Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Friday, May 27, 2005

Blogging Visa?

A few months old, but interesting reading. Blogging refused entry to US. Remember to get the phone number of anyoen you're planning to meet in the US, even if you're never going to use it ;)

The world we know

Phil comments on Brasilia and the end of oil, and speculates (along with the article he links to) on what will become of our "traditional" population distribution.

This is good stuff to keep in mind when talking about local (i.e. urban/suburban) infrastructure - trains, park n ride, etc. Consider too, for instance, the current trend for out-of-town shopping centres, supermarkets and IKEAs that rely on the availability of car drivers.

The UK government also seems committed to expanding air travel, preferably via an "emissions trading" scheme so that countries can buy the ability to pollute off other countries. It remains to be seen whether this would actually lead to more efficient technology, or just price-influencing tactics or political "persuasioning", in a time when a country's economy depends more and more on oil, and when there's less and less of it around.

In other words, we don't seem to be set up in any way (at least not mentally or emotionally) to face a rapid rise in fuel prices. Our "solutions" seem to be concentrated purely on the technical aspect - i.e. alternative energy - rather than looking at the way in which our society works - a society based on free movement, which in turn is based on cheap and readily-availble fuel (a catch 22 there?). At some point, we're going to have to start making big sacrifices to what we know.

Which brings me to Phil's question: "shouldn't I be doing something to plan for the end of cheap oil?"

There are things we can and things we can't do - or rather, things that will make a difference and things that won't. IMHO, encouraging less dependency on energy is a hundred times more important than working out new power sources. wu-wei in t'ai ch'i is (roughly :) the idea of using as little of our own energy as possible to achieve the greatest effect - often relying instead on energy coming from the thing we want to affect. In other words, it can be considered that there is a "natural" flow to any system, and the most efficient way of "powering" the system is then to attune to that naturalness.

What do we have today? A focus on producing "things" just for the sake of their production - economies to justify themselves, rather than to justify living itself. In many senses, this is extraneous expenditure of energy, just because to reduce usage would be somehow "backwards". And all this on a foundation of inefficient fossil fuels and yang.

Nothing is sustainable really, it's just a case of how long we stretch things out for. At the current rate, maybe another 100 years is my guess. Things'll get really bloody then.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

How to point a loaded gun at your foot.

Anyone else think that hurriedly forcing emergency calls into VOIP applications is a bad idea? How about if I mention the word "worm", or "exploit"?

Legacy emergency services are safe because we're not likely to get a human-borne virus that makes us dial for an ambulance. (Virus effects, on the other hand, are a different matter...) Mobile devices are relatively safe due to their more simplistic design, and more controlled interfaces.

Teen births vs the government vs the Media

More new-age, 19th century thinking from our illustrious leaders...

Parents 'must tackle teen births': "Beverley Hughes said parents needed to put aside any embarrassment and start talking to their children about sex."

Yes, parents are important. But why are we constantly restricting the political discussion to such over-simplistic discussion? For instance, I hard it find to believe that teenagers are having sex because they want babies. Why aren't we dragging popular culture, and the objectification of women to a higher, more insidious degree than ever into this? It's almost like we're afraid of intelligent discourse about anything.

Also, why do both the BBC and the Guardian article they mention not note that the pregnancy rate for 15-17 year olds is falling - by 1.2% in 2002-03, and by 11.2% since the start of the government's campaign to halve teenage pregnancies in 2000. There is progress, but unless you read more than half of a news article, you would have no idea. Certainly it confirms my "fear" that even the "respectable" media are tending towards tabloid quality hooting, although I suspect the BBC are just in it for the PR, as they seem to be a lot these days...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Markdown experiments

Hmm, interesting. Finally been playing a little with Markdown, and am pleased with the initial results.

Here you can see a sample current page and the new version after putting the text through a) html2text.py and b) Markdown. I'm currently losing the bold and italics for some reason, but the overall look is the same.

Tables are different, as they're unsupported by Markdown. Here, for instance, is the current Markup Matrix page and the ugly new one. I'm thinking of either writing my own parser for tables, to run after Markdown has run, or just not using tables in my pages, or just placing them in a "pre" marker. We shall see.

Note for archive: look and feel of the linked pages are in flux, and may well change at a later point.

BBC Backstage + Google Maps

Some more map-based ideas coming out.. still experimental, but some interesting stuff.
UK Traffic Reports
UK News items
London Traffic Webcams

What's particularly interesting is the springing up of various weblayers on top of Google Maps - myGmaps and gmaptrack are both used by the above links. May be worth watching, both for what they come up with, and in terms of what Google does (if anything)...

