Monday, December 29, 2003
First impression, as the plane cames into land, is that this is the least inviting place on earth. We approached the airport over, and then through, oppressively low gray clouds, over impoverished looking farms and a landscape that accomplished the clever trick of appearing both arid and damp at the same time.
We landed in drizzle, with foggy wisps of cloud gusting past at ground level. The airport small but the usual bureaucracy. As the lugage came off the conveyer, my friend Medina discovered his sandals had been swiped from his rucksack in transit.
Outside it was raining hard, and we got a minibus into the city. Our rucksacks, on top, got wetter. The airport is high above the city (as it's hard to get a plane down into the crater!) so we drove down, past the favela-like suburbs of the poor. The poor live on the heights where it´s colder and there´s less oxygen. Which demonstrates that even fresh-air has been succesfully grabbed by the rich and turned into a luxury.
Second impression : what a miserable, god-forsaken hole.
There´s a rumour that the indigenous people piss and defecate in the streets here. And that this gives the people and place a characteristic earthy smell. Some of my friends find this a charming rejection of modern social conventions, but I´m traumatically disgusted as I have to splash through the dark grey rivulets of slurry in the streets. It´s only the cold that prevents a major public health disaster. Or maybe the whole thing´s a slanderous, out-of-date stereotype.
Still, the hotel is good. With hot water. And after the rain stops, walking in the streets I start to get a more positive impression. There are comfortable cafes and tasty food. Many shops selling brightly coloured (warm) clothes and local crafts, panpipes, masks, and CDs of local music. My companions stock up on alpacca jumpers and fleeces.
There are also stalls selling a mixture of sweets and mummified llama foetuses (good luck to have in your house, apparently) With the occasional dried cat and bowl of dead frogs.
We´re all drinking coca tea to help resist the altitude sickness. It´s 3600 metres above sea-level here. At the moment Í haven´t felt much effect apart from bouts of sleepyness. (Not unlike when I was 20% underoxygenated due to sleep apneia) But some of my companions are suffering headaches and feeling worse.
OK, that´s it for now. Tomorrow I´ll probably be in love with the place.
Update : Medina was wrong, wasn't sandals but pyjamas.
Saturday, December 27, 2003
Friday, December 26, 2003
Guardian Unlimited | What good friends left behind
But Professor Colin Pillinger said he had faith it had landed safely, adding: 'We will hang on testing and waiting.'
He told a press conference on Boxing Day the robotic probe was programmed to make several more transmissions in the coming days.
BBC NEWS | Beagle team 'not giving up yet'
Michael, you ask three questions :
1) how do you define poor?
2) what are the necessary conditions for creating new wealth?
3) Why do people in Hong Kong earn 10 times as much as people in China?
Well, to take 3) first, maybe people in Hong Kong earn 10 times as much as people in China because people in China earn only a tenth of the Hong Kong salary.
I'm interested in your reaction to this quote. (Assuming it's true.)
Multinational companies sourcing production in China are having an enormous impact on the global economy, lowering wages and rolling back labor rights. Workers in China assembling healthcare products for companies such as Viva and Sport-Elec are being forced to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week (with just 12 days off a year) for 16 cents an hour. There is no overtime premium. The workers have no health insurance and no pensions. If they try to organize, they will be fired, perhaps even beaten and imprisoned.
Now we can agree that it doesn't matter if the (arbitrary) value on the wage-slip seems to be falling, as long as the price of what you need is going down as fast or faster. Sure, a number is meaningless. But it seems that with this race to the bottom it's not just the number on the pay-slip. It's conditions of work which are getting worse.
So, one way I'd define 'poor' is not merely that low number on your pay-slip, but a position of economic disempowerment, where you are obliged to take lousy jobs, with long, hard and abusive conditions *because* those are the best of the lousy options available to you.
When I say poverty is increasing, I don't mean just wages going down, but that this group of poor and disempowered people is *growing*. More lower-middle class Westerners are falling into it as they lose permanent jobs and have to take on less secure, lower-paid, temporary jobs. And more third-world farmers are losing their livelihoods and land (due to competition from heavily industrialized and government subsidized Western farmers) and are being pushed into it. Once again, it wouldn't matter if the poor farmers were just freely choosing to exchange hard, unrewarding work on the land for hardish, slightly better paid work in factories. But they aren't. They are really being *pushed* by the market. (And by governments that tolerate rich groups enclosing land. Last week my friend here in Brazil went to look at a slot in a condominium which was built illegally on previously common land less than 10 years ago. The government or other authorities are unlikely to do anything about this theft, although the enclosed land contains 3 rivers and many fruit trees. Before the enclosure that fruit would have been available to anyone who decided to go and pick it.)
So let's get to the second question. Is all this, perhaps, worth it? Do we need this kind of crap exploitative economic system to create wealth and progess in society?
I don't see why.
Between the late 40s and early 70s, under a roughly Keynsian consensus, and where centre-left governments often pushed for improvements in Labor protection, we saw plenty of technological innovation. Scientists and inventors are as much motivated by curiosity and acclaim as they are by wealth. And capitalism could function perfectly well to create new industries and millionaires, despite the greater government restriction. So clearly innovation and wealth can be created without extreme exploitation.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
So a scientist can have a social conscience. A scientist *should* have a social conscience, to the same extent you, I and the milkman have a social conscience. But I think if you try to argue she should have *more* responsibility than other people, this can *only* be exercised by either self-censorship, or by society granting an unwarranted authority to the scientist's moral and political opinions.
