Thursday, July 23, 2015

Friday Thinking 24 July 2015

Hello – Friday Thinking is curated on the basis of my own curiosity and offered in the spirit of sharing. Many thanks to those who enjoy this. 

This week's Friday Thinking is a little longer that usual. I will be completely off the 'grid' from the 29th July to 9th August - gazing at my navel for 10 days. So the next Friday Thinking will be on 14th of August.

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

According to Morgan Stanley, complete autonomous capability will be here by 2022, followed by massive market penetration by 2026 and the cars we know and love today then entirely extinct in another 20 years thereafter.
Granted, this is only one estimate of many and it’s all educated guesswork. So here are some other estimates:
  • Navigant Research: “By 2035, sales of autonomous vehicles will reach 95.4 million annually, representing 75% of all light-duty vehicle sales.”
  • IHS Automotive: “There should be nearly 54 million self-driving cars in use globally by 2035.”
  • ABI Research: “Half of new vehicles shipping in North America to have driverless, robotic capabilities by 2032.”
  • Nissan: “In 2020 we’re talking more autonomous drive capability. It’s going to be an evolutionary process and 2020 will be the first year to truly see some of these capabilities start to be introduced in the vehicle.”
A company named Veeo Systems is developing vehicles as small as 2-seaters to as large as 70-seat buses, and will be testing them in 30 US cities by the end of 2016.

At 25 to 40 percent cheaper, the cost to ride the driverless public transit vehicles will be significantly less expensive than traditional buses and trains… The vehicles are electric, rechargeable and could cost as low as $1 to $3 to run per day.

The answer to the big question of “When?” for self-driving trucks is that they can essentially hit our economy at any time.
Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

...The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies – the giant tech companies – on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

...we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world – Wikipedia – is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.

If we restate Arrow’s principle in reverse, its revolutionary implications are obvious: if a free market economy plus intellectual property leads to the “underutilisation of information”, then an economy based on the full utilisation of information cannot tolerate the free market or absolute intellectual property rights. The business models of all our modern digital giants are designed to prevent the abundance of information.

For the past 25 years economics has been wrestling with this problem: all mainstream economics proceeds from a condition of scarcity, yet the most dynamic force in our modern world is abundant.

...So how do we visualise the transition ahead? The only coherent parallel we have is the replacement of feudalism by capitalism – and thanks to the work of epidemiologists, geneticists and data analysts, we know a lot more about that transition than we did 50 years ago when it was “owned” by social science. The first thing we have to recognise is: different modes of production are structured around different things. Feudalism was an economic system structured by customs and laws about “obligation”. Capitalism was structured by something purely economic: the market. We can predict, from this, that postcapitalism – whose precondition is abundance – will not simply be a modified form of a complex market society. But we can only begin to grasp at a positive vision of what it will be like.

The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy: between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.
The end of capitalism has begun

This is a must see 3 min video - clarifies the state of the educated youth and a healthy response to austerity in the post-industrial economy.

Because You're Worthless - Challenging The Current Economic System in 3 Minutes

Poem by Agnes Török on the news of a new Conservative budget. Based on experiences of living in Britain under austerity as a young, queer, unemployed, female immigrant student - and not taking it any more.

This is a lovely graphic presentation by the BBC about the future of being-becoming human.
For Professor Yuval Noah Harari from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the merging of man and machine will be the “greatest evolution in biology.”

“I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so Homo sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic. It will be the greatest evolution in biology since the appearance of life. Nothing really has changed in four billion years biologically speaking. But we will be as different from today’s humans as chimps are now from us.”

But what role will the internet and all its devices – ever smaller and ever closer to us – play in this great evolution? Meet E-man…

This is a short article by John Hagel - well worth the read.

Minimum Viable Transformation

Scaling the edge to create new business value
To succeed in today’s networked economy, businesses must participate in dynamic, evolving networks of diverse organizations. And while such networks can be difficult to navigate, they offer companies the opportunity to evolve their business models, deepen skills and knowledge, expand into new markets, and scale operations.

To stay viable amid accelerating change, businesses themselves must change more frequently—and in ways that use their business ecosystems as fertile ground for collaboration and transformation. This is not a new concept, though it is more crucial today than ever.[approach] that can reduce risk and still retain the potential to transform an entire organization. Focused on “scaling edges,” it identifies a promising “edge” business for the organization, then grows that edge until it becomes a viable new core or complementary line of business. Such an approach can make it possible for businesses to reinvent themselves while minimizing potential risks—and maximizing impact.

