipes
  • Maybe some stuff about various crafts I get involved in
  • Rhetorical tricks and “can your dialectics break bricks?”
  • Anarchism and moral nihilism
  • Historical skepticism

Some of the names have changed a bit and I appear to have steered away from moral nihilism (it’s hard to argue in favor of a non-position) As I’ve proceeded during the last year, I tackled the topics that interested me, and which I had time to attack fairly, so there have been a few things, such as recapitulating Robert Paul Wolff’s arguments on anarchism, that I’ve found exceedingly tough going – I don’t want to damage someone else’s argument by not presenting it as well and fairly as I can.

One of the questions I have always been concerned with is “what is ‘success’?” which, of course, only makes sense in context. What am I trying to do, that I may measure success or failure against? Going into this, I had fairly little expectation except “let’s see what happens” so I’ve had the advantage of not having a great investment in a specific agenda; I’ve approached this more like I’m having a dinner conversation with guests. Most of those guests, I owe the automatic courtesy of a host, and I’ve tried to reflect that in my responses – that’s also been a great learning experience for me.

It took longer than I expected to collect some basic statistics about activity here. I started off by making a google docs survey form, which I then filled out for each of the postings in the 29 pages of postings. At the time of this writing, that was a total of 520 entries. If I were going to do this more often, I’d be more careful with my tagging scheme in my postings, and would extract the data directly from WordPress. As it was, I spent 3 hours watching a movie and entering data. (the screenshot says 519 but that’s because I made it earlier)

The google docs forms are pretty convenient; you can have the response feed straight into a ‘sheets’ spreadsheet, and the do a pivot table with summaries from that. So, I took the total number of postings according to my categories above, and produced the following chart:

This also illustrates a typical problem with survey-building: if you get your classification scheme slightly off, it’s painful to go back and fix it. My experience has usually been that you build your survey, run your totals, then rebuild your survey and re-measure it. That, of course, leads to huge epistemological problems if you’re a social scientist, because you’ve just cooked your inputs to match your outputs, but in the case of a bunch of “here are some stats about my blog” it wasn’t worth worrying about.

The category “Silliness/Art” dominated with 75 postings, but the next runner-up “Cyberwar/cybersecurity/surveillance” weighed in with 65 postings. If I were doing it all over again, I would have broken “Silliness/Art” into “Photography”, “Randomness”, “Other People’s Art” and “My Art” – as you can imagine, that would significantly change the chart; Cyberwar and Politics would dominate.

I don’t count success in terms of my output, though. Considering this blog as a dinner-table conversation (ideally a suitably lubricated one!) I would consider a greater measure of success to be that we’d had an interesting conversation. We would learn from eachother and stimulate eachother and – consequently, I consider some notable successes in this year to be that: I appear to have convinced at least one of you to make soap (!) and I’ve seen some other comments that indicate that perhaps a few of you have tried my recipes. Further, I’ve seen comments that indicate that some of you have taken a few of my book recommendations, and – in return – I greatly enjoyed the Fred Vargas books Caine suggested, and have been very slowly making my way through Stephen D’Arcy and Peter Gelderloos’ books on political violence, which have forced me to re-approach Rousseau and Paine in a darker light. I’ve also had to “brush up” on my facts by re-reading monumental stacks of writing by Voltaire, and writing about Voltaire, as well as a ton of war history most particularly Halberstam and Sheehan on Vietnam and Woodward on Obama, Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan. Normally I live surrounded by stacks of books; blogging has made that much worse: now I find myself reading truly wretched garbage, in order to discuss it from direct experience. So I’ve had to go back and review a ton of material about psychology (which I had hoped to be able to forget) as well as IQ testing, testing and measurement methodologies, and pseudosciences like eugenics and its cousin evolutionary psychology. Having to study all this stimulating new stuff has been a great success – otherwise I probably would have just had my head down in the coal mines of information security, writing yet another bunch of articles about introductory security stuff for people who don’t care.

