Friday, July 31, 2009

The iPhone Google Voice debacle - straight from bloggers to the FCC

So now the FCC is looking into the Google Voice (and Latitude?) iPhone story. AT&T is telling everyone that it was all Apple's doing. This can't be going as planned.

There are a lot of interesting aspects to this story, but one of them is the near complete absence of commentary by media figures like Pogue and Mossberg. Even as geek bloggers like me were appalled at the implications of Apple/AT&T's actions the mainstream media yawned.

Yeah, I mean you David Pogue. I'm not impressed that you spend the last few days writing about answering machine delays.

In the absence of newspaper coverage, the story went directly from "new media" to FCC action. I don't know if blogger outrage played any role -- more likely it was Google lobbyists and lawyers. What I do know is that old media played no role at all, though they'll probably have to write something in the morning.


Update: I really should know better than to write a sentence starting with "what I do know". The FCC email reportedly cited a NYT article I missed. My fail.

Maher on the Birthers - and finding the levers on the loons

Maher is right that we can't keep laughing at the Birthers. They're almost mainstream now in the American south, and they claim the allegiance of a very substantial fraction of the broken shards of what was once a respectable political party...
'Birthers' must be stopped - Los Angeles Times
... once these stories get out there, they're hard to stamp out because our media do such a lousy job of speaking truth to stupid. Vietnam, Iraq and the Spanish-American War were all sold on lies that were unchallenged or even abetted by the media. Clinton got impeached and Kerry got destroyed in large part because the media didn't have the guts to say, 'This is nonsense.'

Lou Dobbs has been saying recently that people are asking a lot of questions about the birth certificate. Yes, the same people who want to know where the sun goes at night.

And Lou, you're their new king.

That's why it's so important that we the few, the proud, the reality-based attack this stuff before it has a chance to fester and spread. This isn't a case of Democrats versus Republicans. It's sentient beings versus the lizard people...
So what do we do about it? By definition the Birthers are beyond reason. What do you do when a significant fraction of your nation is crazy?

Maybe we need to start working on the advertisers who are paying the bills of people like Lou Dobbs. A boycott of any advertisers shown during a Dobbs appearance perhaps?

We are in such deep trouble as a nation. I still don't understand how the heck we merited Obama.

Don't count Obama out ...

His numbers are down. Climate change is in worse shape than health care reform, and health care public support is dwindling. Unemployment is rising. The (racist) Birthers are feeling energized. Then Obama sticks his foot in his mouth on race.

He's got to be in big trouble, right?

...'The cynic in me wants to shoot holes in it, the critic in me wants to pick it apart,' said conservative radio host Mike Gallagher. 'But I'm sorry, you have two sides, polar opposites in a racially tinged confrontation like this, sitting down with the president of the United States over a beer at the White House?

'This is a great step forward in showing how you can take a confrontation, a conflict, and make a positive out of it.'...
Maybe not so much.

Don't underestimate this guy. He's got the luck of the O'Bamas, and he knows how to make more.


Note to Fed: Huh? Back off! Back off! Aiieeeeee …

Timeline Oct 2008 to July 2009 …

 Oct 10, 2008: Gordon's Notes: Dow 9,000 - forget retirement, what about  kid’s college?

… Krugman points out that we're kind of in free fall ...Dow 9,000

March 3, 2009: Against the crash - why I'm optimistic

So color me optimistic … Dow 9000 by November 2009.

July 31, 2009: House rushes to rescue ‘cash for clunker’s program (launched @ 7 days ago)

… the … Car Allowance Rebate System …  provides credits of as much as $4,500 for the purchase of a new car when turning in an older vehicle to be scrapped. Lawmakers had expected the program to generate about 250,000 vehicle sales and to have enough money to last until about Nov. 1

… the National Automobile Dealers Association, which represents about 19,700 new car and truck dealers, came to the Michigan delegation with concerns about the $1 billion being used up, with 40,000 transactions completed and about 200,000 in the pipeline...

July 31, 2009: The U.S. economy: Feeling much better

… The Commerce Department's initial stab at figuring out the gross domestic product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2009, came out at a 1 percent decline, which is lower than economists were predicting…

July 31, 2009: Dow 9178 (+23)

Last March I was feeling contrarian, and bet on 9,000 by November. I didn’t bet on 9,000 by July. If we continued along the course of the past month we’ll be in range of 11,000 by November.

That might help Obama get health care reform through, but, economically, it would be a very bad thing.

In the face of true financial catastrophe the US and China did a mega-mega stimulus package. No, not the trillion dollars in the official US stimulus package, but the Fed’s big moves and the sustaining effect of persistent governmental expenditures and China’s immense internal package.

That averted catastrophe, but it means, of course, that we can tip fast. We may be at the tipping point now. A spending program that was supposed to last over four months sold out in one week. (it would be crazy to renew it of course.)

The Cash for Clunker story confirms there’s a ton of money in the United States, and the American urge to spend isn’t gone. If that money pours out of people’s piggy banks we’re going to blow this bubble up real fast.


Latitude and Voice: The impeccable logic of AT&T/Apple’s App Store rejections

AT&T/Apple blocked all Google Voice Apps from the iPhone. I’m an extreme case, but if they were fully able to block Google Voice use from the iPhone they’d cost me up to $70-$90/month (frequent long distance mobile phone calls to Canada plus potential SMS savings).

AT&T/Apple also blocked Google Latitude’s location finder from the iPhone. It’s been less remarked that AT&T sells a competing location find app …

Gordon's Notes: iPhone trouble: Apple rejects Google Latitude, possibly Google Voice

… AT&T's Location Finder costs $15/month for a family of five…

That’s a lot of money for a service Google provides for free.

AT&T is pushing the antitrust envelope in a fierce and rational fight to stay alive. Apple has more ways to make money, but they’re in the game with AT&T and they too face disruptive threats.

AT&T and Apple’s behavior is rational and is very likely in the interests of their shareholders, though Apple’s abuse of the affected developers is over the edge. I’m much more offended by that than I am by the blocking of the Google Voice and Latitude apps; Apple should have found a way to keep these developer’s whole.

AT&T and Apple are behaving rationally in the face of a disruptive market entry. The best answer, after all, to the Innovator’s Dilemma is to identify potential disruptive forces and use economic warfare to destroy them – or, in the case of an opponent the size of Google, slow their advance.

Their interests, of course, are not always mine. In this case, our interests conflict strongly. It's very easy to see, given these precedents, the path AT&T and Apple will (must) take to eliminate competitive threats and maximize their future revenue streams.

So the question for me, and people like me, is how best to adapt. It’s no good trying to argue Google/Apple away from their positions – they are entirely logical. My strategy is to draw closer to Google, the disruptive force currently most aligned with my interests.

What’s your strategy?

Update: see also – Lessons from Apple’s rejection of Google Voice and Latitude. The App Store, from a consumer perspective, has a fatal flaw.

The evolutionary wonder of the high flying goose

The bar-headed goose commutes across the Himalayas, flying at up to 30,000 feet. This seems kind of crazy, but I suppose the roads are uncrowded.

They had to do quite a bit of evolving to manage this. They have the sort of complex interconnected adaptations that old-style creationists used as evidence for active design. Thing is, they didn't have to do it all at once ...
How Geese Get Enough Oxygen Flying Over Himalayas By HENRY FOUNTAIN

The bar-headed goose's muscle cells have evolved to make more efficient use of low oxygen levels at high altitudes....

