Reading the TPP

Probably not much use, but I skimmed the TTP and noted some things along the way.

  1. Rules of origin decide whether and how much of a product came from a country. Important because stuff gets made over many steps and things like tariff classification may depend on it. Often companies try to cheat on this, so that they can avoid tariffs. The cheating, in some circumstances, is referred to as a spaghetti bowl effect, due to the criss-crossing and subterfuge involved.
  2. The obvious remark that legal documents themselves often suffer from the spaghetti bowl effect, insofar as they (see annex IV.3 of subchapter 0x0b9) are half-constructed of references to other sections, documents, etc. Reading any legal document (law, treaty, or otherwise) often requires reading every other legal document in existence (in triplicate).
    I do wonder whether there are any formal studies done of this, and whether there is some sort of mathematical law describing the length of a document to the length of a document’s references/incorporations.
  3. The amount of effort involved in tracking the origin of goods would seem to suggest that the system is ripe for augmentation with information such as the wage-of-creation-to-poverty-level information that could result in economic pressure for better wages across the globe.
  4. Emergency measures for a variety of causes including large swings in volume of import/export of food and other goods in cases of famine, ability to protect in cases of health, safety, civil war, etc.
  5. “For Peru, all distilled spirits with less than 10% alc/vol must have a date of minimum durability.” That’s a footnote which seems to contradict the language it’s noted on (that “[n]o Party may require… a date of minimum durability… except… on account of their packaging… or the addition of perishable ingredients…”). Shrug.
  6. Can’t require a producer of commercial software to give up their private key as a condition of sale (unless it’s being sold to a government). But: doesn’t stop law enforcement from requiring they decrypt, either.
  7. Can’t require sale or financial data on pharmaceuticals (and should “endeavor not to require pricing data”) when determining whether drugs can be sold.
  8. British English: “programme” keeps coming up, which I always read as an invitation to brainwash the writer.
  9. Some anti-spam stuff (among other consumer protection measures), but we’ll see how much it helps.
  10. Can’t require source code for importation, except for critical infrastructure.
  11. “The Parties recognise the importance of a rich and accessible public domain.” And yet, they do nothing to strengthen it. They even use the cliche “fallen into the public domain” instead of something more appropriate like, “lofted up into the public domain, now unfettered by the mortal whims of the fools that created it.”
  12. Chapter 20, “Environment,” mentions the ozone layer, but nothing about climate change.

Well, that was fun.

News Snippets for 26 September 2015

Candidates Dropping Like Flies

Just as quickly as candidates joined the GOP field for the nomination for president, they are dropping out. At this rate, the GOP field will run a deficit by Thanksgiving. The party is seeking a stopgap measure to keep the Republican meat market from insolvency.

From March to June, 17 major candidates signed up, a rate of about four per month. So far September has seen two drop out, bringing the total left to 15. As no new entries have come, the entrance rate has already dropped to about 2.5 per month, and it will fall below the exit rate in November unless something changes. Assuming the trend continues, the field will be entirely depleted by next May, well ahead of the July 2016 Republican National Convention.

Do Volkswagens Ever Win?

The axiom that ‘cheaters never win and winners never cheat’ is undergoing more scientific scrutiny as carmaker Volkswagen concludes its emissions testing experiment. The CCO (Chief Cheating Officer) of the corporation announced early results are inconclusive, stating, “We sort of got away with it, for awhile. We made a lot of money. We’re not sure if it’s a long-term strategy, though. Further tests will be needed.”

Trump Considering Run for Papacy

Donald Trump has publicly attacked Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, calling him several names and saying he is not flashy enough to turn around the falling attendance rates. Trump says he may make a bid to become the Bishop of Rome, if things don’t pan out with his current presidential campaign. “Make the House of God Great Again” is on the short list for his potential slogans.

An alternative plan would see Trump move to Rome and only visit the USA every once in awhile. “I noticed that everyone made such a big deal about the Pope coming, and one of my servants told me about this whole ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ thing. I might have to try that,” Trump said. Fingers crossed.

Pope to Readdress Congress

The Pope, saying he is pretty sure they didn’t get the message the first time, is hoping to give a second address to Congress. “I think a lot of them just saw it as another day, another motivational speaker. A glorified pep rally. But I was trying to get them to pull their heads out of their asses. I am doubtful it worked,” the Vicar of Christ said.

“I get it,” he added. “All that money and power goes to their heads. It swells their heads up, inside their rectal cavities. At this point, I don’t think a few words of warning from me will get the job done. I feel I need to go back and try again. With lube and forceps, this time.”

