Thursday, June 30, 2011

Science Controversies in the US

In the US, there are a few "controversies" raging in the public debate. For the most part these controversies have been settle in the scientific community and many other countries. Europe for exam does not have a problem with either evolution through natural selection and climate change. These two are huge problems in the US. What are some others? Geocentric solar system, flat earth, connection between HIV and AIDs, and the link between autism and vaccines. While most of these can be laughed off, such as the geocentric or flat earth, others can have serious repercussions. For instance there is a growing population that is refusing to vaccinate their children because they are afraid that they will develop autism. This not only puts that child at risk, but it also puts every other child around them at risk.vaccines only work when a critical mass is vaccinated, because not all vaccines actually take. Typically, scientists look at people that are skeptical of the main stream science with scorn and tend to mock them. This will not get people to change their views.

I'm going to focus on evolution and climate change in this blog. Mostly because the people that don't accept the evidence for either or both fit into the same set of people. Dealing, I don't know enough about the autism/vaccine group to comment on them intelligently.

Who are the people that reject evolution most often? They are typically rural white, Christians that are also republicans (article). The same people also reject climate change (I can't find an article, but republicans rejected global warming in the house). So, let's assume that these people aren't stupid, uneducated and are not immoral. What reasons could they have to reject Climate change?

Well, what kind of ethics are these people following? They believe that humans have no ability to change nature. This is actually a belief that Kant held, that there is a separation between what humans can impact and what they cannot impact. Next the Bible says God won't allow another flood. This, to some extent, falls under the belief that we don't have the ability to impact the world enough to destroy it.

BUT! Look at the data! It's pretty obvious. Unfortunately, we humans have an amazing ability to take contradictory evidence and convince ourselves that it's actually completely wrong and strengths our currently held position. So, people will create elaborate stories or point to anecdotal evidence that "disproves" the aggregate data. Meijnders et al, puts this as statistics are humans with the tears dried off. Basically we need stories. We don't understand statistics  or how it relates to people in general.

Are these people being irrational? Well, the first case is clearly not irrational. They are operating within a clear set of ethical principles that dictated to them that the world is not at risk as we cannot impact it in this way whatsoever. Not accepting scientific evidence to the contrary is not irrational. The second part, well that's a defense mechanism to increase the rationality of their decision. If you can show that these data are wrong, then obviously your ethical stance is even more justified.

Accepting climate change as fact for many of these people would cause an earth shattering change in their current belief system. It won't cause them to lose faith in the bible or anything, however it will force them to look at their current behavior in a way that maybe incredibly painful for them.

Tomorrow, I'll attempt to come up with some ways to correct this problem. How we address this is important for addressing our growing climate problem.

Meijnders et al (2009) "The Role of Similarity Cues in the Development of Trustin Sources of Information About GM Food" Risk Analysis Vol 29, No. 8

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is the internet a truly democratizing technology?

Boring title I know. However, I believe this is an extremely important discussion to have. Are technologies political things? Many people claim that the internet has radically changed things. That through the internet now all sorts of political activities can happen. Things are freer and more open. Is this true? Is this a result of technology? Does this technology have to be democratizing? I'm going to argue that while there are political implications of many technologies, there are other factors to considered when talking like this.

Can a road have political implications? Most people would argue that, no it's a road, you use it to get from point A to point B, or just for fun. Well, what if you have to use public transportation and some one designed a bridge so that the bus couldn't go over it? Would it be political then, or would the person who designed it be instilling political capabilities into a technologies? I would say in this case, the technology was used to prevent the lower class from reaching a nicer area in New York. A designer named Robert Moses designed many bridges for NYC from 1920-1970 that prevented exactly this type of traffic from occurring (Winner, 1986).

Other cases include using assembly lines to control how workers work and the steam engine to force people to work at a steady pace, or a takt time. Other technologies such as an automated tomato picker forced a lot of other changes in California. For instance it laid off workers, forced small farms to combine into larger farms to use the technology, which drove down the cost of tomatoes which big farms were taking advantage of, and also changed the tomato itself. It actually forced the development of a harder tomato so it could survive the automated picking. Which really pissed people off.

Ok, but we're in the age of the internet. Big deal, what's your point with all these old technologies? Arab Spring. Protesters were able to rally using the internet. The US government created these things called suitcase internet This allows users to create a mesh network and connect to websites so users are able to get around the walls that governments put into place. Wikileaks is another source of political technology. Sure, it's just a site where you can upload files, but you could say that anything is just a site. The point is that there are norms and expectations around Wikileaks that allows some one to feel secure if they leak something to.

Additionally, governments are starting to and continuing to control the internet and how it is used. Eric Schmidt, of Google, is worried that this sort of governmental control is only going to increase. Hacktivists such as Lulz Sec and Anonymous are only going to increase the likelihood of this. The US government itself has a conflicting approach to hackers. In the cases where these hackers are going after groups that are not within the US or not the US government, the State Department has been extremely supportive. However, as soon as these groups change focus to the US, they are declared terrorists groups, or something close, which much be destroyed. NATO recently declared much the same thing.

We are in the beginning of a struggle over the future of the internet. Hacking groups are standing up for regular users and attempting to change the direction of governments. There have been a few successes coming from unexpected locations. This op-ed has some of them. The TL;DR of the article is that the UN lambasted some of the UK's laws, and that an Australian ISP backed out of a filtering agreement with the Government.

Clearly there are many different uses for the internet. These uses can be good and bad. However, these uses have political ramifications. The choice to hack, the choice to be social on the internet, and the choice to educate yourself all impact how the future of the internet goes. I don't support hacking. However, it is forcing transparency and increasing awareness of people both in and out of cyber space, what is actually going on in the Interwebs.

Also, the UN declared the three-strike laws for copyright, where if you get caught three times you lose internet for life, to be a violation of human rights.

Winner, L. (1980) "Do Artifacts have Politics?" Daedalus, Vol. 109, No. 1:

Soft War:

Monday, June 27, 2011

California VS. Video Games (Video games won!)

In 2005 California enacted a law which would have made it illegal to sell extremely violent video games to minors. Much in the same way that it's illegal to sell Hustler to a minor. The video games version of the RIAA, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), objected to this, with the support of many different organizations like the RIAA, MPAA, ACLU and many big players in software, like Microsoft and Activision. However, there's more history to this case than first meets the eye. You have to go back to the initial ruling on pornography to really understand what's at stake here and how this ruling could impact the gaming industry.

In 1964 a movie called "the Lovers" a French movie was banned in Ohio, because Ohio deemed it obscene. Ohio also fined the owner of the theater where the movie was shown. The owner took Ohio to court over this ruling. In this case the court decided this movie was not obscene, and that Ohio was violating the First Amendment of free speech. This case is where the phrase, I can't tell you what it (pornography) is, "but I know it when I see it" comes from. One of the Supreme Court Justices, Justice Peters,  had decided against a hard and fast definition, but declared that this movie was ok.

Fast forward nine years and you run into another case against California. In this one a guy name Miller was selling sexually explicit material through a magazine. In this case an actual test was created to determine if the material was obscene or not. This test is the basis for the California law signed into effect in 2005.

