Archive for October, 2004

Kerry for temporary dictator

Sunday, October 31st, 2004

I have voted for the Libertarian Party’s hopeless presidential candidates every four years starting in 1988, the first year I could vote. I am willing to again this year, but only if a LP voter in a swing state agrees to vote for Kerry in exchange. Contact me or register with VotePair.

George W. Bush [vote-against rel added] has governed, putting it charitably, as a big government conservative. Precisely my opposite — and that’s when I’m feeling terribly moderate. I’m rooting for the murderer and probable mass murderer over the actual mass murderer.

Unlike many I have little feeling toward Bush.

The last words of the Frontline documentary The Long Road to War (emphasis mine):

But in the end, only one man’s decision will really matter. The next days will be a time of testing for George W. Bush. The men closest to his father are warning about the consequences. Waging war is always uncertain. Getting bogged down in Baghdad would be a disaster. Long-time allies are leaving America’s side.

But the insiders who helped define the “Bush Doctrine” are determined to set a course that will remake America’s role in the world. They believe the removal of Saddam Hussein is the first and necessary act of that new era. And that fateful decision to take the nation to war now rests with the president of the United States.

I vehemently disagree with the decision Bush made, and even moreso that it was up to him — or any executive. We must drastically curtail the prerogative of the imperial presidency. Until then, we must dispatch each new “commander and chief” who expands on the crimes of the last at first opportunity offered by the system. May Bush’s stint as temporary dictator end on January 20, 2005.

Mundane floating concrete

Thursday, October 28th, 2004

I attended Patri Friedman’s talk on seasteading last night. Basic idea: build floating platforms to allow for social experimentation not feasible within established jurisdictions. Many people have had variations on that particular crazy idea. Friedman distinguishes Seastead from the rest with a focus on incrementalism.

Fun quotes (from memory):

“Don’t get distracted by new technologies”

“A picture is worth a thousand words, a million pounds of concrete means you’re serious.”

“[lack of established jurisdiction, low moving cost] holds for 71% of the earth’s surface and 99.9999% of the universe.”

Back to earth, Friedman plans to start with Baystead, a scaled-down platform for 4-10 people in the San Francisco Bay. Even if his cost estimates ($200K-$500K) are off by a factor of ten (I wouldn’t be surprised), you still have what amounts to an expensive and unique floating home, of which there are many.

New houseboat design, model for dominant mode of living in the universe, or floating nursing home*, I have to admit that I’m intrigued. My wife mentioned the other day that a new coworker lives on an oceangoing houseboat, usually docked in Alameda, but just returned from a trip to Mexico. How cool — and I have zero interest in boats as boats. Plus the cost of joining the boring cult of renting a home from a bank (home “ownership”) is backbreaking in the bay area — why not do something interesting instead?

* I tend to agree with “Brock”, who comments:

Short Answer: Small, discrete economic units (cruise ships, islands) are just never going to be efficient as large, diverse economies.

As for cheap, high-quality care, don’t forget the medical outsourcing to India & Thailand. That will take off like a rocket-ship, and also sweep the rug out from the “wandering Medical Cruiseliner” idea. That particular mountain will not come to Muhammed.

While the comment concerns a tongue-in-cheek post about nursing home cruise ships (why not, nursing homes are so expensive) unrelated to seasteading, it probably applies to seasteads. Friedman said that opposition from governments will be the main obstacle to seasteading taking off. Economic viability might be a far tougher obstacle.

Addendum: Concerning defense of a large seastead in international waters, Friedman said that deterring pirates would be easy, but not giving governments a reason to attack and proving valuable to the same is the best defense against navies. But what if the ‘stead is hated for its freedom? Won’t the terrorists and evil states be impelled by a hateful illogical logic to attack unless the ‘steaders preemptively attack first?!

Joking. What I want to mention is something I overheard one student telling another as people left the lecture. From memory:

I was with him until he mentioned building a library. A patriot missile or something could stop an attack, but the media companies will never let him get away with that. Boom!

