American Economics Association

It’s obvious from my writings that I have developed an interest in economics, which developed out of a curiousity about the workings of free software business – how were we to make money creating free software? While that’s still an open question, the tangent has been a fascinating one that I’m glad I followed. My work with the Tcl programming language further encouraged my interest as I sought to reconcile the language’s extremely high quality and versatility with its falling popularity. If the answer wasn’t a technical one, it had to be some squishy, human factor… economics and marketing.

In any case, one of the things that has frustrated me about economics compared with my native territory of free software is the relative paucity of on line information, and almost total lack of quality sources of feedback (discussion groups or the like where serious discourse is the rule, rather than quackery or debates that quickly degrade into political rants). Not having the time, nor at present the inclination to sidetrack to the point of pursuing a degree in economics, which is the most obvious way of coming into contact with a lot of thought on the subject, at the recommendation of professor Stephen J Turnbull, I signed up to the American Economic Association, which sends out several hefty academic journals every quarter.

Some of the math is a bit daunting, but there is quite a bit of material on various topics, and I think many others (there seem to be a fair amount of open source people with at least a passing interest in business and econ) who want to see something “closer to the metal” would find these journals worth their while, and it’s not very expensive to sign up.

Summer vacation

I’m back in Italy after a wonderful vacation in Oregon. I had a nice time in Portland at OSCON, and got to meet a bunch of people I most likely won’t see for a while, which is always fun. In particular, David Jones of OFBiz was impressive in his determination to do anything and everything to make that project a success. It would have been nice to spend a bit more time at OSCON, but vacation called. On the negative side, I’d kind of forgotten how these things at time break down into cliques, but c’est la vie. It reminds me that I prefer the inclusiveness that is at times more present in Italy.

Going a bit off topic from the topic of this journal, “computer stuff”, we went all over Oregon… Portland, the Gorge, Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge, the central coast, Eugene of course, including a wine tasting trip along the applegate trail, Waldo Lake, Paulina Lakes, and over as far as Fort Rock and the high desert, which was quite a spectacle for us city dwellers acustomed to being surrounded by people.

One of the great things about Oregon, and being on vacation there, is the bookstores. Powell’s is probably the world’s largest physical bookstore, and the separate technical shop is larger than all but the largest bookstores in Italy. I couldn’t resist buying a bunch of books there, and at the Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene, which has loads of used books at good prices. I bumped into Russ Nelson, of the Free Software Business mailing list, in the Economics section of Powell’s, which was an interesting chance encounter.

Amongst the books I picked up:

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

A good read, but it could have been condensed significantly and still got its point across. I think there is a lot to be learned in this book for us programmer types, who tend to be very much ‘maximizers’ in what we do. I’ve written about this some here:

Maximizers, Satisficers and Programming Languages

Why Globalization Works

The book explains what the title promises. It’s a long read, because the author is very thorough and provides lots of supporting facts and figures.

Growing a Business

Good read on creating and growing a business, even if it’s a bit dated, and related to the individual in question and his experiences. Now, if only I had the business…

How to Bring a Product to Market for Less than $5000

Haven’t read it yet, but I have some ideas for products completely unrelated to high tech (it’s stuff from Italy, actually) that I think would do quite well in the US. Contact me if you’re interested…

The Design of Everyday Things

Haven’t got around to reading this one either (also, I have a backlog of The Economist to read here at home, which is usually time consuming). It comes high recommended though.

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal

I enjoyed Collapse as well as Guns, Germs and Steel by Jarod Diamond, and this one looks interesting too. In light of the aforementioned backlog, I left this one with my parents to read, and I’ll check it out later this fall.

Why Most Things Fail

Doesn’t seem to be rated very well on Amazon, but Ormerod’s thesis that economics-as-a-machine isn’t tenable is interesting, and I’m curious to see the details of that idea. Perhaps one of his earlier books would be good reading as well.

I’ll try and write up the books as I read them, if they prove worthwhile.