...He said the changes in the muscle cells probably evolved over a long period of time, perhaps as the Himalayas, one of the Earth’s youngest mountain chains, grew and the birds would have had to fly higher and higher.
Emily compares it to the old story of the boy lifting the growing calf. He did it every day, growing stronger and stronger, until, at long last, his spine snapped.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Apple adds outrage to injury – forced refunds on the removed Google Voice apps

Apple’s handling of the Google Voice iPhone debacle has moved from very disturbing to outrageous (emphases mine) …

Yeah, there's an app for that. But for how long, and at what cost?

As if having to worry whether or not your apps could start disappearing isn't enough, there is another layer of complexity to deal with if a paid app is removed: the users.

… Sure, if a live app is removed, users will likely be upset no matter what happens... but if they've paid for it, and they can't get future upgrades or bug fixes, some of them are going to be wanting their money back. As some developers have already discovered, refunds can get expensive if there are enough of them, because Apple retains its 30% commission, while the developer has to reimburse the full cost of the application to cover the refund -- meaning each refund on an app that is priced $9.99 ends up costing the developer the full $9.99, rather than the $7 in revenue that they actually made from the purchase.

By now, you're probably wondering how the refunds fit in with the Google Voice situation. Simple: Apple is now issuing refunds to users of the VoiceCentral application. That's right, Apple suddenly decided that the application should be removed -- after it had already been approved months ago -- and is now giving out refunds for it when users request them, leaving the developer to foot the bills for both refunds and staffing end-user support to answer questions about what happened to the app. Meanwhile, Apple gets to keep their cut of the profits…

This is Apple’s move, not AT&T’s. My Apple hardware and software purchases are now on hold. If you’re a user of products Apple has unjustly pulled there’s a better approach

… I called up apple corporate offices and told them that I want my money back as “compensation” — NOT as a refund. I was very specific that I did not want a refund on the app; that I wanted APPLE to cover my cost. They ended up crediting my account for 5-free song downloads…

I spoke to Robert Burger @ Apple Corporate care. You can reach him at 512-674-2500 x 40267. Give him a call and let him know how you feel about what happened…

Apple should eat the entire cost of any refunds on these apps.

I’ll be looking for my Windows 7 netbook this fall.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Complain to Apple about the Google Voice fiasco

The author of VoiceCentral (pulled from app store along with all other Google Voice related products) points out that there's a form for iPhone Feedback. Give it a try.

Keep it polite, but it's fair to mention that this debacle is causing you to reconsider your commitment to the iPhone and other Apple products and that you appreciated the value and innovation of the Google Voice offering more than most iPhone products. is on my blacklist was already in trouble for spam, but I’d forgotten about that when I ordered some 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapters. These were supposed to allow me to use my Shure QuietSpot 2.5mm Headset with my iPhone; they replaced some cheap adapters that worked well but had become frayed.

I used the Google Checkout option on my order for the “Metallic 3.5mm Male to 2.5mm Female Audio Adapter for iPhoneiPod  -  Marketplace Item -- Shipped by: Wireless Emporium”.

I knew I was taking a chance when I ordered 3 of these suckers from a no-brand distributor that probably operates under five names. The cost with shipping was $24, and, based on past experience with similar adapters, I gave them only a 50% chance of working.

I lost that bet (they don’t work), but that’s not what got on my blacklist. Turns out the package only included two adapters, though I’d paid for three. I used Google Checkout’s email feedback to message about the order.

They never replied.

I hardly ever use – there’s no advantage really over Amazon. In this case I couldn’t find a solution on Amazon, so I took a chance. They only get one.

During early electrification, did home lighting worsen?

I’m exploring the tech churn meme

Gordon's Notes: Tech churn and the fall of the Feed Reader – a new meme tag

… In my timeline feed readers went from new and useful to life support in about five years. … Feed Readers are being replaced by … nothing. They haven’t been superseded, they’ve been lost in tech churn white water … Tech churn has a substantial productivity cost … Old technologies are ailing, but new technologies are unready and/or short lived … I suspect tech churn is taking a real toll on our economic and personal productivity…

Of course we’re not the first people to go through some dramatic technology changes. A hundred years ago the changes were intense – and, unlike today, very physical. Electrification, steam engines, combustion engines, lighter than air flight … A hell of a lot, very quickly.

So did my deceased great grandparents experience tech churn? Did their home lighting become less reliable as they pulled out gas lamps and put in early electrical bulbs? What about those who installed DC solutions then had to switch to AC systems? Was transportation transiently less efficient when horses and cars fought over the same roads?

Anyone aware of any historic precedents or articles on this topic?

Incidentally, I thought I’d coined a new term. Not necessarily! For example:

I haven’t yet found articles or posts drawing the same implications I’m writing of, but I’m sure they exist. This meme may catch on.

Tech churn and the fall of the Feed Reader – a new meme tag

Today (ta-da) I’m inaugurating a new Blogger “label” (aka a tag) – tech churn.

I obviously have more to write on this topic, but I’m going to start with one example – the fall of the Feed Reader …

Alex Payne — Fever and the Future of Feed Readers

Time was, every self-respecting geek lived and died by his feed reader (or aggregator, if you prefer)…

… Today, at least in the web-tech echo chamber, feed reading is quickly falling out of fashion ...

I don’t just like Feed Readers, I love Feed Readers, esp Google Reader (web) and Byline (iPhone). Problem is, they really are dying. In my timeline feed readers went from new and useful to life support in about five years.

Today Feed Readers are being replaced by … by… uhhh … nothing. They haven’t been superseded, they’ve been lost in tech churn white water. The closest descendants might be Twitter clients and Facebook’s news page in that both enable subscription (though both unify subscription with publication, whereas in the Atom/RSS world those were decoupled).

Tech churn has a substantial productivity cost. I personally wasted a substantial amount of time, money, and good will trying to integrate feed reader technology into my corporate world. Just as we started to get to a positive return, the feed readers we relied on went away [1].

It’s not just Feed Readers. I think if you look for it, you’ll see many examples of tech churn. Old technologies are ailing, but new technologies are unready and/or short lived for a multitude of reasons (exhibit A). Often we adopt a substitute new technology that itself will have a limited lifespan.

I suspect tech churn is taking a real toll on our economic and personal productivity. It may even be a contributing factor to the crash cycles of the past decade. It’s not all bad though, if not for the turbulence of tech churn we might be moving even faster to the waterfall.

More examples coming soon …

[1] Outlook 2007 works with Active Directory authenticated feeds, but when I tested prior to SP2 it was flat out horrible. In any case we’re stuck on Office 2003 (money).

Dear iPhone – it’s not going to work, but can we still be friends?

I’m still recovering from the day the iPhone died, still adding to lessons from Apple's rejection of Google Voice. I think I’m feeling the same sort of shock Kindle fans felt when Orwell’s 1984 was pulled from their machines; a realization that a technology platform has a fatal flaw.

In Apple’s case the fatal flaw is the App Store.

It’s commercially brilliant, and it may continue to to thrill, but it gives Apple and its business partners immense power that’s exercised for all markets everywhere. We’ve seen how AT&T (and Apple?) use that power. Now imagine how various tyrannies and Apple will use it in the future.

Sure there are 10,000 Twitter clients on the App Store, but all 10,000 of them weren’t worth 1% of the innovation and customer value of a single well done Google Voice client. A hell of a lot of the value of the iPhone, for me, was being a computer in my pocket. That’s shot now.

