2×19: Machine Learning


Stuart Langridge, Jono Bacon, and Jeremy Garcia present Bad Voltage, in which we are all Google all the time, all news all the time, and:

  • [00:03:00] News: Apple open source the kernels for iOS and Mac OS, with obvious discussion about how useful this is and the nature of open sourcing... the new wheeze is web ads that mine bitcoin and Stuart's controversial defence of why that's actually not as bad as everyone seems to think it is... Evan Prodromou releases Evancoin, a cryptocurrency where you can buy hours of his time or possibly create a new market... Elon Musk proposes speeding up intercontinental flying by shooting people across the sea in ICBMs, which literally everybody thinks is mad, so we'll find out in fifty years when you take Saturn V down to the shops... the US Senate approves self-driving car legislation and bans the states from creating regulations to stop it... Google scrap their First Click Free policy, to cautious applause from every newspaper with a paywall... Bill Gates switches to Android, which might be the real death knell for Windows Phone, not that that wasn't obvious already... and in more Microsoft news, they will release their browser, Edge, for iOS and Android, prompting discussion about what makes a browser beyond its rendering engine, and how to do tab groups in both Chrome (ish) and Firefox (entirely)...
  • [00:40:30] Google release a slew of new hardware in their Made by Google event for October 2017. There are home assistants in three different sizes (the existing Google Home and the new Home Mini and Home Max), a new(ish) Daydream VR headset, a Google Clips camera, Pixel Buds (better named as "puds") headphones, a new high-end Chromebook called the Pixel Book, and the next iteration of the Google phone, the Pixel 2. We're gonna take a look at what the deal is with all this shiny new kit and whether we'd buy any of it

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Intercontinental Flying

There are several projects out there to do sub-orbital (sit atop of an ICBM) out there.

Last weekend I spoke to a rocket designer working on an air breathing hybrid rocket engine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SABRE_(rocket_engine) .
It works by taking the hot compressed air hitting the front of the engine, cooling the airflow down and using the heat energy to drive a propellant compressor - so the intake air actually compresses the fuel to be more powerful.
Then once in space it would switch to function like a regular rocket.


I have a cheap ~£250 Chromebook at home, it is certainly not worth more than that, but it is a fair amount of fun.
I like playing with Linux and without mucking about with Crouton/chroot you can open a shell and install
https://skycocker.github.io/chromebrew/ which is like apt-get but for native Chrome OS.
I installed PHP on it, then used the PHP native webserver to serve webapps to localhost. Voilà offline text editor/file manager etc, I even installed Python3 on it.


I got a cheap chromebook also because they now run Android apps. Got it when my Nexus7 gave out and thought it more useful than another tablet. I do like it. Only trouble is, I didn’t have the foresight to get one with an Intel processor instead of an Arm. I tried the Crouton thing but wasn’t very happy about it, wanting to run Wine for the one Windows software that I use. It does everything else I need.

@jonobacon mentioned that bookmarks are not useful as they use to be. I use them often, not being able to remember just what it was I was searching for, or more, cannot remember the one aspect of the thing I’m searching for. I also find it entertaining to see just what that bookmark was, not remembering why I bookmarked it in the first place. Do you see a pattern here? :smile:


FTR the Pirate Bay’s script didn’t mine Bitcoin (which would be extremely uncompetitive on CPUs or GPUs), it mined Monero. Monero is a crypto currency that uses a Proof of Work algorithm called CryptoNight, which is designed to be memory hard, and hence “ASIC resistant”.

The upshot is that mining Monero on a CPU is competitive, hence it could feasibly be profitable.


Do we want to kill the internet?

The latest podcast discusses the relationship between privacy and other ideas.

@jonobacon appeared to be arguing in favour of advertising, Jono please correct me if I have misinterpreted. Personally I would be happy to pay for good journalism and I do in some cases, Guardian for example.

Thoughts: should we be getting services paid through adverthrough advng or actually be paying for them?

I’m happy to do what I do for Bad Voltage but if you want my professional services I will bill you and I don’t why anybody else would not.