An edge is a growth opportunity that has the potential to scale—so much so that it can catalyze change, eventually becoming effective enough to replace the core of the business. A true edge should align with larger trends disrupting the industry. Edges involve fundamentally different business models and practices from those of the core. Minimum viable transformation
One method used to scale edges is minimum viable transformation. Here, a company pulls together the essential elements of a new business model into a barely working construct, one specifically designed to test key risks. Minimum viable products, for example, are like prototypes—except that instead of being tinkered with internally, they’re immediately thrown at the market and subjected to trial by fire.

This is a recent 42 min video by John Hagel presenting on the nature of today’s organizational challenges and why scaling efficiency is being displaced by scaling learning. A great discussion well worth the view.

Scaling Edges, Navigating Through Disruption - John Hagel, at USI

We are entering increasingly disruptive times that will challenge us to transform our business in profound ways. Conventional approaches to transformation are rarely successful, but the same forces that are creating disruption give us the tools to pursue much more promising approaches to transformation. Scaling edges represents a much more promising approach to transformation, but are you willing to go to the edge?

This is a longish interview with Gar Alperovitz. The article is well worth the read in that it Gar is deeply knowledgeable about cooperatives and how they can form sound alternatives to new forms of institutions for cities in the emerging economy of the 21rst century.

Does Cleveland Know the Secret to Building Wealth Without Gentrification?

….Some cities still have a political structure that can tax, and allocations can be used for interesting purposes. More important, many of the larger cities established universities and health systems during the era of industrial development. And these institutions are anchored—they don’t get up and move—and are actually channels for a lot of public money.

They also have populations that are under intense pressure, so there’s the possibility of different politics, and you can begin to generate models that are essentially quasi-socialist models. Not around state ownership, but around more complex communities/worker structures. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of large-scale worker cooperatives and other firms are in part supported by the purchasing power of hospitals and universities that, in turn, have a good deal of public funding.

It’s also a model that in many cases is workable, politically, but one that also introduces entirely different principles. I’m as interested in what principles such models teach as in the terms of the models themselves. This is a country with little socialist tradition in the modern era. So it doesn’t know that changing the ownership of capital is important. It matters who owns capital, and this idea is not widely understood. It’s not an idea in the times, and it’s not even an idea in the culture. How do you introduce the notion that common ownership and democratic ownership is an important principle in the political economy in such a culture?

In cities it can be done. Cities can do that. In real-life terms.

Here’s an alternative point of view to the spate of recent criticism of Uber. To be clear I don’t think Uber is part of the ‘collaborative economy’ however, it is disrupting the incumbents and this article highlights some of the reasons that is a good thing.

How Uber is ending the dirty dealings behind Toronto's cab business

On the streets of Toronto, there’s a story that’s gone on for way too long – the dirty dealings behind the cab business. But things are changing. Let’s have a look.
In September 2012, one of Toronto’s taxi licenses sold for $360,000. As it turned out, this was a peak that presaged a major slide. By 2013, the average selling price of a cab plate had fallen to $153,867. In 2014, it was $118,235.

The reason behind this plunge is Uber, the online service that lets you order a ride through your smartphone. By the looks of it, Uber may drive a stake through the heart of the cab business. It’s about time.

I discovered that almost none of Toronto’s city-issued taxi licenses – known as “plates” – were in the hands of working cab drivers. Instead, they were held by people who made others pay to use them.

Among the key players was Mitch Grossman, a businessman whose family had collected more than 100 plates. These plates gave Grossman a pharaoh’s power.
If a driver wanted to use one of his family’s plates, Grossman could force him to buy an overpriced car from his sales operation, finance it through a family firm called Symposium Finance (where rates reached 28 per cent) then join Royal Taxi, the Grossman family’s taxi brokerage.

To get around the municipal bylaw against plate leasing, Grossman forced the driver to put the car he had just purchased in the name of one Grossman’s companies, so the names on the plate and the car matched. Not one of the licenses held by Grossman and his family were in their own names. Instead, they were held by companies, most of them numbered. (By doing more than 1,500 corporate searches we determined who was actually behind Toronto’s taxi licenses.)

This is likely not a surprise to many people but another transition point approaches in the disruption of traditional TV broadcast media.

People Watch More YouTube Than Ever Before – Especially On Their Phones

YouTube is bigger than cable TV. Well, to be more precise, it’s bigger than any single U.S. cable network among the key demographic that includes those ages 18 to 49 – or so said Google during yesterday’s earnings call. The video-sharing network’s heavily engaged user base and its traction with mobile consumers were among the highlights discussed during the company’s better-than-expected second-quarter financial results, which sent Google’s stock spiking.

Google’s Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani noted that visitors to YouTube’s homepage are up over three times year-over-year, and once there, they’re spending more time watching videos on the site than ever before. Growth in “watch time” on YouTube is now up 60 percent year-over-year, the company said – which is the fastest growth rate it has seen in two years. Meanwhile, mobile watch time has more than doubled from a year ago.

