The Internet is Dead, Long Live the Internet

If you're at all interested in the evolution of internet technology and human computer interaction then you should watch this TED talk. The beauty of this particular talk is that the speaker, Roger McNamee, gives names and assigns trends to a lot of the phenomena that I think a lot of us have felt in our interaction with the web - but haven't, up until now, had a name for.

Piracy Bill Misses the Point

Congress is pushing through a bill that would require domain hosting companies (people who register web addresses) to block US users from pirating sites. If the sites are located overseas then the bill would force ISPs to block access to the sites.

I don't necessarily advocate piracy outright, but when government reps are making statements like this:

“But it’s also become a tool for online thieves to sell counterfeit and pirated goods, making hundreds of millions of dollars off of stolen American intellectual property." - Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah) (Taken from the Wired article above)

... you know progress is about to get stifled. Piracy just isn't a black and white issue, and the numbers they quote are often ridiculous. I thought Republicans supported the free market? No pun intended.

Is piracy stealing... kind of. If you steal a tangible object the seller literally has less, but this isn't true of a digital copy. The price for one is the same as the price for infinity. You only deprive the creator of income if you would have paid for the content otherwise. How many times have you downloaded a piece of software or music because it was free that you otherwise would not have? In these cases where you have stumbled upon something you never knew you liked you have opened up a discourse with the producer of the content under which they could potentially profit from you in the future. Think of how broad most younger peoples taste in music is compared to their parents.

My broad taste in music means that I go to a lot of concerts, but I don't buy records. What does this mean for the band? They make more money and have broader appeal. Their pirated online albums serve as event flyers. Another example is the plethora of super out of reach expensive software for architecture school that I need to study and learn but can't afford. I learn these programs and when it's time for me to go to a firm they have to buy it. A copy of just plain AutoCAD costs $4,000 and every firm in the world has that. Why? It's not really the best drafting software necessarily but Autodesk does allow free downloads to students... is it any wonder that Google's Sketchup - a clearly inferior program - is now gaining traction because it's free?

There is a cost to users for pirating - that is - buggy software, older versions, no updates, and the time and knowledge to crack and obtain such things. Basically, people at the lower end of the economic spectrum engage in it - people that wouldn't have access to it otherwise. It's simple opportunity cost for the pirater. The real problem is with the pricing and distribution of media and software. I could bore you with this but I won't. Distribution must become intangible and prices must be cut drastically. A dollar a song and $600 for Photoshop CS5 is ridiculous. Content providers need to seriously consider ways of extracting higher amounts of consumer surplus (the amount that a buyer is willing to pay in addition to the asked for price) after dropping prices. Take for example ipods. Apple charges a base price for the unit with say 4 gigs, then so much more for 8 gigs, and so on. More people buy the product this way while at the same time Apple is able to get people who are willing to pay more to spend more. Look at what Microsoft is doing with Windows 7: Home, Home Premium, etc.

Of course there are problems with pirating but I think that often the benefits outweigh the costs. Pirating has changed the way we consume media and information. Bittorrents, a byproduct of pirating, is almost unarguably the best way to download anything. In some odd way it's almost tragic that a different generation (see, old white affluent men) feels the need to deprive us of something they do not and possibly cannot understand. There always seems to be debate in Washington about topics that my generation considers a moot point, but I suppose it's always this way. One day my generation will mold the world in the defunct image of their youth to the detriment of that times generation.

Readings #2

Want to try out a Leica M9 for a few hours? Go to NYC... damnit.

Hawaii puts the kabash on "birthers" (people who think President Obama is not a natural-born US citizen) because they're burdening the health department with all their requests. Even the right is embarrassed, and this is coming from people who expect you to be bad at math to buy the party line.

Interesting design company in Brooklyn called RockPaperRobot.

Life on earth has one common ancestor. Not to say that life on earth only arose once but rather that life does in fact (by odds of about 100,000 to 1) share a family tree and not a web.

Apparently 3-D TV's are coming out soon. The real lesson here is more that technology is changing at an increasing rate, so much so that at some point consumers are going to face interesting dillemas towards adopting new technology. A common theme in history is the adoption of new technology and how this effects societies, economies, etc., but a common occurance I'm noticing is that change is so quick now that we have a hard time adjusting. Architects barely learn a program before it is obsolete. We purchase technology that is obsolete within months and years (my laptop is 3 years old and it can barely run the newest software I put on it), and we train for jobs that are no longer needed well before we are middle aged. I'm not sure where this all points but it's interesting none the less.

