Study Claims Human Intelligence Peaked Two To Six Millennia Ago
I suspect that the issue here is you're looking at IQ as a distinct trait which is under direct balancing selection, whereas Cochran (and Crabtree, for that matter) look at it as a complex emergent property which is highly (primarily?) dependent upon genetic load--- and also that genetic load, rather than IQ (or even quantitative traits we'd normally associate with IQ), is really what a lot of this selection is about.
I.e., the hypothesis some geneticists are now discussing is that there aren't really "IQ genes" but that a lot of the variance in IQ directly varies with genetic load. I.e., someone with a high IQ will have a lot fewer broken genes (LOF variants) than someone with a low IQ.
I think Cochran et al.'s lens is better than yours in this context. There's plenty more background material at the blog I linked.
Study Claims Human Intelligence Peaked Two To Six Millennia Ago
Greg Cochran over at West Hunter has a pretty damning critique of this paper.
In two recent papers, Gerald Crabtree says two correct things. He says that the brain is complex, depends on the correct functioning of many genes, and is thus particularly vulnerable to genetic load. Although he doesn’t use the phrase “genetic load”, probably because he’s never heard it. He goes on to say that that this is not his area of expertise: truer words were never spoken!
His general argument is that selection for intelligence relaxed with the development of agriculture, and that brain function, easier to mess up than anything else, has probably been deteriorating for thousands of years. We are dumber than out ancestors, who were dumber than theirs, etc.
The first bit, about the relaxation of selection for intelligence in the Neolithic -. Sure. As we all know, just as soon as people domesticated emmer wheat, social workers fanned out, kept people from cheating or killing their neighbors, and made sure that fuckups wouldn’t starve to death. Riiight -it’s all in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the online supplement.
Why do people project a caricature of modernity back thousands of years before it came into existence? Man, he doesn’t know much about history.
Nor does he know much about biology. If he did, he’d understand that truncation selection is what makes such complex adaptations possible. If only the top 85% (in terms of genetic load) reproduce, the average loser has something like 1 std more load , so each one takes lots of deleterious mutations with him. But then, he’s probably never heard of truncation selection. I’m sure they never taught him that in school, but that’s no excuse – they never taught me, either.
If his thesis was correct, you’d expect hunter-gatherers to be smarter than people from more sophisticated civilizations, which is the crap that Jared Diamond peddles about PNG. But Crabtree says that everyone’s the same – stepping on the dick of his own argument. Of course, in reality, hunter-gatherers score low, often abysmally low, and have terrible trouble trying to fit in to more complex civilizations. They do a perfect imitation of being not-smart, amply documented in the psychometric literature. Of course, he doesn’t know anything about those psychometric results.
Which reminds me of secret clearances: it used to be that having a clearance mean that you were entrusted with information that most people didn’t have. Now, it means that you can’t read Wikileaks, even though everyone else does. In much the same way, you may have the silly impression that having a Ph.D. means knowing more than regular people – but in the human sciences, the most important prerequisite is not knowing certain facts. Some kind soul should post the Index, so newbies won’t get themselves in trouble.
He doesn’t even know things that would almost support his case. Average brain size has indeed decreased over the Neolithic- but in every population, not just in farmers. He might talk about paternal age effects, and how average paternal age varies – but he doesn’t know anything about it. He ought to be thinking about the big population increase associated with agriculture, and the ensuing Fisherian acceleration – but he’s never heard of it.
He even gets the peripheral issues wrong. He talks about language as new, 50,000 years old or so – much more recent than the split between Bushmen/Pygmies and the rest of the human race. Yet they talk. He says that the X chromosome isn’t enriched for cognition and behavioral genes – but it is (by at least a factor of two) , and the reference he quotes confirms it.
Selection pressures and mutation rates can vary in space and time. Intelligence could decrease – it’s not impossible. But we know that the pattern he suggests does not exist. Or, to be exact, in exists only in that neighboring world that’s full of Melanesian super-hackers, gay men whose main concern is avuncular investment, and butt-kicking pixies.
How 3D Printing Could Help Keep the ISS In Orbit
Additive manufacturing, or accretion printing, isn't wasteful. But having the ability to recycle printed parts back into raw plastic would be the big issue in space.
Ray Kurzweil Does Not Understand the Brain
PZ Myers wasn't there; he based his whole critique on gizmodo's writeup.
Speaking as someone who was there and heard Kurzweil's full speech, I can confidently say that PZ Myers does not understand Ray Kurzweil.
