Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Surprising Reason Why Americans Are So Lonely, and Why Future Prosperity Means Socializing with Your Neighbors | Vision | AlterNet

Access to endless amounts of cheap energy made us rich, and wrecked our climate, and it also made us the first people on earth who had no practical need of our neighbors.

In the halcyon days of the final economic booms, everyone on your cul de sac could have died overnight from some mysterious plague, and while you might have been sad, you wouldn’t have been inconvenienced. Our economy, unlike any that came before it, is designed to work without the input of your neighbors.

This is just silly. First, in many measurable and significant to the likes of you and me ways, the environment is better than it has been in years. The article uses the word “climate” instead of “environment,” and maybe they are referring only to climate change, but I’m relatively sanguine about our climate as well (that’s another post).

But to say that there has never before been an economy that worked without the input of your neighbors is either wrong or misleading. If you consider “economy” to mean “how we get along,” and believe that they really mean what they say, then consider the hunter-gatherer, or the solitary farmer alone on the prairie. They had no neighbors, and were completely independent of all other people.

If you take “economy” to mean “the economic interaction of people,” then the progress achieved over the last few hundred years has simply broadened the definition of “neighbors.”

Finally, if their point is that we must not be so dependent on far-away people, then they need to consider the implications of giving up the current world-wide specialization. There are only a handful of computer operating system designers in the world who are meeting the computing needs of most of the world’s population. I don’t want to have to use a computer designed by a kid who lives down the street, programmed by his sister. Nor do I want to watch their cousin’s home movies.

Over time we have learned to ever-more-efficiently allow people farther and farther apart to meet each others’ economic needs, allowing people better-suited to a given task to meet that need for more and farther-away people.

This is a good thing.


We are not alone — okay, maybe we are

The universe, [Stephen Hawking] points out, has 100 billion galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. In such a big place, Earth is unlikely to be the only planet where life has evolved.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

The Times is overstating what Stephen Hawking said, but nevertheless, he’s arguing from incredulity. Just because the number of galaxies and stars is large doesn’t guarantee there are aliens. It doesn’t even make it likely. There’s simply no way to know at present how likely it is that we are alone.

As for the rest of the argument, it’s not much better. Any species of alien that has mastered interstellar travel will have perfected nanotechnology. Resource limitations won’t be a problem for them, unless you’re talking about pure raw material such as carbon. They’re not going to be running around the galaxy raiding planets for hydrocarbons.

The Dogs of War Infographic — Improved

Maybe improved. It depends on how you look at it. The original is certainly prettier. 

Here’s the article in Wired, by Gizmodo, which tries to show how there is a three-way war starting between Google, Apple, and Microsoft. The graphic that goes along with the article shows over a dozen areas where the three compete, but that’s it; no other information is conveyed. In this graphic, I’ve tried to place each of the items so they represent the current position of the three competitors. So for example, the App Store is closest to Apple because they’ve had the most success with it, but it’s slightly closer to Google than Microsoft because the Android marketplace is doing so well.
For some items, it made no sense to show the battle as being between just these three. For example, if you’re going to talk about eBooks you need to at least include Amazon, as I did below. Likewise for web software, you can’t overlook Adobe’s Flash, especially since it seems Apple is more concerned with that than Silverlight.
None of these are placed numerically. If you have the time to research market share and tell me the iPod/Zune battle should be a few pixels closer to Apple, feel free. But based on the below, this looks like Microsoft is fighting a battle on two fronts, while Apple and Google still have more in common than they do to fight about. Let me know what you think.