So do we want to pay for services or have it paid for through advertising?


I am not so much arguing in favor of advertising, what I am arguing for is for people to be reasonable.

If you, for example, go to a website to read a story, there is a whole machine behind that journalism that made that available for you. Those people deserve to be paid and as the consumer of that material, I think it is only fair that you contribute.

Various methods of monetizing journalism have failed, but it seems ads are at least able to provide some core funding for this work, and if there are not other methods of paying for your consumption (and only ads are provided), I think it is frankly a dick move to block those ads. You are essentially saying to the people who run that site “I want to read and benefit from your content, but I have no interest in helping to pay the very people who produce it”. I think that is selfish.


Could one reason be that little value is found in most journalism? Subscription based sites, like the NY Times (Why anyone would subscribe to that?), usually can be circumvented. One podcast, the No Agenda Show uses what they call “value for value”, and relies only on donations. They consider a poor showing for donations as $3000 for one episode, of which they do twice a week, to be split between two people. It’s just an example that donations can work.

It almost seems that there is a reasoning here that one should be obligated to pay attention to those ads. Of what benefit is it to an advertiser if their ad is ignored? Wouldn’t it be the same result as if it was blocked? I’m not justifying blocking or not blocking, just trying to look at the reality of it. I think it has been noted many times that the current ad model is broken.


I think there is huge value in journalism, but I think people are unwilling to pay for it. This happens in other mediums too, such as people who are quite happy to listen to music but don’t want to pay in some way.

I don’t think donations are a scalable model. I think frankly, people need to be pushed into paying. For example, I pay for Headspace, and I am happy to because I can’t get their content without paying for it. Likewise, I pay for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, and other services because I can’t get that content legally (and conveniently), thus I pay.

Ads are based on the notion that you see something of interest and it either (a) promotes the brand (it sticks in your head, like a TV ad), or (b) generates a click to learn more (such as most web ads). Sure, some people ignore the ads, and that is fine, but the model clearly works (Google’s success being an example).

My point is this: people who use ad blockers seem to do it because either (a) ads are a minor inconvenience, or (b) they want to avoid the bandwidth hit for ads (or both). I can understand ad blockers more in developing nations with scarce bandwidth, but in countries with generous bandwidth caps, it seems people are mainly blocking ads because they are annoying. In which case, those people would rather the people who create the content they like don’t get paid to serve their own convenience of not seeing the ads. I think this is unfair.

Now, this might seem harsh, but in the absence of other models of those content creators getting paid, I think seeing a few ads is a reasonable concession.


That shows the subscription model does work in some cases. It seems to work for the NY Times. It comes down to value. One photography website went to a subscription model. While I did enjoy their articles, I did not find enough value in them to pay for a subscription.

This brings to mind another question. Television networks were quite upset over the use of the DVR because of ad skipping. Is there really any difference between blocking ads on a webpage or skipping ads on a television program?

I’ll be honest with you, I had not given this much thought till now. I find ads annoying in any medium, something to be suffered if no other choice. In order not to be bothered with them on webpages, I blocked them, much as I use to use a DVR for, when I had the service. Ads mostly have little influence on me, but for one exception. (I hadn’t wanted a sports car since my youth before that one.) Your comments, however, gave me pause. I have just turned Adblocker off. There are websites I do enjoy and would not like to see them go away. I have noticed more websites requiring one to turn off adblockers in order to view them.

I cannot think of any time that I have intentionally clicked on a ad. I guess ads on webpages are like telemarketers. It’s that one hit that pays for all of the misses. Now the question, should one click on ads of websites one values? Does that bring more money for the website?

Ads must work. I remember one show doing an impromptu look at the stock value of two competing pain medication manufacturers. Interestingly, the company that made the med that had the longer list of possible side effects in their ad had a higher stock value.

I may be misunderstanding you here, but I see the only difference between a subscription model and that of donations is entry. Obviously, a site with a subscription would get more traffic without that barrier. However, the subscription model seems to work for some. In the donation example I mentioned earlier, I imagine just a small fraction of listeners donate. I do believe their show is open source. And it seems that, as their audience increases, so does the number of donors. Isn’t that an example of being scalable?