Tribe:Between Boredom and Chaos
Monday, December 22, 2003
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
I like Peter Burke, a historian who looks at knowledge in many contexts : technological, economic and political. Here he describes the rise of the print media, showing the interaction with the continuance of other media (such as oral communication, handwritten letters, wood-cuts, religious paintings, statues, processions, medals etc.)
All fascinating stuff, and good to compare to discussions about blogs, wikis, social networking etc. and makes me think about their interactions with current events.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Monday, December 15, 2003
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
according to Graham
The new language features all have one thing in common: they take some common idiom and provide linguistic support for it. In other words, they shift the responsibility for writing the boilerplate code from the programmer to the compiler. Because the source code is now free of this boilerplate, it's easier to write and read. Because the compiler, unlike the programmer, never makes mistakes, the resulting code is also more likely to be free of bugs.
After reading this, Sun really are starting to get it. What's going on? Realizing how clunky Java is? Fear of C#?
These are great changes :
- Generics : Finally!
- Enhanced for : basically a "for each X in collection" operation. Finally!
- Autoboxing : automatic type conversion between Integer and integer. Finally!
- Typesafe enums : Enums that look like C++. Good. In fact I've been using Visual Basic recently, and somthing that's really jumped out at me is how handy a decent enum is. But this looks a lot more ambitious. I'd like to try it out. (Although that would mean writing Java again. :-(
- Static import : One step closer to multiple inheritance ;-)
- Metadata : Code generation is always handy, but let's see the tools ...
Basically it's just looking at what happens when you increase the size of your social network in gift, barter and money economies. Executive summary : both gift and money economies seem to benefit from increasing social network size, barter economies don't. But I can't see any principled reasons for this. Maybe it's an artifact of the model :-(
All comments wecome on the wiki ...
Sunday, December 07, 2003
Saturday, November 29, 2003
But in order for the Miami Model to work, the police first had to establish a connection between legitimate activists and dangerous terrorists. Enter Miami Police Chief John Timoney, an avowed enemy of activist "punks," who repeatedly classified FTAA opponents as "outsiders coming in to terrorize and vandalize our city."
With the activists re-cast at dangerous aliens, Miami became eligible for the open tap of public money irrigating the "war on terror." In fact, $8.5-million spent on security during the FTAA meeting came directly out of the $87-billion Bush extracted from Congress for Iraq last month, a fact barely reported outside of the Miami press.
The Miami Model of dealing with domestic dissent reaches far beyond a single meeting. On Sunday, the New York Times reported on a leaked FBI bulletin revealing "a coordinated, nationwide effort to collect intelligence" on the U.S. anti-war movement. The memorandum singles out perfectly lawful protest activities including non-violence training, video-taping of police actions and Internet organizing. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the document revealed that, "The FBI is dangerously targeting Americans who are engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent. The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred."
n o l o g o . o r g
Friday, November 28, 2003
Given that it's theme is the fall to the dark-side, the betrayal of the old (good) republic by it's corrupt leaders, and it's transformation into the Empire, it's got to look like a metaphor for the current US situation.
So what will George Lucas do? Is he a "liberal" who'll highlight the parallels and turn it into a powerful indictment of the neo-con Project for the New American Century? Or is he a Republican who'll downplay these aspects, and exonerate Anakin, showing his fall as nobility overthrown by evil circumstance?
Jedi Council Forums - Episode III (Spoilers Allowed)
The Atlantic | December 2003 | The Bubble of American Supremacy | Soros
malevole - Programming Language Inventor or Serial Killer?
Joi Ito's Web: Docomo phones will become your wallet
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
I'm answering Michael's optimism that there's no problem of people losing jobs to automation :
The same tired argument was made at the advent of the computer (which replaced so many human tasks) and made everyone more efficient. The dawn of the robot age is SO VERY EXICTING - I think about it every day...embrace it, and thrive...
This strikes me as simply "Things turned out OK last time, so bound to be OK this time, no?"
I prefer starting from some kind of model of the world. And then looking at the possible scenarios in the context of that model.
So let's look at it this way. The world contains a certain number of workers, each with :
* a certain set of skills,
* a capacity to learn more skills, and
* a rate at which he or she can aquire more skills.
(These capacities are partly determined by biology, partly by educational background, partly by culture of the community they live in, and partly by specific personal situation. eg. someone looking after an elderly relative has less time to study.)
Automation removes the necessity for some skills because the machines can take over that area of production.
Now, your assumption is that the workers will simply adapt. As their skill becomes redundant, new opportunities will appear, and the worker will learn the new skills, and move to the new sector.
Of course, we know that adaption isn't an instantaneous event. And that not every worker has the capacity to learn the more complex skill. Everyone talks about that the whole time.
But this is an example of a more general and more pernicious problem. As the required skill levels get more complex, the time the worker needs to invest in order to learn the new skill also increases. Meanwhile, as technical progress accelerates, skills are becoming redundant faster.
The general effect of this is that the worker is being loaded with an increasing burden : to invest more and more time up-front, learning more complex, but less permanent skills. And also, to accept the added risk of being *wrong*. That is, investing time learning a skill which turns out never to be much in demand.
The result is that the population of workers is dividing. Some manage to keep up and learn the new skills. Others fall down into lower-skilled, casualized, lower-paid jobs.