Friedman had said that one of many things a seastead community could do is host a digital library of all the works of humans free for the inhabitants. Kind of funny that someone thought that copyright violation is the one thing sure to provoke a violent response. I guess that’s the kind of image one obtains by persecuting one’s customers.

Programmers’ National Party

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

A couple days ago I linked to Peter Mork. Later I noticed that Mork has some postings on immigration that I find agreeable.

Here’s a quote from his latest, The One-Day Window:

A few months back I received a large manila envelope in the mail which I thought was junk mail. But to my surprise, as I opened it up, I realized it contained a photocopy of a letter to the editor I wrote to the WSJ that had been published a month before. My closing paragraph was highlighted and on the side margin was a note telling me that I should learn about “the real costs of immigration”. The letter was from The Programmers Guild and they implored me to read their newsletter, which was also enclosed, to learn about the true costs.

Unfortunately, it seems they ignored the true point I was trying to make. How is it that if I was born only 30 miles south of where I am currently sitting that this would deny me the right to enter into a voluntary agreement with a U.S. employer? This question has never been answered to my satisfaction.

And it won’t be. Change “only 30 miles south of where I am currently sitting” to “with skin a shade darker” or “with slightly different genes” to unmask the perverse injustice of movement and work only by state permission.

Like white miners in South Africa the last century most first-worlders are scared of competition and racist. There is no moral excuse.

Richard Epstein’s open source leavings

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

Richard Epstein has an absolutely terrible column in the October 21 Financial Times: Why open source is unsustainable. Epstein begins with the oh-so-original observation that

Intellectual property often creates strange bedfellows on the left and the right sides of the political spectrum.

Left and right may not be the proper characterizations for those referred to, and the alliance isn’t at all strange — it reoccurs often when personal freedom, civil liberty, what have you is threatened. The war on drugs and war in general are two prime threats that motivate reasonable people to become “strange bedfellows.” Open source is perhaps slightly odd in that it is a uniting opportunity, rather than a threat.

On the left, many socialists oppose private property in all its forms.

Many? Possibly some Maoists or similar retreads, but then I’m not very familiar with hard core communist ideology, and those types aren’t very common these days. As far as I know most syndicalists or anti-market anarchists admit to some personal property. Run of the mill socialists certainly do not oppose private property in all its forms.

On the right, some libertarians, such as Tom Bell of Chapman Law School,

Right, schmight. Anyway, links to Tom W. Bell and his copyright writings. Also see Tom G. Palmer and Stephan Kinsella.

are deeply suspicious of the use of intellectual property to block the right of other individuals to think and speak as they choose. While they regard private property as acceptable for physical resources that cannot be used by everyone at once, they draw the line at intellectual property, which can be copied at close to zero cost.

Amazing common sense. Intellectual property (I prefer one of “intangible goods” or “intellectual protectionism”) is a taking of the rights of owners of tangible property, who are denied any use of their real property that infringes on the rights of IP owners.

All this anti-IP rhetoric begs one question: how do we produce IP in the first place?

A question sidestepped by Epstein for the remainder of the article. Aside: perhaps any issue that demands (or rather, for which some demand) government attention in some form — regulation, subsidy, prohibition, etc. — can be thought of as a public goods problem. However, just because something is a public good doesn’t mean that it is not also a private good — production of open source software being just one example. Lynne Kiesling has some musings along these lines, starting with electricity network reliability.

The middle part of Epstein’s column is a morass of classic fear, uncertainty, and doubt regarding open source software, all terribly uninformed. A few counters:

  • Open source does produce excellent non-server software. If you aren’t reading this in Mozilla Firefox chances are you’re missing out big time. Also see OpenOffice, the GIMP, the GNOME Desktop, Inkscape, Scribus, Eclipse and many more.
  • Individual hackers have been and always will be incredibly important and productive in ways Epstein and DeLong probably just don’t get, but open source is now integral to many of the largest for-profit software concerns (e.g., IBM and Oracle) and software consumers (e.g., Wall Street).
  • Even if they did hold water, a serious anti-open source commentator would not use anti-GPL arguments as the linchpin of their anti-open source argument. Three open source applications stand above all others in terms of market share: BIND, Sendmail, and Apache . None of these are GPL’d.

