Sunday, April 29, 2007

O'Reilly: Web 2.0 Is About Control

From a recent Wired interview with Tim O'Reilly:

That goes back to a major theme of web 2.0 that people haven't yet tweaked to. It's really about data and who owns and controls, or gives the best access to, a class of data. Amazon is now the definitive source for data about whole sets of products -- fungible consumer products. EBay is the authoritative source for the secondary market of those products. Google is the authority for information about facts, but they're relatively undifferentiated.

He didn't elaborate on why ownership and control were so important. It seems to me that in a data-driven world, control becomes less important, since the entry barriers are lower. But I may be wrong about that.

MORE: O'Reilly suggests that eBay has become entrenched in the secondary market, and that this raises the entry barrier. Thus eBay "owns" that particular class of data. But is the ownership inherent? How does eBay maintain control? I don't think it's because they have the best auction site: there's nothing there that can't be copied or even improved. I think eBay maintains control via the payment service. They've established a level of trust that so far hasn't been rivaled.

Meanwhile, I notice O'Reilly fails to mention Craig's List. Which strikes me as odd, because I think CL is a direct competitor to eBay (if only in certain geographical markets). CL sidesteps the trust issue by offering a more traditional classified ad approach, but even so they're challenging eBay's "control" of the secondary market data class. This can be seen from the number of mash-ups built around CL vs. those built around eBay.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Jonathan Rauch on Journalism

Dan Drezner quotes a Reason interview with Jonathan Rauch:
I'm not a fan of the idea that the journalist and the journalist's attitude should be front and center. I think that a good journalist's duty is to get out of the way. The hardest thing about journalism--the hardest thing, a much higher art than being clever--is just to get out of the way, to show the leader of the world as the reader would see it if the reader were there. Just to be eyes and ears. Calvin Trillin, another writer I greatly admired who steered me towards journalism, once said that getting himself out of his stories was like taking off a very tight shirt in a very small phone booth. He's right.

I think Maureen Dowd is very good at what she does. But the problem is that lots of people who aren't any good at it think this is journalism. It's what we should all be doing, showing off our attitude. I think that sets a bad example. The blogosphere tends to further the [notion] that journalism is about opinion and not about fact. I think that's wrong.

Most people think they know truth and think that what they know is right. They're usually wrong. Journalists are among the few people in society who are actually paid to try go out and learn things. Checking is the core of what we do. David Broder once said that the old slogan in journalism is, "If your mother says she loves you, check it."

I think that's right. That's what I look for in news reporting.

More CO2 Algae Questions

What happens if a natural disaster strikes one of these huge algae farms? Wouldn't the impact be much worse than for a traditional soil-based farm? These algae tanks would seem to require a much more significant capital investment than a plain corn or wheat field.

How much water is needed to support the process? The TV show pointed out that H2O is a byproduct of burning hydrocarbons, but if I remember correctly it's not a huge emission component. Wouldn't you need a lot more water in which to culture the algae?

Algae from CO2

Caught part of a TV show the other night documenting the algae growth experiment at the Redhawk electricity plant in Arizona. Some details for the experiment can be found here and here.

The idea is that CO2 and H2O emissions are diverted to an algae farm near the power plant. Currently that farm appears to be quite small, as it's still experimental (I think they had 8-10 upright tanks, probably containing a few hundred gallons each). They plan to produce biodiesel, ethanol, and protein supplements (they suggested for cattle feed).

Towards the end of the program, they showed one of the new greenhouses they're building to expand the experiment. Looked to me like it would expand total capacity about ten- to twenty-fold.

Then finally they answered the question that had been running through my head the entire show: how much CO2 can actually be processed with this technique? According to the program, two acres' worth of tanks would process the emissions from approximately one generated megawatt. This assumes a certain level of operating efficiency (of which the Arizona sun is a big contributor).

Time for some math: the Redhawk power plant (which is natural gas-fueled) generates up to 1040 MW's. Thus to handle the full capacity of the plant, you'd need 2080 acres of algae tanks.