Breaking US ties

More on the strained relations between Venezuela and the US. Definitely seems like it's one rule for the US' enemies, and one for their "friends". Meanwhile, there's a bit of a fight over troops in Afghanistan.

Is there anyone left that thinks the US are in "this" altruistically? Or that the US could actually run the world effectively? Oh, millions do. Hum.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Link of the Year

I'm a happy camper!

(For those who are still in the dark, "Amiga Power" was a somewhat surreal and insanely hilarious Amiga magazine back in the great Amiga Heyday.)

Friday, May 20, 2005

"How I unwittingly helped to start the Happy Slaps panic"

Graham Barnfield has an intersting article on the media looking for thigns that aren't there, and turning him into someone he's not as a result (from the viewpoint of the casual reader). Towards the end, he brings it towards the idea of "flocking attention" that I've been playnig with this week, over the last few posts. A reminder why out-and-out market popularity isn't always for the best.

Drawing parallels

Following my thoughts on the "bunching" effect of markets, this page asks if Google does the same thing, only with a different resource: "Google will therefore support, with ever-greater efficiency and effectiveness, an intellectual activity characterized by A.A. Milne (author of Winnie-The-Pooh) as 'Thinking with the Majority'." (via dontpanic2)

Interesting. Can Google be thought of as a market? Maybe this is nothing new - hark back to GoogleJuice, and the Attention Economy. Intellectual resources, rather than physical resources.

But there are obviosuly some major differences between Google and a Market, even if they display some overlapping similar traits. Primarily, the Google system is not free to flow - efforts to control the attentional resources are constantly monitored and altered by Google. Hmm, but then on second thoughts, how much of the UK market, say, is influenced by 9 at the Bank of England? Isn't that a kind of market-steering, just as Google do for their rankings?

Maybe, maybe not. On one hand, interest rates are there to control growth ni several directions, and to stimulate different sectors. Google's rank-manipulation, on the other hand, is there to regulate relevance. But on the other hand, what difference is there between the two? They both reflect what is needed by the "market audience" at any one time. If Google decided that they wanted to drive growth of SEOs for whatever reason, they could easily change their rankings to reflect this - that they have a more narrow focus on "relevance" doesn't necessarily mean that what they're doing is fundamentally different to what the Bank of England does.

Hmm, lunch time. But when are we going to see Google open an on-line trading system to bet on sites' pageranks? Or anyone else, for that matter... Kind of like
blogshares, but for all pages within Google...

Rumblings afoot?

Heh, at first I thought a headline titled " Blair told to watch his back migth be about backbenchers forming a secret political coup, but really it's just about, well, his bad back.

Carry on.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Rather cool - plots an RSS Feed onto a world map - with room for improvement (for instance, more granularity for local news, and a Google Maps interface maybe): World66 - Mapsonomy.

Check out the submitted photos and recent earthquake views too. And of course, this blog...

On-line stickies

I like stickies/post-its/etc, so an on-line version is intriguing. The code is open-source, so maybe there's space to hack it to integrate neatly with a wiki/my site/e-mail...

Markets are small-minded.

Politech posts Professor Russ Roberts thinking about learning economics more visually/creatively which, I think, would be a great idea. However, the faith people put in free markets is irking me more these days. When he coos that "the ability of the economy to provide lots of
low-carb products at low prices when people suddenly decide to reduce
their carbs
" is a result of the "flocking" factor of marketisation, and that the "same process will cure prostate cancer some day if we let it work", I see that huge void in thinking that gets us into the crap we're in too.

Similarly, the article Declan points to as background fawns over the "greater marvel" of the market reacting means that "thousands or millions of us can make those changes and the system simply readjusts to our new desires." This kind of confirms what I've been thinking for a while now - that markets positively feedback into themselves, re-inforcing (through both the fundamentals of market prices and the ironically-named "marketing" departments) a particular trend once it reaches a certain "momentum" point. In other words, there's more chance a particular market will get big if business think it's going to get big, rather than because it "deserves" to be big, or will grow to that size naturally. Clothes, entertainment, and in fact most large consumer goods are of this "inflated niche" variety - a market for a market's sake, driven by the needs of businesses rather than the demands of buyers.

