Friday, July 25, 2003

More love labor lost.

Josh Chafez continues with his quest to understand love at first sight. Part III centers around reader comments and this phrase:
So, again, let me put the question: if we believe that love of body and soul together is a higher form of eros than mere love (I would say "lust") for a beautiful body, then why do we so idealize love at first sight? I am not saying that love at first sight is implausible, nor am I saying that people who fall in love at first sight are necessarily ill-suited to one another in the long-run, nor am I saying that love at first sight has nothing to do with the soul of the beloved. But I am asking why we seem to value love at first sight more highly than a love that takes its time, a love that develops and matures as the lover comes to more fully know the soul of the beloved. Far from positing a soul-body duality, I think I am asking that we take the connection more seriously than partisans of love at first sight generally do.

Well, I think Josh has already answered that question here:

Romeo and Juliet, Ferdinand and Miranda, Florizel and Perdita are simply lucky. It just so happened that the people to whom they were physically attracted (that is, attracted "at first sight") turned out also to have beautiful souls. But this need not have been so. Indeed, it often is not. So, when we praise love at first sight as the exemplar of pure love, are we praising anything more than mere chance?

Well, at least he posited the question. I guess my take on it is, "Why not?" Why not consider yourself lucky to have found a soul-mate and partner based on primarily physical appearance briefly glanced at? When one wins a lottery is obviously luck, and that's what makes both the elation of winning and the high stakes possible. The high stakes of expecting or seeking love at first sight are possible because

  1. there is a small supply of it.
  2. the benefits of such love, in the eyes of its seeker, far outweigh the costs.
In fact, I think analogies to gambling, primarily low-probability high-payoff games like lotto are quite appropriate and similarities are plentiful. So if we praise chance for winning the lottery, why not when winning the lottery of love? Clearly there is not some internal merit Juliet or Romeo possess that should make them winners. If one is to suppose that finding and winning love is worthwhile then it is worth careful thinking, romancing, and decision-making. Obviously, skipping this arduous steps and simply falling in love - and being reciprocated - is lucky. Nothing wrong with that.

To clarify, the luck I am talking about need not come specifically from Fortune and be capricious and random as Greeks liked it. Providence would do just as well for our purposes, I think.

In response to OxBlog Erotica.
I rather liked these two entrees from Josh Chafetz on Oxblog - part I and part II, as it were. One is always intrigued by parallels between pure science and pure fiction. Together they make perfect sense. And so conclusions from fiction:
But this is the deep strength of Love and Friendship: It isn't sound bite-able. It talks around the issue, not directly at it, because the nature of love, like most of the really important issues, can't be reduced to a formula. Sometimes the most accurate way to talk about something is to be ambiguous, perhaps even somewhat contradictory. The desire for precision can be the enemy of truth as well as its facilitator.

resonate well with science, or at least with the uncertainty principle1

1A principle in quantum mechanics holding that increasing the accuracy of measurement of one observable quantity increases the uncertainty with which another conjugate quantity may be known.[courtesy of Atomica]

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Apologies to my readers, syndicators, and zealots.
First off, I do not think I have any of the latter and very few of the former. Nonwithstanding, I am sorry for not writing the snazzy and intellectually challenging stories you tune in to read each day. I do not think I ever produced many of those, and with the dearth of postings over the last week or so I definitely have not. My excuse, as it were, is that I have been trying to figure out where I want to go with this blogging thing, and how much time and effort I am able to devote to it.

Obviously, blogger is quite sufficient for merely writing and posting, which is really what a pure text-based content provider - in this case myself - should care about. It is not overly reliable, but considering the small numbers of readers it is definitely worth the expense of exactly zero. My time; however cheap, is still worth something and so if a small investment would make it better spent I would be willing to bear the cost. Additionally, blogging and self-produced content in general is something I have had an interest in for while from a technical perspective. Moving to some platform other than blogger would allow me to investigate technical possibilities and perhaps participate in the enhancement of available self-publishing platforms, such as MovableType. So I have been spending some time working on setting up a site of my own running on MovableType, making various changes to existing setup, both design and structural, and writing some new plugins that I felt my site needed. Hopefully sometime soon I will be able to transfer entrees and archives from blogger to this new web location and welcome you there. In the meantime I will try to continue posting short one-liners about things I think interesting and some more longer posts about things I think are interesting and, megalomaniacally, have jotted down some notes on.

Moving out to virtual worlds - law's new frontier
Edward Castranova, best known for his work on economics on massive multiplayer online games write to his mailing list:
The Black Hat conference of computer security professionals, taking place in Las Vegas next week, sponsors a moot court called Hacker Court. This year, Hacker Court will try the case of a man accused of hacking into a MMOG server and destroying another player's digital gear. If prosecution can show that the damage exceeds $5000, it is a US felony.

Prosecution is being handled by Richard Salgado of the US Department of Justice. I will be testifying as an expert witness on valuation issues. An actual Federal judge will be presiding. The verdict might become an important historical marker in humans' migration into the machine.

More detail is available from the Black Hat Conference pages.

This is pretty neat. Hacking for money, identity-theft or banking transfers have gotten to be pretty routine work for real-world prosecutors and investigators. However, this is a different case because of 3 reasons:

  1. It is difficult to gauge the real value of the property allegedly destroyed. The main market for the this kind of stuff is on eBay, where it runs between 3 and 4 million dollars per year (courtesy of Julian Dibbell here and here). However, it is not at all clear that this is a real value to either the owner or the thief. In "our" world we establish value by following general valuations based on "real" market values and often add-on sentimental and historical value to the objects. It is unclear how to value items that someone acquired in a virtual game. Still, I do not think this is the most difficult issue. A fine in US currency could be used to repurchase all of this objects on an active eBay or some other market for Ultima Online (or some other online world). It has been established that destroying someone's information electronically is taken as destruction rather than a harmless prank.
  2. It is not really clear why a complain to the company that runs the game could not just result in restatement of this property. This is different from deletion of personal/company information by a hacker because it is possible to reinstate the user to a known state with relatively minimal effort. However, this is not all that different from catching an unauthorized fun transfer and reversing it. Whenever such a perpetrator is apprehended the punishment is primarily punitive (if funds were recovered) since there is not a particularly lasting result. I think that is pretty good parallel to base this aspect of the case on. Yes the victim can get property reinstated, but this is the kind of behaviour that we would like to punish, hence the trial and possible punitive damages.
  3. No US law was broken. It is not illegal to "destroy" things that do not exist. It may be illegal under the terms of use for the online world, but the company can do little other than ban the user to ask him to pay restitution for time and effort required to restore the other user's account. Had the user broken into company's financial servers the law would be clear, since the whole case is, intentionally, centered around virtual destruction of virtual property it is not clear whether any US law was actually broken. I presume that is exactly what the defense will argue. It is hard to see how this is a non-offense. Clearly (to me as a non-lawyer), there is some potential for a civil claim for money. Perhaps even a significant amount of money. It is not immediately clear whether there is a criminal case that would parallel a more typical hacking offense.

