This is a fascinating, wonderful, entertaining presentation about the gaming industry: about the unexpected successes that have come out of it recently (such as Farmville, the Facebook app, which has more user accounts than Twitter, and the Wii Fit, a peripheral which generates a billion bucks for Nintendo), why they were successful, and where gaming will be headed. Well worth the 28 minutes.
So, back to these things. [Shows picture of a lot of different consumer electronic devices.] Now, well you might say that, “Well now wait a minute. Y’know, I’m not sure I’m buying all that authenticity stuff. It may very well be that technology is actually going to fix this through unification because we all know technologies converge.” There’s a bunch of crazy things going on here. But convergence is happening. Facebook is coming to the X-box … there’s gonna be one happy box, ahhh. Just like we used to have it in the old days. Remember when there was one happy box and we made games for it and that’s how it was? And because technological convergence will take us there and all this stuff is right now is just a temporary blip and we’re going to have technological convergence. And I am here to tell you that technological convergence is total bullshit. That is not how the world works. Technology is the opposite. Technologies diverge, they do not converge. They diverge like species in the Galapagos Islands. They branch out and branch out and branch out. Your VCR wasn’t able to record radio programs, and your Tivo can’t record stuff off the internet. I just got a Flip video thing and I’m like, “How do I take pictures?” and they’re like, “No, no, video only.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” Because that’s what technologies do – they diverge, they diverge, they diverge. So we’re going to have all this divergence …
And you might say, “Wait, wait, wait a minute. That’s not true: I have an iPhone. I have an iPhone and it’s convergence all over because it’s a phone, it’s a camera, it’s got a zillion little apps, it’s a game thing.” And I’ll say, “Okay you got me.” You got me but only because of the pocket exception. Pockets turn the law of divergence inside out… not the pocket, but the law. And this is not the first time, right? Remember the Swiss Army Knife, right? All the iPhone is is a modern digital Swiss Army Knife, right? And the Swiss Army Knife is really useful in the pocket – look at all that stuff converged in there. But if I got you one for your kitchen, you’s think that was the stupidest thing ever, because it doesn’t fit in your pocket. And this is why everyone hates the iPad. It’s a giant digital Swiss Army Knife, which is just stupid.
… and here’s the follow-up from Ctrl-Alt-Del.
It’s not often you see a corporate lawyer getting a standing ovation, much less seeing one at TED getting a standing ovation. Philip Howard, a partner at Covington & Burling, gives a compelling speech about a 4-pronged approach to fixing a society paralyzed by CYA-syndrome.
However, as important as identifying the right course of action is, the trick is, as with so many things, in the execution. The legal system is something which is ingrained in the very culture and fabric of a society – consider that in the US, there is reportedly 1 lawyer per 250-350 people, but in Japan there is about 1 lawyer per about 8,200 people. It’s not because no one wants to be a lawyer in Japan (on the contrary, bengoshi are highly respected, and until recent years, bar passage rates were at the 2-3% mark), it’s because the Japanese handles disputes differently to Americans (and that’s what the legal system is – a dispute resolution mechanism of last resort). Now that I think of it, it might also be the reason why the Japanese can get away with things like this. Accordingly, widesweeping change to the legal system comes neither easily, nor quickly. It either happens gradually, or if it happens quickly it’s in response to a crisis. Still, nothing wrong with daring to dream.
I was thinking about copyright footers the other day (…yes, I know). They’re the little notes you see at the bottom of webpages with the © sign. You may have already heard somewhere that the © sign doesn’t really mean anything – it denotes that something is copyrighted, but it doesn’t normally need to be there in order to copyright something.
This is because copyright automatically attaches to copyrightable material as soon as it is authored. Historically, some countries required the copyright symbol to be affixed to stuff before copyright would subsist in it, but countries which signed up to the Berne Convention (most of the world) abolished this requirement.
However, if you look around the web, you’ll see copyright footers are still ubiquitous and come in a variety of different forms, for example:
© 1996-2010, Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates
© 2010 Twitter
Facebook © 2010
© 2010 YouTube, LLC
©2010 [on Google.com]
Copyright © 1995-2010 eBay Inc. All Rights Reserved.
