The Myth of Home Ownership

“NEW YORK (AP) — The Federal Reserve says Americans’ percentage of equity in their homes has fallen below 50 percent for the first time since 1945.

The Fed’s U.S. Flow of Funds Accounts shows homeowners’ percentage of home equity slipped to a revised 49.6 percent in the second quarter of 2007 and declined further to 47.9 percent in the fourth quarter. It marks the first time homeowners’ debt on their houses exceeds their equity since the Fed started tracking the data in 1945.” (full story)

It is co-ownership at best – people investing massive amounts of time, energy, and emotion to manage assets owned mostly by banks.

Good Post About Obama by Marc Andreessen

Mark tells about a meeting he and his wife had with Obama in early 2007. Here are some parts of the post:

And here is the full post…

“I carried four distinct impressions away from our meeting with Senator Obama.

  • First, this is a normal guy.
  • Second, this is a smart guy.
  • Third, this is not a radical.
  • Fourth, this is the first credible post-Baby Boomer presidential candidate.

What’s the picture that emerges from these four impressions?

Smart, normal, curious, not radical, and post-Boomer.

If you were asking me to write a capsule description of what I would look for in the next President of the United States, that would be it.

He’s got my vote.”

Clay Shirky Talk in Harvard – February 28, 2008

Clay Shirky on his new book, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” (6PM on the Harvard Law School campus, location TBA).

In story after story, Clay masterfully makes the connections as to why business, society and our lives continue to be transformed by a world of net-enabled social tools. His pattern-matching skills are second to none.“-Ray Ozzie, Microsoft Chief Software Architect

From the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard:

All events are free and open to the public… Invite your friends, students, colleagues, co-workers, fellow faculty, research assistants, interns, family, and others to celebrate and collaborate with us. Please don’t hesitate to forward and blog this information.

These events will take place on the campus at Harvard Law School unless otherwise noted, with more information on time, venue, and topic posted on the events page. The events page also includes a complete list of luncheons and other events, which we hope you’ll also be able to join us for!”

One More Thing The Internet Could Disrupt – Car Ownership and Sales

Here we go – I’m back on this blog after a long hiatus.

And it’s Fred again (he’s good at this) – making me share a “vision” I had a few days ago. The idea is probably in the heads of other people for some time already without me knowing (see Fred’s reply to my comment).

Here is what I posted as a comment on Fred’s post:

How about transforming the car ownership into an investment type of thing.

Imagine people being able to lend their own cars for the times they are not using them. Or even making a small business out of owning a few cars. Everybody sets their own prices.

Think of Zipcar – but without the centralized ownership of the cars.

Think of an Internet platform (could be open source… or even at the level of a protocol may be) which supports the data and logic for such a distributed environment.

Imagine the effects of a dynamic price competition for a short term leased transportation… not to speak of the long term disruption of the car sales market… not to speak of all the “green” goodness coming out of it.

The hardware could be developed and sold by any vendor.

This thread was interesting too:

…something could be done on a smaller (local) scale… then made easily replicable as a setup… and then all such nodes could be connectable… and we’d have a bottom up movement.

In fact, Zipcar could open up their platform – and become the Goggle/AdSense of cars. Scott Griffith, do you read my blog.

The Structure of Today’s Political Discourse

I’ve been following the French presidential elections on TV5. One thing is becoming quite clear. The French are discussing the same stuff that we’ll be arguing about in 2008. There are differences in the way things are talked about or the specific realities discussed, but the underlying ideological structure seems very much the same to me. Or, at least, that would be what I see as a pertinent structure for today’s political discourse here in the US too. Here are the main dimensions:

competition — cooperation
locality — mobility
predictability — fluidity
identity — context
effective — affective

Most of the other stuff that may come to mind – like “security vs. growth” or “dependence vs. autonomy” for example – seems derivative to me.

New Tagging Service from Google

I want such a service. Google should offer such a service.

Give me a feed of keywords from your search index corresponding to the page I serve… so I can display them as a cloud of “search tags” … working as predefined automated searches.

A few days ago I was reading/commenting a post on A VC’s blog – where Fred Wilson talks about his “learning from Flickr.” The last of his ten points caught my attention: “Machine tagging (autotagging) is the next big thing in web 2.0.”

My first reaction was – what’s the big deal about machine tagging – thinking about some sort of automated tag extraction at the moment of inputting a piece of content into a system – how would that be much different from semantic search engine indexing?

