Friday, May 09, 2008

Announcements, Articles and Stranger Eyes

The Image category submissions for the “Uplift UniverseComputer Graphics Society contest are closing on Monday 12th May, so gather up all your little green men and submit them to the contest before the end of this weekend! There is over US$100,000 in prizes being dished out, so get involved before it all gets zapped with a laser. (Those doing movie trailers have a month longer.)

throughstrangereyesTHROUGH STRANGER EYES -- a collection of my book reviews, introductions and essays on popular culture -- will soon be released in the Western Hemisphere by Nimble Books and in the Eastern Hemisphere by Altair (Australia). Included will be those infamous articles such as  J.R.R. Tolkien and the Modern Age and
Star Wars: Mythology and Ingratitude, as well as sober reflections on Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail, and Rebecca Solnit's River of Shadows ... scientific ponderings on Feynman and Gott, appraisals of Brunner, Resnick, Zelazny, Verne, and Orwell... all the way to fun riffs on the Matrix and Buffy! Watch for news here!

------ Speaking of... um... genius. Nathan Myhrvold and his Intellectual Ventures innovation superorganism are subjects of an in-depth New Yorker profile. And yes, I can testify that the tales about Nathan are scarcely exaggerated. Some people really do make better use of both dollars and neurons than others. (My eldest son is especially anxious to see the famed Myhrvold collection of analog and mechanical calculating machines, though I told him he must invent something first, in order to make up for spilling wine across Nathan’s table cloth, when he was a one-year old.)

------- A way to contribute to disaster relief in Myanmar. Mike Treder has researched what he thinks may be the best avenue... the Burmese monks' cyclone relief efforts.

------- And just when I get exhausted, arguing with dreamy SETI fetishists over whether sapient life in the universe must automatically be altruistic... and I am tired of being the bad guy, the grouch, pointing out that “it ain’t necessarily so”... along something that reminds me that I really am the guy who wrote about dolphins and chimps in space. I really HOPE there’s altruism in nature. And Stefan just shared this heartening example.

------- Some fascinating introductory video on “computer forensics” by fellow nanotech policy theorist Steve Burgess.

And a cute satire of an online discussion forum of time travelers.


dowereallywantimmortalityTwo studies provide new insights on exceptional longevity. In a study of risk factors that may be part of the 75% of human life span variation not attributable to genetics, Brigham & Women's Hospital researchers estimated that a 70-year-old man who did not smoke and had normal blood pressure and weight, no diabetes and exercised two to four...

See  my essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?

A neckband that translates thought into speech by picking up nerve signals to the vocal cords has been used to make a "voiceless" phone call. (Um, hey, a little cred here?)

Peking University researchers have found five biochemical pathways that may be at the core of the process of addiction. Dr Wei and her colleagues wanted to answer three questions. First, what are the genes and biochemical pathways in addiction? Second, does addiction to different substances involve the same core biochemical mechanisms? Third, does anything in those mechanisms explain why addiction is so hard to shake off? Fascinating article. But still, no one will ask: does this hijack parts of the natural behavior reinforcement process?...

Disney Revives 'House of the Future.'

Converting corn to ethanol in Iowa not only leads to clearing more of the Amazonian rainforest, researchers report, but also would do little to slow global warming. It may often make it worse & exacerbate hunger.

Word of a 40 percent increase in the efficiency of a common thermoelectric material, making possible solar panels and car exhaust pipes that use waste heat for electrical power.

A study group identified 25 potential future threats to the environment in the UK, which they say researchers should focus on. In addition to well-publicised risks such as toxic nanomaterials, the acidification of the ocean and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the list includes some more outlandish possibilities. These include: • Biomimetic robots that could become new invasive species. • Experiments involving climate engineering, for instance and • Increased demand for the biomass needed to make biofuel. • Disruption to marine ecosystems caused by offshore power generation. Experiments to control invasive species using genetically engineered viruses.


Re setting standards based upon Microsoft Word... that is like letting Yogi Bera write a textbook on grammar or appointing Harpo Marx to the Supreme Court... not exactly immoral or criminal, but absolutely crazy. I still write using a 1996 version of Word Perfect for the Macintosh... a product that is now totally unsupported and that has gone unrevised for a decade! Why? Because the logical pattern of its commands, its formatting, its toolkit and the far smaller number of outrageously dumb steps made it seem designed by and for humans, not denizens of Planet Regrespa.

Seriously, Word is big and complex and follows a kind of logic. Every time I curse and scratch my head over some vastly complicated, multi-step weirdness that the whole world now takes for granted, because it became the “standard,” I eventually have an epiphany moment when I say “Oh! I see what they’re doing!”

Only then I add... “But... why???” Seriously. I have long suspected that MEN IN BLACK had it right. There are clusters of aliens on Earth, mostly in America, pretty decent folk, paying their taxes, fitting in. Some are inimical, like those pod beings who have taken over NASA Marshall Space-Nonflight Center, doing everything in their power, for thirty years, to keep us out of space...

And others, like a giant hive in Redmond Washington, just want to make money monopolizing our software. They don’t even mean us harm! But their logic is not our logic.


A cute comparison of ten differences between writers and mathematicians.

Want to take part in a survey about sci fi movie cliches? I mean tropes? I mean used-a-lot old stories?

Another brilliant Jared Diamond article, this time about the roots of the human impulse for revenge.

See a fairly long audio interview with me, in which Stephen Euin Cobb asks about what I liked... and hated... about my recent, top-rated, event on Second Life!


Tony Fisk said...

I have ideas about uplift scenes, but neither the time, skill or resources to do anythng about them, which is hardly helpful!

does this hijack parts of the natural behavior reinforcement process?...

Have you seen the Scientific American article on tobacco addiction? It presents the hypothesis that the brain has systems for generating and inhibiting cravings. It is suggested that nicotine actually stimulates the *suppression* systems. The brain reacts by boosting the craving generation systems itself, which are then thrown out of balance again when the nicotine is withdrawn.

Permanent changes in brain chemistry have been observed with as little as one cigarette.

And this stuff's legal?!

I have been following the recent OOXML saga, both on Groklaw, and on Tim Bray's blog (he was one of the Canadian delegation attending the March meeting)

My opinion is summarised here.


One final thing. I received a survey from the Planetary Society which seeks to determine the public's priorities in space exploration. It might be worth sharing with you folks.

The four questions are:

1. What should the driving goal of future space exploration be?
- a: Building a permanent, human-occupied base on the Moon.
- b: Sending human expeditions to Mars.
- c: Using only robots to explore our solar system.

2. If you could advise the next president about the U.S. space program, what would you say?
- a: Build the shuttle replacement, but do not commit to future human exploration beyond the Space Station.
- b: Seek international cooperation for lunar landings and Mars exploration.
- c: Build a U.S. lunar base as a stepping-stone to Mars.

3. Scientists have warned that the world will soon lose its space-based ability to monitor climate. Should NASA step up its Earth Observing Program to meet this challenge?
- a: Yes. Global warming and other Earth issues are paramount. Government space programs must find ways to fund this research.
- b: No. Limited space funds are better spent exploring
beyond Earth.

4. Do you have any specific questions you would like us to put to the presidential candidates?

Anonymous said...

Yay, another WP fan. I know Katharine Kerr also uses it and is horribly afraid her old PC will break down since she is unsure WP 5 will even install on a modern machine. There is of course "WP Classic" available with the latest version (X3), that emulates WP 5.1 layout, keyboard & additional features.

B. Dewhirst said...

Microsoft word is another fine example of the failure of capitalism.

Perhaps you'd like to start up your own firm to compete with Microsoft Word, if you're so confident in the power of markets? You've made a good case for there being a demand...

Allowing Microsoft to decide these things, to further their own profit, is the most undemocratic way we could manage our resources.

You've presented an even nastier example in Earth... 1990's diaper disposal in California, where the capitalist firm exploits the environment to the detriment of the more environmentally sound diaper services.

But your retort, "Capitalism is good" is enough for you, I suppose...

Where did I hear something about criticism being the only known remedy for self deception?

This is why Adam Smith argued vigorously against corporations! He -knew- merchants were more likely to collude than compete, and any solutions to that problem are now hopelessly outdated by our new feudalism.

Matt DeBlass said...

Re: Word as the new standard.

Could it be the "Qwerty" of the 21st Century?

I use OpenOffice Writer, which is more or less based on Word, but has, at least, the advantage of not costing me anything.

I just finished Mr. Diamond's Collapse, very sobering indeed.

NoOne said...

Don't know if you were serious or tongue in cheek re: Nathan Myhrvold. I met him once and came away with the impression that I had just met a slimy thug. His company IV may just be patent trolls (justifying the slimy thug description).

David McCabe said...

This article on IV seems to cherish the notion that ideas are easily made. And it's true. When you're not encumbered by having to work out the difficult details and actually create products, you can rattle off ideas very quickly. So IV are definitely patent trolls.

That isn't necessarily bad for civilization on the whole; we'll have to wait and see, I suppose.

B. Dewhirst said...

Any system whereby the government and universities could fund biomedical research, that research could be converted into a lifesaving drug-- and then that drug could be patented by a private firm so that they can charge a prohibitively expensive price for that drug such that people suffer and die is not a good system.

Patents kill people.

Travc said...

What is all this on WP vs Word? I'm still debating between Vi and Emacs ;)

Seriously though, I get very annoyed by far too often receiving Word documents by people who just assume everyone uses it. I don't even have MS word, and because Word is such a baroque PoS, the 'office' like programs I do use (Open-office derivatives) most often have problems with the files.

My main word processor is emacs. It is so much easier writing anything with math in it using a text editor and LaTeX. Many biologists just use word, and I would argue their work suffers for it (as well as making me not want to collaborate with them.) Also, apparently many Asian (Japanese and Korean at least) pubs and conferences only accept Word formatted stuff.

Hell, I even get sent conference and seminar announcements, job postings, and other such mundane things as *attached word docs*... WTF! How insanely stupid overkill is that!

Just fire up a text editor and write a f*cking html doc if you really want to have a bulleted list and italics. It only takes about 5min to learn basic HTML, but I'd even gladly suffer the bad html generated by a WYSIWYG composer over getting a Word doc. And everyone could actually read it without sending money to Redmond.

BTW: Google Docs work reasonably well for text-and-images stuff. Though I haven't tried to do anything fancy with it (since I just use LaTeX for anything involved).

PS: While I'm on a rant... let me mention 'logical vs literal' formatting (apologies if those are not the correct terms of art). HTML (and LaTeX) is really designed to do 'logical' formatting... instead of specifying italics or exactly where an embedded image goes, you are supposed to specify that certain text is 'emphasized' and an image is associated with a certain block of text... the exact layout is supposed to be handled by whatever is interpreting the code. This is far superior in most cases to tying to specify all the details of page layout. If you really want that level of specificity, use PDF... otherwise just try and relax and trust the reader side to handle logical formatting appropriately.

Anonymous said...

"Logical" formatting is more usually called "semantic" formatting, and I think "literal" is thus "syntactic".

David McCabe said...

It's usually called "structural markup" vs. "presentational markup". "Semantic" as in "the semantic web" refers to something different, namely, attaching metadata to text so that computer programs can understand it more easily.

In any case, LaTeX is a mix, but mostly presentational.

Travc, if you're on a Mac, you might want to try TextMate. Takes some of the best ideas from Emacs and brings them out of the 1970s.

Mac OS 7 was so charming; good to hear somebody still finds it useful.

Anonymous said...

Microsoft Word was a remarkable advance . . . back when the alternative was Wordstar.

What ticks me most off about the versions of Word that came with my last couple of computers is that they are SLOW. It takes upwards of a minute for everything to come up, and the computer crawls in the process. Even on my primary desktop, a P4 3.2 MHz.

I recently installed Fedora Linux on a much slower (P4 1.7 MHz) machine that sits right next to my main machine. Someday I'm going to do a side-by-side test of the Star Office word processor and Word.

There's a definite steep learning curve to Linux, but once you learn the ropes you've got a very nice environment that doesn't have to take a break to upload virus detection rules every time it's turned on.

NoOne said...

I went from SUN OS -> Solaris -> RedHat Linux -> openSUSE. I've never had a Windows desktop as a primary machine. Consequently, I still find Windows to be quite weird.

Lately, I've become saddened by the prospects of desktop linux to the point of stopping all linux evangelization efforts. People still seem to want to give MickeySoft their hard earned cash.

Tony Fisk said...

Linux for me, too. I'm puzzled by Stefan's remarks about Linux having a steep learning curve. I mean, yes, it has a rich set of CLI commands with the traditional terse, obscure and geeky names like grep awk ls etc, but they're no more obscure than the Windows command prompt (and a good deal more powerful: twenty years of development, and Windows still doesn't have an effective equivalent of a soft link! Come on, guys, it isn't rocket science!!)

Even at the Graphical interface level, which most users tend to use, I don't see a huge problem (Windows may have the edge there, but it's narrowing)

Installation? In my experience with Ubuntu, apart from the partitioning hassles (which come from trying to share the system with another operating system) it just... works.

BTW, speaking of gaps narrowing, it appears that Obama now has more pledged superdelegates than Clinton.

matthew said...

GOP convention chair resigns due to ties to Burma dictatorship. :)

I heartily recommend 'Little Brother,' by Cory Doctorow.
It is fairly 'adult' YA SciFi, (lots of sex, drugs, and rock and roll) set in the very near future. Teenagers picked up by the DoHS after a terrorist attack fight back against the DoHS using hacking, smart mobs, etc.
Check out the free downloads on the website I've given (Cory used to work for the EFF), and the 'donate a copy to a library’ link.
Note that 'Little Brother' is in some ways diametrically opposed to our hosts' transparency screed, being yet another SciFi novel that says that the future is best served by everyone having hard crypto. It's always good to hear from both sides of an argument, and I think that Dr. Brin and Cory do share some basic desires for our future.

Anonymous said...

has a lot of great articles. Just a sampling of the current offerings:

* Dip in brainpower may follow drop in real power:
Researchers say low status seems to erode mental function -- with complicated implications for society.

* Designer isotopes push the frontiers: Creating rare variants of chemical elements may be the next big thing in nuclear physics.

* Brain molecules may tell of child abuse: A study has found distinct chemical markings on the DNA of people who took their own lives after suffering maltreatment.

* Study: galactic goings-on were dinos' undoing, and maybe ours: Our movement through the galaxy may cause mass extinctions, researchers claim.

* Probe to reach near sun: An unmanned NASA craft would plunge into an inferno more than hot enough to melt stone.

* "Nanotrees" might help miniaturize gadgetry: Beautiful and possibly useful, tiny structures shed light on strange aspects of crystal growth, scientists say.

Anonymous said...

My personal-machine linux experience has been with Fedora. Two MythTV boxes and a (just installed) general purpose machine.

Maybe Ubuntu is better at screening users from the incandescent sulfurous hell of dependency snarl-ups and battling repositories. Next time I find a computer in the garbage I'll give it a whirl.

David Brin said...

Stefan, that's exactly what my 16 year old Ben has done. He bought ten trashed laptops off ebay for 50$ and managed to fix two of them including a cool Thinkpad. He loaded Ubuntu on those and loves Linux... tho of course, part of it is because he is far more ornery and contrarian than his old man. (He refuses to acknowledge the inherent superiority of Macs.)

