Monday, December 21, 2009

Cool looking new multi-"touch" gesture tracking screen.

Let's hope its not racist.
This is majorly damning. HP computers are racist.

There's a real danger, that moving into a world of ubicomp, some groups are going to be systematically empowered or disempowered by generalizations built into video recognition software.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More pictures from occupation in Brasilia.
Bloody hell!

There are major protests going on in Brasilia against the current governor, Jose Roberto Arruda, who's been caught in a corruption scandal. The Arruda government is definitely a can of worms which I saw up close when I was working, providing software to the Health Ministry, a couple of years ago. We were constantly being undermined by a rival company who's boss had allegedly donated millions to Arruda's campaign. There was ongoing political manoeuvring to have us replaced, some of it within our own partners, and some protected by high-level political figures within the ministry.

To the best of my knowledge, the people I worked for, weren't actually buying influence (at least, if they were, they didn't seem all that successful at it). But it's a constant, pervasive atmosphere throughout companies supplying the government, which tends to breed a kind fatalism. The assumption is that only those who play this game can ever succeed.

Anyway, some of my friends are involved in the protests and occupation of some local government buildings. Seems like the police have now been set on them.

Update : a video. Does this show police brutality? I'm not 100% sure I can see how the fight breaks out, but once it's triggered, they certainly start reacting aggressively.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Good blog-post about the problem of large-scale software simulations in science.

I'm obviously a fan of science-through-simulation so I think that the problems raised don't kill it. Or rather, I think that these issues are not a sign that something has "gone wrong" with science. They are an inevitable part of the maturing of simulation as a tool.

But clearly there's a unarguable need for the code to be available for reviewers. And ideally, to a wider community (hey! OPTIMAES) In fact, this is what I called "the dialogue of models", where competing models are presented and criticised as a way of refining everyone's understanding of the issues.

But what else can be done? Because, frankly, even when the code is out there, the number of people with sufficient understanding and time to analyse it, is going to be vanishingly small. And code is big and complex and time consuming. So the chance of it being "properly" peer-reviewed is low.

Higher-level languages make it easier to express more, more concisely. But they require abstractions are commensurately hard to unpack.

Another option is to use common toolkits like Repast where the task of debugging and verifying the underlying infrastructure is shared among many peers. Similarly, the data-sets need to be accepted and shared within the peer community. (There seems to be a list of climate data repositories here.)

But what else could be done?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Talented Friend Watch #16 : Aharon Amir won the prize in the "shadow search" competition : a search-engine algorithm as art-form.

(Note that I helped out with some of the pseudo-code, but it's basically Aharon's idea and work.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I've finally got around to reading Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. And though I kind of assumed I knew what it was about from reading other articles from her, and I'm obviously a leftist, I have to say that even I am stunned. Both by how bad things really are. And how well she organizes her arguments, puts the pieces together and finds perfect rhetorical weapons to express the horror and enormity of it.

It's an amazing book, that you should just go and read. In fact, I'm so convinced of the importance of that, that I'm going to make an offer to friends of this blog who want to read it but aren't 100% sure or can't afford it. I'll buy you a copy (up to 5 for different readers). Just put the ordinary, cheap paperback, on an Amazon wishlist (either Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and point me at it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Through the Hub mailing list today. Smells important :


Hello lovely Hub people

I would be very grateful for 2 minutes of your time to read this email and, if you can, any assistance you can provide.

My Dad has worked all his life, has paid all of his taxes, his National insurance and for all of his adult life been physically strong and able after working in a number of physically demanding manual jobs. Unfortunately now he is having to deal with an undiagnosed broken shoulder, deafness and an inner ear condition, permanent ligament damage in both of his knees as well as progressive athritis. My reason for listing his conditions is not to elicit your sympathy but rather to state the facts because as of early September this year he has been denied the level of support available to him through the Employment and Support Allowance. In fact its been a bit of a farce since at first he was approved by a doctor in April and then for some unknown reason (on which DWP cannot shed any light) the decision to approve benefit support was overturned by a nurse practitioner. He, along with the support of the local CAB, are appealing the decision and await his tribunal some time in January.

Recently my mum told me that the doctors/nurses who are employed to assess claimants each receive £25 for each person that they certify fit to return to work. She also told me that the disability assessment service was outsourced by the DWP to a private sector company.
Now for any of you who heard about the whole Paul Clarke frenzy on Twitter this week (see #paulclarke for the debate) my intention is not to incite feelings or expressions of outrage rather it is to find out the facts and surrounding evidence regarding the Employment and Support Allowance and the company that may or may not be paid to certify people to return to work. My intuition tells me that something is not right here but in order to provide the best support to my Dad I need to look at the cold, hard facts...

So my appeal to you is that if any of you have any knowledge, experience, or information in this area to contact me. Furthermore, if any of you can use any of your networks to find out any information that would help me that would be appreciated too.

If you need further information on the subject of Employment and Support Allowance please see the following link:

http://www.disabilityalliance.org/esa.htm

Thank you for your time ...



Anyone with comments etc. I'll pass them back.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jake looks a very cool P2P directory syncing / file-sharing app.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gary Younge :

For there is a difference between class envy and class struggle. The former is rooted in the popular antipathy towards the rich on account of their wealth; the latter, meanwhile, targets the system that makes some people rich by making others poor. Envy can lead to struggle. But it doesn't have to.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who exactly is responsible for promoting BNP views in the UK?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Matt Taibbi :

To the rest of the world, the brazenness of the theft — coupled with the conspicuousness of the government's inaction — clearly demonstrates that the American capital markets are a crime in progress. To those of us who actually live here, however, the news is even worse. We're in a place we haven't been since the Depression: Our economy is so completely fucked, the rich are running out of things to steal.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Could, after many false starts, the world really be abandoning the dollar as its reserve currency?
Very nice. 10GUI is a real forward looking piece of design for UIs with multi-touch surfaces.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Very nice. Joel Spolsky and co. have done the logical thing and turned their awesome StackOverflow into a more general software-as-a-service offering. And started a new site for environmental tips :-)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Disobey Your Orders

Powerful video from the current G20 protests in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

Friday, September 04, 2009

I just want to take this opportunity to publicly thank leandromartinez98 who's post saved me a great deal of hell.

Context, my machine died yesterday. And I had to buy a new one in a hurry. I thought I'd go for a cheap netbook (not knowing what I really wanted, nor wanting to put a lot of money into it.)

Because I was basically next to the City of London, I went looking there, and found no Linux netbooks of any kind. Shop staff were surprised that I asked for it and gave me the usual story about how there used to be a lot of Linux netbooks but people kept bringing them back.

So, anyway, I went for an Asus 1005 (280 quid, 1 gig of RAM, 160 gigs HD, Atom processor) and a pendrive (to boot linux from). Got back to the office, everything worked fine with Windows XP. First impression of the machine itself, 10.2 inch screen and keyboard seem acceptable to work with.

I had some hassle making a bootable pendrive with Ubuntu Jaunty netbook remix and UNetbootin. Short version : Don't use UNetbootin; the installer it made didn't work for me. Fortunatelyu diskimager did the job.