Only later did I realize that Fred had in mind – mostly, it seems – the behavioral tagging occurring when a site records and displays user gestures in context – ala Amazon’s “customers who viewed this… also viewed…”

But misunderstanding being often the way of creative thinking – the idea came to me about a new type of web service from the likes of Google.

Why not have Google’s index out in the open, on my web pages – as a contextualized self-updating interface to related content – perfectly in synch with our common AdSense based interests. A simple click on a “related” keyword (close to the main content) is 10 times (my educated guess) easier than having to come up with good search words (too much thinking) and typing them into a search box (too much work) somewhere else on the page.

Web links are THE web interface… not search boxes.

We had “aidjumps” (my partner Ivan coined the term) on Aidpage since the very beginning in 2004. We would take user created tags and offer them also as preset Google searches. (We had to take these “aidjumps” down because of a conflict with the AdSense terms of service. For another unrelated reason, you won’t even see tags now on Aidpage… we’re working on a major upgrade.)

The idea is that Google may offer such a free web service to anybody quite easily – as an additional discovery interface. In a way, it sounds fair – I allow Google to index my pages but I want Google to give me back the results of the indexing – as tags that I can put back on my pages.

The whole Google index returned back to the periphery… exposed in the original contexts from which it was extracted… feeding back traffic to Google. Each such tag is an immediate Google search… much easier than using a search box… sending people to Google search results – what could be better for Google, or for any search engine for that matter.

People tend to forget that Google’s engine is not some sort of a super smart AI based meaning extraction machine. The smart thing about Google’s search engine was always the relatively simple recording and computing of the original human social gestures on the web (a.k.a. web links). Web links are the original social bookmarks too. It is this early social Web2.0 thing inside Google that made Google great… and hugely profitable.

Add to this the personal bookmarks Google now collects through their toolbar…

So, if Google’s greatness relies mostly on the social and personal bookmarks collected from my web pages and my browser, why wouldn’t Google give me back free RSS feeds of my tag clouds – on my web pages, my browser, my RSS reader…

I want to know what Google knows – immediately – without the cumbersome search box between us.

The exploration/discovery experience would gain much if we combine user generated tags (author self-tagging + social bookmarking), local behavioral tags (footprints, etc), and search tags from the likes of Google with their machine power and global view of the web.

UPDATE (October 2009):

Well… Google just did what I suggested here almost three years ago – see Google Related Pages and Search Words.

Thank you Google… :)

"The Giant Zero" At The Berkman Center At Harvard

Doc Searls (blog) gave an interesting talk today at the Berkman Center at Harvard. The talk was called “The Giant Zero” – pointing to the image of the Internet as a hollow sphere enabling all periphery (end) points to connect.

Doc talked a lot about the importance of the metaphors we use when thinking about the Internet. He referred to Lakoff’s books about the language as something that largely operates our thinking (the language “speaking” us) as opposed to the everyday understanding of language as something we merely use as a tool to communicate our thoughts (we “speaking” the language). Without having read Lakoff, my impression is that he is mostly re-telling European post-structuralist theories from 20-30 years ago to American audiences nowadays reluctant to read French authors (for whatever reason).

Update: It seems I was completely wrong about George Lakoff in my last sentence above… Tom Maddox’ comment on Doc Searls blog sent me read about Lakoff. It is clear that Lakoff has his own intellectual path independent and different from the post-structuralists I had in mind.

Why Did We Start a War With the "Stalin" of the Mideast…

Why did we start a war with the “Stalin” of the Mideast after being attacked by the region’s “Hitler” and “fascists”… just asking. The smart communication strategists of the Bush administration (well versed in political and war history no doubt) started with these analogies… not me.

The last time the US had to deal with a “Hitler” and a “Stalin”… the war strategy was different… and victorious.

A related question… You have enemies with (may be) nuclear weapons – some of them led by religious fanatics believing in martyrdom and others led by atheists who do not believe in martyrdom nor life after death. Who’s more dangerous? Who can be deterred in the traditional “cold” war fashion? Who has more of a stake in staying alive… here, on earth? Hitler killed himself and Eve without hesitation. Would Stalin have done something similar in a similar situation? Probably not… he was very much like Sadam… clinging to his own life no matter what.

Generally speaking, isn’t it safe to assume that it is easier to scare atheist enemies into some sort of a negotiated peace and not exactly so easy to have this with religious folks ready to “stay the course” at any cost?

I Am Fed Up with the (Unfortunately) Now Dominant “Power” Imagery of American Culture

This is a rant. It’s not an essay. I am not proving anything. I just say what is on my mind. If you don’t want to read it, you’re welcome to leave my blog right now. I am not happy either with these thoughts flooding my head on 9/11.

