Amazing Basketball Fight: A Pack not a Mob/Gang/Herd

November 20, 2004

I saw the big amazing basketball fight on TV last night at Godzilla Sushi in SF. If you can’t see a full big screen version, at very least, see the online video. Then read this commentary. Truly Amazing stuff.

Fan discipline is incredibly poor. Emotions running very high. Once a player is in a fight his teammates HAVE to come help (they are team). So the teams both get up off the benches when each one has a member in that initial fight. But the teams know the fight is stupid and calm down and sit down. Artest goes and lies down to calm down at which point BANG a fan throws a bottle at him. Artest gets up goes after him. At this point the frans decide to side with their own and attack Artest. Artests team mates now need to pull him out and it all keeps escalating.

Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying “A pack not a herd“. But this situation illustrates exactly the complexity of his cause.

Herds fail when the allow their members to be preyed upon e.g the Europeans who stand by while allowing a lone gunman to kill people in Sweden, the Germans handing the Jews over to the Nazi authorities, the European states attemtping appeasement of Hitler and Mussolini, and the international community for failing to stop genocides all over the world.

But, in fairness to the pacfists all over the world, World War I and the Cuban Missile Crisis both appear like examples of the risks of the alternative. The death and devastation of World War I was the result of a dynamic very similar to the basketball game. The failing Austro-Hungarian empire needed to assert its authority over the Serbians. A network of alliances then forced the Germans to preemptively attack France and WWI began. The Cuban Missile crisis had a similar quality as the logic of warfare and alliances trumped systemic common sense to put the world at risk of nuclear war.

So we have this apparently conflict between the risks of herding pacifism and the risks of predatory alliances and teams. But this conflict is only apparent and actually a result of failing alliance/team discipline. The solution is for the members of the pack/alliance/team to have enough sense of their systemic health so that they punish members who put them at risk of being drawn in to unhealthy confrontations and conflagurations. The real risk is cultural failure.

If the Piston fan who threw the bottle at Artest really and viscerally understood that the rest of Detroit would hate him for his unsportsmanlike conduct. Then it probably wouldn’t have occured to him to do what he did. If the fans around him also shared that understanding then the man would have been viewed more like a lone gunman who needed to be taken out and less as a representative of the Piston fans whose honor needed protection.

In the case of WWI, the Congress of Vienna balance of power system set up by Metternich after the Napoleonic wars lacked the fluidity to prevent allies from doing stupid things. But more importantly, it lacked any framework for parties rapidly to communicate their power intentions and to communicate with each other what any given anticipated action would force others to do. In short, the Congress of Vienna did not leave its members with a way to understand what system health was and it also lacked a way for parties to simulate before acting. Today we have a United Nations and modern media environment that for all their faults allows parties to play out the results of their actions in theory before they put them into practice. For example, these institutions allowed the US to telegraph its intention to invade Iraq long before it actually did so and gave everyone else the opportunity to articulate how they would handle it if the US went through with the plan. The lack of surprise and the testing of ideas dramatically increased the safety of everyone.


What would you do with the blogosphere on your desktop?

November 20, 2004

Via Mary Hoder , it appears that the entire blogosphere encompasses 6.5M blogs and that there are about 600,000 posts per day.

If you assume each post is 1k and that it all started in a flash 3 years ago, the entire blogosphere archive is only 540GB. Given that text compresses 80%, we are probably talking about storing the entire archive in ~100GB. (A 100GB HD today costs around $100). But, lets follow Mary’s logic in advocating PubSub’s business model and assume we only want 30 days (older stuff has probably reached google). Then you only need 20GB uncompressed and 5GB compressed. Downloading 600Mb on a 1Mbps link will take you 1.5 hours. Some people will object that the blogosphere is growing. I would respond that it is unlikely that the blogosphere is growing as fast as hard drives and bandwidth costs are shrinking.

What would you do with the entire blogosphere downloaded?
* blog surf faster!
* personalized searches e.g. find me this word in all blogs reachable from the set you read regularly
* ideology searches: find me this word in the right-wing blogosphere

You tell me?

Thinking about a better open source license

November 16, 2004

The GPL and the MPL combine with Moore’s law and the Internet to allow people to take source private by operating it as a service. I am planning to release an app server open source and want to remedy this problem. Here are the key terms. I’m looking for comments:

Simple Source License, Version 0.1
Copyright (c) 2004 All rights reserved.


