Wednesday, April 01, 2015

American regulation drives innovation north...

You can't stop the signal... or the drones apparently (TechCrunch)

It’s happening here, and not 2,000 ft to the south, because the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority, has been dragging its heels on green lighting testing in Washington on existing Amazon company property. Last week, the FAA did finally relent and approve experimental testing for Amazon, but the company responded (with no small amount of evident pique) by noting that the actual drone approved from testing was a prototype that has since become obsolete thanks to more recent technical advances.

In Canada, by contrast, Amazon endured only a single three-week licensing undertaking, after which it has received what the Guardian says is essentially “carte blanche” permissions regarding its full fleet of drones for testing. Of course, one could argue that given Canada’s much, much lower population density and less charged political climate, comparing the FAA’s responsibilities with those of its equivalent body in Transport Canada from the neighbor to the north is essentially comparing apples to oranges.

Still, Canada’s openness to work with drone companies on early testing might usher in a small industry boom – already in 2014, Transport Canada has approved 1,672 companies for commercial drone use, compared to just 48 total for the FAA, the Guardian notes. Canada offers some big benefits to companies hoping to eventually serve the U.S., too, including general geographic and climatological similarity with its southern companion.

Drone companies, especially those focused on solving the hard problems surrounding machine learning and autonomy, are already springing up like weeds in Canadian innovation hubs like Waterloo and Toronto, so the FAA’s sluggishness may prove vitalizing to Canada’s emerging flying robot industry.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Earth Hour

A yearly reminder that some environmentalists would prefer that we return to the dark ages.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Resilience, Grit and Learning

A somewhat related and hopeful, if tangential, article to the discussion of "safe zones" sheltering students from ideas (or White people) at institutions of learning (NationalPost) - resilience can be learned (WSJ):

He and Mr. Charney came up with 10 traits of people who survived war, assault and disasters, as well as less traumatic events, and ultimately thrived. These people tend to be optimistic—thinking things will work out—and are able to accept what can’t be changed and focus on what can be, he says. They recognize that even though they didn’t have a choice in their loss, they are responsible for their own happiness.

Although genetics plays a role in being resilient, it isn’t a huge one. Resilience can be learned and enhanced, he says. For example, people can develop a more optimistic view by cultivating friendships with positive people and challenging negative thoughts.

“When you change the way you are viewing things, it has a pretty big impact on all sorts of things,” Mr. Southwick says. It isn’t easy to do, he acknowledges.
Harvard researcher Angela Duckworth defines grit as being "the ability to persist and passionately pursue your goal of winning, whatever it takes." According to Ducksworth, when it comes to success, grit is more important than talent. (99u)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tech to watch: DNA nanobots to cure cancer

This is amazing (nextbigfuture):

In a brief talk, Bachelet said DNA nanobots will soon be tried in a critically ill leukemia patient. The patient, who has been given roughly six months to live, will receive an injection of DNA nanobots designed to interact with and destroy leukemia cells—while causing virtually zero collateral damage in healthy tissue.

According to Bachelet, his team have successfully tested their method in cell cultures and animals and written two papers on the subject, one in Science and one in Nature.

How high taxes drive away innovators

People respond to incentives. Even inventors (via ASI):

This paper studies the effect of top tax rates on inventors’ mobility since 1977. We put special emphasis on “superstar” inventors, those with the most and most valuable patents. We use panel data on inventors from the United States and European Patent Offices to track inventors’ locations over time and combine it with international effective top tax rate data. We construct a detailed set of proxies for inventors’ counterfactual incomes in each possible destination country including, among others, measures of patent quality and technological fit with each potential destination. We find that superstar top 1% inventors are significantly affected by top tax rates when deciding where to locate.

The elasticity of the number of domestic inventors to the net-of-tax rate is relatively small, between 0.04 and 0.06, while the elasticity of the number of foreign inventors is much larger, around 1.3. The elasticities to top net-of-tax rates decline as one moves down the quality distribution of inventors. Inventors who work in multinational companies are more likely to take advantage of tax differentials. On the other hand, if the company of an inventor has a higher share of its research activity in a given country, the inventor is less sensitive to the tax rate in that country.

The effects of the minimum wage hike in Seattle

More unintended consequences (Shiftwa)? Pretending that effects like these are accidents is either political malpractice or simple idiocy at this point...
Related: "The Minimum Wage and the Great Recession: Evidence of Effects on the Employment and Income Trajectories of Low-Skilled Workers" (Cato)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Falling commodity prices

Trying to predict commodity prices isn't dissimilar to trying to catch a falling knife - but it shouldn't surprise anyone how quickly neo malthusians were once again proven wrong (Reason):

Plunging oil prices have been big news over the past year. Since mid-summer 2014, the price for benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude has fallen from $105 to $48 per barrel. But it's not just the price of petroleum that has plummeted. The prices of lots of other industrially important commodities have also been dropping.

Erten and Ocampo also point out, "The magnitude of cumulative decline during the downward trend is 47 percent for the non-fuel commodity prices, with recent increases of around 8 percent far from compensating for this long-term cumulative deterioration." The recent upswing phase of the current super-cycle did not boost commodity prices to nearly what they were a few cycles back.

