Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Google's identity failure: recreating the joy of Buzz

Google + requires us to use our "true name". In may case John F, not "John Gordon" or any of my other aliases.

Charlie Stross has a good rant on why this is a bad idea. He finishes with a set of solid recommendations (emphases mine) ...

Google is wrong about the root cause of online trolling and other forms of sociopathic behaviour. It's nothing to do with anonymity. Rather, it's to do with the evanescence of online identity. People who have long term online identities (regardless of whether they're pseudonymous or not) tend to protect their reputations. Trolls, in contrast, use throw-away identities because it's not a real identity to them: it's a sock puppet they wave in the face of their victim to torment them. Forcing people to use their real name online won't magically induce civility: the trolls don't care. Identity, to them, is something that exists in the room with the big blue ceiling, away from the keyboard. Stuff in the glowing screen is imaginary and of no consequence.

If Google want to do it right, they're going to have to ditch their naming policy completely and redo from scratch.

To get it right, they need to acknowledge that not everyone has a name of the form John Smith or Jane Doe; that not everyone uses the same character set or same number of names. They might be able to get away with insisting on a name that appears on a piece of government-issued ID; but then they need to acknowledge that people have legitimate reasons for using one or more pseudonyms, allow users to register pseudonyms associated with that name, attach pseudonyms to different (or even overlapping) circles of friends, and give the user a "keep my real name secret" check-button. Then and only then they'll begin to develop a system that has some hope of working.

I can't improve on Charlie's rant. He's one of many, but he says it well.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time Google got it wrong. They made the exact same mistake with the Buzz Profile. I wrote about that over a year ago ...

Gordon's Notes: The Buzz profile problem: I am Legion (feb 2010)

I am father, brother, in-law, son, and spouse. I am coach. I am volunteer. I am citizen and activist. I am a physician. I am an (adjunct) professor. I am an oddity in a large, conservative, publicly traded corporation. In the corporation I am a team member, known to some customers, occasionally publicly facing, known in various ways and various places. I have other roles and have had many more over time.

I am Legion. So are most middle-aged persons.

Only one person knows all the roles and all of the stories that are not excruciatingly boring (hi Emily).

That’s the problem with Google Buzz, and why my Google Profile doesn’t include my pseudonymous (John Gordon) blog postings or my Google Shared items.

Buzz is tightly linked to my Google Profile, and my Profile is trivially discoverable. I don’t want corporate HR or a customer or business partner to instantly know that I’m a commie pinko Obamafanboy with a dysfunctional Steve Jobs relationship.

I have LinkedIn as my bland corporate face, and, despite Facebook’s innate evilness, a FB profile for friends and family. Inside the corporation I’ve a blog that serves as a limited persona.

We all have many roles, identities, avatars, personae, limited liability personae, characters, facets and so on. The problem with Buzz today is that it’s tied to the Google Profile, and that profile is the closest thing to my unified public face. It crosses boundaries. So it can only hold the limited information channels that are available to all.

Google hasn't learned enough from the disastrous failure of Buzz. They're repeating old mistakes, and seeing old results. Already G+ activity seems to be falling, and losing people like Stross isn't helping.

This can be fixed. Like Charlie says - give us a hard identity that the police can track if need be. Tie it to credit cards. Heck, for a fee "validate it" so we can better protect ourselves against identity theft. Then give us as many pseudonyms as we want, and give us tools to manage them while keeping our TrueName to ourselves.

AT&T: In case you forget why you hate the company (but not the customer reps)

I had another set of AT&T interactions when I added son #2 to our AT&T famlly plan ($10 a month). They reminded me why I fear and despise AT&T.

Surprisingly, they also reminded me that AT&T has exceptionally pleasant and agreeable service representatives. They are even more agreeable than the average Apple store staffer. How can such an evil company have such pleasant customer service [1]? It's a mystery. My best guess is a mixture of brain implants and illegal substances.

