Monday, November 30, 2020

Corrected—Meanwhile, Under the Ice In Russia's White Sea



Their entire feed is interesting

Correction: I inadvertently lied in the headline. A quick look at Denmark's Polar Portal shows the White Sea is not yet frozen:

If you follow the 40° East Longitude line from the lower right corner, the first water you hit is the White Sea, and the Danes seem pretty adamant that it is not frozen.

"Svalbard’s Mysterious Disappearing Shipwrecks"

From Hakai Magazine:

When Øyvind Ødegård set out last June to scour the seafloor near Svalbard—a vast, ice-covered Norwegian archipelago halfway between continental Norway and the North Pole—he had a dream.

A marine archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Ødegård has worked for decades to protect Norway’s underwater cultural heritage—the shipwrecks and other artifacts that lie, for most archaeologists, literally out of sight and out of mind. His dream was to discover, in these Arctic waters, wrecks that might rival those of the Franklin Expedition, found in Canada’s high Arctic in 2014 and 2016. Those ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were so well preserved that after 170 years, divers found individual hairs entangled in combs.

Ødegård had reason to dream big: from the 1600s onward, thousands of European whaling vessels ventured to Svalbard to exploit its bowhead whale population, and at least 600 never left. Instead, they were entombed in crushing sea ice or sunk by rival fleets. Finding them could cast new light on an underexplored part of European history.

“Most European Arctic history from this period happened on ships, not land,” says Ødegård. “The only physical remains that can tell us a story about these lives will come from wrecks.”

Ødegård set off aboard the Arctic University of Norway’s (UiT) R/V Helmer Hanssen last summer, with the aim of finding Dutch ships sunk by the French in the 17th century. Using historical reports made to France’s King Louis XIV, Ødegård and his team pinpointed promising spots. But when they deployed underwater drones for a closer look, they not only failed to find Franklin-esque wrecks—they found nothing at all.

The absence suggested an awful possibility: the wrecks—which no one had attempted to find in the past—had been there, but had vanished. The suspected culprit? Shipworms, one of the world’s most voracious destroyers of underwater heritage.

Not a worm at all, shipworms are tunneling, tube-shaped mollusks that thrive on cellulose. A sizable infestation can destroy a sunken ship in just a few years, exposing to the elements the trove of historical treasures contained inside, from human remains to archaeological artifacts.

Shipworms have long been a recognized archaeological threat, but before 2016 no one realized they could endanger the abundant but unexplored wreckage sprawled across the Arctic seafloor, where it was assumed to be far too cold for them to thrive. That year, however, UiT marine biologist Jørgen Berge led an expedition (which also included Ødegård) to the water off Svalbard to investigate a Norwegian whaler called the Figaro, the world’s northernmost-known wreck. The Figaro appeared in good shape. But during the expedition, the team also hauled up a seven-meter tree trunk riddled with live shipworms.

The idea that shipworms may be threatening Arctic wrecks was reinforced in 2019 when Ødegård’s team found boreholes in wood collected from Svalbard beaches. A closer inspection of the Figaro also turned up previously missed evidence of shipworm infestation....


"Singapore-Bound Billionaire James Dyson Plans $3.6 Billion Move Into Batteries And Robotics After Electric Car Failure"

 From Forbes, November 26:

Billionaire inventor Sir James Dyson has put his 2020 troubles behind him with the announcement of a $3.6 billion war chest to develop technology that will take Dyson products outside of the home for the very first time.

The British industrial designer best-known for his distinctive and much-loved household appliances–vacuum cleaners, hand dryers and hair straighteners–also confirmed long-standing plans to move his global head office from the U.K. to Singapore.

The most likely move for Dyson is further development of the powerful, long-life batteries, intended for its much-hyped but abandoned electric vehicle project that the billionaire was forced to shelve in October last year. Although specifics are yet to be confirmed, Dyson said in a statement today that it will “double” its portfolio of products and enter entirely new fields of innovation including robotics and machine learning by 2025. 

Electric Pivot

The announcement of a $3.6 billion “drive” for new technology products comes after a number of public setbacks for one of Britain’s best-known billionaire entrepreneurs. While October 2019 saw the end of dream to build a Dyson electric car, in 2020 he received a very public rejection from the U.K. government to build much-needed hospital ventilators during the height of the covid-19 pandemic in April.

However, not all was lost. Although Dyson’s failure to make a Union Jack-branded, cost-effective electric car failed spectacularly (costing the tycoon a reported $600 million of his own money in the process) the project was not without some significant engineering merit. Sir James’s team claimed to have developed a car battery with far greater range than competitors, including that of Elon Musk’s Tesla vehicles.....


It Won't Help Australia This Fire Season But: "Laser-Guided Lightning May Help Prevent Wildfires"

 From BreakingAsia:

Small, portable laser pointers could be used to guide lightning strikes, with a study suggesting the technology may prevent bolts from sparking wildfires, a researcher told AFP Thursday.

A team of international scientists have shown storm clouds could be “short-circuited” by using a hollow laser — like a pipe of light — to deliver particles into the clouds and draw lightning strikes, research co-author Professor Andrey Miroshnichenko from the University of New South Wales in Canberra told AFP.

In lab tests, the team — which also included scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) — successfully used a laser tractor beam to direct the path of an electrical discharge to specific targets, Miroshnichenko said.

In the past, high-powered lasers were needed to achieve similar results, making the technique dangerous, costly and inaccurate. 

But the new research suggested that small, hand-held lasers could be used in the field within the next decade, he said....

Is 3D Printed Food Going To Be A 'Thing'? 4 EU Startups (and an Israeli)

 From EU Startups

5 promising European startups 3D printing your food

As food scarcity and climate change continue to be an alarming concern for consumers, people are looking into alternative sources to get their food and nutrition. More consumers are reducing their meat consumption and adopting vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian diets. This has led to the rise of new plant based products. The global plant-based meat market is projected to be growing at a rate of 19.4% annually. There is also a growing interest for insects to be a part of mainstream consumption.

Another promising food innovation that can help solve the food chain crisis is 3D food printing. Anything that is or can be in a liquid or paste state can be used for 3D printing. 3D printing food can enable food personalisation (for example, personalising nutritional value or texture), presenting less desirable food in a more delicious form, and creating plant-based foods.

In the future, 3D food printers will be a mass adopted consumer product that will become a common household product. For now, 3D food printer technology remains primarily for commercial use. The technology behind 3D food printing is nascent and currently not scalable. The current challenges with scalability and the time to produce each unit is still relatively long, and also the cost of purchasing and maintenance is high.

Within Europe, there a few 3D food printing startups that are either building the technology behind 3D food printers or are producing 3D printed food such as plant-based ‘meats’. You should watch these startups as they are set to transform how food is produced and are helping to create more sustainable food chains. We are looking forward to trying all these new 3D food products when they launch!...


Data Mongers: "S&P Global To Buy IHS Markit In $44BN Deal That Could Be 2020's Biggest"

 And where does this leave FT/Nikkei?

As the founding editor of FT Alphaville, and current editor of FT's Investigations (you've heard of Wirecard and that young McCrum fellow) as the founding editor Paul Murphy put it*:

"(If you look back to the late 90s, the FT had all the bits to construct Bloomgerg.)"

From ZeroHedge:

The quest to build a legitimate competitor to Bloomberg and its ubiquitous terminals continues Monday as IHS Markit and S&P Global confirmed reports about a buyout worth some $44 billion.

According to WSJ, S&P Global plans to buy its smaller rival to create "a powerful challenger to information powerhouses Bloomberg and Refinitiv," assuming the deal goes ahead.

The move would mark the latest round of consolidation among large data providers: A year ago, the London Stock Exchange moved to acquire Refinitiv - formerly known as Reuters' financial data business - for $27 billion a year ago. New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchanges struck its largest deal ever after it agreed to buy US mortgage data provider Ellie Mae for $11 billion.

As the FT points out, the move would mark the latest round of consolidation among large data providers. New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchanges struck its largest deal ever after it agreed to buy US mortgage data provider Ellie Mae for $11 billion. That followed the London Stock Exchange’s move to acquire Refinitiv for $27 billion a year ago....


*If interested see: "Possibly the Funniest (profitable) Thing We Saw In 2015: FT Alphaville's Founder/Editor Channels Mr. Subliminal

World Economic Forum: "5 reasons we need to start nurturing – and eating – weeds" (plus some thoughts on The Great Reset)

I'm not sure I like where this Great Reset is going.
Can't we just eat what the Davos crowd eats?

