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Popcorn Time And Tech’s Duty To Do The Right Thing

Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 20:53 by Desiato in category: Commentary


People should be uniting around Science and Technology, not against it. Technology must be viewed as something magical instead of malicious. It is so easy for technology, computing especially, to seem cold, self-interested, and reckless; making it friendly, warm, and benevolent will take effort.

Technology has enabled piracy to flip the media industry upside down and that is just the beginning. Very soon, technology will start having more pronounced effects on labor and manufacturing through 3D printing and the internet of things. We won’t be talking about piracy and media then, we’ll be talking about millions of jobs and economic conditions never studied in recorded history. As a whole, our quest for innovation must be balanced with careful wisdom and — I’ll say it — an appreciation for the status quo.

We cannot enact change that affects billions of lives and then say “fend for yourself, figure out the new rules”. I believe we must hold out our hands, share a vision for what is newly possible, and, most importantly, show people what role they can play.

That is in our ability — no ones else’s, and thus I believe it is our duty.

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  1. This is like the “Tragedy of the Commons”. People at all levels arrange things to their perceived advantage, regardless of “rights”, laws, or, indeed, common sense.

Michael Shermer’s “What should we be worried about?” essay on edge.org

Posted on February 1st, 2013 at 13:52 by Desiato in category: Commentary


Ever since the philosophers David Hume and G. E. Moore identified the "Is-Ought problem" between descriptive statements (the way something "is") and prescriptive statements (the way something "ought to be"), most scientists have conceded the high ground of determining human values, morals, and ethics to philosophers, agreeing that science can only describe the way things are but never tell us how they ought to be. This is a mistake.

We should be worried that scientists have given up the search for determining right and wrong and which values lead to human flourishing just as the research tools for doing so are coming online through such fields as evolutionary ethics, experimental ethics, neuroethics, and related fields. The Is-Ought problem (sometimes rendered as the "naturalistic fallacy") is itself a fallacy. Morals and values must be based on the way things are in order to establish the best conditions for human flourishing. Before we abandon the ship just as it leaves port, let’s give science a chance to steer a course toward a destination where scientists at least have a voice in the conversation on how best we should live.

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Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong.

Posted on January 8th, 2013 at 13:05 by Desiato in category: Commentary


If you fear genetically modified food, you may have Mark Lynas to thank. By his own reckoning, British environmentalist helped spur the anti-GMO movement in the mid-‘90s, arguing as recently at 2008 that big corporations’ selfish greed would threaten the health of both people and the Earth. Thanks to the efforts of Lynas and people like him, governments around the world—especially in Western Europe, Asia, and Africa—have hobbled GM research, and NGOs like Greenpeace have spurned donations of genetically modified foods.

But Lynas has changed his mind—and he’s not being quiet about it. On Thursday at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas delivered a blunt address: He got GMOs wrong. According to the version of his remarks posted online he opened with a bang:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

One of the interesting bits in Lynas’ speech (linked above) is his comparison of rejection of GMOs as equally anti-science as rejection of global warming… just on the other side of the political spectrum.

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  1. The monetization (by Monsanto and others) of the GM science and impact on farmers is still a huge problem. A good reference in Slate via Techdirt today has some discussion. When somebody tells me about “…important technological options…” I’m a little skeptical about just who is going to benefit.

The future of books and libraries

Posted on January 3rd, 2013 at 16:03 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Intellectual Property


Elkin-Koren predicted that as books turn into e-books, they will move from being commodities to being services, and publishing will merge with retailing. "There is no difference between a bookseller, a publisher, and a library," she said.

Thought-provoking claim, I thought. It seems somewhat obvious that the difference between publishing and retailing is shrinking: Amazon is becoming a publisher, and publishers sell e-books directly to readers (e.g. O-Reilly, Baen, etc).

The remaining claim is that when it comes to e-books, libraries as we know them have no future. This is supported in part earlier in the post by observing that publishers are resisting letting libraries lend e-books, essentially because they don’t think they can afford to.

This comes from a very interesting two-part post [1, 2]

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As Swing Districts Dwindle, Can a Divided House Stand?

Posted on December 27th, 2012 at 17:17 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Indecision 2012


So why is compromise so hard in the House? Some commentators, especially liberals, attribute it to what they say is the irrationality of Republican members of Congress.

But the answer could be this instead: individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives. Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.