If this law had gone into effect, it was halted with an injunction, it would have had a chilling effect on the video game industry. So, we know that it's steadily gotten more difficult to buy violent video games since the 90's because of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) placing ratings on video games. This is similar to what happens with movies. The major difference is that it is up to the reseller to determine if they want to carry a product with the M rating or not. Effectively what this law would have done is to turn the M from the equivalent of an R rated movie into an NC-17 or X rated movie. This would devastate the First Person Shooting (FPS) industry as well as many other games, such as fighting games, some real time strategy and most likely role playing games as well.

We got lucky. The court ruled that Video games are protected by the First Amendment. The results from the Justices were interesting. While the ruling was 7-2, it could have easily been 5-4 if the law had been written differently. The majority, 5 of the Justices, argued that California had been unable to prove that video games were different enough from books, movies, television and other media to justify this law. Thus they ruled it was violating the First Amendment. The two other Justices, Roberts and Alito, argued that the law was too vague and thus, if narrower the Justices would have sided with California.

The dissenting Justices argued that minors have different kinds of free speech, and they claimed there is not much difference between binding and murdering a women and binding and murdering a topless woman. Using this argument is basically saying that it's obscene to create this kind of art.

There were also discussions on the science used in this case. Which claimed that the more interactive nature of video games make them more dangerous to children developing minds than any other sort of entertainment.

Now that you have some understanding of this case what does it all mean? Well, first, in a way, this legitimizes video games as a type of art. We all have felt that they've been art, but now officially the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) has agreed and given video games the protection they deserve. Second, this prevents any other state from attempting to pass a law similar to the California law. It's also clear from the way that the Justices ruled on this decision that even a narrower ruling would have gone in favor of the video game industry. This is a really good thing, as it means that it's unlikely another state will try to challenge this ruling with the current Supreme Court.

What other implications does this have? Well, it clearly says that as a culture we feel that violence is inherently different than sex. We have made it clear with this ruling that the US is willing to accept graphic violence as non-obscene while sex is. This is interesting itself. The initial ruling on obscenity, and the 2005 California law, state that what is culturally acceptable defines obscenity. With this ruling we are saying that violence is acceptable in media.

Other observations, while the SCOTUS ruled that there isn't a difference between video games and books and movies, I can't help but still see that there is. Some in books, such as A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIF), would never be allowed in movies are video games because of the sexual content. However, a young impressionable mind can more easily pick up one of these books than they could pick up a movie or video game with the same content. I started to read ASOIF when I was 13, it would have been extremely difficult for me to actually be able to see a movie that had the same amount of sex and violence. Now, I'm not saying that it should have been easier, but that's because of my parenting more than anything else. As a matter of free speech, I personally don't see any difference between the word and the picture. The picture just requires less effort to understand or see the scene. This is not a reason to segregate a section of material. Additionally, in Lawrence Lessig's Code 2.0 he describes an author that writes stories that are violent and sexually violent towards women. This author was arrested and charges were pressed against him. He was acquitted as he was protected under the first amendment. We need to be aware that no matter how much we don't like these images or words that we can't make them illegal. Our founding fathers fought for our freedom to allow us these rights.

So, video gamers rejoice! We have won a great victory, one that will hopefully set a precedent which will protect video game writers, artists, coders and everyone else involved long into the future.

Happy Gaming!

Further Reading:
Actual Ruling:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

LulzSec, Anonymous, ICE, FBI and users Part IV

Get caught up on this series Part I, Part II and Part III.

Well, it goes to show how quickly the internet works. LulzSec calls it quit, see NY Times article. However, in my opinion this doesn't change a whole lot about what I said in my previous posts. There will be another group that decides to do the same sort of thing. I'm sure the individual members of LulzSec will be active with groups like Anonymous and perhaps join up with some other hacking group out there.

At any rate, it's important to discuss the overall structure of the internet. While many users believe the internet should be free and anonymous and all those things. It's starting to become apparent that this is not going to be the case. With major US ISPs deciding to go after pirating directly, it seems that deep packet analysis is going to be the way of the future. Wait, what is deep packet analysis? Well, when you send information across the internet it's broken up into smaller pieces and sent to the end point through many different routes. This ensures that the data all makes it to the other side in the fastest manner possible. Initially, it was difficult to determine what this information was. Now there are many different suppliers that allow ISPs to figure out what these packets of data are. This gets to the root of the Net Neutrality debate. I haven't talked about that yet, which I'll do later this week I believe.

Anyway, since the ISPs know what you're sending, you're already less anonymous there. They know where you live, who you are and how you are paying your bills. They know a lot of other information about you too. Next, the EFF has shown that based on your browser and plugins that it is likely your browser configuration makes it unique like a finger print (article). On top of that you have a lot of  "Cookies" based on the websites you've visited. These are useful to you and to commercial websites. It stores personal information and allows you to get your recommended books list from Amazon. This means that over time, you've accumulated a great deal of identifying information on your computer that is accessible through your browser. Using your browser it is easy to identify you and your online habits. However, the EU just implemented a law about requiring consent for websites to use cookies (BBC article).

Sadly, these are not the only structures that we need to be aware of. Many companies like Google are required by the US government to have a backdoor for them to execute warrants and do general snooping of the email systems. I'm sure Facebook is also required to do this, but I haven't directly heard this yet. This has caused at least one acknowledged case of hacking by a Chinese group on Google (article). With these backdoors there is only so much an individual user can do to protect themselves. In cases like this, the strongest password in the world wouldn't have protected your emails.

Groups like Anonymous, LulzSec and Ninja Hackers are trying to increase the amount of freedom and anonymity users have on the internet. The Government and businesses are trying to decrease it. The US government does want to initiate a national level internet ID, which basically would tie all your information together. While easy for users, it could be very high risk for them as well. The difference in how these groups feel that the internet should be operating is the root cause of the "Softwar."  This will not stop, and we, the users, will be stuck between these two sides, unless we force our government to decide one way or the other.

Additional Reading:
Lawrence Lessig Code 2.0. Many of the ideas I got for this post are discussed in this book, which I'm currently reading, you can download it for free legally here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

LulzSec, Anonymous, ICE, FBI and users Part III

Get caught up on this series Part I, and Part II.
So I've been talking about these four groups and how they have been interacting. However, these groups are not interacting in a vacuum. Theses groups are either hacking governmental organizations or they are hacking corporations.When Anonymous and LulzSec (or any other hacking group) goes after a company, they are trying to get one of two things, some times both, either user data or  some sort of dirt on the company itself.

User information can range from names, locations, email address to IP addresses and credit card information. Since these guys are going after big companies, like Sony, Blizzard, and other gaming companies, they are most likely going after as much information as they can get their hands on. When it comes to dirt on a company, they go after big companies and small alike. They went after Bank of America in an attempt to reveal improper behavior to punish someone for the financial mess we're in. Small companies like HBGary was a bit of a grudge match. HBGary claimed that they were able to bring down all of Anonymous, which pissed the group off. HBGary was hack and completely discredited and also showed a lot of nastiness going on in the security world in general.

In some ways it's pretty obvious how stealing using information impacts the user. Recently, Sony's PlayStaion Network was down for a month, because of the security breach, which included some 1.3 million user's information being stolen including credit card information. In another case a game called Brink was hacked and 200,000 users information was stolen.

