Archive for April, 2006


Monday, April 24th, 2006

Google and Yahoo! turn up no futarchists and nothing about futarchism or futarchisms. Are you a ?

What are the implications of the for futarchy and prediction markets generally, or social policy bonds? Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Acquiring And Aggregating Costly Information From Sources Of Differing Quality (2006; PDF) mentions in passing:

There is a third theoretical doubt, a type of “Lucas critique.” If a prediction market becomes reliable, and this reliability changes policy or politics, this creates strategic incentives to manipulate the market. If the strategic incentives are strong enough, they could offset any monetary losses incurred by the manipulators.

Very indirectly via Patri Friedman, who mentioned .

I suspect the implication is that although making sense of prediction markets seems a little harder the critique probably applies more strongly to bureaucratic goal setting, making market mechanisms look relatively better than in absence of the critique. That’s just a wild[ly biased] speculation.

Lazyweb: guess source and taget languages for translation

Monday, April 24th, 2006

I use and Google Translate fairly often and am annoyed that both require me to specify both source (text to be translated) and destination languages. The former could be guessed at from the input text and the latter trivially obtained from browser settings (Google at least defaults to English destination at and Spanish at

, failing AltaVista and Google fixing this, someone should write a script that does.

Comments at this article point to various language detection techniques.

Artists and open source developers as entrepreneurs

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

No, not as in “artists need to think of themselves as businesses” or “open source business models” but as in entrepreneurs sharing the motivations of artists and open source contributors.

Entrepreneurship as a non-profit-seeking activity (PDF). The average could make substantially more money as an employee and obtain substantially better returns investing in the market rather than in the entrepreneur’s enterprise. Low risk aversion and over-optimism do not explain low financial returns to . However, the majority of “breakthrough” innovations are made by entrepreneurs rather than big firms. So why start a business?

The studies discussed give a direct indication of the non-monetary benefits associated with entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur seems to be attractive, not because it leads to a high income or wealth, but rather because it provides non-pecuniary satisfaction from being one’s own boss, from broad possibilities to use one’s skills and abilities, and from a resulting richer work content. Although no direct evidence has been presented, it can be hypothesized that similar aspects are responsible for Åstebro’s (2003) finding that entrepreneurs’ are willing to engage in innovative activities despite of poor expected financial returns. Amabile (1983, 1997), for example, argues that people often undertake creative endeavors simply because they like to engage in interesting, exciting and personally challenging activities.


Entrepreneurship is a crucial function in market economies. It is therefore important to understand what motivates people to engage in it. In this paper, it has been argued that traditional economic views on why individuals undertake entrepreneurial activities are incomplete. Entrepreneurship is not only and not even mainly a quest for profit. Rather, it is more accurately characterized as a non-profit-seeking activity. Contrary to the belief that people engage in entrepreneurship in order to make profits, a considerably body of empirical research shows that entrepreneurship is not particularly attractive in monetary terms. Being an entrepreneur emerges to be rewarding because it provides individuals with non-monetary satisfaction from aspects like higher autonomy, greater possibilities to use their skills and abilities, and the chance to be creative in pursuing their own ideas. It has been illustrated how these non-monetary benefits can be incorporated into economic theories of entrepreneurship. Further efforts along these lines seem instrumental in arriving at an improved understanding of entrepreneurship.

None of this surprises me, though I was completely ignorant of these studies. I suspect “artist” or “open source developer” would work in place of “entrepreneur” throughout most of the paper.

Via Will Wilkinson.

Wikitravel and World66 both win

Friday, April 21st, 2006

A little over two years ago I wrote about copying content between and (they’re both using the same Creative Commons license that allows this). Wikitravel “won more” from the operation due to permitting more flexible editing.

Now they’ve both won through simultaneously announced acquisition by .

An Alexa traffic rank graph of Wikitravel, World66, and, I believe the most popular Internet Brands site:

Congratulations again to Wikitravel cofounder Evan Prodromou. It’s fantastic to see projects and people like this get some commercial recognition after years of dedication to the “commons” (very broadly speaking) — see also Webjay and MusicBrainz.

Ross Mayfield has a short post on the acquisitions the best part of which is this:

Terms of the deal are not disclosed, but if you find them you could add them to this wiki page.

Emergent Robustness in a Walnut

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

just published his dissertation: Robust Composition: Towards a Unified Approach to Access Control and Concurrency Control informed by his years of work on the capability-secure . Great stuff, very relevant to the future of highly distributed, concurrent and secure computing, i.e., the future of computing, and pretty readable too — I blinked and momentarily misread the heading “Reference Graph Dynamics” (numbered page 66) as “Reference Graphs for Dummies.” I’ve only skimmed the document, but Part III, Concurrency Control, looks the most interesting and hardest, while Part IV, Emergent Robustness should be accessible and thought provoking to anyone with marginal technical literacy.

Also very recently announced a draft of Emily in a Walnut, a gentle introduction for imperative programmers to a secure variant of . Using Objective Caml for something interesting has been somewhere down my list for several years and will probably remain for several more.

Golden1 to buy more phishing insurance

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

The Golden1 Credit Union mostly serves (I think) State of California employees. Today these customers were miseducated about how DNS changes propagate and encouraged to trust a bare IP address and “accept the security alert.” See screenshot below (red outline added):

golden1 screenshot

This particular operation should be safe, but they’ve lowered the bar for — why bother setting up or when Golden1 has told customers to trust a bare IP and ignore warnings?

The least Golden1 could’ve done is to point some previously unused (and thus uncached) subdomain, e.g., at the new IP address for and tell customers to use the former as a temporary workaround.

Someone ought to be reprimanded for this gaffe.


Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Gordon Mohr just pointed me at a profile of group funding startup ChipIn. Unlike some others who have thought of this, ChipIn sees a big market opportunity.

