That computing has become immensely more powerful in recent decades veers on the cliche. I recently got a few reminders of precisely how much distance we have moved.
Cory Doctorow tells us that the computation that goes into one google query is roughly the same as all the computing done for the entire Apollo program.
Jay Goldberg is astonished to discover pretty powerful no-name tablets now go for $45. One can see whole new world opening up with ubiquitous use and firm-deployment of tablets.
And most astonishing of all: the ipad (2012) matches the floating point performance of the Cray 2 supercomputer (1989). That’s a gap of 23 short years. Also note the completely different slope seen on the right hand set of dots:
Source: Slideshow by Jack Dongarra and Piotr Luszczek, linked to by Michael Larabel.
This story has been going on for decades but it isn’t finished yet. Just this year, my laptop got four cores, and I’m steadily shifting all my R programs to utilise parallel processing. For all X, it’s interesting and useful to ask How would X change if computation, communications and storage got cheaper and better?. On this theme, you may like to read this post — The new world of computers — from earlier this year.
As an old timer, I always worry that we used to do Things That Mattered using the Cray 2 supercomputer, like forecast the weather or simulate nuclear explosions, whereas the bulk of the ipad’s compute power is being deployed to watch cat videos on youtube. We have yet to re-imagine our world in terms of these new powers.
We investigate women’s underrepresentation among holders of commercialized patents: only 5.5% of holders of such patents are female. Using the National Survey of College Graduates 2003, we find only 7% of the gap is accounted for by women’s lower probability of holding any science or engineering degree, because women with such a degree are scarcely more likely to patent than women without. Differences among those without a science or engineering degree account for 15%, while 78% is accounted for by differences among those with a science or engineering degree. For the latter group, we find that women’s underrepresentation in engineering and in jobs involving development and design explain much of the gap; closing it would increase U.S. GDP per capita by 2.7%. [Emphasis added.]
The concluding assertion is obviously false. This is simply because patents are not distributed randomly. The system is opt-in, which introduces self-selection bias (which may possibly be particularly influential at the corporate level), and patents have to be approved.
The latter qualification is especially important, because inventing new things and creating meaningful innovations generally requires a high degree of intelligence and knowledge. Since men have the flatter distribution curve when it comes to intelligence, it stands to reason that men should naturally receive more patents because they have more of the elite intelligence that generally correlates with invention and innovation.
Incidentally, this also renders the conclusion void as well, since it is predicated on the assumption that patents are essentially distributed randomly. Since they are not, and since women are not in a position to perform equally in regards to innovation, it is illogical to assert that closing the engineering and R&D gap will solve the patent inequality problem, and correspondingly increase GDP.
details just how much trouble one can get into because of IP laws.
Please note that this doesn’t even include file-sharing:
In his paper Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap, law professor John Tehranian explains how the normal activities (see pp. 543-48) of a typical Internet user–he takes an “average American, …take an ordinary day in the life of a hypothetical law professor named John”–someone who does not even engage in P2P file sharing–could result in up to $4.5 billion in potential liability annually, for copyright infringement. The acts include:
-having his email program “automatically reproduce the text to which he is responding in any email he drafts. Each unauthorized reproduction of someone else’s copyrighted text—their email—represents a separate act of brazen infringement, as does each instance of email forwarding….” (twenty emails in an hour: $3 million in statutory damages);
-distributing in his Constitutional Law class copies of three just-published Internet articles presenting analyses of a Supreme Court decision handed down only hours ago;
-absentmindedly doodling a sketch of the Guggenheim museum on a notepad during a boring faculty meeting, i.e. making an unauthorized derivative work;
-reading a 1931 e.e. cumming poem to his Law and Literature class, an unauthorized public performance;
-emailing to his family five pictures his friend took of a local football game–his friend owns the copyright;
-having a Captain Caveman tattoo and revealing it while swimming at the local university pool: violating Hanna-Barbera’s copyright by the reproduction and public display;
-singing Happy Birthday to a friend at a restaurant and recording it on his smartphone videocamera, an unauthorized public performance and reproduction of a copyright-protected work–as is the painting on the wall of the restaurant that is captured in the video footage; and
-reading on his email a magazine that itself has clips of interesting items from other publications, a contributory infringement leading to up to $7.5 million of liability.
Obviously, some of the scenarios are a little more far-fetched than others. However, the very first item is very concerning: copyright violations occur when you reply to an email?! Are you serious?
Now, I realize that a lot of people view the opposition to IP as simply a bunch of nerdy white guys wanting to get out of paying for music. And while this typecasting is undoubtedly true in some cases, it doesn’t change the fact that IP is a gargantuan monopoly system that presents a large number of problems for ordinary citizens who act in good faith. Most people aren’t trying to rip someone off by responding to their emails, yet the laws in place operate under this very assumption.
