Monthly Archives: January 2006

Communism

So I read most of Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Enconomics”, as was suggested by an irate commenteer two months ago. He guaranteed that it would change my thinking, though my thinking had already changed quite a lot in the year between when I posted the entry and when he posted the comment. Nonetheless, it certainly did change my thinking. After reading the first few chapters, it was quite clear to me that free market economics was both inevitable and correct. However, my core idea that communistic sharing should be present also remains. How to reconsile the two?

The classic description of ecnomics is in dealing with “scarce resources”. Sowell defines “scarce resources” simply as what occurs when the sum of everyone’s wants is greater than what exists. This is perhaps the most insightful portion of the book, trivial as it may be. So the way to create communistic sharing (in a subportion of society) is to make the resources in question abundant. “Oh, is that all?” Despite appearances, it is in fact something that can happen.

For example, let’s look at the ubiquitous case of emergent communism: open source software. The reason that open sourcers don’t care about money is because it is basically free to copy software. Sure, there is a scarcity in what software *does*, but there is no scarcity in who has it. When you give a program you have to someone else, you don’t lose the ability to use it. This is the also cause of the gigantic black market (er, non-market) in software piracy. The cost of copying software is entirely artificial, and as economics usually tells us (thank you Sowell), artificial constraints have a tendency to totally break in a free market.

However, to make resources abound that aren’t inherently abundant, we have to look at the other side of the equation. Instead of increasing the amount of resources, which takes much research effort, we reduce the sum of everyone’s wants. So the kind of change that will make communism emerge is a very deep social one. It’s unlikely that any amount of advertizing would change the minds of the people to such an extent. Instead, we should trust Marx that it is an inevitable change (after a society has matured through capitalism) and not try to force it, because we’ve seen where that leads.

I’m convinced that capitalism will never entirely pass. The other day I bought a nice M-Audio sound interface. The market for that product is probably 10,000 people or less. Communism would never support the production of such a product, but it is indeed a contribution to society given that you accept recorded music as a social virtue.

Instead of the glorious vision of “starting a movement” and whatnot, I’ll simply let the ideas slowly sink their way into my head. This is the total opposite of the “American Dream” of becoming a millionaire and living in a mansion. It’s about learning to be satisfied with being moderately comfortable (or if the world’s population doesn’t eventually decrease, being satisfied with being quite uncomfortable). Once most people are satisfied with a small amount of some submarket instead of always wanting to have the most or the best, then communistic values will emerge in that submarket.

But I think I can count on my great6 grandson to be the first in my family to see whether this is actually the direction society is heading.

Jam Reflection

Saturday Night I went to see Medeski, Martin, and Wood, the best musicians and the best improvizationalists I have heard in the industry for at least ten years (I mean, the date of the music, not the age at which I listened to it). As a kind of ironic artistic contrast to that, I hosted the first fortnightly jam session at my house the following night.

Briefly: it didn’t go well. Nobody had any confidence! We were all just kind of dinking around with our instruments, not really saying anything with the music (I don’t mean saying something politically or anything; a strong melody line “says something”). The most obvious contributors to the general lack of energy in the music were that two of our five musicians were playing on something other than their primary instrument, and that our guitarist didn’t have an amp, so we couldn’t hear him.

But another thing that I think generally took away from the spirit of the evening is that we didn’t pick very energetic baselines to start with. It was mostly slow bluesy stuff. The reason I had a tendency to pick those was to keep the bar low for everybody; I thought faster music would be more challenging to follow. But we did one high-energy jam right at the end (which I really enjoyed, but unfortunately tripped over the power to the computer, so the recording was lost), and everybody seemed to follow along better than they did the whole night. So next time: more tempo, more energy!

Another thing is that I didn’t really structure the music to take advantage of people’s strengths. That is to say, I didn’t structure the music to take advantage of my strengths, because I don’t know anyone else’s. However, others’ strengths are something that I hope to learn over time. I consider my strengths as a musician to be:

  • Composition
  • Solo (I mean completely solo, no chord progression, no background rhythm) improv
  • Single-note leads with bends

To be fair, it’s pretty difficult to work those things into a jam with multiple people… especially the second one. I didn’t work the third in as much as I could have, probably because I was feeling self-concious that Andrea, Jenn’s friend who is a jazz pianist, was there and I didn’t want to sound too “simple-minded”. I forgot that music is about making music.

I feel like I could work composition in, but that means I’d have to compose something. And thus far I’ve composed nothing without hearing it as I go. So it would be a challenge. But I spent two hours setting up the friggin music, you’d think that I could spend six hours composing something for us to work with. And I should take the challenge as a challenge, not as a demotivator. Hmm, it’s also hard to compose when you aren’t sure who’s going to show up. Maybe I’ll try that for the next session.

I really want to keep this going for a while, even if it’s a failure at the beginning. We’re human, and humans have a tendency to get better at things they do often.

Probabilistic Versioning

All this solitaire I’ve been playing has got me thinking (another thing I didn’t expect). This also might have something to do with the game Max, Namaste and I are making, since we (especially I) want version control within the game, so you never have to worry about making the wrong choice. Anyway, in solitaire, sometimes I find myself at a dead-end with nothing I can do. So I click undo over and over until I can change my mind about a decision I made. But that’s not really fair, since those moves revealed some information that I wouldn’t have otherwise had if I had chosen the other decision in the first place. That is, the undos become part of the game, since they can tell you things that would otherwise have been hidden from you.