GOP convention chair resigns due to ties to Burma dictatorship. :)

Blark. When will somebody do the statistics and picket Matt Drudge till he admits that goppers are utter thug whores? Barry Goldwater's spin rate has gone hypersonic.

Travc said...

Thanks for the 'textmate' pointer... yeah I do use a mac laptop, though I do work on a desktop running Ubuntu. (A laptop can't quite cut it with the TBs of data I'm currently working on.)

Anyway, Windows is needed for gaming unfortunately. Though it is getting to the point that consoles are dominating that these days (I could go on a long rant about the inferiority of consoles and the corrosive effects of porting games from console to PC, at least with my favorite types of games... but I won't for not.) As for why Windows dominates... VHS vs Beta (though now we have DVDs and vid on demand).

I seem to be the Neal Stephenson troll... but if you haven't read "in the beginning there was the command line", it is a good one.

As for Macs... With OSX they are really superior for most purposes. Best of both worlds.

An opinion/observation on Apple vs Microsoft which I'd like to share:

Microsoft sells software. This is problematic in many ways... Needing to continually make previous versions obsolete to drive sales, having all the interoperability problems working with a huge set of poorly coordinated hardware bits, and the entire weirdness of actually selling what is essentially information.

Apple, on the other hand, sells computing devices. Interoperability is obviously easier. But also, issues of 'code freedom' are a lot less worrysome to me with Apple because the business model is completely different. Maybe I'm being naive, but it makes an important difference in my perception at least. It is a lot harder to be pissed off at Apple for selling a computer which uses proprietary code than Microsoft which just sell the code.

I can't explain it well, but perhaps a little seed will get planted in the brain of someone who can.


re: Nathan Myhrvold, I have only met him one briefly (1/2 hour I think), but he seemed to be a clever enough fellow. Nothing super extraordinary, but I'm pretty hard to really impress... I'm quite used to being around people far smarter than I am.

As for IV (or whatever that business is called), an idea/'incubator' company isn't really all that new. IdeaLab is the one I'm most familiar with (several friends worked there). The key difference between a real useful company and a patent scam is in the 'development' of the idea. IdeaLab didn't just patent ideas, but built up a reasonable business plan and developed the idea to the point where others could pick it up and run with it (sometimes into a brick wall, but sometimes successfully). For example (assuming I got my history correct), the idea of tying advertising on the internet to search terms (now expanded to on-page ads relevant to the context on the page) came out of IdeaLab... but equally important, they figured out how to account for all the micropayments and actually built a functioning Yellow-pages type system. So, the bit that makes Google an actual company which can make money was thought-up, patented, and developed into a working system by an 'incubator' company. (Google stole it and probably broke the law in the process, but the parties involved apparently sorted it out like reasonable adults.)

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I once observed an interesting scenario in the country, involving a large family of cats. A 4 week old kitten had died and was lying in my driveway. Watching out the window, I observed a few of the other cats in a semi-circle around the dead kitten. The cats took turns in a ritualistic-like manner, going up to the dead kitten, sitting for awhile, then leaving. They didn’t look at the dead kitten, they merely sat for a moment, looking around. One of them, a younger cat between 6 months and year and considered a teenager by our standards, pawed at the kitten as if to be sure it was really dead… or perhaps just seeing what death was all about. It was quite fascinating to watch. I’m a realist in a lot of respects and believe in treating animals for what they are… life that lives on instincts not intellect. What I observed was real and animals apparently do “understand” death on some level.

As for the dreamy SETI people who assume… and it isn’t that I don’t think life can’t be out there, but I always saw the search for life and the belief in aliens, a modern day search for God. What people are really arguing, is the fact that God is good and exists out there somehwhere in the universe. Therefore, you will never convince them otherwise. :o)

Anonymous said...

I can't afford to be a platform bigot; my job has me working with Windows PCs, Linux PCs, a Solaris workstation, and video servers that run a variant of the Plan 9 operating system (supposed to be the successor to Unix, but little known outside of labs).

* * *

FYIage: Freeware versions of Civilization and Colonization are available on the Linux platform. Although I'm not sure if announcing that is doing anyone a favor.

* * *

During my obligatory Mothers' Day call, learned that my father stumbled on and recorded ARCHITechs and both of them watched and enjoyed the show. Paraphrasing: "That Brin guy sure is a non-linear thinker."

* * *

OH! Yes, I strongly suggest everyone read "In The Beginning Was The Command Line." A real brain-stretching and insightful essay.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Brin:

I recently left this comment on Malcolm Gladwell's blog in response to the NYer Myrhvold article. I apologize for the cut-and-paste, but I think it's important.

"Dear Mr. Gladwell,

I'm a longtime reader and a big fan. However, I think your most recent NYer article on Nathan Myhrvold and "inventions" does a disservice to your readers.

Myhrvold's company, Microsoft, was convicted of anti-competitive practices concerning intellectual property for actions taken when he was their Chief Technical Officer and 3rd in command. It's an interesting choice to use him as your primary source on an article concerning intellectual property.

In the words of the U.S. judge hearing the monopoly case, Microsoft executives had "proved, time and time again, to be inaccurate, misleading, evasive, and transparently false. ... Microsoft is a company with an institutional disdain for both the truth and for rules of law that lesser entities must respect. It is also a company whose senior management is not averse to offering specious testimony to support spurious defenses to claims of its wrongdoing." The total fine levied by the EU is nearing 3 billion dollars.

What his new company does is generally known as patent trolling. It exploits our broken patent system and inhibits innovation. You should not be able to get a patent on an "invention" without a working prototype. A concept and a drawing is not enough, no matter how many high-priced lawyers you have. Brainstorming ideas is fine, but it occurs in every graduate school and company in the world. You should not have legal protection from competitors until you do the hard work to get results. The differences between Myhrvold and Bell or Myhrvold and Kelvin could not be greater.

Furthermore, Myhrvold's attitude and character are well illustrated by his quote: “People in biology and medicine don’t do arithmetic.” That is simply ridiculous and shows a profound lack of understanding. Quantitative data and statistical analysis are the foundation of biology and medicine.

Fond regards,

David Brin said...

DAWG you make very good points. And yes, patent and IP law is often misunderstood, even by judges. When it fails at its one and only original purpose -- luring creative activity into the open and accelerating leveraged progress -- then the law should be re-interpreted in such a way as to achieve that original purpose.

Certainly, a patent that is accompanied by a working model and/or a vigorous product-development plan merits stronger protection than a sketch and "looka what we thought of last night!"

Nevertheless, I need to point out that Nathan M's IV company does try hard to pick the best ideas and invest serious time/money into them.

Furthermore, there is something to be said for patents that get idea out there, getting attention paid to them, and starting the expiration clock ticking. Twenty years later, it's all public domain.

True, Nathan could simply MAKE them public domain, which is where a third factor comes in. I believe he ought to publish a journal and site offering partnerships at cascading levels to ANYBODY willing and able to run with an idea, with reasonable (low) rates that let him maintain overhead off of the few that succeed.

Of course, this is blather from a fellow who has failed to break through mental blocks surrounding one of his own areas of innovation. I thought for sure that, when I got my hugely broad and encompassing Holocene patents, somebody would notice the gaping gaps in online interation that the patent exposes. I figured: "Sure, this doesn't prove that there's no sliver of prior art the examiners missed. But it does prove that nobody out there is making big money from these concepts."

Nope. My recent visit to 2nd Life... one of the best attended events they ever had... involved fancy avatars & buildings -- and the still-horrific 30 year old scrolling "chat" BS in the corner. No wonder progress has ground to a halt.

B. Dewhirst said...

Patents are deliberately written so as to be difficult to understand. This obscurantism undermines their stated purpose-- to further innovation, in part, by allowing other potential innovators

The patent system also reinforces the fiction that sole geniuses produce innovation. Instead, it is most often teams who push forward the boundaries.

Patents are most useful to large companies...

And imagine for a moment... that fateful day when Klaatu steps out. A member of an older and wiser race, Klaatu's people have broad patents covering everything from electronics to applecarts-- and theirs is a law without expiration.

No doubt you think that is absurd... and the folk in China, India, Ecuador, and a host of other nations agree.

Travc said...

This is OT, so apologies up front:

I was recently talking with my local Ostrich (local in a social networking sense). It is a lot less enjoyable than most chats/debates, because I really can't seen to get a grip on this otherwise very intelligent guy's thought process re: politics and public policy.

Anyway, a few things that struck me:

A while back he mentioned Wright in the context of 'Obama scaring' him. This time he repeated the worried/scared about Obama stuff, but accepted my assertion the the Wright stuff is supremely silly and irrelevant. Seems to me there is something he does not trust about Democrats (to a lesser extent, politicians in general) at a very deep level, and whatever post-hoc justifications available will be used to support the feeling. I really have no idea how to get around that.

Another thing came up talking about Carter and Reagan. He thinks Reagan was pretty great because he (and he assumes most Americans) felt good about stuff... and Carter was 'the worst' because he made people feel bad. I retorted by pointing out the on policy grounds, Carter was amazingly good while Reagan was pretty bad. I wish I knew more details of Carter's economic and fiscal policies, because those are counts where Reagan was particularly bad (long term at least).

He also asserted the the hostages held in Iran were release because Reagan would have bombed/invaded/whatever and Iran was scared of him. That doesn't seem plausible to me, but my memory of the time is hazy and actual reality-based history is hard to come by.

On one positive note... Brining up Iran-Contra in the context of older non-very-engaged president and GOP foreign policy seems pretty sticky. It is exactly the sort of thing you expect the Repubs to do when they can... and at least some Repubs will even admit it.

Anyway, I wish I could get this guy to take a hard rational look at politics. Unfortunately, he seems to view it more as an occasional entertainment, doesn't think any news is reliable (so enjoys Faux News, since it isn't any worse at least), and goes on some sort of feelings/gut that I really don't get, much less know how to counter.

Tony Fisk said...

travc, most people tend to go on their 'gut feelings' and then justify them later. While they can apply reason, surprisingly few people are consciously familiar with even basic deductive logic. We aren't as rational as we'd like to think. Aristotle realised it. I think the repubs realise it better then the dems, too. Which is why their rhetoric has been more persuasive (people are increasingly seeing beyond the smoke and mirrors, however).

Anyway, going back to Aristotle, he described three forms of argument:

- logos: appeals to reason (I think this because that)
- pathos: appeals to emotion (Hype. Also, how would you feel if...?)
- ethos: appeals to morality (thou shalt/not...)

Of these, logos is actually the *weakest* at persuasion (although very handy in defending an idea). You can see this in the Intelligent Design tussle: The IDers are on the offensive, but make no progress at all. OTOH scientists don't seem to be able to dismiss those annoying nits.

I think this is where you might be going wrong with the ostrich management.

Appeals to morality are fraught with pitfalls. You're dealing with hardwired circuitry here, so better to avoid a stance that requires a shift in moral ground. It isn't going to happen, and you will lose your audience. (example, Dawkins' attacks on religion. I think he has a well argued thesis, but to what point?)

Conversely, an argument that uses morality as a lever is nearly unassailable, and is the basis for the rhetorical tactic of 'framing'
(eg: 'You want to get out of Iraq? You want to abandon the sacrifice our brave men and women have made?' ... that sort of thing. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, for good reason.)

So what's left but hype and grooming? This will, at least get your audience in a 'feel good' frame of mind. They might then be more receptive to your more rational points. If you slip them in like the anti-worming tablets in the cat's liver (changing analogs, but cats *adore* liver), they are harder to avoid. This is the basic tactic underlying Brin's 'Clinton Gambit': 'if Clinton did... *WHAT!!? (well, actually, Bush did WHAT squared...)'

...Then again, some cats are pretty adept at separating pill from liver! The problem appears to be that so much emotion has been wrapped up in an ostrich's political allegiance, that it has become an ethical stance. You can't change their beliefs for them. The best you can do is to paint them into a corner and let them work it out for themselves.

(*disclaimer: most of the above is gleaned from a good, but brief, course on effective communication. There will, no doubt, be a few omissions and mistakes, but it 'feels' right to me ;-)

Hope that all helps, or at least, doesn't hinder.

B. Dewhirst said...

Actually, Dawkins is quite capable of using all three at once:

"Religious indoctrination of children is child abuse."

Anonymous said...

One of David's continuing complaints about contractors operating in the Iraq war gets an airing over at They interview Dina Rasor about her book "Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War".


Also mentioned is Keytam(not sure on spelling) where if an individual in a company has evidence of fraud in a govt contract they can file on behalf of the govt and if the action is successful will get a percentage of the win against the company. I don't know how long this has been in so don't know if David can add it to his prediction wins list or not.

Tony Fisk said...

"Religious indoctrination of children is child abuse."

As presented here, this assertion appeals to the emotions (and the indign-aid), but it is ethically ambiguous (see below), and has no rational backing. Oh! I'm sure Dawkins could provide a book's worth, and the recent Texas sect revelations are fresh in people's minds. Still, it's presentation that matters. The sentence does not stand on its own.

Appeals to morality had better be made to the morals of the audience! Traditional religion is associated with the caring and nurture of children. Child abuse is viewed as repugnant. So, by setting up a paradoxical conflict between two *strong* moral issues, the statement simply gets people steamed!

I used Dawkins as an example of the problems you can encounter when tackling a moral issue. I haven't read his books, but I have seen the documentary he made on 'The God Delusion'. I felt that using arguments like the above *on religious leaders* was not helpful. (I am told the book is much better presented, however)

Travc said...

Tony, thanks. A short course is generally all that is needed if it is indeed good. (I often make an analogous statement about short stories vs novels with respect to interesting ideas... just to make an SciFi connection.)

One problem I have is that this guy is smart and good at deductive reasoning, at least applied to his field of work... a scientist. He is also older and in a more accomplished position than I. Anyway, my interactions are strictly of the 'chit-chat' sort, since he is and acquaintance, not a friend. So long heated debates (which I personally enjoy) are not appropriate.

On morality, I generally agree with him actually. So appeals on that level are probably possible, but tricky to make since I would have to show that his support for the GOP (or fear / lack of support for alternative which is more relevant probably) is somehow at odds with his existing moral views.

I think the core difficulty is really that he does not (and I think does not want to) view politics as important. That allows an otherwise pretty hard-headed person to just go on fuzzy feelings and post-hoc justifications, because it doesn't really matter anyway.

The Faux News thing is perhaps too indicative. If one really thinks that all news sources are full of crap, you might as well just enjoy the 'sport' of watching FOX... since they are more amusing. The fact that some of the crap actually does stick and leads to being misinformed doesn't really ultimately seem to matter to him (maybe he has a inflated view of his own BS detector).

For me, this is actually getting a bit depressing. I don't get too worked up over actual conservative vs liberal politics. I do feel very strongly about pragmatism vs ideology and authoritarianism.


On the up side, I loaned Soros's "Age of Fallibility" to my adviser at UCLA, and he found it much more deep and profound that I did (I thought it is pretty good). I guess that is another book suggestion to make to people.

George Soros
"The Age of Fallibility",M1

PS: On think I do think is really interesting from that book... Soros was a student of Karl Popper (philosophy of science) for a year, and Soros's highly successful investment methodology was inspired by his philosophical work (which you *should* already know all about, really!)

