Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summary of Economics Reading

I wish that there were a way to pick one of the tags listed for the blog and show the titles and dates for that tag, rather than the posts. Given that you can't I have decided to start a list of the economics books I have read and reviewed/summarized, as a quick reference for myself. I will keep updating this page as I read more economics books.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Music I/O

As usual, I've let this go too long. Here we go.
  • Andrew Bird, "Are You Serious". Back to a fuller band, and the quirky pop I like better than his more folky stuff. 4 stars. Here's "Roma Fade", featuring some of his trademark whistling.

  • Jedidiah Berry, "The Family Arcana". This is a companion to "The Family Arcana" deck of cards Berry issued recently. It is snippets about an odd family living in an odd house, one snippet per playing card. This consists of 52 different people each reading a card. I went on and rated it 3 stars so it would show up on my iPod. It is odd when one of these short, spoken word pieces comes up on shuffle play.
  • Santana, "Santana IV". Well, Carlos got the band back together. So a time machine to 40 years ago? Pretty good stuff, 4 stars. Here's one with that great Santana wall of sound.

  • Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, "PersonA". As odd as ever, yet somehow compelling stuff. 4 stars,

  • Corrine Bailey Rae, "The Heart Speaks In Whispers". When I started listening to this, my 1st thought was "This was produced by the same person who produced the latest Coldplay album". I like the songs with the simpler, more guitar-based arrangements better. 4 stars. This one for example reminds me of her earlier work.

  • Lianne La Havas, "Is Your Love Big Enough?", 2012. I back-filled this album as I was obsessing on Ms. La Havas. Really tasty tunes, a wide variety of styles, she is really a nice guitar player. 4 stars.

  • Eric Clapton, "I Still Do". Old Slowhand still picks great tunes. One that suprised me was "Little Man, You've Had A Busy Day". My mom used to sing this to me at bedtime. It was written in 1946, when my mother would have been 17. 4 stars.

  • David Wax Museum, "Guesthouse", 2015. This and the next 3 were recommended to me by Josh Brown, formerly most excellent manager of Azur Restaurant. I think he was in Lexington recently. His song "Yes Marie Yes" was on an excellent mix tape my daughter Alexis made for me a couple of years ago. 4 stars. Here's a rousing number with Zydeco overtones.

  • The Jayhawks, "Paging Mr. Proust". This band has come and gone since the mid-80s, seems like I had heard of them before, but this is my 1st exposure to their music. Their harmonies made me think of Poco, altho this comment has made some of my musician friends go "Huh?". This group made me realize, I don't have "country rock" or "folk rock" as genres in my iTunes. Oof, that will be a major reclassification project ... 4 stars.

  • Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones, "Little Windows". This male/female duo do some great harmony singing. Really reminded me of the Everly Brothers. 3 stars.
  • Charles Bradley, "Changes". Is this guy a great R&B singer or what? 67 YO, and just put his 1st album out in 2011. Great, standard Motown arrangements. 4 stars.

  • Radiohead, "A Moon Shaped Pool". A very strong effort from maybe the greatest guitar orchestra of our times. 4 stars. Here's the 1st track.

  • Fitz & The Tantrums, eponymous. This one didn't quite have the R&B, Motown edge of their prior album. 3 stars.
  • Tumble, "Almanac". Not sure where this came from. Definitely neuvo-folk/bluegrass. Nice vocals, particularly the female singer. 3 stars.
  • REd Hot Chili Peppers, "Good Luck And Do Your Best". This band still knows how to build a great song around a great guitar lick. 4 stars.

  • Gold Panda, "Good Luck And Do Your Best". I occasionally make a foray into electronica/dance like these guys, and always find it very listenable, if not compelling or catchy. 3 stars.
  • Poco, "Pickin' Up The Pieces", As I mentioned, I think The Jayhawks got me thinking about Poco. I thought I had this album in vinyl, so I decided to bump it ahead in the ripping schedule. I indeed had the jacket cover, but, alas, inside was "Axis Bold As Love". So I bought the album in mp3. Definitely one of the 1st country rock bands, in particular, one of the 1st rock bands with a pedal steel guitar. As Richie Furay, Jim Messina and Rusty Young came to this band from Buffalo Springfield, the group got added to my "CSNY+" smart playlist. What high harmonies! 4 stars.

That's it through the end of June.


I've been playing fairly regularly at the Sunday jam at Shamrock Pub. I've been playing and singing well, and varying the material fairly well, I think. Only 2 more weeks of that jam, it will stop once ... football season is in full swing :-(

I also went and played at a jam in Danville at Brother's BBQ. Some good local players out, including a couple I hadn't seen for a while. But, that's just too far to go for a jam. There's a rumor that keyboardist/vocalist/guitarist/harpist Bob Hopps might come out from Springfield to that jam. If so, I may try to make it then.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Abundance

My twitter profile used to say "Studying Economics". But, as I have commented before, "economics" comes from "economy", which implies scarcity. Since my main interest in studying economics was figuring out how we get to a post-scarcity utopia - tagged in this blog with "economy of plenty" - "economics" seemed to definitely be an oxymoronic term. So my profile now says "Studying Abundance".

