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New home

Dear Readers,

The blog has moved to its new home,

We’ll see you there!



The Attention Economy — a radical theory of money

From Michael Goldhaber (interesting name to be writing about money)’s article in Wired

Goldhaber proposes that attention be the new currency, or at least the base item.

Attention is a human need, and intrinsically limited in supply.

Unlike money, it comes in many forms, some negative.

The attention economy is also a star economy.

in The Winner-Take-All Society, a book by economists Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook. The authors note that the star system we are accustomed to in sports, entertainment, and the arts has migrated to the professions. As a September 3, 1997, front-page headline in The Wall Street Journal announced, “CEOs are stars now.” That’s how they are paid, hired, utilized, and dismissed. They operate within their companies more as attention-getting motivators than bosses. The same goes for rainmaking legal partners, high-powered lobbyists, and academics.

And how does attention turn into material goods, say a car?

The car is no longer assembled from parts on one long assembly line; rather, subassemblies are often put together in different locations first. At every stage, more and more tasks are automated; that means more of the attention required to make a car occurs upstream as part of design and production planning.

It is not difficult to foresee a time when it will make a lot more sense to speak of a complex carmaking community [than a corporation] made up mostly of entourages surrounding thousands of stars and microstars. As is common among entourages, much participation would be less than full time, and the majority of members would belong to other communities as well, and even to other entourages.

Thus many people in the broad car community will also share membership in some of the same communities of attention as anyone who might want a car. As long as the person in question gets enough attention, she would almost certainly be able to draw enough from overlaps between her primary communities and the car community to arrange to be put into the driver’s seat she craves. Assuming automation keeps cutting the total amount of actual attention needed to make each individual car, less and less stardom will be required to end up with one.

In cyberspace, there is nothing natural about large-scale divisions like cities, nations, bureaucracies, and corporations. The only divisions, and rough ones at that, are among audiences, entourages, and what could be called attention communities. Each community is centered on some topic and usually includes a number of stars, along with their fans. Attention flows from community to community. Below this primary exchange will flow the less important exchange of goods and materials.

Reductive ontologies

Musing on what our increasing computerization means, inspired by David Auerbach’s The Stupidity of Computers in issue 13 of n+1. (possibly this DA?)

He sees two pathways:
First, we will bring ourselves to computers. The small- and large-scale convenience and efficiency of storing more and more parts of our lives online will increase the hold that formal ontologies have on us. They will be constructed by governments, by corporations, and by us in unequal measure, and there will be both implicit and explicit battles over how these ontologies are managed. The fight over how test scores should be used to measure student and teacher performance is nothing compared to what we will see once every aspect of our lives from health to artistic effort to personal relationships is formalized and quantified.

We will increasingly see ourselves in terms of these ontologies and willingly try to conform to them. While in the 20th century people came to see themselves as empty existential vessels, without a commitment to any particular internal essence, they will now see themselves as contingently but definitively embodying types derived from the overriding ontologies. This is as close to a solution to the modernist problem of the self as we will get.

Second, we will bring computers to us, not semantically but physically. Computers will be able to interface more and more directly with the real world. They can be embedded into everything: roads, paper, clothing, skin, organs, medicines, food. Computers that are able to absorb the world at a sufficient level of detail—sights, sounds, textures, touches—can begin to construct a model of the world from the ground up, one not based on verbal or logical representation of concepts, but on basic sense data.

Why the West rules for now — Ian Morris at the Long Now

Geography shapes history, history shapes geography.

Geography determines which societies will do well, yet culture determines what aspects of geography are relevant. Shifts in what is relevant make the fortunes of cultures.

Agriculture started where it was easy. But the development of irrigation allowed river societies to take off. Rivers then become trade routes.

Then the Med, then ocean going ships conquered the Atlantic, etc.

Talk is here.

Supported by Niall Ferguson (The Ascent of Money) and Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel).

It isn’t just China…

A response to the article on corruption in China.

Business Insider penned this opening: “[Other articles have described the] widespread fraud that has become apparent, both in mainland and US listed Chinese companies… extraordinary number of the Communist Party and the military cadre had massive unexplained wealth …”

Let’s take a different approach. I have rewritten his sentence into a different context. Suppose you were an honest Chinese observer, reading the following sentences about the United States.

“Widespread fraud has become apparent in the Mainland US and among US-listed financial firms. Extraordinary numbers of political figures and public appointees have massive wealth. Examples include (1) Dick Fuld, who was a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY until his firm, Lehman Brothers, went into bankruptcy. He has not been charged with any crime. He denied knowledge of any accounting irregularities. (2) Former US Senator Jon Corzine’s firm was a Federal Reserve primary dealer before it failed. Huge balances of client funds are unaccounted for at MF Global. Corzine says he does not know what happened. (3) No one knows the counterparties of the transactions that cost JPM billions. (4) Members of Congress and their staffs trade on insider information and are not violating US law because of the congressional exemption that Congress legislated for itself.”

Steve, I could lengthen this but you get my point.

The LIBOR rigging is systemic. For evidence see a Bloomberg report from May 29, 2008, under the headline, “Libor Banks Misstated Rates, Bond at Barclays Says.” (Yes, the article ran more than four years before Barclays’s $453 million settlement last month with U.S. and U.K. authorities for manipulating Libor.)

The insiders on that board know the facts. Watch out for what is coming. It may dwarf allegations about Chinese corruption.

The US and UK systems were once the models for the world. They are now sick and corrupt. We are five years into a financial crisis and nothing has changed. Who are we to throw stones at others?