Is this artificial market substance a failing? Or simply part of what makes a market a market? The idea, people claim, is that people won't buy what they don't want, and things will settle down in the longer term, but this is looking at it only along a single axis. In the wide picture, I think what we actually see is merely migration from one artificial niche to another, e.g. from desktop applications to web services in the computing world (and this is why having a diverse portfolio is turning out to be more important that doing one thing well), so the marketplace is always in constant turmoil, leaping about from one idea to the next, but all the time being inflated so that the greatest number of people are concentrated in the smallest space possible at any one time - for this way lies efficiency.

Maybe it's just me, but I've kind of had enough of this idea of "the greatest product is the product now". In amongst the market struggle, there are 2 things that don't change, from my point of view.

One is that anything not being measured by the market is forgotten about - one could say that because certain fields are liberalised by the market (or rather "into" it), they are also under more observation on the whole too. Morals and ecologicals are 2 things that are very much not under the microscope at the moment, but obviously should be - remove our conscience and what are we? Remove our planet, how can we be?

Two is that a "flocking market" actively discourages diversity. Difference means much less chance of sale at the end of the day, and hence more risk when investing (at all levels). The bigger the business, the more it is in its interests to define a single, narrow market, and as businesses get bigger, markets will get even narrower. People think we have "diverse" markets today (ooh, look - 1GB mail systems, etc) but really, we don't.

Given enough time, the market will achieve what people will call "great things", but unless we start to address the other, very real costs of this greatness, we'll only realise what the costs of the system are once it's too late. Pure markets cater only for human greed, which may - within a large system - "average" itself out, but life is so much greater than what markets represent.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Friday, May 13, 2005

Odd thought

Do house prices go up because British Industry can't sell anything?

WTF is going on in Uzbekistan?

Violence erupts in eastern Uzbekistan. The BBC also has an article with some more background, but it's still extremely difficult to figure out what's actually going on. What seems to be clear, according to the FT piece, is that this is another backlash against the "repression" of "extremist Islam". Of course, when the terms are coming in from three or four sepaarte parties, it's hard to know what means what.

As far as I can gather from a quick read, Uzbekistan is independent, but is tied with the US (which "has a military air base in Uzbekistan and has hailed Uzbekistan as an ally in its war on terror"), and is under fire from Human Rights groups for things such as torture. The repressed have had enough, and awnt the Russians to come in and "help out" as it were. I like the way they also call for "justice" and "freedom".

As always, it's interesting to see how the US Media spins it. Fox News has more info, mentioning that "Radical Islam was a bugaboo for the Soviet Union long before its collapse and was partly behind Moscow's decision to invade Afghanistan in the last days of 1979." Bugaboo?

So are the US administration claiming their allies as those countries cracking down against human rights abuse - nations that triumph a new era of "freedom"? Or do they just congratulate the ones that allow them to set up military bases as they want, and let them take the things they want? Remember history whenever Bush talks of "freedom", "democracy" and "righteousness".

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Looks neat...

Holy Moly - free academic research? Feels like there should be a catch... :)

More hooray for the US foreign policy

Remember Afghanistan? Phew, it's all under control now. Glad that little spat is sorted out.

Up? Down?

[via BBC article]

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cuba 'plane bomber' was CIA agent

More FUBAR evidence for why the US war on terror is hypocritical, and I've never seen anything to make me change my mind about the way they operate.

[via Phil]

Monday, May 09, 2005

Making things down, pound down

But looks like house prices might be going up in a while. Witness the yin and yang inherent in the system!

However is there also a chance that these tensions, coupled with factors such as rising bankruptcy, and while keeping themselves "stable" through opposite force, could actually both indicate and obscure a more long term problem? Just as, say, war and global demand fluctuations may shove the price of oil around in the short term but do nothing to address it in the long term*, is it at all plausible that an interest rate that underpins the cross-stability between business investment and consumer investment will only hold for so long? ANd if so, what happens when it breaks?

* Side thought: When direct solar power becomes our main source of energy, will we be fighting over land that gets more Sun time? :)

Quote of the day...

...from ePolitixPlus' Bullet e-mail newsletter:

''Public confidence in the security of voting has been hit by recent scares over postal ballots, the chairman of the Electoral Commission has acknowledged. Sam Younger said ... "I guess it is inevitable when you bring in a new system in a voting system that hadn't really changed for many, many years, that you are bound to get problems with it."''

This is true, but only if by that you mean that the system was designed by a naive, "market"-driven (i.e. "quick! get people to vote!") bunch of people with not enough research time who were too used to a centuries-old (yet somewhat reliable) voting mechanism. Merely popping things in the post and waiting for them to come back was the mark of true lunacy, not a well thought out anti-fraus system. Bodes well for other great technologies of our time, eh?

