How I'm Voting, and Why

Written: 05 Jun 2009 13:59 (politics)

This Sunday Belgians vote for local, regional, and European Union representatives. I'm going to vote for the party that I consider to be the most pro-business, pro-market, pro-competition. That is, the Greens. Here's why.

As a young man I voted for the Greens because they represented the vision of a clean Earth where people worked harder and consumed less. The Green movement was always a strange mix of hippy idealism and hard-nosed pragmatism. Consuming less, and living smarter: not options in a world with limited resources.

But that's not why I'm voting Green tomorrow. The main reason is that since 1999, the Green parties of Europe have consistently been the strongest voice in the European Parliament fighting for what I consider to be an ultra-capitalist vision of pure and real competition unfettered by cartels, monopolies, and political cronyism. When it comes to software patents, criminalisation of copyright law, retention of communications data, and the sharing of software developed with public funds, the European Green parties have consistently taken a consistent pro-market line, uninfluenced by lobbyists. Prominent leaders such as Eva Lichtengerber have hammered home the message: Europe depends on its diverse economy of small, innovative firms. The patent system, especially, is the corrupt tool of egomaniac politicians, monopolists like IBM and Microsoft, self-interested bureaucrats, and cynical speculators. It preys on the economic majority of creative SMEs, and taxes the consumer with fraudulent fees extorted through artificial monopolies.

While the other main parties seem unable to snap out of their wide-eyed love of industrial giants, the Greens have correctly understood that the role of the European Parliament is not to rubber-stamp texts written by industry and polished by the Commission. Government does not serve just industry, it serves everyone, and big industry is small, stupid, greedy, and ultimately wasteful part of the whole.

Thank you, Eva, for all the fights you started and finished in Brussels, on behalf of people like me, who ask nothing except the freedom to create. Tomorrow you get my vote, again.

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IPv6

Written: 20 May 2009 12:21 (ipv6 piracy progress)

A prediction of how and when IPv6 will become widely used.

This is what I predict will drive IPv6: the desire by the "criminal majority" to create invisible and untraceable file sharing networks. Efforts to fight copyright infringers depend on the IP address of the person sharing (uploading) files. IPv4 addresses are limited, and easy to trace to at least an ISP, if not an end user. This lets the content industry push for "3-strikes" legislation, as they are doing around the world.

As in any arms race, it's not over just because one side scores a hit, and history tells us that the content industry is typically responsible for technological innovation, through their clumsy lobbying efforts to regulate the Internet into behavior that would protect their distribution channels.

So the question is not whether the file sharers will discover ways to continue their illicit fun and games, but how.

And the answer is, IMO, encrypted Tor networks that emulate IPv6 networks, running over a physical IPv4 network. The real world won't go to IPv4 for a long time, the inertia is almost unmoveable. But emulation is an easy way to run a second real world inside the real real one. So IPv6 will be emulated, and will be pushed by brilliant minds who seriously just want to be able to download the latest episode of Lost.

And thus my prediction: IPv6 will struggle to make any inroads into the Internet as we know it today but it will get into software stacks, into Linux, into browsers, and eventually into network fabric, through the file sharing community and through the actions of the content industry.

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Communications

Written: 17 May 2009 21:00 (facebook pink)

Cleaning out an old notebook, I found this article that I wrote in 1999. Surprisingly, it still makes sense, so here, saved from the Delete button of history, is an analysis of Communications, and kind of a prediction of Facebook and Twitter.

Introduction

Collaboration and innovation stem from cheap communications but not all communication platforms are equal. As a manager I often see people struggle with inefficient or inappropriate communication platforms, and I direct them to use more effective platform, usually with good results.

The following section is my own analysis of what the differences are between various communications media, or "platforms", and what impact these differences have on groups. As far as I know this is the first attempt to analyse communications in this way, surprising since it is one of the essentials of our technological society, along with fire, pizza, and fermented starches served by wenches.