The first upset came about when I tried to add son #2 through the AT&T web site. I didn't want a contract or subsidized phone, and the site assumes that. I cancelled out. That is, I thought I cancelled out. I found out the next day that I'd unwittingly switched from my text messaging plan to a new plan. This turned out to have  silver lining, as the new plan is the same price and adds unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling - an unannounced upgrade to match the competition. Despite the upside, this was an occult contract change. I hate occult contract changes.

The next (minor) aggravation came when I realized I had to go in and turn off AT&T marketing for my son's phone. Yes, AT&T spam text is an opt in feature. If you don't want AT&T spam text you have to opt out -- for every phone.

The big aggravation came when I was warned that AT&T will enroll him in a data plan if I switch his SIM card to a "smartphone", even if the "smartphone" never uses data and even though he doesn't have an AT&T phone and isn't on an AT&T contract.

This is so wrong. I think AT&T tries to justify this is as a "feature" to prevent high fees for out-of-contract data use, but really it's pure evil. It makes old iPhones much less useful and drives new phone purchase and data contracts. (If you have to pay a data fee without a phone, might as well get a subsidized iPhone so part of the fee goes to Apple.)

There's a twist, however. I've written about this before: Does anyone know what AT&T's smartphone data plan rules really are?. It's not at all clear, despite what AT&T reps are told, that this automatic enrollment applies when a user doesn't have a contract. Son #1's iPhone has been on our family plan for over a year and he's never been enrolled. (Maybe the trick is his iPhone has never used AT&T data services, so it hasn't triggered their enrollment.)

Al Franken is our Senator, and he's going to be interrogating AT&T about their T-mobile acquisition. I'll remind him to ask about their obligatory data plan.

- fn -

[1] For example, today's rep convinced me to drop from 1400 min to 700 min on our family plan. This means we lose the Google Voice friendly (but meaningless otherwise) "A List" feature, but that's offset by their mobile-to-mobile/unlimited texting plan.

See also:

Communication and collaboration: We have the pieces, but not the puzzle

The geeks of my tribe share two obsessions.

We are obsessed with managing and extending our knowledge.

We are obsessed with communication and collaboration (C&C).

These are good times for us, but they could be much better. We've seen the pieces of the C&C puzzle come and go, almost coming together than spinning away.

Things have gone better on the discovery/notification/subscription side of C&C. We have had email lists and usenet newsgroups (yes, I am old); now we have Atom/RSS Pub/Sub standards, Google Reader (tragically dying), Facebook, Twitter and Google+. There's even Yammer, a corporate clone of Facebook with some G+ thrown in.

Alas, the publication side of C&C has stalled. We have had these pieces wax and wain:
It's frustrating to have the pieces, but not the puzzle. We want a solution that has these features
  1. The power and authoring speed of Windows Live Writer/FrontPage 98 client.
  2. Content display that support both item based and web-like navigation. We had much of this with FrontPage 13 years ago and you can see much of this in Sharepoint 2007's odd wiki. It's very easy to imagine a set of articles appearing as both a blog and a wiki.
  3. Change notification.
Incidentally, we also want this publishing platform to be easily used as a personal platform and a public platform, and we want to the two to optionally synchronize via Dropbox or the equivalent.

Oh, yeah, and it needs to have a published and open API (though it doesn't need to be open source).

This isn't so hard, really. Give me $30 million and I'll make it happen. I promise.

See also:
Update: Since writing this I decided to install the latest version of WLW, which is version 2011. It's dead. I feel the pain of the original Onfolio team. Seeing quality software die is a bit like watching a good kid turn into a career criminal.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm still here ...

No, I haven't vanished. I have, however, been on an epic family road trip through the data-link free wilderness of rural America and Canada -- where even Motel data connections are feeble. It's a good reminder that a large amount of North American geography is essentially off the net. Completely. I rarely see mention of that.

I have a large backlog of posts that I'll slowly mine as I reengage. The beauty of Feed/Subscription is, of course, that this shouldn't matter for most of my readers. You'll get a line item in Google Reader as I return to the usual routine ...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Starting with Google Reader: Gordon's Bundle's

My sister in law is getting started with Google Reader. I put together this set of "Bundles" for her. Google Reader users see a button that allows them to add a set of feeds in a single click. Each Bundle page also includes an link to an OPML file that can be imported into any decent feed reader.