We may say that this second group are those who are directly *losing out* due to the technical progress. In the worst case, this group become part of the structurally unemployed and unemployable underclass.
And, this group of casualized, poorer, workers is growing.
*If* it keeps growing, at some point, we should expect a rupture. Because this group isn't going to be happy to starve. But also Marx was wrong, they aren't going to aquire class consciousness and start the revolution either. Instead they will fall outside the economy. They'll become criminal. They'll revert to some kind of feudal or gang structure with "strong" leaders and vicious hostility to outside groups.) And the surviving high paid, skilled workers, will be increasingly barracaded into "safe" communities.
In the worst case, one of these feudal gangs will become so powerful that they'll overcome the enclaves of the rich, and we'll fall into fascism.
Alternatively, you may be right. Maybe this *isn't* going to happen. But I'd like to a see a plausible scenario for avoiding it. Let's run through a couple, because I'd be interested in what evidence we have for them.
1) Increase of reskilling rate.
One scenario is that the workers increase their capacity to keep up with the increased rate of change in demand for skills. They become smarter and quicker learners.
This is the hope of "education" politicians like Tony Blair, who preach that better education in schools will equip people for this. However, education delivered by the state currently seems to be failing to deliver smarter workers. Illiteracy is up. Critical thinking is down. Teachers are bored and disillusioned. And kids are being held as sitting targets for marketers.
Radicals offer the alternative of breaking up and privatising the school system, but that will just lead to a smaller school system for an elite, and very little education at all for the rest. (If you don't believe this, come to the third world and *see* whether the market manages to produce a better education for the poor than the government does.)
2) Decrease in difficulty of new skills
A second scenario is that although the rate of change keeps increasing, the *difficulty* of each new skill will decreases. This will allow "slow-learner" workers to get back into the new sectors of the economy. Maybe we can invent fantastic user-interfaces for the new tasks that need to be done. This is kind of what happened when Ford created the production line, and deskilled the work of building cars.
Unfortunately the Ford case may be the historical exception. It came at the time when there were no computers, so people were often being used as cheap, semi-intelligent control systems for machines. Now the machines are perfectly capable of controlling themselves.
3) Human skills
In the third scenario the new areas of work opened up will be more "human", so the requisite skills will be "people skills".
These will actually be pretty easy for a human to pick up but unlikely to be automated away.
But this is the point of the robot article : that most human "service" jobs can also be replaced. Or, the part that can't, is often not valued very much. People are willing to forgo personal service in small shops for cheaper goods at larger, more impersonal warehouses. They forgo waiters and chefs for fast-food, and as you point out, will eventually be perfectly happy with robot cooked food.
For everyday purposes, shops and restaurants are likely to disappear. That's a very large sector and a lot of people to shift elsewhere.
4) Something miraculous.
Something we can't even imagine appears to soak up this spare labour.
This seems to be a strange kind of faith to have. It is just "something always turned up in the past, so it probably will again in the future". But it's not clear that it's true that things always turned up in the past. It isn't true of the Roman empire which collapsed because it ran out of new places to expand into. It hasn't been much true of Latin America, where what turns up tends to be varieties of fascism, or meltdowns like Argentina. It hasn't been true in the US or Europe where structural unemployment, casualization of labour and inner-city poverty have been steadily increasing for decades.
But maybe that's just the usual propaganda. So instead let's focus on these questions. Where are the *entrepreneurs* with
the ideas for labour-intensive sectors of the economy? Where are the VCs funding them? Where is the stock-market enthusiasm?
If we take share prices as roughly representing the market's predictions about the future, where are the "shares leapt at ServiceCorp on news that the company was hiring 2000 semi-skilled ex-checkout-operatives. ``We're snapping these people up early, said CEO Bob Smith. They'll take a bit of retraining, but wages will skyrocket once the boom gets going. And we think the loyalty we're buying is a good investment.'' type stories?
So I'm not just gainsaying. I'm open to argument. Convince me that things will be alright this time, as before.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
I can see where Dave Winer's coming from - hierarchical outliners - but I don't instinctively think of days as subtrees of months. It feels wrong.
But lets see whether I get used to it ... I've been wrong before.
Interesting point at end :
The potential supply of social capital is abundant, only held back by search and transaction costs. Social software and social networking are rapidly driving these costs towards zero. The pace of capital formation is accelerating because of two additional factors.
In the parlance of network or systems thinking: in the absence of connections, nodes become state attractors. In other words, when the amount of connections is limited, the value of connections is high.
Economists have an applicable rule for this as well: Say’s Law, or “supply creates its own demand.” Now Say’s Law doesn’t work when there is money involved (creates an arbitrage opportunity, otherwise supply-side economics would make sense), but it does apply to barter, reputation and micro-markets. When money is involved, it provides a universal arbitrage path, causing a fight over equilibrium and discounting the impact of Say’s Law at a macro scale.
This is one reason why you can’t trade goods or cash for social capital. Or if you do, it disrupts equilibrium across markets. Now I am sure some elaborate schemes have allowed traders on eBay to assume others’ identities and some virtual world economies have crossed this boundary. But the point is you can’t monetize social capital in aggregate, because it operates at a micro-scale. You can foster social capital for the value of its emergent patterns and what it enables: the flow and production of other tangible and intangible assets. The value of social capital is local, but its impact is global.