First off, a significant factual mistake: Kurzweil -clearly- never said we'd reverse engineer the brain by 2020. He argued against exactly that (his prediction was late 2020s, shading into 2030-- perhaps also unbelievable, but if you're going to critique someone, why not get the facts right?). Sure, gizmodo's writeup was entitled "Reverse-Engineering of Human Brain Likely by 2020". It'd be an understandable attribution mistake for say, an undergraduate.
Second, Myers is critiquing Kurzweil's ontological position based on a throwaway writeup dashed off by gizmodo. (Really, Myers? And you wonder why you're a magnet for shitstorms...)
Third, Myers' criticism is essentially that the brain is an emergent system, and we'll have to understand all the protein-protein interactions, functional attributes of proteins, etc. in order to actually model the brain.
This third assumption is arguable, but Kurzweil wasn't actually arguing against this. All Kurzweil meant with his comment about bytes and the genome was there's an interesting information-theoretic view of how much initial data gives rise to the wonderful complexity of the brain.
I had a lot more respect for Myers before I read this rant.
Man Tracked Down and Arrested Via WoW
Yes, well, sometimes people who are accused of dealing drugs actually are dealing drugs. Insofar as your comment does not deal with the issue of having to get a legal subpoena in order to procure this information, I feel it clouds the issue.
Man Tracked Down and Arrested Via WoW
One has to wonder, if Blizzard goes that far above and beyond requests of law enforcement and gives mountains of data in response to polite requests-- not even subpoenas-- how seriously do they take the privacy of *your* personal information?
I'm glad the bad guy got caught, etc, but handing over the keys to the kingdom to law enforcement without a subpoena implies, in my mind, that respect for users' privacy is simply not something Blizzard considers when they go about their business. Or rather, that such information is their property, not yours.
Become Your Own Heir After Being Frozen
Given the assumption that cryogenic revival will be possible, this may work in principle-- but the insurance industry doesn't exactly function on immutable code-like rules that can be hacked for fun and profit.
It's much more a game-- and moreover, the game is owned by the insurance industry. You're just playing it. And if you figure out a particularly good trick to beat the house, they're either going to rationalize why certain technicalities mean they don't need to pay you (and thus 'easy money' becomes 'try to drag deep-pocketed defendants into court'), or they'll simply change the rules before you're revived, and you won't have been able to do anything about it because you were dead.
From a what-do-you-have-to-lose perspective, sure, it's worth a shot. But this simply can't be a dependable part of estate planning.
Neanderthals "Had Sex" With Modern Man
If Modern humans and Neanderthals were so different, how likely is it that fertile offspring could have been born?
We don't currently know enough to say much about the fertility of human-neanderthal hybrids, but see, for example, Ligers for fertile cross-species hybrids (and lions and tigers are separated by about twice as much time-since-divergence as humans and neanderthals, off the top of my head).
If it is not likely, could horizontal gene transfer have been a factor?
In short, no. Very probably not a significant factor. HGT happens quite often between, say, bacteria; bacteria and viruses occasionally leave nonfunctional copies of themselves in host genomes (which can provide entropic fuel for evolution); very seldomly, some other sorts of microorganism-host HGT can happen (e.g., how plants developed chloroplasts). But, from theory and genomic evidence, we can say pretty confidently that HGT just doesn't happen directly between say, two mammals.
Simply put, there just isn't a viable vector (bacteria, virus, loose DNA, etc) that could move a gene from one organism into the germline of another. Something like cannibalism could -very arguably- allow some gene transfer, but it wouldn't get passed down in the germline.
Neanderthals "Had Sex" With Modern Man
The issue of introgression (gene flow from neanderthals to modern humans) is hugely important. It's a lot more important than the curiosity or oddity the Times article makes it out to be.
All the published studies looking for this introgression have been based on neanderthal mDNA. Since it doesn't undergo recombination, it's not a good marker, and the negative results so far are predictable and do not preclude gene flow. It'll be interesting to see Paabo's results. He's been working on getting nDNA data from neanderthal remains for a while now, and perhaps this is a hint that he's found some introgression.
Why it's important:
The small picture of why it's important is it would substantially redefine our family tree. We could refine our primate phylogeny.