Travc said...

PPS: For some reason I'm typing like shit tonight... please forgive the odd typos and such. You can understand what I mean and that is the point after all of conversational speech.

Travc said...

Another thought:

Perhaps it is time to start working out how to take over and rebuild the Republican party.

Obama and his campaign are working on wresting power from the current establishment on the Dem side with mounting success, but the Repubs are in great flux and will probably (if McCain looses, as looks likely) be ripe for a realignment.

Bob Barr is running as a libertarian (there are many good thing about Barr despite the obvious BS he engaged in against Clinton). Maybe he (and others) are thinking that the GOP may be supplanted by a third party... possible. However, a 'from within' strategy is more plausible and maybe more effective in actually facilitating a long term shift towards sanity.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the religious right, tax cut uberalis, and neo-cons all worked out mechanisms different mechanisms for internal party takeovers. Delay's faction probably provides the best model, which basically boils down to getting really involved in low level party processes (which are susceptible to 'invasion' due to low knowledge and participation in the processes.) Note: Obama's campaign learned from this too... which is one reason he has done so well in caucuses and is actually in a position to challenge the DLC power brokers.

Anyway, I'll leave it open for others to expand on why we should really want a viable GOP realigned to represent actual conservative predilections (though from a more pragmatic instead of ideological basis). Now seems like a good time to start working on making it happen.

PS: I would like to coin the term pragmatic-right (and pragmatic-left). Seems more fundamentally meaningful that 'center-right'. (Conservative / liberal / progressive / libertarian are all possible valid suffixes for 'pragmatic'.)

Tony Fisk said...


(maybe he has a inflated view of his own BS detector)

Sounds like your acquaintance needs the 'sight o' Kate' to wake him up!

So, if you've a mind to, choose a falsifiable assertion he has made, (presumably from an excess of faux), and demonstrate it to be wrong.

Then, after he has admitted it (and irrelevant to how important it is), ask him how a bright guy like him thinks he came to the wrong conclusion.

Repeat a few times. If he's really bright, any patterns will become apparent to him.

Tony Fisk said...

... From the train wreck the Liberal party has become in Australia (a side effect of having too few 'princely' leaders hanging on to power for too long), I think a rework of the repubs is definitely to be considered.

Don't hold your breath, however. Nine years after Kennett's defeat, the Victorian liberals are *still* all over the place on policy and presenting an effective alternative to a state government that needs a few short shocks. With a leader whose ratings are in single figure land, the feds are in the same predicament (although I think there's still a bit of talent to be had, there)

David Brin said...

Tony I have had run-ins with some of the “New Atheists” -- those who cannot perceive the irony of their own militancy. I agree with you that you are better off taking others on on their on premises.

Hence, my biggest argument against the bigotry, narrowmindedness and anti-science attitudes that are rife in fundamentalism is that their attitudes are blasphemous to the very same Creator they claim to defend. I point out that my God -- who was isn some way involved in the creation of a 13.4 billion year-old galaxy of fantastic galaxies -- could take on their measly little 6,000 year master of petty vengefulness with His left pinky toe! That the Bible has its beauty and relevance. But so do Dick and Jane. And it is no accident that those who bother to look at the lessons in the rocks and stars and minerals and isotopes feel a thrill of new revelation as they rise above the Bible’s kindergarten moralisms to enter the graduate school that is science.

The two CAN be seen as compatible! But not if you do the standard mind-twist of the creationists etc, who feel they must reduce the status of science to “merely studying the details.” I believe that science has profound theological implications. We are in the Creator’s workroom, learning His craft at a rapidly accelerating pace. This has to have been our purpose, to become apprentices at the Father’s profession. And, soon, to be co creators ourselves. (Some of of sci fi authors may qualify, already! ;-)

And yes, the Bible itself hints at this, in the only pure moment in the entire story, where Creator and created interact without threats, demands, or the pollution of issues of sin. When God asked Man to name the beasts.

Note that this position is NOT “conciliatory or wimpy, like other attempts to stake a bridging middle ground between faith and science. No, this is a bridge, all right, but one that’s militant. The faith on the other side of this bridge had better accommodate science. And I make that demand in terms of faith.

Oh, some of you have heard my explanation for “the abortion thing.” That, too, is easy to pinion and pillory, if you grasp WHY the obsession burst forth in fury, from a political faction that knew what Jesus would say, if that bearded, beaded, hairy sandal-wearing came back today. They needed an on-off moral issue that would force him into their camp, socialist or no.


Of course I am a fan of Soros... and The Transparent Society was partly based on Popper. I wish Soros were my seventh billionaire. Maybe he’d actually listen for longer than a dinner.

Dave Rickey said...

@David On Second Life: This is actually my field (online games). There are a lot of things wrong with Second Life (starting with it being a dead end in the evolution of virtual environments), but the Chat thing you complain about is pretty standard. Other things have been tried, and all wound up being functionally inferior to good, old fashioned, IRC chat. This is one of those "wheel" inventions, you can change the details, but every useful wheel is going to be round.

Beating the dead horse: More agitprop for war with Iran. This one looks like a trial balloon, they want to see where the pushback will come from.


B. Dewhirst said...

"I haven't read his book, and don't agree with his argument, so I find him very unpersuasive" makes your point, but perhaps not how you'd intended to.

On the other hand, if you believe "Don't abuse children" isn't in the moral system of the religious, prehaps you -do- agree with his argument...

B. Dewhirst said...

So long as you're allowing for there being acceptable premises not based on fact or evidence, so long as you pat the Bible and say "and this is a Good Book, you're doing "the Devil's work" for him.

My choice of literature doesn't include lauding praise of genocide, rape, slavery, infinite torture...

And you don't understand why I'm glad you stood up to Stein?

Enjoy your dark tent, Achilles.

B. Dewhirst said...

Perhaps, though, the primacy of evidence is outside of -your- logical, moral, and ethical world?

David Brin said...

Dave R, your acceptance of a horrific SQUARE wheel is (alas) fairly typical of what I've found, across a decade of trying to shake some sense into bright web-ists like you. It is as if whole neuronal clusters have been mass-scooped out by aliens, resulting in an entire population that cannot see what's in front of their faces.

IRC "chat" is NOT acceptable. It lobotomizes online conversation, ensuring that discours is at best limited to one sentence at a time and without ANY of the thousand tools that we use, in order to allocate attention and priority in real life.

I'd recommend that you watch my Google Tech Talk: ... except that bright guys in that audience did the same thing. They blinked, got angry and talked PAST every single idea in the talk, insisting that nothing needs to be done about attention allocation or priority.

Everything that can be invented has already been invented. And this was at Google. Well, the patent office doesn't think so. (Because, by law, they were required to actually look for prior art to my invention, and found none.)

Ah well. The same is true of games. Copy what has sold so far, over and over and over and over and over....

BD, you are welcome here, we need a resident lefty and at least you are more polite than our last one.

Even when most of us snicker at the charming -retro simplicity of the quasi Marxist view (ah, the sixties) it does us good to be reminded that the evils of today's Right Wing aren't all just pragmatic and vampiric-predatory and insane betrayals of decent conservatism... some of them may be based upon fundamental class issues and faults of ALL versions of conservatism.

Still, right now we need the decent conservatives to help us turn this into a rout. I don't need them as class enemies. If the republic can be saved from monsters, then we can argue left vs right.

Acacia H. said...

I'm starting to suspect Senator Clinton might be fighting on in West Virginia and possibly Kentucky so to end her Presidential bid on a high note before bowing out. One thing I urged people over at Daily Kos was the need to reach out to Clinton's supporters and to show respect, something that a number of Clinton supporters feel has not been shown. I will admit, there is a bit of misogyny shown in various comment threads to articles about Obama and Clinton, both in DKos and on a multitude of news sites... and urged readers to let go of their own anger on what's been said to welcome Clinton's supporters into the fold as equal partners.

Who ever thought that I'd be defending Senator Clinton? Heh.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Travc said...

On the topic of Second Life / IRC / whatever online interaction forum:

Sorry to always use Neal Stephenson for examples (I really need to read more of Dr Brin's books, since I'm sure the idea is probably in one of them someplace)... The real innovation of the "Black Sun" in Snowcrash is a pretty good model. In case you aren't familiar, it is basically a nightclub in a virtual world, but distinguished by having subtly but importantly superior facial expression capabilities. This makes it substantially more useful, and thus 'the place to be'.

The underlaying tech is pretty fanciful, but the core idea is spot on. Humans are social animals evolved for face-to-face communication utilizing a pretty high bandwidth visual 'side channel' along with the auditory one.

Voice based chat doesn't really come close, and text (while having some unique benefits) is a very poor replacement for many interaction types.


An aside on this general topic. The NPR station in the bay area had some interviews/discussion with people studying online social networking (facebook and myspace basically). One aspect that seemed odd to one expert was that people will have trivial 'personal' conversations in a public sphere even though private messages are no more cumbersome to use (the example was stuff like "hey, want to go get some pizza")... Which really isn't all that odd really.

Observing other people having social interactions is critically important in learning how to be social (a never ending learning process). It is probably actually more important than actually participating/practicing directly. (Aside aside: for at least some bird species, the critical part of song learning is observing adults interacting, not just listening to one adult singing away by himself.)

This makes sense, since communication is about interactions, and watching two sides (or more) shows important context, relevance, and results. It also fits well into the theory of how associative learning systems (like brains) learn.

The upshot... having social interactions in public (allowing others to overhear if they choose to) helps others learn how to interact as well as putting out more reliable information about oneself (since it is implicitly verified by the other side of the interaction.) That second part, the desire to 'be known', does not seem so odd to people who study such things in humans or other social animals.

The implications for online interactions, especially virtual worlds type stuff, is kindof cool IMO. Not being excessively secretive is a social public service. Also fits in with watching-the-watchers and addressing pervasive surveillance by fostering more realistic (and less judgmental) expectations of what is normal and acceptable behaviour.

B. Dewhirst said...

Even when most of us snicker at the charming -retro simplicity of the quasi Marxist view

If you insist on debating the dead, rather than considering the very real positions of the living (Michael Albert, Michael Parenti, Michael Moore), you might as well direct them at Bakunin, Durruti, or Proudhon, not Marx.

Decent conservatives were busy plotting to overthrow the government during the depression and selling census machines to facilitate the German Holocaust while leftists were being shelled from all sides in Spain.

B. Dewhirst said...

Ah, and a name amongst the honored dead has escaped me... if you must pick on a dead Socialist, try to find something you can throw against Eugene Debs, back from when this dangerous experiment in Empire got into high gear.

Travc said...

Dr Brin, I'm quite disappointed you didn't get a more receptive reaction at Google.

Attention allocation (salience filtering on perception to put in other words) is utterly critical. Chatting with a few people via voice or IRC or whatever works passably well for a small (though important) domain. One aspect really missing is the ability to 'mingle' for lack of a better term. Some sort of proximity or context based filter is required for that... and one would think that Google would find that aspect fascinating.

One way to view (at least one aspect) of the better social networking sites is that they provide a proximity filter based on the social network graph. The news feed thing on Facebook pops to mind as an example. The virtual worlds approach may end up being inferior, since a social-network based proximity metric is perhaps better than some sort of physical distance analogue. Though virtual worlds should someday provide a more 'face to face' sort of interaction...

The media isn't the message. So maybe different messages (really interactions) are better suited to different media.

B. Dewhirst said...

Perhaps Google wasn't responsive because they thought he was (gasp) wrong...

I spotted another error in the first minute of the presentation, and it is one I've brought up before and which hasn't been addressed to my knowledge--

Dr. Brin claims the wealthy today don't inherit their position from their parents. The last time I checked, Americans were the wealthiest people in the world, and they inherit their position as Americans from their parents...

It is a pyramid after all...

Travc said...

While I'm ranting...

Any good ideas how to create a good hierarchical (or multiple overlaying hierarchies) forum for politics?

It strikes me that the political/governmental structure in most places is specifically hierarchical. Local politics and issues really should matter more to individuals, but the flat structure of most news/media pushes the focus up to higher levels which impact more people but to a lesser extent.

We have the technology to do much better.

(The political forums in Ender's Game initially sparked my thinking about this a long time ago.)

Travc said...

B. Dewhirst, I for one don't really snicker at Marx... though he did fail to foresee powerful trade unions, which was a pretty big error.

Anyway, you are right to point out that the philosophy of the left is far from static. Though I suggest that just throwing out lists of names is not the best way of doing it. Instead, why don't you point out relevant ideas/policy prescriptions to the topics being discussed?

My pov is highly biased by the fact that I find complex adaptive systems fascinating and have spent over a decade studying them (mostly in the instantiation of biological evolution, but also economics, computer science, and a smidgen of sociology.) So I generally think of market-like systems when looking for ways to address the systemic ills of the world.

Oh, and there is no need to repeatedly point out that the economic (and power) condition of the world at large is a pyramid. Dr Brin's point (if I may be presumptuous enough to paraphrase my understanding of it) is that Enlightenment based societies strive for a diamond structure (or at least a pyramid levitated more and more off the ground). They are not strictly egalitarian, since they recognize that people are not inherently the same (or even different but equivalent) in capability. Of course, that does not mean that people of marginally greater abilities should hold absolute power or that people of marginally lesser abilities should be ground down into serfdom.

I believe classical liberal fundamentally breaks from leftist views with respect to the equality of people. It seems to me (though it is alien to my way of thinking, so perhaps I am missing it) that the left views people fundamentally as clay molded by society and environment denying or at least minimizing inherent variation in ability as well as many aspects of 'human nature'. By contrast, the structure of the government of United States as set forth in the Constitution assumes that many if not all people are power-hungry and attempts to construct a system which still 'works' reasonably well even when selfish bastards are in office.

I am interested in your views on actual equality and egalitarianism.

B. Dewhirst said...

Instead, why don't you point out relevant ideas/policy prescriptions to the topics being discussed?

Because, having had my more substantive critiques ignored, I am not inspired to waste more time talking to myself so that I can be ignored to satisfy some lip-service attention to critique.

I've already pointed out that the patent system is murderous and confiscatory, and that it doesn't serve its intended purpose.

I've already indicated twice that the 'diamond' social structure Brin brings up is myopic and wrong-- and see how hard Brin is ready to fight to keep Americans at the top of the pyramid!

Really, there is no response possible to "Capitalism is Good." It is an axiomatic position with no connection to the real world—since he means real capitalism is good, and if something turns up that looks like it is bad, it must not be capitalism—a ’no true Scotsman’ argument if there ever was one.

As far as I’m concerned, “real conservatives” are of much the same character—they’re only “real” conservatives when they stop listening to McCarthy. If Brin’s attempted realignment along the lines of “those who want progress” and “those who want romance” actually applied to what the media said and how people feel about themselves, he might have a point—but they don’t, and it is a distinction without a difference. The goal is to educate them –until they cease to be conservatives-.

Similarly, his ‘militant moderation’ is simply an inverse fallacy of the undistributed middle—he believes all –true- positions lie between two poles.

Some bullet summaries of why those names made the list.

