Not easy to support private search

image credit: Wiertz Sebastien via flickr(cc)
image credit: Wiertz Sebastien via flickr(cc)

It’s well-understood, I guess, that Google tracks and filter-bubbles those who search with it.  And Microsoft is, well, it’s Microsoft, no reason to suppose they’re not tracking and bubbling users also.  Fortunately, there are alternatives:


Great options for search!  So what if I want to advertise?  And suppose that the people I want to reach are the kind of people who would prefer these privacy-facilitating search options?  They’re profit-seeking companies and they carry ads.  Can I buy ads on them?

Not really.  It turns out that Startpage  has an arrangement with Google, so I would need to buy Google Adwords and hope, maybe, that they’ll end up on Startpage. With Duck, the arrangement is with the “Yahoo-Microsoft Search Alliance” and seems otherwise similar.

This may be the best way for a small company to get a tiny piece of the search pie, but depending on your competitor doesn’t seem like a great long-term strategy.  Maybe they have other plans.  But for now, there seems to be no way for an advertiser to reach privacy-minded users, except by taking advantage of the tracking that the dominant search companies do.


More propaganda I am too slothful to review

Graffito image by Horia Varlan (cc) via flickr
Graffito image by Horia Varlan (cc) via flickr

A new report “Copyright Industries in the U S Economy” has been released by the IIPA (A conspiracy of seven associations of copyprivilege holders).  I should read and review it, but I could not do a better job than Mike Masnick, so read his review and the comments thereon.  Of course, IIPA and its members probably have several staff and/or automatons, whose duties include responding to constructive comments. Fortunately, they get responded to in turn.

Like the man said

“In order to preserve and enhance jobs, exports and economic contributions, it is critical that we have strong legal protections for U.S. creativity and innovation in the U.S. and abroad.”

Which means creators need to be free to create, with strong legal protection against those who would try to prevent their use of ideas which may have been touched by others.

I am back, recovered from an attack not by privilege

based on image by: William Wilkinson via flickr (cc)
based on image by: William Wilkinson via flickr (cc)

This blog disappeared on February 3, and returns today February 17 2013.

The reason is a strangeness at my former host, whose ordinary practice is to evict customers from time to time, without warning or appeal, when servers become overloaded. I had heard about this from other victims before I signed up, frankly didn’t credit those reports, but it is true.  I have no reason to think I generated a lot of load, but have no access to the account to see.  What’s strange is, if I was running a budget host, and one of my customers, who was only paying less than $1/week, generated a lot of traffic, I would suspend the account and send the customer a message: “If you want to retain your account with us you must upgrade to a more expensive plan.” No such message was received or referenced.

I can’t blame privilege for this, as the hosting market seems to be quite competitive, and I see no evidence that the deceptive practices of some hosting companies are protected by government.

As it happens, I am at a new host, and I am paying more than previously but not outrageously so.  Another difference between the old host and the new one is that here we have a fairly active user discussion board, where even prospective customers are able to participate.  Otoh, transition to the old host was much smoother, whereas moving here involved several discontinuities, which caused delays despite prompt attention from tech support.

I am not naming my old host right now, for two reasons.  First, I remain responsible for another site over there, which hasn’t (yet?) been evicted. Second, other than evicting me without notice, the old host was quite cooperative about sending me a backup file and redirecting nameservers. (A refund has been promised; we shall see about that.)

Silicon Ocean


Blueseed concept proposal
Blueseed concept proposal, one of several at their site

Blueseed plans to start operation next year of a floating city, safely outside the twelve-mile limit of U S jurisdiction, where a thousand innovators can work pretty much without the immigration hassles imposed on domestic companies.  The “land” of the ocean is of course free to anyone who wants to use it, but there are big expenses in building and operating the platform.  Still, they estimate living costs comparable to those of pricey San Francisco (albeit for much smaller living space.)  If land in Silicon Valley was cheap, the ocean site would seem expensive, but it isn’t, so it doesn’t.

They’re entirely legal, or so it appears, and don’t seem to avoid Federal income tax altho California taxes might not apply.  Blueseed  “will work closely with the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection towards an agreement that follows all applicable US laws and regulations,” and it appears access will be from the California mainland so everyone not a legal U S resident will need some kind of U S visa.

But being outside U. S. territory, flying a flag of convenience, what defense has Blueseed against whoever might want to attack them? Not to worry, “pirates … don’t exist near California…” and presumably attacks by government authorities are no more likely at sea than within the country.


Why I’m not posting so frequently

This is about software problems.  For some reason Firefox and Mint 10 KDE don’t get along, and after anywhere from many minutes to several hours the system locks up.  Leave it alone for 6, 8, 10 hours and it seems to recover, but I can’t usually spare the time.

So, while waiting for Mint 11 KDE, which one hopes will solve the problem, I’ve been using the Opera browser instead of Firefox.  Opera is very smooth, works very well except when it doesn’t.  And doesn’t is how it handles blanks in the WordPress visual editor.  Whichwouldresultinallthewordsrunningtogether.  So, for blogging, I switch back to Firefox.  All the while worrying whether I’ll get another freeze. What’s really discouraging is that neither the WordPress forum nor the Opera forum have offered any assistance.

