Category Archives: Innovation

Video of Cory Doctorow speaking at Suffolk University

Cory Doctorow and others spoke at the Ford Hall Forum at Suffolk University on Oct. 13, 2015. The talk was The Remote-Controlled Society. It was a pleasure to work with Suffolk and the Boston University Computer Science department to make this talk happen.

I recorded some of it and put it up at the Massachusetts Pirate Party YouTube account. Reminder to self: always use a tripod when recording video.

The Ford Hall Forum posted video of the entire discussion.

He also spoke at the Berkman Center that same day.

Banking on the Future

Iain (M.) Banks announced yesterday that he has terminal bladder cancer and has less than a year to live. In less than a day 3800 people (including me) signed his guest book/condolence page. Had he announced three days ago during April Fools Day, I would have had a chuckle and rubbed my hands in anticipation of the many more novels he would gift to us.  Sadly that joke was not to be.

I finished Against a Dark Background in February, and The Hydrogen Sonata shortly after it came out in October of last year. These two novels brought the number of his books I have read to eleven, which is probably the most of any other author I have read.  By far it is his Culture novels I adore.

For me, his Culture novels describe a post-scarcity anarcho-communist society where everyone can choose his, her or its own purpose and is able to live a full, rich life of play.  A short fan video directed by Jon Rennie goes far in describing what that life is like:

In our current world of violence, austerity and inequality, the future the Culture offers is immensely liberating.

Certainly the Culture is guided by its Minds, the god-like artificial intelligences (AI) who are fond of their generally mentally and logically inferior pan-human and drone fellow citizens and wish to keep such “interesting companions” around.  One cannot ignore the Culture’s (or is it the Mind’s) propensity to meddle in the affairs of other societies less technologically advanced than they are either overtly or covertly via its Special Circumstances adhoc grouping.  All for the good of course.

That the Culture has contradictions and problems is evident in his novels and certainly what makes them interesting stories.  Banks has not crafted a perfect utopia, even if it is a desirable one.

Sadly no one has adaptated any of Banks’ science fiction novels for film or tv, though some have talked of it.  The complexity of the stories and their many characters make it difficult to adapt, certainly. His first two Culture novels, Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games are probably the ones that could be most easily adapted. Perhaps some enterprising person will write a screen play for them and ask for funding on Kickstarter.  I would certainly give to such an endeavor.

Banks’ impending demise will prevent us from reading future books from his pen.  Yet there is no reason others should not be allowed to create in his sandbox.  Let his wife and family have the books he created for the next seventy years (the term of copyright in the US).  By opening up the worlds and galaxies he created for others to use and adapt, he would give us a truly wonderful gift.

A Drone for you, and two for you …

Naked Capitalism brought my attention to this video on what drones can do and what they might do in the future.  It makes for rather concerning viewing.

Personally, I have no doubt that within the next ten years, drones will be small enough and cheap enough to follow us and record all of our actions in public.  My guess is that many of us will have more than one permanently following us.  My guess is that people will object to governments tailing us with a drone, though I wouldn’t put it past them.  However, I wouldn’t put it past corporations to monitor the public lives of their employees or ex-spouses for that matter.  I am sure that many might have them to monitor themselves.  The government could then use a warrant (or not) to gather the recordings.

I keep thinking of writing a story of woman as she goes about her day, from greeting the drones that keep track of her in the morning to saying good night to them, and everywhere in between.  There would be one from the corporation she works for, one from her ex-husband, one from her child’s school, one from the school where she takes night classes, and so on.  The cheaper drones become, the more we will use them, afterall.  If you want to write such a story, you have my blessing, though please contact me so I can promote it.

On to the video.

I refuse to give up my freedom

I tend to borrow and remix from the thoughts of TechDirt founder Mike Masnick, Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge, science fiction writer Cory Doctorow and cartoonist and Question Copyright founder Nina Paley when thinking about how copyright and patent laws are increasingly obsolete and counter productive not only to our economy but to our freedom as well.  However, a recent discussion about International Talk Like a Pirate Day prompted me to write up a, likely incomplete, summary of my thoughts.  So here goes:

"It is more complex than the idea that people want to steal from musicians.