© 2010 Microsoft
Copyright © 2010 Apple Inc. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2010 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.
© 1996-2010 Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved.
©2003-2010 Fenwick & West LLP
You’ll notice that there are several variations. Some include “All rights reserved.” Some include the company’s common name (eg, Microsoft), and others the company’s full legal name (eg, Yahoo! Inc.). Some include the word “Copyright”, and they all include a year or a date range, although I have also seen notices without any date.
So, if all of this is unnecessary, why bother at all? The notices do serve one useful purpose: to give notice (duh).
Copyright notices alert viewers that they are looking at copyrighted material, which is owned by someone else. So if a viewer wants to do anything with the material which encroaches on the owner’s (intellectual) property, they should get permission first. The notices are there for the same broad reason supermarkets put up signs saying “Slippery floor” with a little picture of man in the process of stacking it – to inform passers-by. Also, to continue the analogy, the floor is wet without or without the sign – putting the sign up doesn’t make it so. The other reason is that it’s common practice. It’s almost like a social convention. We see that little circled C everywhere, so the web designer thinks it needs to be included and up it goes.
But what does all the other gunk mean?
The company name is useful in identifying who is asserting ownership the copyright. It lets people know who to approach to ask permission. A full legal name gives you the exact identity of the owning company. A “common name” may lead to a bit of uncertainty, especially in corporate groups, where there are a bunch of related subsidiaries (for example, does Microsoft mean Microsoft Corporation, or Microsoft Licensing, GP, or even some other Microsoft company in a totally different country?). If you’re Twitter Inc., however, and you only have one company, then there’s little possibility of incorrect identification if you just say Twitter. (Actually, I have no idea whether Twitter has any subsidiaries or holding companies.)
Spelling out “Copyright” appears to be completely superfluous. I imagine it’s there just by convention.
The date normally identifies when the copyrighted material was first published. Copyright has a shelf life. Normally it’s linked to the publication date on one end and the lifespan of the author, plus a period of years, on the other (so the author’s great-grandkids can keep collecting royalties long after great-grandma has kicked it). In the US, the copyright term keeps getting extended, mainly to protect Mickey Mouse. Corporate authors get a fixed term too.
I’m not sure why some companies use a range of dates, but it’s probably to indicate that the website contains a variety of material published on different dates. It also can be used as a subtle marketing tool to show roughly how long the company has been around (1995 for eBay, circa 1996 for Amazon).
The term “All rights reserved” has a bit of history behind it. Apparently, it was a product of the 1910 Buenos Aires Copyright Convention, which was a treaty between the US and various Latin American countries, containing a requirement that:
“The acknowledgement of a copyright obtained in one State, in conformity with its laws, shall produce its effects of full right, in all the other States, without the necessity of complying with any other formality, provided always there shall appear in the work a statement that indicates the reservation of the property right”
The “statement that indicates the reservation of the property right” was standardized to “All rights reserved”. Adding those three words ensured that an angsty poet sitting in America, now owned copyright in not only the US, but also in a bunch of Latin American countries as well.
Today, all the Buenos Aires Convention members signed up for the Berne Convention, which deems that all rights are automatically reserved, unless a statement is made otherwise. This rendered the words “all rights reserved” irrelevant yet they are still everywhere. Like elevator door closing buttons.
You may notice that it’s phrased as “all rights” (plural). This is because copyright is actually a general term which encompasses a bundle of rights which can be split up and individually manipulated. This bundle differs depending on the medium of the material. For books, for example, there is a distribution right, a reproduction right, a right to publicly display the work, a right to publicly perform it, and so on. The exact bundle of rights also differs between different countries. Countries also differ in what they allow to be copyrighted (although the Berne Convention requires all its members to permit copyright for certain types of subject matter, like “literary works”… although countries quibble when they differ in their interpretation of what a “literary work” is).
You may also notice that some people play around with those three used-to-be-magic words. Creative Commons uses the phrase “some rights reserved”, which is an accurate characterization of the copyright status of material licensed under a CC license. People who wish to assert less than complete pwnage of their intellectual property also use the term “copyleft” as a descriptor.
Work released directly into the public domain (ie, where the author has relinquished their copyright) sometimes uses the tongue-in-cheek designation of “No rights reserved”.