The bigger, more hazy, and potentially earthshaking picture of why this could be important is that it doesn't take many viable pairings to get genes from one gene pool to another, and these genes could have been very important to our development. Modern humans and neanderthals were under many of the same environmental stresses but likely developed different adaptions to them. This includes behavior and cognition genes. As Stringer points out in the article, "in the last 10,000-15,000 years before they died out, around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals were giving their dead complex burials and making tools and jewellery, such as pierced beads, like modern humans.” Proto-modern humans were smart. But neanderthals were also smart, potentially in different and complimentary ways. And perhaps it took a combination of proto-modern human and neanderthal genes to truly make the modern human mind. Our brains could be an example of 'hybrid vigor' on a grand scale.
So the big question mark is whether, given we can determine gene flow, if this hypothetical combination of proto-modern human and neanderthal cognitive adaptions could have led to the cultural explosion of ~30-50 thousand years ago. The biology is plausible and the timing's right. The data's still out, but it's coming in. Odder hypotheses have come true.
MIT Microchip Could Someday Restore Vision
Here are some questions I have about the chip:
- These chips/systems already exist. What's new about this MIT effort? The Computerworld article was very sparse.
- There's a great deal of bidirectional communication that goes on in normal eyes-- information not only flowing from eye to brain, but from brain to eye as well. As far as I know these tech just discards these signals. Is this important?
- Last I heard, this sort of technology was approaching 1000 effective pixels of visual information (assuming ideal electrode placement). Has this effort from MIT pushed this boundary? How does '1000 effective pixels' compare to the eye's effective resolution? Can we put normal vision in terms of pixel resolution?
- I've read about shunting tactile senses (for instance, the nerves on a person's tongue) over to a digital videocamera. I believe the military has done a fair bit of research into this. Could this sort of approach be viable for helping the blind function as well? Could it become the preferred approach since it seems less invasive than ocular- and neuro-surgery?
Google SideWiki Brings Comments To Everyone
Ah, well that's potentially useful. Thanks for the info.
Google SideWiki Brings Comments To Everyone
Despite the name, Sidewiki is not a wiki such that people can edit, prune, and synthesize information, nor is it moderated in any way. It's just a comment system, with no way to amplify the signal vs the noise. It's also unclear how people are supposed to use it- e.g., what to post (which is a significant failing imo). Interesting as an approach to layer user comments onto webpages, but not useful yet. Arstechnica pretty much nailed it with the following:
This new offering from Google is intriguing in some ways and it shows that the company is thinking creatively about how to build dialog and additional value around existing content. The scope and utility of the service seems a bit narrow. The random nature of the existing annotations suggest that the quality and depth of the user-contributed content will be roughly equivalent with the comments that people post about pages at aggregation sites like Digg and Reddit.
What makes Wikipedia content useful is the ability of editors to delete the crap and restructure the existing material to provide something of value. Without the ability to do that with Sidewiki, it's really little more than a glorified comment system and probably should have been built as such. As it stands, I think that most users will just be confused about what kind annotations they should post.
Ask Blizzard About Starcraft2, Diablo III, WoW, or Battle.net
When I play wow, I probably play too much. I'd like to use some built-in functionality to gently put limits on my playtime and remind me how much I've played in a week. At first I had high hopes that the Parental Controls function could help me.
Unfortunately, though the rest of wow's interface is great, its parental controls are not only a crime against all that is beautiful and elegant, but pretty useless in the real world. There's no way to set "able to play X hours per week" or "able to play Y hours per weekday, Z hours per weekend". One must set a hard-coded block schedule, click okay, then hope you've predicted your exact needs. And there's no in-game warning when you're coming up against a limit-- you're simply disconnected when it hits.
Please, please, please tell me there are plans afoot to fix this tool and perhaps remake it into a more general method for account owners to manage playtime better? Extra kudos if it could include a Netflix-style option to put your account on vacation for a variable length of time...
Blizzard Awaits China's Approval For WoW Relaunch
It's pretty clear that the real reason for this delay isn't some minor quibble regarding content. It's that China doesn't want a Western/foreign company to dominate their online gaming market.
Clever, unethical (from certain standpoints), and frustrating for Blizzard, no doubt.
Symantec Exec Warns Against Relying On Free Antivirus
If there were any high-quality for-pay alternatives, I'd say he might have a point.
Unfortunately, most antivirus software sucks, with Symantec more or less epitomizing how good ideas on paper can turn into terrible/buggy/bloated security software that actually increases your exposure since it adds another node malicious code can attack. Symantec's argument-from-assertion notwithstanding, there doesn't seem to be any correlation between antivirus software being for-pay and higher quality.
From my experience, there's really bad antivirus software (such as Norton, which I have zero confidence in and would never let touch my machine), and slightly less bad antivirus software. What went wrong? Why does this industry suck so badly? Anyone have any insight?