Michael Albert is an advocate for a non-capitalistic economic system called Parecon which seeks to 1) remunerate the time worked, effort put into work, and danger of a given job 2) place decision making in the hands of those impacted by those decisions 3) group tasks into jobs such that folk are equally empowered by what they do

Michael Parenti is able to, very concisely, explain why Capitalism is a crock of sh*t—most of the world is capitalistic. Most of the world is poor. Most of the world isn’t very democratic. Capitalism doesn’t lead to democracy or wealth. (The real question to “does capitalism work?” is… “For whom does capitalism work?”.)

Michael Moore’s recent campaign for universal single-payer healthcare, and his name fitting the theme, is what led to his place on the list, but he has also pointed out the greed-fueled-evil of corporations like GM, the fraud in getting into the Iraq war, etc etc etc. is also notable.

Chang's Bad Samaritans, which I've mentioned in the past, makes it clear that Thomas Friedman is either a liar or an idiot-- his argument is false throughout, and neoliberal free trade concentrates wealth in a very few hands-- he is proposing folk go swimming with a golden straightjacket on.

Unknown said...

Travc -

I really like's commenting system (the content, however, is of highly varying quality...) It is a "news" aggregator site; users submit, rank, and comment on web pages.

(click the word "comments" under on of the links to see the user comments).

The features that make it better than any other widely used system I've seen:

1) Management of conversation trees, which are of unlimited depth; some conversations last for days, whereas sites like digg just leave in enough depth for one snarky reply.

The obviously tricky part is deciding what do display: too much, and it is hard to get an overview of the whole thread; too little and you waste a lot of time expanding nodes to find the interesting bits.

The reddit solution to this to assign a (proprietary) heuristic score to every node in the tree, based on activity under that node, accumulated 'points' (user votes), etc., sort the nodes (by score), and determine cut-off points for branch depths.

I imagine there are a whole lot of neater things you could do with spiffier graphics, like transparencies, attention-getters, and hyperbolic visualizations. (Still haven't seen the Holocene talk -- I promise I will!)

2) Good organization. Click on anyone's name to see a list of their posts, and click on a post to go to its position within a thread tree, and you can then navigate up and down the nodes. Click a link to see any new responses to your own posts.

It's pretty amazing what they can do with such a linear, homogeneous method of presentation.

David Brin said...

BD I don't want to be insulting, but you really do flatter yourself. I have not answered your detailed refutations of me and my positions because:

1) as I told everyone here, I am slammed for time and my wife has made me promise to eschew the time-sink of this comments section.

2) your characterizations of my positions are utter strawmen, devoid of almost any relationship that is actual or meaningful, with actual things that I have said or held.

True that exaggerates and oversimplifies, in its own turn. But it is all I can offer now, unfair or not.

Capsule: Montrous romantic movements of the left have slaughtered and oppressed easily as many people as have monstrous romantic movements of the right. Stalin and Mao weren't pikers. Oh, and Hitler led the National Socialist Worker's Party. Ever studied his actual economic policies toward ARYAN WORKERS? They were decidedly leftist.

No, the left is not today's big worry. An attempted putsch by would-be feudalists who want inherited aristocracy is our #1 threat... along with a jihad being waged NOT by terrorists but a family we've given several trillion $ who wants the West to fall. The rightist-aristocratic anti-competitive tendencies that Adam Smith despised, above all, are making their move ... and thus, you and I are allies.

But I have my wary eye on your left. I do NOT hold militant moderation because I navigate compulsively between two poles. I advocate it because it is about pragmatic negotiation and true liberalism with a mix of competitive and cooperative human powers at work, ignoring pleas from Rand to lop off my left hand or from Marx to lop off my right.

It is those who think that human nature is easily scripted and diagnosed with silly dogmatic nostrums who are the proved dangerous ones. They are romantics, whether clothed in raiment of traditionalism or utopian egalitarianism... it all boils down to defenders of the pyramid.

And that is all I have to say for now. I need my wife's goodwill more than I need yours! ;-)

But do hang around. Use the open mike. Play fair, do not claim you know what I think. Try paraphrasing, argue. But do NOT deride me for ignoring you. Some of us are busy.

(But I do read.)

Dave Rickey said...

On politics and capitalism: The Pareto Optimum (20% of the participants in anything get 80% of the benefits) seems to be an invariant law of economics. If you try to chop the top off the pareto optimum (soak the rich) you just squash the entire curve. If you try to lift the base, you just transfer the load somewhere else (so poor Americans have a minimum threshold that appears to be levitating, but they're supported by more poverty elsewhere in the world). You can move the misery around, but you can't eliminate it.

That being said, our current economic conditions are nowhere near the Pareto optimum, the richest 1/10th of 1% have an outsized chunk of the wealth. Active "progressive" tax schemes are required to defeat the Matthew Effect (the most successful have the greatest opportunities for more success) and keep the top of the curve from sucking all the wealth out. Once it reaches the point where the rich are able to dictate the law, they will create laws that favor their acquisition of wealth (which will increase their power to control the law). Doesn't matter if we're talking about feudalism or K Street.

David is mistaken in saying US society is diamond shaped. In fact, until you reach the top 1/10th of 1%, it's the classic Pareto distribution, and has been for the last century. In the 80's the top of the distribution perpetrated "trickle-down economics" on the country and started running away from the rest of us, sucking up all the growth in the economy since that time.

Problem is that the mass of wealth at the top as become so large that the entire growth of the economy is no longer able to satisfy the gravitational attraction of that wealth, and it's entering "black hole" mode, sucking the rest of the economy into the event horizon.

@David B:
I'm normally on the side of arguing for more innovation. But this particular subject is one that we've beaten to death in the industry.

Many other methods of providing communication in online games have been tried, and continue to be tried, and someday one of them might even work. In-world presentations (cartoon speech bubbles), voice chat, trying to create equivalents for body language, etc. They players always revert back to IRC style chat tools, using actual IRC if the game doesn't provide them. Even Microsoft in X-Box Live, where voice chat support is a given and the number of participants can be controlled, had to bow to the inevitable and create a new keyboard controller mod to support text chat.

IRC style chat is the worst communication system for online environments...except for all the others.

There is one narrow exception to this rule: When large numbers of people are taking orders from a very small number of people, and time and activity bandwidth are critical, voice chat systems are used, again even if the game itself does not provide them.


B. Dewhirst said...

So... this whole thing began with Stein comparing scientists to Nazis, and you've come full circle to equating Nazis and socialists. Been hanging out with Jonah Goldberg lately?

Fine reasoning there... and you "didn't mean to be insulting."


If you don't want it to be a time sink, don't throw rocks then run off... only to protest you don't have more time and lob more fallacies.

If anything, Adam Smith is even more irrelevant than Karl Marx-- after all, Smith was an anti-coprorate anti-patent type.

Moderation is -defined- by those poles of public opinion. Perhaps one of the other, less-busy commenters can show me how you're -not- being dogmatic-- and again, for the hundreth time, if you must compare me to a mid-19th century anticapitalist, pick a different one!

Between Cointelpro, McCarthy, Debs' imprisonment, Gitmo, and all the sins of the CIA past and present-- it is I who must keep an eye on you and yours.

Perhaps someone else wishes to defend Brin's 'diamond' against my accusation that it is a pyramid in disguise? (I've got 2.6 billion people without sanitation who say I'm right...)

I'm sorry if I gave the impression I expected your especial attention... but there are many other readers here who're free to step in and defend Capitalism against the evil "marxist." (Shall I brand you all vile papists or monarchists, I wonder? I've too much respect for what Adam Smith -actually said- to brand you Smithists...)

What I -do- expect is that, when you write your semi-professional essays on politics, you direct your attention at the actual positions of the other side... rather than dredging up romantic dragons of the past to slay. In all that you've written, you've done very little to tie a Michael Albert to a Karl Marx (to say nothing of an Adolph Hitler.)

Has another reader spotted where he makes it clear that the -modern- social justice advocates, the -modern- critics of global neoclassical liberal free trade (aka 'Globalism,' and 'those romantic lies that Tom Friedman spouts') are the same thing as old Karl?

David Brin said...

I was not equating Nazis with socialists, I was pointing out a historical fact that they WERE socialists... though bizarre ones who believed in extreme and total genetic determinism rather than extreme and total environmental determinism. My point was not so much to attack the left as to remind everybody that simpleminded dogmas are the zone where you find monsters.

By that token, Eugene Debs, though officially socialist, was in fact a reforming liberal.

No moderation is NOT defined by the poles of public opinion. That is dead and diametrically wrong and informs your entire wrongness. Moderation is an attitude of willingness to use all reasonable tools, to recognize that both environment and genes help explain human differences, and that differences in ability can be relevant, but shouldn't create lords.

It is recognizing that human beings are BOTH cooperative and competitive and that the latter is responsible for most of our progress, but only when rules prevent cheating and when the maximum feed stock of human talent is fed into the competitive arena (which requires socialist means to ensure the poor children aren't handicapped.)

I am through talking to you because you are not talking to me. You are talking AT a strawman that makes you feel good.

Oh and of course you can weight the diamond by amount of property owned, and get a needle spiking upward, a needle that worries me as much at any of you and that I am fighting FAR more effectively.

But you guys are deliberately strawmanning the diamond, too. The middle class outnumbers the poor in more nations every year. Why do the textile mills move from one country to the next? Because they flee countries that have developed enough for labor unions to start demanding more. This cascade effect can only be denied by obstinate self-deceivers.

And now I am through talking to you till you admit I hate the same guys you hate most, and stop yelling at a strawman who is miles from me.


Dave, contemplate a possibility. That IRC remains dominant because the offered alternatives are crap. And the fact that you still use a horrid crappy interface that lobotomizes discourse is because you've never tried anything better.

Dave Rickey said...

Contemplate a possibility: Me and my colleagues are pretty bright people who have actually considered and tried a large variety of different methods. And our customers also include some pretty bright people, who have retro-fitted our creations with a lot of different ideas (for example, most WoW players use customized UI's that far extend the standard, but retain the chat).

IRC-style chat has turned out to have a lot of inherent advantages. The asynchronous nature of it allows multiple parallel discussions, as wide or as narrow as desired. Although it starts running into scaling problems, given the proper channel management tools the players seem to be pretty good at managing those.

When they want to discourse in ways that the system can't support, they turn to outside tools such as the Web, Ventrillo/Teamspeak, etc. Efforts to integrate those into the game UI have generally been ignored by the players. One narrow exception to that has been found, the Eve Online In-Game Browser, although generally inferior, makes game status information available to the external web servers that they can use for in-game e-commerce and information collaboration. On the other hand, the game-supported voice chat is used barely at all (probably because it offers only slight advantages to the out of game versions, and those don't go down with the server in the middle of a battle or require an extra fee).

On the issue of the inherent trustworthiness of ideologues: I'm on your side in this, any ideology that pursues purity of thought or application winds up in a bad place. The left is far less of a hazard to society in general than the right at this time, and really hasn't been a significant threat since the 30's or earlier. But an over-reaction to the left to some extreme provocation from the right is something we'd have to watch out for. The recent primaries have shown that ultimately, the moonbat left is no more firmly rooted in the reality-based community than the wingnut right.


David Brin said...

Dave, our positions are not equivalent. I am expressing curiosity as to why an obviously deficient - indeed lobotomizing - interface is still used 30 years after it was horrible. You make excuses for it and deny anything can be better.

I have encountered this again and again, utter denial accompanied by utter incuriosity. Why? Do you believe our brainiac demigod descendants will use IRC 10,000 years from now?

Okay then how about a thousand?

A hundred?

Why should they do so ten years from now?

I give up. I have encountered this a hundred times across the last decade. Bright guys, utterly incurious about the possibility of something different than a standard that is blatantly and inherently bad.

David McCabe said...

Dr. Brin, it doesn't sound to me like he's incurious. It sounds like he's working on the problem and hasn't found a solution yet. Meanwhile, IRC isn't *as* bad as you like to let on.

David McCabe said...

(Now I'm curious: how could your spatially-laid-out chat be integrated with a game, I wonder? Both the game and the chat want to take up the whole screen.)

Anyways, games as they exist today probably aren't the applications where Holocene -- what little we can see of it!!! -- would kick the most ass. Usually you have a small number of people who want a broadcast back-channel.

So you may be trying to solve quite different problems. Maybe you're both right.

B. Dewhirst said...

While Dr. Brin sticks his fingers in his ears and hums, does anyone else want to weigh in?

(Really... "I'm not equating these two things, I'm saying they're the same thing!")-- as if the inventors of propaganda are incapable of appropriating a pleasing-sounding name.

I can play this game too... "Brin is only beating a strawman of socialism!"

Who I hate, and who you (plural) profess to hate is not at issue... what -is- at issue is whether you or I are aiding and abetting them, excusing them their worst faults, refusing to see the failure modes of the solutions you promote...

Corporations and patents, for example, are anti-competitive. Smith said as much. You, not some sack of straw, praise the patent system... and, at the very least, you don't regularly express a concern with there being companies.

Does anyone here want to point out to the "crazy moonbat" -where exactly- I'm swinging at straw?

As for the "diamond"-- the top 1% own more than the bottom 90%. They've shifted the tax burden down the pyramid. They own companies who fund massive lobbies which make a mockery of Democracy. No straw there...

The word "moderation" means "avoiding extremes." The definition you provided contains words like "reasonable"-- in other words, it is argumentum ad populum all over again-- not straw to point out that moderation (or 'reasonableness') is defined by one's cultural norms. (Alternately, you've submitted your own special definition for a word in common use-- equivocation. If diligent study finds you're switching back and forth between two meanings of 'moderate,' then

It isn't a strawman to ask how crediting things for which their is no evidence, for -valuing- decisions for their lack of evidence (god, faith) is compatible with a professed interest in evidence.

This worldview, with "moonbats" at one end, and "nazis" at the other-- who are secretly moonbats in disguise-- and the humble everyman militant moderate in the middle-- is every bit a pile of manure as dialectical materialism.

I fail to see how Debs is a 'liberal'-- either a classical liberal or a more moderate one.

Does this sound like a liberal?

“Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most - that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least.”

“Chicago is the product of modern capitalism, and, like other great commercial centers, is unfit for human habitation.”

“They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.”

Alternately, your support of capitalism is just wrong-- the accumulation of wealth by a few chokes off competition. So long as their exist hierarchical relationships of power, the few will keep their secrets. Since our host isn't speaking to me, does someone else wish to explain to me how capitalism and this definition of 'moderation' are compatible?

David McCabe said...

Mr. Dewhirst, I think you may be missing our host's point on one or two issues. To tell you the truth, I don't understand most of what either of you are saying. But I'll point out this:

The diamond is not completely about property ownership. Louis XIV owned a lot: would you switch places? Having gold in the vault is just one way of being wealthy.

Even so, vast numbers of humans are suffering the deepest poverty today.

Yet, if I understand what our host is trying to say correctly: The top of the pyramid isn't exactly sitting on the bottom, it's levitating, and, furthermore, it's slowly, feebly pulling the bottom up with it. If this continues even the bottom may get somewhere eventually. It certainly didn't get anywhere before.

Ok, somebody else's turn to fill in the metaphor with facts.

sociotard said...

