Monthly Archives: May 2001

Davos Newbies Home

“An attempt to legislate ignorance”

Dan Gillmor has an excellent summary of Princeton professor Edward Felten’s encounter with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Felten seemingly fell foul of the act by engaging in legitimate scientific research.

Because his findings exposed the security flaws in a music industry anti-copying technology, the industry scurried to gag Felten and his fellow researchers. So far, the industry has been successful.

The issue, as Dan points out, is wider than the Felten case. It really goes to the heart of fundamental liberties of free speech and freedom of scientific enquiry.

Davos Newbies Home

Wonderful elegy

Read Brent Simmons’ reasoning on why he doesn’t want ubiquitous computing. Brent truly is a gifted, poetic writer. “Okay, picture the toaster that is really good at sensing the done-ness of the toast, and pops when the toast is perfect, every time. What happens to the poetry of real life?

What crisis?

President Bush’s announcement of his plan to deal with the US energy “crisis” has understandably occasioned voluminous comment. What puzzles me, however, is how many normally sober news sources have mindlessly adopted Bush’s use of the word crisis to describe something that, to my mind, isn’t remotely a crisis.

Both the BBC and the Financial Times, normally paragons of sobriety, use the term crisis. Fortunately, on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Bob May, president of the Royal Society, had the good sense to put matters right. May pointed out that with 5% of the world’s population, the US accounted for about 40% of carbon dioxide emissions. The Bush plan, he said, seems designed to up that to around 50% at a time when the rest of the world wants to go the other way.

May was speaking on the occasion of 17 national science academies backing the Kyoto protocal on climate change. The US National Academy of Science was the only major academy not to sign the statement. The NAS will be making its own statement in June, after it has filed a report on the subject for the Bush administration. The BBC story linked above, incidentally, is a model of balanced reporting — for those readers of Davos Newbies who have objected in the past to my stance on climate change.

The New York Times makes the point about the so-called crisis in an unusually forthright editorial.

Truth and lies

Tom Friedman. “Mr. Clinton may have lied about his sex life, but he, Bob Rubin and Larry Summers told the truth about numbers. The Bushies are all good boys who go home to their wives at 6 p.m., but that’s after a day of fudging all sorts of numbers to get their mammoth tax cut passed. Personally, if I have to choose, I prefer people who cheat on their wives to people who cheat on our kids.”

There will always be an England

A minor example of the civilised eccentricity that makes Britain such a good place to live, despite the weather. BBC2 is currently running a series of 10-minute programmes in prime time about individual trees. It sounds crazy, but it’s wonderful. Can you imagine someone trying to pitch that to a Hollywood producer?

Davos Newbies Home

Turbo journalism

I hadn’t encountered the concept of turbo journalism before. According to Online Journalism Review, turbo journalism was originated by Norway’s Nettavisen. Extraordinarily, 5% of Norwegians visit the Nettavisen site daily and 74% are familiar with the brand.

The principle on which Nettavisen is based is “skriv kort og fort”, write short and quick. Its staff works entirely online. There is no tramping the streets for a story.

To my mind, that might make for a useful service, but I question whether that counts as journalism. Unlike the online debates on the merits or otherwise of professional and amateur journalism, Nettavisen’s concept relies on a kind of human-operated screen-scraping. There’s none of the personal intelligence, experience and sifting that informs the best of journalism, professional or amateur.

And a day when most people relied on a news source like Nettavisen will be a day when the masters of media manipulation will call all the shots, rather than just most of them.

Globalisation for all

David Golding has pointed out Amartya Sen’s latest thoughts on globalisation. Nobel prizewinner Sen has an unequalled record as an advocate for the world’s poor. “Globalisation is neither especially new nor, in general, a folly. Over thousands of years, globalisation has contributed to the progress of the world, through travel, trade, migration, spread of cultural influences and dissemination of knowledge and understanding. To have stopped globalisation would have done irreparable harm to the progress of humanity.”

Davos Newbies Home

From Scripting News: Who do you look to for thoughts on future revolutions in technology and publishing? (That’s what Seybold is about.) So there’s the question. Who would you like to hear from? There will be a website and white papers to go with this session. We talked about asking NPR to broadcast it. It’s a good time to look for new revolutions. That’s what we’re going to do. [Scripting News]

Dave Winer is planning to orchestrate with Seybold a September “mega-summit” on What’s the next revolution? I think some fresh thinking in the area is desperately needed, and pushing and prodding from an iconoclast like Dave could turn up some novel thinking.

So I’m starting to think about his challenge to come up with speakers. I’d start with two. I’d certainly ask Raj Reddy, who I find a clear thinker and a thoroughly good person. Jason Epstein is the industry eminence who has thought the hardest about the issues.

Davos Newbies Home

All the news that fits

In today’s Financial Times, Chris Dunkley laments the inability of television news to present a critical assessment of the news. In his view, “television is settling for the mass while the more serious aspects of the medium are quietly forgotten”.

Pertinent to the debate in weblog circles about the value of professional journalism is Dunkley’s reiteration of Lord Northcliffe‘s dictum: “news is something that somebody somewhere wants suppressed and all the rest is advertising”.

A good man

Stan Fischer, the long-serving number two at the International Monetary Fund, yesterday announced he would be leaving the Fund later this year. The IMF is frequently slated by critics of globalisation, but Fischer has been in the forefront of moves to reform the institution.

In his press conference yesterday, it was telling that he cited the increasing transparency of the IMF as one of the most satisfying aspects of his seven years at the Fund.

Although he’s an American citizen, Fischer was born in what is now Zambia, and his deep interest in Africa — and southern Africa in particular — marked his stay in Washington in wholly notable ways. He’ll be a hard act to follow.


The most novel website covering the UK election is Tactical Voter. Because there are three signficant political parties in Britain, tactical voting can have a major impact. In the 1997 election, by all accounts, voters in the centre and on the left were determined to get rid of the Tories. So in constituencies where the Liberal Democrats were the most viable opposition to the Conservatives, they voted Lib Dem. In constituencies where there was a Labour-Conservative battle, Labour got the vote.

The electoral map in Britain means there are virtually no real contests between Labour and the Lib Dems, so the centre left could theoretically mobilise to virtually wipe out the Conservatives. The threat is real enough that the Conservative party is apparently checking to see whether Tactical Voter violates electoral law.

Davos Newbies Home

Looks like a Batmobile

I remember industrial design nerds enthusing 20 years ago about heads-up displays, the high-tech military hardware that enables fighter pilots to see projected displays on the windscreen. It’s taken time, but it now looks like it can be combined with night-vision technology in production cars.

Such inventions take time to filter through, but night vision strikes me as more valuable than a lot of gadgets that are becoming the norm in a family car.

Second-order effects

Alan Cooper has some interesting reflections on the second-order effects of wireless technologies. A friend introduced me to this concept in the early ’80s by pointing out that no one foresaw that a prime use of home video players would be to pacify children.

Alan is a good guy, and his The Inmates are Running the Asylum deserves more readers. But someone should tell him that registering expressions like Goal-Directed analysis tools is cheesy and beneath him.

High returns for seadogs

On a very lowkey basis, I followed the TV Turnoff Week last week (pace Brent). As a result I missed what sounds like an extraordinary programme about pirates.

The privateers which hounded the pirates were an early (the earliest?) example of venture capital. Apparently, Francis Drake returned 4,700 per cent to his backers after his successful raids along the Spanish Main. Since his backers included queen Elizabeth, the result did neither his career nor his pocketbook any harm.