Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Secret to Innovation Is Our Collective Brain


The secret of our success: How culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter, Author: Joseph Henrich.
My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions, Author: Alfred Russel Wallace.

By Connair Russell and Michael Muthukrishna – Innovations occur when previously isolated ideas meet. From the innovator’s perspective, it’s an independent discovery, but from the perspective of the collective brain, it is an inevitable consequence of spreading ideas that converge across an entire social system—a veritable “marketplace of ideas.”

Three key factors driving the rate of innovation:

  • sociality:
    Sociality refers to the degree to which society facilitates connections between people. Larger, more interconnected societies will have higher sociality, resulting in everyone being exposed to more people and more ideas.
  • transmission fidelity:
    Higher transmission fidelity means more information is transmitted when people learn from each other.
  • cultural variance:
    Cultural variance refers to the variety of ideas that are created and tested.

From blue collar to white collar jobs, from the media we consume to expectations for self-presentation, the processes of cultural evolution are making society more complex. The modern educational institution emerged as a response to the Industrial Revolution; we are currently going through the Information Revolution—a revolution of at least equal importance.

All the while, the collective brain is making each of us smarter. more>

How Norway Dispels the Private vs Public Sector Myth


Complexity and the Art of Public Policy, Authors: David Colander, Roland Kupers.

By David Sloan Wilson and Sigrun Aasland – A strong state capable of building infrastructure is not enough. It must also be an inclusive state that works for the benefit of everyone, as opposed to an extractive state that works only for the benefit of an elite few.

Inclusiveness requires a balance of power among the various sectors of the society.

Perhaps the Nordic nations work well for this reason also—strong states working collaboratively with a strong private sector, strong labor unions, and a strong, well-informed, and trusting electorate.

The so-called Nordic model can be illustrated as a triangle consisting of three interlocking factors:

  • Aa strong tax-funded welfare state providing education, healthcare and social safety nets.
  • An open market economy with active monetary and fiscal policies to ensure stability, distribution, and full employment.
  • Strong collaboration in an organized labor market with coordinated wage formation and company-level collaboration.

A collectively bargained and compressed salary structure means that low-skilled labor is relatively expensive while high-skilled labor is relatively cheap.

Since high-skilled labor complements technology while low-skilled labor substitutes technology, three things happen. more>

Beyond the RTOS: A Better Way to Design Real-Time Embedded Software

By Miro Samek – An RTOS (Real-Time Operating System) is the most universally accepted way of designing and implementing embedded software. It is the most sought after component of any system that outgrows the venerable “superloop.”

But it is also the design strategy that implies a certain programming paradigm, which leads to particularly brittle designs that often work only by chance. I’m talking about sequential programming based on blocking.

Blocking occurs any time you wait explicitly in-line for something to happen. All RTOSes provide an assortment of blocking mechanisms, such as time-delays, semaphores, event-flags, mailboxes, message queues, and so on. Every RTOS thread, structured as an endless loop, must use at least one such blocking mechanism, or else it will take all the CPU cycles. Typically, however, threads block not in just one place in the endless loop, but in many places scattered throughout various functions called from the thread routine.

This excessive blocking is evil, because it appears to work initially, but almost always degenerates into a unmanageable mess. The problem is that while a thread is blocked, the thread is not doing any other work and is not responsive to other events. Such a thread cannot be easily extended to handle new events, not just because the system is unresponsive, but mostly due to the fact that the whole structure of the code past the blocking call is designed to handle only the event that it was explicitly waiting for. more>

American secular


The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Author: Thomas Jefferson.
Notes on the State of Virginia, Author: Thomas Jefferson.
The Communist Manifesto, Authors: Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.
Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, Author: James Madison.
The Origins of American Religious Nationalism, Author: Sam Haselby.

By Sam Haselby – What went wrong?

How did the country founded by visionary secularists, and that made historic advances in both religious freedom and the separation of religious and political powers, nonetheless become the world’s most religious political democracy?

Understanding secularism better helps to answer the question.

Secularism is not one simple thing; it has distinct theological, philosophical and political lives. Its theological and philosophical versions are formed from simple, if explosive, ideas.

In its political guise, ideas are less important than institutions, and it is on the shoals of institution-building that American secularism wrecked.

In theological terms, secularism is an Anglo-Protestant heresy that arose on the periphery of the 18th-century British Empire.

Prior to 18th-century Anglo-America – specifically revolutionary-era Virginia [2, 3, 4, 5] – no other modern society had sought to separate law, politics, social life and civic institutions from the divine.

It was, simply, only Protestants who systematized the idea of religion as a matter separable from the rest of life, a ‘private’ matter, in the well-known secularist formulation.

Because of secularism’s Protestant origins, its history must include the thought of Martin Luther [2, 3, 4].

The Virginians’ goals were in a real sense the opposite of Luther’s. They thought they were protecting the nation by separating politics from religion, protecting political society from the poison of religious passions.

Political life is where American secularism ran into a wall: It never even secularized American political life. more>

How Makers Became Takers: Is Wall Street To Blame?


Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, Author: Rana Foroohar.

By Steve Denning – One aspect of Wall Street’s power is financial: the financial sector represents about 7% of our economy but takes around 25% of all corporate profits, while creating only 4% of all jobs.