As such, it seemed appropriate to read "Abundance" by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. The book is subtitled "The Future Is Better Than You Think". It was published and became a best-seller in 2012. It has 432 pages. There is an introductory "Note from the Authors". There are 19 chapters in 6 parts:

  • Part 1: Perspective - 4 chapters
  • Part 2: Exponential Technologies - 2 chapters
  • Part 3: Building the Base of the Pyramid - 3 chapters
  • Part 4: The Forces of Abundance - 3 chapters
  • Part 5: Peak of the Pyramid - 4 chapters
  • Part 6: Steering Faster - 3 chapters
There is a brief afterword telling you how to connect with the Abundance movement; a "Reference Section Raw Data" which has 81 nice charts; and an Appendix "Dangers of the Exponentials".

Peter H. Diamandis is "the chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, cofounder and executive chairman of Singularity University, and the founder of more than a dozen space and high-tech companies, including Zero Gravity Corporation, Space Adventures, and the Rocket Racing League. He is also founder of International Space University." Steven Kotler is "a bestselling author, award-winning journalist".

The book is an easy read. Particularly when it is discussing new and future technologies in the middle part, I found myself skimming the material pretty rapidly. Reading Wired, Scientific American, and Technology Review every month, I think I was familiar with pretty much every (possible) technological breakthrough that was discussed. I was really surprised at how dated so much of that part of the book seemed - amazing what a difference 4 years makes. Many of the people mentioned caused a reaction "Whatever happened to that guy?" But, there were some good new thoughts as well.


Part 1 discusses history, current events, and points us in the direction in which we wish to go:

Imagine a world of nine billion people with clean water, nutritious food, affordable housing, personalized education, top-tier medical care, and nonpolluting, ubiquitous energy. Building this better world is humanity’s grandest challenge. What follows is the story of how we can rise to meet it.
This is a nice statement on Abundance:
Abundance is not about providing everyone on this planet with a life of luxury — rather it’s about providing all with a life of possibility.
A great new word: catallaxy - "the ever-expanding possibility generated by the division of labor". They define an Abundance Pyramid (based loosely on Maslow's heirarchy of needs). Note, ICT stands for Information and Communications Technology.

At the start of the 3rd chapter, I felt, "Yes, this is definitely the book I should be reading next", because the first section of this chapter is titled "Daniel Kahneman" - the author of the last economics book I read and reviewed. The authors identify negativity bias and risk aversion as the cognitive biases standing in the way of acceptance of the idea that we can make it to Abundance. The amygdala, the seat of our primitive emotional responses, particularly to threats, is taken to task:

But because of the difference in neuronal processing speeds, once our primitive survival instincts take over, our newer, prosocial instincts stay sidelined. Compassion, empathy, altruism—even indignation—become nonfactors.
The "if it bleeds, it leads" practiced by our media reinforce the negativity bias - which was once evolutionarily a great idea, but now stands in the way of progress.

Interesting, I had not heard of Dunbar's Number: "people tend to self-organize in groups of 150". This is a nice example of how our mental software is unsuited for modern times and information overload.

Gossip, in its earlier forms, contained information that was critical to survival because, in clans of 150, what happened to anyone had a direct impact on everyone. But this backfires today. The reason we care so much about what happens to the likes of Lady Gaga is not because her shenanigans will ever impact our lives; rather because our brain doesn’t realize there’s a difference between rock stars we know about and relatives we know.
In chapter 4, we meet Matt Ridley - hah, I knew I recognized his name, I read his book "Genome" 10-15 years ago and mentioned it here - ain't having a searchable exocortex great? Hmmm, per his Wikipedia page, he is 5th Viscount Ridley, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, a Libertarian, and a climate change denialist with coal mines on his property. I thought "Genome" was a great book, regardless.

Ridley is an ally in the fight to see the bright side of things, rather than always dwelling on the negative.

“It’s incredible,” he says, “this moaning pessimism, this knee-jerk, things-are-going-downhill reaction from people living amid luxury and security that their ancestors would have died for. The tendency to see the emptiness of every glass is pervasive. It’s almost as if people cling to bad news like a comfort blanket.”

...

the backbone of his 2010 The Rational Optimist, a book about why optimism rather than pessimism is the sounder philosophical position for accessing our species’ chances at a brighter tomorrow. His uplifting argument sits atop an obvious but often overlooked fact: time is a resource. In fact, time has always been our most precious resource, and this has significant consequences for how we access progress.

...

Ridley feels that the best definition of prosperity is simply “saved time.” “Forget dollars, cowrie shells, or gold,” he says. “The true measure of something’s worth is the hours it takes to acquire it.”

...

if you compare today’s cost of lighting with the cost of sesame oil used in 1750 BC, you’ll find a 350,000-fold time-saving difference.

We also hear about a Steven Pinker essay "A History of Violence: We're Getting Nicer Every Day". Interesting, this book predates Pinker's book on the subject, "Better Angels of Our Nature", which I blogged about when it came out in 2013.

Finally, we hear about Hans Rosling and "The Best Stats You've Ever Seen". Together these lead to the setup for the next section.