I now have to think of the iPhone as a browser in my pocket, with some ancillary software that adds up to much inferior version of the PalmPilot and a quite nice iPod for entertainment. It’s also a decent email platform and there are a few apps I appreciate and games for the kids.

That’s it.

My heart is broken, leaving me a bitter twisted wreck of a geek. That means I’m ready for my Windows 7 Netbook

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An excellent history of the earth

The Earth for physicists. Superb reading, and quick. Via kk.

Did you know the Sun was a T Tauri star once?

O'Reilly is innumerate

He's innumerate ...
Speechless - Paul Krugman Blog -
...Bill O’Reilly explaining that of course America has lower life expectancy than Canada — we have 10 times as many people, so we have 10 times as many deaths...
So is he illiterate?

The day after: Lessons from Apple's rejection of Google Voice and Latitude

It's the day after The Battle of Google Voice. We're still waiting for Pogue and Steve Lyons to weigh in, but I'm betting this was a mixture of AT&T pushing and Apple jumping.

Even without knowing who drove this decision and why, we can draw some preliminary lessons:
1. AT&T/Apple will use their App Store control to protect their revenue streams. Obvious, but most commentators don't understand how much revenue we're talking about here. It's all about long distance revenue, especially international calling, and SMS. Google Voice is an order of magnitude cheaper than AT&T for international calls and there's an expectation that GV can kill AT&T's SMS business. Since Apple's business interests are very broad, buying an iPhone now seems equivalent to committing to obtaining a wide range of goods and services through Apple.

2. AT&T isn't impacted (much) by the iTouch, but the Google Voice clients were removed from all devices. That's an important lesson for all Apple devices.

3. The iPhone is sold internationally. Google Voice is being beta tested in at least one country outside the US and will be an international solution. AT&T doesn't have an interest in those markets, but Apple removed Google Voice clients from every market. Does this mean that any Apple phone partner can remove apps everywhere? What about the apps China doesn't like?
This story isn't over yet.

As for me, based on what we've learned so far, AT&T is on my blacklist and I'm going to be keeping my distance from Apple too.
Update 7/31/09: The impeccable logic of Apple/AT&T’s attack on my pocketbook. As I continue to turn this story over in my head I’ve come to think that the iPhone’s flaw (for me) is the App Store.
That’s ironic, because the App Store’s distribution channel and calibrated Digital Rights Management (DRM) have been brilliantly successful, and helped make the iPhone a smashing success. So how can the App Store be such a problem (for me)?
The problem isn’t the DRM or the distribution channel or the usual App Store criticisms (slow updates, no demo versions, etc). All of those criticisms are relatively able to fix. The real problem of the App Store, for a consumer, is that it gives Apple and its business partners too much control.
The App Store could keep the things that make it great, such as the measured DRM and distribution channel, even if there was an open option for iPhone app installation that was outside of Apple’s control. The open option would introduce more risk (virus, etc) for users, but it would also provide a distribution channel for products like Google Latitude and Voice. Its very existence would force Apple/AT&T to accept more competition, and would improve the App Store channel.
Apple/AT&T won’t create this open option, but smartphone vendors that want to challenge Apple could. Vendors who have a lot of power, and a lot to lose.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Apple-Google War: The Battle of Google Voice

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Karl Marx.

Steve Lyon’s Fake Steve Jobs captured the Chromestellation start of the Apple-Google war

.. Sure we're cool, **********. We're cool as a piece of key lime pie. You just keep telling yourself that, and you won't even feel it when the bullet hits the back of your ugly ********** head…

The first skirmish was the battle of Latitude. Apple rejected Google’s long awaited iPhone location app.

That’s about when we noticed that the long promised Google Voice app was showing up everywhere … except the iPhone.

Today the Battle of Google Voice began in earnest

… Richard Chipman from Apple just called - he told me they’re removing GV Mobile from the App Store due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc). He didn’t actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general. He wouldn’t send a confirmation email either - too scared I would post it…

I’ve been using GV Mobile for months. It and its GrandCentral predecessor have been saving me about $80 a month. That’s money that used to go to AT&T – and, probably, Apple.

Yeah, there are grounds for War.

We’ve been here before. In the 90s Sun and Netscape promised to create a cross-platform application ecosystem. I was part of a startup that began on that platform. HTML and a bit of JavaScript for forms, client-side Java for big stuff like voice recording. Then Sun decided it was going to be the platform, and Netscape decided to launch “Netscape Constellation” (the precursor to Chrome OS).

That didn’t end well. Java died on the desktop, Netscape died everywhere, and Microsoft’s evil laughter shook hte heavens.

So we’re there again, with Apple playing the role of Sun, Google playing Netscape, and Microsoft …

I’ve got a foot in each camp; for me this Tech War is Civil. My iPhone is my auxiliary brain – if it had a keyboard add-on it would be 8/10 perfect. On the other foot, Google is my daily bread – from Google Apps to Blogger to Search to Calendar to Email to … Basically, I use most of what they provide.

Maybe I should just give up and wait for Windows 7.

In the meantime, our October iPhone 3GS purchase is on hold. I really need to see what Apple does now; cutting off Google Voice is a bridge too far. If Apple doesn’t back down soon, we’re going to have to back out of our iPhone commitment.

Update: Voice Central was also pulled.

Update 7/28/09: I wonder if Google will be able to use this Apple/AT&T action as a defense against antitrust litigation if, say, they buy Sprint. Conversely, I wonder if the EU will use it as evidence in their antitrust litigation against Apple. Lastly, as well as reevaluating purchase of our 2nd iPhone, I'm now more likely to but a Windows 7 netbook (of course eventually this will be a Chrome netbook) rather than another MacBook.

Blog reports also claim that Apple's VP of marketing, Phil Schiller, had personally intervened to approve GV Mobile for the App Store -- pointing towards AT&T as the villain. Perhaps, but that was before the launch of Chrome OS and before Apple denied the Latitude app. I suspect Apple and AT&T are aligned on this one.

Update 7/28/09: Related articles ...

The Guardian's article has an excellent summary ...

... Apple has rejected the Google's Voice application for the iPhone saying that it duplicated features in the popular smart phone. The move has called into question the control that Apple exerts over approving applications and whether the rejection and others constitute anti-competitive behaviour...

A Google spokesman told TechCrunch:

We work hard to bring Google applications to a number of mobile platforms, including the iPhone. Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users — for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers.

As Apple rejected Google's own official Voice application, it also pulledGoogle Voice apps from third party developers, such as GV Mobile, VoiceCentral and GVDialer. iPhone developer Sean Kovacs, the creator of GV Mobile, wrote on his blog:

Richard Chipman from Apple just called - he told me they're removing GV Mobile from the App Store due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc). He didn't actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general.

... if you really want Google Voice on a mobile phone, it's available on for smartphones running Google's Android operating system or Research in Motion's Blackberry.

Gruber weighs in: basically he agrees with my intuition -- this is an Apple move as much as an AT&T move "Google Voice doesn’t just interfere with the carrier’s business model, it interfere’s with Apple’s iPhone business model. Not just AT&T but all iPhone carrier partners pay Apple a hefty subsidy for every iPhone sold, and that subsidy is based on assumptions about how much the average iPhone customer is going to pay in monthly service charges for voice, data, and SMS." Gruber calls this "reasonable", I'd have used the word "rational". He declines to point out how big a problem this is for users; the reason the move is rational is that it blocks competition.

