Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Fight Club Theory of Ferris Bueller

Cool Papa Bell came up with a great idea as part of a discussion on Metafilter:

My favorite thought-piece about Ferris Bueller is the "Fight Club" theory, in which Ferris Bueller, the person, is just a figment of Cameron's imagination, like Tyler Durden, and Sloane is the girl Cameron secretly loves.

One day while he's lying sick in bed, Cameron lets "Ferris" steal his father's car and take the day off, and as Cameron wanders around the city, all of his interactions with Ferris and Sloane, and all the impossible hijinks, are all just played out in his head. This is part of the reason why the "three" characters can see so much of Chicago in less than one day -- Cameron is alone, just imagining it all.
(via kottke via cynical-c)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Georgia Guidestones

Someone represented by a man who called himself "R.C. Christian" caused a set of large granite monuments to be made and installed on a hill in Elbert County, Georgia.

Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery—nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars—and the "guides" themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite).

What's most widely agreed upon—based on the evidence available—is that the Guidestones are meant to instruct the dazed survivors of some impending apocalypse as they attempt to reconstitute civilization.
Whoever planned this had pots of money, a knowledge of several languages, a fair understanding of engineering,a fondness for Stonehenge & Rosicrucianism, and an active sense of mystery. They may have intended it as a time capsule, religious item or massive practical joke. Those who don't know, as usual, are speaking, while those who do know say nothing.

Rock, Paper, Scissors,...


State UnSecret

The 9th circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Bush/Obama claim of unlimited state secrets power by the executive branch:
This sweeping characterization of "the very subject matter" has no logical limit--it would apply to suits by U.S. citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on U.S. soil, not just abroad. According to the government's theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Restructuring the University

Mark Taylor offers some precriptions for redesigning higher education. Some of these, like dissolving departments, are unlikely to succeed politically and would result in the reduction or elimination of departments that are low revenue producers (e.g., religion, languages) in favor of the money makers (hard sciences, economics, professional schools). Others are very good, and mirror recommendations made elsewhere:

  1. Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.
  2. Expand the range of professional options for graduate students. Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained. It is, therefore, necessary to help them prepare for work in fields other than higher education. The exposure to new approaches and different cultures and the consideration of real-life issues will prepare students for jobs at businesses and nonprofit organizations. Moreover, the knowledge and skills they will cultivate in the new universities will enable them to adapt to a constantly changing world.

    Previously: Grad School Thoughts, Grad School and the Military.

Bonus Link of the Day

Eepybird's Post-It Note Experiment video shown to Post-It note creator Art Fry.

Kevin Smith's Superman Reborn

A movie that was never made, for reasons that become clear as the story progresses.

Kevin Smith rocks.

(via boingboing)


Arlen Spector just switched to the Democratic Party, meaning a filibuster-proof majority within the Senate.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Quote of the Day

Well, men change, and change doesn't always work. Tolstoy moved toward God at the end and flattened. Gorky, after the revolution, had nothing to write about. Dos Passos became a capitalist with a face like a barber and died in the hills above me here. Celine became a crank and forgot how to laugh. Shostakovich never changed, wrote his fifth symphony and then wrote it over and over again in all the symponies that followed. Mailer became an intelligent journalist, as did Capote. Pound just got darker and darker and pissed out. Spender quit, Auden quit, Olson begged to the crowd. Creeley got angry and tightened. Abraham Lincoln hated blacks and Faulkner wore a corset. Ginsberg sucked to the sound of himself and was overcome. And old Henry Miller long done, fucking beautiful Japanese girls under the shower.

- Charles Bukowski
Notes of a Dirty Old Man
in Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook


Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan Lady Murasaki Shikibu
She is now at peace. Incomparable joy! Moreover, it is a prince, so the joy cannot be oblique. The court ladies who had passed the previous day in anxiety, not knowing what to do, as if they were lost in the mist of the early morning, went one by one to rest in their own rooms, so that before the Queen there remained only some elderly persons proper for such occasions. The Lord Prime Minister and his Lady went away to give offerings to the priest who had read sutras and performed religious austerities during the past months, and to those doctors who were recently summoned. The doctors and soothsayers, who had invented special forms of efficacy, were given pensions. Within the house they were perhaps preparing for the ceremony of bathing the child.

Large packages [of ceremonial clothes] were carried to the apartments of the ladies-in-waiting. Karaginu and embroidered trains were worn. Some wore dazzlingly brilliant trains embroidered and ornamented with mother-of-pearl. Some lamented that the fans which had been ordered had not come. They all painted and powdered. When I looked from the bridge I saw Her Majesty's first officials, and the highest officers of His Highness the Crown Prince [the newborn child] and other court nobles. The Prime Minister went out to have the brook, which had been choked with mud, cleaned3 out.

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm Roger Deakin
"The Whole Earth Catalogue, our bible as self-builders of our residences in the hippie-ish days of the 1970s, was subtitled ‘access to tools’. ‘With tools,’ ran the editorial preface, ‘you can do more or less anything.’

Buckminster Fuller weighed in at the front with an encouraging piece about geodesic domes, and a movement was launched all over the world. They showed the earth as a tiny planet on the front cover, as photographed from space.

Tools were what we needed, and tools were what went out and sought. I went to farm auctions and bought impossibly long wooden stack ladders nobody needed or wanted any more for a few pounds. I bought a giant old 1948 Fordson Major tractor with a six-cylinder Perkins diesel engine in perfect working order, and a full armoury of ploughs, harrows, cultivators and hay-cutters to go with it, for well under £600."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Supply Side Economist

Samuel K. finds the funny side of supply side:

3:05 p.m.

Meets a blind date
at a coffee shop

FRANCINE: Hi, you must be Arthur. I'm Francine.


FRANCINE: I'm sorry?


FRANCINE: (Nervous.) It's—it's nice to meet you.



FRANCINE: I have to go now.


Design Fiction

Bruce Sterling on the changing nature of user experience and maker experience of science fiction in light of industrial design and technological change:

The “whole sense of the book” is not the whole sense of the words . Look at the weird “Google erudition” of journalism researched online. Consider the hybridized “Creole media” of blog platforms. The line commands in software are text as an expression of will.

