Blogs, Wikis, and Economics

Alex Singleton at the Adam Smith Institute has an interesting comparison of blogs and wikis by viewing them as economic systems. Their analysis is not without problems, but it’s a good thought exercise.

Blogs are decentralized and competitive. They are not a zero sum game, in the sense that for one blog to win readers, all others have to lose (though at some point, if you had a static population, the theoretical maximum of reader attention would be achieved–however absent that and with technological growth, such a condition won’t come about in a century at least). Blogs “succeed” by market acceptance–if you write interesting things and write well about topics people care about, they will discover and link to you. (Of course it’s a market failure that the entire world doesn’t wait with bated breath to find out what I put on this blog, but I digress.)

Wikis are centralized, in the sense a wiki about a given topic lives on one server. Anyone can theoretically contribute, and all contributions are considered equal, except in the sense that the last contribution determines what people see. This leads to unfortunate things like malicious deleting of content, rampant spam, and general graffiti. In short, many of the classic problems of a commons.

However, the analysis is not completely accurate. Blogs tend to have comments, and frequently those lead to the hateful, inaccurate, and unwanted commercial speech that Mr. Singleton accuses wikis of. There is not just one wiki, there are several, so wikis can compete against each other to be linked-to sources of information.

Furthermore, wikis have owners, and those owners do have a vested interest in keeping the commons neat and clean and relatively on-topic. Wikis also tend not to have an infinite audience, so “cultures” tend to form around them. Since a later post (or the administrator) can come by and undo what harm was done before, they more or less stay on track instead of instantly devolving into anarchy. The commons, once ruined, is not ruined forever.

That being said, it is pretty easy to see that the blogosphere is already treated as a more-or-less single entity, kind of like the global market. Blogs definitely have more blog-to-blog interaction than wikis have to each other. The blogosphere is more dynamic than the wikisphere, if such a thing can be said to exist…blogs rise and fall more quickly. And from personal experience, I can say that the tendency of spammers to come through and put Danish porn spam on your site about a content management framework is fairly annoying.

The beautiful thing is that both of these “economic systems” live within a broader economic system, the World Wide Web. So they will compete and evolve within a broader dynamic marketplace that rewards useful information sources. So in five years, we’ll see if either blogs or wikis are around, and more importantly, what form they’ll evolve into.

Two Nights, Two Good Movies

In the last two nights, a buddy and I got some pent-up moviegoing out of our system, so at Shirlington (which has really gone downhill) we saw Goodbye, Lenin! and then at Bethesda Row (very nice, especially by comparison) we saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

Now normally, for offenses such as Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber, I have banned Jim Carrey. I will not see movies with him in the starring role. But he has pulled out an acceptable performance in Liar, Liar and Truman Show, so when the reviews are REALLY good I’ll consider it. So Eternal Sunshine was a very pleasant surprise. What amuses me further is that the arts and croissaint set won’t realize…well, Science Fiction? You’re soaking in it!

Just because a piece isn’t all molded plastic and Scandinavian furniture from the 60s doesn’t mean it’s not science fiction. What’s really unusual is that, unlike many films featuring spaceships and robots that you may know, Eternal Sunshine actually is real science fiction. It takes a science fictional device that could theoretically happen–in this case a technique to map and remove memories–and examines the consequences. It’s a classic What If? story.

What if you could erase the memory of a bad relationship, a dead pet you can’t live without, or an unrequited love? Now the science is by no means perfect, and I’m sure a few neurologists guffawed at the scenes in which Carrey is chased through his memory by the doctor he paid to delete the memories, but a few artistic allowances aside, it’s real science fiction. But in the absense of “lasers” you’d never know it.

Goodbye, Lenin!, on the other hand, is an historical piece set in 1989-90 East Berlin. Internally, it has a science fictional element–an alternate history where the Wall doesn’t come down and life goes on as it had. The idea is that a woman whose husband escapes to the West in the 70s becomes a kind of Communist cheerleader–a pinko June Cleaver–but in the late 80s sees her son arrested in one of the first mass protests against the regime, has a heart attack and slips into a coma. Meanwhile, Honnecker resigns, the Wall falls, and reunification talks begin.

When she suddenly wakens, her son tries, with the help of some neighbors, his sister and her boyfriend, and a video-producing friend from work, to keep the knowledge of the changes going on outside from reaching his mother, in hopes of preventing another heart attack from the shock. Hilarity ensues. No, in this case, rich amusement tempered with personal conflicts ensue.

It’s quite a compassionate movie, which is really odd when you consider the entire thing is in German. Plus the nurse is a hottie. However, fair warning, she’s not the one you see naked. That’s why you lose the wars, guys.