Communication Platforms

Let's look at the most commonly used platforms:

  • Face-to-face: the most ancient platform, the basis for Greek democracy and when followed by the appropriate shared dinner, evening at the theatre or moving picture, and glass of red Bordeaux at a quite place around the corner, the continuation of our species.
  • Written paper: though stone and baked clay could survive going through the washing machine, flattened papyrus stems were more portable, cheaper and ultimately the basis of organised religion, the modern state, and TV guides.
  • Telephone: invented by Graham Bell in order to call his mistress, the concept of two cans separated by a very long cat rapidly caught the public imagination, especially when combined with a low, low monthly connection fee and easy-to-pay rate schedule. These days, phones are by definition mobile (at least in my study).
  • Fax: invented by the Japanese in the 1970's so they could send pictures of Godzilla more efficiently, fax rapidly took over the business world because email had not yet been invented. Today fax is mainly used by producers of ink cartridges to promote the sales of ink cartridges for fax machines.
  • Chat: the Internet version of the telephone, chat has morphed from many forms, including IRC, which was a significant improvement on all its successors. Internet chat is successful because on the Net, any dog can look like a thirteen year old girl.
  • Web pages: the Internet version of the papyrus leaf, taking about the same amount of effort to hammer into usable material. The original web site was built for nuclear research but within 24 hours had been defaced by h4ck0rz who loaded it with porn and made $150,250 before the nuclear scientists took control again, and invented the password.
  • Electronic documents, which range from simple text files to the elegant suit-and-tie called PDF. PDF is the only popular communication platform that was invented, and more importantly, not royaly screwed up in version 2.0, by a corporation. Graham Bell and his mistress do not count as a corporation.
  • Email: still, after all these years, the most popular way to send electronic mail. Email has had many incarnations, from evil Unixy command-line mailers that asked, "Delete all email" on quitting, to point-and-drool web mailers that brought email and advance-fee fraudsters to the masses. Hotmail has paid for several nice villas along the beach of Lagos Island.
  • SMS: we never knew that a few lines of text stuffed into the tail end of mobile phone data packets could become such a huge business. SMS produces half of mobile phone companies profits and two thirds of all family disputes when daddy sees the phone bill.
  • Mobile mail: SMS chat for adults, epitomised by the Blackberry. Mobile mail combines the advantages of email with the portability of SMS plus full tax deductability as an essential business expense.
  • Wiki, the hippie mutant offspring of web pages and web-based email. Someone said, "if we let anyone edit this page, can it be any worse than the web currently is?" and the surprising answer was, "no". Wiki sites are rarely beautiful, but prove the dictum that "many eyes make any problem shallow".

When we communicate, we have different, and sometimes conflicting needs:

  • The cost of accessing the platform (which I'll call "accessibility").
  • The cost of making a single statement ("unit cost").
  • The informality of a statement ("informality").
  • The lack of skill needed to use the medium ("simplicity").
  • The speed of receiving and responding to a statement ("latency").
  • The number of people we can reach at once at reasonable cost ("fanout").
  • The reliability of the medium against tampering ("security").
  • The likelyhood that our words can be used against us ("transience").
  • The ease of storing and searching a dialogue ("archivability").
  • The time we can take to respond to a statement ("escapability").
  • The freedom we have to pretend we lost a message ("deniability").
  • The freedom we have to hide our identity ("anonymity").
  • The bandwidth with respect to non-verbal communications ("emotiveness").
  • The ability to carry the platform with us ("portability").

Let's see how each of our listed communications platforms scores on these criteria, and let's score each platform from 1 to 5, where 1 is the least useful or desirable, and 5 is the most. We assume that the goal is to communicate with as many people as possible, as cheaply as possible:

.             | F2f Paper Phone Fax Chat Web Etext Email Sms Mtext Wiki
--------------+--------------------------------------------------------
Accessibility |  1    2    5    4    4    5    3    4    5    3    5
Unit cost     |  5    2    4    3    5    2    4    5    3    5    4
Informality   |  5    1    5    2    5    2    2    3    5    4    3
Simplicity    |  5    3    4    2    3    1    1    3    5    3    3
Latency       |  5    1    5    3    5    1    2    4    5    5    3
Fanout        |  3    3    1    3    1    5    5    4    1    5    5
Security      |  5    4    5    3    5    2    1    3    5    4    1
Transience    |  5    1    5    2    4    1    1    2    4    2    2
Archivability |  1    2    1    2    2    5    5    5    1    5    5
Escapability  |  1    5    2    5    4    5    5    4    1    3    5
Deniability   |  1    5    2    3    3    1    3    2    1    2    3
Anonymity     |  1    3    3    2    5    3    4    3    1    2    4
Emotiveness   |  5    1    4    1    3    1    1    2    1    2    1
Portability   |  5    1    4    1    3    1    1    2    5    5    1
--------------+--------------------------------------------------------
Total         | 48   38   51   36   50   35   38   45   43   50   45

