In Quartz, Allison Schrager wonders why we still bother with daylight savings time and four separate timezones for continental US states:
Click to see full-size version at Quartz
This year, Americans on Eastern Standard Time should set their clocks back one hour (like normal), Americans on Central and Rocky Mountain time do nothing, and Americans on Pacific time should set their clocks forward one hour. After that we won’t change our clocks again — no more daylight saving. This will result in just two time zones for the continental United States. The east and west coasts will only be one hour apart. Anyone who lives on one coast and does business with the other can imagine the uncountable benefits of living in a two-time-zone nation (excluding Alaska and Hawaii).
It sounds radical, but it really isn’t. The purpose of uniform time measures is coordination. How we measure time has always evolved with the needs of commerce. According to Time and Date, a Norwegian newsletter dedicated to time zone information, America started using four time zones in 1883. Before that, each city had its own time standard based on its calculation of apparent solar time (when the sun is directly over-head at noon) using sundials. That led to more than 300 different American time zones. This made operations very difficult for the telegraph and burgeoning railroad industry. Railroads operated with 100 different time zones before America moved to four, which was consistent with Britain’s push for a global time standard. The following year, at the International Meridian Conference, it was decided that the entire world could coordinate time keeping based on the British Prime Meridian (except for France, which claimed the Prime Median ran through Paris until 1911). There are now 24 (or 25, depending on your existential view of the international date line) time zones, each taking about 15 degrees of longitude.
Now the world has evolved further — we are even more integrated and mobile, suggesting we’d benefit from fewer, more stable time zones. Why stick with a system designed for commerce in 1883? In reality, America already functions on fewer than four time zones. I spent the last three years commuting between New York and Austin, living on both Eastern and Central time. I found that in Austin, everyone did things at the same times they do them in New York, despite the difference in time zone. People got to work at 8am instead of 9am, restaurants were packed at 6pm instead of 7pm, and even the TV schedule was an hour earlier. But for the last three years I lived in a state of constant confusion, I rarely knew the time and was perpetually an hour late or early. And for what purpose? If everyone functions an hour earlier anyway, in part to coordinate with other parts of the country, the different time zones lose meaning and are reduced to an arbitrary inconvenience. Research based on time use surveys found Americans’ schedules are determined by television more than daylight. That suggests in effect, Americans already live on two time zones.
In his latest Maclean’s column, Colby Cosh talks about the odd evolutionary advantages that accrue as you get further from the equator:
A new study in the biometric journal Intelligence presents surprising data from Japan that reveal that IQ, imputed from standardized tests given to a large random sample of Japanese 14-year-olds, varies strongly and persistently with latitude. The Japanese are usually thought of — even by themselves — as being quite homogenous ethnically; the myth of the sturdy, super-cohesive “Yamato race” has not yet been entirely obtruded out of existence. But it turns out that the mean IQs of students in Japanese prefectures apparently vary from north to south by two-thirds of a standard deviation — a spread almost as large as the “race gaps” in cognitive performance which trouble education scholars in multicultural countries like ours. Sun-drenched Okinawans, as a group, do not test as well as the snowbound citizens of Akita.
It is an article of liberal faith that IQ is a bogus tool cooked up by white supremacists to justify imperialism and slavery. I am happy to nod along, but the monsters who developed IQ tests certainly never planned on creating strife between the two ends of Honshu Island. Kenya Kura’s study demonstrates the usual statistical connections between IQ and social outcomes, including physical height, income, and divorce and homicide rates. IQ may be a phony racist artifact, but if shoe size predicted life success as well as those stupid little logic puzzles do, every middle-class parent you know would have one of those Brannock foot-measuring thingies mounted proudly on the wall. That is why IQ persists in the top drawer of the psychometrics toolbox.
In a discussion of the plight of Sears in the major appliance market, Coyote Blog mentions an earlier Sears mis-step in a different market:
Oddly, I witnessed a similar Sears private label fracas when I worked for Emerson Electric over a decade ago. For years and years, Emerson (not the folks who make the cheap radios and TVs) manufactured many of the Sears Craftsman hand tools and power tools. Sears got tough one year, and negotiated a better deal of some sort with someone else, and an entire division of Emerson saw its sales basically going to zero. So Emerson bought a bunch of orange paint and plastic, went to Home Depot, and cut a deal for a private label tool line at Home Depot (Emerson separately owns the Rigid tool company, so a lot of the items were branded Rigid). Emerson ended up in potentially better shape (I did not stay long enough to see how it turned out), partnered with a growing rather than a declining franchise.