    On the other hand there used to be no laws for committing electronic-based crimes. Prosecutors argued and judges upheld parallels between such crimes and there purely physical counterparts. Stealing is stealing is stealing was the basic conclusion.

After some consideration I cannot see how this case is really different from any other hacking case. A user breaks into a server and destroys some information. Whether that information is easily re-instated is quite irrelevant. We can fairly easily value this gear based on an active market for such things and make the defendant pay to acquire it. The mental anguish of the victim can be evaluated based on valuations for all other things that hold emotional value - we do not hold that someone stealing a family photograph has committed a smaller crime than someone stealing an Ansel Adams masterpiece. There is certainly an novelty aspect to this, but I do not think it is such a difficult legal case. If anyone who reads this has a different, or more educated opinion, I would be happy to hear it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

That's the 4th time they have been possibly killed or captured:
MSNBC Breaking News
Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay were likely either captured or killed in an intense firefight in northern Iraq, NBC News reports.

I suppose one time it will be true. But it reminds me of a joke going around in Russian newspapers in the beginning of the war relating to the confusion of whether UM Kassar was taken, by how, and when:

CNN reports that Um Kassar has been taken by allied forces. This is the 15th Um Kassar captured in the last 3 days.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Talk about misleading headlines - Windows Web sites outgrow Linux
One could not be faulted for thinking that perhaps there are now more Windows-based websites than Linux-based ones. Even a sceptical observer could think that perhaps the growth in new Windows sites is faster than the growth in Linux-powered ones. But they would both be wrong. In fact it is not clear at all how "Windows Web sites outgrow Linux" from the article.
Microsoft has seen a 300 percent increase in the last three months of the number of Web sites hosted on its recently launched Windows Server 2003 software-

The number of active Web sites hosted on Server 2003 tripled to 88,400 in the three months since launch, according to Netcraft, which monitors server usage. A significant portion of this growth has been at the expense of the Linux operating system, with 5 percent, or 8,000 sites, having migrated from Linux.

"Microsoft will take some considerable encouragement at the number of sites that have switched from Linux," Netcraft said in its report.

But the 88,400 versions of Windows Server 2003 account for only a very small fraction of the total market. There are 4.7 million active sites that use Microsoft's Web server, Netcraft said. Apache, which most often runs on Linux or various versions of Unix, is used at 13.2 million active Web sites.

So how exactly is Linux losing ground here? 8,000 sites may represent 5% of Windows 2003 deployments, but they represent 0.06% of Linux deployments. Moreoever, one could also wonder how 8,000 sites are possible 5% of 88,000. My calculus is rusty, but no matter how I try it comes out to 9%, unless of course the correct number is 5% and it was only 4,500 sites that migrated for a total of 0.03% of linux-based deployments.
I was surprised to see the headline, but even more surprised to find no defensible substance under the masthead.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

A Group is Its Own Worst Enemy
via furtive explorations this ia the best talk/article I have seen explaining and pondering social interaction software - Clay Shirky: A Group is Its Own Worst Enemy What works and what does not. Furtive thinks Clay is his hero. I am thinking he might become mine.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Ah. Swiss are headed back to nature. Sort of - Rent-A-Cow Plan Opens for Cheese Lovers
Lovers of Swiss cheese can now lease their own cow on an Alpine pasture to provide the personal touch that store-bought products just can't offer. ... Attracted by an offer on the Internet, customers pay a fee of 380 Swiss francs ($275) per summer plus 40 Swiss cents for each liter of milk their beast produces.

That's not bad, coming out to about $1 a gallon. Of course, the start-up cost is a bit steep.

This is hilarious. A try-out for off-off-off Broadway Matrix! held in Japan. via The Poor Man

Monday, July 14, 2003

A post on privacy intrusions in the wake of 9/11-induced legislation that is thought-provoking all around -- Crooked Timber: War on Terror - the ripple effect
I agree with the statement that
What I do object to, and in the strongest terms, is the naked opportunism on the part of some Justice/Interior ministries that have used the situation to introduce draconian measures with no bearing at all on fighting terrorism or even serious crime.

What makes it worse is that this is not some kind of inspired opportunism where the agencies really, always and forever, wanted to get this information because it would truly make a difference in their work and did so as soon as there was a political opening. No. Instead this is the kind of knee-jerk legislation that lazy and badly-run agencies push on the populace because they do not know how to really solve the problem and hope that somehow new powers will help them.

A good example is a recent arrest of an allegged Real IRA bombmaker in Israel, found there working on creating more sophisticated explosive devices, doubtless to help keep the truce going. Political aspects aside -- he was duly listed in an airline manifest under a false name. Had he chosen to fly to the US -- he would have and noone would have stopped an outstanding british citizen his documents proclaimed him to be. Supposedly intelligence sources lost track of him some time ago and where getting anxious as to his whereabouts. How exactly any of the proposed and accepted pricavy-invading legislation helping with this? It cannot because it is limited and poorly thought-out.

This still leaves the matter of how can European and other airlines break their national laws and provide certain data to US Law Enforcement open.

VentureBlog Trackback for There's No Accounting For Taste
I am sure David Hornick is right about about VCs being a bad proxy for mass market purchases. However, what about focus groups, surveys and other time-tested methods of determining whether a mass-market product has appeal? I am not saying these tools are always right, but presumably deciding whether an Enterprise tool will sell enough to make money is also a risk - even if all the people you call say that they would love it.

