catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for November 2006

IR protest – half full or half empty?

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Interesting differences in the perception of the crowd at the MCG to protest Workchoices.

Comedian Corinne Grant told the crowd, which half-filled the stadium, that the struggle against the Federal Government’s new IR laws was “one of the biggest fights we have seen in our lives”. [well she makes a living out of telling jokes].

The ACTU said 60,000 people attended the gathering at the MCG, but police put the crowd at 40,000.

Andrew Norton is not impressed.

The irony is that, even with the lower than expectations turnout for the union IR rally, it has probably done workers’ interests more damage in one day than WorkChoices has in the eight months since it came into force. Many will have lost pay, given up annual leave, or been inconvienced by the the traffic chaos the protests caused.

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November 30, 2006 at 11:45 pm

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What's your poison?

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Yobbo has a nice post on the health nazis taking aim at their latest target – caffeine and energy drinks. The bit he quotes is a killer (pun intended). So in the spirit of defiance – what’s your poison?

Happy to name mine –

I don’t drink alcohol regularly but when I do, I do drink a lot. Red wine is definitely my poison, but so is scotch and vodka (straight, none of this candied water nonsense).
Black coffee with two sugars – I have one cup 1-2 times a day, definitely my first drink the moment I wake up, maybe a third if I need to pull a late nighter for work.
Fast food – proper greasy hamburgers with everything (bacon, beef patty, fried egg), not the kiddy sized McDonalds ones.

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November 30, 2006 at 10:09 pm

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Password problems

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It has just come to my attention that there are new people registering to comment on Catallaxy who never get their passwords. I don’t know what’s causing the problem but if there is anyone left who falls into this category, email me at catallaxy AT yahoo DOT com and I’ll assign you a new password through email.

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November 30, 2006 at 8:46 pm

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Net Neutrality – YouTube's "day of reckoning"?

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Note: These are my personal views/opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

One of the first posts after the most recent reincarnation of Catallaxy, was a post by Kodjo on net neutrality. As this is a pretty hot telco topic in the US, I thought I’d post a pointer to a recent speech on net neutrality by the head of Telstra’s BigPond business unit – Justin Milne.

In his speech, Milne argues that a day of reckoning is coming for companies like YouTube, MySpace and Skype, where the access providers will try to put an end to what they perceive as the free ride being enjoyed by the content providers. At the same time, access providers will also be driven to QoS and traffic prioritisation by the need to preserve quality in the new range of emerging services such as IPTV and VoIP.

For example, if I have a 10 Mbps pipe – I will use technology to partition 6 Mbps of that pipe to preserve it for video packets and then I will have 2 Mbps for Voice over IP packets and 2 Mbps for ordinary internet surfing and email packets. IPTV needs that because, without it, if you are watching a program and your children get on Voice Over IP, your screen will go black. People don’t like TV with black holes in it. Therefore I have to partition this bandwidth to ensure video packets are prioritised.

Milne’s speech was strongly criticised by Internode CEO, Simon Hackett who claimed that BigPond has “lost the plot” – misunderstood the Australian market or miscalculated its business model, because the US and Australian Internet markets are quite different.

I’m going to assume Hackett made his comments based on the media reporting of Milne’s speech (such as this), rather than the original speech, which may not have been online at the time. I say this because reading Milne’s speech in its entirety it seems clear to me that Milne is predominantly talking about the US situation – and clearly points out how the differences in the US and Australian markets give rise to a different debate here.

In the US, as indeed in Europe and Asia, the tradition has been for truly unlimited plans: Pay $29.95 – give us a hiding… The urgency of the Net Neutrality debate is less so for us in Australia because we’ve always had volumetric pricing. All Australian ISPs have always had to pay data transmission costs for about 70% of their traffic, which comes from overseas. These days about 50% of traffic that traverses Australian networks comes via a cable link from the US. Because our ISPs grew up having to ‘pay the freight’ they built that cost into their business models. In the US, however, the traffic was essentially domestic and they didn’t have to pay transmission costs to anybody else. Now what is emerging is a kind of ‘pay the piper’ thing.

What this highlights for me is that there is an alternative in the US to access providers charging for preferential treatment of certain traffic. i.e. a possible way to maintain net neutrality. It’s an alternative however that may be even more unpalatable to the mass of US consumers than giving up net neutrality. That alternative is to introduce usage based charging of end users.

I’ll wrap up here and open it up to the floor for comments.

