Saturday, November 29, 2003

Recently I'm into looking at web pages of statistics of what's going on in the world. Documenting a wealth of such things here ...

ThoughtStorms: DataResources
List of African blogs : Blog Africa: BlogAfrica Catalog
Naomi Klein : The FTAA Summit in Miami represents the official homecoming of the "war on terror." The latest tactical and propaganda techniques honed in Iraq from a Hollywoodized military to a militarized media have now been used on a grand scale in a major U.S. city ...

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

Something I'm very curious about is the new StarWars (episode 3).

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)

George Soros : To be sure, the Bush doctrine is not stated so starkly; it is shrouded in doublespeak. The doublespeak is needed because of the contradiction between the Bush Administration's concept of freedom and democracy and the actual principles and requirements of freedom and democracy. Talk of spreading democracy looms large in the National Security Strategy. But when President Bush says, as he does frequently, that freedom will prevail, he means that America will prevail. In a free and open society, people are supposed to decide for themselves what they mean by freedom and democracy, and not simply follow America's lead.

The Atlantic | December 2003 | The Bubble of American Supremacy | Soros
Absolute classic :-)

malevole - Programming Language Inventor or Serial Killer?
Joi Ito : I have a theory that Docomo has to become an identity/payment company and dump the voice and other bit-pushing businesses and go flat rate or free on the network. Docomo should buy a credit card company and use the bit-pushing business as a stick when collecting money. There are some regulations regarding payment businesses that make it difficult, but I'm sure the government would waive this if there was enough of a social need. Right now, the transaction business that credit card companies do doesn't make money. This has driven credit card companies to become loan companies that lobby the government to allow them to charge crazy interest rates. These interest rates cause people to end up in debt hell and commit suicide. If Docomo replaced credit cards as the primary non-cash transaction, credit system and could use network service termination to lower the collection costs, I bet they could make enough money on the transaction business to cover the bit-pushing.

Joi Ito's Web: Docomo phones will become your wallet

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Another rant. Semi-related to off-shoring, but more about the problems of automation. Full discussion is here on Alternative Money and Economics.

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.
NextGen singing voice synthesizers

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dave Pollard on Charles Handy's "Federation" model of business.

How to Save the World
Curious. No one wants to be just another cog in the machine. But everybody wants to be just another ant in the swarm.
Annotated London
I distrust hierarchies. So I don't know if I like the new Scripting News

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.

Japanese phones going crazy ... with 2 screens, 2 cameras, OCR ...

anti-mega: keitai
Ross Mayfield writes on Many-to-Many: Social Capital as Credit

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.

Couple of new things in the BeatBlog
We want to make it easy for people to not only have ready access to information that they should know when connecting to the Internet, but also to understand just what it is they are connecting to, and to feel encouraged, rather than afraid.

Graham Lally has started the project at BBC - iCan

Monday, November 24, 2003

Listen up ... all is one.

Everything is connected.
Are seedworks better than frameworks?
Bruce Eckel : Solving the little problems once may be the key to achieving productivity.

Solve the Problem Once
In fact I need to go back to reading FTrain. This about little languages.
Ftrain has the best response to Shirky I've yet seen.
I'm starting to admit something I've been avoiding for some time.

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.

Mouse Gestures is a horrible idea. I routinely wave my mouse around the browser window when I browse, highlighting blocks of text. Just a habit I've got into. But the LAST thing I want is the browser interpreting my gesture as an instruction.

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 ...
Sustainable - Solar Powered Web Hosting

Sunday, November 23, 2003

James Gosling's research into Visualizing Complexity seems like it might become very interesting.

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.
Naomi Klein : The Hague regulations state that an occupying power must respect 'unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country'. The coalition provisional authority has shredded that simple rule with gleeful defiance. Iraq's constitution outlaws the privatisation of key state assets, and it bars foreigners from owning Iraqi firms. No plausible argument can be made that the CPA was 'absolutely prevented' from respecting those laws, and yet two months ago, the CPA overturned them unilaterally.

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | Iraq is not America's to sell
Yukihiro Matsumoto on changing interfaces at runtime.

Dynamic Productivity with Ruby

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Peter Van Dijck - Themes and metaphors in the semantic web discussion

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?
Danny Ayers writes about a wiki / SVG mix which allows drawing and wiki-ing together. Cool stuff. Creating an SVG Wiki [Nov. 19, 2003]
I've donated some wiki-space to the Matador P2P Project. These guys want to build a cross-over between P2P file-sharing and social network.