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A Congregation of Motherfuckers in the Senate

Posted on December 6th, 2012 at 11:25 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Foyer of Ennui (just short of the Hall of Shame)


You’d think that at some point, even the most devoted motherfucker would get exhausted from fucking all those mothers. Even stars of gang-bang porn need a day or two to let a torn asshole heal. But not the Republicans in the United States Senate. They are motherfuckers who can’t get enough of the motherfucking. You ask them about any issue, they respond by saying, "We’re motherfuckers. Do you expect us to not fuck mothers? Oh, silly, silly Americans, bring us more mothers so we may fuck on." It gets to the point of being disturbing, where you’re looking at the dicks of the motherfuckers, chafed to bleeding from all the fucking. But these motherfuckers aren’t gonna stop fucking mothers, even if it seems absurd or pathetic. If there are mothers to be fucked, the Senate Republicans will be there, ready to get fucking.

So it was that yesterday, 38 Republicans voted against ratifying the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a 2006 treaty that’s been ratified by 126 nations, including Pakistan, Myanmar, and Uganda (and, you know, most of Europe and South America, as well as China). Why did enough Republicans oppose the treaty, which does little more than say, "Hey, we should try to make the lives of people with disabilities a little less shitty," to deny it the two-thirds needed? Because sovereignty. Or freedom. Or something.

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  1. Funny. The U.N., hapless although it often is, is a strongly unifying issue for U.S. Tea Party members. (Such a delicious irony is like the HHGTTG proof of the non-existence of God.)

Has Wal-Mart been good or bad?

Posted on November 27th, 2012 at 17:16 by Desiato in category: Commentary


Wal-Mart has become so big and so pervasive that it effectively sets prices for everyone who sells to it, and everyone who competes against it. It has lowered prices for American workers — even those who don’t shop at Wal-Mart — even as it has done much to destroy the American labor movement and to encourage the offshoring of American jobs. It has changed how goods are shipped, packaged and produced. It has, at different times, encouraged devastating environmental practices and admirable ones. Any accounting of Wal-Mart’s effect on workers has to go far beyond a simple look at the wages they themselves pay to their direct workforce. See, for instance, this Wall Street Journal article on what happened in Thailand after Wal-Mart demanded higher standards from its shrimp suppliers.

Back in 2006 and 2007, I spent quite a bit of time reporting on the Wal-Martization of the economy, and I never came across an accounting I found sufficient. Whether Wal-Mart has been, on net, “good” or “bad” is a complicated question to frame and a devilishly tough one to answer. Soon, I’m sure, the question will be whether Amazon.com has been good or bad. I wish I had a definitive answer. All I’m certain of is that Wal-Mart has been — and Amazon.com will be — economically transformative.

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I Don’t Want To Be Part of Your Fucking Ecosystem

Posted on November 23rd, 2012 at 14:50 by Desiato in category: Amazon, Apple, Commentary, Software


Imagine, just for a moment, that your Sony DVD player would only play Sony Movies’ films. When you decided to buy a new DVD player from Samsung, none of those media files would work on your new kit without some serious fiddling.

That’s the walled garden that so many companies are now trying to drag us into. And I think it stinks.

On a mobile phone network in the UK, you can use any phone you want. Hardware and services are totally divorced. It promotes competition because customers know that if they have a poor experience with HTC, they can move to Nokia and everything will carry on working just as it did before.

But, if all of your contacts, entertainment services, and backups are chained into HTC – well, then you’re just shit out of luck if you want to move.

I want to see a complete separation of church and state here. Hardware should be separate from software. Software should be separate from services.

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  1. Good article. This is important for the health of the corporate ecosystems too. They don’t think so – on their stampede to the next quarterly results – but their long-term survival depends on competition.

Wiegel: pim-pam-pet

Posted on November 15th, 2012 at 20:10 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Funny!, Nederland is Gek!


De maatregelen van nu zijn het resultaat van dingen uitruilen tussen de VVD en de PvdA, zonder dat er een samenhang in zit. Want al die dingen zijn onderling niet verbonden, de draadjes ontbreken. Dat komt door dat systeem van Wouter Bos met die plastic kaartjes. De formatie was een soort pim-pam-pet: de VVD krijgt pim, de PvdA krijgt pam en het resultaat is pet.

Hans Wiegel in Intermediair. (Pretty much untranslatable, but negative on the compromises between the Dutch government’s coalition parties.)

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America’s voting system is a disgrace

Posted on November 6th, 2012 at 17:45 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Indecision 2012


here’s what doesn’t happen in other democracies:

Politicians of one party do not set voting schedules to favor their side and harm the other. Politicians do not move around voting places to gain advantages for themselves or to disadvantage their opponents. In fact, in almost no other country do politicians have any say in the administration of elections at all.


In no other country, including federal systems such as Germany, Canada and Australia, does the citizen’s opportunity to vote depend on the affluence and competence of his or her local government.

In every other democracy, the vote is the means by which the people choose between the competing political parties — not one more weapon by which the parties compete.

The United States is an exceptional nation, but it is not always exceptional for good. The American voting system too is an exception: It is the most error-prone, the most susceptible to fraud, the most vulnerable to unfairness and one of the least technologically sophisticated on earth. After the 2000 fiasco, Americans resolved to do better. Isn’t it past time to make good on that resolution?