Are not there any VCs that specialize in mass-market-type companies?
I am sure David was writing specifically about himself and the areas he invests in. But I do see curiously little information on how VCs use these pretty much standard risk-management tools, like focus groups, that large consumer companies utilize all the time. Perhaps it is not that these products are poorly suited for VC backing as much as the fact that most tech VCs come from a more hardened tech or finance backgrounds and less often from a consumer market ones.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Freidrich Blowhard brings up an interesting point here in a discussion of the new Medicare drug benefit proposal.
Mr. Gokhale brought a certain historical rigor to the discussion:

A given generation’s lifetime net tax rate is the fraction of its lifetime labor earnings that it pays in net taxes to the government, where both numerator and denominator are present values at birth….Figure 1 shows that the generation born in 1900 pays at the rate of 23.9 percent.
Calculations show that the present value gap of $9.4 trillion [between the governments future revenues and its future obligations]…implies an average lifetime net tax rate of 49.2 percent [for cohorts born in the late 1990s].
I don’t know when the American social welfare state converted the elderly into Saturns devouring their children...

Worth researching more on the topic.

Democracy rules - Russian security services disabled all mobile phone voice security for 24 hours in Moscow
Russian security services disabled all mobile phone voice security for 24 hours in Moscow this week, according to a report in the Moscow Times. As a result, police and state authorities could monitor all calls -- as could anyone equipped with an appropriate receiver. Mobile phone users received a text alert telling them that their conversations could be intercepted, and some mobile phones also displayed an icon of an unlocked padlock.

"The action taken to shut down the encryption system was conducted in accordance to the existing law and in order to prevent crimes," mobile phone company Mobile TeleSystems said on Wednesday. The Russian Interior Ministry, said by the Russian news agency Intelfax to be the source of the order, refused to comment.

Indeed. Nor is this the first time

This isn't the first time encryption has been disabled. It was switched off during the Dubroka theatre siege last October, which ended with 120 hostages dying due to the effects of gas used by the special forces, and was turned off in St Petersburg during the visit of world leaders last month to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the city.

It would be nice to see some statistics on how these have helped to solve crimes or stop terrorist acts.
<Homer Simpson's voice>Mmmmm... Government key escrow.... mmmm V-Chip.... mmmmm privacy </Homer Simpson's voice>

Friday, July 11, 2003

Heh. They finally broke him,
Tenet takes blame on uranium claim
CIA Director George Tenet says he was responsible for President Bush's false allegation in his State of the Union address that Baghdad was trying to buy uranium in Africa, a key part of Bush's argument for military action in Iraq.

One has to suppose that normally a person would now resign, but considering that he did not after 9/11, perhaps that is just something unTenetable [sic] to him.

Pretty neat - Storing e-text for centuries via Tomalak's Realm
Rather than invent a better mousetrap, they are using existing technology to imitate an important function of libraries. They want to ensure that readers will still be able to access electronic academic journals even centuries after they have been published.

Another neat use of open-source technology, and an example of how difficult it is to move from free to not-profit status for a technology.

Today's NY Post opinion column titled Ku-Waiting for Reform has a strange paragraph
The term "liberal" has assumed two meanings. In the American sense, liberalism means a cocktail of state intervention in the economy, a comprehensive welfare system and a good dose of political correctness — all with a bit of anti-Americanism as the cherry on top.
In its European sense, liberalism means limiting the role of the state, an emphasis on individual rights and private enterprise and support for free trade in a global market economy. [ed. emphasis added]

Aghm. Would not that be the other way around? It does not really matter since the artcile never really comes back to the distinction making it pretty clear neither type of "liberals" is really present in Kuwait. Still, I had to read this a couple of times to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me.

Repulsed Enemy equals Failure
Dr. Horsefeathers quotes Victor Hansen in this entry about our situation in Iraq,
While Saddam's elite troops were clearly beaten, they were routed so rapidly and without extreme loss of life that they themselves, along with neutral observers, were not altogether sure that with their defeat would come humiliation and with humiliation readiness to change.

Thousands of them now wonder whether killing an American or two isn't such bad sport, since they got off so easily during the real war — and wager that such magnanimity will still be typical rather than exceptional. The result is that we must now hunt down reprieved diehards one by one, at much greater danger and cost — and kill them individually (let us hope at the rate of 100 or so for every American shot at)...."

A.V.Suvorov (A Russian Generalisimus of 18th Century) has this quote attributed to him, "Enemy destoyed or surrounded - success. Territory gained, enemy repulsed - failure" (from "Book for Young Officers" as I recall it now)

We had to compromise between destroying 200,000 or so people for the sake of scaring a couple of thousand, or dealing with these few thousand later. It seems like a necessary and humane choice. However, I think our politics betrayed us from the very beginning where we gave the impression that

1. We would give a lot of autonomy very quickly

2. We would leave as soon as possible, instead of leaving when our job is done.

I think that approach not only left a lot of people in power or positions of authority that it should not have, but also created an expectation among the non-violent Iraqis that they must not speak up or do anything because USA will be gone soon, and the loudmouthed demagogues will be joined by the left over thugs to form a new government. Instead of dismantling *all* of the political and military institutions and rebuilding them from scratch we were hoping "things would just work out" somehow. And that is not the fault of the military, but of the Administration which could not decide how it should sell the war, whether it was a liberation or occupation, whether we want to build a democracy or just remove Saddam.

Say No to Gooseberry Bushes or Cabbage Patches -- Five-year-olds 'should have sex classes' experts say.
"If children acquire a brother or a sister, then they are going to ask questions - and the gooseberry bush won't wash. "So you would tell them 'Mummy and Daddy love each other and wanted to have a baby'."