So then I had Ubuntu on my machine ... but no wifi, and no wired networking of any kind. Of all the netbooks I could buy, I'd ended up with the one that Jaunty's drivers don't work with!

Anyway, that's where leandro martinez's post turned out a life-saver.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I guess there's still hope then ...

Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Can't quite decide if this is a great idea or a horrible one.

There's something awefully spiritually ersatz about sub-contracting your organic gardening to someone else, to do in mass. OTOH, in reality, if it funnels more money and resources into organic horticulture, and creates more empoloyment for people who are actually good at it, why not?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Good move.

Enacted last week, the Mexican law is part of a growing trend across Latin America to treat drug use as a public health problem and make room in overcrowded prisons for violent traffickers rather than small-time users.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Weird. Did anyone send me a microphone?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jamais Cascio :
If Bill Gates manages to head off global famine for what amounts to pocket change (for him), all is forgiven.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Been quiet again, hasn't it?

I'm busy.

Hopefully over in a few weeks though ...

meanwhile, some random news / thoughts :

1) I have a bike! And biking in London is wonderful. Especially if most of your commute is along the canal tow-path. :-)

2) ThoughtStorms is blowing itself out!

Yes! Really!

I used to love that wiki. Now, for the umpteenth time in the last couple of years, it's frozen up on me because of file-system restrictions on the hosting service. Spammers forced me to close it to other contributors. I rarely update it, and then only as a LinkBin. It needs a bloody good refactoring and clean out of old, redundant, information.

And suddenly, I'm sick of it. I need something new ...

What that is, I don't know. My rewrite of SdiDesk in Python is ... well, 5 years late. I don't like all these new fangled wikis with their wysiwyg editors and massive plugin configurations and a markup-languages that I don't know. (Hrrrumph!)

I don't think it's blogging, although, as you can see, I do more blogging that wikiing now.

In fact, I'm starting to suspect that BillSeitz was right and I was clever but wrong in thinking that blogs and wikis couldn't really be integrated due to conceptual rather than technological incompatibilities. I'd love to be able to pool the best of ThoughtStorms writing with Composing / SmartDisorganized / PlatformWars etc.

I'd love refactoring tools to help sift and mine and reorganize my writing from one place to another.

I'd love the power of git or mercurial distribute source-control behind my writing on different devices.

Yeah, but do I love it enough to sit down and write it?

3) Watch this awesome talk by Tim O'Reilly. Good inspiration for anyone thinking what to do next.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Zby has a great idea. If you fix bugs in big open-source projects, can't you get some reputation / whuffie in a physical format (eg. a letter that you can take to a job interview.)

Of course, if you're interviewing at a decent company, and you have some visibility within an open-source community, you should be able to point them at it anyway. But this could be useful for cases where your contributions are valuable but obscure and the potential employer not so clued-in.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

It's amazing that over 10 years after Michael H. Goldhaber wrote "The Attention Economy", Eric Raymond wrote "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" and at least 8 years after Clay Shirky wrote "Help! The Price of Information has Fallen ..." that famous, public alleged "thinkers" are arguing about this at such a naive level.

Anderson is right that Free will dominate the production of *non-scarce* information products. (The only paid information products will be commissioned ie. the author will be paid for attention.) But he's lying through his teeth about there being opportunities to build business models around this.

Rubbish! It's just going to get amateurized. And there won't be much of a money-business at all around the provision of content or culture. Or its "community management".

It's not going to happen with non-scarce resources, which is why there *will* be a "Hosting" business. And a business supplying computers or handsets to access the free information. But these will be far smaller than the currently existing computer and phone businesses. (Think Open Source circuit-board design meets printable electronics.)

It's true that Anderson doesn't answer Gladwell's "cost of the distribution infrastructure" point. I'd say that the best answer to that is likely to be that we're going to break up those big infrastructures and replace them with smaller, cheaper, more decentralized production. So we won't need the grid because we'll be catching our own sun and wind energy (free) with locally made equipment (very cheap) and local distribution nets (cheaper). Similar for food, furniture, homes etc. Production that relies on huge economies of scale, mass-production, mass-marketing, long-distance transport etc. is likely to go bust anyway due to energy crunch on one side, and smarter, better informed tools which can pull manufacturing closer to the end-consumer, on the other.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lenin's Tomb :

Now, we had been told somewhat pontifically by some that the economic crisis, and the MPs expenses scandal, would lead to working class Labour supporters backing the far right. This was patronising, and it turns out not to be the case. Labour voters stayed at home or voted for some leftish substitute: by and large, they didn't vote for the right.
A couple of people have told me recently that Microsoft's Bing is better than Google. What with this, and Wolfram Alpha I wondered if there's been any real progress on smart search.

So today I had a question, how to move my Amazon.com wishlist over to Amazon.co.uk.

This is, admittedly, a tough question, which is hard to search the answer to. And as of today, Google is hopeless. But neither Bing nor Wolfram Alpha seem any closer.

Frankly, I don't see much room for improvement over the Google method without solving the A.I. problem, but as we're still 50 years (as always) away from solving that, I won't be holding my breath.
David Lammy : "Who owns our democracy?"

Possibly the first post-election bit of punditry that excites me.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Nigel Gilbert simulating UK Housing markets and associated bubbles.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The big tragedy, for me, of Labour's total wipe-out, is that I found I didn't care very much.

I stayed up last night until about 2-ish, obsessively watching the car-crash of the Euro-results coming in. And I just didn't feel what I should have felt ...

So. Is this because Labour really has lost it's purpose and meaning as a party? Ceding it's (diverse) historical constituencies to the BNP, SNP, Greens etc. while the swinging centrists go back to the Tories to carry on the Thatcher/Blair project as usual?

Or is this lack of purpose and difference just a myth that the media has managed to convinced me of?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Anyway, today I voted Labour in the local elections, Green in the Euros.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Talented Friend Watch #14 : Mar Muriana's publishing house Zimerman Ediciones.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Great Moon Wiring Club podcast.
Political Allsorts #6

Dariush's crisis notes.
Political Allsorts #5

Last post reminds me, that among the things conveniently forgotten now we have the MPs' expenses scandal, is not only the recession and swine flu, but also the whole issue of policing of protests and spying on activists.
Political Allsorts #4

Something I started writing a couple of months ago but didn't get round to finishing, re: the question, did I go to the G20 protests on 1st April?

To which the answer is, (shamefacedly), well ... er ... sort of .. um ... late.

In other words, we got up to London in the afternoon and wandered into the city as many of the workers were starting to leave. We eventually found our way to the Climate Camp and hung around there for a while. I had a lot of mixed feelings : that I should be more involved, should have been there earlier, should be doing something. And yet I felt a little bit fish-out-of-water, like being at a party where you don't know anyone else.

At the same time, I had a sense of futility. That the protest was too miscellaneous, too unfocused. What was our agenda? What would have satisfied our demands? Was this not protest for its own sake rather than with a specific objective? (And I know that there are people who will defend the value of that, but I am still very uneasy with it.) I felt little energy or excitement.

