Archive for August, 2005

Delete the border

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005, “towards a global network of movements against borders”, is promoting an anti-Minute man protest in San Diego. There’s a benefit for the protest in San Francisco on September 8 that I may attend.

Yes, these folks reject capitalism, whatever that means these days, but their other ideas are good, and if they think eliminating borders is going to sweep away capitalism, well … please continue to work on eliminating borders! I like this:

Migration controls hurt everyone’s freedom and privacy. Some of us are more directly targeted and affected by these policies, but all of our lives are being reshaped by them. We are in this struggle not only to reject and stop these racist attacks, but to move towards a world without borders, a world of liberation for all people.

And add the excellent Manifesto for the Abolition of International Apartheid to your network.

September 21 Peter Laufer, author of Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border (I have not read it), and economist Benjamin Powell are speaking at the Independent Institute near the Oakland airport on Immigration Wars: Open or Closed Borders for America? I doubt I’ll be able to attend, but I expect it to be an informative event.

Three open source prediction market software options

Monday, August 29th, 2005

In May there were none.

The software that has run Foresight Exchange for many years (and soon a political market) was open sourced today (under an odd license).

Zocalo had a new release last week.

FreeMarket seems to have been available for a little over a month.

For the heck of it, compare the one item represented by claims on both FX and FreeMarket’s demo: Gas$3 and $3 for a gallon of gas respectively. The FX claim is trading lower (about 30 versus about 35) even though for it to pay off gas must reach $3 by 2005-12-26 while the FreeMarket demo claim pays if gas reaches $3 by 2006-08-18.

FX is still the only site with remotely interesting claims. Hopefully all these packages will directly support conditional claims one day soon (Zocalo has plans) and the sites that use them will get more interesting as a result.

Update 20050830: The first sentence above is wrong. Chris Masse’s list reminded me of Peter McCluskey‘s U.S. Idea Futures Market from 1999 (I didn’t realize until now that the source has been available). Check out USIFEX’s excellent FAQ on What are conditional claims and how do they work?

Lucene red handed

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

A review of Lucene in Action posted on Slashdot yesterday reminded me to make this post. I read the book in March shortly before giving a related talk at Etech in order to avoid sounding too stupid.

Lucene in Action is very well written. I liked the presentation of code samples as and found almost no fluff. If you don’t have a background in (I don’t) I think you’ll enjoy this book for the background information on IR that is thoroughly integrated with the text even if you have no plans to use (though you’ll obtain an itch to use Lucene, it’s so simple and powerful).

One non-technical comment I made about Lucene in the Etech talk is that it may be another open source . As eliminated much of the opportunity to sell HTTP servers, I suspect Lucene will eliminate much of the opportunity to sell embedded search libraries (which seems somewhat significant judging by the quantity of ads for same in programming magazines).

Trillion dollar fraud

Wednesday, August 24th, 2005

Linda Bilmes in a recent New York Times column estimates the total outlay for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan will come to $1.3 trillion. Christopher Westley cites a 2002 study by William Nordhaus estimating the ten year cost of an Iraq invasion at $1.2 billion:

The figure was outlandish, I was told. This was back at the time when Larry Lindsay was fired for making public his estimate that the war would cost $200 billion when the Bush Administration was estimating a cost of about half that amount.

At a glance it looks like Bilmes and Nordhaus each are including things like debt financing costs, increased veteran’s benefits and oil prices in their estimates, accouting for the half trillion increase over other recent estimates that the direct financial cost of the war could come to $700 trillion.

Regardless, it is clear and bears repeating ad nauseum that the war advocates underestimated financial costs by an order of magnitude and this radical underestimation is recurrent.

Separately, Patri Friedman just posted an article excerpt that provides one summary of how idiotic U.S. government economic (and other) policy in Iraq has been. Read it.

More broadly (sorry, can’t dig up the links right now) I’ve seen pro-war or ambivalent putatively pro-market people lament that the U.S. regime implements a centrally planned economy rather than a hoped for Hong Kong on the Euphrates, or anything close. Sorry, that hope was stupid and ignorant. Why trust the government to do the right thing in Iraq when you agree it almost never does the right thing at home? What about postwar Japan and Germany? Well, in the case of Germany anyway, the allied forces imposed price controls, one of the stupidest economic policies possible, and were aghast when Ludwig Erhard abolished the controls in 1948, paving the way for the economic miracle the U.S. wrongly takes credit for.

