Surfers, not plodders

 Academia Surf&Rock 2013

When she finished her pitch, the investor said he didn’t invest in women
[Via Boing Boing]

“I don’t like the way women think. They haven’t mastered linear thinking.

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Idiots. Cutting off half of society simply reduces the possible solutions to a wide variety of solutions.

But the quote about linear thinking is right on. These guys simply do not understand the genius of real innovators and simply follow a linear approach themselves.

We need more non-linear thinkers, those that can adapt to things even as the conditions are changing.

These male investors know how to plod to the top of a mountain. They do not know how to surf a wave of change. But a  mountain does not change as you are hiking to the top. Today’s economies do.

A wave cannot be predicted. It is constantly changing. So we need surfers. But these investors will continue to fund plodders.

Using an iPhone to check in and get a key at Hilton

Family at the hotel check in 

Hilton hotels to let you use your iPhone as your hotel key from next year
[Via 9to5Mac]

Queuing up at a hotel check-in desk is often the last thing you want to do after a long flight. Starting next year, you’ll be able to bypass the front desk altogether in Hilton hotels, your iPhone serving as as your hotel room key.

We’ve seen the same thing in smaller hotel groups, but Hilton’s adoption of the technology moves it very much into the mainstream. The group told the WSJ that it will begin introducing the new door locks next year, and expects to complete the global roll-out by the end of 2016.

The Hilton app already allows you to check-in electronically, but currently you still need to collect your room key from the front desk – which kind of defeats the object. With the new system, iPhone check-in will send a key code to your phone which can then be used to unlock your door.

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 So hotels will need fewer people at the front desk now. Throw in iBeacons and the bell hops will know when you arrive and will be ready to gather your luggage as you simply go to your room.

Would be nice.

Arthur C. Brooks is a conservative who really understands Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Web Extra: The Conscience of a Compassionate Conservative
[Via BillMoyers.com]

This week on the show, Bill spoke with the president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks. Their conversation was so interesting that they kept talking, and we kept our cameras rolling after the broadcast interview ended. In this web extra, the two talk about the failures of capitalism, who is to blame for the 2008 financial crash, food stamps and a whole lot more.

 

BILL MOYERS: You once wrote, that you shouldn’t talk about the poor unless you’ve been out among them and listened to them before you listen to experts at Brookings or AEI. And I’ve done that as a journalist.

And capitalism is not getting down to them.

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: That’s true. It’s absolutely right–

BILL MOYERS: Capitalism is not getting down–

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: It’s absolutely right. And that’s why we all need to be hawks for the free enterprise system.

And until we’re warriors for opportunity, pushed all the way down to the bottom, until we understand that entrepreneurship exists as a moral force for poor people, for my grandparents and yours, unless we understand that then we’ve repudiated the promise of our founders.

BILL MOYERS: Did you read the book “Winner-Take-All Politics” by the political scientist Jacob Hacker and–

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: Paul Pierson?

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: They describe how Washington made the rich richer and turned its back on the middle class. They showed clearly to me how our political system, which once served the interest of the middle class, has been hijacked by the very rich.

That the great explosion of wealth inequality which preceded Barack Obama, of course, was politically engineered in Washington by decisions taken under both parties, in both parties, by the people who make policy, in response to the powerful interests. Have you seen that playing out since you got to Washington?

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: Yes, sure. Absolutely. Look in the increasingly bureaucratized social democratic state that we’re building. You have greater levels of intricacy and complication. You have an explosion of statist ideas in Washington, D.C.

And what this is effectively is, metaphorically that’s a trough. And who comes to the trough? It’s people who feed there. And people who feed there are the sophisticated, they’re the wealthy, they’re the people who are well connected. We have an explosion of cronyism because it’s the illegitimate spouse of statism. If you want to get rid of cronyism that creates as winner-take-all politics, if you want a true democratic polity, you have to take away the pervasive statism that creates all of these incentives.

You know, the interesting thing is that the two populist movements that we saw over the past five years were the Tea Party and Occupy. They were both right. I mean the Tea Party talked about statism and Occupy talked about privilege and crony capitalism largely. I mean they– all of their solutions were wrong. You know, the problem with, you know, excesses of capitalism isn’t getting rid of capitalism. You need true free enterprise. That’s actually the solution to it, which is a highly populist thing to do.

So what’s happened effectively is– not for any ill intention. No. We have public policymakers, we have a president who loves his country. We have a Congress that’s gotten together and said, “What can we do to solve some of these terrible problems?” They’ve expanded the state. They’ve created greater complexity. And who has showed up to reap the rewards of that? It’s the most well connected citizens and corporations. And it’s left poor people, it’s left small entrepreneurs, it’s left ordinary citizens behind.

