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I prefer you to read my blog through Findory.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Cell phone banking in South Africa

USATODAY.com - Africa's cell phone boom creates a base for low-cost banking:

Each account is linked to an ATM card — upgradable to a MasterCard debit card — that can be used nationwide, and that can be used to deposit and withdraw money. The founders also envision the creation of a network of traders who will be able to make transactions in remote areas.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hydrogen economy vs. peak oil

My post about peak oil made me think about our energetic future. Maybe it isn't so apocaliptic. Read these Wikipedia articles:

Update: Purdue University researchers say they've found a way to make hydrogen for fuel cells that could lead to self-charging batteries.


Does neuroscience refute ethics?

Fascinant article in Mises Institute, although I don't agree with its conclusions: Does Neuroscience Refute Ethics?:

moral dilemma: Should one smother a crying baby to death to protect the lives of many when enemy soldiers are approaching? Here they compared the activation patterns in the brains between those who approve (utilitarians) and those who do not (deontologists).

For those new to philosophical jargon, utilitarians believe that morality is a matter of promoting the greater good, while deontologists argue that there are absolute moral principles that can never be violated regardless of the consequences. Hence according to utilitarians, one should kill the baby to save everyone else, but according to deontologists, one should not, since murder is simply wrong.

Greene et al. observed greater activity in brain regions associated with emotion when subjects disapprove of baby killing in this case, and greater activity in brain regions associated with 'cognitive control' when utilitarian judgments prevail. Cognitive control processes, moreover, can work against the social-emotional response, resulting in more utilitarian judgments--greater tendency for baby smothering. In one brain region (right anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), activity increases for participants who made the utilitarian choice, but decreases for those who made the non-utilitarian judgment. Again, emotions drive individuals to reject choices that, while violating moral principles, result in more aggregate welfare.

The shock comes from the conclusion drawn by these authors: 'The social-emotional responses that we've inherited from our primate ancestors . . . undergird the absolute prohibitions that are central to deontology. In contrast, the 'moral calculus' that defines utilitarianism is made possible by more recently evolved structures in the frontal lobes that support abstract thinking and high-level cognitive control.' To put it bluntly, the old emotional brain represents the view of the deontologists, who believe in universal rules of morality, whereas the new rational brain embodies the utilitarian view.

[...]

Greene mentions with approval the fact that Peter Singer, the famed utilitarian professor, donates about 20% of his income to charity. But if we must act on utilitarian assumptions, why stop at modest contributions? Why only 20%, why not all? If we really must perform the moral calculus as the utilitarians urge us, the only rational thing to do is to donate everything we have and starve to death.

[...] it is often precisely the altruistic urges that are primitive, and drive the irrational behavior of so-called progressives. By contrast, universal principles derived from cultural selection avoid the individual bias that taints the utilitarian analysis. The instinctual altruism of doing visible good, for instance, is replaced by an impersonal system of coordinating resources, namely capitalism, which, not surprisingly, is the favorite target of those who can get no satisfaction of their primitive altruistic urges.

Maybe the answer is that we must be altruistic until reaching the Kaldor-Hicks efficiency, donating that money in the bank you don't need:

Under Pareto efficiency, an outcome is more efficient if at least one person is made better off and nobody is made worse off. This seems a reasonable way to determine whether an outcome is efficient or not but in practice, it is almost impossible to make any change without making at least one person worse off. Using Kaldor-Hicks efficiency, a more efficient outcome can leave some people worse off. Here, an outcome is more efficient if those that are made better off could in theory compensate those that are made worse off and lead to a Pareto optimal outcome.

Mmmm... but this apply when you are rich. What can you do now?

I think this is the best idea: Save 10% of what you earn for your future, for your retirement, for you, for being rich one day.

And also donate another 10% to charity.


About peak oil and the future of the cities

The Morning News - James Howard Kunstler, by Robert Birnbaum. There's so much in this interview that I don't know what to quote, so I quoted the intro:

A simple statement but a nightmarish one: we can no longer expect to have more energy, only remorselessly less energy. An intense chat with author James Howard Kunstler about the chaos that will rattle our society once the energy disaster takes hold.

India rebels making porn films

BBC NEWS: India rebels 'making porn films':

Rebels in India's north-eastern state of Tripura are making pornographic films to raise money for their separatist campaign

I would buy a porn film of Bin Laden... This world is going crazy.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bush Administration censores MTV ad

Censoring MTV...For its Politics:

The following PowerPoint illustrates an ad, (digitally rendered), one that puts into context the tragedy of 9-11 with real threats to humanity.  According to our source, the commercial ran once.  The Federal government intervened and pulled it off the air. The information in it is correct so the why is unknown. Repeated requests for information went unanswered.