The Berne Convention effectively abolished formalities (like adding a © symbol) as a condition for copyright protection. This position has annoyed certain companies and certain academics who argue that this blanket application of copyright, even for drivel, long lost forgotten works, and even Tweets*, is stifling the flow of information in society. Sometimes we can’t use copyrighted material because the author is uncontactable, or dead, or whatever, and the would-be user can’t get the requisite permissions. One proposed solution is to make people register certain works before they receive copyright in them – the registration process is a “formality”. But I am digressing now.
Finally, the word order in the notice doesn’t really matter, except for readability purposes. You could conceivably write: “All rights reserved. Your Mum (C) 1980, 1982-2010. Copyright.”
Ok. I think that’s my cue to end now.
* A recent blog post by Zeldman boldly declares that Tweets are not copyrightable. I personally disagree. As does Arment, who also makes a oft-argued (if flawed) point about people abusing the DMCA take down notice procedure rendering the issue of whether something is really copyrightable, moot – at least in the online environment. Bill Bonk has written another legal analysis on whether Tweets are copyrightable and I think his conclusion is spot on.
† Thanks to Daryl and Hugh for their input on this post.
stuloh This episode of The Deep End has astoundingly bad law. I am astounded.
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act contains provisions aimed at protecting the privacy of certain nonpublic personal financial information. EPIC explains how a Victoria’s Secret catalog was a catalyst for the enactment of federal financial privacy laws:
Critical support for the Markey Amendment [an amendment to the GLBA which added privacy protections] came from Representative Joe Barton (R-TX). Barton expressed concern that his credit union had sold his address to Victoria’s Secret. Representative Barton noted that he started receiving Victoria’s Secret catalogs at his Washington home. This was troubling—he didn’t want his wife thinking that he bought lingerie for women in Washington, or that he spent his time browsing through such material.
Barton explained that he maintained an account in Washington for incidental expenses, but used it very little. Neither he nor his wife had purchased anything from Victoria’s Secret at the Washington address. Barton smelled a skunk; he reasoned that since he spent so little money in Washington, his credit union was the only business with his address.
Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, “The Sure Thing“, examines the popular conception that entrepreneurs are risk-takers and concludes that successful entrepreneurs are actually risk-averse. Or, cast in another light, entrepreneurs only seem to be risk-takers, because they jump on hidden opportunities that everyone else is ignorant about (and what’s unknown is risky). However, they have done everything from their perspective to actually mitigate their risk.
“The risk-taking model suggests that the entrepreneur’s chief advantage is one of temperament – he’s braver than the rest of us are. In the predator model, the entrepreneur’s advantage is analytical – he’s better at figuring out a sure thing than the rest of us.”
Gladwell recounts the stories of various entrpreneurs, including Ted Turner (who was adept at getting good deals for himself), Sam Walton (who initially financed Walmart with money from his in-laws, which was less risky than a bank loan), and hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made $15 billion in profit in 2007 and $5 billion in 2008, by buying up credit default swaps on subprime mortgage bonds. In all of these cases, the decisions made by the entrepreneurs were not a seat of the pants thing, but bets made after careful calculation.
Entrepreneurs, or at least the good ones, may actually be quite risk averse.
“When the sociologists Hongwei Xu and Martin Ruef asked a large sample of entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs to choose among three alternatives – a business with a potential profit of five million dollars with a twenty-per-cent chance of success, or one with a profit of two million with a fifty-per-cent chance of success, or one with a profit of $1.25 million with an eighty-per-cent chance of success – it was the entrepreneurs who were more likely to go with the third, safe choice. They weren’t dazzled by the chance of making five million dollars. They were drawn to the eighty-per-cent chance of getting to do what they love doing. The predator is a supremely rational actor. But, deep down, he is also a romantic, motivated by the simple joy he finds in his work.”
And why do so many successful entrepreneurs keep working even though they never need to work in their lives again?
“…one undisputed finding in all the research on entrepreneurship [is that] people who work for themselves are far happier than the rest of us. Sane says that the average person would have to earn two and a half times as much to be as happy working for someone else as he would be working for himself. And people who like what they do are profoundly conservative.”