It is obvious, then, that something needs to change. You don’t have to support file-sharing to make a coherent objection to the current system. Given that the laws ensure that every American is a lawbreaker, a good response would be to simply say that certain things shouldn’t be given automatic copyright protection (like email replies, for example). Better yet, one could argue that copyright should be opt-in, which would minimize most people’s liabilities. There is simply no sense in having a system that makes everyone a lawbreaker in order to further the economics interests of an elite, politically-connected few.
So, this is cool. As reported in the Freakonomics blog, Google has a feature that allows users to correlate public patterns with search term usage. You supply data, such as initial unemployment claims, and Google will evaluate which search phrases best correlate with the data provided. Justin Wolfers reports,
I fed in the weekly numbers on initial unemployment claims—one of the most important weekly economic time series we have. The search term that is most closely correlated? Crikey, it’s “filing for unemployment.” Indeed, the correlation is an astounding 0.91.
Here’s the graph of time series on initial jobless claims and searches for “filing for unemployment”
Google Searches and Unemployment Data
Just to clarify from an earlier post
, my stance on protecting IP is that is wrong for the government to do so, but I have no issue if a private business wants to protect its intellectual creation.
Furthermore, I am not a piracy positivist.
I do not believe that people have a “right” to IP for free.
If they can capture another’s idea for free, more power to them.
If they have to pay, so be it.
No one has a right to information.
In keeping with the above, I would recommend reading this article
To me, this seems like the perfect way to handle IP protection.
Obviously, the government isn’t cracking down like it used to, so businesses have built designed their own protections to ensure that they actually paid when people use their product.
This seems to be the optimal way of handling this issue, especially since IP law has devolved into a massive redistributionist scheme for big business (cf. Apple’s recent lawsuit, Microsoft’s recent lawsuit, Google’s recent lawsuit, etc.) Why not let people protect their own intellectual “property,” and stop this headache of a legal system? This system does not seem to make any difference to the big companies and has a tendency to screw over the small time inventers and innovators (ever heard if patent trolls?)
… and personally I think some corporate fortunes are going to fall hard as this “$800 tablet” trend comes to a screeching halt before it really gets started.
I almost certainly wasn’t the first blogger to discover that you can get into a decent Android tablet for less than $200, but I caught on before blowing big money, anyway.
Today, the Wall Street Journal’s Brett Arends takes notice:
A lot of people are likely to stand in line to pay $500 or more for Apple’s iPad 2 when it goes on sale Friday.
I didn’t want to spend $500 for a tablet computer. I didn’t even want to spend $400.
So instead I went online and bought a brand-new tablet for a bit less.
The cost? Less than $200 … and about 20 minutes of my time.
I don’t think Apple itself will come to grief. Their business model has always centered around being the fashionable high end in hardware. But Motorola and Samsung (to name two) are probably going to take big hits to their bottom lines if they’re betting big on selling tablets in the $500+ range.
A few weeks ago, I was at my local Micro Center. The managers there all recognize my family, because we’re always in there buying something (not always something new or expensive, but something). One of the managers came over to chat me up, and we talked tablets. I told him that I was waiting to see an e-reader/low-end tablet in the $100 price range, and that I expected to see truckloads of them at Micro Center when the bottom fell out.
He got a little cagey with me, and told me (quote as best I can remember) “at this point, there’s really no way of predicting Micro Center’s future with tablets.”
That statement was what motivated me, a few days later, to go ahead and jump on the Velocity Micro Cruz Reader for $120 elsewhere. And naturally, within two weeks, what do I see at Micro Center? One of my other top picks … priced to sell at $109, with an “open box” return for less than $90 (when Micro Center sees me coming, they sigh and start clearing a path to the “open box” returns area).
I suspect some corporate policy prevented that manager from giving me a wink and a nudge and saying “wait a couple of weeks and we’ll have a deal for you.” His job was to interest me in what they had in stock, at the current pricing. He didn’t push that too hard, because he’s dealt with me enough times to know I don’t work that way. Unfortunately, it probably cost him a sale.
Anyway, whether or not you heard it here first, you are hearing it here: Unless you’re an Apple cultist (NTTAWWT), don’t blow $800, or even $500, on a tablet. Chances are you can find one that does everything you really want to do for less than $200, maybe even less than $100.
Not much recent local activity in the race to win Google’s Fiber contest, if contest is the right word. Am I missing anything?
A website fiberforall.org has a daily ranking of how someone out there thinks different communities are faring in their persistent post: Who is Winning the Google Fiber Race? [Updated Daily]
How anyone comes up with that? and whether it means anything at all? Or more importantly does it mean anything to Google? Who knows? Let’s hope it means little because we are not doing so well. The latest ranking of top communities showing community support has us nowhere to be found, which implies were even behind Scranton?? What is up with that? As I type it says we rank #100!!