However, Erten and Ocampo report that metals have been an exception—the mean of the last cycle was higher than the preceding one. Still, they note, "The contraction phase of this cycle has not even begun yet, which can lower the mean of the whole cycle in the upcoming years." It now appears that commodity prices were just reaching their pinnacles when Erten and Ocampo were writing up their results back in 2011. Instead of peak resource production we are most likely now past peak commodity prices—and heading lower for at least for the next ten to fifteen years.

Bridge International Academies: privatized mass education in developing countries

Developing countries need more entrepreneurs and business selling solutions that people want and need vs bureaucrats forcing interventions down their throats 'for their own good.' This is exciting. From the WSJ - "For-profit Bridge International Academies is challenging the assumption that governments and charities should lead education programs in impoverished countries":

Bridge’s founders are challenging the long-held assumption that governments rather than companies should lead mass education programs. The company’s goal is to eventually educate 10 million children and make money by expanding its standardized, Internet-based education model across Africa and Asia.

The Internet and Barnes & Noble Inc. Nook tablets are used to deliver lesson plans, which are then used by teachers. The tablets also are used to collect test results from students scattered across hundreds of towns and villages and serve as a means of monitoring their progress.

“It’s like running Starbucks,” said Greg Mauro, a partner at California-based venture-capital firm Learn Capital LLC, the largest shareholder in Bridge with a 15% stake, likening it to the coffee chain with standardized systems and procedures that can be replicated across new locations. If all goes to plan, the American-run, Nairobi-based education startup will seek a stock-market listing in New York in 2017, according to Mr. Mauro.

The endgame of Chinese communist rule?

Cautiously optimistic... an even bigger question is what comes after (WSJ):

The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun, I believe, and it has progressed further than many think. We don’t know what the pathway from now until the end will look like, of course. It will probably be highly unstable and unsettled. But until the system begins to unravel in some obvious way, those inside of it will play along—thus contributing to the facade of stability.

Communist rule in China is unlikely to end quietly. A single event is unlikely to trigger a peaceful implosion of the regime. Its demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’├ętat. With his aggressive anticorruption campaign—a focus of this week’s National People’s Congress—he is overplaying a weak hand and deeply aggravating key party, state, military and commercial constituencies.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Piketty: About that inequality? Nevermind.

Piketty's correction (WSJ):

Though his formula helps explain extreme and persistent wealth inequality before World War I, Mr. Piketty maintains, it doesn’t say much about the past 100 years. “I do not view r>g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century,” he writes, “or for forecasting the path of inequality in the 21st century.”

Instead, Mr. Piketty argues in his new paper that political shocks, institutional changes and economic development played a major role in inequality in the past and will likely do so in the future.

When he narrows his focus to what he calls “labor income inequality”—the difference in compensation between front-line workers and CEOs—Mr. Piketty consigns his famous formula to irrelevance. “In addition, I certainly do not believe that r>g is a useful tool for the discussion of rising inequality of labor income: other mechanisms and policies are much more relevant here, e.g. supply and demand of skills and education.” He correctly distinguishes between income and wealth, and he takes a long historic perspective: “Wealth inequality is currently much less extreme than a century ago.”
More here (WSJ): "Why Thomas Piketty’s Revisions Don’t Fix His Book."

Saturday, March 07, 2015

How automation will wipe out (private sector) unions...

It's pretty basic economics (Reason):

Forecasts differ on the specifics, but they generally point to automation being disruptive as far as traditional workplace roles are concerned. A recent Oxford University study put nearly half (47 percent) of all jobs at risk of replacement by automation in two decades. A Wired article puts the number at 70 percent by the end of this century.

Computers are getting smarter and stronger while employees, with their health insurance, pensions, and vacation time are becoming increasingly expensive. The writing is on the wall; plenty of jobs, at least as performed by humans, aren't long for this world.
I think the more interesting question will be how long we will tolerate the public sector unions who earn far more than their private sector peers and the politicians who have been beholden to them.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Turning beehives into honey on tap

This is cool (wired):

Beekeepers Cedar Anderson and his father Stuart have, essentially, hacked the honeycomb—a nearly flawless geometric and structural achievements—to make it more mechanically efficient. In a nutshell, Flow frames have a partially formed honeycomb matrix within a transparent frame. Bees complete the comb, fill the cells with honey and cap them. To harvest the honey, the beekeeper inserts a tool into the top of each frame and twists, a move that splits each cell in the honeycomb vertically, allowing the honey to flow freely. It is collected at the bottom through a tube. Presto! Honey on tap. [...]

“There’s more to bees than harvesting honey. Over one third of the food we eat is dependent on bees for pollination,” Cedar says. Without the help of bees, our crops would suffer devastating consequences, and with available areas for natural bee habitats disappearing each year, systems that make it easier for humans to look after bees are crucial.

Crossfit is great for entrepreneurs...

6 reasons why, according to Entrepreneur. I confess I require a bit of the external motivation that Crossfit provides (that is when I drag myself out of bed at 440am...).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Responding to hypothetical crises: "what happened to the rare earths crisis?"

