Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Open WiFi

The EFF is encouraging everyone to open up their wireless network. I think this could be great... I used to leave my network open, but was eventually cowed into putting a password on it. IIRC, this was due to the combination of my ISPs prohibition on sharing, and concerns about network security and being held responsible for other people's abuse of my connection.

I hope that their information page can address my concerns; it would be so nice to be able to do this.

One commenter on Slashdot advocates the use of parallel "guest" and private WiFi networks from your own router, which should allow you to maintain network security and limit the bandwidth available to the public (both to discourage leaching and perhaps make it harder for guests to do illegal things like download movies).

A community-driven network may be ideal... but until then.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Food patents

I've been closely "Proposition 37" (GMO labeling) in California. For what it's worth, I'm strongly opposed to anti-GMO legislation such as this. To be brief, I think that the labeling mandate would be burdensome and non-informative.

While I do sympathize with much of the criticism of the modern food industry, I think that focusing on GMOs completely misses the point. One of the points is the abuse of patents. In this case, it seems that patents are being used to stifle independent testing of novel GM goods. As I've written repeatedly, I think it's important that we severely reduce the scope of patents and copyrights, and I'd be comfortable with completely eliminating them. However, I don't think that's going to happen until the constrains of intellectual property affect issues that people really care about.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Minnisota bans free education?

I find this hard to believe:

The state’s Office of Higher Education has informed the popular provider of massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, that Coursera is unwelcome in the state because it never got permission to operate there. 
 Supposedly this is some "consumer protection" law, but Coursera currently is neither charging for their service nor claiming any particular benefit from the service (such as offering a degree).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Liberty in North Korea

I recently ran into some activists with "Liberty in North Korea", and was impressed by their description of the groups activities. I like that they place their main focus on helping refugees, rather than political agitation. It sounds like a charity that might be up there with the Innocence Project in terms of the benefit it provides.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

When currencies collapse (conflicted feelings)

Steve Hanke has charted the collapse of the Iranian rial:

I have conflicted feelings about this:

1) Sadness: this must be causing great hardship for the Iranian people
2) Comfort: this must be weakening the regime, particularly their ability to buy foreign weapons.
3) Discomfort: this collapse (following an embargo) was orchestrated by a regime with a history of dominating and exploiting foreign countries. In some sense, this is just another battle in the wars among various ruling classes.
4) Satisfaction: while any community would suffer from economic isolation, I think that the Iranian state has largely brought this on themselves, and this type of collapse is essentially inevitable. Better to get it done sooner than  later (assuming that the regime is replaced with a more humane one). The Iranian state has suppressed the creativity and initiative of the Iranian people, and their economy consequently is weak. This "black-market" deviation from state-sanctioned exchange rates indicates that the Iranian state is being sidelined within the Iranian  economy. Every black-market exchange is a tiny revolution (a la Agorism).

tip Marginal Revolution

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

California's middle-class car culture

Until I moved to California, I did not appreciate how pervasive and deeply ingrained their car culture is. I used to have the impression that CA was at the forefront of developing a post-car culture, with extensive public transportation and accommodations for bicycles on roads. However, once I saw this with my own eyes, I realized that relative to east-coast cities, California's urban areas are intrinsically unfriendly to pedestrian and bicycle commuting. Maybe this comparison is unfair, since I've mainly lived in declining cities, and their lower population density may facilitate biking; but my impression is that even Boston is intrinsically more bike-friendly than California cities. The only way that non-car transportation is possible in California is if cities really go out of their way to promote it.

As we all know, the dominance of cars in America's transportation system has been promoted by decades of state decisions to facilitate car transportation, often at the expense of other modes. I don't think there was any particular conspiracy -- it just made sense* given the socio-economic conditions after WWII. The problems with our car-centric culture started to become apparent in the 1970's, but by then powerful vested interests (both the car industry and car-commuters) made it hard to change course.

Anyway, we've reached the point where access to a car is practically considered a civil right -- at least for the middle class (as always, the lower classes get to bear the costs without reaping the benefits). So with this perspective, I was interested in proposition 33 on CA's ballot this fall. This proposition changes the rules regarding auto-insurance fees, by allowing companies to consider a new customer's history of coverage when setting rates. My libertarian impulse says "sure, let the markets decide", and when I look at the arguments against the measure I see that they are based on the idea that the right to drive is too important to be left to market forces. However, this initiative does not seem to simplify regulations in any general manner, so it gets no libertarian points, and I'll have to vote against it on the grounds that I am opposed to micromanagement of government by referenda.

Still, I wanted to check if this proposition might actually amount to an abandonment of car culture by the state of California. Since it is supposedly being promoted by the car insurance industry, it would not make sense for it to be designed in a way that discouraged new drivers from getting behind the wheel. When I looked at the details, I saw that it has an explicit clause to assure that middle-class spawn develop into the next generation of drivers:

(4) Children residing with a parent shall be provided a discount for continuous coverage based upon the parent’s eligibility for a continuous coverage discount.

So yeah, this is just a way to milk adults who temporarily give up driving for one reason or another.

I'm especially bothered by this notion that children gain legally enshrined economic rights based on the economic status of their parents. First it was Obama's health insurance coverage up to 26, and then this. It seems like this should be unconstitutional. As always, the state says "screw the poor".

*Clarification: it made sense to the ruling class...

"Cult of Personality"

Tonight's debates have brought the song "Cult of Personality" back to my mind. While poking around YouTube, I found this interview with Vernon Reid, Living Colour's basist. He describes how the song developed, then gives a lesson in playing the music.