Stories going round today about a putative ESPN deal to pay wireless providers so that access to ESPN content is essentially free. Salon.com puts it this way:
The defenders of “competition” and a “free market” have it all wrong. The pay-for-unlimited-bandwidth option actually restricts competition. That up-and-coming app developer with the cool new video streaming product who can’t afford to pay off AT&T or Comcast or Verizon ends up losing out. Entities with access to capital get a preferred position on our phones.
On the other side, there’s MediaFreedom.org, who sounds a free-market-based warning:
You get the point. Wouldn’t it be pretty darn terrific if Internet companies could be treated just like regular companies, allowing them to ”discriminate” or prioritize their services as consumers demand?
Net Neutrality hogties the whole ecosystem – from the network providers on down to the content, app, service and device makers. Man, what a waste of a policy lever based on nothing more than fear. We pay for “discrimination” / priority in every segment of our economy, like the mail, the airlines, shopping clubs, hot lanes, etc. It makes these services better.
I’m not so sure about this particular case and net-neutrality. By way of analogy, if ESPN put its content on thumbdrives and then courier-ed those to peoples’ houses, the result would be the same, people get the content for free. It would be goofy, but no one would protest; why then do people get exercised over a virtual method of doing the same thing?
Note that the proposed deal has nothing to do with priority – users don’t receive the ESPN content faster or cleaner than any other content, they just receive it for free.
Yes, I get that we want to separate content-providers and network-providers, and that there is a risk of a kind of "McDonald-zation" of internet content — i.e. mega-providers with money to pay for priority lock out worthwhile content from small providers who don’t have that money. But to take the McDonald’s idea one step further – McDonald’s and its kin monopolize many key locations across the US, like highways rest stops, airports, malls, etc., yet independent restaurants have not been wiped out. They are under pressure, but surely no one thinks independent eateries are going away – in fact people are willing to pay more to eat at an indie restaurant. The real problem that indie eateries have is not access – it is marketing. So, coming back to Salon.com’s comments, net neutrality will never help that “up-and-coming app developer” – that guy’s problem is not access to his app, it is marketing his app, which no amount of net-neutrality will ever do for him.
My net on this particular net-neutrality kerfuffle: Assuming access to all other content is unchanged, I don’t see the logic in trying to stop ESPN from paying peoples’ phone bills. On ESPN’s prospects for success with this strategy, I suspect people will quickly conclude the content is worth what they are paying for it.
Tomorrow, Kim, Morgan and myself head back to the place you see above – Boston, of course – a 10-day visit for me, about a 2-month stay for them. The pic is a puzzle we have on our TV-area table, a gift from good friend Kathy B. when I went on assignment. I’m afraid all I did with it was start sorting the pieces. When Kim arrived in January, puzzle-mistress that she is, it was put together in a about a week. Just for context, sitting somewhere around East Boston, I would say, I’ve put a can of Kingfisher, kind of the Narragansett of India.
Anyway, many an evening here we look at the puzzle and say, “Let’s go to that spot when we get back”. Soon we’ll be doing just that.
An odd reflection, if you don’t mind … I have a habit – when in a good mood that is – of humming, or even mumbling, popular songs as I go through my day or as I walk from meeting to meeting. Last few weeks a lot of that has been Why Do Fools Fall In Love? Can’t tell you why that song in particular. But as the trip approaches I find myself inevitably switching to Back in the USSR.
You don’t know how lucky you are, boys … see you soon.
Creative Cloud changes everything.
We believe the creative process can be better. New, more connected tools. Fonts, files, and projects always in sync. Your creative community just a click away. It’s all coming to Creative Cloud this June.
The technical net of this is:
- The apps themselves are unchanged. Your Photoshop filters still run on your hopped-up 8-core Alienware overclock job.
- The way you pay is subscription. For $19 a month you get 1 app, 20 GB storage, and some access to the “cloud services”. There are bundled deals of multiple products, a complete bundle is $600 per year, actually somewhat less than the $699 for a boxed license to Photoshop alone.
