Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Innovate Holyoke

I'm trying hard to think positive thoughts about the Innovate Holyoke project that just got $25M in state funding to help create a high-performance computing and data center.

Maybe it will be the best investment the State ever makes, and will help make Holyoke a hotbed of high-tech activity. That would be great!

But I think they'll end up creating an obsolete product that nobody will really want. Amazon and Google (and IBM and probably some startup that we haven't heard of yet) have tremendous expertise and experience running high-performance, high-availability data centers. And competition will drive them to provide an ever-better, ever-cheaper product.

I like the idea of putting a computing center next to a green source of energy ("The project is designed to draw hydroelectric power from the river while serving as an example of a green, environmentally friendly data center"), but that's not a new idea-- Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been doing it for at least 5 years.

I also like the idea of recycling old factories, but that's an old idea, too-- here I am with the rest of the Resounding Technology team at our MASS MoCA offices in 1999:

I believe the master plan was to make North Adams a hotbed of high-tech activity, building on the success of Tripod.com. That... hasn't really happened.

Most startups fail (Resounding was a moderate success-- it was sold to a Silicon Valley company about a year before the .com implosion; the company to which it was sold imploded). And most government projects designed to revitalize a city or region fail; that's par for the course. Writing this blog entry, I did some research on perhaps the most shining example of a project that has done really well-- North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.

It might just be my anti-government bias shining through making my cherry-pick factoids that support my ideology, but I couldn't help noticing one factor that I think might have helped it succeed:
"The park is 7,000 acres (2,833 ha) situated in a pine forest with approximately 630 acres (255 ha) for development. The park is an unincorporated area, and state law prohibits municipalities from annexing areas within the park." (from wikipedia)
I wonder if any economists have tried to study whether projects in unincorporated areas do better overall...

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm voting YES

Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 23'rd) is election day in Amherst. If you're a registered voter in Amherst, don't forget to vote!

I'm running again for Town Meeting, so if you're a registered voter in Precinct 9 in Amherst do not forget to vote. At Wildwood Elementary School. Between 7am and 8pm.

As I've written before, I think Proposition 2 1/2 was a well-intentioned but ultimately bone-headed idea, so I'm voting for the override.

I'm supporting Rick Hood for school committee because I think he's calm and rational and smart and will make good decisions for our schools.

I'm also going to vote for Rob Spence because I like what he says better than the other three candidates. I suspect he'll ask lots of hard questions and make life uncomfortable for the school administration, and I think that'll be good in the long run. I hope.

If I had my druthers I'd make the school committee obsolete (and give kids a public education via competing private schools), but that's not on the ballot. Maybe next year. (hah!)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

ACTV Localocracy panel

While watching the Localocracy Q&A panel (embedded above) I was surprised at how little faith some people have in the idea of crowdsourcing/"the wisdom of crowds."

For example, there were concerns about somebody stealing your identity and posting in your name. I thought Conor's response was pretty darn good-- Localocracy is as secure as in-person voting (anybody COULD walk up to the polls, give your name and address, and vote as you), and if you or any of your friends or neighbors notice that somebody has stolen your identity and is claiming to be you it is easy to resolve the problem (just tell the Localocracy team what happened and they'll sort it out).

They'll have to figure out how to scale that up, but that's not a hard problem to solve.

There were vague concerns that the political biases of the Localocracy creators might seep in and subtly influence things. Ummm.... no. Trust me, they'll be way too busy just trying to get the code working properly and figuring out how to make it a viable business; they won't have time to insert sneaky, very-hard-to-detect biasing techniques so their favorite pet issues get preferential treatment.

It also seemed like people couldn't wrap their heads around the idea that EVERYBODY was going to be "in charge." Watching the panel, several times I wanted to yell at the screen "if you don't agree with something or see some information that is wrong YOU get to fix it!" Doesn't everybody know about the success of wikipedia by now?

I hope it's just a generational thing, and that young people who have been exposed to the socially-self-controlled anarchy of Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia (and, for that matter, the entire World Wide Web) will have more faith in the power of people to organize themselves to try to make the world a better place.

Monday, March 01, 2010

What motivates environmentalists?

Jonathan pokes holes in my "global warming worriers are committing the Appeal to Nature fallacy:"
I think it's safe to say that most environmentalists would greatly prefer that we focus our efforts on changing the behavior that is causing GW, rather than on massive geoengineering projects to mitigate its effects. I don't see any contradiction or appeal to nature fallacy in that approach.
Very good point! I need to do some more thinking; I'm going around in circles trying to figure out if the Appeal to Nature fallacy applies:

WHY are people environmentalists?
BECAUSE they like nature.

WHY do they like nature?
Just... because? (appeal to nature fallacy? utilitarian "I don't want to be poisoned by pollution"? love of squirrels? preference for natural versus man-made landscapes? mild case of enochlophobia? I dunno! All of the above, I guess)

Then there's the whole "but humans are part of nature so we should be able to do whatever the hell we want" argument. To which I say, just because you CAN jump off a bridge doesn't mean you SHOULD.

And the opposite ultra-radical-environmental "cities are unnatural, and we must radically reduce our population and live like our very distant ancestors did to restore the natural balance of things" argument.

And there's the Bjørn Lomborg argument, with which I agree: we aught to invest our environmental dollars and energies where they'll give the most bang for the buck. Tackling global warming shouldn't be anywhere near the top of the list, there are many more immediate, easier-to-solve issues that will make the world a better place.

After all, isn't that the goal? To try to make the world a better place, both for us hairless brainy apes and the rest of the planet?