So go see both–they should appeal to people who aren’t arthouse fans as well as those who like to be known by the snob appeal of the movies they see.

We’re Low on Howitzers?!?!


The Army is recalling some 105mm light howitzers it lent to some ski resorts…not because it can’t afford to waste them when budgets are tight–but because they need them in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We’re out of howitzers? OK, I can see that we might be light on some B-2s worldwide, even the specially-armored Humvees that the Pentagon is desperately ordering (despite questions about how long it took them to realize the need). But howitzers? Sure they may be $1 million per gun (though that seems steep), but the largest military in the world is fresh out, so much so that it has to go scrounging?

I don’t object in principle to not subsidizing the operations of some ski resorts–let them buy some surplus bulky howitzers and get special training and permits at their own expense–but how can we be out of what are really simple and basic weapons owned by almost every military in the world? Aside from the weight, are these high-tech super howitzers? If so, what were they doing at ski resorts?

I mean, I know that the three times we took a “peace dividend” plus the slashing Rumsfeld was doing before 9/11 (how I wish a Democrat would be brave enough to take responsibility for over-reducing the military during the Clinton years and then attack the Bush administration for being no better before 9/11) left the cupboards a bit bare, but we’ve been spending quite a bit recently.

Rumsfeld has proved he knows how to fight and win two very quick wars in places far removed from our usual supply lines. Give the man credit. But apparently he’s either not getting the budget the military really needs or just doesn’t get supply management. And if he needs more money, why does he say that everything’s fine, troop levels are fine, etc. etc. when asked? I don’t think the EPA administrator will argue his budget doesn’t need increasing.

Maybe somebody can explain to me how basic weapons like howitzers can be in short supply given the reach of our military (and the stocks we should have in mothballs after the height of the Reagan buildup), but until they do I’m kind of stunned. This isn’t the case of having the wrong thing (unarmored Humvees), this is a case of just not having the basic tools for a job.

I’m Not Alone

Turns out the U.S. government also thinks its screeners are no better than the mall cops who went before.

The inspector general’s report, as well as a study by the GAO portrayed the TSA as an unresponsive, inflexible bureaucracy that is failing to provide an adequate level of security at airports.

But wait, you might argue, aren’t TSA personnel at least more professional and pleasant than their predecessors? A certain cancer patient doesn’t think so. The TSA is trying to blame private security, but it’s clear that at a minimum they colluded with the airline to deny a woman a flight because she “no longer looked like her photo.” You know, because she lost hair and weight.

I thought these guys were going to be so much better trained that nobody would ever be able to do anything bad again. I mean, after all, federal workers have such a reputation for greater competence than their private counterparts, which is why all food production, distribution, and preparation is done by the federal government in this country, because that’s simply too important a function to be left to the vagaries of the market.


Qatar – Cutter – Gkuhtar

So I heard the name “Qatar” pronounced several different ways by Arabic speakers while there for work, and I think the last was the most common. I had some very nice food, met some nice people, and generally had a nice time.

I know, not the insightful dialog and rapier wit you expect from me, but really, I was only there for four days on the ground, three of which I spent working fairly intensely (when I wasn’t falling asleep in my hotel room trying to work on something) and one of which I spent partially jetlagged and suffering from what I’m guessing was just travel stress and possibly an insufficiently washed apple.

I know, TMI, but hey, it happens, alright?

I will instead present a couple of pictures (for example:


…and some random observations.

Continue reading

Irony, Thy Name is British Airways

So I just flew in from Qatar, and boy is my rear tired.

I’ll blog a little bit more about it (yes, Ginger, with pictures), but I just wanted to highlight a little absurdist French farce put on by British Airways for my benefit as I was leaving Qatar.

In addition to the main security screening, we underwent an additional screening with hand-search of carryons for the trip to Bahrain and eventually to London. Fair enough. The sign warning you of bad things in carryons (all of which of mine had passed inspection by the notoriously overprotective Transportation “Security” Agency), but explicitly said that safety razor blades were OK.

So the Qatari security guy picked up my razor blades and nail clippers and showed them to the BA agent, an Englishwoman. She said “No, no, that’s not allowed,” and confiscated them all, giving me a “you poor dear, you should have known bettter” look.

Now, the clippers did have a swing-out nail file, albeit blunt, so I could see how a casual glance (and connections to a secondhand black market in nail clippers) could cause one to confiscate it. However, what did I have offered once getting on to the plane?

A shaving kit complete with the same sort of razors.

Oh, British Airways, you are…a bunch of retards. I mean, seriously, you’re mentally deficient. You really have to work to be stupider than Tom Ridge and the TSA morons, but really, you’ve outdone yourself.

I guess inbreeding has its consequences, eh, Queenie?

