29 June 2007

Passing the sanity check

As you might have noticed, SWIPIAW and I have returned from our business trip. We did a product pitch to the network security staff at a large NYC based multi-national financial firm. I.e., people whose job is to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of assets while providing access to millions of customers, very top end.

As with most endeavors, it was a mixed bag of results but overall very positive. The client didn’t order up 1,000 copies of the product, but that’s not terribly surprising. On the positive side, the client

  • agreed strongly with our characterization of the problem space. In comprehensible words, that means that the client thinks we have correctly identified a real problem that needs to be addressed in companies like theirs.
  • listened attentively and made insightful comments, demonstrating that it was interesting enough to pay attention.
  • liked the technology we built to address the problem. The main issue they had with it was lack of polish in the user interface and comprehensiveness. The former is just work, the latter will mean trying to do a better job of integrating with other applications, as we are way too small to build a comprehensive solution ourselves in the next few years.
  • indicated a desire to form a working relationship with us.

So, while we didn’t make a sale on the trip, we did gather strong evidence that we have viable business plan and product, plus gained some very valuable information on how to improve. I found it very encouraging to know that we’re not living in our own little delusional world.

I guess the smart people are writing weblogs

I been meaning to do this for a while, but the recent flap over extreme cluelessness at the Wall Street Journal has provided additional motivation.

My observation of WSJ cluelessness concerns this article about people wrecking exotic (high end expensive) cars. The story line is that more younger, less skilled people are now buying these cars, creating a wave of accidents, as in the lead sentence —

Call it a metaphor for a prosperous, risk-embracing age or just call it bad driving.

However, most of the quantitative data in the article supports a very different conclusion. For instance, First we have this factoid —

According to the California Highway Patrol, the total number of accidents involving Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Lotuses and Maseratis rose to 141 last year, an 81% increase from 2002

That sounds a big increase, doesn’t it? Yet a few paragraphs later we find out that

  • Americans bought about 8,400 “ultra-luxury” sports cars last year — more than three times the number from 2003
  • The accident rate1 for those cars has changed significantly since 2002
  • The accident rate for those cars is 1%, vs. a 3% overall rate

Seems to me that the increase in absolute numbers is easily explained by the increase in absolute number of such cars. On what basis, then, does the WSJ claim “bad drivers” are to blame? None that I could find in the article other than anecdotal. Even some of those are suspect as well, such as this one —

Stefan Winkelmann, president and chief executive officer of Lamborghini, a unit of Volkswagen’s Audi Group, says he’s aware of “four or five” incidents involving one of the company’s new 640-horsepower Murcielagos — a small fraction of the nearly 500 models the company sold last year.

4 or 5 out of 500 — hmmm, that’s right about 1%, isn’t it?

It seems to me that the author of the article is indulging in the same behavior as the folk in one of the articles anecdotes —

To compound matters, it’s tough to be inconspicuous when you damage a $150,000 automobile. After Mr. Aboubakare’s accident, several passing motorists snapped pictures while one leaned out the window of his pickup truck and shouted: “What an idiot!”

So much for the pretension that journalists are other than rude gawkers themselves.

1 I realized as I wrote this that I had presumed this was the annual accident rate, but the article doesn’t actually contain that claim. It’s another example of the innumeracy that “accident rate” is left completely unqualified.

28 June 2007

Real grass roots

I was thinking about the continuing problems at Airbus, and how this could lead to a single global manufacture of large civilian aircraft. I expect many people to panic at the thought, but I suspect that it won’t matter. Given things like the emergence of micro-jets, controlling the construction of large aircraft may turn out to be as economically significant as being the only manufacturer of super computers in the 1980s.

The style of technology for this century is going to be mass technology, lots of small things adding up to a big, distributed thing. The Internet is the archetypical example. Other major fields of activity are gong to experience similar shifts to smaller but far more numerous instances. Control of large but few instances will become increasing irrelevant, making monopolies of less and less economic significance.

