The Lanterne Rouge Wins the Tour de Frolorado!

The past few weeks have produced stunning news in the world of competitive cycling. But no news is more fantastic than the unprecedented victory of Taxman and the Lanterne Rouge in the Tour de Frolorado. Follow all the action on youtube:

Or, if you prefer, you can find the Tour de Frolorado on Google Video. Also, here’s a transcript covering all the stages.

This historic news video is freely available for remixes, mash-ups, abbreviations, extensions, and DVD burning. You can download it from the Tour de Frolorado page in the Internet Archive. Some fun projects to contemplate and perhaps even complete:

  1. Add captions to the make the video more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing persons.
  2. Include a memorial for Ben Inglis. He was tragically killed in an accident in the last stage of the tour.
  3. Include other cyclists, other teams …anyone who wants to be part of the Tour.
  4. Think you should have won a stage, or the whole Tour? Go for it!

Please include the existing credits in your new video. If you get a chance, please send me a link to your work. Then I might feel a small measure of paternal delight and share your new creation with all my friends.

For your viewing pleasure, the prologue and stage 1 of this epic bicycle race are right here:

Note: This post has been updated as I’ve sorted out various problems.

presence for you

While I consider these presence management services more useful, I like the way availabot relates information to atoms:

Rather than showing up on your screen, it shows availability as a physical object in the world. That means that you can move the puppet out of view when you don’t want to be distracted, watch out for it when you’re working on other tasks, and have a background awareness of your friends from the corner of your eye. [availabot site]

The puppet is personalized with custom fabrication technology. A more cost-effective way to do this might be to have a custom image printed on the outside of an inflatable shape. Inflation is associated with human character, spirit, and mood (buoyant, inflated ego, fat-headed, depressed, drooping, etc.). With some cheap internal pneumatics, the object could provide a richer sense of presence.

Availabot is a practical application of the sort of general program that MIT’s fabulous Fab Lab has been promoting. Innovation in information technology over the past decades has been dazzling. But I don’t think it’s possible even to approach the value of the information in the order of matter in our real world. Information technology can create value most effectively by leveraging the value of the real world.

A lot of work on presence seems to be oriented toward services for alpha information geeks in their professional lives. Microsoft’s Business Division is taking the lead for its Unified Communications Strategy. Discussion of that strategy tends to focus on how to best manage information in communication:

It’s the intersection of the fundamentals of presence and business processes that will provide the value that customers are looking for. [Alex Sanders . Log]

That may well be true in business situations. But communication is not just about information transfer, and non-business communications is a huge field of value.

Business executives may have a natural bias to underestimate the value of non-business communication.

About 1877, within a year after Alexander Graham Bell had publicly demonstrated telephony, the president of Western Union Telegraph Company turned down the opportunity to buy all the rights to Bell’s telephone. He is reported to have remarked, “What use could this company make of an electrical toy?” [Sense in Communication]

In the late nineteenth century, the Bell System primarily marketed its telephone to business users. Perhaps 90% of its subscribers were business subscribers. When the Bell System’s patent on the telephone expired in 1894, independent telephone entered the industry and flourished by providing residential telephone services that the Bell System had largely neglected. These independent telephone companies are now at the center of very important and contentious policy questions about universal service funds.

human rights to communicate using radio devices

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes a right to freedom of expression. Article 10 of the European Declaration of Human Rights does likewise. Regulation of the use of radio devices can restrict freedom of expression. What sort of radio regulation is justified under human rights law?

Under the prompting of Open Spectrum, human rights organizations are beginning to consider this question. With respect to licensing requirements (one type of restriction on radio use), a human rights organization called Article 19 stated in a brief note (MS Word doc):

A licence requirement for wireless communications devices clearly constitutes a restriction and therefore it must be 1) provided by law; 2) serve a legitimate aim; and 3) be necessary for the attainment of that aim.

A necessary restriction for attaining a legitimate aim under law is no more restrictive than a feasible alternative, narrowly tailored, and proportionate to the aim.

Article 19’s brief but pioneering analysis seems to have at least one weakness. The analysis suggested that “preventing chaos in the frequency spectrum is a legitimate goal” under human rights law. Under Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one legitimate aim for restricting freedom of expression is to protect public order. One might consider protecting public order to encompass preventing chaos in the frequency spectrum. However, focus on order among frequencies, like focus on relations between bodies of water, can lead to law with little connection to the facts of communication among persons. Particularly with respect to human rights, public order is probably better understood in terms of order among persons (the public). Compared to the extent of chaos in the frequency spectrum, actual personal freedom to communicate is a much more meaningful public issue.

Freedom of expression is directly related to the real circumstances of contemporary life. In an insightful response to Ofcom’s consultation entitled “Spectrum Framework Review,” Open Spectrum UK noted:

The justifications given in the current consultation for utilising market forces refer to maximising economic benefits and spectrum efficiency. However, one must not forget that the regulation of radio was instituted internationally not to control interference but to reign in the business practices of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.