No proof of Iran WMD

No Proof Found of Iran Arms Program:

Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.

Did de Bush Administration already know it, as with Irak WMD?


Anti-ageing gene

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Scientists probe anti-ageing gene:

Scientists in the United States have discovered a gene that can keep mice alive for 30% longer than normal.

Ajax Office

Paolo Massa Blog: Forecast: Ajax Office available in less than one year:

My little forecast: I think that in less than one year there will be a Suite Office usable "inside" your browser, entirely written in Javascript and , using the DOM model of XHTML.

UPDATE: AjaxOffice is now on sourceforge.

Say good bye to Microsoft Office hegemony.


Friday, August 26, 2005

1 billion urban squatters

Fascinating article in Reason magazine:

Since 1950 the population of the world has increased from 2.5 billion to 6.1 billion. Many of these newcomers earn less than $1 a day—far below the U.S. poverty standard—and live in sprawling megacities such as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in India, and Nairobi in Kenya. They are frequently beset by bad governments and corrupt officials. How do they survive?

Investigative reporter Robert Neuwirth gives the answer in his fascinating book Shadow Cities. About a fifth of Rio de Janeiro’s residents, half of Mumbai’s, and two-thirds of Nairobi’s live as urban squatters, a category that includes an estimated 1 billion people around the world.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

McDonald's sign

A very funny story.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Automatic door

we make money not art: Automatic door... Japan style:

The door is segmented into multiple strips and opens minimally according to the shape of the individual, animal or object that has to pass through.

Google to offer gratis wi-fi?

Business 2.0: Free Wi-Fi? Get Ready for GoogleNet.

launched a Google-sponsored Wi-Fi hotspot in San Francisco’s Union Square shopping district, built by a local startup called Feeva. Feeva is reportedly readying more free hotspots in California, Florida, New York, and Washington, and it's possible that Google may be involved. Feeva CEO Nitin Shah confirms that the company is working with Google

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Assurance contracts

Assurance contracts - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Assurance contracts operate as follows:

In a binding way, members of a group pledge to contribute to action A if at least N-1 other members also make the same pledge. If N members sign the pledge (perhaps by a certain expiration date), the action is taken. If the quorum is not reached, the parties are not obligated to carry through on the action.

The binding mechanism may be a contract enforced by a government, a contract enforced by a private organization (e.g. a mediator, a protection agency in an anarcho-capitalist society, etc.), an escrow organization (in such cases, the "binding contract" is "signed" by depositing funds in advance, which are later either disbursed according to the contract, or refunded), etc.

An interesting idea.

By the way, I'll be on vacation until Sunday the 21st. Don't expect any post before this date.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Zopa: P2P eBay-like free banking

Zopa is an online free banking site, that allows lenders and borrowers to meet.

Zopa though lets people who have spare money to lend it directly to people, like them, who want to borrow it. No bank in the middle, no huge overheads, no unethical investments.

Amazing. Isn't it?

Check also this article in The Register.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Google news feeds, at last

Google News Feeds.


Surveillance via Cellphone

Wired: When Cell Phones Become Oracles:

Eagle's Reality Mining project logged 350,000 hours of data over nine months about the location, proximity, activity and communication of volunteers, and was quickly able to guess whether two people were friends or just co-workers. [...]

Given enough data, Eagle's algorithms were able to predict what people -- especially professors and Media Lab employees -- would do next and be right up to 85 percent of the time.

Eagle used Bluetooth-enabled Nokia 6600 smartphones running custom programs that logged cell-tower information to record the phones' locations. Every five minutes, the phones also scanned the immediate vicinity for other participating phones. Using data gleaned from cell-phone towers and calling information, the system is able to predict, for example, whether someone will go out for the evening based on the volume of calls they made to friends.

(Via Thinking About Technology: Public Surveillance via Cellphone).


Laugh about the economy

This is the kind of post that make laugh, although I agree:

When should we start being really scared?

As an non-economist, when should we start being scared?

  1. We have a household savings rate of 0%.
  2. Huge deficits in both current account and government, to the tune of several hundred billion a year.
  3. A spookily-flat yield curve (my bank will loan me at <6% for 30 years, but will borrow from me at ~3.8% for just 9 months!), which says that some huge amount of long term money is amazingly optimistic.
  4. A real-estate market in areas that is so horribly bubbled that tax-adjusted interest, property tax, and HOA/maintinence is vastly more (30%+) than rent.
  5. and a government in total denial.
  6. When should us normals start being really, REALLY scared? As Kent Brockman asks on the Simpsons: "Is now the time to panic?"


