Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bill Shannon RIP

Last Thursday my friend Bill Shannon lost a long battle with cancer. The Mercury News has his obituary. I thought to create a Wikipedia page for him as I did for my friend John Wharton. But, true to Bill's unassuming nature, he left almost no footprint on the Web. The lack of reliable sources attesting to his notability made such a page impossible. The brief account below the fold, compiled with invaluable assistance from many of his friends, will have to do instead. Comments with memories of Bill are welcome.

The image is Bill's card from the deck of playing cards the Usenix Association created for the 25th anniversary of the Unix operating system in 1994.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Deanonymizing Ethereum Users

In last January's Bitcoin's Lightning Network I discussed A Cryptoeconomic Traffic Analysis of Bitcoin’s Lightning Network by the Hungarian team of Ferenc Béres, István A. Seres, and András A. Benczúr. They demolished the economics of the Lightning Network, writing:
Our findings on the estimated revenue from transaction fees are in line with the widespread opinion that participation is economically irrational for the majority of the large routing nodes who currently hold the network together. Either traffic or transaction fees must increase by orders of magnitude to make payment routing economically viable.
Below the fold I comment on their latest work.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Breaking: Peer Review Is Broken!

The subhead of The Pandemic Claims New Victims: Prestigious Medical Journals by Roni Caryn Rabin reads:
Two major study retractions in one month have left researchers wondering if the peer review process is broken.
Below the fold I explain that the researchers who are only now "wondering if the peer review process is broken" must have been asleep for more than the last decade.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Supporting Open Source Software

In the Summer 2020 issue of Usenix's ;login: Dan Geer and George P. Sieniawski have a column entitled Who Will Pay the Piper for Open Source Software Maintenance? (it will be freely available in a year). They make many good points, some of which are relevant to my critique in Informational Capitalism of Prof.  Kapczynski's comment that:
open-source software is fully integrated into Google’s Android phones. The volunteer labor of thousands thus helps power Google’s surveillance-capitalist machine.
Below the fold, I discuss "the volunteer labor of thousands".

Thursday, June 4, 2020

"More Is Not Better" Revisited

I have written many times on the topic of scholarly communication since the very first post to this blog thirteen years ago. The Economist's "Graphic Detail" column this week is entitled How to spot dodgy academic journals. It is about the continuing corruption of the system of academic communication, and features this scary graph. It shows:
  • Rapid but roughly linear growth in the number of "reliable" journals launched each year. About three times as many were launched in 2018 as in 1978.
  • Explosive growth since 2010 in the number of "predatory" journals launched each year. In 2018 almost half of all journals launched were predatory.
Below the fold, some commentary.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Informational Capitalism

In The Law of Informational Capitalism, Prof. Amy Kapczynski of the Yale Law School reviews two books, Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and Julie Cohen’s Between Truth and Power: The Legal Constructions of Informational Capitalism to document the legal structures on which the FAANGs and other "big tech" companies depend for their power.

Below the fold, some commentary on her fascinating article.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Death Of Corporate Research Labs

In American innovation through the ages, Jamie Powell wrote:
who hasn’t finished a non-fiction book and thought “Gee, that could have been half the length and just as informative. If that.”

Yet every now and then you read something that provokes the exact opposite feeling. Where all you can do after reading a tweet, or an article, is type the subject into Google and hope there’s more material out there waiting to be read.

So it was with Alphaville this Tuesday afternoon reading a research paper from last year entitled The changing structure of American innovation: Some cautionary remarks for economic growth by Arora, Belenzon, Patacconi and Suh (h/t to KPMG’s Ben Southwood, who highlighted it on Twitter).

The exhaustive work of the Duke University and UEA academics traces the roots of American academia through the golden age of corporate-driven research, which roughly encompasses the postwar period up to Ronald Reagan’s presidency, before its steady decline up to the present day.
Arora et al argue that a cause of the decline in productivity is that:
The past three decades have been marked by a growing division of labor between universities focusing on research and large corporations focusing on development. Knowledge produced by universities is not often in a form that can be readily digested and turned into new goods and services. Small firms and university technology transfer offices cannot fully substitute for corporate research, which had integrated multiple disciplines at the scale required to solve significant technical problems.
As someone with many friends who worked at the legendary corporate research labs of the past, including Bell Labs and Xerox PARC, and who myself worked at Sun Microsystems' research lab, this is personal. Below the fold I add my 2c-worth to Arora et al's extraordinarily interesting article.