Instapundit appropriately and sarcastically responds: "shockingly, markets." From MIT's Tech Review:

Demand appears to have fallen mainly because companies stockpiled these materials in anticipation of shortages, says Hatch. As it turned out, China’s lower export quotas—which were deemed unfair by the World Trade Organization—didn’t constrain the world’s supply, and China recently stopped imposing those limits on rare earths. Hatch notes that while the prices for some rare earth materials remain above 2010 levels and could go up again, a price spike like the one seen in 2011 is unlikely.
As it turns out, net neutrality is another hypothetical crisis that American politicians have decided to take a different approach on: regulation. I predict the phrase "unintended consequences" is going to be used - that were very much and vocally predicted before hand (Reason).

How landlocked Botswana found economic growth

Through 'economic liberty'. Remarkable for a country once the third poorest in the world (dailysignal):

Friday, February 20, 2015

Whither the Greeks...

The entire Greek situation is bizarre... but in the midst of the Greek government demanding that they receive new loans, an oddly lucid piece of journalism (NYT - yes, oddly, the NYT):

Businesses are still stymied by labor rules and tax policies that under the previous government often changed week to week — 2,200 new tax regulations in the last two years alone.

Firms like Mr. Stamatiou’s, as well as investors and start-ups, face high administrative costs and bureaucratic inefficiency that Greek business associations say jeopardize jobs and leach about €14 billion a year from the economy. Corruption remains widespread, and vested interests have fought against opening swaths of the economy to competition.

“The removal of austerity is all fine and well,” said Constantine Mihalos, president of the Athens Chamber of Commerce. “But it will only be the right solution if it is followed by the necessary structural reforms in the public and private sector creating conditions for growth.”

Friday, January 23, 2015

Et tu, Stimulus?

Any excuse to spend money? Even better when you get to spend gobs of it? Nevermind, of course, the consequences (Boston Review via Instapundit)

Before the recession, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected we would have 5 million more jobs at the end of 2014 than we actually do. It also projected that the GDP would be more than 11 percent higher in 2014 than it is now. This translates into a difference in annual output of roughly $2 trillion or more than $6,000 per person. They predicted that wage and salary income would be roughly 20 percent higher than it is today. Many economists had similar projections.

What about "national socialist" suggests the Nazis were 'right-wingers'?

It's kind of still befuddling why socialism is still considered socially acceptable when Nazis are not...

Related: Well annotated rant on the issue (monsterhunternation).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Where have the entrepreneurs gone?

Not America (LATimes) - "Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does." (

Related: According to Popular Mechanics (via Instapundit), these are the 14 top startup cities, none of which are in Silicon Valley.

Kinda like Rock & Roll and the fall of the USSR?

From Bollywood vs. Bin Laden (YouTube): Why radical Islam fears pop culture

When it comes to the oil, why it's not the 80s anymore

The Saudis are betting against American innovation - which generally isn't a good bet to make. From the WSJ:

Today, the discovery and development of oil from shale rocks means that oil output is faster paced and near at hand—in Texas and North Dakota, Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming, even Ohio. Drilling and hydraulically fracturing a well takes weeks, not years. An expensive well costs $10 million, compared with the billions needed to drill offshore wells and build associated infrastructure. Moreover, expenditure of both time and money are falling fast.

The oil field investment cycle has shortened. Wildcatters in Texas discovered the Eagle Ford Shale in 2008. Within five years, it was pumping a million barrels a day—thanks to an influx of capital that paid for drilling thousands of new wells. Each well roars into life and then drops off fast. Without constantly drilling new wells, these oil fields will peter out. [...]

Companies like EOG Resources Inc. are drilling better wells faster. EOG said recently it takes 4.3 days to drill its average well in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, down from 14.2 days in 2012. What’s more, as it drills more of them, it has figured out how to locate wells to get the highest oil output.

Combining lowering costs and increasing output means that EOG says it can drill wells at $40 per barrel in North Dakota, South Texas and West Texas, while still earning a 10% return. We “pride ourselves on being a very efficient operator,” Billy Helms, EOG’s head of exploration, said at a recent industry conference.

Since oil prices began to fall, many companies have cut their capital spending plan for 2015 and the number of drilling rigs in the U.S. has fallen. But output has continued to increase.

Quote of the day

Michael Cannon at Cato: "People who pay for their own consumption don’t have the luxury of being able to pretend that tradeoffs don’t exist."

Thursday, January 08, 2015

'Je suis Charlie'

I think this response from the New Yorker framed it remarkably well:

But the murders in Paris were so specific and so brazen as to make their meaning quite clear. The cartoonists died for an idea. The killers are soldiers in a war against freedom of thought and speech, against tolerance, pluralism, and the right to offend—against everything decent in a democratic society. So we must all try to be Charlie, not just today but every day.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A note of optimism...

If it bleeds, it leads... and probably why this kind of stuff doesn't often reach our monitors - with much of this good news directly as a result of the proliferation and hard won gains of markets and capitalism (Cato): 26 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better (Vox)