Accelerating Universe Talk Transcript & Followup

I managed to get through my 15-20 minute “talk,” and just as I threw it open for questions Second Life had a database problem and everbody in-world had to be logged out…. We got back in 40 minutes or so later, and I answered questions for a while for people who came back. However, if you were at the talk and wanted to ask questions but didn’t come back, I’ll be doing a follow-up Q&A session tomorrow (Wednesday August 1) at 10AM PDT at the same location.

Below, I’ve got a transcript of the talk I gave. Other than fixing some typos and merging things into paragraphs, I haven’t edited what I said/typed.

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Why Vendor Lock-In and Micropayments are Bad

A lot of people have commented on the fact that if you get an Apple iPhone, you have no choice but to get your phone service through AT&T. For a lot of people, this is a deal-killer. Why would Apple do this? Doubtless they got some sweet deal, but it doesn’t seem to be a sweet deal for their customers. But, the hype surrounding the iPhone means that Apple is probably not really suffering much in the way of people not buying the iPhone because of this restriction. If there were a real competitor out there, perhaps things would be different.

So, strike one.

What about micropayments? People— particularly those of the sort who don’t understand that something can have value without necessarily having economic value— have long wondered how to monetize the web. “Micropayments” is a term that’s come up a lot. Wouldn’t it be great if people could be charged a couple of cents for each web page they viewed? Well, no. But the idea is that somehow people should be paying for all of this directly, despite the fact that the world’s most successful web company seems to give away a whole host of really cool stuff without needing to charge people each time they use it.

There is often a lot of head-scratching around why people don’t like micropayments. To me, it’s a no-brainer. I much, much, much prefer having a “flat rate” plan than a “pay as you go” plan. This is especially true for something where I get billed after my usage. Fuel for my car is something I buy on a “pay as you go” plan, but I pay for it up front before I use the fuel, and I know how much I’m paying for it. Back when I was a kid, and subscribed to the Quantum Link online service, I almost never strayed away from the “basic” areas. There were “premium” areas, and we would get something like an hour a month free from the premium areas. If there was something I wanted in there, I would be in and out as fast as possible. Likewise with GEnie; I wrote scripts that would allow me to instantly download all of the message boards from a premium area, and then do my response posts all at once, so that my “time in area” would be very brief. When the clock is running, I’m afraid of the bill that will come. It makes it difficult for me to enjoy or comfortably use a service when I spent the whole time nervous about how much money all of this is eating up. If I must have a micropayment, at least I need some sort of meter to know how much I’m using or (as is the case with electricity and gas bills) some sense of stability about how much I’m going to pay each month.

Here is a story on BoingBoing about a guy who ended up with a $3,000 bill from AT&T because he used his iPhone on an international trip. With a different bit of hardware, he could have had a $70/month flat rate, so it’s apparent that this bill is beyond ridiculously high. AT&T is not backing down, either; the best “bribe” they could offer him was just a bit more than a 10% reduction, which on $3,000 for most of us doesn’t make it any more reasonable. If he doesn’t pay up, all of his family’s phones get disconnected on August 14.

Obviously, the very first thing he should do is move all of his family’s phones— including his wife’s business phone— to a different carrier. If this isn’t a lesson that AT&T should be avoided whenever possible, I don’t know what is.

But the fact is, if you want to use the iPhone as a phone, you are stuck; you have to go with AT&T. So they can pull crap like this, because there’s no worry of a mass defection of people to other carriers when they find out that AT&T is screwing customers over.

Vendor lock-in is bad. Boo to Apple for doubling the vendor lock-in with the iPhone. (There’s not much they could do about the Apple lock-in, but tying it to an AT&T lock-in was a bad choice.) Micropayments are usually bad, especially (as in this case) when you can’t monitor how much you’re being charged until the exorbitant bill comes. Give me a flat fee so I know what I’m going to be out!

Accelerating Universe Talk in Second Life Today

Just a reminder: I’m giving a talk / Q&A session about the discovery of the accelerating Universe today in Second Life. The talk is at 10:00 AM PDT / 12:00 Noon CDT / 1:00 PM EDT / 17:00 UT. Find it by going to this location: Spaceport Bravo (120,65,278).

Also, for those of you who don’t know: a basic Second Life account is completely free! Go to the site and register for an account, and download the client to run on your computer. After you get in-world, you’ll go through an “orientation island” that teaches you how to move about and look about. The Basic Account lets you get in world and go anywhere in world. You can build things if you find a “sandbox” (which are plentiful). You don’t have any money to start, but there are all sorts of freebies out there if you want to customize your clothing and appearance, or if you want random toys to play with. Many people exist with just a basic account.

(A premium account lets you own land– on which you can build things. You also get a small stipend of “Lindens” (the in-world currency) per week. With just a basic account, if you want to buy things in world, you can buy Lindens with a credit card. There are more details of course (specifically with regard to land; there *are* ways to have land with just a basic account).

A Career and a Life, Episode 2 : Career Strikes Back

(This post is tagged for submission to the . I am sure there is a less obtrusive way to do this tagging… suggestions?)

A while back at this blog’s former site, I wrote a post entitled A Career and a Life. Now that my career is on the precipice of undergoing a tremendous change, I thought it might be interesting to revisit that post.

First of all, everything I said before in there I still agree with.

