Archive for the 'World' Category

30
Mar
10

The Man with the Biggest Fiber (Network) Still Wins

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. And the Corporate Wolves are loving it.

Now, don’t mistake me for a left-wing, socialist hippie. I’m just a blue-collar person tired of paying more than the Frogs for necessary services. Yes, the internet is necessary.

In a time (and a country) where democracy is touted as the best form of government in the world, you’d think that the internet, the most democratic innovation of the 21st century, would be equally accessible to all. Unfortunately it’s not, and as is evidenced by my own deathly slow DSL connection and my increasing dependence on the free wireless at the local library, the best internet access remains inaccessible to a large number of people.

Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon are the only companies large enough to be able to afford the expense of extending high-speed fiber to homes across the U.S., and the lack of competition allows them to get their money’s worth. (For more information on this instance of the failure of capitalism, see Professor Yochai Benkler’s op-ed.) Everyone knows that cable and internet bills are extremely expensive, and I did the comparison- it would cost me more than my health insurance to get connected every month. Which is why I was excited to hear that Google has it in the works to experimentally provide broadband service to at least 50,000 (and possibly up to 500,000) homes.

Google is the only company with enough resources to even begin to make a mark in the market, and if they wanted to take their initiative even further, they could take a page from the European playbook and share the cost of laying new fiber with future competitors, which would allow them to reach an even larger audience. Their Android platform is already doing a good job of giving the iPhone a run for its money (don’t worry, I’m still a Mac person), and I hope for all our sakes that they can get this new project off the ground and to a level where even I can reap the benefits.

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09
Jan
09

The “No Unicorns” Religion

I really want to write about the New York Times article I just read on the atheist bus movement in London and now around the world.  I’ve been trying to think of something clever to say about it, like using the evidence of their organization around one man, Richard Dawkins (pastor?  prophet?), as proof that there is an Atheist religion.  But the first hit off my Google search for “atheist religion” led me to some British atheist’s blog and his very persuasive argument against the possibility of an atheist religion.  Apparently that would be akin to saying that if I don’t believe in unicorns, I must belong to the “No unicorns” religion.  Touche, Mr. Barnett.  I will forgo all attempts to accuse you of being religious.

I could talk instead about how the advertisements that these atheist groups are running in London self-defeatingly proclaim “There’s probably no god.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” rather than saying “There is no god” (emphases mine).  Dawkins, of course, would rather have it say the latter, but – and I’m not sure if I buy this – apparently advertisement regulations prohibit the ads from saying that there absolutely is no god, hence the “probably”.  Here’s something I can pick on.  Why bother selling a product that you can’t promise will work?  Pascal once made an argument for people like that  – commonly called agnostics (or, according to my philosophy professor, cautious atheists) – and its called Pascal’s Wager.  Wikipedia link here.  Pascal makes a reasonable argument for belief in God based on probability, essentially saying that no matter how improbable it is that God exists, it is still more rational to wager that God exists.  I’m sure the theologically-inclined could take issue with some of the suggestions implicit in the Wager, but the point is still made.  Nevertheless, I admire Richard Dawkins and company for standing up for their beliefs and attempting to stick it to the Man.  Or His shadow, anyway, since in their book the Man probably doesn’t exist.  Nor unicorns, for that matter.

07
Jan
09

Washington’s Bookie

Dice

Nowadays, the key to popularity in the media is to make strong, incendiary statements which generate raving support from one side and are either dismissed or viciously countered by the other side.  This is most true on the internet, where opinions seem to change even faster than the news and are supported by any number of different sources.  By being carefully discerning, one can read political commentary the reinforces all their previously held beliefs without subjecting themselves to any differing opinions.

This is especially true in the blogosphere.  Sites like HuffingtonPost.com, FreeRepublic.com, and NewsBusters.org thrive on loads of selectively biased contributors and readers to increase their web traffic.  Everyone is surrounded by those who share the same opinions and neither side is interested in reading what the other side has written.  As a result, political discourse in this country is at its most intense and its most immature.

Enter RealClearPolitics.com and, my personal favorite, FiveThirtyEight.com.  RCP is the behemoth in indepedent politics.  Its primary focus is on poll aggregation, thus giving a quantitative assessment of the most current American opinions.  It also provides its own content and links to posts from a variety of different political blogs.

FiveThirtyEight.com (the name comes from the number of eleectoral votes in Washington) also focuses on aggregate polling, but it strips away all the fat.  The site was founded in March 2008 by Nate Silver, a sabermetrician-turned-political-analyst.  Silver uses his statistical expertise culled from his experience as a baseball statistician and applies it to the political sphere.  Based on current polling data, he runs thousands of simulations to determine the probabilities of various outcomes.  In the recent presidential election, for example, Silver posted figures for the likelihood of Obama being elected, the Democrats winning a super-majority in the Senate, Obama being able to win the election if he lost key swing states, etc.

Silver, along with his blog partner Sean Quinn, regularly contributes posts outlining his methodology and keeps the political commentary to a minimum.  This approach mirrors PECOTA, a statistical algorithm developed by Silver that assigns an aggregate value to baseball players based on their stats.  While others might describe a player as having a great arm, a good eye at the plate, and an intrinsic leadership ability, Silver just sees the numbers.  Likewise, while others may talk about a candidate’s charisma and pedigree, Silver talks numbers.  If you’re in any way interested in quantitative analysis, FiveThirtyEight.com is a must-read site.




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