David Brooks’ Op-Ed in the NY Times yesterday takes a swipe at the notion of individual liberty:

Near the start of his book, “The Conscience of a Conservative,” Barry Goldwater wrote: “Every man, for his individual good and for the good of his society, is responsible for his own development. The choices that govern his life are choices that he must make; they cannot be made by any other human being.” The political implications of this are clear, Goldwater continued: “Conservatism’s first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom?”

Goldwater’s vision was highly individualistic and celebrated a certain sort of person — the stout pioneer crossing the West, the risk-taking entrepreneur with a vision, the stalwart hero fighting the collectivist foe.

The problem is, this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong. Over the past 30 years, there has been a tide of research in many fields, all underlining one old truth — that we are intensely social creatures, deeply interconnected with one another and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often an illusion.

Ummmm…. I’m a little confused. I don’t see how the notion that individuals should be free to make their own choices rather than have others force choices onto them is lessened by the knowledge that humans are extremely social animals. 

I don’t think I have to re-read (or re-watch) “A Clockwork Orange”. The question is not the degree to which Alex and his droogs are social, the question is whether we have a right to hold their eyes open with intrusive machinery against their will.

A Shot from the Grassy Knol

December 14, 2007

Google has announced Knol which seems to be a shot over the bow of Wikipedia. I find this challenge fascinating as it matches the Open Source community of Wikipedia against the pay-for-performance model of Google ads.

At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.

The name is pretty weird though. Is it Knol as in Grassy Knoll or Knol as in Knowl-edge? I really wish people remembered to included the pronunciation of new brand names in their announcements.

Wikipedia is entrenched but “getting paid” is a powerful incentive. I can’t wait to see how this one plays out.

Pygmy vs. Hobbit Revisited

September 21, 2007

Sometime ago, I posted about the ongoing scientific debate regarding hominid skeletal remains found on the Indonesian island of Flores. The controversy is whether the remains represent a new species, Homo floresiensis.

Really this is a battle of one Hobbit vs. Three Pygmies. The Hobbit is a new species of Homo. The Three Pygmies are subspecies/pygmies of one of three known Homo species. The three Pygmy options are Homo sapiens (modern human), Homo erectus (Java man which is a large neanderthal-like early human that lived in Asia long before H. sapien arrived), and Homo Habilis (smaller but less advanced in tool use than H. erectus but never thought to have left Africa).

Time will tell but if I’d put my money on a Pygmy H. sapien.

Well time is telling and it looks like my Pygmy H. sapien bet was wrong.

An international team of researchers led by the Smithsonian Institution has completed a new study on Homo floresiensis, commonly referred to as the “hobbit,” a 3-foot-tall, 18,000-year-old hominin skeleton, discovered four years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores.

This study offers one of the most striking confirmations of the original interpretation of the hobbit as an island remnant of one of the oldest human migrations to Asia.

Unless I am misreading, the evidence seems to be pointing at a Pygmy H. erectus or some kind of subspecies of Homo erectus. Very cool.

Google Plays 700 UP

July 12, 2007

There is a new game being played that I call 700 UP. The move to digital television in the U.S. has freed up wireless spectrum in the 700 MHz range that will be auctioned off this year. The major wireless carriers will be bidding as expected but what is interesting is that Google is lobbying to influence the rules of the auction. On the Google Public Policy blog they have a post promoting a set of open platform rules. Read the rest of this entry »

HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray

July 6, 2007

In the comments on the VHS vs. Betamax post, DasL asks:

so, what’s the main factor going to be that wins the hd dvd vs. bLue-ray battLe?
apparentLy bLockbuster is going to be supporting bLue-ray:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6762621.stm

I think this is a very different battle than the VHS vs. Betamax one. Technically HD-DVD and Blu-Ray offer equivalent features and user experience. Assuming neither has a cost advantage the choice comes down to…. well, its like Donkey in the movie Shrek jumping up and down saying “Pick Me! Pick Me!”. The HD-DVD and Blu-Ray donkeys are not nearly as loveable as the Shrek Donkey though.

I don’t think Blockbuster or NetFlix support matters. The studios or distributors can pick sides for now but when push comes to shove they are not going to forgo sales if one technology catches on (except for maybe Sony).

The Sony PS3 game console could have made a difference if it caught on since it includes a Blu-Ray drive but Nintendo made a Wii little obstacle in the way of Sony’s plan of world domination (good for Nintendo by the way).

So I’m guessing neither will “win” but the question becomes do one or both of the high def competitors “starve to death”. I think this battle is more like WMA vs. AAC in the music player space. Neither offers an advantage to the consumer just compatibility headaches.

Will download alternatives win? I dunno but I don’t think they will try to offer 15+ GB downloads to compete with HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. The value proposition is very different for movie downloads.

Is there some other factor that would make you choose either Blu-Ray or HD-DVD?

VHS vs. Betamax

July 3, 2007

I love the VHS vs. Betamax story. Both technologies are effectively dead but the fact that Betamax died much sooner is the interesting part. Actually, the interesting part of this story is that it is a wonderful case study of how the mind works (or perhaps doesn’t work).

One reoccurring meme that comes up in various articles I have read goes like this: “VHS won the video tape war despite Betamax being a superior technology”.

WHAT IS BEST  – Our minds have a funny way of determining what is best when multiple variables are involved. In the video tape wars, some of the competing variables were 1) video quality, 2) tape length, 3) vendor choice, and 4) cost. But here we are years later and a large number of commentators on the “video tape war” can’t get beyond Video Quality. Ultimately, tape length proved to be a more important factor because of an unforseen emergent property; movie rentals. A Hollywood movie can fit on a single 120 minute VHS tape but not a 60 minute Betamax tape.

WHAT WE WANT –  the funny thing about the VHS/Betamax machines is that they were designed first and foremost as “recorders”. When people imagined using the technology they always thought about recording. Recording TV shows, TV movies, and football games. Its what we THINK WE WANT. We never figured out that it didn’t work all that well. So all VHS/Betamax machines included a TV Tuner and write heads and a clock and a really bad interface to start recording at a certain time.

LESSONS LEARNED – VHS won because of its 120 minute tape length and Blockbuster Video (maybe porn). We paid for and lived with extra recording technology junk because that is how we saw ourselves using it.

NOTE: I know the proprietary nature of Betamax was a big part too but that aspect says more about how the minds at Sony work rather than how our minds work.

Sticking with the Wal-Mart theme, CBC Radio show As it Happens (2007-05-09) interviewed Dan Loney of Cloverleaf Grocery.

In recent years, Wal-Mart has tried to trademark all sorts of things. But a family-owned grocery store in tiny Emo, Ontario may be beating it at the price and the name game –by using Wal-mart’s own identity in its advertising. Dan Loney, owner of the Cloverleaf Grocery, has raised an oft-asked question: “What’s in a name?” Plenty, according to Wal-mart’s Canadian lawyers, who’ve just sent him a cease and desist order. Guest host Jane Hawtin speaks to Dan Loney.

Click on the player below to listen to the podcast.