So, obviously these guys are in the wrong right? Well, yes and no. They think they are completely in the right here. They could have been doing all these things and not made it public. Just stole the information, then sell it to someone and make a lot of money from it. Or perhaps use it themselves. In some cases they did that. Anonymous ordered about 100 pizzas to a Sony Executive's house. In fact, Sony is currently being sued for the weakness of their network. We would not have known about it, without the hacker attack.

The US government is fighting back and taking down servers which have obvious impacts on users and hosting agents at the same time. However, both ICE and the FBI feel they are 100% in the right based on the law. ICE firmly believes that it has the required authority and rights to take down websites, and the FBI feels it can take whatever servers it needs to find these guys.

It's the immovable object versions the unstoppable force, with the regular internet users in the middle. Most users won't notice unless some website they are using goes down, or they find out their card has been hacked. Users that play games, watch movies, and create content have the most risk in this battle.

How can users mitigate their risk? Well, the best thing to do is to get a specific online credit card that has a low limit that will cover your gaming and general online purchases. If you're only spending $10/month on games then get a card that will have a maximum of $100 or something like that. Minimize the number of credit cards you use online, and try to avoid using debit cards as much as possible. Additionally, try to create difficult passwords, something with multiple capital letters, numbers and special characters if the website allows it. Such as: Dr.Wh0d^nn!t something more random might be better, but it's still a much more difficult password to deal with than drwhodunit. If you are unable to create passwords like this, then you should request it from the website you are using.

Finally, there's only so much you can do as a user. Some of this has to deal with how the internet is structured. I'll discuss this tomorrow. Protect yourself as much as you can.

The NY Times posted this article yesterday about LulzSec.

Friday, June 24, 2011

LulzSec, Anonymous, ICE, FBI and users Part II

Yesterday, I discussed Users, Anonymous and ICE. Today I will introduce LulzSec and the FBI and how they interact with the other two groups, if I have space I'll also add some of the impact on users.

LulzSec is a rather new hacking group. I think I've been seeing posts about them since about June. I'm pretty sure they've been around longer than that, but within the last few weeks they've really picked up their online activity. This group claims they are fighting for the user and are going after, white hat, black hat, and government agencies. White hat and black hat are different types of hackers. White hats will find vulnerabilities, and then notify the firm of this vulnerabilities in their systems. The white hats help protect user data from the black hats, which are typically the bad hackers. LulzSec is something of a gray hat. They hack firms and then publicly display the vulnerabilities, by they claim they are doing this only to force the firms to change their behavior. They are also attempting to out bad apples, or so they say, in the white hat community. These guys are apparently pretty good, as their domain name was seized by ICE, and they took it back. On the ICE seizure page, in my previous post, they added this "rage guy" to it. They claim they only do it for the Lulz (lols or laughs).

I found this on the Telegraph's website. No idea who owns the copyright
This of course did not make the US government too happy. So, two days ago the FBI got involved in the situation. They proceeded to take the server which the LulzSec website was hosted. Which impacted innocent websites as well. As the hosting agent wasn't aware of this action until a few hours after it occurred. According to the hosting agent, the FBI took additional servers that weren't involved at all. Here's an article from the NY Times with a bit of a time line of the event. The LulzSec website is currently no longer up, as it appears the server with the website has been taken offline.

LulzSec has been targeted by both governmental agencies and some members of Anonymous and other hacking groups. The hackers are trying to show that these guys are a bunch of amateurs and aren't covering their tracks very well. There's been one LulzSec arrest so far in Spain. There have also been numerous Anonymous arrests as well. Each arrest supposedly is a leader in the movement, which each movement denies and mocks the arresting government as being incompetent and the person they caught is only a bit player in their campaign.

So what's the big idea? They hack stuff, they get arrested, they lose connection to the internet. What's the big deal? Well, I think that both Anonymous and LulzSec are using hacking as a means of protesting, but also attempting to fight over the structure of the internet. Anonymous feels that no one is listening to the larger internet community on how they feel firms should interact on the internet, and they also feel that the internet should be open and should be unregulated. LulzSec is a bit more of a loose cannon and are basically trying to cause as much mayhem as they possibly can. However, I think that they are using a different technique to achieve the same aims, an unregulated internet.

Tomorrow I'll discuss some of the impact on users and what the structure of the internet means for most users, and how it can affect how the internet works in the future.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

LulzSec, Anonymous, ICE, FBI and users

I this post, and some future posts, I plan to discuss several different entities and how they are currently impacting web usage, some potential future impacts and how users fit in with all of this. First I'll talk about the users and then talk a little bit about each of the other entities and some of the current activities.

For users, I think every one is aware of the broad range of types of people on the internet. You have your grandma and grandpa who only use the internet for email, or I'll these users novices. Then you have the more sophisticated users, which use various chat programs and may look at different websites and get their news, these are basic users. Intermediate users and basic users kind of blur together they'll probably user online games, both paid games and simple online games like yahoo games etc. Next there are Advanced users. These people are consumers of content and may create some. They are probably also aware of how to create websites and pretty technically savvy people. Then you have the Power users. People that use massive amounts of content, create their own content and spread large amounts of information over sites like 4chan, reddit, digg, and various other Web 2.0 sites. These users are typically well aware of what's going on with these four groups I listed above. These groups do not have hard and fast end points, it's more of a continuum. In some cases it's difficult to tell the difference from an advanced user and a power user.

So why are the Power users, and some advanced users, aware of the activities of these groups more than other people? In some cases these power users are actually involved in Anonymous, or actively support the action of the members of Anonymous. Ok, is that a good or bad things? Well, that's a really difficult question to answer.  I can only answer that by explaining who and what Anonymous is.

Anonymous came about from the chat rooms of 4chan, and similar groups such as that. I'm sure there are many other sources that I'm completely unaware of, probably IRC(Internet Relay Chat). But what do they do? Well, partially they are a response to the governmental responses to Wikileaks, an organization devoted to safely leaking government or business related information (whistle blower site). They decided to attack, through a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS) (Which basically take a website offline), websites that didn't want to work with Wikileaks, like PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and Amazon. However, it has since escalated to include many governmental agencies. Such as the US government and other organizations. This wouldn't really be that big of a problem if it was just DDoS, which are illegal but short lived. They also started to hack companies and steal information.

So who is ICE and why do I care about them? Well, ICE is the US commerce department. The same people that are in charge of the US boarders. Some how, they have been given broad authorization to target websites that are either streaming or directly distributing copyrighted material. They do this through seizing websites. Which has been considered very questionable under constitutional authority. See the picture below for an example of a website seized by ICE.

ICE Seizure web page

Well, I still don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. They could be going after child pornography or shutting down those pirating websites. You know, those are good points. ICE, accidentally shut down a few websites, wrongly claiming the accused was distributing child porn. These were actual businesses that were shut down due to this. 

Well, this post has gotten rather long. So tomorrow, I'll post about LulzSec and the FBI and hopefully discuss how all four of these groups intersect with each other. As a teaser, all four of these groups feel that they are fighting over the control and structure of the internet.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

YouTube Copright School

Since I've been posting recently about copyright and infringement and YouTube, I figured I should watch the video they have posted for "Copyright School." Although I tried to embed the video into this post it appears it's not working. So you can find the link here.