If Rosling is correct that the gap between rich and poor is mostly a memory, and if Ridley is correct that the hole we’re in is none too deep, then the only remaining gripe against Abundance is that today’s rate of technological progress may be too slow to avert the disasters we now face. But what if this were a different kind of visualization problem, one that wasn’t as easily solved by Ridley’s theories and Rosling’s animated graphics? What if this last issue isn’t our current rate of progress; what if, as we shall soon see, it’s really our linear brain’s inability to comprehend our current rate of exponential progress?
I was very interested in this last sentence. I have felt that my years as an astronomer got me used to thinking logarithmically (the inverse of exponentially), that is, in powers of 10, rather than linearly. Clearly this is yet another thing our mind does not do naturally or particularly well, along with the other shortcomings identified in the Kahneman book.


In chapter 5 we meet Ray Kurzweil, cofounder of Singlarity U, who started out as an inventor and has more recently been writing books and acting as the bard of the cybernetic singularity. He is also a fairly good prognosticator of the future.

Kurzweil became a student of tech trends. He began plotting his own exponential growth curves, trying to discover how pervasive Moore’s Law really was. As it turns out — pretty pervasive.

...

Kurzweil found dozens of technologies that followed a pattern of exponential growth

Figuring out how to use these exponential technologies to build us a bright shiny future is what led to the founding of Singularity U. They now go through the 8 fields that Singularity U addresses, with examples of each.
  1. Biotechnology and bioinformatics, exemplified by J. Craig Ventnor, whose company Celera sequenced the human genome in a year, and has created a synthetic life form;
  2. Computational systems;
  3. Networks and sensors, exemplified by Vint Cerf, now at Google and a proponent for the Internet of Things;
  4. Artificial intelligence: self-driving cars and IBM's Deep Blue computer, which defeated the world chess champion, are examples;
  5. Robotics;
  6. Digital manufacturing: exemplified by Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk. [I happened to attend the Autodesk annual user's conference in 2010, it really was quite inspirational.] The gee-whiz tech discussed here is 3d printing.
  7. Medicine;
  8. Nanomaterials and nanotechnology.


Starting with Part 3, we begin working our way up through the Abundance Pyramid, with a side trip to look at 3 forces assisting exponential technologies. But 1st they tell us about the amazing cooperation now going on in the world, and the technologies that support it.

In the words of Robert Wright, author of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, “Next humans started a completely second kind of evolution: cultural evolution (the evolutions of ideas, memes, and technologies). Amazingly, that evolution has sustained the trajectory that biological evolution had established towards greater complexity and cooperation."

Nowhere has this causal chain been more evident than in the twentieth century, where, as we shall soon see, cultural evolution yielded the most powerful tools for cooperation the world has ever seen.

"Tools for cooperation":
  • modern transportation, which can handle 10s of 1000s times greater loads;
  • information and communication technology (ICT), millions of times faster than a century ago. 6 gains enabled by ICT are identified:
    1. connectivity;
    2. increased division of labor;
    3. scale;
    4. replication;
    5. accountability;
    6. bringing together buyers and sellers. Wired's Chris Anderson and the Long Tail are mentioned.
Poster children for this modern world of increased cooperation: Wikipedia and the Linux Operating System.


The 1st pyramid block that is examined is "Water".

Much of this water is what’s known as “fossil water,” meaning that it took tens of thousands of years to accumulate in aquifers and is not easily replenished. But fossil water also anchors the world’s most delicate ecosystems. The thirst of modern agricultural practices, industrial practices, and the bottled water industry have pushed those systems toward collapse.
Several approaches to creating abundant water are discussed. 1st up, we get Dean Kamen (best known for the Segway) and his Slingshot water purification device. This one of those where I was definitely thinking "Whatever happened to that?" It was announced with much fanfare maybe 10 years ago; per the Wikipedia page, "As of 2016, the product does not seem to be in commercial production or wide use."

Other approaches:

  • precision agriculture, which presumably includes drip irrigation;
  • a 21st century toilet.
Seems odd that there is no mention of the current status of desalinization tech.


The next pyramid block examined is "Food". Note, I just read an article yesterday saying that the world currently produces 10-20% more food that is needed to feed everyone, but 30-40% of that food is wasted. So an improved supply chain, and better portion control, could help fight hunger immensely. Other new ideas discussed are:

  • vertical farming;
  • aquaculture, which has been making up for the flat wild seafood harvest for decades;
  • cultured meat. Hah, here's a good comment on consumer reluctance / squeamishness over cultured meat:
    If we’re willing to live with a lab-grown kidney permanently inside our bodies, then what concerns could we possibly have with cultured beef spending a few hours in our stomachs?
  • GMO crops. I for 1 am all in favor of GMO crops. Roundup not so much.


The third brick of the bottom layer of the Abundance Pyramid, "Shelter", does not get its own chapter, or much discussion at all. I think the futuristic take-away here could have been 3d printed houses.


In Part 4, we take our side trip into the 3 forces helping to push exponential technologies. I have mentioned before that doing an in depth summary/review of a book makes you aware of inconsistencies and awkwardness in the material. Here, it seems like the book would have been more logical if they had explored these issues 1st, and then gone through the Abundance Pyramid from bottom to top, and not have excluded 2 of the 8 bricks.