Let me offer an older example here, to show how deep this goes. Consider the literary platforms of a thousand years ago. This remote period saw the birth, or rather the stillbirth, of the novel, with Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji. This Japanese manuscript scroll, written with an ink brush in the late 900s and published in modern times as a book, is nevertheless a true novel. More specifically, it’s a romance. Jane Austen fans could easily parse The Tale of Genji.

While this proto-novel was being written, a rival work appeared, known as The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. This other composition is certainly not a novel. It’s intensely literary, yet it can’t be described by contemporary literary-platform terminology. The Pillow Book is a nonlinear set of writings jotted down on a loose heap of leftover government stationery.

The Pillow Book is not a diary, a miscellany, an almanac, a collection of lists, or even a resource for composing Japanese poetry, although it seems to us to have some aspects of these modern structures. It is better described in terms of user experience.

This experience was a four- or five-year effort to beguile the tedium of a tight circle of Imperial ladies-in-waiting. The experience had a star author/designer-the glamorous and attention-hungry Court Officer Sei-but it had no press, no publisher, no editor, no distributor, and it was never for sale. Its user base- in total, maybe 200 women-probably never read it. Instead, they heard the work recited aloud by someone crouching near a lantern after dark.

A strictly literary approach to this experience hurts our ability to comprehend what The Pillow Book is doing. This ancient “book” is related only distantly to our books; in function and audience, it has more kinship with a small-scale blog.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swine Flu Outbreak

Strange reports are coming out of Mexico City following the outbreak of swine flu, which has killed at least 20 people so far. This is what the beginning of an epidemic looks like; unlike the bird flu scare, which began with isolated cases, this is an intensive cluster. It's also what a false alarm looks like; by the time we know how rapidly the outbreak is spreading, it will either be over or uncontainable. In the meantime, rumor will outrun fact for a while:

I work as a resident doctor in one of the biggest hospitals in Mexico City and sadly, the situation is far from "under control". As a doctor, I realise that the media does not report the truth. Authorities distributed vaccines among all the medical personnel with no results, because two of my partners who worked in this hospital (interns) were killed by this new virus in less than six days even though they were vaccinated as all of us were. The official number of deaths is 20, nevertheless, the true number of victims are more than 200. I understand that we must avoid to panic, but telling the truth it might be better now to prevent and avoid more deaths.

Yeny Gregorio Dávila, Mexico City

The situation in Mexico City is really not normal. There is a sense of uncertainty that borders on paranoid behaviour in some cases. At this very moment, Mexican TV is showing how military forces are giving masks to the people in the streets. Moreover the news is sending alarming messages for the audience. Really, the atmosphere in the city is unsettling, a good example: pubs and concerts are being closed or cancelled and people don't haven thorough information. In this city (and country) there is an urgent need for assertive information, no paranoid messages from the government or the Mexican media.

Patricio Barrientos and Aranzazu Nuñez, Mexico City

This Reads Differently Here

Creepy, lovely images of Catholic penitents during Holy Week over at the Big Picture.

Coilhouse Throws the Best Parties

Pretty people in funny clothes pose for professional photographer. Why don't I get invited to parties like this?
Maybe 'cause I hang out with boring old business people 'n' such.

Calm, Cool & Cautious

What makes Obama tick? According to this post, he's averse to gambling on big changes at the institutional level, because they appear to be risky, rather than actually being risky. The best insight into some apparently strange decisions by the current administration that I've seen so far.

Chile: Basic Keynesian Economics at Work

Chile's copper exports were in danger of creating vast inflation in the country, causing declines in other domestic industries. So, what did the government do? It banked the proceeds overseas against the days when copper would fall on the world market. Now, it's got a war chest equal to 30% of GDP stored up--and ready to use now that the world economy has slowed. Andres Velasco is looking like a genius now, because his plan paid off.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pakistan & Open Source Insurgency

John Robb continues to expand on his discussion of the Open Source Warfare going on in Pakistan right now, noting that the current insurgency is not built on the "Mao model", which involved a full replacement government. The current insurgency instead involves the loose affiliation of a number of groups which are each able to contribute resources and knowledge to specific projects. Meanwhile, the Pakistani military is focused on the threat from India and the internal political threat from the existing government.
Seen: lots of guys with Wolverine muttonchops. Getting ready for the movie's release?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Angelic Conversation

Excerpt from an experimental film by Derek Jarman with music by Coil, text by Shakespeare.

Mom spent 2 hours waiting in agony in the emergency room with a broken wrist, and another 2 hours going through triage and registration before getting some pain meds and treatment. The ortho tech and doctor who finally took care of her were great, but God help you if you get sick or injured at an awkward hour in this country. It was a tour of the inferno.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Future Is Now, Vol. LXXII: Blue Brain

The Brain Mind Institute is attempting to simulate the brain down to the molecular level, starting with a single cortical stack:

The Blue Brain project launched in 2005 as the most ambitious brain simulation effort ever undertaken.

While many computer simulations have attempted to code in "brain-like" computation or to mimic parts of the nervous systems and brains of a variety of animals, the Blue Brain project was conceived to reverse-engineer mammal brains from real laboratory data and to build up a computer model down to the level of the molecules that make them up.

The first phase of the project is now complete; researchers have modeled the neocortical column - a unit of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex which is responsible for higher brain functions and thought.

"The thing about the neocortical column is that you can think of it as an isolated processor. It is very much the same from mouse to man - it gets a bit larger a bit wider in humans, but the circuit diagram is very similar," Henry Markram, leader of the Blue Brain project and founder of the Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland, told BBC News.

He added that, when evolution discovered this "mammalian secret", it duplicated it many many times and then "used it as it needed more and more functionality".

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Ecology of Vampires

The Oyster's Garter does a comparison of vampire population estimation methods, and concludes "clearly we are living in the Buffyverse".

This [Thomas' assumptions] results in an equilibrium population of 36,346 humans and 18 vampires. Thomas then notes that interestingly enough the established population of Sunnydale on the show is 38,500 humans, pretty damn close to the equation result. Maybe Buffy needs to cut back on the slaying in order to let the vampires weed out that extra 2100 people, we wouldn’t want human overpopulation to lead to starvation.