Hey Dr. Brin, have you seen Iron Man yet? Care to weigh in with your opinion? It seemed like it had some elements you'd like and some you wouldn't. Iron Man winds up accepting more accountability than most costumed heroes. However, he also keeps his technology a secret, so that it doesn't fall into the hands of bad men, even though he is a decidedly bad man.

Oh, anybody have any thoughts about the botnet the military is trying to get built?

Unknown said...

More encouraging news from around the world:

Interesting that folks mentioned alternatives to Micro$haft Turd, because here are 40 of 'em, most open source -- including my personal favorite, Lyx, a WYSIWYG version of LaTex. Link.

Concerning politics, it's good news across the board:

"Across the South, Barack Obama’s smashing primary victory in North Carolina last week reflects a new reality - a half-century of rising Republican red tide has crested, with signs of receding. (..)
"The story is most dramatic in Virginia, which in 1976 was the only state in the South that failed to back Jimmy Carter for president. Republicans still hold a majority in the House of Delegates and an 8-3 dominance in seats in United States House. But with their second Democratic governor in a row, the party in control of the State Senate, and the likelihood of Mark Warner being elected their second Democratic senator, Virginians may have reached a Democratic tipping point.
"The trends suggest a region in transformation, with dynamic economic growth, an expanded black middle class, the arrival of millions of white migrants, the return of scores of thousands of African-American expatriates, and an emerging native white generation with little or no memory of racial segregation. The result has been greater tolerance, an expanded pool of talent, and growing openness to new ideas."


In latest poll, Obama gains, McCain tumbles in national race.

(Headline) "As Losses Mount, GOP Begins Looking In the Mirror."

Fox News panics as Ron Paul revolt threatens GOP convention -- Fox commentator calls it a "disaster." Some folks have talked about the need for a reorganization & house-cleaning of the GOP -- I believe that's what we're seeing here. And it's going to get much worse for the neocons & theocons and Coulter/Malkin/Limbaugh totalitarians before this is through. As the GOP's losses steadily mount, the Coulter/Malkin/Limbaugh crazies will find their grip on power slipping away, and at that point it's Father Coughlin in 1938 (you will only recognize that reference if you're unusually well-read in American history).

This next news item bodes well not because the suspect was tortured, but because it shows the utter futility -- indeed, counterproductiveness -- of torture and will, let us hope, thoroughly discredit torture for pragmatic as well as the much more powerful ethical reasons:

Key 9/11 suspect charges dropped because he was apparently tortured until he told them he was the Easter Bunny. If you tortured me savagely enough, I'd tell you I was in the cave with Osama planning 9/11, and I'd even swear I piloted both 757s into the twin towers. Aside from the fact that torturing people makes all of us disgusted to be Americans, it also produces garbage "testimony" that judges have ruled must be legally stricken as worthless at trial. So torture is not just unspeakably evil, it's futile because our courts are now throwing out all the so-called "evidence" produced by it.

And now, encouraging tech goodies:

Cheap portable new water filter promises to save countless lives in the third world by preventing easily treatable diseases caused by parasites and infections due to tainted water.

Fine article by a furriner pointing out that America's infrastructure is falling apart. We need to spend 1.5 trillion just to keep our freeways and sewers and bridges and water mains from imploding. Good news in the sense that, at last, someone is pointing this stuff out in a forum so public that the average person can't help but notice it.

(Headline) "Higher Gas Prices Knock Bicycle Sales, Repairs Into Higher Gear" There is no reason on earth why we can't redesign our cities to accommodate bicycles -- if you doubt, visit the Netherlands and see for yourself.

How higher oil prices give small farmers much the edge over giant agribusinesses and also promise to improve the food we eat at the same time.

Scientists now able to create made-to-order isotopes. I would guess offhand there will be a lot of uses for these in materials science and as tracers and markers in molecular biology, but of course particle physics will probably also benefit.

"Like a team of laboratory gearheads, Arizona State University (A.S.U.) researchers have found a way to soup up microscopic "nanomachines" that may someday be used to deliver lifesaving medications or test the quality of drinking water in remote regions of the world. In place of turbochargers and high-octane gas, the scientists tweaked their engine design and used an additive to speed the oxidation of hydrogen peroxide into fuel to create nanomachines 350 times more powerful than any previously built."

Unknown said...

Oh, and by the way...speaking of Trent Lott's former house seat in Mississippi, you know the one, the seat that the Repubs frantically threw millions of dollars at and mobilized their entire party infrastructure in an hysterical effort to keep it in the GOP?

You guessed it. That Mississippi seat just went to a Democrat in a special election.

So before you panic at these kinds of T-shirts, look around. Even people in the deep south have gotten sick of this kind of ignorant hatemongering idiocy. Yes indeedy, folks, the times, they are a-changin'...

Unknown said...

NASA to Announce Success of Long Galactic Hunt

WASHINGTON -- NASA has scheduled a media teleconference Wednesday, May 14, at 1 p.m. EDT, to announce the discovery of an object in our Galaxy astronomers have been hunting for more than 50 years. This finding was made by combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory with ground-based observations.

Just a few minutes away!

B. Dewhirst said...

The diamond is not completely about property ownership. Louis XIV owned a lot: would you switch places? Having gold in the vault is just one way of being wealthy.

... The top of the pyramid isn't exactly sitting on the bottom, it's levitating, and, furthermore, it's slowly, feebly pulling the bottom up with it. If this continues even the bottom may get somewhere eventually. It certainly didn't get anywhere before.

The question isn't simply wealth, but the power it can buy and the inequalities it produces. Fighting for table scraps -when one raised the beast the scraps are torn from only to have it appropriated by the aristocracy- isn't good enough.

Given that we are all born with certain genetic and environmental traits, and that we are not responsible for the traits we possess, it seems cruel and mad to support a system which differentially rewards chance circumstances rather than the time and effort one puts in with the gifts one has. The outcome of a capitalist system is a consequence of the inputs… and if you happen to be born into a wealthy home, you’ll have a much better chance of becoming the CEO of Walmart than

Furthermore, the emphasis of profit as the be-all and end-all of the capitalist system has a number of undesirable side effects. It encourages passing on as many costs as possible to one’s surroundings—if you can get away with dumping toxins into the water supply (even if you have to pay a lobbyist to arrange a loophole for you), then you’ll increase profits. Corporations are –legally obligated—to pursue such strategies; they can be sued by their stockholders for not maximizing short term profits. Other externalities include worker safety, health care costs, etc—these costs are to be minimized, whether that means exploiting foreign labor or undermining the regulatory process… or simply not getting caught and fighting it in court.

A footnote, here… Dr. Brin has suggested that the Union movement is a product of capitalism… this is true only in the sense that viruses produce antibodies. Organized labor paid a high price in blood to get workers pensions, a 40 hour work week, minimum wage laws, etc. These, however, are just stopgap intermediate solutions to the larger problem of who should profit by the consumption of finite resources (including labor).

Consider the tax code for another example… the super-wealthy can afford to squirrel away their assets in Swiss or Caribbean accounts, to hire clever accountants to game the system’s loopholes (which they doubtlessly had a hand in writing in the first place).

Both political parties in the United States support this system. While the specific wealthy interests differ between them (there are more investors backing D, more industrialists and oil tycoons behind R), and one is certainly –more- objectionable, this leaves someone with views like mine without any representation. Apart from a few ‘moonbats,’ there is no real push –inside- Washington for universal single-payer healthcare. (Moore’s Sicko ought to make every American shake with rage.

If there was anything you’d like me to clarify (from this, or what I posted previously), David Mccabe, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

David, I think you're seriously overestimating the "revolutionariness" and utility of your Holocene Chat application.

1) The basic function of Holocene Chat is the same as bad old IRC: you type something so that some other people can read it. Three people go into an IRC chat room to talk privately with each other. Three people go into Holocene Chat to talk privately with each other. What's the difference? To be frank, there really isn't much of one. The difference is that Holocene Chat, in principle, lets you keep track of other people's conversations that you're not directly involved it at the moment; it lets you find conversation partners more easily. Once you've already assembled a small group and you aren't interest in other people walking in, you might as well have something a lot like IRC.

2) Holocene Chat does not have a corporate "meetingware" market.
2a) First of all, a real life, in person, business meeting consists of ASYNCHRONOUS COMMUNICATION! One person gives a presentation, while everyone listens. Then, questions go around the table. Only one person talks at a time. Meetings are designed to be as far from "coctail-party-like" as possible; they are designed to make a normally synchronous, chaotic discussion medium (in-person conversation) and make it as asynchronous as possible. Seriously! Synchronous communication is the last thing a business meeting wants!
2b) If you have the bandwidth, you can simply use more traditional "telepresense" software and equipment: webcams, microphones, telephones, and all the rest. If you don't have the bandwidth, you don't have the money to pay for a chat program. You're going to use whatever free services you can get, and they're probably going to be things like email, blogs, web forums, AIM, wikis, and so on.

3) Holocene Chat is not a Myspace and Facebook killer.
3a) The purpose of so-called "social networking" sites, such as Myspace and Facebook, is not to have conversations. As my brother, an avid Facebook user, explained, the basic purpose of using Myspace and Facebook is to show off. They're for shouting "Here I am! Pay attention to me!" to the world. "Twitter" is the idea taken to its logical conclusion. How does Holocene Chat let you show off? It doesn't, not in the same way that Myspace and Facebook do.

4) In spite of all this, there is at least one potential "killer app" for your Holocene Chat concept, and that would be on casual game sites, such as Yahoo! Games.
4a) When you play a game of Spades on Yahoo! Games, chances are you're there to socialize and do random chatting as much as you're there to actually play Spades. The system is set up with "tables" of games for people to join. Using a Holocene Chat interface for choosing what table to sit at and then talking with the people at the table would be a definite improvement on the experience; recreating the "cocktail party" atmosphere is exactly what this kind of site would love to do.

5) You're going to have a devil of a time enforcing your patent. Suppose M$, IBM, or some other company goes and blatantly rips you off. Do you have the deep pockets to fight a prolonged legal battle? Just saying...

6) In general, you need to narrow
your sales pitch.
6a) Your basic problem is, to abuse a metaphor, is that you're selling drills when you need to be selling holes. Someone buys a drill because they want to make a hole in something. If they're not interested in making a hole, then no matter how cool your drill is, you can't sell them a drill. If people aren't interested in having conversations by typing to each other, then you're not going to sell them Holocene Chat. You have to sell someone on, well, talking by typing, before you can sell them your Super-Enhanced Awesome Chat 3000! Now With Gimmicks!!!

Even if you have the Next Big Thing, you're still pretty far from the point at which you could get venture capitalist funding. Your business plan, well, sucks; "if you build it, they will come" has failed many, many times in the past.

Unknown said...

re: NASA

Turns out it is the remnants of a 100 year-old supernova in our galaxy!

Unknown said...

Er... that is to say, the light from the initial flash would have reached Earth 100 years ago, had it not been obscured by galactic dust. (it is 26,000 ly away)

David Brin said...

Doug, I appreciate your comments on Holocene, but I really have to wonder how well you understand what you are dismissing.

So, you're saying that the methodologies that we use in real life, to allocate and prioritize attention in a meeting or cocktail party, have no particular relevance in the online world? You sort out other people and information sources, agilely, prioritizing some and carefully noting every word, while "gisting" others and ignoring most, while alert for sudden priority changes.

None of this is done or available now. I have been able to patent that FUNDAMENTALLY, because there is absolutely no prior art. At all. Anywhere.

Now you can tell me that my "drill" is obsessively ignorant of the "holes" people want. But I think you are like John Henry, the "steel drivin' man", insisting that no newfangled machine will ever replace hammers in digging holes.

In fact, I am very well aware of the distinction between synchronous and asynchronous communication. If you had ever gone through the Holocene materials, you'd see that it is slide number three. Grownups avoid synchronous worlds like 2nd Life because synchronous stuff (except for phone) is mostly a waste of time for anyone wanting to get serious work done. Adults work the web asynchronously.

But that is in part because the interfaces for BOTH synch and asynch are terrible.

I am currently using one of the hottest "collaborationware" products online. Imaginatik. It is so horrid and creativity-destroying that I am starting to understand why civilization has slowed down.

I have seen dozens of "business plans" that have received eager funding and then sunk like stones. Every single one of them waved their arms and sold air. Sold "holes", pulling future profit numbers out of pure vacuum. I won't do that.

Fact: MySpace and 2nd Life depend on technologies that are not IP protected. If they are making tons of money, someone else can provide exactly the same services and compete... with the chief barrier being a high investment ramp up and catching up in customer base.

Those would be steep barriers... and they are... unless the new competitor can offer ADDITIONAL capabilities that user would like, and those capabilities are IP protected. At which point it should be a no brainer. What "business plan" do you need, in order to say, "take the lunch away from these already profitable companies and eat it. Or force them to license in order to survive"?

The typical response to my patent is the one you express. First denial "of course there's prior art! You can't claim entire classes of human communication modes, it MUST have been done elsewhere!" (In ten years, I have not had one smarty pants keep his vow of finding a single prior art.)

Followed by "how can you enforce it?"

Followed by "IP is eeeevil!"

In fact, I fully expect some little teeny experiments to crop up, failed products and academic exercises, that priorart away much of my patent. That's not the point. The point is that the patent proves that none of this has been done in a big way, anywhere. By anybody.

Oh, and the secret to enforcement is (1) get big guys in your corner too and (2) license reasonably.

Finally, your entire missive proves that

1) you really do not have a clues what Holocene is about. Not even a corner of a clue, yet you lecture as if you are an expert.

2) The possibility that you MIGHT be missing something never even remotely occurs to you. The possibility of paraphrasing, asking questions, poking, showing curiosity... all washed away under a nice, satisfying balm of contempt.

Frankly, I have become amazed and bemused by this near uniform response. Holocene almost always makes people ANGRY! Only one in a hundred show even the slightest curiosity, in their rush to defend the horrifically lobotomizing interfaces of today and to deny that anything could ever be any different.

And with that, I am done. One thing I have been trying to learn... to stop wasting my time.

B. Dewhirst said...

I've got a question... if you're so keen on markets, and the fish aren't biting, why are you so convinced of your own genius?

I mean, if you're right and the IP system works for the little guy and isn't just a rigged game with 1000 prospective, quixotic lone inventors hawking their product... where is your profit to show you're right?

David Brin said...

I am growing tired of BD... I had thought that at last we had a courteous leftist who was willing to try, occasionally, to see the best-possible interpretation of the other guy's position before then offering interesting perspective.

But, looking over the past week, I see not a single case where he did not take the worst-possible strawman interpretation, in order to sneer and taunt.

Since I have obviously and quite vigorously campaigned to awaken people to the worst danger our society faces, from an alliance of social troglodytes, would be feudal lords and corporatist shills, one might imagine that this would count for something.

In pointing out that all three of the world's worst mass murderers called themselves socialist, I was trying to show that ALL dogmatic "sides" are dangerous. Their megadeath spasms are easily matched by the vastly more numerous examples of oppressive from feudal or rightist lords
. But that point is too subtle for someone who actually buys into the insipid left-right axis... all those monsters did.

I would have been willing to spend a (small) amount of time arguing. e.g. I concede that Debs was a socialist... But what's the point?

BD is welcome to come back one last time and shriek at his strawman of me, that I am covering my ears and going "Nah!" Have at.