China Bans Gold Farming
It's certainly an interesting development, and one that I think will slightly curb the growth of gold farming, gold spam, wacky in-game currency trends, and so forth, but I think the real question here is, why would this be in China's interest to do this, and shut down a blossoming home-grown (if gray-market) industry?
The IW article notes that "The government justifies its ban on virtual currency trading as a way to curtail gambling and other illegal online activities." It just seems this isn't the real or whole story, though. Control? International reputation? Deals with Chinese MMO devs?
Judge Thinks Linking To Copyrighted Material Should Be Illegal
Thank you; it's a pleasure to talk about this with someone who approaches a discussion with good faith.
I will say I tend to agree with you that Posner's suggestion to involve and expand copyright law in this situation may cause more problems than it solves; I'm not convinced that deep linking is protected by the speech/press clauses in the constitution, but I'm not at all certain that they're not, either. It seems problematic to wade into this with a change to copyright law and fair use rights that might be used to infringe upon free speech on the internet, with uncertain gain.
On the other hand, I think Posner's explanation of the situation is very apt, and I also think it exposes a real problem. Newspapers are in trouble. Extremely good things will be lost if we let them crash and burn-- perhaps this is inevitable, but if there are things we can do that will help newspapers without giving them any sort of unfair or rights-infringing advantage, we should consider them.
I also completely reject this concept (mentioned in your prior post) that the government should be worrying about any sort of "creation of the most good." All I want the government to do is to fulfill their duties as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, no more and no less.
I think a relevant point here is that the Constitution empowers the Congress to enact copyright laws specifically such as to maximize the common good, so to fulfill their duties as enumerated in the Constitution, they're required to consider what sorts of copyright laws create or preserve the most good. "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries".
Of course, copyright law has been so dramatically expanded and twisted from how it originally started out that I personally think it's difficult to constitutionally justify the current legal state of affairs, but I do think it's constitutionally defensible to say copyright law has a mandate to maximize the greatest good.
Judge Thinks Linking To Copyrighted Material Should Be Illegal
I'm sorry; on my initial reading I glossed over where you detailed you feel this infringes upon your rights of freedom of speech and of the press. I take back my criticism re: enunciating rights.
I do think the ability to deep link to specific articles, etc, is important for a healthy public debate. I'm not certain linking to someone else's work is completely under the umbrella of speech, however, and would be protected under the speech/press protections.
Judge Thinks Linking To Copyrighted Material Should Be Illegal
I'm not quite sure what inalienable right you feel would be violated by preventing deep linking. I'm not scoffing at the idea that your rights would be violated-- but I'm saying it's problematic to just claim your rights are being violated. You need to enunciate which rights are being violated.
Posner's opinion seems not to push the government into determining "who wins and who loses in the business world" so much as explore what the ideal legal state of affairs would be so as to create the most social and economic good.
Obviously if things keep on as they are and free riders essentially reap most of the benefit from real reporting, newspapers are by and large going to go under, and the sort of deep reporting newspapers have traditionally done will be done much less frequently. Nobody wins in that scenario. Perhaps tweaking the law so as to protect newspapers would create the most good; perhaps letting newspapers crash and burn and seeing what arises from the ashes (and it would be messy, and a lot of good organizational structure / wealth would be destroyed) would create the most good.
I have my own opinions, but I see possible merit and possible pitfalls in both routes. If you don't, I submit you're not giving the issue careful enough attention.
Judge Thinks Linking To Copyrighted Material Should Be Illegal
Netcraft confirms it.
A couple brainstorms on theoretical biology
I recently blogged a couple brainstorms on potential tools in the field of phylogeny-
Long-term alternatives to our current common-descent model in contexts where horizontal gene transfer is significant;
Logarithmic Evolution Distance, an intuitive computational approach to comparing genomes.
They were a lot of fun to think about; perhaps they'd be fun to read if you like theoretical biology stuff.
I've posted a new blog entry on Citizendium, the Wikipedia competitor that Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia) is starting. It's probably the most effort I've put into a blog post yet, and there's a good discussion forming (Sanger is among the participants).
If you're interested in Wikipedia and alternative collaborative models, I encourage you to come on over and join in.
At long last I've gotten my science webpage/blog up and running- the address is http://moderndragons.blogspot.com. It's currently a smorgasbord of topics, so if you're interested in science there's probably something for you there.
I plan to update it decently often, but my emphasis will be on quality science writing and thinking rather than regular posting.