Regardless, there are the 3 forces:

  1. The DIY Innovator. Props are given to Stewart Brand and his Whole Earth Catalog, 1st published in 1968. Next up is Fred Moore, who founded the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975, whose alumni included the founders of Osborne Computer and Apple. The sharing of software in the club may represent a seed that grew into the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) movement.

    The authors move onto various projects that have become part of the Maker Movement.

    small groups of dedicated DIY innovators can now tackle problems that were once solely the purview of big governments and large corporations.
    • Bert Rutan went from building experimental airplanes to winning the Ansari X PRIZE for commercial spaceflight. [Nice, talking about the history of spaceflight, they bring up the X-15 rocket plane. I loved the X-15 when I was a kid. I had 1 model of the X-15, and another of a B-52 with the X-15 tucked under its wing.]
    • Chris Anderson, who we have already met, "did the same thing for unmanned air vehicles (UAV)". This led to the drones that are so popular now.
    • Biologist Drew Endy started the DIY biology movement to hack DNA.
    • Social Entrepreneurs have given us websites like Crowdrise, Facebook Causes, KickStarter, and more recently GoFundMe.

  2. Technophilanthropists follow the example of the Robber Barons of the early 20th century and are trying to use some of their techno-fortunes to promote the common good. Impact Investing also tries to use $$$ in more socially responsible ways. 2010 marked Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's creation of the "Giving Pledge", "which asks the nation’s billionaires to give away half their wealth to philanthropic and charitable groups within their lifetimes or at the time of their deaths." Lots of other techno-billionaires have signed up for this.

    This is all well and good, but I think I share the concerns Naomi Klein raises in her book "This Changes Everything", blogged here. In particular, with regard to the climate crisis, "There will, no doubt, be more billionaire saviors who make splashy entrances, with more schemes to rebrand capitalism. The trouble is, we simply don’t have another decade to lose pinning our hopes on these sideshows."


  3. The Rising Billion. The poorest billion in the world are leapfrogging the Industrial Revolution and going straight into the Information Economy. Instead of telegraph and telephone lines, they are jumping straight to cell phones. Drones can for some things take the place of traditional transportation infrastructure. With abundant solar energy, they can skip fossil fuels.

    Additionally, the 3 billion people added to the world's population in the next 30 years will largely become part of this group.

    The world is going to gain access to intelligence, wisdom, creativity, insight, and experiences that have, until very recently, been permanently out of reach.

    ...

    Just think of all the consumer goods and services that are now available with the average smart phone: cameras, radios, televisions, web browsers, recording studios, editing suites, movie theaters, GPS navigators, word processors, spreadsheets, stereos, flashlights, board games, card games, video games, a whole range of medical devices, maps, atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, translators, textbooks, world class educations

    ...

    Today the fastest-growing job category is the “knowledge worker.” Since knowledge is nonrival, most of the jobs in the future will produce nonrival goods, and this removes another constraint on abundance: it allows the rising billion to earn a living in a way that does not require burning through our ever-diminishing supply of natural resources.


In Part 5, we are back to the bricks in the Abundance Pyramid. 1st up, "Energy". It all started with fire. I love these kind of numbers:

Archaeologists differ on when humanity first tamed fire. Some believe that it was only 125,000 years ago; others point to evidence dating back some 790,000 years.
The greatest source of future energy will be solar.
Africa has nine times the solar potential of Europe and an annual equivalent to one hundred million tons of oil.
But solar won't do everything. Another future source of energy will be advanced biofuels.
“When compared to conventional biofuels,” says Venter, “corn produces 18 gallons per acre per year and palm oil about 625 gallons per acre per year. With these modified algae, our goal is to get to 10,000 gallons per acre per year, and to get it to work robustly, at the level of a two-square-mile facility.”
Meanwhile, we need to make progress on "The Holy Grail of Storage". Bill Joy, formerly of Sun Microsystems, is working in this area. I think Elon Musk's entry into the battery storage field occurred after this book was published.

Another familiar name is brought up in the discussion of Generation IV nuclear reactors: Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO of Microsoft (and current patent troll?).

this fourth-generation technology was developed to solve all the problems long associated with nuclear power—safety, cost, efficiency, waste, uranium scarcity, and even the threat of terrorism—without creating any new ones.
Unfortunately, "most generation-IV reactors won't make it to market until 2030."

Another blast from the past: Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and one of the inventors of Ethernet. He is now a proponent for a smart electric grid with storage, analogous to the Internet. The goal is to provide a squanderable abundance of energy - and here's some of the great sci-fi stuff we can do with it.

“First,” he proposes, “why not drop the price of energy by an order of magnitude, driving the planet’s economic growth through the roof? Second, we could truly open the space frontier, using that energy to send millions of people to the Moon or Mars. Third, with that amount of energy, you can supply every person on the Earth with the American standard of fresh, clean water every day. And fourth, how about using that energy to actually remove CO2 from the Earth’s atmosphere.
There was no mention of fusion energy in this discussion. Ha ha, I guess it's been around long enough, and always 10-20 years out, to not be futuristic enough to be included here.


