Someone I know pointed me at an interesting article about 'russophobia' and the long and conflicted history of US public opinion of Russia. One of the points being made was that complaining about Trump being under Russian influence is pretty rich given that we essentially placed Yeltsin in power in Russia in the 90s. Either that article, or a podcast he pointed me at also expressed worry that the 'intelligence community' (who I will hereafter refer to as the 'deep state' without quotes) is taking it upon themselves to depose a democratically elected leader.

While I think the article makes for interesting and thoughtful reading, I disagree with their opinion about Trump. It's not because I disagree with their facts. It's that I disagree with their conclusions.

When we meddle in other countries, I think the other countries are perfectly justified in trying to undo the effects of our meddling, and attempts to remove our ability to further meddle in the affairs of their country. This opinion forms a backbone of my dislike of our military interventions.

Much the same as the citizens of the countries we try to meddle in, we have an obligation to ourselves and to each other to have our country be run by us, not some foreign government. Unless we collectively make an explicit decision to turn over the reigns to a foreign government, we should do everything in our power to make that not happen.

Of course, Trump was democratically elected according to the rules we've adopted for elections. And a large portion (though very definitely not a majority) of the electorate voted for him. As a democracy, we cannot simply ignore their interests. But the issue of our government being under the influence of a foreign one is orthogonal, and one that must be addressed separately.

It does disturb me that our own deep state has it in for Trump. It does make me skeptical of the information they provide. But in this case there appears to be a fair amount of corroboration. In general though, the way our deep state acts as our keepers rather than our servants in something that has disturbed me for a long time.

I do wonder though how many of our other leaders have had similar problems that the deep state has chosen not to reveal because it wasn't in their interests to do so. This is a whole different issue, and part of the massive problems we currently face as a nation. Problems that Trump is ill-equipped to solve, even if he wasn't a likely puppet of another (hostile) government.

I have an excellent a clear-cut example of the market can fail both workers and consumers in the service of owners.

Target is currently facing a fairly large petition to not open until a reasonable hour on Black Friday so its employees can actually spend Thanksgiving with family. You might think this is just a workers issue, but it isn't. Many consumers have signed this petition, and the general trend of retail outlets opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday is anti-consumer.

And here's why. Basically people show up early to make sure they can get certain gifts before they're sold out. For those people, it's very worth it to show up before the store opens to make sure they get their chosen gift.

But each store then has an incentive to open before the others. The first store that opens gets the lions share of those consumers.

But those consumers don't actually want to wake up at 3am to get to the store before it opens. They'd be much happier waking up at 6am, or even later. But because the stores are now competing with each other to open earlier, they are forced to choose between getting the gift they want or waking up extremely early to get to the store to make sure it's not out of stock.

The 'invisible hand' of the market creates a destructive cycle that's bad for everybody.

I'm not certain what a good solution to this problem is. One would hope a gentleman's agreement on a decent opening time would work. But I doubt it would. Especially since front-line store employees have little input into honoring these sorts of agreements.

But the point is here that the free market creates a situation in which both consumers and employees get the short end of the stick. They both end up in a situation neither of them desire.

This problem exists in many more contexts than people might otherwise think of. I came to this realization recently while talking with someone about why I really did think her choice to shop around based on price was an admirable one even if I, personally didn't do it.

In that context, I'm a free rider. I reap the benefits of the people who do shop around because they create an incentive for merchants to lower prices. But I do not engage in behavior that will create those incentives myself because it's costly in terms of time and attention.

Similarly, people who use technology that's closed and locked down are free riders on people who consciously make choices to not use such technology. It can be argued that almost every innovative thing we've seen on the Internet in the last 10 years is a direct result of openness and a lack of concern, or even outright hostility towards the idea of 'intellectual property'. Oh, it's true that individual innovators sometimes try to achieve locks. But because of people like me, that generally causes their product to not succeed as well as those who don't. And once the open product achieves critical mass, network effects and the overwhelming advantages of openness do the rest and drive the close product to the fringes of the market.

I don't think free riders are actually necessarily bad. A significant number of them can make markets inefficient. But maybe then people don't actually care about those kinds of inefficiencies. If they did, they would make different choices.

But looking at these things as a free rider problem is a really interesting perspective. And I think the idea is much more broadly applicable than it has been.