Then be warned. I do not have time for such immature bullshit. If you come back and behave this way again, you'll do us the disservice of denying us your better insights.

In other words, you'll be banned.

B. Dewhirst said...

Perhaps, for a moment, you should extend to me the same courtesy you seem to feel I fail to afford to you. -Show me- why these are strawmen...

Are you so incapable of doing what you ask of others? "That is a strawman" is hardly a paraphrasing of my position I'm liable to laud.

You're the guy who has written that criticism is the only known antidote to error, after all. I've pointed out what I feel are a number of logical fallacies which have escaped your attention-- I respect your opinions enough to wish to show you where you've gone wrong!

I sincerely believe there is an aspect to your thinking which is both wrong and dangerous. Perhaps I'm mistaken... but you've done a terrible job of persuading me of that.

In essence, you are -happy- with saying that Slimey McCorporate-Pants is a corrupt businessman, that Enron (say) did a terrible disservice to the public and its stockholders... I’m not so blind to have noticed your criticisms of Bush and Cheney… but when you go from the specific to the general, I take exception! The things you want… a safe environment, a reasonable distribution of wealth, transparency and accountability… I see as being directly at odds with your proposed way of getting there!

Capitalism was not our first model of economics, and surely it is not the ne plus ultra. I’m not pretending we can gaze into a Hegelian crystal ball of dialectic and see what system will be the ‘end of history,’ but I see there as being a very valid criticism of the –systems- you advocate—entrepreneurship, intellectual property, markets producing profit.

You reject the notion that we can plan economic activity out of hand (and yes, the USSR’s experiments with it were tragic), yet are so convinced that Capitalism is reparable and superior. We’ve got two kinds of solutions, two kinds of systems… and you are favoring the slowly evolving option, while I feel it is possible to design a rabbit that doesn’t have to eat its own poo.

Have you said –anywhere- that we’ll have to eventually reject capitalism, markets, and profit? If not, I don’t think I’m swinging at straw… and, at the very least, I’m pointing out where you’ve been very unclear.

What -I'm- saying, or trying to say, is that this is a product of the system, not an aberration of that system. I'm more interested in the problems in that system which produces these villains again and again!

I've -read- the Transparent Society, I've -read- Earth, I've read your essays on the new romantics and the diamond-shaped social structure... but there must be praxis! The right thing for the right reason! I happen to think that one of your mistakes is a far too accommodating view of capitalism itself, which I see as the –producer- of these villains… not a machine in need of a few squirts of oil.

Am I wrong to suggest that your experience suggests IP is a rat-race, a barrier to creativity and a boon for the biggest players which allows them to retard competition? If so, tell me why!

Or ignore me, I do understand you're busy... but don't just strut and thump your chest and threaten me with banning... I'm trying to do you a service in return for the service you do me by presenting another point of view.

I've no representation in government in this country... it isn't a question of right or left, I've no horses in this race! If it was dangerous to exclude "well meaning conservatives," isn't it tempting future disaster to scorn rebukes from the 'left'?

I do agree that the model you present... "forward" rather than "back" should be the metric by which we discuss politics... but I ought to have some say as to where we go when we go forward! I don't care if you think it is a seagull... it looks like a rock to me from over here!

I do think that the -history- of progress does show that those opinions which've truly moved us forward... abolition, universal suffrage, the labor movement, the peace movement, environmentalism… disproportionately fall on the so-called-left side of the political spectrum. I don’t –see- a well-meaning uncle… Instead, I see the bitter old man at thanksgiving dinner who opposed letting blacks into the school, who was happy we were killing the other in Vietnam, who denied global warming right up until, perhaps past, the point where it is going to kill us all.

Sure, conservatives eventually come around… after they realize they’ve been –wrong- for fifty years, hang a picture of MLK Jr. on the wall, and try to pretend he didn’t say anything after “I have a dream…” Progress and Regress may be the two true political poles… but that does not mean that the right/left mapping represents an equal distribution of both!

But your goal here is persuasion, as near as I can tell—I know you’re not enjoying my presence. If you ban me, then we’ve both failed…

Perhaps this is goodbye... if so, good luck with that rock/seagull.

David Brin said...

Dang, just when I had given up... back comes the mature grownup BD... though I doubt capable of slowly and carefully analyzing why I found this recent (overlong and still indignant) missive to be adult and his previous 3 or 4 utterly offensive and tendentiously silly.

This time, every single question is a good one and shows reasonable curiosity... while still maintaining a strong and assertive "position."

I will try to answer, but later. You see, one problem remains massive between us and extended discourse. The fact that I am fighting for lifespan and have no ditto machine. And, alas, arguing with you is a very very low priority.

Soon I hope.

And Doug? Sorry I was snippy. But do consider the quandary of curiosity.

Cliff said...

For what (very) little it's worth, I think B. Dewhirst makes some good points, and some thought-provoking points on top of that.

In particular:
"Furthermore, the emphasis of profit as the be-all and end-all of the capitalist system has a number of undesirable side effects."

I agree. To call them undesirable is to understate the case, when this pursuit of profit at all costs drives the ruination of our country, our environment, and our ability to think.

Dave Rickey said...

I have encountered this again and again, utter denial accompanied by utter incuriosity. Why? Do you believe our brainiac demigod descendants will use IRC 10,000 years from now?

Of course not. However, we get deluged with cool ideas. We've got a few million people trying to grab our attention with their ideas for what we should do. And we come up with quite a lot of them ourselves. We get pretty quick to shoot down anything we don't see actual gains from.

If you want an example, let me offer Pen Computing. Bill Gates *loves* pen-based computing. He spent literally billions trying to make it the standard. But in the end, even after all the technological problems were solved, it turned out that pen computing was an adequate solution to a pointing interface when a mouse wasn't, and a good tool for doing art on computers, and nothing more.

Your Holoscene idea seems like it has some cool properties. I've even seen a couple of games use a primitive version of it. But the players decided it was solving problems they didn't have, and creating problems they didn't need. So I'm not very interested in pursuing it further.

The fact that you have a patent on it makes it less attractive. You're solving a problem I don't have, possibly creating new ones I don't need, and potentially charging me for it. I'm better off staying *away* from your ideas.

Sorry, but that's the way it is. IP I don't own and don't need has negative value.

Anonymous said...


From what I understand of Holocene chat, much of it is already part of MMORPGS in a somewhat clunky way.

A multitude of chat channels, combined with the ability to direct those channels to a multitude of windows, and even to change the font size and text color in those windows.

Game data, "group" chat, Clan/Guild/Kinship chat, "general", Out of Character, private messaging and more can all be given different priorities by the player this way. When attention space is limited, various channels can be blocked, or sent to a window slid off-screen the player can get too later.

What is it about Holocene Chat that is fundementally a difference *in kind* from this? Other than file sharing/ keyword features?

I'm not of sub-normal intelligence, I've read the summary at more than once, and I don't get it.

Without being insulting, I know three things.

1) You're both a highly intelligent and innovative person.

2) You believe there is something very unique and very needed here.

3) You haven't shown/explained to me, in a way I grok, what that something is.

Now, I'm a fan. Both of your work, and of Sci-Fi. I'd love to say "David Brin invented that Great Holocene Chat, which made all older chat forms obsolete". It would, from my little perspective, by up there with Heinlein and the Water Bed, H.G. Wells and the tank, ect.

I have to assume that you've made a leap to a vision of something you see full blown, but in all honesty the description of this something comes out a lot like the group of blind men describing an elephant.

"Holocene chat has big leathery pillars, a snake in front.." you get the picture.

Tony Fisk said...

I'll try to fill some of the holes in the Holocene perspective. (and if I get it wrong, mea culpa!)

I think a lot of the problems people have with HC is, to slip into computer architectural jargon, that they see the view and not the model. What you see on the HC site is a rough and ready app that demonstrates the concepts (and provides a solid basis for a patent app)

What HC is about is not actually chatting via text boxes, but efficient attention allocation.

It allows you to choose the people you want to listen to, and ignore those you don't.

Now, the traditional IRC does not do this well (each line being received and displayed from random sources). What it is useful at doing is providing a compact communication channel in a cluttered screen with hordes of orcs and wotnot.

What both HC (ie, the app as you see it, *not* the concept) and IRC miss is that conversations are normally conducted by speech, not vision. Your hearing is much better adapted to an unstreamed and unfiltered communication medium than your eyesight (which tends to be much more focussed on one thing at a time). As an example, consider the subtext in a foreign language film. It becomes annoying when you have to keep glancing down at the line to see what's being said, just when a subtle facial expression conveys more. (and I suspect the same is true in the middle of a WoW melee).

IRC is really just a direct adaptation of speech to a visual medium. As such, it is simple and certainly useable, but it's not really comfortable. The HC app isn't comfortable either. eg I found it annoying and distracting to follow several text boxes as people moved around. (it improved once I locked them into place). However, I am able to separate the app from the concept, and I can think of a couple of ways it could be presented differently (better or not is up to the observer!). It *could* for example, be applied to a series of podcasts, with a speaker's volume adjusted according to the listener's interest. Balance could be used as well to do some rough sorting.

I hope that helps clarify things.

David Brin said...

Guys, I know that I am a failure at communicating the holocene concepts. It's as if I am offering something slippery that eludes not only conceptual grasp but also (far more interesting) even curiosity.

I am not fooling when I say this concept has almost ALWAYS elicited outright anger. Though the rationalizations vary a lot.

Notice how Dave slipped gracefully from angry rationalization #2 to #3, exactly as I predicted. (In fact, the purpose of the patent is not to troll, but to refute rationalization #1... when guys shout that "it's been done before." Only I can't win. Now the patent makes me evil!)

It would be one thing if any of the angry parties ever actually paraphrased back at me what Holocene is about, showing that they understand what they are dissing. It never happens, though at least Jester sort of tried.

To which I have to answer that Holocene has nothing at all to do with making a whole lot of boxes on a screen and changing the font color. Sorry. Nothing at all.

Sighing at the desperate futility of it, I will waste time yet again.

When you are at a cocktail party or a business meeting or restaurant in the REAL WORLD, you ALLOCATE ATTENTION and you PRIORITIZE different threads of meaning and syntax that are going on around you. You base this allocation and prioritization upon things like
REPUTATION (global and personal)
TIME (since an utterance was made)
and, most important of all

These factors, in turn AFFECT various aspects of your priority/attention system. e.g. whether you take careful notes of one person's words... while grunting and just getting the gist from another... or just being wary for whether your name is spoken in the party in general.

We all use these systems in daily life. But nobody has parsed them out and wondered what the analogs would be online. It turns out that there are hundreds of possible analogs to these processes. Hundreds. And (with a few exceptions) almost none of them have ever been tried online. At.... all...

Yes, the holocene demo uses very crude text boxes to make these points. I once thought that internet/software guys would be able to see past crude text boxes, to the underlying concepts. I was wrong. Almost nobody ever gets past the text boxes (which in their own right, crude as they are, are vastly better than most chat.)

Now, you guys are welcome to say "I don't need better prioritization and attention allocation tools online." Really? All right. By all means, then make it clear. In that case, you just aren't like me.

Fine. Vive les differences.

But that is a gigantic general area of potential product and service. And I own it -- almost completely -- because the fads -- the avatars and repetitiously all-the-same games and crude-silly myspace pages have drawn everybody in like honey pots, wasting tens of billions of man-hours. This is demonstrated by the fact that adults, with short life spans and many things to get done, stay away from such things, as if from a virus.

Enough, this was futile. If ever one of you were to actually look at the concepts, be able to paraphrase what they mean, and THEN show me what's wrong, I would listen avidly.

Believe me, I WANT to see what's wrong with these concepts. (In fact, they have been much improved by the few fellows who have actually looked.) I urge you guys to keep trying.

But till that happens, I just gotta quote early computer pioneer Howard Aiken --

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats."

David Brin said...

Good old Tony. You posted while I was composing my own answer. Thanks for paraphrasing and getting the generality of the concept. When people do get it, ideas form re: how to apply it to worlds online.

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, I think that maybe you're succumbing to the trope "The Internet Is Serious Business" and need to take a step back, take a deep breath, put it aside for a bit, and do something more enjoyable for a bit before returning.

That goes for Mr. Dewhirst as well.

It's very easy just to click "send" and send forth a blog. The problem is, this system doesn't allow edits and when you just post without thinking... sometimes context is lost.

It's best to write something up on Wordpad, do something else for an hour, and then return to the post. Read it again and see if it still makes sense. If not, revise it.

Hell, I should do that myself. ^^;;

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Here is my CITOKATE on holocene chat. Blah, I don't care about chatting.

But if those features were built into my browser and they allowed me to automatically keep track of the blogs, wikis and online communities that I am a part of, that would be really useful. (especially with your patented Troll-Be-Gone feature)

Remember the internet as a whole is a communication medium, your ideas for attention allocation can make interacting on the internet easier and better. But the features need to be integrated up front the PWOP ( personal web organizer and prioritizer)

Tony Fisk said...

It seems Aiken's ideas can sometimes be a large and bitter pill to swallow.

It can be very frustrating when people don't get the 'bleeding obvious'.

On to another topic entirely: I don't recall it being mentioned here before, and only have just stumbled across it myself, but this little anecdote about someone being prevented from seeing 'Expelled' is truly hilarious (Warning: Myers got a mass of comments, so the page is a bit weighed down!)

David Brin said...

On the Charlie Rose show last night, Jonathan Zittrain - author of THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET: AND HOW TO STOP IT - expressed very similar thoughts about how lobotomizing the interface is, on Second Life and social webs.

As for whether the web should be fun, hey, I got nothing against fun. Extroverted exhibitionism on MySpace? Go ahead! Shake your trans-sexual bootie on 2L? Have at!

I've been known to play a game or two.

But why must all the fun stuff be INSTEAD and utterly corrosive of any possibility of genuine discourse? Hey, I've provided adventure and fun to millions. But that doesn't mean fun is all there is to life.

This here asynchronous medium (blogging) is affecting deliberative processes in politics, science, media... crudely so far, with a long way to go, and that's compatible with 90% of blogs being drivel. It's not either-or.

But the synchronous world is dominated by companies and "innovators" who have nothing but contempt for their customers. They assume their clients cannot think more than a sentence at a time.

David McCabe said...

Maybe I don't get it because I've never been to a cocktail party. :)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin, as I see it the problem with Holocene is that you seem to be saying than there is no "attention allocation" online. But most everyone is already using all the mechanisms you describe in some form of another, just without any help from their computer. One can already just skim when reading looking for keywords, maintain reputations and so on just in ones head. I mean, you do not some beeping devices during a cocktail party to do all that.

This changes the difference between attention allocation/prioritization and lack of it to a difference of allocating attention manually, and augmented with a computer. This is likely where most of the "it has been done before" comes from, people just don't realize that is was not a computer doing it.

This is much harder sell, one one which you haven't really been doing. Most of what I have seen was trying to convince people to allocate attention better, but they are already doing it. Whereas every time the question of interface comes up you dismiss it as unimportant, just something you can solve by throwing some "3D" and "avatars" at.

But in this case interface is everything. Once you build it, everything follows naturally. Without it, most of Holocene ideas are useless. It doesn't matter how awesome your attention allocation algorithms are, if the user will have to expend more effort and be more annoyed by using them that just doing it all by themselves. Why would they be fiddling with a hundred knobs constantly updating the computer knowledge of what they think about everyone else and whom they are paying attention to, when they could just remember that?