On mobile, YouTube is now seeing average session times of over 40 minutes, said Kordestani, which is up more than 50 percent over last year.

These numbers reflect a significant sea change in the way that people today are consuming video content. We’re no longer spending as much time watching big screen TV in living rooms, but are shifting much of our viewing to other platforms, including our phones and tablets. For YouTube in particular, session times of this length mean that the video-sharing network is no longer just a place users land to watch a single video – like something they’ve been pointed to via a friend, or a post on social media or a news site, for example. Instead, YouTube is now serving as a place where users are watching a series of videos back-to-back.

This is both cool and suggests how small science projects and experiments can be funded in general and even within large organizations - including government organizations.

Woman raised $1.2 million with a spirited 3-minute speech

Cindy Wu, a recent college graduate, had a great idea — and when she explained it, investors opened up their checkbooks
As research costs go, Cindy Wu, a 22-year-old student from Bellevue at the University of Washington wasn’t asking for much — $5,000 would cover the antibodies and the flow cytometer. And her idea was compelling: She had been part of an award-winning undergraduate team that had created an enzyme to treat anthrax by stripping away a coating that prevented the immune system from recognizing the bacteria as a threat; now, she wanted to use the same enzyme to target the same coating on staph bacteria.
Wu asked her professor where she could apply for the money. “You can’t,” he told her, “because you are 22 years old and you don’t have a Ph.D. and you don’t want more than $25,000.” A simple experiment, with potentially far reaching consequences (hospitals are stalked by staph bacteria) suddenly became impossibly challenging — for all the wrong reasons.

How many great or even just good research ideas, she wondered, had died because they hadn’t fit precisely into the government’s formula for science funding, because — absurdly — they required too little money or came too early in a researcher’s career? As she thought about how scientific research was funded in academia, its conservatism, its aversion to taking risks, its shrinking availability, it seemed more than just a problem for 20-somethings like herself: to move up the career ladder from graduate student to post doc to faculty often meant that you might never get to do that experiment you really wanted to do — that experiment that might change the world.

“Why can’t we just create a Kiva for scientists?” asked her best friend, Denny Luan, a biochemistry and economics major, who had launched a branch of the crowd funded micro-finance site (motto: “Empower people around the world with a $25 loan”) at the University of Washington. It seemed odd that there were crowd-funding platforms for almost everything but scientific research. Why couldn’t scientists have their own Kickstarter? Instead of just dreaming, Wu recalls, “we were like, ‘well … we should just try to build one and see if it works.”

Two years on and with a smart name change, “Experiment” has launched 5,058 projects and funded 336 of them. Current projects include research into making anesthesia safer for dogs through nutrition, sequencing the Black Rhino genome, restoring freshwater biodiversity, and finding a cure for Batten disease.
Here’s the Experiment - ‘Kickstarter for science’ site

Speaking about video here’s a great article about a new way to teach kids how to code.  


I'm in a laboratory at Drexel University watching a remote-controlled robot do a spastic breakdance across the floor. The fist-sized, brightly colored bot looks simple enough: It has two wheels, two antennae, and what appears to be a friendly face. But it has a mission much bigger and more ambitious than its tiny form factor: This thing wants to teach kids how to become programmers.

This freewheeling toy android comes from a young startup called LocoRobo. Its moves are set using a mobile app that allows the user to program simple actions: go forward, accelerate, spin around, stop. And while plenty of kids would be content to play with a smartphone-controlled toy robot, LocoRobo wants to let them dig much deeper into the code and sensors that make it work.

"The power of LocoRobo is that it's a robot that grows with the child," says Pramod Abichandani, the Drexel professor and roboticist who founded LocoRobo along with four engineering students at the university. "There's no barrier to entry: It's like using a simple RC car-like interface. But the barrier to exit is really high. You can keep on learning and learning until the robot breaks down."

It works like this: After you tap a few commands into LocoRobo's app, two things happen. One, the robot does what you told it to do, thanks to a low-power Bluetooth connection between the phone and the robot. Second, those commands are synced via the cloud and saved within a web interface. From here, you can revisit past actions and, more importantly, get a hands-on peek at the code that makes the bot move. As easily as one can click "view source" on a website to see the HTML under the hood, LocoRobo's web interface lets you peel back the curtain and see the code behind each of the movements and behaviors you've asked the robot to do, effectively open-sourcing the toy's behavior. From there, you can tinker with the code itself, unlocking new movements and functionality not previously possible.

And more robotics aimed for augmenting your home life.

Companies are making human-like robots and they think they've stumbled on the biggest thing since the iPhone

Downloading apps on your own personal robot may become as common as downloading apps on your smartphone.