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Geominder, GPS reminders on your cell phone

Geominder:

Geominder allows you to create location-based reminders that stay attached to physical locations.

What is the Semantic Web?

The Semantic Web is another concept related with my last post Explaining the meme: Web 2.0.

using the descriptive technologies RDF and OWL, and the data-centric, customizable markup language XML. These technologies are combined in order to provide descriptions that supplement or replace the content of Web documents. Thus, content may manifest as descriptive data stored in Web-accessible databases, or as markup within documents (particularly, in XHTML interspersed with XML, or, more often, purely in XML, with layout/rendering cues stored separately). The machine-readable descriptions allow content managers to add meaning to the content, thereby facilitating automated information gathering and research by computers.

Explaining the meme: Web 2.0

Web 2.0 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The original conception of the web (in this context, labelled Web 1.0) comprised static HTML pages that were updated rarely, if at all. The success of the dot-com era depended on a more dynamic web (sometimes labeled Web 1.5) where content management systems served dynamic HTML web pages created on the fly from an ever-changing content database. In both senses, so-called eyeballing was considered intrinsic to the web experience, thus making page hits and visual aesthetics important factors.

Proponents of the Web 2.0 approach believe that web usage is increasingly oriented toward interaction and rudimentary social networks, which can serve content that exploits network effects with or without creating a visual, interactive web page. In one view, Web 2.0 sites act more as points of presence, or user-dependent web portals, than as traditional websites.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Cyclos software for LETS systems

From Cyclos project site:

Cyclos is a new software for community currency systems and barter systems. It is sort of a combination between ebay and an online bank, but then applied to your own local self-made currency. Your members can see what anyone has to offer to the system, can manage their own advertizings, and can do payments in your own alternative currency.

Skype WiFi phone

In Share Skype:

it’s a piece of hardware that you can use to make Skype calls on a WiFi network without needing to use a computer.

(Via David T).


Social networks and drug networks

Many-to-Many: social networks and drug networks:

When it was reported that Orkut is being used as a drug networking tool in Brazil, my immediate response was duh.

[...]

Give people the ability to distribute information and they will distribute drugs. Tis just as obvious as if you give people access to attractive people, they will date.


Researchers Create Radio Controlled Humans

Slashdot | Researchers Create Radio Controlled Humans:

NTT researchers debuted a device designed to exploit the effects of Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation. As the story explains, when a weak electrical pulse is delivered to the mastoid behind your ear, your body responds by shifting your balance towards it. If the current is strong enough, it not only throws you off balance, but alters the course of your movement.

Why the banking system is a fraud

From Porcupine blog:

When you go to a bank and borrow money you probably think the bank loans you the money out of its deposits. This may have been the situation originally, but this is certainly not the case today. Banks are allowed, by governments, to loan 15- 17 times the amount they hold as deposits. "Credit that can be accessed by credit card, overdraft cheque or bank loan represents nothing more than a bank's promise to pay. Credit money exists only as numbers in bank computers…When someone borrows from a bank, perhaps taking out a housing loan, the bank records in the borrower's account the debt that must be repaid with interest, and in return provides a bank cheque to the borrower or direct to whoever he is purchasing the house from. The bank cheque is bank created credit, not backed up by the bank's own money nor anyone else's" Deposits consist not just of coins and bills, as you might think, but also the credit of previous loans. Thus "banks are able to build a mountain of credit based on earlier credit until it amounts to 95% of all money"

From Monetary Evolution:

Each year the total stock of money in most countries increases. In the UK (similar figures apply worldwide) 4% of new money is printed as new cash by the government. The remaining 96% of new money is created by privately owned banks as interest bearing loans to individuals, businesses and the government.

And it has negative effects: inflation, rat-race between businesses, higher taxes and loan discrimination in favor of large corporations (what concentrates production and increase pollution because goods must travel further in order to reach the consumer).

Now let's see how banks create money for national debts:

A country's national debt is completely separate from, and additional to, the level of private and commercial debt directly associated with the money supply. The United Kingdom national debt in 1998 stands at approximately £380 billion. If the private and commercial debt of £780 billion and the national debt are added together, the total indebtedness associated with the UK financial system stands at some £1160 billion, which dwarfs the total money stock of £640 billion! How did this condition of overall negative equity come about? This excessive indebtedness -- which is a blatant misrepresentation of the real state of economic wealth enjoyed by the nation -- is a position shared by all the developed nations.