That seems like a strange course of action. For one, should not parents be the ones to tell them that? What about kids whose mother or father are having a child not with 'Mommy and Daddy' (which would be what, 50%? more?)? For another, I was under the impression that the higher academic achievement of a student was, the less likely they were to become involved in a teenage pregnancy. So would not spending time on Math, Literature, or Science classes be more effective than wishy-washy sex ed for five (5) year-olds? I do not buy the option of beign able to withdraw kids from a class like this. If all of your classmates are in such a class, the information will filter to you as well, except it is going to be screwed up in re-telling. Perhaps that is what the "experts" at the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy are counting on.

I guess the government cannot count on parents to do the "right" thing

The whole idea reminds me of the scene in the "Brave New World" where small kids are paraded around the hospital in order to teach them that dying is natural, painless, and grief in the face of death is outmoded.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

This is just freaky. And scary - Costing an Arm and a Leg - The victims of a growing mental disorder are obsessed with amputation. By Carl Elliott [ed - J. do not read this!]
I wonder what the racial and gender make-up of such people is. The author mentions that,
form paraphilias take differs not merely among individuals, but from one culture and historical period to another. When Richard von Krafft-Ebing was writing about paraphilias in 19th-century Vienna, he described men who were sexually obsessed with handkerchiefs. That paraphilia has largely disappeared. Yet many others have emerged.

It is estimated that up to 10% of Western European population was mentally ill in the Middle Ages. Ill as in "raging mad". Cities were filled with men and women gripped by "devils", paraplegics and worse with a large number of them being somehow psychosomatically afflicted. That is one of the reasons so many "miracles" of healing by touch or holy water occurred -- there was little physically wrong with many of the victims. Similarly, in 19th Century upper-class women would regularly faint on all sorts of occasions, quite honestly and unpretentiously pass out from embarassment. As time went out and women were seen as less fragile these spells disappeared quite completely from the society.

Our times see the same play performed all over, except now it is attention-deficit or anorexia. I am not saying these are not deseases, just that the article thoughtfully points out that for some reason their study is rarely subjected to the same rigors illnesses with more obvious physical causes are.

[Listening to: The Music of the Night {From Phantom of the Opera} - Sarah Brightman - Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection/Encore (1 of 2) (05:22)]

I thought that the idea of radio that has cd-quality sound, cable-tv choice, and country-wide accessibility was great. So I always hoped XM Radio would do well. It appears that it has done OK for itself
Good. It is exactly the kind of service that consumers want, and the article does a good job of delineating the why's and the how's. I also think they have a tuner [coming] out that plugs nicely into home stereo systems.
[Listening to: 01-rhapsody_in_blue.prev - - (16:58)]

Stewart Alsop has an column lamenting the fact that -- Alas, Poor Microsoft ... You Used to Be So Interesting. Not sure how long this link is going to stay active, but for the time being, let me quote,
What has not worked very well for Microsoft is pretty much everything new that it has tried to sell in the past ten years. The most visible of these efforts has been its incredibly expensive quest to sell game machines under the Xbox brand. It also has been trying to sell PDAs in the Pocket PC family, cellphones in the SmartPhone family, set-top boxes in the WebTV and UltimateTV families, and Internet services such as Expedia and CarPoint.

I do not think MS was ever really considered to be a trend-setting company, just one that had occasional hits it *always* capitalized on and a relentless drive of a mad rhino. Among hits I would consider the Powerpoint, astutely acquired, and Visual Basic -- a language much derided but that put Microsoft into the enterprise and cemented Ms Excel as a must have behind the trading desk. Let's not forget the MS SQL Server -- pretentiously named but bought on the cheap from Sybase 10 years ago -- let's see the market shares for the products now. Expedia has actually done pretty well [confession: it's my personal favourite online travel site], and I am in no position to judge Carpoint. Xbox is a medium success as a gaming platofrm, but it always takes MS 3 or 4 tries to get things going, and PocketPC devices are steadily gaining ground on Palm-based handhelds.

Where I think Mr. Alsop is leaving the discussion off is the super-nice stuff that MS spends billions developing each year. The new and improved MS Reader is getting good reviews. Tablet PC is not dying, and as flat and flexible screens come around MS will be uniquely positioned to sell software for hundreds of millions of actually useful e-books and tablets. I see Microsoft going through a typical cash cow phase where most of what we see are old cash cows pumping money into a generation of new applications and devices that are a couple of years away from general public. I think that ClearType is going to have a very big effect on our future, both as an enabling agent and a legal barrier for open source to overcome.

I really think that Gates and Co. are not worried about Linux so much on the desktop, or even server market. What they are worried about is how easily and nicely Linux works on the appliance-level. With relatively lean footprint,if needed, and tremendous amount of functionality it becomes a serious contender in the future of appliances which do not make enough money to justify any serious OS licensing fee. Whatever MS can offer to these consumer electronics manufacturers is in its labs right now, and so it is hard to pass judgement on the value of that research.
[Listening to: 15-i_ve_got_a_crush_on_you.prev - - (03:06)]

A good new [to me] blog with a good entry -- The Personal is Policy. To my blogroll and beyond!
It is not the this post is above criticism or controversy, but the author seems to be good at putting complex thoughts into understanble and vivid sentences. Tres Kool
[Listening to: 07-funny_face - - (03:45)]

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

That's interesting - Mobile Snaps. via Tomalak's Realm

What's interesting is the unpredictability of the situation. Noone really knows what is going to happen with these phones. As someone who has been actively involved in digital photography as a prosumer (high-end amateur) I have to say that I end up printing more and more pictures as time goes on. I give them as gifts. I put them into albums. I like how matte pictures look with borders. Are widely available eletronic photoalbums going to change the equation? Perhaps, but we are a few years away from that still.

To a large extent the debate is really whether the incredibly increased quantity of pictures taken will end up translated into some measure of an increase in the number of pictures printed. A simple example can go as follows. When a person has to pay for film, processing, and printing in a minilab regular C-41 ( typical color process) costs about $4 for film and $10 for 36 exposures developed and printed. This can easily go to $20 per roll if you do your printing in a good lab or bought film for $6 at a tourist attraction. I then go on vacation and shoot 3 or 4 rolls for a total cost of $75. With digital I might easily snap 5 to 10 times more pictures. Thus, if I print only 4 pictures per roll I end up printing the same number. If mobile phones end up producing printable pictures and increase the number of snapshots taken exponentially, we can easily end up with as many total prints as before, just no negatives.

