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June 30, 2003

Fun with Scalia

For fun, I've taken portions of Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas and replaced references to homosexuality with... well, you'll see:

Today's opinion is the product of a Court... that has largely signed on to the so-called Jewish agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some Jewish activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to Judaism...

Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in Judaism as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as "discrimination" which it is the function of our judgments to deter...

Let me be clear that I have nothing against Jews, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of religious and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best... But persuading one's fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one's views in absence of democratic majority will is something else. I would no more require a State to criminalize acts of Jewish worship -- or, for that matter, display any moral disapprobation of them -- than I would forbid it to do so.

Now, of course, Scalia was actually talking about homosexuality, not Judaism. But what, exactly, is the difference? Many people believe that homosexuality is a genetic trait, as being Jewish is for people born of Jewish parents. On the other hand, some people believe that homosexuality is an acquired trait, as being Jewish is for people who have converted to Judaism.

One of the basic thrusts of Scalia's dissent is that regulation of sexual conduct between consenting adults is a matter best left to the people to decide via the democratic process:

What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new "constitutional right" by a Court that is impatient of democratic change. It is indeed true that "later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress" ... and when that happens, later generations can repeal those laws. But it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best.
Scalia is flat-out wrong. A fundamental right is a fundamental right, even if a majority of citizens might wish to take it away from a minority.

Put another way, is Scalia saying that were he to find himself sitting on the Supreme Court prior to 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment ("The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude") was passed, that he would vote to uphold slavery, even believing (as he presumably does) that it is intrinsically wrong, simply because to vote otherwise would be to impose the views of a "governing caste" on the people? If so, then he seems to me to be abdicating judicial responsibility in the name of "traditional democratic action." If not, then I can think of no other reason for the difference except for a personal distaste for homosexuality on his part.

June 29, 2003

Is Google God?

From Thomas Friedman's latest column, "Is Google God?":

Says Alan Cohen, a V.P. of Airespace, a new Wi-Fi provider: "If I can operate Google, I can find anything. And with wireless, it means I will be able to find anything, anywhere, anytime. Which is why I say that Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything. Throughout history, people connected to God without wires. Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google, and increasingly, you can do it without wires, too."
A god that actually answers questions? That's a fairly amazing thought.

The next step is a god that doesn't just answer questions, but answers request for action. Of course, we've seen that before -- it was called Forbidden Planet. I suggest we not go there.

June 28, 2003

"Liberty Presumes an Autonomy of Self..."

From Justice Kennedy's opinion for the majority in the Supreme Court's decision to overrule lower courts in Lawrence v. Texas:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions...

[T]he Court in Bowers was making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral. The condemnation has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations do not answer the question before us, however. The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law.

Of course, the Court found that the majority may not, in fact, "use the power of the State to enforce [anti-homosexual views] on the whole society through operation of the criminal law."

It has been a while since I've been really proud of something my government has done. This is one of those days.

June 27, 2003

NFW

The Stratosphere Hotel and Casino's Project X Sky. For the full benefit, be sure to watch the video.

No freaking way.

June 26, 2003

The Rise of Casual Games

The New York Times reports on the trend towards smaller, more accessible, more casual games:

While many developers in the multibillion-dollar video game industry seek to extend its appeal, profile and profits with bolder, flashier and ever more engrossing games -- some so difficult that learning curves outlast players -- a different sort of video game is quietly asserting itself into the mainstream.

Do not expect thunderous six-speaker surround sound. Forget about hair triggers, menacing artificial intelligence and fully immersive 3-D environments. This is a tamer universe of games with names like Snowball Fight, Bejeweled, Tumble Bees and Bookworm Deluxe...

At Yahoo Games, the leading online game site, Nielsen/NetRatings reports more than 8.5 million visitors each month. Daniel Hart, the site's general manager, said that its visitors spend more than 5.5 billion minutes a month playing its casual games -- an average of more than 20 minutes a day per user.

"Casual gamers represent a substantial part of the overall game audience if you include every possible game outlet and genre," said Jay Horowitz, an analyst with Jupiter Research who follows the video game industry. "In terms of audience, 70 percent of the online community play casual games."

Mr. Horowitz was quick to point out that even playing solitaire, a video game included in Microsoft's Windows operating system, running on millions of computers worldwide, qualified as playing a casual video game.

