August 17, 2017

The Most Important Invention You Never Thought About

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 Jul 2017

One entrepreneur’s invention cut world poverty and revolutionized manufacturing. Learn more with Steve Davies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QLoeehMw0w&list=PL-erRSWG3IoBe1BsaqgTwYx0nS4nl2m_N&index=2

How to Sabotage Progress (video): During the earliest part of the Industrial Revolution, workers worried about losing their jobs to machinery would throw their shoes into the machines in order to sabotage production. We’re seeing recurrence of sabotage again today, but there’s no more successful saboteur than regulation. Duke University Professor Michael C. Munger explains. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0nSiwnbv4o

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (book): Economist Marc Levinson delves into the history of the shipping container and how the invention changed the world. https://www.amazon.ca/Box-Shipping-Container-Smaller-Economy/dp/0691170819/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1502034038&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Box:+How+the+Shipping+Container&linkCode=ll1&tag=quotulatiousn-20&linkId=ca8f280248e61c2c42aaae2b3c5f1395

An Awesome Map of World Trade and Shipping (article): Daniel Bier uses UCL Energy Institute’s timelapse of global shipping to illustrate spontaneous order. https://fee.org/articles/an-awesome-map-of-world-trade-and-shipping/

For a full transcript please visit: http://www.learnliberty.org/videos/the-most-importa%E2%80%A6er-thought-about/

August 12, 2017

Troll the Patent Trolls

Filed under: Business, Government, Humour, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 11 Aug 2017

Patent trolls are on the run. Let’s finish them off.
It’s been a bad year for patent trolls, from a Supreme Court decision squelching their ability to funnel lawsuits to East Texas, to this week’s ruling that Personal Audio LLC can’t claim it owns a patent on the entirety of podcasting. In the latest Mostly Weekly, Reason’s Andrew Heaton explores what patent trolls are, the damage they do, and the next step in driving them out of courtrooms and back into dank caves.

Trolls camp out on piles of weak and frivolous patents, hoping to one day sue inventors and businesses. Many of the patents they register or buy are vague, representing novel ideas only insofar as trolls are innovative at finding things they didn’t invent to claim legal ownership of. It doesn’t matter that these patents wouldn’t hold up in court, because a business is more likely to pay off a troll than to hire an expensive attorney to fight them. Trolls suck more than twenty billion dollars out of the economy each year.

The parasitical nature of “non-practicing entities” (the PC term for trolls) has raised questions about whether the modern patent system helps or hinders innovation, and if the best solution is for comprehensive reform or just to burn the whole thing down.

Heaton has an idea to hinder patent trolls. It may not be a silver bullet, but it will definitely piss them off.

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.
Script by Andrew Heaton with writing assistant from Sarah Siskind
Edited by Austin Bragg and Sarah Rose Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

August 10, 2017

QotD: The comfortable shoe revolution

Filed under: Business, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When I was a kid back in the 1960s and early 1970s, “shoes” still meant, basically, “hard leather oxfords”. Ugly stiff things with a high-maintenance finish that would scuff if you breathed on them. What I liked was sneakers. But in those bygone days you didn’t get to wear sneakers past a certain age, unless you were doing sneaker things like playing basketball. And I sucked at basketball.

I revolted against the tyranny of the oxford by wearing desert boots, which back then weren’t actually boots at all but a kind of high-top shoe with a suede finish and a grip sole. These were just barely acceptable in polite company; in fact, if you can believe this, I was teased about them at school. It was a more conformist time.

I still remember the first time I saw a shoe I actually liked and wanted to own, around 1982. It was called an Aspen, and it was built exactly like a running shoe but with a soft suede upper. Felt like sneakers on my feet, looked like a grownup shoe from any distance. And I still remember exactly how my Aspens — both of them — literally fell apart at the same moment as I was crossing Walnut Street in West Philly. These were not well-made shoes. I had to limp home.

But better days were coming. In the early 1990s athletic shoes underwent a kind of Cambrian explosion, proliferating into all kinds of odd styles. Reebok and Rockport and a few other makers finally figured out what I wanted — athletic-shoe fit and comfort with a sleek all-black look I could wear into a client’s office, and no polishing or shoe trees or any of that annoying overhead!

I look around me today and I see that athletic-shoe tech has taken over. The torture devices of my childhood are almost a memory. Thank you, oh inscrutable shoe gods. Thank you Rockport. It’s not a big thing like the Internet, but comfortable un-fussy shoes have made my life better.

