Category Archives: Economics

Sunday spam: porridge and honey

What is cultural appropriation?

The problem isn’t that cultures intermingle, it’s the terms on which they do so and the part that plays in the power relations between cultures. The problem isn’t “taking” or “borrowing”, the problem is racism, imperialism, white supremacy, and colonialism. The problem is how elements of culture get taken up in disempowering, unequal ways that deny oppressed people autonomy and dignity. Cultural appropriation only occurs in the context of the domination of one society over another, otherwise known as imperialism. Cultural appropriation is an act of domination, which is distinct from ‘borrowing’, syncretism, hybrid cultures, the cultures of assimilated/integrated populations, and the reappropriation of dominant cultures by oppressed peoples.

Aircraft Carriers in Space

An article about naval metaphors in fictional space warfare. Sometimes I suspect that I like science fiction meta way more than I like science fiction.

“I’m not like the other girls.”

A quote I saw making the Tumblr rounds, which said, “I’m not like other girls!” It went on to avow wearing Converse instead of heels, preferring computer games to shopping, so on and so forth. When I saw it, about 41,000 girls had said they weren’t like “the others.”

Is Australia in Danger of Becoming Greece? Austerity and Blackmail Down Under

It is not enough to respond to this ongoing rhetoric about Australia’s supposed calamitous future by pointing out, as Ms Gillard correctly did, that these comparisons are ridiculous given the state of European periphery countries. Yet the ideological blackmail is strangely telling, precisely because the financial sector in the form of the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) has held Greece’s politicians hostage, forcing a slashing of the government in exchange for “bail-out” loans.

The Start-to-Hate Review System

The concept is simple: Rate media based on how long it takes to encounter something bigoted. The longer it takes, the better the media.

An Investigation Into Xinjiang’s Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils

I am subscribed to two “long form” websites: the picks of Long Reads, which focuses on newer pieces, and the editor’s picks of Longform, which tend to skew a little older. Hence, this, from McSweeny’s in January 2005. I always like a piece that clearly ended up not being about what the original pitch was about. In this case, the writer wanted (or supposedly wanted, I guess) to investigate a gerbil plague, and ended up writing an article about gerbil social structures, text messaging on Chinese phone networks, and, several times, the Black Death. Which is how I ended up reading Wikipedia articles about pandemics the same night I was getting sick with the first illness I’ve had since I got out of hospital.

Mariana Trench Explosion

I think of Randall Munroe as a science writer who happens to be funded by merchandise sales from a comic. I don’t regularly look at the comic any more but I follow his blag and his What If? Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday writing more closely. This What If? is one of my favourites to date, although it’s hard to beat the first one. However, this one features an excursion into unpublished work by Freeman Dyson. SO HARD TO CHOOSE.

Do bicycle helmets reduce head injuries?

It’s impossible to follow Liam Hogan on Twitter without becoming interested in urban transport issues. At the moment the big conversation is helmet laws in Australia, which are arguably interfering with take-up of bike share schemes (if you’re going to have to get hold of a helmet, you don’t just jump on the bike, hence, scheme falls apart), although see Why is Brisbane CityCycle an unmitigated flop? for several other reasons that scheme may be failing.

Anyway, this one: A new study reports the rate of hospitalisations for cycling-related head injuries in NSW has fallen markedly and consistently since 1990. The authors say it’s due to helmets and infrastructure.

The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal and Ben Goldacre: ‘It’s appalling … like phone hacking or MPs’ expenses’

Reboxetine is a drug I have prescribed. Other drugs had done nothing for my patient, so we wanted to try something new. I’d read the trial data before I wrote the prescription, and found only well-designed, fair tests, with overwhelmingly positive results. Reboxetine was better than a placebo, and as good as any other antidepressant in head-to-head comparisons… In October 2010, a group of researchers was finally able to bring together all the data that had ever been collected on reboxetine, both from trials that were published and from those that had never appeared in academic papers. When all this trial data was put together, it produced a shocking picture. Seven trials had been conducted comparing reboxetine against a placebo. Only one, conducted in 254 patients, had a neat, positive result, and that one was published in an academic journal, for doctors and researchers to read. But six more trials were conducted, in almost 10 times as many patients. All of them showed that reboxetine was no better than a dummy sugar pill. None of these trials was published. I had no idea they existed.

Given that I favourited two separate articles about this, I’m going to buy the book. Now you know.