Knowledge of technology and examination of leading practices world-wide provides insight into what sort of communications capabilities persons could have at a given time. Radio regulation that deprives persons of these capabilities deserves to be assailed as a violation of human rights.

peer production

In Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, trade rapidly expanded. An important part of that expansion was increasing articulation of trade — from producer to consumer, to producer to trader to consumer, to producer to trader to trader to consumer. Exchanges among traders seem not to have any conventional, worthy motivation. Individual traders do not produce anything. The word “commerce” began to be used in English in the sixteenth century for this sort of growing activity. Commerce described a network of exchanges among peers in trading. Commerce was a forerunner of what today is heralded as peer production.

This understanding of commerce has significant legal implications. What is commonly called the “Commerce Clause” of the U.S. Constitution shapes the U.S. federal structure of government. The Commerce Clause gives the U.S. Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” A big question in constitutional law: what is the scope of this enumerated power?

Professor Natelson’s impressive recent scholarship has examined the legal meaning of commerce at the time of the writing and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. By impressive, I mean this kind of work:

I collected evidence from eighteenth century legal works at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, England, with additional excursions to Oxford’s Codrington Library and the library at the Middle Temple in London, one the England’s Inns of Court. Using the Justis database of the English reports, I examined every use of the term “commerce,” both in English and in Law French, in cases reported after the Year Books and prior to 1800 [i.e. all cases reported in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries]. I also examined the use of the term in all available English dictionaries and abridgments, and in various legal treatises. (Natelson, p. 15)

Every law student should look at this research if only to gain appreciation for the smell of primary sources. Here’s the definition of merchant from Giles Jacob’s popular New Law-Dictionary (8’th edition, 1762):

the Word Merchant formerly extended to all Sorts of Traders, Buyers, and Sellers. But every one that buys and sells is not at this Day under the Denomination of a Merchant; only those who traffick in the the Way of Commerce, by Importation or Exportation, or carry on Business by Way of Emption, Vendition, Barter, Permutation or Exchange, and which make it their Living to buy and sell, by a continued Assiduity, or frequent Negotiation, in the Mystery of Merchandising, are esteemed Merchants. (quoted in Natelson, p. 27)

Merchants were thus associated with group-specific assets and a distinguished social status. That is no different from law professors or any other long-lasting human group. Peer production is a general feature of human sociality that emerges across vastly different institutional organizations and human activities.

Law professors writing about the Commerce Clause have not sufficiently acknowledged the importance of peer production. Based on his thorough examination of primary sources, Professor Natelson summarized his findings:

In legal discourse the term “commerce” was almost always a synonym for exchange, traffic, intercourse. When used economically, it referred to mercantile activities: buying, selling, and certain closely-related conduct, such as navigation and commercial finance. It rarely, if ever, encompassed all gainful economic activity. (Natelson, pp. 15-6)

One problem with this summary is that the terms “economically” and “economic” are anachronisms in the context of his sources. Economics as a stand-alone analytical term did not develop until the late nineteenth century. More significantly, commerce was added to descriptions of trade and exchange to highlight the new group-specific quality of trade. Commerce described new human relationships that emerged with the expansion of trade.

The meaning of commerce is more closely related to peer production than to distinctions among different types of activity. Consider, for example, the interpretation of the Commerce Clause that Professor Akhil Reed Amar, an eminent scholar at Yale Law School, put forward in his recent book, America’s Constitution: A Biography. With relatively little consideration of primary sources, Professor Amar noted that commerce in 1787 “had a broader meaning referring to all forms of intercourse in the affairs of life, whether or not narrowly economic or mediated by explicit markets” (p. 107). This interpretation, highly valued in modern legal scholarship, is organized with respect to distinctions concerning “economic” and “markets.” At the same time “all forms of intercourse in the affairs of life” is a remarkable inarticulate category, even if just limited to the daily life of eminent legal scholars. Scholars, as well as merchants, clearly recognize peers. That recognition affects their behavior. The category “all forms of intercourse in the affairs of life” makes persons peers at a far too abstract level to be a sensible interpretation of the meaning of commerce in the Commerce Clause.

As a matter of bureaucratic work, U.S. federal courts decide legal cases concerning the Commerce Clause. Constitutional scholars merely instruct the Supreme Court on how to decide cases correctly, grade the Supreme Court’s work, and re-argue and re-decide cases, as necessary. At least one leading constitutional scholar does, however, engage in other activities. Recent cases concerning the Commerce Clause include United States v. Lopez, United States v. Morrison, and Gonzales (Ashcroft) v. Raich.

In Rapanos v. United States, the Supreme Court decided whether certain collections of water are within the scope of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ authority under the federal Clean Water Act. That Act gave the Corps authority to regulate “navigable waters” so as to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Deciding whether the Corps exceeded its statutory authority under the Clean Water Act is an issue of statutory law, not constitutional law.