In many cases, DRM can be get kind of silly, and it can completely shape the way you use the digital media you purchase. DRM might make you think twice about how many devices you can still add your iTunes Library to, or which computer will get a shiny new version of image editing software.
Luckily there’s no DRM on any physical objects like a cup paired to one person’s mouth. That is, there wasn’t until a group of hackers put together a chair that self-destructs after eight uses.
Architects Fosters and Partners have revealed designs for a building on the Moon that could be constructed from material already on its surface.
An inflatable structure would be transported from Earth, then covered with a shell built by 3D printers.
The printers, operated by robots, would use soil from the Moon, known as regolith, to build the layered cover.
The proposed site for the building is the southern pole of the Moon.
It is designed to house four people and could be extended, the firm said.
In 2010 a team of researchers from Washington State University found that artificial regolith containing silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxide could be used by 3D printers to create solid objects.
The first rigid airship to be built since the 1930s is about to commence trials in California: and the Pelican prototype also features a new technology, never yet flown, which could finally change things for lighter-than-air craft and see the leviathans of the skies make a serious comeback at last.
The 230ft-long, 18-ton demonstrator has been built for the US military by radical airship firm Aeros of California, helmed by Ukrainian LTA visionary Igor Pasternak. Aviation Week reports that it has now tested its ground manoeuvring equipment inside its hangar, and that next week the ship is set to actually lift off in a further sequence of tests for the Pentagon.
In particular, the US military wants to see if the Pelican can defeat the great bugbear of airships: the fact that they cannot usually offload cargo or passengers without taking on equivalent amounts of ballast. This is because, as weight is removed, the ship will become massively buoyant and will surge upwards uncontrollably.
How high should taxes be? High enough to cover expected outlays going forward — but no higher.
That’s because any additional revenue would be used to pay down the federal debt, which is a bad idea. It was almost surely a mistake to run up this much debt in the first place, but now that we’ve got it, the best thing to do is to keep it forever.
Every $100 in outstanding debt commits the government to making payments with a present value of $100, and hence to collecting tax revenues with a present value of $100. In a world where the interest rate is 3%, the options include collecting (and paying off) $100 immediately, or $50 this year and $51.50 next year, or $11.38 a year for ten years running, or $3 a year forever. Because deadweight loss (i.e. the economic damage due to the disincentive effects of taxes) is roughly proportional to the square of the tax rate, it turns out that the latter — the policy of paying interest forever without ever making a principal payment — is (at least roughly) the policy that minimizes the present value of deadweight loss.
Take Van Halen, for example. On the surface, the group is famous not only for its music but also for stunts such as trashing green rooms over the presence of brown M&Ms, and it’s easy to write off such behavior as simply being symptomatic of a 1980’s rock diva mentality. In reality, however, the brown M&Ms served an important purpose from a contracting perspective.
Think about it- wouldn’t it be nice to have an easy way to observe whether your counterparty has paid attention to all of the details of a complicated contract? As it turns out, the brown M&Ms served exactly this function. [. . .]
Since Van Halen’s (long) tour rider stipulated M&Ms with the brown ones taken out, the group knew that they needed to double check a lot of safety items for the show if they saw brown M&Ms (or no M&Ms, for that matter) in the backstage area. They also knew that they could feel comfortable that the contract provisions had been fulfilled if they saw a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones removed. (I’m pretty sure that trashing stuff was for some combined purpose of making the incident memorable and entertaining one’s self.) This is pretty smart, since it’s far more efficient to use this as a signal (the canary in the coal mine, in a way) rather than go around and check everything at each show. It’s even smarter that the signal was crafted in the fashion of typical rock star douchebaggery so as to not arouse suspicion.
Michael Bradshaw‘s letter to the editor in the most recent Libertarian Enterprise alerted me to a possible source of interesting and unusual do-it-yourself books and pamphlets:
“The Lindsay” of Lindsay’s Books has announced his retirement “in 2013 or earlier” and the closing of his book store.
For many decades Mr. Lindsay has been the premier supplier of technical books to the do-it-yourself crowd, machine shop mavens, foundry sand-crabs, eccentrics, nut cases (like me) and geniuses at large (like “Uncle Dave” Gingery).
It ain’t all Uncle Dave.
He (Lindsay, not Dave) has titles from all over and back to the mid nineteenth century. He used to have De Re Metallica by Agricola in the Hoover English translation, but I don’t know if it is still cataloged. There are tech-school text books, how-to volumes from some of the best industrial arts guys around and collections of articles from technical manuals and magazines back to the early twentieth century. Get a 1940′s version of “How to Run a Lathe” by the South Bend Machine Tool Company.