But is this equilibrium stable? Will natural fluctuations in the vampire population prevent the equilibrium state from ever existing? Thomas then ran the model using several different initial population sizes and seeing whether they eventually moved to equilibrium, or spiraled off into an abyss where everybody died. Turns out the model is stable and the vampires and humans can co-exist forever! Hooray!

Twilight-style sparkly vampires don't work out that well.

Frozen Delight

Spencer Tunick interviewed:

JHN: I'm confident that you have seen more naked people than anyone else in the history of the world.

ST: More than Genghis Khan?

JHN: You've probably seen more people naked than there were people alive at the time of Genghis Khan.

ST: I have seen as many people naked, obviously, as I have photographed, over 100,000 people. Plus probably twenty.

More Storms

Jane Lynch, Alicia Silverstone, Lance Bass, George Takei, LizFeldman, Jason Lewis, Sarah Chalke, and Sophia Bush parody the NOM ad.

"They'll turn tampons into rocket ships!"

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Princess Sparklepony

In which Jake names a printer.


The Cassini mission continues to provide stunning imagery and data from Saturn, including this image of the moon Prometheus as it transits the rings, creating new streamers in its wake.

Tales from the Meltdown 16: "Ten out of Three is a Pretty Good Record, Actually"

Daniel Kahneman, one of the godfathers of behavioral finance, is interviewed by Guy Rolnik of Haaretz on the fallibility of models, intuition and experts in the face of our own psychology:

"Psychology today differentiates between two methods of thinking: There is the intuitive method, and there is the rational one. The intuitive method is characterized by rapid learning, and it concludes very quickly that what has happened the last three times will happen forever, again and again."

Why is it that we believe that if it has happened three times, it will happen again?

"I once told a story about this: We once traveled from New York to Boston on a Sunday night, and we saw a car on fire on the side of the road. A week later, again on a Sunday night, we were traveling and again saw a car on fire in the same place. The fact is, we were less surprised the second time than the first because we had learned a rule: Cars burn at this spot.

"We find this everywhere - the speed at which people create rules, norms and expectations, even when they know it's ridiculous. This is the intuitive method at work. It remains true that whenever I travel, I always look for burning cars at that spot."

Over the last 40 years you have demonstrated that we never employ the statistical method of thinking, just the heuristic one - rules of thumb. Some economists today say the models were indeed based on statistics, but the problem is that they were based on statistics according to which the market goes up, rather than on long-term statistics.

"When it comes to finance, people link risk to volatility, but in reality, there is no connection between the two at all. There is a connection, but not when we're talking about huge risks. Greenspan and others believed that the global system - by virtue of its being global - was ipso facto more stable. Then it turned out that while it might have been more stable, it was also more extreme.

"In the last half year, the models simply didn't work. So the question arises: Why do people use models? I liken what is happening now to a system that forecasts the weather, and does so very well. People know when to take an umbrella when they leave the house, or when it will snow. Except what? The system can't predict hurricanes. Do we use the system anyway, or throw it out? It turns out they'll use it."

Okay, so they use it. But why don't they buy hurricane insurance?

"The question is, how much will the hurricane insurance cost? Since you can't predict these events, you would have to take out insurance against many things. If they had listened to all the warnings and tried to prevent these things, the economy would look a lot different than it does now. So an interesting question arises: After this crisis, will we arrive at something like that? It's hard for me to believe."

The financial world's models are built on the assumption that investors are rational. You have shown that not only are they not rational, they even deviate from what is rational or statistical, in predictable, systematic ways. Can we say that whoever recognized and accepted these deviations could have seen this crisis coming?

"It was possible to foresee, and some people did. There were quite a few smart people with a lot of experience who said bubbles are being created and they have to be allowed to burst by themselves. But it turns out that this bubble did not have to be allowed to burst by itself. I have a colleague at Princeton who says there were exactly five people who foresaw this crisis, and this does not include [Fed Chairman] Ben Bernanke. One of them is Prof. Robert Shiller, who also predicted the previous bubble. The problem is there were other economists who predicted this crisis, like Nouriel Roubini, but he also predicted some crises that never came to be."

He was one of those who predicted 10 crises out of three.

"Ten out of three is a pretty good record, relatively. But I conclude from the fact that only five people predicted the current crisis that it was impossible to predict it. In hindsight, it all seems obvious: Everyone seemed to be blind, only these five appeared to be smart. But there were a lot of smart people who looked at the situation and knew all the facts, and they did not predict the crisis."

(via Mark Thoma)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Quote of the Day

In historical terms, you don't look back on the Spanish Inquisition or on Stalin's Russia and say man, those guys had some crack investigators! Rather, you see that historically the function of torture has been to extract false confessions and to inspire a general climate of fear.

(via HuffPo)

Grim Meathook Past

Origin of the phrase "grim meathook future", because there's an increasing, non-zero probability that I'll need to reference this at some point. Originally coined by Joshua Ellis, and adopted by, well, everybody.


How hard is it to follow the law and prosecute war crimes? Too hard for the Obama Administration, apparently. Get your act together, people. The policy staff who pushed for torture ought to be investigated, prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. This is a clear case of evil.

More here, here and here. And here.

Blueberry Girl

Neil Gaiman reads a poem for his god-daughter, illustrated by Charles Vess.

Jane Harman, Alberto Gonzales, Wiretapping and Blackmail

This is fascinating stuff:

This story is so radioactive it's hard to know which of fifty different directions to go with it. In brief, Jeff Stein at CQ has a much, much more detailed account of that story, first reported in 2006, of Rep. Jane Harman getting caught on a wiretapped phone call allegedly discussing a quid pro quo with "a suspected Israeli."

There are a lot of hairy details on this one. But the gist is that an NSA wiretap recorded Harman in a conversation with a "suspected Israeli agent" in which Harman allegedly agreed to use her influence with the DOJ to get them to drop the AIPAC spy case in exchange for help lobbying then-Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi to make Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee -- a position she ended up not getting.

...The story suggests that the tapes show Harman crossed the line. And the gears were in motion to open a full blown investigation. But then Alberto Gonzales intervened and shutdown the whole thing.

Why? Here's where it gets into the realm of bad novel writing: because Gonzales (and the White House) needed Harman to go to bat for them on the warrantless wiretaping story that the New York Times was then on the brink of publishing.