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A Capitalist’s Dilemma, Whoever Wins the Election

Posted on November 6th, 2012 at 1:51 by Desiato in category: Commentary


The major political parties are both wrong when it comes to taxing and distributing to the middle class the capital of the wealthiest 1 percent. It’s true that some of the richest Americans have been making money with money — investing in efficiency innovations rather than investing to create jobs. They are doing what their professors taught them to do, but times have changed.

If the I.R.S. taxes their wealth away and distributes it to everyone else, it still won’t help the economy. Without empowering products and services in our economy, most of this redistribution will be spent buying sustaining innovations — replacing consumption with consumption. We must give the wealthiest an incentive to invest for the long term. This can create growth.

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  1. Interesting.

    Consider this: Canada is trying to get a deal with China to permit Chinese to be able to invest here more easily. There is, according to the government, not enough (i.e. cheap, no-questions-asked) capital in Canada to fund things like the tar sands development, clubbing baby seals, whatever.

    This, after 100 years of getting capital from the U.S. (“Selling Out to the Americans”) for things like railways, canals, dams etc. American capitalists are no longer interested in anything risky, apparently.

  2. The language needs two different words. Investment with the aim to rake in money needs a word different from Investment to sustain a community for a long time. Both make the ‘investor’ richer, but in different ways, in different time frames. There’s “risk” – what if they close that loophole? – and “risk” – what if this project fails?

    Taxes are usually never meant to “redistribute” wealth – they are meant to fund long term projects that benefit society – like schools, roads, police.

    Often, the wealthiest 1 percent are NOT investing in the future of society, and taxing them for that is worth it.

  3. But then again, I’ve had some wine, so I’m probably rambling

  4. One of the suggestions in that article is to create more distinctions than just “short term capital gains” and “long term capital gains”. A number of people have suggested very high taxes on intraday trades (flipping shares (or other property) the same day).

  5. @John: taxes are often used to redistribute wealth, either directly of indirectly. Surely that’s where the money for welfare payments, employment insurance, pensions, and child benefits come from? Often these benefits are means-tested or taxed back to eliminate net benefits to the wealthy.

  6. Even those taxes that do distribute wealth are not primarily meant for just that, redistributing wealth. It is well know (well, perhaps well-known outside the USA) that keeping all income within a certain bandwidth, say the highest earner making no more than, say, 15 times the amount the lowest earner makes, is required to maintain a stable society. So that income re-distribution effect by taxes can be seen as a way to keep society stable in the long term.

  7. Baldly, for social policy reasons tax money is given out to stop the poor from revolting?

The Proliferation of Verbifications

Posted on October 30th, 2012 at 18:19 by Desiato in category: Commentary


Linguists use the terms “zero derivation” and “functional shifting” to describe the morphing of a noun into a verb or vice versa with minimal or no change of form: bristle, thumb, stump. Impatient authors can hurry this process along through the rhetorical device known as anthimeria, deliberately employing words from one grammatical category as though they belonged to another. The phrase pimp my ride is a double anthimeria: the noun has been verbed, the verb nouned.

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The iPhone 5 is Boring and Amazing

Posted on September 13th, 2012 at 20:57 by Desiato in category: Apple, Commentary


The iPhone 5 is the greatest phone in the world. It has top-notch hardware with a zippy new A6 processor and amazing four-inch display. Its new operating system, iOS 6, is slicker than slugs on ice. And its ultra-slim body, an all-glass and aluminum enclosure, is a triumph of industrial design. There is nothing not to like about the phone. It’s aces. Just aces.And yet it is also so, so cruelly boring.Yes, it’s better than the iPhone 4S or the iPhone 4 or just about any other phone you can buy. It’s faster with a bigger screen and an LTE antenna so you can suck up data from your carrier like Michael Phelps at a table full of pizza. But mostly it is the Toyota Prius of phone updates. It is an amazing triumph of technology that gets better and better, year after year, and yet somehow is every bit as exciting as a 25 mph drive through a sensible neighborhood at a reasonable time of day. It’s not going to change your life. It’s not even going to offer a radically different experience.It’s a weird paradox.

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  1. “Slicker than slugs on ice” sounds very, very, slow. Stuck, in fact.

Mitt Romney will name Paul Ryan as his VP. Here’s what that means.

Posted on August 20th, 2012 at 16:14 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Indecision 2012


It’s worth recalling how Ryan became a semi-household name. It wasn’t a Republican strategy to put him forward. As Ryan Lizza recounts in his New Yorker profile of Ryan, it was a Democratic strategy to put Ryan forward. Ryan, he writes, “was caught between the demands of the Republican leaders, who wanted nothing to do with his Roadmap, and his own belief that the Party had to offer a sweeping alternative vision to Obama’s. Ryan soon had an unlikely ally, in Obama himself.” While Republicans were trying to keep Ryan quiet, the Obama administration was trying to make him famous. They saw his plans as the clearest distillation of the GOP’s governing philosophy — and they thought it would drive voters towards the Democrats. We’ll know in November whether that was a genius strategy or an epic miscalculation.