From the WEF, November 24:

  • Weeds can be nutritious and tasty, if we know which ones to pick.
  • As the global population grows, they can be a reliable food source.
  • Their ability to capture carbon can help tackle climate change.
  • Weeds can also assist farmers by identifying soil problems to boost yields.

A “plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered” was how the 19th-century American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, described a weed – and he may have been on to something. 

Finding new plant-based foods is becoming increasingly urgent with the world’s population forecast to grow by two billion in the next 30 years. While farming animals for meat generates 14.5% of total global greenhouse emissions, weeds capture carbon from the atmosphere and can therefore help to control climate change.

Of course, not all wild plants are safe to consume – some are poisonous. You should always check with a reliable source before eating them. Many countries also have laws against harvesting some wild plants, so the best advice is to check before you pick.

The World Economic Forum’s recent virtual event, Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good, was asking how food systems can be improved to feed the extra mouths, including looking at alternative food sources.

Here, we highlight five reasons why weeds could be the future of food.

1. They’re easy to grow

Weeds thrive in harsh conditions and are more resilient than garden or crop plants. Take Kochia, or ‘field caviar’, which can survive in a wide range of temperatures and do without moisture, yet produces 50,000 seeds per plant which are used to make a garnish in Japan.....


 Here's the UK's Winter Oak:


Winter Oak is a not-for-profit organisation with a serious aversion to industrial capitalism and a commitment to social justice. Since 2013, we have published a number of books and we produce an online information bulletin, The Acorn. You can follow us on Twitter here and catch up with our quote for the day here. We can be contacted via winteroak(at)greenmail(dot)net

Klaus Schwab and his great fascist reset

Born in Ravensburg in 1938, Klaus Schwab is a child of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, a police-state regime built on fear and violence, on brainwashing and control, on propaganda and lies, on industrialism and eugenics, on dehumanisation and “disinfection”, on a chilling and grandiose vision of a “new order” that would last a thousand years.

Schwab seems to have dedicated his life to reinventing that nightmare and to trying to turn it into a reality not just for Germany but for the whole world.

Worse still, as his own words confirm time and time again, his technocratic fascist vision is also a twisted transhumanist one, which will merge humans with machines in “curious mixes of digital-and-analog life”, which will infect our bodies with “Smart Dust” and in which the police will apparently be able to read our brains.

And, as we will see, he and his accomplices are using the Covid-19 crisis to bypass democratic accountability, to override opposition, to accelerate their agenda and to impose it on the rest of humankind against our will in what he terms a “Great Reset“.

Schwab is not, of course, a Nazi in the classic sense, being neither a nationalist nor an anti-semite, as testified by the $1 million Dan David Prize  he was awarded by Israel in 2004.

But 21st century fascism has found different political forms through which to continue its core project of reshaping humanity to suit capitalism through blatantly authoritarian means.

This new fascism is today being advanced in the guise of global governance, biosecurity, the “New Normal”, the “New Deal for Nature” and the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Schwab, the octogenarian founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, sits at the centre of this matrix like a spider on a giant web.

The original fascist project, in Italy and Germany, was all about a merger of state and business.

While communism envisages the take-over of business and industry by the government, which – theoretically! – acts in the interests of the people, fascism was all about using the state to protect and advance the interests of the wealthy elite.

Schwab was continuing this approach in a denazified post-WW2 context, when in 1971 he founded the European Management Forum, which held annual meetings at Davos in Switzerland....


Ya gotta love it, they bring Hitler into the mix in the first sentence.

Re/insurance: "U.S. wildfire losses reach $11.5bn after October: Jefferies"

From Artemis, November 25:

Insurance and reinsurance industry losses from wildfires in the United States are now estimated to have reached around $11.5 billion, making 2020 the third most costly wildfire season on record for the market.

This is according to analysis by investment bank Jefferies and based on data sourced from reinsurance market players Aon, Swiss Re and Munich Re.

Jefferies noted in a recent report that industry estimates for some catastrophe losses have risen recently, which looks like it may include some of the wildfire activity.

Just earlier this month insurance and reinsurance broker Aon said that wildfire insured losses in western states including California, Colorado and Oregon had surpassed $8 billion, but Jefferies figure of $11.5 billion is now the highest seen for 2020 so far.

2020 is set to be the third most costly U.S. wildfire year on record, after 2017’s $15 billion to $17 billion and 2018’s $18 billion to $20 billion estimates....


And from the National Interagency Fire Center:

Year-to-date statistics
2020 (1/1/20-11/13/20) Fires: 49,815 Acres: 8,750,197
2019 (1/1/19-11/13/19) Fires: 45,840 Acres: 5,418,234
2018 (1/1/18-11/13/18) Fires: 51,721 Acres: 8,498,644
2017 (1/1/17-11/13/17) Fires: 54,153 Acres: 8,893,198
2016 (1/1/16-11/13/16) Fires: 56,771 Acres: 5,126,918
2015 (1/1/15-11/13/15) Fires: 55,237 Acres: 9,809,467
2014 (1/1/14-11/13/14) Fires: 50,304 Acres: 3,440,219
2013 (1/1/13-11/13/13) Fires: 43,025 Acres: 4,108,058
2012 (1/1/12-11/13/12) Fires: 53,449 Acres: 9,110,745
2011 (1/1/11-11/13/11) Fires: 64,932 Acres: 8,207,064
2010 (1/1/10-11/13/10) Fires: 64,699 Acres: 3,735,972
10-year average Year-to-Date
2010-2019 Fires: 53,522 Acres: 6,539,980

note: they haven't updated since November 13.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Dear Georgia, Sherman was a piker

 signed, yr pal,


DJIA futures down 144.

In 1861 the insurrectionist Governor was a Democrat. Today it's a Republican. In the words of The Kingfish:

"Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. 
They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. 
But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."
ascribed to Huey Long (found the citation)

And in the words of General Sherman:

"I intend to make Georgia howl."

And Sherman's response to the request of Atlanta mayor Calhoun and two city councilmen that he reverse his order that the citizens of Atlanta quit and vacate the locale: 

Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, in the Field, Atlanta, Georgia, September 12, 1864.

James M. Calhoun, Mayor, E.E. Rawson, S.C. Wells, representing City Council of Atlanta.


I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned, any yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have Peace, not only in Atlanta, but in All America. 

To secure this, we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country. To stop war, we must defeat the rebel armies which are now arrayed against the laws and Constitution that all must respect and obey. To defeat those armies, we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose. Now I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter; and, therefore, deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time. The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go. Why no go now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past month? 

Of course, I do not apprehend any such thing at this moment, but you do not suppose this army will be here until the war is over. I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot impart to you what we propose to do, but I assert that our military plans make it necessary for the Inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible.  You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our Country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. 

I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to Secure Peace. But you cannot have Peace and a Division of our Country. If the United States submits to a Division now it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is Eternal War. 

The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the National Feeling. This Feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union. Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the Authority of the National Government, and, instead of devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war, I and this army become at once your protectors and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what quarter it may. I know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion, such as swept the South into rebellion, but you can point out, so that we may know those who desire a government, and those who insist on war and its desolation....


"Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, 
and now we stand by each other"
—also WT. Sherman 

DJIA futures down 192.

"World first: Dutch brewery burns iron as a clean, recyclable fuel"

If you're like me—and I know I am, Chlorine Trifluoride was probably the first thing that came to mind when reading the headline.*

 From New Atlas, November 4:

Many industries use heat-intensive processes that generally require the burning of fossil fuels, but a surprising green fuel alternative is emerging in the form of metal powders. Ground very fine, cheap iron powder burns readily at high temperatures, releasing energy as it oxidizes in a process that emits no carbon and produces easily collectable rust, or iron oxide, as its only emission.

If burning metal powder as fuel sounds strange, the next part of the process will be even more surprising. That rust can be regenerated straight back into iron powder with the application of electricity, and if you do this using solar, wind or other zero-carbon power generation systems, you end up with a totally carbon-free cycle. The iron acts as a kind of clean battery for combustion processes, charging up via one of a number of means including electrolysis, and discharging in flames and heat.  

Recently, Swinkels Family Brewers in the Netherlands has become the first business in the world to put this process to work at an industrial scale. The company has been working with the Metal Power Consortium and researchers at TU Eindhoven to install a cyclical iron fuel system at its Brewery Bavaria that's capable of providing all the heat necessary for some 15 million glasses of beer a year....


*Unrelated except for the messing about with iron oxide angle:

News You Probably Shouldn't Use: The Chemical So Awful It Can Burn Rust or Sand

How the hell do you burn something that is already oxidized?
Meet Chlorine Trifluoride: The Chemical That Sets Fire to Asbestos on Contact....

