Category Archives: Net

The economics of bubbles

By Brent Goldfarb and David Kirsch – The space between fiction and reality is where economic bubbles take shape. Froth fills that space.

As the Dutch Tulipmania of the 17th century and the South Sea Bubble of the 18th century attest, speculative bubbles have been with us since the early days of corporations and market capitalism. Instant mass communication, in the form of the radio, was an amazing invention of the 1920s. Almost 700 new radio stations – the United States’ entire current AM broadcast infrastructure – were established in 1922. But nobody had identified a successful business model for radio broadcast.

Often the opportunity for a bubble arrives on the back of a new technology. And some technologies make for fantastic stories – indeed, sci-fi is a whole fictional genre based on this premise. Bubbles form whenever a new story is not only told, but can also be sold. However, not every new story leads to a bubble. Sometimes stories can be told, but not sold.

These cases highlight two important necessary conditions for the formation of a bubble: first, bubbles need narratives. Every startup begins as a story about an imagined future. Every venture, every investment, is a statement about the future, an attempt to create a future that conforms to the imagined vision of the promoter. Teams are formed, resources acquired, alliances entered, products and services developed, all in furtherance of that story and that future.

Every startup story will have some common elements – a protagonist (sometimes, but not necessarily a technology), a plotline in which the protagonist struggles against a challenge from dark forces (incumbents, or the current way of doing things), and a happy ending where the sun shines and human progress is advanced. Ever incomplete, these stories provide the mental scaffolding for individuals and institutions to invest in new ventures. Good stories sell, and the more uncertain the outcome, the more leeway for entrepreneurs to fabulate.

Bubbles inflate as the distance between fiction and reality increases. Contexts – such as investor liquidity, regulatory frameworks and cultural and macro-economic factors – establish boundaries on how far our stories can depart from reality. But entrepreneurs are also creatures of context, and some are better than others at ‘entrepreneuring’, stretching the limits of plausibility and maximizing time for their imagined realities to catch up to their promises.

Sometimes, we don’t observe a bubble not because the stories aren’t sticky or because the technology isn’t narratible, but because the narrative comes to fruition and the technology or entrepreneur delivers. more>

Updates from Ciena

When the lights go out: How utilities can better assess the impact of outages on their network assets
Do you have access to real-time data and an end-to-end network view to know what network resources are impacted during a power outage?
By Mitch Simcoe – We’ve all seen this movie before.  Back on July 13th, a power outage in New York City impacted 72,000 Manhattan customers (including shutting down Broadway on a Saturday night) which was attributed to an issue with the utility company’s relay protection system. The power grid’s protection system should have triggered a protection relay to isolate the faulty power line which ultimately led to the outage.

Yet as we enter the peak of summer heat in August, additional power outages continued to plague NYC this summer. A little over a week after the Manhattan blackout, 50,000 customers in Brooklyn and Queens lost their power as the temperature rose to above 90 degrees amid a brutal heat wave. “More than 30,000 customers had their juice deliberately cut by the utility thereby avoiding a much longer outage,” Con Ed spokesperson Allen Drury told Curbed at the time. Curbed also indicated that Con Ed had identified a ‘flawed connection’ as the cause of Manhattan’s major blackout.

As these power outages occur, and with more frequency lately, the first question to staff from utility management is: what resources, facilities and customers have been impacted by the outage?

In the world of Operational Technology/Information Technology (OT/IT) networking, how can utilities answer this question if they do not have a complete understanding of the resources underpinning their networks? To effectively manage their networks at the most basic level, utilities need an inventory system that accurately presents all available resources, both physical and virtual, end-to-end.

Why is it a challenge to get this view? more>

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Updates from Adobe

Reality-Defying Photo Composites Master the Impossible
By Jordan Kushins – Juan José Egúsquiza is based in Brooklyn, New York, but he spends much of his time as a man of the world. From Paris to San Francisco to Barcelona to Lucerne and beyond, the Lima, Peru-born multimedia artist and Adobe Creative Resident makes his way across the globe with his camera in hand. While exploring, he captures ordinary moments with a click, and these images become the basis for what he calls “Impossible Stories”: brain-bending composites that challenge the way we relate to and interpret our surroundings.