But I want to go beyond that. As I described in that post, I willingly risked being seen as “not serious enough” by not allowing my faculty position to suck up all of my time, and continued spending time on things in my life, including hobbies that most would consider nothing but a waste of time.

However, as I increasingly realized in the last couple of years, I was allowing my career, to seriously and hugely impact the rest of my life in a very negative way. It is for this reason that in the title of this new post I put the career in the role of the Big Evil. I don’t really think career is evil, of course, not like the Empire of Star Wars. But it was doing evil things.

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A cynical take on a study about high school science

Chad links to an article about a study that shows that good preparation in high school math helps students perform in all science disciplines in college, whereas studying one science in high school doesn’t help their performance in other science disciplines in college.

There are a few conclusions that are drawn. The article quotes people who suggest that the “Physics First” movement— that argues Physics should be taught first, with biology and chemistry later— doesn’t hold water. Chad resonates with the article, having observed that college students often have woeful preparation in math, and that this disadvantage cripples them and prevents them from moving on.

Let me propose another, cynical interpretation.

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Accelerating Universe Talk in Second Life

Next Tuesday, July 31, at 10:00AM PDT (17:00 UT), I’ll be giving a talk and Q&A session in Second Life about the discovery of the accelerating Universe.

The talk is being hosted by Troy McLuhan of the Science Center Group. I t will be located at Spaceport Bravo (120,65,278).

And now, for no adequately explained reason, I include a picture of my Second Life self wearing M51 on my head:


Write us up in Wikipedia!

Hey, all of y’all’s, go head forth to Wikpedia’s entry, and make it as good as you can.

Please say nice things about me. PZ just announced on his blog that people should go and edit the site, and I hate to think what it will say about me if his primary readership is all that contribute….

Well, OK, you can say mean things about me if they’re true. No flamewars, though! That’s not appropriate on Wikipedia. More important, though, is to get accurate stuff about the whole site and the whole collection of bloggers there. There’s a bunch of stuff in the “discussion” page that was written previously. (My entry in the discussion page is blank, by the way.).

On Universities, Wealth, and Research Funding

A couple of years ago, I went to a meeting for junior faculty at Vanderbilt about the tenure process. The ostensible goal of the meeting was to help us feel more comfortable by letting us better understand the process. The practical upshot for me, at least, was to ratchet up the tenure stress another notch or two, as well as add to the growing sense of despair I had about the whole thing.

Today, Chad points to an article in Inside Higher Ed about the size of university endowments. You know, those universities that have been increasing student tuitions at rates much faster than the rate of inflation. Just last week, Steinn pointed to another Inside Higher Ed article about how Harvard is in a bind trying to figure out how to spend the excess endowment funds that have built up.

As somebody (a well-regarded teaching somebody, mind you, and a somebody who has won prizes for research both internal and external) who is leaving academia because he was told that his tenure chances were less than 1% due to trouble getting government grant support from a capricious and extremely oversubscribed National Science Foundation, I certainly have thoughts about this. However, I can’t share them directly, because using that kind of language on this blog might well get me in a load of trouble.

Let me just share this, however.

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Congress & Colleges, a Tool for the RIAA ; Let’s Hack the System!

You may have heard about the amendment proposed to a Higher Education act by Harry Reid that would make colleges responsible for enforcing RIAA and MPAA policy. The text of the amendment is absolutely every bit as scary as the Inside Higher Ed article makes it sound. And, as one commenter (highlighted by Slashdot, even) notes, we shouldn’t expect much sanity from the Democrats on this, because the government of the USA today is driven by the largest campaign donors, and of course the companies behind the music and movie industries are huge campaign donors to both parties. Indeed, the “liberal bias” of Hollywood, if anything, may make the Democrats more receptive to this kind of crap. (Around scienceblogs, it’s pretty trendy to bash the Republicans for all things that are wrong, and I participate in this as much as anybody else these days. There’s certainly no doubt that the current administration, aided and abetted by a Republican Congress, made the biggest and uglies mess this country has made in more than 30 years. But the real problem isn’t one or the other party, but, as Lawrence Lessig notes in his new personal mission statement, the influence of big money on politics, and the resultant routine corruption.)

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Copyright Violation : a Bigger Threat than Murder?

Because, unlike what happens with copyright violation, students at Kansas University would at least be given due process and the right to a trial in which they could defend themselves if accused of murder.

Oh, and P.S., just like Josh’s blog, if you’re at KU and just read this, well, you’re worse than a murderer, and under the rules of your University, your Internet access needs to be cut off. This page is, after all; under copyright. (For more info, see and click on the “Creative Commons” icon at the bottom of the left sidebar.)

Of course, if they abide by their rules, KU really out to shut themselves off from the Internet altogether. The fundamental protocols of the Internet (TCP/IP), after all, are designed in a “peer-to-peer” manner, and “peer-to-peer” software is evil and prohibited. This would be a nice solution; cut all of KU off of the Internet because the Internet violates their Internet policies. In any event, that’s what their rules tell them they have to do. (And, I suspect that the RIAA and the MPAA would love nothing more than to see the entire Internet disconnected.)

It’s just nuts how witch-hunty we’ve gotten about copyright violation. The slightest hint from the RIAA thugs that there’s an issue, and you begin to wish that you were in Guantanamo Bay facing trial as an enemy combatant…. It’s a wonder Cheny hasn’t tried to harness the RIAA lawyer corps, for they seem to operate in a mode that plays to his heart.