"North Korean gymnast defects by vaulting fences"

 From Australia's WAtoday, November 25:

Taipei: A North Korean gymnast has escaped to South Korea by swinging himself over the border barricades without triggering sensors, according to reports.

The man, reported to be in his 20s, surrendered after a manhunt by the South Korean military discovered a breach.

The troops had engaged in an operation near the heavily fortified border in Goseong, after detecting "unidentified personnel" there, the South's military said on November 4.

The unnamed man was detained without incident and asked for asylum, prompting an investigation into his claims and the breach.

Officials were so taken aback by his feat that they asked him to demonstrate twice how he was able to jump over the three-metre fence, according to the BBC's Seoul correspondent....


Saturday, November 28, 2020

"The Code That Controls Your Money"

 From Wealthsimple Magazine, November 10:

COBOL is a coding language older than Weird Al Yankovic. The people who know how to use it are often just as old. It underpins the entire financial system. And it can’t be removed. How a computer language controls the financial life of the world.

When Thomas first started programming, it was 1969. He was a kid just out of high school in Toronto, without any particular life goal. His father was a carpenter, but good luck following in his family’s footsteps; Thomas was all thumbs. “My father knew I couldn’t hammer two pieces of wood together,” he laughs.

So his mother suggested something weird and newfangled: What about… computer programming?

Computers, in 1969, were still strange new curiosities, the size of big cabinets. But companies around the world were realizing they were invaluable for any task that required a lot of rapid-fire accounting, like tallying up payroll. Jobs were on offer to anyone who could learn even a little coding. So Thomas found “some fly-by-night, little pop-up school” in downtown Toronto, and over the next two months, learned the hot computer language of the day: COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language).

After he graduated, he got hired in the check-sorting department of a major Canadian bank. (He doesn’t want me to name it, banks are secretive; “Thomas,” I should mention, is a pseudonym, if you hadn’t guessed that already.) Thomas wasn’t yet a programmer for the bank then, but over the next few years he made it clear he wanted to be, and his employer paid for him to do a bunch of honest-to-goodness college courses in coding, and in 1978 he began a long career at the bank as a programmer.

Thomas loved it. It was like constant puzzle-solving, a game of mental chess. He’d sit at his desk, writing out his code by hand, then give it to a “punchcard operator” who’d put holes in cards to represent his programming instructions. Twice a day they’d feed those cards into the huge “mainframe” computers at the bank. It would take hours for Thomas to find out if his code had actually worked correctly, or whether he’d made a goof that grounded things to a halt. If he had did, he’d pore over the error statements, rewrite the COBOL, and try again.

Over the next few years, Thomas became good at COBOL, and wrote thousands of invaluable lines of code. When the bank issued payments, it was his code, every day, helping them tally it all up correctly. As the ‘70s and ’80s and ’90s wore on, he and his coder colleagues probably wrote tens of millions of lines of COBOL. There’s one system he’s particularly proud of, a lightning-fast program that can process “anywhere between three and five million transactions a day. That’s my baby!” He wrote his first bits of that program in 1988.

And the thing is — that code is still running today.

Thomas retired from the bank in 2007 at about 60, and when he left, the bank was still relying on the system, which by then was 20 years old and written when Thomas had a lot more hair and when Phil Collins’s “Groovy Kind of Love” was a chart-topping hit. These days, the code is over three decades old. It’s still crunching millions of records a day. Indeed, he believes most of the code he and his peers wrote back in the day is still running because the bank can’t function without it.

In fact, these days, when the phone rings in the house Thomas retired to — in a small town outside of Toronto — it will occasionally be someone from the bank. Hey, they’ll say, can you, uh, help… update your code? Maybe add some new features to it? Because, as it turns out, the bank no longer employs anyone who understands COBOL as well as Thomas does, who can dive in and tweak it to perform a new task. Nearly all the COBOL veterans, the punch-card jockeys who built the bank’s crucial systems way back when, who know COBOL inside and out — they’ve retired. They’ve left the building, just like Thomas. And few young coders have any interest in learning a dusty, 50-year-old computer language. They’re much more excited by buzzier new fields, like Toronto’s booming artificial-intelligence scene. They’re learning fresh new coding languages.

So this large bank is still dependent on people like, Thomas, who is 73, to not only keep things running, but add new features and improvements.

Will his COBOL outlive him?


COBOL democratized coding; companies could take everyday people
and train them to be useful COBOL programmers in a few months.

That bank is not alone. COBOL programs — some written so long ago that color TV wasn’t even a thing yet — are everywhere in our daily lives.

Consider: Over 80% of in-person transactions at U.S. financial institutions use COBOL. Fully 95% of the time you swipe your bank card, there’s COBOL running somewhere in the background. The Bank of New York Mellon in 2012 found it had 112,500 individual COBOL programs, constituting almost 350 million lines; that is probably typical for most big financial institutions. When your boss hands you your paycheck, odds are it was calculated using COBOL. If you invest, your stock trades run on it too. So does health care: Insurance companies in the U.S. use “adjudication engines'”— software that figures out what a doctor or drug company will get paid for a service — which were written in COBOL. Wonder why, when you’re shopping at a retailer you will see a clerk typing into an old-style terminal, with green text on a black background? It's because the inventory system is using COBOL. Or why you see airline booking agents use that same black screen with green type to change your flight? “Oh, that’s COBOL — that’s definitely COBOL,” laughs Craig Bailey, a senior engineer at Faircom, a firm that makes software to help firms manage those old systems.

No one quite knows how much COBOL is out there, but estimates suggest there are as many as 240 billion lines of the code quietly powering many of the most crucial parts of our everyday lives. “The second most valuable asset in the United States — after oil — is the 240 billion lines of COBOL,” says Philip Teplitzky, who’s slung COBOL for decades for banks across the U.S.....


"A Modest Proposal for Building the Future"

 A bit more on venture culture. I'm reminded of a quote:

"Fundamentally VCs are risk adverse – they want no risk in the deal,
 if we could handle risk we'd be entrepreneurs."
– Victor Westerlind, General Partner at Cleantech VC firm Rockport Capital

From the Los Angeles Review of Books:

I SHOULD HATE The Innovation Delusion. I’ve made a career as a futurist in Silicon Valley, helping big companies think about the business implications and commercial opportunities of emerging technologies. My father-in-law spent his career in the computer industry, my wife helps run her school’s “maker lab,” and my son graduated from, a high school that puts “design thinking” at the center of its curriculum. I have friends and relatives at Google, Apple, IDEO, Facebook, Intel, and Stanford. As Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell put it in their book, we are the class of people fluent in “innovation-speak,” “a language built for telling breathless stories of amazing creativity, incredible opportunity, and existential risk.” It’s “a sales pitch about a future that doesn’t yet exist,” they write. And, they add for good measure, it “is fundamentally dishonest.”

To which I say: Yeah guys, you’re right.

Innovation-speak is not the same thing as innovation or creativity. Indeed, Vinsel and Russell, professors at Virginia Tech and SUNY Polytechnic respectively, have lots of respect for creativity, work, and ingenuity. But they argue that just as technology has the power to shape our lives, language has the power to shape our thoughts, and the Valley has used both with ruthless effect. Innovation-speak allows us to acquire the power of Imperial Rome while insisting on its fundamental innocence. It lets us declare with absolute certainty that disruption is inevitable, unavoidable, and for the long-run benefit of humankind (and, incidentally, our short-term gain). It makes us winningly bashful about all the attention we get, and the influence a few of us have over billions of others. And it helps us sustain a childlike wonder at the trillions of dollars that keep pouring onto our balance sheets, which almost (but not quite) distract us from our mission of Bringing The World Together, or whatever.

Yet all is not well. People keep complaining that we’re invading their privacy, leaking their data, giving their jobs to robots, addicting their children to screens, and letting their elections and democracies be subverted. (We also still haven’t delivered those jet packs and flying cars.) It’s starting to look like innovation-speak … doesn’t really work as a description of the future, and it’s losing its power as a distraction from the present.

Beware geeks bearing gifts, Vinsel and Russell warn. The pursuit of novelty for its own sake doesn’t just fuel income inequality or threaten the environment (though it does contribute to those): it takes resources and attention from what really matters, which is maintenance and repair. These more modest activities are undervalued in just about every way. Despite their invisibility, they are indispensable, and absolutely essential in a crisis. There’s nobility in “keeping daily life going, caring for the people and things that matter most to us, and ensuring that we preserve and sustain the inheritance of our collective pasts,” they write. “It’s the overlooked, undercompensated work that keeps our roads safe, our companies productive, and our lives happy and secure.”....