The founders of the company I work at sold most of their shareholdings in it for an amount that guaranteed that they would never have to work again in their lives. Yet, they are still working at the company, doing what they enjoy. Another insightful Gladwell article.
It’s been too long time since I’ve read a book. I picked up a copy of Hank Paulson’s On the Brink this week. It’s a very good read, and Paulson gives a gripping day-by-day account of his time as Treasury Secretary.
He received a lot of bad publicity over the closing months of his tenure for implementing TARP and other bailout plans, but this book puts into perspective just what he, and his department, had to contend with. In the last half of 2008, the financial world was rocked with crisis after crisis, and Paulson was at the center of it all – running around trying to do deals with banks, regulators, and Congress, while also in the midst of an election campaign. Many times Paulson was in the thick of dealing with one crisis when another hit. I even found myself thinking, “You can’t be serious!” whenever more bad news was delivered. Paulson and his team had to actually deal with it all.
He regarded that period as tougher than anything he ever had to do during his 30+ years at Goldman Sachs, and goes so far as to recount the occasional bouts of dry retching he endured as exhaustion and stress caught up with him.
Two interesting things occurred to me. Paulson goes to great lengths to cast President Bush in a positive light. Bush is depicted as always supportive, helpful, and even insightful. But to me the praise was a little too overdone to the point that it felt hollow. Bush’s credit mainly stemmed from him getting out of the way and letting Paulson do his job. Pelosi’s portrayal didn’t fare as well. (There’s a scene where his staffers are pulling all nighters in chaotic ad hoc offices on the Hill, running on take away pizza and diet Coke. Paulson goes to Pelosi’s office to speak with her, and everything there is prim and proper, and far away from the crisis happening outside the door. Someone takes his cup of Diet Coke away and pours it into a glass, and Pelosi says, “We don’t drink out of plastic cups here.”) Nonetheless, the book is still reasonably politically balanced as Paulson recognized that he needed the support of both parties to “save the US economy”.
The other striking thing was that many of the emergency powers held by the Fed and FDIC could only be exercised if there was a crisis that threatened the systemic integrity of the financial system. However, just about every institution mentioned in the book turned out to be “systemically important” – not just one or two, but over a dozen were on the brink of going belly up (and, as Paulson believed, the rest of the global economy along with them). There really are a lot of private institutions which are “Too Big to Fail”.
I recommend this book if you’d like a candid insight into what happens at the highest levels of the financial industry and political world. In early October 2008, I was in New York, feeling disturbed as I watched the markets turn to shit on Bloomberg. It was very late in the night, and I remember walking over to my hotel room window, which looked towards New York’s financial district. I wondered what the bankers were doing at that moment because I was sure a lot of them were pulling all nighters, trying to save something or other. I don’t have to wonder any longer, because this book tells that story.
Whoa. I lost contact with Rick almost 10 years ago, and this popped up in my Twitter stream today:
Chat Roulette has been getting a lot of coverage lately. There’s also a Tumblr site called Chatroulolz (sometimes NSFW) which is capturing strange pictures from the surreal, weird, but often amusing world of Chat Roulette. Reddit also has their own version.
This concept would have made a great sci-fi story in the past… but now it’s 2010 and it’s real and it’s too late.
It’s worth checking it out for the sheer curiosity factor, but be prepared to see a lot of dicks (in all senses of the word). There’s also a Chat Roulette drinking game. (I notice you have to drink a fair bit if you spot an Aussie on there.)
Update (2/22): Penny Arcade weighs in.
Diversity is restored this season.
Black couple? Check.
Asian couple? Check.
Pair of ambitious women? Check.
Pair of strong men? Check.
Lesbian couple? Check.
Brothers? Check (but, in a twist, only one is gay).
But, this season also brings…
71 year old triathlete and granddaughter
Former Big Brother winner and housemate
“World Champion” professional cowboys
World series winning team coach
Miss Teen South Carolina
First challenge is: make your way from downtown LA to LAX… using public transport. Brutal.
stuloh Happy Chinese New Year! 恭喜發財, 利是逗來! :)
Got an email from my dad the other day saying that the tree outside his workplace had fallen down. Then I looked at the photo he attached. That gum tree was a pretty big sucker. If it had fallen the other way… well, let’s just say that dad would have been able to go on holiday for a few weeks. He even got quoted in the local papers about it (page 6)!
