I hate to let an increase in liberty go by without a little celebration.
For the past 78 years, Washington State has had a set of (effectively) state-operated liquor stores, with identical pricing and inventory. Today, that system is gone, replaced by private liquor sales. The law was overturned by a ballot initiative, heavily backed by Costco.
This is an interesting experiment in letting a little chaos emerge. Unfortunately, it’s not really a transition to a free market, since there are all sorts of licensing restrictions on who may trade in the demon rum. However, there will initially be about 5 times as many legal retailers as were previously present.
The transition is going to be messy. There’s lots of licensed retailers who haven’t obtained inventory. There’s a thousand people who were voted out of their jobs. Change is often messy.
After the transition, I expect prices will be roughly the same because of taxes and fees. What I expect will be much better is the selection and variety, especially of locally produced products from folks like Oola and Pacific Distillery. Many of those businesses were seriously inhibited by the complex and chummy system that was present.
I also expect surprise and look forward to it.
So raise a toast to the slow unwinding of a very silly system of prohibition.
Jan-Tilo Kirchhoffasked on Twitter for a printer (ideally in Germany) to print up some Elevation of Privilege card sets. Deb Richardson then suggested Kickstarter.
I wanted to comment, but this doesn’t fit in a tweet, so I’ll do it here.
I would be totally excited for someone to Kickstarter production of Elevation of Privilege. Letting other people make it, and make money on it, was an explicit goal of the Creative Commons license (CC-BY-3.0) that we selected when we released the game.
So why don’t I just set up a Kickstarter? In short, I think it’s a caesar’s wife issue. I think there’s a risk that it looks bad for me to decide to release things that Microsoft paid me to do, and then make money off of them.
Now, that impacts me. It doesn’t impact anyone else. I would be totally excited for someone else to go make some cards and sell them. I would promote such a thing, and help people find whatever lovely capitalist is doing it. I would be happy to support a Kickstarter campaign, and would be willing to donate some of my time and energy with things like signing decks, doing a training sessions, or whatnot. I even have some joker cards that you could produce as a special bonus item.
So, if you think Elevation of Privilege is cool, please, go take advantage of the license we released it under, and go make money with it.
[Update: I don’t have exact numbers, but have seen quotes for quantities around 5,000 decks, production might be around $2-3 a deck. At smaller quantities, you might end up around $5-7 a deck. YMMV. So a Kickstarter in the range of $5-10K would probably be workable, although you’d certainly want to think about shipping and handling costs.]
This Week in Law is a fascinating podcast on technology law issues, although I’m way behind on listening. Recently, I was listening to Episode #124, and they had a discussion of Kind of Bloop, “An 8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.” There was a lawsuit against artist Andy Baio, which he discusses in “Kind of Screwed.” There’s been a lot of discussion of the fair use elements of the case (for example, see “Kind of Bamboozled: Why ‘Kind of Bloop’ is Not a Fair Use“). But what I’d really like to talk about is (what I understand to be) a clear element of copyright law that is fundamental to this case, and that is compulsory mechanical licensing.
In TWIL podcast, there’s a great deal of discussion of should Baio have approached the photographer for a license or not. He did approach the copyright holders for Kind of Blue, who were “kind” enough to give him a license. They gave him a license for the music, but he didn’t need to approach them. Copyright law gives anyone the right to record a cover, and as a result, there is a flourishing and vibrant world of cover music, including great podcasts like Coverville, and arists like Nouvelle Vague, who do amazing bossa-nova style covers of punk. (Don’t miss their cover of Too Drunk to Fuck.) And you can listen to that because they don’t have to approach the copyright holder for permission. Maybe they would get it, maybe not. But their ability to borrow from other artists and build on their work is a matter of settled law.
I’m surprised this difference didn’t come up in the discussion, because it seems to me to be kind of important.
It’s kind of important because it’s a great example of how apparently minor variations in a law can dramatically change what we see in the world. It’s also a great example of how constraining rules like mechanical licensing can encourage creativity by moving a discussion from “allow/deny” to “under what circumstances can a copyright holder use the courts to forbid a copy.” If we had mechanical licensing for all copyrighted materials, Napster might still be around and successful.
Beyond the effort was the challenge of getting different families to work together. When matters as personal as education, values and children are at stake, intense emotions are sure to follow, whether the issue is snacks (organic or not?), paint (machine washable?) or what religious holidays, if any, to acknowledge. Oh, and in many cases, forming a co-op school is illegal, because getting the required permits and passing background checks can be so prohibitively expensive and time-consuming that most co-ops simply don’t. (“The Pre-K Underground“, The New York Times, December 16)
Read the whole thing, and then give some thought to how effectively those policies, combined with the drug war, are de-legitimizing governments, and convincing people that to live their lives involves avoiding government rules. Eventually, even legitimate and necessary functions of government like courts will fall apart.