Eric S. Raymond, “Eric writes about the shoes”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-09-09.

August 7, 2017

The Idea Equation

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 31 May 2016

Alex Tabarrok’s TED talk showed you that ideas can trump nearly every crisis. Now, since ideas are so important, we have to ask: is the future of ideas a bright one?

To answer that, we’ll look at something we call the Idea Equation.

It goes like this: Ideas = Population x Incentives x Ideas/per hour.

This equation is a useful way to lay out the factors affecting idea production. When we understand the factors behind production, then we can better predict how the future will go.

Now, the first factor in the equation, is population.

Population determines how many possible idea creators we can have. The good news is, not only is world population growing, but a larger percentage of that population is becoming part of the researcher pool. For instance, China now has 1 researcher per thousand people. This seems low, until you remember they had about half a researcher per thousand in the year 2000. This means they’ve doubled their researcher pool, in just about 10 years.

So, on the population front, we’re seeing progress.

But how about the incentives that encourage idea creation? What’s the state of those?

That’s factor 2 in the equation, and again, we have good news here.

See, for the most part, countries are now choosing better institutions. On balance, the world now has more dependable legal systems, and more honest governments. Previously closed-off nations are now opening their markets to competition and trade. Aside from that, the world is generally becoming more politically stable, and property rights are strengthening as well.

As a result of these better institutions, there are now more incentives to produce ideas. Not to mention, we’re still continuing to globalize world markets. Remember what the TED talk said? Larger markets incentivize more R&D, and we’re certainly seeing higher activity in this area.

For example, in 1990, only seven nations accounted for 92% of world research spending. Today, those same 7 countries only account for 56%. Countries like China, Korea, and Brazil have already joined the fray, sharing the burden of idea creation, which benefits us all.

That said, we do still have the third part of the Idea Equation. This is where things get hairy.

You see, the factor “ideas/per hour” is the most mysterious one. Yes, it measures the productivity of idea creators, but we’re still unsure how productive the future will be. For one, there’s evidence that idea creation is becoming more expensive in certain fields. But on the other hand, we’re also seeing new technology that makes idea creation easier—things like the Internet, AI, and online education.

As long as we continue to globalize markets, provide better incentives for idea production, and keep developing technology that makes idea creation easier, then there’s no reason to think that the future can’t be bright. The brightness may not be guaranteed, but at least there’s hope, which is what matters.

August 5, 2017

History of Writing – The Alphabet – Extra History

Filed under: History, Middle East, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on Jul 29, 2017

Where did the alphabet come from? How did it develop, and why? The writing systems first developed in Sumer provided a basis for the written word, but their system of characters also inspired a shift to single phoneme systems where each letter represents a distinct sound.

July 31, 2017

Patents, Prizes, and Subsidies

Published on 17 May 2016

Growth on the cutting edge is all about the creation of new ideas.

So, we want institutions that incentivize such creation. How do we do this? The answer is somewhat tricky.

The first goal for good ideas is for them to spread as freely as possible. The further the reach, the greater the gains. The problem is, if just anyone can use ideas, then why would we ever pay for them? And without the right incentives, why would innovators create new ideas at all?

Imagine yourself as the creator of a new drug. Typically, it costs about a billion dollars to do this, not counting the time and effort needed to get the drug FDA-approved.

Now, if there were no protections in place, then theoretically, once the formula’s known, everyone could just copy the make-up of your new drug. See, the thing about pharmaceuticals is, once the formula’s known, production is relatively cheap. Given that, let’s assume imitations start flooding the market.

Predictably, the price of your new drug will plummet.

Once prices hit rock-bottom, you’ll have no way to recoup the $1 billion you spent on R&D.

Given that kind of result, we reckon you probably won’t want to develop more good ideas.

The US founding fathers anticipated this problem. Knowing that innovators needed incentives to have good ideas, the founders wrote a protection mechanism into the Constitution.

They gave Congress the ability to grant exclusive rights to inventors — rights to use and sell their inventions, for a limited period of time. This exclusive right, is what we call a patent. Patents grant inventors a temporary monopoly over the use and sale of their intellectual property.

Now, as nice as this is, patents are a thorny subject.

For one, how long should patents last? Also, how much innovation is considered enough to merit a patent grant? Not to mention, are patents the only way to reward good ideas?

The answer is no.

There are two more incentive options here: prizes, and subsidies.