The copyright holder of the covered work has released it without charge to the developer community in the hopes that it will be of value and in the hopes that other developers will in turn make and distribute improvements back and in turn get the same value.

This license reflects these hopes by permitting anyone to use, modify, bundle, or provide a service derived from covered work in whatever manner they choose and for whatever they wish to charge as long as they make the associated source freely available as well.

Terms and Conditions
1. Scope of License
This license covers any work that contains notice placed by the copyright holder stating that fact.

2. Covered Works
You may reproduce, modify, display, and/or distribute verbatim copies of covered works.

3. Modified Versions Of Covered Works
You may reproduce, modify, display, and/or distribute modified versions of covered works or patches to original or modified versions of covered works
a. only if they retain the original’s copyright, license, disclaimer, and all notices, if any, thereof,
b. only if they include prominent notice that they derive directly or indirectly from covered work and are NOT verbatim copies thereof, and
c. only if they include some way to identify the covered work from which they directly or indirectly derive.

4. Derived Works and Derived Services
A derived work is any work that results from modification or transformation of derived or covered works. A derived service is any service that depends in part or whole on the operation of derived work. Associated source is any
source used to create a derived work or provide a derived service. You may distribute derived works and/or provide derived services and/or permit others to do the same only if for the following year you make all associated source
available to the recipients of such works and/or users of such services
a. at no charge,
b. at a URL displayed prominently and designated as such in the acknowledgment section of the associated end-user documentation, and
c. under terms conformant with Open Source Definition 1.9 or later as available from the Open Source Initiative or under this license,
d. and only if the license or terms of use conspicuously advises the recipient and/or end user of their rights to the source under the terms of this license.

5. Acknowledgement
Any derived work or service must have end-user documentation with anacknowledgment section containing the following text:
“This product includes software developed by [copyright holder’s name] ([copyright holder’s URL]).” (replacing bracketed text with its value).

Zack Rosen building systems for online religious devotion

November 9, 2004

I am flippantly describing the plan by the author of DeanSpace, the software tool that allowed Dean supporters to avoid talking to anyone but themselves. He wants to institutionalize this behavior for a “progressive movement” that, thanks to people like Zack and Michael Moore, has its head so far up its ass that it already resembles a Klein bottle.

Rather than testing their ideas in the market, these foks get together and reassure themselves that they are obviously right. It is emotionally incredibly reaffirming and works well for a Democratic party that markets itself to a population of urban voters that moved to cities because they were unable to cope with justifying their choices in smaller towns where they were more visible and where their behavior was more unique, to “intellectuals” who were losers in high school, and to racial/ethnic minorities in search of critical mass and social support.

Having done so, the Democrats then exhbited the pathologies identified by Clay Shirky in “A Group is Its Own Worst Enemy,” villifying those not in the group as well as (and especially) those seeking to leave the group via greater participation in civic society (e.g. higher taxes on the “rich” with a low threshold for qualifying as “rich”, opposition to school choice, affirmative action, etc…) . The result is a classic Clayton Christiansen style pursuit of purity/quality at the expense of market. The dominance of the liberal media provides some protection for the right from falling into this trap. But projects like DeanSpace/CivicSpace make it worse.

If the Democrats really want to win elections, they need to get out of their pure virtual worlds (see prior post) and engage the real world. Rather than setting up systems to help them talk amongst themselves, Zach should be providing them with more effective systems for arguing with Republicans. Alternative/New media like talk radio and the blogs were built on attacking the liberal mainstream media. The Republicans there practiced dealing with and countering Democratic claims and arguments and distributing those memes quickly. The Democrats in contrast simply denigrated these disreputable non-institutional sources and became shockingly ignorant of and facts and arguments that would put their views into question when presented to an open minded potential voter.

JustOneMinute proposed a survey to test the ignorance of Democrats on substantial issues. I’l excerpt here

suppose we designed a survey loaded with “democratic myths”. My (untested) hunch is that the reality-based community would do pretty badly. […]

(1) Bush lied in his 2003 State of the Union Address when he said that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”.

(2) Ambassador Joseph Wilson exposed Bush’s lie about Niger.

