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Does anybody remember switchgrass? For roughly fifteen minutes roughly fifteen years ago, it was A Thing. And when the history of the 21st century is written, it will have Things. In such a history, switchgrass will be a footnote. On one page there will be something like “Very shortly before wealthy nations decided that (1) […]

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I Cut the Cord

 

After threatening to do so for the better part of a year, I finally cut the cord yesterday. I mostly held on this long because of sports. With the exception of a few programs I watch with the girlfriend, or in some cases drink scotch and tolerate, all I watch is sports. I had an irrational fear that I would miss coverage of The Masters, US Open, or football. I should also mention my dog Norman watches The Golf Channel all day while I am at work. So I spent numerous mornings researching and became convinced Hulu Live was the right mix.

Still, I did not make the move. I decided I would downgrade to basic cable first — incrementalism people! I logged into my cable account where I was promptly asked if I wanted to upgrade with HBO. I then looked for how to change my services — it was nowhere to be found. They were ready and willing with a “team member” available to chat if I wanted to upgrade. So, I clicked yes, assuming if they could add services they could also take services away. Wrong. “That is not my department.”

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This week my guest is the person who deserves to be known as the Robert Caro of energy history—Robert L. Bradley Jr. Rob is the founder of the Institute for Energy Research, one of the best go-to sources for information and analysis about energy (and especially debunking the nonsense energy romanticism of the left), but […]

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Judge Koh Is No 5G Wiz

 

Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California gave the Federal Trade Commission an enormous victory this past week in its antitrust lawsuit against Qualcomm. Her conclusion was that “Qualcomm’s licensing practices have strangled competition” in key markets to the detriment of rivals, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and consumers.

Her solution was a stern edict that at a minimum forces Qualcomm to abandon its “no-license, no chip” policy in three key ways. First, as that label suggests, Qualcomm may no longer sell its chips only to parties who have already obtained a license—perfectly proper under patent law—to use chips that contain Qualcomm’s patented technology. Second, Qualcomm must renegotiate all of its contracts worldwide to make sure that it only charges “fair and reasonable rates” for all of its technology and chipsets, including now required sales to its direct competitors in the 5G market. Third, the order prohibits Qualcomm from entering into “any express or de facto exclusive dealing relationships” with its customers. As the Wall Street Journal wrote, Judge Koh’s “Qualcomm coup” effectively “kneecaps” the major American player in the 5G market.

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The era of free lunches is over, at least in the tech industry. For decades Big Tech has relied on exponential growth in computing power to compensate for deficiencies in everything from management practices to programmer training. But no longer. The end of Moore’s law (the observation that transistor density tended to double every two […]

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Why America’s Social Media Firms Aren’t ‘Parasites’

 

It’s hard to be a big tech company these days without somebody rooting for your demise. But some cases are a bit more understandable than others. Like this one: “Bannon says killing Huawei more important than trade deal with China.” I mean, I get it. Former Trump White House adviser and nationalist Steve Bannon wants America to launch and win a Tech Cold War against China. Taking an ax to what might be its most important tech company, a key player in the global 5G rollout, might be a big step forward in such a plan.

But it’s not Americans wanting to shut down just Chinese tech companies. Sometimes it’s Americans going after American firms. “Maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared,” writes Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, in an op-ed for USA Today. And his problem isn’t just with the social media giant run by Mark Zuckerberg. According to Hawley, Twitter and Instagram, though oddly not YouTube, are also “best understood as a parasite on productive investment, on meaningful relationships, on a healthy society,” He claims they’ve created an “addiction economy” based on extracting and selling data gleaned from uninformed users. The first sentence of the piece: “Social media consumers are getting wise to the joke that when the product is free, they’re the ones being sold.”

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How Is This Tech Cold War with China Supposed to Work, Exactly?

 

Let’s assume the Trump White House blacklisting of Huawei in effect marks the beginning of a full-fledged Tech Cold War between America and China, complete with a Digital Iron Curtain. The full metaphor. How then does the conflict end in an American victory? And what does that even look like? Have the tech cold warriors, both within the White House and externally, given serious thought to any of this?

We know how the more comprehensive Cold War 1.0 concluded, with the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in 1991. It was a collapse that some predicted was inevitable. But at the time many others thought the scenario so unlikely as to be unworthy of speculation. The whole idea of 1970s detente was based on the perceived durability of the USSR. And this view held nearly to the very end. For example: The 1984 film “2010: The Year We Make Contact” was a sequel to the 1968 Stanley Kubrick-directed film “2001: A Space Odyssey” and concerns a joint US-USSR deep space mission.

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Jim is back! Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America get a kick out of New Yorkers bluntly rejecting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2020 presidential bid but it does give Greg an idea of how to thin the 24-candidate field. They also applaud Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai for giving […]

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Member Post

 

I’m sorry, but this is a “get off my lawn” vent. I’m sick and tired of reading a one paragraph news story followed by a dozens of tweets implying “this is what people are thinking”. No, it’s not. There was already a news article out there about a poll that said how 80% of all […]

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Should We Tax Facebook and Google So They Change Their Business Models?

 

Paul Romer.
Is Big Tech today as dangerous as Big Money a decade ago? Economist and Nobel laureate Paul Romer seems to think there are disturbing similarities. In a New York Times op-ed, Romer advocates taxing revenue from the sales of targeted digital ads to check the size and power of “dominate digital platforms,” specifically Facebook and Google. “Our digital platforms may not be too big to fail,” he writes. “But they are too big to trust.” Romer’s policy goal is to nudge these companies away from the original sin of advertising-driven business models, and Romer sees a Pigovian tax as a more efficient way to reduce their size and influence than antitrust or regulation. He doesn’t like targeted ads, nor the financial power they generate.

