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Welcome to Longviews and a diet of strong opinion.

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Google’s release of the Macbook-Pro-wannabe “Pixel” has left many tech pundits in disarray. Why release such a high-end computer with such a poor OS and lack of software? Clearly, it will not sell well.

So what.

The Pixel is for Google employees, not us! It’s an old Xerox PARC trick: live 10 years in the future (hardware-wise) so that you can create it (software-wise). That’s what the Google Pixel is about.

Also, it shows Google’s is the one big company left where you can still have fun.

If you do not have a plan for your life, someone else will.

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I’ve said before, glibly, that I think President Obama’s second term will be epic. What do I mean by that? In the first term, there were emergencies that needed to be fixed (economic collapse) and band-aids that could do much good (healthcare). I suggest that President Obama must now fix some of the longterm structural problems with our government. Only a second term president could address these bedrock, “boring” issues. The President must use a combination of inspiration, the bully pulpit, and shame to convince Congress to do the right thing.

Gerrymandering. During the W. era, the Middle East joked of “Mullah Bush”. Common in corrupt countries: once you get elected, you stay elected for life. Luckily, that didn’t happen with Bush/Cheney, but a version is happening across the country in the form of virtually undefeatable Congressional Representatives. A nonpartisan and fair means of forming districts (that allows for both truly competitive elections but still allows diversity across the country) must be established.

Money in local and federal races. The “Citizens United” Supreme Court judgement has had effects from the national to state level. At the national level (Presidential Elections, Senate elections, Governorships) there is roughly a balance of power. But at the state level, small amounts of money can buy a state legislature and judicial system, without anyone noticing. This is deeply troubling for the future of our country. Fix this somehow.

The Senate (over)Filibuster. A true symbol of the dysfunction of government in the past several years, the filibuster rule in the Senate has been abused and must be modified. Unlike the old days reminiscent in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the filibuster is in name only: a whifff of a whim from a single Senator can shut down the Senate’s business. It is currently rests with the majority (60 votes) to overcome the minority objection. The rule must be changed such that the minority must, as was intended, really go out on a limb if they are going to filibuster. For example, let’s make 40 votes a  requirement along with a around the clock preservation from the minority (instead of resting the requirement on the majority) . This would kill the obstructionism common to the “modern” Republican party and restore the President’s ability to nominate reasonable people to vital positions (in other words, staff the government properly).

Equality. The largest structural problem in the state of our society today is the growth of inequality. Partly a result of prior decisions (taxes, deregulation) and partly a result of new economies (computing, finance, etc.). Vast differences in wealth generation in the prior decades have given too much power to a small group of people while other societal changes (the destruction of the union, outsourcing) have limited the collective power of the working class. Somehow, we must move our country in the direction of greater distribution of wealth while still maintaining our capitalistic beliefs in property rights, and so on. Included in this is the a proper re-regulation of finance, see Regulate. We cannot have a country with a vast underclass and a small superclass – it slows our ability to compete internationally and slows humanity’s progress in general. Examples are all around us.

Regulate. The deregulation mantra of the last thirty years too often has effectively meant looting of the public system for the benefit of the few. Finance in particular has taken a too-big-percentage of the national wealth and brain-power. It is now a friction-force on our economy. Solutions to this have been suggested: a small tax on all trades (to limit rapid training and useless profits), break up the too-big-to-fail banks, Glass-Steagal, the Volker Rule. Unfortunately, President Obama missed his greatest chance during the economic crises to truly reform the financial system. Now it will be hard. There is a large addiction to easy money. Nevertheless, this is an addition we must give up.

Prisons and the death penalty. The USA has become a cruel place. We incarcerate a very large fraction of our population. The prison system is now a significant economic investment – and those are addictive (see Regulate). This is not a sustainable or moral path for our country. See Equality and Education. Immediate steps: Stop the death penalty; executive order immediately, law to follow. Close Guantanomo.

Healthcare. I find it bizarre that proponents of “small business” (genuflect when you say that) and entrepreneurship can also be so against universal (or at least effective) healthcare. I wager that if you ask many potential entrepreneurs “what’s holding you back? why don’t you quit tomorrow and start your company?” that you would here a response related to “but I will lose my health insurance.” Health insurance is another tool big companies use to own you, to lock you into the system. Think about this: roughly 2/3 of Americans are overweight. That’s a prior condition. We waste way too much money on our ridiculous, insurance-company-focused instead of health-focused system. This must be fixed.