Let’s start with subsidies. University and research subsidies are particularly effective in the basic sciences. Since innovations in this space are rather abstract, subsidies incentivize research without requiring the applications of the research to be explicitly named. The problem is, when we’re incentivizing just research, then researchers might pick directions that are interesting, but not particularly useful.

This is why the third incentive option — prizes — exists.

Prizes reward the output of solving a certain problem. Another plus, is that prizes leave solutions unspecified. They provide a problem to work on, but give quite a lot of leeway as to how the problem is solved.

Now, knowing the complexity inherent in patents, you might think that prizes and subsidies are good enough alternatives. But none of these incentives for ideas, are inherently better than any of the others. Patents, prizes, and subsidies all involve their own tradeoffs and questions.

For example, who decides what gets subsidized? Who decides which goals merit a prize?

It’s hard to determine what mix of institutions, will best incentivize the production of good ideas. Patents, prizes, and subsidies all navigate these conflicting goals, in their own way.

And yes, all this talk of incentives and conflicting goals and tradeoffs might be like walking a tightrope. But, it’s a tightrope we can’t opt out of. Certainly not if we want the economy to keep growing.

In our next release, you’ll watch a TED talk from a certain economist that elaborates further on ideas. And then, we’ll wrap up this course segment with the Idea Equation. Stay tuned!

July 27, 2017

Aluminium – The Material That Changed The World

Filed under: History, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Aug 2016

Thanks to the vlogbrothers for sponsoring this video. Have been following their work for years, it feels great to be supported by my role models!

Thank you to my patreon supporters: Adam Flohr, darth patron, Zoltan Gramantik, Josh Levent, Henning Basma.

Thanks to Dr. Barry O’Brien, from NUI Galway, for helping me with the final drafts of this script!

July 24, 2017

The Economics of Ideas

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 May 2016

At the end of our last video, we asked, “What spurs the growth of new ideas?”

To answer that, we’ll tell you two stories.

The first is about a man named John Kay.

He created the flying shuttle, one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution. His shuttle improved looms, and made it possible to produce clothes quicker and more cheaply. This allowed larger numbers of people to have new, clean clothes, and it made fashion something that was no longer just for the rich. But what did he get for his efforts?

Well, the weavers who were threatened by his invention broke the improved looms and his house was burned down. He eventually fled to France, fearing for his life, and eventually died there, a poor man.

Our second story paints a completely different picture.

It’s about a man almost everyone knows: Steve Jobs.

Like Kay, Steve Jobs was also an innovator, pioneering products like the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and the iPad. For his efforts, he earned not only money but recognition as well. Unlike John Kay, Steve Jobs became an icon, celebrated for his achievements in the world.

Why such a stark difference between these two men?

When we examine the differences between John Kay and Steve Jobs, we’re also looking at the thing that either dooms an idea or allows it to prosper. This vital factor is institutions, which serve as the soil where ideas are planted.

Depending on the quality of said soil, the ideas either take root, or they shrivel into nothingness.

To understand how this is, think of the institutions in the United States today.

The US has institutions that encourage the germination and growth of ideas. If you’re an entrepreneur, America has incubators and investors, ready to fund your idea if it’s a good one. In the US, you also have recourse to laws that protect your idea, not to mention a culture that celebrates innovators. And, if your idea’s a good one, the market will handsomely reward you.

To tell you the truth, John Kay could only have dreamed of institutions like the ones we have today.

As you can see, good institutions can mean the difference between an idea withering and an idea thriving.

While it may seem like ideas grow at random, the truth is you need a set of key ingredients, or what we call “institutions.”

In the next video, we’ll see how patents affect the growth of ideas, and we’ll examine the trade-offs between protecting and sharing ideas. Last, we’ll also look at the role the government can play, in providing a stable environment where ideas can flourish.

July 20, 2017

The History of Iron and Steel

Filed under: History, Railways, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 21 Dec 2016

Thank you to Mike for helping me with some of the animations:
How to Make Everything:
Awe Me:
Primitive Technology:

July 18, 2017

The Solow Model and Ideas

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 May 2016

More Solow Model from MRU’s Macro course: the power of ideas in driving economic growth.

A deeper dive into what helps spur the creation of ideas.

According to our previous videos in this section, the Solow model seems to predict that we’ll always end up in a steady state with no economic growth.

But, the Solow model still has one variable unaccounted for: ideas.

So, can ideas keep us growing?

Ideas do one thing really well: they give us more bang for our buck.