But he and other video game experts say the surge in casual gaming is about much more. Rising costs and production times for sophisticated games for hard-core players have helped give companies like Gameloft, WildTangent and Hexacto incentives to produce more and better casual games. So have improved wireless services and handsets, advanced gaming software formats, and firmer pricing structures for the sale and delivery of games online. And as those already drawn to games grow older and have busier lives, they are looking for less time-consuming diversions.

Dave Madden, executive vice president for sales and marketing at WildTangent, calls the phenomenon "fast-food gaming."

"You pop in, play and pop out," Mr. Madden said.

A successful casual game can be produced in a few months for as little as $40,000, said Wade Tinney, a founding partner of Large Animal, a casual-game developer based in Manhattan. A premier video game for hard-core console players can easily cost $5 million to $10 million to develop and take two years or longer to complete...

Along the way, the availability of casual games on cellphones and hand-helds is spawning a diverse group of players, including women and older adults who would be unlikely to play video games any other way.

"These are games created for people that weren't sitting down for hours to play games," said Mr. Tinney of Large Animal. "They're taking a break from something they're doing and play for a few minutes." In contrast to the audience for hard-core games, he said, "women play these games as much or more than men do." ...

"The growth of this market and the people paying for these games last year has been dramatic," said Andrew Wright, general manager of RealOne Arcade, a major casual-gaming site that provides games for cellphones and hand-held organizers but focuses mainly on Internet-delivered games for PC's. The average age of its players is 40, Mr. Wright said.

Mr. Wright estimates that there are at least 40 million casual-game players online alone, with the potential for far higher numbers as better games are developed and more consumers turn to high-speed home Internet connections.

This article (read the original for more detail on wireless gaming) resonated with me. As a 40-year-old former game designer (Tom Clancy SSN, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six), I have to say that I don't find most modern games to be so appealing. There's a fast twitch reflex (for playing first-person shooters) and a massive multitasking ability (for playing real-time strategy games) that I think most people have to acquire while growing up if they're going to be competitive. I played Atari 2600 games as a teenager, but not as a younger child, and besides, 2600 games were far simpler than the mainstream immersive games today.

I love playing Halo with my kids, but only because they're my kids -- I don't mind it if they can consistently beat me even while handicapped. When Halo 2 comes out, and I can go online and play against people on Xbox Live, of course I'll do so -- but how quickly will I tire of being whipped by total strangers?

June 25, 2003

Sign of the Apocalypse?

Seen at a Burger King drive-up window, Apex, North Carolina, earlier this evening:

Now Serving
Burgers for Breakfast
This is just wrong.

Have you seen a sign of the apocalypse lately? Leave a comment.

June 24, 2003

Do I Put "Starbucks" on My Cards?

The Economist on the evolution of coffee houses as temporary office space:

America is becoming a café culture. But the reason is less Starbucks marketing than the economic downturn. The white-collar army of the unemployed are making cafés their offices and job-search centres. Going there every day provides the same sort of structure and routine as a formal office -- but with much better coffee.

Of course, cafés have long served as the locus of business activity for independent consultants, creative types and teleworkers (as well as brewing-places for novels, coups and revolutions). But the new clientèle is different. In contrast to previous recessions, more professionals are out of work. Technology has changed, too, allowing people to job-hunt or devise new business plans untethered from their clunky desk computers and tangled-cord home phones. Moreover, with the number of cafés growing from under 2,000 in 1991 to over 14,000 today, these people now have plenty of places to go....

For coffee houses themselves, their new status as job centres has helped the industry buck the slumping economy. In 2002, the gourmet-coffee sector earned a record $8.40 billion in revenue, with cafés accounting for more than half the sales. Many coffee houses, belonging both to publicly-traded companies and independent retailers, are reporting sales growth of roughly 7%. And though $4 for a cappuccino may seem steep, it's pretty good for a New York per diem office rent.

It's interesting that the article only alluded to (rather than specifically mention) Wi-Fi as a part of this trend. It's not absolutely necessary to get work done, but it certainly helps.

And the unemployed aren't the only people taking advantage of this sort of thing. Of course, there are the business travelers -- I sent up a colleague of mine with Wi-Fi, and now he automatically seeks out Starbucks whereever he goes, partly for the coffee and partly for the connection. And then there are people who just want to get a little work done away from the office for a change. A wonderful new Irish pub opened up next door to my offices recently. Wisely, not only did the owner put in an access point, he made it free of charge. I've taken my laptop over to sit outside and work a bit while enjoying a late-afternoon pint. I recommend it.

