The Atlantic & Tyler Cowen on Why Jobs Go Unfilled (and Why It May Not Be The Worst Thing)

I heard a great piece by the always excellent Tyler Cowen on the radio today. One quote of particular interest:

"Imagine a very large bohemian class of the sort that say, lives in parts of Brooklyn," Cowen explains. "... It will be culturally upper or upper-middle class, but there will be the income of lower-middle class. They may have lives that are quite happy and rewarding, but they may not have a lot of savings. There will be a certain fragility to this existence." (Tired Of Inequality? One Economist Says It'll Only Get Worse)

It overlapped with a piece I've been meaning to blog about for a while "Why Jobs Go Unfilled Even in Times of High Unemployment".

Of all the near term future views, this feels the most correct. But it's not (necessarily) a bad thing!

Let's go back 100 years, and compare the same lower middle class existence. You worked in a factory 50 hours a week, lived in a hovel, had a million kids  and died before you turned 50.

What will the same lower middle class people have today? Earn $40k/year, save nothing, have a car, iPhone, clean water and plenty of food, commute about 45 minutes each way to work and probably live to 70. And that's all before the robots!

This does remove a ton of choice - it's not like they can choose to travel the world after they retire, or even retire - and, to use Mr. Cowen's excellent choice of words, "a fragile existence", but it's also not backbreaking labor. If the wealthy chip in an even stronger social safety net, these people may even go out and take some risks - we'll see if that ever comes to pass. I have long thought that the wealthy have a huge benefit to (partially) funding the non-wealthy's leisure; I would argue that giving them money to spend encourages them to spend the money on the things the wealthy's firms produce - win-win!

As an aside, the skill thing feels a little bit off - or at least it feels like a rural only thing. In many cities, there are actually many jobs that can be filled by even people of modest skills. The other day I spoke with a Postmates delivery kid - he said he worked 30 hours that month, and earned $1800. CRAZY.

EDIT: Someone pointed out the very interesting review of The Lights in the Tunnel which also covers this very thing. It's going to be a race - utopia provided by automation vs. the jobs that automation kills.

An Unparalleled Level of Growth You (Likely) Will Never See Again

In 2001, the fastest computer in the world (ASCI White) clocked in at an astounding 7.6 TFlops/sec and cost $110M.  This is versus the fastest main stream computer processors which was around 10 GFlops or 1000x slower.

In 2012, the fastest computer in the world (Titan) clocked in at a mind bogglingly fast 17 PetaFlops/sec and cost $97M. This is versus the fastest main stream computer processors which was 177 GFlops or ~96,000x slower.

(I am well aware I'm comparing a single processor vs. a multiprocessor machine, but that's the best I can do)

Roughly, this is 2315x growth in efficiency/power in 10 years FOR LESS COST.

That is absurd growth for an industry that is already 50 years old (just for fun, to build a 17 Petaflop computer in 1961, would have cost roughly $141 Quintillion (or $141,000,000 Trillion). This means if you allocated 100% of US GDP to the paying this off, would take about 9.4M years).

To compare another highly specialized industry - this would be equivalent to a 2001 F1 Racer which topped out at around 250 mph now traveling at 578,750 mph and costing less. 

I cannot think of another industry where more will be available for less over time.

Our Hidden Fingerprint (and Why the NSA STILL Doesn't Need To Read Your Email)

There was a wonderful analysis of How Robert Galbraith was found to be JK Rowling the other day, and, basically, beyond the anonymous tip, it was the fact that a textual analysis of her work matched her OTHER known work more closely than any other author. This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say the NSA does not need to read your email - we're all leaving EXTREMELY DETAILED digital finger prints ALL THE TIME that identify us, locate us - basically reveal anything that anyone would need to know.

Apparently the Completely Disfunctional Cable Market Works In Our Favor

The Atlantic covered the true costs of unbundling ESPN (or projected, since no one would actually do it), and I'm shocked it's so high. Well, not really shocked, just confirming what seems like a shocking number.

Apparently, the cost of unbundling these things (all sports, so anyone not interested in sports, please look away) would be far larger than keeping them in your current (horrible) package. This is not a surprise as the above numbers, if anything are an UNDERESTIMATE!

Currently, the Cable Networks Group (read as "ESPN and some other various nothings") makes up 36% of Disney Revenue, and 62% of operating income. 62%!  (10Q Filing) No wonder they are so hesitant to do anything to screw that up.

The fact is that only a model that mimics that profitability will encourage those content providers to unbundle - and that will require enormous subscription fees. The very fact that there are #x Million people, who looked away above because they don't watch sports but are still being charged, is why the entire system works.