Heartland podcast seeks government action

Heartland Institute publications and web pages usually position it as anti-government, or at least pro-less-government-than-we-have-now.  But their podcasts are a bit less controlled, sometimes just providing an interesting take on something we might not have thought about (There was a great one about “how much does the Burning Man Festival have to pay for insurance?” that seems to have disappeared from Heartland’s site).

Now we have one insisting that the government needs to break the Google monopoly and vigorously enforce “privacy” laws against Google. The mp3 of this interview with Scott Cleland, author of Search and Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc is here.

Cleland seems to want government to protect us from the threat that Google is.  I agree that Google can be a threat, as they really do want to organize all the information about all of us, and seem to be pretty good at it. But I think the real threat will happen when Google and Government merge.  Until then, we are probably best advised to use the good cheap or free alternatives to Google’s services, and to work without signing in to Google to the extent possible.

My own experience with Google Adsense, btw, occurred when trying to buy some traffic to the Henry George School web site.  People concerned about “poverty” might be interested in us, so I tried that keyword.  The problem was that most of the news articles Google coded as “poverty” were about crime and criminals.  So I excluded some words, I think it was “gun”, “police,” and a couple others.  Adsense failed to recognize these exclusions.  On one of the google discussion groups I found other people who have experienced similar problems.  Eventually, Google said something to the effect of “if you want to keep advertising with us you’ll have to pay more money per hit.”  I guess we would have had to pay enough to justify having a Google Human get involved, and that was too expensive, so the project was put aside.  The dollar cost was modest but the benefit was more modest.

What bitcoin illustrates about fiat money

The value of bitcoin seems to have surged to over $7, from less than one dollar a couple of months ago.  This is a far faster increase than the price of gold, or silver, or other “hard” assets.

Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, who must be a skilled and innovative programmer.  Anyone can generate bitcoins by setting their computer to solve specific mathematical problems.  As more bitcoins are generated, the difficulty of the problems increases.  Relatively few vendors currently accept bitcoins, but several dealers are willing to trade dollars for them.  And the reason their value has increased must be that people are willing to pay more dollars than previously.

Why pay more dollars?  One reason is that the total number of bitcoins is limited, so presumably they cannot suffer the kind of inflation that often occurs with paper currency. (Could that rule change? Yes, just as some new major deposit of gold or silver might be discovered.)  Another reason, of course, could be that people are just learning about bitcoins, and seeing the trend, expect it to continue.  Also, bitcoins give some indication of being truly anonymous, secure money.

Now, if I was a skilled programmer, I could invent my own bitcoin-ish system, and generate my own coins.  But unless someone is willing to accept my coins in exchange for something people want, they’ll have no value.  Perhaps Satoshi Nakamoto is not only skilled, but also charismatic.

Bitcoins have intrinsic value in the sense that it takes a lot of work (done by the computer) in order to generate one, much as it takes a lot of work to discover, mine and refine precious metals. But, whereas I could use precious metals to make jewelry or tableware, I can’t think of anything that anyone could do with a bitcoin, other than spend it or save it.

So it seems to me that bitcoin shows that fiat money could work quite well, provided that the proper amount of it is issued.  If bitcoin’s deflationary trend continues, it might be a good investment but would lose usefulness as actual currency.  I think the most likely outcome will be, either, a decision to produce more bitcoins (however that might be made), or the creation of other alternative currencies operating in parallel.

Interesting times.

Ideas come from the community

In his 2003 book Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity, Siva Vaidhyanathan notes that creative works always build on previous (often traditional and/or public domain) creative works, and that creativity will become nearly impossible if writers (or those who “own” their output) are permitted to exercise absolute monopolies over use of their products.  Potential remedies include shorter and looser copyright terms, placing works into the public domain, licensing them as open source, or using another of the Creative Commons licenses.

Michele Baldrin and David K. Levine, in Against Intellectual Monopoly, provide numerous historical examples of patents retarding, rather than promoting innovation, and note the finding (p. 92, regarding the software industry) that patents were not an encouragement to research and development, but rather a substitute for them.

Now, in  Where Ideas Come From (in Wired Oct ’10) Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson sort of combine these two ideas by asserting that innovations are not the products of individuals, but of communities.

It’s amazing that the myth of the lone genius has persisted for so long, since simultaneous invention has always been the norm, not the exception … [T]here’s a related myth, that innovation comes primarily from the profit motive… If you look at history, it comes from creating environments where [people’s] ideas can connect.”

And they tie this into another kind of property rights:

One reason we have this great explosion of innovation in wireless right now is that the U S deregulated [allowed unlicensed use of parts of the] spectrum.  Before that, spectrum was something too precious to be wasted…But when you deregulate– and say, OK, now waste it– you get Wi-Fi.

All in all, a very Georgist article, the authors of which have also written what I hope are very Georgist books (both coming out next month):

Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

Kevin Kelly What Technology Wants

Patent Absurdity

New (to me, anyhow) video from Luca Lucarini about software patents.  I already knew that patents seem to stifle innovation in most fields, diverting resources into trolling and defenses.  I didn’t know that programmers have an incentive not to keep track of patents which they might infringe, because ignorance apparently reduces the penalty for infringement.

Writing notes on pdf’s

Now I can do it.  I can read a pdf document on the screen, highlight or underline parts of it, write notes in the margins, and save it.  I can change or erase my marks without changing the document.  I’ve been looking for a way to do this for a while, and I can do it with Xournal. (It is said that some other programs can also provide this capability, but I haven’t tried them.)