We can see that the highest-ranking platforms, in my completely unscientific study are: phone (51 out of a possible 70), chat (50), and mobile text (50 as well). No single product does everything well, and people need to mix and match platforms to get some sanity into their world.

We can also see how different platforms suit different types of discussion. For example if we are negotiating a contract with a hostile or at least untrusted partner, we need high transience and deniability, so that we can negotiate freely, and touchy-feely so that we can use psychology and empathy, but when it comes to getting a real promise we need low deniability and high escapability. So, we need to meet face to face and get the words down on paper.

Take another instance, problem solving. This needs emotiveness, low unit cost, high latency, informality. Nothing else counts. The ideal platforms are thus chat, phone, and face to face. Don't try to solve problems by exchanging PDFs. It will not work, as the Napoleonic court system of written argumentation demonstrates painfully.

You'd think this was obvious, but people still try to use verbal contracts, or negotiate subtle arrangements by email. There are good reasons these don't work, not because people are stupid or liars (it is a temptingly accurate but still not sufficient explanation), but because the communications platforms are just not the right ones to get around the stupidity and dishonesty that is a vital part of every statement we ever make (especially when we think we are being clever and honest).

Don't take my figures too seriously - for one thing, there are many criteria that I've forgotten or ignored. For example - don't laugh - the ability to choose an item in accessorisable colours is a huge selling point for half the consuming public. For teenagers with no fixed place of work (and in most countries, no job), criteria such as portability totally outweigh any others, so a platform like SMS scores relatively low because we are generalising to an entire population. Ironically, those with the greatest need for mobile products are those with the least money.

Messing it Up

Surprisingly, people are often remarkably slow to use the "right" way of communicating. One of my great frustrations when I help a team to work together is to see people stubbornly trying to conduct meetings or solve problems or design specifications by email. (The right platforms would be face-to-face or chat, chat or face-to-face or phone, and paper or web). Don't get me started on phone conferences…

There are two main reasons people don't use the right platform in every situation:

  1. The "hammer" syndrome. When you know and like one platform you try to use it everywhere. Despite what you see in the movies, email does not work as a tool for seduction, unless you have William Sheakspeare's writing skills.
  2. The cost of alternatives. It is easy to say, "let's meet" but when the other party is in Los Angeles, and you are at number thirteen Oxford Street, London WC 1, it's not so easy.

Social Economics

Many people do not realise that humans organise themselves into structures that are predictable, highly formalised, negotiated, and ultimately defined by behavioural patterns that are embedded in our genetic code.

Whole political religions have been based on ignoring this fact, and worse, on trying to put people into structures that we can honestly call "unnatural". In the worse cases, the attempt to re-educate people into artificial organisational structures has resulted in famine, genocide, and destruction of entire swathes of societies.

People organise into structures that are driven by some basic economic principles:

  1. All wealth is created by specialisation and by trade between groups that have specialised in their particular areas.
  2. Trade is the exchange of goods, services, information, or knowledge, and wealth is the accumulation of goods, credit, information, or knowledge.
  3. The scope of trade is defined by available transports: sea, rail, road for material goods; communications platforms for information and knowledge.
  4. Fair trade requires accounting, rules, and a neutral but strong authority to impose these.
  5. Trade creates changes in wealth distribution that act to mix society.

The flux of families, towns, regions, and societies is driven by these factors, in cycles that are entirely chaotic, in the mathematical sense of the word. If we want to understand human history we can add two more principles:

  1. Over time, authority always becomes corrupt so that a society must revolt, stagnate and die, or go to war.
  2. Human activity eventually exhausts resources (water, trees, fish, minerals) so that a society must adapt, move, or collapse.