Race and Intelligence: Where Are All the African Nobel Prize Winners?

There was an incredibly fascinating interview on Fresh Air with the author of The Sports Gene (off to my Kindle it goes). A particularly interesting highlight:

"Most of our ancestry as humans has occurred in Africa, so people have been in Africa for far longer than they've been outside of Africa. So genes for hundreds of thousands of years were evolving, changing inside of Africa, and then just a tiny group of people — maybe no more than 150 people, or a small group — left East Africa en route to populating the rest of the world. At each stop, their genes changed to accommodate their environments and sometimes just by random chance. ... But what this means is that most of the genetic differences that have been built up in our history are all still in Africa. All of us outside of Africa are just tiny subsets of a tiny subset that left Africa. So if you got rid of everyone in the world outside of Africa you would lose a little, but you would preserve most of the genetic variation for all of humanity.

"... [For] a particular trait, you might find the most diversity within an African population, as opposed to comparing someone in an African population and someone in a European population. So you might find the fastest 10 runners and the slowest 10 runners. But nobody is looking for the slowest 10 runners."

This makes COMPLETE sense to me. Of course where you have the most genetic diversity will you get the highest opportunity for extreme of the human population on both ends of the spectrum, both the fastest and the slowest.

But the conversation should not stop there, shouldn't we see genetic variability in all areas? Curliest hair? Straightest? Bluest eyes? Lightest blue? And so on.

Even further, when you get into more significant traits, we should see these in extremes as well. Specifically, I'm thinking of intelligence. If we believe there is some genetic component to intelligence (which it appears there are), then just as we would expect to see the fastest and slowest runners in Africa due to the genetic diversity, we should expect to see people at the extremes on the predisposition to intelligence in Africa.

However, according to this (, there have been only 5 Nobel prize winners from Africa in anything other than Literature or Peace. I'm sure much of the reason is that there are not as many facilities for African research and science, but this seems like it needs to be addressed immediately.

To be clear, this book and research indicates there should be RIGHT NOW a set of folks in Africa that are as genetically predisposed to intelligence as anyone who has ever lived. One could argue it is humanity's responsibility to find these folks. IMMEDIATELY.

Dangerous Waters: The Only Article You Need to Read on Abortion

Jonathan Chait had a really measured piece on an incredibly sensitive subject the other day - Abortion. Let me stand out of the way for most of it:

There's no real resolution to this dispute. Nobody even makes much of an effort to resolve it. Both sides advance arguments that only make sense if you already accept their premise about what a human life is. That's what Perry's doing here. He's saying we should force women to give birth even when they don't want to, because babies born in bad circumstances can be happy anyway. That isn't an acceptable burden to place on women, in my opinion, but it surely is if you think abortion is murder.

Likewise, liberals often call conservatives hypocritical for wanting to shrink government while expanding government's power to ban abortion. Except, if you think abortion is murder, then banning abortion is the sort of thing government ought to be able to do, even if it does very little overall. "Stopping murder" is one function of government that even Grover Norquist would endorse. Anti-abortion conservatives aren't hypocritical, they're (from the pro-choice standpoint) wrong about what a murder is.

The fact is that this is not a resolvable debate - stop attempting to convince the other side. If you believe that life begins at conception, then everything after that is murder. If you believe that life begins at viability, then everything before that is a non-moral choice.

There is NO middle ground. 

The best suggestion I've ever heard was from a professor I had in college for the Philosophy of Medicine. Rather than even arguing about this, we should be aggressively trying to move the age of viability (or the ability to freeze zygotes) as close to zero days as possible. If, for example, you had the ability to extract a zygote (and freeze it for future implantation) that was a mere 1 day since fertilization as easily and safely as you could perform an abortion, then everyone on both sides would agree that would be the correct path.

All energy directed towards anything else ultimately will not swing anyone one way or the other.

Turning It Up To 11... Of What?

I'm quite addicted to Car2Go. While the driving experience is perfectly adequate (I'll discuss this in a future blog post), the gamefication of mileage is pretty fun. Basically they show you a little leaf that indicates how in each category (acceleration, cruising and deceleration) you're doing on a gas efficiency stand point. And to say I'm the GREATEST of all time, is not much of an overstatement. OBSERVE AND FEAR!

The interesting thing is that first column - damn you acceleration! But it leads to an interesting question - I do not even know what to do. I mean, theoretically I know what to do, but I need more feedback.

Which brings up this WTF error I just saw the other day:
In the history of software error programs this isn't even the worst. Even so... what application? what files? what will happen if I don't? What the fuck?