How do I measure whether you care? That’s the other question that defines “success” for me. Well, you have not been collectively sitting back and listening to me blathering. There’s a solid cadre who appear to read this blog regularly.

The most popular posting appears to have been my “some things about Hillary Clinton’s email server” [stderr] – which was a deliberately clickbaity title – that I tweeted on my information security twitter account. That garnered some attention but it didn’t result in a lot of return readers (which is fine) My posting on the massive ransomware outbreak [stderr] got syndicated on another website and picked up by the security community, so there was a large silent readership for that one.

I don’t consider sheer readership to be my measure of success. I don’t consider “clicks” a measure of success, either. When you’re trying to decide if you’ve been a good host for a dinner party it’s not a simple matter of how many guests, or how much champagne was consumed. Here’s another metric that’s interesting (though mildly bogus because it’s highly dependent on my subjective classification scheme on my survey)

The commenting level includes my comments (1,859 of them, at this count) – but perhaps we can treat commenting level as some kind of proxy for interest in the topic. I find all the topics to be interesting, or I wouldn’t have posted them, but we’ve collectively interacted the most on the topics where I’d say there’s room for discussion. I think I’d be a bit worried if there were topics that got no interest at all, because that would be like serving the guests at my dinner party some delicious baloney curry ice cream for dessert – a clear and painful “miss” when they all remain untouched next to everyone’s place setting.

I like the metaphor of a blog as a sort of dinner party. Some of the other blogs where I hang out, such as John Scalzi’s Whatever or Charles Stross’ Diary, can get mighty crowded at times. I don’t think it’s better or worse, it’s just different, but you can tell John and Charles both have a more ‘hands off’ style with their guests; there’s just too much going on to keep track of. “Smaller is better” isn’t quite right; perhaps “vive la difference!” is more like it. There are going to be places that are a great bustle and rough-and-tumble and others that aren’t. I was prepared for either, so it wasn’t possible for me to be disappointed or surprised.

I thought about posting some sort of google docs survey with a set of optional topics for discussion in the next year, but I didn’t because that’s a party-killer. If you ever want to murder a party, wait until there’s a quiet moment and ask loudly, “So, what shall we talk about?”

Thank you all for being here, and for being interesting and thought-provoking. Most of all, thank you for your time!

Comments

  1. John Morales says

    Grats.

    I’ve actually read every post you’ve written and pretty much every comment since I noticed your blog pop up in the sidebar.

    Personally, I think you’ve put a shitload of effort into what’s clearly a labour of love.

    At the time of this writing, that was a total of 520 entries.

    Wow. In one year.

    There’s some fluff posts, but there are many more which are densely informative and thought-provoking.

    The commenting level includes my comments (1,859 of them, at this count)

    I quite like it how you engage with your commenters, but that’s about 1/3 of all comments!

  2. says

    Well I feel I rarely have anything useful to contribute to the discussion but thanks anyway for the interesting posts. Oh and I did buy one of your book recommendations (Systemantics) and enjoyed the read. Several other people have had a read of it too.

  3. kestrel says

    Congratulations on one year! ***stars confetti champagne***

    My idea about success is much simpler: Are you enjoying it? If you are enjoying it I would say you are successful in this endeavor. I really like that you engage with people in the comments. I think that adds a nice touch to the whole blog. Sure hope you are up for at least another year!

  4. says

    Happy Anniversary, Marcus! I’m so glad you’re blogging here, I love reading all your posts, and I really like that you engage with your readers, personally, I think that’s very important. You are very fun to talk with.

    Oh, and I’m thrilled you like the Vargas books. :D

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … now I find myself reading truly wretched garbage, in order to discuss it from direct experience.

    Ooogh. Try to minimize that: life’s too short for shit.

  6. Sunday Afternoon says

    Congratulations on the anniversary Marcus.

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I managed to get to Elite on the original Acornsoft version of the game, playing on my father’s BBC computers. I’m getting very close to allowing myself to be sucked into Elite: Dangerous based on a combination of nostalgia and your posts.

