Archive for December, 2007

OpenID is good for something

Monday, December 31st, 2007

I think I’ve only posted about it once, but I’ve long been extremely skeptical of “digital identity” technologies — evil, hopeless, overhyped (no, giving users control of their identities will not save democracy nor make a pony appear, and there are no scare quotes around the preceding words because I haven’t cornered the market on scare quotes), often more than one of these.

has been the most reasonable identity technology to come along, mostly because it does very little and builds on existing standards. I still think it’s overhyped. Evan Prodromou recently posted an informative essay on OpenID Privacy Concerns. This bit jumped out at me:

The key to mitigating this, of course, is using strong security on the OpenID provider. The good news is that since your authentication is centralized, you can use much stronger authentication than most Web sites support. I really appreciate using browser certificate authentication on — it’s a very strong system that’s (almost) immune to phishing, brute-force attacks, or other password-stealing scams.

The good thing about OpenID is that it moves authentication to parties that are presumably good at that and can offer stronger authentication methods, without the sites and services you want to login to having to know anything about authentication technologies (apart from having implemented OpenID login).

I knew that an OpenID provider could authenticate however they want, but the usefulness of this did not click until reading the above, though I’m sure it’s been pointed out to me before.

I fairly frequently use the total lack of adoption of browser certificates as a negative example to be learned from when people try to solve supposed problems by throwing crypto into a supposed solution. Perhaps in the distant future this example won’t work, because OpenID (or something else that abstracts out authentication method) is widely implemented, making strong authentication relatively useful and usable.

In the meantime, I’m still a big fan of super simple methods of going passwordless.

Bill Richardson > /tmp/dictator

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

I endorse for temporary dictator of the U.S. jurisdiction. His positions on executive power seem acceptable, his overall domestic policies and record as governor of New Mexico are better than most politicians (i.e., not abominable), and his foreign policy is not insane. Regarding the last, Richardson outlines his principles in this video.

True, ‘s more radical foreign (and general) policy is mostly closer to my preferences than Richardson’s. However, in spirit and delivery, Richardson’s foreign policy is a viable and positive alternative to interventionism, approximately the Wright thing, in contrast to Dr. No’s.

And Richardson is in theory electable, while Paul is not. Traders are probably correct in giving Richardson essentially zero chance of winning the Democratic nomination at this point, but they are certifiably insane to give Paul even a smidgen of a chance of winning the GOP nomination (currently about 7%), let alone the dictatorship (4%).

I also think that to the extent the Paul campaign gives some libertarians (entirely false) hope of revolutionary change for the better through electoral politics, the campaign and whatever success it has is a bad thing. It makes me sad to see libertarians impoverish themselves by sending a “moneybomb” to a hopeless electoral campaign.

However, I probably would not have bothered to tack on this anti-endorsement of Paul had I not seen this excrement from his campaign.

Paul is also a religious kook (but then so is every candidate, of one sort or another). At least Barack Obama admits doubt, which I’d challenge any other candidate to do. As Richardson doesn’t have any chance of nomination, this post is effectively an endorsement.

Via Freedom Democrats and Sheldon Richman.


Saturday, December 29th, 2007

I’ve written about Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking twice. Watch a five minute video illustrating his ideas.

Side notes possibly only of interest to me: The interviewer is , founder of LimeWire, and the video is under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.

Unlike recorded music, parking is a good. At first approximation, recorded music should be free and parking very expensive. Of course policy is typically backwards.

Via Urban Planning Research.

Temporary dictator applicants on executive power

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

In August I gave my one question for temporary dictator applicants:

What will you do to reduce the power of the presidency?

A candidate survey on executive power recently published by the Boston Globe comes as close to answering my question as I could hope. Each candidate was asked twelve questions. I rated each answer acceptable, marginal, or unacceptable and gave 1, 0.5, or 0 points for each. My ranking:

Paul (R) 11.5
Biden (D) 11.0
Obama (D) 11.0
Dodd (D) 10.5
Richardson (D) 10.0
Clinton (D) 9.0
Edwards (D) 7.5
McCain (R) 6.5
Romney (R) 1.0

Giuliani (R) did not answer any of the questions, but issued a statement that indicates he’d compete with Romney for low score. Thompson (R) and Huckabee (R) did not reply at all.

