Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Financial Collapse: It's both Wall Street AND Main Street

Lawrence Lessig is promoting the film Inside Job.  I'm glad; it looks like it'll be informative (and hopefully not just emotional).

However, Lawrence says, '... it is crazy—literally crazy—to point to "the losers" as the cause,' where "the losers" are everyday people being bailed out by government programs.  No, it's not crazy: a large part of our financial mess is due to a culture of greed in America, one where people are looking for quick, high returns without looking at the underlying process.  Stocks, securities, banks, and even government bonds all have some kind of risk.  It is unreasonable (an unsustainable) for our society to expect to close their eyes and give their money without understanding the businesses.  There is no guarantee of the future in any aspect of life, and there is definitely no way for everyone to get rich quick.

The only way to build a stable life is to work hard, be committed, and learn constantly.

OK, so not everyone who has lost is guilty.  But it is the prevailing culture in America... or it has been of late.  Let's hope we put that period behind us, rather than blaming some easily-identified targets and leaving it at that.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'd love to have a local museum! But I'd rather it be voluntary.

A friend of mine just wrote encouraging me to participate in an event that will help raise money and awareness of a local museum. I asked if the museum would be built or supported with taxpare funds. They wrote back:

"For your information, it is mandated in the Bountiful City code that we, yes the people, we have a right and responsibility to record, archive, preserve, and disseminate the history of our community. It is not only proper that we use tax payer money for this purpose, but it is our duty and our heritage to let our children and grandchildren know where we came from and how we got here. All across America we have buildings and lands bought and paid for by tax dollars that tells of the sacrifices of each generation in making America what it is today. If you don't believe this, then don't take your children to a National Park, museum, National Cemetery, or monument, because all of these were and are funded by tax dollars."

My response:

"You are absolutely right: we have many, many buildings, museums, monuments, and lands that are funded with taxpayer money, and I agree that these add to our heritage.

"However, I think even you must admit that our government (especially at the federal level) has frequently spent our money on these things inappropriately. For the sake of one goal (eg. "building heritage"), they benefit the few at the cost of many, and they use government force to do beneficial things which weakens the efforts of those who do good work on a voluntary basis. We can build a much stronger, more resilient community through projects that accomplish these things without force.

"For example, the South Davis Recreational Center and the Rogers Memorial Theater are good examples of burdens that our local Davis county government(s) have imposed or might impose on taxpayers and local businesses, affecting either the free use of their income or the freedom to compete fairly for people's attention.

"Feel free to keep me in the loop. I would love to be part of any voluntary initiative that improves our community like this!"

FYI: I promised to contribute to the next local, voluntary project my friend brings to my attention. Hold me to that. :-) I can't promise that to everyone, but I'll appreciate knowing any of these you send my way!

Clever, Constructive Conversation (About Technology)

Come join us in an open-ended forum about technology.  This is modeled after Phil Windley's CTO Breakfast.  You can see the results of previous discussion here with my event reports.

The difference is the location: we'll do this at venues in Salt Lake City.  Fri Jan 17 2013 is at the Gateway above Jason's Deli, 2nd floor.  (Past incarnations: Max at about 70th S and 13th E; Newmont U at downtown SLC.)

You can count on bagels. (At least, you can at this location; someday we may do it in a cafeteria or restaurant, so be sure to watch the location and confirm whether food is provided or available for purchase.)

As for dates, here is the calendar and here is the iCal info. (For you real-time watchers, follow me on Twitter.)  Afterward, you can see any notes I took in this feed.

If you're interested, you're invited. Cheers!


Motivation: amazing things happen when you get together with smart people who speak their minds freely! I've had a great time at Phil's CTO Breakfast events, where many intelligent and well-networked people sit and talk in an open forum about current events and interesting projects and even crazy ideas. In the same vein, the Kynetx conferences have been eye-opening (and mind-blowing), partly because smart people come but mostly because they encourage conversations; they even had 2 "unconference" sessions where the topics and conversations were run by attendees, chosen dynamically (15 minutes before they happened). The experience is always memorable.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I disagree that IP rights are essential.

I disagree that IP rights are essential to growth, at least if they mean strong IP laws like in the US, since those are more often simply used by large companies with lawyers to bully newcomers rather than really building value. Technology nowadays is allowing us to focus on services and reputation, making distribution cheap; to continue to control the ownership of ideas and their delivery is to undermine the foundation of sharing, which is the foundation of the industry addressed in this article.

As an example, technology is enabling artists to spread their art around the world and make money from performances and other more personal approaches. The RIAA fights this with lawyers, which is their right for existing contracts; however, they have yet to show that it affects their business, and the system has also hamstrung many legitimate, innovative uses due to the heavy-handed approaches supported by government force.