  7. Some Old Programmer says

    One part of you impact is almost impossible to measure–behavioral changes in your readership.
    As my handle implies, I’ve been a professional programmer, but I try to carefully delineate my areas of expertise, areas of experience, and areas where I know enough to have a sense of false confidence. As a result of reading your blog for the past year, my security practices are far better. I use a password vault, two factor authentication (when available), unique, random passwords, and rarely authorize flash to run; it should be hard enough to strip us of our network-accessable assets that most black hats won’t bother to try.
    Although your measurement for Authenticity is low, it has prompted me to use a CAPTCHA technique for suspected robocalls. I challenge, “prove you’re not a computer”; when the caller is unperturbed, I’ve wasted less time on getting annoyed.
    So, congratulations on your year at FtB, and thanks for the useful guidance and thought-provoking content.

  8. Bruce Keeler says

    Way back at the start of my career, I remember reading Usenet posts from some dude calling himself “Marcus ‘Will hack TCP/IP for food’ Ranum”. Here we are damn near three decades later and you’re still worth reading.

    Congrats on the anniversary!

  9. says

    If you ever want to murder a party, wait until there’s a quiet moment and ask loudly, “So, what shall we talk about?”

    May I make a request anyway?

    You have been criticizing our “representative” oligarchy (I don’t even intend to call it “representative democracy”) a lot. I agree with your criticisms and it’s plainly obvious that the current system is bad. But what do you propose instead of it?

    Some minor improvements are possible for representative oligarchies. In Latvia there are laws, which limit how much a single person is allowed to donate to a party. There are also limits how much each party is allowed to spend on advertisements. Add more than two parties to choose from and a ranked preference system for voters, and things get somewhat better. But I still believe that it is inherently impossible to make a decent representative democracy.

    Anarchy? But then you must actually make it work. We need schools, universities, hospitals, roads, public transportation etc. It must be accessible for everybody including the poor (therefore you can forget about capitalist free market “solutions”). And you need somebody to do the legitimate functions of police. In every society there are rapists, pedophiles, murderers, domestic abusers etc. Somebody has to deal with them. You don’t want to leave public safety to rivaling street gangs, mafia or lynch law. The last thing you want is mob justice or big and scary guys running around with even scarier guns while having no restrains about using them.

    Digital direct democracy? That would be cool, but there are some problems:
    1. Voters are going to vote by using their smartphones/computers/iShinies/whatever. Is it even possible to make secure voting software, which cannot be hacked to manipulate voting results? Votes must be anonymous, so how do you even find out whether some hacker manipulated the results?
    2. Vote coercion. A relative/boss etc. looks over your shoulder while you are submitting your vote and orders you to vote in a certain way. Also you must eliminate a risk for vote purchases. The rich could just buy votes from the poor and desperate. How do you fix this issue?
    3. People are busy. They won’t have enough free time to vote for something every day. OK, they might have the time to just make a few clicks and cast a vote, but they won’t have the time to actually read all the proposed legislation and make truly well informed decisions. There’s a reason why being a legislator is a full time job: it takes time.
    Do you think it would be possible to solve all these problems and actually make it work?

    Personally I’m leaning towards the conclusion that choosing representatives via a lottery is the best idea. Our current representatives are not representative. They are almost all old rich white guys. Once you pick legislators randomly via a lottery, you will get approx 50% women, some people of color, some LGBTQ people, poor people, national and religious minorities, people with disabilities etc. It would be people from different backgrounds who would actually care for their diverse social groups. Thus their decisions would be a hell lot more representative.

    Another (in my opinion) workable solution would be a limited direct democracy mixed with representatives. Once a year (or every few years, whatever) people gather to polling stations and vote for broad policies. Questions like, do you want none, more, less, or the same amount of military spending, do you want free university education and healthcare if that means X% increase for whatever tax, do you want to continue the war on drugs or should we just legalize them, do you want to withdraw troops from whatever country they are in etc. Simultaneously people also elect some representatives, who are allowed to work out the details for laws and policies, but these representatives are forced to stick to whatever the majority voted for in terms of broad policies.