GMSV report

Some further thoughts of mine ...
  • I agree with those who feel this was a Steve Jobs move.
  • The iPhone is now ready for the Chinese marketplace, and Apple has become Singapore.
  • I'm pretty confident I'll be buying a Windows 7 netbook in the fall.
  • I definitely won't be buying an Apple tablet if, as expected, it's a bigger iTouch.
  • I need to start following the gPhone
  • In this Civil War, I side with Google.
Update: DF says he (and I) were wrong - it was AT&T that drove this rejection. Business Week responds (indirectly) - "why haven’t the Blackberry and Android versions, which would cause the same headaches for carriers, [been] banned?"

The NYT quotes analysts speculating that AT&T pulled the trigger and Apple is contractually obligated to obey. So does this mean that any of Apple's partners can eliminate an App everywhere in the world?

Update 7/29/09: Tech Chrunch - AT&T can't handle the iPhone. There's a plaintive note that AT&T might allow Google Voice if they lost iPhone exclusivity. That was sweet.

Also, the VoiceCentral removal. The transcription of "Richard's" dialog exposes Apple's transparent lies. At the very least they should say "We're removing your app and we aren't going to give you a reason".

Update 7/30/09: Excellent Lifehacker rant.

Update 7/31/09
  • Michael Arrington quites the iPhone and pays his AT&T termination fee. He's going to and Android phone enroute to the Pre (but if the Pre has a closed App Store, won't Sprint block Google Voice?).
  • Dan Moren of MacWorld writes a cogent response. Apple may end up with the world's greatest collection of fart apps. The story isn't dying and may yet break mainstream. Pogue has been curiously silent however.
  • Stephen Frank (co-founder, Panic) quits the iPhone. He's (emphases mine) ...

    1) Converting my iPhone SIM into a DataConnect SIM for use with a laptop...

    2) Switching to a Palm Pre for voice and light data usage. I looked at the Pre and the G1. The Pre is (very) slightly better at what I need. They are both lousy in comparison to the iPhone.... (Palm’s app store is still in a beta lock-down — they haven’t had a chance to screw it up yet. If they do, it’ll be time for Plan C.)

    3) Not buying any future iPhone OS based devices, including the “tablet”, should it ever surface, until the issues with app store policy are demonstrably improved.

My later related posts:
Update 7/31/09b - The FCC sends letters. See also - Enter the FCC

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Best You can Be responds to Scientific American’s anti-Ritalin screed

A SciAm article beats up on Ritalin (methylphenidate), and BBYCB finds the article wanting …

Be the Best You can Be: Scientific American goes nuclear on Ritalin

Edmund Higgins, a clinical associate professor [1], has written a blistering attack on Ritalin, and gotten it published in Scientific American – a magazine that’s presumably sharing the industry’s revenue problems.

Dr. Higgins compares Ritalin (methylphenidate) to methamphetamine. This is the rhetorical equivalent of comparing a human to Hitler; it’s chemically correct but it’s the mark of a crank. It’s a Godwin’s Law violation…

..when I strip out everything else, the bulk of Higgins’ article is coming from 3 animal studies in 2003, 2008, and 2009. All of the studies involved injecting methylphenidate, which is not how it’s used in humans. Injecting Ritalin is a mark of abuse with pretty different pharmacology from oral use.

The most interesting of these articles is Nestler et al in 2003 [2], an article with a rather strange title…

…On review I’m left with several only mildly related conclusions …

  1. I’m happy the animal studies are being done. I’d like to see fewer fishing expeditions, and more replication of results. For example, repeat the Bolanos study with a larger group, maybe a different clonal line, and see if the same results appear. These need to be registered studies, so we don’t get messed up by publication bias (which is a huge problem in the low cost animal studies domain). I would really like to see more studies of tolerance effects in rats.
  2. Higgins may turn out to be correct (lots of people are suspicious that stimulants can be used so long, including me) but I think he’s got a crank agenda. His article is more inflammatory than the evidence supports. A more sober article would have been welcome.
  3. You shouldn’t put children on psychoactive medications without a very good reason. Of course that was always true.
  4. Don’t assume any other medications are in any way safer – Ritalin has been studied far more than, say, Stratera.
  5. Scientific American is running out of money. We’ll know they’ve hit rock bottom when they do an article on the scientific evidence for Creationism. They should have known better than to publish this article in its current form.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Imagining the Singularity in 1965…

John Markoff has written yet another essay on the rise of the machines. This time Markoff is reporting on an Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference organized by Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher and president of the association. The conference took place at the Conference Grounds on 2/25, but the report isn’t due out until late 2009. Supposedly they weren’t looking at longer term super-human AIs, but rather near term issues … (emphases mine)

Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man - - John Markoff

… They focused particular attention on the specter that criminals could exploit artificial intelligence systems as soon as they were developed... also discussed possible threats to human jobs, like self-driving cars...

… Dr. Horvitz said he believed computer scientists must respond to the notions of superintelligent machines and artificial intelligence systems run amok.

The idea of an “intelligence explosion” in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines was proposed by the mathematician I. J. Good in 1965. Later, in lectures and science fiction novels, the computer scientist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a moment when humans will create smarter-than-human machines, causing such rapid change that the “human era will be ended.” He called this shift the Singularity.

This vision, embraced in movies and literature, is seen as plausible and unnerving by some scientists like William Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Other technologists, notably Raymond Kurzweil, have extolled the coming of ultrasmart machines, saying they will offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation...

... Tom Mitchell, a professor of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University, said the February meeting had changed his thinking. “I went in very optimistic about the future of A.I. and thinking that Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil were far off in their predictions,” he said. But, he added, “The meeting made me want to be more outspoken about these issues and in particular be outspoken about the vast amounts of data collected about our personal lives...

I was pleased to see that Bill Joy isn't being mocked as much, the poor guy took a terrible beating for stating the obvious. (Personally I'm expecting that, while it’s true that we're screwed, the end-times of superhuman intelligence will be pushed out beyond 2100.)

So the conference doesn’t sound terribly interesting, but I was interested in Markoff’s reference to IJ Good. This pushes the basic idea of the Singularity, exponential recursion, back another thirty years. I suspect thought Markoff got the reference from this Wikipedia article (but he didn't, see update) …

… Irving John ("I.J."; "Jack") Good (9 December 1916 – 5 April 2009)[1][2] was a British statistician who worked as a cryptologist at Bletchley Park.

He was born Isidore Jacob Gudak to a Polish-Jewish family in London. He later anglicized his name to Irving John Good and signed his publications "I. J. Good."

An originator of the concept now known as "technological singularity," Good served as consultant on supercomputers to Stanley Kubrick, director of the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey

Yes, he was alive until a few months ago. I don’t need to remind any of my readers that the main character of 2001 was an AI named Hal (though Hal came from Arthur C Clarke’s book, not the movie). The article concludes with the story of Good’s Singularity premise …

… In 1965 he originated the concept now known as "technological singularity," which anticipates the eventual advent of superhuman intelligence:

“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an 'intelligence explosion,' and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make…”

Good's authorship of treatises such as "Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine" and "Logic of Man and Machine" (both 1965)…

I gather he was still in decent shape when Vinge’s “Singularity” materials made news over 10 years ago. He must have read them and recognized the ideas of his earlier papers. The book The spike : how our lives are being transformed by rapidly advancing technologies / Damien Broderick (Amazon) provides some additional historical context …

… Nor is the idea altogether new. The important mathematician Stanislaw Ulam mentioned it in his “Tribute to John von Neumann,” the founding genius of the computer age, in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society in 1958.13 Another notable scientific gadfly, Dr. I. J. Good, advanced “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine,” in Advances in Computers, in 1965. Vinge himself hinted at it in a short story, “Bookworm, Run!,” in 1966, as had sf writer Poul Anderson in a 1962 tale, “Kings Must Die.” And in 1970, Polish polymath Stanislaw Lem, in a striking argument, put his finger directly on this almost inevitable prospect of immense discontinuity. Discussing Olaf Stapledon’s magisterial 1930 novel Last and First Men, in which civilizations repeatedly crash and revive for two billion years before humanity is finally snuffed out in the death of the sun, he notes…

It’s a shame Professor Good isn’t around to do an interview, he gave quite an impressive one in 1992 (in which, by the way, he tells us Turing claimed to have only an above-average IQ, which is rather curious).