Education and Integration. I have no idea how to fix the education problems in our country. There has been a huge influx of hispanic immigrants, largely uneducated, with no tradition of education. Whether it was a mistake to allow this to happen is immaterial; it’s already done. Now we must work hard to integrate these people into our society and culture, get them paying taxes, and make sure their children are successful. That means getting those children educated. That means money, it means protecting the fears of the middle class (competition to get into good colleges/schools is ever increasing), it means fixing the equality problem. We must make a renewed commitment to state universities. Harvard must get bigger. I have no idea how to fix the public k-12 system across the country. Charter schools are not the answer. We know that some districts have great schools – and parents can pay a house premium approaching $300k or more to buy into those districts. Bussing is not the answer – that’s not fair to them. All I know is that we must find a way such that every kid can reach their potential.

Science & Technology. So much of our wealth in the USA rests on the investments made in scitech after world war II. The whole world has learned that lesson well, I worry that we can forget it all too easily. A new commitment to designing well-paying and stable careers for our scientists and engineers, welcoming the brains of the world to our shore, and supporting education.

Patents. Wasn’t this just fixed? Um, no. Although the US has gone to a first to file instead of first to discover system, this will only exacerbate the problem with patents today. Patents have become a battleground of the super-companies, and a drag on all other business to the point of unfairness.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the deficit, taxes, or social security, medicare, etc. These are symptoms of the above problems.

RIM’s BlackBerrys Losing Shelf Space, Mindshare Among Carriers – AllThingsD

When do we call it? RIM is dead. Apple is the most valuable company in the world. Android is the best-selling smart phone OS world-wide. Microsoft cannot afford to lose.

Now, what happened with RIM is sad. It’s a good company; they did a great job. Ok, let’s not be overly generous; their phone OS, like Nokia’s, has always been awful. Yes, people loved their Blackberry’s. But people didn’t know any better. RIM’s mistake? They saw an opportunity (to enter the consumer space in a big way) and they took it.

They made a lot of money.

But it wasn’t the heart of the company. Their core competence was with the Blackberry service and with enterprise. They just faked it in the consumer space. RIM rode the wave for a little while then got destroyed by the big boys.

They made a lot of money.

Now they are sinking fast and likely the wake will take them all the way down (leaving nothing or at least much less than what would have been left had they stuck to their market). Sometimes things happen that way.

Linkvie.ws

September 12, 2012

Black Swan Farming. (Paul Graham – How do you wrap your head around a 1000:1 dynamic range in outcomes? You can’t.)

It’s time to get serious about science – The Washington Post. (We are very serious about science. We need to be very serious about good science careers as well.)

The Serious Eats Guide to Sandwiches | Serious Eats. (I want a sandwich.)

Michael Lewis: Obama’s Way | Vanity Fair. (I admit it. I love Michael Lewis.)

Tax evasion in Greece: In flagrante | The Economist. (Culture is hard to change.)

The Wall Street Summer Intern Diaries — Daily Intel. (Early choices lock you in – choose wisely.)

Did Barack Obama Save Ohio? – NYTimes.com. (Humans have an astonishingly ability to convince themselves of anything.)

New Rules – NYTimes.com. (A good article from Friedman – competition is indeed exhilarating – it’s damn tiring somedays.)

Swarm Robots: The droid workforce of the future. (One of those ideas that has been around for 20 years, but the technology is just starting to make it cheap and worth doing.

More data on why people reject science – Respectful Insolence. (We all must be careful to not mix faith with politics and/or science. They are different parts of the brain.)

What Happens to Our Brains During Exercise and Why it Makes Us Happier. (Exercise.)

Merkel Wants to Keep Greece in the Euro Zone – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Merkel thinks she’s all in: she’s going to keep the EU together (by bailing out the financial system) and kick the can down the road till 2013 (after the Bundestag German elections). The problem? She’s really only half in.

How long will the Greek people accept the current situation? (The current situation: austerity, an economy shrinking, pain and humiliation.) They WILL NOT inflict this on themselves for the decades needed for Greece to get back on track. As we have commented before, austerity is not a solution.