It also explains why free riders will not necessarily kill the creation of new and interesting stuff. There are many parts of the market that thrive even when there are a significant number of free riders. When something in the market changes enough that people get upset over the inefficiency created, they stop being free riders.

I went to watch the much hyped movie today. I was prepared to be revolted, and I was. Not by the movie, or the story. It was well-told, powerful and moving.

I heard people chat idly about the theme appearing in other movies. I saw them smiling as they exited the theater, talking about the finer points of the plot. I saw them wearing nice clothes for an afternoon out.

In the movie I saw the people in The Capitol District chatting idly about the 'contestants'. I saw them smiling and cheering over the 'victory'. I saw them wearing their nicest clothes for the occasion.

I, for a long while, couldn't tell the difference.

That book (and the movie) were written as fiction. But I'm sure the author meant it as a mirror.

Do I vote for that one, or this one? Meaningless choices that we chatter about endlessly, trotting out our best justifications. Few brave enough to make the choice for what they want. The choices are an avoidance of risk, a choice based on fear, not on hope.

That was the choice presented to the two characters at the end of the movie. A choice they were encouraged to make based on fear. The whole system rigged for it. And they made the choice based on hope, the choice the system couldn't tolerate.

I feel like that's what our 'democracy' has degenerated to. A circus, a spectacle geared towards making each of us, individually, make a choice based on fear of what the other guy will do.

I was angry because of the movie. Upset, crying. The happy people around me... I didn't understand. A whole passel of children died on the screen. Horrible deaths, lives shortened needlessly in the service of the subjugation of a whole people.

It's a happy occasion. Time to put on your best stuff and chat idly about it with your friends. There is no mirror. There is no tragedy. The movie has no relevance beyond entertainment. A lie to cover the unbearable truth.

I was angry, I was saddened, and I was revolted.

Yeah, I know, preachy and overbearing. Listen to the message for a change instead of complaining about how it's presented. I too will go back to life as usual. But even a moment of solemnity and understanding of a shared predicament might have been nice.

Today, a comment I got really rankled me. My affection and desire for technologies that are not freedom hostile was called a 'religious issue'. This trivializes my desire, and makes it seem like someone has to 'drink the kool-aid' to think the issue is real. And that's insulting.

I find this particularly upsetting given how many people rallied to defeat SOPA. Do people not understand the end goal here? Do you really want your technologies to decide for you which websites you're allowed to see, what you can read, what you can hear? Because ignoring freedom when making technology choices is marching down that very road.

Oh, those companies, they'll never do that. But, they will. Maybe they don't even realize they will. But that kind of lockdown and control is so very economically attractive that companies will march there inexorably unless it's clear that's not a direction we want to go in.

And your choices affect me. Whenever you make a choice against freedom, you're affecting my ability to make that choice. It is possible to make technology that works and is convenient, but doesn't rob you of your freedom. But every time you vote with your dollars against such technology, every time you decide this feature or that feature is worth giving up some of your freedom, you're encouraging companies to dangle shiny toys in exchange for your freedom. In fact, you're encouraging them to only provide the shiny toys if you (and I) give up our freedom to get them. It's like giving in to a toddler who throws tantrums.

I recognize that different people make different choices for their own reasons. And I'm fine with them making those choices. But I will not pass up any opportunity to inform them of the effect of their choice on themselves, and on me.

I've been paying a lot of attention to bitcoin recently. It's a fascinating idea, and I'm really curious as to where it will go. But reading the comments on the Internet about it is even more interesting, though also kind of upsetting. People say the most ridiculous and stupid things, and it's all out of nearly violent emotion. I don't really understand.

Some people say ridiculous things like "It can only go up!" (in reference to the USD/Bitcoin exchange rate) or "It can't fail!". Optimism beyond the point of sanity. Bitcoin can fail. It can fail if it turns out that nobody wants to accept it. Currency that nobody will trade anything for is just as useful as a small piece of paper, and in bitcoin's case, even less useful. And that's a very definite possible future of bitcoin.