Robot makers Jibo and Blue Frog Robotics are creating social robots that are aimed at living with humans and in order to entice consumers they are selling them for about the same cost as an iPhone.

Jibo’s robot called Jibo is priced at about $749 for pre-order and Blue Frog Robotics’ robot called Buddy is priced at $549.
But these companies are also promising consumers that these little live-in robots are going to become the biggest platform since Apple’s iPhone, capable of performing all kinds of functions via apps.

Both the Jibo robot and Buddy include all kinds of features, like facial recognition, text to speech and other functions, all of which developers can take advantage of. For example, one app could be programmed to take a picture every time it spots someone it doesn’t recognize or snap a photo of a person it does recognize.

And speaking of new ways learning this is a Google talk about Dragonbox a game that teaches math to kids without them having to realize they are learning math.

Jean-Baptiste Huynh: "Redesigning the Math Experience - Lessons from DragonBox"

Jean-Baptiste Huynh describes the making of the award winning algebra and geometry games DragonBox and DragonBox Elements and explain why he believes it is possible to dramatically increase the math proficiency among younger children through the use of well designed games. Huynh talks about mathematics didactics, game design and how he sees user interface design. He also speaks of the development process to create the DragonBox games.
Here is a 6 min video demonstration of the game

France Algebra Challenge 2014

There is a lot being written on the Greece crisis and the EU’s approach - my personal view is that Greece is highlighting a point of transition - at minimum it is a spark that may well ignite the final days of monetarist policy that was ushered in by the Reagan, Thatcher, Mulrooney governments. This is one of many articles, papers, critiques in this global moment of economic transition.

How Goldman Sachs Profited From the Greek Debt Crisis

The investment bank made millions by helping to hide the true extent of the debt, and in the process almost doubled it.
The Greek debt crisis offers another illustration of Wall Street’s powers of persuasion and predation, although the Street is missing from most accounts.

The crisis was exacerbated years ago by a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein. Blankfein and his Goldman team helped Greece hide the true extent of its debt, and in the process almost doubled it. And just as with the American subprime crisis, and the current plight of many American cities, Wall Street’s predatory lending played an important although little-recognized role.

In 2001, Greece was looking for ways to disguise its mounting financial troubles. The Maastricht Treaty required all eurozone member states to show improvement in their public finances, but Greece was heading in the wrong direction. Then Goldman Sachs came to the rescue, arranging a secret loan of 2.8 billion euros for Greece, disguised as an off-the-books “cross-currency swap”—a complicated transaction in which Greece’s foreign-currency debt was converted into a domestic-currency obligation using a fictitious market exchange rate.

As a result, about 2 percent of Greece’s debt magically disappeared from its national accounts. Christoforos Sardelis, then head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, later described the deal to Bloomberg Business as “a very sexy story between two sinners.” For its services, Goldman received a whopping 600 million euros ($793 million), according to Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over from Sardelis in 2005. That came to about 12 percent of Goldman’s revenue from its giant trading and principal-investments unit in 2001—which posted record sales that year. The unit was run by Blankfein.

Now here’s a Guardian article that follows in the path that Jeremy Rifkin has already suggested is the inevitable trajectory of the 21st Century. This is a long article - but well worth the read - a must read.

The end of capitalism has begun

Without us noticing, we are entering the postcapitalist era. At the heart of further change to come is information technology, new ways of working and the sharing economy. The old ways will take a long while to disappear, but it’s time to be utopian
The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

This is an interesting piece for everyone concerned with the economics of creative work.

Why give away your work for free?

What do acclaimed authors Cory Doctorow, Paulo Coelho, Neil Gaiman, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss and Hugh Howey all have in common?
They give away their best work — for free.
“I’ve been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money…”

“When my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor Books in January 2003, I also put the entire electronic text of the novel on the Internet under a Creative Commons License that encouraged my readers to copy it far and wide. Within a day, there were 30,000 downloads from my site (and those downloaders were in turn free to make more copies).”

“My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity, and free ebooks generate more sales than they displace.”

“Most people who download the book don’t end up buying it, but they wouldn’’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’’t lost any sales, I’’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for the printed book–those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the e-book as an enticement to buy the printed book. They’re gained sales.

Here’s an interesting article suggesting the aim of some social platforms to ‘enclose’ the internet within a walled mall.

Facebook Wants to Own Your Life, Not Imitate Amazon

TECH GIANTS INCREASINGLY want to be the one and only stop for every aspect of your life. They want to be where you go to socialize with friends, where you go to read the news, and where you go to be entertained—without ever leaving their enclave.
They also want to be the place where you go to shop.

As first reported by BuzzFeed, Facebook announced this week that it has begun testing virtual storefronts on company Pages, so consumers can shop without ever leaving its app or site. Google too is now testing an e-commerce option to let mobile users make purchases directly in search results via shopping ads that pop up at the top.