"How Venture Capitalists Are Deforming Capitalism"

Leaders vs. Followers: Can VC Investors Spot The Next Big Thing?

"Will Venture Capitalists Drive the Next Spectacular Breakthrough?"

"How Venture Capitalists Are Deforming Capitalism"

 Readers who have been with us for a while, and other pros, know most of this stuff but it's nice to have it wrapped up in a compact little package.

I owe someone a hat tip on this but can't recall who had it first, when I do I'll add the HT.

From The New Yorker, November 23:

In 2008, Jeremy Neuner and Ryan Coonerty, two city-hall employees in Santa Cruz, California, decided to open a co-working space. They leased a cavernous building a few steps from a surf shop and a sex-toy boutique, and equipped it with desks, power strips, fast Wi-Fi, and a deluxe coffee-maker. Neuner and Coonerty named their company NextSpace Coworking.

Neuner, who had attended Harvard’s Kennedy School after serving in the Navy, was looking to be part of a movement. “We really believed that this would be a totally new way of working,” he told me. NextSpace provided a refuge for local freelancers desperate for office camaraderie, and within six months the company was turning a small profit. Soon, NextSpace opened locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose. Neuner and Coonerty also started looking for venture capital. They had raised some money from family and friends, but, as Neuner put it to me, “V.C. funding is the stamp of approval.” He noted, “In every startup story, the V.C.s supercharge everything. They’re the fairy godmothers of success.”

In 2012, Neuner went to a co-working-industry conference, in Austin, Texas, to appear on a panel and try to meet investors. One of the conference’s other speakers was Adam Neumann, a six-foot-five Israeli with flowing black hair, who wore designer jeans and a dark blazer—fancy dress amid the crowd’s T-shirts. Neumann told the audience that he ran a company in New York, named WeWork, that was “the world’s first physical social network.” His self-assuredness was mesmerizing. “We’re planning to be all over the country very, very soon,” he said. Although WeWork was just two years old, and Neumann was only thirty-two, the company already controlled more than three hundred thousand square feet of office space; he declared that WeWork would soon have ten thousand clients. “Our company is about we and about collaboration,” Neumann proclaimed. “Together, we can build a community that can change the world.”

When Jeremy Neuner began having meetings with venture capitalists, he said, “their first question was ‘How do you compete with WeWork? Why should we invest with you instead of them?’ ” WeWork was reportedly losing millions of dollars each month, but it was expanding to new locations at a feverish pace. Neumann’s promises to V.C.s were so wildly optimistic, bordering on ridiculous, that Neuner was convinced WeWork had to be a scam. “They were saying they would become the biggest office-space provider in the world,” Neuner recalled. “What do I say to compete with that? Do I tell V.C.s, ‘You know, WeWork must be lying, so you should accept my smaller returns instead’? No one wanted to hear that. All the V.C.s couldn’t wait to drink the Kool-Aid.”

A real-estate agent informed Neuner that WeWork had opened a location in San Francisco, just a few blocks from NextSpace, and was charging cheaper rates. As NextSpace grew, eventually opening a fifth California location, WeWork opened competing offices alongside each one of its facilities, never more than a few blocks away. Invariably, WeWork charged tenants slightly less.

Neuner began hearing similar stories from other co-working entrepreneurs: WeWork came to town, opened near an existing co-working office, and undercut the competitor on price. Sometimes WeWork promised tenants a moving bonus if they terminated an existing lease; in other instances, the company obtained client directories from competitors’ Web sites and offered everyone on the lists three months of free rent. Jerome Chang, the owner of Blankspaces, in Los Angeles, told me, “My average rate was five hundred and fifty dollars per desk per month, and I was just scraping by. Then WeWork arrived, and I had to drop it to four hundred and fifty, and then three hundred and fifty. It eviscerated my business.” Rebecca Brian Pan, who founded a co-working company named Covo, said, “No one could make money at these prices. But they kept lowering them so that they were cheaper than everyone else. It was like they had a bottomless bank account that made it impossible for anyone else to survive.”

Neuner began slashing NextSpace’s prices and adding amenities—free beer; lunchtime classes on accounting, coding, and chakra cleansing—but none of it mattered. WeWork’s prices were too low. By the end of 2014, WeWork had raised more than half a billion dollars from venture capitalists. Although it was now losing six million dollars a month, it was growing faster than ever before, with plans for sixty locations in more than a dozen cities.

Meanwhile, one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors, Bruce Dunlevie, of the venture-capital firm Benchmark, had joined WeWork’s board of directors. Benchmark, founded in 1995 in Menlo Park, had funded such Silicon Valley startups as eBay, Twitter, and Instagram. Dunlevie admitted to a partner that he wasn’t certain how WeWork would ever become profitable, but he was taken with Neumann. Dunlevie said to the partner, “Let’s give him some money, and he’ll figure it out.” Around this time, Benchmark made its first investment in WeWork—seventeen million dollars.

Venture capitalists began telling Jeremy Neuner that making piddly investments in his company wasn’t worth their time; moreover, if they funded NextSpace, they might be excluded from buying into WeWork someday. To Neuner, this seemed nuts. He was building a solid business, but the V.C.s wanted fantasy. “All we needed was five million dollars a year in revenues, and we would have made money for everyone,” he told me. “That’s enough to earn a living and buy a house and put your kids through school. But no one wanted something that just made a healthy living. They all wanted to find the next Zuckerberg.” Neuner was frustrated, but he wasn’t surprised. He knew that American history was filled with entrepreneurs like P. T. Barnum, Walt Disney, and Charles Ponzi, self-promoters whose audaciousness created new industries and vast riches—and who, occasionally, ended up in jail. What Neuner hadn’t realized was that some venture capitalists had become co-conspirators with such hype artists, handing them millions of dollars and encouraging their worst tendencies, in the hope that one lucky wager would more than offset many bad bets.

In six years, Neuner opened nine NextSpace locations, as far east as Chicago. “But I was so burnt out by everyone saying I was a failure just because I didn’t want to dominate the globe,” he said. In 2014, Neuner resigned, and NextSpace began closing its sites. “It was heartbreaking,” he said. “V.C.s seem like these quiet, boring guys who are good at math, encourage you to dream big, and have private planes. You know who else is quiet, good at math, and has private planes? Drug cartels.”

As NextSpace’s offices shut down or were sold off, WeWork opened forty new locations and announced that it had raised hundreds of millions of dollars more. It became one of the biggest property lessors in New York, London, and Washington, D.C. One fall day in 2017, as Neuner was browsing in a bookstore near NextSpace’s original location, in Santa Cruz, he passed a magazine rack and saw that Forbes had put Adam Neumann on its cover. The accompanying article described how Neumann had met with Masayoshi Son, one of Japan’s wealthiest men and the head of the enormous investment firm SoftBank. Son had been so impressed by a twelve-minute tour of WeWork’s headquarters that he had scribbled out a spur-of-the-moment contract to invest $4.4 billion in the company. That backing, Neumann had explained to the Forbes reporter, was based not on financial estimates but, rather, “on our energy and spirituality.”

The article also detailed how, a few months after Son made that commitment, Neumann travelled to Tokyo to toast the deal with him. As they celebrated, Son asked Neumann a philosophical question: “In a fight, who wins—the smart guy or the crazy guy?”

“Crazy guy,” Neumann replied.

“You are correct,” Son said. “But you,” he added, with a hint of concern, “are not crazy enough.”

From the start, venture capitalists have presented their profession as an elevated calling. They weren’t mere speculators—they were midwives to innovation. The first V.C. firms were designed to make money by identifying and supporting the most brilliant startup ideas, providing the funds and the strategic advice that daring entrepreneurs needed in order to prosper. For decades, such boasts were merited. Genentech, which helped invent synthetic insulin, in the nineteen-seventies, succeeded in large part because of the stewardship of the venture capitalist Tom Perkins, whose company, Kleiner Perkins, made an initial hundred-thousand-dollar investment. Perkins demanded a seat on Genentech’s board of directors, and then began spending one afternoon a week in the startup’s offices, scrutinizing spending reports and browbeating inexperienced executives. In subsequent years, Kleiner Perkins nurtured such tech startups as Amazon, Google, Sun Microsystems, and Compaq. When Perkins died, in 2016, at the age of eighty-four, an obituary in the Financial Times remembered him as “part of a new movement in finance that saw investors roll up their sleeves and play an active role in management.”