The video itself is moderately annoying. The song used through out the video kind of reminds me of this song.  It explains the bare bones basics of copyright works and how copyright can work on YouTube. It shows how copying a video is copyright infringement, and how potentially filming a live concert can be considered copyright infringement. Although they didn't explain it was infringement because of the song not because of the video itself.

The fair use part is rather deplorable. However, this is to be expected. I'm sure whenever the writers got to this section the lawyers heavily edited it. I'd argue that it's overly protective of YouTube. By stating that most remixes are likely to be outside of fair use, the video makes it very safe for YouTube itself. Youtube can point to this video and say, "See we told them those remixes weren't allowed under fair use." However, this is not entirely accurate. In fact the very video they use to explain this problem most likely is covered by fair use. Realistically, there's no difference between the video Youtube uses and Numa Numa.

I'm not an expert at fair use, so I decided to post some commentary from one person who is. Here's a pretty good discussion between Colbert and Lawrence Lessig. In this they discuss how remixing is and should be ok under fair use. It can benefit both parties. Here's a blog post written by Lessig describing some of the failures of the fair use system as well.

So what can we gather from these two discussions and the YouTube video? First, YouTube is clearly putting itself in a position to not be liable for any work that may not actually fall under fair use. Second, it's difficult to determine what is and what is not fair use. Lessig also points out that there is a dividing line between commercializing the work and keeping it for free. I'd suggest as much as possible to clearly understand these issues before attempting to commercialize any remixes.

In the terms of the internet commercialization isn't the same as it used to be. Placing ads on your blogs or within your videos basically commercializes your work.

Btw here are two remixes from the Colbert Lessig Inteview.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Copyright's History and what's gone wrong

I'm not going to go into a super deep history of copyright here. What I plan to do is outline the general idea behind copyright and how it's shifted over time. If you want an in depth discussion on this I suggest reading it from Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture which the link to a direct download isn't working right now. I can email it to you if you'd like, I believe.

Basically, the idea of copyright came about around the same time as patent protection. The idea, which is rooted in the same theories as patent protection, is to give just reward to people who created creative works, without fear of someone stealing it, and selling it for their own gain. This worked extremely well in a time when to listen to a great piece of music you had to listen to it live. This is where the public performance aspect came into affect. Of course, books were much more difficult to copy en mass as it's really expensive to print a run of books. Copyright was originally much shorter in length of time than it is currently. At the longest it was until the creator of the work died. Now, as we know, copyright can persist significantly longer. We have more interaction because the material is more accessible. In the early 1900's there was a big congressional hearing about sheet music. If sheet music should be allowed at all. Today, I think our version of sheet music is the video or musical remix, al a GirlTalk. I feel like I'm really pimping Lessig today, but he also wrote a book specifically about this topic called simply enough Remix. In this book he interviews GirlTalk about this very topic.

So, how does this shift in copyright really impact us? Well, as we can tell from the O'Dwyer case, RIAA, MPAA, and their equivalents in other countries, we interact with copyright on a daily basis. Not enough of us have a clear understanding of how we're actually interacting with it. It's conceivable that the video commentary out on Youtube for video games is technically copyright infringement. However, it would be stupid for video game publishers to go after the Youtubers, like my friends at KBMod, because they are effectively giving free advertisement for these games.

I suggest people that are active in posting videos online on Youtube become aware of the copyright issues that you may be interacting with. Sadly, ignorance is not a defense. The books I've mentioned above are easy to read. Lessig writes in a very clear way that non lawyers can understand easily.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Copyright and the O'Dwyer case

So, I'm not sure how many of you out there have heard about this O'Dwyer case. Tech Dirt has a nice article about it today check it out here. If you don't feel like reading it I'll summarize it. An UK student is being extradited to the US over a website he set up which links to streaming content. The website had already been ICE'd, or seized by the US government. Apparently that wasn't enough now the Southern District of New York wants to bring this kid over to the US and try him, for something. However there are some problems:  "a) perfectly legal in his home country and (b) probably legal in the US." (tech Dirt article). So, this is a bit of a problem. O, and by what he means by legal in the US is that it's not criminal, and you can only be extradited for a criminal offense.

So, this really brings into focus some of the activities of ICE in general. There are a lot of people that are concerned with the overly broad approach to seizing domain names as there is not much judicial oversight. What that means is that these actions could have a chilling affect on freedom of speech, destroy businesses, and in some cases lives. One of the seizures involved a false accusation of child pornography. That can completely destroy a person's reputation. The other problem is that it's not even clear that these actions are completely illegal.

The US copyright laws are getting progressively more difficult to understand. This comes at a time when users are interacting with copyright in their daily activities. To enjoy media people should not have to concern themselves with a byzantine set of laws. I plan in the upcoming weeks to write some posts about the history of copyright and how it has changed over time. I'll also discuss some of the Creative Commons "Copyleft" movement that's been founded by Lawrence Lessig.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Power of Old Technology

So most of what I post about is about innovation and how that can impact the economy. However, these innovations can take years to hit the larger part of a given market let alone the greater population (either in a country or in the world). I think it's pretty obvious why it takes so long for technology to diffuse in a given area, but I'll list some. I think the two biggest adoption slow downs are price and lock-in. I think price is fairly straight forward, if you can't afford it you can't buy it right away. You have to wait until the product reaches a price point you can afford. This may mean that you bought an original iPhone when the iPhone 3GS came out or something along those lines. Lock-in is a little bit more complicated. There can be a couple different types of lock-in. Keeping with the cell phone example, you are locked into a specific network based on your contract, and in some cases with the difficulty in taking your number to the new network with you. The other type of lock in is the fact that you are already using a phone. You may already really enjoy using your Blackberry, because you use Blackberry messenger, so you're going to continue using Blackberry phones even if it is a lesser product.

Most of those examples are from our developed world. Most of the time we don't think about how the rest of the world uses technology. In parts of India people are still using those old Nokia phones we had about 10 years ago. They were sturdy phones that were able to call and text. In those areas were the only connection is a mobile phone that is powered by a solar panel these old technologies are important. The problem with mixing new technologies like solar panels with rural farmers that still mostly use a hoe for farming is that they have no abilities to fix or deal with a broken solar panel. While most people in the developed world do not either, there are people that do have the experience and they are only a phone call away.

Old technologies also have a habit of making a comeback. Look at the recent explosion of LP sales. This technology was basically dead during the 80's and 90's, however it's extremely popular now again. This is partially because of other effects. The fact that when you purchase many LPs you are able to get a digital version of the album makes it less risky for you to buy the LP. I say risky, not that there is much risk, because without that most people would result to downloading a copy of the album and with the copyright system the way it is, you risk lawsuits etc.

There's an interesting book on this topic. It's called "Shock of the Old" by David Edgerton. It's a great read, pretty fast to get through it too. There's some surprising numbers in there. For instance, the Nazi's used more horses in WWII than the British did in WWI. While they were used for carrying supplies, it's not something we see in movies or video games. Apparently even the US had 1 horse for every 4 men.