When I was young, I played music—percussion, mostly—and was in a band with my twin brother, who’s also an artist. He was so creative, and making things all the time, often grabbing trash and turning it into sculptures or instruments. That idea of recycling—of taking elements that were meant to be for something and then using them to build something else—was super, super cool to me. At some point I realized I wanted to start creating my own special things as well.

I was 19 or 20 when I first started taking pictures. I’d be traveling, mostly alone, and all of a sudden I’d be somewhere I’ve never been before: walking around, seeing new things, observing ordinary moments. I’ve always liked those the most; like, someone throwing a cookie away in a garbage can. Once you take a picture of it, it becomes something totally different.

At first, I wouldn’t edit my images at all, but eventually I started thinking: “What if I grabbed one element from this image and put it on something else?” Now that kind of photo compositing is a daily practice. more>

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How ergodicity reimagines economics for the benefit of us all

By Mark Buchanan – The principles of economics form the intellectual atmosphere in which most political discussion takes place. Its prevailing ideas are often invoked to justify the organization of modern society, and the positions enjoyed by the most wealthy and powerful. Any threat to these ideas could also be an implicit threat to that power – and to the people who possess it. Their response might be brutal.

In the real world, through the pages of scientific journals, in blog posts and in spirited Twitter exchanges, the set of ideas now called ‘Ergodicity Economics’ is overturning a fundamental concept at the heart of economics, with radical implications for the way we approach uncertainty and cooperation. The economics group at LML is attempting to redevelop economic theory from scratch, starting with the axiom that individuals optimize what happens to them over time, not what happens to them on average in a collection of parallel worlds.

The new concept is a key theme of research initiated by Peters about a decade ago, and developed with the collaboration of Gell-Mann and the late Ken Arrow at SFI, and of Alex Adamou, Yonatan Berman and many others at the LML. Much of this view rests on a careful critique of a model of human decisionmaking known as expected utility theory.

But there is one odd feature in this framework of expectations – it essentially eliminates time. Yet anyone who faces risky situations over time needs to handle those risks well, on average, over time, with one thing happening after the next. The seductive genius of the concept of probability is that it removes this historical aspect by imagining the world splitting with specific probabilities into parallel universes, one thing happening in each.

The expected value doesn’t come from an average calculated over time, but from one calculated over the different possible outcomes considered outside of time. In doing so, it simplifies the problem – but actually solves a problem that is fundamentally different from the real problem of acting wisely through time in an uncertain world. more>

How America Lost Faith in Expertise

By Tom Nichols – I’m used to people disagreeing with me on lots of things. Principled, informed arguments are a sign of intellectual health and vitality in a democracy. I’m worried because we no longer have those kinds of arguments, just angry shouting matches.

I fear we are moving beyond a natural skepticism regarding expert claims to the death of the ideal of expertise itself: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, teachers and students, knowers and wonderers—in other words, between those with achievement in an area and those with none. By the death of expertise, I do not mean the death of actual expert abilities, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas.

There will always be doctors and lawyers and engineers and other specialists. And most sane people go straight to them if they break a bone or get arrested or need to build a bridge. But that represents a kind of reliance on experts as technicians, the use of established knowledge as an off-the-shelf convenience as desired. “Stitch this cut in my leg, but don’t lecture me about my diet.”

The larger discussions, from what constitutes a nutritious diet to what actions will best further U.S. interests, require conversations between ordinary citizens and experts. But increasingly, citizens don’t want to have those conversations. Rather, they want to weigh in and have their opinions treated with deep respect and their preferences honored not on the strength of their arguments or on the evidence they present but based on their feelings, emotions, and whatever stray information they may have picked up here or there along the way.