As with any beginning author, I'm very eager for feedback. Come on over and say hello!
Update: Reworked the neurogenesis post for accuracy and clarity.
Less Than Words Can Say
I recently found a treasure of an online book, Richard Mitchell's Less Than Words Can Say. It's an always eloquent and entertaining- and often clear- critique of American illiteracy in all its varying forms and manifestations. As someone who tries (with varying success, I'm sure) to write well, and who values the attempt in others, I enjoyed it a lot.
If this is your sort of thing, I'd recommend reading it.
The book is available for free online; here's the text of the index, which is itself quite interesting.
Foreword "Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues of thought."
1. The Worm in the Brain "The next step is not taken until you learn to see a world in which worms are eaten and decisions made and all responsible agency has disappeared. Now you are ready to be an administrator."
2. The Two Tribes "There is a curious thing about the way they use their verbs. They have, of course, both passive and active forms, but they consider it a serious breach of etiquette amounting almost to sacrilege to use the active form when speaking of persons."
3. A Bunch of Marks "An education that does not teach clear, coherent writing cannot provide our world with thoughtful adults; it gives us instead, at the best, clever children of all ages."
4. The Voice of Sisera "Jefferson must have imagined an America in which all citizens would be able, when they felt like it, to address one another as members of the same class. That we cannot do so is a sore impediment to equality, but, of course, a great advantage to those who can use the English of power and wealth."
5. "let's face it Fellows" "The questions are good ones. Who does hire teachers who can't spell? Where do they come from? The questions grow more ominous the more we think about them. Just as we suspect that this teacher's ineptitude in spelling is not limited to those two words, so we must suspect that she has other ineptitudes as well."
6. Trifles "Our educators, panting after professionalism, are little interested in being known for a picayune concern with trifles like spelling and punctuation. They would much rather make the world a better place. They have tried on the gowns of philosophers, psychologists, and priests."
7. The Columbus Gap "American public education is a remarkable enterprise; it succeeds best where it fails. Imagine an industry that consistently fails to do what it sets out to do, a factory where this year's product is invariably sleazier than last year's but, nevertheless, better than next year's."
8. The Pill "Thought control, like birth control, is best undertaken as long as possible before the fact. Many grown-ups will obstinately persist, if only now and then, in composing small strings of sentences in their heads and achieving at least a momentary logic. This probably cannot be prevented, but we have learned how to minimize its consequences by arranging that such grown-ups will be unable to pursue that logic very far."
9. A Handout of Material "The propensity for borrowed jargon is always a mark of limited ability in the technique of discursive thought. It comes from a poor education. A poor education is not simply a matter of thinking that components and elements might just as well be called factors; it is the inability to manipulate that elaborate symbol system that permits us to make fine distinctions among such things."
10. Grant Us, O Lord "One of the most important uses of language in all cultures is the performance of magic. Since language deals easily with invisible worlds, it's natural that it provide whatever access we think we have to the world of the spirits."
11. Spirits from the Vasty Deep "Bad writing is like any other form of crime; most of it is unimaginative and tiresomely predictable. The professor of education seeking a grant and the neighborhood lout looking for a score simply go and do as their predecessors have done. The one litanizes about carefully unspecified developments in philosophy, psychology, and communications theory, and the other sticks up the candy store."
12. Darkling Plain English "The bureaucrats who have produced most of our dismal official English will, at first, be instructed to fix it. They will try, but nihil ex nihilo. That English is the mess it is because they did it in the first place and they'll never be able to fix it."
13. Hydra "At one time I thought that I was the victim of a conspiracy myself. I was certain that the Admissions Office had salted my classes with carefully selected students, students who had no native tongue."
14. The Turkeys that Lay the Golden Eggs "The minimum competence school of education is nothing new. We've had it for many years, but we didn't talk about it until we discovered that we could make a virtue of it."
15. Devices and Desires "If you cannot be the master of your language, you must be its slave. If you cannot examine your thoughts, you have no choice but to think them, however silly they may be."
16. Naming and Telling "Two things, then, are necessary for intelligent discourse: an array of names, and a conventional system for telling. The power of a language is related, therefore, to the size and subtlety of its lexicon, its bank of names, and the flexibility and accuracy of its telling system, its grammar."
17. Sentimental Education "The history of mankind hasn't yet provided any examples of a decrease in stupidity and ignorance and their presumably attendant evils, but we have hope. After all, history hasn't provided anything like us, either, until pretty recently."