Note that the "Bundles" feature was added in 2009 and has been neglected since. You can't delete or revise a bundle once it's created and they don't update dynamically. So the above set of Aug 2011 bundles will be less useful over time.

One last feed -- this is a feed for everything I share via Google Reader shares.

Google's non-documentation for Bundles refers to the Shared page, but today I noticed a 'create bundle' item on the drop down for Folder Settings...

Screen shot 2011 08 22 at 9 19 35 PM

See also:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Don Peck's essay starts with a bang and a neologism (emphases mine) ...
Can the Middle Class Be Saved? - Don Peck - The Atlantic

IN OCTOBER 2005, three Citigroup analysts released a report describing the pattern of growth in the U.S. economy. To really understand the future of the economy and the stock market, they wrote, you first needed to recognize that there was “no such animal as the U.S. consumer,” and that concepts such as “average” consumer debt and “average” consumer spending were highly misleading.

In fact, they said, America was composed of two distinct groups: the rich and the rest. And for the purposes of investment decisions, the second group didn’t matter; tracking its spending habits or worrying over its savings rate was a waste of time. All the action in the American economy was at the top: the richest 1 percent of households earned as much each year as the bottom 60 percent put together; they possessed as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent; and with each passing year, a greater share of the nation’s treasure was flowing through their hands and into their pockets. It was this segment of the population, almost exclusively, that held the key to future growth and future returns. The analysts, Ajay Kapur, Niall Macleod, and Narendra Singh, had coined a term for this state of affairs: plutonomy.

In a plutonomy, Kapur and his co-authors wrote, “economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.” America had been in this state twice before, they noted—during the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties. In each case, the concentration of wealth was the result of rapid technological change, global integration, laissez-faire government policy, and “creative financial innovation.”...
I want to know what Kapur, Macleod and Singh are doing now. Six years ago they got the key components of our world right -- technology (information technology), globalization (rise of China and India), laissez-faire policy (ignoring the explosion of fraud across the world economy) and "creative financial innovation' (see fraud).

I'll be studying this essay.

Rick Perry's magic stem cell transfusion

Rick Perry is running for president. In case you hadn't noticed. This is telling ....
Perry's Surgery Included Experimental Stem Cell Therapy — Rick Perry | The Texas Tribune:

,,, The possible presidential contender didn’t reveal that he’d undergone an experimental injection of his own stem cells, a therapy that isn’t FDA approved, has mixed evidence of success and can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.

The governor’s procedure did not involve embryonic stem cells, which he and many other conservatives ardently oppose using for medical research on both religious and moral grounds. His treatment involved removing his own adult stem cells from healthy tissue and injecting them back into his body at the time of surgery, with the belief that the cells would assist tissue regeneration and speed recovery.

In a statement on Wednesday, Perry spokesman Mark Miner called the procedure “successful” and confirmed that it included “the innovative use of his own adult stem cells.”...

Perry used his personal political power to get a Korean treatment pushed by a Perry friend and orthopedic surgeon. Enthusiasts claim miraculous regenerative powers. (If true, incidentally, I'd expect to see malignancies too.)

Autologous stem cell infusion is a long way from proof of safety and efficacy; sadly, orthopedic surgeons have a history of enthusiasm for alternative therapies that burn money and harm patients. This fits with the GOP's antipathy to science and enthusiasm for alternative medicine.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Geezepreneurs and the depression - we're not dead yet

America is a dog that's been beat too much.

Our publicly traded corporations can't get much pull from America's dwindling middle class. Their growth and future is abroad. The vast compensation of their executives will build higher walls around the estates of the new aristocracy.

Left Behind, we are the Detroit Windows 7 of nations.

So now what?

Now we need to climb out of of the ruins. Because we're not dead yet.

We could use some help. Roosevelt style investments in infrastructure and schools would be a good thing, but they are not enough and the Tea Party is too powerful to allow them.

