During the Christmas holidays, Matt’s uncle introduced us to something called Sudoku. It’s a game kind of like a crossword puzzle, but it’s all numbers. There are 9 rows and 9 columns which are divided into 9 3×3 quadrants. The object is to get the numbers 1-9 in each row, column, and quadrant using logic, reasoning, and common sense. You should try an easy one to start with, but be warned – they are very addicting! In fact, we’ve already bought The Original Sudoku book for ourselves. ๐Ÿ™‚

Alexa and Snow Crash

Having thought some about the new Alexa service that is being offered where anyone can search their 100 TB of data for a modest fee, it made me think of one of the concepts from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (Amazon link). If you haven’t read it and enjoy sci-fi that makes you think, I’d highly recommend it (Stephenson lived in Champaign-Urbana for six years growing up!).

One of the minor ideas in the book is that there’s basically this huge repository of data, so big that many things are pretty much impossible to find. People make a living off of scavenging through the data to try to find a new bit of info that had been lost and sell it to the highest bidder. Could the Alexa model eventually lead to something similar where people somehow make money by finding information that no one else could?

Google Print…Legalized Theft?

According to this editorial in the Washington Times, Google’s new service is going to destroy intellectual property rights. Let’s check their claims.

And so we find ourselves joining together to fight a $90 billion company bent on unilaterally changing copyright law to their benefit and in turn denying publishers and authors the rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution.

It’s worth remembering that the gatekeepers will always oppose something that circumvents their authority. Industries built on controlling access will always oppose competition and come up with reasons why the competition is inferior or immoral or both. It’s simply in their interest to do so. Disruptive technology is not pleasant for old business models. History has plenty examples of fire being forced back in the bottle because the old industry was scared. US vacuum tube manufacturers didn’t like transistors, so the US lost the electronics industry to Japan.

Internet behemoth Google, plans to launch their Library project in November. It plans to scan the entire contents of the Stanford, Harvard and University of Michigan libraries and make what it calls “snippets” of the works available online, for free.

The creators and owners of these copyrighted works will not be compensated, nor has Google defined what a “snippet” is: a paragraph? A page? A chapter? A whole book? Meanwhile Google will gain a huge new revenue stream by selling ad space on library search results. Selling ads on its search engine is how Google makes 99 percent of its billions.

Did they ever even think of searching Google’s current databases to see what a “snippet” might look like? Guess what…Google Scholar already allows content searches on copyrighted academic publishing! Check out one of their searches to see what a snippet looks like. Google’s web searches provide snippets on web pages as well, which also happen to be copyrighted material. Looks like a couple of sentences, at most, to me.

Plus, the delineations they suggest are arbitrary anyway. Some books have chapters that consist only of a paragraph. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road novel was originally written as one long paragraph. So just making the delineations they propose for a snippet won’t necessarily be meaningful.

Our laws say if you wish to copy someone’s work, you must get their permission. Google wants to trash that.

Because, I’m sure that no one has ever made a copy of a page in a library book without getting the author and publisher’s permission first, right? No?! Oh…right, because our laws have fair use provisions.

Google’s position essentially amounts to a license to steal, so long as it returns the loot upon a formal request by their victims. This is precisely why Google’s argument has no basis in U.S. intellectual property law or jurisprudence. Just because Google is huge, it should not be allowed to change the law.

Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt has argued the “fair use” provision in copyright law allows Google to scan copyrighted books and put them on their Web site without seeking permission. He compares this to someone at home taping a television show and watching it later. Taped TV show are watched in millions of households every night and is quite legal; rebroadcasting that show to make a buck is not.

Next time Dr. Schmidt watches television, he should keep his ears open for the common disclaimer “rebroadcast of this program without the express written consent of” the broadcaster is “prohibited.” Google’s plans are tantamount to the same thing, profiting from someone else’s work without permission. It isn’t up to the broadcaster to track down someone profiting from their work, why should it be up to publishers and authors to do so?

Has anyone ever watched the TV Guide Channel? What’s their business model? Provide snippets about copyrighted work and make money by surrounding it with their advertising.

Ever read a book review in a newspaper or magazine? Don’t they provide an extended snippet about the work and make money by advertising nearby the article?

What’s Roger Ebert do for a career? Give snippets of movies while his employer gets paid by surrounding the snippets with advertising.

Is Google fundamentally changing the law by providing snippets of copyrighted material and making money by advertising nearby? Can anyone explain how Google Print it fundamentally different than these examples I’ve given?

Google envisions a world in which all content is free; and of course, it controls the portal through which Internet user’s access that content. It would completely devalue everyone else’s property and massively increase the value of its own.

I think Google’s vision is where all content is searchable. This is actually Microsoft, Yahoo!, and a ton of other companies’ visions as well. Google just seems to be leading the pack at the current moment.

The underlying assumption is that this is a zero sum game…if Google’s making the money from providing the book search, then publishers and authors are losing money. I think that such a service actually stands to create more wealth for authors. I’ll bet that authors whose books don’t show up on the NY Times top 100 bestsellers would love to have a more accessible way to circumvent the gatekeepers and let people find their work and what it’s about.

I have copyrighted work indexed by Google in the form of this web page and my papers I’ve published. I’m happy that people have a means of finding my work. It helps market my work by allowing interested people to find it.

The company contends it will allow authors of copyrighted works to “opt-out” of the free online library by notifying Google they don’t want their works online. Most authors and publishers do not know who bought their books. And have you ever tried to get a live person on the phone at an Internet company?