Update 7/29/09: Per comments, John Markoff tells me he learned about the I. J. Good story from an interview with Eric Horvitz.

Update 8/8/09: Per comments, today a description of the panel's mission is on the AAAI website main page. There's no persistent address, so it won't stay in its current spot. For the record, here's a copy. The official mission is more ambitious than the impression left by John Markoff's article ... (emphases mine)

The AAAI President has commissioned a study to explore and address potential long-term societal influences of AI research and development. The panel will consider the nature and timing of potential AI successes, and will define and address societal challenges and opportunities in light of these potential successes. On reflecting about the long term, panelists will review expectations and uncertainties about the development of increasingly competent machine intelligences, including the prospect that computational systems will achieve "human-level" abilities along a variety of dimensions, or surpass human intelligence in a variety of ways. The panel will appraise societal and technical issues that would likely come to the fore with the rise of competent machine intelligence. For example, how might AI successes in multiple realms and venues lead to significant or perhaps even disruptive societal changes?

The committee's deliberation will include a review and response to concerns about the potential for loss of human control of computer-based intelligences and, more generally, the possibility for foundational changes in the world stemming from developments in AI. Beyond concerns about control, the committee will reflect about potential socioeconomic, legal, and ethical issues that may come with the rise of competent intelligent computation, the changes in perceptions about machine intelligence, and likely changes in human-computer relationships.

In addition to projecting forward and making predictions about outcomes, the panel will deliberate about actions that might be taken proactively over time in the realms of preparatory analysis, practices, or machinery so as to enhance long-term societal outcomes.

On issues of control and, more generally, on the evolving human-computer relationship, writings, such as those by statistician I. J. Good on the prospects of an "intelligence explosion" followed up by mathematician and science fiction author Vernor Vinge's writings on the inevitable march towards an AI "singularity," propose that major changes might flow from the unstoppable rise of powerful computational intelligences. Popular movies have portrayed computer-based intelligence to the public with attention-catching plots centering on the loss of control of intelligent machines. Well-known science fiction stories have included reflections (such as the "Laws of Robotics" described in Asimov's Robot Series) on the need for and value of establishing behavioral rules for autonomous systems. Discussion, media, and anxieties about AI in the public and scientific realms highlight the value of investing more thought as a scientific community on preceptions, expectations, and concerns about long-term futures for AI.

The committee will study and discuss these issues and will address in their report the myths and potential realities of anxieties about long-term futures. Beyond reflection about the validity of such concerns by scientists and lay public about disruptive futures, the panel will reflect about the value of formulating guidelines for guiding research and of creating policies that might constrain or bias the behaviors of autonomous and semiautonomous systems so as to address concerns.
They're taking this seriously. I'm impressed.

How Google can enable iPhone location tracking

I share Google's grumpiness that Latitude will work on a crappy BlackBerry Pearl but not on my iPhone. That's a multitasking limitation but, worse, Apple also blocked Google's Latitude app because it's too much like the bundled Map App (as it should be). So Google's got a useless web app instead. You need to run it to get the iPhone to update its Latitude location, and even I'm not crazy enough to bother with that.

Happily, there's a workaround.

Google can use other people's applications as a Latitude Trojan Horse.

In my case, I use Byline quite frequently. What if Byline, a few seconds after startup, pinged my location to Latitude? What if many of the non-Apple apps I used did this?

It's a rhetorical question of course. The result would be a reasonable approximation of how Latitude should work.

Of course why would Byline and other Apps do this? Because Google would provide the code, and would pay them for their troubles (transactional, flat, whatever -- the key is that it adds up and isn't too easy to game).

The Minneapolis Friday Night Skate

Once or twice a summer the stars align and I get to go on the Minneapolis Friday Night Skate
The Friday Night Skate winds through downtown Minneapolis... For the most part we stay in a pack, stopping every few miles to re-group. The skate lets you hang out with your friends, meet some new friends, see downtown, get some exercise, but most of all... have a great time!
... The skates happen every second and fourth Friday of the month. The skates start promptly at 9:00 PM. In order to get ready we recommend that you get there by 8:30...
The web site is a bit dusty, but it's got the directions. I used to do these skates several times a summer, but it's tricky to protect the time.

Tonight was a beautiful skate. Pleasant breeze, nice paced group, beautiful sites, lots of people watching. We cross the Stone Arch bridge and climb the hill to overlooking the Guthrie, the Mill City Museum and park, the river and the the 35W bridge ...

The wee little iphone picture shows a bit of the Guthrie and a rosy sunset. We skate down the helical ramp of Mt Guthrie and then down to view the 35W bridge. It's a dull bridge in the daylight, but at night the lighting glows a charming green.

We wind around the Metrodome and then up Hennepin. Tonight there were a lot of kids and young adults hanging around, probably doing stuff I don't want my kids to do. One of our group is a compulsive waver, she even got most of the retailers to wave a bit. I caught up with two members of Minneapolis Mad Dads, including the president and founder of the local 13 yo chapter. What might be mildly intimidating on foot seems mostly curious on skates; we amuse the night life and move pretty quickly.

Heading inland towards Loring Park we pass through the downtown theater district -- they were doing a good trade tonight. We got a good number of waves and cheers. The park was dark in the crescent moon, but I know it well. This year the fountain is in good health, first time I've seen it for a while. We head back down Nicollet mall, and of course this time of year there's always some Aquatennial thing going on ...

On skates it's easy to look over the audience.

From there we cut across a building plaza where the security guards are often mildly perturbed (young one tonight), but they rarely bother us if we don't play around the pillars. There's some skating around the fountain there, then a dash across the right lane of the Hennepin bridge -- smooth downhill and good lighting.

It's one of my favorite night time outings. If you're in Minneapolis, and you're a competent and confident urban skater -- give it a try. Helmet and wrist guards are recommended, though tonight only I wore the latter. There's a Facebook group for the Friday Skate and a Page for the related MN Inline Skate Club.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Heath care reform – wake me up when they start talking about the Lexus

Health care reform has gone underground into the realm of dark politics, but I believe Gail Collins when she says Obama isn’t going to let this go easily. It will be back.

In the meantime, I’m not paying much attention. I’m waiting for a sign that we’re getting to something real. For me that sign will be the first time someone starts using the American version of an automotive analogy.

That will be the day someone compares the Lexus and the New York subway …

Gordon's Notes: Healthcare Reform … the One Slide Presentation


If all you care about is getting from point A to point B in Manhattan the smelly, noisy, subway is often a better choice.

If you care about comfort and pleasure the Lexus is almost always a better choice. Money aside, it’s the better choice for most people most of the time. Faster, more comfortable, you can carry more things, it’s simply better.

If you don’t have a lot of money, the subway is your only choice.