That's over three square miles! This of course raises some practical questions...
1. What if space isn't immediately available next to whatever plant? Wouldn't you have to either build the tanks underground or somehow transport the CO2 emissions off-site?
2. What do you do in regions that aren't as optimal as Maricopa County Arizona? Wouldn't less optimal regions require even more algae tanks to process the same CO2 output?
3. How easily does the process adapt to other types of power plant? Natural gas is an important fuel for electrical generation, but it doesn't compare to coal for total output.
4. This fact sheet says one acre produces 6000 gallons of ethanol and 5000 gallons of biodiesel each year. The fact sheet doesn't mention it but the TV show pointed out that the algae doesn't directly produce the fuel--it has to be further refined. Knowing that, how much labor and energy is required to harvest the algae from a 2000 acre farm and refine it into usable fuel?

Bottom line, this sounds like a good idea. But IMO there are still some pretty big hurdles to cross before this technology will have a real impact on CO2 emissions.

BTW: 11000 gallons/acre of fuel per year sounds okay until you do the math. That's only 200 barrels, meaning the full production from a Redhawk-sized plant would be 400K barrels per year. That's just not very much compared to current crude oil production and refinement.

Getting Out More

My boss stopped by my desk a couple days ago to discuss some upcoming projects. As he was leaving, he mentioned he's going to be in France next week. I told him to say hi to Sarkozy and Royal for me. He asked "Who?" I told him and he said "You need to get out more."

(Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal are the two remaining candidates to become President of France.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Harry Reid vs. Harry Truman

Austin Bay at RCP summarizes the current Iraq situation and discusses Reid's "We've lost" statement. The summary matches pretty closely my own take on the war. While it's taking a long time for the economy and public life to improve, they are improving. And the ability of the Baathists, jihadists, and Sadr-ites to terrorize innocent civilians does not signify they're winning. Bay cites Denis Keohane at on Nov. 29, 2006 to underline this point:

"Thanks to the development of mass media inclined to oppose the nation's efforts to obtain military victory," Keohane wrote, "a new path to victory has opened up for America's enemies."

Though the various terrorist groups in Iraq have failed "to gain even minor real tactical victories against coalition (and now Iraqi) forces, all are targeting civilians, with death squads and bombings that intentionally kill civilians in large numbers."

The death toll, Keohane concluded, is "presented as evidence that we are not winning, and cannot win. That makes the reverse true: that if they can merely kill, even civilians, they are winning tactically and even strategically. Merely killing a lot of civilians is not a high bar to attain, and that lesson will be learned and copied, again and again."

And yet, I don't see how anyone can declare victory when hundreds of civilians are still being killed. One of the elements of victory has to be some minimum level of stability. Not the absence of terrorism, but it at least has to be suppressed.

This made me think of the closing months of World War 2. According to Wikipedia and this BBC site, Germany launched its last V-2 rockets on March 27, 1945. That was three months after the Battle of the Bulge, and three weeks after the U.S. Ninth Division crossed the Rhine at Remagen. It was also less than two months before the official end of the war. No one then believed that Germany's ability to terrorize civilians meant they had won the war. It was pure terrorism, with no strategic value whatsoever.

I think Bay is right to contrast Truman with Reid. I imagine Truman felt bad about the civilians killed and injured in all the V-2 attacks. But I doubt he ever even considered the possibility he and the other allies should surrender because of them.

More Radley Balko on the Duke Mess

Balko has a good wrap-up on his earlier posts regarding the miscarriage of justice in the Duke lacrosse players' case. As he points out, the Durham brou-ha-ha is only one case of overreaching prosecution. He lists many, many other proven instances of police and prosecutor misconduct.

Glenn Reynolds is right to wonder why more people aren't concerned about this.