What is punishment?

Link flush. Was thinking of elucidating around these, but need to close some Firefox tabs :)

Man's bravery after causing crash vs Lynndie England forced to plea not guilty.

Basically, am reading Foucault's "Discipline and Punish" lately, which has got me thinking a fair bit about society's attitudes towards crime, and how/why it is punished. The two articles above are particularly recent highlights of the factors involved. In the first, a guy crashed his car, and dragged his friend out of the fiery wreckage (to no avail, alas) - 3 year's detention.

In the second, the judge for US Soldier England actually changed her plea from guilty not guilty, as "he could only accept the plea agreement if he was convinced that Pte England knew at the time that what she was doing was illegal." In other words, ignorance at the time of crime is bliss, according to military law.

I was going to go on about the twin purpose of punishment at this point, and the contrast (conflict?) between "teaching people a lesson" and making an example out of them for others (i.e. the personal effect against the "broadcast" effect), but maybe another time :)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election Intelligence

It must be 2005 - the future. Election day is among us, and I've become quite adept at dodging the visceral political arguments flying across the wireless for the past month. In amongst all the media chaff, I've been particularly impressed at the various URLs that actually want to do something for the election.

The promise of the Internet age* was communication. Democracy in the modern era is, we're told**, one where we can chat freely with our candidates via high tech avatars, submit our vote with the click of a secure button, and watch the whole proceeding unravel on-line via a scrolling tickfest. I like to imagine.

So where do we stand then? Well, I'd say that currently there are 2 main successful approaches to democracy on-line. Nobody's really yet figured out how to make on-line voting work in the real world, for example, or even if it should work, but really who cares when the stuff that is happening is actually more important and (therefore) exciting?

The first approach adopted is that of information - this one's obvious. Political data is tenfold, for example the Guardian's Aristotle, and DoWire's attempt to wiki local election data in advance. The Internet was always about making information available, and now this is really getting into its stride. Methods not just to get the raw data out, but to make it searchable too, have become more integrated, and streamlined as a result. They Work For You is another great example of being able to punch through the lists and speeches to find what you really want.

The second facet to emerge is a twist on this. This year, more than ever before, we've seen the creation of several "tools" (rather than sites) that go out of their way to help you decide how to vote. In other words, all the data out there concerned with which MP voted for what, and what lines are in whose manifesto, have been actively hidden from view, and other devices (generally a questionnaire on views, say) employed to link a potential voter's views with those of the main parties.

2 I've seen recently, for example, are How They Voted 2005 and How 2 Vote.

In many ways, these are variants on old sites such as the political compass (which also had many variants in turn). The big difference I've noticed this year is that the URLs are actively getting forwarded around via blogs, e-mails, et al - these on-line tools have left the dirty halflight of political geeks, and bounced heartily into an "accepted mainstream". (Of course, mainstream on the net doesn't necessarily equal mainstream everywhere, but it's a big step.)

I think that what's driven the uptake of these sites is a general confusion surrounding the political arena. As a result of the polemics I mentioned at the start, along with a relatively inacessible political system, the threat of tactical voting, and a democracy in which a majority anti-vote often means nothing, many people are particularly uninspired to even investigate the arena. As such, these sites are the "small shell script" that sift through the public electioneering maelstrom. They allow us to make a choice (without ever making the choice for us - they merely indicate) based on how we feel, rather than what's defined by the politicians. In many ways, they also help us to discover what we really feel about particular issues. Free of social pestering and so on, we actually have the space to think about the questions that we're answering - we get to know ourselves, in a sense.

Alas, I think the audience for these things are still somewhat small. Turnout will be interesting to watch this year, but I wouldn't claim that any of this was directly responsible for any upturn just yet - we're still at the stage where the people looking at these sites are going to be those that have a political interest and were going to vote anyway. But I hope this is a good trend. After today, we have 4 more years to develop more tools, better tools, ones that really make us think. And by that point, perhaps we'd be justified in expecting to see politics making a bit of a comeback.

* I like the phrase "bitpunk". We're not anarcho enough for cyberpunk yet.
** in a straw man kind of way...

Evolving Collective Intelligence

Tom Atlee makes my blogroll. The Collective Intelligence "scene" is one I'ev always wanted to spend more time looking at, but never managed to properly. Thank goodness for RSS feeds, I say.