I like the Guardian approach there are two levels of use:

  • You can get your news for free but there is advertising and there is a limit the number of pages you can visit in a single day though I think this limit is quite high.

  • You can choose to subscribe and there are no ads and no cap on the pages you can visit.

Personally I don’t like ads so I am happy to pay a small fee for this.

I fully agree that to get quality work you need quality people and they deserve to be paid for their work and I think there is scope for a wide range of ways this can be monetized

I tend not to be swayed much by advertising and most of it actually reduces my likelihood to make a purchase unless I am specifically looking for something, then I seek it out.

I am happy with subscription models for content I want sometimes this is purely in the form of a direct cash payment. Other times it may be by some other route: such as helping to moderate a forum, contribution of knowledge and skill to open source projects or making a spectacle of my self to help raise money or profile for a cause I am supporting.


https://www.kryogenix.org/days/2016/03/15/reasons-to-not-like-ads/ lays out my thoughts on that: there are five motives for running an ad-blocker in my opinion (the page lists four but I forgot one, as you’ll see in comments), and they’re likely all present in varying degrees:

  • Ads are bad for privacy
  • Ads are bad for performance
  • Ads are visually disruptive
  • Ads carry a risk of containing explicit malware
  • I shouldn’t have to see ads at all

I think the first four of those reasons are all legitimate worries; whether they’re enough of a worry to cause you to block ads therefore depends on your personal ethical balance. (I’m most concerned about privacy, so I run Privacy Badger; that stops ad networks tracking me from site to site, but doesn’t hide ads themselves, or prevent me clicking on them.) I agree with @jonobacon that people in the fifth category (“I just don’t like ads; I want to read websites without paying at all, always; fuck the publishers”) shouldn’t be like that, but I also think there’s quite a lot of assumption that everyone who runs an ad-blocker is like that even if they’re actually in one of the first four categories (“I don’t mind ads! I just mind ads that take over the whole screen and flash at me and play noisy video without asking”), which further alienates everyone. There is a certain amount of justification when the ad industry are accused of making their bed and now complaining that they have to lie in it. I’m not sure what the solution is here.


I do get where you’re coming from and for what it’s worth, I’ve always bought a CD or whatever merch is for sale if I’m out at a venue where there’s a live band (which is a lot in Toronto). However, I am not going to apologise for my love of jazz which I never would have been exposed to (stoner and then raver in my teen years and partied with those crowds almost exclusively) if not for discovering Napster in my 20’s. Besides, do you think awesomeness such as this would ever be available for sale through the mainstream (the ‘buy’ link leads to another,shitty, remix on amazon)?

I agree with you 100% there and have never used an ad blocker, but I’d like to add a C): Ads make you depressed as hell and distrustful of all men if you’re a gal who visits programming centric sites regularly. Meh, I tough it out though because I agree that the revenue has to come from somewhere and I’d rather not help widen the digital/knowledge divide based solely on peoples disposable income. I also buy the National Post form Monday to Friday when I’m working.Yeah, it’s a conservative rag, but it’s still actual news and their crossword kicks ass!


These are all legitimate concerns, but I would like to understand how this different to any other website? Surely, I could go to any website which is bad for privacy, has shitty performance, and could carry malware? How are ads unique here, isn’t that just a problem with the Internet?


Great point, but different discussion. While I do believe artists should be paid for their creative efforts, there is no doubt that if you can listen to any music you like (illegally or legally), it exposes you to so much great music because the risk is low and the reward is high.