- Don’t know what the services all are yet … seems to focus on assets like fonts, templates, etc.
Response seems mixed. Looking through the Ars Technica comments there is a positive contingent, as represented by “Korgoth”:
Korgoth Wise, Aged Ars Veteran
for people without a couple grand to get all the tools. Not everyone has $2500 lying around, but most can manage $50 in a month.
Cost wise it might work out to be more in the long term, but it does offer some extras over the boxed version; and allows more people to afford it.
But a lot of folks on the other side observe that this is really a massive price increase, as bluntly described by “Voix des Airs”:
Voix des Airs, Ars Scholae Palatinae
Absolutely not. I upgrade software when the developer provides me a compelling reason to do so. Features that make it worthwhile for me to upgrade. I positively do not want to pay a subscription for a stream of "upgrades" that might be of no value to me.
Screw you Adobe. This dude will not abide.
The logic here is, if I buy PS for $699 now, and say I can use it productively for 4 years, under the new scheme that would cost me $960. I guess if I really cared about the latest-and-greatest, I’d go for cloud, but I think for 90% of users, PS already has more than they ever need, so what’s the value of these “continuous improvements”?
- I guess I don’t get Adobe’s rationale. I get they want more money, and constantly flowing money. But, surely they know a great many customers will use the same reasoning as Voix des Airs? Why don’t they keep the boxed model and offer the cloud as an option?
- I gotta believe that tons of users will use this inflection point as opportunity to look at a free alternative, like GIMP.
- If you follow this stuff you probably know that Microsoft is already in the same place Adobe is now going to, with Office 365: $100 per year for rights to install Office on 5 computers, plus 20 GB SkyDrive storage. Unlike the Adobe thing, the MS thing is a good deal.
Thoughts? Rental software good, or bad?
This picture is from a bookstore in our local mall here in Pune. Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a big stack of them in the highest-traffic part of the store. Just out of frame is a similar stack of The Devil Wears Prada.
I’m not sure what to write in this post. Mein Kampf is sold in the USA, and probably more copies are bought there every year than in India; WikiPedia says 15,000 copies per year, vs. 100,000 copies sold in 7 years, as described in this article from the Daily Beast. India is 3-4x more populous than the US, but the people with income enough to consider buying something like this are far, far fewer than in the US. I think relative to number of people able to buy such a book, it is far more popular in India than in the US.
Back in 2002 the Times of India reported on a survey where Indian college students were given a list of famous leaders and asked to select which would be best for India. Mahatma Gandhi was the the choice of 23% – Adolph Hitler was chosen by 17%, more than chose Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela. How could that be? Even more dismaying is this quote in as article from Telegraph UK discussing the popularity of Mein Kampf with Indian business students:
"Students are increasingly coming in asking for it and we’re happy to sell it to them," said Sohin Lakhani, owner of Mumbai-based Embassy books who reprints Mein Kampf every quarter and shrugs off any moral issues in publishing the book.
"They see it as a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it".
The best thing I can say on this, we need Mel Brooks in India. From an interview with Der Spiegel:
SPIEGEL: Can you also get your revenge on him by using comedy?
Brooks: Yes, absolutely. Of course it is impossible to take revenge for 6 million murdered Jews. But by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths. In doing so, we should remember that Hitler did have some talents. He was able to fool an entire population into letting him be their leader. However, this role was basically a few numbers too great for him –- but he simply covered over this deficiency.
So, watch this and rob the mustachioed wall-painter of his posthumous power:
My job is building software. Of course I use technology every day, for work, education and entertainment. I like to think, at least, that I’m pretty good at building and using this stuff.
But, for all that, I have a strong luddite streak; maybe folks got that from my post on Summly. I use Facebook but I am intensely suspicious of it. Of the 100 or so apps on my smartphone, I rarely use anything beyond Maps and Alarm Clock. An app like Foursquare – which bills itself as helping “… you and your friends find great places and make the most of your visits” – is to me a bizarre surrender of privacy and security for no return whatsoever. Yet these and other “innovations” have constant command of the business and technology limelight and, despite their dubious value propositions, are all making money in very large buckets indeed. Why the heck is this?