(Hat tip Instapundit.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Obama and Foreign Policy

The Senator from Illinois recently gave a speech on foreign policy (I don't know where). Some excerpts and comments:
Moreover, until we change our approach in Iraq, it will be increasingly difficult to refocus our efforts on the challenges in the wider region – on the conflict in the Middle East, where Hamas and Hezbollah feel emboldened and Israel’s prospects for a secure peace seem uncertain; on Iran, which has been strengthened by the war in Iraq; and on Afghanistan, where more American forces are needed to battle al Qaeda, track down Osama bin Laden, and stop that country from backsliding toward instability.
I understand and even agree with the argument that freeing up troops in Iraq can help the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. But I don't understand how it helps with Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel, and/or Iran.
Our interests are best served when people and governments from Jerusalem and Amman to Damascus and Tehran understand that America will stand with our friends, work hard to build a peaceful Middle East, and refuse to cede the future of the region to those who seek perpetual conflict and instability.
Is he arguing that the U.S. should stay in Iraq? That's what it sounds like. When he talks about "those who seek perpetual conflict and instability," isn't he referring to Iran and Al Qaeda? Doesn't this say that the U.S. should not allow these groups any more influence in Iraq?

Apparently not, because he follows it with...
Such effective diplomacy cannot be done on the cheap, nor can it be warped by an ongoing occupation of Iraq. Instead, it will require patient, sustained effort, and the personal commitment of the President of the United States.
The dude sounds pretty naïve to think "effective diplomacy" and "personal commitment" will convince Iran to stop exporting revolution and terror. Iran was working to destabilize the region long before 2003, and will continue doing so long after U.S. troops leave the region. The question is whether the troops will be leaving behind a relatively peaceful, stable community.

P.S. - Sen. Obama apparently believes the Iraq occupation is having a negative influence on negotiations with Iran. Really? Having 140,000 potentially hostile troops in the vicinity has no salutary effect on the Iranian leadership?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Instapundit on the big news media's coverage of 9/11, Katrina, and Virginia Tech (responding to a column by Howard Kurtz):
[I]t's just Anna Nicole Smith with a bigger body count.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Well Regulated Militia

Randy Barnett, posting at Volokh Conspiracy, excerpts an article he wrote for National Review Online in 2001. From the post:
Section 311 of US Code Title 10, entitled, "Militia: composition and classes" in its entirety (with emphases added) defines the militia as follows:
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are —

(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and

(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
What interests me is the meaning of militia. Only recently have I seen Barnett and others define it that way, even though (as the above code demonstrates) the definition is not new. This is not to say of course that militia must be defined that way; that's just the way it currently stands on the books.

Barnett observes that Congress has the Constitutional power (under Article 1 and the 2nd Amendment) to provide additional regulation for the non-National Guard component of the militia. He further points out that such regulation doesn't have to include a draft or even compulsory training. It could be purely volunteer. So he suggests the best way to prepare for the next violent episode (terrorist attack, mad killer, etc.) is to provide Federal-funded self-defense training. He goes on to propose programs for small arms handling and markmanship. And while he doesn't mention it in this post, I believe Barnett would also propose instituting conceal carry laws beyond the current 38 states that have them.

(BTW this dovetails fairly nicely with Glenn Reynolds' consideration of mandatory gun ownership).

In general the Federal-funded self-defense training sounds interesting. I agree having a better-prepared populace is a good idea. But I see a few problems...
  1. There's nothing stopping anyone in this country from acquiring self-defense training, small arms or otherwise. And we don't need more entitlement programs. (True there are 12 states and at least one district that prohibit carrying small arms. But that's a separate issue IMO. And besides it's not the only form of self-defense.)
  2. The idea has a whiff of demagoguery about it. Many will look at this idea and immediately cry "Fascist!", but that's overreaction. Even so, I wouldn't put it past certain Presidential advisors to use such a program to whip up a little alarmism amongst the red-meat crowd. BTW it wouldn't even have to be a Presidential advisor. It could just as easily be some fanatic in a state or municipal government.
  3. How would you define "self-defense"? Would you need Federal mandated guidelines? Minimum standards? No Militiaman Left Behind?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Radley Balko on Duke LAX and James Giles

Radley Balko has an excellent point about the Duke lacrosse affair:

How many of you know anything about the name "James Giles?"

Giles is a Texas man who served 10 years in prison, as well as an additional 14 years on probation and as a registered sex offender, for a rape committed in 1982.

Last week--the same week the Duke lacrosse team was exonerated--Giles too was exonerated, thanks to DNA evidence.

I'm guessing not many of you have heard of Giles. And I'm guessing just about all of you have heard of Reade Seligmann, David Evans, and Collin Finnerty.