Rapanos, however, does offer insights into federal power under the Commerce Clause. Even though, as a Rapanos dissent noted, “[the Nation’s waters] are so various and so intricately interconnected,” the Clean Water Act does not declare federal authority to regulate all use of “navigable waters.” For example, choosing between persons to get an allotment of water from a well has nothing to do with the purpose of the Act and presumably would not be authorized under the Act. No federal statute has been interpreted to authorize federal regulation of all water use in the U.S. That’s rather different from asserted federal jurisdiction for radio use.

Rapanos also highlights the difficulty of judging relationships between waters. Whatever the actual meaning of commerce as written in the Constitution, it surely concerned relations among persons. Promoting and sustaining relations among person is a central focus of innovation and entrepreneurship on the Internet today. Think of free software/open source software projects, blogs, Wikipedia, del.icio.us, MySpace, and youtube. Notwithstanding the gentle teasing of a former colonial overlord, the U.S. Constitution has probably been one of the world’s most successful pieces of social software. You would never guess that from that past decade of debate about the Commerce Clause.

inaugurating the Carnival of the Bureaucrats

Faceless bureaucrats — show your faces! I am now welcoming submissions to the new (ugh) Carnival of the Bureaucrats.

Rules:

  1. Submissions must come from bloggers with a day job in a bureaucracy.
  2. Except as provided in rules 3 to 5, and subject to the waiver procedure established under rule 7, to be eligible under rule 1 persons must work in an organization:
    1. that has been in existence for at least a generation, where a generation means:
      1. the lesser of one-half the average lifespans of males and females; or if such data is not available
      2. thirty-five (35) years;
    2. that produces mainly documents edited at least twenty-five times, where
      1. edits made higher up in the editing chain to edits made lower in the editing chain count as separate edits
      2. conflicting edits made to the same text by different departments count as separate edits
      3. where more than one department is asked to prepare the same document under different directions, edits will be accounted separately for the different versions of the document;
    3. that has at least 500 employees, such that
      1. there is at least one manager for every three workers;
      2. ten meetings for every tentative decision; and
      3. it’s always the other person’s responsibility.
  3. All persons with jobs in traditional media (newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and phone companies) are eligible.
  4. All persons working in government, so long as they have not participated in “re-inventing government” initiatives, are eligible.
  5. Any person who has received from an employer a matching pen-and-pencil set, a clock, or a longevity-based service plaque, is eligible.
  6. Posts on any topic are eligible, but posts may not include the phrases “stupid bureaucrats,” “dumb bureaucrats,” “mindless bureaucrats,” or any other similar terms that the organizer may specify in the public interest.
  7. Waivers to these rules will be considered upon request.

limitations of crowdsourcing

The brainpower of all human being around the earth is vastly underutilized. Organizing production to give more persons more opportunities to use their brains can make a huge contribution to the common good.

Crowdsourcing” describes some new production arrangements. An interesting example of crowdsourcing is InnoCentive. InnoCentive mediates between companies seeking solutions to R&D problems and persons around the world interested in solving problems. All kinds of persons with all kinds of training have succeeded in solving problems that have been difficult and costly for rigidly structured research organizations to solve.

This shouldn’t be surprising, notes Karim Lakhani, a lecturer in technology and innovation at MIT, who has studied InnoCentive. “The strength of a network like InnoCentive’s is exactly the diversity of intellectual background,” he says. Lakhani and his three coauthors surveyed 166 problems posted to InnoCentive from 26 different firms. “We actually found the odds of a solver’s success increased in fields in which they had no formal expertise,” Lakhani says. He has put his finger on a central tenet of network theory, what pioneering sociologist Mark Granovetter describes as “the strength of weak ties.” The most efficient networks are those that link to the broadest range of information, knowledge, and experience.
[from Wired]

Academic disciplines are largely cartels for dividing up the knowledge market, lessening intellectual competition, and facilitating symbolic claims to authority. Broader, more fluid organizations of intelligence can make a major contribution to creating replicable, instrumental solutions to practical problems.

This kind of production arrangement has some important limitations. In many cases, persons and organizations don’t recognize the most important problems that they need to solve. Defining the problem is nine-tenths of the solution. That’s a cliché. It’s also true. If you don’t understand what the key problem is, you can’t get someone to solve it. This situation is pervasive in the communications industry.

In addition, for many business problems, solutions are quite difficult to evaluate. Solutions to the generic problem, “how to make a lot money quickly,” can be intelligently dismissed with little effort. Recognizing neglected, decision-relevant knowledge for narrower problems of mundane human behavior (economics) can be simply a matter of logic. But recognizing such knowledge can also require wisdom. Crowdsourcing cannot solve the problem of distinguishing between wisdom of crowds, and folly of crowds.