Airfare Futures

posted by ben on 11.11.01 at 14:53, null, null, Leave a comment Permalink

Collin mentioned Expedia bought a company to track airline prices. It makes me wonder if there would be a market for futures to protect against price volatility. Maybe even ticket options that would be cheaper than a regular ticket (effectively what Ryan Air does with the £4 advance tickets).

Games to Solve Problems

posted by ben on 11.10.09 at 12:31, null, null, sort of a business plan, Leave a comment Permalink

I watched this a while back and suspect Stephenson did too (or maybe it's just in the zeitgeist).

The idea of using games to solve real world problems shows up in REAMDE -- outsourcing airport security jobs to asia via an MMO. Partially because of this (and having just read Ready Player One I downloaded WoW yesterday. I went to bed at 7am. These games are ridiculously addictive.

I really wonder if there's anything useful you could do in one. Walking back and forth across Azeroth and occasionally clicking on things seems hard to transform into viable labor.

There's another problem... at least for me, games stop being fun when they get hard, constrained, etc. Chess or go with expert players requires textbook openings. The same is even true of Starcraft. As you get better at shootumups they become less about the BFG and more about hopping instead of walking. I don't find these things entertaining and imagine any application of gamers to useful endevour would have to dance around this in a clever way.


posted by ben on 11.10.09 at 12:21, null, null, sort of a business plan, Leave a comment Permalink

I just started REAMDE. In it there's a ransomware scam that uses am MMO as a way to collect the money. There are many, many problems with this -- mostly around traceability of the transaction -- which Stephenson is using to drive the plot.

It seems ransomware is a great use case for bitcoins. I'm not convinced the MMO is necessary as part of the transaction when email would work perfectly well.

George Carlin and Stuff

posted by ben on 11.07.03 at 13:37, null, null, 1 comment Permalink

I'm a little concerned about the masses of things I cart around when moving from place to place. I think I have far more belongings than many of my old friends, yet fewer than most any of my peers. It's an odd place to be. The past few weeks I've been cutting down massively, selling all sorts of random stuff on ebay. That was more trouble than it's worth.


Thinking more about the Stross augmented consciousness sort of thing, I'm wondering if blindly getting rid of my belongings is a bad idea. The books, music and movies I've consumed have had a significant effect on my character.

The physical items serve as useful reminders. While I may never read most of the books I have, they are useful both as reference and as a symbol that serves to trigger memories. If I actually knew anything about how the brain works perhaps this argument would be coherent.

Comment from: Pat Burns [Visitor] ·
I think of my books as carbon storage.
Permalink 07/05/11 @ 09:16

The Ben in the High Castle

posted by ben on 11.07.02 at 12:09, null, null, 1 comment Permalink

I really like the high floor on buildings. This could be the result of 5 years of staring at walls out my window in Seattle, NY and London. I'm wondering if there's a way to get the high floor without all that bit in the middle.

In Texas they put the parking garages on the low floors and the apartments higher up. What about something a little more extreme?

I'm thinking Cloud City of Bespin from Star Wars or that floating city in Dragon Ball Z. I think we might be able to build that relatively cheaply.

You would need to generate lift somehow. Some options immediately spring to mind:
(1) Live in a tethered blimp. It could be filled with helium or perhaps hot air heated through solar, gas, even an electric heater tethered to solar panel/electric grid on the ground.
(2) As long as you're thinking about powering it, why not use gigantic helicopter like blades. I wonder what the math works out to on that one.

Really all I'm thinking is a tractor trailer in the sky with a little elevator. That should be eminently doable. I'm really wondering about buying a couple acres in the middle of nowhere on a lake in Texas... actually the lake might have an added bonus if this thing failed catastrophically...

In the meantime I'll have to settle for Hilton upgrading me to the executive floor.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·
Permalink 07/16/11 @ 15:40

Melty Plastic Goo

posted by ben on 11.07.02 at 12:02, null, null, technology, Leave a comment Permalink

I'm a little disappointed by the 3d printers out there, at least the hobbyist ones. I'm not sure about the professional machines yet.

I would think these things are going to explode as soon as it's possible to print a 3d printer on a 3d printer. The RepRap people seem to claim you can print one but that's a little disingenuous as you buy all the exciting bits and then print a little plast to help hold them together.

Part of the issue is that I'm having a hard time imagining what you could print out of plastic that would actually be useful. I look around my apartment and virtually nothing is made out of plastic. As many things as I could manage are wood, metal, paper, leather. I am wondering if I go ahead with this wearable thing if it might be useful to fab bits out of plastic on one of these things. Not sure...

Since 3d printers self duplicating seem a long way off, I'm wondering what else there might be.

Some sort of home lithography thing would be fascinating. Just keep printing more and more nodes, maybe buy a bunch of solar cells. If nothing else, I could always aim the thing at making me some bitcoins.

Not terribly exciting either, but better.

What if you could build a little solar powered earth mover? Set it loose on a couple acres in the middle of nowhere in Texas and have it build a modern great pyramid? That seems at least moderately feasible.

I wonder what it would take to get that going...