Graham Lally has started the project at BBC - iCan
Monday, November 24, 2003
I can't read XML
That's why I could never use Ant. It's why I'm having so much trouble trying to understand RDF. It's why, although I was really excited by the idea of a wiki you can draw on (details below), I felt a wave of resigned depression wash over me when I looked at the examples of SVG. I'm never going to learn to adapt or use this.
And it's why I cling on to beautiful, beautiful wiki-markup, which I can understand when I look at it. But my eyes don't read XML. They slide over it. I understand nothing.
XML is everywhere for one reason only. No one learns how to write parsers. Nor is there much support for them. There are no drag-and-drop components for creating little languages. No standard libraries for writing them. Visual Basic doesn't come with Regular Expressions. Java only got REs recently, and still treats strings as second class citizens.
So when a programmer needs to parse a config file, he just reaches for the off-the-shelf XML parser. That's all that's available to him.
I hate those wikis which interpret any click on a non-link as meaning you want to edit the page.
Also I notice that the MouseGesture example seems to break arrow key scrolling.
I hope this doesn't take off ...
Sunday, November 23, 2003
Wish I could see some cool pictures though.
Update : Another interesting paragraph from the interview : In some sense, the brilliant thing that Tim Berners-Lee did was simply to say, "I don't care." For 20 years people had been failing to solve [problems of broken links] in any large-scale way. Berners-Lee decided to just do the simple obvious thing that solves the problem he needed, namely, getting ahold of a resource. And that's actually an easy problem. Coming up with those names, URLs, is a relatively straightforward thing. He did that, and that enabled a lot of what the Web is today. But the Web has all these problems. What happens if a Web page moves or gets deleted? That is exactly the problem of maintaining or managing the configuration of any large scale distributed system. On the one hand, the URL design has made the Web somewhat fragile. Broken links are all over the place. On the other hand, if they had tried to really solve that problem, the Web never would have happened, because the problem is just too hard.
My first thought. Gosling gets it. But doesn't seem to have got the analogous case of strong typing.
Second thought. Why do I think that forcing strong typing on people is like forcing them to manage the complexity of preventing broken links? It's a very strong intuition for me. But maybe I need to explore this further, and see if it's really true or not.
I'll probably do that on the wiki : Start here : ThoughtStorms:AgainstTyping.
Obviously it's something to do with one-way links. When you force strong typing on the programmer, you force her to pay that cost of managing the co-ordination of the typing in different parts of the program. And as the program gets larger and more complicated, so those co-ordination costs explode ... well keep watching the wiki, that's where this'll be developed.
Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | Iraq is not America's to sell
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Though I disagree with his analysis. I'm with Shirky on this. As I wrote here :
For one thing, I think the Semantic Web is meant to be MORE than merely adding machine readable markup to the web. XML is perfectly OK for that. No, the Semantic Web is about creating a yet higher level common language which allows machines to describe those machine readable markup formats.
So although Clay is wrong if he says that the semantic web requires a common ontology of all data. It certainly *does* require that all ontologies are defined in a common meta-language. And certainly one of the motivations for that, is that at some point in the future, it will be possible to write automatic translations between documents written using different ontologies.
In fact, it's hard to see any other motivation for the use of RDF schemas rather than XML DTDs.
And despite protestations to the contrary this really *is* what AI foundered on.
Another thought on this debate. Take something like FOAF which I consider to be an RDF success story. How dependent is that success on RDF? It seems to me that FOAF is a success because
a) software mediated social networking is a good idea
b) an open, distributed software mediated social network is also a good idea.
c) FOAF got first mover advantage, and everyone else is better off working with the standard than designing a competing one.
But how would things be different if FOAF was just a Dave Winer style XML hack? What is getting done that wouldn't be getting done?
Friday, November 21, 2003
BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Blair lined up for Simpsons debut
Time to link to ThoughtStorms:BlairiteEducationPolicy
BBC NEWS | Business | Americas move on giant trade zone
Here in Brazil, we call it ALCA rather than FTAA. But it's basically the extension of NAFTA to the south of the continent.
Is this a good or bad thing? It's a complex calculation. The US, despite free trade rhetoric, has been increasing tarifs on things like Brazilian oranges. They basically NEVER do free trade out of principle, always self-interested realpolitik. (eg. rewarding countries who supported them over Iraq, with bilateral trade agreements, while shunning others)
So the question is what they'll demand and get for the various concesions made under this menu. Is it better or worse than things they would have demanded as part of a universal agreement?
Things to watch out for. What happens about the military base the Americans are building at Alcantara on the Venezualan border? What about GM crops? And Brazil's current willingness to clone AIDS drugs?
At the same time, I hope this isn't an excuse for Brazil to squeeze out other South American countries.
Meanwhile the MST are back in town. (Some of them have been here for some time. Hilan goes and gives workshops there.)
Tribe.net: Tribe Discussion: Social software intellectuals
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Below, a screen-grab from the Trafalgar Square webcam, just after 5 pm (UK time)
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
TIME Magazine: Coolest Inventions 2003, Apple Music Store
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Oblivion threat to 12,000 species
Wonder what the doomslayers are saying about this. Not really happening? Or isn't important?
Monday, November 17, 2003
In this scenario the US is kind of like a super state, but only American citizens can vote, right? Only American citizens have rights. What does this mean exactly?
Almost, almost ...
I'm not (yet) asking to be allowed to participate in the US elections,
Me? If we get Pax Americana then I bloody well am asking for that right.
