Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Friday, September 02, 2005

RIP Nawlins

My heart goes out to all the folks affected by Katrina, but especially to folks in New Orleans. I'll take a lot of flak for saying this, but it's the first city in the world that's essentially been lost to global warming.

Sure, there are tons of other factors at play - bad planning, stupid resource allocation. It was a disaster waiting to happen. But let's try and separate proximate from ultimate causes. The proximate cause is a discontinuous jump in temperature off the Gulf Coast, whose proximate cause is (pretty obviously) global warming.

And, yeah, I have to say it, while the sheer flatulent drooling mindless vapidity of our Dear Leader never ceases to amaze me, I am beginning to be amazed by Americans themselves. This is really the first time that I've seen the Third World happening in America. What does this mean? It means the people versus the government:

"...Although obviously he has no exact count, he estimates more than 10,000 people are packed into and around and outside the convention center still waiting for the buses.

They had no food, no water, and no medicine for the last three days, until today, when the National Guard drove over the bridge above them, and tossed out supplies over the side crashing down to the ground below. Much of the supplies were destroyed from the drop. Many people tried to catch the supplies to protect them before they hit the ground. Some offered to walk all the way around up the bridge and bring the supplies down, but any attempt to approach the police or national guard resulted in weapons being aimed at them.

There are many infants and elderly people among them, as well as many people who were injured jumping out of windows to escape flood water and the like -- all of them in dire straights.

Any attempt to flag down police results in being told to get away at gunpoint. Hour after hour they watch buses pass by filled with people from other areas. Tensions are very high, and there has been at least one murder and several fights. 8 or 9 dead people have been stored in a freezer in the area, and 2 of these dead people are kids.

The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians.

The buses never stop.

Before the supplies were pitched off the bridge today, people had to break into buildings in the area to try to find food and water for their families. There was not enough. This spurred many families to break into cars to try to escape the city.

There was no police response to the auto thefts until the mob reached the rich area -- Saulet Condos -- once they tried to get cars from there... well then the whole swat teams began showing up with rifles pointed. Snipers got on the roof and told people to get back.

He reports that the conditions are horrendous. Heat, mosquitoes and utter misery. The smell, he says, is "horrific."

He says it's the slowest mandatory evacuation ever, and he wants to know why they were told to go to the Convention Center area in the first place; furthermore, he reports that many of them with cell phones have contacts willing to come rescue them, but people are not being allowed through to pick them up.

Link - bolding's mine. Most Americans don't yet, IMHO, really seem to fathom what a fundamental breakdown in, well, the basic f*cking functions of our government this is.

Let me also take a moment to dispel the especially toxic myth that the poor are 'always' disproportionately affected by natural disaster. This is stupid, illogical, and untrue. Let's think about the Tsunami in Sri Lanka: sure, poor fishermen got wiped out, but the opportunity cost of reconstruction of resort hotels lining the beaches was likely much higher.

-- umair // 4:51 PM //


Coordination Economies

Canonical example: Writely.

At a recent presentation to one of the Big Net Players, I got a lot of pushback about the notion of coordination.

It's a pretty simple (and well-trodden) concept in econ: people getting together to do things, by processing information. This is exactly what Writely is.

Here's the thesis I tried to outline to them: presumably, because doing things is costly in the real world, you can create value to the bound of coordination costs saved. Looking at Writely, we can make this simple model a bit more concrete. It saves you the cost of emailing docs back and forth (or running your own wiki, etc).

Now, this opportunity seems tiny to most of the usual suspects. But the point is the return - for a very small investment, you can create an absolutely enormous coordination economy. The market size isn't hundreds of billions - but if you can aggregate enough coordination economies, the market size grows, and you realize strong scope economies as well: the whole opportunity is much greater than the sum of it's parts.

Now, they distinctly didn't get this argument. Why not? I think inertia has a lot to do with it. Let's consider the usual suspects for a sec. Google is busy extending the contextual ad model to new domains (viz, location based) and leveraging competences into new markets (viz, leveraging their new unbundling competence to slice, dice, and resell print ad space); Yahoo continues to try and string Web 2.0 bits and pieces together into some kind of coherent whole, and develop 2.0 competences (which is the wrong approach, IMHO).

This kind of inertia is pretty cool, IMHO - because it leaves huge gaps open, just like I've been predicting, for smart players to engage in coordination arbitrage (viz, JotSpot, TheFaceBook, iMeem, Last.fm...etc).

-- umair // 4:40 PM //

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Tom rocks some serious innovation - essential reading, file under Net (Social) goes Physical.

-- umair // 2:24 PM //


Reconstructors, Novelty and the Algorithm vs John Peel

Pandora vs Last.fm - read the MeFi thread for emerging value drivers. In short, there's a big problem with collab filter based solutions - novelty.

EG, Amazon keeps telling you to buy the same bloody books, over and over again (as I'm sure you're painfully aware of). Collaborative filters get stuck on local optima, if I'm allowed to talk fitness landscapes for a sec.

Let's go back to my example of the DJ for a sec. As this MeFi commenter says:

"...What I also need is John Peel back. I need someone to say "listen to this apparently random track, you may hate it now, but it's good for you in the long run and it made me honk like an excited goose".

DJ's are like collaborative filters - but the best ones are also sources of novelty. Noise, if you like, - but good noise. Filters that can jump from peak to peak - from things I might like now, to things I will like when my preferences will evolve (or, better yet, that evolve my preferences). Algorithmic solutions don't do this yet - and probably won't for a while, because it's a (really) hard problem. But it's also a (really) big market gap.

I hope that made sense :)

-- umair // 2:14 PM //


Macro Meets Micro

A nice presentation (PDF) by Yahoo's CFO about the Net and econ I discovered while doing research on NCSoft (of all things).

-- umair // 2:12 PM //


Media 1.0

Dirks Van Essen is an M&A boutique focused on the newspaper industry - some fun reading on their research page.

-- umair // 2:11 PM //




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