The atmosphere was festive with people dancing to bike-powered sound-system or chatting in front of their tents. The entire street was lined with police vans and police standing at the sides, impassively. And for a while, appearing quite inert. They seemed to allow a trio of girls to dance atop one of their vans (though I couldn't see what happened when the girls got off.)

Then, I realized we were getting "kettled"; a solid line of police, impassively blocking the end of the street and refusing to allow any of us to leave. Then, walking back along the pavement towards the other end of the street where we'd entered, suddenly people were all running past us.

We stood confused for a couple of seconds, before a girl shouted at us not to try to stay. And then the police were charging. Not fast but definitely jogging. A skirmish as one man stopped, maybe to try to resist, and was whacked hard. As another policeman came up to the alcove into which we'd stepped back he waved the baton threateningly and we scurried away to where the crowd was being concentrated. Everyone chanting "shame on you!" and people remonstrating "it's a peaceful protest" and, clearly in response to something the police had said, "we don't need your protection".

The crowd, squashed together, still shouting, raised their arms in a sign of surrender. Rather horrible; clearly the majority were not there to fight, and wanted to make that clear. I certainly had no intention of, both out of cowardice and lack of conviction. And yet the passivity of the gesture was disturbing to me. The hopelessness of the situation. The inability of the crowd to do anything about their plight. From the safety of the crowd, someone threw a beer-can into the police, and some kind of moderator or organizer within the camp immediately turned on and started screaming at him.

Soon after, we found a side-alley that the police had clearly left open for the purpose of allowing pressure out of the kettle. And we gratefully sidled out and left. I felt no inclination to stay and see what would happen.

Lenin's Tomb puts things well:


I'm still not clear on what the strategy is behind these mini-spectacles. ... it seems as if the idea at the moment is to have a carnivalesque parade, wind up in one spot and get penned in only to have the police mess with you if you try to have a drink or some weed. I don't want to be a negative nelly, but that's not reclaiming the streets, it's getting owned by the cops.


I've missed out the bit where "Lenin" still *is* supportive of mass demonstrations and strikes because I'm more sceptical than he is. But that's the size of it. There was no way that this protest was anything other than organized in co-operation and co-ordination with the police. And more-or-less under control at all times.

I'm even more in sympathy with K-Punk's line. I've long believed that the only thing you could hope from demonstrations is to produce a spectacle that appeals to the mass media. And now the media is largely immunized to them. The official line was always that British decency and common-sense - as represented by both the police AND the legitimate peaceful protesters (who "wanted to exercise their right to have their voice heard"), triumphed over violent extremists. The police by maintaining order, the peaceful protesters by not turning into a raving mob.

Within this narrative there was pretty much zero acknowledgment that the protesters had any kind of argument or proposal, or that anyone was listening to it. The entire exercise of the protests was characterized in purely emotional terms. Protesters were "angry". And given that we, in Britain, are a modern, touchy-feely, "emotionally intelligent" sort of a place since Tony Blair and Princess Di etc., everyone recognised that they had the right to express that anger. But there was no sense that there was a rational agenda to be considered at all.

It's politics as a kind of cathartic primal scream that helps you get through the day.

Now, there's a lot not to like about this picture. But first, we should note that, somewhat surprisingly, a similar absence of reason was being portrayed on the other side. As it became clear that politicians were not likely to come up with any grand actions, you started hearing stories along the lines that what was really important was the appearance of a deal, and a photo of smiling and confident politicians which would raise the "animal spirits" of the market and so pull the economy back from depression. The market, it seemed, had little need to see concrete plans, but could be won over by spin and charm as easily as the media supposes the public can be.

This strikes me as utterly depressing. If it's true, then we have put our world at the mercy of an institution (the market) which is mind-bogglingly and unendingly stupid. If it's false (as I suspect) then we've got a bunch of stupid politicians, media analysts and (likely) high-financiers who erroneously believe it to be true.
Political Allsorts #3

Meanwhile, my friend Oli has, for a while, been giving me some tough push-back on the decentralist, anarchist and green directions that I've been moving in for a while. And I need to flag that I don't have good answers to him yet.

Oli's arguments can be summarized, roughly, as

a) decentralism is unproven, whereas centralism, and strong power-centres, when wielded in the right cause, have demonstrable achievements.

b) in particular, centralism is necessary to promote egalitarian ends. Examples include the EU which is helping spread wealth more equably through Europe, and counter-examples include "opt-out schools" or the "local democracy" which has failed to bring the US school system to an acceptable state.

So, you need centralized concentrations of power to set and ensure standards. And encouraging decentralism is as likely to allow the wealthy and powerful communities to secede from wider social responsibilities or shared planning.

Like I say, I don't have good answers to this. Though I am looking.
Political allsorts #2

I did go and look at the nascent UK Pirate Party which is still in the process of starting itself up. Here's my suggestion to them. (Note you can only see this comment and their reply if you create an account on their blog.)

As a long-time supporter of the Free Software Foundation and opponent of patents and copyright abuse I'm interested in the Pirate Party; but I think it would be good to see a couple of things from you :

First, a bit more about who's involved. If you're out there, wanting to play the politics game and get our support, you've got to reveal more about yourselves and your background motivations etc.

Second, I think the real promise of a Piracy Party is not just its "issues" of patents, copyrights etc. But the possibility of a political actor that really understands the internet and the changes that society is going through. I like the freedom and privacy aspects of your manifesto (and the opposition to UK ID cards etc.) But I'd like to get a sense that the party is ready to talk about the big opportunities the web brings to transforming government, the economy, society and organizations. (Eg. http://vimeo.com/4489849 )

I was surprised by how traditional your constitution looks, with its Officers and Conferences and NEC etc. Is this a constraint that the electoral commission place on you? If not, why not have a much looser structure? Perhaps one based around wikis, meetups, allocating money through online votes, an "architecture of participation" for other organizations (or even parties) willing to partner on particular projects etc?

A Pirate Party could be a leader in making an internet-age political organization if it succeeds in innovating in its own internal governance.


By the way, here's that link again. Recommended.
OK. Here's the first in a series of quickie (I hope) Political Allsorts.

Disclosure. Last week, I donated 20 quid to Brighton and Hove Green party, mainly because I read that Brighton and Hove is the best chance the Greens have of a parliamentary seat.

I'll probably vote Green in the coming Euro / local elections too ... although with the caveat that local elections make hardly any difference in the part of, safely Tory, East Surrey where I vote.

Probably, that is, unless someone changes my mind between now and then.

Comments are open.
So yeah ... I've been busy ...

and, yeah, there's a backlog of stuff.
Been quiet around here, hasn't it?

Too quiet ...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

+1 to Alderston's point in the comments here.

Yes, markets, as institutions, are "inequality amplifiers" driven by positive feedback.

That's the reason that anyone concerned about inequality has to be at least *ambivalent* about them, whatever their other virtues.

Monday, May 04, 2009

In that recent rant I suggested that we can now do without advertising supported "content" on the internet.