Product Concept: the Bookazine

Warren Ellis points out the bookazine concept: A one-off or infrequently released publication with limited advertising and a higher quality binding, intended to be retained longer than a magazine.

"Bookazine" (A hybrid of a Book and a Magazine) is a term we have created to describe a glossy, A4 perfect bound (stitched paged) one-off product. Bookazines generally are between 116 and 132 pages, and are all printed on very high quality thick paper, with a glossy cover. Bookazines are specialist titles covering an area or genre, which also contain a small percentage of advertising to make the product more affordable

Sunday, April 19, 2009

RIP JG Ballard

Author JG Ballard, who dealt with "the psychology of the future", died today at 78 after a long illness, according to the BBC and Michael Moorcock.

Credit Markets Give Mixed Signals

The Big Picture points us at this chart from the NYT, using Thomson data. The implication is that the investment grade bond markets have rebounded somewhat due to the extension of government guarantees in this area. Syndicated loans, in which multiple banks lend to a single corporate borrower directly from their balance sheets, have not shown any substantial recovery. The banking system's ability to support a corporate banking business is still substantially impaired, which bodes ill for a recovery in the next 12 months or so.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

He'll Always Be...

Lifted whole from jwz's blog, I feel that I should insert a Police lyric here for some reason
"Another habitue of Martin and Horton's, and an occasional visitor to the Cobweb Palace, was an itinerant healer who called himself the King of Pain. He was probably the most ornate personage in the San Francisco of his time -- his customary attire was scarlet underwear, a heavy velour robe, a high hat bedecked with ostrich feathers, and a heavy sword. When he went abroad, he rode in a coal-black coach drawn by six snow white horses. The King of Pain made a fortune selling aconite liniment from a pitch at Third and Mission streets, but he lost all his money at the gaming tables and finally committed suicide."
- The Gangs of San Francisco
Herbert Asbury

Friday, April 17, 2009

"You're Not Going to Live

Frederick Seidel discusses the worst review ever:

One night after Christmas last year, in a dark, well-upholstered restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the American poet Frederick Seidel, an elegant man of 73 with an uncommonly courtly manner, told me a story about poetry’s power to disturb. “It was years ago,” Seidel explained in his measured voice, “in the days when I had an answering machine. I’d left my apartment, briefly, to go outside to get something, and when I came back there was a message. When I played it, there was a woman’s voice, a young woman’s voice sounding deeply aroused, saying: ‘Frederick Seidel . . . Frederick Seidel . . . you think you’re going to live. You think you’re going to live. But you’re not. You’re not going to live. You’re not going to live. . . .’ All this extraordinary, suggestive heavy breathing, getting, in the tone of it, more and more intensely sexual, more gruesome, and then this sort of explosion of sound from this woman, and: ‘You’re . . . not . . . going . . . to . . . live.’ ”

Seidel paused. The bright cries of a group of young women giving a baby shower in the adjoining booth rose and fell behind the bare crown of Seidel’s gray head. “So,” he continued, “the first thing I did was call a girlfriend. And the woman said, ‘I’m coming over.’ And did. And listened to this thing. And burst into tears. Because it really was horrific.” Another friend, a federal judge, also listened, insisting that Seidel call the police immediately and tell them he’d received a death threat. “They came by and they said: ‘It’s real. Have you published a book recently?’ I had. And that was it, really. Meaning nothing happened. But,” Seidel said, his large blue eyes brightening, “it was the most severe review I’ve ever received.”

(via 3quarks)

Wolf Loves Pork

Animation by Takeuchi Taijin

Made the dreadful mistake of joining Facebook. Can see why it's total time wastage, plus now all my high school friends can see what's been previously reserved for utter strangers to know on teh Internets.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Old Man Ellis Gets a Column Wired UK, that is:

We are, frankly, living in the last days of the Roman Empire once more, and it’s entirely typical that I’m pissed off that I can’t use my Wi-Fi to investigate current trends in jenkem use on the Ivory Coast instead of, I dunno, planting food or fomenting revolution or something.

These are truly the last days.... This is the problem with writing fiction in the early 21st century: the real world outdoes you for madness every day. You’d be overdoing it, as a fiction writer, if you had Congolese bushfighters eating their enemies’ flesh during an ebola outbreak… except that it’s happening as I write.

Red Mercury

This "substance of debatable existence" is believed to have a number of properties, ranging from expelling demons and finding treasure to priming nuclear bombs. The search to find it has resulted in a mad dash to buy up antique sewing machines in Saudi Arabia.

I wonder if they're really thinking of cinnabar, a reddish mercury ore used in alchemical recipes for the philosopher's stone.

(via Mr. Gibson)

30th Lap

Kenyon's swim team continues the longest-running winning streak in NCAA history with its 30th consecutive title. Where I come from, swimming is bigger than football, basketball or baseball. Congratulations, Lords & Ladies.

Who Likes Cilantro?

Fuckyeahcilantro. Also, Ryan Gosling.

(via BuzzFeed)

Obama Delivers Major Speech to Key Constituency

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Working on parents' taxes today, followed by my own. Why are there so many worksheets that take twenty steps to reveal that you don't need to use them?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Surviving Black Swans

John Robb offers an alternative solution to the Black Swans caused by the tight interdependence and (fr)agility of modern financial systems:

I recommend that we organically evolve into a more efficient decentralized system that concentrates on community resilience. Resilient communities involve intentional decentralization (lower connectivity or an ability to suffer a loss in connectivity without damage), which would radically reduce the chances that large network failures would result in cataclysmic black swans. We would be able to reboot quickly and with little long term damage.

He's also got some nice posts on "open source warfare" in there.

Roubini: Stress Tests Not Particularly Stressful

Nouriel Roubini sez:
Actual Macro Data Are Already Worse than the More Adverse Scenario for 2009 in the Stress Tests. So the Stress Tests Fail the Basic Criterion of Reality Check Even Before They Are Concluded

Link Roundup

Miscellaneous links in support of various entrepreneurial clients:

Eucalyptus: Hybrid cloud computing from Sun

Johnathan Jones: Wind farms will save the traditional countryside, plus they're pretty.

PE Valuations of Life Science Companies

Healthcare IT innovation in the Northwest.