This quote from Epstein is good for a chuckle:

But how do the insiders, such as Linus Torvalds, cash out of the business that they built? And in the interim, how do they attract capital and personnel needed to expand the business? Traditional companies have evolved their capital structures for good reason.

Torvalds didn’t build a business, not that we have to worry about him eating. Rather than speculating in the abstract, Epstein should study how successful open source companies have actually expanded their businesses. And how and why traditional companies have seen it in their best interest to pay developers to work on open source.

So what does Epstein really want? That comes at the very end of his column:

But suppose this analysis is wrong. One clear policy implication remains: this novel form of business association should succeed or fail on its own merits. The do-or-die question is whether open source offers a low cost solution to particular problems. Ordinary companies will make just those calculations, but government agencies may be swayed to take a different tack, as has been suggested by a number of EU studies. That temptation should be avoided. Governments are bad at forcing technology by playing favourites. If open source is less effective than proprietary software, that gap should not be ignored by positing some positive network externalities that come from giving it a larger base. Proprietary systems also show positive network effects from increased users, as software designers are always attracted by a larger installed base. It’s a tough world out there, in which no one should be exempted from the general competitive pressures of the marketplace. The fiduciary duties of government to all citizens demand no less.

I love Epstein’s subtle abuse of the word implication.

I strongly agree that government is terrible at picking technology winners. That’s why I’ll probably vote against California’s stem cell research bond, despite being strongly in favor of any and all uses of fetal stem cells.

However, to the extent government is a technology consumer, it ought to be an intelligent consumer. Julian Sanchez made an excellent argument for open source in government — especially in government — two years ago in a column titled Open Source and Its Enemies:

With proprietary software, government’s potentially standard-setting procurement choices give it the role of market kingmaker.

A certain recipe for inefficient rent seeking behavior.

Spitzer shits to music

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

Top of Google entertainment news:

I think Xinhua got it right. Somehow climber Eliot Spitzer and the music industry together (adversarial or not) seems inherently scatological.

Add 190k libertarian votes to Kerry’s margin

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

Reason published answers given by quasi-libetarian quasi-celebrities when asked how they voted in 2000 and how they intend to vote in 2004. Peter Mork crunched the numbers. Versus the 2000 distribution, Kerry wins big while Badnarik (the Libertarian Party’s sure loser for 2004) and Nader crater.

For fun I did a bit more completely unwarranted crunching. If the share of libertarianesque votes holds constant and is defined by votes for Browne (sure loser 2000) divided by the fraction of Reason’s quasi-lib-celebs who reported voting for Browne, we get close to 1% of total votes cast. Given the shift in intended votes reported by Reason and Mork and holding the total number of votes cast constant, voters similar to those Reason surveyed should increase Kerry’s margin over Bush by about 190,000 votes versus Gore’s performance.

Very messy spreadsheet: reason-votes-2004.sxc (requires OpenOffice)

MusicBrainz Discovery (II)

Friday, October 15th, 2004

Continuation of MusicBrainz Discovery (I).

One notable thing about MusicBrainz is that Rob Kaye and a small number of core developers and supporters have pursued a consistent vision for roughly six years with very little funding or even understanding outside this small group. It isn’t easy to really “get” MusicBrainz (I think it took me two years), though I think that at some point in the next few years everyone will “get” MusicBrainz more or less all at once.

If you’re a geek it’s hard not to get hung up on MusicBrainz use of acoustic fingerprint-based technology. Acoustic fingerprinting is fragile in three ways — it is subject to false positives and false negatives, there is no open source implementation of the concept, and the technology MusicBrainz uses, Relatable TRM, is proprietary and requires a centralized server. Indeed, many of the technology questions at Tuesday’s music metadata panel concerned acoustic fingerprints.

It is important to understand that while MusicBrainz uses acoustic fingerprints, it does not rely on them. TRM matching is just one mechanism for track identification. File metadata included in (e.g., ID3 tags) or with (filename) the file can and I believe are used to match existing records, as could track duration and file hashes (see if Bitzi or a P2P network has any metadata for the file in question). Additionally, file identification is only one component of MusicBrainz.