This isn't to diminish what happened to the Duke players. It's to demonstrate the selective outrage on display from some of their defenders. The Duke guys didn't do a day of hard time. Giles did 10 years. The Duke guys were wrongfully labeled rapists for a little more than a year. Giles, for 24 years.

Google News count for "Duke lacrosse:" 4,168.
Google News count for "James Giles:" 418.
Google Blog Search hits for "Duke lacrosse:" 32,227.
Google Blog Search hits for "James Giles:" 180.

I'm just sayin'.

Great observation. But to add some perspective, let's do a few more searches:

Google News hits for "Duke lacrosse Al Sharpton": 274
Google News hits for "James Giles Al Sharpton": 1
Google News hits for "Duke lacrosse Jesse Jackson": 386
Google News hits for "James Giles Jesse Jackson": 1

The one hit associating James Giles with Sharpton and Jackson is actually the same site. It turns out to be a news roundup that mentions the Giles story on the same page with Sharpton's and Jackson's responses to the Imus scandal. So it probably shouldn't count.

And for further perspective, searching for James Giles' name with any of the prominent '08 presidential candidates produces zero hits. That includes Obama. The only exception is McCain, who turned up on the same news roundup mentioned above.

If you ask me, the problem with the American judicial system starts with the prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, as demonstrated by both the Giles and Duke cases. But the system isn't going to change very fast on its own. Someone needs to step up and spend some political capital.

(Via Yglesias.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

More on Wolfowitz

Daniel Drezner has a pretty good roundup.

Looks like Wolfowitz' problem is bigger than I first thought. The oversized salaries for Kellem and Cleveland look significant. I'm not sure I buy into the story about him blocking loans "capriciously"--that could be axe grinding. But it's pretty clear that wrongly or rightly he's rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Another Rumsfeld, if you will.

Still, I'm struck that his critics are the same people that opposed his appointment, and they weren't criticizing his business ethics at that point.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Good Interview Question

From the GWT Developer Guide:
GWT RPC supports polymorphic parameters and return types. To make the best use of polymorphism, however, you should still try to be as specific as your design allows when defining service interfaces. Increased specificity allows the compiler to do a better job of removing unnecessary code when it optimizes your application for size reduction.
It'd be interesting to have a candidate analyze and explain that para. Especially the part about specificity and unnecessary code. I don't think it will matter if the candidate knows GWT.

Friday, April 13, 2007

From the Weird News Files

You can take away their freedom, but you can never take away their transvestites?

Perhaps the U.S. Army should consider replacing its body armor and combat boots with evening gowns and high heels.

(Via Instapundit.)

Back Talk: The Troop Surge vs. al Qaeda in Iraq

Back Talk: The Troop Surge vs. al Qaeda in Iraq

Interesting analysis. Leaves out the internecine Shiite conflict, the Kurds, and Iran, though (via Instapundit).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Chrysler For Sale

Chrysler is up for sale.

Who's going to buy the struggling auto company? It would take someone with very deep pockets and an almost altruistic sense of business.

How about Al Gore?

I personally think that's a great idea. Gore has said he doesn't want to run for political office, that he wants to focus full-time on global warming. What better way to achieve his objective than to turn around a half-dead dinosaur of the automotive age, and transform it into the leading eco-friendly industrial business in the world? If nothing else he'd have a dynamite mission statement.

(Hat tip Instapundit.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Big Government

Was hanging out with the Magic crew last week. In the course of a random bull session, Ken observed that Emory County is one of the most Democratic counties in the state. To which Brandon responded (I'm paraphrasing):

"Hicks hate big government so of course they're not Republican."

I really, really wanted to comment on that. But even now I just can't wrap my brain around it.


Glenn Reynolds linked to this Freeman Dyson interview. Dyson seemed to be particularly excited about something called HAR1. This is a small patch of human DNA that has experienced significant evolution since the human and chimp species diverged from their common ancestor six million years ago. Dyson doesn't mention there are 48 other DNA regions that have also changed in the last six million years, just not as much as HAR1.

The research team that discovered the region don't know yet what that particular patch of DNA actually does. But it seems to be related to brain development.