His titles cover a plethora (really!) of stuff, such as:
Machine shop practices, building the major tools from scratch — from scrap (the Gingery series), building EDM machines and other shop tools and techniques.
Foundry tools and methods. Make your own molding shop and blast furnaces for the back yard. Fuel them with charcoal, propane or natural gas. Pour castings in aluminum, zinc and pot metal, copper alloys, iron alloys. Design and build centrifugal fans to power your crucible and cupola furnaces. Make your own crucibles. Dig ore for your cupola furnace, with a sharp stick, while wearing a leather breech-clout, a tie and a top hat! (OK, that last one was a joke. Lame.)
Sheet metal shop tools and methods. Make your own brake and slip-roll. Books of projects. Start a local sheet metal fabricating business.
Make electric generators, modify alternators, re-build or modify motors, make electro- and permanent magnets. Make radios from scratch. Emulate Nicola Tesla. Short circuit yourself and go up in a puff of smoke!
Learn about old-time chemistry. Set up a chem-lab. Screw up and dissolve, stain, burn, poison, blow-up and generally kill yourself in the most ingenious ways! Go up in another puff of (green) smoke!
Make wooden toys for kids. Make ship models for yourself.
Make steam, sterling, turbines and other kinds of engines. Build boilers from scratch and blow yourself (and the garage) up again! Build locomotives from scratch. Well, “maybe” on that last one.
Make wind and water turbines to power your generators or shop. Recycle waste oils.
Other stuff that I forgot to mention.
Basically, if you drop a bunch of money (including postage) on Lindsay, he will show you how to make a very complete industrial revolution. You may even have some fun. While killing yourself in the most ingenious ways. Count your fingers at the end of the day.
[. . .]
Get a catalog for $2 from Lindsay at lindsaybks.com Order some books. Do it NOW while you still can. The complete machine shop from scratch series is available in a package deal at a discount. There are some other package discounts. Check out the trauma center and links to other book dealers. Some are available on Amazon.com, but not many.
You can also buy Uncle Dave’s books (and his son Vince’s, too) direct, at the Gingery book store.
Note: I just received a note from Lindsay Books. Here is the pertinent part:
“In the future, you may want to visit our new associate e-store:
Your Old Time Bookstore youroldtimebookstore.com
YOTB’s site offers all books printed by Lindsay and provides decline/error notification before processing…
An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal looks at the documented phenomenon of rapidly rising IQ in modern humans:
Advanced nations like the U.S. have experienced massive IQ gains over time (a phenomenon that I first noted in a 1984 study and is now known as the “Flynn Effect”). From the early 1900s to today, Americans have gained three IQ points per decade on both the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales and the Wechsler Intelligence Scales. These tests have been around since the early 20th century in some form, though they have been updated over time. Another test, Raven’s Progressive Matrices, was invented in 1938, but there are scores for people whose birth dates go back to 1872. It shows gains of five points per decade.
In 1910, scored against today’s norms, our ancestors would have had an average IQ of 70 (or 50 if we tested with Raven’s). By comparison, our mean IQ today is 130 to 150, depending on the test. Are we geniuses or were they just dense?
[. . .]
Modern people do so well on these tests because we are new and peculiar. We are the first of our species to live in a world dominated by categories, hypotheticals, nonverbal symbols and visual images that paint alternative realities. We have evolved to deal with a world that would have been alien to previous generations.
A century ago, people mostly used their minds to manipulate the concrete world for advantage. They wore what I call “utilitarian spectacles.” Our minds now tend toward logical analysis of abstract symbols — what I call “scientific spectacles.” Today we tend to classify things rather than to be obsessed with their differences. We take the hypothetical seriously and easily discern symbolic relationships.
A post at his blog looks at an economic concept that is becoming familiar to more of us than ever before (even in the middle of a long-term economic crisis):
There’s a concept in economics called the diminishing marginal utility of money. Loosely put: if you give a £20 bill to a homeless dude, it will make his day — it’s worth a bunch of hot meals or a hostel bed for a few nights. If you give £20 to an average wage earner, it’s nice but not a game-changer: it’s worth a couple of cinema tickets or a round of drinks at the pub. And if you give £20 to a billionaire they probably won’t know what to do with it — they have employees to carry the money around for them, and anyway, they earn more in the time it takes to open their wallet and stash the bill than the £20 note is worth. They’re losing money by taking it!
Money. The more of it you’ve got, the less useful any additional increment becomes. And you don’t have to be a millionaire to get a handle for this.
These days, I’m in the weird position where almost all the stuff I would want to buy with any additional income is either stuff I can simply buy right now … or it isn’t available at any price.