Are there any old technologies that you've seen a resurfacing of, or that you've heard of being used today?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Technology Incubators and You

So, I had a discussion on faccebook that went from discussing the cost of labor for a dutch bike mechanic (€40 for about 15 minutes for work to install wheel (i did it myself in 30 minutes instead of paying that)) to a discussion about technology incubators. It got me thinking about incubators and how people think of them. Technology Incubators come in a variety of forms and while many are attached to universities there have recently been a few where they are unaffiliated and some 18 year old kid makes one. But what is an incubator? Well, at the most basic level an incubator is a place that allows a firm to grow from an idea into an actual business. When it graduates it's at the stage where it's making enough money to support itself, or it has gotten Venture Capital (VC) backing so it has enough money to expand to a larger facility.

My first experience with an incubator was the Machine Assistance Center (MAC) at the University of Pittsburgh where I did my undergraduate. I thought it was the coolest idea. It was this old warehouse that was converted into separate mini-factories with a few different companies in it. The rent was free or dirt cheap, and there was equipment, like lathes, drill presses and a 6 axis CNC machine. The firms were able to rent time on these tools to create their product, make new prototypes and train new employees. The university also used these tools to train community members on how to use them to gain new skills for employment. Eventually these firms were making enough money that they were able to move out of the MAC get their own place and set up shop there.

I know that in Pittsburgh there are at least two other incubators. I'm sure there are more. Carnegie Mellon started the other two I'm aware of. However, these ones are software based start ups. So these firms have very different needs than physical product based firms. The Innovation Lab at Eindhoven University of Technology, in Eindhoven The Netherlands, where I'm pursuing my master's degree, has a different model than either. It has spaces large enough for firms that need to manufacture products, but it also has a lot of offices for consultation firms as well. So, there are many different models for an incubator and non are exactly the same.

Ok, that's great, why should I care about these things? Well, it matters because some of these are tax payer subsidized or were created through your tax dollars (Tax Euros? Just doesn't sound right). Earlier this year Obama started the win the future campaign, which put a couple hundred million into both VC, public groups and incubators to help reduce the barriers to entry for new companies. Many policy makers believe that these incubators or hubs of heavy start up activity could spawn another Silicon Valley, or greatly boost the economy through job creating companies. Sadly, most of these companies actually only employ a few people and don't become huge firms like we'd like them to be (Clarysse et al, 2005). However, this activity still can help the economy of the region to some extent.

So what do we do about it? Well, I plan on studying these and their impact for my master's thesis, so we'll see what I find. I probably won't post to much about it as I might try to publish a paper about it. However, when I do that I'll write about my findings on here. Until then, I say we should be supporting these incubators. Lowering barriers to competition will eventually lead to new products, services and lower pricing. That's what we, as consumers, want right? Besides, I want to start a company some day and I'd like some help in getting me to the point where I can get VC funding ;)

Here's an article about the "Win the future" campaign from when it was first announced:

Clarysse, B., Wright, M., Lockett, A., Veld, E. Van de, Vohora, A. (2005) "Spinning out new ventures: A typology of incubation strategies from European research Institutions", Journal of Business Venturing. Vol. 20 pp 183-216

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Innovation and Software Patents

Whenever a new type of product is released there are a lot of difficulties with intellectual property. This is being played out in biotechnology and software. As recently as last year it was possible to patent human genes in the US. See this link for the recent verdict against it. The ACLU also had a write up from 2009 when this case was still ongoing about the history of genetic patenting. Software is another case of this. Many people argue that since software is an algorithm or series of statements that leads to a result it should not be patentable. This makes sense as mathematical proofs are unable to be patented. The argument is that for proofs these are discoveries and more natural processes than creating technology.

In the EU it is not possible to obtain a software patent at all. They claim that with software there are multiple different methods to obtain the same output. Software patenting is a very recent trend. The most famous example is the one-click to buy button. Which, if you don't know what it is, basically allows you to store an address and a credit card and automatically buy whatever product you're looking at. Fairly simple right? Well there was a lawsuit against a major competitor, Barnes and Noble about this in '99. Some how this patent managed to survive the re-review, even though it's a fairly obvious idea and could be implemented in about a billion different ways. On the billions, I'm not even exaggerating. There would be so many different interactions that could make the actual implementation totally different. These range from database types, information request, how the data is actually stored in the data base. There could be nothing similar between the implementation at all, yet Amazon ones all the methods to do this. In terms of patents this is effectively an amazing patent.

Let's put this more simply. If software patents had been allowable in the 70's when software first started to take off we would be living in a different world. BIOS have been owned by IBM until 1990 or so, which would have made manufacturing computers a two horse race between Apple and IBM. Microsoft or Apple could have patented the Operating system, and then the graphic user interface. IT innovation would have been non-existent. Think of this, some one could have patented data sorting. There are a many different ways to sort data in the CS world and all of them would have been covered by a single patent. Then some one could have decided to patented sorting on a multi-core computer (by then sorting as a patent would have expired).

Software is more like a mathematical proof than it's like inventing the computer.

Innovation in the software world has been amazing because it has been something of a free for all. However, there are drawbacks to this lack of IP protection. In the most recent version of iOS, iOS5, Apple has been accused of lifting many of it's new "innovations" from apps that have been rejected from the app store, or that have been selling in the jailbroke iPhone app store. Here's the link for the article. How do we deal with cases like this, either Goliath stealing from David or David stealing from Goliath? There needs to be some sort of protection.

Potentially copyright should cover this, or a registered design. Perhaps in the case of the app stores a non-compete agreement should be signed if the app is rejected by Apple. Meaning Apple won't steal it. However, there is no easy solution. Software design thefts are going to be very difficult to manage and deal with.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Patents and Innovations

So, I think that the news that Apple and Nokia decided to drop lawsuits against each other is a good starting point for this discussion. Here's the BBC article discussing the decision. Basically, Apple decided to license several patents from Nokia. Which in itself has some implication for innovation within the Smart Phone market.

I plan to do several of these types of posts. However, in this one I will focus specifically on smart phones. This will extend to many other product spaces, but not to software or business models.

So first what are some implications of this agreement by Nokia and Apple? Well, the most obvious is that they aren't suing each other any more. The less obvious is that neither of these cases was heard by a judge or a jury. This doesn't allow us, the observer, to actually know if these patents were valid or not (see my post on patents to see what a valid patent is). In some cases the patent office, whichever office, may approve a patent that is invalid. This could be due to prior art, like the PB&J sandwich described in my patent post, or that it's an obvious invention. The only way that a patent's validity can be overturned is by a jury or a judge. Let's say that Nokia is also suing HTC over the exact same infringement. HTC doesn't believe that the Nokia patent is valid so they were also counter suing saying that it's an invalid patent and HTC has the reasons why. So, this case goes to trial and Nokia is now able to say that Apple is currently licensing this patent from them. This claim will give a great deal of credibility to Nokia's claim. At this point HTC may have to decide to license with Nokia to avoid the potential of a huge fine.

In this case Nokia has a tract record of being an innovative firm. What happens when the firm isn't an innovative firm or has no products though? Well, these cases happen all the time. For instance a few years ago RIM, the maker of BlackBerry was hit with a lawsuit that would have effectively shut down the Blackberry network, or prevent emails. Here's a link to when it started. While at the time it was a $60million fine, it eventually got up to $612.5 million. The firm suing BlackBerry NTP, doesn't actually produce anything. They are a patent management firm. In other words, a patent troll.