If you’re not a geek, you won’t notice acoustic fingerprints, because you wouldn’t, and because you’re not likely to get that far. So what the heck does MusicBrainz do? Here’s an attempt:

  • MusicBrainz can organize your music collection. Download the tagger.
  • MusicBrainz uniquely identifies artists, albums, and songs, facilitating rich and precise music applications, all on a level playing field.
    • Not at all speculative potential: include a MusicBrainz song identifier in a blog post, cover art (with your Amazon referrer of course) automagically appears in blog post, blog aggregator publishes top n lists and personalized recommendations.
    • Another: publish a playlist of MusicBrainz identifiers and others can recreate the experience so defined with no file transfer involved.
    • There are several others, some that could be offered by MusicBrainz itself, outlined in MusicBrainz tomorrow. I have to quote one because it’s fun:

      Music Genealogy: MusicBrainz may keep track of which artists/performers/engineers contributed to a piece of music, and when these contributions took place. Combining this contribution data with data on how artists influenced each other will create a genealogy of modern music. Imagine being able to track Britney Spears back to Beethoven!

  • The MusicBrainz database, created by the community, will remain free, unlike others.

Having been around for awhile, MusicBrainz has run into many of the technical and social problems inherent in music metadata and an evolving community website, and produced much good documentation on solutions, realized and potential. Here’s a sampling:

By the way, as of Wednesday MusicBrainz has a blog.

World Intellectual Freedom Organization

Thursday, October 14th, 2004

an organization for a good future

In 1998 I registered (wayback June 2000 copy) with the intention of using the platform to mock the World Intellectual Property Organization and promote the study of production of nonrivalrous goods, with a decided bias against government-granted monopolies in such goods. My battle against life in the late 90s was mostly a losing one, so I never carried through.

Anyway, I now recommend you sign the Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organization AKA “Proposal for the Establishment of a Development Agenda for WIPO” offered by Argentina and Brazil to the WIPO General Assembly last week. I’m not thrilled with all of the language, but upon first read it looks quite excellent given my low estimation of UN documents. Excerpt:

At the same time, there are astoundingly promising innovations in information, medical and other essential technologies, as well as in social movements and business models. We are witnessing highly successful campaigns for access to drugs for AIDS, scientific journals, genomic information and other databases, and hundreds of innovative collaborative efforts to create public goods, including the Internet, the World Wide Web, Wikipedia, the Creative Commons, GNU Linux and other free and open software projects, as well as distance education tools and medical research tools. Technologies such as Google now provide tens of millions with powerful tools to find information. Alternative compensation systems have been proposed to expand access and interest in cultural works, while providing both artists and consumers with efficient and fair systems for compensation. There is renewed interest in compensatory liability rules, innovation prizes, or competitive intermediators, as models for economic incentives for science and technology that can facilitate sequential follow-on innovation and avoid monopolist abuses. In 2001, the World Trade Organization (WTO) declared that member countries should “promote access to medicines for all.”

Humanity stands at a crossroads – a fork in our moral code and a test of our ability to adapt and grow. Will we evaluate, learn and profit from the best of these new ideas and opportunities, or will we respond to the most unimaginative pleas to suppress all of this in favor of intellectually weak, ideologically rigid, and sometimes brutally unfair and inefficient policies? Much will depend upon the future direction of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a global body setting standards that regulate the production, distribution and use of knowledge.

As you could guess from my description of a “World Intellectual Freedom Organization” I’m very interested in “models for economic incentives for science and technology that can facilitate sequential follow-on innovation and avoid monopolist abuses.” I admit that I’d never heard of compensatory liability rules or competitive intermediators. Google knows of only a few documents with the former term, excepting copies of the aforementioned declaration.

Using Liability Rules to Stimulate Local Innovation in Developing Countries: A Law and Economics Primer (PDF) appears to be the paper describing compensatory liability rules. At a glance it appears CLR is akin to a compulsory license for subpatentable innovations (which under the current regime are all too often patented). Sounds like a reasonable potential reform.