June 23, 2003

Scandinavian Trains with Wi-Fi

Linx: Scandinavian rail service with Wi-Fi on board:

Commercial operation of Linx Internet On Board will start on Linx-trains operatin Gothenburg - Copenhagen from July 1st. Operation Stockholm - Oslo is planned to start in October. During June 2003 there is trial operation Gothenburg - Copenhagen open for our passengers, but we cannot guarantee the service to function at all departures nor at all times during this period.

What many airlines plan and other train operators test is now a reality in Scandinavia - a permanent online connection to the internet while you travel by train. You will be able to send and receive emails and work as you do in your office, with all the possibilities that internet can provide...

Technically, it is built on a wireless, satellite based communication, completed with GSM links. In that way both the broadband capacity and connectivity is achieved. On board, you connect your own laptop wireless (with a WLAN card) and connect to the internet.

One of the reasons I've kept my Earthlink account through the years has been dial-up while on the road. I'm beginning to think this won't be necessary much longer. Whether using hotel room Ethernet, logging in through T-Mobile while sitting at a Starbucks, or now connecting on a train to Scandinavia, the reality is that broadband access -- both wired and wireless -- is fast becoming pervasive around the world.

June 22, 2003

Push to Infringe

Via Wireless Week, and according to Yahoo News, Nextel has trademarked "Push to Talk" and is going to go after infringers:

Nextel Communications Inc. said on Friday it would use trademark law to stop emerging rivals of its 10-year-old walkie-talkie service from using the term "push-to-talk" to describe their products.

But lawyers said Nextel, the No. 5 U.S. wireless telephone company and so far the only one to offer a feature on a phone that allows customers to talk at the push of a button, could face an uphill battle to protect the term.

"You can't use trademark law to remove words from the dictionary and prevent their ordinary use," said Steven Bauer, a partner in the intellectual property group at Boston law firm Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault.

"They may have been the first ones to call it push-to-talk but being the first one to call it that doesn't mean you're the only one who can call it that," said Bauer who argued that the phrase was too generic to be a strong trademark.

Nextel, which also uses the brand name Direct Connect to describe the service, said in a statement on Friday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had approved registration of Push to Talk and its abbreviated form PTT as trademarks.

"It makes smart and strategic sense to protect a name that refers to a brand," said Nextel spokesperson Audrey Schaefer.

I did a search using Google Groups. "Push to talk" goes back at least 22 years, having been used as a generic term (along with the abbreviation "PTT") by ham radio operators and pilots to describe the act of, well, pushing a microphone button to talk. My guess is that these terms go back far longer than that. Now Nextel has come along and convinced the USPTO to grant it trademarks on them.

Let's face it: the USPTO is broken. Many proposals to fix it involve spending more money, but can anyone seriously argue that the USPTO granted these absurd trademarks to Nextel due to a lack of funds? The USPTO's principles and processes are fundamentally flawed. Remember, if you have a fire burning, money isn't water, it's gasoline.

June 21, 2003

US to the World: Stay Home

With depressingly greater frequency, I find the actions of my government make me embarrassed by it, if not outright ashamed. Today, it's about passports and visas, prompted by two stories in the Wall Street Journal. The first reports on new passport and visa rules for visitors from low-risk nations (mostly Western European):

Under legislation enacted following the [9/11] attacks, the State Department is requiring citizens of 27 mostly western European nations, who normally don't need a visa to now travel here, have updated, high-tech passports by this fall. If they don't, they must go through the increasingly time consuming visa-application process as a security check.

Meanwhile, another measure soon to take effect requires most visa applicants to undergo in-person interviews with U.S. consular officials overseas, a move expected to greatly increase consular service workload and further delay a slowed visa-processing system. Business, tourism and international education organizations, already concerned about the interview requirement, say nationals of the "visa waiver" countries that don't have the high-tech passports will only add to the long lines and delays in visa processing...

The 27 participating countries are considered to be low-risk because they don't have severe economic or political problems that would cause their nationals to seek to stay in the U.S. illegally, and also because they aren't considered countries who harbor or support terrorists.

Many are important U.S. allies, such as Japan and the United Kingdom... But since the terror attacks, the visa-waiver program has come under repeated scrutiny amid questions about possible security threats...