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This was a real discussion, something that needs to be seen much more. They talk about where their views overlap and what underlies the problems/ I may not agree with everything but I can see where he is coming from and he is mostly correct.

That said, imagine if on the conservative side we have an examination of conscience where every night before we go to sleep we say, “Did all of my work go for the benefit of people with less power than me?” Then that could be a profoundly moral movement. I bet it’s one that even you could get behind.

I think that if you and I band together with all of our friends on the right and left, and we demand this collective examination of conscience, then we truly can have a better politics where we’re fighting in the competition of ideas specifically to help those who are the least advantaged.

If most of America could come together like these two, recognize the problems and come up with mutually useful solutions, much of our current problems would be fixed. Those in power recognize this and have worked so hard to keep the American people divided.

We have an explosion of cronyism because it’s the illegitimate spouse of statism. If you want to get rid of cronyism that creates as winner-take-all politics, if you want a true democratic polity, you have to take away the pervasive statism that creates all of these incentives.

You know, the interesting thing is that the two populist movements that we saw over the past five years were the Tea Party and Occupy. They were both right. I mean the Tea Party talked about statism and Occupy talked about privilege and crony capitalism largely. I mean they– all of their solutions were wrong. You know, the problem with, you know, excesses of capitalism isn’t getting rid of capitalism. You need true free enterprise. That’s actually the solution to it, which is a highly populist thing to do.

The statists, the reactionaries, are found in both parties, just as we find authoritarians. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street saw the right problems. But as he discusses, the solutions of both were wrong. The solution to the excesses of government isn’t getting rid of the government. You need a truly democratic one, truly beholden to the people, not to the connected, wealthy elite. Government is important and necessary. And capitalism is important and necessary.

He believes in government but recognizes it needs to be firmly controlled so that it does not become a feeding trough for the wealthy and connected, as we see today.

I will have to remember the name. He hits so many of the same points I feel.

The moral code of our free-enterprise system is neither profits nor efficiency. It is quote, “creating opportunity for individuals who need it most.” 

That could have come directly out of The Wealth of Nations. The creator of capitalism felt that empathy and sympathy would be driving the moral code of capitalism.

As Brooks notes, this is not happening today.

Opportunity does not mean food stamps. I believe in food stamps. I believe in them. I believe in the safety net. But it’s not the same thing. Why do we forget that entrepreneurship is not earning a billion dollars, it’s the dignity to live your life as an individual, to build your life up yourself. And why do we talk about dead-end jobs as opposed to making all jobs pay, and remembering that all work is dignified.

[…]

The problem that we have is that we’re actually not practicing capitalism. The problem is that the free-enterprise system is not allowed to flourish.

The main thing I disagree with him is that government was mostly at fault first. It’s a symbiotic one, a degraded collaboration between sociopaths. Running race to the bottom with little regard for the ability of people to have a living wage, much less any dignity.

He is absolutely right here – government is a problem but it comes down to people:

And I will not defend corporate governance. Because people– it does not matter how bad the incentives are and how corrupt the government is and how big and corpulent and immune to good ideas and morality the government is. We still as individuals, no matter what we do, we have a responsibility to not do dangerous things and to be stewards of both a good culture and the resources at hand.

More cool biology hidden in our guts

 bacteriophage

Globe-Trotting Virus Hides Inside People’s Gut Bacteria
[Via NPR Science/Health]

New viruses are a dime a dozen.

Every few months, we hear about a newly discovered flu virus that’s jumped from birds to people somewhere in the world. And the number of viruses identified in bats is “extraordinary and appears to increase almost daily,” scientists wrote last year in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

But a virus that has been quietly hiding inside millions of people on three continents — and never been noticed before? That doesn’t come along often.

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The drop in cost of sequencing technology (and other tools) now allows us to answer questions we could not even asl 5 years ago. That is how rapidly things are moving.

Many people are just now getting an idea that the microbes that live in our guts have huge impacts on us and our health.

Now we are seeing more and more that viruses inside these gut flora are also important on our diets. This one looks particularly interesting. The strange story of Acanthamoeba polyphaga may be more common than we thought.

I did my postdoc working on genes from bacteriophage, the viruses that infect bacteria. To do that, I have to hand-make oligonucleotides representing the genes, 14 bases at a time. It would take a day to do seven of them at a time.

Putting them together and getting the region sequenced in order to make sure the oligonucleotides had been made correctly would take a couple of months.

It is simply amazing to me how far we have come.

How a distributed approach prevents authoritarian actions at Wikipedia

 Washington D.C. - Capital Building Dome

Who’s banned from editing Wikipedia this week? Congress
[Via Ars Technica]

Most members and staffers of the US House of Representatives won’t be able to edit pages on Wikipedia for more than a week. Administrators of the popular Web encyclopedia have imposed a 10-day ban on the IP address connected to Congress’ lower house.