We have to keep in mind that the existing music system established a few gatekeepers that were able to capture much of the money we pay for music.  The order that people got paid was:

  1. first the music industry (esp. the big players),
  2. second the small number of musicians who "made it",
  3. third a somewhat larger number of musicians who were luckly to get slightly better than minimum wage,
  4. finally the vast majority made no money at all or did it for the love of playing music.

Now, with the Internet, musicians are able to connect with their fans and ask them to support the music (and musicians) they love directly. Gatekeepers are going away as a result and musicians will be better off.

Will all musicians thrive?  No, but more will do better than their processors did.

Will musicians need to look at other ways of getting fans to support them, than buying the music that can be easily copied? Yes. Tours are one means. Using tools like Kickstarter to have fans pay for musicians to create something new is another. Selling the unique and scarce items that musicians can create will be more common: suggesting the background of a song, personal concerts, signed disks, individual frames of music videos are but a few methods that could be tried and often have been tried successfully.

Leading all this is that people like to create, and now more people have the tools and ability to develop the skills they need to create. 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.  Some of it is a copy, some is remixed, but most of the videos are ones that people create for their friends or to express themselves. For me, a future where more people can create and share is exciting and better than a world of gatekeepers and big name musicians.

Ultimately, the only way we will maintain this old and dying system is to spy on what everyone sends out over the Internet, censor our communications and lock every digital file so that no one can share. That is the world the huge entertainment companies and their mouthpieces such as the RIAA, MPAA and Chamber of Commerce want and it would be a sad, poor world indeed.

I refuse to give up my freedom so that a few gatekeepers and stick-in-the-mud musicians don't have to change and innovate."

As PBS extolls arbitrage, is wealth looting next?

I didn't intend to have my next post focus on arbitrage and rentiers, but as I prepared to deal with several items I have put off in favor of sleeping the last few days, I just couldn't resist.

Last night, my wife was watching Market Warriors, a PBS show that seems to have been spun off from Antiques Roadshow. Various intermediate buyers/sellers comb flea markets and try to get the best price they can on the antiques they buy so in order to sell them at auction for a higher price. They have various constraints they have to abide by. In between the haggling, the narrator makes comments on the buying/selling process, negotiations and something about the items the participants have chosen.

They should have just called the show Arbitrage, as striped of the commentary, that is all the participants are doing. As they Marxists' M-C-M' equation says, they are using money to buy commodities to make more money. Watching stock or bond traders negotiate their deals would have been far more exciting and illuminating about the inner purpose of financial capitalism.

Which brings me to the latest Q&A with Michael Hudson about his book The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis. In the Q&A, he ties the huge debts (especially private debts) we have developed since 1980, with the increasing amount of money the financial sector is siphoning off from the goods economy. The following excerpt summarizes our current march on the road to debt servitude:

But instead of supporting productive industry by extending credit to increase tangible capital investment, the banking system has extended credit mainly (about 80 percent in the United States and most English-speaking countries) to buy real estate and load it down with debt. The result is that rental income is used to pay interest to the banks rather than to pay taxes. This forces governments to tax wages, profits and sales. That increases the cost of living and doing business, on top of the interest charge.

In search of this loan market, banks have come to back untaxing real estate and deregulating monopolies, so that their economic rent can be paid to the banks as interest by customers eager buy these rights – and charge even higher rents or raise prices even further without making a new capital investment of their own. Instead of financing industry, U.S. banks don’t make loans for what can be produced in the future. They make loans against collateral already in place – including entire companies with high-interest “junk” bonds. The target company is obliged to pay the debt that the corporate raider takes on. The raider then is “free” to downsize and outsource the work force, squeeze the budget and hope to come out with a capital gain after paying off the banks and bondholders. The process is more extractive than productive.

While the financial industry has led the way in extracting economic rents from their customers and other sectors of the economy, other sectors are catching up.  Increasingly we see patents being used to extract economic rents, whether with the Apple-Samsung ruling or with patent trolls, rather than by actually innovating and creating more useful products. 

With artbitrage covered, perhaps PBS will come up with a new show that extolls the virtues of rent seeking.  I think Wealthy Looters would be a good title.

The question for us, though, is whether we want an economy that encourages invovation and spreading the wealth we all create as widely as possible or whether we want a rentier tollbooth economy controlled and milked by the wealthy.

