Philosophical Musings

May 30, 2010

Peter Drucker on Intellectual Property, 1993

Filed under: business,Copyrights — Elad Kehat @ 11:49 am

Found in the Wired archive:

We have to rethink the whole concept of intellectual property, which was focused on the printed word. Perhaps within a few decades, the distinction between electronic transmissions and the printed word will have disappeared. The only solution may be a universal licensing system. Where you basically become a subscriber, and where it is taken for granted that everything that is published is reproduced. In other words, if you don’t want everybody to know, don’t talk about it. I think we are getting there very fast.

I have worked with musician Peter Gabriel on several projects. At a workshop we were holding for AT&T he was asked, “How do you deal with piracy of your albums?” Gabriel said, “Oh, I treat it as free advertising. I follow it with a rock concert. When they steal my albums in Indonesia, I go there and I perform.”

How come it took the music business about 15 years to sort-of figure out what Drucker (and apparently Peter Gabriel) got in 1993?

Which just goes to prove what Drucker says earlier in the same interview:

Thirty-odd years ago I began to counsel that you should build organized abandonment into your system. It follows the old line that it makes more sense for you to make obsolete your own products than to wait for the competitor to do it. But this is very hard for organizations to do. The internal resistance is great. They have to be forced.

May 3, 2010

Since When is a Phone Call as Bad as a Weapon of Mass Destruction?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 12:57 pm

The following paragraph appears in Google AppEngine’s terms of service (emphasis mine):

2.2. Your use of the Service must comply with all applicable laws, regulations and ordinances, including any laws regarding the export of data or software. You agree not to use the Service in the design, development, production, or use of missiles or the design, development, production, stockpiling, or use of chemical or biological weapons. You agree not to use the XMPP API to operate or to enable any telecommunications service or in connection with any applications that allow users to place calls to or receive calls from any public switched telephone network.

So if I develop an app that may hurt the profits of incumbent telcos I’m on the same level as Saddam Hussein? Actually, I’m probably a worse person – he didn’t have WMDs after all. (Well technically he did, just not in the second Iraq war). Better watch out what apps you develop, or a Tomahawk cruise missile could find its way to your home office…

Note: Don’t get me wrong – I love app engine. What I don’t like is lawyers gone mad. At the very least they could have separate those prohibitions into different subsections.

March 19, 2010

Not the Author’s Fault

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 9:20 pm

I just saw this:

It is traditional for the author to magnanimously accept the blame for whatever
deficiencies remain. I don’t. Any errors, deficiencies, or problems in this book are
somebody else’s fault, but I would appreciate knowing about them so as to determine
who is to blame.

(Appears in the preface for Steven S. Skiena, The Algorithm Design Manual, Second Edition)

I never expected a good laugh right at the beginning of a book on algorithms…

July 5, 2009

Where Cory Doctorow is Wrong – You won’t Make Money Selling Books in the Future

Filed under: business,Copyrights,Digital Culture,ebooks — Elad Kehat @ 9:57 pm

I was delighted to find an interview with Cory Doctorow in the July-August 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review (available here, but behind a paywall). I’m a huge fan of Cory, and while there was nothing new in that interview, it was still fun to read.
The point of this post however is spread the word about the interview (for that there’s twitter…), but rather to take the opportunity to say that I think Cory’s got his views on the future of books wrong, and to bring my own experience as a counter example.

The case in point is his claim (oft-repeated elsewhere) that an electronic book isn’t a substitute for a printed book, and thus authors can expect to keep making money by selling printed books in the future, while giving away e-books for free to gain publicity.
Of special interest are the following question-and-answer:

HBR: What about the Kindle? Doesn’t it throw your model into question?
CD: I don’t think so. First of all, anyone who’s willing to spend $350 on a Kindle is not someone who’s going to cheap out about spending 10 bucks on a book. The Kindle may come way down in price, but I think it’s going to do that by adding a bunch of features that increase appeal and the volume produced. Once you load the Kindle up with features, you have the same problem you have with a computer – it becomes too distracting. So I’m not all that bothered. Now, maybe I’m wrong about this, and if I am, then I’ll have to figure out another way to make money on my books. Of course, spending 10 years at the coal face of electronic publishing will give me the tools to find that new income model.