So what does this do to our economy when it's based upon innovation. Patenting is supposed to protect innovative firms from competition so they can exploit their invention. It's supposed to grow the economy, as these firms can license out the patent and allow other people to manufacture the product. Well, in this case it took $612.5 million from the pocket of a firm that was innovating and creating a product and put it into the pocket of a firm that doesn't produce anything. That's not the best for innovation.

There are some good things about the patents though. For instance, once the Xerox patent expired for the copier, there was an explosion of innovation in the field and Xerox nearly lost all market share. It had to sprint to catch back up. How did this happen? Well, you are allowed to work on a patented technology for research and development. Xerox's competitors didn't sit idle while Xerox was dominating the market. They were waiting until they were able to sell a product and then unleashed pent up innovation onto the market. This was an excellent thing for consumers. We can thank the fact that this patent ran out for our 3 in 1 printers.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Yesterday I said I was going to discuss how patents impacted innovation. However, I think the first thing we need to do is clarify what innovation is. Schumpeter, described innovation as bringing a product to the market. He claims that without innovation, invention is worthless. Indeed, patents play this out. There is no legal requirement to actually manufacture anything that you've patented. I will discuss that in more detail tomorrow though. Schumpeter also notes that these innovations are the source of creative destruction in the economy. He claims that through innovation we are able to keep growing. He called these the long waves. See the picture below for a representation of these waves and the innovations that drove the economy at the time.
Based on Schumpeterian principles we can see that we should expect growth slow down and potentially economic issues at these times. So, if an innovation is bringing a product to a market, in what ways can we innovate? There are four ways in which innovation can occur in a product; Incremental, Modular, Architectural and Radical. Please see the picture below:
Henderson and Clark ,1990
Most innovation occurs in the upper left hand corner, incremental innovations. These are fairly obvious and most people aren't surprised to see these products. Products like iPhone 3G after the iPhone first came out. this was an incremental innovation on this product. While Apple did a fantastic job making it sound like it was a radical innovation, it simply wasn't.

The next most likely is the modular. In this case it could be considered that an electric car might be a modular change. As you only have to change one part of a larger piece of equipment. In this case a combustion engine is replaced with an electric engine.

The architectural changes are less common than either of the previous. As these ones typically require a great deal of changes within a firm. An architectural change can be described as going from a ceiling fan into a box fan (Henderson and Clark 1990). Seems pretty simple right? Well, there are a lot of changes that go into this innovation. You have to think about how to keep the box from falling over. How to keep the noise down. How to protect the users. You also have to manufacture everything differently. So, in many cases there are two innovations within an architectural innovation. One at the product level and one at the firm level. Another example is the reintegration of the original developers of the Mac into Apple after the successful product launch.

The final type of innovation is the radical innovation. This is the stuff that "creative destruction" is made from. When these types of innovations occur most of the previous knowledge base is blown away and the innovators have to start all over again. I'd say the most common example of something like this would be with game consoles. Basically each time a new one comes out everything starts all over again. Other examples can include things like the Jet engine from the propeller. Not only did this require changes in the aircraft but it also required changes in the runway, it needed to be longer than before.

There are many cases of Radical innovations and in some cases they completely reworked our economy. IT/ICT is the most recent set of radical innovations that is shaping our economy. These technologies are heavily patented and impact our economy. Tomorrow I will look at how these patents interact with innovation to increase or decrease the rate of innovation.

Further reading/Citation:
Henderson, R., Clark, Kim. "Architectural Innovation: The Reconfiguration of Existing Product Technologies and the Failure of Established Firms" Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Let's bring in the lawyers (Patents)

So, building on my previous post, What is a patent?, I'm going to discuss some of the reasons why lawsuits happen due to patents. Depending on how long this discussion is, I may or may not get to how this impacts technological innovation. If I don't then I'll cover it on Monday.  Starting again with this lovely drawing from Tech Dirt of all the law suits related to smart phones I'll discuss how something like this can happen.

Patent Thicket Lawsuits
As I mentioned in the previous post patents are to be awarded for non-obvious, novel, useful ideas. This can be extremely difficult to actually judge. For instance, there is a patent owned my Smuckers that describes a method to crimp the edges of a peanut butter and jelly (PB&J) sandwich with the filling layered in a specific order. So, let's say you're a patent examiner. You're a technical expert in some field, the one related to food processing perhaps. How would you look for examples of prior art? Where prior art is articles, technologies or anything that does the same process. For crimping a PB&J sandwich where would you start? Well, in this case the examiner wasn't able to find anything and awarded the patent. However, there are two problems with this. This is a fairly obvious way of making a PB&J sandwich. I'm sure many people ate sandwiches like this in their youth. The other problem is that there was a company in Michigan that had been making these from the 1800s, which means it's not novel. Once the patent was awarded Smuckers sued this little ma and pop restaurant over patent infringement. For more information on this exact story please read Jaffe and Lerner's Innovation and Its Discontent (2006).

In the Smucker's example presented in this way, it's fairly obvious that this patent shouldn't have been awarded in the first place. However, it was. So that means the only way to invalidate the patent is in court. However, this can be extremely expensive. According to Jaffe and Lerner (2006) these law suits account for roughly 25% of R&D expenditures and that many lawsuits cost hundreds of thousands of dollars regardless of the fine or impact to production. While this case was straight forward more advanced technologies are much more difficult to analyze in this fashion.

Here is a link to an Apple patent for Gestures for controlling, manipulating, and editing of media files using touch sensitive devices. Here is a claim that Apple is saying is unique to this specific invention:

1. A computing device, comprising: a touch-sensitive display; a processor; memory; and one or more programs, wherein the one or more programs are stored in the memory and configured to be executed by the processor, the one or more programs including instructions for: playing-back a video file on the touch-sensitive display; displaying a play progress bar on the touch-sensitive display, the play progress bar including a timeline indicating a time span of the video file being played; detecting two touch points making initial contact at respective initial positions on the play progress bar; detecting the two touch points moving away from each other on the play progress bar; and, in response to detecting the two touch points moving away from each other on the play progress bar: expanding a portion of the play progress bar in accordance with the movement of the two touch points, wherein the portion of the play progress bar that is expanded is determined by the respective initial positions of the two touch points; and contracting a part of the play progress bar outside the expanded portion.

This basically is how most people are interacting with their phone to zoom in for pictures or whatever. However Apple is claiming that this specific gesture is unique to this patent because of the specific application of the gesture. Fortunately, this patent has not been granted yet and I hope that this does not get granted.This is a software patent and it's difficult to say if this will be granted or not.

Regardless of what I want, this patent may be granted. With the broadness of the first claim it is difficult to tell what sort of impact this patent would have on the smart phone industry and could introduce additional lawsuit from Apple towards firms like Google, HP, HTC, Microsoft, etc. Additionally, with the wording of this claim it is difficult to say if there aren't other patents that have a similar claim to being unique.

As you can tell these claims leave a lot of wiggle room and can increase the likelihood of a lawsuit in a fast growing new technical area. These new technical areas are still being explored as firms are patenting technologies related to it. In many cases the Patent Office hasn't fully decided if specific types of patents should be allowed.