Next up, "Education". There are very interesting tales of introducing computers into 3rd world environments, and a surprising result, that kids can figure out a ton of stuff on their own. Quoting Matt Ridley:

“one child in front of a computer learns little; four discussing and debating learn a lot.”
From recently deceased Seymour Papert, who was an early proponent of computer-based learning, we move to Nicholas Negroponte, founding director of the MIT Media Lab, and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, which aimed to develop a very inexpensive computer for poor 3rd world countries. [They had a program in OLPC where you could buy 2, 1 to keep and 1 to donate, which I took part in. I took mine into my development shop at the time (now part of HP) to let the ubergeeks play with it, and then donated it back to the program.] An interesting idea for its time, now largely superseded by efforts based around tablets. I liked this quote from Negroponte; it is really exciting in its estimate of the potential impact of getting computing to the students.
“The most compelling piece of evidence that I have found that this program is working,” says Negroponte, “is that everywhere we go, truancy drops to zero. And we go into some place where it’s as high as thirty percent of the kids, and suddenly it’s zero.”
So much early educational software seemed to have been developed by ... educators. A much better approach, here being touted by my BFF President Obama:
“I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create … educational software as compelling as the best video game.”
Interesting too, the authors point out a problem which lately First Lady Michelle Obama has started a program to address:
Right now, of the 130 million children who are not in school, two-thirds of them are girls.
The Khan Academy and its online courses are also discussed. There is a callout to Neal Stephenson's novel "The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer" and its "lifelong learning companion".

There is no mention of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) program, where MIT and other colleges are putting all their courses online. This program may have just started gathering steam after this book was published. The same applies to Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC).


The next brick is ICT - Information & Communications Technology - which has already been discussed somewhat, and as such does not get its own chapter.


The penultimate [for whatever reason, one of my favorite words] brick is "Health".

almost every component of medicine is now an information technology and therefore on an exponential trajectory.
Among futuristic medical technologies, the authors discuss:
  • IBM's Watson supercomputer which is being targeted at medical diagnosis;
  • the world's smallest and cheapest X-ray machine;
  • "zero-cost diagnostics";
  • the da Vinci surgical robot;
  • robot nurses; "And for some with sexual dysfunction or need, these robots will also play a huge role.”
  • stem cell therapies for growing organs or repairing tissues;
  • ubiquitous gene sequencing for personalized medicine [I did 23andMe last year for $99. Interesting stuff.]
This next statement reminded me of some thoughts I have had lately.
As the baby boomers age, there is no amount of money that the richest among them won’t spend for a little more quality time with their loved ones. Thus, every new technology inevitably finds its way into the service of health, driven by an older, wealthier, and more motivated population.
Life extension seems like a great idea - until you realize the oligarchs will get it long before the rest of us, and might decide not to share it. Picture the Koch brothers at 200 years old. I shudder at the thought.


The final brick in the Abundance Pyramid is "Freedom". Here again, The Internet Changes Everything, allowing for heretofore unheard of transparency into the workings of government, and the immediate publication world-wide of government malfeasance. The role of social media in the Arab Spring is of course mentioned, as is Wikileaks. [It has been a major disappointment to me how Wikileaks appears to have become weaponized in this year's presidential campaign.]

Additionally, this book predates the Snowden NSA leaks, which showed the dark side of our interconnected, data-driven world.


The main thrust of the final section of the book is, can we get there fast enough? If nothing else, the clock is ticking on the climate crisis, and signs are we have already passed possibly irreversible tipping points. The authors identify 4 motivators that drive innovation:

  1. curiosity - the weakest of the bunch;
  2. fear - interesting, they suggest that we can directly measure the strength of fear vs curiosity by comparing the defense budget to the science budget: $700B to $30B;
  3. desire to create wealth, aka greed;
  4. desire for significance.
As Diamandis is the founder of the X Prizes, the authors state that incentive prizes appeal to all 4 of these motivations. Additionally
large incentive prizes raise the visibility of a particular challenge while helping to create a mind-set that this challenge is solvable.

...

another key attribute of incentive prizes is their ability to cast a wide net. Everyone from novices to professionals, from sole proprietors to massive corporations, gets involved. Experts in one field jump to another, bringing with them an influx of nontraditional ideas. Outliers can become central players.

We revisit an observation that was 1st expressed in the discussion of DIY Innovators.
small teams consistently outperform larger organizations when it comes to innovation.
Big corporations typically try to run their R&D operations as if they were small, independent teams, but still wind up doing much of their growth by acquisitions of small, agile firms. [In my former life as a geek, that happened to me 2x.]

There is the standard entrepreneurship verbiage about "don't being afraid to fail". Ha ha, is this the origin of "hair on fire" - always a popular metaphor in dealing with corporate crises.

do not seek to change the world unless you seek it, to paraphrase the nineteenth-century Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna, “as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond."
As I will discuss further, this book dwells mainly on technological advances, and does not address changes to our economic system, i.e., postcapitalism. But the final chapter does make this statement:
In our abundant future, the dollar goes further. As does the yen, the peso, the euro, and so forth. This happens because of dematerialization and demonetization; because of exponential price-performance curves; because each step up prosperity’s ladder saves time; because those extra hours add up to additional gains; because the close ties between categories in our abundance pyramid produce positive feedback loops, bootstrapping potential, and the domino effect, and for a thousand other reasons.
So everything's going to be so cheap that even the poorest of us will be able to afford everything they need from the Abundance Pyramid.


The appendix "Dangers of the Exponentials" starts with Bill Joy's jeremiad article from Wired in 2000, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us." Nanotechnology can result in the the gray goo scenario, where out-of-control nanites consume the world. DIY biology leads to home-brewed bioweapons. The Internet and the Internet of Things become playgrounds for destructive hackers.

A discussion of the impacts of robots and automation does finally give us a little more discussion of the economic impacts of a world of Abundance. As basic income proponents say, "jobs are for machines, and life is for people."

“Exponential technologies may eventually permit people to not need jobs to have a high standard of living. People will have many choices with how they utilize their time and develop a sense of self-esteem—ranging from leisure normally associated with retirement, to art, music, or even restoring the environment. The emphasis will be less on making money and more on making contributions, or at least creating an interesting life.”

...

Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.


As I mentioned above, this book primarily addresses the technological issues of creating a world of abundance. I think every tech visionary (who has had at least 1 article about them in Wired) of the last 10-15 years is mentioned. I think the arguments are mostly compelling. I think the case is weakest for "Water", particularly since so much is made of Dean Kamen's Slingshot water purification device, which appears to have not become mainstream. So many of these ideas are stated to have 10-20 year timeframes for widespread adoption, it is easy to wonder how many of them will be flash-in-the-pans like the Slingshot appears to be.

There is really not much attention paid to the economic side of things. The authors seem to basically be saying, everything will be so cheap that economics won't matter. I'm not sure that is the same conclusion reached by by Paul Mason in his book "Postcapitalism", blogged here. Mason's assertion, that marginal costs going to zero breaks economics and capitalism, is not addressed.

I really liked that they discussed cognitive biases as something that leads people to disbelieve in a world of Abundance. But, as I have mentioned before, I think that religious and moral opposition to Abundance - the feeling that if people don't earn stuff, giving it to them weakens character - is at least as big a problem. This is given an extremely cursory discussion following the "prove that they deserve this stuff" quotation above. Here is the entire discussion, from the appendix.

Part of the problem is that most contemporary thinking about money and markets and such has its roots in the scarcity model. In fact, one of the most commonly used definitions of economics is “the study of how people make choices under conditions of scarcity, and the results of those choices for society.” As traditional economics (which believes that markets are equilibrium systems) gets replaced by complexity economics (which both fits the data significantly better and believes that markets are complex, adaptive systems), we may begin to uncover a postscarcity framework for assessment, but there’s no guarantee that such thinking will result in either more jobs or a different resource allocation system.
Hmmm, "complexity economics" is a new term to me, I will have to check it out. It doesn't look too promising from its Wikipedia page.

As I mentioned before, it is amazing how a book published just 4 years ago can seem so dated. It is definitely calling for a 2e to be published. I really, really want my grandchildren to live in a post-scarcity utopia. Maybe a 2nd edition of this book could provide more of a real roadmap, including the economic and political issues, than this edition does.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Remains

I read "The Buried Giant", by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015). My son had read it at the beach and lent me his trade paperback copy. It is 335 pages. It won all kind of "book of the year" awards last year.

The story is set in a straight up (Arthurian) fantasy world. You can tell it is written by a literary type, the language is beautiful. The story moves along surprisingly well, given that its 2 main characters are an old married couple. The main theme is remembering vs forgetting the past. Good and bad with both.

Ishiguro also wrote "The Remains of the Day", which was 1 of those Merchant-Ivory films you had to see. I also bought the movie "Never Let Me Go", based on 1 of his novels. It is near-future science fiction. I also bought "The White Countess", for which Ishguro wrote the screenplay.

Next I read "Remanance", by Jennifer Foehner Wells. The book is subtitled (Confluence Book 2). When I started reading the 1st of the series, my "bad writing" alarm got triggered. I've looked into that more, I hate being critical without knowing exactly why. But regardless, Ms. Wells' writing continues to improve rapidly.

Amazon says the print book is 496 pages? Wow, I would not have guessed that. Kudos to the author for creating such a page turner.

She has a nice sci-fi framework set up with lots of directions to take it. Her aliens are nicely alien? And who could not love a cephalopod protagonist? I was disappointed in the 1st book that the main adversary, who we have not encountered yet, was bugs - Hicks, "It's a bug hunt". But, there are interesting things you can do with interstellar insects: social insect behavior in general, and intelligence without consciousness.

So a quick read and a better ending, looking forward to the next one in the series.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Harmony With Nature

1 of the 7 Basic Goods which together make up the Good Life, from "How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life", by Robert and Edward Skidelsky (British, an economist and a philosopher), blogged here. is Harmony With Nature. I recently saw another list of basic goods which did not seem to have such a concept. The Skidelsky's name a garden as the paramount example of Harmony With Nature.

My wife has always had flower gardens. Lately she has been cultivating dozens of varieties of hybrid irises and lilies. The lilies have been been blooming like crazy lately. Here's some recent pictures of her beds.

Her Asiatic lilies just started blooming a few days ago. These have a strong odor that originally I did not care for, but I have gotten to like it OK.

A few years ago she created her experimental butterfly garden. Towards the back left is a volunteer butterfly bush that has been very popular.

The only big butterflies we get consistently are tiger swallowtail like this male.

We also get a lot of bees of all kinds. They also like to drink from the bird bath. If you do not have a bird bath, I strongly recommend getting one. Birds, insects, squirrels, and chipmunks all drink from it. I had been told that it will also help keep the squirrels from eating your tomatoes, but that doesn't seem to be working out for one of my daughters. Recognize that, like bird feeders, putting a bird bath out is a commitment. The critters will come to rely on it, so you must keep up your end of the bargain.

She also recently found a woman out by Georgetown with a hosta farm. The back of our yard is very shady, so it is becoming a hosta garden.


The 1st spring after I retired I (actualy Carlos Villanova and his guys) put in a vegetable garden. It is 1x2 railroad ties (8'x16'), and was started with 1/2 ton of topsoil and compost. It is now in its 3rd year. It only gets about 7 hours of direct sun/day, but does pretty well anyway. I did not realize when I got into it how much bending over was involved :-O

I started early this year. January 15 I covered it in a wheelbarrow-full of compost from our heap; turned it over with a shovel (took around 40 minutes); and spread 120# of cow manure over it.

March 15 it raked out easily, and I planted lettuce, mixed greens, spinach, carrots (1st time), and snow peas from seed. It froze 4 times after the lettuce, greens, and spinach started coming up, but they did fine. We got maybe 12 gallon bags of lettuce, greens & spinach and I got in a habit of having a big salad for lunch. We got 3-4 gallon bags of snow peas, which we throw into our veggie mix on the grill.

April 1 I planted 6 broccoli, 6 brussel sprouts, and 6 radicchio (1st time) starts. The broccoli are producing 2ndary heads now. The brussel sprouts are just getting close to harvesting. The radicchio has been a great addition to the salads. Radicchio is a member of the chicory family and is a perennial. All 6 plants are growing their 2nd head now.

May 1 I planted 2 cucumbers vines, 6 tomatoes (2 roma, 2 grape, 2 black krim heirlooms), 4 peppers (1 japapeno, 2 green bell, 1 red bell), 1 yellow squash, and 1 zucchini squash. May was very wet and the cucumbers were getting some kind of rust on them, so I planted 2 more vines at the other end of the garden - my granddaughter loved the cucumbers sliced with hummus last year, and I wanted to make sure I got some. Of course, all 4 vines are doing well, despite the rust, and I am harvesting about 1 cuc/day. I've harvested a few grape and roma tomatoes - but 1 of my "grape" tomatoes turned out to be some kind of steak tomato. I've gotten a few squash, but the bore has already killed the yellow squash, the zucchini will probably follow soon. I got a few peppers, but I don't think I get enough sun for the peppers to thrive.

I also planted some beets from seed at my wife's request. They look like they are doing OK, may have to try to harvest some soon. Growing stuff underground is more challenging. I didn't thin my carrots near enough - in general, I find it hard to thin stuff, I'm afraid I'll get rid of too much. It is definitely a learning experience.

Last year I tried planting kale and swiss chard seed August 1 as a fall crop. But I found that, after September, the garden only gets 3-4 hours of sun/day, so they didn't do anything. This year I tried putting kale & swiss chard in right after the lettuce and spinach were done, around June 15, but again, nothing. It's too hot for them. So I guess I'll have to try them early, with the lettuce et al, next year.

It is of course great to eat stuff right out of the garden. It is also nice to share with your neighbors. I gave away lots of lettuce and will do the same with the cucumbers and tomatoes. I got some nice radishes and onions from my neighbor across the street.

But the best part is how the grandkids interact with it. Last summer, my grandson, 13 months old, just walking for a month, started picking grape tomatoes and popping them in his mouth. Totally instinctive behavior. He would juice them in his mouth, swallow the juice, and spit the seeds and skins out onto his belly - nice! And my 5 YO granddaughter, who last year loved the cucs sliced with hummus, this year took a cucumber and ate the whole thing like an apple! She was also picking snow peas off the vine and eating them. Seeing them interact with "food in the raw" like that definitely makes it all worthwhile.

Monday, July 11, 2016

More Shamanism

I'm not sure how I wound up with shamanism as a minor theme here. A shamanistic convergence, I guess.

I read "Shaman", by Kim Stanley Robinson (2013). This book came out after the most excellent "2312". It is 530 pages. I'm not sure how I missed it. It is not science fiction or fantasy. It is the coming-of-age story of a (Cro-Magnon) human named Loon in southern Europe 40,000 years ago. The dating is pretty precise, because: a) he was an early cave painter; and b) there were still Neanderthal around.

Looking this up, it's amazing that humans and Neanderthals overlapped in southern Europe for only 5,000 years - from 45,000 years ago, when humans entered Europe, to 40,000 years ago, at which point the Neanderthals had all disappeared. The implication is, it only took us 5,000 years to wipe them out.

Robinson goes into great detail on hunter-gatherer life. In the very beginning there are several pages on how to light a fire in a storm.

Part of the shaman's training consists of being the keeper of the pack's oral tradition: he must memorize the 5 great tales and the 10 minor tales. We get excerpts of some of these tales as blank verse, nice.

1 small detail I liked - Loon is taught to name his injuries. Somehow, as an aging person, this seems like a reasonable thing to do.

Another thing I liked was a discussion of trail finding. I have always enjoyed following trails, and felt that it was one of our innate skills, developed by evolution over the last million years or so. I've often thought that the mathematics of trail-finding - minimizing the gradient function, I think - should be the basis of many search algorithms where you are trying to find a local minimum. Here are 2 passages that describe following trails:

I'm a straightwalker, Pippi said when Look asked about the trails. - I mean, I run a nice clean route. I don't go straight at the land if it doesn't make sense, but I don't like extravagance. Ups and downs are usually not bad enough to justify a divagation. Anyway I look for the best way. I'm always looking to see if there's a better way than the one I've used before, if I'm where I've gone before. And if I'm in new land, well, it's the best thing there is, finding a good way.

...

He put his mind to seeing the best way downcanyon. He could to this as well as any of them. In all canyons there was a ramp of easiest travel, inlaid into the jumble of rocks and trees in ways that could be hard to find. The best way might zigzag from sidewall to sidewall, or run as straight as a crack. Sometimes it was overgrown by trees or brush, especially if it was an alder canyon; still it would reveal itself to the eye if one took the trouble to look for it.

There is not a lot of conflict in the story. There is 1 long conflict that occupies maybe 1/3-1/2 of the book but generates a totally minimal body count. This vision of prehistoric times is somewhat at odds with that I would have expected, based on, say, Stephen Pinker's "The Better Angels of our Nature", where Pinker noted that, "Most of the "icemen" found preserved from 10s of 1000s of years ago have some kind of injury likely inflicted by another human." (paraphrased in my blog post).

Regardless, Robinson is truly one of our finest modern writers, and this is a great read.

Next I read "The Supreme Shaman", by Mark Heinz. Mark is my (3 years) younger brother. He has written 6 novels, this is his latest. it is 235 pages. I would classify it as urban fantasy. The protagonist is 1/2 Native American, and was pronounced the Supreme Shaman by the shaman (his grandfather) who trained him. The shamanistic powers are neat - they made me think of Dr. Strange. His strongest power is healing, which makes him the natural adversary for our oh-so-bad guy, who is a psychic assassin. The action moves from Big Sky country in the US to Brunei - the locales seem well researched.

The pacing of the book is excellent. The battle of good shaman vs very evil sorcerer is well done. Some of the background material is very good as well:

  • a discussion of how primitive peoples did not believe in natural death except in the very old, but rather felt that unnatural non-accidental deaths were caused by sorcery, which has been noted in this blog before;
  • a discussion of how after WW2, the US military was able to use operant conditioning to make soldiers much more effective killers.
This was a quick (2 sittings) and fun read, I recommend it.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Shamanistic Sigils

I was walking the Beaumont walking trail heading south. Just past the Beaumont Post Office, I came across the paintings shown above. If you drive the loop around the Post Office parking lot, they are on your right at the end of the parking lot.

I really like these. IMO, some 14-15 YO in our neighborhood is a real artist (more below). I tweeted this picture and referred to them as "shamanistic glyphs". A glyph is actually a single character in a set - a better description would have been "shamanistic sigils".

The left image is of a white tree with bleeding leaves, enclosed in, an egg penetrated by several sperm??? Or cherries in a pie??? Somehow I am getting "nature distressed".

The central image is where it gets shamanistic. The 4 spirals are self-hypnosis devices - welcome to a shamanistic trance. The central white test pattern is reminiscent of voodoo veves.

The right image I remembered as more mathematical than it is - a contrast to the left image, creating a nature vs technology narrative. On reexamination, it is a single spiral. The 4 ovals can give an impression of depth, to where the spiral is descending into the concrete. I have no clue what the green & white objects in the lower left are. This and the central image also are reminiscent of mandalas.

Ha ha. Of course you know that my interpretations of this art are complete BS.

I was privileged on several occasions to do multi-hour museum tours with my oldest daughter Erica, who is an artist. I remember in particular spending 4-5 hours at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, when she was a senior in high school and was going to spend the next night in an MIT dorm. I also remember several hours at the Met, which I blogged about.

In a small measure, she taught me to see through her artist's eyes. 1 thing I believe I learned is, art is like science fiction - it is all about edge, about making people think new thoughts, get a different take on reality. The, what, urban tribalism of these paintings screamed "art" to me.

But, getting back to BS. This multi-media piece that Erica did in high school has hung in every office I have worked in for close to 20 years. It may or may not be titled "Creation".

I was like, "Erica, I get it! The left is mathematics, the upper right is physics, the lower right is biology! Right?" The response: "No, dad. It's art."

So my analysis is BS, but it was still very pleasant to encounter what I would consider real art in the wild.