Archive for April, 2014

Does Net Neutrality need Usage Based Billing?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

It may not be surprising that many of those shocked by recent news reports of a threat to ‘Net Neutrality’ are the same ones who object most strongly to ‘Usage Based Billing’, but it is nonetheless a bit odd.

After all, if people paid for internet service on the basis of how much of it they used then they would be in a much stronger position to object if the services they want (as opposed to those their ISP wants to sell) were provided at a reduced speed.
I have said before that I wouldn’t mind UBB if it was done on a pay-as-you-go basis rather than imposed via effective entrapment by billing after the fact for use that the consumer is not in a good position to effectively monitor, and that was largely because what I want is mostly niche products – not in great quantity but with high unthrottled data rates for what I do want.

But in the long run there may be light at the end of the tunnel – opening out into a world of universal free unlimited bandwidth. How can this be? Well right now the infrastructure of our connectivity is by fixed cables, phone wires and optical fibres, but once there are enough wireless-capable smart and fast devices distributed around us then perhaps a peer-to-peer wireless network might be able to compete effectively with the current service providers – at least for those needs where the latency introduced by multiple short hops might be sufficiently offset by lots of distributed local caching (as in bitTorrent?). Of course, live phone calls and videoconferencing (and interactive gaming?) might never be freed from the need for an industrial-strength provider to handle the long hops. Interestingly it seems to be exactly the mass media products that ISPs now want to give preferential treatment which would be most effectively dealt with via the P2P alternative, so let’s hope that someone like Netflix is able to keep that option open.

Are Climate Claims for Burning Renewable Trees a Smokescreen?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

This article (series) in The Tyee brings up, and actually slightly confounds, two important questions.

One is the issue of carbon “credits” in advance of the sequestration that they are purported to buy. This points up what to me has always been the second and fatal flaw in the whole carbon credit business which is the fact that it virtually begs for abuse. (The first but perhaps not quite fatal flaw being the idea of giving away free initial emission permits to current heavy industrial emitters)

The other question is about long term sustainability independent of the economic pricing and incentives issue, namely just is it possible to generate combustible biomass at the same rate it is consumed? Or is this just the beginning of a process of burning up every scrap of tissue on the planet just as the pre-coal use of wood as a fuel led to the destruction of forests all over the world and in some places like Easter Island has probably already been a cause of civilizational collapse.

Militant Ideology

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Ahmed Humayun at 3quarksdaily writes of The Shadow of Militant Ideology over Islam. He thinks that “it is clear that the greatest danger of militant ideology is posed to Muslims living in Muslim majority societies”, but although that may well be true of specifically Muslim kinds of militancy I think it is a mistake to see the militant tendency as a specifically Muslim problem. The present situation in the Ukraine is surely evidence otherwise, and the danger it poses is global.

P.S. I was drawn into commenting at 3QD by Humayun’s use of the term “muslim lands” which commenter ‘joe mooney’ correctly objected to as an “unfortunate term which speaks to a narrow tribal, mindset that is exclusive”. The problem with “lands” is that it is so often used to imply exclusive ownership by an ethnicity or religion, often in the sense of something which must be held on to permanently at all costs, and so itself becomes one of the strongest emotional components of a militant ideology.

Karl Polanyi Explains It All

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Interesting observation from someone who wrote in 1944

Contrary to libertarian economists from Adam Smith to Hayek, Polanyi argued, there was nothing “natural” about the free market. Primitive economies were built on social obligations. Modern commercial society depended on “deliberate State action” by and for elites. “Laissez-faire” he writes, savoring the oxymoron, “was planned.”

via Karl Polanyi Explains It All.

Don’t Call Me Mama

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Radia Perlman is another woman with a major place in the history of computing – whose spanning tree algorithm greatly facilitated the creation of the internet. This interview with Rebecca J. Rosen in ‘The Atlantic’ includes a number of interesting points, but what strikes home the most for me is at the end where she talks about the questions of luck and priority.

‘Parts of Speech’ are Mutable

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Why? (more…)

ThinkProgress Supports the Brandeis LIE

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Progressive media are generally approving and maybe even right that it’s not a question of censorship. But Ophelia Benson is right about the offensive and dishonest wording of the Brandeis announcement.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s courage in the face of unspeakable abuse and her resolution to protect others from the same thing may be marred by identifying the source of the abuse both too broadly (all of Islam) and too narrowly (not including similar tendencies in other religions). And she may well be wrong in other ways as well. But there isn’t an educated person on this planet who doesn’t know damned well that she reviles Islam and seeks its transformation by “defeat”.

I don’t know if I would ever offer her an honorary degree, but I hope that if I did I would never make the egregious claim that I hadn’t known her opinions when I made the offer.


On Keeping One’s Head Down

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

While the predictable reaction to Brendan Eich’s appointment as CEO at Mozilla does make one wonder why they made it, it also raises the question of whether either that reaction or the response was appropriate.

One could argue that publicly taking any potentially unpopular political position should be considered as disqualification from any future CEOship of an enterprise that depends on a broad base of customers and contributors, but that would both limit the available talent pool and unfairly restrict the political lives of potential candidates.

Those who take pride in a “progressive victory” here should consider how they would react if the shoe was on the other foot.