Which brings back to the slug of this article (which I can't seem to change). Gamefication, or user feedback, is only useful if you tell me what to do NEXT. Not my eventual goal, or even the five steps after this one, NEXT.

File under UX 101.

Corporate Access To Data is FAR More Chilling

NSA/Snowden/Metadata = blah blah blah. Seriously, I don't stay up for FIVE MINUTES at night worrying about that.

What I do worry about is THIS:

A federal judge has ruled to allow Chevron, through a subpoena to Microsoft, to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys.
The oil giant is demanding the records in an attempt to cull together a lawsuit which alleges that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it fordumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon, causing untold damage to the rainforest.

The "sweeping" subpoena was one of three issued to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Agh ... WHAT? I generally try pretty hard to understand the opposite side of any case, but this makes no sense to me. Why would a private company have a right to demand private information from other private companies? Even if it was a conspiracy, how does that have any relevance? To leave it to the EFF lawyers:

According to Judge Kaplan, none of the account holders could benefit from First Amendment protections since the account holders had “not shown that they were U.S. citizens.”

Now, let’s break this down. The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not US citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?

I would take 1000 government workers staring at every mail I ever sent over ONE of these private guys. Yikes.

I'm In Love with The Wirecutter (and Sites Like It)

Brian Lam at The Wirecutter had a terrific post about nine months ago I just came upon:

Sure, if you really care, go ahead and spend your time and energy researching. But if you can’t be bothered, well, that’s kind of what I’m trying to do for you at Wirecutter. Half of it is the research. Half of the service is just spitting out an informed decision so you don’t have to sweat the details.

Oh man, this is my new philosophy. As my friend likes to say, "There is one version of the truth." That's what I'm seeking - not the truth, just the folks I trust to TELL me the truth. You know cars? You're my car truth guy. You know dieting? You're my dieting truth guy. That's it. I'm on a mission to put together a portfolio of those folks and I'm done trying to figure those things out myself.

A Short Analysis of Evernote vs. One Note

I quite love OneNote. It feels amazing, the way it works so similarly to how I would work in a notebook - allowing me to cut and paste all over the place, taking text formatting and promoting it to be active (such as bullet point lists out of asterisks) and all the subtle little things - like the screen capture or picture to text capability. For example, check this out!

For the previous blog post, I went to this google search result for Bill Buford's Heat, and was presented with a block of text:

Not bad - but it's all an image, so I could either type out the excerpt that I was looking to quote or buy the Kindle version. Have no fear, OneNote to the rescue. I used the "Copy Text From Picture" and presto:

Why don’t more people use pasta water at home? Sometimes I thought it should he bottled, because there is no way that your home water could ever achieve the starchy viscosity of a restaurant’s. Ir would be cheap—being liquidy leftovers—and the jar should he very large, probably darkly tinted, like a vine bottle, because there would he no reward in looking too closely at what was floating inside.

The thought also made me curious about the monwnt in the history of American cooking when efficiency won out over taste and, instead of using a pair of tongs and pulling the spaghetti straight out of the pot, people starwd using a colander (an evil instrument) and letting all that dense, murky rich “water” rush down the drain. The practice ¡s described in the original, 1931 edition of Tut’ Jmt of Cooki,, in its “Rules for Boiling Spaghetti, Macaroni, Creamettes and Noodles,” along with the even more alarming one of taking your colander full of spaghetti (rather mushy, since you’ve boiled it for an hour) or macaroni (easy to che after being boiled For twenty minutes) or creamettes (no longer a supermarket item, alas, but once the essential ingredient ¡n a baked creamette loaf) and rinsing it ¡n cold warer—oh, heresy of heresies—just to make sure nothing ¡s clinging to ir. I hold the author responsible for the many plates of sauce—heavy spaghetti that, as a fea ture of my own American childhood, were prepared by my mothei who was born two ‘ears after the cookbook was published. To be fair to both my mother and the authoi; a plate oF spaghetti with meat sauce remains an eternal comfort food, even if the meal was not about the pasta. Still, the cultural disregard for the noodle contributed to my ignorance of ¡t. It also contributed to my prejudice about dried pasta, a prejudice that I finally overcame in an epiphany of sorts.

Pretty outstanding! It's not perfect (the bolded / underlined portion is where OneNote tried to handle italics), but saved me at least twenty minutes. 

However, in my current project to eliminate all extraneous paper and article clippings, I'm not using OneNote - I'm using Evernote, which I consider to be a much worse interface. Why? It's just more ubiquitous on input. I can clip from Web pages, my phone, my iPad, my Mac and so on in a much more fluid way and that makes all the difference.