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When in an Industrial Park in Rome

Ten minutes ago, I was standing in the snow slick parking lot of a bland one story office building off the frontage road of a frontage road.

The man standing with me looked exactly like Guido Sarducci if he swapped his hat for a suitable winter one and had more heavily tinted glasses.

I watched him tap a cigarette out of his pack of Marlboros, neither of us spoke as we pondered our shared problem.

My brain enjoys puzzles and has a bias for elegantly ridiculous solutions. I'd already spent the last fifteen minutes following this man around a warehouse, even getting in a car and following him deeper into the large industrial park that evidentally exists in my home city.

My brain suggested a solution. I pulled out my wallet, opened it in a way he could see the entire contents of its bill compartment, a single crisp twenty. I pulled the twenty out with two fingers and extended the bill towards him.

I'd never done this before, but in my mind a 33% bribe seemed overly sufficient, if maybe a little excessive, but being as this was my first time I was fine aiming high. Also a portion of me that enjoyed over tipping at restaurants found a pleasant symmetry to the offer. A tip was in many ways the potential of a bribe to secure services. In many ways this made a lot more logical sense than tipping after services were rendered.

"Look, this is all I have, why don't you just take it so we can both get back to work?" I said coolly and convincingly, trying to portray a white kid from the Midwest who bribed foreign blue collar workers all day long. I kind of wished I smoked so that I had a task to perform that helped me look non-nonchalant while he considered my offer.

He took it, and said "You'll call? You have number?", I said nothing, to which he responded by reciting a full phone number. I mimed the last seven digits while making no effort to jot them down.

He nodded, and I thanked him for his time. I waited for him to drive off first so he couldn't take down my license plate, and left.


The Perfect Drug

While few people have high praise for K-12 drug education, to me I think the most damning aspect was that it took the "these specific things are super bad!" route, rather than explicitly describing the larger meta-problem, that while we seem to enjoy free will, life is full of potential closed cycle reward loops that can entice us like meat moths to a Foreman grill.

From my twenties to my thirties if you asked if I had any addictions I would have proudly told you what an awesome straight-edge lad I was, and how neither cigarettes or alcohol really seemed to hold any sway over me. I would probably say this to you with a fourth of my attention while the rest of it was concentrating on obsessively growing carrots in a virtual representation of ancient Egypt.

XKCD's most recent blog post is on an interesting form of addiction that I hadn't ever really considered, addiction to novelty. Much like how I sometimes find myself walking, on auto-pilot, to the snack pantry, similarly I find myself opening and reloading. It isn't a conscious act and it has always somewhat bothered me.

Randall calls it "Addiction to Novelty", and it explains so much. Not just why I find reddit so compelling, but also why I used to spend hours as a teen flipping through cable channels, or how I always thought the new video game I got was going to fulfill my entertainment needs forever. The promise of newness far more exciting than the actual result. The pre-Christmas giddiness. Novelty and unlimited potential swirling together in a heady aroma. (more)

Book Piracy Redux

My friend Jason who doesn't have a blog and who doesn't read my blog had some interesting insight on my recent blog post regarding e-book piracy.

He is a big believer in Baen Books which has been providing DRM-free ebooks for years now, far before e-readers were popular.

Their stated stance on piracy is that "obscurity is a much bigger threat to authors than piracy".

So during a several hour drive we worked to find a reasonable ethical...ish middle ground.

What we came up with was similar to the "first ones free" maxim. That if you honestly don't know if an author is for you downloading their first book (ideally a sample free book from their site that they offer) is a reasonable "toe in the water" measure. Depending on in if you use the library, borrow the book from a friend or bittorrent, possibly illegal.

I was then happy to see this sort of idea echoed by Neil Gaiman who highlights the problem as not being a supply side issue, but one of nursing demand. This quote (in response to a bookseller's concerns about Neil giving away American Gods for free) about sums it up:

Remember: one in four adults read no books last year. Among those who said they had read books, the median figure with half reading more, half fewer was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger. Which means you need to find ways to get young readers to read books. And means that if someone likes American Gods and goes out and buys my entire backlist from you, that's more books than most Americans read in a year.

The Dishonest Minority

Read a very interesting article by Bruce Schneier today.

While most of his writing is on Security (both physical and electronic) this is a step back discussing *why* security is necessary.

He identifies the cause as "The Dishonest Minority", which I find very compelling as it seems to very accurately describe the archetype that everybody seems to think is responsible for the downfall of our society.

Depending on who you are you might identify any of the following as part of the Dishonest Minority:

  • The Government
  • Corporate CEOs
  • Welfare Moms
  • The Mafia

So this is clearly a core worry that all types of people share, we just differ to the degree of which groups pose a threat.

The author then points out that we spend a lot of money trying to keep this dastardly minority in check.

I wonder how much of our political miscommunications comes from people eying these "security" expenses and day dreaming about how nice it would be to save all that money by eliminating the one group they think are the root of all the dishonestly.

Kamil (pic updated!)

In celebration of Black History Month My Friend Kamil whose blog is better than mine has pledged to post once a day outlining the historical plight of African Americans.

I'm sure he will provide a gentle, nuanced and profound ethnographic perspective on the subject.

He'll probably also talk about penises. Go check it out.