Links 6/26/2012

Links 6/25/2012

Links 6/22/2012

  • Doug Henwood‘s Behind the News interview with Yanis Varoufakis, on the Greece & Euro Zone crisis. Turns out Yanis Varoufakis started work at Valve Software. When Doug stated that Valve was run along anarcho syndicalist, I went looking for more and found:
  • The Valve manifesto – which is the first thing that comes up when you search for valve software anarcho syndicalist on google. Sounds like a human place to work and L loves their games, but that two of the founders are multimillionaires, at least, seems to limit the ability to apply their model to other, less well financed, businesses
  • Copyright and “intellectual disobedience – Cool interview with cartoonist Nina Paley on free culture: “Intellectual disobedience is civil disobedience plus intellectual property,” Paley explained. “A lot of people infringe copyright and they’re apologetic … If you know as much about the law as, unfortunately, I do, I cannot claim ignorance and I cannot claim fair use … I know that I’m infringing copyright and I don’t apologize for it.”
  • Also, the Techdirt summary
  • The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia – Matt Taibbi on more fraud by Wall Street banks: “But when added to the other fractions of a percent stolen from basically every other town in America on every other bond issued by Wall Street in the past 10 to 15 years, it starts to turn into an enormous sum of money. In short, this was like the scam in Office Space, multiplied by a factor of about 10 gazillion: Banks stole pennies at a time from towns all over America, only they did it a few hundred bazillion times.”
  • Julian Assange’s right to asylum – Glenn Greenwald
  • Washington’s 5 Worst Arguments for Keeping Secrets From You – a great list from Wired’s Danger Room blog
  • Atheists, Muslims See Most Bias as Presidential Candidates
  • Hark, a Vagrant: Idler – Remixing cartoons from very old illustrations

Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use & Where do people find the time?

Clay Shirky wrote an interesting blog post about "The Collapse of Complex Business Models" (thanks to Boing Boing and TechDirt, among others).  Here is an excerpt:

About 15 years ago, the supply part of media’s supply-and-demand
curve went parabolic, with a predictably inverse effect on price. Since
then, a battalion of media elites have lined up to declare that exactly
the opposite thing will start happening any day now.

To pick a couple of examples more or less at random, last year Barry
Diller of IAC said, of content available on the web, “It is not free,
and is not going to be,” Steve Brill of Journalism Online said that
users “just need to get back into the habit of doing so [paying for
content] online”, and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp said “Web users will
have to pay for what they watch and use.”

Diller, Brill, and Murdoch seem be stating a simple fact—we will have
to pay them—but this fact is not in fact a fact. Instead, it is a
choice, one its proponents often decline to spell out in full, because,
spelled out in full, it would read something like this:

“Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use, or else we
will have to stop making content in the costly and complex way we have
grown accustomed to making it. And we don’t know how to do that.”

With that article in mind, it seems time to revisit another one of his articles, "Gin, Television, and
Social Surplus
" that I mentioned to my friend Amy last month and haven't gotten around to sending her:

I started
telling her about the Wikipedia
article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the
planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of
this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people
are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an
ruckus–"How should we characterize this change in Pluto's status?" And
a little bit
at a time they move the article–fighting offstage all the
while–from, "Pluto is the ninth
planet," to "Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped
orbit at the edge of the solar system."

I tell her all this stuff, and I think, "Okay, we're going to
have a conversation about authority or social construction or
whatever." That wasn't her question. She heard this story and
she shook her head and said, "Where do people find the time?"
That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, "No
one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the
time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been
masking for 50 years."

how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit,
all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit,
every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia
exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100
million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin
Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but
it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of

Here is a talk he gave on his book "Here Comes Everybody" which elaborates further on the post's topic.

Looks like I need to pick up a copy of his book.

Moved Spontaneous Ideas to, looking for friends to share their ideas

I decided to try out so I moved my Spontaneous Ideas blog there.  There weren't a lot of posts to move, and setup was incredibly easy.  Even moving the domain over went well, mostly.

The idea behind Spontaneous Ideas is that it is a place where I (and now others) can share the spontaneous ideas that enter our mind sand have a measure
of sense and usefulness to them, but which we are unlikely to pursue due
to time or inclination.  Anyone reading the blog is free to take an idea and run with it, free of charge beyond some form of attribution.

If you would like to be able to share your spontaneous ideas as well, and are someone I know, then please contact me.