“Buy buttons” and in-app purchases aren’t new. Facebook and Twitter have both been testing such buttons in ads since last year, and Pinterest rolled out buyable pins in June. These platforms may not be the first place you’d think of to do your online shopping. But the push into more naturally integrated e-commerce makes sense, even if the real goal isn’t to become a retail hub.

These tech titans don’t necessarily want, or need, to replace a shopping site like Amazon, or even the IRL Walmart. But with millions of people signing onto Facebook and searching in Google daily, adding another seamless in-house service has bottom-line appeal. What’s for an advertiser not to love about buying an ad that itself is also a way to make a purchase? As for consumers, in-app purchases mean you never have to leave, which is exactly what these companies want.

Here is a short article on the current state of the newspaper industry - the graph is worth a thousand words.

Mid-year report: The newspaper industry’s billion dollar challenge

Here is one way to look at the business-model challenge for newspaper organizations: every year that print advertising revenues fall a billion dollars or more, the companies need to generate a billion or more in other revenue growth to stay even.

Mid summer, 2015 is shaping up as another such year, and it again seems unlikely that that much new revenue can be found.  The math is daunting.

Consider paywalls. Phased in at different times over the last five years at different companies, digital subscriptions and price increases for print seem to typically have generated a 10 percent circulation revenue gain, even as print circulation volume declines.

Project that 10 percent industry wide on total circulation revenue of about $11 billion and that’s enough to cover a billion or more in print advertising losses.  But it’s a one time event — so that’s not where the next billion will be coming from.

Here’s a short and interesting article discussing the looming rise in the power of algorithms, computer power (and eventually blockchain technologies) to impact the future work of lawyers.

Judgment By Algorithm – Silicon Valley Codes The Court System

Imagine working out a divorce without hiring an attorney or stepping into court or disputing the tax assessment on your home completely online.

A Silicon Valley company is starting to make both possibilities a reality with software that experts say represents the next wave of technology in which the law is turned into computer code that can solve legal battles without the need for a judge or attorney.

“We’re not quite at the Google car stage in law, but there are no conceptual or technical barriers to what we’re talking about,” said Oliver Goodenough, director of the Center for Legal Innovation at Vermont Law School, referring to Google’s self-driving car.

The computer programs, at least initially, have the ability to relieve overburdened courts of small claims cases, traffic fines and some family law matters. But Goodenough and other experts envision a future in which even more complicated disputes are resolved online, and they say San Jose, California-based Modria has gone far in developing software to realize that.

“There is a version of the future when computers get so good that we trust them to play this role in our society, and it lets us get justice to more people because it’s cheaper and more transparent,” said Colin Rule, Modria’s co-founder.

Officials in Ohio are using Modria’s software to resolve disputes over tax assessments and keep them out of court, and a New York-based arbitration association has deployed it to settle medical claims arising from certain types of car crashes.
In the Netherlands, Modria software is being used to guide people through their divorces.

This is a longish article but the graphs and data in it are worth the read. The emergence of the self-driving truck is going to disrupt a lot more than transportation.

Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

The imminent need for basic income in recognition of our machine-driven future
It should be clear ... how dependent the American economy is on truck drivers. According to the American Trucker Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and an additional 5.2 million people employed within the truck-driving industry who don’t drive the trucks. That’s 8.7 million trucking-related jobs.

We can’t stop there though, because the incomes received by these 8.2 million people create the jobs of others. Those 3.5 million truck drivers driving all over the country stop regularly to eat, drink, rest, and sleep. Entire businesses have been built around serving their wants and needs. Think restaurants and motels as just two examples. So now we’re talking about millions more whose employment depends on the employment of truck drivers. But we still can’t even stop there.

Those working in these restaurants and motels along truck-driving routes are also consumers within their own local economies. Think about what a server spends her paycheck and tips on in her own community, and what a motel maid spends from her earnings into the same community. That spending creates other paychecks in turn. So now we’re not only talking about millions more who depend on those who depend on truck drivers, but we’re also talking about entire small town communities full of people who depend on all of the above in more rural areas. With any amount of reduced consumer spending, these local economies will shrink.

One further important detail to consider is that truck drivers are well-paid. They provide a middle class income of about $40,000 per year. That’s a higher income than just about half (46%) of all tax filers, including those of married households. They are also greatly comprised by those without college educations. Truck driving is just about the last job in the country to provide a solid middle class salary without requiring a post-secondary degree. Truckers are essentially the last remnant of an increasingly impoverished population once gainfully employed in manufacturing before those middle income jobs were mostly all shipped overseas.

This is an excellent shortish article looking at the faster than expected decrease in electric battery production.