Justice officials considered ending the program entirely, but reconsidered after the State Department voiced concerns about the affect on U.S. relations abroad and the high cost of requiring visas and interviews for citizens of the 27 nations.

The second story is on the US government's decision to effectively end the right of shore leave for merchant ship crews:

Every one of the world shipping industry's 1.2 million merchant mariners will be required to carry a biometric identity card under a convention adopted at a meeting of the International Labor Organization in Geneva.

The objective is to weed out potential terrorists who may infiltrate crews, but the country that pushed hardest for the new treaty -- the U.S. -- still won't be satisfied. The U.S. will continue to demand that crews have visas as well as ID cards...

Two years ago, an immigration agent could have waived the visa requirement. But since the September 2001 terrorist attacks, authorities have all but done away with waivers. And while screening makes it tough for individual seamen to get visas, the State Department is abolishing the blanket crew visas it once granted freely.

Effectively, that means the right of shore leave has also been abolished, especially for seamen on tramp ships with no U.S. ports of call to list in advance on visa applications. New York's Center for Seafarers' Rights has found that on 40% of ships in several ports some seamen are refused a chance to step ashore. There are around 900,000 seamen visits to the U.S. annually.

"They see them as potential terrorists," says Doug Stevenson, a maritime lawyer who heads the rights center. "But who's better able to find things out of the ordinary on a ship than the crew?"

Mr. Stevenson believes the ILO agreement on a foolproof ID would remove any need for visas. Shore leave, he argues, has been a seaman's right for centuries, and no nation but the U.S. requires crew visas at all. But America is sticking to its guns.

If we continue to treat those who would visit us with ever-greater rudeness, one day we will find that they don't visit us so much, and that when we visit them, we're treated the same way. Is that the sort of world in which we want to live? Is that the legacy of the victims of 9/11?

A friend of mine who's not a US citizen told me recently of his experience entering the US at Sea-Tac airport. A Japanese family -- husband, wife, and children -- was ahead of him. The INS agent asked the husband about the declaration he had filled out, in which he had apparently checked the "Pleasure" box (and not "Business"). "Are you doing any business while you're here?" the agent asked. The husband replied that he was planning on stopping by his company's Los Angeles offices while there, but no, that he was in the US for a vacation with his family. "That means you're doing business," the agent said. "You've just perjured yourself by falsifying this form." The agent went on to say that, while he could throw the husband in jail, he wouldn't. Instead, he'd allow his wife and children to stay, but he was putting the husband on the next flight back to Tokyo.

This will come back to haunt us. All of it.

June 20, 2003

Intelligence, Iraq, and WMD

In the debate about whether the Bush administration distorted the truth in order to make its case for war with Iraq, I haven't seen a better, more concise summary than this e-mail from MoveOn.org:

On March 17th, in the eve of the Iraq war, President Bush told the American people that "intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." (2) White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said simply, "We know for a fact that there are weapons there." (3) And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld elaborated: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." (4)

Now, after two months of searching by the most skilled teams in the military, not a single piece of solid evidence of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs in Iraq has been found. The top 87 sites identified by U.S. Central Command have turned up only vacuum cleaners, a swimming pool for Iraq's Olympic team, and a license plate factory. (5)

Officials in the CIA and other intelligence agencies have complained for months that they have been under pressure to "cook the books" on Iraq intelligence. (6) Worse, a number of the key pieces of evidence that the Bush administration has released have come unraveled:

  • The President's State of the Union claim that Iraq possessed an active nuclear program was based on fraudulent documents that included the forged signature of an official that weren't even in office at the time. (7)
  • The dossier that Prime Minister Blair and Secretary Powell relied upon in critical presentations turned out to have been partially plagiarized from a graduate student's paper from 12 years ago. (8)
  • The claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, first made by Prime Minister Tony Blair, now appears to have been fabricated. (9)
  • The administration's claim that two tractor trailer trucks found in Iraq housed "mobile weapons labs" has now been disputed by numerous experts inside and outside of the military. An official British investigation has concluded that the trailer trucks were "exactly what the Iraqis said they were -- facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons." (10)
It seems to me that three possibilities exist:
  1. The administration accurately reported the findings of the intelligence community, but these findings were severely flawed.
  2. The intelligence community's assessment of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was accurate, but this assessment was distorted by the administration in order to make stronger its case for war.
  3. Flawed intelligence data was then distorted to make it further suit the administration's purposes.
In other words, either our intelligence community screwed up, our administration lied, or both.