One exception to the phenomena may have been John Boehner, who unexpectedly announced his resignation following the Pope’s address. Boehner, a Roman Catholic, has been criticized in recent months by some in his own party for not being heartless enough for their tastes.

Practicality Takes Time

Image of sharp and smoothed stones.
Image of sharp and smoothed stones. Original photographs by Jim Barton and Des Colhoun under CC-BY-SA-2.0 licenses.

We often see amazing scientific discoveries and readers lament, “but how long until I, in my kitchen, can smash an atom with it?” But practicality takes time.

Look at the automobile. Been around for over 100 years, and we’re still trying to get rid of some of the downsides to it, like deaths from crashes. We overhauled our entire road system for it, built more bridges and roads than ever before, and the whole thing remains a work in progress.

Electronic cigarettes are a similar story. Patents and designs for various models go back 50 years, but the modern ecig only has its origins about ten years back. And the current state-of-the-art devices are really rooted in the past five years of development. And even then, they stand to be further improved.

My go-to metaphor for this sort of thing is a sharp stone being worn down until it is smooth. Society thrives off of the process of smoothing stones out, until they fit our hands and do not cut us.

A couple of things are involved in why an advancement is not instantly realized. One is economies of scale, the notion that for a new process to be cheap enough for widespread distribution requires enough units to be produced. This is likely the bulk of the time-to-practicality issue. It encompasses several related issues:

  • Price-per-unit
  • Knowledge of the advancement
  • Adaptability of the advancement to many different products
  • Generational product planning

It needs to be cheap enough not just to justify the switchover, but to cover the cost of switching in some reasonable timeframe. The option to use the new thing has to reach a wide enough audience. It has to be adjustable to the individual products that can use it.

And it needs generational support. The new-and-expensive of today needs top tier customers, while the older-and-cheap needs lower tier customers. The consumers need to be proportioned in what is roughly a pyramid shape.

But supporting technologies are also needed. We have decent designs for hydrogen-based electric generation, but we’re still developing production and storage. In theory we will rely on hydrogen instead of batteries for anything that requires a large capacity of electric power, while traditional batteries will remain for low-power scenarios.

But it could turn out that once we have hydrogen storage down to an art, it will be easier to move hydrogen than use batteries, so where the line of high and low capacity will be drawn will take some shaking out.

And that’s the norm for competing technologies. And it’s healthy if you don’t have the sort of economic leverages that block real competition. In the case of renewables versus carbon fuels, you have those anti-capitalist behaviors blocking price competition in favor of carbon.

What these anti-capitalist practices amount to is a lag to practicality for their competitors. In extreme cases, the lag can be as long as it takes for some tectonic shift in the economic and political landscape.

There is another side to the maturation of technologies, which is a burst of overuse once a technology is sufficiently mature to be very inexpensive. We’re already seeing this with some technologies like Bluetooth, but we will likely see another wave of this as the Internet of Things becomes more mature.

More Tech Than They Know What to Do With

DARPA has taken a step toward wider availability of the open source software they sponsor: DARPA: Open Catalog. Most major technology companies (including Apple, Google, Intel, Microsoft, etc.) have open source software they use and maintain. And lots of other companies (e.g., automakers) have some level of involvement in open source, too.

Why? Where does this wide spread come from? Obviously the players keep and maintain other software on a proprietary basis (both licensed and in-house). They keep some software close and closed because of a competitive advantage. Other software stays closed because it would be no value to others.

And yet, some software remains closed purely because of the cost involved in opening it up. That typically involves having people (both engineers and lawyers, at least) look over the source, vet it, clean it up, package it for public consumption. Some of those efforts will fail, resulting in loss, due to coupling between unreleasable and releasable source.

How much technology is being lost? Is that not an economic concern and a harmful characteristic of monolithic firms in an economy? We lose benefits because of the inefficiency of large organizations that have more tech than they know what to do with.

It’s not as obviously bad as some high-profile failures where time and budget overruns of projects costing billions eventually led to them being scrapped and gods know what happened to the tech developed on the public dime.

But it still hurts, and may be far more costly in terms of our special development. It is akin to firms competing outside of their core competency: that large tech firms develop tech that could stand on its own as a business, but is at best used internally and at worst overlooked entirely because they have no strategy to deploy it widely.

Firms competing outside of their competency means that, e.g., two ice cream shops may not compete on product quality and other metrics, but on something as foreign to ice cream as their ability to exploit tax loopholes. That sort of competitiveness on general business acumen rather than on niche values leads to ugly distortions of information and inferior products with irregular pricing.