California Droolin’

So, say you’re an idiot and you’re concerned about Google’s Gmail privacy. But I repeat myself. Say you are such an idiot and you are in the California Assembly. Well, you get the drill.

Anyway, one such Einstein is sponsoring a bill to block Google’s new E-mail service in California. Hmmm…is it because she’s merely an idiot, or is she corrupt? I would dearly love to look at a list of her contributors. I expect to see Microsoft on there, possibly Yahoo.

Two massive problems with this:

First, you are free to choose from other e-mail services that are free (though also ad-supported). So if privacy is a problem, there are ready-made solutions without the wire Mommy getting involved.

Second, Google anonymously parses ads already with its AdSense technology, and I can assure you that programmers on a deadline and with performance limitations don’t hold on to that data…and guess what–any of these free e-mail services that you use store the e-mails on…wait for it…their server, where they can search and read it to their heart’s content without you even knowing.

Yeah, that’s right. You’ve given up your privacy long before Google used a program to parse it to give you ads in its database that contain similar keywords.

Take a look on many popular blogs and you’ll see that lots of people are voluntarily putting this technology on their sites…and the results are sometimes hilarious.

Update: Thanks to Jason Lefkowitz, I am now able to correct the sex of the legislator and determine that she may be an idiot, but she’s taking money from Microsoft. Though she’s mainly the bitch of the health insurance industry, she’s doing Microsoft’s monopoly work for them.

Further Update: Boy, she’s evil. From that same document: RECORDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, INC. $1,500.00

She hasn’t met a monopoly or price-fixing cartel she doesn’t like!

Classical Music != Classical Liberal Economics

I’d just like to say that Tyler Cowen knows economics, but does Tyler know classical music? No.

Well, he’s probably pretty well versed in it, but:

  1. He links to an article that is attempting badly to be both humerous and controversial
  2. He then disagrees with things that no rational actor should, perhaps endangering a few political science and economics models

In my dark past, I acheived a degree in music. There, I’ve said it, and I’ll say it again. I don’t care. Anyway, it gives me license to make these sorts of catty comments that only one of the annointed can make. And link to the article in what would be a blatant act of hypocrisy for you mere mortals who didn’t waste *cough*5 years*cough* in getting a degree.

As to the article itself? I’m feeding the troll, but…

  1. Kinda.
  2. Think you’re reacting to the name, but…kinda.
  3. Mostly, yeah.
  4. No, though most people don’t.
  5. This is an Undeniable Fact of Life, Holy Writ, Should Be Inscribed in Stone Somewhere. A Really Hard, Chemically Inert Stone.
  6. Meh.
  7. You’re overlooking the overuse of tremolo. Everything else is secondary.
  8. Bullshit.
  9. Thanks for proving my point about Stalin apologists, commie.
  10. So don’t listen, bitch.

Fun with the Federal Budget, Kids!

If you think you can do better than the current or past administrations, get yer deficit on with this Federal Budget Simulator. I managed to create a surplus mainly on the backs of old people, the military, and agriculture. I might go back and redistribute to more heavily cut corporate subsidies while restoring some social security.

It’s harder than you think, though, and you have to be pretty ruthless. Sorry, Ruth, we just can’t afford you.

Thanks to Craig Newmark’s guest blogging on Marginal Revolution for the link.

MS Surprised by Security Problems?

Craig Newmark over at Marginal Revolution wonders whether Microsoft isn’t getting bashed for what it fails to bundle as well as what it bundles. The idea is that security software should come with Windows, but that would be bundling.

At the end of the post, Craig wonders:

I think the primary reason is that Microsoft was surprised by the extent of the problem, similar to how it was surprised in the mid 90s by how rapidly and deeply the Internet caught on.

But it sure would be hard to prove that.

Yes, it would–especially given that they’ve claimed to make Security Job 1 for the last two years, and that was after considerable bashing/warning/advising from the tech community.

The problem isn’t that MS fails to include an antivirus package and a firewall in Windows by default (though MS doesn’t prevent a PC manufacturer to do so, unlike bundling alternate Web browsers or media players). It’s that what they currently bundle is configured so insecurely.

The common thread of most of the recent worms has been a dependence on Outlook, which is bundled with Microsoft’s other monopoly, Office. Outlook will trigger an included script even when you don’t preview or open the message but merely highlight it. Windows also allows scripts and programs to make changes to the operating system without notifying you.

None of this is true on alternate operating systems or even mail clients. I could go on about the inherently insecure settings and features of Windows, but that’s been well documented elsewhere. Let’s just conclude by saying that bundling isn’t the problem, and if they’ve missed the boat on security, they haven’t displayed the kind of catchup rush that they did with the Internet.