(3) We went to war with Iraq because George Bush said that Iraq posed an imminent threat to the US.

(4) It was George Bush who authorized the departure of the Bin Laden family from the US after 9/11.

(5) George Bush plans to re-instate the draft after his election.
(11) George Bush refused to authorize the release of his Texas Air National Guard records.

(12) John Kerry released all of his military records, with the exception of some items related to his personal medical history.

(13) All of the charges made by the Swift Boat Veterans were shown to be false.

I would expect an obvious left-right divide amongst respondents. And for most of these, the obvious lefty answer is wrong

I doubt that Zack’s system would fix these sorts of problems. Today I got a link to this “funny” CraigsList post:

Reply to:
Date: Wed Nov 03 19:11:50 2004

I would like to fight a Bush supporter to vent my anger. If you are one, have a fiery streek, please contact me so we can meet and physically fight. I would like to beat the shit out of you.

As a Republican who lives at the core of blue state society and in the context of all the violence directed at Republican campaign offices both before and after the election, I don’t find it so funny. I find it scary.

Peter Thiel’s Virtualization Talk

November 9, 2004

At ACC, Peter Thiel, ex-CEO of PayPal, talked about the trend towards virtual value. The content was largely anti-foundational, with him noting that you can view everything in terms of bits or atoms. That the atoms of a human are cycled out every 6 months but we still interpret each other as the same person. He also discussed the possibility for the virtual sphere to escape the control of existing temporal powers (e.g. government). He noted that more than 40% of the worlds wealth is now stored in tax havens like the Switzerland or the Caymen Islands. He was hopeful that the financial system could achieve complete independence and that perhaps other virtual systems would follow, and begged three really important questions:

  1. What exactly does virtualization mean?
  2. Is it really possible?
  3. Do we want it (for some definition of “we”)?

On the definitional front, it is seems really hard to differentiate it from religion. At the extreme, it is really hard to tell the difference between Transhumanist claims that one’s “mind” persists after uploading to some network based virtual reality haven even as the body is left to die. And Christian claims about a soul going to heaven after the body dies.
A Transhumanist might respond by claiming that they can communicate with the uploaded entity and that uploaded entity is responding. Pre-Christian animists used to make these sorts of claims as well.

But, if we were to stipulate nonetheless that the difference really is about some way in which participation in a virtual world actually does have an effect on real world behavior, then the question is simply how vulnerable those participants are to temporal power. For example, if one spends all of one’s time in virtual estate in Second Life, then perhaps one cares little about one’s real (world) estate. If one really enjoys virtual sex, perhaps one has less need to fetishize the physical version. If one spends all of one’s time zoned out on heroin (or lotus eating!)…. And perhaps suicide bombing becomes completely reasonable to those not concerned about death.

But, let us exclude real-world ascetisism as a model for temporal invulnerability for the moment and assume that virtual world participants have real world desires that can be in conflict with those of others… Now we have the premise of traditional economics, unlimited wants and FINITE means.

So, here, virtualization means simply some form of collaboration in order to achieve real world gains. What is appealing here is that no participant is harmed by these gains. An economist would refer to these gains as Pareto improvements. So now it looks like virtualization is simply communication infrastructure for various forms of social arrangements to achieve real world ends!

On the possibility front, there is no question that the world is non-zero-sum so virtualization in that sense is possible, but the original question was whether it is possible to have a financial system that operates outside the grip of temporal power. Let’s talk about desirability and then return to this possibility question…

It is obviously the case that “we” for any definition of “we” want highly efficient communication infrastructure. The open question is whether we want it for “them” when “their” interests are in conflict with ours. For example urban existence is already very virtual. We participate in a virtual world called “money and contracts” to get off the farm and maximize one’s options for physical intercourse. On the other hand, we want to prevent terrorists from using these same networks to destroy this urban existence we hold dear. The result is another virtual world called “government” that interferes in the “money and contracts” world to protect “us” from “them.”