The average person has some excuse for believing whatever lies were told about the presence of “weapons of mass destruction”–how could one know? (Personally I find the entire topic incredibly boring. The only reason I didn’t believe is that I assume nearly every phrase uttered by a successful politician is fraudulent.) When the lies concern financial cost or economic policy, there is no excuse for belief, as the lies are basically the same every time.

Free Culture needs Free Software

Friday, August 12th, 2005

Fred von Lohmann explains Why Would MS Do Hollywood’s Bidding?:

In sum, it’s classical economics — on one side you have a supplier cartel with market power (Hollywood), on the other side you have several competing technology platform providers (Microsoft, the major CE companies, etc) each eager to get picked by the cartel (and thereby gain competitive advantage over those not picked).

Unmentioned, there is a technology platform (broadly speaking) that is incapable of doing the intellectual protectionist lobby’s bidding: free software.

Fred says “consumers will inevitably lose.” Not if we demand free software.

Get started with Firefox and OpenOffice right now.

1,844 Darwin Award Winners!

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

A few brief notes on Thomas Knapp’s reply to my carping. Knapp writes:

I pay more attention to American deaths, because my goal is to influence the opinions of Americans. Americans are the ones who can bring this debacle to an end.

Understood. I have a different goal: to destroy nationalism. Here’s to our mutual success.

I know of no one who volunteers to be a “slave” when joining the US military. Doing so entails a time-delimited contractual obligation, not involuntary servitude (the contract even includes the specific provisions under which one’s enlistment may be “involuntarily” extended).

Throughout history slavery has not been a singular institution. It has sometimes been time limited. Wikipedia (emphasis added):

The 1926 Slavery Convention described slavery as “…the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised…” Therefore a slave is someone who cannot leave an owner or employer without explicit permission, and who will be returned if they escape. Control may be accomplished through official or tacit arrangements with local authorities by masters who have some influence because of their status.

Perhaps calling soldiers slaves is a bit of a stretch, perhaps not. Soldiers are not free humans in any case.

Knapp again:

Furthermore, not only do enlistees not volunteer to be murderers, but their oath of enlistment is very specific in that it binds them to “defend and protect the Constitution of the United States,” not to randomly or non-randomly kill individuals without legitimate cause to do so.

Where defending and protecting is a tremendous stretch and includes engaging in mass murder.

And, if they realize they are being misused, it takes some big-time guts to stand up and say “no, this isn’t in my contract, no that order is not lawful, and no, I’m not going to obey it.”

I have two sets of heroes. The smart or lucky ones: draft dodgers. The stupid or unlucky ones: deserters.

But don’t fuck the kids who are dribbling their blood into the sand because they were naive enough to believe that their country would not ask them to do evil things. They’re victims in this thing as much anyone else. You can’t put someone in an insane situation and then expect sane conduct. It doesn’t work that way.

They weren’t put in an insane situation, they volunteered. Granted, many of them don’t have significant ability to think ahead. Given that lame excuse, in lieu of saying “fuck the U.S. troops” I hereby nominate the 1844 killed so far (17 additional winners since your Sunday post) for a collective darwin award.

Ontology is Underrated

Monday, August 8th, 2005

A couple months ago I checked to see if anyone had written the exact and obvious words “ontology is underrated” or “ontologies are underrated” in response to Clay Shirky’s somewhat overrated Ontology is Overrated. Nothing, and amazingly, still nothing (according to Google and Yahoo).

I don’t feel up to writing a real Ontology is Underrated essay, not least because I don’t have strong feelings either way, apart from seeing mischaracterization (link only tangentially relevant to subject of this post) put to rest.

Peter Merholz’s Clay Shirky’s Viewpoints are Overrated would be a pretty good start on a definitive Ontology is Underrated.

Enough dead

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

Thomas Knapp writes:

1,827 … and counting. Enough said.