This means we get more output for the same inputs of capital and labor. Ideas are a way of upping our productivity, increasing output per worker across different industries.

Just how much extra output are we talking about?

Well, imagine changing the A variable of the Solow model from 1 to 2. This means a doubling of our productivity.

This shifts the entire output curve upward. When output doubles, so does investment. Once investment comes in faster than depreciation, we end up accumulating capital once again.Thus, the economy keeps growing, which further boosts output.

Now, think of what would happen, if ideas continually improved. With each improvement, ideas would keep shifting the output curve upward, which will continually increase investment as well, and allow us to keep to the left of the steady state.

And when we stay to the left, that means we keep growing.

What all this means is, growth at the cutting edge is determined by two things.

First, it’s determined by how fast new ideas are formed, and second, by how much those ideas increase productivity.

You now have a complete picture of our simple Solow model. It’s a model that accounts for catching up growth, due to capital accumulation, and cutting edge growth, due to the buildup of ideas.

Now, since ideas foster growth at the cutting edge, we’re left with the question that naturally follows: what factors help spur the accumulation of ideas?

That’s what we’ll discuss in the next video, so hang tight!

July 15, 2017

Office Hours: The Solow Model: Investments vs. Ideas

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 7 Jun 2016

Ideas are a major factor in economic growth. But so are saving and investing. If you were given the choice between living in an inventive (more ideas) or a thrifty (more savings) country, which would you choose?

The Solow model of economic growth, which we recently covered in Principles of Macroeconomics, can help you make the choice. In this Office Hours video, Mary Clare Peate will use our simplified version of the Solow model to show you an easy way to work out each country’s economic prospects, and then compare them to see where you’d rather be.

July 13, 2017

Each month in the United States—a place with about 160 million civilian jobs—1.7 million of them vanish”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Deirdre McCloskey addresses the fear that technological change is gobbling up all the jobs:

Consider the historical record: If the nightmare of technological unemployment were true, it would already have happened, repeatedly and massively. In 1800, four out of five Americans worked on farms. Now one in 50 do, but the advent of mechanical harvesting and hybrid corn did not disemploy the other 78 percent.

In 1910, one out of 20 of the American workforce was on the railways. In the late 1940s, 350,000 manual telephone operators worked for AT&T alone. In the 1950s, elevator operators by the hundreds of thousands lost their jobs to passengers pushing buttons. Typists have vanished from offices. But if blacksmiths unemployed by cars or TV repairmen unemployed by printed circuits never got another job, unemployment would not be 5 percent, or 10 percent in a bad year. It would be 50 percent and climbing.

Each month in the United States — a place with about 160 million civilian jobs — 1.7 million of them vanish. Every 30 days, in a perfectly normal manifestation of creative destruction, over 1 percent of the jobs go the way of the parlor maids of 1910. Not because people quit. The positions are no longer available. The companies go out of business, or get merged or downsized, or just decide the extra salesperson on the floor of the big-box store isn’t worth the costs of employment.

What you hear on the evening news is the monthly net increase or decrease in jobs, with some 200,000 added in a good month. But the gross figure of 1 percent of jobs lost per month is the relevant one for worries about technological unemployment. It’s well over 10 percent per year at simple interest. In just a few years at such rates — if disemployment were truly permanent — a third of the labor force would be standing on street corners, and the fraction still would be rising. In 2000, well over 100,000 people were employed by video stores, yet our street corners are not filled with former video store clerks asking for loose change.

We could “save people’s jobs” by stopping all innovation. You would do next year exactly what you did this year. Capital as well as labor would perpetually be employed the same way. But then we would perpetually have the same income. That’s nice if you’re doing well now. It’s not so nice if you’re poor or young.

Job protections for the old have in fact already created a dangerous class of unemployed youths in the world — 50 percent among Greeks and black South Africans, for instance.

July 10, 2017

A Canadian Cold War innovation – “floppy” magnets as submarine detection tools

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Steve Weintz on an experimental Canadian submarine detection device that was simple, effective, and too difficult to train with:

Desperate planners sought ways of making Soviet subs easier to hunt. Any technology that could speed up an undersea search was worth considering. “A submarine’s best defense is of course stealth, remaining quiet and undetected in the ocean deep,” Ballantyne notes. “Something that could rob the Soviets of that cloak of silence must have seemed irresistible and, at least initially, a stroke of genius.”