Based on the above, it seems civil libertarians ought to be rooting for an Obama vs. McCain general election. It’s ok to root for Paul or Biden, but they have near zero chances of winning their parties’ nominations. (My overall preference is for Richardson vs. Paul, but alas, neither willl be nominated. My hope is for Paul to do better than he’s polling — he will never meet the expectations of his supporters, and for Richardson to get the Democrat VP nomination.)

Glenn Greenwald comments on the survey, in particular Romney’s pursuit of tyrannical power.

Migration toward equality now, handwaving later

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

I recommend Guests in the Machine: Guest worker programs may be the best hope many of the world’s poorest people have for improving their lives.

If guest worker programs are the most feasible weakening of international apartheid in the immediate future, they should be pursued with gusto. To the extent they appear exploitive or corrosive, the problem is not with the guest worker program, but the underlying birth-based system of restrictions on movement and ability to work and live. Toward the abolition of international apartheid!

Addendum 20071227: The author of Guests in the Machine has two great posts on the subject the last two days. Please read  The Migration Package Deal and The Myth of the Migrant.

Patri Friedman’s basic views on copyright and patents

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Patri Friedman just posted a nice essay concerning his basic views on copyright and patents, which I’ll summarize as “Policy should aim for economic efficiency …”:

So an economically optimal regime would have different rules for different industries, protecting some but not others, based on their exactly supply/demand curves.

“… but don’t forget about enforcement costs.”:

But really, it doesn’t matter. There is just no fucking way that IP protection is worth the police state it would take to enforce it. And unenforced/unenforceable laws poison society by teaching people not to respect the law.

This leads more or less to my understanding of the sentiment, something like “There’s nothing wrong with copyright per se, but any civil liberties infringement in the name of copyright protection is totally unacceptable.”

I recommend Friedman’s essay, but of course the reason I write is to complain … about the second half of the essay’s last sentence:

Therefore I favor accepting the inevitable as soon as possible, so that we can find new ways to compensate content producers.

This closing both gives comfort to producerists (but in the beginning of the essay Friedman says that people love to create — I agree, see paying to create — and Tom W. Bell has a separate argument that should result in less concern for producers that I’ve been meaning to blog about, but should be obvious from the title — Outgrowing Copyright: The Effect of Market Size on Copyright Policy) and is a stretch — copyright might make alternatives less pressing and interesting, but it certainly does not prevent experimentation.

While I’m complaining, enforcement costs aren’t the only often forgotten problem.

Blog search putrefying

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

I’ve complained before here that blog search stinks and isn’t getting better. Now I know why — in addition to blog search being a difficult and expensive service to run — there isn’t much demand. The blog search focused sites I mentioned in the “stinks” post each seem to have gained no traction since then, excepting Technorati, which itself is constantly rumored to be troubled.

A TechCrunch post on traffic at various Google properties finally gave me a clue and an inclination to look at my past posts on blog search. Click through to see a graph showing that Google Blog Search barely registers.

To end on a positive note, perhaps blog search is a good use case for , as it isn’t economic for a centralized entity to do well. This reminds me, whatever happened to various ?

Only tangentially related to blog search, I really like Chris F. Masse’s post on blogs vs. newspapers, in which Wikipedia sits at the top of the ecosystem:

So the real winner is Wikipedia — a news and knowledge aggregator… using anonymous volunteers. But Wikipedia is only an information aggregator… it feeds on both media and blogs to gather the facts. Wikipedia is the common denominator of knowledge —not the primary source of reporting. Just like prediction markets feed on polls and other advanced indicators.

Go Antigua!!!

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

The dispute between the U.S. and Antigua jurisdictions over the former’s is one of the most interesting happenings of the past few years. I’ve been meaning to write about it for about that long but haven’t had much more to say than what you see in the post title. Antigua correctly sees the U.S. as restraining trade and has obtained favorable rulings at the World Trade Organization.