I am really, really fed up with the primitivism of what so many Americans understand as “power.”

Let me put it as simply as that: true power does not reside in guns, money, or muscles. I’ll repeat: true power is not to be found in handguns, rifles, tanks, rockets… or the stratospheric executives’ and celebrities’ incomes… or the foot/basket/baseball players’ hypertrophied muscles. More guns for the Army… more money for the stupidly rich… and more gyms and steroids for muscles do not make America stronger.

I came to America in 1990. My love for America is rooted in the way my parents looked at America as the beacon of hope to all repressed people in the world (sounds like a cliché – to you may be). America, to me, is first and foremost about democracy and political freedom… and then, eventually, about economic opportunities (yes, believe or not, I did not come here dreaming of finally being able to buy myself a BMW).

Despite all the fascination with the American “cowboy” and “gun” traditions, people worldwide still see America mostly as the place where life is free from the unimaginable (for Americans) violence of 20th century European wars, fascism, Russian bolshevism, East European Stasis and Securitates, Chinese and Khmer Rouge communisms, African tribal wars, South American dead squads, Taliban “power” over women, etc.

The real power of America – a terrific power over the minds of billions of people – is in the IDEA of America. The idea of freedom from “powers,” “lords,” aggression, and fear. It’s not about hamburgers, jeans, jazz, or Elvis. Jeans, hamburgers, jazz, and Elvis were always just SYMBOLS of America. This might be news to many Americans, but local food almost anywhere in the world is way better than McDonalds.

America’s power is not in Rocky’s muscles – it’s in the idea that Rocky CAN have a life free from petty dependence on the local crime “lord.”

And then again, I came in America in 1990… and was baffled by “Jesus is Lord” bumper stickers (oh, how we miss our English lords) and “aggressive” and “greedy” as required (good) personal traits… and by images of gorilla caricatures (a.k.a. football players) and fat-ass ugly baseball body shapes being shoveled into the heads of youngsters as ideals of masculinity. Then came the Detroit interpretations on the theme of “power”… and a whole new culture of driving personal tanks (a.k.a. SUVs) sprang out. What a joke! Primitive is a mild word to qualify this stupidity. And it’s not just stupidity. This compulsive need to identify with infantile “power” imagery (grown “boys playing with toys”) is unfortunately the other face of a growing sense of insecurity and fear. Only people fearing other people can enjoy hiding into a car with the size, look, and weight of a military vehicle. That’s not the America I was coming to.

And since 9/11… the biggest mistake… a terrible mistake… was to forget where the big power of America resides. 9/11 is an attack on America by an ideology. The terrorist acts are just a tool. In today’s world, you don’t fight an ideology with tanks. Tanks bring easy short term “mission accomplished” stuff… and most often long term pain for everybody involved. Reagan was much smarter – he brandished a “strategic initiative” (an idea basically + some money invested for credibility)… and the Soviets were scared appropriately. It worked. Smart Reagan, stupid Bush – both Republicans. The difference is in intelligence. Ironically, the problem with Bush is not so much with his “messianic” talk about freedom – as some suggest – but with his limited understanding of true American power. As a result, American power in the world is diminished – and this makes me angry. The stupid “power” talk and imagery displaced and diminished our real powers. You cannot beat global religious extremism and global crime lords (think Russian and Columbian) with gun/money/muscle “power.” They feed off and thrive on this. That’s their turf. That’s their world. They are happy to meet you there.

Democrats cannot find their way out of the primitive “power” speak and metaphors either. My sad feeling is that nations learn mostly by experience. Unfortunately, Americans may have to see what “power” and “aggression” really mean in the scale of what other nations have gone through – and then only “unlearn” the infantile language of gun/money/muscle “power.”

Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding about my understanding of “power”: (1) I think power starts and ends in the heads and hearts of people, and (2) brut gun/money/muscle power is needed to treat some heads and hearts… on a case by case basis – I totally support the military action in Afghanistan.


Update October 10, 2006:

Here is a good example of what I’m talking about – from an email from a nonprofit organization… notice the language and the metaphors:

“This week, the world’s biggest brands will throw their advertising muscle and millions of dollars in sales into the fight against global AIDS and extreme poverty…”

In a time when (post Vietnam) generals are so very careful with their language, American civilian life is flooded with war/money/muscle metaphors.