    I looked at your archives and so far I have read about half of your blog posts. I will probably finish the rest within another month. If you have already answered my questions somewhere in an earlier blog post, then never mind this comment. I will catch up and get to it someday.

  10. komarov says

    Well, congratulations, I guess, although it seems dangerous to celebrate the longevity of an online venture. You’ve probably jinxed it now, which would be a shame because I like reading your blog. You have an interesting perspective on things I’d probably never hear about otherwise, and the anecdotes you sometimes toss in are fun to read, too. My main take-away from this blog has been, I think, that I’m not nearly cynical and depressed enough about the state of the world.

    Oh, that’s meant to be a good thing.

    P.S.: Sunday Afternoon

    Since you brought it up, I finally gave in and bought the damned game after hesitating for years. I’m still not sure about it but there’s a sale right now and the occasional posts here were certainly a contributing factor. Not having to deal with humans in a multiplayer game is a huge plus in my mind. I can’t imagine why the developers didn’t advertise that fact more.

  11. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#13:
    That’s a huge question. I probably would need a series of posts in order to make a start at trying to answer it. It’d also require me to go much farther out on a limb than I normally have, here – I suppose that’d be “interesting” and the rest of The Commentariat(tm) would help keep me honest.

    I actually did a couple of extremely lengthy comments elsewhere, a few years ago, about exactly that topic. While I think the ideas were good, the writing was not, so maybe I’ll see if I can dust off some of the ideas in the future.

    The short form is: it’s almost pointless to talk about systems of government that are not some form or other of more-or-less stealthy oligarchy, since the most powerful countries on earth are going to be careful never to offer an alternative. While I don’t think communism works or would have worked, it was certainly shot below the waterline by the rest of the world powers, because if it had worked, it was a tremendous threat to them. So, suppose someone offered a new political alternative? It would never happen, no matter how good it was. (Not that I am saying any alternative I might have to offer would be that good)

    The first problem the people of the Earth would have to collectively solve is how to get the professional political class off our necks. Given that the establishment’s power and privilege comes from nothing more than that it’s the establishment, any kind of alternative politics is an existential threat to them. They react violently when their interests are threatened, even non-violently. So the first question is “how to get current government systems to go away peacefully?” and I don’t see a plausible answer there. For one thing, it’s a contradiction in terms to impose a non-totalitarian government. If you wanted to have a hypothetical state under rule of law and social contract, citizens would have to choose it – and there would have to be a viable alternative. The current nationalist system will never allow either choice or a viable alternative, because any such option would disempower them.

    I’ll see what I can do with this topic, but it’s so huge I’m not sure I can tackle it.

  12. says

    komarov@#14:
    My main take-away from this blog has been, I think, that I’m not nearly cynical and depressed enough about the state of the world.

    You’ll get there. Don’t worry!

    I finally gave in and bought the damned game after hesitating for years.

    Please don’t blame me if you hate it! Just remember, it has a pretty big learning curve; at first you’re going to be hating life just figuring out your controller mappings. Then it starts to get interesting. If you have interactions with people, just learn to run (or don’t care if you get blown up) most of the time you can just run away, and once you’re away from the main star systems where everyone starts, you’ll hardly encounter anyone unless you go where there are community events.

  13. says

    Bruce Keeler@#12:
    I remember reading Usenet posts from some dude calling himself “Marcus ‘Will hack TCP/IP for food’ Ranum”. Here we are damn near three decades later and you’re still worth reading.

    Oh, yeah, I remember that guy. He was quite an optimist… That was before he got stuck into security.

    Thanks for being here!

  14. says

    Sunday Afternoon@#7:
    I’m getting very close to allowing myself to be sucked into Elite: Dangerous based on a combination of nostalgia and your posts.

