Joho the BlogJuly 2009 - Page 3 of 5 - Joho the Blog

July 18, 2009

When there’s no such thing as the best

I posted my post about the Sotomayor hearings over at Huffington, where I got a grand total of two comments. The second one raised an interesting point. (The first one was funny.)

Or, “Senator, would you simply prefer that the Court be comprised of the best legal minds in the nation, regardless or their race, creed, or color, despite the fact that such a concept is foreign to the race conscious liberals among us?” – Parducci

That’s a reasonable response (leaving out everything after the “despite”), but I think it’s fundamentally wrong, since it assumes there is a way to rank order legal minds. There isn’t, because there is no such order.

Look at the current Justices. You may be able to say that one particular Justice’s “legal mind” is not as good as the rest (“Judge So-and-So just isn’t up to snuff”), but there isn’t any real way to rank them in order (except perhaps by ow well their decisions accord with political sides). With heart surgeons, maybe you can look at the survival rates of their patients — and there are problems with that — but for judges, there aren’t criteria that result in a reliable, accurate, and agreed-upon quantitative ranking. Likewise, who would think there’s any sense in trying to numerically rank philosophers, historians, or chefs? You can see that a particular one isn’t in the top rank or is out of her league, but within that top rank, there isn’t a numeric ordering.

So, for nominees to the Supreme Court, the idea that we should take “the best legal minds” actually means that we should choose from among those who are highly qualified for the job. Since that class is far larger than nine, we get to choose our Justices based on many considerations, including the likely effect they’ll have on the political balance of the court and — yes — the likely effect they’ll have by bringing a diversity of experience and outlook. For the wisdom of a group is enhanced by including difference within it.

In fact, it would be interesting to see how the degree of qualification (based on whatever criteria one wants to suggest) going into the Court matches with the performance of the Justice over the course of her or his term.

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July 17, 2009

Search matchups

Google vs. Yahoo

Google vs. WolframAlpha

Google vs. Bing

(via Keith Dawson)

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The strongest force in the universe continues to be irony

David Pogue reports that Amazon has deleted some books from people’s Kindles, even though people had paid for them. It seems that the publisher decided it didn’t want them offered after all. [NEXT DAY: More exactly, the publisher that owns the copyright objected to another publisher selling the book.] So, Amazon deleted the books and credited people for their purchase.

The books were George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. OMG.

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July 16, 2009

Two interviews

I was live on the Jeff Farias show on Monday. You can hear it here. (I start at around the 88th minute.)

We talked for half an hour, at first about Cluetrain and then about some of the stuff in Everything Is Miscellaneous. I haven’t listened to it, but I enjoyed it.

Also, this week a Swiss newspaper, Sonntags Zeitung, ran an interview with me about cloud computing. That one is a bit more problematic. It’s a brief Q&A, boiled down from 20-30 minutes of talk, although it does not mention that. Inevitably, there are some places where I disagree a bit with the impression my abridged answers leave. That’s what happens. But it also has me saying some things that I’m quite sure I didn’t say. One in particular I feel a need to correct. The interview has me stating that it takes 4-5 times more computing power to deal with encrypted traffic (such as email) than with unencrypted. Not only don’t I know how much more computing power it takes, I know that I don’t know. So, I want to here put on “the record” that that estimate is unsubstantiated, and that I’m quite sure that that’s not what I said.

The journalist did offer to let me see the interview before he ran it, but I declined, primarily because, through a mutual misunderstanding, I thought I was only contributing an idea or two to an article — not a dedicated Q&A — about cloud computing.

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Techcrunch’s RT of @Ev email

Sam Bayard of the Berkman Center’s Citizen Media Law Center has posted an explanation of the legal issues around TechCrunch posting some of the content of the email stolen from Twitter’s founders background.

It seems different to me than when people posted internal messages from Diebold, because there was a clear public interest in the reliability of voting machines. I’m trying to bracket out the sense that Twitter is one of us, but I’m failing. The whole thing makes me feel icky.