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November 30, 2006 at 6:27 pm

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Romney's brains trust

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According to this report, Republican Mass. Governor Mitt Romney has already put together a quite impressive economics brains trust consisting of Glenn Hubbard and libertarian-leaning econoblogger Greg Mankiw for his Presidential run:

    R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and N. Gregory Mankiw, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, have agreed to join Romney’s political action committee, committee spokesman Jared Young said yesterday. Hubbard and Mankiw will play key roles in the governor’s presidential campaign if he decides to run — a decision that is widely presumed …
    Hubbard chaired Bush’s economic council from 2001 to 2003 and was succeeded by Mankiw, who served until 2005. Mankiw stirred up a controversy for the president in 2004 when he said the outsourcing of jobs was “probably a plus” for the U.S. economy in the long run. Many economists agreed with that view, but the comment revealed Mankiw’s lack of political instincts.
    Hubbard said he was attracted to Romney as someone who believes in modest government and who tries to use government to solve problems in a businesslike way. “Given the problems we have, having somebody with a strong business background and a good worldview on the economy is a good thing,” he said

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November 30, 2006 at 9:32 am

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Midweek YouTube

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And now for something a little different. I haven’t YouTubed any classical music so far. That’s because I have much narrower tastes in classical music, basically restricted to a handful of composers. And on a fundamental level it doesn’t move me as much.

This isn’t true of Bach, the one composer I keep returning to. Maybe because I think he would be playing jazz if he were alive today, and if he came across the claptrap that passes for a lot of contemporary musical composition. And he was known to be a great improviser in his day, if this wasn’t already evident from the superhuman speeds at which he was able to rise to musical challenges (e.g. his ‘Musical offering’ in response to Frederick the Great’s challenge -see Evening in the palace of Reason). Not surprisingly a lot of jazz musicians have affinity for his work. The much underrated (in my view) Modern Jazz Quartet incorporated a lot of Bach allusions and variations into their work. Keith Jarrett has tried his more than able hands at the Goldberg Variations. And how many other composers get written about in a book that is mostly about Artificial Intelligence?

Below the fold, my favourite interpreter of Bach, Glenn Gould who is himself quite a character and one of the most enigmatic figures in classical music, plays the Goldberg Variations Aria and vars. 1-7 (incidentally both Glenn Gould and Keith Jarrett are incessant hummers and have other performance eccentricities though this doesn’t bother me in the least). As you will see, his enthusiasm with the music is quite infectious. Don’t expect a staid concert hall recording (though this version is slower than the famous one he recorded when he was much younger).
Read the rest of this entry »

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November 30, 2006 at 12:26 am

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The new glass bead game?

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An interesting review of two recent books critical of ‘string theory’ – ‘The trouble with physics’ and ‘Not even wrong’ for amateur enthusiasts of science:

    Aficionados claim that string theory provides the foundation for a “theory of everything”—a harmonious unification of all of fundamental physics. To the contrary, declare Lee Smolin, a physicist at Canada’s Perimeter Institute, and Peter Woit, a mathematician at Columbia University, string theory has thus far explained exactly nothing.
    The essence of string theory is a literal assertion: Elementary ­particles—­electrons, photons, quarks, and their numerous ­cousins—­are not ­point­like objects but “strings” of energy forming tiny, wiggly loops. If a stringy loop vibrates one way, it manifests itself as an electron.
    To put it very briefly, what turned interest in string theory from an oddball enthusiasm to a mainstream occupation was a twofold realization that came in 1984. That’s when two of the early string pioneers, John Schwarz of Caltech and Michael Green … published a paper showing that just a handful of possible string theories were free of mathematical inconsistencies that plagued tradi­tional ­particle-­based models, and also had sufficient capacity …to accom­modate all the known elementary particles and their interactions. There was one little difficulty: The systems these theories described existed only in 10 ­dimensions.
    … that last point might seem to be a ­deal ­breaker, but so appealing were the other virtues of string theory that physicists found a solution. The “extra” dimensions, they proposed, could be wrapped up so tight that we couldn’t see them.

The review also has some interesting comments about the sociology of science and discovery:

The problem with string mania, Smolin concludes, is that it suits the wrong kind of mentality. He makes a nice distinction between scientific ­seers—­people such as Einstein and Niels Bohr, his heroes, who deeply pondered the working of nature and were by no means brilliant ­mathematicians—­and craftspeople, who are enormously adept at intricate calculation but don’t seem to think much about the larger meaning of their ingenious manipulations. Seers are always in short supply, and the technical demands of mastering string theory are such that ­would-­be researchers of a more philosophical stripe can rarely meet the price of ­entry

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November 29, 2006 at 11:56 pm

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