Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Sunday, February 15, 2004day link 

 Commons-based peer production
picture An article The Microsoft Killers about the success of open source and how it is spreading to other areas than software. And this nice general description of what it is we're talking about:
Yochai Benkler, a law professor at Yale University, has called this "commons-based peer production." The commons refers to the sharing of the underlying code or the output that is open to all, akin to the public land that farmers once grazed their livestock upon. Peer production means that producers participate for their own varied reasons and in ad hoc ways, not necessarily via legal contract or management fiat. Benkler calls this a third mode of production for the market, distinct from the company and the "spot market" (or, in employment terms, the freelancer). Open source shows that it is possible for part of the economy to function without companies but with many self-employed individuals contracting with each other.
It mentions various expamples. Nasa's Clickworkers project where 85,000 people successfully helped identify geological features on Mars. The Wikipedia, a fabulous online encyclopedia that anybody can contribute to. MIT's OpenCourseWare, freely available study materials for hundreds of courses. Open access academic journals like BioMed Central. And more.

I can't wait for it to spread to more areas.
[ | 2004-02-15 12:58 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Creative Accounting
picture Via Ben Hammersley, London Review of Books has a review about Rupert Murdoch biographies. Pay attention to the figures:
And then Chenoweth has found, looking at the accounts, that the company’s profits, declared in Australian dollars, were A$364,364,000 in 1987, A$464,464,000 in 1988, A$496,496,000 in 1989 and A$282,282,000 in 1990. The odds that such figures were a happy coincidence are 1,000,000,000,000 to one. That little grace note in the sums is accountant-speak for ‘Fuck you.’ Faced with this level of financial wizardry, all the ordinary taxpayer can do is cry ‘Bravo l’artiste!’
Yeah, I wish I had accountants who could make my profit turn into such pretty numbers. Of course part of the trick is to have some surplus profits that you can hide away to the exact amount you want.
[ | 2004-02-15 13:28 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

 Where's the dark matter
picture Article in The Economist about the likely possibility that the dark energy and dark matter essential to modern explanations of the universe doesn't really exist as predicted.
IT WAS beautiful, complex and wrong. In 150AD, Ptolemy of Alexandria published his theory of epicycles—the idea that the moon, the sun and the planets moved in circles which were moving in circles which were moving in circles around the Earth. This theory explained the motion of celestial objects to an astonishing degree of precision. It was, however, what computer programmers call a kludge: a dirty, inelegant solution. Some 1,500 years later, Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, replaced the whole complex edifice with three simple laws.

Some people think modern astronomy is based on a kludge similar to Ptolemy's. At the moment, the received wisdom is that the obvious stuff in the universe—stars, planets, gas clouds and so on—is actually only 4% of its total content. About another quarter is so-called cold, dark matter, which is made of different particles from the familiar sort of matter, and can interact with the latter only via gravity. The remaining 70% is even stranger. It is known as dark energy, and acts to push the universe apart. However, the existence of cold, dark matter and dark energy has to be inferred from their effects on the visible, familiar stuff. If something else is actually causing those effects, the whole theoretical edifice would come crashing down.
New analysis seems to indicate that the numbers don't match up, and that remote clusters of galaxies are more correctly explained if they contain more ordinary matter. Not that I really understand much of this, but it is just a reminder that most of the prevalent scientific theories about the universe are just that - theories. Somebody's best guess about how things work, often including weird and unseen factors to get the numbers to fit.
[ | 2004-02-15 13:44 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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