Health care is like that. It’s an inexhaustible good. You can always do more things at the margins. You can have nicer waiting rooms, better parking, faster phone call return, multiple messaging systems, better IT support, more elegant tests, more intra-specialists conferences, RNs instead of aides, more convenient medications, better home care, better hospice care .. and I’m not even trying here. Some of these things improve efficiencies, but mostly they just provide a better care experience. Not “better”, better.

The scope to improve health care is limitless. Give me a trillion dollars and I could spend it on US health care. Give me 500 trillion and I could spend it (though at that point I’d be into national exercise programs and dietary revisions!).

Why is the scope limitless? Because you can’t make suffering vanish. We age, we get sick, we die. The only “health care” initiatives that clearly save money involve floating chunks of ice.

It’s not a matter of getting incentives right, as Brad DeLong recently wrote. That would work if there were an end point, and we were seeking the most efficient path. In this game there’s no end point unless you consider incentives that encourage ultra light plane travel. Sorry Brad, but this time I have to disagree.

Health care is largely a compromise between reach and grasp. It’s about buying a Honda Accord rather than a Lexus, or taking the subway rather than a helicopter. It’s always about rationing.

Wake me up when we start talking about taking the subway.

Jon Stewart on the Birthers

I've been ignoring the birther whackos for months, but they do seem to be the face of the modern GOP.

So I figured I should look to Jon Stewart for news on the Birthers.

Poor Jon. On the one hand, great material. On the other hand, watch where he buries his face in the papers. That looked sincere.

Recommended. It tells you all you need to know about where Liz Cheney's GOP is today.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

iPhone trouble: Apple rejects Google Latitude, possibly Google Voice

Apple appears to have rejected a long anticipated native iPhone app from Google -- Google Latitude ..
Daring Fireball Linked List: Google Latitude for iPhone, But Only as a Web App:
... Translation: Apple rejected their native iPhone app...
Google has introduced their Google Voice native app for every phone but ... the iPhone.

The worrisome state of the Palm Pre may have emboldened the darker side of Apple. I'm going to be downplaying my iPhone enthusiasms until we get some clarity about where Apple is going with this.

Update: I've got a fix for Google. The problem with Latitude is that it only updates my position when I use it. I don't have that much use for it, so updates will be infrequent. On the other hand, I use apps like Byline a lot.

So all I need is for Byline to "ping" my location to Google Latitude after startup. That should update me reasonably often. Other apps could do the same thing.

Why would they bother? I'm guessing Latitude will have a business model. Google can share revenue on a per ping basis.

Update 7/31/09: AT&T's Location Finder costs $15/month for a family of five. Guess we know why this one was banned.

The organ trade mafia of New Jersey

The mob goes where the money is, though this time it’s not Italian …

Dozens Arrested in New Jersey Corruption Probe -

… The alleged money-laundering operations run by the rabbis laundered about $3 million for Mr. Dwek since June 2007, according to the court documents and a person familiar with the matter. The rabbis used charitable, nonprofit entities connected to their synagogues to "wash" money they understood came from criminal activity, prosecutors alleged.

Levy Izhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn was charged separately with conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant, at a cost of $160,000 to the transplant recipient. According to the FBI's complaint, Mr. Rosenbaum said he had been brokering the sale of kidneys for 10 years

"The rings were international in scope, connected to Deal, N.J., Brooklyn, N.Y., Israel and Switzerland," said Mr. Marra, the U.S. attorney, at the news conference. "They trafficked in the cleaning of dirty money all across the world."

Rabbis doing money laundering in New Jersey is mildly interesting. The organ trade angle is truly interesting.

Update 7/24/09: TPM is tracking the organ trade angle.

Update 9/2/09: I'm getting some creepy comments on this post, of the Protocols of Zion sort. They're all being rejected, so don't bother.

Collins believes - Obama will get a health care bill

I’ve been tuning out the health care reform discussions. It’s gone into a deep pit of politics; I can’t see enough to make sense of it. I’ve no idea whether it will be a complete debacle or a genuine step towards guaranteeing “good enough care” for everyone.

I have to hope Obama knows where he’s going with this.

Gail Collins is convinced he’ll get it done, one way or the other …

Gail Collins - The Health Care Sausage -

… The point here is that neither rain nor snow nor Jim DeMint will deter Obama from delivering on health care. Not even if he has to meet with every member of Congress one by one, give an interview to every television reporter in the Northern Hemisphere and hold a press conference every single day for the rest of the year….

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Minnesota science scores: bring in the grown-ups

Today’s Strib headliner is wrong like a bad tooth (emphases mine) …
Minnesota students' science test scores take big jump 
Minnesota's students made dramatic gains on state science tests this year...
Overall, 46 percent of students exceeded the expectations the state set out for them, up from 40 percent last year, when the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-II science exams were given for the first time. Of the three grade levels tested this spring, 45 percent of fifth-graders, 43 percent of eighth-graders and 50 percent of high school students succeeded. 
… increased familiarity with the online test this year probably contributed to the increase. 
The test results come seven months after the state's students were found to be near the top of the world in math and science, based on an international assessment
Let me count the ways of wrongness.

Firstly, the headline on the dead tree Strib read something like “Science scores absolutely stink” (ok, I’m paraphrasing). The Strib needs to get its spin straight.

Secondly, given that the online test was still fairly new last year, is a 6.7% gain selected from a range of options (they could have chosen to compare the high school grade, etc) really meaningful? I doubt it. Neither journalists nor educators nor physicians nor, really, anyone, seems to have a working grasp of the notion of statistical significance.

Most of all, the entire process is a cosmic waste of time, money, and student psyches. A test with a 50% pass rate means the system has failed. Minnesota needs to stop, fire all the responsible executives, and restart.

Either the test is wrong, or the preparation is wrong, or Minnesota is testing the wrong group or all of the above.

Minnesota needs to take a tiny fraction of the cost wasted on its testing programs and hire a man who now keeps a very low profile – Steve Yelon. Really, I’m sure he’d do the work for a million or two, even if he’s now a “professor emeritus”.

Steve taught me about curriculum and instructional design back around 1991 or so when I was an OMERAD fellow at MSU’s College of Human Medicine (ie. not the famed vet school [1]). He was a good enough teacher that the basics still stick in my head. They’re roughly like this ..
  1. Figure out what you want your learners to be able to do. This has to be something they can do.
  2. Design a test that measures achievement of the desired skills.
  3. Design a course that fits the test.
  4. Teach the course.
  5. If the results are bad, revise one or more of test, course, and tested group.
It’s really not rocket science.

Hire Professor Yelon Minnesota, and stop wasting my money. There’s a lot less of it than there used to be.

[1] If anyone from OMERAD is link checking, John Gordon is a pseudonym.

Update 9/1/2015: Wow, I had a pretty angry writing style back then. I think I'm mellower now, must be getting old. Anyway, I came across a wallet handout he did in the 90s. Copy here ...

The bidirectional arrows aren't just for symmetry. You start with real world goals, build objectives, and then build tests that demonstrate goal achievement. Each feeds back on the other. From what I remember of his teaching (mutated by time and experience) I'd add another set of arrows that drop from real world performance to terminal objectives to the tests -- illustrating importance of designing test such that "teach to the test" is a fine praise.

Yelon's 1990s book is available used on on Amazon. If copyright allows it ought to be put online.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Happiness - I told you so

"You see", I told my mother, "if you expect the worse you are often pleasantly surprised".