Could be my music supply in years to come ;-)

Arnold Kling does the "Are you an Austrian" test : TCS: Tech Central Station - The Sect of Austrian Economics

Nick Denton, now gone from my blogroll.

Da Mystik Homeboy is at the sharp end of the Diebold voting machine case.

nootrome: OPG vs Diebold

Friday, November 21, 2003

Huh? According to the picture, Blair is Principle Skinner.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Blair lined up for Simpsons debut

Time to link to ThoughtStorms:BlairiteEducationPolicy
Via Graham : BBC NEWS | Wales | Power flows at windfarm

At the same time Micro-hydro looks interesting.

Social Capital Reading list via Glocal Conversation.
Brazil and the US drew up their 'menu' approach to the FTAA as a way of overcoming their deep disagreements on how comprehensive the accord should be.

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.

We'll see.

Meanwhile the MST are back in town. (Some of them have been here for some time. Hilan goes and gives workshops there.)

Terra Nova: Virtual World Currency Exchange Launches; Use Gold Pieces to Buy Simoleons
A story about an emergent failure in my social network this week. Tribe Discussion: Social software intellectuals
And Google did it by saying what every system that scales to internet size says: fuck ontology

Clay Shirky rants against "one big Ontology" on Many-to-Many

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The coincidence suggests that, instead being just one charmonium particle, the X particle was two D mesons joined together, rather like how atoms can combine to form a molecule.

New Scientist
BBC NEWS | UK | Politics | Thousands join anti-Bush protest

Below, a screen-grab from the Trafalgar Square webcam, just after 5 pm (UK time)

Today's thought : I wonder if SocialNetworkingSoftware can be seen as an example of typing links rather than categorizing documents. When it's used for SocialRouting it basically means that you get the document or message via a type of link, a link to a friend, a link to an aquaintance, a link to a stranger etc.

ThoughtStorms: TypingNotCategorizing

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

More off-shoring shenanigans : CTHEORY.NET > The Digital Death Rattle of the American Middle Class by Dion Dennis
As part of their joint efforts to form a new trading bloc, Brazil, South Africa and India are increasing their collaboration in science and technology. The potential benefits are significant – provided that other developing countries are not excluded.

JRobb : "Reading the tea leaves: Evan is contemplating adding social networking to blogger.

John Robb's Weblog
I'm sceptical that even "done right", paid music can ever replace free-downloads. But every once in a while, I have to pause and think about it ...

TIME Magazine: Coolest Inventions 2003, Apple Music Store
Who are Squeak People?
How do you calculate the magic of math :-)
The sounds of graphs : Eigenvalues to music

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Another 2,000 species have been added to the annual Red List of the world's most endangered animals and plants.

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

Joi Ito almost gets the point about Anti-americanism ...

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
"There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn't actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn't have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all. And that left them sitting ducks for another great invention of the modem era - marketing.

John Taylor Gatto : Against School
Pitched Optimaes to WorldChanging : Add to Brian Eno's "250 Projects"

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 - ) We're equally inspired by money reformers and alternative currency enthusiasts, the open source community, and those like Alan Kay ( ) 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.
The Alternative Money and Economics tribe continues to to rock.
Always mean to read more of ILMer Robin Carmody at The House At World's End

Sunday, November 16, 2003

World Changing looks interesting. Aparently Brian Eno is looking at the blog for his 250 projects most critical to building a better future.
Surreal spam of the day :

make new kinds of mo.ney now ohogxss

Here's your chance for Cash Freedom

Little does the spammer realize how much this speaks to me. ;-)

Friday, November 14, 2003

So all that sucking up was for nothing ...

BBC NEWS | Politics | Murdoch paper 'may back Tories'
Don't know how good this looks. Right now I think governments like Brazil's should be in conflict with the drug companies. Rather than getting into "new forms of relationship" with them.

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Brazil strikes anti-HIV drug deal
For some reason, the Friedman book linked in Tribe Discussion: Alternative Money and Economics stimulated this outpouring from me.

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. [1]

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.

[1] According to Naomi Klein

Via Graham :

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
Matador is a hypothetical socially mediated P2P network which is being discussed on Tribe: Matador

Lot's of interesting ideas being floated.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

[John Bolton] said Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities only made sense as part of a weapons programme.

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

I'm very happy about the Alternative Money and Economics Tribe.