The landmark 20th season of Survivor is a special “Heroes and Villains” season. Set in Samoa, they’ve brought back 10 of the most well-liked and 10 of the most devious survivors.
It promises to be a fascinating and really entertaining season. The survivors are all experienced hands. Some are back for the third time, others have played together on the same season. With that comes natural alliances, people trying to mix up their gameplay style, and a whole new set of team dynamics. Continued after the jump (contains spoilers).
Warren Buffett recently interviewed former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce annual meeting in Omaha. Which is timely, given my recent Paulson- and Buffett-related posts. In the hour-long interview, Buffett asks Paulson a variety of questions about his new book, China, Bush, investing, and other interesting topics. As the moderator at the says when he brought the interview to a close: “I know one way to get unpopular is to interrupt a conversation like that.”
The NY Times has an article about how several people singing Sinatra’s “My Way” have been killed in the karaoke bars of the Philippines. Not while singing any other song. Just while singing “My Way”.
The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?
Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country’s many Sinatra lovers, like Mr. Gregorio here in this city in the southernmost Philippines, are practicing self-censorship out of perceived self-preservation.
The article also describes one creative method Filipinos have used to diffuse potentially lethal tensions in certain karaoke bars:
A subset of karaoke bars with G.R.O.’s — short for guest relations officers, a euphemism for female prostitutes — often employ gay men, who are seen as neutral, to defuse the undercurrent of tension among the male patrons. Since the gay men are not considered rivals for the women’s attention — or rivals in singing, which karaoke machines score and rank — they can use humor to forestall macho face-offs among the patrons.
Akio Toyoda, the President of Toyota, recently bowed at a press conference to express an apology in relation to the troubles they have been having with their cars. Bowing is a meaning-filled action in Japan, and the Times wrote a short guide on it:
There is the momentarily-held 10-degrees (gosh, was that your toe I trod on?), the briefly-held 25-degrees (sorry, we’ve run out of tuna) the 2-second, 45 degrees (I know you’re the Best Man, but the flight is cancelled) the 5-second 45 degrees (I’ve just backed over your dog, boss), the 20-second 90 degrees (our widget blinds kids) and the “dogeza” kneel on the floor (evacuate your village, the plant is exploding).
So when Toyoda-san made a brief dip, people criticised him for not being sufficiently contrite. The LA Times suggested this explanation:
But Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder of the Japanese automaker now battling to save its global image from the stain of safety problems, did not deliver the deeper, longer bow that some expected. Bend too low, hold the pose too long, and Toyoda might have found himself in sticky legal trouble, his ritual of apology construed as a sign that the company accepted its culpability in the mess over all those defects.
Imagine that… a few more degrees lower, a few more seconds longer, and blam!, you’re suddenly up for billions of yen in damages. You wouldn’t want to be drunk when you make that bow.
stuloh Smallville is doing product placements for Windows 7?! How bizarre.
Continuing the day’s cinematograph film theme, Waxy.org has an article, Pirating the 2010 Oscars, which shows statistics (and graphs) about the speed at which pirates have pirated Oscar-nominated films over the last few years.
Since 2003, I’ve tracked the online distribution of Oscar screeners, and every year, the piracy scene manages to release nearly every film by nomination day. Last year, all but three films were leaked in DVD quality by nomination day.
Incredibly, the tide may be turning. Fewer Oscar screeners leaked online this year — only 14 out of 34 nominated films, the lowest percentage ever. And they’re taking twice as long to leak — a median 21 days after theatrical release, up from 11 days the previous year.
An important Australian case was decided today by the Federal Court. iiNet, Australia’s 3rd largest ISP behind Telstra and Optus, was sued by 34 parties – mostly movie industry companies. iiNet, like any ISP, had customers who were pirating movies (via BitTorrent). Australia’s Copyright Act has provisions which impose secondary liability on people who “authorise” the infringement of copyright. If iiNet was held to be guilty of authorising such infringement, they would be liable as if they had pirated the movies themselves. So, there was a lot on the line for iiNet. This was bet-the-company-level litigation (and, in some ways, bet-the-industry litigation).
