Archive for January, 2005


Friday, January 28th, 2005

I’ve been meaning to write an essay much like Robert Wright’s Op-Ed in today’s New York Times for a few years.

Mr. Bush doesn’t grasp the liberating power of capitalism, the lethal effect of luring authoritarian regimes into the modern world of free markets and free minds.

Interventionists, in particular George Bush, talk a lot about freedom and liberty. So did the last century’s communists. Neither had or has any faith in actual freedom as their actions forcefully demonstrate. Read Wright.

[Via Chris Sciabarra.]

While on the subject of faith I must point to the Church of Reality. “If it’s real, we believe in it!” Ah do buhleeve!

A lie halfway fulfilled

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

Excerpt of Bush adds $80 billion to wars’ costs Afghanistan, Iraq tally would pass $300 billion if OKd from yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle:

Before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, estimates of the war’s cost were $50 billion, with assurances from administration officials that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for much of the effort.

Asked Tuesday how the administration’s estimates could be so far off, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “you have to be prepared for the unexpected, and you have to be flexible enough to adapt to circumstances on the ground. And it’s important that you give the commanders on the ground the flexibility they need to adapt to changing circumstances. And that’s what we will always do. That’s how you are able to succeed and complete the mission.”

As I’ve noted previously, this happens with every war. There’s nothing unexpected in things going not according to plan in war. There’s nothing unexpected in politicians underestimating costs by an order of magnitude as they make a hard sell for war (or whatever).

We’re near the halfway mark. Expect U.S. taxpayers to be on the hook for one half trillion dollars plus interest by the time the U.S. government declares victory, goes down to ignominious defeat, or otherwise winds down fighting in Iraq.

When an experienced programmer gives you an estimate on a routine software project, double the estimate. When a politician estimates the cost of a pet project, multiply by ten, then double that number (in order to be prepared for the unexpected).

[Via Thomas Knapp.]

Not following tags

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

“Do not credit this link” is a useful assertion that cannot be gleaned from surrounding content.

Thus, rel="nofollow" is a good if old idea. At least one of my two search predictions for 2005 is already coming true.

Creator assigned keywords or “tags” on the other hand, strike me as a contemporary implementation of HTML meta description tags, which failed because they placed a burden on good webmasters (classification is hard) and presented an open field for spammers, who tag[ged] their pages making a hard sell for whatever with completely unrelated keywords.

Global classification strikes me as a case in which Google is right — metadata inferred from content beats explicit, manual metadata when it comes to categorization. From the Peter Norvig (Google Director of Search Quality) interview I cited:

This is a Google News page from last night, and what we’ve done here is apply clustering technology to put the news stories together in categories, so you see the top story there about Blair, and there’re 658 related stories that we’ve clustered together.

Now imagine what it would be like if instead of using our algorithms we relied on the news suppliers to put in all the right metadata and label their stories the way they wanted to. “Is my story a story that’s going to be buried on page 20, or is it a top story? I’ll put my metadata in. Are the people I’m talking about terrorists or freedom fighters? What’s the definition of patriot? What’s the definition of marriage?”

Folksonomies are great in limited domains, thus far most famously for organizing and sharing bookmarks (decentralize using same technology as Technorati’s self-tagging) and organizing photos.

Keyword tagging is also a lightweight way to provide navigation for a website. I might categorize more posts on this weblog if I could do so in a similarly lightweight manner (now I have to create categories via an interface separate from posting). Haven’t I come right back to the creator-assigned keywords that I criticized above? No, there’s a subtle but very important difference: metadata as a side effect of useful work versus metadata as spammy make work.

Semantic Web Oligopsonies

Wednesday, January 12th, 2005

Google’s director of search quality bashes manual ontologies, with much justification.

However, his attempt to paint successful ontologies into a tiny niche doesn’t exactly work:

The best place where ontologies will work is when you have an oligarchy of consumers who can force the providers to play the game. Something like the auto parts industry, where the auto manufacturers can get together and say, “Everybody who wants to sell to us do this.” They can do that because there’s only a couple of them. In other industries, if there’s one major player, then they don’t want to play the game because they don’t want everybody else to catch up. And if there’s too many minor players, then it’s hard for them to get together.