This is silly…do they really think that Google will ignore such requests? Have they tried the system? Doesn’t seem like it…seems like they’re just trying to scare people. The current search engine system (not just Google) operates on an opt-out policy for copyrighted material (i.e., web pages). For example, if you search for a topic on this blog, you’ll see that we’ve specified a policy where our work can be indexed, but not archived in Google’s cache. If the whole Internet was forced to operate on an opt-in policy, it would be impossible to find anything and people would only opt-in to a couple of the largest search engines, thereby centralizing knowledge.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

I just finished reading Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond, which is an absolutely fascinating book. It’s one of those books that makes you look like 20 IQ points smarter just by carrying it. The basic idea is why have some societies progressed to become so much more advanced that others. Or, for concreteness, why did Europeans come to America and decimate the Native Americans instead of vice versa?

Obviously, from history classes, we know that the immediate reasons were that the Europeans had guns against the Native Americans’ bows and arrows, Europe had the transportation necessary to cross the ocean, and Native American germs had a minimal affect on Europeans, whereas Native Americans proved extremely susceptible to European diseases. The question is how did the societies advance prior to this point to end up in such an asymmetric situation.

Much more below the fold.

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Getting Freaky…Econ Style

I just finished reading Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. I’d highly recommend it. Freakonomics reminded me a lot of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (which is also a great read).

The basic idea of Freakonomics is that a University of Chicago economist goes through some case studies based on his research that use statistical data to debunk conventional wisdom. For example, based on statistics, a child is almost 100 times more likely to die due to drowning at a house that has a swimming pool than she is to die from being shot at a house that has a gun. So, letting your children play at a friend’s house with a swimming pool is much more dangerous than allowing them to play at a household with guns.

Something else that I found extremely interesting is the economics of drug dealing. He did an extensive study of records kept by a crack dealing organization. Turns out that their system has much more income inequality than nearly any legal capitalistic system. There was a board of directors, each of which makes about $500,000 per year. Below the board were local leaders (think franchisee for a restaurant chain) that bring in about $100,000 per year. Next in the hierarchy were three right-hand men for the local leader whose annual paycheck comes out to about $7 per hour! Then, you have the actual foot soldiers (about 75-100 per local leader) which do the dealing who make…drum roll, please…$3.30 per hour. So a vast majority of those involved in organized drugs are making less than minimum wages even considering that their income is tax-free!

Freakonomics looks at this phenomenon of the drug world in the context of the four significant factors in determining wages for a given job: (1) labor supply, (2) special skills required, (3) unpleasantness of the job, and (4) demand for services fulfilled by the job. (Which, for example, explains why a hooker usually earns more than an architect…for the fourth point, the authors point out that an architect is much more likely to hire a prostitute than vice versa)

They also look at correlations between parenting and the academic progress of elementary school kids. A lot of the correlations are rather rather surprising. The factors strongly correlated with test scores include:

  • The child has highly educated parents.
  • The child’s parents have high socioeconomic status.
  • The child’s mother was thirty or older at the time of her first child’s birth.
  • The child had a low birthweight (this is a negative correlation…children with low birthweights do poorer in academics according to the data).
  • The child’s parents speak English in the home.
  • The child is adopted (another negative correlation).
  • The child’s parents are involved in the PTA.
  • The child has many books in his home (this is probably an indicator, not a cause, as evidenced in the next list).

And for factors that don’t show a strong correlation with a child’s test scores?

  • The child’s family is intact.
  • The child’s parents recently moved into a better neighborhood.
  • The child’s mother didn’t work between birth and kindergarten.
  • The child attended Head Start (the government pre-school program).
  • The child’s parents regularly take him to museums.
  • The child is regularly spanked.
  • The child frequently watches television.
  • The child’s parents read to him nearly every day.

Finally, the last thing I wanted to mention was the authors’ study of correlation between names and economic status. It turns our that, many times, children’s names begin in high-education families and then trickle down to being used in lower-education families. So, based on the current list of names that are highly correlated with higher education parents, the book speculates on the most popular kids names a decade from now (the current list is heavily dominated by Hebrew names along with a few traditional Irish ones).

Their speculation for the most popular girl names in 2015: Annika, Ansley, Ava, Avery, Clementine, Eleanor, Ella, Emma, Fiona, Flannery, Grace, Isabel, Kate, Lara, Linden, Maeve, Marie-Claire, Maya, Philippa, Phoebe, Quinn, Sophie, and Waverly (props to all of you who recognize the last name as being from The Princess Bride book :)).

Their speculation for the most popular boy names in 2015: Aidan, Aldo, Anderson, Ansel, Asher, Beckett, Bennett, Carter, Cooper, Finnegan, Harper, Jackson, Johan, Keyon, Liam, Maximilian, McGregor, Oliver, Reagan, Sander, Sumner, and Will.

If you found this post interesting, you should check out the book as it has a lot more entertaining data!

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I just finished reading the new Harry Potter book (as if you really needed a link to find it). I’ve gotta say, this is one of the best in the series in my opinion. After reading this book, my list of favorites in the series looked something like this:

  1. Prisoner of Azkaban, Half-Blood Prince (tie)
  2. Goblet of Fire
  3. Sorcerer’s Stone, Order of the Phoenix (tie)
  4. Chamber of Secrets

One thing I like about this series is that it is obvious that Rowling had the entire story in her mind when she started writing the books, rather than just kind of making it up as she goes. For example, Chamber of Secrets didn’t seem that great when I first read it, but its importance has become obvious in later books in such a way that it had to have been planned in advance.

The Half-Blood Prince does a great job of combining mystery, battles of good and evil, and significant revelations.

OK, there spoilers galore are below the fold for those of you that haven’t read this far in the series (or have only watched the movies). If you’re reading this on an RSS feed, stop reading now if you don’t want to know the spoilers.

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