McKinsey map of Innovation Clusters. Chicago comes out as a "still lake": not so good, possibly because measurement of "momentum happens on a per-capita basis?

Buffett Buys Some BYD

Warren Buffett recently invested in BYD, a Chinese battery-powered car company. Why? Because the business model fits with Buffett's investing philosophy: innovation + low cost production + fanatically hard working staff = profitability.

[Wang Chuan-Fu] started BYD with a modest goal: to edge in on the Japanese-dominated battery business. "Importing batteries from Japan was very expensive," Wang says. "There were import duties, and delivery times were long." He studied Sony and Sanyo patents and took apart batteries to understand how they were made, a "process that involved much trial and error," he says. (Sony and Sanyo later sued BYD, unsuccessfully, for infringing on their patents.)

BYD's breakthrough came when Wang decided to substitute migrant workers for machines. In place of the robotic arms used on Japanese assembly lines, which cost $100,000 or more apiece, BYD actually cut costs by hiring hundreds, then thousands, of people.

"When I first visited the BYD factory, I was shocked," says Daniel Kim, a Merrill Lynch technology analyst based in Hong Kong, who has been to the fully automated production lines in Japan and Korea. "It's a completely different business model." To control quality, BYD broke every job down into basic tasks and applied strict testing protocols. By 2002, BYD had become one of the top four manufacturers worldwide - and the largest Chinese manufacturer - in each of the three rechargeable battery technologies (Li-Ion, NiCad, and NiMH), according to a Harvard Business School case study of the company. And Wang stresses that BYD, unlike Sony and Sanyo, has never faced a recall of its batteries.

Amazon Fail?

An alternate history of this weekend's Amazon shitstorm.

LILO Companies

Josh Quittner writes a good "saddle up and get out there" article on the new generation of LILO ("a Little In, a Lot Out") startups. Y Combinator's Paul Graham, originator of the "ramen profitable" line, gets the money line here as well: "A company is no more expensive than a hobby these days."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mighty Morphin' Murder

Crazy, crazy story: former Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers star Skylar Deleon and his ex-wife have been sentenced to death for the murder of a couple on their yacht, to get money to pay for Skylar's sex change. Reading this, you feel like the sherrifs in No Country for Old Men.

Blossom Time

I've always felt there were more than just the basic four seasons. We're in one of the microseasons now, when all the fruit trees flower over two weeks in spring.

Imaginary Libraries

Alberto Manguel's Library at Night is a multilayered look at collections of books. It is a book haunted by other books, particularly absent ones: unread books, lost books, burned books, destroyed libraries, ungathered libraries, libraries in search of users, virtual libraries, fictional ones, fake ones.

Colette, in one of the books of memoirs with which she delighted in scandalizing her readers, tells the story of imaginary catalogues compiled by her friend Paul Masson—an ex-colonial magistrate who worked at the Bibliotheque Nationale, and an eccentric who ended his life by standing on the edge of the Rhine, stuffing cotton wool soaked in ether up his nose and, after losing consciousness, drowning in barely a foot of water. According to Collette, Masson would visit her at her seaside villa and pull from his pockets a portable desktop, a fountain pen and a small pack of blank cards.

"What are you doing?" she asked him one day.

"I'm working," he answered. "I'm working at my job. I've been appointed to the catalogue section of the Bibliotheque Nationale. I'm making an inventory of titles."

"Oh, can you do that from memory?" she marvelled.

"From memory? What would be the merit? I'm doing better. I've realized that the Nationale is poor in Latin and Italian books from the fifteenth century," he explained. "Until chance and erudition fill the gaps, I am listing the titles of extremely interesting works that should have been written....At least these titles may save the prestige of the catalogue...."

"But if the books don't exist...."

"Well," Masson answered with a frivolous gesture, "I can't be expected to do everything!"

Previously: Alberto Manguel's Library profiled in NYT.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More on State Secrets

John Sifton thinks that senior CIA officials are behind the state secrets claim.

"Egregious Overreach"

More on the state secrets suits from Dan Froomkin:

There are two things you really need to know about the "state secrets" privilege.

The first is that the government lied in the 1953 Supreme Court case that established the government's right not to disclose to the judicial branch information that would compromise national security. The widows of three civilian engineers who died in a military airplane crash sued the government for negligence. The government refused to turn over records, citing national security. But some 50 years later, when the records in question were made public, there were no national security secrets in them, just embarrassing information establishing the government's negligence. (More about the case here.)

The second thing is that the way the state secrets privilege has typically worked since then is that the government can refuse to publicly disclose a specific item of information if it explains why to the judge. The idea is not that government officials get to tell a judge to dismiss an entire case because they don't want to answer any questions at all.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

This Charming Man

It's been said before, but in the 80's, it was possible for a band to be important. This importance expressed itself in several ways. They had shadowy, mopey, intellectual reputations. They were ideally British or from Athens, Georgia or possibly pretending to be from one of those places, complete with the kind of affected accent that one doesn't hear anymore. They were whispered to be involved with odd causes (ecology, communism, vegetarianism, riots, bisexuality, hair dyes). Their albums were hard to find. You couldn't just get them at the record store in the mall; you had to go down to the slightly sketchy record store with the purple walls, mauve salespeople and mannequin dressed in bondage pants. They were advertised primarily through painstakingly painted artwork on the backs of jean jackets and three ring binders. The discographies were uncertain, with EP's and singles appearing briefly, sometimes under multiple aliases.

Someone would slip you a mix tape, and the next day, you would wake up a Smiths fan. It was a badge of being a mopey, dreamy kid. The sad, lonely songs made you fill up with happiness inside. Some days, they still do. Pop Louder Than Bombs on the old iPod, and you're 17 again (if your're not already, sweet and misunderstood and pining for someone somewhere:

Ask me, I won't say no, how could I?
Spending long summer days indoors
Writing frightening verse
To a bucktooth girl in Luxemburg

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Board of Doom

Caitlin Kittredge is using a board of color-coded cards to plot revisions to her new novel, The Witch's Alphabet. Green for existing chapters, yellow for new ones, red for revisions.