So instead we need lots of small to medium privately held businesses [1]. It would be great if we could get something like a national small business generation service, but good-enough health insurance, an accelerated and expanded loan program for small businesses, reduction of the tax and accounting scams that favor large corporations [2], rationalizing regulatory frameworks and providing startup education programs would all help.

Who will start these businesses? The usual suspects - the young, the immigrants [3], the restless. They're not enough though. This time America needs geezer entrepreneurs - geezepreneurs. In a global economy where talent is plentiful and cheap, we have a surplus of the undead gray without hope of retirement. Might as well use 'em.

The forty plus set aren't going to do all nighters any more, but we have learned a lot about leading and managing people, and about how the world works. I admit, even as a geezer myself, I'm surprised by how productive 60+ software engineers are. Maybe it's selection bias -- perhaps by that age only the very best are still coding. Whatever, these guys are really good, even if they need flexible schedules to help their kids, grandkids, and parents.

Small business growth driven by geezer entrepreneurs and the underemployed young. It's different. Try it.


[1] In theory these measures are GOP friendly. Alas, that's confusing rhetoric with reality; to the extent that the modern GOP has any guiding philosophy it would be directing short term benefits to its voters, donors, and office holders. They are at least compatible with past GOP rhetoric, so that might help a bit.
[2] Removing those advantages from large corporations helps level a currently very uneven playing field. On the other hand, they will never surrender the fruits of their political investments. So, perhaps disguised as deficit reduction, we try for reduction rather than removal.
[3] Canada mitigated its social security problem largely by importing wealthy and/or highly educated citizens. I'm amazed this isn't talked about in the US.

Update 8/17/11: See also - Tillman and Phelps, National Bank of Innovation

Lithium batteries last!

The five year old Canon lithium battery for an old camera of ours is still useful.

That's a real improvement. Lithium batteries used to die after 1-2 years.

We now return to our usual depressing posts.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

LinkedIn's bozo move

LinkedIn's home page always shows a few headlines that reference LinkedIn.

This is what I saw this evening ...

Screen shot 2011 08 11 at 9 02 56 PM

Yep, that about says it all. 100 million LinkedIn users private information is now public.

I'm very surprised. Why would LinkedIn opt us all into being used in advertisements? Who thought this was a sane move? How could they forget who their customers are?

They have just made themselves vulnerable.

Entanglement and the realness of time

I can't find the post I was looking for.

It was written by a physicist I read. i'm still looking for it, but there were two interesting assertions. One was that "time was not real", the other was that entanglement is deeper than time.

He was being coy, but this is what I think he meant.

By "real" I think he meant "fundamental". So time is real enough, but if we really understood it we'd see it as emerging from other processes.

It's easy to understand this with "pressure". Humans presumably named the "wind" more than a hundred thousand years ago. Much more recently humans named "pressure" as the expansionary force of a heated balloon. Pressure is certainly real. It's not fundamental though. Much more recently humans figured out that "pressure" was the outcome of atoms in motion. Atomic action is more fundamental.

I gather time is thought to be like that -- an emergent outcome of something more fundamental.

So why should entanglement be the key to understanding time?

Well, physicists think quantum entanglement is very fundamental. It's close to the machinery of reality.

Entanglement is weirder than I can imagine. If I understand it correctly, one could (in theory) separate two entangled particles by a billion light years, measure one a "millisecond" apart (a very squirrely concept in this context), and find the measurements were correlated -- even though a light signal would take a billion years to cross that gap.

In other words, "entanglement" may take place outside of time or space. That's kind of interesting. So if you want to probe time and space, and expose its underlying reality, you might as well start with probing entanglement. If you get it right, you might be able to understand entanglement outside of time (and space), and also understand why we are inside of time.

I really do need to find that post ...

Update 9/1/11: I haven't found that post, but a subsequent Carroll essay suggests I'm not just making this up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bicycles and aging motorists - help is on the way

"I didn't see you..." she said.

It was easy to see why she didn't. Aged eyes, dark wrap around sunglasses, a sunny day with long shadows -- all would make it hard to see me and my bicycle. She forgot her turn signal too, so perhaps there were other things going on.