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July 15, 2009

Senator, would you be ok with an all-white Court? Really?

The relevant paragraphs from Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” speech:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

Sotomayor is saying something designed to inspire those against whom expectations have run: In American culture, the image of a wise judge generally is that of an old white man. Sotomayor is asking her audience to embrace a different image. In fact, she says, the very life experiences that traditionally have worked to disempower people make one wiser than those who haven’t had those experiences. The unfortunate implication of Sotomayor’s rhetoric (or, at least the inference taken by some white male Senators) is that race is the differentiator, not the experiences…an inference that does not survive reading the rest of the passage. Clearly, Sotomayor is saying exactly what all Americans are taught: We are a melting pot made stronger by the diversity of our culture.

So, here’s what I’d ask the Republican Senators who are questioning her about that line in her speech:

Senator, would you be ok with an all white, all male Court?

That is, if all else were equal, Senator, would you prefer to have a Supreme Court made up of nine white men from similar backgrounds, or a Court that includes men and women, people of various hues, and people from a variety of backgrounds?

If you’re ok, Senator, with a lily-white, male Court, you may sit down. Thank you.

If, however, you think we are better now for having some diversity among our Justices, then don’t you agree that “a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench”? Don’t you agree that diversity strengths the Court — makes it wiser — because it brings different points of view to bear? So, Senator, you agree that one’s background affects one’s judgment, and that we are better off having multiple life-experiences represented on the Court.

So, Senator, don’t you think it’s a great for the Court to have, say, a wise Latina woman in the discussions? Me, too!

In creating a Supreme Court rather than one Supreme Justice, our founders recognized that wisdom is more reliably a property of a system than of an individual. Wisdom is most likely to emerge from a network that embraces diversity.

Especially a diversity of people who are empathetic. But that’s another issue… [Tags: ]

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July 14, 2009

[berkman] Mapping the global commons

Giorgos Cheliotis of the National Univ of Singapore, and a visitor researcher here at the Center, is giving a lunchtime talk at the Berkman Center called “Mapping the Global Commons: A quantitative perspective on free cultural practice.” How large and free are the Commons? (He’s excluding open source software from his discussion of the Commons)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Giorgos has been working with Creative Commons. He points to a number of works, including by Lessig, and David Bollier’s “Viral Spiral,” which is a history of the digital commons. If the movement is old enough that histories are being written, Giorgos says, it may be time to take a fresh look at it.

He says the digital commons consists of shared resources, users, open licenses, and remixes. To measure its size, you can ask how people use it, how many resources in it, how quickly it’s growing, and how much is contributed back to the pool. How free the pool is will obviously affect how its gets used and remixed. All this is hard to measure, Giorgos says, because there’s no central registry. One approach would try to count everything that’s there. Another uses estimates, community-specific data, and external reports and local knowledge. Giorgos uses the latter technique. There is a trade-off between scale and accurate/richness of the data set.

He and his colleagues are building a live-data wiki platform to track the global development of open licensing (CC only for now): http://monitor.creativecommons.org. (It’s early beta, pre-release, and still under development.) Giorgos walks us through it. [You can give it a try yourself. It’s self-explanatory.] AT the moment, the wiki says that there are 170,268,161 Creative Commons-licensed works. At the site you can break this down by region. Asia is growing quickly. Brazil has lots. Spain is ranked #1. (You can zoom in on the map by drag-selecting an area.)

The project is aimed at the media, researchers, funding organizations…

The regions each have a “freedom score” that weights the CC licenses by how restrictive or permission they are. The overall weighted average is 3.29 out of 6. US: 3.1. Spain: 3.47. Brzil: 2.34. Thailand: 2.58 (which is a decrease). Korea: 1.76 (but lots of licenses). Giorgos says that presenting this data sometimes nudges people to work on boosting their country’s score.