Think I’m exaggerating?
“There’s a fairly stringent code and byzantine process for getting certified and code-compliant,” said City Councilman Brad Lander, a Democrat from Brooklyn, whose office held a meeting over the summer for any co-ops interested in pooling their resources and securing permits. “Some are genuinely for the safety of kids, and some are more debatable.”
There’s a city councilman driving doubt over the system. What does that do to the legitimacy? What happens to the social contract?
Will the war on coop kindergardens join the war on drugs?
I headed down to Occupy Seattle before a recent vacation, and have been mulling a bit on what I saw, because the lack of a coherent message or leadership or press make it easy to project our own opinions or simply mis-understand what the “Occupy” protests mean, and I wanted to avoid making that mistake. I think I saw two big themes there: an anti-war theme, and a combination of anti-capitalism and anti-corporatism. I think the second is more interesting, because it’s a combination of views, some of which I support, and others I think are somewhat foolish.
I think capitalism is a good thing. I’ve taken a salary from (venture) capitalists who were able to pay me because they captured “surplus value” from startups, and ploughed some of that profit back into more startups. I use the Marixst term of “surplus value” because I understand the Marxist critique, have lived it, and still think it’s a better system than all those others that have been tried from time to time. (I also think that Marx’s critique of capitalism is excellent, and even more so in light of the poorness of his suggested fixes.) The accumulation of capital in private hands greatly expands the range of entrepreneurship, allowing new products and services to emerge. And for those new products to succeed, they need to serve needs better than what preceded them. So we all benefit to a degree from the capital that accumulates in the hands of investors (even with the costs of creative destruction and externalities.)
At the same time, I think that there’s an emergent system of what we might call corporatism that I think is incompatible with a free society, and is in fact incompatible with free markets. By a free market, I mean one in which people contract with each other and with companies, and the court system enforces fair and predictable limits on those contracts. Fair limits might include that the parties came to a genuine meeting of the minds before exchanging value, that contracts are severable (so no indentured servitude or slavery), that interpretation favors the party that received the contract (rather than the drafter), and that neither party engaged in deceit in advertising their services.
Corporatism, at its heart, involves twisting the free market via government intervention in a number of ways:
Lobbying for rules that allow the company to exclude competition. See, for example, AT&T’s gradual re-monopolization of the phone system.
Manipulations of the contract system in ways which prevent fair redress. These include mandatory binding arbitration, prohibition of class action suits, clauses that allow the contract to remain in force even if the drafter puts in many clauses which shock the conscience of a court.
Un-knowable systems (in particular, the American credit system) in which companies work together to ensure that you do what they demand, even if it’s wrong, because if you don’t, they will destroy your ability to contract with anyone else on fair terms.
Convincing the government to take all the downside risk and none of the upside of the banking crisis, and then failing to prosecute those who enriched themselves via a game they knew full well was rigged.
Corporatism comes from the discovery that rules and meta-rules (the rules that are used to set the rules) are manipulatable. Of course, this is nothing new:
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice.” (Smith, “The Wealth of Nations.”
There were a good number of frankly anti-capitalist signs and groups at Occupy Seattle. It’s a free country, they’re entitled to their opinion, and I can disagree.
But they were not the only signs. I saw lots of signs which seemed to take aim at the unaccountable: the bankers, the corporations (“I won’t believe that corporations are people until Texas executes one”). And I think that responses to currently unaccountable corporatism is going to be one of the key outcomes of the Occupy Movement.
For more than a decade, California and other states have kept their newest teen drivers on a tight leash, restricting the hours when they can get behind the wheel and whom they can bring along as passengers. Public officials were confident that their get-tough policies were saving lives.
Now, though, a nationwide analysis of crash data suggests that the restrictions may have backfired: While the number of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen, deadly accidents among 18-to-19-year-olds have risen by an almost equal amount. In effect, experts say, the programs that dole out driving privileges in stages, however well-intentioned, have merely shifted the ranks of inexperienced drivers from younger to older teens.
“The unintended consequences of these laws have not been well-examined,” said Mike Males, a senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, who was not involved in the study, published in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. “It’s a pretty compelling study.” (“Teen driver restrictions a mixed bag“)
As Princess Leia once said, “The more you tighten your grip, the more teenagers will slip through your fingers.”
This is really cool. All Streets is a map of the United States made of nothing but roads. A surprisingly accurate map of the country emerges from the chaos of our roads:
All Streets consists of 240 million individual road segments. No other features — no outlines, cities, or types of terrain — are marked, yet canyons and mountains emerge as the roads course around them, and sparser webs of road mark less populated areas. More details can be found here, with additional discussion of the previous version here.