What I find sad about American politics in general is how reflexive it is. Republicans who investigated Clinton for allegedly lying about an affair with an intern don't see the point in investigating Bush for allegedly lying about the reasons for going to war. Democrats who didn't have a problem with Clinton's possible perjury want to go after Bush for possible distortion and exaggeration.

June 19, 2003

The Ministry of Truth on Global Warming

The New York Times reports on an EPA document watered down by the Bush administration:

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs...

The editing eliminated references to many studies concluding that warming is at least partly caused by rising concentrations of smokestack and tail-pipe emissions and could threaten health and ecosystems.

Among the deletions were conclusions about the likely human contribution to warming from a 2001 report on climate by the National Research Council that the White House had commissioned and that President Bush had endorsed in speeches that year. White House officials also deleted a reference to a 1999 study showing that global temperatures had risen sharply in the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion...

[P]rivate environmental groups sharply criticized the changes when they heard of them.

"Political staff are becoming increasingly bold in forcing agency officials to endorse junk science," said Jeremy Symons, a climate policy expert at the National Wildlife Federation. "This is like the White House directing the secretary of labor to alter unemployment data to paint a rosy economic picture."

Symons has nailed it on the head. The White House is altering scientific reports to suit its political purposes. This isn't just like altering unemployment data, it's exactly like altering unemployment data.

Here's how I think about global warming: While we have a scientific consensus on its causes and probable effects, it's true that this consensus is not unanimous. Consider, though, the four possible scenarios:

  1. If we take steps to limit global warming, and the consensus is correct, then we will have averted disaster.
  2. If we don't take steps to limit global warming, and the consensus is correct, then we face disaster.
  3. If we take steps to limit global warming, and the consensus is incorrect, then future generations will say of us, "They did their best to fight a problem they thought would exist in our time. Along the way, their efforts benefited the environment."
  4. If we don't take steps to limit global warming, and the consensus is incorrect, then we dodge another crisis and get to continue flooding our environment with carbons.
Think about this using game theory. If we take steps to limit global warming (scenarios 1 and 3), the best possible outcome is that we save most island nations and half the state of Florida from sinking beneath the ocean, while the worst possible outcome is that future generations look kindly on us. If, though, we, we don't take steps to limit global warming (scenarios 2 and 4), then the best possible outcome is that we scrape by yet again and get to keep polluting, while the worst possible outcome is that Papeete and Miami are gone.

June 18, 2003

Friedman's Theory of Everything

At the risk of overdosing on Thomas Friedman, let me clear out my backlog of Friedman items with this entry on his "theory of everything". I've tried to edit it down as much as possible, but it's a fairly dense and integrated argument...

After 9/11 people wondered, "Why do they hate us?" speaking of the Muslim world. After the Iraq war debate, the question has grown into, "Why does everybody else hate us?"

I've sketched out my own answer, which I modestly call "A Brief Theory of Everything." ...

During the 1990's, America became exponentially more powerful -- economically, militarily and technologically -- than any other country in the world, if not in history... The net effect was that U.S. power, culture and economic ideas about how society should be organized became so dominant (a dominance magnified through globalization) that America began to touch people's lives around the planet -- "more than their own governments," as a Pakistani diplomat once said to me...

As people realized this, they began to organize against it in a very inchoate manner. The first manifestation of that was the 1999 Seattle protest, which triggered a global movement. Seattle had its idiot side, but what the serious protesters there were saying was: "You, America, are now touching my life more than my own government. You are touching it by how your culture seeps into mine, by how your technologies are speeding up change in all aspects of my life, and by how your economic rules have been `imposed' on me. I want to have a vote on how your power is exercised, because it's a force now shaping my life." ...

[According to] Michael Mandelbaum... "One prominent international relations school -- the realists -- argues that when a hegemonic power, such as America, emerges in the global system other countries will naturally gang up against it. But because the world basically understands that America is a benign hegemon, the ganging up does not take the shape of warfare. Instead, it is an effort to Gulliverize America, an attempt to tie it down, using the rules of the World Trade Organization or U.N. -- and in so doing demanding a vote on how American power is used."

There is another reason for this nonmilitary response. America's emergence as the hyperpower is happening in the age of globalization, when economies have become so intertwined that China, Russia, France or any other rivals cannot hit the U.S. without wrecking their own economies.