A company called Square has just released an application and (free) hardware (plugs into your headphone jack and is tiny) that will allow you to process credit cards on either an iphone or android based system. The fees are 2.75% + 15 cents or 3.5% + 15 cents if the card isn't present. This should make splitting lunch bills easier. I've always wondered when we will get rid of tangible money and use something similar to this, but probably less cumbersome regardless of the fact that this system is fairly light. Imagine just a fob that you can run across someone elses phone then you type an amount into your phone and they accept. Anyways, I doubt tangible money will die off for a long time, people are clingy and hate change (seriously, read that article - no pun intended). There are multiple lobbies and advocacy groups in Washington that make sure pennies and nickels get minted even though they cost 2 and 9 cents respectively to make. The advocacy groups think that changing the material of pennies will somehow decrease their value. Hey interest group - fiat money system. It's all based on confidence. This isn't even worth writing about, it's just sad that we are so encumbered by bureaucracy and interest groups/lobbyists and inability to make logical non-political decisions that we continue wasting out time with pennies, nickels, dollar bills and tangible money in general (although I don't advocate abandoning it just yet... but steps should be taken to start). Getting rid of the first two and making the other a coin would save us hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Plus, no more stupid pennies.

Monday Reading

Dave Homcy. Beautiful surf photography.

Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs, at TED explaining how he is often wrong.

Coolest riddle ever
? An eccentric owner of an apartment building in Manhattan built clues and riddles into an apartment that is taking its newest owners years to solve.

Google's Android free open-source operating system is beginning to find it's way into a new generation of netbooks.

Band Aid-style calorie tracker. Quite possibly the greatest dieting invention ever or the worst thing to ever happen to anorexics.

(I guess I posted this a few days late.)

Nothing but TED Talks

I love TED talks. For those of you who don't know what TED is (technology, entertainment, and design) it's a gathering of the world's best and brightest each year in California. Speakers give talks on a range of fascinating subjects generally related to making the world a better place. I started watching a bunch of videos today and here are some of my favorites.

Paul Collier on "the bottom billion". 17 min.

Bonnie Bassler on how bacteria communicate and what that means for next generation antibiotics. 18 min.

This isn't a very good video, but the story is crazy. Fast forward to 50 seconds into this talk about an African boy who built a windmill when he was 14. "How did you [learn to build a windmill]?" "I went to library, and I read a book titled Using Energy and I get information about windmill and I try and I made it." - William Kamkwamba, on building a windmill out of trash as a 14 year old in Africa.

Joseph Lekuton tells a Kenyan parable. 5 min.

Johnathan Haidt on the psychology of liberals and conservatives. This is a must view. 19 min.

Jill Bolte is a neuroscientist at Harvard who experienced a stroke and lives to tell you about it. She gets a bit trippy but her insights are stunning. Being a scientist she's very left (rational) hemisphere dominate but this portion of her brain is shut down during her stroke. She then for the first time sees the world from here right hemisphere's perspective. 19 min.

If This Were a News Blog...

The first 80% of the show would all be about unemployment, the depression we're denying we're in, and in general what went wrong. If you have any desire to read stuff like that then check out this Q&A with Richard Posner on Freakonomics. It's semi-easy to understand and spot on.

I guess number two on the list would be global warming (which should really be retitled global climate change). Here's a TED talk about cleaning the air with an incredibly easy to implement solution involving house plants.

Then probably a story about hybrid cars even though they aren't very viable. This is from GOOD Magazine and outlines cars and technologies you can actually buy now or in the near future.

And then they'd finish it off with a homicide story even though murder rates have been falling since the dawn of man. This is a TED talk by Steven Pinker.

Animal Videos

The most amazingly humane dairy ever. I doubt many dairies look like this. I'd pay an extra buck for a gallon of milk to know that the cows got to live better than me.

Too much time... (HT: Vija)

Coal Gasification

First, here's the 4 minute video on coal gasification. It's not quite layman's terms but it's not too bad.

There's been a lot of really boring nerdy talk about turning coal into natural gas (methane). The beauty of this is that coal is a really dirty fuel source; it gives off mercury, CO2, sulfur (sulfur dioxide), etc., but natural gas on the other hand burns so cleanly that we can use it in our homes. The US is "the Saudi Arabia of coal" according to that companies spokesman. His other claims include:
  • 80% of the energy in the coal is passed on in the form of natural gas.
  • It's cheaper to gasify coal than it is to acquire natural gas conventionally.
  • All pollutants (mercury, sulfur, etc.) are sequestored.