I genuinely believe this is true. Mainly for Shirkian reasons that free information and culture is going to swamp paid information anyway, so there's no need to "support" any of it with adverts.

I also, perhaps more ideologically, believe that reclaiming our culture from the ad-support machine will not only make it better, but will actually have the side-benefit of destroying mass everything (mass-media, mass-consumption and therefore mass-production) and thereby take us forward to a fine-grained mosaic economy of millions of smaller, more varied and sustainable producers.



But all that is beside the point. An astute observer is likely to ask ... "hold on a minute, phil! You run your blogs on Google's Blogger service. You host Mind Traffic Control on Google Application Engine. You rely on Google for web-search. And for maps. And are a heavy Streetview user. All of which is paid with AdSense. What do you mean we can do without advertising?"

To which the answer is ... er ... yes indeed. I would, in fact, accept that the flip-side of my desire to remove advertising from the web and not pay for content, is that hosting should be paid for. And that people like me who are committed to blogging should pay more for it. And perhaps people should pay more for their internet connections too.

And, yes, this risks, of course, de-voicing the poor. But that is a more general question of economic justice. That also needs to be solved. But I believe that society would be better (and a damned sight more efficient) without a huge amount of energy being wasted on handicap signaling.

(BTW : yes, I know the counter-view.)

Anyway, without further ado, let me introduce my new poll :

In a world without advertising support, how much would you pay for a server for your blog / wiki / music / video / feeds etc?


PS : last poll seemed to come out 4 votes that Iraq was a disaster, to 2 that the West "got away" (morally, strategically) with it. Though note that Oli feels that the questions were phrased in such a way that he couldn't sign up to any of them.
Good Zed Shaw talk (in tweets)

(Covers everything from python to music to banks and economic crash.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The internet uses too much energy.

Here's a quick solution.

1) Remove spam. (Whitelist email only)

2) Remove adverts

3) Remove anything that needs adverts to survive. We don't need it any more. ;-)

4) More green server technology.

5) Remove unnecessary graphics. (Text + CSS is more than enough ;-) )
Current 93 bootleg.
Hacker Newspaper is a clever new UI for Hacker News
Beautiful "nordestino" remix of the Bible (part 1, part 2) and a gunfight, from an interesting animation course in Recife : Barros Melo.

Wonderful aesthetic, part traditional folkloric woodcuts, part Yoshi's Story, part Weird Emma.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sobreiro needs your vote. Another classic that will leave you wondering forever if you don't help it win.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009



Other recent book purchases ... not sure if there's a hidden connection, but all suggestions welcome.

BTW : Already read Cradle to Cradle. Excellent and inspiring.
Dariush is starting to analyze the economic crisis.

Read this through to the end, even if you think you know all this, because he starts explaining the more complicated stuff later on, and you need the run-up.
I'm getting interested in Solar Cooking.

Apparently there was a project in Brasilia last year. (pdf)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I can't stop listening to Seed Ships from the end of the new Belbury Poly album, (From an Ancient Star).

Outrageously lovely and packed with echoes and references : the "oceanic waves" at the end blatantly mimicking the fade-out of Jean-Michel Jarre's haunting Oxygene 6; the key-changing, reverbed arpeggios recalling The Black Dog's permagasmic Chesh; the melody patch which sounds like it's stolen from Plone.

And then when the big tune gets going, it keeps reminding me (although, I know it's neither the same melody or rhythm), of Momus's Flame into Being. Or maybe that's just me.

Infinitely familiar and strange at the same time, and utterly gripping.

Apart from that, I have mixed feelings about the album. There's no doubt that he has refined and sophisticated the Belbury sound. The compositions are more complex and developed. But what I miss, are the outliers; the tracks that don't conform to the standard library-synth pattern but which made "The Owl's Map" more varied and therefore more unexpected. The rocky Scarlet Ceremony and atmospheric Music, Movement & Meaning.

And it's lost some of the overtly folky bits too. Ratlers Hay and Wetland were subtle and sympathetic hybrids. On the new album, only From an Ancient Star seems interested in the same trick, and here the folk seems bolted on, more like one of Momus's clumsier "folktronicas". I guess there's something Steeleye Spanish about Widdershins too. But frankly I don't feel I'm in anywhere like as spookily pagan a place this time. It's all rather comfortable and cosy.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Guardian discusses "scrappage" for the UK.

Seems to me that this could (and should) be done, but with a far more aggressive green agenda.

Why not have the government give :
- £3000 to anyone scrapping their car and buying an electric one.
- £2000 for a small hybrid (accepts bio-diesel or alcohol)
- £1000 for a small, fuel efficient car
- £500 for anyone upgrading to any new car (on the assumption that new cars are more efficient)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jane McGonigal dances
Impressive progress in mind-controlled robots
Chris Dillow :
It seems that newspapers - aided of course by Brown - believe the fate of the economy hangs upon the actions of policy-makers, but are ignoring evidence of whether it might recover anyway, even if fiscal or monetary policy do little to help.
Photo Competition



Suggest the hidden (or not so hidden) connections between the two books Amazon just delivered to me.
So much is happening on the #we20 front, that I don't have time to write it all up.

A couple of quick notes.

We had a great meeting at Nesta yesterday. With some salutary feedback. A lot of people still don't understand what we20 is, or the fine detail of how it's meant to work. So we have a lot of work to do, explaining, and improving the site.

A couple of important points I kept having to make.

we20 is NOT an online event. It's about the real life meetings you have with your friends, neighbours and colleagues. For people who worried that this is too much trouble, I have a new slogan. There's no such thing as a one-click revolution.

You can't have a more responsive politics, better society, revitalized community etc. without going out in the real world and making it. Trying to do everything online or in specially demarcated meeting rooms with web 2.0 people is just running away. No site can do it all for you. And any site that promises it can, is leading you up the garden path.

However, that doesn't mean that the web-site itself shouldn't be as easy as it can be. And I am working on fixing issues that people raised.

Another issue is that the voting system (which is the bit I like best) is still totally confusing to people when I explain it. Fortunately, despite everything, as the plans are starting to stack up, some people are figuring it out (as I said yesterday, please "vote early, vote often") and the result is getting interesting.

Final note : the G20 is upon us tomorrow. I may or may not go and follow one of the horsemen of the apocalypse through the city. I am pretty sure that the G20 itself is going to be more hype than substance, and no practical effect will be observable. However we20 is just beginning. Many people at the meeting yesterday were keen to explore the site further and start contributing. We're collecting interesting ideas ... I'm working on better searching and filtering which will make it a lot easier to see the Plans soon ... and having picked up velocity from the fly-past of this G20, we're setting our sights on further meetings this year and have a lot of momentum to take us forward. Keep watching ...

Update : Note, just in case it isn't clear, although I'm a volunteer on we20, this blog is my own personal space and the opinions in it are my own and not necessarily representative of we20's.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I can't remember when I wrote it, but it was back in the early days of ThoughtStorms.