The only people who use violence are rogues or nonstate actors with no stakes in the system, such as Osama bin Laden... [who] says to himself, "The Saudi rulers are insignificant. To destroy them you have to hit the hegemonic power that props them up -- America."

Hence, 9/11. This is where the story really gets interesting. Because suddenly, Puff the Magic Dragon -- a benign U.S. hegemon touching everyone economically and culturally -- turns into Godzilla, a wounded, angry, raging beast touching people militarily. Now, people become really frightened of us, a mood reinforced by the Bush team's unilateralism. With one swipe of our paw we smash the Taliban. Then we turn to Iraq. Then the rest of the world says, "Holy cow! Now we really want a vote over how your power is used."

This theory feels right to me. I don't have much sympathy for the intellectual rigor of Seattle-type protesters -- flying Qantas to attend demonstrations where they use Nokia phones on AT&T's network to protest against globalization -- but reduced down to a cry for a check on America's power, their complaints make more sense.

June 17, 2003

Business 2.0 on LinkedIn

Writing for Business 2.0, Rafe Needleman recently provided some of the first press coverage of LinkedIn:

Today's column got its start when Kevin Werbach, another tech commentator, sent me a request to join his "network" at the new site LinkedIn. I was curious about LinkedIn, so Werbach helped me contact its founder, Reid Hoffman -- even though Werbach doesn't know Hoffman personally (the two just "have friends in common").

Werbach helped me meet someone useful to my work. And this is just what Hoffman is trying to systematize with his service.

LinkedIn is a tool for turning your friends' connections into your own. It allows you to see a list of everybody in your own circle and in the circles of your listed friends. Now that I'm connected to Werbach and Hoffman, I might see that I have a connection to, say, Bill Clinton. But I won't know the path -- which friend of mine is connected to him or how many links away he is; LinkedIn doesn't tell me. But it allows me to compose a note to Clinton, which is then routed to the closest of my connections to him. This person, I hope, will then forward my message, essentially vouching for me as he or she does so -- and so on, until Clinton gets my note and chooses to reply to me (or not).

The difference between LinkedIn and most other social networking systems, like the first-generation Six Degrees or the newer Ryze, is that LinkedIn is invitation-only. You can't barge into the network by yourself. It's like a good cocktail party.

I find that I have to explain to people exactly how LinkedIn is different -- that's it's invitation-only, that you can't be contacted by a stranger without referrals from mutual friends, that there's no spam -- but it's tough. Existing social networking services, as well as the decline of trust on the Internet -- have set certain expectations among people, especially the high-level professionals LinkedIn is targeting.

Still, with improved marketing messages (which have already been usefully tweaked) and with growing buzz, I have no doubt in LinkedIn's fortunes. I've already been using it to make contacts myself, and at that, its primary task, it works wonderfully.

June 16, 2003

Economist on Guantánamo

This is a few weeks old, but better late than never. The Economist wrote an opinion piece on Camp X-Ray, the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba:

America seems to have no plans to shut the prison, or to alter significantly how it deals with the people held there. The administration should think again. America's handling of the prisoners at Guantanamo is wrong in principle, and a tactical error in its broader fight against terrorism...

Held on a perpetual lease from Cuba, which has no control over the base, [Guantánamo] was chosen deliberately as a legal loophole. Those imprisoned there, the Bush administration has argued, are beyond the reach of any court, and so effectively beyond the law. They have no rights.

The Geneva Conventions, the administration says, do not apply to the Guantanamo prisoners. The captives can be held indefinitely, without access to a lawyer or even, if American authorities so decide, to consular officials from their own country. After 16 months, none of those detained at the camp has been charged. But if any prisoners are ever brought to trial, it will be before a military commission chosen by the Pentagon, which can hold its proceedings in secret and, if it chooses, condemn prisoners to death with no right of appeal to any civilian judge aside from the president himself, who would have made the decision to put them on trial in the first place.

This claim that America is free do whatever it wishes with the Guantanamo prisoners is unworthy of a nation which has cherished the rule of law from its very birth, and represents a more extreme approach than it has taken even during periods of all-out war. It has alienated many other governments at a time when the effort to defeat terrorism requires more international co-operation in law enforcement than ever before. America's casual brushing aside of the Geneva Conventions, which require at least a review of each prisoner's status by an independent tribunal, made America's invocation of these same conventions on behalf of its own soldiers during the recent Iraq conflict sound hypocritical...