She was a better driver once. After 60, even good drivers were better once, and she was well passed 60.

Happily, she was moving slowly towards sidewalk parking. All I had to do was slam on my brakes and move right and she missed me. It really wasn't that bad; I've had much more dangerous misses from the young and the fast.

The elder problem will get worse though. Rising gas prices and aging boomers will mean more car/bike collisions. Wisconsin has had a terrible year for bike fatalities due to driver error. The risks will rise.

There are things we can do. In the Minneapolis-St Paul region bicycles are increasingly separated from cars on major commuter paths. I was on a mixed roadway today, but it was striped for bikes and that extra space made my escape easy.

We need to continue that trend. That's another reason not to vote GOP; the GOP is aggressively cutting federal support for bicycle trails.

Looking forward, smarter cars will help. Cheap video sensors and improved image recognition algorithms should allow cars to recognize bicycles, even in the absence of an active transponder system or mobile phone GPS broadcast. A lot of lives will be saved when a car notifies drivers of a bicycle ahead, and sounds an alarm when a driver passes too close -- optionally sending a "driver error" message to the insurance agency that's subsidizing the bicycle/pedestrian detection system through auto insurance discounts.

Between improved car/bike separation and smarter cars we should be able to make elder drivers at least as bicycle safe as today's middle-aged drivers. I'm looking forward to it. I'm terrified of the day an 80 yo John Gordon drifts into a bicycle rider ...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Fraud, IT, Economics and the Depression: Galbraith is most impolite

Earlier today I reviewed a decade of Gordon's Notes posts about how information technology has supercharged old frauds.

It's an odd hobby I admit. It started fourteen years ago when I finally noticed charges from Netfill had been showing up on my Visa card. By the time the story was done I was on Japanese TV and I was on a first name basis with FTC investigators. Today this level of fraud wouldn't even make the back pages..

Even then I realized that banks were, perhaps by a happy accident, making money on this fraud. So I figured it would take a few years for consumer and legislative pressure to reform credit card transaction security.

I was a naif. Today Verizon and Comcast make millions from their cut of the $2 billion a year take from US mobile cramming frauds. Instead of reforming, America has elected marketarian zealots who believe Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are agents of the Devil.

Of course this is small stuff compared to the IT enabled complexity frauds that played a role in our latest economic depression. We area  very long way from responding to those frauds. That's why I appreciate James Galbraith, an economist well to the Left of Krugman/DeLong (and me), focusing on the role of IT powered fraud and the key role of complexity (emphases mine)...

James Galbraith on How Fraud and Bad Economic Thinking Got Us in This Mess « naked capitalism

... the financial system is both necessary and dangerous, that strict financial regulation is both indispensable and imperfect...

... The Galbraithian line ... accepting the central role of aggregate effective demand, the national income accounts, the credit circuit view of economic life and the financial instability hypothesis. But, it is also embedded in a legal institutionalist framework, rooted in pragmatism, framed by Thorstein Veblen and John Commons, forged in the political economy of the New Deal in the United States. This tradition emphasizes the role played in financial crisis by the breakdown of law and the failure of governance and regulation — and the role played by technology as a tool in the hands of finance for the purpose of breaking down and evading the law....

... When you engage the mainstream on the national income accounts, at least they know what the damn things are. And these days you can even get, though for who knows how much longer, a respectful mention of Minsky...

What you cannot get ... is any serious discussion of contract law and fraud..

... Why not? Why is this one of the great taboo topics of our modern economic history? Well, personal complicity, frankly, plays a role ...

But it’s more than that. Let me try to frame it in somewhat more abstract terms. I would say that the commodity is the foundation stone of conventional economics. That the theory of exchange requires the commodification of tradable artifacts. Without that, there is no supply and demand. A world of contracts, each backed by a separate and distinct set of promises each only as good as the commitments made specifically and the ability of the laws and courts to enforce them, is a different sort of world. Just because you can call a set of such contracts by a name, “collateralized debt obligation” or “credit default swap”, and just because you can create something — you may even be able to create something called an exchange to trade them on — does not make them into commodities with a meaningful market price.