This is a very bad thing. more>

Updates from Siemens

Transforming the Capital Asset Lifecycle – Part 1
By John Lusty – “Innovate or die”. Three years ago, in the global oil & gas industry, this was the dire message communicated from the boardroom to the operating plant as falling commodity prices were hollowing out corporate income statements. The same story echoed through the supply chain as engineering contractors and equipment manufacturers fought for survival – trying to win enough work to remain healthy within a shrinking capital project market while creating greater value from the existing capital asset lifecycle.

The cost-cutting that ensued was ugly, and the job losses were substantial. In parallel, the appetite for innovative ideas sky-rocketed as producers worked to wring out costs and remain profitable at any price. This triggered a new behavior within the traditionally siloed energy industry, for the first-time visionaries started to look to other manufacturing industries for capabilities that could be adapted to their own companies.

What they saw was a shock. Despite years of investing in software and technology, capital asset owners in the energy and process industries still had a long way to go to get full value from their technical information compared to other, more mature, industries. Unlike their business information which, to a greater degree, had been consolidated following two decades of ERP implementations, the technical information supporting their plant assets was still scattered across different locations and incompatible file formats.

To make matters worse, data from multiple projects and facilities used software from a variety of vendors along with their own standards and specifications. Plants that came in through acquisitions and mergers were even more unique. more>

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Updates from ITU

Dark skies, bright future: overcoming Nigeria’s e-waste epidemic
By Eloise Touni – Nigerian law prohibits burning plastic cables, as well as acid leaching and other common methods used by John and his fellow pickers to reclaim valuable metals from discarded electronics. But minimal enforcement and a low awareness of the risks they are running means most pickers continue to regularly expose themselves to toxins that cause respiratory and dermatological problems, eye infections, neurodevelopmental issues, and, ultimately, shorter lives.

While international agreements like the Basel Convention prohibit the import of hazardous waste, unscrupulous importers and a porous customs system mean Nigeria now ranks alongside Ghana as one of the world’s leading destinations for electronic waste. The country receives 71,000 tonnes of used consumer goods through the two main ports in Lagos from the European Union and other more industrialized economies every year.

“Some of the e-waste from abroad is comprised of cathode-ray TVs, which contain lead, as well as refrigerators and air conditioners containing hydrochlorofluorocarbons, making it a threat to those who are dismantling and dealing with the products,” the UN Environment Program’s Eloise Touni says.

Plastic components, including hard casings and cables, also contain persistent organic pollutants used as flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE).

These were banned by the Stockholm Convention due to their long-lasting global impacts and are regularly detected in ecosystems and people all over the world, including in Arctic wildernesses and their traditional inhabitants. more>

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Updates from Ciena

Photonic integration and co-packaging: Design tools for footprint optimization in data center networks
As traffic within and between data centers continues to grow, operators need to constrain the resulting increase in power consumption to minimize operational costs. This is driving the need to manage footprint and power at the system design level. Photonic integration and co-packaging are related approaches to addressing area and power challenges for networking applications.

By Patricia Bower – Data center networks have evolved rapidly over the last couple of years, in large part due to the scalability and flexibility supported by today’s compact modular DCI solutions.  System designers leveraged advances in key foundational technologies to pack significant capacity and service density into these products, and their popularity is growing as these solutions capture new market segments.

The same advances have also paved the way for new consumption models for coherent optical technology in the form of footprint-optimized, pluggable solutions. As traffic growth for server interconnect within data centers continues to increase, greater for interconnect between data centers (DCI) will be required.

Scaling of data center traffic to get more bandwidth adds to the power consumption overhead and real estate requirements for operators which adds to capital and operational costs.

With each new generation of switching platform and coherent optical transport systems, designers have met the challenges by increasing throughput density and reducing power/bit. Both intra-DC and DCI traffic flows will increasingly rely on advances in foundational technologies and system design options to mitigate power consumption while maximizing interconnect densities.