The tables of data and the maps generated from them are automatically generated and cannot be changed by wiki users; the annotation and commentary can be changed. To see an example of a manually-curated page, see Singapore‘s. Giorgos points out that this raises synchronization issues: The data is updated but the narrative may not be.

How now asks how much is being remixed. They’ve focused on ccMixter, where everything has a CC license and can be remixed. You can see the chains of influences. He shows a visualization of the data: Each track is a node, with lines connecting them to remixes. The maximum path length is 6 (a remix of a remix of a remix, etc.) But it drops off quite steeply after path length 2. 60% of uploaded items don’t get remixed, but remixing accounts for more than half of the total production volume. In a“bow-tie” analysis, there’s a core of about 12% core contributors whose authors’ tracks are linked to and who link out; if you take contests out of the picture, the core goes up to 18% (although about the same absolute number) and the “tendrils” go down from 50% to 20%. [Giorgos presents some other visual analyses, but I can’t follow the visual presentation of quantitative information. Sorry. It’s a brain problem of mine.] In the core, there are more reciprocal relationships, which seems to show that the members of the core community see one another as peers.

33% of generation 1 remixes are contest entries: An artist or label sponsors a contest for the best remixes of a track. Contests attract one-time remixes who are “not productive otherwise in the community.” But, are contests part of a sharing economy, he asks? Some scholars say that contests help strengthen a sense of community. Giorgos is uncertain about what to make of contests.

Q: [me] Public domain? Media types?
A: Neither of those types of metadata are easily available.

Q: CC has the metadata about the media type. And it would be interesting to see how the licenses vary by media type.
A: It’s possible, but we haven’t done it so far. I have noticed that photographers tend to be more protective of their content than are musicians.

Q: Maybe photographers are worried that their work will be used to create a false image, which isn’t an issue for musicians.
A: I think that’s probably right. Music is usually used for entertainment. Photos are also used for information.

Q: What are you aspirations for this as data collection project?
A: I was motivated initially to do this [Tags: ]

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July 13, 2009

Slow and steady wins the erase?

John Hagel and John Seely Brown have issued a new “Shift Index” report, which is way more facty and dataful than I can personally manage, but that many of you will find highly informative. Here’s just one point from an email they sent out about it:

The Shift Index suggests the current recession is masking long-term competitive challenges for U.S. businesses…

3. While firm performance has significantly deteriorated over this time period, total cash compensation for creative talent has increased substantially and consumers are wielding substantial power, suggesting that firm profitability is increasingly squeezed by talent and customers and that these other market participants have been much more effective in harnessing the value of expanding knowledge flows than firms themselves (pg. 107 – Shift Index Report).

Translation of point #3: Companies are the dumbest, slowest participants in their ecosystem.

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July 12, 2009

Transparent justice

The Sunlight Foundation’s Daniel Schuman writes about the transparency of the Sotomayor hearings and about the extent to which the future member of the Supreme Court would support greater transparency in the courts.

There’s also a Twitter stream for news about the hearings. It’s under the name Sonia Sotomayor, but I doubt that she’s actually there twiddling her thumbs….

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July 11, 2009

Reslicing publications

The OCLC has an experimental site up that provides classification information for books and pubs. You type in the book’s title and author (or ISBN number, or other such ID), and it returns info about the various editions and how they’re classified in the OCLC’s Dewey Decimal Classification System or by the Library of Congress. You can then see the other books that share its Dewey Decimal number (for example, here’s Everything Is Miscellaneous, #303.4833>>Social sciences>>Social sciences, sociology & anthropology>>Social processes), at the OCLC’s useful Dewey Browser. Alas, when you click on the Library of Congress number, you get taken to a demand by the LC that you subscribe to Classification Web, instead of to the free LC Catalog (where my Misc book is listed like this).

Lots of metadata about the metadata…Gotta love it!

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