Archive for September, 2006

Prediction market aggregator

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Chris F. Masse points out Smartcrowd, a blog that gathers prices from several markets as the primary component of its commentary. I’d really like to see a service that only gathers prices for related contracts from several markets in an automated fashion, but Smartcrowd’s apparently manual index on GOP control of the U.S. House is a useful start.

Masse’s summary and comment on U.S. House control contracts are contradictory:

[real-money political prediction markets predict a GOP-controlled House while play-money political prediction markets predict a Dem-controlled House.]

So the crowds at Casual Observer and Newsfutures currently favour Democrats to win the House of Representatives, while the crowds at Tradesports and WSX suggest the Republicans will retain control of the House of Reps.

But WSX is a play-money market.

Aggregation should highlight a problem with play-money markets — play money is not fungible, so one can’t arbitrage between play-money markets, effectively reducing their size. I say should because there’s a pretty big discrepancy between Betfair and Tradesports real-money prices for US. House control. I’m guessing that with more active markets price difference among real money markets would shrink. There should be mountains of evidence one way or the other for sports bets. Anyone know?

By the way, Masse’s collective blog on prediction markets isn’t really launched yet but you may as well subscribe preemptively. Same for his insider blog which has a clever tagline (“the sidebar blog of prediction markets”).

Update 20060926: Masse points out Oddschecker, which does what I want for sports bets (hopefully they’ll expand) and a paper that has some evidence for lack of arbitrage opportunities between real money exchanges. See the comments for details.

Free software needs hardware entrepreneurs

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Luis Villa:

I’m boggled that Fedora, OpenSuse, and Ubuntu, all of whom have open or semi-open build systems now, are not actively seeking out Emperor and companies like Emperor, and helping them ship distros that are as close to upstream- and hence most supportable- for everyone. Obviously it is in RH, Canonical, and Novell’s interests to actively pursue Big Enterprise Fish like HP and Dell. But I’m really surprised that the communities around these distros haven’t sought out the smaller, and potentially growing, companies that are offering computers with Linux pre-installed.

Sounds exactly right to me. I’ve been thinking something similar for awhile, but as the post title suggests, focused on hardware vendors. Tons of them compete to sell Linux servers at the very low and very high ends and everything inbetween, but if you want a pre-installed Linux laptop you need to pay a hefty premium for slightly out of date hardware from someone like Emperor Linux. It seems like there’s an opportunity for a hardware vendor to sell a line of Linux laptops that aren’t merely repurposed Windows machines. It has seemed like this for a something like a decade though, and as far as I know HP and a couple others have only tentatively and temporarily offered a few lame configurations.

So I’d like to see a hardware startup (or division of an existing company) sell a line of laptops designed for Linux, where everything “just works” just as it does on Macs, and for the same reasons — limited set of hardware to support, work on the software until it “just works” on that hardware. There’s probably even some opportunity for Apple-like proprietary control over some aspects of the hardware. Which reminds me, what legal barriers, if any, would someone who wants to manufacture the OLPC design face? There is discussion of a commercial subsidiary for the project:

The idea is that a commercial subsidiary could manufacture and sell a variation of the OLPC in the developed world. These units would be marked up so that there would be a significant profit which can be plowed into providing more units in countries who cannot afford the full cost of one million machines.

The discussions around this have talked about a retail price of 3× the cost price of the units.

In any case Villa is right, distributions should be jumping to support hardware vendors, both the mundane and innovative sorts. Which Red Hat/Fedora is doing in the case of OLPC.

Update 20060926: In comments below Villa points out system76, which approaches what I want, excpet that their prices are mediocre and they don’t offer high resolution displays, which I will never do without again. David points out olpcnews.com, which looks like reasonable independent reporting on OLPC. I asked on the OLPC wiki about other manufacturers’ use of the design.

Long tail of (electoral) politics

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Nick Gillespie interviews Chris Anderson:

Anderson laments that national politics has yet to become part of the Long Tail. “I wish the system would put forward politicians that I could vote for,” he says.

I wouldn’t expect it to. At a minimum you need something like approval voting or at the extreme delegable proxy voting. I’ve always found such reforms curious but distracting, as I don’t know what their impact on policy outcomes would be, and I suspect they’d be small. However given that voters are not outcome oriented I wonder if being able to make a closer to their ideal expression when oting would make voters happier, at least for time they are in the voting booth.

But the real long tail of politics isn’t about elections at all. Even if I can vote for my ideal candidate, or vote directly on every issue, at the end of the day I will still get policies approximating those of George W. Bush and John Kerry. That’s like being able to order any of millions of books at Amazon but always getting the current #1 best seller delivered regardless of your order.

The real long tail of politics is decentralization and arbitrage. Lots of people say “Bush isn’t my president.” Why can’t that be true? Declare yourself Venezuelan, Hugo Chavez is your president. It should be (almost) that easy. If that seems extreme and disruptive, at least executive power should be curtailed, for surely it is the antithesis of long tail politics. And being able to live and work in any jurisdiction should be a given.