Undo is a nice feature, but this is not what you want it to do in a game. How do you fix it without removing the feature? Well, how about a quantumesque thing where the cards don’t decide what they are until they are forced to. Then when you undo, and some cards that were revealed become hidden again, those cards revert to a superposition of all unseen cards. So when you make a different decision, the cards come up different.

The most interesting prospect for this idea is poker. Think about poker where you can undo in this fashion. The thing that’s bugging me is that you could undo and redo the same move over and over until you see cards you want to see. So the cards have to somehow be entangled with your actions so that if you perform the same action, the same card comes. What’s really bugging me is that in a game like no limit, there are almost an infinite number of actions, so the cards have to be “continuously” entangled with your action, so that you can’t just barely modify your bet to see different cards.

Okay, maybe poker with undo is not such a good idea. It’s an idea worth exploring, though.

Fugue

Here’s an interesting freewrite that I did, and an idea that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. This piece starts in baroque style and slowly (as slow as possible in two and a half minutes of music) makes its way to impressionistic harmonies using the same theme. I think this piece could be a lot longer and better, but I wanted to finish it because it’s been too long since I’ve finished something. Maybe I’ll go back and add to it later.

Freewrite no. 24.

Solitaire really is a decent game

Whenever my mom would play klondike solitaire, I would ask her “why are you playing that game? It is completely mechanical. You move when you can, otherwise you draw another card. You win about 25% of the time.” However, I’ve had a lot to procrastinate recently, so I’ve taken up the game. And now I realize that my comments were incorrect, as exemplified by this board:

For moves: on the bottom, there are no red 9s, no black jacks, no red 7s, and no black kings. For foundation moves, there is no 6 of clubs, 3 of hearts, 7 of diamonds, or 4 of spades on the bottom. I’ve lost the game. Except—if I move the 5 of hearts on to the 6 of spades, then the game is freed up again and I can win.

I still wonder whether it is a mechanical pattern-matching game. At least I know that the patterns are more complex than I previously thought.

Bittorrent currency

From what I can tell, the thing that makes bittorrent unique is the fact that it prevents leechers (or at least keeps them from downloading at any reasonable rate). When I first heard of bittorrent, I thought this was an interesting idea, but instantly saw a flaw. Today, as I try to download a rare movie, I see this flaw realized.

Bittorrent does really well with common files, but it suffers for rare files (say, that only one user has, and one user requests every month). Each time, everyone who has the file sends it to the person requesting it at slow seeding rates. After a someone gets the file, he could just close down the torrent, allowing him to be a leecher. Of course, he was forced to get the file at a leecher’s rate anyway.

So let’s say we generalize bittorrent, so that you can trade bits from any file you have for a file you are trying to get. This would be more like LimeWire, but with leecher protection. But we have the same problem for rare files: what if I have nothing to offer the person from whom I am downloading the rare file?

It strikes me that bittorrent is just like bartering societies (which certain organizations are sillily trying to reinvent). Societies developed currency because it was more efficient than trading. You don’t have to have anything that the seller wants but cash, which everybody wants. So how can we take this to the file sharing world?

Okamoto and Ohta present a system implementing digital cash which prevents double spending (and also ensures a bunch of other stuff which is unnecessary for file sharing). So the technical side is taken care of. All left are the management decisions.

Clearly, you “pay” for bits you want, and people pay you for bits they want. If you provide more upload bandwidth, you can get paid faster and download more. You could go so far as to do bandwidth auctioning (I’ll pay 4 bucks per bit for this file, so you can give me priority). I think that would be counterproductive, though: you’d get the Direct Connect problem, where people are prioritized by how much they share. New people in the system can’t download anything, so the active user base (the economy) never grows. One buck, one bit, that should be hard-coded in the protocol.

The other problem: how do people get cash in the first place? It can’t be through seeding, because you could just seed a bunch of useless crap back and forth on your LAN and get unbounded amounts of money. Seeding has to be charity. But in traditional bittorrent that charity seems to be enough to kickstart new users, so maybe it is here, too. No currency is traded upon seeding, but if you’re seeded some bits that somebody else will pay for, you can get some cash in the bank.

Now we’re starting to fake competitive economic conditions on a society with abundant resources. People wouldn’t seed to you because they can get cash for bits they have, so why would they give it away for free; and again the economy stands still and blocks out new users, because new users don’t always have something to offer. Torrent cash == bandwidth, and you know how people cling to their bandwidth.

But perhaps I’m slippery-sloping myself. Current users of bittorrent are plenty charitable. If you keep the cash hidden (well-documented, but hidden from an eye-check “how much cash do I have?”) and do one of those brilliant bittornado share-rating smiley faces to make people feel good about being charitable, it will probably be fine. The reason I want to keep cash hidden from view is because you don’t want file sharing to accidentally turn into a game, where people are trying to maximize their money. That’s not the point; the point is to get bits shared (there might be some insight into real life there, too).