A great video. Also check out Steven Johnson’s excellent book. Also check out his recent project The Writing Project on Medium. Also check out his explanation of what he calls a Spark File:

a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, start-ups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books. I now keep it as a Google document so I can update it from wherever I happen to be. There’s no organizing principle to it, no taxonomy–just a chronological list of semi-random ideas that I’ve managed to capture before I forgot them.

via The Spark File — The Writer’s Room — Medium.

I do something very similar. I keep running lists in my trusty moleskin and in a file in my dropbox. This list is just of titles, from near term projects to long term grand plans. Every once in a while I go through my file and my book from cover to cover and am sometimes astonished at what I find (or see repeated multiple times). Those are the things I know I need to do (no matter what the world thinks, I need to do them). I wonder how many other people do something similar? At least one it seems.

On Nokia’s fight for survival

September 10, 2012

Lumia 920I, for one, am proud of Nokia (even though I’ve criticized them in the past for making crappy phone software). They are trying to do something different (unlike Samsung say). Lumia phones are unique and cool hardware-wise. Going all-in with the Microsoft phone OS (formerly known as Metro) instead of Android was a tough, bold call. Things to consider when predicting the success of the Lumia and of Nokia:

  1. Metro gets good reviews (even from people I know who use it).
  2. Metro’s biggest issue: it’s GUI is boring, every app looks the same.
  3. Palm also had an innovative (and competitive to iOS/Android) operating system and good hardware, and failed…hard.
  4. Microsoft has to win this – they need to at least be third and will spend any amount of money to do so (they will buy RIM, twist its enterprise partners arms, etc.), and they have the money.

Knowledge and human power are synonymous, since the ignorance of the cause frustrates the effect, for nature is only subdued by submission.

Francis Bacon – This famous quote, better known as “knowledge is power”, represents his view that the purpose of science is mastery over nature. A champion of the inductive method, his work helped lay the intellectual foundation for the industrial revolution and the dramatic advances in technology over the last three centuries.

The man has an extraordinary ability to deliver a clear and relevant message.

LexusWTF

Lexus has lost its mind. Kia is now, apparently, awesome.

BEGIN RANT

The Camry has been getting progressively uglier with each generation. That virus has now officially jumped species to Lexus. The new 2013 model Lexus ES has an analog clock on the dashboard.

Yes, an analog clock.

It’s hideous. What genius came up with that one? Hey guys, let’s make our luxury cars look like 80s-era Caddies. That’s the demographic we want to aim for.

Is this a joke? I think I’ve seen this in other cars as well. Do people think this is a sign of luxury? Am I really going to buy a 40 thousand plus dollar car with an analog clock?

They could have used that space to put back some useful radio controls, for example. (The completely on-screen radio idea doesn’t really work guys, I want memory buttons).

And it’s uglier than the last model on the outside too. How is that possible?

Meanwhile, Kia’s cars are looking more and more totally awesome. Kia for crying out loud. I heard they hired an ex-Audi designer. It shows.

Is Toyota done? Is Japan done? Is designing a cool looking car that hard for a luxury brand like Lexus? I mean, come on!

END RANT

Toyota: get serious.

Cringely makes a compelling argument that stock market decimilization (allowing shares to be traded to the penny) is the primary cause of the sustained IPO crash in the US since 2000. His article is based on a presentation by David Weild. What’s compelling about this argument is that it gives a more tangible result to the suspected evils of computer generated rapid trading, enabled by this decimilization move. It’s not just that Wall Street has been leaching money from the system (acting as a small friction force), the effect of this regulatory change has (potentially) been to impair the development and creation of new companies.

Wealth creation is just as important as job creation in our economy but too many experts get it wrong when they think wealth creation and wealth preservation are the same things, because they aren’t.

via Ticked off: How stock market decimalization killed IPOs and ruined our economy ~ I, Cringely.

weild

18 million jobs may been created without the move to market decimalization in trading – David Weild

Update: See also the nice article in Wired last month about the lengths Wall Street firms will go to to get a microsecond edge (for the purpose of rapid trading). I’m trying to think of other examples of massive industries that have limitless capital investment capability yet serve no real use to society…

Update 2: So Cringely’s solution is have more IPOs in Hong Kong? That reminds me of the “let’s just let people get drugs from Canada” idea. It doesn’t solve our country’s problem. Pretty disappointing after a good analysis.

 

The Mars Curiosity Rover is on its way. Watch this great rendering of the complete trip.