Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prices and the funciton of Money

A major function of money is to keep track of what things are needed; prices are determined by the supply/demand interaction. Consumers of things will bid their price up, this is vital information for those who would be producers, as they need to know whether or not they should invest the time and effort in supplying a thing to be consumed. This is super-basic economics, but part of the reason why communism was so unsuccessful; producers had now way to know what to produce because consumers couldn't send signals via their responses prices.

Now, enter the "new economy" paradigm, where things can be reproduced for almost zero cost. Anything digitizable falls into this category; all the cost is in the development. So how do producers of things like software or music survive when their product can be infinitely reproduced at no cost? The old solution is licensing, and that's still dominant. A newer solution is "Pay what you want."

The amount that people choose to pay for something seems like a very pure measure of its value to that person; They'll pay nothing if they don't value it, but they'll pay something if they do (and implicitly want to see more things of a similar nature).

This voluntary pricing system could provide very good information to producers, as long as it is openly available to all. So I propose a sort of reverse auction mechanism where the voluntary payments people make for things they consume are made publicly available. Some function of payment vs usage could determine a thing's expected value. Thus, producers could determine in advance how much they could expect to earn in return for producing something and offering it for voluntary payment.

This sort of economics is vital for creative endeavors; since artists must spend some major portion of their time working for a living if they aren't payed what their work is worth (which seems to be what happens most of the time). If a rich market for creative work was established along these lines, artists could spend more of their time doing creative work and less drudgery.

This thought was kicked off by a cincinnati musician's website, where he does the voulentary payment thing (Peter Adams, check him out).

I understand that Radiohead pioneered the idea, and I recently read on BoingBoing that a comic used the idea to great success (the sales of the comic were enormous even though it could be had for free).


As a follow-up question to the end of my last post: What elements of our current culture are worth keeping? We can lament the shallowness of consumer culture with all its focus on empty status symbols. But out of that culture have come some great things, for instance the computer I've got on my lap. Such a thing could never have been "directed" to be created; its the product of lots of small inventions and wandering in the sea of potential things that might be worth making. Is it the case that all the ugly culture that we'd just as soon see die off is the inevitable by-product of worthwhile things?


My longtime friend Emily tried to comment on my depression question, but I had accidentally disabled commenting. Still can't get it to work for older posts, but its back on for new ones. Here's her comment (and my reply following):

I was going to say that I agree with you on the topic of impending depression, except that for me (for some sick reason or something) it's accompanied by optimism, as if this might be the kick in the seat that we need.

The sense of community, at least between middle and lower class individuals, increased drastically during the depression (albeit accompanied by considerable suffering) as did the ever-depleting sense of locality. This country continues to be fear driven, and a lot of that fear is geared towards our peers. There is no "community" anymore (though arguably there has been a move away from community since the dawn of the Colonies). We are all taught to be individualistic, rather than individuals, with ideals that seem to often times include only ourselves. My hope is that we, as a people, can make the best of this depression and relearn to stick together, help a brotha out and lean on each other. I figure we'll either do that, or we'll all go crazy and kill each other.

Either way, we'll just have to wait and see how things turn out! We live in unique and ever-changing times: one that is likely to be a turning point not only for us as a country, but for us as a species as well! I've got me seat-belt on, my ideals firmly in place and I'm ready for the ride!


I feel the same strange sense of optimism about the coming disaster. So many bad habits have become ingrained in the fabric of society, and because they don't see any alternatives people accept them and follow them like scripts. A major upheaval will force people to examine the way they live their lives, some perhaps for the first time ever.

That sounds like a pretty good thing overall, but the downside is that a lot of people don't have any practice at that sort of self-examination, and when the societal structure they've come to rely on is snatched away, they'll be helpless. This applies to the person who's dependent on institutions to give them a purpose and direction for earning a living equally as well as the person who earns no living and is supported entirely by others. And thus, the "we all go crazy and kill each other" scenario might be a tragic reality for many people.

At the same time we learn to lean on each other, we also need to relearn how to support ourselves.

But doomsaying aside, I'm optimistic that humanity will pull through and continue to make progress. Maybe what we're seeing is just the welcome death of consumerism. Pity that the collapse will cause suffering, but pity it existed in the first place.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sketchup Plugin Idea

Here's a neat idea for a plugin to Google Sketchup: make a multi-user environment, where several designers can interact with a model simultaneously. I realize that you can already do that in second life, but I suspect Sketchup's tools are a bit more powerful.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Music and weekend chronicles

I think I'll try to post a recording every week. That will make for an interesting added dimension to the blog; future readers will be able to see how I progress intellectually and emotionally by reading the things I write as well as listening to the music I play. Here's one I did by myself, its structure is:

Em G Em C C Am C Am C4 D (repeat)
(click to play)

I did twelve bars of that, then started a "solo" over it, and ended with another twelve bars. Ideally there would be some soloing of some other instruments (eg keyboard and bass), and I can add them later. I imagine lyrics could be put over the parts without solos.

How else did I spend the weekend? Went skateboarding Friday night, rode my motorcycle up to Highlands, and hung out with Matt and Jude there. It was nice and warm when I went out; but it was under 30 degrees when I left. The bike had started like a charm earlier in the day, but I had to kick it probably fifty times before it would stay running at 12:30. I even tried roll-starting it (highlands is at the top of a nice hill), but it was too cold even for that. I think the oil gets more viscous at that temperature, or something.