Complexity here is what is going to defeat the market with, in principle, infinite variability, and in practice, more distinct features than one can keep up with. In great volume, contracts of these kinds are per se hyper-vulnerable to fraud. Examples range from the New Jersey phone company that simply printed made-up fees on its bills hoping that no one would notice and for a long time nobody did, to the fact that almost no one at the insurance giant AIG realized that the CDS contracts they were selling contained a cash collateral clause, something that would cost them billions at a time when they didn’t have access to the cash. They range from unnoticed provisions permitting CDO managers to substitute worse for better mortgages in previously sold packages without notifying the investors, to the Mortgage Electronic Registration System and the pervasive incentive to document fraud in the foreclosure process.

I highly recommend...  that you read the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report just published in the United States, or the even more recent report of the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, the many reports of the Congressional Oversight Panel and the report of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Fund, SIGTARP. These are, by the way, very, very good documents prepared by serious public servants and it’s plain as day. Fraud was not a bug in the system, it was a feature. The word itself, along with abusive, egregious, reckless and even criminogenic suffuses these accounts of what went on.

Godleyans teach that stocks can not be separated from flows. Minskyans teach that finance can not be separated from reality. And my father’s tradition is that the legal and the technological can not be separated. The financial world, as it exists, has nothing to do with the commodity world of real exchange economics with its delicate balance of interacting forces. It is the world of technology at play in the form of quasi mass produced legal instruments of uncontrolled complexity. It is the world of, in other words, of evolutionary specialization in the never ending dance of predator and prey. In nature, when predators achieve an overwhelming advantage, the prey suffer a population crash, from which the predators in turn suffer later on. In economics it’s a financial crash, but process and dynamics are essentially similar.

Corporate fraud is not new; financial fraud is not new...

... In the computer age, on the other hand, we entered the world of private labeled securitization, of negative amortization payment optional Adjustable Rate Mortgage with a piggyback to cover the down payment. Oh, and documentation optional...

... Rendering such complex and numberless debt instruments comparable requires a statistical approach based on indicators. And that launches into a world which was not imaginable in, say, 1927. The world of credit scores, ratings and algorithms, a world of derivative and super derivative instruments of sliced and diced residential mortgage backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, synthetic CDOs, synthetic CDOs squared, credit default swaps — all designed to secure that triple-A rating and to place the instruments which had been counterfeited to begin with — they looked like mortgages but were not really mortgages. Laundered, that is to say, transformed from the trash that they were into a triple-A security and fenced, which is to say, sold to the legitimate investment market by an intermediary called a commercial or an investment bank. To place these counterfeit, laundered and fenced instruments into the hands of of the mark. The mark. And who was the mark? Michael Lewis, in the The Big Short tells us who the mark was. The mark had a name in the industry, they would say, “who are we selling this stuff to?” And the answer would come back, “Düsseldorf.”

The Texas institutionalist, Clarence Ayres, to bring you a voice from my home territory in Austin, Texas, stressed most strongly the role of technology and the irreversible contribution of new tools to the production process. In finance, it’s the algorithm that is this tool, it seems to me...

...  The corruption and collapse of the rule of law, in the financial sphere, is basically irreparable. It’s not just that restoring trust takes a long time. It’s that under the new technological order in this field, it can not be done. The technologies are designed to sow and foster distrust and that is the consequence of using them. The recent experience proves this, it seems to me. And therefore there can be no return to the way things were before. In other words, we are at the end of the illusion of a market place in the financial sphere....

... t practically speaking what we’re dealing with here and what we need to recognize is not an interruption to a long process of economic growth, a recession or some shock to aggregate demand. It is an incurable disease at the heart of the system.

... it’s our task, it seems to me, against the odds, to build a new line of resistance. And I’ll wind up by saying that I think that line must have at least the following elements in it:

... Third, a full analysis of the criminal activity that destroyed the banking sector, including its technological foundation, so as to quell the illusion that these markets can effectively be restored to anything like their form of 4 or 5 years ago...