Like I said, I’m a huge fan. I read many of Cory’s books. However, I never paid for them. I read them all in e-book format on my Sony Reader (a competitor to the Kindle). I spent far more than $350 on Sony Readers (I bought 3 of them to date – for my wife and my father as well as for myself), but that doesn’t make me not “cheap-out” on spending $10 on a book. Even though I admire the author, if he gives the e-book away for free, I see no problem in not paying for it. Moreover, future features notwithstanding, my Reader is, and has been since I bought my first one 2.5 years ago, my preferable way to read books. Whenever faced with a choice between a printed book and an e-book, I choose the latter. In fact I go out of my way to acquire an e-book version of a book that I want to read even when I have the printed version available at hand.

Obviously, this single counter-example – myself – does not mean that the majority of the market will behave the same as I do. Cory himself seems to acknowledge the exceptions to his expectation by saying that “It’s a rare person who treats an electronic book as a substitute for a printed book” – that could leave me as one of those rare cases.
Nevertheless, I don’t think that he supplies any strong arguments to support his expectation that my case is going to be the rare exception. His main argument is the problem with reading off the computer screen is its myriad distractions. I disagree. My reason for preferring to do my long-form reading on my Sony Reader rather than my computer screen(s), is that it’s much more comfortable for curling up with in bed, on the sofa, or reading on the table during breakfast. Laptops, even NetBooks, are too big and uncomfortable for that, and Smart-Phones are too small. The average paperback has the near-perfect form factor for book reading, and the Kindle / Sony Reader manage to improve on that!

Finally, we’re discussing here an author who gives his e-books away for free. As most books become available in digital editions, and digital readers proliferate, the publishing industry is going to experience the same fate the music industry did. No DRM scheme would save them (as Cory had claimed himself in the past).
In conclusion, I think that Cory had better put that coal face to good use. If anyone can find a new income model for authors, it’s him.

The Directed Social Graph, or Why I prefer Twitter to Facebook

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 8:31 am

My two cents on why Twitter is all the rage right now, and Facebook finds itself following: The social graph is directed. Twitter provides a better depiction of the social graph as it truly is.

Let me explain. An undirected graph is a graph in which relations between vertices (“points”, or people in the social graph) are symmetric. That means that like on Facebook, if I want to be your friend you have to approve and become my friend as well. A directed graph on the other hand is a graph in which vertices (“relations”, or “friendships” in the social graph) can go one-way. Like on Twitter, where I can follow people I admire, like Larry Lessig, but they have no obligation of following me back.

Twitter’s version of the social graph is in my opinion a better depiction of reality. When it comes to listening to what other people have to say, most of the connections we make are in fact one-way. We’ll listen to them, but they don’t necessarily listen to us. We all have connections whom we’d be happy to hear if they call us, even though we know they won’t reciprocate. It’s just human nature – we may be equal in the eyes of the law, but society’s playing field isn’t level.

Personally, I find it exhilirating that I can follow someone on Twitter with no need for confirmation and no expectation that they’ll follow back. I’d like to listen to what they have to say but don’t expect them to listen to me in return. It’s alright that I may have to work hard at saying interesting things before many people choose to listen. That works the other way too – it’s much better that I don’t have to make a boolean decision (agree to a friend request or reject it) every time someone decides to follow me. They’re all free to follow, and so remain on the periphery of my social conciousness. Occasionally I might discover that one such follower is actually interesting enough for me and follow back.

The fact that not following back isn’t considered a social faux-pas, makes Twitter a friendlier network. I don’t have to automatically acknowledge people I may know but not care much about, and not fear that they’ll feel rejected – as they surely would if I ignored a Facebook friend request. On top of that, everyone can send me a message via an @ reply. If I choose not to reply that’s OK – it probably got lost in the torrent of updates – sorry I missed it. No harm done. The freedom to ignore someone when you’re inundated with messages without the fear of hurting their feelings is simply the best feature that any 21st century communications mechanism can offer.