Update September 11, 2011:

From today’s NYT:

Our weakest area is combating Al Qaeda’s ideology,” Michael E. Leiter, a director of the National Counterterrorism Center in both the Bush and Obama administrations, said last week.

Oh, really!?!


"Relationship Blend" vs. "Productive, Rational Behavior"

Another good article in The New York Times by David Brooks. Here is the starting snippet:

“In the world of public policy, there are ecologists and engineers. The ecologists believe human beings are formed amid a web of relationships. Behavior is shaped by the weave of expectations and motivations that we pick up from the people around us every day.

The engineers believe all this relationship talk is so much mush. They believe behavior is shaped by incentives. You give people the resources they need and socially productive, rational behavior will usually follow.

Most politicians are ecologists who turn into engineers once in office…”

I totally agree with his criticism of Hillary Clinton’s “American Dream” plan. I had exactly the same reaction when I read about it – such a tired approach, such a lack of imagination, such an inability to produce something that may “change the rules of the (social) game” and inspire constituencies…

And here is the predictable (for me) conclusion:

“But the fact is, when it comes to helping people flourish, the ecologists are usually right.”

I find David’s argument absolutely pertinent to my own preoccupation right now – building an online social software service. I am talking about Aidpage – and our current work on its next major upgrade… coming soon on a computer near you… :)

"Progressive Realism"… Not Too Different From "Considerate Idealism"

An online test recently defined me as a “considerate idealist.” I liked that. It is very close to what I am thinking of myself.

I also identify with what Robert Wright describes as “progressive realism” in his recent New York Times article.

In my previous life under a communist regime, I almost inevitably would bring a conversation to the point where someone would call me a naive idealist for believing in democracy and market economy. To which, my reply was “no, I am not naive… don’t you see the US is stronger than the USSR.”

Similarly, when confronted with all the abundant evidence (see this and this just from today) about how morality must be left aside if you want to make real money, I would simply point to the fact that the two richest guys in the world (you know who) do not seem to be morally bankrupt crooks.

And I liked David Brooks’ “Democracy’s Long Haul” from a few days ago. It reminded me of my own theory about the sometimes necessary “Pinochet” period for countries transitioning from long dictatorial one party systems to democracy.

So, now you know where I stand… :)

Beyond Broadcast, May 12-13 2006

Beyond Broadcast: Reinventing Public Media in a Participatory Culture

“… an open convening at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School… to explore the thesis that traditional public media – public broadcasting, cable access television, etc – face a unique opportunity to embrace new social media models – podcasting, blogs, social software, etc – and create a stronger and more vital public service.”

I’ll be there… happily “browsing” interesting people.

Zayko just completed a large site for NEAVS…

My wife’s Zayko just completed a large web site for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS). The site is probably the most comprehensive online source documenting the fate of the chimpanzees used in US scientific research laboratories. The main purpose of the site though is to be the online support center for NEAVS’ major campaign called “Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories.” Here is a thing you can do right now: sign Project R&R’s online petition! (takes 20 seconds with the reading of the petition).

Study: Prayer doesn’t affect heart patients. Sad.

(From CNN)

NEW YORK (AP) — In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.

Wow… bummer! But… wait a minute… hope is on the way:

Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who did not take part in the study, said the results did not surprise him.

Science, he said, “is not designed to study the supernatural.”

Right here… right now… I just spent 15 minutes pondering… but no… I don’t have anything to say. Sad.

Update (10 min later): The title… why isn’t the title stating correctly the results of the study… like this for example:

Prayer has a slightly negative effect on heart patients.

And what about this non-sense “…had no effect….” Prayer had an effect – a slightly negative one – definitely not the effect people would wish for after heart surgery. From now on… “And please, do not pray for me, would you.”

But again, let’s not forget:

Science, he said, “is not designed to study the supernatural.”

Enough pondering for today… back to work.

Update (from The New York Times, March 31, 2006):

…the most scientifically rigorous investigation of whether prayer can heal illness, the study, begun almost a decade ago…

…In another of the study’s findings, a significantly higher number of the patients who knew that they were being prayed for — 59 percent — suffered complications, compared with 51 percent of those who were uncertain. The authors left open the possibility that this was a chance finding. But they said that being aware of the strangers’ prayers also may have caused some of the patients a kind of performance anxiety.

Ok, what about when patients don’t know they are being prayed for?

The study also found that more patients in the uninformed prayer group — 18 percent — suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 percent in the group that did not receive prayers. In their report, the researchers suggested that this finding might also be a result of chance.

Well… chance or no chance… next time I am in the hospital… please, do not pray for me, would you. All I need is love.