The Laboratorium
December 2005

End Times, College Edition


I have it on good authority that two of the dining halls at a certain college with too much money and not always enough good sense now feature waffle irons that imprint the college’s shield upon the waffles they make.

Trouble Comes in Threes?


In my dream last night, one of my law school professors (some of you will be able to guess which one) said:

One Medici, I am fine. Two Medici and we are fine together. Three Medici and we are all banned.

Other than being historically inaccurate (the Medici mostly got along quite well with each other), it’s a nice line. I’m also pretty sure the professor in question didn’t actually say it, although I can now easily visualize him doing so. The rueful tone with which he said it in the dream — we’re fine people; it’s just that we can’t get together without it turning into a disruptive competition — really made the dream for me.

Spamenheit 453


I’ve received 453 spams since this time yesterday. That’s probably around 20 times as many legitimate emails as I received.

At least my filter is rapidly training against the new strains of avian spam.

Virtual Borders Goes Beta


My latest paper, Virtual Borders, is out in draft form. Because I believe in such things, I’ve put it out for free downloading on SSRN and made the whole thing available for reuse under the minimally-restrictive Creative Commons Attribution license.

Yes, it’s another virtual worlds paper. I compare and contrast the idea that virtual worlds should be separate jurisdictions with the idea that real-life law should forbid trading virtual items for real money. These ideas sit uneasily together; their theoretical justifications don’t really mesh. This misfit provides an interesting perspective on the evolution of virtual worlds and the relationship between virtuality and reality. We’re moving from an age of independence to one of interdependence.

I’m very happy with how the paper is turning out. While it presumes at least superficial familiarity with virtual worlds, it assumes little background in virtual world theory. Comments and suggestions are welcome. Look for the final version in an online publication near you, well, not too soon but not too long from now, either.

Sick Sad Spam


This afternoon I received an email purporting to be from “Stanley Williams” whose subject line read, “Holiday specials on Caviar, Foie Gras, Truffles, and more - Overnight Shipping.” I have no idea whether a spambot just randomly came up with that pairing of names or whether it’s some spammer’s idea of an attention-getting name. You know, something familiar but not too familiar, maybe, oh, the name of someone scheduled to be executed within the next 24 hours.

It does make the “Overnight Shipping” part of the spam particularly inappropriate.

A Little History


Waggish has been reading Proust. I’ve been reading Braudel. More specifically, I’ve been working on his three volumes on capitalism in the 15th to 18th centuries. “The Wheels of Commerce” is how I think of them, although that’s actually just the title of the middle book.

All in all, they’re quite entertaining. Something fascinating turns up every ten pages or so. The daily caloric budget of most peasants was around 2000 calories, overwhelmingly in the form of bread and gruel. A luxurious diet was still half or more cereals. Until the Industrial Revolution well, revolutionized metallurgy, the second-best raw iron in Europe came from India; the best from Sweden. Latin American sugar planters lived far better than their slaves, but badly by European standards; it was the merchant middlemen who made fortunes off of sugar. In ages of spasmodic supply and variable distribution, warehousing was a critical industry. Malacca was in a perfect position to facilitate trade; the equatorial calms hovered over it for long parts of the year, enabling good access both to the trade winds and the monsoons. And consider this rebuke, from an 18th-century brewer to his buying agent:

I have sent you by coach a sample of the last pale ale you sent in. It is so infamously bad … that I will not receive another sack of it into my brewhouse. Should I have occasion ever to write such another letter, I shall entirely alter my plan of buying.

The past is never far away. Credit and finance, innovation and entrepreneurship, distribution and communications networks … there are modern echoes of almost everything Braudel writes about. We are hardly living in the first global economy.

It’s also hard to know what to make of his theses. His idea about superimposed cycles of history, like waves that roll in off some supernatural ocean and raise and lower the fortunes of the entire world at once, just sounds kooky. (It doesn’t help that he speculated, as he finished the trilogy in the 1970s, that the world might be entering a great century-long downturn. It may yet, but history seems less likely to record the oil crises as the moment everything started to go wrong.) Distinguishing “capitalism” from the “market economy” also allows him to make some interesting points, but also comes to seem tautological. In the end, I’m not sure that “capitalism,” as he uses the phrase, is a concept with enough descriptive power to be a useful category of analysis. (This itself seems to be part of his point; his writing can be both quite precise and quite elusive.)

Still, a fun read.

Contactation


I just discovered that a few of my older email aliases were forwarding to an account that no longer exists. This probably wasn’t too much of an issue with the myevilsite adresses, but my main laboratorium address was basically a bounce magnet. My apologies. It’s working now.

Of course, my laboratorium email addresses are deprecated anyway, in favor of the one listed here. Indeed, it strikes me that the set of people who’d have been emailing me at the laboratorium address, who wouldn’t check my site for a more up-to-date one if that first one started bouncing is probably empty, and who will see any notices posted to this blog—is probably empty. Nevertheless, if that’s you, you know what to do.

Sadly, I realize now that this implicit forward-to-dev-null was probably also responsible for the decrease in spam I’ve noticed recently. I expect my spam folder to return to a more heated level of activity now. I’ve gotten four spams in the time it took me to type out this blog entry …

Five Spine-Chilling Live Concert Moments


Lightning round. On another day, I might have chosen a set disjoint with this one.

  • Johannes Brahms, “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras,” Ein deutsches Requiem (perf. Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra), Sanders Theater, Cambridge, MA.
  • The Magnetic Fields, “The Book of Love,” Northampton, MA.
  • Carissa’s Wierd, “Some Days Are Better Than Others,” Graceland, Seattle, WA.
  • Jason Webley, “Train Tracks,” The Internet Cafe, Red Bank, NJ.
  • Jean Sibelius, “Kullervo ja hänen sisarensa,” Kullervo (cond. Colin Davis), Avery Fisher Hall, New York, NY.

Monopoly One


You know what I like? Doing important life tasks through web sites that assign non-random, easily predictable PINs.

For even more paradoxical values of “like.”

Monopole One


You know what I like? Cords that have a polarized connector at one end but not at the other.

For certain values of “like.”