Joi Ito's Web: A global democracy
John Taylor Gatto : Against School
Here's the vision thing (TM)
What? : Democratising the understanding of money.
Why? : Our economic understanding is at the heart of our political beliefs and projects. And money is the deep underlying protocol that biases how our economy and society run.
We need to understand the implications of the details of our money system a lot better. And we need discussion and understanding of money to be wide-spread.
What's been done? : I'm here pitching for the Optimaes project (Open Project to Investigate Money and Economic Systems - http://www.nooranch.com/synaesmedia/optimaes/optimaes.cgi ) We're equally inspired by money reformers and alternative currency enthusiasts, the open source community, and those like Alan Kay (http://www.viewpointsresearch.org/about.html ) who are using computer simulation in education.
Optimaes combines software for computer simulation of "toy" economies, with a discussion forum and community who use it to ask and answer questions about the way money works.
The code is free (naturally). And the discussion is open, encouraging debate between socialists and libertarians, eco-feminists and "Austrian" economists.
What's to be done? :
Phase one (where we are). Build the community. Get the geeks talking to the alternative money people. Show those with the "hacker" mindset that money is a network protocol, and the ultimate platform to hack.
Phase two : A larger community will start spawning more projects. There'll be different questions and simulations and economic theories. But there'll also be new online and offline markets and currencies to test the theories with real communities in real life.
Phase three : Get the message out! Webloggers will discuss this stuff, to death, of course.
But we'll also make the software easier and more accessable :
* Simulation software aimed at schools, so that the next generation grows up with a deep understanding of how monetary systems work.
* Simulation software so simple it can be used as a token in a political debate. A politician's blog will embed a model to demonstrate the working-out of her proposed reforms. A constituant will mail a question, complete with an awkward parameter-set which drives the model into chaos.
The endgame : Money system(s) that work as well as we know how to design them. And politicians who tend them well, because they know that the electorate knows how they work.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Friday, November 14, 2003
BBC NEWS | Politics | Murdoch paper 'may back Tories'
BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Brazil strikes anti-HIV drug deal
I think the Blairite, education first policy is totally busted.
It basically offers the following diagnostic : "Sure business isn't very responsible to the people who work for it. But that's really the fault of the workers. Business has real and justifiable *needs*.
Sadly, the workers don't fulfil those needs right now. But if they only take responsibility for educating themselves better, and are willing to learn and adapt faster, then they'll match the requirements of business, and things will be fine.
Now, we understand, that maybe the workers require some help to achieve this level of flexibility and productivity. Perhaps they were let down by previous education regimes. But now we have the technique and the will to make that OK, and help people out of their predicament."
But is there a natural *limit* to the increasing demands that business will make on the worker? And is that limit lower than the human breaking point?
There's almost no evidence that business regulates itself to respect the idea of natural human limitations it won't try to go beyond.
Will business put workers lives at risk (and stochastically kill them) to save money on safety features? Sure, does it all the time.
Will it employ 8 year old kids in factories? Yep.
Will business employ teenage girls 15 or 16 hours a day without break? Check!
Will it feed them amphetamins to keep them awake beyond their natural sleep patterns? Happened in Guatemala. 
Again, what time-scales does business respect? Here we have a great example from international currency trading. Theoretically, currencies are bought and sold to represent the currency markets' faith in the underlying economy of countries. In fact, as we all know, it's speculative gambling. The dealer in New York who's about to take a punt on the Brazilian "Real" isn't waiting to see if the Brazilian farmer can get up to speed on new technologies before he makes his assessment.
Business has NO sense of time-scale except to try to compress it. And now we're seeing wonderful deeds in supply chain management. Dell put's a computer together to order. It can switch most of it's component suppliers in an afternoon.
The quote that an engineer's knowledge is out of date in three years is interesting. But that may soon look sluggish. If it suited business that product lines evolved so fast that the engineer's knowledge was out of date in 3 weeks, or that suppliers changed several times an hour, that's the way it would be.
Now how is the educated worker protected from this acceleration? Not at all. In fact, in some ways, she's *worse* off than her less educated sister.
1) If the job lasts the same length of time, she's made a bigger investment in her skills for the same return.
2) If the job involves more information processing, then it can probably be moved around the world, really easily.
Basically, the Blairite line is "give business what it says it wants today, and hopefully it won't want more tomorrow." But that's looking increasingly implausible.
 According to Naomi Klein
Mr Evans told BBC News Online one reason for the popularity of brands as names is a growing desire on the part of parents to mark their children out as different.
BBC NEWS | World | Americas | US babies get global brand names
Thursday, November 13, 2003
BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | US attacks nuclear report on Iran
Further evidence, I think, that the US, in it's paranoia, is becoming hostile to the idea that other countries should have science. After all no one would have any legitimate reason for researching nuclear stuff except to build weapons, would they?
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
It also shows that computers are starting to automate the service industry (up until 2 years ago, productivity improvements were limited to a small subset of manufacturing and technology sectors)
John Robb's Weblog
I've started adding people I've "met" online as Tribe "friends".
Basically I decided that :
a) most of my IRL friends are a dead loss. Hardly any of them seem to be using Tribe.
b) I'm starting to build conversational relationships on Tribe which I value. And I go looking for posts from certain people. So why not call them "friends" (with all usual caveats)
c) I am NOT a link-whore. I still need to get a feel for someone before I befriend them.
d) Some of my IRL friends already seem to have accepted friendship with super-connectors, so I'm already joined to these people by 3 or 4 hops anyway.
e) I felt guilty everytime I have to write my "thanks for wanting to be my friend, but you see I have this policy" letter.