In the discussion page, “Fry” writes:
The result is a map made of 240 million segments of road. It’s very difficult to say exactly how many individual streets are involved — since a winding road might consist of dozens or even hundreds of segments — but I’m sure there’s someone deep inside the Census Bureau who knows the exact number.
Which raises a fascinating question: is there a Platonic definition of “a road”? Is the question answerable in the sort of concrete way that I can say “there are 2 pens in my hand”? We tend to believe that things are countable, but as you try to count them in larger scales, the question of what is a discrete thing grows in importance. We see this when map software tells us to “continue on Foo Street.” Most drivers don’t care about such instructions; the road is the same road, insofar as you can drive in a straight line and be on what seems the same “stretch of pavement.” All that differs is the signs (if there are signs). There’s a story that when Bostonians named Washington Street after our first President, they changed the names of all the streets as they cross Washington Street, to draw attention to the great man. Are those different streets? They are likely different segments, but I think that for someone to know the number of streets in the US requires not an ontological analysis of the nature of street, but rather a purpose-driven one. Who needs to know how many individual streets are in the US? What would they do with that knowledge? Will they count gravel roads? What about new roads, under construction, or roads in the process of being torn up? This weekend of “carmageddeon” closing of 405 in LA, does 405 count as a road?
Only with these questions answered could someone answer the question of “how many streets are there?” People often steam-roller over such issues to get to answers when they need them, and that may be ok, depending on what details are flattened. Me, I’ll stick with “a great many,” since it is accurate enough for all my purposes.
So the takeaway for you? Well, there’s two. First, even with the seemingly most concrete of questions, definitions matter a lot. When someone gives you big numbers and the influence behavior, be sure to understand what they measured and how, and what decisions they made along the way. In information security, a great many people announce seemingly precise and often scary-sounding numbers that, on investigation, mean far different things than they seem to. (Or, more often, far less.)
And second, despite what I wrote above, it’s not the whole country that emerges. It’s the contiguous 48. Again, watch those definitions, especially for what’s not there.
I think this is the way of centralized social network software. The best of them learn from their predecessors, but inevitably end up overcrowded. Social spaces change. You don’t hang out at the same bar you hung out with in college, and you won’t use the same social networks. Specialized networks like LinkedIn will likely fare better, as long as they stay focused on a core mission.
Phil Windley says “just realized G+ is using asymmetric follow.” I think this is right and important. “Friend” relationships are rarely perfect mirrors of each other, and the software asymmetric follow pattern is closer to the human patterns of friendship, respect and fandom.
I suspect that Google has gone further, and consciously built on those patterns with friend, family, acquaintance. That’s cool, and it’s a obvious outgrowth of Flickr’s default circles of friends and family, and adds making new circles easily.
So what does this mean for you?
First, it’s time to start thinking about leavingFacebook. Get your social network back in email where it belongs. Start trying to get your data out of Facebook’s databases before everything about you sells for pennies on the dollar.
If you’re a product manager for one of these things, you’re building on the happy dopamine releases we all get when we get positive social feedback. (That’s why Facebook only has a “Like” button.) You need to realize that the dopamine-release cycle requires bigger and bigger hits of wuffie over time. And the grimaces and hesitations add up. People remember the negatives for a long time. So the bad graph builds, and over time the happy graph drops away, and with it your eyeballs, minutes, options and stock options.
Eric Fischer is doing work on comparing locals and tourists and where they photograph based on big Flickr data. It’s fascinating to try to identify cities from the thumbnails in his “Locals and Tourists” set. (I admit, I got very few right, either from “one at a time” or by looking for cities I know.)
This reminds me a lot of Steve Coast’s work on Open Street Map, which I blogged about in “Map of London.” It’s fascinating to watch the implicit maps and the differences emerge from the location data in photos.
In my post, I opened discussing how our current system of funding education in the US is to force everything through a government department. That department is constrained by a number of things, including “regulatory” capture by those parents with the time, inclination and skills to engage with the bureaucratic system. It’s also constrained by federal, state and probably municipal laws about what it can teach.
It’s also constrained by an instinctual conservativeness in parents, who think that they turned out ok, and so what worked for them will work for their kids.
But as the Montessori research demonstrates, all of those levels of conservativeness add up to a remarkable degree of sclerosis for the educational system. Now it may be that there’s good reasons to not adopt Montessori ideas for the general schools, just like there may be good reasons to not adopt Khan’s idea’s. But we’ve had a long time to study Montessori, and it seems to produce students who do well in life.