To a large extent the human mind has evolved a set of tools that are capable of creating very large organisational machines through the dual processes of specialisation and trade. To a large extent these machines are competitive, collaborative, destructive, aggressive, and in many cases, downright insane. But it's a great party.

Pink Fax Machines

The original and most striking specialisation in the human genome is the ancient split into female and male. Anyone who honestly claims that men and women are the same, bar the pressures and lessons of society, should re-read my sentence on stupidity and dishonesty. Equality is one thing we all should fight for but difference is what makes us successful, and interesting.

Understand the way we think, as men and as women, as young and old, and you understand the reason different people prefer different types of communications.

Let's look at some basic differences. These apply generally, not universally:

  • Men prefer to command, to speak to many at once, to be anonymous and talk to strangers. Men generally use emotions less than women but are happier to travel to distant places and learn new technology in order to communicate.
  • Women prefer to discuss and exchange information, to speak to other woman individually, and to know exactly who they are speaking to. Women do not like to learn new technology unless it's obviously useful.

Looking at the criteria for communications platforms, we can group criteria into those that are generally more important for women, those that are generally more important for men, and those we can safely assume are valuable to both genders:

  • Accessibility, informality, simplicity, security, transience, and emotiveness are more important for women.
  • Fanout, achivability, escapability, deniability, and anonymity are more important to men.

Unit cost, latency and portability are important to everyone, so we can take our criteria and remove those that are not important, giving us a gender-biased calculation of "favourite platform".

For men, we get this table:

.             | F2f Paper Phone Fax Chat Web Etext Email Sms Mtext Wiki
--------------+--------------------------------------------------------
Accessibility |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Unit cost     |  5    2    4    3    5    2    4    5    3    5    4
Informality   |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Simplicity    |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Latency       |  5    1    5    3    5    1    2    4    5    5    3
Fanout        |  3    3    1    3    1    5    5    4    1    5    5
Security      |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Transience    |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Archivability |  1    2    1    2    2    5    5    5    1    5    5
Escapability  |  1    5    2    5    4    5    5    4    1    3    5
Deniability   |  1    5    2    3    3    1    3    2    1    2    3
Anonymity     |  1    3    3    2    5    3    4    3    1    2    4
Emotiveness   |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Portability   |  5    5    5    1    1    1    1    1    5    5    1
--------------+--------------------------------------------------------
                22   26   23   22   26   23   29   28   18   32   30

And for women, we get this table:

.             | F2f Paper Phone Fax Chat Web Etext Email Sms Mtext Wiki
--------------+--------------------------------------------------------
Accessibility |  1    2    5    4    4    5    3    4    5    3    5
Unit cost     |  5    2    4    3    5    2    4    5    3    5    4
Informality   |  5    1    5    2    5    2    2    3    5    4    3
Simplicity    |  5    3    4    2    3    1    1    3    5    3    3
Latency       |  5    1    5    3    5    1    2    4    5    5    3
Fanout        |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Security      |  5    4    5    3    5    2    1    3    5    4    1
Transience    |  5    1    5    2    4    1    1    2    4    2    2
Archivability |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Escapability  |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Deniability   |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Anonymity     |  0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0
Emotiveness   |  5    1    4    1    3    1    1    2    1    2    1
Portability   |  5    5    5    1    1    1    1    1    5    5    1
--------------+--------------------------------------------------------
                41   20   42   21   35   16   16   27   38   33   23

So, I conclude that men will prefer mobile text, wikis, and electronic texts above all, while women will prefer phone, face-to-face, and SMS.

Again, don't take my opinions too seriously (I certainly don't). It's just one way of looking at things, and my real point is to demonstrate that platforms are different, for predictable reasons, and these reasons are useful to try to understand when we choose platforms for our own work or for others' work.

Let's get back to organisation. Men and women communicate differently, as we all know, and organise differently. It's not accidental that women have trouble in business structures since these generally use male communication techniques, except for meetings, which most men hate but many women enjoy.

The size of an organisational structure, and its dynamics, depends entirely on the mix of communications platforms that are available to its members.

It thus follows that the most effective organisation is the one with the most accessible and complete mix of communications platforms, so that its members can collaborate in whatever way produces the most specialisation, the most efficient communication, and thus the most wealth.

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