Friday, June 25, 2004

Taxing Advertising

An interesting article over at Kuro5hin, whose thesis is that advertising imposes costs upon society and should thus be taxed accordingly. Here's an overview, which I've actually taken from the article's conclusion (and broken up into separate paragraphs by me):

...advertising imposes costs upon society and should be taxed accordingly. Some of these costs are well known, e.g. annoyance and loss of time and can be accepted provided that consumers are voluntarily exposed to advertising. However a great deal of advertising is imposed upon the consumer, without any compensating benefit being offered.

In addition to simple annoyance, advertising spreads inaccurate and incomplete information which distort consumers purchasing decisions, causing a loss to consumers and diverts valuable investment away from improvements in productivity and quality of goods. Advertising is not entirely bad, but it does not have to be to justify special taxation. The presence of a significant (uncompensated) harm from advertising is enough to justify the tax. Particularly since the revenues from the tax could be used to fund increased spending or to cut other taxes, such as those on labour and investment.

The government needs to generate revenue one way or another to pay for essential services e.g. national defense, the criminal justice system, healthcare. Raising this revenue by taxing bad things (ie. externalities: pollution, advertising etc.) is likely to lead to increased efficiency. So even those of us who think taxes should in general be lower, can still legitimately support this tax, provided cuts in other taxes accompany its enactment.
Read the rest of the article for the explanation.

Though I don't have the relevant knowledge to properly judge the argument, it makes a lot of sense to me and I can't see any flaws in it. At the very least, it's a type of solution that most people seem largely unaware of, and it would be instructive to see why it might or might not be usefully applied to this situation.

In my opinion, the article responses aren't worth reading, because they're, well, sadly pretty juvenile. Of course, I'm just calling it as I see it, and you may disagree with me.

I have an additional negative effect of advertising that I'll breifly add. It's that it helps cultivate a norm whereby things can and are to be evaluated based on their apperances and based on the things they are associated with, rather than on matter of actual substance.

The idea is, we learn our norms from our environment, and advertising makes up a significant part of that envrionment. This kind of evaluation is, thanks to advertising, such a perfasive part of our lives, and I think this rubs off onto our habits and standards for evaluating everything else.

I know people will disagree with this on the grounds that we can easily distinguish between advertising and other arenas of public opinion etc where evaluation of ideas etc come into play. At the moment I'm not sure what is the best way to argue against this view, though it should be obvious that I don't think it is correct.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

If Google Wrote Windows

Jon Udell on the sorts of search capabilities we ought to have on our computers:

On the Google PC, you wouldn’t need third-party add-ons to index and search your local files, e-mail, and instant messages. It would just happen. The voracious spider wouldn’t stop there, though. The next piece of low-hanging fruit would be the Web pages you visit. These too would be stored, indexed, and made searchable. More ambitiously, the spider would record all your screen activity along with the underlying event streams. Even more ambitiously, it would record phone conversations, convert speech to text, and index that text. Although speech-to-text is a notoriously imperfect art, even imperfect results can support useful search.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Leaving Governments Back on Earth

Well, that title's a bit misleading - I just couldn't resist the sensationalist sound of it. This post is actually about space flight. Never before has there been a trip into space that wasn't planned, funded and executed by a government body -- not until yesterday when SpaceShipOne broke past the atmosphere in a historic flight.

Texas Using Wi-Fi to Encourage Use of Driver Rest Areas

Yahoo News reports:

To encourage drivers to take more frequent breaks, the Texas Department of Transportation wants to set up free wireless Internet access at rest stops and travel information centers.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Thoughts in Few Words #7

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pleased to have life

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Joel on How Microsoft Lost the API War

A very good article by Joel Spolsky on why the future is going to be tough for Microsoft and good for web-based software.