Going blind? DRM will dim your world

[I]t turned out I needed Adobe Digital Editions to ‘manage my content’… It tried, of course, to force me to give Adobe my email and other details for the ‘Adobe ID’ that it assured me I needed to get full functionality. I demurred… and was confronted by a user interface that was tiny white text on a black background. Unreadable. Options to change this? If they exist, I couldn’t find them.

Getting this far had taken me half an hour fighting my way through a nest of misery and frustration with broken eyes and a sinking heart. Along the way, I’d been bombarded by marketing messages telling me to “enjoy the experience” and “enjoy your book”.

Reader, I wept. Marketing departments, here’s a top tip: if your customer is reduced to actual, hot, stinging tears, you may wish to fine-tune your messaging.

5 Plans to Head Off the Apophis Killer Asteroid

Friday the 13th of April 2029 could be a very unlucky day for planet Earth. At 4:36 am Greenwich Mean Time, a 25-million-ton, 820-ft.-wide asteroid called 99942 Apophis will slice across the orbit of the moon and barrel toward Earth at more than 28,000 mph. The huge pockmarked rock, two-thirds the size of Devils Tower in Wyoming, will pack the energy of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs–enough to wipe out a small country or kick up an 800-ft. tsunami.

On this day, however, Apophis is not expected to live up to its namesake, the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and destruction. Scientists are 99.7 percent certain it will pass at a distance of 18,800 to 20,800 miles… Scientists calculate that if Apophis passes at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles, it will go through a “gravitational keyhole.” This small region in space–only about a half mile wide, or twice the diameter of the asteroid itself–is where Earth’s gravity would perturb Apophis in just the wrong way, causing it to enter an orbit seven-sixths as long as Earth’s. In other words, the planet will be squarely in the crosshairs for a potentially catastrophic asteroid impact precisely seven years later, on April 13, 2036.

It turns out that with current technology we might be able to move the asteroid prior to the (potential) 2029 entry into the gravitational keyhole, but if it did so we would be unlikely to perturb the orbit sufficiently after that point to avoid a civilisation-ended impact. So it’s the question of how many resources to spend on a low-probability but enormously catastrophic event.

Parenting economics

From Matt Yglesias:

Family life is subject to a vicious economic conundrum known as Baumol’s cost disease. Economy-wide wages are linked to economy-wide productivity. That means that over time sectors of the economy that don’t feature productivity gains will see rapidly rising costs…

Child-rearing is basically stick stuck in a kind of dark ages of artisanal production, but as market wages have risen the opportunity cost of this extremely labor intensive line of work has steadily increased. The implication is that societies that want to continue existing in the future are increasingly going to have to find ways to subsidize parental investment in the next generation.

Tiger Beatdown vs Australia

Tiger Beatdown is perhaps not enormously well known among the Australian poliblogs, mostly because it isn’t one, although one Australian writes for it.

But they’ve had a couple of pieces of local interest lately.

First in early October Flavia Dzodan looked into the multinational security firms that are behind a lot of immigration detention facilities and other jails:

Evidently, G4S track record of detainee safety in Australia was so poor that the government was forced to cancel the contracts. Instead, new ones were awarded to Serco, whose care of immigrants seems to follow the same sickening pattern:

At the detention center Serco runs in Villawood, immigrants spoke of long, open-ended detentions making them crazy. Alwy Fadhel, 33, an Indonesian Christian who said he needed asylum from Islamic persecution, had long black hair coming out in clumps after being held for more than three years, in and out of solitary confinement.

“We talk to ourselves,” Mr. Fadhel said. “We talk to the mirror; we talk to the wall.”

Naomi Leong, a shy 9-year-old, was born in the detention camp. For more than three years, at a cost of about $380,000, she and her mother were held behind its barbed wire. Psychiatrists said Naomi was growing up mute, banging her head against the walls while her mother, Virginia Leong, a Malaysian citizen accused of trying to use a false passport, sank into depression.

The key point for me is the question about to what extent these firms are lobbying, and successfully influencing, refugee policy. To what extent is it market maintainence?

Why ostensibly disparate nations like the US, The Netherlands, France or Australia (just to name a few), all seemed to have gotten on board with the anti immigrant sentiment at once. Why, within a short period of time, media seemed inundated with these stories of threats, fear and unrestrained menace. However, the same media that quickly exposes the threats of lawless, uncontrolled immigration rarely addresses the profiteers behind these trends. Every detainee is a point in the profit margins of these corporations. Every battered immigrant body forced to live in these conditions represents an extra income for these multi-national businesses. Nothing is gratuitous, as Mr. Buckles so poignantly said, There’s nothing like a political crisis to stimulate a bit of change. Especially if said crisis can create monstrous profits off the backs of undocumented migrants who sometimes lose their lives under the care of these corporations.