Critical Bilbliography "I should say, for those who might think these things unusual, that they aren't and that they weren't difficult to find."
When mod points count
As most of you have undoubtedly seen, Slashdot is gathering questions to submit to Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales. I respectfully suggest that, if you have mod points, use them in said story. He's an important, smart person whose answers to these questions will (hopefully) inform Slashdot discussion about Wikipedia in the months to come.
His answers, however, will only be good as the questions posed to him, and one of Slashdot's warts is that the first comments to a story get a disproportionate amount of the moderation. That's where those of you with mod points come in.
Since this (in contrast to most Slashdot discussions) is more-or-less a zero-sum game, I'd suggest being free with the downmods as well as the upmods.
And here's a link to the questions themselves:
Merry Christmas / Whatever your pleasure
Merry Christmas, Slashdotters. The people here- especially those of you on my friends list- are what makes Slashdot worth visiting.
Stanford content (free) on iTunes
Stanford just put up a bunch of faculty lectures, discussions, interviews, and student-created music up on iTunes. There's supposedly some video up too, though I haven't found that yet. Free as in beer. Content to expand in the coming months.
Although select lectures will be restricted to tuition-paying students, I think this is really cool. It's nice to see land-grant universities such as Stanford actively and boldly contributing to the public good.
I'm currently listening to "Stress and Coping: What Baboons Can Teach Us" by Robert Sapolsky. I can't say that I agree with all of it, but it's interesting.
MGM v. Grokster: working off steam with Lessig
That's fine, but given the specific case, I'm a little disappointed. The unfortunate part about this is that the chilling effect of this ruling, and more importantly, the misinterpretations of this ruling, will probably cast a pall over innovation for years and years to come. As many have said, by this standard, Apple would have never dared to make the iPod (you're marketing it as a device that can hold 5,000 songs? Of course you're encouraging people to download music illegally to fill it). It's a shame the court didn't have a different set of priorities. And that they had Souter, the one justice that still refuses to use a computer, write the opinion-- presumably to send some kind of a message. I'm pretty discouraged about it.
I'd like to invite anybody that wants to work off some steam to help revise Lessig's "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace". You can find the wiki, with more information, here. It's a cool way to run a project to begin with, and maybe some future chief justice will read the book that you helped revise.
Information about the community revision of Code, lifted from the linked webpage:
"Lawrence Lessig first published Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace in 1999. After five years in print and five years of changes in law, technology, and the context in which they reside, Code needs an update. But rather than do this alone, Professor Lessig is using this wiki to open the editing process to all, to draw upon the creativity and knowledge of the community. This is an online, collaborative book update; a first of its kind.
Once the project nears completion, Professor Lessig will take the contents of this wiki and ready it for publication. The resulting book, Code v.2, will be published in late 2005 by Basic Books. All royalties, including the book advance, will be donated to Creative Commons."
Supreme Court ruling in favor of eminent domain
My first reaction to this major supreme court ruling was that the bad guys won. I think, though the court had a point when it said local officials are in a better position to decide when eminent domain should and should not be used, Sandra Day O'Conner said it best with,
"Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."
It's naive to think that said local officials will not tend to unduly ignore the 'little guy' in favor of well-connected development interests with the ability to oil the various bureaucratic wheels of government. I'm not sure I trust my local official more than some remote judge to impartially and effectively decide when eminent domain should be employed, and to compensate fairly those impacted.
My considered reaction is that perhaps, just perhaps, this precedent is much larger than anyone is imagining.
There's nothing necessarily limiting this ruling to land property, or even physical property. What happens when some organization with nominal jurisdiction claims eminent domain over some intellectual property? Could a city council reassign music copyrights from local record labels back to local artists? Could some governmental body grab a patent from one entity and sell it to another?
Could Brazil use this SCOTUS decision to reassign the brazillian patents for various AIDS drugs from U.S. companies to the brazillian public domain, in the name of the public good, without the hassles of nationalization?
Here's what I'll say: this thing is bigger than it appears, and I don't know what's going to happen.
I invite you to leave your comment.
For the layman interested in physics
I stumbled across a perfectly wonderful homepage the other day- it has not only the hands-down best introduction to string theory I've ever read (various levels available- learn how your universe works!) but a lot of other content and a lot of 'good feeling'.
At the bottom of the homepage he writes in hindi(?) and english, "May everyone be happy". Indeed.
I'd just like to leave you with an excerpt of George Washington's farewell speech. It's a portion that seems rather applicable to present-day politics.
"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy....
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.... If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield."