May 7, 2009

Reality Imitating Art

Filed under: art — Elad Kehat @ 1:39 pm

The original (art):

Imitation no. 1 (reality):

Imitation no.2 (reality):

I’d say it’s a win actually :)

February 27, 2009

Popping Polls

Filed under: business — Elad Kehat @ 3:17 pm

It’s not news that the news print business is in deep s*!t. Readers gone, newspapers shutting down and I guess the mood must be pretty lousy too. Not to worry says The Rosen Group, a PR shop specializing in print media according to this MedisPost article:

…the vast majority of U.S. consumers still deem print editions of newspapers and magazines to be “indispensable” sources of news and entertainment.

83% consider daily newspapers to still be relevant.

These facts are based on the findings of a national poll. No word on how many of these consumers actually spend money on such relevant and indispensable items. They did note that:

When asked if newspapers and magazines will exist in 10 years, nearly half of those surveyed (45%) said yes…

Looks like they tried to give this a positive spin – nearly half think that print will exist in 10 year! Wow! Let’s focus on the flip side though – over half of respondents think that print will be gone within the next decade.

Now, if you ever look for an example of someone burying their head in the sand, there you have it. Money talks, as they say, and if consumers really thought that print is indispensable, then Denver’s 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News wouldn’t have folded today, as that article reports, and the NY Times wouldn’t be teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

Looks like the ailing industry is popping polls now, as a way to feel a little better. Kind of like taking aspirin for cancer.


December 23, 2008

Stock Market Prediction Services – Caveat Emptor

Filed under: investing — Elad Kehat @ 10:07 pm

Services that offer to assist investors in predicting the behavior of capital markets always make me lough. The exact nature of the method du jour is not important; be it charting (that has idiotically become mainstream) or the new new thing – tapping into the wisdom of the crowds as captured online (see for example StockMood, and most activity on prediction markets such as AskMarkets). Either way, the subscriber to such a service is unlikely to profit from it.
The reason is not some inherent flaw of the methods used for prediction, but rather a simple human reasoning. I know because I dabbled in an attempt to develop such a method myself (with a little help from my friends). The idea was to mine online investor generated content in search of correlations between some of its properties and future market movements. We were unsuccessful at the time, but I shall not expand more on the details of the attempt, as I have not given up hope entirely – and that (as shall become clear momentarily) is the whole point of this post.
I dubbed our attempt “The Money Printer Project”, since should it have been successful, we would have had a machine in our hands that is equivalent to a (legal) printer of dollar bills. After all, if you develop a method to predict how stock prices will change before they actually do, at a better than random probability, you will most likely making a lot of money using it. (Only most likely because there is also the likelyhood of you ignoring the math and using emotion, thus making stupid mistakes and losing.)
Of course, if your method became known and popular, it will cease to be useful, as others will be able to predict your actions and either preempt you or simply trade against you. You can rely on larger financial institutions, as well as investors bigger than yourself, to have greater resources, access to greater computing power, and the ability to execute trade faster and cheaper than you. There is no for you to win against them, so your game must not be known – you have to be the only player playing that game.
Assuming that anyone intelligent enough to develop such a method also realizes the points above, they would never offer their method to others. The only reason to offer this method is if it doesn’t really work. There are enough gullible investors out there that can be impressed by a sophisticated (yet false) prediction model. It is far easier to succumb to greed than to try and falsify such a model scientifically.
In other words, if someone offers you a system that can help you predict capital markets they are probably lying. If it was indeed successful, they would have used it themselves. If they sell its predictions instead, it is most likely because that is the only way to make money out of it.

December 6, 2008

The Falacy of Online Privacy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Elad Kehat @ 11:40 am

You think that social media is a threat to your privacy? Think again. It’s actually your savior.