Hopefully they’ll have great success and pursue interesting mechanisms for funding public goods.

ChipIn has a blog.

CCSSF2 with Gonze & Ostertag

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

The first Creative Commons Salon San Francisco was good, tomorrow’s should be great. Bob Ostertag and Lucas Gonze (who I’ve cited many times) are presenting. I could hardly ask for a better lineup.

Event details.

Update 20060417: Followup post on the CC blog.

It was a pleasure talking to Ostertag before the presentations got underway. Among other things I learned that Pantychrist vocalist Justin Bond has become extremely sucessful. During the presentation he said he had wanted to put his recordings in the public domain but Creative Commons seemed like a good thing to support, so he chose a license rather arbitrarily. Argh! (CC does offer a public domain dedication.) Ostertag pushed the idea that thinking in terms of “copies” is completely obsolete and more or less encouraged “piracy” — in response to a naive questioner asking if streaming and DRM together could stop copying (smiles all around). It was evident during Q&A that he had much more to say coming from a number of different angles. I look forward to reading more of his thoughts.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lucas Gonze’s presentation, though it may have been too much too fast for some people. I found the things he left out of a talk about how the net is changing music notable — nothing about DRM, streaming, P2P, music stores, or podcasting. Hear, hear!

Calorie Restriction Conference IV, part 1

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

I attended the Fourth Calorie Restriction Society Conference after missing CR III. Comments on most of the presentations:

Conference co-organizer Robert Krikorian said he thought attendees expected less from , at least in terms of life extension, than did attendees at the first conference, held in 2001.

spoke about a small study in which overweight asthma patients practiced approximately “every other day” CR — one day, 20% of energy requirements the next — amounting to approximately 20% CR. Onset of presumably CR-induced benefits — objective and subjective measures of asthma symptoms, oxidative stress and inflammation markers — was drastic and rapid, largely kicking in after only a few weeks. Laub is also researching an unintentional human CR study from 1956 by Arias Vallejo in which 60 restricted patients in a Madrid nursing home had about half of the hospitalization days of the 60 control patients. Only half as many restricted patients as controls died over the course of the study. Laub said the mortality numbers were too small to be significant (I believe 12 and 5 deaths) but he did not let this stop him from extrapolating a mortality curve for the restricted patients shifted to the right.

Josh Mitteldorf claimed that aging is a result of to check population growth that would deplete resources and lead to extinction. He admitted to holding a minority position and offered critiques of three theories of aging. Mitteldorf thinks that the CR effect falsifies disposable soma, which he thinks should predict that more energy would allow for more damage repair and less aging rather than the opposite. I suspect he is attacking a strawman version of the theory. He claimed that the existence of genes that seem to have no purpose but programmed death and to rule out and mutation accumulation as primary causes of aging. Certainly these theories can be criticized, but Mitteldorf’s own probably goes down the wrong track by relying on group selection, which may not even exist is somewhat controversial. He invokes the dynamism of exponentially growing then crashing populations. It seems to me (i.e., completely uninformed speculation) a changing environment might favor genes for aging to free resources for new generations, which might have mutations enabling survival in changed conditions — this would be mere . Mitteldorf said the existence of programmed death would make life extension easier — single interventions could have powerful cascade effects — and that indeed, CR may be an example of such an intervention.

Luigi Fontana gave an update on human CR studies in progress that show CR practicioners have extremely low markers for cancer and heart disease risk and noted one study in which raw foodists had markers in some (but not all) areas as good as CR practicioners suggests that protein restriction may be something to study. This doesn’t seem to be of much practical use given a CR concern with maintaining muscle mass nor does it seem to be a likely effect to me — the raw foodists consumed calories closer to the CR group than to the exerciser and control groups — presumably this accounts for most or all of their CR-like markers.

suggested that the CR effect is mostly absolute and will not effectively scale for long lived organisms due to famines lasting a similar amount of time for organisms regardless of lifespan, resulting in only two or three years’ increase in life span for CR’d humans. I highly doubt multi-decade famines never happen, though perhaps they do not occur often enough to favor genes conferring equivalent life extension. Certainly the CR effect is much greater proportionately in shorter lived organisms — de Grey cited examples ranging from several hundred percent for C. elegans to a 40% for some mice to a few percent for Okinawans. He also spoke a bit about , about which I’ve written previously.

Caleb Finch‘s talk on meat-adaptive genes in the evolution of the human diet was fascinating. If I understood correctly, some of the same genes that offer protection from the dangers of eating raw meat (parasites, prions, high iron doses) also indicate larger brain size, specifically . With the exception of some chimpanzees (and of course humans), existing hominids only eat plants and some insects, so this gene is not present. Some groups of chimpanzees do hunt and practice cannibalism, but this is cultural and could have even been transferred from humans. Although little recognized, Alzheimer’s occurs in many mammals. APOE also protects against Alzheimer’s. About ten percent of humans have an APOE variant that results in decreased lifespan (about half of the female-male difference) but better protection against certain diseases.

Steven Austad said that although the CR effect is often assumed to be ubiquitous many studies have shown exceptions, even in rodents. Although some of his examples are questionable, clearly the effect of CR on an organism should not be assumed to be always positive. I (because I am ignorant) found his clear description of what CR means in the context of single cell organism and fruit fly studies valuable — especially for the former, it isn’t very similar to CR for mammals. I have a fair amount of raw notes taken from this presentation which I may eventually turn into a separate post.

Three later presentations, the scientific panel, and general observations in a subsequent post.

The conference was written about in the local (Tucson) paper. Probably the two best known bloggers writing about their own CR practices, Mary Robinson and April Smith, each have posted about the conference and will presumably be posting additional thoughts.