-- George Washington, September 17, 1796
Excerpted from http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/49.htm
The single-issue voter
Even though a canidate's position on a single issue, copyright/patent law, will definitely sway me to vote for or against him/her, I don't think I'm a single issue voter because I feel their approach towards this issue highlights a pervasive, systemic attitude toward issues in general. If they are against my opinion in this realm, even if I agree with them almost everywhere else, it strongly implies that there's some deep flaw with that politician that is brought to light in this issue.
And... if I actually took this position I'd almost certainly be wrong- people can have differences in opinion on an isolated issue but still share a philosophy on most other issues.
Most single issue voters don't think they're single issue voters because they're mislead by this illusion, and vote worse because of it.
A small patch to the US's legal system
In any lawsuit, both sides should be required to keep track of their legal costs and once a verdict is reached, the losing side should be required (in addition to the judge's verdict) to remit an amount equal to their total legal expenses to the winning side.
Hypothetical situation: Boeing bought land near my house and started pumping out manufacturing pollutants and I sued them over it. I hired a moderately-price lawyer, and they hired 20 high-price lawyers. If they win, I'd fork over an amount of money equal to the money I've payed my lawyer. If they win, they'd fork over an amount of money equal to the money they've payed their 20 lawyers (in addition to carrying out the court's verdict).
This would considerably reduce frivolous lawsuits (as if a plaintif lost there would be consequences), encourage people to follow through with lawsuits in cases where they believe they are in the right, and create a more even legal playing field between those with resources and those without.
You heard it here first.
Edit: Perhaps let's limit this to civil cases. It'd be absolutely perfect in tort cases, for instance.
I think one could easily ask for this in a settlement, even if it's not made law (though only if you're the plaintiff in a case): some people include recouping their legal fees in requested settlements; I think folks could deem this "Reverse Legal Fees" and ask for this in addition to the court's verdict, instead of asking for regular legal fees.
CmdrTaco Journal- Right on.
Whether this will get back to CT I don't know- but I'd like to give a big thanks to CmdrTaco for his recent journal entry thoughts.
In the journal entry before last I expressed some concerns about Slashdot, and how I didn't think I was alone in them- this update makes me think that these concerns are know about and, eventually, will be dealt with.
After thinking about it, I'd also like to apologize for my potshot at the editor michael.
Ok. Before this journal turns into a lovefest, I'm out to play some frisbee.
Audio software wishlist
I decided to take this list down for certain reasons.
Logical Elegance and its worth
I just came back from coffee with a friend, and we came up with an interesting theory/analogy about what a theory's 'logical elegance' means.
By 'Logical Elegance' I mean two things:
- Scope of application (which I will be focusing on)
The context is that I'm revising a philosophy paper for (ideally) future professional publication. The paper presents various Models of Philosophy to explain the purpose and place of analytic philosophy in the intellectual community. (If anyone would like a current copy of the paper for review, I'd love to send it- and love even more to get comments back. Email me with the subject 'Models of Philosophy' if so.)
In a recent conversation it came to my attention that these five models of analytic philosophy could elegantly be applied to existential philosophy with only a minor twist.
What I *want* to conclude is that my five models of philosophy are stronger for this.
Can I? Well, over coffee this analogy came up:
A woman has five dresses. She has a dress for every occasion and no unneeded dresses. Her aesthetic sense is 'elegant'. Her aesthetic sense is better than it would be if she didn't have such a set of dresses.
Now, suppose she goes to a different country, having a different culture-- and she still has a dress for every occasion and no unneeded dresses. Wouldn't her aesthetic sense be more 'elegant' and hence better than if her dresses only worked in one culture?
Now, models are not so much correct/incorrect as applicable/inapplicable and elegant/inelegant. Thus, the worth of the woman's aesthetic sense and the worth of a set of models is linked- the valuations seem almost identical.
An aethetic sense which functions in multiple cultures would be better than one which only functions in one; likewise, a set of models which are applicable in multiple contexts is better than a set only applicable in one.
I think it works.
The other half of Micropayments
I think micropayments are a good idea- not that I want to pay for everything I access online, but if it enables new and quality services (from small-ish companies, hopefully) I'm all for it.
However, what about a system of micropayments that can go the other way as well, to the average/intelligent Joe?
Say I read a well-written, insightful article about X. I give the author a micropayment to read said article. Now, say I write an email back to the author bringing up a number of good points- should I get a micropayment back?