Some people still think and act as if they have privacy. They’re wrong.
Scott McNealy called right it back in 1999 when he said: “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”

Why was McNealy right, even back in ’99, before the age of MySpace, Facebook or Twitter?
A lot of our actions leave a digital footprint, and have been doing so for many years. Our major life events are recorded by our governments, our shopping habits are recorded by credit card companies, our movements by mobile communications providers, when we walk the streets of London we’re being constantly filmed by numerous video cameras, and of course our online activities are recorded by our ISP and many others. All of that’s been going on since way before we started telling the world about ourselves through various social websites.
The problem with all this data (save the last kind): you have zero control. You don’t know what is being collected exactly (though it would be a safe bet to assume that everything is), you don’t know who collects it, who has access, or what they do with it or will do with it in the future. Nobody warns you in advance that anything you say or do can and will be held against you, but rest assured that at some point it will.
The second problem is that you’re not really aware of all of this collection going on. Most people don’t realize how easy it is, given enough data and cheap processing power, to make connections and inferences about you. Some times you do become aware for a while, get slightly uncomfortable, but soon enough forget the whole thing and go on with your life.

Now the biggest problem is that where we are aware of the issue is exactly the wrong place.
It’s very easy to get worried about privacy with relation to social networks – it’s so in your face. You look at some stranger’s profile on MySpace, and realize that there’s so much there that you’d consider private. You read about someone caught lying by his employer after calling in sick then posting photos of himself partying to Facebook, and the danger becomes clear.
But it’s wrong to worry. The power of social media is that YOU have power. First, you know where you have profiles. Second, you choose how to describe yourself.
True, control is not absolute – other people can post about you too, and you have no control then, but at least you can set up some alerts on your name and make sure you know when they post – you know what data is out there.
Note that I didn’t say you choose what data to reveal. You can’t control that. What you do have some control over is what kind of information is the most prevalent – what comes up first when someone googles your name.
In short, your brand is out there whether you like it or not. Social media gives you the power to curate it and try to affect the way you’re perceived. The most sensible thing to do isn’t to chase privacy. Instead, it is to publish a lot of the things that you want people (and machines) to find about you.

May 23, 2008

Detroit’s beyond Rethinking

Filed under: economy — Elad Kehat @ 1:01 pm

Umair Haque is asking how we’d rethink Detroit for the 21st century.
I think it’ll take more than rethinking. Destroy, then start anew is more like it.

Along with big telcos and big media, the US automotive industry is one of those 20th century powerhouses that just can’t seem to get it right anymore. However, there are two major differences:
(a) Detroit’s been losing market share for decades now. It’s been through generations of leaders, middle managers and employees, and nothing’s changed. They can’t get their act back together. Maybe the conclusion is that they can’t be saved and that’s it?
(b) Telecom and Media are being constantly assaulted by new startups that threaten their business models. They manage to adapt by acquiring or cooperating with these startups, thus injecting new blood and new ideas, rejuvenating their aging carcasses. That just doesn’t happen in the auto industry. I guess it’s too capital and labor intensive to allow for new entrants to make any inroads.

Let’s face it now: America isn’t a world leader anymore in anything that the automobile industry is composed of. It isn’t an industrial giant anymore – China has taken that crown away. It isn’t a heavy engineering powerhouse – Japan and Germany are the leaders there (and that’s why their cars are so much more reliable than anything Detroit has to offer). It isn’t a design powerhouse – leadership there goes to Italy.
None of this spells doom and gloom – the US is world leader in technology (of the lighter kind – computer hardware and software) and entertainment.  But all of that happens mainly in California. It’s also the financial center of the world (for now), but that happens in New York and environs.
What it does mean, IMO, is that Detroit is beyond repair. Maybe a US auto industry still has a chance, but that’s up to upstarts like Tesla Motors, not Detroit.

Finally, note that I didn’t say anything about labor unions and other current problems that plague Detroit. I’m trying to take the macro perspective, and there’s nothing there to promise a better future.

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