The Guantanamo prison itself should be dismantled. It symbolises a legal limbo into which no law-abiding society should ever willingly stray. Even those accused of terrorism have rights, however egregious their alleged crimes.

As I wrote back in March:

[T]hese men -- however grave their alleged crimes -- are human beings with certain rights. If they are prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with the guidelines to which we have agreed for the treatment of such prisoners, including contact with the outside world and release after the end of hostilities. If they aren't prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with our own laws for criminal suspects, including the right to legal counsel and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

I'm Back

Sorry about the week's absence. I'll be back on a more regular schedule now.

June 09, 2003

Friedman on Why We Went to War

Thomas Friedman on why we went to war:

[T]here were actually four reasons for this war: the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason and the stated reason.

The "real reason" for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world... [A] terrorism bubble had built up over there -- a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured...

The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, house to house, and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble... [W]e hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world...

The "right reason" for this war was the need to partner with Iraqis, post-Saddam, to build a progressive Arab regime... Helping to build a decent Iraq as a model for others -- and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- are the necessary steps for defusing the ideas of mass destruction, which are what really threaten us.

The "moral reason" for the war was that Saddam's regime was an engine of mass destruction and genocide that had killed thousands of his own people, and neighbors, and needed to be stopped.

But because the Bush team never dared to spell out the real reason for the war, and (wrongly) felt that it could never win public or world support for the right reasons and the moral reasons, it opted for the stated reason: the notion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that posed an immediate threat to America.

Here's the question I'm left with: I want you to let me do something. You might not like my reason for wanting to do it, so I give you three other reasons I think you'll like better. As a result, you let me do what I want. Was I being dishonest with you?

June 08, 2003

iTunes Music Store Details Leaked

According to the BBC, details leaked from a private briefing give a better picture of Apple's iTunes Music Store strategy and performance to date:

According to notes published on the web, Apple has sold 3.5 million songs since it launched its iTunes music store at the end of April.

The computer manufacturer is selling about 500,000 songs a week and about half of those are sold as albums, allaying fears that people would choose individual tracks instead of a whole record...

The store offers an opportunity to sample 30 seconds of a track before you buy. The notes say that people tend to listen to 10 previews for every song they buy.

And most people seem happy to store their credit card details on the iTunes store. Some 90% of sales are one-click downloads, which means a credit card is automatically charged when a track is bought.

One has to like Apple's legal strategy:

The notes also provide an insight into how Apple deals with record industry.

It treats everyone the same way, rather than giving preferential treatment to the major labels with the big stars.

The independent music representatives were told they would be offered the same terms as bigger labels and have the same team looking after their tracks.

According to the notes, Mr Jobs said: "We have to be more efficient, though. We're not going to deal with 200 lawyers.

"Everyone is going to get the exact same deal. It's not negotiable. It's take it or leave it."

As I wrote before, consumer acceptance of the iTunes Music Store demonstrates that when you don't treat your customers as children or thieves, they respond accordingly. This latest news tells us that when presented with a simple business model that respects the rights of both customers and artists, the artists and their representatives also respond accordingly.

June 07, 2003

Googlecounting Goodness

Adapted from a chat on Joi Ito's IRC channel this morning (and according to .googlecount):

Joi Ito good: 14,200 pages
Joi Ito evil: 1,450 pages

Frank Boosman good: 1,820 pages
Frank Boosman evil: 122 pages

Which is the more valid comparison: page counts or ratios? If the former, there's no contest: Joi is both more good and more evil than me. If the latter, then his good/evil ratio of 9.79 is lower than my ratio of 14.92, so I am clearly more good.

Spinsanity on Iraq

The always even-handed, always excellent Spinsanity has a new column answering common questions about Iraq:

  • Have weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq?
  • Has evidence of links between Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda been found in Iraq?
  • Were thousands of items looted from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad?
  • Where did the American flag come from that was placed on the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad?
  • What actually happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch?
Recommended.

June 06, 2003

Home Again, Home Again...

...jiggity-jig.

I'm back home from a productive but very short trip to Japan -- only two days on the ground. I'll be back on my normal blogging schedule soon.

June 05, 2003

Wrapping up in Japan

I'm blogging from the JAL lounge at Narita, where they've kindly installed a free 802.11b network. Very nice.

First, I had both Joi Ito and David Pickering tell me they're annoyed with my habit of captioning photographs above instead of below. Good point. I'm switching as of now.

