Why didn't we see the market meltdown coming.

Wired Magazine interviewed George Akerlof, a UC Berkeley economics professor, in the Dec 2002 issue. They asked him why we didn't see the market meltdown coming. Below is part of his answer:

the public and the government went wild with the idea that we should have very free markets. But free markets mean you have more regulation and more monitoring. If you keep your toddler in a playpen, you don't need to monitor them. When you let the toddler out of the playpen, you need to watch them much more. …

Dude, I'm going to puke!

(from ZDNet)

Love Dell's Steven commercials? You're not alone. The ads, which feature a young man named Steven spreading the word about how cool Dell PCs are, have been extremely popular. In fact, the campaign has been so popular that Dell is launching a line of apparel sporting Steven's favorite line: "Dude, you're getting a Dell!" The "Dude Gear" accessories include T-shirts, caps, notebook backpacks, and CD cases. Dell hopes the apparel will build on the success of the Steven ads in making the Dell brand even more recognizable to consumers.

Above the Impact: A WTC Survivor's Story (Nova)


From the Nova episode, "Why the towers fell", April 2002:

Brian Clark, an executive vice president at Euro Brokers, a brokerage firm that had offices on the 84th floor of 2 World Trade Center, was one of only four people to escape either tower from above the floors where the planes struck. In this interview for the NOVA program "Why the Towers Fell," assistant producer Matt Barrett simply let the camera roll as Clark told his astounding tale. Only slightly edited for clarity here, the interview reveals, in vividly recalled detail, how snap decisions, gut instinct, and a touch of luck worked together in Clark's favor and that of the man whose life he saved.

Defend your rights to digital music

The U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property has requested public comment on digital music & copyright issues. This request for comments is part of the Subcommittee's ongoing process of reviewing proposals and amendments concerning copyright in the digital environment. For more details, see http://www.eff.org/alerts/20020329_eff_drm_alert.html

I just sent this email:

Dear Chairman Coble and Members of the Subcommittee:

The current DMCA is too restrictive at the expense of fair-use rights; please don't ignore those rights. While copyright violations may be an issue, the DMCA is much too powerful a law for the scale of the problems. With the DMCA, content authors could prevent me from making backups. If I buy a new computer the DMCA could allow authors to prevent me from transferring the media to my new computer. If I'm done with a song (or book or…) in digital form, the DMCA would allow authors to prevent me from loaning the song to my brother.

Many proponents of DMCA argue that they would never go to such draconian measures. But as long as the law exists, what happens if they change their mind next year?

Proponents also argue that DMCA does not prevent me from sharing the music, just copying it. But the problem is that the DMCA allows authors to create systems where the music (or book or …) will only work with a specific player (hardware). This is more like saying I can share a CD, but only if my brother comes to my house to listen to the CD. Or even more silly, if I give my house to my brother so he can listen to the CD. With the DCMA, I might have to give my entire player to my brother just so he could listen to one song. This is ridiculous.

In closing, the penalties and effects of laws should be in proportion to the risk and effects of the behavior the law is trying to regulate. Consider this: In the U.S. it's legal to own a guns and knives, but it is illegal (thanks to the DMCA) to own software that "could be used to circumvent copy protection. How can misuse of software be that much worse than misuse of guns and knives so that we need to make software completely illegal? Furthermore, the software that might circumvent copy protection (such as making backups) is just as useful as knives (for cutting vegetables), yet the DMCA ignores this usefulness.

The DMCA is completely out of proportion to the problems it is purported to solve.



From a ZDNet story on the lack of IP addresses:

The history of IP is one of practicality and pragmatism mixed with idealism. First mooted in 1974, IP gradually accreted functions and standardisation and by the early 80s was standard in Unix.

"mooted"? Ok, so if you look it up you find that moot means "to bring up for discussion". But really, using it in a ZDNet article?

Brin eerily prophetic regarding 9/11

From David Brin's book, "The Transparent Society" published in 1998. This is from ch 7, in the section "A Need for Pragmatism" (pg 206 in my hardback edition):

As early as 1993, FBI director-designate Louis Freeh described how his agency perceived a looming danger [from widespread availability of encryption] and predicted, "The country will be unable to protect itself against terrorism, violent crime, foreign threats, drug trafficking, espionage, kidnapping, and other grave crimes."

As a mental experiment, let's go along with FBI director Freeh and try to envisage what might have happened if those bombers [in 1993] had actually succeeded in toppling both towers of New York's World Trade Center, killing tens of thousands. Or imagine that nuclear or bio-plague terrorists someday devastate a city. Now picture the public reaction if the FBI ever managed to show real (or exaggerated) evidence that they were impeded in preventing the disaster by an inability to tap coded transmissions sent by the conspirators. They would follow this proof with a petition for new powers, to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Such requests might be refused nine times in a row, before finally being granted on the tenth occasion. The important point is that once the bureaucracy gets a new prerogative of surveillance, it is unlikely ever to give it up again. The effect is like a ratchet that will creep relentlessly toward one kind of transparency, the kind that is unidirectional. A one-way mirror, under which we are all watched by officials, from on high.

Spreading things out for a better defense

With the increasing threat of biological terrorism, it's tempting to vaccinate everybody for all known diseases. But even if we had enough to go around, it would be enormously expensive. Vaccines also carry risks that would be unacceptable just because a terrorist might strike. For example, suppose a vaccine for anthrax has serious side effects (death or permanent disability) at a rate of one in a million (that's pretty low), then vaccinating everybody in the US would lead to 300 or so cases. That's much bigger than the number of people killed in this latest round of anthrax.

So what should we do in the face of biological terror? Oliver Morton's article in Wired magazine presents this idea:

Another distributed response to biological attack is partial immunity. There are already vaccines against most plausible bioweapon agents. If a small percentage of health workers – and indeed of the population at large – were to choose to be vaccinated against one or some of these diseases, then a reservoir of manpower would always be on hand in an emergency, ready to help with the vaccination of others or to do whatever else was necessary in places where infection was rife. You can't vaccinate everyone against everything; but if some people are vaccinated against most things and you know where to find them, their distributed immunity could be a powerful asset.