Regulation Inflation


There’s basically no real inflation in the cost of technology — computers and that sort of stuff are actually getting cheaper. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Have you bought a TV or computer recently? If so, you may have noticed their prices have steeply decreased over the years, while their quality continues to improve. From December 1997 to August 2015, the Consumer Price Index for personal computers and peripheral equipment declined 96 percent. Most of the decline in this index occurred between 1998 and 2003. The price index for TVs decreased 94 percent from December 1997 to August 2015. This decline was more gradual than the decline in the price index for personal computers.


Three Martini Lunch 10/19/15


Greg Corombos of Radio America and Jim Geraghty of National Review enjoy watching Democratic party leaders publicly feud. They also groan as China breaks its word and keeps up its hacking efforts against U.S. firms. And we react to Hillary Clinton’s bizarre laughing fit in reaction to CNN’s Jake Tapper mentioning her emails.


China: Harbinger of a Brave New World


shutterstock_275764925Totalitarianism is a function of technology. Prior to recent times, governments might claim to be absolute, but they did not have the record-keeping, administrative capacity to make good on that claim. Now they can do so far more easily than ever before — without hiring armies of spies. All that they have to do is follow the population on the Internet and use computers to collect and analyze the data. What Google can do, governments can do — and in Xi Jinping’s China that is what they are going to do. As The Weekly Standard reports,

China’s Communist government is rolling out a plan to assign everyone in the country “citizenship scores.” According to the ACLU, “China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, ‘authoritarianism, gamified.’ ” In the system, everyone is measured by a score ranging from 350 to 950, and that score is linked to a national ID card. In addition to measuring your financial credit, it will also measure political compliance. Expressing the wrong opinion—or merely having friends who express the wrong opinion—will hurt your score. The higher your score, the more privileges the government will grant you.


Formal Logic Undressed: The Screencast


On September 21st of this year, I led a workshop on formal logic at the Scala World conference in the beautiful Lake District of England. Although everyone was very kind about it, I completely failed to manage my time adequately, and essentially the last third of the workshop was therefore rushed and probably rendered nearly incomprehensible. So I decided to recreate the workshop as a screencast. It might appeal to those of you who are interested in logic, especially interactive development of proofs with automated tools, as well as to a philosopher or two, and to computer programmers who are curious about the relationship between programming and logic.

The really ambitious are encouraged to install Coq and PeaCoq and follow along at home. :-)


Why Tech Thrives


shutterstock_55125244A friend, an economist at a big-time university, sends along the following materials, asking, impishly, “Is there a pattern here?” First, from the United States, in “Conversations with Tyler”:

TYLER COWEN: Let’s start with some questions about stagnation, Peter. At any point, if you care to add other topics of your own, please do so. You’re well known for arguing, well, “they promised us flying cars and all we got is 140 characters”; “technological progress has slowed down.” How is it you think that we’re most likely to get out of the great stagnation, when that happens?


Three Martini Lunch 10/1/15


Greg Corombos of Radio America and Jim Geraghty of National Review explain why Hillary Clinton is an an increasingly difficult position as more classified emails are released and why her “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” defense is politically unwise. We also rip House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for suggesting the House Benghazi Committee was about damaging Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. And we marvel at the new movie that still claims Dan Rather was telling the truth about the George W. Bush national guard documents that are proven forgeries.


So, What’s the Headline News Today?


Daily-News-headline-newspapersAs you probably know, Google, Facebook, and other news aggregators work very hard to please you. In fact, they’re sort of like the creepiest guy you could imagine dating. (Adapt the simile as appropriate, if you date ladies.)

They study every term you search and think deeply about what it says about you. They remember every link you’ve ever clicked, and they ask themselves, thoughtfully, “What does it mean that she was interested in that?” They keep a list of all your friends. They study what your friends search for and what they click. They know where you live. They know what you buy. They know when you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know when you’ve been good or bad, and they know when you’ve got a touch of the flu.


I, Robot, Am Not Taking Over any Time Soon


NoRobots-300x277In “Conservatives are Too Quick to Dismiss the Rise of the Robots,” James Pethokoukis worries that whereas in the past, technology has given rise to new jobs to replace those lost to innovation, this time it may be different.

James provides us with an excellent specimen of the kind of thinking that constantly causes macroeconomists, politicians, and other self-styled high-level thinkers to make serious errors when analyzing changes to economies and human societies. I’m not picking on James, who’s an otherwise excellent analyst, but on this error, which is so common that it really needs to be discussed.


Facebook Heralds Iconic Woman’s Right Victory


facebook-victoryAs a graphic designer and web developer, I find myself reading a wide variety of sites that hold a pretty liberal view of the world. But when it comes to design principles and development standards, most everyone is on the same page.

Every now and then, however, there comes a disturbance in the flow of modern life. Something so grossly offensive that the false morality and self-righteous indignation come bubbling to the surface, and the offended party feels compelled to speak and act. In this case, a designer at Facebook expressed outrage at yet another example of the bigoted, unequal, and hateful undertones prevalent in our day.


Book Review: “StarTram”


“StarTram” by Powell, Maise, and PellegrinoMagnetic levitation allows suspending a vehicle above a guideway by the force of magnetic repulsion. A train using magnetic levitation avoids the vibration, noise, and rolling resistance of wheels on rails; and its speed is limited only by air resistance and the amount of acceleration passengers consider tolerable. The Shanghai Maglev Train, in service since 2004, is the fastest train in commercial passenger service today, and travels at 431 km per hour in regular operation. Suppose you were able to somehow get rid of the air resistance and carry only cargo, which can tolerate high acceleration. It would appear that if the technical challenges could be met, the sky would be the limit. In this book the authors argue that the sky is just the start.

They propose a space launch system called StarTram, to be developed in two technological generations. The Generation 1 (Gen-1) system is for cargo only, and uses an evacuated launch tube 110 km long in an underground tunnel. This sounds ambitious, but the three tunnels under the English Channel total 150 km, and are much larger than that required for Star Tram. The launcher will be located at a site which allows the tube to run up a mountain, emerging in the thinner air at an altitude between 3 and 7 km. There will be an extreme sonic boom as the launch vehicle emerges from the launch tube at a velocity of around 8 km per second and flies upward through the atmosphere, so the launcher will have to be located in a region where the trajectory downrange for a sufficient distance is unpopulated. Several candidate sites on different continents are proposed.


A Billionaire’s Utopia or How to Run Away From Your Problems


Letting go of a dream:

18m4nob9ni1cijpgTHE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE was the toast of tech entrepreneurs when it received financial backing from venture capitalist Peter Thiel in 2008. Its mission was to build a manmade island nation where inventors could work free of heavy-handed government interference. One early rendering shows an island raised on concrete stilts in eerily calm waters. The buildings atop the platform resemble nothing so much as the swanky tech campus of an entrepreneur’s ultimate dream: No sign of land or civilization in sight. The island, despite appearing strapped for square footage, has room for a full-size swimming pool with deck lounges.


The Short Video Comes Into Its Own


shutterstock_232596862Here at Ricochet, we’re big on reminding you that our site isn’t like the rest of the Internet: we’ve got smarter, better, conversation than you’ll find anywhere else, without the trolls. Our members have real expertise and their posts and comments can and do get picked up in the broader media, which are two two of the many reasons you should join (use the coupon code “MAY” to get a free month).

But we’re not the only ones doing things right. One of the truly great things that’s come out of the last few years is the explosion of the short educational video. Such things predate the YouTube era, of course, but they were more likely to wind-up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 than to be sincerely recommended to — let alone willingly watched by — friends.