Another effect will be that it will also become increasingly easy for groups of people to combine their efforts. An archetypical example of that is group weblogs, where small groups of people can easily create the equivalent of magaizines. This will be not only technologically easier but economically easier. Previously, a magazine was a major economic risk because one had to purchase a few very expensive items to make it work. When one can combine pre-existing assests, each of which is not particularly expensive, then not only is the barrier to entry lowered but the marginal cost becomes much lower because the combined items can be ones that would be purchased in any case. E.g., the computer and network access necessary to contribute to an on-line magazine don’t become useless if the magazine fails. This makes the effective marginal cost per participant even lower than raw numbers would indicate. I don’t see any indication that this trend won’t continue for the forseeable future in an increasing variety of human endeavors.

Unguided policy

As the current round of action on immigration starts to wind down, I wanted to address this comment

I toying with the idea that part of this conservative BDS is a way to resolve the cognitive dissonance of having not been part of the dominant culture when it comes to disliking GWB. Everyone hates Bush, and Americans are driven to conform (i.e., assimilate) and thus conservatives were looking for an excuse to hate Bush. In fact, a number of conservatives have said “the left was right about Bush the whole time” with, I think, some relief. AOG, for example, has gone back to reexamine whether he was wrong to support Bush on past issues because of Bush’s “betrayal” on this issue.

That doesn’t quite capture the flavor of what I meant when I wrote this

The other is to what extent my previous support for various large scale Bush initiatives was the result of post-facto rationalizations by Judd

I didn’t claim that President Bush had “betrayed” anything. I think his stance on immigraiton is wrong, practically and politically, but if that’s the same as calling it a “betrayal” then we are past the point of being able to debate any policy stance.

What I was trying to get at is the standard refrain that has been put out by Bush supporters that Bush has a larger political vision, and that what seem like setbacks are really just necessary sacrifices to move a larger agenda forward. It is that claim that the latest debacle has caused me to doubt. Well, not really doubt, more “reject strongly”. I have come to believe in a simpler, more naive Bush who does what he thinks is right, without much regard to the political (short or long term) consequences.

One might well support such a politician, particularly if one has the same basic moral orientation, calling for support from others for those over-arching principles. But that’s quite different from claiming there is some over-arching plan that requires trade offs in order to come to fruition. The tradeoffs from Bush’s policies are, in my view, incidental rather than tactical, not carefully considered but instead ignored in the interests of some larger principle.

The practical effect is that my judgement about Bush and his policies is to judge them on their unguided consequences, putting no stock in any sort of later act of redemption.

Don't buy while insiders are selling

I was reading last Sunday’s Parade magazine and noticed a rather poor article placement. On the left hand side column was a blurb about the “Live Earth” concert series. On the right hand side, a blurb title “What’s Your Carbon Footprint?”. One of the examples as a big wedding. It just made me wonder, why didn’t they go ahead and calculate the carbon footprint of the “Live Earth” concert, including all the transportation plus the energy costs for the broadcast / streaming of it, along with the energy to run all the devices that will be viewing those streams. If there’s one thing that, more than any other, makes me skeptical of the AGW crowd, it’s how obviously it’s most public faces show no concern at all about the prospect. It’s like insiders touting a company’s prospects while selling stock.

13 June 2007

The swamp's filling faster than I can drain it

Totally underwater yesterday and today with real life tasks.

09 June 2007

Weekend Pondery

Writing here has been slow, because of demands at work and what little mental energy is left has been absorbed by the post that turned in to a debate on the immigration legislation.

On top of that, I realized our crew hadn’t had a good gender based debate for a while, so here’s one to start with. When SWIPIAW and I go out for lunch, we have storngly differing opinions on how seating should be arranged. She likes to have me sit next to her, while I prefer to sit across the table from her. She likes the physical closeness, I like looking at her instead of a wall or some other dining companion. Who’s right?