The crucial tests will be NOT the total amount of wealth in the US economy, but some measure of it's distribution and use. A small minority of super-wealthy owners of businesses which employ workers elsewhere in the world is not the next big thing. In fact, you shouldn't mistake ownership for the next big thing. If people start pointing at ownership as an example of the next growth sector for the US, then they've given up all pretense that this is anything other than a straight fight between capital and labour, and they just hope to sucker you into thinking you're part of the owning class.


I was writing about the tendency of people to say : "don't worry about jobs being lost to technology or off-shoring, we'll be on to the next big thing"

Now I believe that there will be a next-big thing. And the U.S. and Europe will be off to it. Of course I do. But I did think that there was a danger that the capitalist class would try to sell us the idea that "onwership" or trading on the stock market etc. would be the replacement. And I diagnosed this as a capitalist scam.

I was reminded of this, reading today's hot story : Simon Johnson's The Quiet Coup. Here's the interesting observation.

[The] American financial industry gained political power by amassing a kind of cultural capital — a belief system. Once, perhaps, what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Over the past decade, the attitude took hold that what was good for Wall Street was good for the country. The banking-and-securities industry has become one of the top contributors to political campaigns, but at the peak of its influence, it did not have to buy favors the way, for example, the tobacco companies or military contractors might have to. Instead, it benefited from the fact that Washington insiders already believed that large financial institutions and free-flowing capital markets were crucial to America’s position in the world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fascinating Beeb videos of Japan in economic crisis.

Steel Factory Grows Lettuce

Homeless Living in Cybercafe



What you could be doing instead of we20.
Interesting ... followed by a recruiter on Twitter. He just seems to twit job adverts.
Go and contemplate a few clicks worth of Scribe's "These Chemicals ... "

Beautiful and disturbing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What the hell! The hauntology of the next (80s) generation. When a global 8-bit video game, power-rangers mythology merges with an incongruous 90s rave / 2010s dance.
Tomorrow is Ada Lovelace Day.
we20 is now live!!!!

we20 tweets

I have so much to write about this ... but too much else on this second ...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More dirt on AIG.

Executive Summary : Ignore AIG bonuses. Pay attention to vastly greater quantity of US government money that's gone to pay off AIG's debts to other banks.
Zby comments, re: that last post :

As much as I feel the resentment myself - I hope you understand that finding a few scapegoats will never be the solution.


Agreed. I certainly don't believe in scapegoating people. That last question with the link to Global Guerrillas was slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Here's what I think is important though. If you read the first article, I think there's a very strong message.

There were very wealthy interests in the financial sector who used their money to lobby politicians into relaxing the regulatory regime in the US.

That, in turn, allowed them to make far larger and riskier bets than had ever been made before.

Now those bets have failed. And it looks like the consequences will be very bad for everyone. The US, the UK, most European governments are telling their citizens that they all have to chip in and rescue the world financial system ... and we can see why : we're totally dependent on the system.

But the disaster didn't "just happen".

It's not some kind of rare "black swan" event with an incredibly low probability.

It comes from a number of quite likely events - that house prices fall due to over-capacity, that people on low incomes can't pay back big loans - which had been packaged up and presented as though they were highly unlikely (low risk) events.

Then, having misunderstood or misrepresented the probability of these events, the financial institutions then used all our money to make bets about them.

They got to use *all* our money because the separation between investment and "high street" banking had been removed by the politicians, due to lobbying of the bankers. And all our savings were now going into the same pot of money.

So it's important to see the current crisis not as an unfortunate accident, but as a consequence of real human, political decisions. The decisions of bankers to invent instruments that they didn't understand (or in the worst cases, that they knew their clients wouldn't understand).

Remember one of the wisest heuristics : a market for risk is a mechanism for those who do understand risk to shift it onto those who don't or who can't avoid it. And the bigger and more active the market, the more of that is going on. Governments bailing out the banks == tax-payers with no choice, ultimately shouldering risk that was created and passed on to them from people who understood it very well.

It's also the about the consequences of decisions by governments : elected representatives who accepted campaign money (and we don't know what else) in return for proposing the deregulation. Some were just corrupt. Others were misled by their ideological belief that markets "regulate themselves". (A claim to which the intelligent hearer should respond with the question "regulate *what* about themselves" and drill down into the answer). Some were too stupid to imagine what it might mean.

Now we face a situation where everyone agrees that governments are going to have to bail out capitalism using our money. But there's still a massive vacuum of understanding or consensus, and inside that vacuum, the decision-makers within the government (who are often drawn from, highly connected to, and empathetic with, the high-financiers) are making ad hoc interventions, designed not to "fix the economy" in general, but to save the bank institutions (Goldman Sachs, AIG, Royal Bank of Scotland etc.)

Now, I'm the first person to say "don't blame individuals, look at systemic patterns". That's my definition of what it is to be "left wing". To the extent that scape-goating simply blinds us the patterns and focuses our energy in "empty condemnation", then it's worse than useless.

But there is a reason to pay attention to who is doing what and who is getting what. Not to make moral judgements of those individuals, but to assess their roles. If the bankers are, in general, lobbying for less regulation then they're part of the machinery that made this happen. As a type they're a cause of this problem. That doesn't mean crucify all the bankers. But it does mean challenge the very existence of this role within the network. If there are things that this role performs that we want to keep, then put the legislation in place to restrict that role to only those activities.

Similarly, if elected representatives accepted the arguments in favour of self-regulation, they were a point of failure. You need a way to fix that. Campaign funding reform. More transparency. Better education and support. New ways to prosecute and disbar corrupt politicians. Whatever it takes.

This is ultimately what I call "network shaped thinking" or "left netocracy". (Remember "crony capitalism" is the epitome of dark-side netocracy.) Right wing thinking offers you political analysis as a melodramatic theatre of individuals and their essential moral types (good, bad, lazy, industrious). It's methodological atomism. A naive left thinking can risk methodological holism, where everything is so interdependent that only a revolution that sweeps all before it seems to offer any hope.

A balance or synthesis is going to take into account functional roles and the specifics of their interconnections, and recognise that we can intervene at key nodes in the network. That requires us to look at individuals, even though we mustn't scapegoat them.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sweet! Momus just put all his out-of-print Creation Records era albums (late 80s, early 90s) online.

Anyone want to check out why he's my favourite songwriter, listen to some of these.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Oh no! What will happen to companies like the awesome Fire Events in a recession? No more giant table football and fake bullion roberies!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Via today's twitter, two interesting journalism stories :

Guardian's Open Content Platform.

Which looks bold and interesting. It's not what Winer has been calling for (ie. that newspapers start opening their authority to the crowd) but it looks to be taking the syndicated content model about as far as it can. Good experiment.

And the next-gen Hackney Post.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Cursebird is a real-time feed of people swearing on Twitter. :-)
The Guardian : The Great Stockmarket Con :

A few days ago my latest statement arrived, bearing grim tidings. It tells me that on 22 July last year, my investment was worth £5,814. During the following six months, I paid in a total of £300 of my cash, topped up with £117 of reinvested dividend income. But despite that, its value had shrivelled to £4,862 by 22 January this year. In total, I have paid in £5,250 since April 2000.