However, there is a less understood phenomenon which is going largely unnoticed: Microsoft's crown strategic jewel, the Windows API, is lost. The cornerstone of Microsoft's monopoly power and incredibly profitable Windows and Office franchises, which account for virtually all of Microsoft's income and covers up a huge array of unprofitable or marginally profitable product lines, the Windows API is no longer of much interest to developers. The goose that lays the golden eggs is not quite dead, but it does have a terminal disease, one that nobody noticed yet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Your Superhero Alter-Ego Problems Solved

You've got the lycra getup, the underpants, the cool catchphrase, but you're stuck on the suitably cool name? No problem, my sparkling imagination has come to the rescue: The Advertiser. Sounds fcking hard to me. You don't want to mess with The Advertiser.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Yeah No

Apparently the phrase "Yeah no..." is an Australianism that has arisen in recent times. See the article for details. I was surprised when I saw that. I've always been pretty self-conscious about language use, and in the past I think I've been less prone than most to picking up new sayings and ways of talking, but reading that article made me realise I use "Yeah no" all the time. I had been aware of using the phrase, 'cause I seem to overuse it, but at the same time, I didn't have that much consciousness of it, if you know what I mean. Interestingly, I can't recall having heard others use it, though I'm sure that's because I haven't been on the lookout for it.

Being Bi-lingual Helps Keep Mind in Shape

The Australian reports

When bilingual people age, their brains decline much slower than those who are fluent only in their mother tongue, it was reported yesterday in the journal Psychology and Ageing.

Monday, June 14, 2004

There ought to be.... #2

...little compartments in laptops for storing things, like your set of earbud headphones.

Yeah, you can store stuff in your laptop bag, but laptop and bag often get separated by more than arms reach, and a little compartment you can easily get at could be a lot more convenient that reefing around for the item in the bag. Has anyone tried doing this?

Friday, June 04, 2004

William Gibson on Lies Exposed in Telltale Colors

Here's a link to a New York Times peice from last year written by William Gibson. I'm not sure if I'm remembering correctly, but I think the peice was part of a group of related articles where famous people were asked what they'd like to see technology make possible. Gibson's answer was that "some voodoo thing that unfailingly highlights [in a pieces of text] outright lies, spin and misperception - in different colors".

I've been meaning to post this for a while, and I was intending to add a few of my thoughts on this matter -- on making the accuracy of claims more apparent, but that's something I'll have to leave for later.

I'd set my Mac to show me the outright lies in Pistachio, the spin in sky-blue Bondi, and the misperceptions in succulent Plum. Large swaths of news would probably be Plum, both that written by journalists and some large percentage of politicians' quotes. Perhaps relatively few Pistachio highlights would appear in the actual reportage, indicating direct mendacity on the part of a journalist, though it would be interesting to find out just how few, or how many.

Thoughts in Few Words #6

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Most of our own past is as a story whose details we recall

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Words Like a Neon Light, With the Wave of a Phone



BBC News reports:

Nokia is making a mobile that lets you write short text messages in mid-air... A motion sensor in the phone makes the lights blink in a sequence that spells out letters when the handset is waved in the air...A trick of human vision turns the sequence of letters into a message that hangs in the air.... could be used by friends to talk to each other across crowded rooms or open-air concerts.... could be used to play games overlaid on city streets, as a heckling device or a novel way to interact with other devices.
New ways to communicate are always interesting, no matter how trivial they may appear to the imagination. For the pervasiveness of communication, the complexity of our lives, and the way the two are intercombined, always outstrips anything we can simply imagine.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

More Than Words For Snow #5 - Implicit Categorisation

This ones' going to be a quickie... I just want to get the basic idea down, and I'm not worrying too much about expression...

This post is about how language can be used to obfuscate reasoning by implicitly categorising something as something it isn't.

An an example of implicit categorisation I came across prompted me to write this post. I was reading Philosophy: The Basics by Nigel Warburton -- which is not a bad book, BTW -- and specifically, the chapter on morals/ethics, and the part where he outlines neo-Aristotelian Virtue Theory. What this theory is, and my opinion of it, aren't important for this post and I won't be going into them -- I just want to comment on the way Warburton talks about the theory.