    The new version is vastly better than the old version. But it’s got its warts.
    On the other hand, I’ve been playing it for 2 years, so I’ve certainly gotten my money’s worth. A lot of folks who played the old Acorn version say the same thing.

  15. says

    kestrel@#3:
    My idea about success is much simpler: Are you enjoying it? If you are enjoying it I would say you are successful in this endeavor.

    Clearly, you are a master strategist. I’ve noticed that the people who have bad strategy usually have not decided what “success” is, and often have definitions of “success” that are mutually contradictory.

    I’m enjoying it. And, if I ever stop enjoying it, or have said all I have to say, I’ll stop. But, from watching the way 2017 has been spiralling into the ovular ceramic pool, I doubt I’ll run out of despairing meeping noises to make.

    I really like that you engage with people in the comments. I think that adds a nice touch to the whole blog. Sure hope you are up for at least another year!

    Thank you. I think it’s important, too. For one thing: I am learning from you all. One of the things I have not liked about some blogs is where the blogger holds a distance from the commentariat; then it becomes “here’s what I think” and there’s no echo, no feedback, nothing. To me it comes across as just lecturing at people, and I don’t particularly enjoy that when people do that to me (unless I’m trying to learn a specific process)

  16. says

    John Morales@#1:
    There’s some fluff posts, but there are many more which are densely informative and thought-provoking.

    Thank you. Some of these postings amount to fragments of things I have been thinking about for years. But it takes a lot of work to get them out into some kind of readable form and – if pesky facts are involved – I have to do all the research and make sure I have them straight. It’s emotionally painful for me when I get caught out in a mistake, which is (seriously) making me have to confront the limits of my memory. I think that in normal conversation we are comfortable with a much higher degree of inaccuracy than we are when we’re critically reading something someone has written.

    I’m glad you’re here and I appreciate your many efforts at helping me keep honest.

  17. says

    Caine@#5:
    Happy Anniversary, Marcus! I’m so glad you’re blogging here, I love reading all your posts, and I really like that you engage with your readers, personally, I think that’s very important. You are very fun to talk with.

    Thank you! This has been an extremely fun project for me, and I’m glad people are interested and engaged.

    Oh, and I’m thrilled you like the Vargas books. :D

    That reminds me – I need to get the rest of those!!

  18. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#6:
    Try to minimize that: life’s too short for shit.

    I am not likely to be writing much more about torture. That was a mental cesspit.
    Good advice, thank you.

  19. Sunday Afternoon says

    komarov @ #14 and Marcus @ #18:

    I’ve taken advantage of the Steam sale – Elite: Dangerous is downloading now. I’ll probably get to it in a couple of weeks after I complete a side project.

  20. says

    it’s almost pointless to talk about systems of government that are not some form or other of more-or-less stealthy oligarchy

    So, you are spending your time writing blog posts, which criticize our current political system, while simultaneously believing that it will never get any better and no improvements are possible? Isn’t that depressing?

    the most powerful countries on earth are going to be careful never to offer an alternative

    When it comes to USA, I’m very pessimistic. But I do think that positive changes could be possible in other countries. Just look at what Iceland did after the 2008 economic crisis. When people get really pissed off, interesting things happen.

    And it is highly likely that people will get even more pissed off in future. The same problems, which caused the 2008 crisis, still persist, so we can expect another crisis after a while. We can also expect some serious problems once the effects of climate change become more apparent. And soon we will also run out of natural resources, which means that the current economic model literally cannot continue forever. Some changes are pretty much inevitable. Unfortunately this could also result in even worse systems of government instead of improvements… But who knows, there is always a possibility that things could get better.

    When Meslier wrote his testament things were bad and it seemed like it cannot get any better. But we have had some tremendous improvements during the last few centuries. So I don’t think that further improvements are hopeless. Yeah, I know this is wishful thinking. But whenever I’m presented a problem (in this case: a shitty political system), I’m interested in how to fix it.

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