I cannot see how any of it good news for firms that make film, but is not that why Kodak bought As for those who make paper -- it may not be so bad. It is pretty clear that sooner, rather than later film-chemicals-paper-based photography will become the domain of artists. It began with minilabs and C-41 processing, and it is continuing with more and more professional photographers choosing digital cameras or backs for their equipment.

[Listening to: What Would You Do? - Original Broadway Cast Recording - CABARET (03:32)]

Google cache raises copyright concerns -- took a while for people to catch on. Personally, I use the cache feature quite a bit, but primarily if a site is unavailable. The issue of outdated pages, broken links, and similar type things have been floating aroudn the web surfer's feet since the Web first appeared. Xanadu was supposed to help with these issues, but of course that projecti s forever under development. As an avid user of the cache feature -- I hope Google gets to keep it. If anything, from a non-lawyer viewpoint, it is fair use and perhaps a disclaimer encouraging people to click on the real link would make the cache-uers trangressors, not Google.

Microsoft to Abandon Stock Option Plan - I wrote about this a bit here. It is pleasant to know I am was not completely wrong when I said,
Microsoft, historically, has not been a particularly well-paying company, but it has always insisted on hiring the best and the brightest. For two decades they were able to lure tha talent by stock options that were almost guaranteed to be worth six figures in a couple of years, and seven figures if you stuck around long enough. However, that is not longer the case. Despite suriving the market crash much better than all its rivals, Microsoft cannot rely on options to boost employee compensation.

Apparently, Microsoft thinks similarly,
Chief executive Steve Ballmer said the change will help Microsoft retain and attract high-quality employees. Analysts said other companies might follow suit, but Ballmer said Microsoft wasn't trying to make a "grand statement."
"Our compensation philosophy is simple," he said. "We want to be a magnet for the best people by paying smarter. We want to attract and retain employees by offering real ownership and great long-term financial incentives."

I think that is an important move to farther align employee compensation with the direction of the company. It also echoes some of the calls to not treat options as an expense, arguing that instead they should be treated as a dilution of existing shares.

Fun story about personal Italian economics

David Adesnik makes sense. As always.
Consider the closing sentences of the Post's editorial:

In a world where "failed states" and regions of perpetual conflict are breeding grounds for terrorism, Africa is no longer as far away as it once seemed. Like it or not, its conflicts are now America's problem, too.

Now try this: strike the word "Africa" from the first sentence and replace it with "Southeast Asia", "Latin America" or any other place on earth. The sentence will still make just as much sense as it did before.

Why? Because the war on terror is global. And in a world with one superpower, nowhere is off limits.

There is more good stuff like this. However, the whole exercise smacks to me of an interesting study a saw a while ago. The work claimed that unlike an old adage, people actually learn from their successes, not their mistakes. When you succeed in something you look to repeat the conditions for this success. When one fails, next time a situation comes up there is a chorus of "it's different this time" which may, or may not be true. A simple example would be in order. USA (and UK) succeeded in demilitarizing Germany and Japan, turning them into prosperous democratic countries. Thus, it would make sense to try to duplicate such conditions in Afghanistan or Iraq -- flood the countries with soldiers, protect people who cooperate with the government, limit self-government until new democratic forces emerge and find popular support. And so on. Instead, we take a lesson from success of WWII -- overwhelming military force crushes enemy's army and graft onto the disaster of Soviet Afghanistan and our own Vietnam -- leave the governing to the locals, do not try to be occupiers, example of the "goodness" of the System (Soviet or American) will somehow transform the conquered country overnight.

It is pretty clear that drawing analogies from any to any event in history is possible. The trick, as always, is drawing the right analogy. I will be the first one to admit that it is not quite clear to me what can be really done about the root causes of Liberian, and West African in general, wars. If overpopulation is the problem -- how are we going to solve it? If it is improperly drawn borders -- we are not even planning to address that. We can convincingly argue that unabated poverty is a definitely major problem, but what can we really do about it? Industrialization is not an option at this stage of world development, eco-tourism will never sustain such large and rapidly growing populations, self-sufficiency does not work very well in the long run. I certainly do not have any answers, but I do think that asking proper questions is a requirement for drawing proper analogies.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Good -- Leaving copyright lane for public domain

I was never too hot about John Edwards. I still am not. I do not really see how he is offerring anything new, different, or exciting as a candidate, and am not one to be enamored by a "son of a mill worker" shpiel. I have also read his basic "what i think about the economy speech" and found it to be mostly vaporware. However, two sources I generally find informed and reliable are now projecting him not only as a possible front-runner, but also someone with an interesting, perhaps even sound, plan for the economy. Slate has an article here, while Lawrence Lessing says,
The great thing about the early stages of a presidential campaign is that the candidate and campaign have time to put together real messages of substance. This speech by Edwards on economic policy is a perfect example of this contribution of substance. It is extraordinarily good.

When I see two sources like this agree, I have to spend some more time thinking about the issue. I guess one of the important things is to see whether Edwards' record supports the idea that he would actually stand by his promises, and whether there is a chance, any chance at all, that the Congress would let him follow through on them. I still think that it is easier to talk about how well you understant the common man, than it is to do something to help them. The big issues I am seeing facing this country are not really addressable by legislation. Even if it were a good idea to legislate that outsourcing of IT jobs to other counties stopped, everyone knows that will do no good. We know tarriffs do not really work. I am not sure how $5,000 for down-payment of a first home is going to really change the urban landscape. $5,000 gift raises the price of a house by $20,000 (at 20% down), which is not very much anymore. Are we just going to see starter homes rise by that much? Easily could happen. Moreover, how is that a reflection of "the values of mainstream America, the values all of us grew up with – opportunity, responsibility, hard work." ? Some of the ideas, I think, are plain dangerous. It is good to own your own home -- but the fact that so much of people's overall assets are tied up in their homes makes them intolerant of residents they consider unwanted, or prone to leave the neighborhoods "while they still can" at the first sign of trouble. That's how inner cities became ghettoes, and it is not clear how the new plan is going to change that.

