keskiviikkona, marraskuuta 14, 2007

Never again arguments

There's been arguments in Finnish media that we should make sure that never again will there be a school kid who goes on to kill a number of fellow citizens. People have suggested outlawing guns in homes and all other kinds of things to accomplish this.

Those who do so, do it without the faintest understanding of statistics. A country cannot control the environment kids grow in, not to the degree it would need to in order to prevent some of them from going on killing spree. But a country (and especially parents and other people) can do well and keep the probability of that happening low.

In Finland, we had a bombing case about five years ago, now this killing. Before that I remember a killing spree from the time I was in school, probably early 90s. So it seems that with the current culture and population, the statistical occurrence is about one case per five years. Which is not bad, really, though it could be better.

The problem with trying to figure out how to get to never is that you'll never consider the ideas that might actually reduce the possibilities of this kind of thing happening. I also don't think that people who say that really think their facts through. There's approximately 50000 kids each year, which makes for 250000 kids per five years. So the occurrence is one in 250000. (Actually there are probably more kids who kill, but since they don't do it on school grounds, they don't end up in news the way this guy did).

So, instead of trying to think "never again" think "how can I make this even rarer". Otherwise you'll end up guilty of either wishful thinking (not good for making useful things happen) or quite totalitarian control (as you need to control all those 250000 kids to make sure that one doesn't do bad things), or both.

tiistaina, marraskuuta 13, 2007

Markets as evolutionary platform?

I hope you have heard it said that markets are an evolutionary platform for testing out ideas and business plans to satisfy human needs. However, it's not always clear what this actually means and as I came across a perfect example of one kind, I wanted to share it with you.

Evolution in this case means that within a market economy people tend to try all kinds of things to solve a problem, and then the market weeds out the worst ones. The weeding out does not always mean a business or firm going bankrupt. Instead, it often happens by companies dropping out a business plan in favor of another. However, in this case, the other company Inktomi actually seems to have gone under.

The business?

To provide replication of web data in ISPs in order to reduce the costs the ISPs have to bear for transit traffic, and to give low latency service for the content providers' customers.

Inktomi tried to sell this service to the ISPs and provided the low latency service to content providers for free. Akamai chose the exact opposite by providing the functionality to ISPs for free and charging content providers. The interesting thing is that it was far from clear whether the costs should be shared, or charged from ISPs, or content providers. Only trying them both out, did we find out that in this case the content provider model seems to work better. And even then, we only know that it is more efficient within the context of the surrounding environment (the markets and legal structure around internetworking), not that it works better as a technology, or is a more efficient as a technology.

The problem described above relates to the problems of two-sided markets. There's a good 6-page article about two-sided markets and the Internet in Hotnets.

maanantaina, marraskuuta 05, 2007

End of America

I just finished reading the book "End of America" by Naomi Wolf. She had an article about it in The Guardian last spring. It describes the ten steps many, many dictators have taken to take down an open society.

Worth a read. It is rather scary, too.