You Say Czar, I say Tsar

Joe Biden was prattling on the other night to the Hollywood crowd about how Obama would be appointing the “right person” as the Copyright Czar required by the newly minted intellectual property bill. I find this highly unlikely. Primarily because the right person would recognize how outdated and abused our current IP laws are.

When significant portions of the population routinely ignore laws and don’t feel they are doing anything wrong, the solution is rarely more vigilant enforcement. The reality is that the Internet has enabled the sharing of content (writing, music, photos, movies, ideas, etc.) in a way unconceived of when the IP laws were written. All too often we lose focus on the real reason IP laws were created in the first place. They exist to encourage innovation. Period. They do not exist to protect anyone’s rights, or to assure anyone’s profit margin. But today, copyrights and patents are largely used for exactly the opposite effect. They are used as weapons to stifle innovation by shutting down or extracting profit from competitors.

However, much like health care, the notion of any actual reform taking place around IP is small. The lobbying forces defending the current system are strong. They have enormous financial incentive to keep the status quo in place. In light of that reality, I hope the “right person” for the new Czar is just a milquetoast ineffective toothless bureaucrat.

Random Thoughts

Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog posted recently about how our brains tend to think that random things aren’t so very random. This motivates us to play the lottery, believe in ghosts, and occasionally see the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich.

The basic mechanism is that the brain is wired to see patterns. This is behavior that even the most powerful computers ever built cannot yet come close to emulating. And while it sometimes leads us to silly things such as a determination that we saw Elvis at the Kwik-Mart, it is also, and far more usefully, the basis of abstract thought. It is our ability to find common threads and patterns that allows us to encapsulate those patterns as concepts or categories, and then use that abstraction to apply our experience and knowledge to new and novel situations. It is that capability which is at the root of all our “intelligence”.

Keep this in mind when someone makes fun of you for finding faces in your flapjacks or seeing dragons in the clouds. You’re just exercising those crucial mental tools. But as Phil suggests in his post, it’s also important to recognize that we can be fooled. We always tend to reach just beyond our grasp, seeking patterns out of randomness. Sometimes those patterns yield useful abstractions. But often they are just the ghost of Elvis blowing through.

Alack! For It Is but Foolery

Chicago. The Windy City. Home of the Cubs, deep dish pizza, the Sears Tower, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Mayor Daley now wishes to add to that list by proclaiming verily that Chicago shall spawn the first Talk Like Shakespeare Day on Thursday next. Ummm… yippee?

Somehow, it just doesn’t lend itself to the sort of fun for all ages that Talk Like a Pirate Day brings. I just can’t see me coaxing the boys into donning Elizabethan collars and sending them off on the school bus. Let’s see, swords, rum, and salty talk vs. angst, death, and fruity talk. Hmmm…

Methinks this stands not a chance of catching on.

I Empathize with Wyle E. Coyote

That damned Road Runner is hard to pin down. It now seems that Time Warner Cable is responding to the public denunciation of their tiered pricing plan by saying that they are scrapping plans for the very high speed DOCSIS 3.0 roll-out in our areas.

Their claim seems to be that they cannot afford to do the technology roll-out without the money from the new pricing plan. However, this is sophistry, pure and simple. DOCSIS 3.0 is not a major investment. In fact, it is rumored that some of their own internal memos pegged the cost at about $6.95 per household. Personally, I would gladly pay $10 more each month for that service, so this is not at all about cost. Also, the DOCSIS 3.0 architecture allows them to multiplex their lines, which actually eases the local loads placed on the system by high bandwidth users. It’s a win all the way around.

So what’s their motivation this time? Is this a retaliatory strike against us consumers? I don’t think so. I think this is actually a good business decision on their part. Markets where TWC competes with other very high speed ISPs (e.g. Verizon FiOS) need DOCSIS 3.0 worse than the Rochester market, at least from TWCs perspective. They are hemorrhaging customers in those markets and desperately need a more competitive offering. From a strictly business perspective, they are already the fastest ISP in our area. They have no current or impending competition. There simply is no business reason that upgrading our area should be a priority.

All of which further amplifies the point that either there desperately needs to be a viable broadband competitor in our local market, or TWC needs to be recognized and regulated as a public service monopoly.