People also go through all kinds of logical contortions to declare it a scam. But it doesn't fit the definition of a ponzi scheme any more than any other currency does, nor does it fit the definition of a pyramid scheme at all. The closest it comes to is a hot tech stock. And nobody calls those scams unless they accuse them of 'pump and dump'. But 'pump and dump' doesn't fit the profile of most people who are interested in bitcoins and are trading them either.

And then people declare it valueless, as if any currency (even gold) has any intrinsic value beyond people's willingness to trade stuff for it.

Very few people talk about the worthiness of the cryptography. But even the ones who do paint either incredibly rosy pictures or ridiculous apocalyptic scenarios, neither of which really approach the truth of things.

I just find the way people ignore any reason and base their opinions on pure emotion to be kind of upsetting. And I notice this in a lot of arguments. But the arguments over bitcoin are almost comical in just how incredibly intense this phenomena is. The only thing that makes it not comical is that you realize these people are deadly serious.

I think a lot of people have a lot of unexamined hang-ups about the meaning of money. It's deeply tied to their fundamental beliefs about politics, ethics, morality, and even self-worth. I think most people are terribly unequipped to tease these things apart and examine them separately. Money is 'magic'. People do not see it as the societal cooperation tool that it is.

I think, perhaps, that is one of the most valuable parts of the bitcoin project. Its nature provides a handle or a window for examining money as a societal and organizational tool. I suspect most people won't be able to take advantage of this, but I suspect many will, and our society will become richer for it.

Suicide is so common in Chinese iPad factories that the company has taken to forcing prospective employees to sign no-suicide pacts.

Talk about treating the symptom instead of the disease.

A friend of mine has pointed out that this story is made to seem a lot worse than it really is. In particular the suicide at Foxconn plants is much lower than it is at other similar facilities in China. He is also not much of a fan of Apple the company, so he doesn't have a fanboy bias. I'm not completely sure I agree with this way of looking at things, but here is what he wrote, so you can make up your own minds:

This story has been highly sensationalized. The reality is almost exactly the opposite of what you read.

  1. Eighteen Foxconn employees committed suicide in 2010 [1]... out of 920,000 workers [2]. That's a rate much lower than the Chinese average of 66 per million [3], which itself is like half of the American average of 111 per million [3].
  2. Apple is just one of many Foxconn clients. Others include Amazon (Kindle), Intel, Dell, Nintendo, Sony, Samsung, and many others [2]. Apple products are a small minority of Foxconn's output, yet the media calls them the "iPad factory". This is obviously intended to sensationalize the story -- scandal involving Apple is much more interesting that scandal involving Samsung.

I suspect that Foxconn came up with these no-suicide pledges in a desperate attempt to placate the media, and due to cultural differences they don't understand that to the American audience it only makes them look worse.

Building codes serve a few functions. The most important one is safety. But another is ensuring that your home does not fall to pieces in 10 years (after the builders are long gone) by forcing certain minimum standards of construction.

To the latter end, I think building codes for multi-unit dwellings should require that each and every single unit have a single fiber drop in the unit. I assume there are standards for phone hookups today (and possibly cable), and the fiber standard would have a very similar purpose and structure.

Normally XKCD is amusing for very positive reasons. But I frequently feel a lot like the guy with the beard in this cartoon. It's really frustrating. So, today's XKCD is darkly amusing to me. Freedom is such a hard sell before people lose it. People choose convenience every time, frequently until it's almost too late to fix the problem all the while berating the people who were worried in the first place.


Eben Moglen is one of the principle lawyers behind the GPL. He's also a tireless free software advocate, and significantly more photogenic and diplomatic than Richard Stallman.

He recently gave this interesting tech talk at Google about the perception of Google by entities outside it. It was really well done, and struck a strong chord with me.

I've noticed that people frequently are incapable of believing that some things Google does are for the reasons Google says they're doing them. For example (and I don't really have the time to find references just now) many people seem to think that Google Doodles, those fun, timely modifications to their main search page, are a marketing tool, when in fact they are largely done purely out of whimsy.

I suppose, in one sense there is marketing purpose. Google is projecting their image of themselves out into the world. It's brand building. But, on the other hand, there isn't. I doubt that Google Doodles started as an idea for brand building in some marketing department. I'm betting some random small group of people decided one day that it would be fun to do, and the idea sort of caught on and now it's a tradition.