Useful tool, much better than my method of weeping and hiding my face in my hands.
(via Warren)


"During the filming of The Wizard of Oz, the director, Victor Fleming, was looking for a coat for Professor Marvel. He wanted something that looked as if it had been beautiful once but was now falling apart, and he found just the thing in a secondhand shop. When he got it back to the costume department they found a name tag. The coat had belonged to L Frank Baum, author of the original book. No matter how fanciful what we write is, we always bury something of ourselves in the foundations. And sometimes that something comes back - like Frank Baum's coat - to haunt or bless us."

Jeff Jarvis delivers the butcher's bill to the newspaper industry:

Yesterday, you delivered a foot-stomping little hissy fit over Google and aggregators. How dare they link to you and not pay you? Oh, I so want Eric Schmidt to tell you today that you're getting your wish and that Google will no longer link to you. Beware what you wish for. You'd lose a third of your traffic overnight. If other aggregators (I work with one) and bloggers (I am one) and Facebook all decided to follow suit, you'd lose half your traffic. On most of your sites, only 20 percent of the audience in a day ever sees your homepage and its careful packaging; 4 of 5 readers instead come in through search and links. In the link economy - instead of the outmoded content economy in which you operate - Google and aggregators and bloggers are bringing value to you; they should be charging you for the value they bring. You should rise up today and give Mr. Schmidt a big thank you for not charging you. But you won't, because you've refused to understand this new business reality.

You blew it.

Principles for a Black Swan-Free World

NNT's Top 10:

  1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Grow nothing too big to fail.
  2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains.
  3. Find the smart people whose hands are clean.
  4. No incentives without disincentives. Don't incentivize risk where you don't want it.
  5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity.
  6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning . Ban risky financial products
  7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence.
  8. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one.
  9. Economic life should be definancialised.
  10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Rebuild the whole system.

Update: A critique of the recommendations from freeexchange.

Quote of the Day

Dad: Why does the main guy in the book jump in the sea and drown himself in the last chapter?

Me: I have no idea. I was about to start the first chapter. But thanks for the heads up.


Remixed furniture by Courtney Smith.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A Taxonomy of Housing

FT Features a survey by Makno Consulting describing seven use profiles for housing:

  1. Bunker A dwelling stuck in time and closed to all but a few close relatives and intimate friends that provides protective shelter
  2. Hearth A functional, affordable, dynamic, intimate family space with warm, traditional furnishings and liberal use of pastel colours
  3. Forum A house groomed for aesthetics as well as function with social kitchens, distinct private spaces, outdoor areas and decor in muted, natural tones with splashes of intense colour
  4. Office A collection of rooms used by different people for anything from work to recreation to relaxation
  5. Theatre A stage-set that prioritises aesthetics and personal considerations over function or economy with contemporary design and technology plus antiques and art for effect
  6. Tent A perfunctory, undecorated set-up for the young and highly mobile
  7. Commodity An anonymous dwelling occupied by a professional whose real home is elsewhere

Shame on Obama

Obama Administration expands on Bush Admin State Secrets position. What a disgrace.

More at the DailyKos.

Dangerous People

Who's going to kill you, and how. The most dangerous person? The one you see in the mirror every day, who eats too much of the wrong things, doesn't exercise, smokes and drinks to excess, and otherwise does a bad job of taking care of you.

Julie Andews Brightens Antwerp Rail Station

More flash mob dancing. Always a good thing.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Ricardian Equivalence Explained

Paul Krugman lays it out in simple terms.

Hand of God Nebula

NASA image

150 Light-years across.

Big Wind

Near coast wind farms could provide 25% of total US energy needs.

Mosh Pit 2001

Mosh 1, Dan Witz

(via Siege)

Carbon Eating Cement?

Calera claims to have a net-carbon-negative cement. Others disagree. Discuss.

Quote of the Day

"None of your friends mentioned how much weight you've put on? That was awfully nice of them."
Thanks, Mom.

You and Your Research

Richard Hamming delivers a speech for scientists (and others) that answers the question: How do you become someone who does significant work in your field?

Ask big questions, go and talk to big thinkers, be curious about news in your field, have many potential ideas until you find a way to attack them, then drop everything else to press your opportunity, communicate well, work well with others, know yourself.

Question: Is brainstorming a daily process?

Hamming: Once that was a very popular thing, but it seems not to have paid off. For myself I find it desirable to talk to other people; but a session of brainstorming is seldom worthwhile. I do go in to strictly talk to somebody and say, ``Look, I think there has to be something here. Here's what I think I see ...'' and then begin talking back and forth. But you want to pick capable people. To use another analogy, you know the idea called the `critical mass.' If you have enough stuff you have critical mass. There is also the idea I used to call `sound absorbers'. When you get too many sound absorbers, you give out an idea and they merely say, ``Yes, yes, yes.'' What you want to do is get that critical mass in action; ``Yes, that reminds me of so and so,'' or, ``Have you thought about that or this?'' When you talk to other people, you want to get rid of those sound absorbers who are nice people but merely say, ``Oh yes,'' and to find those who will stimulate you right back.

For example, you couldn't talk to John Pierce without being stimulated very quickly. There were a group of other people I used to talk with. For example there was Ed Gilbert; I used to go down to his office regularly and ask him questions and listen and come back stimulated. I picked my people carefully with whom I did or whom I didn't brainstorm because the sound absorbers are a curse. They are just nice guys; they fill the whole space and they contribute nothing except they absorb ideas and the new ideas just die away instead of echoing on. Yes, I find it necessary to talk to people. I think people with closed doors fail to do this so they fail to get their ideas sharpened, such as ``Did you ever notice something over here?'' I never knew anything about it - I can go over and look. Somebody points the way. On my visit here, I have already found several books that I must read when I get home. I talk to people and ask questions when I think they can answer me and give me clues that I do not know about. I go out and look!

(via lonegunman)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

What a Trip

Kira Salak takes a trip to Peru to take Ayahuasca, meets an "exceptionally good-looking" 27 year old master shaman, vomits fire, and experiences an exorcism hangover:

"Tell the spirits to leave you with ease," Hamilton says to me.

"They won't!" I yell out. And now they appear to be escaping en masse from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make. All the while there is me, like a kind of witness, watching and listening in horror, feeling utterly helpless to stop it. I've read nothing about this sort of experience happening when taking ayahuasca. And now I see an image of a mountain in Libya, a supposedly haunted mountain that I climbed a year and a half ago, despite strong warnings from locals. A voice tells me that whatever is now leaving my body attached itself to me in that place.

