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

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.

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.

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!