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Why don’t they [NASA] just..?

Posted on August 20th, 2012 at 14:52 by Desiato in category: Commentary


It seems every time I come across a story about the Mars Curiosity rover there will be many people commenting on the technology used starting with "Why don’t they just..?" and usually pointing out things like: the processor in their smart phone is way faster than the one of Mars, or they have way more memory on their iPad, or their digital camera is way better than the one sending back pictures. These "Why don’t they just..?" questions are both annoying and to be expected.


A good way to see how hard it is to build and operate a rover would be to build one designed for operation in an inhospitable part of Earth. Launch it via a high-altitude balloon with parachute descent and then operate it without GPS over a slow, high latency radio link.

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New Wave of Deft Robots Is Changing Global Industry

Posted on August 20th, 2012 at 14:24 by Desiato in category: Commentary, News


This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution. Factories like the one here in the Netherlands are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.

“With these machines, we can make any consumer device in the world,” said Binne Visser, an electrical engineer who manages the Philips assembly line in Drachten.


In their minds, the advent of low-cost automation foretells changes on the scale of the revolution in agricultural technology over the last century, when farming employment in the United States fell from 40 percent of the work force to about 2 percent today. The analogy is not only to the industrialization of agriculture but also to the electrification of manufacturing in the past century, Mr. McAfee argues.

I’m intentionally not including the quote from Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, as I think his crudeness distracts from the big picture. But the impact of this in China is going to be interesting. Outsourcing of manufacturing to China has been a huge boon to poor people there. (The working conditions may be questionable, but it has undoubtedly raised the average quality of life, no?) Are robotics going to interrupt that development? Is the Chinese government going to respond to retain employment?

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  1. The article fails to adequately address how and where the jobs lost will be replaced. Who will buy the goods when no one has the means to earn the money to buy them? In agriculture, jobs went to cities and manufacturing. Now from manufacturing to what – machine servicing? Some maybe, but as in agricultural equipment servicing, only a fraction of the original jobs.

  2. True, the article doesn’t say much, but is it possible to make much of a prediction at this point about how & where new employment might come about? The arrival of this new generation of robots is here or is imminent and largely a sure thing, so they can write about that confidently. But who knows what happens next?

    I suppose we know what happened in the U.S. when its manufacturing declined, but is China’s development far enough along that they will follow a similar trajectory? Or will this lead to huge reductions in employment, stagnation of the rise of the standard of living, and thus a lot of social unrest?

    I thought about writing more commentary about capitalist incentives to minimize cost vs. societal incentives to maximize employment, but I only have questions, no answers.

  3. @Desiato — I’m in the same boat – more question than answers on this.

Norvig vs. Chomsky and the Fight for the Future of AI | Tor.com

Posted on July 28th, 2012 at 12:04 by Desiato in category: Commentary


When the Director of Research for Google compares one of the most highly regarded linguists of all time to Bill O’Reilly, you know it is on. Recently, Peter Norvig, Google’s Director of Research and co-author of the most popular artificial intelligence textbook in the world, wrote a webpage extensively criticizing Noam Chomsky, arguably the most influential linguist in the world. Their disagreement points to a revolution in artificial intelligence that, like many revolutions, threatens to destroy as much as it improves. Chomsky, one of the old guard, wishes for an elegant theory of intelligence and language that looks past human fallibility to try to see simple structure underneath. Norvig, meanwhile, represents the new philosophy: truth by statistics, and simplicity be damned.

Worth reading in its entirety, I thought.

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The Coming Meltdown in College Education & Why The Economy Won’t Get Better Any Time Soon « blog maverick

Posted on May 16th, 2012 at 15:53 by Desiato in category: Commentary


This is what I see when i think about higher education in this country today:Remember the housing meltdown ? Tough to forget isn’t it. The formula for the housing boom and bust was simple. A lot of easy money being lent to buyers who couldn’t afford the money they were borrowing. That money was then spent on homes with the expectation that the price of the home would go up and it could easily be flipped or refinanced at a profit. Who cares if you couldn’t afford the loan. As long as prices kept on going up, everyone was happy. And prices kept on going up. And as long as pricing kept on going up real estate agents kept on selling homes and finding money for buyers.Until the easy money stopped. When easy money stopped, buyers couldn’t sell. They couldn’t refinance. First sales slowed, then prices started falling and then the housing bubble burst. Housing prices crashed. We know the rest of the story. We are still mired in the consequences.Can someone please explain to me how what is happening in higher education is any different ?