Turns out, I'm Danish at heart ...
Lowered Expectations - Happy Days Blog -
... Mysterious are the ways of human happiness, as anyone who has surveyed the perplexing, often contradictory research findings can attest. But one nugget in particular truly boggles: Denmark is the happiest nation in the world. More than two-thirds of Danes report being “very satisfied with their lives,” according to the Eurobarometer Survey, a figure that has held steady for more than 30 years. True, Danes tend to be healthy, married and active — all contributing factors to happiness. But why, researchers wondered, are Danes happier than Finns and Swedes, who share many of these traits, not to mention a similar culture and climate?

The answer is, in a word, expectations. Danes have low expectations and so “year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find out that not everything is rotten in the state of Denmark,” says James W. Vaupel, a demographer who has investigated Danish bliss...
I have had the common share of the bitter with the sweet, but I'm generally happy. It could be so much worse.

Oh foolish optimists, so ever cruelly disappointed...

How the iPhone has warped our sense of Japan’s mobile market

In the 70s Japan was brilliant. Smarter, faster, stronger than the rest of the world.

Then Japan seemed to lose its way. When I saw this headline I wondered if the story of Japan’s oddball cell phones held a clue ..

Why Japan’s Smartphones Haven’t Gone Global -

…  Japan is years ahead in any innovation. But it hasn’t been able to get business out of it,” said Gerhard Fasol, president of the Tokyo-based IT consulting firm, Eurotechnology Japan.

Innovation? Really? It sure doesn’t feel that way. Mr Fasol is a foreign consultant (I’m guessing), so maybe he’s being diplomatic. This description is more plausible …

… Japan’s cellphones are like the endemic species that Darwin encountered on the Gal├ípagos Islands — fantastically evolved and divergent from their mainland cousins — explains Takeshi Natsuno, who teaches at Tokyo’s Keio University…

… This is the kind of phone I wanted to make,” Mr. Natsuno said, playing with his own iPhone 3G…


… each handset model is designed with a customized user interface, development is time-consuming and expensive, said Tetsuzo Matsumoto, senior executive vice president at Softbank Mobile, a leading carrier. “Japan’s phones are all ‘handmade’ from scratch,”…

Lots of invention, but no ecosystem. It’s all one-offs, again and again. Does this tell us something unique about Japan?

I thought so, but then I realized that the iPhone has warped my sense of history.

If the iPhone hadn’t come along, we’d all be in the same pointless trap – except Japan and Korea would be at the high end and we’d be stuck at the low end – with “smartphones” like Windows Mobile (ugh), the Blackberry (yuch) and the ailing Palm Classic (sigh). Our pre-iPhone mobile ecosystem was just like Japan’s, only much less interesting.

It’s the iPhone that changed the game, and transformed Japan from the future to an isolated island ecosystem. Whatever may come of the iPhone, even if it should fall to Android or Pre or something else, it was genuinely revolutionary. So revolutionary, it’s warped my sense of recent history.

Japan (or, perhaps more likely, Korea) still has a chance though. In the 1970s Japan made lots of computers – using NEC’s proprietary OS. Japan didn’t surge in the PC hardware marketplace until they went to using PC/MS-DOS. (With a major US setback due to congressional trade restrictions blocking desktop imports from Japan – those were the days the US was terrified of Japan.)

If Japan’s manufacturers were to give up on their solutions and focus on Android …

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cold laughter echoes from Orwell’s grave

Novels are never as absurd as the real world. If they were, nobody would believe them. For example …

Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others - Pogue’s Posts

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for…

… the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price…

… You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?

The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were “1984” and “Animal Farm.”

I loved Pogue’s post title.

This is Digital Rights Management in action. Like most everything, DRM can be a good thing, or a bad thing.

As the old saw goes, Bytes don’t burn Books, People burn (or disintegrate) Books.

Apple, for all their myriad sins real and imagined, seems to have found the subtle balance. Apple’s music is no longer DRMd (but your purchase can be traced back to your credit card!), but iPhone software is very subtly and appropriately DRMd.

Amazon blew this one big time.

Update 7/20/09: Nice summary in Slate. Turns out Amazon's been deleting books that were illegally distributed for a while -- this one was just too poetic to ignore. Makes you wonder if the upload was a brilliant setup. I liked this conclusion:

The difference between today's Kindle deletions and yesteryear's banning is that the earlier prohibitions weren't perfectly enforceable. At best, publishers that found their books banned by courts could try to recall all books in circulation. In 2007, Cambridge University Press settled a lawsuit with Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi Arabian banker who sued for libel over a book that alleged he'd funded terrorism. Cambridge agreed to ask libraries across the world to remove books from their shelves. But the libraries were free to refuse. If bin Mahfouz had sued over a Kindle book, on the other hand, he could ask the court not only to stop sales but also to delete all copies that had already been sold. As Zittrain points out, courts might consider such a request a logical way to enforce a ban—if they can order Dish Network to disable your DVR, they can also tell Amazon or Apple to disable a certain book, movie, or song.
But that sets up a terrible precedent. Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely. Zittrain writes: "Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban." This may sound like an exaggeration; after all, we'll surely always have file-sharing networks and other online repositories for works that have been decreed illegal. But it seems like small comfort to rely on BitTorrent to save banned art. The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.
The power to delete your books, movies, and music remotely is a power no one should have. Here's one way around this: Don't buy a Kindle until Amazon updates its terms of service to prohibit remote deletions. Even better, the company ought to remove the technical capability to do so, making such a mass evisceration impossible in the event that a government compels it. (Sony and Interead—makers of rival e-book readers—didn't immediately respond to my inquiries about whether their devices allow the same functions. As far as I can tell, their terms of service don't give the companies the same blanket right to modify their services at will, though.)...
... To solve this problem, what we really need are new laws.
Well said! Congress should pass a law making these terms of service illegal in the United States.

When the market is your deity, there is no such thing as corruption

Paul Krugman picks two examples of the corruption of conservative political institutions …

Opinions for sale - Paul Krugman Blog -

Politico has a scoop: … The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute … For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s board of directors….

Think Tank’s Ideas Shifted as Malaysia Ties Grew: ..The Heritage Foundation sharply criticized … Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad … Heritage’s new, pro-Malaysian outlook emerged at the same time a Hong Kong consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage’s president, began representing Malaysian business interests…

Similar examples of corruption of left-leaning institutions doubtless exist. I was most struck, however, by his closing comment …

… Despite everything that’s happened, I don’t think many people grasp just how raw, how explicit, the corruption of our institutions has become.

During the 1990s and into the Bush era, America confused The Market with The Good, and, in some Protestant groups, with the God. I’ve called this Marketarianism; it’s a kissing cousin of Libertarianism.

In the Marketarian theology they share, the Heritage Foundation and the American Conservative Union are not corrupt. They are merely obeying the Will of the Market. That is right and just.

Few people, other than Paul Krugman and perhaps Frank Rich, have commented on how deeply this corruption has infested our society. We don’t understand what this means. It might help to compare corruption to lawlessness.

You don’t create a lawful society through a police force. Obviously, policing is essential, the police are a last resort. The foundations of a civil society are cultural norms reinforced through everyday examples and interactions.

Similarly, you can’t create a health economic society through regulation. Regulations are as essential as police, but they’re a last resort. A healthy economy requires a cultural foundation of honesty and personal integrity.

We’ve lost that cultural understanding, it’s been eroded by the Marketarian meme. We need to slowly, painfully, resurrect a lost ideal of institutional integrity.