And the interface is no mere implementation detail. It is the hard part! Dismissing it you look like someone who thought of a flying car, and is now wondering why no one has built it yet when it is so obviously wonderful. I, for one, cannot visualize any system which would be more useful than annoying at all. Of course, I know nothing of interface design, but apparently neither can anyone else! I fear this might not event be possible with current technology, there is simply not enough pixels on 1024x768 screen to show everything necessary and still have space for actual text. Maybe in a decade...

Unknown said...

I'll throw my hat into the Holocene ring here and badly misunderstand all sides by trying to analogize it to WoW, since I do believe Jester has a point here - at least, I cannot yet see a meaningful difference between what he's saying and what our host is saying except that Jester is talking about how an implementation is used to achieve a concept, while our host seems to be trying to talk about the concept as a whole.

So ... okay, I'm going to explain my experience in playing WoW, and try to compare it to the words our host tried to use to summarize the concept of Holocene.

So, first of all, a bit of background on WoW for anyone who hasn't actually played it: You have your avatar whose appearance reflects your abilities in the game (to some degree, at any rate). You walk around or ride some kind of mount ... and you fight monsters, or just Really Big Guys.

While all of this is going on, you have (by default) some interface information showing your current status, the current status of your group, information about your target, something of a list of your abilities ... and in one corner, a text box where conversation is displayed. You can also modify all this to display more game information in whatever fashion you find desirable, make multiple chat windows, and so on ... but when it comes to CHAT, the only change I ever see is people pulling out a second window to show the result of the combat.

So, let's picture this: You've got your screen showing you your view of the world, and in one corner is a text box.
Now ... if you're raiding, you're probably in a guild that uses some kind of voice chat - so now you have another program running where people can talk directly. As a note here: Raiding (well, instancing in general) is probably the most attention-consuming activity you can engage in, while playing WoW. You're in fights that last for 5-15 minutes, where you need to use your abilities virtually constantly, you need to stay coordinated with your companions, and you need to pay attention to the fight and react to events happening -well-.

You need to allocate your attention WELL - if you do it badly, you're going to miss that that boss just cast a spell that will wipe your raid (forcing you to redo potentially hours of work along with 9-24 other people, who will Not Be Happy With You) if you do the wrong thing ... and thus, you'll do the wrong thing.

So how do we do it? Well, in -my- case, I have several tools working for me. First of all, I've got voice chat, and only people in the raid (so nearby, doing relevant things, and generally trustable) are there - so anything someone SAYS is probably important ... and when it's not, I can apply all the various tricks I use when dealing with conversation in the real world.

Second: WoW has three different settings for sound. You can set the volume of music, ambients, and sound effects differently. I've turned music down, ambients down more, and sound effects way up - I hear what's going on in the game world around me, and things nearer are louder. (an automatic feature of the game)

Third: Text. There's a way people can send messages that don't show up in that little text box I mentioned earlier at all - but only if the raid deemed them "important" - in which case they can emblazon a giant line of text across the middle of my screen, accompanied with (again!) a noise. Here's a bit of a "reputation" factor coming into play.

Fourth: That text box. It's got several different colors! And this is IMPORTANT. There's one color for guild chat - which I'm likely to skim quickly and depending on the name maybe read in depth. There's another color for a couple different "general" chats - which I only even pay attention to AT ALL when I'm idling about. There's a color for whispers (1:1 communication vs the normal n:n of a channel) which stands out - and I almost always read it, unless I've been trying to passively ignore the person sending it, in which case I skim only enough to catch who that is, and then I move on! And there's a color for party and raid chats, which are usually important but not time-sensitive, and a color for game status messages which are invariably of high importance (Either "You are dead", or "The boss is dead" - both are worth knowing.)

Now ... all of this is set up to assist me managing my attention allocation - conversations on vent are -always- listened to, what's going on in the game in front of me usually gets my visual focus, and then there's that text box which I often pay significant attention to, but only when I can both afford to and it's called my interest somehow.

Is this the best way to do it? Probably not, but it sure does work - I allocate attention and prioritize, and I do so with merely a little help from the computer. I am doing those things Holocene is, I gather, meant to assist me with ... and I'm doing them with a bit of assistance from various things in the game.

The most significant difference I can see here is that the features in WoW which assist with attention allocation etc do so incidentally - they primarily distinguish various things, which I then can 'decide' (in quotes as it's certainly not conscious) how much attention to allocate based on what they are, while Holocene would, apparently (and I still have not managed to figure out how, though I admit I never got around/a chance to taking part in one of the demos of the app) perform the attention allocation for me.

Is that at all close to being relevant to what you're trying to discuss, Dr Brin? Or is the miscommunication continuing some more?

David McCabe said...

For those who really want to dig in, here's the Holocene patent itself. Read this and Brin will really have to stop accusing you of callousness!

David Brin said...

Ramarren makes an excellent point. YES! People are already doing the hard work of attention allocation and prioritization themselves!

And they are getting headaches, missing a myriad potentially important details, skim misinterpreting other people and getting into flame wars, failing to keep notes and losing track...

Still, you have cast a slightly fresh angle on this and I need to think about it. I have seen so many cases in which a net or web service replicated a service that our natural body (eyes, ears, pointing fingers) provides in real life, that I actually thought that people would want this process to continue...

to get online-computerized services that replicate and emulate some of the vast number of sophisticated services our brains do for us in the real world.

I carefully parsed out dozens of those basic services, found them lacking anywhere online... and failed to elicit the slightest interest in them, anywhere. So I patented them... thinking that would prove these services aren’t being emulated online... and that that would make somebody interested in making a buck providing them.

I was wrong, clearly! Still I find your explanation saddening. That we would rather do all these things for ourselves VERY BADLY than get a little help from friendly cyber prosthetics? That sounds an awful lot like the folks who said that the mouse and GUI were absurd toys.... and that hypercard was a silly little fad.

(And let’s not forget there WERE such people! In fact, they were a vast majority of “smart guys” who torpedoed GUI at PARC and those who delayed the Web by a decade.)

Jester yes, you seem to be having a stab at comparisons that have some validity. It has been a few years since I looked into WoW. Can you tell me when these contextually responsive info-exchange features were introduced?

Anonymous said...

"This here asynchronous medium (blogging) is affecting deliberative processes in politics, science, media... crudely so far, with a long way to go, and that's compatible with 90% of blogs being drivel. It's not either-or."

Here is a bit from another blog I consider not drivel. A different expression of a theme that has come up a few times here on "Contrary Brin". Slightly edited to make my excerpt "self contained". From Scott Aaronson's blog Shtetl-Optimized:


My own hypothesis has to do with bullet-dodgers versus bullet-swallowers. A bullet-dodger is a person who says things like:

"Sure, obviously if you pursued that particular line of reasoning to an extreme, then you’d get such-and-such an absurd-seeming conclusion. But that very fact suggests that other forces might come into play that we don’t understand yet or haven’t accounted for. So let’s just make a mental note of it and move on."

Faced with exactly the same situation, a bullet-swallower will exclaim:

"The entire world should follow the line of reasoning to precisely this extreme, and this is the conclusion, and if a 'consensus of educated opinion' finds it disagreeable or absurd, then so much the worse for educated opinion! Those who accept this are intellectual heroes; those who don't are cowards."


Here's a favorite analogy. The world is a real-valued function that's almost completely unknown to us, and that we only observe in the vicinity of a single point x0. To our surprise, we find that, within that tiny vicinity, we can approximate the function extremely well by a Taylor series.

"Aha!" exclaim the bullet-swallowers. "So then the function must be the infinite series, neither more nor less."

"Not so fast," reply the bullet-dodgers. "All we know is that we can approximate the function in a small open interval around x0. Who knows what unsuspected phenomena might be lurking beyond it?"

"Intellectual cowardice!" the first group snorts. "You're just like the Jesuit schoolmen, who dismissed the Copernican system as a mere calculational device! Why can't you accept what our best theory is clearly telling us?"

So who's right: the [bullet swallowers], or the [bullet-dodgers}? Well, that depends on whether the function is sin(x) or log(x).


Anonymous said...

Most of this developed over time during the first three years of Everquest.

Like I said, seems to me to be a *clunky* version of the Holocene concept.

The casual player just "trying out" any of the MMORPGs probably wouldn't even realize that a lot of these options existed, but then the casual player ussually doesn't engage in the kind of attention absorbing large group activities we're talking about when we refer to raids.

I'm a casual player of Lord of the Rings Online these days (5-15 hours a week, the upper range being the spouse agreed maximum), and I find that I don't make use of half the attention mangement tools I did as a rather...erm...excessively involved player in Everquest, even though I'm fully aware of how I could set them up.

I think part of the problem with purely social sites like 2nd Life is that they lack urgency, shared objectives, and a need for cooperative problem solving.

It's obviously these demands that led to the development of language, after all, and it's these demands that have pushed development in MMORPG communication.

My set-up in my Everquest raid days was a bit more complex than described above, but the general gist is there.

Voice = TOP level. In a raid, anyway. In easy loot/experience churning small group situations, Voice becomes the chitter chat channel and text tends to become the "operational" channel.

"Battle spam", or combat information, is filtered differently by different classes who need to know different things. Also, seperate chat channels can easily be created, so that (as an example) there is one channel just for the healers in the raid to coordinate their efforts so that they don't waste effort "double healing".

Traveling around, waiting around, /auction might be on...definately not in a hard fight. /say is a proximity only thing, /shout goes to a broad area, ect.

Most games tell you when your Friends and or Guild/Kinmates log on or off. You have the ability to ignore people. You have the ability to report spammers easily.

You can click the name of any speaker, and see their class/gear, whether they're looking to group, ect.

All games let you send private messages to guild/friends/anyone whose name you know, support "looking for group" channels, ect.

I never got that deeply into WoW...because it was a poorly written cartoon as far as I was concerned, and far too focused on PvP, so I can't speak to that specifically.

I only go into all these details because I think you can see how easily they're transferable to other situations - the accountants talking about their concerns in one channel over here, while the engineers talk over here, and the marketing guys over there, while all watch the main presentation...and then presenting their primary concerns as groups at the end.

They could also be getting different information feeds to their groups, comparable to "battle spam" filtering - engineers getting technical specs that would just be boring gibberish to the accountants.

*Part* of the crux of the idea of Holocene, if I'm understanding it.

I do understand both your frustration and your point, but I think that people go to 2nd life to flirt, or to be @Holes, ect. It's about the last place to look for superior attention allocation tools.

More dance club than Physics Department cocktail party...and people don't mind the music drowning out conversation at the dance club.

I don't mean to imply, by any stretch, that MMORPGs are full of geniuses...but to play any of these games at a high level you have to be able to sight-read. Based on my limited exposure to 2nd life...that's not the case.

I'm starting to see some more of the "Elephant" here, in terms of casual use, too.

It would be lovely if my browser automatically ignored any post, anywhere, that was more than 50% caps, or more than 10% exclamation points by volume.

I know that's not the elephant, but lord, it would at least make for the bristles on the end of the tail.

If you think it's worth your time, and have a fairly modern PC handy, you can download a slightly crippled free version of Lord of The Rings on-line and play with the communication features...the bad part is that you're blocked from several channels in the free version...and I just don't think a lower level character can really "get" the experience of large group/raid play while conversing with friends and cutting in-game business deals and so on and so on.

Sorry for long ramble, and sorry to any 2nd life players I offended. I go to clubs once in awhile.

Totally Unrealted -

I don't know if you've had any nibbles on the concept of Uplift movies, but have you ever considered pitching a high quality late-teen/adult animated series sticking to the books?

Also...there sure is a lot of room for adventure in the Uplift Universe...and a glut of Fantasy MMORPGs and a derth of decent Sci-Fi MMORPGs...and a writer with a big interest in revolutionary on-line communication technology...

David Brin said...

Wow, another great descriptive missive. I have always felt that games were the most likely place to find people who "get" the importance of attention allocation...

...for precisely the reasons you gave, Jester... because of a sense of adrenaline-rich NEED to parse information quickly, at variable levels of priority and detail. The fact that the "need" is ersatz and recreational does not at all affect the basics. These are people who have turned on the parts of their brain dedicated to getting things done, communicating with other members of a team, formulating creative plans on the fly and cooperatively solving problems.

In other words, just like busy adults in business and government and science. The very same adults who would not be caught dead wasting lifespan on 2nd Life or MySpace... even though fad-ridden coporations are investing $$$ setting up sites there, in hope of getting "business" done.

Those who shrug and dismiss any thought of offering better communications, because 2nd Life is just for flirting, don't get it. Even if 98% of visitors just want lobotomized fun, lobotomies should not be compulsory!

It should be possible to make "lands" where adults can do online the sorts of discourse they do in real life.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. We need better attention and discourse tools desperately. See my Google Tech Talk:

Even more intensely:

The parallel with the GUI and the web browser is apt, I think. Before the Macintosh and before Andreeson, you could not find anyone willing to credit even the remote possibility that mice and hypercard would go anywhere, meet any need or find any market. Now the things are obvious, as it will be obvious that attention allocation was vital on the web.

Herd wisdom isn't wisdom.

(Jester, speaking of priorities, your thread is far more important to me... so I neglected poor BD. Alas ;-)

David Brin said...

Oh, re uplift movies... great dream...

See the graphics challenge:

Two years ago the result was three great movie trailers for Greg Bear's EON.

But it looks as if I worked hard to help the artists this time for nothing. Out of 80 or so still image entries, just three had anything at all to do with Uplift. Alas.

Alfred Differ said...

It took a while for the Holocene idea to sink in with me, but once I got it it made a lot of sense. There is a quantum leap needed here for those trying to understand it.

My son is autistic, so I know how attention allocation problems can radically alter a life. Kids on that spectrum and the one for ADHD don't have the brain resources the rest of us have for dealing with cocktail parties, job environments, and crowded shopping malls. Even if the pattern recognition capabilities exist, attention allocation issues can dominate.

When I finally got the Holocene concept my first thought was that it would be a good tool for actually measuring attention allocation issues without having to stick a kid inside a big MRI machine. If the algorithms involved can adjust to optimize an outcome for a particular set of attention demands, then children with different issues would wind up with different 'coupling' constants. This reduces human observer bias risks.

Any of us who know science history even a little bit know that once something becomes measurable, researchers adapt and new testable hypotheses emerge. While I think this concept could make my life a whole lot better, I think a better proving ground can be found among those researchers. There are a lot of lesser disorders that might become quantifiable too.

matthew said...

It seems like the logical "first" users for Holocene are those that have a very high premium on Guided Allocation of Attention.

What about emergency C&C (911 operators), large-scale blog operator - writers (Hello, Kos!), or *military* uses? How are your concepts translatable to these kinds of high-pressure, high-reward environments? What about our traditional intelligence-gathering operations where there is much "noise" and a few important "nuggets" hidden away in GB of chaff?
Just free-associating, looking for another way to shake the tree down to get at those juicy bananas up there somewhere...

Unknown said...

