Category Archives: Technology and Society

Creative Commons License 2.0

The latest revision of the Creative Commons License has been released. Creative Commons is an attempt to deal with some of the messiness of intellectual property law by making it simple to create a roll-your-own license permitting certain kinds of use and forbidding others. If you create IP, take a look. Creative commons provides a way for you to encourage creative people to build on your work while retaining some measure of control.

Hat tip: Joi Ito

The Benefits Of A Database Nation

Amidst all the angst about loss of privacy in the modern age (a little amusing, considering what a modern invention privacy is), Declan McCullagh has an interesting article on the unsung good things about having your name in databases in this month’s Reason (the one with the customized cover that shows an aerial view of the subscriber’s neighborhood).

One part of the article puzzled me though:

MBNA grew to more than 51 million customers through its aggressive “affinity” program, which let a number of groups — NASCAR, universities, the Atlanta Braves, and so on — market credit cards imprinted with their own logos. Not counting its existing customers, in 2000 MBNA had a database of 800 million names of prospective cardholders provided by affinity groups, but it could afford to send only 400 million solicitations.

Writing in the Duke Law Journal in February 2003, Indiana law professor Fred Cate and Georgetown business professor Michael Staten described how MBNA winnowed its list down to an affordable size through aggressive information sharing. MBNA first looked at public records and then, by exchanging information with its affiliates, tried to evaluate the creditworthiness of the remaining names on the list. The remaining 400 million people received solicitations with the endorsement of the affinity group to which they belonged.

In what country did this take place? Is this worldwide? The population of the US is around three hundred million, last time I checked, and many of them are of insufficient age to be eligible for credit. Where did they come up with eight hundred million names?

Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy

The New America Foundation has put together a cartoon guide to Federal Spectrum Policy. Quite apart from being a fan of cartoon guides to whatever, I’m a fan of rational technology policy, which the Federal policy towards spectrum allocation isn’t. I don’t know much about the New America Foundation other than what’s on their website, but the analysis of spectrum policy is basically right, if a little, um… cartoonish.

Hat tip: Maria Farrell at Crooked Timber

General Aviation under attack

These guys are trying to stop a series of idiotic lawsuits which threaten to kill general aviation. Their opponents are the usual NIMBY morons who won’t get a link out of me because I refuse to move them up Google’s page ranking. Check out their quotes page for some astonishing statements by the NIMBYs. I’m sympathetic to concerns about noise, but there are ways to deal with it without stomping on other people’s liberties.

Technology and Psychology

Edward Tufte has a famous essay on the Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, which should be required reading for anyone involved in communicating basically anything. I think Rand has already linked to this essay elsewhere, but I’ll link again just for emphasis. There’s an excellent, if a little technical, essay here which covers some similar issues in word processing (hat tip to an anonymous commenter on this post).

Continue reading Technology and Psychology

“Powerpoint Engineering”

Thomas James points out this little article from Government Executive:

The biggest lesson, Roe said, is to curb the practice of “PowerPoint engineering.” The Columbia report chided NASA engineers for their reliance on bulleted presentations. In the four studies, the inspectors came to agree that PowerPoint slides are not a good tool for providing substantive documentation of results. “We think it’s important to go back to the basics,” Roe said. “We’re making it a point with the agency that engineering organizations need to go back to writing engineering reports.”

Thomas wonders if there will be slides available of the report…

This is not just a problem for NASA–in my recent experience of the past couple years (in which I’ve fallen off the “recovering engineer” wagon and done some consulting for both large and small companies), it’s endemic in industry as well (partly because contractors come to reflect their customer’s culture). Back in the olden days, when I was a technical supervisor, I was a stickler for well-written technical memoranda. Now they don’t even seem to exist, let alone exist in a useful form, and few engineers seem to know how to write any more.

I absolutely agree that this is a major problem in the industry, but it’s not going to change until upper management decides to make it happen, and unfortunately, being upper management, they’ll probably remain addicted to briefing charts, and not even understand the problem. We’ve forgotten how to write, and they’ve forgotten how to read.