Haunted mountains. Demonic hitchhikers. Who would believe this? Yet on and on it goes. The screaming, the wailing. My body shakes wildly; I see a great serpent emerging from my body, with designs on Hamilton. He shakes his chakapa at it, singing loudly, and after what seems like an infinite battle of wills, the creature leaves me. I grab the vomit bucket and puke for several minutes. Though my stomach has been empty for over eight hours, a flood of solid particles comes out of me.

The visions fade. My body stops shaking. Hamilton takes his seat again and Rosa releases her grip on me. I examine the vomit bucket with a flashlight: Black specks the size of dimes litter orange-colored foam. The shamans believe that what we vomit out during a ceremony is the physical manifestation of dark energy and toxins being purged from the body. The more that comes out, the better.

"Good work, Kira," Hamilton says to me from across the room.

My entire body hurts. My head throbs. I can hear the others in the room, whispering to each other. I had barely been conscious of their experiences, they had seemed so quiet by comparison.

"Is Kira OK?" Christy asks Hamilton.

"She just had a little exorcism," Hamilton explains with relish. "She's fine."

"Bloody hell; was that what it was?" says Katherine.

"She just picked up some travelers," Hamilton says. "We had to get rid of them."

"Bloody hell!" Katherine says again. "Is this what you'd consider a normal ceremony, Hamilton?"

"About one out of a hundred ceremonies is as intense as this one. We kicked some real demon butt tonight."

...There is probably no hangover that comes anywhere close to the hangover from an exorcism. It's the next morning and I can barely walk—not that I really want to. I have zero energy. My voice is almost gone, and I must communicate in a hoarse whisper if I communicate at all. This has proven not to be an issue as the others on the tour are so freaked out by what happened last night that they can barely mumble an obligatory "good morning" to me.

Michael Bay Eating a Bowl of Cereal

(via Sully)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Taste Badge for Republicans

The Council on Foreign Relations organized a conference on the New Deal and Great Depression that was, by several reports, curiously rich in revisionists who follow Amity Schlaes theory that Roosevelt actually deepened and extended the Great Depression with his New Deal policies, and curiously lacking in the crowd of economists and historians who hold the traditional view that the New Deal helped to end the Depression.

At best, it looks like the revisionist evidence is thin on the ground; at worst, revisionism is being used to create a political counter-movement to the Obama Administration's interventionist policies.

Update: Looks like Brad DeLong didn't think much of it:

It is hard to know what to say. The fall in unemployment from 23% in 1932 to 11% in 1939 is not "recovery" because the economy only "started recovering in 1939"? The post-1939 recovery--as unemployment falls from 11% in 1939 to 9.5% in 1940 to 6% in 1941 to 1.2% in 1944--is "not expenditures... expenditures... did not jump until 1941"? The claim "the current administration has abandoned the use of cost-benefit analysis" would astonish Cass Sunstein and Jeff Liebman, who are doing just it in OMB right now. And who were those "businessmen who had fled to England" and stayed there until 1939 in the aftermath of Roosevelt's election? Can Prescott name a single one? No.

This is not economics. This is fantasy pure and simple.

Also, check out his letter to Patricia Cohen, who covered the event for the NYT:

An Open Letter to Patricia Cohen of the New York Times

Dear Ms. Cohen:

Eric Alterman speaks very highly of you indeed. And right now I am trying to resolve a certain... cognitive dissonance. The reports I got of the Council on Foreign Relations's conference last week on the Great Depression portrayed a day that was--frankly--insane.

We had Edward Prescott ranting about how the Depression came about because Herbert Hoover was not free market enough; denouncing "Hoover's anti-market, anti-globalization, anti-immigration, pro-cartelization policies"; and claiming that the economy only "started recovering in 1939, when... Roosevelt... called up the businessmen who had fled to England... and said please come back." I have never heard of a single one of the "businessmen who had fled to England" in the aftermath of Roosevelt's election, stayed there until 1939, and was then called back by Roosevelt.

And unemployment did fall from 23% in 1932 to 11% in 1939.

We had Ellen McGrattan misrepresenting my friend Christina Romer and claiming that because she is "using estimates of spending multipliers of about 1.5," she believes pure socialism in which we "have the government basically do everything." But Christy Romer says that she believes that the fiscal policy multiplier is 1.5 (or larger) now when unemployment is high--and thus that the government should do more right now--but that the multiplier drops to a very small value whenever unemployment is low.

We had Amity Shlaes claiming that "unemployment remained high throughout the decade" of the 1930s--in spite of its fall from 23% to 11%--because "the uncertainty created by Roosevelt’s continual tinkering paralyzed private investors"--in spite of the rise in inflation-adjusted private investment spending from $11 billion in 1932 to $77 billion in 1939.

Yet you seem to write of a quite different conference. I would have thought that Prescott's denunciation of Hoover, McGrattan's claim that the Obama administration seeks socialism (and their denials), and the striking disjunction between Shlaes's claims of little progress in unemployment and falling private investment in the 1930s and the reports of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis would be... somewhat newsworthy.

Can you shed some light on the difference between the CFR conference as related by, say, James Galbraith and the conference that you attended?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Staying at Mark the Shark's loft, which has great views, but unaccountably cold bedrooms that focus sounds from the nearby freeway, so that I get periodic wake up calls that feel like an earthquake is happening.

Off early for a breakfast meeting for a healthcare IT company, then back home. Parking is chaos. The entire area of town is being roped off for something to happen on the 5th. Spring cleaning?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Mark Cuban asks: "Why are profitable companies laying off people?"

The real answer is it's because they have no idea how their company makes money in the first place.

Cutting productive people almost always decreases costs less than revenues over the medium to long term due to direct and indirect loss of productivity, knowledge and morale. The only time this is not the case (that I can think of) is if the business is being fundamentally transformed (e.g., you were a construction company, and now you're going to be a university).