Another example of why I do not consider Edwards speech that interesting is below,

American’s small businesses create jobs better than any government program. Our markets allocate capital more efficiently than any bureaucrat.

Excellent! Could not agree more! Now what? Where in all of his speech is anything that would help small businesses create jobs? There are no breaks for small businesses? I would have loved to see the double burden of taxes on businesses with only owners as employees lifted [and would seem more fair than the dividend tax, eh?]. But instead he talks about helping people put away money, to the tune of,

This shouldn’t surprise us, because the savings incentives in our tax code are upside down: the better off you are, the greater the incentive for more savings. It’s time to provide a good incentive to working Americans, who have the hardest time saving now and will need those savings the most later. Under my plan, low- and moderate-income working families will receive a $1 match for every $1 they save, up to $1,000 each year. A worker who saves the maximum under this plan every year from age 25 to retirement will have a nest egg of $200,000 – on top of any other savings, pension, or Social Security.

It is not at all clear that Social Security would be still be here in 2044, but even if it were, $200,000 will be the equivalent of something like $60,0000 today ed. at the rate Edwards computes, with a 3.67% return it is more like $47,304.82]. Nothing to sneeze at surely, but not exactly a sum to retire on either. With the size of our workforce, we are talking about aat least 100,000,000 people x $1,000 dollars = 100 billion a year for a total [non-discounted] figure of 4 trillion over 40 years. How exactly is that fiscally prudent? It certainly highlights the issues Social Security has, but does not seem to solve the retirement problem in the least.

There is a lot more in the speech that is interesting and deserves attention. I am, for one, and definitely going to listen very closely to what all the candidates want to say, but all I am hearing so far are political words exchanged by politicians, not sound economic policies that have a chance to be implemented and make a difference. Considering enthusiasm by my better-educated elders like Lessing and William Saletan I am reserving judgement and hping for the best. It certainly, does not look like it is going to come from the current Adminsitration.

So I see a bunch of accesses to this page from a strange address, and a strange browser/user agent -- NameProtect Bot. Turns out it is not as bening as I would like it to be - NameProtect - NPBot : jdb cyberspace
Good job Jarle Dahl Bergersen !

Monday, July 07, 2003

More Doctrine from HorseFeathers here
Debating whether it is better to be loved than to be feared is easy, finding an answer is probably infinitely hard (at the very least it is an NP-hard problem).
Niccolo Machiavelli has gotten a bum rap from history. His name has become a symbol for deviousness. In fact, Machiavelli is worth reading precisely because his view of human nature is psychologically closer to reality than the benign liberal perspective.

I think that the first and the last clause are closely related. Macchiavelli does indeed have a reputation for deviousness, but not in History, just our current history books. And that is the work of the bening liberal perspective which itself has mostly little to do with reality and everything to do with how reality should have been to suit the theory better. For quite a while he was thought to be quite a pragmatic.
An added bonus for some more historical perspective is the 1st comment, although it does get muddled towards the last third.

Pretty good article on problems facing Mexico's president - BW Online: In Mexico, Vibrant Democracy Is Still a Long Way Off

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Interesting, if somewhat long, article on baby naming trends - Where have all the Lisas gone?
What is missing from the article is a sense of scale -- The difference between Emily at #1 and Keeley (?!) at 1000 is 100-fold (24,262 vs 221), but it is also only 24,041 names. So, out of ~1.4million girls listed the most popular name has less than 2%. The article also did not mention the role cultural traditions play in naming children. I almost felt bad for not considering an independent and fresh thought as a name for my child, as it seems everyone else is doing -- like naming their kids Madison. However, many coltures have simpler strategies for naming children. For example, in our family it is the names of deceased relatives that are given preference with the idea that as long as the name is used the person is not forgotten.
But names are often resurrected when the generation that bears them dies out. Although our mothers may joke that the play group made up of Max, Rose, Sam and Sophie sounds like the roster of a convalescent home, contemporary parents find those names charming. Doubtless, today's Brittany will name her daughter Delores.

I do not know if contenmporary parents find these names charming, as much as meaningful and memorable. Between many european cultures that tend to name children after close living relatives and friends, jewish (perhaps other middle eastern) traditions of naming after close deceased relatives, traditions of naming children after saints whose days are closest to the child's birthday, etc. I do not see the weight of the top 20 compares to the rest of the names to change in the future.

Ah. I knew it would USA's fault somehow. -- Berlusconi says remark was inspired by TV show
Personally, I never quite understood how they could make a sitcom out of a POW camp experience, and how so many people who have gone through the war could watch it. But that is neither here nor there. I am not sure how one could spin Berlusconi's remark this way - especially since he explicitly said,
"In Italy, they are making a movie on Nazi concentration camps," Berlusconi snapped back. "I will propose you for the role of capo," or chief.

I cannot really see a reference to a sitcom that ended its run 22 years ago here. But it is just me, I am sure.

Friday, July 04, 2003

To me, this is a bit of a wierd story - Teacher union fights to hold Sacramento High down from Mickey Kaus at Slate. He writes,
...a column on the strenuous efforts by the California teachers' union to block NBA star Kevin Johnson from starting a charter school to replace his alma mater, "low-performing" Sacramento High School in a largely minority neighborhood of the state capitol. ...

I understand why this seems wierd - after all, we expect teachers to have kid's best interests in mind, and it is pretty clear that the school was not really serving the needs of the community. There is also some reason to believe that the better funded, and very differently run, charter school will do a better job. Entirely possible. But is not it also pretty much required for the Teacher's Union to fight tooth and nail to keep the jobs of their members? Is not job and wage security, primarily, what they pay their dues for? Would it be a bad precedent if they let this one, perhaps a worthy case, to just go through? I would also like if Daniel Weintraub, the Sarcamento Bee's columnist, explained why does not the new school hire some, or all, Union teachers? And why does not Slate make a note of this ommission as it often does for other newspapers and columnists? I am sure there are good reasons, but it would still be nice to know what they are.