And now Emily Manuel is making the case for Occupy Australia:

I’ve lived in Australia and the U.S and I know from personal experience that the substantially lower standard of living in the U.S is something few Australians can truly understand. Things are not perfect in Australia economically – not with the astronomical housing prices – but we can’t say that the middle class has collapsed in the same way as in the U.S.

We do ourselves no favours when we uncritically mimic American models without changing them to suit local conditions. The cultural cringe is no more useful in activism than it is in other areas. The 99/1% slogan is powerful stuff indeed but doesn’t adequately address the income distribution of Australia as accurately in the United States. Activism must respond to local needs to be successful…

While we don’t have lobbyists in the same way, this is still a problem in Australia. If things have been getting so much better over the last decade, why have student fees been ballooning while full-time lecturers are replaced by casual tutors? Why is there no Medicare bulk billing? Why is the Medicare gap ever-increasing? How can the poor and working classes afford housing, in some of the most expensive markets in the world? For that matter, why do we pay student fees at all? If things have been so good, why do we deserve less as citizens than we did in the 70s and 80s? Why do we accept less?

We are blowing up the very same bubbles that have burst so dramatically in the U.S, and it is the same process of destroying the social fabric that the welfare state held together – it’s just we started off from a much better place, from a more cohesive social whole (G_d bless you, Gough Whitlam). With privatisation and economic rationalism, we have treated Australians with the same cannibalistic attitude that created the US 99%. Not citizens with rights and responsibilities any longer but consumers, markets to be exploited…

That is how well our democracy is functioning – when the top 0.02% of businesses and 10% of households won’t pay a tax for the benefit of the rest of us…

So yes: Australian apathy and irony have frequently served to protect us from U.S-style extremism, but what happens when enough people step forward to say something our political classes and media classes don’t want to hear? And what happens when we need serious changes to survive as a country and our politicians are unwilling to do anything about it? This is a problem that concerns all of us, in Australia and indeed worldwide, as we face climate change.

It is for this reason that we must have an Occupy movement in Australia that addresses the dictatorship of capital in our lives, that produces a democracy that truly centres the needs of the people. We need to protest. We need the right to protest. We need to be out in the streets to put the lie to the false consensus of the neoliberal press that there is no alternative to the status quo. And yes, we need to make sure that our needs are taken care of by our political system, even – especially – when they conflict with the needs of business. It is time that we made clear that running a “democracy” primarily for the rich is no longer a possibility in Australia.

Tiger Beatdown tends to long-form posts, so I suggest reading the originals. (And I suggest commenting there if you want to substantively engage with the arguments.)

Sunday Spam: crepes and maple syrup

As just fed to my son, in fact.

The execution of Troy Davis and the death penalty

I donated to the Innocence Project and the (US) National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, for what it’s worth.

Fukushima Disaster: It’s Not Over Yet

The impact of both radiation and fear of radiation on Japanese society, although it feels a little shallow. I’d love to read this argument from the perspective of a Japanese person.

Debunking the Cul-de-Sac

Struggles to come up with anything nice to say about cul-de-sacs, frankly, unless you are in the business of selling either cars or fuel for them. Oh, they’re quieter. Other than that, cul-de-sacs suck.

Queen of the Kitchen

A Christmas-time fairy story by Karen Healey. So you know it’s got a tough-minded teen girl, New Zealand, and magic. Several of my favourite things.

Chemotherapy doesn’t work? Not so fast…

Science Based Medicine reviews the real position of chemotherapy. It works as the primary treatment for a fairly small number of cancers, it doesn’t work much at all for some cancers, and much of the time it is part of several treatments (radiotherapy, surgery).

On Feminism and Virtue

Sady Doyle reflects on the extent to which being a feminist makes you a better person: potentially not much.

The Great American Bubble Machine

Goldman Sachs: always there to turn a functioning market into a speculative bubble, and thence to profit. Highlights include 100 million people entering hunger in 2007 due to speculation on food and oil futures. This was via Tim O’Reilly, who went down to the Occupy Wall Street protests because even rich small-government types do (or ought to) have a beef against Wall Street.