In Our Time - The Sunni-Shia Split

This IOT Program starts slowly ...
BBC - Radio 4 In Our Time - The Sunni-Shia Split
... In 680, near Karbala in Iraq, a man was killed in the desert. His name was Husayn, and he was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. His death was a crucial episode in the growing split between two groups of Muslims - who would come to be known as the Sunni and the Shia...
... but it picks up speed after the first ten minutes or so when Melvyn Bragg takes control. I knew only the broadest outlines of the story, and the details are amazing. For an outsider it does add some context to the relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The early (and later) days of the Catholic papacy were pretty rough, but the assassinations and wars of early Islam are right up there. It reminds me also of the assassination eras of the American presidency. The conflicts occur on so many dizzying levels -- personal, family, tribe, relation to the Prophet, and proto-nation (but not, interestingly, theological except in the sense of who rules a theocracy).

The real mystery, which this one programme can't address, is how these squabbling tribes seized and held a vast empire -- before it became a vast and coherent civilization.

It's well worth a listen for anyone with an interest or stake in the Middle East. I do hope Obama gets some moments with IOT.

This is the third from last episode of what must be at least the sixth season (it's curiously hard to find out from the site how many seasons there have been.) Melvyn says he'll be back next year. It's been a great season as always, but listening to this episode I recognize that the past season has felt relatively sluggish.

In retrospect I think Melvyn has mellowed too much. He needs to get a bit tougher on his academics, who are prone to wander and miss the fundamentals. It's a fine road to travel -- some of them are rather nervous and might break down under harder handling, but the show works best when he's riding herd with the occasional flick of the whip.

Writing this post I noticed something new. There's a blog called "After Our Time". Unfortunately it appears to have expired in October 2007. It would be nice to see a revival of that.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hacked Twitter advises: lie on security questions

Twitter CEO: How Not To Get Hacked Like Us: "...Lie on security questions.."

Tell it to the security idiots at US Bank.

I'm still looking for a Bank security team with a 3 digit IQ.

No Google Voice for iPhone? AT&T’s deal with the Devil …

Poor AT&T. Their iPhone margins are less than expected because iPhone customers use orders of magnitude more bandwidth than BlackBerry users, but pay the same data charges.

Now with Push features they’re likely to face erosion on their mega-margin SMS charges.

Now comes Google Voice. I’ve been a GV/GC customer for years. The money I’ve saved on calls to Canada more than pays for my AT&T data plan. That money used to go to AT&T (and to Apple?), now I keep it.

Bad enough, but now GV is going public. I’ve just received another number that will go to my wife; her crummy BB Pearl will probably run the new GV client.

My iPhone will be staying with “GV Mobile”, a 3rd party app, for a while longer. There’s a mysterious delay in Google’s deployment of their client to the iPhone (emphases mine) …

AppleInsider | Google Voice released for Android and BlackBerry, but not iPhone

Google has released its mobile Voice application for the Android and BlackBerry platforms, but future release of the program on the iPhone will depend on acceptance from Apple and perhaps AT&T.

While iPhone users can currently access Google Voice from the Safari browser [jf - and GV Mobile], what Android and BlackBerry users received Wednesday was a full-fledged independent application that allows users to make calls, send text messages and check voicemail through their separate Google-provided phone number.

Google would like to release an iPhone version of the application, and is "working with Apple" to do so, according to the New York Times.

One unique element Google is touting is the ability to make international calls at a reduced rate. It also allows for text messages to be sent and received for free through the number, also bypassing the cell phone carrier. Google Voice also transcribes voicemails and reads numbers from the smartphone's phonebook.

These capabilities led Wired to speculate that AT&T and Apple could "cripple" a Google Voice iPhone application. It cites the fact that both companies have blocked video applications and forced Skype to nix a feature allowing free phone calls via the phone's data plan…

…The new application addresses one crucial problem with Google Voice: While someone might be able to call a user at their Google Voice number, they would likely receive a return call from the cell, home or office number where the person is available. Through the new program, the outgoing call will now appear as the Google Voice number

… A blog post announcing the release of Google Voice originally included a reference to the alleged iPhone development, but it was later removed from the page

I saw the iPhone mention on the GV blog, I didn’t know it had been later removed.

If iPhone customers want the new GV app we will need to start screaming. For now, GV Mobile isn’t bad, though I wonder how long it will be available on the App Store.

This will be a very interesting story to follow.

Poor AT&T. The iPhone turns out to be a bargain with Mephistopheles.

Geriatric computing

In the medical schools of centuries past, we were taught about illness as though problems came one at a time.

It's an obvious educational simplification, but I don't remember our faculty ever getting much beyond the basic model. In the real world, of course, adult bodies are pretty entropic. There are lots of little things that don't work quite right, even in a healthy person. Add in age, chronic conditions, multiple simultaneous viral infections (having a cold doesn't make you immune to another!) and more and it's no surprise that diagnoses don't follow textbook traditions. Geriatrics is all about this kind of multi-factorial balancing act.

Turns out, the world of computing is no different.

Even as a reformed gerserker I still have to deal with the usual bewildering array of emergent bugs (emergent bugs are one reason many underestimate the power of the GooBook to come). These are particularly common in geriatric computing systems.

For example, until recently I had a 6 year old access point/router, a 6+ yo XP box, a 5-6 yo iBook, a 3-4 yo iMac, a 1yo iPhone and a 2 yo MacBook. When I started having network problems a few months ago I thought I had one thing to fix. Turns out it was about 3-4 things! In retrospect our home system suffered multiple interacting hardware and software problems with evolving features.

A new Airport Extreme/Time Capsule solved a bunch (after adding about 2-3 manageable new bugs), some software twiddling solved others, and, most recently, I think I might have solved another mysterious bug by upgrading my EMC Retrospect iMac client software.

Geriatric computing turns out to be a lot like geriatric medicine -- it's not one thing, it's everything.

China: economy grows 8%, prices fall 1.7%

Wow. Huh? Wow.

I didn't expect this. Talk about a stimulus package - vastly bigger than ours compared to the size of China's economy. China doesn't seem to have forgotten Keynes. Emphases mine.
BBC NEWS | Business | China grows faster amid worries

China's economy grew at an annual rate of 7.9% between April and June, up from 6.1% in the first quarter, thanks to the government's big stimulus package....

... Beijing now expects China to achieve 8% growth for 2009 as a whole, which compares with a predicted contraction of between 1% and 1.5% in the US.

... The BBC's correspondent in Shanghai, Chris Hogg, said China's latest economic growth was largely due to the government's 4 trillion yuan ($585bn, £390bn) economic stimulus plan unveiled last November.

... China's state controlled banks have lent huge amounts of money to the country's state owned and private sector businesses. Companies have used the cash to try to avoid shedding jobs and to invest in new equipment...

... The many new government infrastructure projects have provided employment for many of the migrant workers who have been laid off - mainly in the export sector....

... urban per capita incomes were up 11.2% from a year earlier, and that real rural per capita incomes were up 8.1%...

... Meanwhile, China's consumer price index fell 1.7% in June compared with the same month a year earlier, the fifth consecutive monthly decline....
Massive stimulus, surprising growth, income growth (and savings growth, presumably) and prices are still falling.

So if China's growing, and the US is "only" in a severe depression recession (sorry, typo), how do we explain world economic output falls? Does this explain why US inflation is relatively low? If China is growing like this, does the US really need a 2nd stimulus? (We are, after all, all connected.)

Our struggling journalists are not giving us a clear sense of how this story is unfolding.