Gargoyle Cowboy

posted by ben on 11.07.02 at 10:56, null, null, hci, 1 comment Permalink

I just read Accelerando by Charlie Stross and am having a bit of a cyber utopian moment. Apparently this is well timed as I just got a call from a friend in London claiming the venture cap is flowing like it's 1999.

One of the three protagonists, Manfred, builds up a custom wearable from random bits and pieces to augment his memory. I'm wondering if technology has gotten to the point where it's finally possible to do this. I've made a few fitful attempts in the past but a combination of crap technology and my cheapness made it impossible.

I'm wondering if goggles/glasses are not the way to go. They'd be great if there were COTS HUDS but those don't exist. What if instead you had a number of small displays, much like a cross between a trader's workstation and the numerous magnifying glasses watchmakers used to mount on their heads. You could move them around and still have some semblance of interaction with reality even if no one would talk with you.

So, I'm thinking:

(1) Cowboy Hat (maybe a top hat?)
(2) Drill a couple holes in it and mount some little displays. Something like these Of course it looks like these have some awful interface that is VGA but not through a VGA plug, so there's probably a lot of work involved in getting this going.
(3) Now you need to provide computer power for the thing. Maybe a stripped netbook with VGA out and a three way splitter? Maybe the innards of a full laptop? I'm a little stuck here.
(4) Then there's the question of battery life. This really needs to have enough juice to go for a day.
(5) Net connectivity is easy. Just jam a USB 3G card in the top and you're good to go.
(6) Input used to be a nasty problem. Now I'm just thinking bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Maybe those pretty Apple ones. It'd be nice if there were something you could use while wandering around but the convenience of a real input device probably outweighs this.

I really like the idea of building this all into a 5lb hat. It might be a little heavy, but it'd be some much better than dealing with a million cables.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·
It looks like putting together what I'm imagining would cost something like $10,000. I suppose I'll wait another 5 years and look again.

I'm thinking about buying a Lenovo X220T to replace my work computer. It seems like it would be a good ubiquitous thing to cart around the country.
Permalink 07/03/11 @ 13:32

posted by ben on 10.11.30 at 15:16, null, null, ben tries to beat Livermore, Leave a comment Permalink

...debt will almost always rise relative to incomes so long as we have an ever increasing division of labor and specialization of tasks, increasing productivity, and a consequent rise in both assets and liabilities as a percentage of income.

-Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence, pg 347

From a micro perspective, does this lead to a self reinforcing cycle where wealthy individual have the ability to take on more debt and thus receive greater benefit? ...makes me think of Ahead of the Curve and the suggestion to take on as much leverage as possible with good terms.


posted by ben on 10.11.01 at 14:14, null, null, math, math, rant, politics, rant, rave, Leave a comment Permalink

So, so wrong. We need more math education. Yes, set theory may not be terribly useful (unless you interact with tuples on a daily basis), but calculus is a prerequisite for understanding the world around us. If we want to understand how many of the automated systems around us work, linear algebra and more is neccessary. The math education that comes with a typical college degree is totally insufficient to understanding the world.

That means only a select few can understand how things work, which in turn means that an even smaller select group can improve on the working of things. This is a problem. Wider math education means the ability of society to build more complex machines. That means great productivity and that means greater wealth.

Some education has value. Some does not. Math has value.


posted by ben on 10.11.01 at 14:05, null, books, books, 1 comment Permalink

...shows up so many places:

The Once and Future King
Times Arrow
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Curious Case of Bejamin Button

...probably others I'm not thinking of right now. It's not exactly the hero with a thousand faces.

Comment from: Devin [Visitor]
We learned about Arthur-Merlin protocols in my complexity theory class today.
Permalink 11/04/10 @ 10:24

Almost Trout

posted by ben on 10.11.01 at 10:52, null, books, books, Leave a comment Permalink

In the beginning was the Word. Then came the fucking word processor. Then came the thought processor. Then came the death of literature. And so it goes.

Dan Simmons, Hyperion, pg 175

Heat Death

posted by ben on 10.10.30 at 06:37, null, null, 4 comments Permalink

I just read Pink Noise by Leonid Korogodski. In it, I'm sure all my old friends will be thrilled to hear, he discusses heat death and validates some of my old concerns. He also talks about far from equilibrium systems, particularly as an explanation for what we see in cosmology (vs dark matter) and how large scale thermodynamics gives rise to smaller scale complex systems -- life.

This all fits remarkably well with El-Erian's When Markets Collide. El-Erian talks about "stable disequalibrium," to explain properties of globalization. The processes here seem to be exactly the ones Korogodski describes.

There's something very interesting here, but I can't figure out how to express it.

Comment from: Leonid Korogodski [Visitor] ·
Thanks. On the evolutionary approach to economics, I highly recommend Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics by Eric D. Beinhocker.
Permalink 10/31/10 @ 23:34
Comment from: ben [Member] ·
Thanks for note! I actually already ordered the Beinhocker book. After finishing Pink Noise I went through and probably picked up 3/4 of the books in the bibliography. Looking forward to reading them...
Permalink 11/01/10 @ 07:20
Comment from: Leonid Korogodski [Visitor] ·
I'm happy that you have enjoyed the book. I wonder about the old concerns of yours that you mentioned in your post.
Permalink 11/01/10 @ 20:55
Comment from: ben [Member] ·
My little heat death argument goes something like this: imagine the universe trillions of years from now. The stars have all died. Matter has dispersed to a state of maximum entropy. Everything is gone -- all that man or anything else might have created has disappeared.