But people seem to want to analyze doodles for the marketing message they contain, despite the fact there generally isn't one. The more enigmatic the doodle is, the more determined people seem to be to find the marketing message in it.

This means there is a disparity in perception between people outside Google and people inside Google. One that might serve Google very poorly in the future. It's very important that Google understand this and respond appropriately. Perception is reality and people and organizations live up to expectations. Google risks becoming what people perceive them to be unless they act to correct that perception.

Google also frequently doesn't realize how the fact that they are so large and powerful affects people's perceptions of them. Witness the brouhaha over Buzz. Google did do some somewhat wrongheaded things in introducing it, but Buzz was not anywhere near the privacy destroying aggregator that people thought it was. And the fact that people perceived Buzz in this way seemed to mystify people inside Google, even though it was predictable given Google's size and people's perceptions.

Again, this points to a need by Google to better manage people's perceptions of them, and to manage their product releases better in terms of how people perceive them.

Eben Moglen suggests, quite wisely, that one thing Google could do is to change their policy on contributing internal changes back to Open Source projects. I think this is a good idea, but I doubt it will really be enough.

I am a little worried that if Google takes this advice to heart that they will grow a PR arm that does what every other PR arm in the world does, which is to try to make sure that perception stays far more positive than reality instead of simply trying to make perception match reality. But Google should do something, since I think people think far more ill of them than they generally deserve.

Google is, in fact, the only company I know of that has a revenue stream greater than 1 billion dollars a year that I actually have a positive opinion of.

This was a Slashdot comment, but I think it deserves a top level post here. It's in response to Apple’s attack on Adobe Flash, it’s all about online video NOT. (I added the 'NOT' because that's the author's conclusion.)

Pot calls kettle black, kettle complains, but it's just as black.

Flash is a despicable disgrace. Most of the time when I talk to a Flash developer, the thing they're the happiest about is the control they get over my computer. This is directly because the Flash player is a piece of garbage closed source tool that purposely caters to developers over end-users. The Open Source gnash (not ganash) player has an option to pause a Flash program. The Adobe player will never, ever end up with that option, ever. Giving me control over my own computer is against Adobe's best interest. That makes Adobe's Flash player is little more than a widely deployed trojan horse that, IMHO, is little better than spyware (Flash cookies anyone? Where's my control over those?).

I wouldn't complain so bitterly about this if the gnash player were actually a decent drop in replacement for the closed source Flash player, but it isn't. I have to either choose my freedom to have my computer do what I want instead of what some random corporation wants with Flash that is broken most of the time, or Flash that works while giving up my freedom. I will choose my freedom, thank you very much, but I will be bitter about the stupid choice I'm forced to make.

So, when one maker of a closed, proprietary platform that steals people's freedom purposely does things to the detriment of another closed proprietary platform that steals people's freedom, I can't help but cheer. And I hope Adobe finds a way to play nasty games with Apple too. The more these two companies can find ways to hurt eachother, the more the rest of us benefit.

If Adobe Open Sourced the Flash player (I could care less about the developer tools, they will end up with Open Source implementations no matter what Adobe does if the player is truly open) my objections to Flash would completely disappear. I could realistically choose a fully functional Flash player and I'm certain I could find one with a pause button, or one that refused to store cookies for longer than a week. I could make it myself if I wanted to.

And lest you tell me that I'm just whining, the majority of large sites out there no longer look right without Flash. By not using Flash, I'm cut off from a significant part of the experience of the web. I shouldn't be forced to give up control of my computer in order to browse the web. That's a completely and utterly ridiculous assertion.

From what I've heard, the new health care bill will impose fines on people who don't have health insurance. Is this true? If it is, I'm tempted to refuse my employers health insurance plan on general principles.

I'm ambivalent about the idea of such a bill in the first place. I wanted Obama elected in the hopes that he'd fix things like the influence of lobbyists and money and restore civil liberties and have a more open and accountable government. Health care was really low on my list of priorities, and I was nearly certain I wasn't for any kind of solution that involved perpetuating the stupidity that is the current health insurance system.

Unfortunately, Obama seems to be standing still or going backwards on all the things I really care about. For example, his administration has refused significantly more FOIA requests than the previous one.

I'm rather disappointed.


Lover of ideas

February 2017

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