Technology’s most disruptive roles have come when new ideas were leveraged against existing problems in unexpected ways. The constituent technologies of the electronic nicotine vaporizer have existed for decades, but only recently were combined to tackle an existing problem.

But that sort of disruption requires that potential entrepreneurs know or at least can find out about viable technologies. With large technology firms, the pool of potential entrepreneurs is limited to employees, consultants, and partners that are aware of the technologies available. That is a far smaller pool than the general pool of potential entrepreneurs.

Moreover, the privileged information regarding costs and profits of existing industries may thwart analyses that would indicate entrance opportunities, even when the technologies are known. We need to open more than just a few projects here and there, if we are to unlock the true progress that economics offers us.

Business Doesn’t Want To

Today, an anti-pattern.

This coming week (24 February 2013) five major Internet providers will roll out their private enforcement of copyrights (EFF: Deeplinks: 14 February 2013: Don’t Be Fooled: “Six Strikes” Will Undoubtedly Harm Open Wireless).

Businesses are no longer interested in training workers, but instead relying on things like H1B to provide them with cookie-cut human capital.

Arm pilots and teachers instead of making real reforms to prevent violence.

The anti-pattern is businesses that push the work off to someone else. The Affordable Care Act sought to remedy a wholly dysfunctional health care system that was built by private interests failing to heed the give in give and take. The only people giving were (and are) the patients, the workers, and other businesses that provide them with insurance. People are paying NASA rates for common health care items, including simple pain relievers (for more look at Time: Healthland: 20 February 2013: Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us). That is, we’re pretending like aspirin are as rare in a hospital as they are on the International Space Station.

So the healthcare industry, as many others, push the work off onto an utterly broken US Congress. They dare the legislators to come and regulate them, and if they do, their lobbyists water down any solution.

That’s what the Copyright Armada is doing with this Six Strikes program. They’re pushing the work off on the ISPs, and when that inevitably turns into the head of a Gorgon, they’ll callously dare the congress to “fix it” by breaking it even more.

Congress, for its part, has long since given the drafting process over to lobbyists. They dare not write the laws themselves, for if they pass a bad law they can now blame it on the lobby that wrote it. How long before we can cut out the middleman and have industry hire some professionals from Hollywood to produce a farce in place of a real government. At least that would be entertaining.

But no, not these days. These days they would turn it into a “Reality” show, bringing in a bunch of poor saps who want to be rich and famous to argue over which mock Senator drank all the insert-name-of-sponsor.

Personal responsibility begins to mean whatever’s left after you pawn the rest off on some sucker.

But back to Six Strikes. The plan is that your phone company, cable company, whoever happens to also provide you access to the Internet, will watch your traffic. You visit this website? They’ll be watching. You download a copyrighted portion of a regulation (EFF: Press Release: 22 February 2013: Free Speech Battle Over Publication of Federal Law)? They’ll know.

And if (and only if) you download something that looks like it’s from someone that pays them off, they will punish you. They won’t ask for proof. No fair use defense. Doesn’t matter if it was an album you already owned but you don’t have the technical know-how to rip it. Doesn’t matter if it was a false positive. Maybe you can challenge it, for a fee likely as large as your monthly bill, which they keep even if they were wrong. But even that’s sketchy.

But if you’re a non-affiliated musician and someone downloads your album? Too bad. Even if you’re a major artist, the copyright holder, and you download a fan’s cover to check it out, you might get slapped.

We’re on track to an ever less-perfect world for information availability. Chilling Effects: 20 February 2013: Germans Unable to Watch Dashboard Cam Videos of Chelyabinsk Meteor talks about the recent swath of videos showing the recent meteor over Chelyabinsk, Russia (Wikipedia: 2013 Russian meteor event), and how many Germans were blocked from watching the footage on sites like YouTube. Because the radio was on when the meteor blazed across the sky.

Those dirty scheming pirates! They planned that meteor just to try to let Germans listen to Russian radio. Shrug.

Either the Six Strikes will fail spectacularly and be scrapped, or they’ll double down. They’ll start blocking independent sites that they feel are contributing to copyright infringement. Then they block independent sites that link to those sites. Pretty soon, they just block any site that doesn’t pay. They’ll likely expand it until it does fail. It will fail.

There will be lawsuits from both false positives and those who aren’t protected by it. It may even serve as a basis for long-needed anti-trust actions against the ISPs. But it’s still sad. It’s sad business doesn’t want to be business anymore.