Are you practicing censorship? Yes. Just ask Caesar.

Interesting debate going on at one of our websites about how to handle advertising coming in from Google adsense with themes that are presented in misleading, stupid, sensational ways.     Often these ads are political and tend to be from the frothing-at-the-mouth right wing websites like NewsMax, where they routinely parody Obama.

Since we’ve had complaints about these ads (ie they offend some people and often annoy us), the question arises about what to do.     This question is complicated by the fact that it was a *prospective advertiser* who complained to us, so I’m a bit concerned that our incentives in this case are getting aligned with one point of view over another.    We don’t want political advertisers having a say in what their political opponents can or can’t  say at our site.

I think my partner has come to a good compromise position which is to shut off the images and use the text only ads.   He thinks this is NOT a form of censorship but I’d say it is – albeit an acceptable kind of censorship in cases like ours:

I also would say that if one narrows things to the censorship protections defined by free speech provisions of US Constitution the game changes since the supreme court generally argues that for legal purposes we are generally concerned with political censorship and not commercial speech or “hate” speech. Both of those are legally (and I think usually appropriately) censored.

Your definition of censorship is too narrow, a common frustration of mine.   This lets people argue – totally speciously – that THEY don’t ever censor but OTHER people do.

Virtually everybody believes in some censorship – in fact I would argue emphatically that “zero censorship” is a sociopathic condition   (e.g. child pornographers should be shot or imprisoned, people who routinely shout loud obscenities in public should generally be stifled).

So, is it censorship to limit the choices of people practicing free speech *in any way whatsoever* ?  Of course it is!
Why?   I direct you to the origins of the word “censor”.

Etymology: Latin, Roman magistrate, from censēre to give as one’s opinion, assess; perhaps akin to Sanskrit śaṁsati he praises
Date: 1526

1 : a person who supervises conduct and morals: as a : an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter b : an official (as in time of war) who reads communications (as letters) and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful
2 : one of two magistrates of early Rome acting as census takers, assessors, and inspectors of morals and conduct

Brain Interfaces

Lots of new info a Singularity Hub here about the quest for brain / computer interfaces, which I think will be the next ‘really big thing’ on planet earth, in part because they’ll be cool and helpful and in part because they are very likely to speed up the creation of a conscious mechanical computer which will quickly surpass human abilities in all respects.

One of the odd things about following this science and these technologies is that about 90% of the world still thinks these are for the most part “kooky sci fi whacko” kinds of technologies and ideas, even as they become mainstream ideas in many tech circles.

Apple iPad Launches Today. Lowest priced model only $499

The new iPad tablet computer from Apple launched today and I’m going to try to summarize the reviews as they come in – which frankly is a better indication of the quality of the device than if I had one in my own hands…. which I don’t ….  However at an iPad Price of only $499 this looks like an amazing device at a great price.

One of the big issues at CES 2010 was the fact that Apple’s Tablet would almost certainly raise the computing bar in terms of expectations for the “robustness” of something that is a cross between a full computer and an e-Reader.    To my way of thinking (ie rational computing purchases)  good tablets may wind up as e-Reader killers – or at least will force e-readers to become real computers and offer a lot more features than they currently offer.

Why buy a Kindle or Nook when you can have a full computer and internet at your fingertips for only marginally higher cost?    At $499 the Apple Tablet “entry level” model is coming in much cheaper than the predicted $1000 price tag – perhaps as part of Apple’s normally brilliant quality and marketing approaches which generally lead to early widespread adoption of devices.

iPad Apple Tablet Computer

iPad from Apple

Hope for Haiti Concert – Beyonce

Donate Now: 1-877-99-HAITI in US/Canada, or go to

The music from this concert was pretty amazing, and if you buy it from iTunes it’ll help Haitians recover from what now appears to be one of the greatest natural disasters in many years.

There’s a lot of political discussion that should center around how to best help developing countries, but I think that should wait until after we address the emergency needs with water, food, medicines, and security. After that I hope we start an international discussion about what it takes to rebuild a failed state into the healthy and vibrant democracy people deserve to live in – the kind of country we in the USA take for granted.

FourSquare, Twitter, and Facebook

As a self-proclaimed social media expert  (hey, cuz I have a MASTERS DEGREE in Social Science!), I like to think I understand what is driving the latest wave of online enthusiasm.    But I’m increasingly convinced nobody understands it.  Rather, like evolution, we work away from failure and wind up with applications and websites that have *survived* and adapted far more than were “brilliantly planned and executed” according to some online success formula.

Of course predicting Google’s success was easy – they’d cracked the nut of “really good search” and even as others caught up to their quality they’d established our habit of “googling” when we needed good info fast and have reaped the enormous advertising revenue rewards from that early success.     I had more trouble understanding why Facebook was so appealing yet it has thrived as the key friend and family connector in an increasingly social media world.

I remain skeptical that Facebook can drive advertising revenue to the extent needed to ever compete against Google for online dominance, but we’re still *very* early in the big online game and clearly Facebook is rocking in terms of online influence.