Evgeny Morozov apparently shares my curmudgeonly suspicions. His latest book, To Save Everything, Click Here, while flawed in several ways, captures in one word the cognitive dissonance of the distinctive Silicon Valley brand of improvement through technology:
Recasting all complex social situations either as neatly defined problems with definite, computable solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes that can be easily optimized – if only the right algorithms are in place! – this quest is likely to have unexpected consequences that could eventually cause more damage than the problems they seek to address. I call the ideology that legitimizes and sanctions such aspirations “solutionism”.
So what is solutionism? Morozov relates how researchers in Japan are prototyping “augmented reality” for cooking. In this system, cameras are mounted in the ceiling and walls of your kitchen then, for example, if you are about to filet a fish, the system visually senses your intent and projects light indicators to guide you through the activity – for example with projected laser lines that indicate where to cut into the fish.
Or how about this: Bin-Cam, a system with a camera mounted inside your trash bins that records a snap every time you open and close the lid, then passes on the image to a pool of human evaluators who in turn count your recyclables, wasted food, etc. to derive a “score” for your trash. The ultimate aim is you and your neighbors will compete for badges over who has the most eco-friendly trash.
So, what problems are these things solving? Morozov’s contention is these sorts of “innovations” are both arbitrary and hurtful. Can anyone believe the augmented kitchen reality will lead to better-cut fish? What we as users need to do is just what our ancestors did: Learn how to actually cook. Bin-cam can have worse consequences. Recycling and waste are real problems, but by declaring this trivial “solution” we actually move ourselves further away from doing what needs to be done, like enacting market-drivers and regulations that generate real improvement.
Solutionism comes together with Morozov’s other bête noir, “The Internet”, when he critiques liquid democracy. In a nutshell liquid democracy purports to generate better public decisions through delegation of votes to “experts”. Should we have a carbon tax? Don’t ask me, I know little about carbon and even less on taxes. With liquid democracy what I would do is delegate my vote on the matter to someone who is such an expert. Suppose the next issue is access to emergency contraception. All I need to do is delegate to another, appropriately qualified expert. And so on. (Note to future self: If this dorky idea ever gets enacted in the USA, delegate everything to Paul Krugman.)
Morozov’s point – which seems evident to me – is that the “openess” of the “the Intertnet” does not somehow make everything that happens on it good, and that we can’t take the problems that thinkers and writers from Socrates to Voltaire to Churchill to Oakeshott all have pondered over and just “make an app for that”. Morozov writes:
Imperfection, ambiguity, opacity, disorder, and the opportunity to err, to sin, to do the wrong thing: all of these are constitutive of human freedom, and any concentrated attempt to root them out will root out that freedom as well. if we don’t find the streng5th and the courage to escape the silicon mentality that fuels much of the current quest for technological perfection, we risk finding ourselves with a politics devoid of everything that makes politics desirable, with humans who have lost their basic capacity for moral reasoning, with lackluster (if not moribund) cultural institutions that don’t take risks and only care about their financial bottom lines, and, most terrifyingly, with a perfectly controlled social environment that would make dissent not just impossible but possibly even unthinkable.
I said there were flaws in the book. One is that Morozov is really a philosopher and as such likes to quote and reference other philosophers – a lot of them; the book includes 55 pages of citations. He also comes across as really grumpy and tees off on harmless tech P-R phenomena like Clay Shirky and the TED Conference. Shirky has little cause to complain, though, here’s the #2 hit I got when I Googled Clay Shirky:
I guess Google doesn’t like Shirky either.
Denizen’s of “the Internet” have mostly harsh woods to offer on this book. Tim Wu writes:
“To Save Everything, Click Here” is rife with such bullying and unfair attacks that seem mainly designed to build Morozov’s particular brand of trollism; one suspects he aspires to be a Bill O’Reilly for intellectuals.
