Monday, November 26, 2007

Liberty vs. Economy: How far can we go?

Freedom. Economics. The two are interconnected on a basic level. Neither can exist while the other languishes.

This is the basic philosophy of libertarianism or "classical liberalism," as some put it. Supporters of the Libertarian Party and its relations vary in their interpretation of this philosophy. Some - in fact, from what I have seen, a good many - wish for total absence of government in the field of the economy. That seems to me to be fallacy.

While the government should not have a strong hand in the economic affairs of its citizens, it should not have no hand at all. Inevitably the government will make mistakes, but that is the nature of human things - we make mistakes, and nothing can change that. The government's hand in the economy is necessary to protect against other human mistakes. While the wisdom of the majority is questionable at times, the process necessary to alter a machine on the scale of the federal government is slow. This allows for "testing periods" that might otherwise be rendered too short by an overzealous legislative process, as is the case in a direct democracy. The rule of the economy by large financial entities - such as corporations - can thus be tempered in its fickle nature by the relatively stable hand of the government.

By the same token, though, we must be watchful that the government does not take too large an interest in the affairs of business. It is far too easy for large tariffs, taxes, or bureaucratical procedures to stifle innovation or competition which might otherwise be beneficial to the health of our nation's economy.

When pressed for a vote on a particular example of this clash of liberty versus economy, one must always, without fail, closely examine as many of the major consequences as is feasible before making a determination. Voting on party lines or by rhetoric alone - be it libertarian, neoconservative, or liberal - is to invite disaster on an epic scale. Such, I fear, is the case with our current financial situation in the United States. I imagine that the collapse of the subprime market, the increase in the price of gasoline and its attendant effects, and the subsequent slowing of the American economy can be traced to poor decisions in the balancing act of liberty and economy.

Sometimes, the liberty of business needs to take a back seat to governmental interference in the machine - and sometimes, the reverse is true.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Second Life, MMORPGs, and Conversation

So, I reactivated my old Second Life account to do some building work for my dad at Baker College. He's started a virtual space for Baker College in Second Life called Baker Island. It's apparently a research exercise in the vein of human-computer interaction, and I've been tasked with building a café for all the virtually-hungry students that come calling.

As I wandered around Second Life's many shops and freebie areas looking for resources to help build the café, I noticed an overwhelming number of people running around....but not talking. There was very little chatter in the public chat, and little chatter in the rather large groups I belong to. So, while there is a large number of users in these shopping areas - ostensibly the most populous regions in Second Life - there was almost no social interaction.

Compare this to World of Warcraft, the largest Western MMORPG in terms of paying subscribers. Everywhere you go, there is inevitably a dirth of conversation. People form groups, raids, and arena teams...not to mention guilds. There is a constant loud presence in larger areas like Orgrimmar and the Crossroads.

So why does Second Life have so little person-to-person interaction, while World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs) has so much?

I've noticed in my many gaming adventures online that the more of a sandbox a virtual world or game is, the less chatter there is. The more there is to do, the more likely it seems that people want to concentrate on doing things rather than talking. EVE: Online is an unusual example - plenty of conversation, but a sandbox environment. This one can be rationalized by pointing out that in EVE there are a large number of activities that are heavy on downtime - travel, for instance. Plenty of time to do nothing but wait and, if there are others around waiting, talk.

On the other side of things, games like Team Fortress 2 that are filled with highly attention-intensive activities prevent chatter by engaging players constantly. While the number of possible activities doesn't match, say, Second Life, the sheer percentage of the players' brains that must be devoted to normal game activities tends to outweigh the conversational side.

So, really, could you say that the amount of chatting going on is directly proportional to the boredom factor of the game? It's possible. It's very possible.

Developers would do well to take note of this fact when designing online games.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stream of consciousness part 1: the Internet

What follows is a completely unfiltered and unedited post on the subject of the nature of the Internet. This is the first part of an experiment I'm trying on what is popularly called "stream of consciousness" or "free writing." Perhaps you will find something interesting and comment-worthy; perhaps not. Such is the nature of an experiment.

A commentary on programming and the web.

Java, JavaScript, AJAX, C++, .NET, ASP, all these things are just different languages that achieve roughly the same end. That end is to produce something or to explore something, two verbs with ubiquitous usage throughout history if only in concept.

The web, or more accurately the internet, is a social medium. Unlike other forms of communication such as artwork or books, the internet is by and large two-way. This has given rise to the concept of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is something of a misnomer, though - the Web has always wanted to be a vehicle for large scale communication. This blog is an example of that. The earliest versions of the Internet incorporated email and bulletin board systems. Nothing revolutionary in that, either; it just meant faster communication.

So then, combining the production of stuff - using programming languages - and the distribution of stuff (since distribution is a social action), the Web is nothing more than an extension of the real world. It's not particularly fascinating nor particularly original, but it allows us to interact with more people than might otherwise be possible.

Something that, then, follows from this is that people will through communication on a larger scale acquire a larger number of experiences and points of view. Through this, more thought is generated, ultimately speeding up the discovery process.

Interestingly, the Internet can overcome some traditional barriers of communication and thereby promote freedom. Certainly the Internet has been a godsend for the libertarian line of thought. It has also been highly useful to people like those from Myanmar. By the same token though, it has also enabled the more extreme edges of society to have a bigger voice. Disturbing behaviors and lines of thought are present on the Web where they would not be tolerated in more antiquated types of communication and literature, such as libraries.

Imagine, if the speed and reach of the Internet is what has revolutionized the way society interacts....what would society be like if we were all telepathic?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Live free. Live open source.

In today's digital, global community, many of the old rules no longer apply. One of these is the way in which we get access to and use common everyday information and media. The old way was to do things like buy a CD at a music store, check out a book on writing resumes at the public library, or pay someone $60 an hour to teach you how to play guitar.

The world has changed.

Now, we download songs through GarageBand, read online resume writing guides found through Google, and learn guitar through instructional videos on YouTube. It's all available freely and instantly, and much of it is open source or public domain. We're in an age of open source living. And it doesn't have to be restricted to purely online things.

Open source living is using products and services provided in a collaborative, unrestricted way. It's all about freedom of choice and freedom of creativity.

Some examples of open source living:

  • living in 1-month, open lease rental apartments

  • using computers with easily replaceable and customizable innards

  • having a jam session with a couple local musicians

  • choosing open-dialogue farm products over supermarket-bought ones

  • writing a book, then making it available to everyone using Creative Commons license - whether free or for profit

  • and so on!

Besides promoting the free exchange of ideas, open source living is also frequently cheaper and more fun than what I called "lock-in living." For example, say you buy a voice for a season in an open-dialogue farm. The costs vary but are usually pretty cheap, since these farms are smaller and don't have to worry about specific crop quotas like the big farms do. Since you've got a voice, you can choose one or more products for them to grow, and you get a portion of everything they make for a season.

Another example is choosing open-license music over licensed music. The artists gain prestige, exposure, and input - and sometimes event gigs - and the consumers enjoy themselves. While open source doesn't mean completely free, it usually provides greater freedom of choice.

Things that go hand-in-hand with open source living are alternative medicine and alternative energy sources. Solar power and herbal medicines in particular are very "open source" in nature, since instructions and discussions regarding them are easily found online. A Google search for renewable energy will turn up scores of sites about alternative energy sources, and a search for holistic medicine will find you plenty of natural alternatives to the drugs pushed by pharmaceutical companies. Keep in mind, though, that not all medicines are created equal, and you should be very careful about what you do to your body!