I accidentally became party to a discussion on the future of the rainforests. Much is unclear -- how fast are they been destroyed, what are the best ways to protect them, what does it even mean to protect them? However, and this I say with complete surety despite minimal understanding of the problem it is quite untrue that "Even eating one hamburger destroys much rainforest." I am all for educating children about the environment, the need to preserve it and use it in smart and sustainable ways, but this is a level of brainwashing Manchurian Candidates were not subject to. The logic goes as follows,
1. It takes a lot of space to grow grass for a cow. A rancher must destroy a piece of the rainforest to grow grass.
2.Imagine a space the size of your bedroom. That same amount of space is needed to make beef for just ONE hamburger.
3. Think of how many hamburgers you eat. Do you eat a lot of hamburgers?

I guess if a rancher absolutely *must* destroy a piece of the rainforest they might grows cows for beefburgers. Hamburgers comes from pigs (who become pork when killed). Semantics nonwithstanding, my kids will be proud to know some day that their burgers do not come from cows eating meager grass where verdant rainforests once stood. It comes mostly from cows that eat corn and anti-biotics in tiny little pens with many other cows. No grass is consumed by them, alas. [lately we have begun buying small quantities grass-fed organic beef, but it comes from Missouri, not Brazil or Indonesia]

Pretty neat visions of the year 2000 as imagined by Victorian Age Europeans in 1899/1900.
Link courtesy of Nuggets

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Air bag 'black box' nails killer driver

That's interesting. From what I understand, these are not really designed as blackboxes which are now often specifically put into cars by parents or businesses, but are a sort of inadvertent something that found its way into millions of cars.
Air bag 'black box' nails killer driver [via The Register]

Coming up. A review of one of the many Harry Potter clones -- Tanya Grotter and staff of the Magi
Just give me a day or so to get my thoughts in order.

Techdirt] mentions that FTC Report Questions Laws Banning Internet Wine Sales
There are a number of states that have laws making it illegal to buy wine over the internet. These states all say that these laws are in place to stop kids from buying wine. However, the states that do allow wine sales have other restrictions in place to prevent kids from doing the purchasing - such as verifying the age and requiring an adult signature. Sure there are always going to be a few that trick the system, but most states that allow wine shipments report no reported problems with sales to minors. The real reason, of course, is to protect brick-and-mortar wine sellers who are afraid of internet competition. Now, the FTC has come out with a report saying that these restrictions are costing consumers billions, and they could save up to 21% if the restrictions were lifted. This report is the result of hearings the FTC held last year on the subject, wondering why people couldn't order wine (and other items like contact lenses). Of course, all of this is going to come down to a constitutional issue concerning the "commerce clause" of the Constitution which discusses interstate shipping laws, so any attempt to force a change in these laws, eventually, is likely to end up before the Supreme Court.

That's an interesting point, but it seems a rather superfluous one. From what I know of the wine market, the real issue are rather draconian measures installed by the States to control the distribution of liquor. As a compromise for repealing prohibition, various states basically make it very difficult and expensive to enter the liquor business, or to conduct it as an open market activitiy it should be. My guess that various liquor control laws cost taxpayers a lot more than whatever "internet costs" of such taxes might be.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

We begin round X - Techdirt:Chili Peppers And Metallica Resist A La Carte Downloading From the source article at ChartAttack we read that
Essentially, the Kid Rocks and Linkin Parks of the industry are upset with the idea of their albums being torn apart and sold in pieces. According to these bands, the problem is not financial, but rather artistic in nature: the albums were created as cohesive wholes and the bands want them to be sold as such, rather than as random singles.

Puleez. They do not require that radio stations play them as albums, nor DJs. And they have no problem when music companies release them as singles. So what is the issue here? I will submit that albums that actually do make sense as an artistic whole, like Pink Floyd's the Wall, get downloaded as a whole. They also get bought in nice beautiful gift sets - because it's worth it. Noone is getting a deluxe set of Kid Rock's CD because it is not worth it. What the musicians are really saying is this,

For years we put out crappy albums because music companies showed us that we could make more money by splitting ten good songs over 5 albums rather than just one great album. We became greedy, we became indebted to our managers and personal trainers, afraid of our bodyguards and ex-wives, and forgot who our customers are. Now, we cannot really maintain the lifestyles we are used to unless you pay for 10 crappy songs to listen to just one decent one. So stop complaining about yourselves - that you only want to listen to the music you want. Think about others. Think about us, for g-d's sake.

The adventures of a photographer credit-card carrier in the big city

I should not be let out of the house, really.

Went into the city to photograph and get a haircut from my favourite hairdresser. She is awesome. The place is nice itself -- quiet little shop in West Village, loyal clientelle (myself excluded). Feel free to check it out -- The Hair Place on Perry. I had to give a car to the mechanic, so the day was shot anyway. Might as well troll around Manhattan and photograph.

As I said, I should not be allowed to do this. At first I behaved myself. I walked over to the new park that after at least 12 years of construction seems fully completed on the West Side, along the West Side Highway. That was nice. There is a very nice playground that seems reserved for kids and their parents. I mean that. A couple of guards stand by the playground and do not let you in unless you are with child or are planning to see a child who is already there. A bit freaky, even though I understand the concern. I snapped a few shots, realized that I suck, that I really really need the Canon 10D to feel whole again and slinked off to buy a present for my sister-in-law. For obvious conspiracy purposes I am not going to say what it is here, but you can email me personally if you wish. In the course of the next few hours I stopped by six [count'em] different stores and one lunch counter and purchased something in all but one of them. Here is a list to expose my shame:
  • Big Fun Toys, located virtually here and physically here got my vote. A set of Wonder Pals to extend our existing collection of noise-making socks. Really cool. A should love them.
  • Some special printer paper from Adorama. The store is more intimate than B&H, plus its on the same street as Books of Wonder.
  • A quick stop at the aforementioned Books of Wonder to see if they got volume II of the Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant. I got volume one in that edition as a present to J not realizing, of course, that volume two might be hard to find here. I resisted temptation to buy anything by staying only as long as my errand required.
  • The same street hosts Academy Records. It is another favourite of mine and I left the store with a 2-disc CD set of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, and a set of CDs by Sarah McLachlan.
  • A present in Bed, Bath, and Beyond and some present-making meterials in a neighboring Filene's Basement

All together my damage was somewhere under $200, but the walk through the city on a hot summer day after a long break -- priceless. Morever, I did get a haircut, have a car with a fully functioning air-conditioner, and fifty or so photographs so I might get one or two decent ones. Priceless.
ps. Is not it amazing that every one of these stores has a website?

