Shared Links for Apr 17th

Shared Links for Apr 14th

Shared Links for Apr 8th

  • The secret, social lives of bacteria – Cooperative behavior between bacteria, both inter and intra species, coordinated via chemical messages. Behavior like "should we make light?" and "should we kill the host now?". Scary, awesome, and a beautiful system to investigate with algorithmic game theory! (tagged: cooperation biology technology bacteria science )
  • Computational Legal Studies – More people using machines to understand politics. A whole new class of dual use technology. Propaganda or transparency? Manipulation or clarity? Unauthorized social networking. (tagged: transparency technology government law )
  • Public Private Investment Partnerships a la Enron – Giving banks the ability to both buy and sell into the toxic asset markets being set up under PPIP is a recipe for market gaming in the tradition of Enron, as outlined in this example. Great, a trillion dollar Enron! (tagged: finance bailout economics policy enron ppip banks )
  • The New Nostradamus – Bruce Bueno de Mesquita uses large game theory simulations to try and predict the outcomes of complex negotiations involving many parties, both economic and political. Sounds interesting. Also sounds a little bit like bullshit. But apparently the CIA did a prospective trial (no backtesting bias) and found that the models made accurate predictions something like 90% of the time, when the analysts providing the inputs to the model made wrong predictions. Not so surprising that computers are better at synthesizing massive logical datasets into an outcome. The hard part seems like it would be getting the right inputs, and also trusting that people behave rationally, and (perhaps) know what's good for them. (tagged: economics politics science math prediction gametheory technology )
  • Ice Shelf Instability Backgrounder – A good backgrounder from last summer on the Wilkins Ice Shelf (which has just collapsed), and shelf dynamics in general, with links to the relevant literature. None of this is quite as sudden and shocking as the media reports have made it out to be. (tagged: climate antarctica ice shelf )

Shared Links for Mar 31st

Shared Links for Mar 19th

  • A New Way Forward – Grassroots banking policy? Who'd have guessed? Their plan is "Nationalize. Reorganize. Decentralize." The N-word has some bad connotations, but what they're really advocating for is an FDIC style managed bankruptcy, i.e. letting the banks fail, cleaning out the shareholders and management, and applying real anti-trust laws to the financial industry. I never thought I'd go to a banking protest. (tagged: economics bailout finance fdic activism banking policy )
  • MailStopper – Is $20/year too much to pay to avoid junk mail? Would it really work? The self-monitoring aspect is interesting too. Would be great to be able to watch your name and address as it propagates through the ocean of direct marketing databases, and credit reporting agencies. (tagged: green junkmail sustainability internet )
  • YellowPagesGoesGreen.Org – I hate the two kilograms of cellulose that the phone company insists on littering my doorstep with each year. I was a little bit drunk when they showed up last week, and threw them in the street. I don't even have a land line. Why would I want a phone book? Who uses those things anyway? Thankfully, someone else has already created an opt-out system… too bad I'll have to wait a year to see if it actually works. (tagged: environment recycling paper yellowpages mail green sustainability )
  • The Age of Stupid – A new combination sci-fi documentary on climate change… framed as a man looking back and trying to understand why we failed to act, from the year 2055. The movie was "crowd funded" – the filmmakers sold shares of the profits to individuals (and the crew) in exchange for cash (about $1 million total). The trailer looks fairly good… (tagged: climate film green environment )
  • Mistrial by iPhone – Juries’ Web Research Upends Trials – Another example (cf death of record companies, newspapers) of technology upending previously stable social and legal systems. 9/12 jury members found to be doing research on the trial they were sitting on, via their cell phones and the internet. People don't consider the meta-brain to be a separate entity any more. Certainly not for weeks of sequestration on end… (tagged: law technology internet phone jury trial )

Shared Links for Mar 6th

Rearranging vs. Reinventing the Global Economy

The US road to recovery runs through Beijing says Asia Times Online, and Thomas Barnett emphatically agrees.  Everyone is talking about how to reorganize the global economy, but mostly the discussion is about how to most efficiently export our recently collapsed model of growth to the developing world.  Better this time around for sure, we say, but not fundamentally different in any way.  The Chinese need (and want, it turns out) more domestic consumption and consumer debt.

Continue reading Rearranging vs. Reinventing the Global Economy

I want a city like this

Why is it that new housing developments in the US are filled with giant cookie-cutter houses crammed in next to each other, and burdened with ridiculous covenant requirements of lawns and four car garages, without a grocery store in walking distance?

Why can’t we have places like Freiburg’s Quartier Vauban?  (pictures on Flickr, and another, and another)  5000 people, and one main street with a speed limit of 30 km/hr, smaller side streets meant primarily for bikes and walking.  No parking on private property – all cars have to be stored in the structures at the margins of the development.  40% of the households have no car.  A light-rail connection to central Freiburg (which is all of 2 miles away).  600 on-site jobs of various kinds, including the grocery store that’s within walking distance of the entire community.  Lots of different kinds of (mostly smaller) living spaces.  Vegetable gardens and fruit trees.  Public playing fields and parks.

*sigh*

Too big to fail is too big, period

With the collapse of Bear Stearns and the US automakers and airlines tanking, and the prospect of a trillion dollar bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and who knows how many other large lenders, all because they are, putatively, “too big to fail” (by which is meant, obviously, not that they are so large as to be incapable of failing, but that they are so large as to make the consequences of their failing worse than the immediate, visible consequences of bailing them out), I’ve started wondering if perhaps what we really need is an update to our anti-trust laws, to the effect of: if you’re too big to fail, you’re just plain too big.

Instead of allowing corporate juggernauts to form, and then eventually being “forced” to save them from their own follies, why not just keep these captains of industry small enough that we never need to save them. The Feds already have to approve the bigger mergers and acquisitions – they already have this power by-and-large. Keeping our companies a little smaller would increase competition, and diversity within the corporate ecology of our markets. GM doesn’t want to make fuel efficient cars? Fine – their small-cars division can spin off and do its own thing. Sink or swim in its competition with Toyota, while GM itself just sinks, into an ever shrinking ocean of $150 oil.

Instead, we give taxpayer cash to large companies that have made bad business decisions, and absolve them of their obligations to pay the pensions they promised to their lifelong employees. We inflate the dollar and erode both our spending power, and our savings, while simultaneously crippling the long term competitiveness of our biggest industries. I don’t think the marginal increase in productivity from economies of scale that happens between being a $20 billion company and a $40 billion company is really worth it, if it means we’re all eventually on the hook for bailing out the $40 billion company, when we wouldn’t have to shovel mountains of cash at the two $20 billion companies… one of which might actually have made some good business decisions.

Who cares about guns?

Amy’s Salon is meeting tonight, talking about the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the 2nd amendment in Washington, D.C. I did a bit of reading on the subject, and (regrettably) I agree with Scalia:

“Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Continue reading Who cares about guns?