Monday, July 31, 2006

So there's some rumour going round that Cuba has oil.

Let's see if the US suddenly finds some urgent reason to send the troops in.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Exchange vs. gift economies : Las Vegas is thought to be the first to explicitly make it an offence to feed the poor, says the New York Times.

BBC NEWS |Vegas puts lid on soup kitchens

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pat Lang explains Israel's air-power strategy :
which holds that crushing the "Will of the People" is the correct objective in compelling the acceptance of one's own "will" by an adversary or neutral. With that objective in mind, all of the target country is considered to be one, giant target set. Industry, ports, bridges, hospitals, roads, you name it. It is all "fair game." In this case the notion is to force the Lebanese government and army to accept a role as the northern jaw in a vise that will crush Hizballah and subsequently to hold south Lebanon against Hizballah.

John Robb calls it a mashup.
Explanation and justification of Israeli attack on Lebanon.

Meanwhile, I'm buying shares in the prediction that the attack will re-open civil war which will be running until at least 2008.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Wow! This has gotta be one of the most beautiful video-games I've ever seen.
Christopher Allbritton : Why, oh, why do people with access to really big bombs continue to think they can change people’s loyalties by dropping those big bombs on their homes and families?

That is the question.

Meanwhile, sensible commentary from Chet Richards.
He he! As I'm now into prediction markets, I started playing the Yahoo / O'Reilly mashup Buzz Game

I just created an account, went through buying up all the stuff I think is cool. And had the salutory experience of having already lost about 11 virtual dollars. (Within the first minute.) The guilty underperfomers : RSS, OPML, SocialText and Laszlo.


So what's up? Bloody noise-traders? O'Reilly subtly biasing the system against Dave? People who just don't get the big picture dumping their RSS stock in favour of fashionable nonsense like ... erm ...

Update : No I just bought some more, and I now seem to be 1 dollar 46 cents up. Thanks, I suspect, to Eclipse.

Anyway, let's actually see how my predictions are.

A couple of thoughts.

I'd like to predict categories rather than particular products. I think wiki is just going up and up, but I don't necessarily have an opinion of JotSpot vs. SocialText. (Actually, maybe I do. If SocialText were smart to bring in WikiCalc, I should be buying them.)

Obvious missing categories / products :

  • Ning (and similar)

  • Thingamy (and similar)

  • Voted news (Digg / new Netscape)

  • Prediction markets :-)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Zby asked a pointed question in the comments to something I wrote bigging up Ning

The question here is how does it differ from the core concept of Open Source.

To which the answer is, it doesn't differ. But it automates it.

And this prompted me to another flight of fancy about the programmers' Cockaigne.

Even with something like Rails or TurboGears you still have to "manage" them in an old-fashioned way. You download the language, download the libraries, run scripts, find the newly generated files on your file system, open them and edit them in the editor etc. Once you are working on your application, managing it is your responsibility. If it's a web-app you have to worry about managing the web-server, making sure it finds the application, making sure the paths are right, the configuration info is right etc. etc.

Now imagine that you could develop an application on something like Ning : simply start by cloning an existing prototype, change only those bits that need changing, and then "compile" it (ie. export as a stand-alone package to the server of your choice) Even compile it down to run on clients like phones or set-top boxes.

I think we could be less than a decade away from a world where something like that is the norm. Where the current situation of programmers having to do their own sys-admin of their development environment, looks as outdated and inefficient as them having to do their own memory management using malloc and free.
Lind says something strange in his analysis of Hezbollah's attack on Israel and the consequent Israeli reaction against Lebanon.

For the first time, a non-state entity has gone to war with a state not by waging an insurgency against a state invader, but across an international boundary.

Isn't that exactly what Al Qaeda did to the US?

Lind goes on ...

In response, Israel has had to hit not Hezbollah but the state of Lebanon. Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, referring to the initial Hezbollah raid, said, “I want to make clear that the event this morning is not a terror act but the act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel without reason.” This is an obvious fiction, as the state of Lebanon had nothing to do with the raid and cannot control Hezbollah. But it is a necessary fiction for Israel, because otherwise who can it respond against? Again we see the power 4GW entities obtain by hiding within states but not being a state.

(My emphasis)

And isn't that mutatis mutandis the same as the response to 9/11 from the US? Attacking the states of Afghanistan and Iraq in lieu of having real state enemies to go to conventional war with?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I'm still enthralled by the StrategyPage prediction market.

As of writing, there are 950 points of investment piling on behind my bet that Afghanistan is going to get worse. And no contrarians claiming an improvement. OTOH most people think the US casualty rate will fall in Iraq. Are they expecting things to get better? Or the US to pull out? Or maybe Iraqi factions to be too busy killing each other to bother with Brits and Americans?