Tomorrow I will look at some of the potential impacts on innovation of this type of patenting.

Additional readings:

A.B. Jaffe & J. Lerner (2006). Innovation and Its Discontent.  NJ: Princeton
University Press.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

What is a Patent?

In the news we hear about various lawsuits from high tech companies over patents. Right now there is a tangled mess of patent lawsuits flying back and forth between firms like HTC, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Motorola, Nokia, and the list goes on. So what are they suing each other about? Why are they suing each other? What kind of impact does this have on innovation in general?  All of these are important questions. To answer these first we need to understand what a patent is. In the most basic form a patent is a contract between the government and an inventor. This contract bestows certain rights to the inventor and certain obligations that the inventor must fulfill for the government. However, not everyone can enter into this contract. There are requirements for earning a patent. Note I say earning a patent not obtaining one. This is important.
Smart Phone Patent Thicket
So, how does the inventor earn this patent? Well, there are three basic criteria. The invention has to be novel, non-obvious, and useful. To be novel means it has to be new, no one has come up with this idea before. To be non-obvious, it has to be something that a person couldn't figure out by looking at the device. For example if there is a patent on nail clippers, you can't get a patent on a larger nail clipper. It's an obvious invention. To be useful means it has to be intended for some sort of use and isn't just technical details of something that cannot be used. This are the general requirements of patents. However there are some other nuances. For example, in Europe you cannot patent software but you can in the US. In Europe and the US you cannot patent genes. Basically these nuances are part of the reason why patent lawyers exists.

This doesn't explain the patent mess shown above though. How does this happen? Well, the patent bestows a temporary monopoly for the inventor. Typically this is about 20 years, in some cases it can be extended like for pharmaceuticals. Here's a link to a patent, i just picked one at random from RFIDs. So looking at this, if you scroll down until you see the word "Claims" these are what actually are protected. These items are what the inventors actually have the monopoly on. These are typically worded very vaguely and broadly to ensure maximum coverage under the law. Which means it's easy to step on people's toes. Which they will sue you for. I'll discuss this in more detail in another blog post.

Since this is a contract, what does the government get in return? The inventor has to give full disclosure of how this invention works. Below you can see a picture from Philips' electric razor. 

Philips electric razor USPTO
The release of this information should allow any competitor to recreate this technology in their lab. 

That is basically a patent. Rights to protect the invention with release of how the invention works. I will answer some of the other questions I posed in later blogs.

Friday, June 10, 2011

But it's JUST a theory.

The point of this post is not to defend evolution, but to investigate the different meanings behind the word theory. However, this point comes up most frequently when people discussion evolution and possibly climate change. The word theory has become a very loaded word during discussions between scientists and non-scientists. It causes scientists to come across as arrogant to non-scientists. What causes people to believe that these scientists are arrogant? Well in Professor Dawkin's documentary "Root of all Evil" Ted Haggard claims it has to do with how certain scientists are about their "theories." Where scientists look down upon non-scientists in their ignorant views. For science this is a dangerous proposition where the people scientists need to convince the most that many different forms of scientific research needs to be conducted and funded publicly, scientists come across as arrogant know it alls that refuse to explain anything to the common person. This has also been noted in a Pew Science Survey.

So, why are scientists "arrogant" about their "theories?" Well, first it's not arrogance. It's extreme confidence in the current understanding of the world. The "theories" describe the state of the world and how we interact with it. However, there is a misunderstanding about the word theory. This can come from two ways. First, intentional intellectual dishonesty. In this case there is not much to be done, other than attempt to bring out this fraud and discredit the person on this basis. The second is an honest misunderstanding of the word. This may be difficult for many scientists to actually believe, but I think this can legitimately happen. While people who are actively interested in science are constantly being refreshed and reminded of how science works why it works and all the great things it has done for us, people who aren't interest forget these things. Many of them haven't had a refresher on how science works since high school, and that's if they were paying attention to their teacher. They believe that a theory is a general idea of how something works, a educated guess.

I plan to elaborate on the differences in definitions through using a model presented through psychology in 1986. The study claims there are folk theories on how technology works, specifically thermostats. It is clear that there is the correct "scientific" theory of how the thermostat works, so it will be easy to compare the differences in the two different thermostat theories.

Willet Kempton's article "Two theories of home heat control" is a survey of residents of Detroit Michigan of how the thermostat works in their house. The survey shows two prevailing theories. The valve theory and the feedback theory. The feedback theory is fairly straight forward, the thermostat detects the temperature and either turns on or off the furnace based on the deviation from the set temperature. The valve theory is a little different, this theory claims that when you turn up the thermostat you are increasing the flow of hot air the furnace is producing, which will increase the rate the house warms up. There maybe some reasons why this theory was popular, the fact that the thermostat was a knob and that many people were used to using radiators to heat their house previously. These two theories were defined as "Folk Theories" which fall into the general category of educated guess or a hunch of how it works.

However, we know that both of these cannot be correct. So at this point we have competing paradigms or research programs. So to determine which one is correct we conduct experiments. We collect temperature data of the air coming from the ventilator at various different thermostat settings. This allows us to test our hypothesis that the thermostat is actually a valve. Since the feedback theory is basically correct our data would show that the temperature of the air is constant or near constant regardless of the temperature setting on the thermostat.

Now we can move onto test the theory of the feedback mechanism. We can create more sophisticated tests to determine what the on/off points are for the furnace and create a model of how the thermostat interacts with the furnace to maintain the heat in a house. Over time we can build confidence in our model and other people can test our model in their own home and check the validity.

When people accept this model based on empirical evidence we then can say we have a scientific theory. However, this theory, while it may have been formed from a folk theory, has been thoroughly tested and replicated by many individuals. We can find many different examples of this in science, from biology, theories of gravity, relativity, the origin of the world, the list goes on and on.

Folk theories are hunches and educated guesses. Scientific theories are verifiable, testable and may be contradictory to our personal intuition.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is Science?

In my first two post I haven't really touched on any of the three main points of my blog. So, i'm going to start from the beginning with what I mean by science. Science to me is the searching for an understanding of the natural world using rigorous tests to validate the data. This is a bit vague as I don't define on which side the hypothesis needs to be formed. In most cases, if you remember the scientific method, the hypothesis is formed first and then it is tested. This is true for the most part. However, some times you have the data first and you have to get an understanding of the data before you can do that. Once you understand the data you are free to create hypotheses where you use the given data to test these hypotheses.

There is a great deal of debate over how science actually functions. There are three main philosopher's of science, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos and Richard Feynman. The first two are basically related to creating paradigms or "research programs" which are similar but slightly different than paradigms. Basically a paradigm is something like Newtonian physics. This had a large set of assumptions and rules that were both confirmed by the data and had issues with the data. For instance Newtonian physics couldn't explain the motion of Mercury. So, there is a shift from one paradigm to the next through a revolution. Basically, the support for the first paradigm is so degraded it gives way and another one replaces it. In the case of Newtonian physics it was replaces with relativistic physics, based on Einsteinian  principles. Research programs are similar but more than one can be going on at the same time. You could say string theory and m-theory, which are very similar and part of each other, but some people support only string theory and don't agree with m-theory, while supporting m-theory means you support all of string theory, but there are also people that reject both theories. The large hadron collider is being used to test these theories.