Electric vehicle batteries are getting cheaper much faster than we expected

And automakers are using those economies of scale to jump into stationary storage.
Earlier this year, Telsa Motors made headlines when it announced that the company would start selling Tesla-branded stationary storage batteries. The move was expected, but a bit odd—battery storage for homes has been around for years, but it has never really been cost-effective enough in most households to merit the kind of treatment that Tesla gave it. While Tesla successfully nurtured a luxury electric vehicle market, it still seemed out of place to see a luxury brand going out of its way to put car batteries on homes.

The truly surprising part of Tesla's Powerwall announcement, however, was its price point. In 2014, the average cost of installing a stationary Li-ion battery in a California home was $23,429, according to The Wall Street Journal. In May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that these batteries would start at $3,500, plus a $500 installation cost.

...Beyond Tesla, however, a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change gathered data to confirm that the cost of Li-ion battery packs for electric vehicles are falling for everyone. … The research suggests that the cost of producing battery packs for electric vehicles has fallen dramatically between 2007 and 2014, to lower price points than previous optimistic projections had expected.

What they found was that the cost of battery backs for electric vehicles has decreased from about $1,000 per kWh in 2007 to about $450 per kWh in 2014. And that's taking all battery electric vehicle manufacturers into account. When you separate out the largest companies making electric vehicles, the cost reductions get even more dramatic. “[T]he cost of battery packs used by market-leading BEV manufacturers are even lower, at US$300 per kWh,” the researchers added.

There is a lot of controversy around the domestication of DNA when it concerns food. This is a very long article - that sheds some light on some of this controversy.

Unhealthy Fixation

The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fear mongering, errors, and fraud. Labeling them will not make you safer.
Is genetically engineered food dangerous? Many people seem to think it is. In the past five years, companies have submitted more than 27,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, which certifies goods that are free of genetically modified organisms. Last year, sales of such products nearly tripled. Whole Foods will soon require labels on all GMOs in its stores. Abbott, the company that makes Similac baby formula, has created a non-GMO version to give parents “peace of mind.” Trader Joe’s has sworn off GMOs. So has Chipotle.

Some environmentalists and public interest groups want to go further. Hundreds of organizations, including Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Center for Food Safety, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are demanding “mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Since 2013, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed laws to require GMO labels. Massachusetts could be next.

The central premise of these laws—and the main source of consumer anxiety, which has sparked corporate interest in GMO-free food—is concern about health. Last year, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans said it’s generally “unsafe to eat genetically modified foods.” Vermont says the primary purpose of its labeling law is to help people “avoid potential health risks of food produced from genetic engineering.” Chipotle notes that 300 scientists have “signed a statement rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption.” Until more studies are conducted, Chipotle says, “We believe it is prudent to take a cautious approach toward GMOs.”

The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have all declared that there’s no good evidence GMOs are unsafe. Hundreds of studies back up that conclusion. But many of us don’t trust these assurances. We’re drawn to skeptics who say that there’s more to the story, that some studies have found risks associated with GMOs, and that Monsanto is covering it up.

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

Now if the above article on the progress toward domesticating DNA is not challenging enough - here’s one that should do the trick.

Chemists Invent New Letters for Nature’s Genetic Alphabet

DNA STORES OUR genetic code in an elegant double helix. But some argue that this elegance is overrated. “DNA as a molecule has many things wrong with it,” said Steven Benner, an organic chemist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida.

Nearly 30 years ago, Benner sketched out better versions of both DNA and its chemical cousin RNA, adding new letters and other additions that would expand their repertoire of chemical feats. He wondered why these improvements haven’t occurred in living creatures. Nature has written the entire language of life using just four chemical letters: G, C, A and T. Did our genetic code settle on these four nucleotides for a reason? Or was this system one of many possibilities, selected by simple chance? Perhaps expanding the code could make it better.

Benner’s early attempts at synthesizing new chemical letters failed. But with each false start, his team learned more about what makes a good nucleotide and gained a better understanding of the precise molecular details that make DNA and RNA work. The researchers’ efforts progressed slowly, as they had to design new tools to manipulate the extended alphabet they were building. “We have had to re-create, for our artificially designed DNA, all of the molecular biology that evolution took 4 billion years to create for natural DNA,” Benner said.

Now, after decades of work, Benner’s team has synthesized artificially enhanced DNA that functions much like ordinary DNA, if not better. In two papers published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society last month, the researchers have shown that two synthetic nucleotides called P and Z fit seamlessly into DNA’s helical structure, maintaining the natural shape of DNA. Moreover, DNA sequences incorporating these letters can evolve just like traditional DNA, a first for an expanded genetic alphabet.
The new nucleotides even outperform their natural counterparts. When challenged to evolve a segment that selectively binds to cancer cells, DNA sequences using P and Z did better than those without.