The ban comes after a series of wild “disruptive” edits that appeared following the creation of @congressedits, a bot that monitors anonymous edits from congressional IP addresses and announces them to the world via Twitter. The account was created just over two weeks ago and already has more than 23,000 followers.

Wikipedia editors explained their castigation for the IP address 143.231.249.138 on the user talk page. The 10-day edit ban follows a one-day ban imposed earlier this month, which apparently didn’t do the trick.

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Some people in Congress, using congressional computers, thought they could change content at Wikipedia. They’d be anonymous so no one would know. It might violate the TOS at Wikipedia but who would know.

It is the typical ‘smart’ idea of an authoritarian elite who hopes to hoodwink the distributed masses. A Congressional office could spend hours using their computer to alter things for their won purposes. All under the watchful eyes of authority to make sure that what was actually changed was what it wanted changed.

This was not some random staffer making changes. These were pretty obviously directed by someone in authority., someone who does not understand the power of distributed democracy.

We still do not know who was responsible (I bet we could if we made a Federal case out of it). But we do not really need to. It was a simple matter for someone to follow changes coming from congressional computers and make it open by putting on twitter.

Simply by making these changes open and transparent allows us to take action and probably change the behavior.

Sure, they can try to find another solution, such as using their own, personal, computers at another location, but that is simply using a distributed approach. This works against their authoritarian tendencies.

How will the authority know if the staffer is actually making the  right changes? Can it really trust anyone? A hallmark of hierarchical authority in a distributed democracy is paranoia due to the loss of direct control.

So moving control of these changes away from the eyes of the authority will make the elites feel less powerful, not more.

Win-win all around!

SpaceX on path to save government huge pile of dough

SpaceX Falcon 9 1.1 Launch Sequence at Vandenberg AFB 

SpaceX wins intermediate victory over US in launch contract case
[Via Ars Technica]

The United States government has lost its bid to toss SpaceX’s lawsuit over lucrative national security-related launch contracts.

In two orders issued on Thursday, the US Court of Federal Claims said that the two parties have been ordered to seek mediation as a way to resolve their ongoing dispute.

Three months ago, the private space firm sued after learning that the Air Force had entered into exclusive agreements with government contractors that locked out private companies from competing for the launch contracts without providing suitable justification. As of now, the only authorized contractor to send up Air Force payloads is United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

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The Air Force essentially rushed through a no-bid contract just a few weeks before SpaceX would have been approved to compete for the contract.

The Boeing-Lockheed company, ULA, has had a monopoly on government contracts and these actions smell of sweetheart deals that come from the corporate welfare of government cost-plus contracts. These often become huge boondoggles that cost the taxpayer more than it should.

SpaceX has shown it can produce rockets every bit as safe as ULA and for perhaps half the price, if not much, much lower. Their disruptive impact on the space industry is sending huge ripples. 

Ripples that Boeing and Lockheed hoped to avoid by the rushed contract.

We are on the cusp of a new space race and the ripples cannot be avoided.


Presidential control only exists in hindsight

 The Peace Hat, FDR (WWll) and Fala, Too!

New NYT: Obama and the myth of presidential control
[Via Brendan Nyhan]

From my new Upshot column:

One of the most common criticisms of presidents – especially struggling ones during their second term – is that they have lost control of events.

This charge, which has been leveled at chief executives such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, has become a mantra lately in coverage of President Obama, who faces a stalled legislative agenda and crises in Ukraine, Gaza and at the border with Mexico.

What happened? One frequent explanation from pundits and journalists is that Mr. Obama has “little control” and is instead being “driven” or “buffeted” by events.

This notion pervades commentary and debate on the presidency.

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I would tend to agree with this. We put too much focus on the President as though he was some sort of monarch. It is not true when things are happening. Hindsight lets us believe the President  was in charge of some things when he often was not.

FDR only got control of WW2 after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He tried all sorts of things to move us closer to joining the war before but was unable to accomplish our entry simply by himself.

Kennedy succeeded with the Cuban Missile crisis not purely with a direct show of military might (we had plans to wipe out the military bases almost overnight). He was vastly supported by the soft power of Adlai Stevenson’s private presentation and the United Nation’s secret negotiations.

Reagan only needed to say “Tear down this wall”. The people in Germany made it happen, but probably not because Reagan had any direct control. That is the soft power of a President.

It is often the indirect actions, sometimes in secret, of a President, not the ones he takes direct control of, that have the greatest impact.

During an administration, we often bemoan the inability of the President to do anything. But we only seem to recognize what a President “does’” twenty years later.

Few have the ability to see it at the time.

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