From running PayPal, Peter knows better than most that, as another PayPal founder puts it “Fraud is not a percentage!” Economists may recognize this as a modern restatement of Gresham’s Law: “Bad money drives good money out of circulation.” In the case of PayPal, this means all sorts of fraud protection measures that added substantial friction to PayPal’s ideal virtual economy. Notably these fraud protection measures included resort to the use of real world enforcement mechanisms to protect the interest of PayPal’s virtual customers. But this property is not unique to PayPal. The existence of any virtual world depends on real world institutions to which they will therefore inevitably pay dues/taxes/etc and around which they will need to organize. Note, this fact is a consequence of the finite means issue above it is not particular to any given virtual structure and to use a very different sort of example, it why the terrorists are forced to defend Fallujah (follow this link it is really good on this issue!).

To put it all really simply, a virtual world can be independent of the real world if and only if is a quasi-religion. If it is not a quasi-religion, it will necessarily be subject to real world constraints and be dependent on real world insitiutions for continued operation.

When will Google Leave the Search Business? Can LinkedIn survive?

November 8, 2004

Peter Norvig, director of search technology for Google gave a talk on the future of search. Much of the talk was banal discussion of the merits of having lots of documents to applying various forms of brute force search algorithms. But, he show a really interesting slide indicating that the size of the web was somewhere between 10 and 100 terabytes.

Some quick math reveals that it costs only $10k to store the bottom end of this spectrum. The hard disk and bandwidth variants of Moore’s law tell us that we are rapidly approaching a time when we will be able to download the entirety of the Internet onto people’s home computers. Once we are able to do that, Google will be competing as a commercial software provider against a hoard of open source software developers steadily improving home search technology and customizing for the needs of various types of users and content. I asked Norvig about this and he claimed that Google’s commercial software will outcompete open source. His answer is incredibly ironic given that Google itself is built on top of linux and other open source products and Google’s theme “Do no evil” is an attack on the commercial software world of Microsoft.

In any case, whether the threat is other commercial vendors or the open source world, the future of Google’s search business looks iffy at best. Admittedly we are some years away from individual home users being able to download the entire Internet, but there are lots of intermediate versions of this threat including a proliferation of other web sites that can suddenly afford the costs of downloading the entire internet and whose costs are covered by e.g. being shared by the users of a particular ISP or company. This option may be particularly attractive to businesses that would prefer not to have the searches their employees do be visible to Google Inc. or anyone packet sniffing along the way. The other major form of competition may be the download of particular subsets of the web optimized for particular markets e.g. crawling only in the finance world to answer queries like “aggregate revenue of of companies with the word ‘chemical’ in their annual reports or crawling Friend-of-a-Friend files looking for a relationship….

Either way, if you own Google stock because you believe in its future in the search business, you might want to sell. However, you should be aware that Google’s revenue base is shifting dramatically away from advertising on google owned sites to advertising on non-Google sites for which Google serves advertising (“adsense”). There is no reason not to expect this trend to continue because the network effects of such a business make it incredibly hard to dislodge. and every reason to think that Google’s work in search is becoming something more akin to basic research than it is to relevant part of an active business. So the expected revenue of the business may be protected. The only doubt on this score comes from my friend L, who, when I made this observation to him, expressed dount that Google’s techie anti-marketing corporate culture is going to prepared for this transition. The cold response I got from Norvig on this question is consistent with L’s observation. I don’t know enough about large scale corporate “change management” initiatives to know what risks this adds to the value of Google’s stock. But caveat emptor.

David Brin vs. Brad Templeton: Can/Should voting be anonymous?

November 8, 2004

David Brin, author of the Transparent Society and advocate of democratic surveillance, debated Brad Templeton Chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the relatie merits of privacy vs transparency. They both seemed to assume that surveillance technologies were inevitably going to win out over privacy protecting technologies. The history of warfare should tell us that it is always an arms race.

What really surprised me here is that neither approached this issue from the perspective of the election we just had (perhaps because they were both in agreement on being rabidly anti-Bush). David Brin is arguing that we should be able to observe every little detail about our neighbors. Brad is arguing that we need privacy or this ability to see our neighbors will be abused by elites. But, neither addressed the question of whether we should have privacy in the voting booth. And, what technologies we can apply to protect voting booth privacy if we even should.

Perhaps Brin would argue that we will just learn “to avert our eyes.” But I find this argument shockingly weak. There is a reason why virtually every democratic society has tried to protect voter privacy. I am sending Brad and David a link to this post. Lets see what they say.