On why braille is dying

Braille is not necessarily dying. But if you take the threats to print books and you sort of make a caricature of them, those are the threats to Braille books. Creating Braille books is extremely labor-intensive. They’re incredibly bulky. For instance, the Harry Potter series comes in 59 volumes, and they’re all almost a foot tall.

Rachel Aviv.

Link: David Weinberger.

Rules that have been basic tenets of society for centuries

So there I was at the 24-hour grocery story getting whatever sketchy garbage it is that I eat, and only one checkout was open. So there was kind of a line, and as I’m on deck to pay for my stuff I notice there is this woman just pleading with the cashier. She is trying to get a refund for something, it is late, and she is desperate, but she is heroically polite about it. And the cashier is just giving her nothing, just turned away mumbling some bullshit quasi-excuse about how she can’t, how she has to serve the people in line first.

When I read this comic last week, at first I merely thought Winston Rowntree was back on the ball after a run of weaker (while sappy) strips. This one was good.

But when I came back to read the comments to this really rather simple set-up (a cashier, a woman trying to return a product, and the next shopper in line), I realized that this strip is not merely good, Rowntree has hit the ball out of the park.

Go brave his wall of text! Highly recommended!

Why Icelanders became bankers, or: a machine for turning cod into PhDs.

What went on before: fishing highlights the tragedy of the commons. Since there is no incentive for fishermen to limit the amount of fish they catch, they tend to catch too many. The supply does not have the time to restock, and the price of fish is low because everybody is selling fish. The classic solution is to turn common property into private property, so that every owner suddenly has an interest.

This insight is what led Iceland to go from being one of the poorest countries in Europe circa 1900 to being one of the richest circa 2000. Iceland’s big change began in the early 1970s, after a couple of years when the fish catch was terrible. The best fishermen returned for a second year in a row without their usual haul of cod and haddock, so the Icelandic government took radical action: they privatized the fish. Each fisherman was assigned a quota, based roughly on his historical catches. If you were a big-time Icelandic fisherman you got this piece of paper that entitled you to, say, 1 percent of the total catch allowed to be pulled from Iceland’s waters that season. Before each season the scientists at the Marine Research Institute would determine the total number of cod or haddock that could be caught without damaging the long-term health of the fish population; from year to year, the numbers of fish you could catch changed. But your percentage of the annual haul was fixed, and this piece of paper entitled you to it in perpetuity.

Even better, if you didn’t want to fish you could sell your quota to someone who did. The quotas thus drifted into the hands of the people to whom they were of the greatest value, the best fishermen, who could extract the fish from the sea with maximum efficiency. You could also take your quota to the bank and borrow against it, and the bank had no trouble assigning a dollar value to your share of the cod pulled, without competition, from the richest cod-fishing grounds on earth. The fish had not only been privatized, they had been securitized.

It was horribly unfair: a public resource—all the fish in the Icelandic sea—was simply turned over to a handful of lucky Icelanders. Overnight, Iceland had its first billionaires, and they were all fishermen. But as social policy it was ingenious: in a single stroke the fish became a source of real, sustainable wealth rather than shaky sustenance. Fewer people were spending less effort catching more or less precisely the right number of fish to maximize the long-term value of Iceland’s fishing grounds. The new wealth transformed Iceland—and turned it from the backwater it had been for 1,100 years to the place that spawned Björk. If Iceland has become famous for its musicians it’s because Icelanders now have time to play music, and much else. Iceland’s youth are paid to study abroad, for instance, and encouraged to cultivate themselves in all sorts of interesting ways. Since its fishing policy transformed Iceland, the place has become, in effect, a machine for turning cod into Ph.D.s.

But this, of course, creates a new problem: people with Ph.D.s don’t want to fish for a living. They need something else to do.

Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair, Wall Street on the Tundra, via Scalzi.

Maciej Ceglowski was once in Iceland, and I only mention it because any reason to link to his writing is good.

Those darn internets!

Yes, there is a guy who is trying to grow all known beard types on his face, and has managed to collect 25 of the 35 variants so far.

Also blogging elsewhere

Although my posting frequency here never has been a thing to brag about much, lately it has dropped below the “once a week” that I unconsciously saw as a minimum. This is not because of the dreaded blogging fatigue, but because I’ve joined a couple of other blogs—which I must have written about once or twice before, so let this be just a gentle reminder.

Most of my time goes to 24 Oranges, weird and wonderful news about the Netherlands (English). (Or: just my postings.)

I used to post about twice a week at the Teleread blog, but since 2007 my Teleread posting frequency has also suffered. At first that was because of lots of paid work, but when I had more time later it went to 24 Oranges. (Or: just my postings.)

Finally, the past few weeks I have had four guest blogs up at the Iusmentis blog, which is Arnoud Engelfriet’s blog about the meeting of technology and law. Writing mainly about copyright and Project Gutenberg, I have posted the following items there (in Dutch):

I will try and translate, and then post these four entries either here or at Teleread, when I have the time. I put a lot of research into these postings, so it would be a pity to limit them to speakers of Dutch. Also, the readers of the Iusmentis blog have added some valuable comments that could use a larger audience.

Story tropes

This is too important to just leave to my browser’s bookmarks. I just found this absolutely marvelous online dictionary of narrative mechanisms called Television Tropes & Idioms. Despite the name it is not just about TV, but about story telling in all mediums, including games. And every definition I’ve encountered so far is absolutely spot on. And in discussing devices and twists it makes mincemeat of the opinions of producers (“the punters only like happy endings“) and viewers (“they can’t bring back Joe, his brains are scattered over three continents and a small asteroid called Katie”) alike.

The news is back

As you may know, I blog at a couple of other places too. One of them is 24 Oranges: off-beat news about the Netherlands in English. Somewhere around February, we hit a dry spot in the news. Nothing would come our way. I’d Skype Orangemaster, my co-conspirator, and ask: “And?” And she’d say: “Nothing.” And I’d go: “I am scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but am coming up blank.”

And then, last week, it was like the floodgates opened. I suddenly could pick from 3 or 4 interesting stories each day. What had happened last week that made the press turn around? I mean, apart from the country’s favourite talking toilet brush releasing his hate film (yawn)… wait! Noooo….

Charlie’s lists

Plus a not-a-list: the true cost of your next mobile phone.

I’ll kill her – Soko

The French Eminem does not rap, she chats.

9 Badd-ass Bible Verses

Christians like to pretend that they are meek, they like to put themselves in a victim role and turn that other cheek (“and turn, two, three; turn, two, three…”). But if you want to convince others of the friendliness of your religion it helps to have a friendly holy book, and this is where Christians have a bit of a problem.

If the Bible had been written by King Leonidas and the rest of the Spartans from 300, it would probably read pretty much the same as it does now.

It turns out, the Bible is already chock full of ass kicking. Here are the verses that make us want to take to the streets and put some unbelievers to the sword.

(From: The 9 Most Badass Bible Verses.)

Now everyone who lived in Sodom and Gomorrah had crazy sex with everyone and just about everything: flora, fauna, fire, they had sex with rocks painted to look like God’s face, and most of them couldn’t even get off without eating filth. Kaka was very popular. Well, it was almost as popular as the grave-yard. It was a horrible place.

(From: Professor Brothers – Bible History #1.)

Of course, only true Christians can say meaningful things about the Bible.