A Canadian scientist figured some kind of sticky undersea noisemaker would make a Soviet sub more detectable. He designed a simple hinged cluster of magnets that could attach to a submarine’s metal hull.

Movement would cause the flopping magnets to bang against the hull like a loose screen door, giving away the sub’s location to anyone listening. The simple devices would take time and effort to remove, thus also impairing the Soviet undersea fleet’s readiness.

At least that was the idea.

HMS Auriga against the New York City skyline in 1963. U.S. Navy photo.

In late 1962, the British Admiralty dispatched the A-class diesel submarine HMS Auriga to Nova Scotia for joint anti-submarine training with the Canadian navy. The British were helping Canada establish a submarine force, so Royal Navy subs routinely exercised with Canadian vessels.

Auriga had just returned to the submarine base at Faslane, Scotland after a combat patrol as part of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Other subs of the joint Canadian-British Submarine Squadron Six at Halifax had seen action during the crisis.

Did the device work? All too well:

As Auriga surfaced at the end of the exercise, the magnets made their way into holes and slots in the sub’s outer hull designed to let water flow. “They basically slid down the hull,” Ballantyne says of the magnets, “and remained firmly fixed inside the casing, on top of the ballast tanks, in various nooks and crannies.”

The floppy-magnets couldn’t be removed at sea. In fact, they couldn’t be removed at all until the submarine dry-docked back in Halifax weeks later.

In the meantime, one of Her Majesty’s submarines was about as stealthy as a mariachi band. No fighting, no training, no nothing until all those floppy little magnets were dug out of her skin at a cost of time, money and frustration.

The magnets worked on the Soviets with the same maddening results. The crews of several Foxtrots were driven bonkers by the noise and returned to port rather than complete their cruises.

July 9, 2017

Getting closer to science fiction technology every day

Filed under: Health, Science, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga novels, one of the imagined technological innovations to play a key part in the story is the Uterine Replicator (spoiler: it’s used to save the life of a premature baby, who grows up — in a manner of speaking — to be the main protagonist of the saga). In Reason, Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at just how close we are getting to the gee-whiz tech Ms. Bujold invented some thirty years ago for her novels:

In April, researchers announced they had managed to keep several extremely premature lambs alive and growing in artificial wombs. After spending up to four weeks in a clear plastic “extra-uterine device” at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, each sheep transformed from a decidedly undercooked fetal specimen to a much more robust critter with long limbs and a fluffy wool coat, the sort of animal you wouldn’t be terribly alarmed to see plop to the ground in a field on a spring afternoon.

The setup strongly resembles a sous vide cooking apparatus: a tiny, tender lamb floats in a large plastic ziplock, hooked up to tubes and monitors. But a video clip posted by the researchers has the emotional heft of feeling a fetus kick when you put a hand on a pregnant woman’s belly. Visible through the clear plastic, the lamb’s hooves twitch gently as it snuffles its nose and wiggles its ears.

The lambs in the experiment were selected for their developmental similarity to human babies born right on the edge of viability, or about four months premature. Babies born that early are equal parts horrifying and marvelous. Tiny creatures with organs visible through their translucent skin, they’re often called “miracle babies.” But there’s nothing particularly mysterious about those little beings curled up in nests of tubes and wires; they live because of the inspiration and hard work and risk-taking and study and pain of hundreds of people.

There are actually more of these struggling newborns now than there were a decade ago, simply because we’ve gotten so much better at keeping extremely premature babies — born before 24 gestational weeks — alive. Yet in the U.S., one-third of all infant deaths and one-half of all cases of cerebral palsy are still attributed to prematurity. Of the babies born that early who survive, more than 90 percent have severe and lasting health consequences, especially with their lungs, eyes, and intestines.

Previous efforts to improve those numbers have been stymied by difficulties duplicating the functions of the placenta, but the device attached to the “Biobag” looks deceptively simple: a pumpless blue plastic box hooked up to the umbilical cord that oxygenates the blood, removes carbon dioxide, and adds nutrients.

In their paper, published in Nature Communications, the Philadelphia researchers are careful to say that human applications of their work are at least a decade away. Yet these little pink lambs are already taking sledgehammers to some of the most precarious coalitions in American politics.

June 30, 2017

Meet the 89-Year Old Who Built a Train in His Backyard | WIRED

Filed under: Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 14 Jun 2017

The future of train transportation might be pneumatic tubes and magnets. Meet the 89-year old entrepreneur who wants to disrupt the railroad with a modern twist on a very old train idea.

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