In fact that's what was really getting me down.
Let's see what difference it makes.
(BTW, if you've invited me and I *still* haven't responded, it's probably because I haven't been reading anything by you, either on Tribe or elsewhere, and I still don't have a strong impression of you. Doesn't mean I don't like you or couldn't be your friend.)
Tribe.net: Who is my friend?
Ed Taekema - Road Warrior Collaboration 27.10.2003
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Monday, November 10, 2003
Forgotten civil war in Uganda
'worse than Iraq'
Saturday, November 08, 2003
Graham is thinking about "off-shoring" work to the third world.
His conclusion, unskilled jobs are going abroad. This creates a big gulf between the skilled worker and the unskilled welfare recipient. And civilized countries probably want to do something about it.
As welfare is expensive and unpopular with rich voters, the only solution is education, education, education to get everyone into those lovely, high paying, skilled jobs.
There are several problems with this view :
- off-shoring isn't just a problem for unskilled labour. It's increasingly happening to skilled work too. Hence the US's jobless recovery. In fact, the internet makes it really easy to move "knowledge work" abroad. I've teleworked for Runtime from Brazil, with few real problems.
The only things that prevent the mass-exodus of skilled jobs overseas are :
- language barriers
- trust barriers (how do I know them furriners ain't dishonest or plain stupid?)
- er ... that's it.
Now India has millions of cheap English speakers. And a sufficiently large proportion are as smart and well educated as British or American folks. Cheap travel means our managers and investors can go there and meet them and build-up trust.
- language barriers
- the skilled / non-skilled distinction is actually misleading. Skill is continuously eroded by automation (as Graham admits). In our field, skilled assembler programmers have seen their jobs automated out of existence by C compilers. (And it's only a matter of time before Graham's skilled job writing Enterprise Java is creatively destroyed and he's replaced by less skilled Python or Ruby coder ;-)
- It's not very clear what "skills" aren't either automatable and / or offshorable. The best candidates seem to be really personal contact services (anything between client account management and prostitution). But even here automation takes it's toll. At the one end of the scale, burger-flipping looks like it's on the way out. At the other, telepresence means Indian doctors can operate surgical robots in New York hospitals.
- The most money of all is, of course, to be made not by working at all. But by investing.
Actually this race to higher skills suddenly reminds me of Clayton Christiansen's Innovator's Dilemma. Basically the jobs are being eaten up by automation and more competative markets abroad. The rich "Western" country (like the market leader for Christiansen) is forced higher and higher up the value chain, tailoring a service to only the most wealthy and specialist customers ... until one day, it finds it's hit the top. The manufacturing goes abroad, the design and planning goes abroad. And then you suddenly realize that the wealth has gone abroad too. The dollar / pound / euro collapses relative to the Yuan, the Chinese stop learning English to service English-speaking customers. The few enclaves of wealth in the "West" are no longer a priority compared to the home market.
How do you stop this? Who knows, but here are my suggestions for civilized governments.
- Demand high standards of workers' rights everywhere. No reason today why there shouldn't be a web-cam in every factory in the world. Tag every item produced with a bar-code that let's consumers trace it back to it's place of origin and see the conditions under which it was made.
TQM and supply chain management gives companies plenty of oportunities to exert pressure on and make demands from their suppliers. The same technology can be used to enforce standards of working conditions. Government should be willing to fine the importers of any material that doesn't conform.
Then at least we'll know that off-shoring isn't a race to the bottom of employer responsibility.
- After that, stimulate the consumption of local produce. Support local complementary currencies which have geographical limits. For example, exempt them from taxes. That will lead to many consumers choosing to be paid in local currency, and to spend on locally produced services. In turn this will stimulate the demand for a mix of skill-levels in your area.
- Encourage alternative currencies for international trade. No more export guarantees in the national currency, but in a government issued scrip with demurrage. This turns exporters into more enthusiastic consumers within the country. In fact all "corporate welfare" and government support can be in forms like this.
- More soon ...
Friday, November 07, 2003
Which is to say, almost nowhere
Shirky: The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview
How to Save the World
But why is it so intuitively obvious that the manufacturer's site, even if it's packed with detail is the more useful. There's an alternative theory : Matt's blog is more useful because it contains the information people actually want to link to, in the size and format they want it.
This isn't a problem with blogs or PageRank. It's a problem with democracy. The masses will "elect" whatever story speaks to them in the format they have the time and inclination to accept. And maybe, as with the mass-media, this is a race to the lowest common denominator.
If so, it's troubling. Should Google go the elitist route of having self-appointed experts to decide which stories are really useful? Or should it honor what the "average man on the web" wants to read?
Maybe I should write for the Register UK too
Unfortunately : In order to have any remote chance of success gaining an interested audience and getting good on-topic ads showing up, pick a narrow topic you are passionate about and run with it.
But there's the rub. What if you aren't passionate about a narrow topic?
Blogging for dollars
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Today I posted this story on two different Tribe tribes, my wiki and Zbigniew's new wiki. Suddenly Transclusion starts to look a good idea.
Maybe it can be policed? Are spammers controlable by honest citizens? I guess the problem is participation rate. Unless there's also some kind of regular discussion, travelers who know a place are unlikely to visit it's page regularly. Whereas spammers have an incentive to spam regularly. OTOH couldn't the same have been said about those who want to use Wikipedia to spread-some kind of disinformation?