Its power to shape the thinking of government officials, regulators, CEOs, and even many consumers and investors is even more important.

It is behind decisions in the 2008 financial meltdown which resulted in large gains for the financial industry but disastrous losses for homeowners, small businesses, workers, and consumers.

Instead of financial markets playing their historical role supporting Main Street, now corporations are increasingly becoming the means of money-making by Wall Street.

Instead of financial markets enabling investments in real goods and services, corporations are increasingly seen as vehicles for “making money out of money.”

The end results are growing income inequality and secular economic stagnation. more>

We’re Inching Closer to Making Solar Power as Cheap as Regular Electricity

By Madeleine Thomas – It’s been nearly five years since the Department of Energy rolled out plans to make solar power a cost-competitive electricity source by the end of the decade. Also known as the SunShot Initiative, the goal of the program is to drop the cost of solar power 75 percent by 2020.

Once prices reach $0.06 per kilowatt-hour, solar power will officially become cost-competitive and could supply as much as 27 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050 as more homeowners, businesses, and communities switch over.

Solar power installations have grown 17-fold since 2008, from 1.2 gigawatts to 20 gigawatts nationwide, according to government figures.

That’s enough electricity to power all of Austin and Seattle for an entire year. more>

Updates from GE

Made In The USA: This Map Shows How Americans Benefit From Exports
By Tomas Kellner – Large companies often play an unseen but key economic role in their communities. Their suppliers — as well as local grocers, restaurant workers, non-profits and others — feel their pain in bad times, and profit when orders and jobs swell.

GE, which employs 125,000 people in the United States and works with more than 15,000 American suppliers, decided the measure this effect. This spring, the company created an interactive map to show the size of its own ecosystem and how it depends on free trade.

“About 70 percent of the products GE will make in the United States in 2016 will be exported,” says Nancy Dorn, vice president for government affairs and policy.

The world, including the United States, seems to be turning away from the notion of free trade. We actually need to continue along the trade path if we are to continue to prosper.

Let me give you an example. The United States is still GE’s single biggest country market, but at the same time, the growth rate in the United States in terms of the latest power-plant technology is not as meteoric as in some developing countries that are really starting from scratch.

Developing markets are leapfrogging the legacy systems in many of the developed countries and going with the most modern, most ecologically friendly technology. It’s analogous to the era when everyone went from landlines to cellular networks. more>

Uber deal shows divide in labor’s drive for role in ‘gig economy’

By Daniel Wiessner and Dan Levine – Rideshare companies say contracting, rather than employing, workers keeps costs down and provides the flexibility drivers say they want.

But contract workers are not entitled to the same legal protections employees enjoy, including minimum wage guarantees and overtime pay.

Organized labor has struggled with how to react with the new realities of the rapidly growing part of the economy dominated by gig, or temporary and contract, workers. Some union officials have argued it’s crucial to engage in new ways with the changing nature of labor, while others have doubled down on traditional organizing.

The one thing all sides agree on is that the struggle over how to organize labor in the new economy is just beginning, and for some observers, that’s not a terrible thing. more>


Economics’ Big Lie


Adam’s Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology, Author: Duncan K. Foley.
International Political Economy: The Business of War and Peace, Author: James H. Nolt.
Krugman’s Economics for AP, Authors: Margaret A. Ray, David G. Anderson.

By James H. Nolt – The big lie is that the economic “science” of efficiency requires that we treat rich people as vastly more important than everyone else.

Once disentangled from the jargon, the logic of this argument is no more persuasive than King George III claiming to be “king by the grace of God.” It is equally undemocratic, too. This dubious assertion is not stated so baldly. If it were, it would be too easily refuted. Instead, and more insidiously, it is embedded in all the methods of economics and of public policy studies involving cost-benefit analysis.

All economic relations are suffused with private power, at least. This is why I insist on the term “political economy” rather than “economics.” This reminds us that every study of the economy must also be a study of private power and strategy. more>


What Was the Greatest Era for Innovation?


The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Author: Robert J. Gordon.

By Neil Irwin – Which was a more important innovation: indoor plumbing, jet air travel or mobile phones?

You could argue for any of them, and data can tell plenty of different stories depending on how you look at it. Productivity statistics or information on inflation-adjusted incomes is helpful, but can’t really tell you whether the advent of air-conditioning or the Internet did more to improve humanity’s quality of life.

It’s hard to overstate how revolutionary the advent of electric light was. In the 1870s, a kerosene lamp could produce 5,050 candle hours worth of light a year at a cost of $20. That same $20 in 1920 bought 4.4 million candle hours a year from bulbs.

Transportation was undergoing its own transformation, and people were becoming far more connected to one another physically.

In 1900, just 8,000 motorcars were registered in the United States, but there were 9 million in 1920 and 23 million in 1929. Streetcars and subways, unheard-of in 1870, were in all the major cities by 1920. Intercity trains were becoming steadily faster and more reliable — a train trip from New York to Chicago that took 38 hours in 1870 was 24 hours in 1900 and 16 hours in 1940.

Add it all up, and Americans who in 1870 would rarely travel farther than they could go on foot or horseback could suddenly range much more widely. more>