In a typically lengthy 600+ paragraph judgment, the Court ruled in iiNet’s favour. The SMH has a decent report on the case. I’m sure there are academics preparing blog posts which are far more erudite and analytical, but I have excerpted the main points from the summary of the judgment:
[The Issue] This proceeding raises the question whether an internet service provider or ISP authorises the infringement of copyright of its users or subscribers when they download cinematograph films in a manner which infringes copyright. In Australian copyright law, a person who authorises the infringement of copyright is treated as if they themselves infringed copyright directly.
[Reasoning] Firstly, in the law of authorisation, there is a distinction to be drawn between the provision of the ‘means’ of infringement compared to the provision of a precondition to infringement occurring. The decisions in Moorhouse, Jain, Metro, Cooper and Kazaa are each examples of cases in which the authorisers provided the ‘means’ of infringement. But, unlike those decisions, I find that the mere provision of access to the internet is not the ‘means’ of infringement. There does not appear to be any way to infringe the applicants’ copyright from the mere use of the internet. Rather, the ‘means’ by which the applicants’ copyright is infringed is an iiNet user’s use of the constituent parts of the BitTorrent system. iiNet has no control over the BitTorrent system and is not responsible for the operation of the BitTorrent system.
Secondly, I find that a scheme for notification, suspension and termination of customer accounts is not, in this instance, a relevant power to prevent copyright infringement pursuant to s 101(1A)(a) of the Copyright Act, nor in the circumstances of this case is it a reasonable step pursuant to s 101(1A)(c) of the Copyright Act. The reason for this finding is complicated and lengthy, and is not suitable for reduction to a short summary for present purposes so I shall refrain from attempting to do so.
Thirdly, I find that iiNet simply cannot be seen as sanctioning, approving or countenancing copyright infringement. The requisite element of favouring infringement on the evidence simply does not exist. The evidence establishes that iiNet has done no more than to provide an internet service to its users. This can be clearly contrasted with the respondents in the Cooper and Kazaa proceedings, in which the respondents intended copyright infringements to occur, and in circumstances where the website and software respectively were deliberately structured to achieve this result.
Notably, even if iiNet was entitled to the safe harbour protections (because it had the “three strikes” scheme of notification/suspension/termination in place), iiNet did not even need to rely on it because it wasn’t guilty of authorising infringement in the first place.
Big win for ISPs – had the judgment gone against iiNet, not only would they all been exposed to a huge amount of liability, but the burdens on them to ensure that this sort of thing didn’t happen again would be weighty indeed.
Two other paragraphs of note are (emphasis added):
This proceeding has attracted widespread interest both here in Australia and abroad, and both within the legal community and the general public. So much so that I understand this is the first Australian trial to be twittered or tweeted. I granted approval for this to occur in view of the public interest in the proceeding, and it seems rather fitting for a copyright trial involving the internet.
That this trial should have attracted such attention is unsurprising, given the subject matter. As far as I am aware, this trial, involving suit against an ISP claiming copyright infringement on its part due to alleged authorisation of the copyright infringement of its users or subscribers, is the first trial of its kind in the world to proceed to hearing and judgment.
This is, of course, a trial judgment, and the applicants may appeal.
An excerpt from Hank Paulson’s new book, On the Brink, recounts his weekend before Lehman went belly up:
He made it clear, without a hint of apology in his voice, that there was no way Barclays would buy Lehman. He offered no specifics, other than to say that we were asking the British government to take on too big a risk, and he was not willing to have us unload our problems on the British taxpayer.
It was shortly before 1 p.m. when Tim, (Security and Exchange Commission Chairman) Chris (Cox) and I addressed the CEOs again. I was completely candid. Barclays had dropped out, and we had no buyer for Lehman.
“The British screwed us,” I blurted out, more in frustration than anger. I’m sure the FSA had very good reasons for their stance, and it would have been more proper and responsible for me to have said we had been surprised and disappointed to learn of the UK regulator’s decision, but I was caught up in the emotion of the moment.