Via Boing Boing.

Gains from open borders

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Long overdue reply to a comment (nearly identical comment, even older) left here by Ronnie Horesh:

I see totally free trade in goods and services as a higher priority than unrestricted immigration. The west needs willing immigrants, not those compelled by poor prospects at home to leave their cultures and (in m any cases) families behind.

Sebastian Mallaby on Migrating to Modernity in today’s Washington Post (emphasis added):

In “Let Their People Come,” a new book published by the Center for Global Development, Lant Pritchett reports that if rich countries permitted extra immigration equivalent to 3 percent of their labor force, the citizens of poor countries would gain about $300 billion a year. That’s three times more than the direct gains from abolishing all remaining trade barriers, four times more than the foreign aid given by governments and 100 times more than the value of debt relief.

Mallaby says there is a downside to migration — poor countries suffer a brain drain. Over the long term I’d bet brains are not zero sum — a brain drain really just means increased returns to education. Mobility means more people in the developing world will pursue higher education. Add to that increased flow of knowledge and capital to the developing world from migrants and concern over “brain drain” sounds very much like yet another disingenuous excuse for keeping the current system of inter-jurisdiction apartheid in place.

As for “reluctant” immigration, who is to judge whether those moving from Mexico to California are more or less reluctant than those moving from West Virginia to California, and why should jurisdictions make a paternalistic decision for either?

Via Arnold Kling.

9-11 repeal: impeachment

Monday, September 11th, 2006

I don’t follow the nitty gritty and scandal du jour of U.S. politics, but I’m getting a stronger sense that part of 9-11 repeal should be impeachment. Glenn Whitman says it well:

Maybe I just have Bush Derangement Syndrome. But I find myself agreeing with James Wimberly and Mark Kleiman: there exist more than sufficient grounds for impeaching George W. Bush. In his recent statements about CIA detainees, he essentially confessed to violations of U.S. law. The laws in question provide for criminal punishments – of 20 years or more – for acts of torture and violations of the Geneva Convention.

Send the abominable person to prison!

FX’s play money Bush impeached or resigns (anytime before his term ends) last traded at about 17, more or less where it has been in its year of trading. The closest real money analogs I know of would be Intrade’s Rumsfeld.Resign.Dec06 at bid/sell/last of 16.0/17.8/16.0 and Cheney.Resign.Dec06 at 4.1/4.5/4.5.

When supply exceeds demand

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

Tim Lee has a wonderful take on Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. The punchline, in my estimation:

When supply exceeds demand, as it seems to for both music and punditry, the equilibrium price is zero.

I think to be technically correct “at p=0″ needs to be inserted before the first comma, but nevermind, read the whole thing.

9-11 submission

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

The only good to come of 2001-09-11 is that many learned the meaning of : submission to the god. And they don’t like it.

Not many have learned how submission to (another) the god gives succor to the jihadists.

Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason is an ideal 9-11 reading and commemorative gift.

9-11 repeal

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

“Five years on” it is time to repeal the security state’s power grabs, stop the trillion dollar fuckup of Iraq and Afghanistan, and finally bring Osama bin Laden to justice.

9-11 repeat

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

If tomorrow (or anytime in the future) terrorists again strike within the U.S. jurisdiction will you allow the security state’s power grab that will inevitably follow?

Optimistic engineers

Friday, September 8th, 2006

A survey of IEEE Fellows (distinguished ) is cast as bursting tech bubbles before they balloon but doesn’t really do anything of the sort. Emphasis added:

So although we may not be able to say that in 2015 a space elevator will be shuttling goods and people into orbit or that in 2020 we’ll all have robot servants, we can foresee that in the next several decades we will be building our infrastructure in a new way: we will have unlimited computing resources, live in a sensory-rich computing environment, and reengineer ourselves and the biological world around us.

Even stereotypically science fiction technologies such as self-driving cars and humanoid robot elder care are seen as likely by 26.4% and 27.1% of respondents respectively or given equal chances by 30.2% and 27.9%. I think those responses are for “in the next 50 years”, though it is not made entirely clear.

It would be interesting to compare the survey with prices. At a glance it appears FX traders are more optimistic than IEEE Fellows, though I don’t know of any claims that exactly match survey questions. FX is gives driverless cars by 2015 a 15% chance and a humanly mobile robot by 2036 a 79% chance.

If I read the article correctly about 13% of respondents say commercial machine translation is likely by 2016 (64.8% say it is likely, presumably in the next 50 years, 19.8%, presumably of those who say it is likely, say it is likely in the next 10 years), while the last FX price of machine translation by 2015 is 67.

So perhaps the survey “bursts bubbles” relative to FX traders (who are a very technophilic bunch), but the future it envisions is still one of radical new capabilities — a future that is much better than the present. I particularly like the engineering profession’s appreciation for decentralization.

Via Boing Boing.