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Must be something we can do to move up that list.. other communties are way out there
in keeping up the effort.
I try to remember to pay house insurance premiums. Otherwise, I tend to avoid thinking about small risks of catastrophe. There are plenty of other things to worry about.
This avoidance strategy usually helps me to maintain a positive state of mind until someone manages to ambush me with the thought of how dreadful it would be if one of those catastrophes actually occurred.
The last time such an ambush had a lasting impact on me was in March this year when I was reading ‘The Science of Liberty’ by Timothy Ferris. This book contains an excellent discussion of the historical links between liberty and the advance of knowledge. I tend to trust Tim Ferris’ judgement on scientific matters. (I have previously written about his book here
Tim Ferris’ discussion of the science of climate change begins in a fairly low key fashion until he reaches the point where he suggests that greenhouse gases generated by human activity constitute the most plausible explanation for the gradual increase in the earth’s average temperature since the beginning of the 20th Century. Then, in the following paragraph, he proceeds to suggest progressively less benign consequences of further global warming until, at the end of the paragraph, he mentions the possibility of runaway warming. The next paragraph reads:
‘On which point it may be useful to contemplate Venus, the brightest planet in the sky. Venus is virtually Earth’s twin – the two planets have the same diameter and the same mass – but while much of the earth’s carbon is bound up in its oceans and plants and in fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, the carbon on Venus resides in its atmosphere. The surface temperature on Venus is 457 degrees Celsius, hot enough to melt lead. Should the earth be pushed into runaway greenhouse warming, it might wind up resembling the Venus of today’ (p. 282).
This wasn’t the first time I had heard about the possibility that Earth’s future could be like Venus. On previous occasions, however, it was obvious that scare tactics were being employed and my defences were activated well before the Venus card was played.
Cartoon by Nicholson from “The Australian” newspaper: www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au
I was reminded of Tim Ferris’ invitation to contemplate Venus while reading ‘The Rational Optimist’. Matt Ridley, the author of this book, adopts a very different position. He begins the discussion by mentioning Martin Weitzman’s argument that if there is some possibility of a huge disaster resulting from global warming, the world should take steps to avoid it. He then suggests that the problem with this reasoning is that it applies to all risks, including the remote possibility of collision with a large asteroid.
I agree with Robin Hanson’s view, in his review
of Ridley’s book, that some action may be warranted to reduce the potential impact on human well-being of any potential catastrophe. How we should respond should depend on the nature of the potential catastrophe, the probability that it will occur and what can be done to avoid it.
How should we respond to the small risk of runaway global warming? A fairly obvious answer is to put a tax on carbon emissions in order to provide incentives for development of technologies that generate less CO2, accompanied by an appropriate subsidy for activities that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In many countries it would be possible to do this at little or no economic cost by substituting a carbon tax for other taxes that impose greater economic distortions. It is important to emphasize, however, that the main aim of the exercise should be to put in place incentives for development of better technologies.
Matt Ridley makes a strong case that climate mitigation is currently being mismanaged and that this mismanagement could be more damaging to human well-being than climate change itself. By encouraging a return to the medieval practice of using biofuels as an energy source, governments have added to misery in poor countries by raising the price of grains and have provided incentives for the further destruction of rainforests. In addition, incentives for greater use of costly wind and solar technologies are raising the cost of electricity substantially for little benefit in terms of reduction in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
It is possible that solar technology will become competitive at some time in the future, but subsidizing use of current solar panel technology will not make that happen. If solar panel technology ever becomes competitive it will not need to be subsidized to enable scale economies to be achieved.
I think the current mismanagement of climate mitigation is attributable to scare tactics and panic. Some of us have grown so accustomed to environmental scare tactics that we find it difficult to take seriously the idea that a small risk of catastrophe is worth considering. Others have been too easily panicked into supporting costly policy responses that seem to be directed toward reducing CO2 as rapidly as possible irrespective of cost. The outcome of these conflicting forces in Australia has been a policy to encourage increased use of existing renewable energy technologies that are still highly inefficient. This policy achieves only a small reduction in CO2 emissions per additional dollar spent. (My test of how genuinely concerned a person is about reducing CO2 emissions in the short term is whether they are in favour of the nuclear power option, which seems to be the best alternative to use of fossil fuels that is presently available. )
There are signs now emerging that people in Australia are becoming concerned about the cost of rising energy prices attributable to the silly policy of encouraging greater use of high cost renewable energy. Hopefully similar concerns in other countries will result in adoption of sensible strategies to encourage development of less costly technologies over the next few decades.
With all the spyware and adware on the web a great spyware remover should be used!