2018 Harold Hotelling Memorial Lecture

The 2018 Harold Hotelling Memorial Lecture is coming up on October 15th. This year is the first time one of dad’s former students will be giving the lecture. Douglas Harris will be giving a lecture titled “Charter School City: What Detroit Can Learn From New Orleans”:

The changes in New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina represent the most radical school reform in the nation’s history. The state took over almost all schools and turned them over to private charter school operators working under performance-based contracts. Teachers no longer worked under union contracts or with tenure protections. School attendance zones were eliminated. These market-based school reforms increased accountability, school autonomy, and parental choice in ways not seen in more than a century of American public schooling. Harris will show that the reforms led to considerable improvement in a wide range of student outcomes. He will also explain how the lessons for other cities, and for the role of markets and governments, are more complicated than these results might suggest.

Dad supported of school of choice in the 90’s. He was an economist, and economists believe in markets. I think even published an op-ed in the newspaper pushing for school of choice.

I wish I could get his take on the intersection of school of choice and privatization. Now that I have kids, the state of education is suddenly a much more pressing matter for me.

Come by the Mary E Marburger Science and Engineering Auditorium at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, at 7pm on October 15th. The lectures are always interesting and, if you’re on the fence, there’s a dessert reception after. The anecdotes at the start always get me, but it’s nice to hear new stories 9 years later.

I love this story from rachelbythebay about hosting in the late 90’s:

Then there was this little company. They were selling dedicated Linux servers for $99 per month, and promised to put them online within an hour of you ordering them, 24 hours a day. Also, they had “the best support in the industry”, according to them.

It seems like nobody else could crack this particular nut. They couldn’t figure out how they were managing to stay in business. How could they possibly be making money selling all of this stuff for just $99/month? How could they possibly hang a new server in a rack in under an hour, and then install the OS on it, and all of this?

As the story goes, this was the “moat” protecting their business. Nobody else could get into the space since they couldn’t make the math work. This one company kept going and kept raking in the customers.

Then, one day, it changed. Another company figured it out, and suddenly there was competition at the “bottom” — the bare-bones super cheap dedicated server market. What happened?

Well, according to my friends, what happened was either a single full-page color photo ad in an industry magazine, or perhaps a large photo accompanying an article. Basically, someone from the company is shown standing there in front of the actual servers, looking proud. I guess they wanted to show off the fact they used certain chips, or something like that. The picture itself contains enough details to show that there is no magic involved.

What did it show? It seems like it gave away the entire “secret”

Giving away the company’s secret sauce

I worked for a dial-up ISP at the turn of the century. Heady times for the internet.

We had a Sun SPARC server running Solaris that handled Apache web hosting and that thing was a beast. We also had a Debian server running RADIUS (greedo) that never had the right time, and some sort of mail server with POP3 access (no IMAP4). For $100/mo we would sell you 100 MB of shared hosting space (with 1 GB of transfer per month).

You could easily run that entire ISP stack off of a single Raspberry Pi these days.

Jessica Rosenworcel on Net Neutrality

A friend of mine gave me the heads up  that FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was giving a policy interview about net neutrality yesterday. Sometimes things just drop in my lap like that. Rosenworcel dissented with the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality protections:

The FCC is on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American people. It deserves to have its handiwork revisited, reexamined, and ultimately reversed. I raised my voice to fight for internet freedom. I’ll keep raising a ruckus to support net neutrality and I hope others will too.

She also wrote this tweet, which you may have seen:

Rosenworcel summed up her net neutrality argument as “your broadband provider doesn’t make decisions for you.” I think that resonates with anyone who uses a big ISP.

She spoke a lot about the interaction of net neutrality and broadband competition.

Right now half of Americans don’t have a choice in broadband ISPs. She was clear that net neutrality was needed in the absence of a robust market for broadband. She also said that if Americans had access to multiple, competing broadband ISPs that she would reconsider whether net neutrality was still needed.

Rosenworcel argued that there’s a financial incentive for ISPs to favor  established players, and when there’s no regulation stopping them, you are going to see ISPs selling your traffic to those established players. That means letting the incumbents buy traffic and stopping disruptive innovations. When ISPs compete, consumers can vote with their wallets. When ISPs don’t compete, you get what we have in America today.

She side-stepped a question about whether broadband is a human right, but she did say “You do not have a fair shot at prosperity in the 21st century without access to broadband.”

I’m on board with Commissioner Rosenworcel’s platform. I was also very happy that the moderator asked her to make the case against net neutrality, and that she could do so fairly and without slinging mud. It reminds me of Daniel Dennett’s rules for criticism:

You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”

Daniel Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Ultimately protecting a free and open internet comes down to freedom – either freedom to choose what you want to use the internet for, or freedom to choose an ISP that will. Maybe, one day, we won’t need net neutrality. But until then, let’s keep up the pressure.

You can watch the full video of the conversation on the event’s page.

I’m convinced Apple is acutely aware that only nerds called Mac OS X “Mac OS Ten” and only nerds call the iPhone X “iPhone Ten.”

The fact that I didn’t have to write “iPhone Ex” and you knew what I meant proves my point.

I’m further convinced that they did the market research and found that the vast majority of consumers don’t care, but the nerds get a smug sense of superiority by calling it “Ten” and correcting people.

Giving them a pedantic toehold to correct people is win-win. Well, a win for Apple, a win for pedants, and a loss for anyone who ever hears the sentence “Actually it’s pronounced ‘ten.'”

Check out this time lapse video of the Giacobini–Zinner comet from reddit user u/jostef0:

You know what a comet looks like. If I tell you to close your eyes and imagine a comet, you have a mental picture in your head of what a comet looks like. Your comet is an amalgam of all the illustrations you saw in science books growing up (with a bit of the opening of Star Trek: The Next Generation thrown in for good measure)

This real comet tweaks that a bit. “That’s the thing from the picture!”

Time lapses give us a new perspective on our place in a slow-moving universe. If you look up, you can see the sky. If you wait long enough, you can see the stars move. But, like the Flaming Lips said, “it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.” Check out this video, where the image is stabilized to the stars instead of the Earth:

Seeing the Earth spinning like that changed the way I look at the night sky. And it’s important to look up when there’s a clear night. It’s easy to forget how gut-wrenchingly awesome the night sky can be. If you still have time, please check out what happens when people look up:

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