Here’s something for anyone concerned with brain injuries - this may be an important way to mitigate potential long-term repercussions of concussions.

Will Football Players Someday Take a Concussion Pill?

New research provides a potential pathway to a drug to save people from the progressive damage of severe or repeated concussions.
An experimental treatment helps restore normal brain structure and function in mice that have sustained severe concussions, and could lead to a drug that would do the same in humans, according to new research.

The brains of people who suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects people such as boxers and football players with a history of repetitive hard hits to the head, are characterized by fibrous tangles of a protein called tau. It is not known how traumatic brain injury leads to these tangles, which are also found in the brains of people who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Now researchers say they have identified a precursor to the tangles—a misshapen form of tau that appears in the brains of mice shortly after a blow to the head—and have shown that it can be eliminated by a protein, called an antibody, that binds to the misshapen tau and marks it for destruction by the body’s mechanism for clearing damaged or unneeded proteins. In mice that have sustained severe traumatic brain injuries like those commonly sustained by soldiers after a blast or by athletes after a blow to the head, the treatment prevents neurodegeneration and helps restore normal function. This suggests that the misshapen tau is a “major early driver of disease” after traumatic brain injury, say the researchers, and represents a promising drug target. The research was funded by the National Football League Players Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

And just to add that life is stranger than we can imagine - here’s another life form.

Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy

Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use energy in its purest form – they eat and breathe electrons – and they are everywhere
STICK an electrode in the ground, pump electrons down it, and they will come: living cells that eat electricity. We have known bacteria to survive on a variety of energy sources, but none as weird as this. Think of Frankenstein’s monster, brought to life by galvanic energy, except these “electric bacteria” are very real and are popping up all over the place.

Unlike any other living thing on Earth, electric bacteria use energy in its purest form – naked electricity in the shape of electrons harvested from rocks and metals. We already knew about two types, Shewanella and Geobacter. Now, biologists are showing that they can entice many more out of rocks and marine mud by tempting them with a bit of electrical juice. Experiments growing bacteria on battery electrodes demonstrate that these novel, mind-boggling forms of life are essentially eating and excreting electricity.

That should not come as a complete surprise, says Kenneth Nealson at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. We know that life, when you boil it right down, is a flow of electrons: “You eat sugars that have excess electrons, and you breathe in oxygen that willingly takes them.” Our cells break down the sugars, and the electrons flow through them in a complex set of chemical reactions until they are passed on to electron-hungry oxygen.

In the process, cells make ATP, a molecule that acts as an energy storage unit for almost all living things. Moving electrons around is a key part of making ATP. “Life’s very clever,” says Nealson. “It figures out how to suck electrons out of everything we eat and keep them under control.” In most living things, the body packages the electrons up into molecules that can safely carry them through the cells until they are dumped on to oxygen.

And finally a new drug derived from sewage - has a lot of promise to make many people advancing age less worrisome.

Universal plaque-busting drug could treat various brain diseases

A virus found in sewage has spawned a unique drug that targets plaques implicated in a host of brain-crippling diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

Results from tests of the drug, announced this week, show that it breaks up plaques in mice affected with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, and improves the memories and cognitive abilities of the animals.

Other promising results in rats and monkeys mean that the drug developers, NeuroPhage Pharmaceuticals, are poised to apply for permission to start testing it in people, with trials starting perhaps as early as next year.

The drug is the first that seems to target and destroy the multiple types of plaque implicated in human brain disease. Plaques are clumps of misfolded proteins that gradually accumulate into sticky, brain-clogging gunk that kills neurons and robs people of their memories and other mental faculties. Different kinds of misfolded proteins are implicated in different brain diseases, and some can be seen within the same condition

This is an excellent 33 min Google Talk on various voting methods and their pros and cons. Well worth the view for anyone interested in collective decisioning.

Voting Methods with Google Votes

Learn the ins-and-outs of common voting methods and algorithms for group-decision-making with illustrated examples in Google Votes. Google Votes is a Google-internal voting platform used for decisions like food selections, cafe names, t-shirt designs, and Halloween contests. This talk covers Approval, Ranked, Range/Score, and Plurality voting along with the Borda and Schulze ranking algorithms and their relation to Condorcet's Paradox.

This is the link to the follow-on 48 min video - well worth the view.

Liquid Democracy with Google Votes

Google Votes is an experiment in liquid democracy built on Google's internal corporate Google+ social network. A Liquid Democracy system gives all the control of Direct Democracy with the scalability of Representative Democracy. Users can vote directly or delegate power through their social networks. This talk covers user experience aspects of delegated voting and three graph algorithms for flowing votes through a social graph called Tally, Coverage, and Power.

This is a nice survey of music streaming service for anyone interested in ubiquitous music in their lives.


