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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

British Apologize to Gay WW2 Codebreaker Alan Turing

This week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered a belated apology to one of the most famed computer scientists in history. Alan Turing, the hallowed Father of Modern Computer Science, was instrumental in breaking the German’s “Enigma Code” during WW2. He was also gay.

The history of Alan Turing is a sad one. A few years after he broke the German’s code for the British government – which Winston Churchill claimed was the most significant, tide-turning victory of WW2 – he was outed as a homosexual and arrested. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. It was also illegal. He lost his security clearance, effectively canning him from his government job, and was convicted of “gross indecency.” To avoid prison, Turing chose to instead undergo a chemical castration process. Two years later, he committed suicide.

Today, the Association for Computing Machinery grants the “Turing Award” each year. It’s something like the Nobel Prize for computing – i.e. a pretty big friggin’ deal. The British government’s apology, while appreciated,  is long overdue.

Read a couple of Turing-related posts here and here.

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Filed under: Politics, ,

Did Glenn Beck Rape and Murder a Young Girl in 1990?

Meme.

Just so we’re clear: Glenn Beck probably didn’t rape and murder a young girl in 1990.

Please tell all your friends that Glenn Beck most likely did not rape and murder a young girl in 1990.

Still… if he’s innocent, then why hasn’t Glenn Beck denied that he raped and murdered a young girl in 1990?

I love internet memes, especially ones aimed at dramatic political douchebags.

Filed under: Humor, Internet, Odd,

A Rhetorical Question

So, here’s my question: You’re a policy analyst in a DC nonprofit, and you submit comments to the FCC stating your case for spending  $7.2 billion on rolling out broadband internet to rural communities. Even if you really, really want the government to tax and spend $7.2-freaking-billion, do you really, truly believe rural broadband access is the ABSOLUTE BEST, most urgent cause to spend that kind of money on? Not, for example, disaster relief, AIDS or malaria prevention, feeding starving third-world children, public health initiatives, alternative energy research, infrastructure improvements, education, hiring more police officers, or any other public benefit or humanitarian cause? Why spend $7,200,000,000.00 on bringing FIOS out to the middle of nowhere?

Filed under: Politics,

Why Didn’t Sprint Give the Pre Away Free?

Michael at Techdirt poses the question (and answers it):

Basically, let Sprint subsidize more of the phone — which it would easily make back in service fees (since the phone requires a two year contract with its most expensive data plan). Pricing the phone at $199 makes it a direct comparison to the iPhone, and that’s the last thing that Palm or Sprint should want. But dropping the price to $1 (or, hell, give the damn phone away for free with a two year plan), would get it a lot of attention, and give people a real reason to switch away from other carriers or other phones, and give the Pre a shot. Trying to compete with the iPhone by just saying “but we’re better” doesn’t work.

My answer: because Sprint and Palm don”t want you to assume that their new handset, which presumably took a long time and a large budget to develop, is a cheap piece of crap. There are lots of cheap copy-cat handsets out there on the market, and even among the decent ones, if it’s not a BlackBerry or an iPhone, no one outside of gadget-geek circles is really paying attention to it. Pricing the Pre at $1 would signal to consumers that it’s nothing more a stripped down, crappy, kiddie version of a real smartphone.

Furthermore, I’d guess that Palm may be trying to poach the early adopters from Apple. While the iPod and the MacBook are still relatively expensive compared to other mp3 players and notebooks, Apple and it’s iCrap isn’t quite the same spendy, for-cool-kids-only brand that it was a few years ago. That you can order an Apple laptop from Best Buy’s website (really) is evidence enough that the brand has become mainstream. When priced at $500 two years ago, only the richest of the hipsters could afford an iPhone; today any Joe Schmoe with $99 can get one. All of this indicates that Apple had one damn effective business model: attract the hipsters first, then pair quirky Gen-Y advertising with steady price declines (or declines in the price-performance ratio), and watch the money pour in as more and more consumers switch to your product. Today, Apple is becoming a household name. The word “iPod” itself is joining the ranks of brand names that have lost their trademark to ubiquity, like “kleenex” and “google,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if someday “iPhone” becomes synonymous with “smartphone.” My guess is that Palm is trying to replicate, or at least profit off of, Apple’s get-the-hipsters-and-the-rest-will-follow strategy. Only Palm isn’t just saying “But we’re better,” they’re also saying “the iPhone is stale.”