Fourth, an understanding of the way in which financial markets interact with the changing geophysics of energy, especially oil, with the commodity markets to choke off economic recovery unless the energy problem is addressed squarely. I think that’s something that we’re seeing happening now.

Fifth, a new strategic direction to redesign and rebuild our societies for the challenges of aging, infrastructure, energy, climate change and shared development which we all face. And to create the institutions required to make this happen. That requires, I think, from an intellectual point of view, a merger of the Keynesian, Post-Keynesian and the Institutionalists traditions which is, in fact, something that is already underway.

Sixth, to achieve these goals by mobilizing human brains and muscles to overcome unemployment and to assure a widely-shared, decent, and reasonably egalitarian society according to the most successful and enduring social models, by which I mean a commitment to the deepest policy principles that Keynes himself held and also an understanding that we should use history as a guide to what has worked and what does not.

And seventh, the reconstruction of the instruments of public power — the power to spend, the power to tax, the money power and the power to regulate — so as to effectively pursue these goals with democratic checks and balances to prevent the capture of new state institutions by predatory forces.

Galbraith sometimes reads like an egotistical crank, but if he is a crank, he is a crank with a point. He's the first economist I've read who has focused on the intersection of old frauds and new technologies, and the role of complexity, in the birth of our latest depression. I even appreciate the Peak Oil reference smuggled into his closing paragraphs.

His remedies are familiar, they are calls to an 'enlightenment 2.0' movement. The seventh sounds grandiose, but Ed Dolan's summary of Sweden's fiscal rules gives us a pragmatic guide to action.

Thanks James.

See also:

Fraud on Cyber: An annotated sample of Gordon's Notes

For the past fifteen years I've been fascinated by how the information technologies of the late 20th century supercharged old frauds. I suspect that our current depression, and the Depression of the 1930s, have enabling technologies as one common cause.

It takes time for law and custom to adapt to new technologies and complexities, and until they do frauds as old as the human mind take on new forms and power.

For almost ten of those fifteen years I've been publishing notes here. In honor of a post I'm working on now I've assembled an annotated biography. There's a sort of grouping order to the list, it's not chronological ...

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Managing the Depression: A national small business generation service (again)

I wrote this almost three years ago. It sank without a trace ...

Antidote to The Great Recession: A national small business generation service

Robert Reich asks "Shall We Call it a Depression Now?" ... Brad DeLong says ... not yet.

... In the Great Depression the solution to economic stall was World War II. That's like treating pneumonia with malignant melanoma. Let's not try World War III.

So we can do all the things that have been tried here or elsewhere, depending on how cooperative the rump of the GOP is.

That's good, but maybe we should try a few new things too.

Imagine a national small business generator. A web site built around a knowledge-base of tens of thousands of business plans. Plans for franchise businesses, plans for manufacturing, plans for service businesses. Plans for businesses that need a lot of startup money. Plans for businesses that need a credit card and a mega-Kiva (it's the US, not Uganda) microloan. Plans for all the things people need in bad times, and plans for the good times to come. Plans for business that write the business plans that go into the knowledge-base.

The plans are organized by pre-requisites. Some are tagged for special skills, others for grinding hard work. They come with packaged loans, like the ones the Small Business Administration already offers - and maybe with grants as well. They come with packaged legal infrastructure, and an expedited incorporation package that greatly simplifies current law - a kind of augmented LLC with simplified tax filing. IP protection, the whole nine yards.

Add an option to invest. So would-be investors can browse these small business startups, and choose which to invest in. Optional online skills based training, or sign up with the people who've just launched, you know, teaching businesses.

Most importantly, the plans are tied to a federal health insurance program, modeled after the Minnesota small-business plans available to any two people starting a business.

It's a web site of course.

So one day you're out of work.

Take a day off. Then go to the knowledge-base.

Login. Browse. Search. Compare some plans. Get some advice. Pick on, click, click, sign.

You're in business now. A grant to start. Health insurance. A loan.

It's not new. Similar programs have been very successful in developing nations. It's just a bit bigger.