Back in July 2007, my Isa was valued at £6,605 – so how can it have fallen so far, when it has had £1,200 pumped into it since then?

...

We understood that shares go down as well as up. But over 10 years, all the data suggested we'd be in the money. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If I'd put my £50 a month into a savings account starting back in April 2000, I'd have £6,138 by now, according to the Halifax. It's a cliche, but I'd have been better off putting the money under the mattress.

Yet I was only doing what the experts advised, wasn't I? I've been "drip-feeding" money into my Isa, as is recommended. At the time I took it out, I specifically opted for a fund with very low charges (experts often recommend that, too), and one that would invest my cash in a wide spread of companies in order to reduce risk (ditto).

The conventional wisdom is that shares always outperform other investments over the long term. Even government leaflets state that when putting money away for a long time, "accounts that invest in shares almost always produce a better return than savings accounts."


For the record, back when I was working in England, between 2000 and 2003, I put about 3125 quid into a pension fund. The current value of that fund is now 2939 pounds. Although in 2007 it was worth over 4000.

Update : Chris Dillow points out that "long term" success can still be bogus.

Friday, March 06, 2009

About a year ago I was thinking of doing a decent (ie. clear, easy to scan) cinema listings guide site.

Today I found this. I wonder if it's well known. Certainly puts the advertising-heavy, awkward to use, "what's on" guides to shame.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

This is arguably one of the coolest things I've seen. Self-assembling wifi meshes with mini-helicopter swarms.
Very good interview.
Scribe :


How about, instead of getting people not to do bad stuff, realising for a change that we could get people to do good stuff by, well, doing it ourselves?

In other (person's) words, "We must become the change we want to see in the world." Rather than focusing on the censorship of alcohol adverts, why not show more examples of people we respect doing things we wouldn't otherwise do?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wired on the Gausian Copula. Some of the article smells a bit naive but I guess the basic story is OK.

I'm reminded of my ThoughtStorms page : Markets As Bonfires of Reason which has been around in one form or another since January 2006.
Funny.

Is it a forthcoming film or something else?

Update : following Ron's comments, what about Artificial Ethics?
Another good explanation : Credit Crunch Explained

Which I'll just connect with this striking comment over on John Robb's blog (not John himself).

I've said before that I'd like to see the entire length of Wall Street lined with crosses. The rotting corpses of crucified traders and financial executives would perhaps have a salutary effect on those people who might still be tempted to gamble with other people's life savings. Or perhaps not; perhaps such people are immune to deterrents.


It's getting uglier out there ....
Glyn Moody :
Problem, meet solution: newspapers should fund Wikileaks.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I like these.
Couple of fascinating links :

Swoopo auction. Very watchable. Clever.

Interesting that US attitudes to nationalization depend so heavily on what you call it. (hat-tip Dariush)

Islamic banks are better in crisis. Would be ironic if Islam ended up winning the "clash of civilizations" due to weathering world financial crisis better than Western capitalism. Though Darius tells me Islamic banks were playing the securitization game just like everyone else, but labeling the charges "transaction fees" instead of "interest". (So really, this is another story about how you frame things.)
After sleeping on it, I'm still quite enthused by my suggestion for a ruthlessly scoopish news feed that I commented over at Scripting News yesterday.

In answer to the question "how will we get our news if journalism dies" :


Maybe a site *only* for "scoops", ie. breaking news stories which haven't been seen anywhere else online.

You have some Digg-style voting. Then, after giving readers 24 hours to challenge the *originality* of the story (by finding earlier references), the highest voted (most important, sorta) story of the day wins a cash-prize. If someone finds it elsewhere online, then you don't give the prize. (But you do give something to the guy who found out it wasn't original.)

Basically you do the opposite of Wikipedia's "no original research" policy. You ruthlessly reward "scoopness".

Pay for the prize by charging subscribers a few dollars for a feed which has the stories an hour earlier than they appear on the site. For real news junkies, an hour early may be worth a subscription of 10 dollars a month. (A hundred thousand subscribers gives you a million dollars a month from which you get your prize-money and your costs.)

Sell further analysis services around that feed. Could be automatically generated statistics, could be expert opinion, could be classification, could be ad-supported blog commentary, could be print-on-demand hard copy.


Update :

Here's some more brainstorming.

You can offer, each year, grants to those investigative journalists who have scored highly, in the past year.

Prizes could be allocated in different ways ... maybe one big and a lot of small ones. Or a 1st, 2nd, 3rd big prizes. Or you could have two prizes for pure originality / importantness and one for originality / well-writtenness. Whatever virtues you want to encourage in your submissions, offer some feedback and reward for it.

To make it super-easy to contribute, allow anyone to just email or IM a story in.

There might be some issues with, say, a very early but short SMS-type message : "Bomb at King's Cross" vs. a more measured three paragraph mail about the same thing, arriving 5 minutes later. Who deserves the prize? Perhaps segment into different "pools" of different sized text : Micro (the twitter-size), Article, Feature etc. with separate prizes for each. And, sure, that means someone might get inspired by the Micro post to chase and write up an Article-sized one. But that's fine. That's what should be happening.

Similarly you can segment by locality.

What about the big problem of people deliberately feeding *false* information into the system and then it getting voted up (maybe due to political prejudice)? Well, that's not a problem that we have to eliminate altogether. This happens (too much) with the current system we have today. (Ie. newspapers printing false things that suit their biases.) What we can work towards is that a) we obviously won't give a prize to a story which is found to be false, b) those who consistently contribute or vote for false stories can be punished in some way. (Their votes are discounted.)

Update 2 : Of course, the big problem with the above is that you can't simultaneously rely on the mass of reader / voters to debug and add value to your news feed AND sell early access to it. Paying subscribers are least likely to be interested in working on prioritizing and identifying novelty. They're paying for a finished product. So the business model needs to be different.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Blentwell is AWESOME!

Every day I'm finding an excellent new mix. Scary

Update : Absolutely loving this King Tubby / Wu Tang mashup album.
Cringely reapplies his Cisco Experts metric

Among the many rules that constituted the Dow Theory was that Railroads stocks would lead any market rally or decline. That was because Dow figured that businesses would start (or stop) shipping items before the revenue from those sales hit their bottom-line.

George’s theory is that IP networks are to the 21st century what railroads were to the 19th.

Over the last six months the CCIE numbers have been steadily going down. Last August the U.S. CCIE number went down by one. The last report in January the number of U.S. CCIE’s grew by eight. Over the last 50 or so days the number has grown by 83 new CCIEs in the U.S.
Lulz: Sudo make me a sandwich
Network analysis of global stock-market.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Chris Dillow :

It is on this point, of course, that Marxism starkly confronts neoclassical economics. Marx’s gripe with capitalism was that it transformed work from a means of expressing one’s nature into a force for oppressing and demeaning people. So great has been capitalism’s triumph that many of us don’t even appreciate the possibility that Marx could have been right. It’s just taken for granted that work must be alienated drudgery.