The V.C. industry has grown exponentially since Perkins’s heyday, but it has also become increasingly avaricious and cynical. It is now dominated by a few dozen firms, which, collectively, control hundreds of billions of dollars. Most professional V.C.s fit a narrow mold: according to surveys, just under half of them attended either Harvard or Stanford, and eighty per cent are male. Although V.C.s depict themselves as perpetually on the hunt for radical business ideas, they often seem to be hyping the same Silicon Valley trends—and their managerial oversight has dwindled, making their investments look more like trading-floor bets. Steve Blank, an entrepreneur who currently teaches at Stanford’s engineering school, said, “I’ve watched the industry become a money-hungry mob. V.C.s today aren’t interested in the public good. They’re not interested in anything except optimizing their own profits and chasing the herd, and so they waste billions of dollars that could have gone to innovation that actually helps people.”

This clubby, self-serving approach has made many V.C.s rich. In January, 2020, the National Venture Capital Association hailed a “record decade” of “hyper growth” in which its members had given nearly eight hundred billion dollars to startups, “fueling the economy of tomorrow.” The pandemic has slowed things down, but not much. According to a report by PitchBook, a company that provides data on the industry, five of the top twenty venture-capital firms are currently making more deals than they did last year.

In recent decades, the gambles taken by V.C.s have grown dramatically larger. A million-dollar investment in a thriving young company might yield ten million dollars in profits. A fifty-million-dollar investment in the same startup could deliver half a billion dollars. “Honestly, it stopped making sense to look at investments that were smaller than thirty or forty million,” a prominent venture capitalist told me. “It’s the same amount of due diligence, the same amount of time going to board meetings, the same amount of work, regardless of how much you invest.”....


Before You Go In, Know How You're Getting Out

 This is about the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history but less dramatically could apply to many other areas of life.

The Cocoanut Grove fire

From the U.S. National Archives:

The Cocoanut Grove Revisited
U.S. Navy Records Document How 492 Died in a Deadly Nightclub Fire 75 Years Ago

Saturday, November 28, 1942, at the U.S. Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, had been, for the most part, a relatively uneventful day.

According to the duty log, 19 ships were berthed at the yard or at nearby auxiliary piers along Boston Harbor. Duty officers performing periodic patrols took note of the vessels that navigated in and out of the yard and the South Boston Naval Annex throughout the calm yet cold, freezing day. Indeed, such activity was common for this strategic shipbuilding facility, which produced and repaired numerous vessels for use during World War II.

However, before Saturday had elapsed, the sailors and Marines of the yard would heed a call for aid that was anything but routine.

Boston newspapers greeted their readers with the day’s updates of the war in Europe and the Pacific, which, nearly a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, had become and would continue to be regular practice throughout the war. In late 1942, Bostonians were reading of the Allies’ months-long struggle against the Imperial Japanese forces at Guadalcanal and the Soviet Red Army’s counteroffensive against the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

Local college football fans diverted their attention to Fenway Park for the annual late-season Jesuit-school rivalry game, in which the Holy Cross Crusaders achieved a stunning 55-12 upset victory, over the top-ranked Boston College Eagles, denying BC an undefeated season and an invitation to the Sugar Bowl.

Despite the outcome of the game, it was Thanksgiving weekend, and many servicemen throughout the First Naval District were looking forward to enjoying leave away from their duties. For many officers and enlisted men with free time, it was an opportunity for an evening of dinner, drinks, and dancing with their dates. And there were few more desirable places to do just that in Boston than at the famous Cocoanut Grove night club. 

At 10:15 p.m., a Small Fire Begins to Spread Quickly

For nearly a decade following the end of Prohibition, “The Grove,” located in the Bay Village neighborhood of Boston, was one of the most popular social scenes in the city. Sporting a South Seas–style ambiance, the club treated patrons to food, hospitality, and entertainment, as well as the occasional appearance of music artists or movie stars gracing the dinner-goers with their presence.

On this Saturday night, more than 1,000 patrons packed the main dining room and cocktail lounges at the Cocoanut Grove. Despite the cancellation of a Boston College victory celebration after the football team’s defeat that afternoon, the club had no difficulty in filling the establishment, especially with a floor show about to begin.

Then suddenly, at approximately 10:15 p.m., a small fire broke out in the club’s basement Melody Lounge. Eyewitnesses recounted that they had first spotted the fire in a decorative palm tree in the lounge, working its way up to the ceiling. According to U.S. Naval Reserve Ens. William G. Burns, who had been present in the Melody Lounge around that time, the fire began slowly and appeared to be of such a nature that club employees could extinguish it. Suddenly, to everyone’s alarm, the fire raced across the ceiling, causing the crowd to scatter for safety.

Within eight minutes of the first sight of flames, the fire, fueled by ample wall and ceiling decorations, had engulfed the entire club, spreading upstairs into the street-level foyer and main dining room. As shouts of “Fire!” rang out while heavy smoke and flames emerged from downstairs, the club lights went out and panic ensued. U.S. Naval Reserve Lt. John Kip Edwards, Jr., who had been upstairs in another of the Grove’s lounges and escaped the fire, noted that “it seemed that when the lights went out everybody’s intellect went with them.”

 Black Smoke, Darkness, and Jammed Doors

Unable to see and increasingly unable to breathe due to the billowing, black smoke, patrons stumbled over dining room furniture, frantically searching for a way out of the danger. Amidst the chaos and confusion, many were trampled and crushed, especially at the club’s main exit, a revolving door that jammed after being overwhelmed by the rush of patrons seeking to escape.

A second outlet, consisting of an inward-opening door, effectively became a wall as the panicked crowd pushed forth in an attempt to flee to the streets. Additional exits, if they could be located in the dark, were either blocked or obscured, leaving hundreds trapped within the inferno, desperately hoping for outside rescuers to break through the barriers.....MUCH MORE

From Boston Fire History:

The Story of the Cocoanut Grove Fire 

 View from the Melody Lounge up the 4-foot wide staircase, the only public means of egress.


For an overview of the science of getting out of danger see January's ""The Fuzzy Logic of Fleeing for Your Life"" which has this story as part of the outro:

....One of the more interesting examples of people actually doing the right thing was the crash of Air France Flight 358 in Toronto. Attempting to land in really lousy weather the plane went too far down the runway and into a ravine. There were 309 people on board......

....The flight attendants got everybody, all 309, off the plane in 125 seconds.

[The passenger load comprised 297 passengers: 168 adult males; 118 adult females; 8 children; and 3 infants. Adult passengers included: three wheelchair passengers and one blind passenger.]
Think about that the next time you board and look around at your fellow passengers.
Could they do it?

The picture above is a screengrab of a video taken two minutes later.  

[there are discrepancies in the time it took to evacuate, ranging from 90 seconds to the figure above, 125 seconds]

"China 'firmly opposes' India's new round of app bans, says it has violated trade laws"

From the Register, November 26:

Left last couple of bans alone but now says national security argument is bogus and calls for mutual co-operation

China has responded to India's new round of bans on mobile apps by attacking the reasons for the banishments.

"We firmly oppose the Indian side's repeated use of 'national security' as an excuse to prohibit some Mobile APPs with Chinese background," says a brief Q&A posted to the Chinese Embassy in India's website.

"The Chinese government has always required overseas Chinese companies to abide by international rules, operate in compliance with laws and regulations and conform to public order and good morals," the Q&A continues, before concluding as follows:

China and India are the opportunities of development to each other rather than threats. Both sides should bring bilateral economic and trade relations back to the right path for mutual benefit and win-win results on the basis of dialogue and negotiation.

India has now made four rounds of app bans. The embassy didn't make a statement on the second or third but did comment on the first in June by saying China is "seriously concerned with and firmly opposed to such action."....


As headlined back in August: "India is Serious About Disengaging From China

If interested see also November 20's: U.S. "Navy Secretary Urges Creation Of New US '1st Fleet' To Deter China In Indian Ocean"

Friday, November 27, 2020

In Light Of The Current Political Situation, Here Are Some Helpful Hints: "How to defeat infrared night vision and Thermal Imaging"

Thermal imaging:can be very intrusive/dangerous should you wish to go for a nighttime stroll with a Predator circling over your head. 

Make your own PDF just in case the anarchists get droned and remember, Mylar is your friend.

From Rage University:

Welcome to Rage University! 
Free Resources for Activists, Anarchists, Rebels, Protestors, Deviants, Guerillas, Hackers, 
Occupiers, Subversives, Prisoners, Saboteurs, Pirates, Visionaries, and Troublemakers.