The national debt is actually composed of thousands of pieces of paper called stocks, bonds and treasury bills. These stocks and bills, known as gilt-edged securities, or gilts, are essentially elaborate forms of government IOU. These IOUs are issued because each year the government fails to collect enough in taxes to cover the costs of its public services and other spending -- and it borrows money to cover this shortfall. [...]

But governments are unable to pay this money owing on their past stock issues. [...] What happens is that the government obtains the money to meet the payments due on maturing national debt stocks by selling more government stock to the financial institutions -- promising even more money in the future.

So, how developed countries lend money to empoverished countries?:

The answer is that they do not. The money advanced to Third World nations is not money loaned from the wealthy nations. These sums consist almost entirely of monies that have been created, via the commercial banking mechanism, specifically for the purpose of the loan concerned. In other words, the same debt-based, banking process used to supply money to national economies is also employed for the creation and supply of funds to debtor nations.

Thus, these monies are not owed by debtor countries to the developed nations, but to private, commercial banks.


Ripple: P2P money

Ripple is a

[d]ecentralized peer-to-peer IOU payment through chains of trusted intermediaries in existing social networks. Social capital as currency. Specification and a Java servlets implementation of a simple, generalized monetary framework using XML over HTTP.

An example:

Suppose Alice and Bob grant each other $100 credit on the Ripple network, and Bob and Carol do the same. Now suppose that Alice wants to buy a $10 item from Carol, whom she doesn't even know. Ripple finds that Bob is a one-link chain connecting Alice and Carol. Alice pays Bob by passing him a $10 IOU, and then Bob passes Carol his own $10 IOU (not Alice's). In the end, Carol is owed $10 not by Alice, whom she doesn't know or trust, but by Bob, whom she trusts enough to loan up to $100. This is fine with Bob, since he knows the IOU he has from Alice balances what he now owes Carol.

How does this so-called "payment" do Carol any good? Suppose she wants to buy something for $5 from Dan, a complete stranger to her, but a friend to Alice. Ripple will find the connection through Bob and Alice, and then she will pay Bob by cancelling $5 of his $10 debt. Bob will pay Alice by cancelling $5 from her debt, and Alice will pay Dan by passing him a $5 IOU. After all that, Alice owes $5 Dan and $5 to Bob, who owes $5 to Carol.

What does this change?:

The economic prescriptions and principles that work for industrialized countries and even for the capital cities of developing nations break down when it comes to bringing prosperity to an area with no infrastructure and a hungry population. The usual prescription is the stimulation of SME - Small and Medium-sized Enterprise - activity, but the bottleneck is credit availability.

Let's speculate for a moment. Would it be possible to bypass that financing bottleneck and activate productive local exchange by creating an independent local currency and payment system that does not depend on any outside "credit"?

And that is exactly what Ripple does.

(Via this article in the Mutualist Blog).


Citizen's dividend

This article in Wikipedia explains a very good idea if you used with the Land Value Tax:

Citizen's dividend is a proposed state policy based upon the principle that the natural world is the common property of all persons [...]. It is proposed that all citizens receive regular payments (dividends) from revenue raised by the state through leasing or selling natural resources for private use. [...]

This concept is similar to basic income, except that the Citizen's Dividend depends upon the value of natural resources.

Alaska hosts a Citizen's Dividend paid by the Alaska Permanent Fund, which holds investments made with some of the state's revenue from mineral resources, particularly petroleum. In the year 2003, every Alaskan citizen received a check for $1,107.56,


Wealth Concentrations in Free Market Anarchy

Good article of Kevin Carson in Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism: Wealth Concentrations in Free Market Anarchy.


What Business Can Learn from Open Source

Paul Graham: What Business Can Learn from Open Source:

I see the disadvantages of the employer-employee relationship because I've been on both sides of a better one: the investor-founder relationship. [...]

The big advantage of investment over employment, as the examples of open source and blogging suggest, is that people working on projects of their own are enormously more productive. And a startup is a project of one's own in two senses, both of them important: it's creatively one's own, and also economically ones's own.


Temporary Autonomous Zone

Interesting article in Wikipedia: Temporary Autonomous Zone:

The Temporary Autonomous Zone is Hakim Bey's most famous work. It describes the political tactic of creating temporary space that eludes formal structures of control. The essay uses various historical and philosophical examples, all leading to the conclusion that the best way to create a non-hierarchial system of social relationships is to concentrate on the present.

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