The text that's relevant to the example is this. Following the section outlining the basic details of Virtue Theory, is a section titled 'Criticism of Virtue Theory', in which he says "A major difficulty with virtue theory is establishing which patterns of behaviour, desire, and feeling are to count as virtues" and in elaboration of this says "the danger is that virtue theorists simply redefine their prejudices and preferred ways of life as virtues, and the activities they dislike as vices".

If we start considering that text, we can see that "establishing which patterns of behaviour, desire, and feeling are to count as virtues" (which I'll refer to as the "establishment problem") is "a major difficulty" and that this is a "criticism of virtue theory". As I will explain in a moment, when he refers to the establishment problem as a major difficulty, he implies that it is an inherent problem with the theory -- he categorises it as an inherent problem with the theory.

This is unfortunate, because the establishment problem is not an inherent problem with the theory. This ought to be apparent if we consider this for a moment. If virtue theory says that moral behaviour is based on virtuous behaviour, then we have the difficulty of determining what is virtuous. We need to determine how to turn its basic principles and tenants to more concrete courses of action. But this problem isn't particular to Virtue Theory.

It's a problem common to all moral frameworks - we have to determine how to interpret their basic principles and tenants. And regardless of the theory we can do this well or we can do this poorly. It might be argued that this is harder to do (perhaps too hard) in some theories than it is in others, but I do not see why this applies to Virtue Theory (and Warburton does not seem to argue that this is the case).

Thus if this issue of interpretation -- the establishment problem -- is common to all moral frameworks, and is only a problem when it is poorly done, then it should be clear that it is an problem that is independent of any particular moral framework, or, in other words, not an inherent problem with any particular moral theory.

If the establishment theory is not an inherent problem for Virtue Theory, then it can not be rightly described as a "major problem" for it. I've claimed that Warburton implicitly classified it as a major problem, and I want to now explain why I think his text does this. He didn't explicitly say it was -- or wasn't -- an inherent problem, but because he left the issue open and described it as a "major problem" in the section "criticism of virtue theory", the only way we can sensibly interpret his meaning is if we assume that it is an inherent problem.

In fact, there's a second example of implicit categorisation in that passage. By describing the establishment problem as a "major problem" under the heading of "Criticism of virtue theory", and by not elaborating on the what a major problem means in so far as it is a criticism, it is implied that is a major problem that can be counted as a criticism of virtue theory. For it is not necessarily the case that a major problem with a theory has to be a criticism of the theory. For example -- and to take an example that fits in with the theme of morals -- there are major problems -- difficulties -- involved with trying to be a good person, but this doesn't mean these problems constitute a criticism of trying to be a good person.

I'm now going to try getting closer to the heart of this issue of implicit categorisation. In effect a "subject" (the establishment problem) is something that could be interpreted in a number of ways, and is being referred to as a particular type of thing. However, rather than explicitly calling it that type of thing, it is implicitly being referred to as that type of thing. The reference is implicit because the there is no explicit link from the referrer to the referent, and that there is no explicit statement about the nature of the link between the two, that is, of what the referrer is saying about the referent.

The link and the meaning of the link are implicit because they are derived from the following: 1) the referrer being the heading of the section 'criticism of virtue theory' and 2) the referent (the establishment problem) residing within that section and saying something negative about the theory, which leads us to think that we have grounds for critcising the theory (this is the meaning of the link).

We are drawn into this implicit categorisation because this categorisation is the only sensible way to interpret the writing. For if we were to categorise it differently to the implicit categorisation, it would mean that the point the writing was making would be wrong, and there is no apparent reason why it is wrong -- it seems like a fair and adequate point being made. This is, of course, a warning about the dangers of not looking any beyond what things apparently seem to be, and about the importance of considering what things say not what you think they mean -- but those are other stories.