Night Vision 

The surveillance technologies enabling image capture in little to no lighting are intensified, infrared (IR) and thermal imagery. Let’s take a closer look.

 Intensified Amplifies Existing Light


Technology advances in the past 20 years have resulted in great improvements to the performance of how well intensified CCDs pick up images in low light. 

The first area of low-light systems open for discussion is known as the intensified charge-coupled device (ICCD). 

This method of night vision amplifies the existing light. It focuses the existing light on the photocathode of an intensifier. The light causes electrons to be released. These electrons are then accelerated by a high voltage (about 15,000 times); the accelerated electrons are focused onto a phosphorous screen. The energy of the electrons makes the screen glow, which in turn is received by a CCD sensor producing a video image. 

Technology advances during the past 20 years have resulted in great improvements to the performance of intensified devices. Their ability to identify people and objects at very low light is its major advantage. ICCDs also offer high resolution or detailed images in extreme lighting environments. However, ICCDs do require some existing light in order to function. Intensified CCD cameras also produce a poor daytime image when compared to day-only cameras. 

So what do we do if there is no existing light available? 

IR lighting is one possible solution. 

IR Works With No Visible Light 

IR lighting is a light source designed for black-and-white cameras or the new day/night switchover surveillance cameras. It is incorporated for extremely low- or no-light applications. This light source has little or no effect on the spectrum of light that the human eye uses to produce an image. Therefore, applications where video is required but the use of visible light is prohibited are cases in which IR light is extremely helpful. 

IIR light can be split into three categories: Near-infrared (near-IR) — Closest to visible light, near-IR has wavelengths that range from 0.7 to 1.3 microns, or 700 billionths to 1,300 billionths of a meter....

....MUCH MORE  (81 page PDF)  

Speaking of Engineering...."Do not put foreign objects in your mouth"

Following hot on the heels of  "Industrial Development In Roman France and Roman Syria (could Rome have had an industrial revolution?)"

From Delancey Place:

Do not put foreign objects in your mouth

Today's selection -- from The Body by Bill Bryson

It bears repeating -- do not put foreign objects in your mouth:

"In the spring of 1843, the great British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel took a rare break from his labors -- at the time he was building the SS Great Britain, the largest and most challenging ship ever to come off a drawing board to that time -- to amuse his children with a magic trick. Things didn't go quite to plan, however. Midway through the entertainment Brunel accidentally swallowed a gold half-sovereign coin that he had secreted under his tongue. We may reasonably imag­ine Brunel's look of surprise followed by consternation and perhaps slight panic as he felt the coin slide down his throat and lodge at the base of his trachea. It caused him no great pain, but it was uncomfort­able and unnerving because he knew that if it shifted even slightly it could choke him.

"Over the next few days, Brunel, his friends, colleagues, family, and doctors attempted every obvious remedy, from slapping him hard on the back to holding him aloft by the ankles (he was a small man and easily lofted) and shaking him vigorously, but nothing worked....


Brunel was quite the go-getter; Need a bridge? Sure, suspension or the world's longest brick span? Need a prefabricated hospital to answer Florence Nighengale's call during the Crimean War? Coming right up. A railroad? Here's a thousand miles of a new wider gauge so you can take curves at higher speeds. State of the art ship building?

“And the extraordinary thing is that a modern propeller, designed by a computer, in the 21st century, is only 5% more efficient than this propeller [on the Great Britain], which was designed by a Victorian bloke, in a tall hat … guy was a genius!” – Jeremy Clarkson

"The Second Greatest Briton" at Picture Britain: One Girl's Journey

And from the "News I Hope You Never Need To Use" file: 


Industrial Development In Roman France and Roman Syria (could Rome have had an industrial revolution?)

 Two from Heritage Daily:

The Unique Hydraulics in the Barbegal Water Mills, the World’s First Industrial Plant

The Barbegal watermills in southern France are a unique complex dating back to the 2nd century AD. The construction with 16 waterwheels is, as far as is known, the first attempt in Europe to build a machine complex on an industrial scale.

The complex was created when the Roman Empire was at the height of its power. However, little is known about technological advances, particularly in the field of hydraulics, and the spread of knowledge at the time. A team of scientists led by Professor Cees Passchier from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has now gained new knowledge about the construction and principle of the water supply to the mills in Barbegal. The research results were published in Scientific Reports.

A mill complex consisting of a total of 16 water wheels in two parallel rows

Watermills were one of the first sources of energy that did not depend on the muscle strength of humans or animals. In the Roman Empire they were used to make flour and sawing stone and wood. As one of the first industrial complexes in European history, the Barbegal watermills are an outstanding example of the development at that time.

The mill complex consisted of 16 water wheels in a parallel arrangement of eight wheels each, separated by central buildings and fed by an aqueduct. The upper parts of the complex were destroyed and no traces of the wooden structures have been preserved, which is why the type of mill wheels and how they worked remained a mystery for a long time.

However, carbonate deposits that had formed from the flowing water on the wooden components remained. These were stored in the archaeological museum in Arles and only recently examined in detail.

Sketch of the Barbegal mill complex with the lower three water basins with mill wheels and water flumes: The lower basins most probably had elbow-shaped flumes. Image Credit : Cees Passchier


Photos of Stolen Mosaic Reveals Oldest Representation of Roman Hydraulic Wheel
Researchers from the University of Warsaw have determined that a mosaic stolen from Apamea in present-day Syria is the oldest representation of a Roman hydraulic water wheel....

Finally in partial answer to the headline question, a couple reposts: 

"Could Rome have had an industrial revolution?"

Originally posted December 2017.

From Reaction Magazine:
This question – could Rome have had an industrial revolution? – is prompted by Kingdom of the Wicked, a new book by Helen Dale. Dale forces us to consider Jesus as a religious extremist in a Roman world not unlike our own. The novel throws new light on our own attitudes to terrorism, globalization, torture, and the clash of cultures. It is highly recommended.
Indirectly, however, Dale also addresses the possibility of sustained economic growth in the ancient world. The novel is set in a 1st century Roman empire during the governorship of Pontus Pilate and the reign of Tiberius. But in this alternative history, the Mediterranean world has experienced a series of technical innovations following the survival of Archimedes at the siege of Syracuse, which have led to rapid economic growth. As Dale explains in the book’s excellent afterword (published separately here), if Rome had experienced an industrial revolution, it would likely have differed from the actual one; and she briefly plots a path to Roman industrialization. All of this is highly stimulating and has prompted me to speculate further about whether Rome could have experienced modern economic growth and if Dale’s proposed path towards a Roman Industrial Revolution is plausible.
Roman Economic Prosperity
For decades, historians were deeply skeptical of the potential of the ancient world to generate sustained economic growth. Influenced by Moses Finlay and Karl Polanyi, historians saw the ancient and modern worlds as separated by a cultural and economic chasm. Prior to the Industrial Revolution-era leaping of this chasm, individuals supposedly lacked “economic rationality,” did not seek opportunities to maximize profit, and were disinclined to use new technology for economic purposes.
This view is no longer credible. In his recent book, The Fate of RomeKyle Harper depicts a Roman economy which supported both population growth and rising per capita incomes. It was an economy in which inequality was high— the rich were super rich — but even the middling classes or urban poor had access to a wide range of premodern “consumer goods”. Moreover, according to Harper, this was based on market-orientated Smithian growth:
“Peace, law, and transportation infrastructure fostered the capillary penetration of markets everywhere. The clearing of piracy from the Mediterranean in the late Republic may have been the single most critical precondition for the burst of commercial expansion that the Romans witnessed; risk of harm has often been the costliest impediment to seaborne exchange. The umbrella of Roman law further reduced transaction costs. The dependable enforcement of property rights and a shared currency regime encouraged entrepreneurs and merchants . . . Roman banks and networks of commercial credit offered levels of financial intermediation not attained again until the most progressive corners of the seventeenth-eighteenth century global economy. Credit is the lubricant of commerce, and in the Roman empire the gears of trade whirred” (Harper, 2017, p 37).
This assessment is bold but consistent with the recent findings of archaeologists who continue to uncover evidence of dense trading networks and widespread ownership of industrially produced consumption goods across the empire. Willem Jongman’s chapter in the recent Cambridge History of Capitalism summarizes many of these new findings:
“crucial performance indicators show dramatic aggregate and per capita increases in production and consumption from the 3rd century BCE, or sometimes a bit later, until the Roman economy reached a spectacular peak during the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE, lasting until perhaps the middle of the 2nd century CE” (Jongman, 2015, 81).
Jongman’s chapter provides evidence of intensified coal production, pollution, building construction, and animal consumption. I’ve reproduced one of his figures. It depicts the rapid increase in pottery shards from Netturo (approximately 50 km south of Rome) in these centuries.
From this wealth of evidence, we know that the classical world experienced what Jack Goldstone has called a “growth efflorescence”.
But at even the Roman empire at its peak in the reign of Marcus Aurelius does not appear to have been on the verge of modern economic growth. Rome lacked some of the crucial characteristics of Britain on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. There was no culture of invention and discovery, no large population of skilled tinkerers or machine builders, and no evidence of labor scarcity that might have driven the invention of labor-saving inventions.