Slashdot has a review that focuses on the kitchen augmented reality thing, striving mightily to show how “the Internet” really can teach you how to cook, if only we could incentivize authors to write better directions. Maybe badges for authors … you see where this is going?
There’s a lot more ground Morozov covers – like how algorithms used by Amazon, Google and Facebook are obviously designed for maximum revenue generation, and not for our collective, transparent benefit – or how lifeloggers like Gordon Bell, while mostly harmless, also trivialize the productive flaws of human memory and tradition. Some of that is valid observation, some just grumpiness, less of which would have benefited the book.
In closing, while few people have ever heard the word solutionism, a great many intuitively get the point – which you can see in parodies like this:
Technology mocking itself – a good sign. Maybe I should make an app for that … ?
No, not as in malware – a program that replicates itself as it moves from machine to machine – but as in an actual dirt-loving, squirming-about, icky-spaghetti worm.
This link comes off of Boing Boing. The project is called OpenWorm, and it self-describes as:
OpenWorm is an open source project dedicated to creating the world’s first virtual organism in a computer, a C.elegans nematode. We plan to achieve this goal by 1) bringing together highly motivated scientists and engineers 2) pushing away all the red tape 3) fostering growth of a completely open computational biology community.
So, its not building a real worm – a virtual worm. The worm they are hoping to replicate – Caenorhabditis elegans – is a nematode worm about 1 mm long; there’s about 1,000 cells in each one of these tiny critters.
How is this being done? Hard to say. The project milestones are here … here’s an example:
We will show that we have built a model of C. elegans muscle cell that matches data recorded from the nematode muscle cell. In part, we will use techniques of model optimization to fill in gaps in the model parameter space (deduce unmeasured parameters). The main technical challenge is tuning muscle cell passive properties and building a larger data set (more cell recordings). Mike Vella will take the lead on this.
Do we need virtual worms? No, not as such – but we need these types of projects, that’s is what science is, right? There’s too much of the attitude these days that all R & D needs to be dedicated to obvious needs. I for one think we need more scientia gratia scientiae.
India of course has well over 1 billion human inhabitants. Tenancy of the subcontinent, however, is shared with another primate: the gray langur. In our recent trips we saw many langurs – one dashed across the road while we were driving to Ajanta so fast we could barely see. The fellow above we saw resting in shade at Daulatabad Fort. At Ajanta families of langurs rested in trees:
At Ellora the langurs were well habituated to people. In the parking lot a troop of them begged food … the langurs were like curious children, picking kernels of popcorn one at a time from outstretched hands. However getting close to these animals is not a good idea. Some carry rabies, but more generally these langurs are smart and have ways other than begging to get food from people. There are many stories posted online, like this, about langurs attacking in groups to divest people of grocery bags – pretty much anything carrying eatables. A colleague in my office related a story about langurs collaborating to steal a lady’s purse: one langur begged food, and when the lady offered, its confederate snatched the purse and immediately the first one began attacking the lady to cover the other’s escape.
These monkeys have an important place in Hindu mythology. The statue below is in Gujarat:
This is Hanuman, King of Monkeys and ally of Lord Rama in his fight against Ravana. He is holding his weapon, the gada. While the gada looks unwieldy, it was no problem for Hanuman; the monkey king was so strong that one time, when asked to retrieve a certain herb growing on a mountain but unsure of exactly which plant to pick, he picked up the whole mountain and brought that back. The ancient stories of Hanuman were the inspiration for Sun Wukong, the monkey king hero of Journey to the West.
Part of Hanuman’s story involves the gray langurs. The story is told in different ways, but the short form is this: Being monkeys the langurs were his subjects, and Hanuman commanded they follow him into battle against Ravana. Ravana used fire against them and their hands and faces were burnt black, and their langur descendants today still show the marks of the battle with the evil Ravana.
Hanuman is revered by Hindus for his many excellent qualities: Courage, Strength, Intelligence, but above all his complete devotion to Lord Rama. Alas, today Hanuman’s langur subjects have a hard life. The golden langur in particular is endangered, with only about 1,000 individuals in all of India.