Of course, copying a strategy that relied on bringing a revolutionary new product to market requires that, um, you actually have a revolutionary new product to bring to the market. The iPhone had a stylus-free touchscreen and an intuitive user interface. While I’ve heard good things about the Pre, it still has a friggin’ keypad(!) for crying out loud…

Filed under: Tech Biz, , , , ,

Starbucks Ban Laptops?

That’s the question posed by CNET, as apparently several NYC coffee shop owners are restricting the time they allow their patrons to squat on their wifi networks, sans-beverage:

Some coffee shop owners in New York even cover up electric outlets, so that the enterprising, the impoverished students, the merely very lonely or the merely very brazen cannot boot up, sip java, and take up valuable table space all day. Which leads one to wonder just how painful it would be if Starbucks took their lead and banned laptops throughout its vast network.

So, should Starbucks follow suit and place limits on the amount of time customers can hook up to their wifi? My answer is an emphatic “heck no!” Give me your geeky, your parched. If I owned a coffee shop in a neighborhood where my competitors were kicking people out, I’d add more outlets, more seating, and more drink options at various price points to encourage all-day websurfers to approach the counter again. $6.50 for a coffee, with free refills all day? The customers spend their money upfront and stick around for as long as they like. $1 sodas or iced teas? That’s a ridiculously good deal when making a decision at the margin. Food-and-drink specials? Whatever gets a customer to spend their money and have a good experience at my coffeeshop. There’s no need for  some snooty barista to shoo them away once their drink is gone.

There’s an obvious market demand for “free” wi-fi (by “free” I of course mean at the point of use – obviously the costs are hidden in the price of drinks and food). Any enterprising business owner would seek to meet that demand, especially when his or her competitors turn a blind eye to it.

Filed under: Economics, Tech Biz, , ,

Twitter went down?! Oh noes!!1!

Denial-of-Service attacks brought down the little media-darling Twitter yesterday morning, prompting over-reporting of this story by nearly every major news outlet. In the hours following the Twitter fiasco, severe torrential storms in South America killed millions, scores of jets crashed down from the sky across the northern hemisphere, and for a few hours, reports indicated that black became white.

Filed under: Internet, Pop Culture,

Falling off the Blogging Wagon

This summer has not been kind to my blogs. Two reasons:

1) I haven’t had a reliable home internet connection for the last two months.

2) This is (hopefully) going to be my last summer in college town, and I’ve been determined to have as much fun as I can before the realities of adulthood set in.

So, between work, fun in the sun, dice games, and frequent miscellaneous adventures, I’ve not had a lot of time for blogging. However, I’ve just (temporarily) moved back home, where I’ll be staying for another four weeks or so before moving onto the next phase of my life. I’ve got ‘net access, I’ve got nothing to do on my weeknights, so I’ll be back in the habit of inundating your feed readers with econo-/technophilia again in no time.

Filed under: Housekeeping

Verizon: Saying One Thing While Doing Another

When I blogged at OpenMarket last month about four US Senators’ probe into wireless handset exclusivity deals, I argued that exclusivity agreements between wireless carriers and phone manufacturers are good for both producers and consumers, and that they bring prices down and speed up innovation. Imagine my surprise when I read today that Verizon plans to limit its exclusivity contracts to a mere six months:

 In a letter today to key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Verizon Wireless’ President and CEO Lowell McAdam announced “Effective immediately for small wireless carriers… any new exclusivity arrangement we enter with handset makers will last no longer than six months – for all manufacturers and all devices.”

