Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Gah. US settles suit by Egyptian claiming wrongful detention:

"A federal judge ruled last year that Mr Ashcroft must answer questions on the case under oath, but the government has appealed the ruling arguing that top officials need immunity to combat future threats to national security."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Attack the Symbols

Funny, the BBC recognises the symbolic importance of the al-Askari shrine - not as a functional building, but as a symbol of belief - and notes the effect it can have and the problems of a civil war now being faced.

But the attack on the WTC in the US was also a symbolic attack, and wars were the (intentional) result. One rule for one layer of the fractal diplomacy, another rule for a different layer.

"Civil war could lead to the break-up of the country, and would export even more instability and violence across the wider Middle East and beyond."

Why can we only think on the size of national borders?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Psychology of a bomber throught news reports

Interesting (or maybe I've just been ignoring the reports recently...) - 1 suicide bomber in Iraq, but another bomber who just left a bag in a restaurant and then walked out.

Is using MO a plausible strategy to determine alignment, motivation, state of mind, etc of a terrorist?

The Google Juxtaposition

Google throws out US data demand.

Go Google, I say. This really rubs against the criticism from US lawmakers for caving into the Chinese earlier on. But why? Not because I think Google are "hypocritical" or playing different games with different countries (which they probably are ), but because it highlights the different political tactics different nations use with respect to policy.

China, one could say, are at least laying down what can and cannot be searched for through Google. The US, on the other hand, is after user behaviour. Given the reports of population profiling in construction, which approach is more likely to lead to control over the habits of people in their own homes?

Sure, I'm simplifying it a "bit". But when democrat Tom Lantos says "I simply don't understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night" in reference to the accused companies, maybe that's his fault. The point is that it's easy to point a finger at people doing business, proclaiming them to be evil, but one shouldn't assume that the one doing the pointing is any less "concerned" about surfers' habits.

By bringing both sides together under their own, "related news" style Google banner, maybe this becomes easier to see.

Monday, February 13, 2006

More Exciting than Speech Recognition

Why do lots of people say that voice recognition and speech-controlled computers are the "next big interface thing" when multi-touch-point displays are far more exciting? Non-video stuff (info and screenshots) to be found here.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Windy City

This would be cool. Wind turbines instead of satellite dishes.

On Congress vs Wikipedia

BBC has article on ongoing saga of US Congress making political edits to Wikipedia. Some brief comment, because there's been a lot of criticism focusing on Wikipedia as a source of reference recently, and I think it would be good to separate the issue away from all that.

This article highlights the other side of Wikipedia - the audit trail, rather than the information. The history, rather than the final version. In this instance, the news isn't that Wikipedia can be changed by anyone, it's that the changes made by someone can be seen and published, with a large amount of non-repudiation associated with it.

The lesson to be learnt by people making changes is, of course, to do it through bouncing proxies, disguise your tracks, which I don't think Wikipedia can fix quite so easily. But at least we have here one example of how the versioning system highlights - extremely efficiently - the relationship between governments (and, should they choose to, other firms/organisations) and "public" information.

Can the same be said for other media outlets? How can we check the same audit trail for other Encyclopedias, or for the news and media outlets? We can't. We rely on leaks and suspicion instead.

This is why I like Wikipedia - it's not just about the information, it's about where that information comes from too. It's a process, not a product.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Capitalism is not the problem

I'm a few days behind the news, ironically because I'm trying to understand economics in general. But catching up with Chris @ qwghlm regarding Tim Worstall having a go at Rob Newman in the Guardian about the nature of capitalism is always good, hearty fun.

Unfortunately, the myriad comments (including he blogger's) at Tim's remind me why I'll continue to mostly-ignore the fevered ranting of economists - an overwhelming ability to attack things in terms of theory and definition, and a particularly underwhelming ability to ignore everything else.

Take the original Guardian post in question, for example. Worstall originally takes issue with the definition of "capitalism" as laid out by Newman, which is perhaps a fair point, but then proceeds to place faith in technological progress (something that Justin @ Chicken Yoghurt argues with).

Personally, I'm on the fence as to the case here. Technology certainly has much to offer, but I wouldn't be so naive to place my faith in it. There certainly is a possibility for a capitalist system (ever-expanding markets, equal competition) to overwhelm a resource. I don't see, for instance, a particular technological solution emerging to rectify the similarly-framed problem ("market failure") of over-fishing. Once could say that our entire agricultural system is a technological fix to the scarcity (relative to population) of food, but the emergence of a lust for organic farming and non-GM crops shows that there are difficulties inherent with such a technological attitude.

But I digress. Worstall backs up his defence of his definition of capitalism by de-linking it from resource-intensive production:

"Even if we had (this looney’s) desired world straight out of the self-sufficient medieaval village, people would still develop new technologies and thus there would still be economic growth."

This is certainly true, in theory. Capitalism doesn't necessarily imply ever-more-inefficient technologies. But here my annoyance with the sidestepping dances of economists kicks in. Worstall seems to stop reading at this point, possibly so angry that someone might misconstrue the "true" meaning of capitalism simply by trying to observe it in motion. For Newman's actual point is this:

"Much discussion of energy, with never a word about power, leads to the fallacy of a low-impact, green capitalism somehow put at the service of environmentalism. In reality, power concentrates around wealth."

Yup, theory vs reality. The economist's bubble vs the real world. Yes, I agree that Capitalism can/should move away from inefficient technologies (assuming that it's less costly - not always the case), but Capitalism isn't the real world, and you can't simplify what really happens to a model in which people act as you hope they'll act.

Economists know there are (many) problems with Capitalism - these are called market failure. But there are problems also with trying to apply a theory to life. "Implementation failures", perhaps. Most economists would rather twist the world so that it matches their lovely model, rather than realise that the model is just a model.

The problem, then, is not Capitalism. From the Capitalist's point of view, the problem is that the world fails to fit their thinking. This is obviously foolish. The real problem is that we use Capitalism as a shield, a platform to base our ideas and decisions on, and a way to construct benchmarks and system measurements that measure what we want to measure.

All this time, we blind ourselves to the idea that things work differently - sometimes, very differently indeed. We have power, we have corruption, we have nepotism, and all the rest. Simply arguing we should have more laws when the law-makers are part of the system is futile. You cannot simply buy power in a market trade, just as you cannot buy trust. Power grows from networks, and is outside and above market mechanisms. When power rules more than the market, all manner of things can happen, and all manner of things are happening. "Capitalism" is a convenient banner for this activity - not only does it lend an air of "professional" legitimacy to such deeds, it also sows confusion amongst supporters and opponents alike.

But those that defend the system we have, simply because the people with power call it by a certain name, choose to ignore all of that.