Disability Culture meets Euthanasia Culture: Lessons from my cat

On the normalisation of euthanasia in animals, to the point where vets can’t advise on what death of natural causes is like, and its relationship to euthanisa in humans. I was thinking about this issue over the last few years, most recently after a vet euthenised my parents’ elderly pet horse after what my father, who works in the meat industry and has seen hundreds if not thousands of animals die—and some seriously negligent treatment of animals for that matter—described as the worst suffering he’d ever seen. So, I don’t have a lot to say about Tony’s death, but it did make me think about how animals die.

Certificates and “authorities”

The certificates that identify websites for secure web browsing, that is. Basically, it’s a mess. There are about 400 organisations that are trusted by browsers to sign the identities of secure websites, they get hacked quite a bit, and some of them are careless at best about security.

Movin’ Meat: Instinct vs Expertise

An ER doctor puzzles over why a neurosurgeon isn’t taking a certain fracture seriously. Unlike a lot of stuff I link here, this is less about systemic concerns and more just an interesting story.

The iPad, the Kindle, and the future of books

From early last year, more in my attempt to understand publisher perspectives on ebooks. I’m in an interesting place on this, reading both in the open source/copyright reform world which tends to accept and embrace the tendency of the sale value of intellectual property to fall to zero or nearly so once distribution is cheap (see for example Copyfight on ebook prices rising), and librarians, publishers and authors who aren’t so hot on that happening to books.

Anyway, now I know what the agency model is.

Do We Need A New Nirvana? Does Modern Music Suck?

Joel Connolly (my brother-in-law, and a band manager) thinks audiences need to wise up to existing awesome music, basically. It’s a longer version of what he said to Bernard Zuel early in the month.

Above reproach: why do we never question fidelity?

I like this style of inquiry. Basically, the question is that everyone agrees that infidelity (not having multiple partners, but having multiple partners without being honest about it) is unethical. But should we? Is this sometimes part of oppression?

Every so often, asking these questions of human relationships is important. (Note that the writer, also, doesn’t have an answer.)

Increasing Barriers to College Attendance Through ‘Optional’ Extracurriculars

Something I’ve wondered about for ages, as Australian universities, which largely admit students based on pure academic performance, are constantly criticised for not moving to the US model, which takes into account the whole person, yadda yadda. As long as the whole person has time in their life for charity work, sports teams, student politics etc. To me, US college applications often sound like high schoolers applying for a Rhodes scholarship straight out of school. Not that raw exam scores don’t incorporate endless privilege, but extracurriculars do not in any way ameliorate that.

Book reviews: The Big Short, The Zeroes

Michael Lewis, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

The story of the subprime mortgage crisis, from the point of view of various traders who were betting it was all a crock for a long time. I originally learned about this book on The Daily Show. Mmm, March 2010. A good time for our local Bing Lee: we went and bought a washing machine with a decent spin cycle and I suddenly put my foot down and said that if I was going to be spending 2 hours each night putting our then young baby to sleep we were going to have a TV recorder to tape The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

If anyone is interested in the genesis of the Ada Initiative, it’s actually that washing machine, because I wrote a blog entry about it that inspired Valerie to get in touch with me after some years of radio silence. (We weren’t mad at each other, we just usually only talk when we have a project cooking. Or when we have washing machine thoughts, it seems.)

Ahem, Lewis’s book. A fun tale of investment outsiders who were shorting subprime mortage bonds by buying credit default swaps against them. They ranged from cynical to apocalyptic. They were mostly social misfits or investing misfits or both. (Aren’t we all misfits?) It’s a well-told tale, but it’s not a true insider’s tale. What was happening at Goldman Sachs, again?

Caution for: it’s from a trader point of view, so while at least one person profiled believed he was watching evil happen, we aren’t talking radical critiques of capitalism or anything here.

Bonus: As I said earlier, I wish I could read expert reviews/rebuttals for almost every non-fiction book I read. And this time I could. Check out Yves Smith, Debunking Michael Lewis’ The Big Short.

Randall Lane, The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane

Another insider-but-outsider tale of the bond market of the Naughties (the Zeroes, as Lane calls them). Lane was the co-founder of Trader Monthly, a glossy freebie magazine for Wall Street traders. This brought him into contact both with traders themselves, jockeying or not to be profiled as hot up-and-comers, and luxury goods advertisers keen to get in on bonus season.

It’s about equal parts how-my-magazine-startup-failed, which is interesting enough—a combination of it-could-happen-to-anyone road bumps, and getting into business with some real jerks—and what-were-they-like-these-traders. Entertaining enough as a library loan (which is how I read it), but I probably wouldn’t have actually purchased it. Still a bit of an outsider’s tale.

