Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Discounting the far future

In 2011 Andrew Haldane and Richard Davies of the Bank of England (HD) presented research showing that, when making investment decisions, investors applied discount rates much higher than the prevailing interest rates, and that this gap was increasing through time. One way of looking at their results was as an increase in short-termism; investors were increasingly reluctant to make investments with a long-term payoff. This reluctance clearly has many implications, including making dealing with climate change even more difficult. Their work has influenced our efforts to build an economic model of long-term storage, another area where the benefits accrue over a long period of time.

Now, Stefano Giglio of the Booth School and Matteo Maggiori and Johannes Stroebel of the Stern School (GMS) have a post entitled Discounting the very distant future announcing a paper entitled Very Long-Run Discount Rates. Their work, at first glance, seems to contradict HD. Below the fold, I look into this apparent disagreement.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


For a long time there have been a number of possible "holy grails" for digital preservation, ideas that if it were possible to implement them would transform the problem. One of them has been the idea of an Internet-scale peer-to-peer network that would use excess disk storage at everyone's computers, in the same way that networks like Folding@Home use excess CPU, to deliver a robust, attack-resistant, decentralized storage infrastructure. Intermemory, from NEC's Princeton lab in 1998, was one of the first, but the concept is so attractive that there have been many others, such as Berkeley's Oceanstore. None have succeeded in attracting the mass participation of projects such as Folding@Home. None have become a widely-used infrastructure for digital preservation because without mass participation none provides the needed robustness or capacity.

By far the most successful peer-to-peer network in attracting participation has been Bitcoin, because the reward for participation is monetary. Now, it seems to me that Andrew Miller and his co-authors from the University of Maryland and Microsoft Research have taken a giant step towards this "holy grail" with their paper Permacoin: Repurposing Bitcoin Work for Data Preservation (hereafter MJSPK). This is despite the fact that, as I predicted in a comment last April, the current Bitcoin implementation has now definitively failed in its goal of establishing a decentralized currency because GHash has, for extended periods, controlled an absolute majority of the mining power. Follow me below the fold for my analysis of Permacoin and how this failure affects it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

X Window System turns 30

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Bob Scheifler's announcement of the first release of the X Window System. Congratulations to Bob and the other pioneers! That doesn't include me - I started work at Sun on X a couple of years later by doing the first port (of Version 10) to non-DEC hardware.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

More on long-lived media

I've already written skeptically about the concept of quasi-immortal media as a solution to the problem of digital preservation. But the misplaced enthusiasm continues. The latest wave surrounds Facebook's prototype Petabyte Blu-Ray jukebox; one of its touted features was the the media had a 50-year life. The prototype is extraordinarily interesting, and I hope to write more about it soon. But I doubt Facebook or anyone expects that the hardware will still be in use in 10 years, let alone 50. After all, you can search any large-scale data center in vain for 10-year-old hardware. So why is a 50-year media life interesting in this application? Follow me below the fold for yet another dose of skepticism.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Digital New York Times

More than four years ago Marc Andreesen gave a talk at Stanford's Business School in which, among many other interesting topics, he talked about the problems the New York Times had dealing with digital media. The recently leaked NYT Innovation Report 2014, the result of a six-month review headed by the Times' heir apparent, shows how prescient Andreesen was. Below the fold, some evidence.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rare good news on Intellectual Property

Two recent pieces of good news on the intellectual property front:
  • The Hargreaves process in the UK has resulted in copyright reform legislation which has passed Parliament and is due to receive Royal Assent this month. Among the numerous improvements it contains are that data mining is included in the right to access, that libraries can make fair dealing copies for their readers, and that sound and video are treated the same as text in most cases. Of particular importance is that in most cases contracts will not be able to override these permissions.
  • In the recent Octane Fitness case, the US Supreme Court changed the rules for awards of fees in patent cases to deter patent trolls. The first such case has just been decided, and an obvious patent troll has not merely lost the case, but has had to pay for the victim's lawyers! Congratulations to FindTheBest CEO Kevin O'Connor for fighting back. Here's hoping that the loss of his RICO suit against the troll can be reversed on appeal.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bezos' Law

Greg O'Connor had a piece at Gigaom entitled Moore's Law Gives Way To Bezos' Law sparked by the recent price cuts by Google and Amazon in which he claimed that:
The latest cuts make it clear there’s a new business model driving cloud that is every bit as exponential in growth — with order of magnitude improvements to pricing — as Moore’s Law has been to computing.
If you need a refresher, Moore’s Law is “the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.” I propose my own version, Bezos’s law. Named for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, I define it as the observation that, over the history of cloud, a unit of computing power price is reduced by 50 percent approximately every three years.
Both Moore's and Kryder's laws held for multiple decades. Below the fold I ask whether a putative Bezos' law could be equally long-lived?