From the perspective of a historically naive hypothetical observer at this point it is impossible to determine whether anything of interest (humanity, art, whatever the meaning of life is) ever existed because the universe now sits at the same state it would have if nothing had ever existed.

Given this inevitable outcome, and the insistence of thermodynamics that it will come to pass, then life can have no meaning.

Some might argue that only reinforces the transitory precious nature of life, but such an argument willfully ignores the final, dreadful outcome.

From a purely rational standpoint, given what I understand about how the universe works, it makes no difference if I live a long, useful life or die pointlessly this instant.

Of course, there are ways out:
(1) Maybe the universe isn't closed (then, in the words of MCJB3, we wouldn't all be hosed).
(2) Maybe there are lots of universes and they interact and we can pass information between them, thereby giving some longer, hopefully perpetual, meaning to our lives
(3) Some other option neglected due to my poor understanding of physics
(4) Maybe there is something supernatural, some sort of afterlife, metaphysical force or something that can be used to give meaning to an otherwise bleak existence.

I still remember having this conversation while staring at a starry sky, imagining the lights going out. That led to another issue

I am also nervous that some piece of enormously dense matter will come wandering through the solar system, causing the earth to go careening off its typical orbit into interstellar space. That would make a much more frightening movie than all those asteroid apocalypse ones.
Permalink 11/30/10 @ 15:27

Why there is a mid/back office CEP market

posted by ben on 10.10.30 at 06:08, null, null, Leave a comment Permalink

...a typical plumbing problem: The pipes are simply unable to handle the flow of new and old transactions. This is true at the level of the individual firm, where the willingness of the portfolio managers to use new strategies is yet to be accompanied by the ability of the middle and back offices to adequately process and maintain them.

-Mohamed El-Erian, When Markets Collide, pg 16

Robotic Armageddon Playlist

posted by ben on 10.09.20 at 15:15, null, null, music, music, Leave a comment Permalink

The Apparations - God, Monkey, Robot
Flight of the Conchords - Robots
Laziest Men on Mars - The Terrible Secret of Space
The Flaming Lips - One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21

Iain Sinclair

posted by graham on 09.09.17 at 15:59, books, Ideas, 2 comments Permalink

Incomprehensible hack or literary genius?

His writing in Downriver is so self-absorbed that borders on repulsive. His characters lack motivation. The syntax is at times unbearable.
I can't help comparing the book to London Fields (in fact he refers to Amis as a contemporary in his forword), and Sinclair just doesn't stack up to Amis in any way, shape, or form, so to speak.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·
Did you read the Hackney one? I liked it. Havn't tried Downriver, but I did try the London one which was also a disaster. At least you didn't spend the day reading Charlie Stross... ick. ick.
Permalink 09/19/09 @ 08:44
Comment from: graham [Member] ·
Nope... i can't find Hackney Rose over here.
Permalink 10/01/09 @ 12:53


posted by graham on 09.09.17 at 15:10, Missleaneus, random, Bicycles, null, 1 comment Permalink

Going to get the Chub working soon! I think the QR Chub was some kind of hack; the Chub people had no idea what I was talking about when I told them I had one of their hubs with a quick release skewer.

Comment from: ben [Member] ·
Now you need a front one.... though I guess it wouldn't match.
Permalink 09/19/09 @ 08:44

posted by ben on 09.08.01 at 07:58, null, books, Leave a comment Permalink

Like most things in the story the natural sciences can tell about the world, it’s all so beautiful, so gracefully simple, yet so rewardingly complex, so neatly connected - not to mention true - that I can’t even begin to imagine why anyone would ever want to believe some New Age ‘alternative’ nonsense instead. I would go so far as to say that even if we are all under the control of a benevolent God, and the whole of reality turns out to be down to some flaky spiritual ‘energy’ that only alternative therapists can truly harness, that’s still neither so interesting nor so graceful as the most basic stuff I was taught at school about how plants work.

-Ben Goldacre, Bad Science, Pg. 117

posted by ben on 09.08.01 at 07:57, null, books, Leave a comment Permalink

...imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in’an interesting hole I find myself in’fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

-Attributed to Douglas Adams
-Found here:

Three Fundamentals for a VC

posted by ben on 09.07.08 at 13:36, null, null, Leave a comment Permalink

(1) What are you doing?

(2) How can I help?

(3) What do I gain?

Virgin is inept.

posted by ben on 09.06.11 at 11:01, null, null, London, Leave a comment Permalink

Virgin media disconnected my brand new fiber line for non-payment of my bill after 1 day of connectivity. My bill wasn't paid because Virgin put a "credit limit" on the account. This limit prevented them from taking the connection fee out of my bank account, despite the bank account itself having plenty of money. Now my access is going to be down for a day.

I pay for the downtime as well, since in their view this is my fault. You know, for being a foreigner.