Aren’t search engines and browsers in a sense oligopolistic (actually oligopsonistic) consumers of web content? There are only a few of each that matter anyway.

Barring interest from Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Yahoo! there may be oligopsonists (or monopsonists who want their standards adopted) in niches that can drive metadata adoption in their niches.

[Via Andrew Newman.]

Infoanarchy, DRM and Celestial Jukebox

Monday, January 10th, 2005

On the brouhaha over Bill Gates’ interview with CNET at CES. The relevant bit:

[D]o you think intellectual-property laws need to be reformed?

No, I’d say that of the world’s economies, there’s more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don’t think that those incentives should exist.

And this debate will always be there. I’d be the first to say that the patent system can always be tuned–including the U.S. patent system. There are some goals to cap some reform elements. But the idea that the United States has led in creating companies, creating jobs, because we’ve had the best intellectual-property system–there’s no doubt about that in my mind, and when people say they want to be the most competitive economy, they’ve got to have the incentive system. Intellectual property is the incentive system for the products of the future.

The “communists” bit is the part that has gotten so many people worked up.

The Response. I enjoy calling out Gates’ idiocies as much as the next person, though much of the response I’ve seen has been a tad ebullient. Microsoft fans don’t create fascist art knockoffs when that company’s detractors incorrectly call it fascist. Glenn Otis Brown has the best response I’ve seen, posted on the Creative Commons weblog.

What Would Brezhnev Do? In a communist state would there be no financial incentives for artists? No, they’d simply be employed by the state. The Soviet Union took information control to extremes, including prohibiting use of photocopiers by scientists. I suspect that had the USSR survived to this day, the KGB would now be furiously trying to make Digital Restrictions Management work so as to gain access to a few of the wonders of computing without permitting open communication.

Advice to Gates. Call reformers anarchists rather than communists. For most people “anarchist” is derogatory and you wouldn’t be telling quite as much of a bald-faced lie.

The Real Issue. Forget labels. Gates’ substantial claim is that strong intellectual protectionism drives economic growth. Gates believes this. He isn’t simply shilling for MSFT’s latest strategy. It is on this point that Gates must be rebutted.

Apologies to you the reader and to Robert Nozick for this post’s overwrought title.

Year in Prediction Markets

Saturday, January 8th, 2005

Chris F. Masse offers his highlights of the past year in prediction markets. His list is long and informative. Go read it. I have a few quibbles:

Biggest Winner/Loser of 2004. I agree with Masse’s picks (Winner: TradeSports, Loser: NewsFutures), but not his focus on the U.S. presidential election. TradeSports became the premier service for placing non-sports real money bets (despite offering only a small number of semi-interesting contracts) and the authoratative citation for market odds. NewsFutures launched with a fair amount of hype but always struck me as less than serious.

Destined for Stardom and Most Under-Reported Story. Masse says HedgeStreet and their CFTC approval. Last month I glanced at their home price hedgelets, which seemed too short term (one quarter? — I’m interested in betting on housing market “fundamentals” but not on short term movements) and very thinly traded. I don’t know anything about the company, but I wish them well. They’re hiring software engineers. I wonder if successful use of information markets inside corporations during the last year will come to light. That would be my bet for both destiny and under-reported categories.

Biggest Waste of Money. Not Andrew Tanenbaum‘s supposed $3000 expenditure on setting up a poll tracking site. If Masse knows how to create a top 1000 website for less than $3000 I hope he lets us in on the secret. Prediction markets did outperform polls, though I suspect Masse’s motivation for this anti-award is dislike of Tanenbaum’s politics. By the way, Tanenbaum didn’t teach Linus Torvalds computer science, as Masse claims, though Tanenbaum did give Torvalds a virtual ‘F’ in a 1992 Usenet debate.

Best Idea of 2004. I think Wolfers’ and Zitzewitz’s idea is backwards. I don’t care much about how events influence elections (useful information for campaign consultants). I do care about how elections influence events (useful information for voters).

Masse’s prediction markets portal has scads of interesting links. Presently missing is zMarket: An Open-Source Platform for Developing Decentralized Markets, which could be an interesting development for 2005.

[Via Tyler Cowen.]