A month-long journey to find the best music-streaming service
The biggest ongoing problem in my technological life is when, where, and how to easily listen to music. There are two reasons why this is a problem: 1) music is a vital part of my life — I need a steady stream of new tracks and artists to listen to, and I need to be able to cue up my old favorite songs at crucial moments — and 2) I strongly suspect there is no perfect way to listen to music.

But sometime in the mid-aughts, I came close. The system I developed then represents the most fruitful and healthy relationship I’ve ever had with music. I spent money on used and new music — a good Amoeba haul would sometimes set me back $40 or $50 — but as a college student in a post-Napster world, I did my fair share of pirating, too, and ripped countless CDs borrowed from the college radio station I worked at. I uploaded my entire music library to my fourth-generation iPod, while still continuing to use the CDs in my stereo at home and in my friends’ cars. Part of my collection was based off recommendations, part of it was made up of canonical must-listens, and some of it was completely random. Some songs I only listened to once; others became my favorite songs of all time. It was during an afternoon of idle browsing at the station that I found the album Wonder Wonder by alt-country singer-songwriter Edith Frost. Most of that album wasn’t really my style, but the fifth track, "Cars and Parties," became a sturdy old friend to me in my first transitory years living in Los Angeles.

Now, of course, all that hard work and illegal activity has been rendered obsolete. Even if I had a computer with a disc drive, ripping CDs feels as archaic as taping songs from the radio, and downloading illegal MP3s is a headache, even with a lightning-fast cable connection that 2004-me would have died over. Streaming has become the new standard ever since Spotify became available in the US in 2011; other contenders such as Rdio, Rhapsody, and Tidal have tried to win a part of the "every song whenever you want it" market with varying success.

I caved and signed up for a Spotify Premium account back in 2011; but there are lots of things about the service I find frustrating, disorienting, and impersonal. Is there something better for me out there? I wondered. In the name of improving the very fabric of my life, I went on a quest to survey the streaming ecosystem, looking for the ultimate service. Over the course of a month, I tried as many other options as I could, spending at least four days with each one. Because the features they all offer were so similar on paper, I knew picking the best service would come down to a matter of interface and ambiance; an intangible addictive aspect more than a list of specs.

This is not about a minimum transformation - but a long article about an inevitable surprise.

The Really Big One

An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.
When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Tohoku, Japan, Chris Goldfinger was two hundred miles away, in the city of Kashiwa, at an international meeting on seismology. As the shaking started, everyone in the room began to laugh. Earthquakes are common in Japan—that one was the third of the week—and the participants were, after all, at a seismology conference. Then everyone in the room checked the time.

Seismologists know that how long an earthquake lasts is a decent proxy for its magnitude. The 1989 earthquake in Loma Prieta, California, which killed sixty-three people and caused six billion dollars’ worth of damage, lasted about fifteen seconds and had a magnitude of 6.9. A thirty-second earthquake generally has a magnitude in the mid-sevens. A minute-long quake is in the high sevens, a two-minute quake has entered the eights, and a three-minute quake is in the high eights. By four minutes, an earthquake has hit magnitude 9.0.

When Goldfinger looked at his watch, it was quarter to three. The conference was wrapping up for the day. He was thinking about sushi. The speaker at the lectern was wondering if he should carry on with his talk. The earthquake was not particularly strong. Then it ticked past the sixty-second mark, making it longer than the others that week. The shaking intensified. The seats in the conference room were small plastic desks with wheels. Goldfinger, who is tall and solidly built, thought, No way am I crouching under one of those for cover. At a minute and a half, everyone in the room got up and went outside.

Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Here’s something under the category of ‘?”

One in five Ottawans is registered on Ashley Madison

Hooking up in bars is not an option in ‘the city Fun forgot’.
Canada’s prim capital is suddenly focused more on the state of people’s affairs than the affairs of the state.

One in five Ottawa residents allegedly subscribed to adulterers’ website Ashley Madison, making one of the world’s coldest capitals among the hottest for extra-marital hookups – and the most vulnerable to a breach of privacy after hackers targeted the site.

Hackers threatened to leak details including the credit card information, nude photos, sexual fantasies and real names of as many as 37 million customers worldwide of Ashley Madison, which uses the slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair.”

The website’s Canadian parent, Avid Life Media, said it had since secured the site and was working with law enforcement agencies to trace those behind the attack.

“Everybody says Ottawa is a sleepy town and here we are with 200,000 people running around on each other,” said municipal employee Jon Weaks, 27, as he took a break at an outdoor cafe near the nation’s Parliament.

...The hotbed of infidelity was also the seat of power: The top postal code for new members matched that of Parliament Hill, according to Avid Live chief executive Noel Biderman in a newspaper report published earlier this year.

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