I'm having a lot of interesting conversation there. For example
this discussion on "what is money"?

JRobb finds the US economic recovery pretty impressive. And gives credit to IT :

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
Changed my policy today.

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.) Who is my friend?
OF course someone patented software mediated social networking
Gbloink! Tribe
Do not make a link to this image

Is Momus becoming a Critical Rationalist?
Good article on the use of wiki as PIM

Ed Taekema - Road Warrior Collaboration 27.10.2003
United Diversity look interesting.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Bush demands democracy for the middle east.

Well, let's not be cynical. He might mean it. And if he gets it, all credit to him. Even if it's enlightened self-interest, it's worth having.

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Brazil police take to the streets
Humanitarian organisations say that about 20,000 children have been abducted by the rebels over the last five years, with many taken to LRA bases in southern Sudan, where they are trained as child soldiers while the girls are turned into sex slaves.

Forgotten civil war in Uganda
'worse than Iraq'

Globo sponsors a soap set in a favela
Sometimes Austrians can be supercilious fucks. No wonder everyone hates them.
Are you an Austrian economist?
Graham thinking about decentralized living. If he had comments enabled on his blog I'd advise him to read Short Circuit

Maybe the real problem is not the package of rights, but how to create and destroy them on the same kind of time scale that I expect from internet group forming. Could we allow a dynamic network to self-organize, achieve something and disipate in an afternoon? Could it have the rights and responsibilities of a company for just that afternoon?

ThoughtStorms: AlternativesToCompanies

Saturday, November 08, 2003

ThoughtStorms: MusicDistributionNetworks
Die, flip or go to India

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.

  • 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

Clay Shirky : This is the promise of the Semantic Web -- it will improve all the areas of your life where you currently use syllogisms.

Which is to say, almost nowhere

Shirky: The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview

You are Apple Dos. Simple and primitive with a good understanding of the common man.  You're still a work in progress, but a good start.

BBspot - Which OS are you?
Instead of refuting Kasky's charge by proving in court that they didn't lie, however, Nike instead chose to argue that corporations should enjoy the same 'free speech' right to deceive that individual human citizens have in their personal lives. If people have the constitutionally protected right to say, 'The check is in the mail,' or, 'That looks great on you,' then, Nike's reasoning goes, a corporation should have the same right to say whatever they want in their corporate PR campaigns.

How to Save the World

Momus is also AgainstFinishedness
Matt Haughey : My site is days old but outperforming the more useful site that has been around for a couple years.

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

More inspiring tales of people who make money from blogging.

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

Zbigniew's wiki has moved :
ThoughtStorms: SocialNetworkingSoftwareAsReputationMarket

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.
Seb : More on Structured Blogging
A wiki travel guide. At the moment it seems to be composed of steals from the CIA world fact book. But if it takes off it will be interesting. Can it work? Or is there too much scope for abuse by hotels, regional tourist boards etc?

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

To-Peer (P2P) networks are self-organizing, distributed systems, with no centralized authority or infrastructure. Because of the voluntary participation, the availability of resources in a P2P system can be highly variable and unpredictable. In this paper, we use ideas from Game Theory to study the interaction

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! :-(

Today I found myself trying to improve wikipedia's definition of Marx's theory of Class struggle

As I'm not much of a Marx scholar, so hope someone with more knowledgable can sort it out.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Useful primer on Michael Howard by Tom Watson
Fucking hilarious!

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!

Cool! Zbigniew Lukasiak starts a wiki, initially to talk about routing messages through social networks.

Zbigniew is one of the more interesting people I've encountered on, and we're having several good conversations across a number of different areas.

Brudnopis: FrontPage
What I'm excited about at the moment : Optimaes Currency Description. I'm starting to see more and more clearly that money is a network protocol and currencies are platforms.

What follows?

  • 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.
A future of money conference, noted by Corey Doctorow. Who knew?

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.

Saturday, November 01, 2003 || Notes Toward a Moderation Economy
Television continues to losing out to online gaming
When we look at those outcomes, we find that, as Harvard's Jeffrey Frankel wrote in late 2002,8 there is a dramatic disconnect between rhetoric and reality: 'The pattern is so well established that the generalisation can no longer be denied: The Republicans have become the party of fiscal irresponsibility, trade restriction, big government and bad microeconomics. Surprisingly, Democrat presidents have, relatively speaking, become the proponents of fiscal responsibility, free trade, competitive markets and neoclassical microeconomics.'

Libertarian for Dean