Concept of the Day

The Lean Startup

The Ninth Battalion of Hot Chicks

Bruce Sterling calls Caitlin Moran a "British Pop Music Critic as International Military Strategist". I'd just call her brilliant:

This is unfortunate because, had the Americans read the report, they would have noted two vital findings. The first is that while the same old countries — Iran, China, North Korea, France probably, haha — want to have a pop at the US, America has to accept that we are now in a “nonpolar” world and must redefine its strategies to cope with “nonstate actors” — your Hezbollahs and al-Qaedas. These are defined as forces that are “strong enough to resist an American agenda but too weak to shape an internationally attractive alternative”.

Of course, by those criteria, America’s newest enemies are not merely Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. They would also include atheists, pedestrians, socialists, European film directors who make films with unhappy endings, drizzly weather and Courtney Love — but not, interestingly, vegetarians, who have been pretty strong in “shaping internationally attractive alternatives”, what with the Quorn burger and McDon-ald’s Toasted Deli Grill Veggie Melt.

The IISS’s second conclusion was that, in the “complex battlefield” of the 21st century, America needs to concentrate more on psychological warfare. Of course, those who have read Jon Ronson’s excellent The Men Who Stare At Goats will know that the US has already been, albeit in a low-key and mad way, experimenting with psychological warfare. The conclusion of its 20-year-long experiments resulted in the playing of heavy rock music, including Guns’n’Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle , within earshot of the former Panamanian President Manuel Nori-ega when he was holed up the Vatican Embassy in 1989. As many will have subsequently noticed, this particular tactic of psychological warfare did remarkably little in ending the siege, but oddly coincided with the high-water mark in Guns’n’Roses’ career — possibly marking out the thin red line between state-sponsored psychological combat and a very effective marketing campaign.

However, once an entity loses the ability to use Guns’n’Roses as a weapon, it’s understandable why the ensuing period would be one of intense confusion, bordering on panic, with no obvious alternative taking its place. US psychological warfare is at an all-time low at the moment. Luckily, however, I do have a few suggestions for future activity:

1)Stage a massive army-recruitment drive among the table-staff of Hollywood, and assemble a battalion of actresses/models/ whatevers. When invading a city, send in the Ninth Battalion of Hot Chicks first, dressed in skin-tight catsuits. Get them to enter the city with a series of excitable screams and yelps, while doing leaps, rolls and cartwheels down the high street — like Catherine Zeta-Jones’s training scene in Entrapment but, obviously, without Sean Connery sitting on a chair and watching. A man may well be devout enough to shoot old men in the head, but I’m pretty sure he would at least pause for a few vital seconds before shooting at an Angelina Jolie lookalike doing the splits in mid-air. And while he’s pausing, some giant Marine can shoot him.
Long drive to Chicago leaves me fried. Passed someone in Indiana who fell in a ditch, car went on fire. Many firetrucks with small onboard stores of water trying to put fire out, traffic stuck or slowed in both directions.

Lot of strange preachers on the radio in rural IN. One guy left a whole bunch of churches, apparently over the Sola Scriptura dogma; talk show hosts sort of nodding and saying yep, yep, that happens all the time. Another preacher starts talking about how he wishes there were a little pill he could take so he could ride around in womens' purses and men's wallets. No idea how that connects to anything.

Reminds me, though, that when I used to do the long drive, I once got some televangelist who was doing a word-perfect Valentinian Gnostic sermon, all about the fall of Sophia into the material world and the archons and Demiurgos and whatnot. Another one talking about how to do sigils raise egregores and other techniques developed by the chaos magic kids, without ever once referring to that fact. There's a lot of stuff buried out there in the American night; a lot of 18th and 19th century utopian communities that just turned out to be dumps like everywhere else.

Wonderful and inexplicable and tacky, all at the same time.

The End of Universal Rationality

Mark Thoma points to Yochai Benkler on the question of what's going to replace current models of economic rationality:

Yochai Benkler discusses the use of the "assumption of universal rationality and a sub-assumption that what that rationality tries to do is maximize returns to the self" as a primary analytical foundation for our models of sociological, political, and economic behavior:

The End of Universal Rationality, The Edge: The big question I ask myself is how we start to think much more methodically about human sharing, about the relationship between human interest and human morality and human society. The main moment at which I think you could see the end of an era was when Alan Greenspan testified before the House committee and said, "My predictions about self-interest were wrong. I relied for 40 years on self-interest to work its way up, and it was wrong." For those of us like me who have been working on the Internet for years, it was very clear you couldn't encounter free software and you couldn't encounter Wikipedia and you couldn't encounter all of the wealth of cultural materials that people create and exchange, and the valuable actual software that people create, without an understanding that something much more complex is happening than the dominant ideology of the last 40 years or so. But you could if you weren't looking there, because we were used in the industrial system to think in these terms.

A lot of what I was spending my time on in the 90s and the 2000s was to understand why it is that these phenomena on the Net are not ephemeral. Why they're real. But I think in the process of understanding that, I had to go back and ask, where are we really in between this what's-in-it-for-me versus the great altruists and the stories of Stahanovich and the self-sacrifice for the community?

Both of them are false. But the question is, how do we begin to build a new set of stories that will let us understand both? The stories are actually relatively easy. How we build actual, tractable analysis that allows us to convert what in some sense we all know, that some of us are selfish and some of us aren't. That actually most of us are more selfish some of the time and less selfish other of the time and in different relations. That we don't all align according to the standard economic model of selfish rationality, but that we're also not saints. Mother Teresa wouldn't be Mother Teresa if everybody were like her.

So this is the puzzle that I'm really trying to chew on now, which is how we move from knowing this intuitively and having a folk wisdom about it to something that probably won't in any immediate future have the tractability and precision of mainstream economics. Not, by the way, that as we sit here today, mainstream economics necessarily enjoys the high status that it might have a few years ago, but nonetheless so that we will be able to start building systems in the same way that we thought about building organizational systems around compensation, like options that ties the incentives of the employees to that of the business, like we thought with regard to political science that's completely pervaded today by the understanding of, how does politics happen? Well, it depends on what the median voter wants and what the median Senator wants, and all of that.

We have a lot of sophisticated analyses that try, with great precision, to predict and describe existing systems in terms of an assumption of universal rationality and a sub-assumption that what that rationality tries to do is maximize returns to the self. Yet we live in a world where that's not actually what we experience. The big question now is how we cover that distance between what we know very intuitively in our social relations, and what we can actually build with.