It’s not financial; the methods are old enough that anyone can use them, even if the early writings are probably still copyrighted.
Lately, I’ve seen three interesting bits on the future of education, and I wanted to share some thoughts on what they mean. The first is a quickie by Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek, titled “Grocery School.” It starts “Suppose that we were supplied with groceries in same way that we are supplied with K-12 education.” It’s a fun thought experiment. The second is this video, which is worth watching through:
What Khan says about why his cousins prefer him on Youtube rings true. But “rings true” to Adam doesn’t matter here. By deploying the system online, it becomes a testable proposition. That will feed a level of experimentation and improvement that we haven’t seen in education. Before I get to what that all means, one more data point, which is this press release from the Gates Foundation, which covers how they’re spending 7.5 million on games for education.
To bring all of this together, what we’re seeing is recognition of the failure of the “Taylorist” system of education, where we think of education as a mechanistic transfer of information from teacher to student that happens at a constant rate, and the realization that we need systems that handle the amazing diversity of students. To do that, we’re going to need not just experiments followed by reform, but a constant process of experiment and adjustment. If you think the home-schooling movement and the early college movement have transformed school, just wait. Those are like Martin Luther’s theses, and they’re going to kick off layers of transformation. And with that transformation and chaos all sorts of things will emerge. A lot of them are good, but before we get there, there are several risks that we can foresee.
The first is that learning becomes but a set of discrete activities, rather than a lifelong process. That “hierarchy” that Khan discusses is not just a breakdown of learning, it’s inherently an exclusion of something that doesn’t make the chart. For example, research methods for young students will likely be a combination of search engines and critical thinking about web sites, with an ever-diminishing value placed on going to the library. You know, “reflecting the modern world.” Going to the library and really digging for an old book won’t help you stay at the top, and even a great teacher will only be allowed to award a few discretionary points. Another way to think about that is with the addition of game mechanics (the “leaderboard and badges” that Khan discusses) and games for learning that Gates is funding elsewhere, we’ll see a distinct quantization of learning. That the goal is to hit the badge, or top the board. When things become easy to measure, the hard to measure gets ignored.
Another risk is what will happen when teachers can see every moment of goofing off? Will that be used to drive diagnoses of ADHD even higher for normal boys? Will “not living up to potential” be a new and ‘data-driven’ part of the report card?
Yet another risky area is privacy and commercialization. Will digitization lead to marketing of new tutoring systems? Will report cards and transcripts convert from an A-F summary to a computer-readable XML-encapsulated explanation of every problem set that little Robert and Jane have been through? (And note that that the process of making the transcript computer-readable will further drive out non-standardized activities. If there’s no code for “went to the rare book room,” there’s no credit for it, and if there’s no credit for it, why bother in today’s hyper-competitive world of college admissions?)
Interestingly, one of the few broad privacy laws in the US, the COPPA protects those under 13 to some extent, but I don’t think it considers educators as much as commercial web sites, and when Harvard demands the XML file, well, you can opt-in to their admissions process or not.
So even recognizing those risks, we’ll likely get an educational system that will stay with students who are having trouble without holding back those who want to move faster. We’ll learn to give students skills and approaches faster and faster. We’ll have to figure out now to ensure students learn cooperation, project management and other harder to quantify sorts of things. But I do think that we can give kids more skills and knowledge faster and better than we do today. If we do that, the world will have more smarter people than ever before, and even more interesting chaos will emerge.
I suspect there’s other things that will predictably go wrong, and other outcomes that I’m not seeing. What do you think?
The headline of this article is the obvious reason. Microsoft might not know they’re doing it for that reason. Usually, people with the need to do something, dammit because they fear they might be headed to irrelevancy think of something and follow the old Aristotelian syllogism:
Something must be done.
This is something.
Therefore, it must be done.
It’s pure logic, you know. This is exactly how Britney Spears ended up with Laurie Anderson’s haircut and the US got into policing China’s borders. It’s logical, and as an old colleague used to say with a sigh, “There’s no arguing with logic like that.”
Come on, let’s look at what happens. I run a business, and there’s a law that says that if my overseas partners aren’t paying for their Microsoft software, then Microsoft can sue me, what do I do?
Exactly right. I put a clause in the contract that says that they agree not to use any Microsoft software. Duh. That way, if they haven’t paid their Microsoft licenses, I can say, “O, you bad, naughty business partner. You are in breach of our contract! I demand that you immediately stop using Microsoft stuff, or I shall move you from being paid net 30 to net 45 at contract renegotiation time!” End of problem.
And hey, some of my partners will actually use something other than Windows. At least for a few days, until they realize how badly Open Office sucks.