Garry Kasparov wrote an article about the impact that computers have had on the world of chess. A lengthy but very interesting article:
Even more notable was how the advanced chess experiment continued. In 2005, the online chess-playing site Playchess.com hosted what it called a “freestyle” chess tournament in which anyone could compete in teams with other players or computers. Normally, “anti-cheating” algorithms are employed by online sites to prevent, or at least discourage, players from cheating with computer assistance. (I wonder if these detection algorithms, which employ diagnostic analysis of moves and calculate probabilities, are any less “intelligent” than the playing programs they detect.)
Lured by the substantial prize money, several groups of strong grandmasters working with several computers at the same time entered the competition. At first, the results seemed predictable. The teams of human plus machine dominated even the strongest computers. The chess machine Hydra, which is a chess-specific supercomputer like Deep Blue, was no match for a strong human player using a relatively weak laptop. Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer was overwhelming.
The surprise came at the conclusion of the event. The winner was revealed to be not a grandmaster with a state-of-the-art PC but a pair of amateur American chess players using three computers at the same time.
A few miscellaneous videos to entertain you.
View from a rocket booster on Discovery
Real-time footage from a camera mounted on Discovery’s rocket booster. The booster is jettisoned after about 90 seconds (by which time the rocket is maybe 30km high), and it floats back down to the ocean.
Sir Patrick Stewart talks about Twitter
I don’t tweet. I’ve never Twittered. And, it’s not that I’m resisting it, but, I see no reason to have it in my life. To reduce life to — how many? — 140… just seems to me to be a little bit simplistic.
But he has a laptop and an iPhone (which he notes is “an extension of whom I am”). And he loves emails. What a legend.
Stop motion flipbook-style video
Another one of those videos where you say, “That’s really cool, but how long did that take to make?!” There were over 6500 frames.
Hasbro has redesigned the redesigned the Monopoly board. The board is now circular. It looks cool, but the deal breaker for me is that they’ve also gotten rid of cash. That’s right, Monopoly money is no more. Players get cards which they insert into an electronic bank account in the middle of the board (it looks like a calculator to me). Blah.
Where’s the fun in that? Gone is the tactic to cut backroom deals by waving fistfuls of notes in front of other people’s faces. Gone is the ability to chip in some cash so your ally can buy that fourth hotel. Gone is the psychological advantage of stacking your massive pile of cash up against your arch-rival’s dwindling reserves. And of course, gone is the ability to engage in daylight robbery of your opponents’ cash when their head is turned. Or even the bank’s.
In 2004, when I was writing about Google’s then-upcoming IPO, I made the point that the absolute price of a stock has an effect on the liquidity of a stock – mainly due to psychological factors. I brought up the example of Berkshire Hathaway, which at that time was trading at almost $90,000 for its A shares and about $3,000 for its B shares. At those prices, I noted that Berkshire was less liquid than some of its comparably sized peers (ie, Berkshire shares were changing hands relatively infrequently). A reader disputed this proposition, so it’s interesting to now revisit it, given what has happened at Berkshire over the last couple of weeks.
Aside from the fact that it’s Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire is an interesting company. Berkshire itself is a holding company, with many, many wholly- or majority-owned subsidiaries (a large insurance and reinsurance arm, utilities, apparel, retail, etc). It also holds significant stakes in numerous major corporations (Moody’s, Washington Post, Wells Fargo, Gillette, Coke, Goldman Sachs, GE, etc). Consequently, investing in Berkshire is akin to investing in a diversified mutual/managed fund – Buffett himself has 99% of his personal wealth in the form of Berkshire stock. Berkshire’s business lines produce a lot of cash (somewhere in the region of $8-10bn), and it’s Buffett’s job to figure out how to invest that money.
Berkshire’s common stock (“BRK”) is split up into two classes. Its Class A shares have been the highest priced shares on the NYSE for some time now, so Buffett decided to create Class B shares, to allow “the masses” to be able to invest in BRK. A B share has 1/30th the rights of an A share, with two other differences: B shares have proportionately less voting rights, and cannot be converted into A shares (whereas conversion in the opposite direction is true). Consequently, a B share is theoretically worth slightly less than 1/30th the price of an A share.
B shares, however, are now priced at about $75. The reason for the repricing is that they underwent a 50-for-1 stock split a couple weeks ago. Berkshire is notable for having never distributed a dividend, nor splitting its stock (both of which are factors which helped to drive those stocks’ prices to lofty heights). The reason for the recent split was only to support the mechanics of a proposed acquisition deal.