The Roman Counter-Factual
Before concluding that a Roman Industrial Revolution was impossible, however, perhaps some caution is required. In many respects the British Industrial Revolution was overdetermined. Nick Crafts made this point eloquently almost 40 years ago in his comparison of Britain and France:
“there are no “covering laws” which explain England’s primacy; the best we can do is to formulate explanatory generalizations with an error term. Given that the “event” is unique, the tools of statistical inference are inadequate to explain the timing of decisive innovations . . . Furthermore, if the Industrial Revolution is thought of as the result of a stochastic process, the question, “Why was England first?” is misconceived: the observed result need not imply the superiority of antecedent conditions in England” (Crafts, 1978).
Craft’s point is that the timing of Industrial Revolution was partly random and, in the absence of repeated experiments, we will never have precise causal estimates of the impact of any single factor that distinguished 18th century England, from France, Qing China, or indeed ancient Rome. All that we can say is that the balance of probabilities was such so as to make an economic breakthrough much more likely in 18th century Europe than in China or the ancient world....MUCH MORE
And from May of 2017:

If the Industrial Revolution Hadn't Occured In Britain, Would It Have Happened Elsewhere?
From Marginal Revolution:
How long until another Industrial Revolution would have taken place?
Let’s say that somehow Britain had let its opportunity pass by (lost the wrong war?), or perhaps never had been in the right position at all (no Gulf Stream?).  When would the world have seen an Industrial Revolution?  Keep in mind Song China came relatively close to having a break through of some kind, but still did not pull it off; some commentators suggest the same about the Roman Empire.....MORE

New Atlas: Amazing Things

 Four stories at New Atlas:

Ebike ambulance hits the streets of Paris  

Discovery of mechanism that switches off fat production after eating  

New material cleans copper from wastewater with unmatched efficiency 

Sugary droplets turn algal cells into miniature hydrogen factories

And many more.



The Criminal as Entrepreneur (or how did Jack Dorsey end up in a painting from 1883?)

The guy second from right, Dorsey right?

From American Affairs, Fall 2018, Volume II number 3:

About the Author
Cedric Muhammad is an entrepreneur and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret. He is the former general manager of Wu-Tang Management and is a member of the African Union’s Congress of Economists. Follow him on Twitter.


Painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can read.
—Pope Gregory the Great

Drug dealers anonymous / Y’all think Uber’s the future, our cars been autonomous.
—Jay-Z, “Drug Dealers Anonymous
Jean-Eugène Buland (1852–1926), Le Tripot (The Dive) (1883), oil on canvas, 63.5 × 109.2 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons
The latest iteration of rap beef—this time between the multiplatinum hitmaker Drake and the street-credible lyricist Pusha T—had all of the attributes of the tradition, only inart was fueled by the warp speed of social media and the glitz of a calculated marketing plan. Witty innuendo, gossip, and slick production were married to the Spotify playlist algorithm and Instagram stories. But there was something else at work in the reemergence of Pusha T, a forty-plus-year-old rapper who was the consensus winner in the battle. His open embrace of references to and imagery from the entrepreneurial aspects of drug culture brought a motif of the decades-old gangster subgenre in rap music1 back to front-and-center status. Pusha T relied on the artistic presentation of a black American antihero—the drug dealer MC (master of ceremonies)—a play on the transmutation of cultural capital that has accrued to both the street hustler and hip-hop artist who remain closely tied to their communities.

When Pusha T rapped on “If You Know You Know” that “A rapper-turned-trapper can’t morph into us / But a trapper-turned-rapper can morph into Puff,” he indicated a separation of sorts: an artist could never do what a street entrepreneur does, yet a hustler could not only make music but also conduct business at the highest level of the music industry (a nod to Sean “Puffy” Combs, whom Pusha described as the ultimate “street dream”). And by making clear that he didn’t care whether the average person understood the code he spoke, he (and the TMZ-destined, meme-worthy aspects of the back-and-forth) intrigued both those outside of the culture and people residing within those zip codes most familiar with “the life” he described.2 But why are such figures so intriguing?

The Celebration of Crime in Popular Culture
The celebration of crime is not a new phenomenon in American culture. David E. Ruth’s Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918–1934 (University of Chicago Press, 1996) showcases the phenomenon as it played out a century ago. And Thomas H. Pauly, in tracing the evolution of the criminal throughout popular culture, describes the development of an image that makes the pure celebration or condemnation of criminal activity virtually impossible:
The criminal is the menace, the alien, the Other—the one we fear, avoid and condemn. Because criminals are outlaws, they operate outside of the rules and expectations by which we define ourselves as a society. But because they exist within our society, they threaten those codes that give our lives order and security. [But] we also realize that criminals are not always obvious outsiders. Some operate at the highest levels of respectable society and from very influential political and business positions. When this type of criminal ceases to be the random oddity and seems commonplace, our normal suspicions become confused and turn back upon themselves.3
Normalization of the street hustler, criminal, and gangster has been a staple of American pop culture, largely (it seems) because the lines between immoral and moral, informal and formal, illegal and legal have always been blurred.

In “Big Funerals: The Hollywood Gangster, 1927–1933,” a treatment of the image of criminal entrepreneurship, Andrew Sarris discusses the presentation of the “urban criminal” in cinema from The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) to The High Sign (1921) to Underworld (1927) to Little Caesar (1931) to Scarface (1932).4 “Crooks and criminals go back very far and down very deep in all cultures,” he wrote: “Cain as sinner rather than criminal because murder violated God’s law before there were any laws drawn up by men, The Thief of Bagdad, MacHeath in The Beggar’s Opera and later in The Threepenny Opera, Fagin, Bill Sikes, Raskolnikov, Smerdyakov, the denizens of François Villon’s Paris, the pirates, outlaws, highwaymen, and cutthroats of song and story. . . . The movie gangster drew from time to time on all these prior cultural sources.” With this in mind, Sarris determined, “The gangster movie was thus born full grown out of the union of mythology and sociology, literature and journalism.”5 That union—as it plays out across ethnicity, specific criminal activity and prohibition, legalization and decriminalization movements—suggests the superiority of art, at times, over politics in conveying popular sentiment in society.

It is the centrality of community sentiment and the shifts in it that explain why criminals are often popular. Black’s Law Dictionary defines crime as “an act committed or omitted, in violation of a public law, either forbidding or commanding it; a breach or violation of some public right or duty due to a whole community, considered as a community.” If a “community” finds a public law (or the motivation for it) more offensive than a committed or omitted act, however, or even sees public authority as less legitimate than its own customs and traditions, it stands to reason that the definition of “law” will not always be in alignment with the community itself. Should a “criminal” emerge who is seen as more faithful to the customs of the community, notwithstanding the standards of public law, he or she is likely to be more trusted than any central lawmaking or law-enforcing institution.
Perception matters, and in America kinship-based communities have often seen local, state, and federal governments in the light of Psalm 94:20 (“Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?”)—as entities with which they are incompatible, entities that even conspire against them, at times, through legal means. Inseparable from those perceptions, moreover, are the economic and entrepreneurial aspects of crime, and how they interact with community aspirations.
The Criminal as Businessman
Daniel Bell’s seminal 1953 essay “Crime as an American Way of Life” pursued greater clarity about the true relationship between crime, community, and culture.6 Crime, he suggested, “has a ‘functional’ role in the society, and the urban rackets—the illicit activity organized for continuing profit rather than individual illegal acts—is one of the queer ladders of social mobility in American life.”7 Bell argued that American organized crime could not be understood without an appreciation of “(1) the distinctive role of organized gambling as a function of a mass-consumption economy; (2) the specific role of various immigrant groups as they one after another became involved in marginal business and crime; and (3) the relation of crime to the changing character of the urban political machines.”8 To update that tripod, one may add a fourth category—the lens of artists and mass media.