Yeah, but I can’t simultaneously avoid going to that website because it’s bad and get the stuff that that website purveys. If I don’t like McDonald’s food, I can’t go to McDonald’s. But if I don’t like hamburgers then I can quite happily go to McD’s and just eat something else. Your view leads you, I think, to see “the site content” and “the ads” as part of one contingent complete whole, which is a perfectly reasonable view… but I see them as a little separate, exactly because one of the reasons I like the web is that it allows this sort of separation. I can decide to experience a website without its images, or without its fonts, or without any of its design, or indeed without its third-party ad scripts, and the web gives me the power to do that where other apps go out of their way to deny me that. I think that’s one of the strengths of the web, personally; if the performance of a website is no good for you then there are perhaps some things you can do, as the consumer, to mitigate or improve that. If the performance of an app is no good, or indeed if your newspaper printed on actual paper isn’t arriving fast enough for you, then all you can do is sit and wait. Obvious downside of all this is of course that people can turn off ads when it’s long-term bad for them to do so because the sites they read become unsustainably expensive… which is why I’m unsure about exactly what I believe here. I like that I can stop ad companies tracking me around the internet without blocking all ads, which is why I do it.


I agree with @jonobacon that if someone is doing something for a job then they should get some money for their work.

Maybe we could turn this up-side-down and say that because we don’t pay money for things on the internet we have adverts that:

Personally I like the BBC model where you HAVE to pay a licence fee and after that there are no adverts.
Admittedly I can’t see this working on the internet.
Another option is pay with privacy (this is why WhatsApp has no adverts)
Yet another option is pay with time, i.e. the product your consuming is unfinished and needs you to spend time tweaking it, this is how GNU/Linux works - I like this one.


Hey, it’s Dennis from Doctor Snuggles! :smile: (well, reasonable approximation different enough not to get sued). Wow, that was brilliant marketing and certainly hit the soft spot. That being said, I’m not going to use it because I’m currently, consciously, whoring out my opinions and behaviours for amazon and paypal gift cards (I noticed in an episode around last Christmas you mentioned you were doing something similar with google opinions, you’re not getting nearly “paid” -or at all really from what I understand about how it works- enough with that and feel free to pm me if you’d like me to turn you out :)). Of course though, as with everything ‘click work’, it’s cents on the dollar :frowning: Strangely, I’ve become more cognizant of just how commoditized our eyeballs and thoughts have become since making the decision to do so (I used to just give a worried sigh when encountering something sketch on a website, now I indignantly think to myself “F$ck you, pay me if you want that!”).

I’m pretty sure I know. When you put yourself in web publishers shoes it’s obvious many have to advertise being the last link on an industry chain with ever increasing prices. I’m of the belief distributed networks such as GNU net are the solution. Yeah, everything is still in it’s infancy now and there will be a ‘walled garden’ issue to surmount, but I really can’t see another way that will respect and encourage the integrity of the publishers.


Privacy and anonymity were briefly brought up during the show in reference to Bitcoin and the BlockChain and I would like to clarify that they are different. Privacy is when what you are doing or what you are saying is kept private even though two people can be identified as communicating. This means that Alice and Bob have privacy when they PGP encrypt their emails and send them to each other even though their email providers know that they are sending messages to each other. Anonymity is when the two people cannot be identified even though what they are saying or what they are doing can be know. This means that Alice and Bob have anonymity when when they randomly pick a public IRC server and choose pseudonyms that they only ever use for that conversation even though the people running the server can see the contents of their messages.

Bitcoin has anonymity because the addresses used to hold the coins are not necessarily tied to a person or entity. Bitcoin does not have privacy because it is build upon a public ledger of transactions that anyone can inspect.

Zcash by default has anonimity for the same reasons as Bitcoin but it also has a protocol for performing encrypted transactions where addresses and amounts are encrypted AND they can cryptographically verify the transactions like you can with every crypto-currency. This make it a pretty exciting technology however there are only a handful of people who claim to understand the mathematics behind Zcash which is not the level of robustness as we are usually used to for similar mathematics like cryptography.


They are annoying because they are not only hogs of bandwidth, but also of time and resources.

Compare, without ad blocking:

… versus with ad blocking:

42 seconds versus 13 for a content- and asset-heavy page. And look at that adblock-less waterfall, fucking ridiculous!



And this.

Very much this.


Wellllllll …

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