Herein, though, lies a strange thing. Happiness research seems to vindicate Marx.
Nice. A Brazilian airship company.
You what?!

Blair has been an "envoy" to the Middle East for how long? And this is his first visit to Gaza!!!!!

Oh. And, by the way, he won't meet any Hamas politicians. FAIL!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ooops!

Kaunda has a fantastic, nuanced blog post responding to my attack on Blair and religious politicians.

Unfortunately he notes he's glad that I didn't enable a comment he made here on Composing. But, in fact, I had enabled it, I was just late.

After reading his post, I got rid of it, of course. But Kaunda shouldn't have worried. There was little wrong.

Personally, I think Goodwin's Law is abused almost as much as the word fascist. Sure, accusations of Nazism and fascism are often rhetorical flourishes signifying little other than dislike. Over-use can be called out as lame or exagerated. But you shouldn't get hung-up on the occasional rhetorical misfire.

If you want to know what Kaunda really thinks, go read his post.
Something kind of hilarious just struck me. About the blinkered thinking that economics can encourage.

The main claim for the virtue of markets is that they co-ordinate supply and demand. But the big political problem we face now in a recession is jobs and unemployment. In other words, supply and demand for labour.

And, while there are many interesting theories about the incentives for parents to have children, I'd bet that no-one believes that the birth-rate goes *down* in response to a drop in demand for labour.

So how the hell do economists go round claiming that a) markets are a successful economic institution, b) that the theory of markets "clearing" is a successful *explanation*, and c) that economics (as understood) should be a guiding star for political policy, when, in the most important, widespread economic relationship in the world (the sale and purchase of labour), markets DON'T co-ordinate supply and demand and the theory neither predicts nor explains the supplies and demands that occur?
I wonder if Asus (or similar) could make a netbook in an e-book form-factor.
I suppose I need to start talking about We20.

We20 is the new name for a discussion group that started at #amp2008 last year, under the name "Bretton Woods 2.0". The main aim was to discuss the role of social software in the context of the economic crisis. To begin with, there were a couple people who were interested and wanted to keep talking. Over the last six weeks or so, we've been meeting up fairly regularly and thrashing out what this is supposed to be about.

I'm also one of the volunteers working on developing the web-site. But We20 isn't really an online event. At heart it's about encouraging and supporting small real-life meetups of people to discuss their response to the crisis : what affects them and what they'd like to see done about it.

And then there's some interesting - to me, anyway, - features of the site that allow good proposals to bubble up and get noticed.

Obviously, this presses a lot of the right buttons for me. It's encouraging wider participation (and education) in the debate about the economy; it's about experimenting with web-tools to organize "purposeful communities" (and, yeah, I'm definitely trying to learn from StackOverflow); it's about meeting interesting people in the London web community; it's even about doing some real-world Django etc.

We're deep in coding at the moment, but the site should be going live within the next week or so.

I'll keep you all posted.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mina, Queen of the Week. (Great video)
Simon Reynolds against economic determinism in music
OK. Last tecno-brega post, I promise.

I hadn't realized that the evolution of tecnobrega / tecno-melody from what Simon Reynolds calls "feminine pressure" to a harder, more "masculine", "grimier" sound was so advanced.

But check this mix where bleeps and rapping have pretty much swamped romantic songs. This is pretty great ... definitely something fermenting.

Via today's new follow : Blentwell.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

OMFG!!!!!!!!!

Bin Laden do Brega
Another mind-blowing tecno-brega hit.

Which kind of reminds me; what's with everyone raving about the worthily dull Novalima when they could be getting excited about Tinkus?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meanwhile keep your eye on Tecno-melody or tecnobrega ... the lazy, sleazy, unbelievably kitsch pop music from Belem and northern Brazil which is going to blow up any year now. Just you watch ;-)
Scatterblog release music only through their blog.
Guardian

A policy governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects in Pakistan that led to British citizens and residents being tortured was devised by MI5 lawyers and figures in government, according to evidence heard in court.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chris Dillow (now on my following list) :

From tomorrow, it will, in effect, be illegal to photograph policemen.

People seem to be concerned that Lloyds, despite making a massive loss and being on the verge of nationalization, wants to pay bonuses to lower-paid staff.

Immediately this raises the question of why fairly ordinary staff are being paid bonuses for merely "hitting their targets". After all, if bonuses are meant to prevent high-fliers from leaving the organization, in what sense are rank-and-file employees also high-fliers?

Two answers suggest themselves to my cynical mind :

One is that perhaps the banks pay ordinary workers low salaries and then top them up with bonuses as a kind of tax dodge. In which case, this is simply a loophole that needs closing. The workers should lose their bonuses, get pissed off and demand higher salaries next year, which get taxed at normal rates.

But this is pure speculation. Perhaps taxes are paid normally on these bonuses. In which case, something more interesting is going on.

Perhaps the bonus-qua-bribe-not-to-fuck-up-the-company culture goes deep in the organization, and basically nobody can be trusted to do their job properly unless they feel they are getting a special treat for it.

Maybe the whole financial industry is effectively shipwrecked on "punished by rewards" where all the incentive and bonus schemes are not simply bad because they encourage people to take risks, but bad because everyone starts to feel that they're being treated unfairly unless they get some kind of bonus and the organization becomes incapable of functioning without.
Fascinating to see Blair going full-out religious in his retirement.

I worry that we'll see Obama doing this in about 8 or 9 years. If he does, it's a sign that he'll have retreated into spiritual pieties rather than earthy problem solving; and the world will be in a real mess.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what a politician believes in private. But the moment he or she starts letting their ungrounded faith guide their actions, it's time to get them out of office.

Update : In case this seems like pure anti-religious prejudice, I'll try to clarify / rationalize.

I'm happy if my leaders take risks and work on hunches. We all have to. I don't expect them to be omniscient. But what I also hope is that such conjectural behaviour is balanced by willingness to take note of, and learn from, mistakes.

But someone who is of a religious bent, who believes in an omniscient deity, and believes his hunches are consistent with (or worse, inspired by) the will of that deity, has a greater barrier to recognising and correcting his mistakes than someone who believes in nothing but himself. The believer's religion will teach him that unwavering certainty is a valid option. Yet we need an expert waverer.

I'm not saying that the atheist is always better at self-criticism than the deist. Just that faith and skepticism are contradictory skills and you have to be particularly good to be good at both of them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chris Dillow :
Everyone seems upset by the prospect of banks paying big bonuses. What they’re not asking is: why have banks paid them for so long?
The popular answer is that banks need to attract the best talent.
Yeah, right. Eric Falkenstein and James Kwak provide the real answer. Traders must be bribed not to plunder the firm. If you don’t pay them millions, they’ll sell the banks’ assets cheaply to rival firms for which they then go and work. They are paid fortunes not because they have skill, but because they have power.


Great point. Pushes towards a managerialist theory, of course.

(Hat-tip Zby)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

In response to the last post Oli commented :

I'm not convinced that an economy with a growing numerical size (as measured by some currency) necessarily has to have a growing ecological footprint.