Bell understood the centrality of gambling to the underground economy of his day. “Like American capitalism itself,” he wrote, “crime shifted its emphasis from production to consumption. The focus of crime became the direct exploitation of the citizen as consumer, largely through gambling. And while the protection of these huge revenues was inextricably linked to politics, the relation between gambling and ‘the mobs’ became more complicated.”9

The “mobs” organized around gambling sorted themselves along distinct ethnic lines. Among the poor and lower class, and black Americans in particular, gambling germinated in the policy racket and “numbers” game whereby participants bet upon the selection of certain numbers. How the disparity between black American numbers entrepreneurs and those from the Jewish and Italian ethnic groups played out can be seen in the takeover of the Harlem policy racket. In African American Organized Crime: A Social History (Rutgers University Press, 1997), Rufus Schatzberg and Robert J. Kelly describe this takeover as follows:
“Dutch” Schultz was a notorious gunman, widely feared in the New York underworld during the bootlegging wars. . . . [He] recognized the enormous potential of the Harlem policy racket. . . . Because policy was an African-American game, and illegal, and because the policy operators did not have a reputation for violence, a take over seemed relatively easy and not very costly, either in lives or in bribes. The Harlem “coup” could be conducted, therefore, through a series of staged incentives that appealed to the common sense of his African-American competitors. . . . Pitted against the New York crime bosses, Harlem seemed vulnerable. Harlem policy operators paid the police but they lacked a crucial advantage—the political machine. . . . More than removing law enforcement as an obstacle in criminal enterprises, Schultz mobilized police officers, bail bondsmen, lawyers, and court officials as active participants in his criminal enterprises and as appendages in his war for the numbers rackets in Harlem.10
This history represents an early example of the complexities surrounding the intersection of organized criminal activity, ethnic succession, and politics. Three of the most iconic black American figures historically tied to the numbers business are Casper Holstein, Stephanie St. Clair, and “Bumpy” Johnson. Casper Holstein, an immigrant from St. Croix, became the “numbers king” of Harlem early last century. Holstein is the real-life figure who serves as the basis of the character “Valentin Narcisse” on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Madam St. Clair, an immigrant from the French West Indies, was another Harlem boss who dominated the numbers racket. “Bumpy” Johnson, the enforcer for Madam St. Clair, later negotiated an agreement with Lucky Luciano—after Dutch Schultz was killed—to return control of the Harlem numbers racket to black operators. (Incidentally, considering her pioneering role as “Madam Queen” and “Lady Gangster,” it is surprising that a criminal entrepreneur such as Madam St. Clair has received so little attention as a figure of female empowerment.)

The importance of this form of gambling to the so-called legitimate economy was immense. Ivan Light wrote in 1977 that “Numbers racketeers have been the largest investors in black-owned business or ghetto real estate and the chief source of business capital in the ghetto. . . . Numbers bankers have been virtually the only sources of business capitalization available to local blacks lacking collateral or credit rating.” In addition, “numbers bankers have been leading philanthropists in depressed black neighborhoods, making donations to churches and athletic teams, and providing Christmas and Easter baskets for the poor.”11 Light views the numbers racket as an adaptation by blacks to address their inability to source and form capital from legal market and government sources. The numbers game in Harlem, the “Italian lottery,” and “Bolita” (popular among Cubans) are as much the ancestor of the modern lottery in America as those which existed during colonial times, but few are aware of this history.

All of these issues related to gambling continue to play out today, though legalization has changed, and continues to change, its economic and cultural implications. As Bell noted, criminal entrepreneurial activity declined when its consumption-based profile ascended, and the emergence of the legal lottery as a fundraising source for governments appears to have removed intrigue from the practice, although it clearly still exists underground. The marriage between live entertainment and gambling as a leisure activity contributed to the rise of the racetrack and the casino as physical locations. Casinos eventually won out, as horse racing faded in mass popularity, and boxing moved from outdoor arenas to become an event hosted in venues inside of or attached to casinos and their hotels. As these changes occurred, criminal entrepreneurs gradually receded because they were unable to compete on such a large scale.

More recent developments in legalization, however, may precipitate a shift in the opposite direction. When Bell was writing, the transformation of gambling paralleled the transition from an industrial to a consumption economy. Today, developments like the recent Supreme Court decision (Murphy v. NCAA) that effectively legalized sports gambling reflect the transition to an information economy. The legalization of sports betting in an era of social media introduces a new legal opportunity—the efficient transfer of increasingly valuable information. As Bell pointed out, the most important aspect of horse racing was not the outcome of the competition itself but rather the pursuit of accurate information in advance of it:
As other rackets diminished, and gambling, particularly horse-race betting, flourished in the ’40’s, a struggle erupted over the control of racing information.
Horse-race betting requires a peculiar industrial organization. The essential component is time. A bookie can operate only if he can get information on odds up to the very last minute before the race, so that he can “hedge” or “lay off” bets. With racing going on simultaneously on many tracks throughout the country, this information has to be obtained speedily and accurately. Thus, the racing wire is the nerve ganglion of race betting.12
Sports betting and its lucrative newswire should reward the combination of a detailed knowledge of sports and higher social media usage (notably, in this decade Latinos and African Americans have shown disproportionate engagement on Twitter and Instagram). With athletes disproportionately coming from lower-income communities—at a time when such communities have increased access to these celebrities—a greater flow of material information regarding factors that influence their athletic performance may be at the disposal of entrepreneurs from these communities. And since variables impacting athletic performance are not gambling-specific, space remains for individuals who specialize in information and data curation. The modern version of the “racing wire” appears to provide more opportunities for entry-level derivative monetization.

Another positive contributing factor in this direction might also be the increased importance of status-signaling through social media and the disclosure and transference of previously unknown information by rappers and celebrities. This was a factor in the Pusha T/Drake beef. It is widely believed, due to the fact that both artists (and Kanye West) have contractual relationships with Adidas, that Pusha T was privy to information about an upcoming marketing campaign the company was developing around Drake and his previously unknown baby son. Some pondered whether the disclosure cost the company untold millions by preempting the promotional effort and weakening Drake’s popularity. Others, though, saw it in terms of the publicity boost it gave to a company fiercely competing with Nike and holding off Puma.13 Nevertheless, the incident gave lower-income communities—generally more known for consumption—the kind of information that only well-heeled investors and company insiders would typically have access to.

Here, culture is not innovating; it is only continuing a long tradition of art serving the function of information provider. As decision-makers increasingly value intelligence, human and artificial, and as social media and the internet have democratized access to the distribution of information, those closest to poorer communities have more opportunity than ever to unearth insights, reveal gossip, identify trends, and exchange them for compensation.
The Oldest Profession
When Dave Chappelle held up Pimp, Iceberg Slim’s legendary book, during a 2018 Netflix special, and used an aspect of the narrative as a metaphor for his own career and American society, he not only struck a chord with his audience, he also brought one of the most popular personalities in urban street culture back to center stage. Iceberg Slim, born in Chicago in 1918, was the author of seven books during his lifetime, two of which were published posthumously. Pimp: The Story of My Life (Holloway House, 1967) was his autobiography, in which Slim details his career as a pimp from the age of eighteen to forty-two.14 Filled with gut-wrenching anecdotes, slang, and proverb-like sayings, the book has become more than a cult classic....
About the Author
Cedric Muhammad is an entrepreneur and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret. He is the former general manager of Wu-Tang Management and is a member of the African Union’s Congress of Economists. Follow him on Twitter.
...MUCH MORE (including enough footnotes to make Matt Levine weep for joy)

Possibly related, one of our top 20 posts of 2010:

Business Plans: Keep it Pimpin' Edition
Original post:
One of these days I'll do a post or two on business plans. For now:
From Vice Magazine's Viceland Today blog (we have 1300 feeds, what can I say):

Speaking of great amateur literature, here’s a detailed business plan from a pimp that outlines his strategy to expand business and “take care my bitches more better” titled, “Keep it Pimpin’.”

Judging from this guy’s lofty goals, we can only assume he’s small time and probably deals primarily in broken-ass hoes who don’t yield a high rate of return right now, but if he follows through with his plan to “discover hoes from all over (jail house, small cities),” and stays “high in pursuit looking for a prostitute,” his goal–to take his “game to the next level (from the concrete streets, to executive suites)” will be realized before he knows it. There is, however, one glaring omission from his business outline, and that’s the mention of slapping his product. Any pimp worth his weight in vagina knows sometimes the girls will get out of line. It’s important to have a record of your disciplinary intentions to keep both parties (pimps and prostitutes) on the same page.

It’s sort of hard to read, but the whole letter is below. Read it and take whatever advice you will from it. BTW, this thing came from a prosecutor. It’s real.