How generous and selfless of Verizon, right? Actually, it turns out that the “small wireless carriers” that McAdam speaks of are companies with fewer than 500,000 subscribers. From PC World:

How many people do you know who use such companies? The top four U.S. carriers make up a whopping 86 percent of the market, according to research by the CTIA, a nonprofit wireless industry association. Even within that remaining 14 percent, the number of carriers with fewer than 500,000 customers on-board is miniscule at best; in fact, one report suggests only seven networks exist in America with subscriber bases below 7 million. Translation: This isn’t exactly something with wide-reaching impact.

Verizon didn’t get to be one of the leading wireless service companies by having idiots at the helm.  Nor by embracing a corporate motto of selflessness and caving to the pressure of uninformed public officials. Instead, they’re just playing the PR game: announce that we’re making a compromise, without really compromising anything. 

As for the idea that handsets shouldn’t be tied to certain carriers: Please. This is such a trivial consumer gripe. Big freaking deal, you subscribe to the wrong wireless carrier and now you can’t get a “crackberry.” Let’s change the rules for the entire industry – which has given us newer and better phones at even lower prices year after year – just so a few rural technophiles can get their hands on the latest new shiny toy.

And for the record, I could care less whether Verizon gets the iPhone or not.

Filed under: Politics, Tech Biz, , ,

Dumb Idea: Making Cyberbullying a Federal Crime

For those geeks among us that have ever spent any time on internet forums, we know that it’s pretty common to see tempers flare, resulting in mean comments directed towards the n00b asking all the stupid questions. Lightly-moderated boards, in particular, draw a lot of trolls. Teens and adults acting childish? You bet, although I’d guess that most of the profanity-laden cruel language found in these forums is part of the common lingo of such communities. Every member on the site knows that the cranky moderator who uses racial slurs and sexually-loaded insults is really some rotund, greasy, girlfriendless network admin or tech support specialist in real life, and not a grand wizard or a hardcore porn-peddler.

However, it would seem that most people over the age of 40 still don’t understand “teh internets,” including Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA, who incidentally just turned 40 this year). Rep. Sanchez recently introduced the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act,” which seeks to make it a federal felony to “cause substantial emotional distress to a person” via the internet. From Ars Technica:

However, as with many bills of this nature, the murky language and vague standards leave much open to interpretation, which has caused critics to call it the Censorship Act instead.

. . .

…criticism has been building. The language in the bill is so vague, it could be interpreted to apply to practically any situation, including blog posts critical of public officials.

It’s unlikely that the feds would ever be in the business of policing web forums, and this legislation is obviously intended to punish the repeated real abuse of kids and teens. However, it appears that this bill runs into some serious first amendment issues. Telling a n00b to go get hit by a car could be considered a federal offense. Heck, I’ve had things written on my facebook page that could constitute “emotional distress” (e.g. phallus jokes, toilet humor, sexual insults, references to alcoholism, personal threats, etc. You should see the “bumperstickers” we’ve sent each other-thanks Mark and JaLen!). Even the internet’s lowest common denominator, the /b-tards over at 4chan, could effectively be labeled an entire freaking army of felons* under this kind of legislation.

The guys at PFF have released a white paper that compares the effectiveness of regulation and legislation vs. educational efforts.

*Actually, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the /b community is already populated entirely by felons, deviants, and/or sociopaths.

Filed under: Internet, Politics, , ,

You Know the Internet has Reached a New Low

…when a live webstream of a woman being raped shows up online.

Seriously, this is disgusting:

According to police, Hock raped the woman in her own bedroom after she had been asleep for four to five hours. The victim told police she learned about the video after receiving numerous text messages from her friends. She said she then signed onto the Web site and found photos of Hock lying next to her as she was nude from the waist down, the statement said.

Phoenix police said they obtained the five-minute video and heard Hock comment about how the victim was completely passed out and how he can have sex with her without her knowledge.

I have no commentary to add to this detestable story, except to say ladies: always, always be sure you know what kind of people the guys you’re drinking with are.

This is just absolutely revolting. I’m going to go vomit now.

Filed under: Internet, , ,

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