Romer’s approach toward Big Tech might sound familiar to anyone who followed the post-Financial Crisis debate about Wall Street and “too big to fail.” Among the policy options for taming the megabanks and de-risking their business models were regulation, antitrust, or higher capital requirements. That last one, advocates argued, was the most efficient and market-friendly way of making failure less likely, potentially serving as a de facto tax on bigness, or even spurring a self-initiated breakup.

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One of the biggest debates ongoing within the right involves the regulation of Big Tech companies, namely Twitter, FaceBook, and Google. Briefly, the populists are on one side. They believe that American tech companies should follow free speech principles despite being private companies. Opposing them are the free marketeers, who also disagree with what these […]

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Home Automation, 1990s Style

 

It is a truism that the cobbler’s children have no shoes, the carpenter’s house has a leaky roof, and none of the plumber’s own toilets flush properly. I would add to that: An electrical engineer’s home wiring is a mysterious network none other should touch. My best friend is an engineer (mechanical, so his cars are always in need of repair), and has described all engineers as inherently lazy and misdirected. “You see” he likes to start, “Engineers hate doing any work, even simple work, and so they spend their life’s energies devoted to finding ways to avoid it, even if the quest for said ways takes far longer, and requires more blood, sweat, and tears than just doing the job in the first place.” When you turn loose such an engineer on a house and its wiring, you begin an adventure in electrical mystery, complete with enough random strobing lights, and lights that mysteriously turn on or off, to put the Winchester Mansion to shame. Electrical engineers can do far more than any mere eldritch forces.

Enter my father. Long before the current home automation push, with Nest Thermostats and WiFi lightbulbs and every tech company having a mic in every room to spy on you, and a speaker to flatter you about said spying, my father had the notion that a computer controlled and networked house was a sure-fire winner, and to demonstrate this he decided that our house would be the guinea pig. And why not? It was getting remodeled and expanded, and that made for the perfect opportunity to put in the network wire and junction boxes all over. It sounded good in theory, and moreover he already had the experience in creating the first smart and computerized electrical systems in vocational trucks (the term you hear today is “Multiplexed”), reducing the miles and miles of point-to-point wiring, mechanical switching, relay banks, stacks of relay logic, and all the days of labor associated with wiring up a truck. All of that was reduced to a single smart panel, entirely solid state, and that was in the late 1980s. By the early 90s, he was ready to apply those concepts to a house.

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The FTC Unfriends Facebook

 

While Facebook thrives in the marketplace, the company is under siege by angry critics both inside and outside of government over privacy issues. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claims that Facebook violated its 2011 privacy consent decree and may impose a fine on the company of up to $5 billion. The FTC alleges that Facebook did not do enough to protect user data from being improperly exploited by Cambridge Analytica, which used that data to supply strategy advice to the Trump campaign.

In one sense, the fine is the least of Facebook’s worries; other initiatives are in development to alter the way the company does business. With her usual lack of caution, Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for the breakup of Facebook, Amazon, and Google on the ground that their allegedly monopolistic practices tend to squash smaller upstarts, leading to what she laments as a rapid decline in competition and innovation across an industry that has been defined by fierce competition and high levels of innovation. Warren doubled down on her position by recently unveiling a new bill imposing criminal liability—including jail time—on corporate executives for simple negligence in carrying out their manifold duties.

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David French of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America have a strong difference of opinion about Tiger Woods, but both are impressed by the comeback Woods pulled off to recover from debilitating injuries and win a fifth Masters green jacket. They also enjoy watching House Speaker Nancy Pelosi try to downplay how socialists […]

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Quote of the Day – Dare to Fail Greatly

 

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. – Robert F. Kennedy

Yes, the man who said this is Bobby Kennedy, a man disliked by the right and who should be distrusted by the left. (Robert Kennedy worked for Joe McCarthy and at the time apparently liked the work.) But when someone is right about something, pay attention, perhaps especially if you dislike the person.

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The Evangelical Statement on Artificial Intelligence can be found here. When the Nashville statement came out I enthusiastically signed it. I have not regretted that decision. I now think that some of its detractors made better criticisms than I realized at the time. Preston Sprinkle is not numbered among them, his thoughts were well intentioned […]

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Twitter Ain’t America

 

An appropriately Twitteresque meme circulated recently on that platform: Write a sad story in just three words. This was an homage to Ernest Hemingway, who, challenged to write a sad story in only six words, grabbed the nearest blank paper and scrawled, “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Or so the story goes. It’s too good to check. Responses to the three-word challenge ran the gamut from “People trust CNN,” to “Trump elected again.” I suggested, “Twitter represents America.”

It would be a sad story if it were true, but there are many reasons to doubt that Twitter represents anything other than a cacophony of curmudgeons.

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Quote of the Day: Computers

 

“On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’…I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”
Charles Babbage, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), p. 67

Computers. When designed properly, they do precisely what they are told. They do not interpret, they need to be explicitly instructed on what exactly to do. However, when you get them going, they give you incredible capabilities. During WW2, people would have sacrificed armies to obtain the computing power in your cell phone. Even a simple flip phone has more power than all the computers in existence at the time. Charles Babbage could have revolutionized history, had manufacturing been up to the task — William Gibson’s novel The Difference Engine posits just such a future. (It was the beginning of the Steampunk genre)

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Welcome to the Harvard Lunch Club political podcast for April 3, 2019, episode number 218 (!!!) it is the Tactile Politics edition of the show with your touchy-feely hosts radio guy Todd Feinburg and AI guy Mike Stopa. This week, we return to an earlier era where we used to bring you *three* topics. Yes! […]

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