November 14, 2012

The “manufacturing fetish”

Filed under: Economics, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:54

John Kay talks about the widespread belief that only manufacturing is “real” in terms of what a national economy produces:

Manufacturing fetishism — the idea that manufacturing is the central economic activity and everything else is somehow subordinate — is deeply ingrained in human thinking. The perception that only tangible objects represent real wealth and only physical labour real work was probably formed in the days when economic activity was the constant search for food, fuel and shelter.

A particularly silly expression of manufacturing fetishism can be heard from the many business people who equate wealth creation with private sector production. They applaud the activities of making the pills you pop and processing the popcorn you eat in the interval. The doctors who prescribe the pills, the scientists who establish that the pills work, the actors who draw you to the performance and the writers whose works they bring to life; these are all somehow parasitic on the pill grinders and corn poppers.

When you look at the value chain of manufactured goods we consume today, you quickly appreciate how small a proportion of the value of output is represented by the processes of manufacturing and assembly. Most of what you pay reflects the style of the suit, the design of the iPhone, the precision of the assembly of the aircraft engine, the painstaking pharmaceutical research, the quality assurance that tells you products really are what they claim to be.

Physical labour incorporated in manufactured goods is a cheap commodity in a globalised world. But the skills and capabilities that turn that labour into products of extraordinary complexity and sophistication are not. The iPhone is a manufactured product, but its value to the user is as a crystallisation of services.

[. . .]

Most unskilled jobs in developed countries are necessarily in personal services. Workers in China can assemble your iPhone but they cannot serve you lunch, collect your refuse or bathe your grandmother. Anyone who thinks these are not “real jobs” does not understand the labour they involve. There is a subtle gender issue here: work that has historically mostly been undertaken by women at home — like care and cooking — struggles to be regarded as “real work”.

Enter the real Facebook business model

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

Facebook is changing, and lots of folks have ideas about what it is changing into. Here’s Dalton Caldwell‘s interpretation of the new business model:

Several prominent people are up in arms about Facebook charging for access to users who have already Liked their page.

I believe this debate is missing the big picture, and what we are in fact witnessing is the unfurling of the full-fledged Facebook business model. Facebook is showing us how they will cross the chasm from low-CTR low-CPM ad-units into what investors have been waiting for since the beginning: a Facebook analogue to Google Adwords.

[. . .]

From a Facebook user perspective, we don’t really know how the algorithm works, and are already trained to understand that some things magically show up our newsfeed and some things don’t. If a normal user sees that one of their friends bought a LivingSocial deal at the top of their feed, they may/may not click on it, but they certainly won’t question how it got there.

Facebook newsfeed is an embodiment of our war on noise. We depend on the newsfeed optimizer to protect our limited attention span, and as a consequence, Facebook gets to choose what stories we do and don’t see, just as Google chooses which search results we do and don’t see. Conceptually, this seems very lucrative: Facebook is auctioning off our limited attention span to the highest bidder, as long as the bidder has a candidate newsstory to promote.

This is what Like-gate is about.

Welcome to the attention economy.

H/T to Tim O’Reilly for the link.

From strategic nuclear bomber to “bomb truck”

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:08

The B-52 is still in service with the US Air Force and still finding roles to play:

The U.S. Air Force is continuing to upgrade its fifty year old B-52s. The latest upgrade will enable each B-52 to carry over 110 of the 130 kg (285 pound) Small Diameter Bombs (SDB, also known as the GBU-39/B). Six years ago the rotary bomb rack inside the B-52 was modified to carry 32 SDBs instead of 15 larger bombs.

The SDB was designed from the bottom up as a smart bomb. The SDB has a more effective warhead design and guidance system. Its shape is more like that of a missile than a bomb (nearly two meters, as in 70 inches, long, and 190mm in diameter), with the guidance system built in. The smaller blast from the SDB resulted in fewer civilian casualties. Friendly troops can be closer to the target when an SDB explodes. While the 500, 1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs have a spectacular effect when they go off, they are often overkill. The troops on the ground would rather have more, and smaller, GPS bombs available. This caused the 500 pound JDAM to get developed quickly and put into service. But it wasn’t small enough for many urban combat situations. The SDB carries only 17 kg (38 pounds) of explosives, compared to 127 kg (280 pounds) in the 500 pound bomb. The SDB is basically an unpowered missile, which can glide long distances. This makes the SDB even more compact. The small wings allow the SDB to glide up to 70-80 kilometers (from high altitude.) SDB also has a hard front end that can punch through nearly three meters (eight feet) of rock or concrete, and a warhead that does less damage than the usual dumb bomb (explosives in a metal casing.) The SDB is thus the next generation of smart bombs. The more compact design of the SDB allows more to be carried. Thus F-15/16/18 type aircraft can carry 24 or more SDBs. The SDBs are carried on a special carriage, which holds four of them. The carriage is mounted on a bomber just like a single larger (500, 1,000 or 2,000) pound bomb would be. However, this feature was rarely needed in combat situations.

This makes the B-52 even more effective as the cheapest to operate and most reliable “bomb truck” the air force has. With a max takeoff weight of 240-250 tons the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fellow) is basically a large aircraft designed to carry bombs cheaply and efficiently. Last year the readiness rate of these bombers was 78 percent. Although a half century old, most of the internal fear has been replaced with modern electronics and furnishings. It’s all flat screens and modern gear. Look closer and you see fifty year old metal.

OED plumps for “omnishambles” over “mummy-porn”

Filed under: Books, Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Anna Leach explains just how exciting life can be when you’re working on the Oxford University Press staff:

The UK’s new word of 2012 is “omnishambles”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary’s compilers.

Selected from a list of several new words added to the gold-standard dictionary this year, omnishambles was chosen by lexicographers at Oxford University Press because it best reflects the mood of the past 12 months. It was first used by the character Malcolm Tucker in series three of the BBC satire The Thick of It and subsequently repeated by the Coalition government’s political opponents.

[. . .]

The OED now defines it as:

A situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations.

Other contenders were “mummy porn” (a description of the genre inspired by smack’n’tickle ebook bonkbuster 50 Shades of Grey), “green-on-blue” (to describe attacks by Afghan police or troops on NATO servicemen), the verb “medal” (from the Olympics), “eurogeddon” (from Eurozone crisis) and the acronym “YOLO” (contraction of the trite phrase “You Only Live Once”, mostly used as a justification after someone does something stupid on the internet).

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