Google also knows next to nothing about competitive intermediators, which appear to be an invention of the authors of A New Trade Framework for Global Healthcare R&D. The proposal seems to amount to R&D funded by a payroll tax. Very boring.

The X-Prize has raised the profile of innovation prizes immensely, but they are an old idea that has deserved resurrection for a long time. I recommend starting with Robin Hanson’s Patterns of Patronage: Why Grants Won Over Prizes in Science (PDF). I’ve donated a small amount ($122.45 — can you guess why?) to the Methuselah Mouse Prize and will donate more to this and other science prizes in the future — I’m very keen on the concept.

Compensatory liability rules, innovation prizes, or competitive intermediators are only three of many interesting ideas in this vein. I’ll write about others in the fullness of time.

Brutally Bogus Link Policy Clearinghouse

Wednesday, October 13th, 2004

Linking policies are stupid, but Boing Boing’s hack (no site with a linking policy, other than this one, may link to BB) doesn’t seem like the right response, despite a similarity to the GPL hack.

Instead of demanding that do-not-link-to-me sites not link to anti-link-policy-folk, it makes sense to me to do what the former ask, as the policy in question is self-defeating — inbound links are all important, ask any SEO huckster. However, antis need to go further, as simply not doing what do-not-link-to-me sites stupidly do not want us to do isn’t exactly a roof raising call to action.

The next step is to create a links-that-don’t-want-to-be clearinghouse for the purpose of destroying whatever GoogleJuice the foolish sites may have. So imagine a site with a do-not-link-to-me policy, Sites that would otherwise link to a page on should instead prefix their link with, e.g., The content at this last URL would include the title and a page rank boosting summary of the content at and an explanation of why the user hasn’t landed at the site they probably expected. If ever removes its stupid linking policy, would redirect requests for to

A stupid link policy clearinghouse of this sort would be very easy to create, lots of work to maintain. Someone should do it. :-)

I realize that this doesn’t affirm the right to link whatever stupid link policies may say. Perhaps in order to do this and as a convenience to hapless searchers the clearinghouse itself would link to the pages it discusses, though via redirects so as to still withold juice.

MusicBrainz Discovery (I)

Wednesday, October 13th, 2004

Earlier this evening I gave a brief introduction (slides PDF) to MusicBrainz at SDForum’s Emerging Technology SIG meeting on music metadata in the stead of MusicBrainz founder and leader Rob Kaye, who couldn’t make it up to Palo Alto. (I’m fairly familiar with MusicBrainz, having worked with Rob at Bitzi and getting updates when we cross paths in this small world.)

If I could pick a theme for the meeting (which included two other very interesting speakers — Stephen Bronstein of the Independent Online Distribution Alliance and David Marks of Loomia), and for recent months in general, it would be that in case you haven’t noticed, it’s clearly now a discovery problem, not a delivery problem.

SIG leader William Grosso led off with some quotes from the much-discussed Wired magazine article The Long Tail, which seems to have captured this zeitgeist. (Grosso also had a novel to me presentation technique — a slideshow of potentially relevant slides plays while he speaks, and if a slide happens to be relevant to the current sentence, he uses the slide to augment the point. Is there a name for this?)

Obviously there was tremendous interest in Creative Commons in this context, and several people seemed to be happy to learn of CC’s search engine and the great services and products offered by the Internet Archive (free hosting for CC-licensed audio and video, built in format conversion), Magnatune (all CC-licensed music label) and more.

Unfortunately in the eleven years I’ve been in the SF bay area I only definitively recall attending two previous SDForum events — a 1994 talk by Atari Jaguar developers in San Jose and in 2001 an evening with Phil Zimmermann in San Francisco (I suspect others who were there would deem the “an evening with” cliche appropriate in this case). This evening’s meeting was a total geekfest. I hung around for well over an hour commiserating on all manner of software development topics (I think that’s what “SD” stands for) with a number of hardcore geeks (no whatever-Dilbert’s-boss’s-name-is there) while two guys were lauging their asses off whiteboarding issues with Unicode encoding (as far as I could tell). I’ll have to go back.

More about what I’ve learned about MusicBrainz over the years and in preparing for the evening in a future post.

Update: part 2