Maybe it can work well in conjunction with Free accomodation exchange networks
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
A Game Theoretic Framework for Incentives in P2P Systems
I guess if we view complementary currencies as platforms. And we are concerned with designing a currency to fulfil certain criteria, we need to consider game theoretical analysis.
Damn! I hate game theory. All that maths makes my head hurt! :-(
Monday, November 03, 2003
Among the interrogators' questions: If Hussein did not have chemical or biological weapons, why did he fail to disabuse U.S. and other intelligence services of their convictions that he did? Why did he also allow U.N. inspectors to conclude that he was being deceptive?
Let's get this straight. Saddam didn't have WMDs. Told everyone he didn't have them. The UN inspectors said they couldn't find any and suspected he didn't have any.
The US, went in anyway and killed over 7000 Iraqi civilians + n military, screwed the country's infrastructure, unleashed a continuous low-intensity conflict where no-one thrives but militant islamicists and criminal gangs.
And now it's Saddam's fault for failing to "disabuse" the Americans of their conviction!!!??!
On the other hand you could just try to palm off the blame onto misleading advice from those damned ruskies and frogs!
Zbigniew is one of the more interesting people I've encountered on Tribe.net, and we're having several good conversations across a number of different areas.
- Persuading people to use complimentary currencies is the problem of persuading people to move to a new platform. Joes Spolsky has some interesting things to say about that
- Social networking software is going to intertwingle with payment enablement, financial aggregation services (banks, insurance, pensions etc.), currencies and money systems of all kinds.
- Crypto and trust networks and ID will be in there too.
So what is Optimaes Currency Description? Basically I'm writing an extension to FOAF to describe which currencies you use, what their characteristics are, and which payment networks you are on. And I'm making sure it handles a lot of alternative currencies, bartering and gifting networks. It's also a good way of learning RDF too.
Ron RIvest (co-inventor of RSA encryption):
We have two kinds of money: those based on gold atoms and those
based on bits. If you try to make bit-based systems work like
gold-based systems, it won't work. We can't ship gold atoms over
the Internet, so we need to use bit-based systems. There's a
naive belief in the Internet yielding decentralized payment
systems, but payment systems require centralized points. What
will be decentralized will be players -- phones, PDAs -- but the
accounts will remain centralized.
Hmm. But nothing about alternative / complementary currencies. Judging from this there's currently a big divide between these people (who are thinking mainly in terms of cryptography and traditional business) and the Bernard Lietaer idea of The Future of Money. That's a disconnect that needs bridging.
Sunday, November 02, 2003
Saturday, November 01, 2003
Libertarian for Dean
Friday, October 31, 2003
Thursday, October 30, 2003
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
... but there's something so sneaky and twisted about Weed, which combines file-sharing with pyramid marketing, that I'm hoping it will succeed.
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
In what sense does "letting someone know" constitute "working closely with" them? I wonder if this illustrates rather well, the problem Bush and co. have with the rest of the world.
BBC NEWS | Middle East | Bush warns Iraq neighbours
Sunday, October 26, 2003
In fact, the Free Software Foundation runs a lot of these 'enforcement actions.' There are 30 to 40 going on right now, and there were 50 last year, Kuhn says. There have been hundreds since 1991, when the current version of the GPL was published, he says. Tracking down bad guys has become such a big operation that the Free Software Foundation has created a so-called Compliance Lab to snoop out violators and bust them. "
Yeah, right! So the free-software community defending its own property, in the way that society allows it to, and that it always announced that it would; rather than, say, rolling over and accepting the corporates can just abuse the contract that they receive Linux under; is ... "dark". And presumably sinister and unsporting too. Pah!
Forbes.com: Linux's Hit Men
Zbigniew is thinking of software mediated social networks as routing map for dynamic information. A bit like the way I've been calling the blogosphere, the "flow internet".
Jason is wondering how to use this for permission marketing. To send certain kinds of marketing messages via the social network.
So I ask, will the routing logic be by type of message or type of person. And who decides? Do I decide for myself, or for the people I link to?
I think Jason is thinking of "message type routing".
But I suspect that this will lead to the usual permission marketing problem. Marketing is "interrupt" by definition. Surely if I have the choice I'll simply choose not to receive adverts ...
But then I start going off in this direction ...
If I filter out begging letters, but I have a friend who sends one. And another friend who is open to receive them. Should the message be passed via me to the second friend? Or is my stated lack of interest also taken to be *filter* for my downstream friends?
How does control over this affect my value on the network? To make a weblog comparison. I may read the weblog of person X because he's both a window on a particular scene, but ruthelessly not interested in one aspect of it. So I know that by reading his blog I really get a filtered view.
If there are fine grained filters on this sort of message routing in software mediated social networks, I may sign up as "knows by reputation" person Y, precisely because I want to take advantage of his filter properties.
Hmmm ... maybe there's even a business model where person Y can *sell* a kind of aquaintanceship that relies on his advanced filter settings.
People Aggregator visions
Friday, October 24, 2003
Thursday, October 23, 2003
As I understand it, things are like this.
FOAF : is a distributed data-format which represents information about people and their connections.
PeopleAggregator : is an example of a database which can be used to hold a lot of this data.