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  1. Can someone please explain to me how what is happening in higher education is any different ?

    You can resell your house, but not your degree?

  2. [Quote]:

    Nearly 40 percent of Iowa State University students underestimated the amount of student loans they owe, while one in eight didn’t realize they had debt, according to research by ISU faculty and staff released Wednesday.

    The financial literacy study, which surveyed 801 undergraduate Iowans in fall 2010, also found 10 percent of students underestimated their debt by more than $10,000. Only 22 percent had not taken out loans.

    The results show a need for additional financial counseling to help students understand their borrowing and how it will impact their lives after graduation, researchers said.

The Greatest Business Risk You Don’t Know About – Your Business Will Be Sued Over Patents

Posted on April 19th, 2012 at 17:30 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Intellectual Property

[Mark Cuban]:

Your business is at risk. For a lot of money. No matter what type of business you are in, you are susceptible to a patent infringement lawsuit. The worst part about this risk is that there is nothing you can do to protect yourself. You are a victim in a business world horror movie. Unfortunately , there is no one to scream “no don’t do it. Don’t open that door” and protect you. All the doors are open and the trolls are all attacking.


What can you do as a small business person to protect yourself ? Honestly, nothing beyond complaining to your Congressperson. The only option I have found is to buy into companies that aggressively sue over IP. It is a hedge against patent law. Put another way, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Sucks, but there aren’t any other options that I can see.

Between cynicism and idealism, it’s clear where Cuban lands.

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  1. Hmm…perhaps moving your business to some other jurisdiction…how ’bout China?

What Amazon’s ebook strategy means – Charlie Stross

Posted on April 16th, 2012 at 12:47 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Intellectual Property


DRM on ebooks is dead. (Or if not dead, it’s on death row awaiting a date with the executioner.)

It doesn’t matter whether Macmillan wins the price-fixing lawsuit bought by the Department of Justice. The point is, the big six publishers’ Plan B for fighting the emerging Amazon monopsony has failed (insofar as it has been painted as a price-fixing ring, whether or not it was one in fact). This means that they need a Plan C. And the only viable Plan C, for breaking Amazon’s death-grip on the consumers, is to break DRM.

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  1. From comment #4 – quote:
    “I think that global corporations have reached a stage of development which is like a hybrid of cancer and morbid parasitism – corporations are driven by their primitive growth programming to expand, push, corrupt, and devour the surrounding socio/economic fabric, yet a certain self-preservation keeps them (or some of them) from overreaching and killing the host.”

  2. Very interesting, thanks. All the disruption and disintermediation that was predicted years ago is happening a lot more slowly and irregularly than many people expected. The Death of the Novel is unlikely though.

    The value-added by publishers, in terms of choosing good ideas and above all editing can presumably be done in other ways. Some style gurus will promote stuff they like. Editing can still happen, perhaps on contract to authors perhaps for a share of the proceeds.

    Unfortunately this may end up with the likes of Oprah’s picks and Neal Stephenson’s books. (I refuse to think that any editor has had their hands on his works. Sorry if you like them. It’s just an example.)

  3. Gruber:

    I think [Stross is] right, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. DRM is a religion for old-growth media executives. Rational thought could lead them to this solution, but won’t, because they’re starting with an irrational bedrock assumption: that there can exist a technical solution to defeat piracy. Their belief in DRM is a matter of faith, not logic.

Why Hot Dogs, Chicken Nuggets and Some Other “Meats” Are Way Grosser Than ‘Pink Slime’

Posted on April 4th, 2012 at 13:11 by Desiato in category: Commentary


So if you’re averse to ingesting spinal fluid, beef-based pink slime is actually a better bet than chicken nuggets or hot dogs containing pork or poultry.

(…) Some legal preservatives have been linked to cancer, and the World Cancer Research Fund has recommended that people avoid processed meats altogether.


(…) So, is pink slime any worse than pink cylinders, yellow nuggets, brown breakfast sausage patties, or any number of mystery meat products? Probably not. And for what it’s worth, it isn’t even slimy.

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  1. I’ve thought for a while that the term “pink slime” is just anti-marketing by those who don’t like the idea.

  2. Desiato, the meat industry will work to insure it goes no further than the ewww factor generated by this revelation. And it probably won’t, because most don’t really want to know. From cow pies in otherwise pristine streams in wilderness areas to dosing the animals with antibiotics in their feed (creating immunity to the same drugs we rely on) to the “confined animal feeding operations” (let them eat corn!) to the assembly line at the processing plant (faster, you lackeys!) to the end product bringing heart disease to a sedentary population, industrial meat production sucks. Bovine growth hormone, anyone?