(actually the jurisdiction of ) is seeking the right to suspend enforcement of U.S. copyrights as an alternative remedy. Unfortunately this sounds way more interesting than it is, except possibly for its precedent. The latest ruling only allows the suspension of US$21 million worth of intellectual protectionist obligations, a trivial amount that will itself be subject to radically different interpretations considering how difficult and arbitrary the valuation of nonrival goods can be (the RIAA’s ridiculous valuation of shared audio files is exactly a case in point). Even had Antigua’s request for US$3.44 billion not been cut down by about 99.4% the result would have been largely academic.

I have sub-golf level interest in horse racing, poker, or other gaming-oriented gambling activities. So why is this case so interesting? There is or David vs. Goliath aspect, but mostly I really want to see U.S. gambling prohibitions go down in flames, both because they are a tool for arbitrary censorship and control in much the same way copyright is and because they are a barrier to use of .

The world will route around this U.S. stupidity, but at great loss, not least to Americans.

LimeWire popularity

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

I continue to be intrigued by ‘s huge and relatively unsung popularity. According to a December 13 release:

More than one-third of all PCs worldwide now have LimeWire installed, according to data jointly released by Digital Music News and media tracking specialist BigChampagne. The discovery is part of a steady ascent for LimeWire, easily the front-running P2P application and the target of a multi-year Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lawsuit. For the third quarter of this year, LimeWire was found on 36.4% of all PCs, a figure gleaned from a global canvass of roughly 1.66 million desktops.

The installation share is impressive, and unrivaled. But growth has actually been modest over the past year. LimeWire enjoyed a penetration level of 34.1% at the same point last year, a difference of merely 2.3%.

These figures don’t jibe with those supposedly from the same parties from earlier this year, which found LimeWire installed on 18.63% of desktops. A writer on TorrentFreak who has presumably seen the more recent report (US$295, apparently including the requisite section titled “LimeWire Challenged by…Google?”) says:

From the data where the report is based on we further learn that Limewire’s popularity is slowly declining. However, with an install base of almost 18% it is still the P2P application that is installed on most desktop computers. Unfortunately Digital Music News has trouble interpreting their own data, they claim in their press release that it is 36.4%, but that is the market share compared to other P2P clients (shame on you!).

In other open source filesharing application news, made its first release in over two years on December 1.

Via Slyck.

The major political issue of today?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

The incredibly productive Kragen Sitaker, in Exegesis of “Re: [FoRK] Calling [redacted] and all the ships at sea.”:

The major political issue of today [0] is that music distribution companies based on obsolete physical-media-distribution models (“record labels”) are trying to force owners of new distribution mechanisms, mostly built on the internet, to pay them for the privilege of competing with them; the musical group “The Grateful Dead” used to permit their fans to distribute their music by making copies of taped performances, and most of the money the Dead made came from these performances; it is traditional for performances not to send any revenue to the record label. Long compares the record labels to buggy-whip manufacturers, who are the standard historical symbol for companies who went out of business because of technological change.

This clearly relates to the passage the footnote is attached to, which is about the parallel between Adam Smith’s economic “invisible hand” and the somewhat more visible hand that wrote the king’s doom on the wall in Daniel; in this case, the invisible hand has written the doom of the record companies on the wall, and their tears will not wash out a word of it. What this has to do with Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition on seeking symbolism or morals in the book, I don’t know, although clearly Huckleberry Finn’s prohibition relates to mortals hiding messages in texts.

[0] Yes, this means I think this is more important than the struggle over energy, or the International Criminal Court, or global warming, or nuclear proliferation — the issue is whether people should be permitted to control the machines they use to communicate with one another, in short, whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. (Sorry my politics intrude into this message, but I thought “the major political issue of today” required some justification, but needs to be there to explain the context to people reading this message who don’t know about it.)

That will probably seem a pretty incredible claim, but I often agree, and think Sitaker understates the case. Music distribution companies are only one of the forces for control and censorship. The long term issue is bigger than whether private ownership of 21st-century printing presses should be permitted. The issue is whether individuals of the later 21st-century will have self-ownership.