I think science does have radical shifts between major though processes and it can be very disorientating for people within the field. They tend to fight these changes, as we all do. They are human.

Regardless, I feel that science illuminates truths of how this world works and improves the human condition. While it may not always directly intend to do this, there are spill over effects that make this happen. Astronomy is a science that in no way directly impacts humanity (unless they find an asteroid that will hit earth or alien life) there have been spill overs that have made life better for people.

Science is a noble pursuit that does have ambitions larger than itself. It attempts to be the fully objective observer, but it's not completely. However, it's the best thing we have. It will continue to get better the more we do it. It has created wonders for us, and I for one am deeply indebt to all the scientists out there. Thank you for your hard work and helping me appreciate the wonders of the world.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

GDP a Tragedy of the Commons

In my Novel Technology and Human Behavior course we have an assignment related to a specific novel technology and how it interacts with philosophical ideas and psychological reasoning. So, of course my group member Timmy and I decide to do work on something that is mostly unrelated to actual technology. We decided to look into different metrics for growth. GDP is the current standard for everything. High GDP and GDP growth is currently construed to mean that you have high well being in a given country. However, this is not what the metric was originally designed to measure. So what does GDP measure? It measure most major economic activity. It measures production, hospital bills, and end good sales for example. However, it excludes factors like education, house hold activities and the black market. These are serious gaps. As most people will tell you that have been employed we tend to focus on the activity that is measured. So if you're at work and you need to get defect counts down or shorten call time for tech support you will do everything you can to make that happen. Even if it's actually bad for the company you work for. So, if you have high defects you can reduce your measuring frequency to make it look like your defects are better. Or if you're on a phone call you can be rude and just give the minimum help you can. These are negative results from a measurement.

In our poster we argue that something similar happens with GDP. So a tragedy of the common happens all the time. It can be something as inconsequential as replacing the water from a community water cooler. Most people won't do it because you assume that some one else will. Below is an example of what I mean by how GDP is a tragedy of the commons.

Even the collapse of the local economy may be seen as increasing the GDP. As the goat herders are trying to save the land they may slaughter additional goats, buy fertilizer, get some seeds, buy fencing to block off an area so it can regenerate from the goats. All of these things are seen as beneficial to the economy when it is actually very destructive to this aspect of the economy.

So what can we do about it? Well there are some different metrics that can be used to measure well being while taking into account sustainability, such as Green GDP. China actually attempted to implement this, but decided against it as it lead them to have smaller growth numbers and may have put them at a competitive disadvantage. Timmy and I believe that some good ways to deal with this, is to focusing on what is preventing people from adopting more sustainable technologies, and then trying to create incentives to drive further adoption. We're finding that this problem is a bit of a catch-22, you can't get people to adopt the different measurements without people adopting green technologies, but you can't get huge investment in green technologies without incentives from a new indicator.

Further reading/Video watching:
Bergh, C.J.M. van den (2009), The GDP paradox, Journal of Economic Psychology 
20 (2009) 117-135
Gardiner. 2001, "The real tragedy of the commons" Philosophy and Public Policy Vol 30, No. 4

Tim Jackson, writer of the book “Prosperity without growth” for instance (7:19)
David Korten, writer of the book “Agenda for e new economy” for instance: (13:42)
Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life around the world (20:55)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Regulation and Broadband investment

Just finished reading a rather interesting paper from Telecommunication Policy: Regulation, Public Policy, and investment in communications infrastructure: Johannes M. Bauer.

This paper deals with the different regulatory frameworks that relate to Next Generation Networks for telecommunication. There are two major implications for implication. First, looking at opening up the network to additional services will have a short term impact, but may hamper innovation in future networks. Second, investment and innovation at the market platform can lead to higher prices and in some cases slower penetration where there is minimal return on investment on the infrastructure (think middle of no where US).

This is important as in the US we hear about how prices are cheaper for services in Europe. This is very true and some countries have significantly better broadband infrastructures than the US. Such as the Scandinavian countries, South Korea and Japan. Many of these countries have had very active partnerships between public institutions and the private firms rolling out the new network.

We all can remember what it was like on dial up back in the mid to late 90s, and how after some time we started to see a huge increase in the number of service providers. This is because the regulators did something called "unbundling" which forced the telecoms to open up their network to any service providers. This caused a drop in price, but it reduced any sort of infrastructure investment at the dial-up level. With broad band we are starting to see this to some extent, but not nearly at the level we saw it with dial-up. This has to do with the fact that these networks are still being deployed. If these networks are opened up to just any old service provider the incentive to continue to invest drops off as a firm like Verizon will make less money off of their large investment to lay down fiber.

However, we should concern ourselves with the medium of the broadband. Cable services are much more prevalent than fiber networks, dynamic regulations are required to account for the differences in the network. Opening up the cable networks at this point may be desirable as the infrastructure for the network is well established with high prices for these services. Perhaps it is time to unbundle the network from the services.

In the picture above are the different types of regulations and the short term impacts on innovation and investment. From this table, it's clear that depending on the situation of the network different regulations need to be in place.

So, my take on this: we need to have extremely flexible regulations that work to drive incentives for investment and innovation. In the US there needs to be different regulations than in Europe as there has been a different history of regulations. However, to drive down costs while pushing for innovation into the next generation of networks, I think a fair method would be to allow for something similar to patents for these networks. A given time period after a large portion of the network has been installed where the telcom that laid down the network has exclusive access. Then after a given period, 5 years or so, the network has to be opened up and no preference to the data can be allowed. This will allow the firm to recoup investment as well as plan for the next generation of networks. So possibly faster fiber switches, or all wireless or whatever.

I still think that the networks need to be data neutral because there can be consequences on unregulated markets if the networks aren't open. For instance gaming and video streaming would be the first to take a hit. This would have repercussions in a network completely unrelated to the broadband company, yet still have potential for financial impact. In other words, gamers may get pissed and stop gaming.

Trying this Blogging thing out

Well, it's been suggested by a few people that I should start a blog. I've been living in Europe for close to a year now. I've been away from my wife, we've been married nearly a year now. I'm going to school for Innovation Sciences at Eindhoven University of Technology or TU/e.
What is Innovation Sciences? Well at one point before I went to school it was a technology and public policy program. There is plenty of science and technology in it, a mixture of policy courses, however many of these are aimed at Europe. Which is fine, because I can learn a lot about these ideas and policy remedies and try to figure out how to get them to work in the US. I've also learned a lot about economics, not just traditional economics, but also evolutionary economics. It's interesting stuff.

My hopes and plans for this blog? I'm not really sure. I feel that I've been shouting out into the darkness of both twitter and facebook for the past few months getting a few interesting conversations going, but nothing really spectacular. I'm hoping that with this forum I may get more responses, or less. But i'm going to put a running commentary of the articles I find and then hopefully each night before i got to bed put up some overall commentary of what I've read for the day. I plan to include scientific articles i'm expected to read for class, which are now basically over, as well as any book i'm reading at the time. So there will probably be some nerdastic books I'm reading.

Hope whoever reads this enjoys.