I shouldn’t pick on Knapp, whose heart is mostly in the right place (and he’s a linkmonger, so he probably won’t mind), but…

The sentiment above, that the number of U.S. government troops killed is all-important, sums up the Iraq war, or similar, pisses me off.

Those who joined the military volunteered to be slaves and volunteered to be murderers. Sure, many of them just wanted to pay for college, but most gangsters are primarily in it for the money too. Fuck the U.S. troops.

Around 25,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in this war. (Yes, I’m aware of claims that the number is several times higher, but that estimate includes indirect deaths and is tenuous as far as I can tell, and I’m also aware of claims that an Iraqi civil war was an eventuality anyway, but that also seems highly speculative and doesn’t justify any deaths now.) They didn’t volunteer. Enough said.

But I’m all for gratuitous speech. Fuck the U.S. troops. And don’t forget to count small change or to understand real change.

Update 20050809: Thomas Knapp wrote a thorough and pleasant rejoinder, much of which I agree with. I’ll respond to the parts I don’t in a future post.

Accelerating cars

Saturday, August 6th, 2005

Late last month an article in the New York Times says the Bush administration embargoed a scheduleed report on automotive fuel effeciency till after an energy bill vote (an improvement over outright lying). The article features several experts complaining “automakers are failing to improve fuel economy.” Average fuel efficiency of new cars has declined since 1987 (by about 5.4% according to the report). However, the report contains far more incredible statistics (see VIII. Conclusions, page 76 of the report):

Compared to 1987, this year’s fleet is 21 percent heavier, 24 percent faster, and 80 percent more powerful.

Additionally auto fatalities have continued to slowly decline and cars have ever more accoutrements (including mandatory ones of questionable value). And fuel efficiency has only declined by 5.4%? I can only be in awe of the car industry’s technological tour de force.

If anyone is to blame for declining fuel efficiency it is car buyers. Efficiency improved from 1987 in nearly every class of vehichle (e.g., “small car”, “large SUV”). Consumers have been buying more large vehichles, fewer small vehicles. This seems particularly true in the supposedly eco-conscious San Francisco bay area, where there appear to be a greater proportion of large SUVs on the road than anywhere I’ve travelled.

Although I’m impressed by the auto industry’s prowess, they’ll have to do much better to win me as a customer. I’ve never owned a car, though my wife drives a 1998 Saturn SL, among the lowest cost cars of its vintage by several metrics (purchase, maintenance, fuel efficiency, safety, theft). If I had to buy a car today for some reason it would be a very used Volvo, though I’d prefer to stay out of the market until driverless cars are available, presumably well after 2010.

Predict what will be free

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

Jimmy Wales, guest blogging at Lessig’s, has started what promises to be an interesting series of posts on ten things that will be free (as in free software):

[T]his is not a dream list of things which I hope through some magic to become free, but a list of things which I believe are solvable in reality, things that will be free. Anyone whose business model for the next 100 years depends on these things remaining proprietary better watch out: free culture is coming to get you.

For each of the ten, I will try to give some basic (and hopefully not too ambiguous) definitions for what it will mean for each of them to be “solved”, and we can all check back for the next 25 or 50 years to see how we are doing.

In a subsequent post Wales is even more explicit:

[T]he point of naming the list “will be free” rather than “should be free” or “must be free” is that I am making concrete predictions rather than listing a pie in the sky list of things I wish to see.

I’d love to see similar (but shorter term and more thoroughly specified) predictions as claims on a prediction market. With the right set of claims we can more easily talk about, and plan for, which things are more likely to be free, and when.

Thus far Wales has predicted encyclopedias and curricula will be free. I can’t think of any segments that I am fairly certain will be free, are associated with large businesses, and have not already been alluded to in the comments on his first post.

However, regarding widely deployed software (e.g., operating systems, productivity applications) I have a theory explaining why it will be free: Microsoft Windows and Office have a half life–eventually a release of each will be a failure, at which point the only viable alternaives will be free, and any non-free alternaitves will face slow death–think commercial Unixes in the face of Linux. I’m not going to stand by this theory–it probably assumes too little change, of any sort.