The majority also think that the Israeli push into Lebanon is going to hurt Hezbollah. Yeah, right!

I'm struck by a couple of other things too.

It's clear that we can't expect the market itself to ajudicate a disagreement.

Or can we? If the market is shown, statistically, to be reliable, does that mean that you can actually appeal to its opinion to "prove" things? Erm ...

Another question of ajudication is "who decides if a prediction comes true?" Some bets are fairly concrete : casualty rates are either up or down. But what do you make of "America will succeed in creating a stable democratic Iraq." which I'm betting against (at least by the close-date of end of 2007) How will "stable and democratic" be defined? Is there currently a civil war in Iraq or not? Is it currently stable and democratic? In the case of StrategyPage it will be the site's owners who have to make the judgement call.

I'm not saying that this detracts from the value of the market. The point is not to win, but to take part (admittedly with a rational, self-aggrandizing behaviour) and see what comes out of the collective intelligence. But it's an interesting question.

Meanwhile, while we're on the subject of accountability of predictions ...

Monday, July 17, 2006

This is a genius political advertisement.
So just when you thought it couldn't get worse, there's a full scale disaster going on. :-(

And I'm kind of tired of arguing with all these kids with their enthusiasm for total war in the Middle East.

The more shocked and hurt and confused they get, the more they call for a cathartic release that will just burn the enemy off the planet for once and for all. "Make it go away. We don't care how! We just don't want to have to deal with it any more."

How do you start a conversation there? With no shared world-view and no shared moral convictions?

Well. There is one thing : to appeal to facts. What does the evidence actually show us? Do much trumpeted military operations have the expected effect?

The problem is that the evidence can always be spun. Can always be reinterpreted. There is no pure experience data that isn't shaped by our conceptual framework.

So how do you find common ground for communication?

Well maybe markets can help. Markets simplify communication to minimal binary oppositions : profit / loss, buy / sell. Surely there is a basic world-view so simple that some kind of common understanding can be reached, a shared channel through which some kind of signal can be squeezed.

The simplification of communication in markets is the source of both their great good and their great evil. The good is that the simplified communication protocol lets the market scale. Only markets succesfully incorporate and co-ordinate the work of billions of humans. And those co-ordinated billions achieve great things together.

At the same time, the simplicity strips those interactions of almost everything that is worthwhile about being human. There's no room for empathy or rich experience or tenderness or laughter or recognition of the other as a full person. That narrow bandwidth is filled with nothing more than simple : worthwhile / not worthwhile signals.

Markets are usually praised by their supporters for the first. And damned by their detractors for the second. But we can surely recognise that both claims are true, and that markets can, but should, be used pragmatically.

I'm suddenly very excited by prediction markets and particularly this StrategyPage one.

Prediction markets are traditionally celebrated for their power to integrate information from many sources. Now I wonder if their simplification might also help break through the barriers of communication. Disagree with someone's opinion? Why waste time arguing past each other when you could both just buy shares on opposite sides of a prediction? After a set amount of time, you'll know who was right.

It's very easy to write a blog post ranting about how X is going to happen or Y won't. And next year, who's gonna remember? Not you. Probably not your fans. Nor your opponents who gave up reading you because you were obviously wrong the one time they bothered to look at your blog.

But in a prediction market, things are different. It creates a fairly cheap and straightforward sort of accountability for the opinions you express. It keeps track of your predictions and how they actually turned out.

Your bets are open for everyone to see. Even though there's no real money, there's a reputation reward for being right. In fact, statistics could be produced showing all sorts of interesting things about your positions. How closely does your behaviour tended to follow particular trends or social clusters? Are you easily led astray by certain kinds of claim? You, and everyone else, can see whether biases are leading you to make many erroneous predictions. And, if so, what those biases are. The market won't let you hide this from yourself or others.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cool new blogger alert. Hadn't come across Steve Yegge before. He writes some nice stuff. Eg ...

Software Needs Philosophers

(Not) Managing Software Developers


Friday, July 07, 2006

Did you realize that Scribe is a great photographer?

Monday, July 03, 2006

SdiServer screenshot

SdiServer screengrab
Originally uploaded by interstar.
Don't get too excited. This is just eye-candy at the moment. :-)

But it is what you think it is ... a page from an SdiDesk PageStore served by a web-server (I'm using, and viewed in Firefox with some cute graphic tabs.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Just a note. As I get to grips with new job and interviewing. Don't lose sight of SdiDesk too. :-)