Agreed in principle. But probably hard to find counter-examples in practice.

Basically, if the *numbers* are growing, but the "consumption" isn't, then that's just *inflation*. And governments are already concerned to keep inflation low, meaning to keep the growth of the money in sync. with the growth of consumption.

But then Fractional Reserve Banking specifies that money *has to* grow, so to avoid either catastrophic failure or inflation, the only thing governments can do is try to *increase* "consumption".

That's the big issue as I see it. Not that *we* consumers are affected by FRB - we'd like to consume anyway - but that government policies are hostage to the desire for growth.

So when, for example, BAA promises that a new terminal at Heathrow will help increase business in the UK, the government is faced with a choice between a rather vague, "long term" threat of ecological damage (and frankly there's a tragedy of the commons because they think that if they don't allow it, another government will); and a very concrete risk that they won't make their growth quota this year and either a) they raise interest rates, throttle borrowing, create less money and a whole lot of debtors will go bust and people lose their jobs; or b) they don't raise interest rates, borrowing continues, extra money is created to pay the interest on last year's debts, but without new consumption, the extra money is soaked up in rising prices.

Now it's possible, in theory, that with technological innovation, consumption can increase while the ecological footprint decreases.

In practice, a) an innovation is a one-time event which drops the cost of a particular product, but doesn't alter the *trajectory* of increasing consumption (in other words, it's a delay, not a solution); and b) - worse - often the reduction in resources consumed by a product simply becomes a drop in price, which, in turn, *accelerates* consumption. People buy 20 dresses a year instead of 2.

In other words, to have growth in consumption without growth in ecological footprint, you need a constant and reliable stream of technical innovations which are reducing the footprint of a product-category *faster* than the increase in consumption of that category including acceleration of consumption due to the fall in price.

It's hard to think of examples.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A not bad video on Fractional Reserve Banking. Explains things well.

Yeah, it goes a bit conspiracy at the end. But apart from a couple of sentences which send the cringe-alarm off, it mainly makes a lot of sense.

Discussion continues in comments and here.
BBC :

Mr Davis said it appeared the Bush administration had "threatened" the UK government about the repercussions should details of the case be made public.

"Frankly it is none of their business what our courts do," he said, adding this was "plain fact" not merely an allegation.

"They should not seek in any circumstances to put pressure on British courts. That's completely beyond the rule of law."
Let's hope the catastrophe can be averted.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Despite my antipathy to that Charles Platt piece, it just gave me a mind-blowing insight. (Possibly :-)

Maybe read with the John Robb too.

OK, here's the simplified history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The 19th created the industrial model of production, and also therefore the industrial model of organized labour mirroring the work structure. Aggregation around the mine, or factory or industry "sector" etc.

From the mid to second half of the 20th century, that industrial model broke down to be replaced by a more free-wheeling, network shaped economy : smaller, more specialist companies; service businesses; fiendishly complex, transnational supply chains etc. etc. And organized labour on the old model similarly evaporated because there were few large, monolithic, employers and labour was spread across multiple smaller-scale groupings with divergent and out-of-sync. interests.

However, here comes Platt's quite breathtakingly stark and explicit defence of low wages : why should anyone believe that they have the right to a salary sufficient to live by themselves? Or put this another way. As the employers relentlessly try to drive down the cost of labour, there's no reason to think that they should stop at the minimum required to support distinct nuclear families.

It would be even more cost-effective for the employer if workers were aggregated together in larger clusters, sleeping in dormitories, eating in shared canteens and with food, bedding and life-support services bought in bulk.

This is not science fiction. It's China. The "China price" can always undercut the UK or America if it doesn't need to support workers living in family units. And the Platt answer is (presumably) that the workers of the US and Europe should move in together to compete. This is what is meant by "race to the bottom".

But what may draw our attention is that whenever capital creates a new aggregation of workers it also create a new locus of political awareness and action. A new political entity, united by common fate and interest. Could the "dormitory" become such a unit?
John Robb is clearly working up some righteous indignation today. Good stuff!
This "takedown" of Barbera Ehrenreich is total bullshit.

Condensed (read the comments) :

Charles Platt : I worked at Walmart and it wasn't too bad.

Commentators : But you didn't try to live off your salary; which was kind of the point of the Ehrenreich book.

Platt : Ah, but she was stupid / selfish to hope to actually live off her salary. Obviously she should have subsidized Walmart's profits by doubling up and sharing her accomodation and bills with other people.

Er ... right.

There's more if you can stand it. Boing Boing commentators pick up most of the egregious stuff.

Update: Gave me an idea though.

Monday, February 02, 2009

BTW : while I'm thinking about Momus - although not listening to him; I'm actually listening to Arnaldo Baptista and, er, Sally
Oldfield
- I'd like to get it on record that the best "Analogue Baroque" song is not, in fact, on Little Red Song Book (which I respect but don't enjoy much) but "Jeff Koons" from Stars Forever. Meanwhile, the best songs on Little Red Song Book are the least prototypically "Analogue Baroque" sounding. (Born to be Adored, What are you Wearing? White Oriental Flower)

I also find the instrumental version of Miss X, an Ex Lover far more interesting than the vocal.

OK, that's it. Just had to mention that.
I just suddenly feel like commenting on a discussion about Momus's recent albums. Some people think they're not as good as his old stuff. Some people disagree.

However, what strikes me more than whether the noughties are "better" or "worse" than earlier decades, is that the new albums recapitulate earlier trajectories.

The best for me (qualified by not having heard Joemus) is Oskar Tennis Champion, which I think is possibly one of the top 5 Momus albums.

Oskar Tennis Champion is a "peak" Momus album (like Hipopotomomus) where the audio experiments are really radical, the lyrics are brilliant (clever, funny, interesting), the melodies are strange but catchy, the images powerful, and everything hangs together in a coherent sort of way.

On the other hand, the next album, Otto Spooky, is (IMHO) the worst Momus album of all. It's a "tired" album like The Philosophy of Momus, where the clever parts don't save it from the fact he's largely run out of ideas and treading water. Some songs (Sempreverde, Lute Score) are just one good idea stretched further than necessary. Many songs on the album are less than one good idea (Belvedere, Your Fat Friend, Klaxon, Robin Hood, Jesus in Furs) or mere washes of atmosphere.

A couple of honourable exceptions : Cockle Pickers and the musically extraordinary Bantam Boys are one-idea songs but justify their existence because the result is striking.
And there are a couple of songs which could potentially be a strong matrix of idea, tune and imagery (Life of the Fields and Corkscrew King) which are let down by pedestrian and lifeless arrangements.

As with The Philosophy of Momus (which shares similar problems) Momus then follows with an example of what I'd call one of his "crowd pleaser" albums : Ocky Milk. These tend to be raids on the back-catalogue, consolidating the good from the earlier experiments with great tunes and pleasant arrangements. Previous examples are 20 Vodka Jellies in the 90s and maybe Monsters of Love at the end of the 80s. "Crowd-pleasers" tend to be far more enjoyable than the "tired" albums but don't excite the way that the peak albums do.