It could be done.

It's still a good idea, except now I'd add an indemnity program [1] against IP lawsuits combined with reform of the patent process. A reform that might take down the modern plague of Nathan Myhrvold. I know that anything I invent is going to violate somebody's patent. This is poison to high value startups.

The Depression is not going away. I think historians will say it started with the dot com crash, and it feels like we're in the middle of it. It's past time to try something like a national small business generation service combined with patent reform.

[1] For example, the small business generation program would include loans to support payment into a national patent defense program. When a patent attack is launched, government funded lawyers do the fighting. Loans would be repaid from future revenues. It's a form of IP insurance program.

See also

Friday, August 05, 2011

Israel's uprising: Is it about the failure of 21st century democracies?

Governmental failure, which is an outcome of a failure of citizenship, is not merely an American phenomenon. Even nations that are not falling empires are feeling the pain.

Israel is our latest example. Like the Wisconsin protests, this is best understood, I think, as a collective protest against a failure of citizenship. It's the middle class beginning to realize that the top 0.5% owns the game.

I hope this movement visits America soon.

Computing's calculator price collapse at last?

My worst predictions have been about the price of personal computing.

I blame it on age.

No, not on age-related dementia. I've been wrong about the price of personal computing since my brain was new. Age related experience rather.

I'm old enough that my first calculator cost the equivalent of a modern laptop, was much bigger and heavier than my MacBook Air, had no batteries, and could add, subtract, multiply and divide. My next calculator cost 1/3 the price and had many more "functions". After that the price of four function calculators went to about zero; they showed up in cereal boxes [1].

It was by far the greatest price collapse in my life. Curiously, a search didn't find any articles on the collapse of calculator pricing. Scholarship is weird.

That first monster calculator has warped my thinking ever since. The 64KB (not 64MB, not 64GB) Commodore PC I first used was cheaper than my first calculator. I expected the price to collapse. Instead the entry level price of personal computing rose quickly as Commodore and Atari left the market.

When I bought a Palm III, solid state, rugged and elegant, I expected the price to fall. After all, it was made of sand and oil; no complex moving parts. Competition would drive the market downwards I thought.

Instead the price for a PDA rose until they merged into phones (I loved my Samsung Palm flip phone) and then vanished.

Netbooks were next. I saw cheap Linux Netbooks at Target and I knew, at long last, I'd be right. They cost about as much as that first Commodore, and they had no moving parts. Price had to fall. ChromeOS was proof. By 2011 we'd be buying our kids $125 battery-free Chromebook.

Right. This month I bought my "netbook". I forked over $1100 to that fruit place.

So you'd think I'd give up.

That would underestimate my cognitive dysfunction. Surely, having lost the last five tosses, the wheel will come up black this time!

Two years ago, inspired by a Gasee post, I decided calculator style price collapse was coming in the form the $80 Android phone. Today Asymco is tracing smartphone growth. Look at the Samsung Bada phone and Android.

Even a stuck (analog) clock is right twice a day.

[1] Then the low end vanished into software, and standalone calculator became a relatively costly specialty item. Like the desktop PC.

See also:

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Lion as a sign of post-Jobs Apple

Every review I read uses OS X iCal and Address Book as examples of the worst aspects of Lion. This one is from Macintouch... (emphases mine)

Macintouch: Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Review (Part IV)

... Others, including iCal and Address Book, are downright horrid to use, no matter how pretty they may look. It's as though everyone at Apple was given the directive "make it like iPad", but nobody coordinated the ensuing work...

iCal was awful in Snow Leopard. I didn't think it could get worse, but it is. Address Book was never a great app, but now it's moved into the "horrid" range.

In my use of Lion I get the same feeling of uncoordinated work. Some features seemed aimed at power users, others at people who'd never used a computer before. There's good work, but there's also the kind of incoherence I expect from a Google or even a Microsoft product.

This is, most assume, the first version of OS X where Steve Jobs wasn't available to enforce a narrative. It's a sign of what Apple is likely to be post-Jobs -- less like the Apple we know, more like Google.