This is kinda, sorta, big news -- Microsoft moves U.S. jobs to India
The reason it is big news is not because yet another couple of thousand jobs will be lost here, but because MSFT does not reallyneed to move jobs anywhere. It is incredibly profitable as a company, and the savings are not really going to add up to anything significant.
It seems that the move is intended to establish Microsoft as a firmer part of the Indian software development market. To make it a "home team" so to speak. Like many developing countries India is increasingly relying on Linux to power its systems, and inserting Microsoft more centrally into its computing landscape can not really hurt.
Another, probably as relevant of a thought is the talent pool. Microsoft, historically, has not been a particularly well-paying company, but it has always insisted on hiring the best and the brightest. For two decades they were able to lure tha talent by stock options that were almost guaranteed to be worth six figures in a couple of years, and seven figures if you stuck around long enough. However, that is not longer the case. Despite suriving the market crash much better than all its rivals, Microsoft cannot rely on options to boost employee compensation. By hiring the best of Indian graduates it can not only pay a fraction of the US cost, but leverage its prestige in attracting talent in a relatively level playing field.
Good move business-wise, methinks.

A nice picture of the new EU President - Silvio Berlusconi -Framing the shot
[via USS Clueless]

I like the little "ap" letters in the corner. I can just see their new marketing slogan -- "EU, brought to you by AP"

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

If you like this article -- The Beethoven Mystery
you probably will like this book - Gold Bug Variations

Always good -- William Gibson in NYT to the 100th anniversary of George Oewell - The Road to Oceania
[Listening to: Wake Up Time - Tom Petty - Wildflowers (05:19)]

Always interesting - Guest Posting - Publishing in Britain
I do not think publishing it that different here (in the USA). Much like with the movies and even more so music, the amount of money one can make with a blockbuster or lose without one, makes it difficult to publish books by unknown authors, for small audiences, or on unpopular subjects.
I used to hope that Internet will be able to solve some of these problems, particularly making it easier for authors to publish, but changed my mind a few years ago. What is needed is not just the ability for anyone interested to publish a book, but a method for getting book information to those who might be interested in it. Blogs do a good job - if a book gets a good review in NYT and is mentioned by a blogger I respect, it has a good chance of ending up on my wishlist, or shopping basket. As tools for blog aggregation and information extraction improve, and reasonable e-books become available (thus driving publishing cost down), I hope that promise will come closer to reality.

Eh. Excellent points about in It's not the money, it's the power by Cody Hatch over at Dean's World.
Cody Hatch writes that a cap on donations won't get excessive money out of politics. What will, he argues, is a cap on politicians' power.

indeed. good read.

Yet another interesting post at VentureBlog -- Is Web inherently Democratic?
I like the article, and I think the point it raises about empoering architectures is a valid and good one. I do; however, disagree with the following assertion
The way in which a technology is architected can impact the ways in which it will be used or the ways in which it will inhibit certain uses. In discussing blogs, one of the participants made the point that blogs are not much different from good old bulletin boards and therefore the blog hype is unwarranted -- bulletin boards were never considered the great democratizer of media, so why should blogs? The answer is in the architecture. The difference between bulletin boards and blogs is simple: RSS. The architecture of RSS feeds and modern publishing platforms make the dissemination of information created on an individual level potentially massive. It makes it possible for someone like me to became a source of news that is cited in the mainstream media. Thus, to Lessig's point, by virtue of the architecture of modern blog tools, the limitations of bulletin boards are removed and the information can flow freely.

Yet another interesting post at VentureBlog -- Is Web inherently Democratic?
I like the article, and I think the point it raises about empoering architectures is a valid and good one. I do; however, disagree with the following assertion

The way in which a technology is architected can impact the ways in which it will be used or the ways in which it will inhibit certain uses. In discussing blogs, one of the participants made the point that blogs are not much different from good old bulletin boards and therefore the blog hype is unwarranted -- bulletin boards were never considered the great democratizer of media, so why should blogs? The answer is in the architecture. The difference between bulletin boards and blogs is simple: RSS. The architecture of RSS feeds and modern publishing platforms make the dissemination of information created on an individual level potentially massive. It makes it possible for someone like me to became a source of news that is cited in the mainstream media. Thus, to Lessig's point, by virtue of the architecture of modern blog tools, the limitations of bulletin boards are removed and the information can flow freely.

I feel that RSS is actually the tool that gave blogs parity with bulletin boards, not something that put them over the top. The beauty of newsgroups was that it was easy to update content - like blogs vs. more traditional homepages, and that one knew how to find that updated content -- like RSS instead of going through a long bookmark list. What the newsgroups did not provide, IMO, is that richness of personal expression that blogs let you have. You did not know anything about the author. You could not easily see their other postings to other newsgroups, etc, etc. That is just fine in some situations. Bulletin boards/forums at are an amazing collection of Photographic knowledge that would be hard to replicate in a different form. In fact, any Q&A on a massive scale still cannot occur within a blog continuum, but goes on happily in newsgroups. The reason BB's were not considered a democraticizing tool is because of their Q&A structure that gives the same voice to everyone. For blogs, the voice of the author is pre-eminent. S/he may or may not allow comments, but in the end it is the author's rant that readers come for. Because a specific voice is heard, and the record of the author is easier to establish, traditional media feels more comfortable quoting blogs than BBs.

Interesting article on how people search for information. -- Information foraging: Why Google makes people leave your site faster. via Tomalak's Realm
...Humans are under less evolutionary pressure to improve their Web use, but basic laziness is a human characteristic that might be survival-related (don't exert yourself unless you have to). In any case, people like to get maximum benefit for minimum effort...

indeed. I must be an exemplary human since my laziness almost prevented me from searching for this vital information. Seriousy though -- it's an interesting read.

I am glad that the story about an Israeli refusnik at Oxford is not dying down. Nearly every hit to this blog today came from search engine's answering questions about that incident.