  3. No disagreement that industrial meat production is rife with problems.

Invisible Handouts and Anti-Government Conservatives

Posted on March 27th, 2012 at 18:42 by Desiato in category: Commentary


What’s great about this for the rich is that those tax breaks only strengthen their political position. Tax breaks—say, preferred rates on dividends—mean either higher taxes on everyone else or larger deficits, both of which are unpopular. Since no one can see what the government is doing, it becomes less popular. Higher taxes make people think they’re not getting their money’s worth; larger deficits make them think the government is incompetent. Either way, they get mad at the parts of government they can see, not the tax breaks that the rich benefit from. Increasing anti-government sentiment leads to what you saw in 2010 and today: the Tea Party, demonization of the federal government, and a mad race among Republicans to see who can cut rich people’s taxes by the most.

Whether this is a conscious goal of the anti-tax movement or simply a nice side benefit , it really works. In chapter 2 of The Submerged State, Mettler describes a study showing that people who benefit from visible government programs (those that are transparently delivered by government agencies, such as food stamps) are more likely to have positive views of government and its impact on their lives than people who benefit from invisible programs, even after controlling for the usual things. So you can have a program like the mortgage interest deduction that mainly helps the well-off but also helps the middle class a little—and it helps turn its middle-class beneficiaries against the federal government. If you’re Grover Norquist, what could be better than that?

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  1. Interesting idea. So people _can_ vote against their actual interests without exactly knowing it. However I find ignorance isn’t quite enough of an explanation. Extremists actually like the spiral of radicalization.

    Once ideological purists get going, which includes the Tea Party, there’s no logical place for them to stop. Compromise is bad. Being moderate is worse. There’s a real desire to adhere to the “party line” which is vaguely defined and moves. And no-one can be extreme enough, so there’s a continuing race to be more radical than the last guy. They do actually think they will be able ultimately “to drown the government in a bathtub”.

‘The Righteous Mind’

Posted on March 27th, 2012 at 13:33 by Desiato in category: Commentary


To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.


The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others.

This is a book review and goes on to discuss Haidt’s analysis of U.S. politics and the reasons many people vote Republican (against their ostensible economic interests). Lots more in the article that’s interesting and thought provoking.

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It’s Not File Size That’s Killing iPad Magazines

Posted on March 22nd, 2012 at 12:59 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Intellectual Property


Print magazines are still a better experience than their digital counterparts.

If you’re going to successfully evolve into a new medium you can’t just add gimmicks, you have to substantially upgrade the user experience. If you asked anyone 15 years ago what the future of music looked like they would have told you that it was about fidelity, listening to an album would sound like you were at a concert or in the center of the orchestra pit. But that hasn’t been the case, in fact the overall quality of the music we listen to has gone down. The experience of being able to fit your entire music collection in your pocket, or stream any song to your phone leapfrogged any fidelity improvements other formats like DVD audio could make.

We never saw this kind of improvement in magazines, if fact the experience has gotten worse. Looking at a magazine on an iPad at its best leaves you wondering if you’ve seen all the content and at its worse feels like your reading a broken PDF. I subscribe to two magazines that have free iPad downloads for subscribers and have never download the digital version, reading the dead tree version is just easier.

How can magazines improve? They are no longer limited to releasing content on a monthly or weekly basis that was necessary with print. They can now put their content out in a format that is really easy to share and build reader loyalty. They can now get back to their roots, magazines like Rolling Stone were founded by people who ate, breathed and crapped music. I’m sure there are folks working there now who love music but we haven’t seen that kind of passion in the magazine in decades.

I know what you’re thinking: we’ve seen all this before, it’s called a blog. Yep, exactly.

It’s taken time, but blogs have become what magazines should have been evolving into.

This is a compelling argument except for the fact that blogging doesn’t generate a ton of revenue. It may be a classic example of Innovator’s Dilemma, but that dilemma isn’t a false one. It’s hard to retool your industry to work on much, much, much less income.

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Americans Elect’s plan for primary reform – The Washington Post

Posted on March 20th, 2012 at 18:19 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Indecision 2012


“Running as an independent candidate is not something that’s particularly easy to do,” Ackerman says. “It’s like running with a parachute.”

Americans Elect plans to throw the independent-minded a ballot line. Candidates can run on the Americans Elect line, but still caucus with the Democrats, the Republicans or no party at all. In effect, the goal isn’t to create a new party, but to provide a new path for moderate members of the two reigning parties.

“People look at the Democratic and Republican primary process at every level and they simply don’t want to go through what is needed to compete,” Byrd says. “Americans Elect is dealing with that pain point.”

Ezra Klein has a really interesting take on Americans Elect, the organization that’s holding an online primary for a third-party presidential ticket. Klein points out that main-party primaries have a polarizing effect on candidates as they have to pander to the “base” in their party which tends to be ideologically extreme. This leads to purer party-line voting in Congress for fear of being challenged in a primary. In the long run (beyond this election cycle), Americans Elect could offer an alternate route to a spot on the ballot.