Sunday Spam: apple and cinnamon risotto

Apple and cinnamon risotto is one of Matthew Evans’s recipes in The Weekend Cook. I have some quibbles with that book, mostly that if anyone tries to romance me with the things listed under “romantic weekend” their expectations will be dashed, but this sounded ambitiously tasty.

In other news, I’m enjoying the Instaright Firefox add-on, which adds an address bar button and a right-click menu item for sending a link to Instapaper. Still liking Instapaper just fine except that it will only ever send 20 articles to one’s Kindle, and one day I managed to queue up close to 40 articles.

It would be kind of cool if Instapaper let me put out Sunday Spam as an instapaper. (I believe the ability to instapaper things to other people is an often requested feature.)

The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy

Linked in several places, this is an article about selective reductions (ie, aborting one fetus in a multiple pregnancy) from twins to singleton pregnancies. I’m not really sure why I was so interested in this—I’ve read several articles on reductions over the years and they’re all pretty similar—but I was. Perhaps it’s just that I definitely share the public fascination with twins described in the article.

Jenny is an asshole, and so, of course, am I

Infertility blogger Julie of A Little Pregnant shares her thoughts on Two-Minus-One: again nothing ground-breaking, but I enjoy Julie’s blog so have a link.

Jailhouse phone calls reveal why domestic violence victims recant

Phone calls between alleged perpetrators of domestic violence and their victims (which were known by the parties involved to be being recorded) show that the typical strategy for getting the victim to recant is getting their sympathy for one’s terrible situation facing trial and jail (rather than, at least in these cases, of threats of more violence).

Are software patents the “scaffolding of the tech industry”?

Counter-arguments to pro-software-patent positions, largely stressing that these particular pro-patent positions are concerned with the ability of the first inventor to profit from their invention, rather than with encouraging innovation in general.

Top 10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Should Stop Saying

From earlier this year, includes “formula is poison” and “Moms who use formula don’t love/value their babies as much as moms who breastfeed”. I know people who have been hurt badly by statements this strong, in one case seriously considering giving up all plans for future children because of a failed (and mourned) breastfeeding relationship with her first child.

HPV: The STD of a New Generation

I’m pleased to have found Amanda Hess’s current online home again. Here she is on the interesting status of HPV: the STI that so very many people have, with attendant interesting interpretations by everyone from vaccine manufacturers to social conservatives.

What if Publishers are right about eBook prices?

Arguing that there’s a strong case that ebook prices will go to $0, and that this would not be a public good. Interesting, undoubtedly highly arguable. (Does not answer the question about why digital music prices haven’t and thereby make the required distinction between the two arguments.)

You Do Something with Your Hair?: Gender and Presentation in Stillwater

Gender presentation in Saint’s Row 2 is pretty unrestricted, and the game has gone out of its way to avoid using pronouns to refer to your character.

Crashing the Tea Party

David E. Campbell, an associate professor of political science at Notre Dame, and Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, argue that their research shows that the Tea Party brand is getting toxic in the US, together with some data showing how closely Tea Party affiliation/identification corresponds with Republican Party membership and belief in a less strong church-state separation. Perhaps not a very exciting article for people who follow US politics more closely than I do.

11 Percent

11 percent of housing in the US is unoccupied, s.e. smith writes. In addition to the good of housing people, wouldn’t fixing this housing up stimulate demand in construction?

Sunday Spam: scrambled eggs and pesto

I have Instapaper now! Which means I read more stuff. Which means that every so often I will share things with you. On Sundays, sometimes.

This week is biased towards American stuff, because Instapaper’s Browse page tends towards longer stuff from The New Yorker, The Atlantic and so on.

On the Overton window : Thoughts from Kansas

This is one post in a series of discussions among skeptics about whether they should apply skepticism to evaluating their own outreach (see Skepticism means caring about evidence for the main thrust of that). This is an interesting side-note, which is that the Overton window, which is often cited casually by at least some of my activist friends, is not actually a very rigorous or reliable phenomena. (The idea of the Overton window is that the existence of radical voices helps establish a moderate version of the radical’s position by including that radical position in the window of visible opinion.)

Domestic aviation and a carbon price

Robert Merkel sketches out some sums suggesting that on various models, pricing carbon and other climate effects into Australian domestic air travel still makes flying cheaper than high speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne.

Can the Middle Class Be Saved?