Microsoft spread NOT because of IPR but rather due to effective pricing. And today’s service-oriented networks need freedom of open access, not artificially restrictive “property” rights.

There may be a way to create a rational IP system, but needs to be much more narrow and focused than any system in use today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why is mandated health a bad thing?

A friend was telling me how they like this health care bill because the insurance companies "can no longer deny anyone with preexisting conditions insurance, something myself and multiple friends have had to deal with. In my eyes, it's completely unfair."

I'm confused... why is that unfair? It's saying we all have the right to force someone else to insure us no matter what our condition. Living is risky and it can be expensive. Government can pass a law for anything, but it doesn't automatically mean there's suddenly enough resources to cover everyone... unless it tries to simply print money, which has it's own set of consequences.

Let's imagine a politician suddenly says, "Everyone has a right to look good," and then passing a bill requiring everyone to go to salons, and requiring every salon to provide a basic cut to everyone who asks. By ignoring the actual needs of consumers and salons, we get imbalance in the stylist economy. Some clients will be happy that they get subsidized cuts; some clients will be overjoyed because a salon is forced to work with them; and some salons will even be happy because they'll give basic cuts at an effective price.

But we can see how the majority of clients as well as most salons will lose out in the long run. We get things like fewer great stylists because there are so many basic cuts required; less salon business innovation for the same reason; and customers who don't even want cuts must still spend time and money for something they don't want. Will we enjoy that society if we're the ones forced to cut people's hair and we cannot control our own business (how much to charge, who to accept as clients, etc)?

The economics of this (ie. forcing all companies to cover everyone or forcing people to buy insurance) skew the reality of supply and demand; in the end they create bigger booms and busts. So we'll be like a friend from New Zealand explained: everyone has basic insurance, but it takes a year to see a doctor... except for the super rich (and politicians) who can afford to pay extra (or get them into elite circles).

Actually, I believe many people would appreciate that kind of society.

I don't buy the "Buy American" motto.

I just got a note from a relative with a long article about buying American-made products first, and finishing with: "buy as many articles as possible that are made right here in the USA!"

I disagree.

I do agree with buying things locally first... and not just because of the money. When your community works together and trades together, not only do you support your local resources, you increase the bonds of trust and cooperation, both of which can help you in the future.

However, once you get outside your "community" (maybe 5-20 miles?), you might as well be dealing with another country. Unless they're someone you plan to do business with again, you're just dealing with another anonymous supplier, so you're not building any meaningful relationship. Any why not support workers in other countries? I love how Americans have helped build up communities and infrastructures in other countries just because they need the help... and the very best way to get aid to our brothers and sisters worldwide is to buy their goods, rewarding their work. (Now, many of these products actually help corrupt governments instead of communities, so you've got to be smart about buying internationally as well. Dunno how. It's all hard.)

So, no, I don't buy the "Buy American" motto.

PS: Note that when you're a business you do create long-term relationships with people located further away, so a business "community" may be much broader. But it's still about the relationships.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Let's stop Monsanto.

I am alarmed by the spread of genetically modified (GM) foods, especially by the Monsanto company.

For the record, I am all for freedom of choice, and I look forward to the creation of more "effective" and less expensive foods.

However, anyone involved with GM foods must accept the responsibility for its spread. Monsanto aggressively protects its patents and pursues anyone who might be growing it's product, which is fine unless they and their growers are allowing it to get out into other areas they don't control. Of course it's very difficult to protect other areas, especially with large borders on the edge of your crop, but that should be one of the costs of doing business with this type of product. It is unacceptable for growers to allow this patent-protected food to bleed into other farms which a company can then pursue and charge that someone is illegally using their patent. The rest of us should be allowed to be free from that threat of contamination.

It's not just a patent issue, either: we've seen how the spread of non-native plants and animals can devastate local ecosystems. If there aren't yet any civil lawsuits regarding this, I would help to establish this kind of law.

Monsanto and its leaders are not acting ethically. They have pursued a seed cleaner named Maurice Parr, charging that it's his responsibility to make sure all his clients respect Monsanto's rules. They say in their page about seed saving, "Mr. Parr can honor the patent by informing customers it is illegal to save Roundup Ready seed and requiring his customers certify their seed is not from a patented product and providing samples for testing." It is certainly not fair or right that they can require others to enforce some company's licensing rules; even if supported by law (which should be changed, starting with patent law), Monsanto is showing that they are not a good social citizen. It sure seems that they deserve to be dead last in the ethical rankings of 581 multinational corporations.

If you care, here are a couple of ways to learn more and take action: