Saturday, October 8, 2011

Response to David Brooks doom & gloom on innovation

[David Brooks comments on Steve Jobs & "decline of innovation". Thanks, granddad.]

This graph shows huge crop yield improvements since 1960:

The modern PC world is only 30 years old, and is hitting a completely new era with flash hard drives and optical/nano chips and cloud computing infrastructure in the next 3 years.
Computer-assisted drug tech is just hitting stride, such as a major breakthrough in finding the genetic origin of ALS. Genome mapping was only finalized in the last decade.

We're in the middle of a major shift from internal combustion to electric vehicles.

US manufacturing output is about the same as China's with 1/9th the workers:

There are major advances in alternate energy, as well as decreases in energy consumption.

There are major efforts on environmental cleanup. Maglev & other transportation technologies - gains in flight efficiency can be seen here:

Possibly the only good to come out of our wars is a major advance in medical technology, such as artificial limbs.

It's also useful to understand that compared to the 1800's, the 1900's discoveries were pretty name - nothing life-changing like electricity, refrigeration, automobiles & the internal combustion engine, air flight (ok, 1903, but pretty much there), vaccines and bacteriology, genetics & evolution (plus Lamarckism which we'll see more of a revival over the next decade), the Curies' work on radiation. Even Einstein's theory of Relativity was published in 1905.
What Brooks undoubtedly misses is that it's more of an age for cooperative work than individual heroes. Project Management is picking up as a way of guaranteeing results. Social media and internet collaboration from open source to teleconferencing to telecommuting tie into a connected way of working. Teamwork becomes more important than pure "leadership" - companies can't risk depending on a single hero.
The amount of information processed by kids today might be 100 times what they got in the 1960's in terms of vivid cultural information, access to language, display of scientific principles, access to on-line dictionaries & encyclopedias, even translation services.

What's also missed is what innovation is. It's hard to say that Steve Jobs invented anything. I had the same idea for iTunes as he did as early as 1994, and I certainly was no genius or unique. But iTunes succeeded through organization, not innovation - a successful business model, key agreements with industry professionals plus harnessing the right delivery mechanisms.

One of Steve Jobs' key advantages is Supply Chain Management, an aspect few people think about. Besides being a bastard about sourcing at extremely low prices, he was also a genius at keeping parts & total units delivered on time, as well as cornering the market on key components to give his competitors headaches.

The Mac came from Xerox, and while Apple probably had innovations, the main bit was design and a business case - Xerox was too stodgy to productize its research, but Jobs & Woz paid to get in the door and walked out with all the ideas they needed.
Pixar was a technial innovation by George Lucas - Jobs turned it into a business success, with key Disney deals.

If anything, Jobs was better at killing technology and dumbing down devices if he didn't see an immediate purpose. The iPad was released to ridicule at how much it was missing.

As interesting as "innovation" is, something like distribution is likely much more important. Nokia phones weren't so innovative - they were just great at getting solid phones everywhere in the world. Wal-Mart grew to a behemoth based on innovative distribution technology. Ikea's advantage is distribution and design for DIY construction. Amazon's distribution network is every bit as important as its on-line access, and that network has turned into a successful cloud computing business as well, with data centers the size of multiple football fields.

Even with agricultural productivity, the bigger issue is distribution - famines only occur due to wars and natural catastrophes like earthquakes now - even something like flowers can be sourced from South Africa and distributed around Europe. And I doubt someone like David Brooks has taste for anything as mundane as distribution.

A while ago a well known economist studied the question of how it was possible to walk out of his office in Manhattan and get a sandwich with fresh tomato and lettuce - what were all the processes that went into making this tiny miracle?
Forget all the innovation doomsdayers. It was just 22 years ago that we still had the Cold War with us, staring down Russia and the antagonistic China, concerned about imminent overpopulation.

Now we have a friendly China with no population growth that's rounded the bend in feeding its population, and handling the migration from rural to urban, and starting on the trip to managing the environment.

We have a defanged Russia, with no new military menace (other than ourselves).
We have major innovations in computing, dispersed communications, production and cooperation to drive new growth.

The main thing working against us is an idiotic, vampire banking system that's sucked much of the innovation out of the system. And that's something Brooks seems to support.

Occupy New York Times

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


There are a few issues that don't seem understood in the course of several "controversies", and while they may still not be agreed to, it seems worthwhile bringing up to at least put it to bed.
One issue is that typically a blog site has a hierarchy. If it's Atrios, that hierarchy is binary - Atrios blogs, everyone else comments.
For Dagblog you might assume it's a 4-level hierarchy - the founders/owners, the masthead bloggers, the other bloggers, and those who read and sometimes comment.
This would typically make sense, as it takes a lot more energy to blog than to comment - to initiate a topic, make it interesting, and drive a conversation with followers.
That assumption however would be wrong. There is no real distinction between pure observers and passing-by chatterers and the people who put blogs up. There's no way to shut off comments if someone's ruining your diary (aside for call for help), and there's no way to block repeat drive-by's. So someone who's never written a blog, or one who averages 1 a month or less is treated the same as someone who posts regularly. And it's easy to react and respond - it usually takes forethought to create and develop an idea into a full lengthy article.
And in practice, the site owners have a very narrow definition of what's an offense - something that mentions someone by name, it seems, or a pointed attack of vulgarity. Not general premeditated annoyance, to vex and disturb as they phrase it in Vegas casinos.
But not everyone's as offended by personal attacks as they are attacks on the truth, or on a group of people we might consider allies, or on the spirit of open debate.
In one case, a particular commenter who never writes a diary him/herself continually flogs the view roughly paraphrased as, "progressives never did anything useful to get Obama or anyone else elected, or to get any legislation passed".
Anyone who's followed the path from MoveOn to Howard Dean's primary run to the 50-state-strategy to the different groups who backed Obama and then folded their efforts into his - well, they're spitting blood at the obnoxiousness of this gross untruth.
Anyone who's followed the efforts behind repealing DADT, or to passing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, or the efforts behind SCHIP, or the effort to block W from gutting Social Security in 2005 gets a sudden attack of fever.
Anyone who's applauded the grassroots effort Act Blue and Progressive Congress and other orgs to get non-BlueDogs elected to a larger caucus than BlueDogs is simply non-plussed at the arrogance.
But then when this false, anti-progressive meme is repeated time and again in comments with no repercussions, well, the tellers of falsehoods are emboldened.
It probably didn't help to have one blogger state they were going to list - one day, some day - all the faults and sins of one of the bigger progressive heroes, without exactly hinting at what those faults be. While it's never been that vogue to be a progressive, it's a peculiar time when a Democratic president uses them as a punching bag while somehow managing to negotiate with Republicans in earnest, without holding his nose but even enjoying it. So much for all those tweets, door-to-door GOTV efforts, small dollar donations. 
Well it's still better to be a progressive around here then being someone perceived as being conservative. [though oddly enough, opposing the Libyan war because we didn't have any real interest, no serious stable opposition, littel real information and a whole lot of oil reasons to be skeptical was enough to get one labeled a "Republican" or "teabagger"]
What's difficult is if someone with conservative views shows up to argue points on their merits or to draw distinctions in contentious matters. For example, someone can sanely support abortions being completely legal and up to the woman, while questioning whether government should be in the business of paying for it. It's a bit similar to religious schools or churches, even though I can list obvious differences to the 2.
In a way, I feel that "liberals" or "progressives" should not just be defined based on rigid stances to left of center, but their ability to keep 4 or more balls up in the air at one time, arguing the pros and cons of complex issues. Otherwise they're just 1 bad experience away from becoming an Ayn Rand/John Galt, "mugged by reality" or finally forced to pay taxes and in seriously bad humor.
The problem with arguing liberally, not just taking a "liberal stance", is that you end up milking some pretty sacred cows on the left. Some have responded lately that these moves are anti-Obama, but for long-time fans of Bob Somerby/DailyHowler, it's pretty obvious that this knocking of spinelessness and hypocrisy on the left (and in media) is long-lived and deeply felt. Fans of Greenwald were upset about indefinite detention and torture of inmates back with Abu Ghraib and early Gitmo days, not just suddenly when it became the black site in Baghram and the newly revealed ones in Somalia. Fans of Marcie Wheeler were appalled by media complicity, cynical government leaks and overreach of the Attorney General back when it was Cheney, Rove and Gonzales doing it. Sure, it's uncomfortable to be in power and find yourself responsible for illegalities. But that's part of taking the job - to do the right thing or let someone else do it.
One issue I come back to for personal reasons is the cultural war many in the Democratic Party have with the south. That issue shows little sign of going away, even with mass migration from Rust Belt to Sun Belt (i.e. a whole lot of those "Southerners" are transplants), major changes in southern educational level, technology and racial attitudes. Democrats often seem less likely to budge on cultural issues than Republicans on raising taxes. Considering the Sun Belt is growing, that makes it a demographically tough line to hold. (Mexicans can be pro-Democrat depending, despite Catholic conservativism, so it's not all doom-and-gloom). 
But it's frequently difficult to hold a detailed complex discussion once a left-leaning canard is crossed. For example, many will by instinct cheer the Dalai Lama over the Pope, even though the Dalai Lama is as hyper-conservative about homosexuality as the Pope. But at least he giggles a lot.
We use odd artifices like "Godwin's Law" to keep from talking about real stuff. Strange as it is, the most defiining character of the last century, Hitler, is off-limits to drawing any kind of historical lessons or analogies or questioning when you're on the internet. If we were Serbians, we'd invoke lessons from Kosovo Pole, in the 14th century. Instead we're Americans, so we rely on the Civil War to give us our certitude. We know that Hearst trumped up the Spanish-American War in the 1890's, and that McCarthy hyped up the red scare in the 1950's, and there were all sorts of illegal maneuverings in the background to cause the crash in 2009, but somehow in 1861 all subtlety was lost, right was clearly distinguished from wrong, and we had the most certifiable, unquestionable political and military experience since Jonah fit the Battle of Jericho. Amen.
And in codifying this attitude about the South, and identifying the South with Republicans, we find our colleagues in curious positions, such as associating Palin (Alaska) and Bachmann (Minnesota) with southern racism, while disavowing figures like Clinton and LBJ and Gore and actually MLK. Because MLK was a product of the south, of southern mores, of southern churches, of southern respect and strength of character.
Here's one incredible item from MLK that  Bob Somerby pointed out, which I'd noted back at TPM:
I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural traditional under which they have grown, a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.
Imagine if we tried to debate ideas and carefully unravel 90-year-old ingrained twisted beliefs? Imagine if we took the look from higher up and accepted that most of this hating on common folk is blaming the victim, 2 or more sides caught up in a cynical useless dance that leaves everyone except the elite getting poorer.
But our current narrative is a simple one - the South/GOP is always wrong, except when Southerners/GOP admit they're always wrong. When Rick Perry teased the idea of secession in 2009, many Democrats decided it was because of Southern racist genes, not remotely because Texas was born in illegal secession from Mexico and they revel in being they're own thang, twisting everyone else's tail through cocky self-righteousness. Nor could there be any right to say what he had to say, even though many Democrats support East Libya's attempt to break away from Qaddafi - without having any real idea whether they have a legitimate beef or not. Is it that Qaddafi taxes too high? Are East Libyans aligned with Al Qaeda and desert thieves? Too tough, no time to answer - we're for a revolution, because Egypt just did it, and "1989 all over again" sounds cool.
It's this ability to bend our beliefs to whether it's our tribe or their tribe, as Somerby phrases it, or some other arbitrary marker. IOKIYAR in popular parlance, but increasingly we do IOKIYAD now that we have the White House. Paul Ryan is a nut when he tries to slash Medicare, Lieberman is evil when he tries to raise Medicare age, but Obama is being a grown up when he pushes similar ideas for "compromise".
It makes it very easy to exploit us when we accept the wrong abuse under the right conditions. As long as they keep the pendulum moving, we're all guaranteed the short end of the stick enough of the time.
But we have an even worse pendulum going now - the "just hold still and keep quiet" theme that will run up to the elections in 16 months. The only lessons we seem to have learned in the last 11-12 years or so is that people owning homes is bad and Ralph Nader at 1.5% in Florida was a greater menace to democracy than 100,000 disenfranchised voters. And that while normally dissent would be tolerated and encouraged, but it's too dangerous this [week/month/year/term/decade] because Republicans could get elected and then things would get intolerably worse.
Well, that kind of kills all the fun of blogging, don't it? I mean, anything you say, it will be, "oh you're a whiny progressive" or "but of course you'll still vote Obama" or "guess you think Bachmann will be better" or  "we're doing the best we can". That we're stuck on this shallow, political system-defined interpretation is one of the sad signs of the times. Once upon a time, people left it up to political geeks to figure out strategies and manage campaign rallies, and just thought about their normal selfish or tribal needs. Just like once upon a time before internet investing, normal people worried about poverty and crime, not about how Wall Street is doing. Now we're all busy doing the bastards' job for them, figuring out how to keep them happy and in office and doing whatever the fuck they do when not screwing us.
So hopefully this explains better why it sucks discussing process rather than issues over and over, why it's no fun to blog knowing it'll turn into a debate on something else irrelevant, why it makes me cringe to see 2 hours of writing wasted by the class clown showing up to shoot the same old spitball, and when I have my own diary frozen for comments while they go off emboldened to another hit-and-run, and why it would be better to take serious political issues deeper and deeper rather than playing smartass Fonzi in a bad remake of Sharks vs. The Jets but that it's not likely to happen anymore.
And no matter whether I order the Chicken sandwich or the other flavor, they're both starting to taste a lot alike.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Year in, yer out, mini-at-yer

Curious, a year gone by without touching this blog.
A bit of heavy blogging elsewhere, a bit of heavy business,
a year of uncertainty, not that previous years were certain.

I like these ruins, monuments to our best laid plans,
though I have a few too many of them - books I meant to write,
projects I meant to do, bits and shards of preparation
laying about as testament to over-optimistic folly.

What writing will survive 100 years from now?
What are the memorable texts from the last 10?
All these bloggy words - will there be anything of eternity?

Can a Shakespeare or Faulkner endure and prevail in this medium?
Will there a dog named Lion that bashes his head against the door,
mercilessly, unceasingly, intent on bringing down the largest of prey,
or will we be left with mini-heroes, temporal, fleeting, mini-inspiring?
Have we ever suffered periods without greatness, mini-men
flittering along in mediocre garb to mediocre results?

Will we be more than boys with new toys, dangerous dangerous toys?
Will we be ever in awe of our promise, too overwhelmed to embrace it,
or too self-enthralled to remind ourselves of where we should be going?

I see I have 1 reader left. That's poetic - perhaps a Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote,
or perhaps I'm the one riding the mule, forgetting my place yet again.
Saddle up, on to the next test of courage, the next tavern with its draughts and whimsies.
My Dulcinea awaits.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Star is Back

Today was a day. A nice day, a friendly day.

I went for a walk in the park, nice old building, exhibit of words.

And in the building I sat entranced - an alchemical labyrinth.

Three floors, a power axis, transfixed by the perfect echo of sound.

Tibetan chants meet Gregorian scales.

And from the star I found my power grid. Straight through my home.

How did they know, 500 years before, or I, in the now?

6 years and now it's renewed. But the last encounter of this sort,
quite some time ago. 23 years. That time was a bull - a minotaur - and a triangle,
and a mound, and an arch. A power beam, supercharged.

This time was a 6-sided star, and a dome. The energy grid -
lines of convection in great circles, plus an axis in and out.

Why are we here? Gysin asked. No why, we are here to go.
23 years waiting for 2nd contact. Where's the ignition?
Which one's the key?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mummified Walking

The walkabout is beginning, though it's taking time to unravel the rags and vines gathered around my limbs. If I were Lot's wife, I would be lump of crystallized sand by now, looking back, trouble letting go. Focus, determination, one step in front of the other. For several years now it's felt like I'm running out the clock. Now that I've decided to move forward, the clock still rules my life. A pathetic excuse, but true nonetheless. I need to remember the words of Kazantzakis (Saint Francis) - "all roads lead to the earth - God is an abyss - jump!!!". Some things cannot be done piece by piece. The heart must be one.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Getting unstuffed

Too much going on to talk about at the moment, but the motif is getting unstuffed,
simpler, getting more direct. Change your filthy habits. Get slack. Get serious.
Stand on this leg. Stand on that.

No wonder reform has trouble surviving.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

To Stuff or Not to Stuff

Yes, a difficult question. Whether it is nobler to stuffer the slings and arrows....
or just get stuffed. Still deciding, the future's not ours to see, que sera sera.