I don’t know if it’s likely to work, but it’s an interesting take on what A.E. is doing.

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LKML: Linus Torvalds: What OS kernels are for

Posted on March 9th, 2012 at 12:24 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Software


Stop right there.

This is *not* about some arbitrary "30-year backwards compatibility".

This is about your patch BREAKING EXISTING BINARIES.

So stop the f*&^ing around already. The patch was shown to be broken,

stop making excuses, and stop blathering.

An entertaining read.

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  1. The link seems to be broken. It keeps getting timeouts (error 7).

  2. Site’s overloaded. Took me 2 or 3 reloads.

What pro-choice advocates learned from the pro-life movement – The Washington Post

Posted on February 23rd, 2012 at 16:20 by Desiato in category: Commentary


Now, on the Virginia legislation, abortion rights advocates are seeing similar success with messaging that shifts the debate away from concepts of choice and more towards privacy and intrusion.

“[Using the term] Choice has always been a terrible idea: The concept of choice is one from consumer products, from shopping,” says the University of California’s George Lakoff. “Whereas the concept of life is morality. You can’t fight morality with shopping. … to be fighting morality with morality, you need to be focused on a woman’s right to her own physical integrity.”

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  1. The trouble is, these people don’t want anyone but the old silverback males to have any rights.
    Everyone knows what the debate is about. Although changing the wording and platform might change some of the discussion (it couldn’t get more nasty, surely), the actual argument is about Fundamentalism vs. Modernity.

Guesswork about AppleTV

Posted on February 15th, 2012 at 0:51 by Desiato in category: Apple, Commentary

That Samsung bravado about a possible Apple iTV got me thinking. Obviously if Apple is going to release a TV, it’s going to be much more than just a screen. It won’t be about display quality like the Samsung exec seems to think.

What would differentiate an Apple TV? I can think of a few possibilities:

1. Content access

The obvious scenario is a TV with a built-in iTunes store that lets you buy/rent TV shows and movies without having to have a cable TV subscription. This would be an extension of the current iTunes and AppleTV, maybe with better selection of content and integration with iCloud to store your media, à la Amazon’s cloud storage for media.

2. App-TV

This is #1 plus “iOS apps come to the Apple TV”. (Maybe even Siri.)

So far, both of these can be done with a cheap separate device like the current Apple TV. What makes it compelling for Apple to sell you the display as well? So far, nothing other than skipping a bit of wiring set-up.

3. New input/interaction model

The simplest way to describe this is as “Apple’s response to Kinect”. If Apple has developed a remote-control-free interaction technique that requires new hardware like the Kinect box, maybe that’s compelling enough that if it were integrated into a display, you’d be willing to buy the entire display device. But Kinect isn’t tied to a specific TV. Can Apple come up with something so much more compelling that people will be willing to toss out their existing TVs?

I’m not sure which way to bet. I’m still skeptical about Apple going into the TV-display market.

Any other guesses on what’s coming?

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  1. Here are my thoughts:

    Something comparable to the Retina Display, like what’s in the iPhone today. Current rumors estimate that the next iPad will have something akin to a retina display, thereby giving the next iPad better resolution than a good LCD TV. This, then, will enable the placement of true HD video quality on the iTunes store.

    Many existing networks already have apps on the App Store, including premium channels like HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax. I suspect a direct subscription model through Apple, not unlike what’s currently in the offing for Newsstand on other iOS devices, will likely be the order of the day for those networks. Throw in a novel advertising method and the standard networks will get on board too.

    As far as controlling the TV, I envision Siri and dedicated apps on the different iOS devices.

    The big wild card is convincing movie studios to allow for a model like what already exists for music with iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match.

  2. CEO Cook at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference this week:

    “We should only go into markets where we can make a significant contribution to society, not just sell a lot of products.”

    Since the Apple TV box already does a lot of the things mentioned above, it will be at least a new input/interaction model. Just slapping a screen to the Apple TV would be counter to Apple culture.

  3. MacRumors says that Cook also said:

    – Apple TV: Cook reported that Apple still considers the Apple TV to be a “hobby”, in the sense that it shouldn’t be thought of as a major pillar of Apple’s business. That said, Apple has always felt that if it kept “pulling the string”, there would be something there. Consumer satisfaction is reportedly off the charts and sales are growing quickly.

    That seems to downplay the likelyhood that something is coming soon.

  4. Or that they will soon cancel the hobby because of the release of an iTV…

Geoffrey R. Stone: Is Money Speech?