The immediate consequence of the split was to drive up the liquidity of the stock. Small-time investors could suddenly afford to buy a handful of BRK shares, and the trading volume of BRK.B spiked that week. The other consequence was that BRK could now be added to the S&P 500 index. Despite its market cap of about $200b, BRK was absent from the index due to its low liquidity. Because there are many funds out there which attempt to track the S&P, any change to the stocks comprising that index would necessitate at least some of those funds needing to add BRK to their portfolio. This in turn would drive up liquidity (and price) of the stock.
Granted, five days of trading history with the new Berkshire B shares doesn’t provide much of a window onto long-term return potential. Average daily trading volume in the Berkshire Hathaway B shares has soared though, from 41,000 shares traded to as high as 6.6 million shares traded — and that was just on Monday. In the past five days, approximately 50 million Berkshire Hathaway shares have been traded.
Consider this: the 50 million Berkshire Hathaway shares traded over the past five days represent what would have previously amounted to almost three-and-a-half years’ worth of trading volume for the Berkshire Hathaway B shares. (src)
Finally, another side effect of the split is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will probably benefit nicely. Several years ago, Buffett pledged to donate about $30b to the Gates Foundation in the form of BRK stock, delivered over time. The Foundation currently holds about 78 million BRK.B shares, and because it is obligated to spend a certain amount of money by Buffett, the Foundation regularly sells its BRK shares on the market. The increased demand for BRK.B shares in the short-term should held the Foundation to unload stock at better prices. In the long-term, the increased liquidity of the stock should also enable the Foundation to more smoothly unload shares without jarring the market price as much.
Obama attends a Georgetown vs Duke basketball game and even takes a spot in the commentary box.
Seated in a cushioned folding chair mere feet from the basketball court, POTUS studiously remained dispassionate and impartial even as fans of the Georgetown University team all around him went absolutely berserk. Just to his left was a line of shirtless students smeared with gray and blue body paint, some wearing frenzied blue wigs and screaming like they were possessed. In response to a call that was apparently unfavorable to the Georgetown University team, one of the shirtless fans tried starting a cheer unfit for a family newspaper. But just as it started to get off the ground, a second shirtless student — no doubt a nerd — scolded, “Dude, the President of the United States is right there!” Which effectively killed that cheer.
stuloh A bit worrying how my iPhone now crashes more frequently than my Macbook (running Windows).
I always thought that the word “set” had the most definitions in the dictionary. But it turns out that it depends on which dictionary you go to. “Run” has the most in some. “Turn” and “use” also have a lot of definitions. The top 10 list for the OED is here.
Earlier tonight, I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. There are a lot of old, classic movies I haven’t seen because, I must confess, I usually find older films boring and slow-paced. (I can hear my dad scoffing at this from 10,000km away.) This movie happily turned out to not be one of them.
The 1967 film is probably the first to tackle interracial marriage, after it was effectively legalized in the same year by a Supreme Court judgment. Sydney Poitier plays a 38-year old man who meets a 23-year old woman in Hawaii. Poitier is an extremely well-credentialed medical doctor, but of course he’s black and she’s white. Ten days later they decide they want to get married and fly into San Francisco to sound out her parents about the idea. Even though her parents are wealthy liberals who are outspoken proponents of racial equality, the first meeting obviously does not go down well.
The rest of the film is very entertaining and I was surprised to find that the dialog wasn’t naive at all, but quite engaging and believable. (And for some reason I didn’t think people were allowed to cuss someone out and call them a bitch in movies back in the 60s, but it refreshingly turns out that they were.) Although times have obviously moved on since then, the film still maintains its relevance. I can see this sort of situation occurring reasonably regularly in today’s world. However, lest you think I imply that no progress has been made, the outcome of the movie might have been but a fairy tale back in the 60s, it no longer is today.
The other thing is that the film is set in SF, and I really enjoyed seeing the backdrop of the Bay and the SF streets throughout the movie. The look and feel of the city hasn’t changed all that much actually, although it seems that they had some cool diners back then where waitresses would come out and serve you in the car park when you honked your horn.