From David Kotok, via The Big Picture

The current political leadership of China represents the greatest looting of a country by the political class ever seen in history

My headline is a quote from The Looting of China by the Kleptokapitalist Bourgeoisie Roaders

The article mentions standard business practices such as

it has been common (apparently) for steel traders to secure loans to buy steel then use this same steel as collateral to borrow funds to invest in property development and the stock market

In the Hurun Report released in March 2012—the richest 70 members of the government have a net worth of $89.8 billion, an average of over $1B each. This compares to $7.5 billion for the 660 for the US government, an average of $11M each. Furthermore, this does not take into account the wealth held by the families of these politicians.

Spatial dynamics of airborne infectious diseases

the model predicts the formation of two infectious traveling pulses, propagating in opposite directions. Accordingly, the density of susceptibles evolves into a wave front slowly infiltrating the completely susceptible population ahead of the front

The authors investigate the spatial dynamics of airborne disease transmission, which requires fine aerosol droplets small enough to remain suspended in air, yet large enough to contain non-neglibible pathogen load.

In an unventilated environment, diffusion depends on movement of people (a droplet will only diffuse 5.7mm)

Ventilation allows more rapid droplet diffusion, which can lead to secondary outbreaks. Above a critical level of ventilation, however, disease transmission is impared as droplets are transported out of the domain before they can cause infection.

Disease outbreaks, such as those of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003 and the 2009 pandemic A(H1N1) influenza, have highlighted the potential for airborne transmission in indoor environments. Respirable pathogen-carrying droplets provide a vector for the spatial spread of infection with droplet transport determined by diffusive and convective processes. An epidemiological model describing the spatial dynamics of disease transmission is presented. The effects of an ambient airflow, as an infection control, are incorporated leading to a delay equation, with droplet density dependent on the infectious density at a previous time. It is found that small droplets ($\sim 0.4\ \mu$m) generate a negligible infectious force due to the small viral load and the associated duration they require to transmit infection. In contrast, larger droplets ($\sim 4\ \mu$m) can lead to an infectious wave propagating through a fully susceptible population or a secondary infection outbreak for a localised susceptible population. Droplet diffusion is found to be an inefficient mode of droplet transport leading to minimal spatial spread of infection. A threshold air velocity is derived, above which disease transmission is impaired even when the basic reproduction number R_{0} exceeds unity.

How Language Shapes Thought — Lera Boroditsky

Lera Borodistsky gives a fun talk with illustrations of how language shapes thought. Fundamental thesis: language is how we make sense of our sensory impressions; of course the form we give them changes the way we deal with them.

I am always surprised that this is a debate. Maybe it is because “how we think” is so completely undefined. I also note that the debate is very western, and suggests that the individual is the key element, as if the thinking does not take place in the context of a culture. Thinking is only a part of communicating, i.e. HELLO, LANGUAGE!!

Too busy to list examples in detail, only some subjects:

  1. verb conjugation
  2. color perception
  3. gender
  4. flow/direction of time
  5. agency

And of course the famous example of the Guugu Yimithirr aboriginies, who continually track orientation. Instead of “Hi, how are you,” the opener is
“Hi, where are you going?”
“Oh, north-northwest a half days walk. And you?”
No surprise, these people are extremely good navigators. Interestingly, to them, the landscape is the central element, not themselves. They have no concept of “left” or “right”, but rather place things on the compass. “A mosquito bit my southeast leg” (I wonder how the canonical example always involves and ant). Even time flows east to west, following the sun.
side note- these are the people who gave us the word Kangaroo.

Stray Thoughts on social change

Some quotables from the Long Now conversations

The problem isn’t with journalism per se, but rather that media has become the ecosystem and journalism is only a small part, getting lost in the pornographic amplification of emotional response.

You can be part of the steamroller or part of the road.

Do things by the book, but be the author.

Game theory does not include a theory on how to change the rules of the game.

If we are an addictive culture (we are), and if checking in to Twitter/Facebook releases oxytocin, then in what way are we changing our neural chemistry?

Can you see the writing on the wall?

Jose Antonio Vargas, ‘We Are Americans’

In response to the June 25th Time Magazine cover article:

I am a Son of the American Revolution, with both lines of ancestors present in the United States since before there was a United States. My family has always stood for the core values of the US, as expressed in the words of our founding fathers. We have also bled and died for these values. I have a claim, then, to be the voice of the spirit of the United States of America.

And I say that any law which declares a person “illegal” is itself unamerican.

I hear many people saying “This is the (current) law, and it must be enforced”. Their ignorance is so painful! The purpose of our legal system is to allow the people to overturn unjust law. The law itself is and should remain on trial, at every trial. The Revolutionary War, the Civil war, the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, all of these were fought to change unjust laws (and I here only name the big conflicts that every American should know).

The United States is the Mother of Exiles, and should extend from her beacon hand a world-wide welcome, inviting all who would come and build there life here the opportunity to do so.

Perhaps a minimum of bureaucratic hassle is needed, perhaps a verification of identity, I can concede that (though grudgingly). But the current mess? No. The green card did not even exist before 1940 (“Alien registration act”). I wonder how many of those who want to deport undocumented immigrants had parents who passed through Ellis Island, receiving their citizenship upon arrival? Would your opponents be here today if they applied the same standards to their parents as they would apply to you? What would the world be today if we had turned back the huddled masses?

We need to re-open the golden door, and re-light the lamp.

Thank you, Mr. Vargas, for coming out. You have my full support.