There will be other places that hold this kind of stuff as well such as individual web-pages. Eventually other services like Tribe / Friendster will probably make their data available in this format too, and will become FOAF databases.
The business logic that *animates* all of this is mainly going to be in the "scutters" that run around the network collating this FOAF information into particular views of the social network. They will analyze the hints given in FOAF records and use those as routing information. But they'll also bring their own inference strategies to it. They may try to screen-scrape Friendster or Technorati or Amazon reviews to get a better picture. They may use FOAF information in ways you never intended : "X knows three men who've reviewed queer-studies text-books. Better bump-up his health insurance premiums" etc.
You have an interesting perspective. I think you see this social network as primarily a piping system for information. (Which I certainly think is a good way to think about Weblogs.) A scutter / news aggregator combination can suck RSS feeds from your social locality.
Two thing seem likely to me.
One is that this functionality will migrate to a desktop client, to be integrated with the universal mailbox / aggregator / search tool / blog tool.
The other is that the user will want *control* over the routing. To take one of (I think) Bill Seitz's examples, you may want to program your combined tool to aggregate all RSS info. in your two-step neighbourhood, minus all stories about sports.
In other words, routing will be modified not just by the contents of FOAF records, but also by the *content* of the data.
What I *don't* see happening (though I've been wrong before) is that much more fine grained routing control will go into the FOAF file itself. Users will want the control their end, rather than to give it up to me or PA.
(Actually on second thoughts, maybe I do want my FOAF file to say "I value everything Eric Raymond says about Unix, but nothing that he says about Europe.")
For similar reasons, I don't see that there's a long term role for server-side scutters. Which try to give "definitive" network views.
Although maybe Google is a counter-example. Perhaps it's more complicated ... giant scutter / search engines to produce "objective" views of the network in some cases, and local perspectival scutter / aggregators for individuals.
Tribe.net: Tribe Discussion
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Computerworld | Complimentary currencies in the future of the software business
Quite often, though, we search for facts and answers. Starting from the simple "What time is it now?" to "What was the pre-IPO valuation for Pets.com?" we search for information—for facts that we know or suspect might exist. A search engine that satisfies this type of search would have to go beyond keywords because keywords produce too much noise and don’t allow the software algorithm to define a relevant solution space. ...
If closed-access databases that charge customers for access were able to somehow integrate their content into the modern search engines, finding exact results would be a lot easier ...
Monday, October 20, 2003
Of course, real history is often not much different : small communities of quarrelsome and warring kings and princes and emprerors.
Or to zoom into the internet. Small communities of quarrelsome and warring hackers and bloggers.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
Saturday, October 18, 2003
In the meantime http://www.nooranch.com/synaesmedia/ will work as an alternative to http://www.synaesmedia.com/
Friday, October 17, 2003
If this works ... I'll be trying to persuade some of the people I met on Tribe.net to use FOAF too. Not that I don't like Tribe. I think it has a lot of potential, and I am meeting good people there. But having only one kind of relationship is confusing.
Unfortunately, PeopleAggregator doesn't seem to be working. I've accepted friendship but nothing seems to have changed.
OTOH Typed Threaded Discussion is still broken after about 2 months. Bad Philip!
Software Patents and the EU Council of Ministers
Thursday, October 16, 2003
My aggregator already has 20 feeds, mainly of people who I want to read, but who are temporarily off my radar. Somehow I need the special power of being able to dynamically vary the importance of different feeds.
But then I discover that I was wrong. That they weren't so ephemeral. They are important and as relevant as some of the trivia that goes into the wiki.
So how do I judge?
What I fear is that when I make the ephemeral judgement, I'm really saying that I don't know how to classify this fragment, and to fit it into the general pattern. The only way I can think of addressing it, is that it's now. On the other hand, the most insignificant word or two that I can see how to classify and connect, goes immedietely into the wiki.
This is why even wikilogs / blikis have an awkward distinction between those pages who's names are WikiWords, and those who's names are munged dates. You can have two different mindsets (WikiMind, BlogMind) when you enter the data.
It also suggests the ideal Wikilog / Bliki technical functionality. The capacity to add posts NOW under a DateName, then rename those posts later (with all other links automatically updated of course ;-)
ThoughtStorms: WeblogsAndWiki: "
Crooked Timber: Globollocks Watch
There is a need for design, now rather than later, that treats the people with the worst access as the most valuable people, the ones that we should work hardest to include.
It's quite an idea to assume the worst connected are the most valuable. In what ways might this be true? Because they're the majority? Because they have the smallest microvalue? Because they're in the slowest networks?
Caring about Thinking: Social Networking Kit
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Crooked Timber: Is "imminent" transitive?
Unfortunatly I can't. None of the services seems to offer searchable catalogues of the artists they stock. This seems extraordinary. Surely the biggest selling point the service could have is that you could check whether your 10 - 15 favourite bands were available?
(Rhapsody has it's catalogue online ... but only in browsable pages of 40. Why? And no links to artist's details to check this is the artist you're looking for if you're unsure of the name. No listener recommendations. Oh, and they don't do Momus, Current 93, The Cardiacs, Bally Sagoo)
Conclusion. Amazon will win the online music retail space.
Naomi Klein : Bush's AIDS Test
InfoWorld: Why Mozilla matters: October 10, 2003: By Jon Udell: Application Development
But he's given a close run for his money by another left blog : Confined Space :
ask yourselves: is there not good and evil in the world? And do we not objectively know which is which?