05 June 2007

At least Obama is extorting on behalf of people who vote for him

Via Brothers Judd I see that Senator Obama is playing the social extortion card

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Tuesday that the Bush administration has done nothing to defuse a “quiet riot” among blacks that threatens to erupt just as riots in Los Angeles did 15 years ago.

I noted in the comments there that Obama is just following the path laid out by Senator McCain but that remark was purged, soiling as it did the annointed one.

Update: I realized that I forgot to point this out as an example of how rewarding a behavior creates more such behavior. We now see two main stream politicians openly endorsing political extortion via threats of violence for American domestic policy. More worrisome is that neither is likely to attract any opprobrium for it, outside of the loonies like us in the blogosphere.

Don't lock your door or I'll steal your TV

Is Russian President Validimir Putin really saying it’s unacceptable that Russia can’t nuke Europe? Doesn’t that stance presume a fundamental hostility between Russia and Europe? And Putin’s threat seems to be of the “don’t say we’re violent or we’ll kill you” sort of things — “don’t stop us from nuking Europe or we’ll point our nuclear missiles at you!”. Except for the “threat” of a new arms race, which is more of the “hold our breath until we turn blue” variety. My personal favorite —

Putin also suggested that in the absence of a real threat from Iranian and North Korean missiles, the US plan could be an attempt to spoil Russia’s relations with Europe.

And clearly the correct reaction is to publically target Europe with nuclear missiles. Nothing like it for unspoiling a relationship.

I suspect that it’s all for domestic consumption, to make Russia seem relevant to its citizenry and make Putin look more important. It does seem to be playing with fire if the USA and the EU, as would be reasonable, simply ignore Russia while making placating noises.

P.S. Interesting, isn’t it, that Russia used nuclear missiles as a threat instead of, say, energy supplies? Does that mean that Russia’s economy / Putin’s cronies are too dependent on the revenues? Or that it’s not a threat meant to be taken seriously outside of Russia?

04 June 2007

Ideological purity

I put a quick comment elsewhere about the travesty of letting Sandy Berger get away with destroying national archive documents and how this was of a piece with President Bush forgiving his political enemies while despising his allies.

But two things occurred to me about this with regard to Brothers Judd unflagging devotion to all policies promoted by the Bush Administration.

The first is the apparent drive for ideological purity by Bush. Judd is, of course, highly dismissive of ideology purity for political parties. Yet he’s strongly supportive of the Bush drive for purity on illegal immigration, adopting the same frenzied anyone who opposes amnesty is a racist tactic. We’ll see which Judd turns out to be correct on the effects of an uncompromising drive for ideology purity.

The other is to what extent my previous support for various large scale Bush initiatives was the result of post-facto rationalizations by Judd. As I see more things like this bit of obtuseness I have to wonder if that hasn’t been the case all along, it’s just that the rationalizations have become too thin to work on me anymore1. I am also left wondering which came first, Bush’s policies or Judd’s rationalizations. Or perhaps it’s all just a traffic building pose.

1 As exemplified by the previous point, in which the situation is so desperate that only purity and smears of racism can cover the gap.

01 June 2007

Creative turnabout

There is much discussion about the future of copyrights and intellectual property with regard to the ever increasing power of information technology. Many wonder if it is even possible to defend IP in the presence of such power to copy information and what this means for large “content” providers.

That’s an edge that cuts both ways. One of the reasons that major content providers are leary of taking advantage of user communities is because of copyright issues and the potential legal problems when a contributor claims that his idea was stolen. But if copyright protection becames a dead issue, will major content providers change from providers to leaders who create a community from which content is drawn? Something to consider when it’s argued that lack of copyright will destroy creativity. I suspect that it will just “swish the dirt around” — old forms will fall out of favor and be replaced by new structures for focusing human creativity.

Update: Lots of typos fixed. Sigh.