Don Peck in The Atlantic on the growing gap between the upper-middle (or “professional middle”) and upper-class of Americans (the top 15% or so) and the rest of the middle-class, particularly the non-college educated. Has some interesting observations on gender too, namely that while service and caring jobs are growing in number and manufacturing and construction shrinking, men are not making the switch to the growing fields.

The Youth Unemployment Bomb

More typical Instapaper Browse fodder, this time from Business Week. Revolutions, unrest, and un(der)employed, highly educated, young adults.

Open Source Report: Is Defective by Design getting any traction at all?

An older link I was sent earlier this year as part of a discussion about geeks wanting to make sure their activism makes sense to people who aren’t already converts. It’s criticising the Free Software Foundation’s Defective By Design campaign.

The Attempt to Understand Puerperal Fever in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: The Influence of Inflammation Theory

I dug this up after a discussion about the process of discovering that puerperal fever could be greatly reduced by birth attendants washing their hands before attending. This is an overview of the eighteenth and nineteenth century theorising about what caused puerperal fever, namely a tension between inflammation theory (a theory that blood was pooling in some part of the body, setting off a general inflammation chain-reaction and requiring blood-letting) and putrid theory, that the body had been poisoned by some external matter and the fever was either the result of this poison or an attempt to throw it off (this theory regarded bloodletting as harmful and focussed on protecting the post-partum woman from breathing fresh air, in many cases).

The interesting thing here, not directly addressed in this link, is that the sheer disgustingness of dissecting corpses and not washing your hands before attending a childbirth is only obvious to us because of germ theory. In fact, regular hand-washing as etiquette is really an artefact of that (see also Karl Schroeder on science-informed etiquette this week). Sometimes the puerperal fever sequence is portrayed as if man-midwives must have been actively callous or hateful to not be washing their hands: in fact, it’s (more?) that they entirely lacked any theoretical framework for believing that what you touched half an hour ago had any serious impact on what you were touching now.

Was Aaron Swartz Stealing? I haven’t been following closely, so this was a good overview from a point of view a little closer to my own perspective on copyright than US governments.

I was pleased to come across this, again via Browse, because previously I’d only read the indictment text.

linux.conf.au 2011: dinner activities

linux.conf.au has a charity auction over dinner. There are various failure modes:

  1. it’s a year of big corporate budgets, so bidding reaches about $5000, no one else can compete, and then it stops
  2. it’s not a year of big corporate budgets, so bidding reaches about $500 from a private individual and then it stops
  3. bids aren’t high enough, so there is some pressure for someone to donate something precious. This was how Bdale Garbee ended up being shaved by Linus Torvalds at linux.conf.au 2009. This can be fun, but it also at least tweaks and sometimes outright triggers people’s fear of coercion (having a lot of drunk people screaming for your beard is definitely coercive).

There’s always been a tradition of large consortia of private individuals forming to try and solve problem #1, in recent years these have even tended to win. The trouble then is what happens to the money that was pledged by losers: at lca2011 (and I think lca2010 too, but I wasn’t there) bids aren’t revocable. The donated money stays donated, the only question is whether you get a prize associated with it.

So far so good for money. And now for entertainment, as Rusty posts. The trouble with lca2011 was that the auction consisted of people walking up to laptops and having their donation amount entered and associated with their team. Running totals were displayed on a graph, but spectacle was lacking.

The ritual humiliation of Linux celebrities does have something in it. But, no more screaming for people’s beards. I think it would be much more appropriate, and probably fun, to organise something in advance to occur at the dinner, with celebrities volunteering. The closest model would be lca2004′s dunking of Linus Torvalds (which was organised in advance, the pressure placed on Torvalds to participate I can’t speak to but he gives the appearance of generally enjoying some mild organised humiliation for the benefit of charity).

Say, as an example, that five developers compete to throw three-pointers (actually, this is probably too hard, in addition to being difficult to stage at a dinner, but never mind). Then there’s a very short pre-planned set of auctions for things like being able to take steps forward to start with, extra shots, probably culminating in the right to substitute, together with a simple “highest amount, yay!” kind of contest. At least one or two bids to allow your celebrity to increase the challenge facing an opponent. Probably five rounds of shots total with bidding in between. You could probably solve some obvious problems (like everyone backing Torvalds or betting against him or whatever) with simple transparent manipulation: Linux Australia increasing their matching donations when tables back their assigned celebrity, or something.

Finally, since this is a developer conference, there should be some kind of application allowing people to pledge using their phones from their tables.