What are these foundational technologies?  They include:

  • Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS)
  • Indium phosphide (InP)
  • Silicon photonics (SiPhot)

In networking applications, CMOS is the basis for both high-capacity switch chips used in router platforms and coherent optical digital-signal-processors (DSP).

InP and SiPhot are used to build electo-optical circuits for signal transport over optical fibers.  Together, the DSP and electro-optical components are the heart of coherent optical transport systems. more>

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Tackling precarity in the platform economy—and beyond

To focus on online platforms in isolation would miss the point that they are part of a wider phenomenon of spreading and intensifying precarity at work.

By Sacha Garben – In our increasingly digitalised world, a crucial role is played by online platforms. These platforms—dynamic websites which constitute digital public squares or marketplaces—affect the economy and our society in various ways and their regulation (or lack thereof) is increasingly the subject of public and political debate. Whether it be the way in which Facebook deals with personal and public information, the influence of Airbnb on our habitat, Uber’s effects on the taxi sector or the working conditions of Deliveroo couriers or tech-workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk, the ‘disruptive’ effects of the activities of the platforms regularly make headlines.

A key social problem is the labor status of those working in the online-platform economy. These drivers, riders, cleaners, designers, translators, technicians and others are often formally contracted as independent and their working arrangements tend to exhibit features which are difficult to square with the traditional employment relationship. These include use of their own materials (such as the driver’s car), autonomy concerning working hours (logging into work via a smartphone app), the short duration of the relationship (translation of perhaps a single sentence) and its multilateral character (the platform linking the producer and consumer).

At the same time, the worker may well be economically dependent on the platform work, the contractual independence can be constructed in rather artificial ways—such as if a driver works full-time for a platform for several years yet remains formally contracted per journey—and the platform can exert significant control over the work and the person performing it.

Furthermore, their ‘independent’ status often means platform workers lack the benefit of the social, labor, health and safety protections which in most countries are connected to an employment contract—even if their precarious working conditions and socio-economic position very much require such protection. more>

Updates from ITU

If we want to solve climate change, water governance is our blueprint
By Elizabeth Taylor – The phrase “fail to prepare or prepare to fail” comes to mind as we enter an era in which governments and communities must band together to mitigate climate change. Part of what makes our next steps so uncertain is knowing we must work together in ways that we have – so far – failed to do. We either stall, or offer up “too little, too late” strategies.

These strategies include cap-and-trade economic incentive programs, like the Kyoto Protocol and other international treaties. Insightful leaders have drawn attention to the issue, but lukewarm political will means that they are only able to defer greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets in the future. A global crisis demands global commitment. How can we work together to face a universal threat? What of the complex challenges that demand unified monitoring and responses?

One principal impediment is the lack of coherent technical infrastructure.

Currently, our arsenal for facilitating collective action is understocked. Our policies are unable to invoke tide-turning change because they lack a cohesive infrastructure. In the absence of satisfactory tools to make them happen, our policies and pledges become feelgood initiatives rather than reaching full effectiveness.

What tools might lead us to act collectively against climate change? It’s easy to focus on the enormous scale of global cooperation needed, or the up-front investments it will take to mitigate the crisis. But as the writer E.L. Doctorow reminded us, we can’t be intimidated by the process: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night,” he said. “You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

We don’t have to possess all the answers as we set out to save our communities. We don’t have to know exactly what we will meet along the way. At a minimum, we must only understand how to use our headlights to see the first few feet ahead of us.

So what is the first step on our path?

It is the substance that underpins our industry, health and survival. It remains a central source of conflict around the world, yet it also creates partnerships. Our first step is water.

Water challenges us with issues of scarcity, quality and distribution. It may seem to be a local issue, but combined with local tensions and a globalized economy, water governance is set to become one of our greatest tests of diplomatic finesse and technological synergy.

If we can properly align local and global water governance and management, we can prepare the tools, the organizational blueprint and the political momentum needed to solve climate change. more>

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