As for many, Twitter didn’t impress me initially but after following a lot of people and capturing a lot of followers I started to understand how important Twitter would be to the online social experience.     This was borne out very strongly at CES Las Vegas watching how quickly businesses – even including non-tech businesses like the hotels and attractions in Las Vegas – were using Twitter as a key news, customer contact, and customer relations tool.    As mom and pop businesses and “regular folks” begin to understand how active engagement with Twitter can revolutionize the way we do business communication I think we’ll see a second explosion in use and Twitter will rival Facebook in terms of importance.

The latest in the pantheon of  very popular “social media” applications is called “FourSquare”.     The idea is to know the location of your friends and share your location as well as offer tips about everything from dining to attractions.    The basic idea is appealing and intuitive and the service appears to be exploding in popularity, though I’m finding it hard to use I think in part because I’m a rural dweller and things like this are more useful in urban centers where there are a lot more participants.   Still, it seems to me this only enhances Twitter somewhat, and is not really a major improvement over what we’d expect from more active use of Twitter, which I see as playing (eventually) the a role as an application that manages how people are relating to other people on an hour by hour basis.     Although it’s mostly early adopters who use Twitter in this way now, the fact that tweets are easier than a phone call means to me that eventually we’ll shift from calling to some form of text messaging, the most powerful of which is …. tweeting!

In summary I’m thinking that Google search will continue to thrive and dominate with Facebook and Twitter becoming the key tools for social interaction – Facebook more between friends and family and Twitter between businesses and celebrities and customers / fans.       That doesn’t leave much room for Foursquare to become huge, but the online social space has become so large that even a supporting role can be an auspicious one.

Looking North along Las Vegas Strip. House of Blues Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Looking North along Las Vegas Strip. House of Blues Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

One of the best views of the Las Vegas Strip is from the Foundation Room high up at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. There’s also a House of Blues restaurant below, but the Foundation Room is different. Not sure if this is only reserved for special events or not, but it sure was a great view.

Unfortunately the Web 2.0 party here didn’t have many Web 2.0 companies. However I did enjoy talking to the “Life Extension” folks who were doing some really interesting research on the relationship of the telomeres in a gene and longetivity:

Talking politics is not a crime!

People should be more forthcoming with their political opinions.

I think we’ve spawned a generation of folks who think it’s unbecoming to make a political case for what they believe and who tend to simply sit back and watch while others – usually with uninformed ranting – take the political stage.

You know who you are.   Speak up!

Cost Benefit Analysis and the Environment

One of the most interesting topics right now is how to allocate risks and costs with respect to environmental problems like climate change.    I’m having an email discussion with my good pal John and thought I’d bring some of that online for others to comment:

RE:  Cost Benefit Analysis and Environment:

John’s:  It is very easy to distort their definitions towards a point of view rather than towards something necessarily valid.  Not that cost/benefit is never useful.  It is very useful when the costs and benefits are relatively simple to define.  Unfortunately costs from environmental degradation and benefits from efforts to change behavior are very difficult to delineate.  In the end through the early environmental movement persistence and intelligent thinking about clean water and air prevailed over those who used cost/benefit analysis.

Joe:  Very good points except I’m not at all convinced about your last sentence.   I used to agree with that but (without enough research) I’d say we needed cost benefits and failed to do them, leading to massive spending or bans on things that had little impact on the overall quality or simply shifted industrial damages to poor countries.   I’ve lost a LOT of respect for mainstream US environmentalism because I think it is not a global perspective and it’s mostly emotional rather than analytical, leading to bizarre policy and spending recommendations that don’t line up with long term planning and well being. Kyoto – now partially discredited even in environmental camps as an ineffective and bad approach – is an excellent example of how emotion drives policy.

Although there is enough right wing froth to confuse the analysis, another example of emotion trumping reason seems to be the Silent Spring / DDT ban which as far as I can tell will eventually be seen as one of the greatest and catastrophic (in terms of lives lost) errors of environmental thinking – though it would be very hard to model/evaluate the damages to ecosystem if we’d kept spraying.  Still, the facts suggest we had a moral imperative to keep using DDT which would have saved *tens of millions* who have since died from Malaria.   If those had been US kids there is NO WAY the ban would have stuck.
The same imperative – I would argue – that should focus us on malaria and malnutrition while we should largely ignore climate change.
You are certainly right about Lomborg being a lightning rod for controversy, but I’d encourage you to look at his TED talk or other writings.   I’d suggest he’s a very clear thinker, pilloried unfairly by the vested interests of an increasingly entrenched climate and environmental bureacracy.    It’s not logical to think that the public sector is above all economic and political influences while the private sector is a prisoner to them.  Both are compromised, which is why the clearest voices come from people like Lomborg who have no dog in the fight other than “optimizing human experience”.   We can disagree about how to optimize things, but I want to hear more from people who have no stake in how we allocate resources.   That leaves out industry scientists …. and NASA as well, leaving us with thin pickings.    Still, I’d argue strongly – very strongly – that the best policy recommendations are coming from the economists who are looking at both costs and benefits.

Comments very welcome!