More good news:

Adobe introduces new p2p flash player that might hold out the promise of bypassing big content providers entirely and replacing them with a network of small peer machines. This could spell the beginning of the end of centralized big content providers entirely.

Scientists increasingly use Second Life to run simulations and gather data from simulated online ecologies:

Dr. Brin has long urged that government civil servants stand up against the sociopaths who've hijacked the executive branch and trashed the constitution. Meanwhile, I have long pointed out that there's evidence the civil servants are already doing this by throwing sand in the gears inside the system. Now, more evidence, this time from Guantanmo: notice the key role played by the Navy JAG lawyer. The Navy has been the outstanding service in fighting the erosion of the constitution tooth and nail, and this evidence appears to show that they've redoubled their efforts to preserve our constitutional system.

In 1977 Jimmy Carter proposed a radical new energy policy which, in enacted, would have made unnecessary the current war in Iraq, our chronic dependence on foreign oil, and probably would have drastically slowed global warming. But, because the infantile spoiled American people didn't like hearing about a "malaise" and only wanted to hear happy news that told them the world was full of little ponies and rainbows and candy canes and nothing was wrong, the American people threw a hissy fit and banged their little spoons on their little high chairs in 1980 and elected the senile sociopath Ronald Reagan, the Cruel Man With the Constant Smile. Like three-year-old children, the American people doted on the senile sociopath Reagan because he opened the door of his car, told them to get in, offered them candy, and assured them that the world was indeed a happy happy place and nothing was wrong and life was full of rainbows and everything was wonderful, and he'd be glad to drive them home to mommy. So now, 31 years after their kindergarten tantrum, here the American people are, stuck, f**ked, and out of luck as they stare around them at catastrophic global warming, $200-a-barrel oil, and endless war in the middle east for endlessly more expensive oil. Read Jimmy Carter's 1977 energy proposal and weep:

Meanwhile, in the turgid cesspool of Republican politics, the waters just keep getting murkier and murkier -- now Mike Huckabee, everyone's favorite creationist, has jumped back in the race.
Apparently it's not enough that the Ron Paul libertarians are plotting a coup at the Repub national convention, now the theocrats creep toward McCain with knives in their teeth and an unholy gleam in their eyes. Or should I see exceedingly holy?

"The thing they need to consider," said Huckabee about the delegate count, "is which of us is going to be the strongest nominee in November."

Well, that's true. Huckabee would be a very strong nominee.
Then again, smell isn't everything.

Oh, and it gets better.

The house subcommittee investigating Karl Rove has announced "We're closing in on Rove."

Asked a few minutes later for a more official explanation, Conyers told us that Rove has a week to appear before his committee. If he doesn’t, said Conyers, “We’ll do what any self-respecting committee would do. We’d hold him in contempt. Either that or go and have him arrested.”

Conyers said the committee wants Rove to testify about his role in the imprisonment of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, among other things.

“We want him for so many things, it’s hard to keep track,” Conyers said.


I've always predicted that the political career of the drunk-driving C student in the Oval Office would end like the final minutes of the 1980 de Palma remake of Scarface. His last words will be "Let me introduce you to my leetle friend!"
Now I predict that the political career of Karl Rove will end like the final few minutes of the 1949 film The Third Man as Rove runs through the sewers with armed men on his heels. He'll claw frantically at the sewer grate that leads up to the street...but there'll be no way out.

Gotta tell ya, I'm lovin' this.
“When you lose three of these [special elections] in a row, you have to go beyond campaign tactics,” Cole said. “A large segment of the American public doesn't have confidence in the Republican Party to deal with the issues in front of us. What we have to do is look in the mirror bit and ask how we lost our way."
Let's see if I can help you out. Where'd the Republican party lose their way?
* Torture (violation of the 8th amendment)
* Abolition of habeas corpus (violation of the due process clause of the 5th amendment)
* Abolition of jury trials (violation of the 6th and 7th amendment)
* Suspension of freedom of speech (violation of the first amendment)
* Abolition of the fourth amendment against unreasonable search and seizure (violation of the 4th amendment)
* Abolition of the right of kidnapped prisoners to decline to testify on the grounds that the testimony might incriminate them (violation of the fifth amendment)
* Running roughshod over the states' rights with the Real ID act, the Patriot Act, etc. (violation of the 9th and 10th amendments)
* Systematic violation of the civil rights of kidnapped tortured prisoners (violation of the 14th amendment)
* Legal government kidnapping AKA "extraordinary rendition" (violation of amendments 5 and 6)
* Lies, lies, lies, lies, and more lies. Oh, and did I mention...lies?
* Waging an unprovoked war of aggression by means of systematic lies -- a crime which the Nuremberg tribunal specified as "the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
* The incidental murder of one million (1,000,000) Iraqi civilians as "collateral damage" during air strikes, JDAM bombardment, white phosphorus artillery strikes, cluster bombing, sustained aerial minigun strafing, and 20mm cannon bombardment with depleted uranium munitions of densely populated civilian Iraqi areas by U.S. forces

I've left out minor crimes like treason: Viz., the outing of Valerie Plame as an active CIA agent, massive lies about Iraq's alleged WMD program before the U.N. and the international community, corruption, bribery, destruction of government documents (White House emails), obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, conspiracy, conspiracy to suborn perjury, contempt of Congress, and on and on and on.
After all, the big crimes, the really huge monstrous crimes so vast they blot out the sun, are the big three crimes identified by the Nuremberg tribunal as the worst of all crimes against humanity:
"The Charter empowered the tribunal to try three crimes: "crimes against peace"--waging or conspiring to wage a war of aggression [the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003]; "war crimes"--inhumane wartime treatment of civilians and prisoners [Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo, the murder of Dilawar, ad infinitum]; and "crimes against humanity"--murder, extermination, enslavement or other inhumane treatment of or discrimination against any civilian population, before or during the war. [Causing the deaths of 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians during the occupation.]"

Of the first 10 amendments comprising the Bill of Rights of the constitution of the United States of America, the Repubs have violated all but two -- the 3rd amendment which prohibits quartering soldiers in civilian homes, and the second amendment which mandates the right to keep and bear arms. Every other amendment of the bill of rights, the Repubs have wiped their asses on and then thrown in the garbage.

I think that covers it. You want a quick answer why the Republican party is circling the toilet bowl and the suction is drawing is down?
There you go. Systematic violation of the constitution, corruption, pathological lies, theft on a Brobdingnagian scale, and the big three -- crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Any questions, Repubs?

David Brin said...

Dang, adiffer... whoosh! I never imagined that use. I'll have to ponder this... especially as autism plays a role in the novel I am working on. Of course, I cannot even remotely pretend to be an expert. My take is impressionistic, set in a near future when some kinds of autistics are highly empowered by... well... computer assistance tools.

This is already true of course. There is a viraled video out there of a severely autistic young woman, slapping windows and thrashing around. But subtitles THAT SHE CREATED HERSELF explain the meaning of every movement and in a kind of logic that is transfixing.

Can Holocene help in this process. I hadn't really connected these separate threads of my own thinking!

Surfacially, I must say that Holocene does nothing to actually measure the user's "attention" though it envisions responding to user preferences, choices, it does not claim to cover the means of collecting or analyzing those preference. Rather it is a simple attempt to get some momentum toward WANTING to collect environmental cues (like user attention) and applying them to altering how the information flow is presented.

On further consideration, I suppose that, if the Holocene ideas were ever executed, bigtime, there'd be systems in place that could then be easily modified to respond to the attention needs of those with unusual attention spans.

Hrm... one more reason to wish I had a couple of million to spare. Or to wish I were the kind of inventor with the guts to mortgage his home, instead of starving his own project, then complaining alla time! ;-)

I know that Tony has sampled the Holocene demo. adiifer and jester, please feel free to contact me through and get on a list to be shown around, some time. (just be prepared, the demo is fairly crude.) You can download some power point guided tours from

And thanks for feedback that tries to see what it's about.

Tony Fisk said...


Have you read this NS article?

It describes how some people with autism find it easier to communicate via apps like Second Life because it simplifies the conversation cues they have to cope with.

Would HC help? I don't know. I do know that it is almost impossible to guess what even a 'normal spectrum' user will really want from a user interface.


Speaking of attention allocation and prioritisation, the day ole' Zorg can give a brief answer will be an astonishingly news-free day!

I think the unholy gleam in the theocrat's eyes is quite an accurate description. I often wonder which Lord it is they follow, and usually conclude it is the one of husks and rinds (an allusion to Katherine Kerr's Deverry books).
At the risk of being tiresome, I'll just repost that link on Weber's account of being expelled from 'Expelled'. It demonstrates a chillingly niggardly temperament and paucity of intellect on the part of the expellers, and the punchline is a hoot!

sociotard said...

Zorgon, if you want to add the 2nd ammendment to your list, you might mention the people of New Orleans being forcibly disarmed by rescue workers.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Sociotard! You're right. The Repubs are 9 for 10. If only they can manage to find some way of passing a bill that requires ordinary citizens to board & feed U.S. soldiers in their houses before Jan 20 2009, they'll have run the table. But don't give up hope...there are still 7 months left. They might yet be able to violate every single provision of the Bill of Rights.

Dr. Brin, have you thought of filing a second patent or an amendement which hooks one of the laser eye-scanning devices into Holocene Chat and feeds the results into HC to automatically enlarge or change color or change fonts of various windows as the user's measured attention shifts? This long-range eye-tracking device uses lasers bounced from eyeballs to change the shape and type of ads sprayed out on billboards etc. as people's attention shifts. Seems like that kind of technology could easily be married to HC to provide a user-controllable attention-organizing feedback loop to dynamically alter the displayed windows & text (viz., boldface, italics, larger fonts, smaller fonts, etc).

You might consider pitching this modified version of HC to the army as part of their Future Combat Systtem, which centers around advanced tactical communications.

Nota Bene: I have no interest in any rights direct or ancillary to this idea and freely give away any present or future copyrights or other rights. Dr. Brin is the originator of the Holocene idea and this suggestion represents an entirely trivial footnote.

Unknown said...

ramarren makes a very salient point re Holocene... Interface implementation is the real stumbling block, not just a detail to be sorted out later.

Perhaps 'chat' (or any fast high demand environ) isn't the best place to start. Attention prioritization is a big problem when dealing with large volumes of async info too. And as I read it, there is much better recognition of the importance of the idea and some prior-art (news aggregators, tag-clouds, and such). Though the big picture that these are instances of communication channel attention prioritization seems to have been pretty much missed.

Imagine an interface where a person could 'hang out' in a large number of blogs/forums/news-sites simultaneously, with new information (or at least 'new' since the last time the interface was fired up) streaming in as if they were conversations/social interactions. (No need that this has to be just real time... it should be possible to start at a time in the past and 'fast forward' to catch up on what has been going on and preserving the asynchronous nature even though the interface is kindof imposes a virtual sychronicity.)

That is perhaps a more webby way to hit at many of the same fundamental issues while avoiding the big practical hurdles.p

Tony Fisk said...


Imagine an interface where a person could 'hang out' in a large number of blogs/forums/news-sites simultaneously,

I sort of have this already in my Firefox interface.

Firefox has two nice features that allow it:
- multitabs, which allow several webpages to be accessed at once (including gmail, which updates the title when new mail arrives)
- RSS Feed tabs, which allow me to periodically check a list of blogs (like this one) and news sites for new articles. If the title sounds interesting, I can click on the link to display it. It can even display comment updates, (although I've been tending to send them on to gmail. Must give it more of a try... it would be nice if the timestamp was included). This captures the site history, too.

Being a little quiet, I've been messing with styling the elements of a selection box. It's actually quite easy to vary the font size of different elements and to emulate the 'time fade' of the HC chat box.
Unfortunately, IE6 doesn't support such new fangled ideas...

There's a very primitive example here. The top few rows should appear smaller a la the Star Wars opening intro. Would anyone care to comment on how it looks to them on their browser (inparticular, Safari and IE7)?

David McCabe said...

Shorter term, does anyone else think discussions on this blog would be better served by something besides the linear, non-place-saving Blogger? I'm willing to scout around for alternatives if our host indicates an interest. Even in plain HTML and conventional ideas, we could do a lot better than this.

(Shameless plug: MediaWiki users should look at Liquid Threads.)

Travc said...

"yoosook" is actually me...
Sorry. My SO logged into gmail and I didn't notice.

She may well post here sometime (not likely, but certainly possible), so I shouldn't muddle up her identity.

Funny how this actually relates to Holocene ideas...

Unknown said...

By the way, Zorgon, you should check your links.

Your link on Huckabee is to a joke site.

Unknown said...

The problem with telling joke websites from real news sites is that the gibberish coming from the Red States and the Republican party is so crazy it's become impossible to tell where satire leaves off and reality starts.

Dave Rickey said...

Listen, I've got nothing against Holocene. But I'm only incidently in the communication business, I'm in the *entertainment* business. Holocene doesn't add much entertainment value, from what I can see.

Eve has a far more robust system, that has multiple-tab chat. At any given time in Eve, a player will have: Local (people in the same system), Corporation (people in the same Corp/Guild), and Alliance. That's the minimum, if they are in a formed group they'll also have "Gang". 4 chat channels, non-toptional.

But they can add any number of user created channels, private or ad-hoc group chats, and permanent channelsfor a particular topic to that. Each goes into a different tab, and can be put into a separate window, sized differently, given different transparency settings, etc. Plus, if they're in a PvP operation they probably have Ventrillo or TeamSpeak running, which brings it's own package of channels, broadcasts, etc.

You've been hanging out with the 2L/Linden Labs crowd too long. I don't think I'm creating the 3D web, the replacement for every inferior communication method including pillow talk. I make games.

I don't see anything about Holocene that I can use to make games more fun, or make games that are distinctly different. Where's the fun, where's the gameplay?

Anonymous said...

Imagine that the attention-focusing capabilities of Holocene Chat were designed with the same competence as Microsoft Word. The first rule of software design is that people are horrible at software design.

I don't trust my computer to help me allocate my attention in any but the most trivial of ways.

Alfred Differ said...

Of course you don't trust it. You don't have any tools designed specifically to assist. Humans may not be good at that kind of design, but we have a process that tends to evolve designs that does occasionally work.

Attention allocation tools might help in game play, but I don't see them as game play. I'm not sure why someone would.

I used to chat with fellow software developers in IRC. I stopped after awhile, though, because it wasn't worth the effort to me. For others it obviously is, but my cost/benefit ratio didn't work. If I had good attention allocation tools I'm sure the ratio would change a bit. How much would depend on the tool and situation. I'm not just beating up on IRC, though. Usenet, email, and news sites offer the same problems to me with different ratios.

Craig Comments said...

I strongly believe that a successful society needs an economic system that encompasses both capitalism and socialism. The argument is the balance between the two systems. Capitalistic systems create significant problems (The gap between the rich and the poor) (Health care for few) and it does not address problems that have no economic up-side. (Homelessness, lack of medical attention and lack of food for poor children.)

Socialism destroys the free market and the economy. That is why we need a combination of both, and that is what we have in the US.

Societies that can embrace government actions in the areas that the market can not function effectively are stronger. This of course requires those with much to pay for the programs for those that do not have enough to eat, or no shelter.

I find it odd that those who demand better roads and infrastructure, and better schools for our children also want to elect someone to lower their taxes.