Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Innovation recapitulates evolution

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In reading Jim Russell’s interesting article about why some locales (Silicon Valley) thrive while others (Boston’s Route 128) withered, I was struck by the way successful areas offer a rich environment to support the evolution of business by facilitating the exchange of information and personnel. Innovation seems stimulated by the way information quickly percolates through many small-company environments, rather than being locked within a large, vertically integrated company. Russell writes:

Writing for the Urban Land Institute in 2013, Richard Florida posed a rhetorical question, “If cities, as Jane Jacobs so memorably argued, are nonpareil engines of innovation, how is it that high tech—the most innovative of industries—has mostly thrived outside them?” Given that young adult talent prefers to live in cities, Florida dispenses with the query as “moot.” Retorting to Jesse Jackson on Saturday Night Live, the question is not moot.

If suburbs are nonpareil engines of innovation, then how did Silicon Valley eat the lunch of Route 128 (suburban ring around Boston)? For scholar AnnaLee Saxenian, the question wasn’t moot but a dissertation. Why did innovation boom in suburban Silicon Valley but not suburban Boston (Route 128)? History provided Saxenian with a great natural experiment. The geography of innovation didn’t matter. It was controlled. Both places were suburban. Better yet, Saxenian has a null hypothesis. Around 1980, she predicted that San Jose would crumble. It didn’t. Turns out that Boston’s innovation corridor was cursed with a Rust Belt malaise:

The Boston area was organized around these big, vertically integrated minicomputer companies — DEC, Data General. They were classic postwar American companies, with vertical hierarchies and career ladders. Planning and research happened at the top of the organization and then funneled down. Whereas in Silicon Valley you had, really by chance not design, a series of flat companies, with project-based teams that moved around. People moved between companies much more fluidly. At a time that technology and know-how were sort of trapped within the vertically integrated companies of Route 128, they were being continually recombined in Silicon Valley. That gave them a real edge in innovation.

Putting my own spin on Saxenian’s observation, the where of innovation took a backseat to the structure of the company and labor mobility (in the economic sense of the term). When research and development is locked up in a large multinational firm, it is supposed to stay there for the sake of shareholder value and corporate profit. If companies couldn’t protect intellectual property, so the trope goes, they wouldn’t invest in innovation. Silicon Valley proved that such fears were unfounded.

Regarding innovation, the paths of Route 128 and Silicon Valley were divergent. I yield the floor to the words of Harvard economist Edward Glaeser about the work of another economist, when New York City ate Pittsburgh’s lunch: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2014 at 8:35 am

Looking at the currents in the ocean of air we inhabit

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Extremely interesting post by James Fallows. You’ll be glad you clicked the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2014 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

Why Edward Snowden thinks Amazon is “morally irresponsible.”

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I have to agree that Amazon seems to have little interest in protecting information about its customers. Craig Timberg reports in the Washington Post:

Edward Snowden on Friday evening called on Amazon.com, one of the world’s largest retailers, to provide routine encryption for its customers to prevent governments from snooping on the reading habits of their citizens.

Snowden, appearing by video link at a surveillance symposium at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, called Amazon’s practice of allowing customers to browse for books and other goods without encryption “morally irresponsible.”

Many popular online services, such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo, embarked on massive new encryption initiatives after Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, released troves of documents last year detailing how the NSA and its overseas allies collected massive amounts of personal data on people worldwide.

Amazon, whose founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, encrypts transactions as customers enter their credit card information and other purchase details. But searches for products occur in what experts call “plain text,” meaning governments and others with access to Internet traffic can monitor those searches. That includes Internet providers, employers when people use computers at work, or even coffee shops and hotels hosting wifi networks. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2014 at 11:41 am

Australian Physicists Topple the Solar Cell Efficiency Record: 40.4% achieved

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That is amazing—and how they achieved it is fascinating.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2014 at 8:30 pm

Does the Halting Problem Mean No Moral Robots?

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Cute article. Keep in mind, though, that robot cops would not have to have a perfect moral sense: they simply have to offer a measurable improvement over current practice. Certainly existing cops do not have a perfect moral sense, and we get along with that. I imagine we could also get along with imperfect robot cops so long as it’s overall an improvement, failings and all.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2014 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Math, Software, Technology

Secure instant messaging—for free

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Aidan Romero in his comment to an earlier post points out Binfer, which sounds damn good:

Live chat is a lesser known feature of Binfer but packs in quite a punch. Binfer instant messaging is secure, private, encrypted, serverless and free! The big difference between Binfer and other instant messaging programs is that your conversation is not stored on any third party servers. Encrypted text messages transfer directly from sender to receiver.

His comment is to this post about a ludicrously insecure messaging app.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2014 at 10:08 am

Posted in NSA, Technology

Small Kansas Town Takes on AT&T, Offers 1Gbps Internet to Residents

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You may recall that the state legislature in Kansas, at the urging of telecoms, attempted to make it illegal for municipalities to offer broadband services to residents. This (naturally enough) outraged people enough so that the legislature backed off.

And now 1 Gbps broadband seems to be on the way. Read this encouraging story—and note how corporations are totally uninterested in the common welfare.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2014 at 1:39 pm

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