Assuming easy, transparent micropayments to those providing some sort of service / insight is a good idea, are easy, transparent micropayments paid to "consumers" a solution in search of a problem? An enabling step to certain good social/economic structures?
Who knows. Certainly not me.
Is there a place for a charity-based second-tier IP market?
In the U.S. we have numberous places to donate physical goods which are no longer needed; Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and so forth. These places then either
1. Donate the items to folks who aren't well off and can benefit from such, or
2. Sell the donated items and use the money for charity.
It's a well-functioning system that does a lot of good for society through providing an outlet for the donation of unneeded property and the charitable redistribution of that property or the property's value.
Now, the same doesn't exist in the so-called 'Intellectual Property' realm, even though 'IP' is even easier to transport and hence donate than physical property.
I think it should; I'd happily donate the Windows and MS Office licenses I got from Dell on the computer I installed Linux on to charity, as I would donate licenses for movies I've gotten bored with (destroying or including the media a license was on would be part of the donation). It'd be great; schools, for instance, would get costly licenses of Windows, I get a tax writeoff, and I do something good for the world.
Of course this is only part of the issue, and one side of it at that (is every donation a lost sale? I don't think so but an argument could be made- as is made with copyright infringement). But I think there's a place for this. Perhaps the charity angle could convince governments that licenses should be easily transferrable. Everything else is, why not licenses?
Right now the 'Intellectual Property' market is bloated in places. Let's let donation / resale make it more efficient.
I spent an hour or so (weird connection due to Comcast, so I'm not sure how meaningful 'an hour or so' is) moderating- my first mod points. Exciting.
This made me think about those posters who, in their .sigs, state that they will meta-moderate all downmods as unfair, to promote upmods. This is frustrating.
I would meta-meta-moderate those who catagorically meta-moderate all negative mods down. Doing so
1. Is an abuse of the system (catagorically penalizing certain users) through a loophole (no infinite-regress moderation).
2. Hurts the success (S/N ratio) of the moderation system.
Yes, sometimes moderators are swayed by grandstanding, keywords, rehashing, or spurious 'facts' the poster made up. These posts are noise- noise much more harmful to the S/N ratio than AC trolls- and should be dealt with through peer moderation. As was intended.
That said, I wish we of the community could also rate .sigs- just today, I saw someone post with
'I am a citizen, not a consumer.' and
'I am a human being, not a revenue source.'
I also wish we could footnote things; a completely flat mode of presentation, as slashdot-text is, is limiting to certain aspects of communication. Yes, we can probably do the same things in a flat-text communication than a footnotecapable-text, and it might even promote better writing style through the challenge (see Apple's rationale for one-button mice) but I'd still like to have it available.
End Random Thoughts.
---------- UPDATE ----------
After having it pointed out to me, I've really noticed that many people rate down comments as 'overrated' if they don't like the comment but don't want to get caught by M2. Evidentally 'Overrated' can't be M2'd. Sneaky and low; I pledge not to mod things as overrated until this gaping hole in the mod system is fixed.
Please fix it, eds.
Second Ammendment: Support for FreeNet, fatal to DMCA?
At this juncture I'm not sure if this is plausible or not, but here goes:
Premise 1: The constitution deals with timeless ideals- which are then realized in various and diverse ways in different stages of our society.
Clarification: Much as biblical interpretation necessitates that we look beyond particular historical context-dependent words and phrases to see the spirit of the bible, so must we look beyond the particular way an ideal is expressed in the constitution to find the ideal itself- and then examine our current society to find a good current application of that ideal.
Premise 2: The second ammendment, 'The Right to Bear Arms', is an application in late 18th century America of the timeless ideal of giving the populance significant and real power to act positively in a society *outside of the rules of that society*, potentially in a manner contrary to how those in political power would like.
Premise 3: The most meaningful application of this ideal to our current society is not 'The Right to Own Guns'; with the power and organization of the police and the stigma raised against fringe militants such as Ted Kazinski, the right to own guns is a pointless right in that one cannot effect meaningful positive change using guns nor successfully defend oneself against the authorities with guns, rightfully or not.
Premise 4: The most meaningful application of this ideal from Premise 2 is found in the so-called digital realm, in projects such as FreeNet, Gnutella, DeCSS, and so forth.
Battles are not waged with guns anymore, and oppression no longer takes the form of the enemy marching through our towns and taking our womenfolk. FreeNet, Gnutella, and DeCSS are the 'arms' of the 21st century, and the Second Ammendment gives us the right to bear them.
Work In Progress-
Feedback in commands would be *very* appreciated!