Rachael brought me breakfast on saturday, I did half my Optimization Analysis homework in MATLAB, and we went to Amy's grandma's 90th birthday party. I moped around for a few hours feeling depressed about the tradegy of aging, then got stuff for sushi-and-anime night with Matt and Jude. Jude went to a wonderful extreme and made a whole bunch of maki rolls and some egg rolls. Rachael and I made pretend ramen. Tons of food, and we watched Lupin III; Island of Assasins. Pretty funny, though not in the cannon of incredibly awesome anime.

Sunday I lazed around Rachael's till later, stopped by Skyline to see Matt and Jude again, then came home and did the music I posted. Later Matt and I jammed for a few hours, but didn't record anything. I've got to get a multi-track recording device; we seem to sound best when we're playing together and building on what eachother do.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Who knew?

When I was younger, I probably would not have guessed I would be
looking forward to studying this. Shows what I know, eh

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the Public's Preoccupation with the Inconsequential

Hearing people talking about the new president's charisma and inspirational speeches, as well as his gaffs, leads me to suspect there's something wrong with our political discourse. I'm sure the problem is as old as democracy and as ingrained as, say, farting, but its still worth criticizing so that we can at least try to be a little less ape-like in our collective decision making.

I would suggest that focusing on inconsequential issues like these is dangerous because it distracts us from talking about things that do matter. One such thing, in my mind, would be: "He's a Keynsian!" Of course, so's everyone else in power these days, so I can understand how that realization might come to loose its character of shocking urgency and appalling reality.

I'm reminded of a quote from the author's preface to Slaughterhouse 5. He recites an incident that goes something like:

"While I was trying to get the book written, I ended up in a conversation about it with a full Colonel. He asked me if it was an 'anti-war' book, and I replied that I supposed it was. He said: 'you know what I think about anti-war books? You might as well write an anti-glacier book,' by which I assume he meant that war is impersonal and inhuman and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. And I suppose I agree with him."

So why quote Vonnegut here? Because I'm getting the same feeling about the coming depression (and, pessimistically, the war its likely to bring). Are depressions as impersonal, inhuman, and unstoppable as wars? I would argue that they are, and for many of the same reasons.

Here, I suggest, is something worth talking about.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Music with matt

I played around with the drum tracks a bit, mostly in an attempt to cover my slip ups and my apparent inability to play more than 24 bars without my hand seizing into a brick.

Update: I discovered that I can do more than just cover flubs with drums: I can cut them out and splice better things in! Wonder of wonders! Also that I can adjust Matt's few stray tones, horray for midi. So I've done that, and added a few minor effects on the rythm tracks to tone them down a bit. LISTEN!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Music (Click me to download! yay!)

Check out this 12 bar blues bit I did in Garageband; click the title of this post. It's unsophisticated, but not too hard on your ears. The drums are all recorded loops, but the guitar is all me... looped.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mental Diversification

Gradschool week 12 of 80 is... complete. I really wish I could be a full time student right now, turns out MATLAB is fun and interesting rather than painful and daunting, as I had vaugely expected. I've made some decent progress in using my BASH terminal to do basic stuff; I can run GAMS, R, and SCHEME, now I just have to learn how to use those programs. I'm gonna try to duplicate what I do in MATLAB in R, since apparently R can do all the same things. I also found what looks like a really exciting peice of software called Repast, from the University of Chicago. It does agent-based modeling and is really flexible, and it can call all sorts of other open source programs (like R) to do fancy things. It sounds perfect for what I want to do with my mind/market idea.

Heres a question: whats a good way to measure the true richness of your life? Dollar oriented measures fail for obvious reasons. I think one interesting measure would be the number of ways in which you can truthfully summarize yourself in one (concise) sentance when meeting a person for the first time. I'm reminded of the time at the Singularity Summit when I decided to call myself an artist rather than a grad student, a professional, philosopher, a musician, a librertarian, or anything else. All of those things are true descriptions and could each be a starting point for lots of talk.

Of course, another important measure is how good you actually are at the thigns you describe yourself as. I'm certainly not as good of any of my descriptors as somone who focuses on, say, music excluseively. And they might be better off for it; I imagine that having such a focus makes life more enjoyable... but I'll suffer on with my conflicts in the name of being a well-diversified mind.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Music, class, computers

I got a basic guitar instruction book, so I'm actually learning to read music. This was one of the things I put on my list of "long term personal-satisfaction" things I need to do, so its nice to be making progress. Also I note that its strangely satisfying to be reading and playing even very simple music. I experienced something like it playing guitar hero a year ago; you get into this zone where you are responding to the instructions on the screen without thought. Its as if your eyeballs are plugged directly into your fingers, it feels like the game is playing you. I imagine that the potential depth of that experience is much greater when reading and playing actual music, rather than pretend guitar. I'd be interested to know if skilled musicians have any sort of that feeling.

Matt and I were gonna play at open mic night at Babba Budans last thursday. I was super excited, I figure it would be a nice, low pressure way to play in front of people for the first time, and I was expecting that the crowd would be sparse. Turns out, thier open mic night is rather well attended, and mostly hip-hop oriented. I chickened out. It would have been cool if we had something defined and high-energy to play, but the aimless jamming that we've been doing would have been out of place (however cool it sounded). So Rick's had the brilliant idea that we should just roll with it: he'll come into town on a thursday and play bass, I'll do guitar, and Matt can freestyle and do keyboard. Matt's freestyling is remarkably good, I think it'll be a well-received performance.

I finally figured out how to change the PATH variable in my BASH environment again. I had figured it out a year ago when I was trying to get the NUPIC software to work, and now I actually have to use it for class to run GAMS. Ironically the windows version has a nice GUI and the Mac version has none at all, but I want to be able to use the software without starting my Parallels virtual machine. Also I want to actually know unix.