Posted on February 8th, 2012 at 1:08 by Desiato in category: Commentary, Indecision 2012


Although the critics of Citizens United might well be right to condemn it and to call for a constitutional amendment to overrule it, they are misguided in their reliance on the refrain that "money is not speech." Of course, money is not "speech." Money is money, a car is a car, and a ribbon is a ribbon. These are objects, not speech. But all of these objects, and many more besides, can be used to facilitate free speech.


Like a car or a ribbon, money is not speech. But when government regulates the use of money for speech purposes, it implicates the First Amendment. Suppose, for example, an individual at an Occupy protest burns a dollar bill to convey her disdain for corporate America. A dollar bill is not speech, fire is not speech, but a government law prohbiting any person to burn money as a symbolic expression of opposition to corporate America would surely implicate the First Amendment.


This is not to say, however, that the government cannot constitutionally regulate the use of money in politics. The fact that an object is used to facilitate speech does not mean that it is immune from regulation. The use of a loudspeaker is speech, but the government can regulate the decibel level. Burning a dollar bill for expressive purposes is speech, but the government can prohibit anyone from doing so near an open gas line. And the same is true for campaign contributions and expenditures. When the government attempts to regulate the use of money for expressive purposes it implicates the First Amendment, but it does not necessarily violate it.

If the critics of Citizens United and the advocates of a constitutional amendment to overrule it want to be taken seriously, they must move beyond superficial slogans and focus on the real issue at stake: When should the government be allowed to regulate political contributions and expenditures — even if they are speech?

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  1. The core issue is not the money in political advertising. It’s the lack of critical thinking ability in enough of the voting public so that it has an effect. Those not instantly on guard when an appeal is made through the emotions (hokey sinister background music) instead of through reasoned argument are those that the framers of the Constitution hoped we would not become.

    How many corporate dollars would be wasted if there weren’t minds to be bought?

  2. How many non-political advertising dollars would be spent if advertising didn’t work? I agree with you in wishing that voters would be much more analytical, critical, independent-thinking. It would help a lot. But advertising does work and has many techniques beyond the raw emotional spoofing–for one, endless repetition has an impact by itself. The money will flow to whatever works on the audience available. If it were a rational audience, you’d see lots of semi-rational ads based on “facts”.

  3. @Desiato – advertising does work and that is unfortunate. If people were educated more, its affect would be muted. I draw your attention to http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/business/media/27adco.html
    and this US gov site http://www.admongo.gov/ which teach kids how it works and how to defend themselves. To me it should be remedial education to all adults.

  4. As I said, I’m completely in favor of encouraging people to be independent and critical thinkers. It’d be great if people, especially kids, learned how they’re being manipulated by advertising.

    BUT that’s separate from the fact that I think advertisers have an incentive to continually find new ways to influence people. They’ll adapt.

    A more interesting question to me is whether (& what) regulation is compatible with the First Amendment. There’s an expectation in the U.S. that each voter get a roughly equal vote, but not (yet) that each citizen get roughly equal means to speech.

Forget Super PACS. A modest proposal for legalizing vote buying

Posted on February 6th, 2012 at 14:13 by Desiato in category: awesome, Commentary, Indecision 2012


Over the years, in a silly and naïve attempt to reduce the influence of money in government and politics, Congress has tried to limit how much job creators and others among the deserving rich could spend or contribute to influence the outcome of elections. But the effect of such laws and regulations has only been to create ever more ingenious vehicles to get around them.

Now, with Citizens United, the Supreme Court has finally declared that “enough is enough.” The court didn’t just remove the limits to what wealthy individuals or corporations could contribute to independent wink-wink front groups. The five-member majority also invited constitutional challenges to limits on direct contributions to campaigns or political parties and to those silly requirements that the source of every contribution be disclosed in a timely manner.

This is a great victory for those of us who believe in free markets and support the sacred constitutional principle that corporations are people and that money is speech. With the legal and political momentum now working in our favor, we must take this campaign to the next level.

After all, no matter how many billions of dollars we might invest in campaigns or independent wink-wink front groups, all we can really do is influence the outcome of campaigns. Given the risks associated with the performance of the candidates, however, we can never truly be certain of the electoral outcomes. And as you all know, what the markets and businesses hate most is uncertainty.

So, I propose that we finally give up the charade that we are not “buying” elections and, in fact, do exactly that — mount an all-out political and legal challenge to laws preventing us from buying votes directly.

As you know, bribing voters is an honored tradition in this country, dating to the early days of the Republic. From the Federalist Papers it’s clear that the practice was known to the Framers; if they had found it incompatible with democracy they surely would have banned it in the constitution. Significantly, they did not — nor did they include the regulation of vote-buying in their enumeration of the powers vested in Congress. Therefore, we would be on solid constitutional grounds in trying to establish a property right of all citizens to vote in federal elections — a right that, like all other property rights, can be sold on the free market.

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