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Joi blogged about his new Sony camera phone yesterday, the SO505i. Here I am taking a picture of him with it. The ergonomics of the SO505i are quite nice: Sony designed it with a swiveling screen, making it usable both open and closed, and the thickness of each of the two pieces (screen and keyboard) is asymmetrical along the longitudinal axis. Something about that asymmetry makes it feel right.

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Joi's offices in Akasaka are a two-minute walk from the entrance to the Hie Shrine. It's atop a small hill, with a set of stairs that seems rather long when you're carrying a Dell Inspiron on your shoulder.

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Though I'm not religious, there's something about Shinto shrines and their offertory ritual -- rinse hands, rinse mouth, throw coins, bow twice, clap twice, bow -- that appeals to me. I try never to miss an oppotunity to visit a shrine whenever I'm in Japan.

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Being sandwiched by dense urban development makes for interesting views from within Hie Shrine -- the new framed by the old.

Now it's back home, with lots of work to be done to follow up on the meetings we had here. Thanks, Joi, not only for arranging the meetings but for having our presentation translated and then leading the discussions as well.

June 04, 2003

Meeting Vibhav Upadhyay

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting Vibhav Upadhyay, chairperson of India Center:

The India Center was created with the vision of injecting a new vitality into Indo-Japanese relations. It aims to be a catalyst, applying its unique methodology to the creation of a special relationship between these two great nations that will grow organically, setting off a chain reaction of activities that promote growing understanding interaction and interdependence.
Vibhav is high-energy, passionate about helping India move forward in the world, and works tirelessly to improve relations between India and Japan.

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It was extremely interesting to hear Vibhav's perspective on India and its place in the modern world. If all goes well, I may finally be visiting India soon...

With Joi Ito in Japan

David Pickering and I are in Japan for ADEPT Simulations, our new joint venture for security simulation (more on this later). Joi Ito was kind enough to set up and host two days of meetings with government security types.

Here's Plaza Mikado in Akasaka, where Joi's offices are located:

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Here's Joi pointing to how he beat me to blogging our meeting with his new high-resolution camera phone:

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Here are Joi and David together:

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More entries later today...

June 02, 2003

Off to Tokyo

I'm flying to Tokyo this morning, for two days of meetings arranged by Joi Ito. I'll blog from there beginning tomorrow. See you then.

June 01, 2003

My Day So Far

I wake up this morning determined to finish my long-simmering paper on tools for emergent democracy. I gather together the feedback sent to me by kind friends and get to work. Let's see... David Brake suggests that my blog needs an "About Me" section. That's a good point -- how can people properly evaluate a paper from me without knowing more about who I am? I've been meaning to write such a section anyway. I start to write it and realize I also need to finish a personal branding exercise on which I've been working. I can't very well claim to know anything about strategic marketing while not applying its prinicples to myself.

I think this is as far down as I'm going to push the stack. Hopefully things will begin to pop off later today...

DVR Developments

The New York Times' excellent technology writer David Pogue has an article summarizing the latest trends in Digital Video Recorder (DVR) technology, namely, what TiVo and ReplayTV are up to these days, including comparisons of how the two vendors' approaches to DVR design differ. He begins the article by asking and then answering a question:

Why hasn't the digital video recorder become the must-have, smash-hit, world-changing appliance of the digital age? ...

If you're among the 6.3 billion stubborn holdouts, here's the deal with DVR's. They're like videocassette recorders, except that they record shows onto a hard drive instead of tapes. You look over a two-week TV listings grid and press a Record button on the remote for each show that you want "taped." Another press sets the machine to record every episode of that series automatically.

Over time, the DVR builds a list of captured shows, ready to begin playback in whatever eccentric time slots your schedule affords. You'll never know or care when they were originally broadcast or on what channel; you're just grateful that there's always something good on. Because a DVR can also jump forward 30 seconds at a time during playback or pause a live broadcast, its net effect is to free you from the slavery of the commercials, the filler and the rigid scheduling of live TV.

One of the leading theories concerning the DVR's modest sales is that you can't describe the concept in a tidy sentence or two, as you've just discovered.

What I find interesting is that people will listen to explanations of DVRs, buy them with an almost what-the-heck attitude, then become fanatics within days of installing them.

The DVR industry needs some sort of category positioning -- crossing lines between manufacturers -- to help everyone understand the DVR category as a whole.