Friday, November 28, 2014

Differentiating between democracy and freedom

A useful quote (FoxNews):

Real freedom means doing what you choose as an individual, not waiting for the rest of society to vote on whether you can.

What comparing the growth of students from India and China says about their respective development

From WSJ:

China’s rise to the top—it had 200,000 more students last year to the U.S. than it did just eight years earlier—reflects the growing incomes and increasing globalization of the country’s citizens, analysts say.

Chinese students were much more likely to go to the states for undergraduate studies than Indian students. Only around 12% of Indians that study in the U.S. were there for undergraduate studies during the past school year, compared to 40% of Chinese students, the IIE study showed.

It makes sense, said Akhil Daswani, chief operating officer of OnCourse Vantage, an education consulting company in India, an undergraduate degree is a luxury few Indians can afford.

“If you are going to spend $250,000 over four years you have to have a considerable amount of disposable income,” Mr. Daswani said. “Undergraduate schools are marketing heavily (in China). It is the first place they want to go because they are getting so much business.”

When they go for an international degree, Indians prefer to get more bang for their rupee, they tend to go for two-year graduate courses that lead to high-paying jobs.

Estonia's e-residency: the end of the nation state?

Estonia's new e-residency (Australian broadcasting corporation):

For 50 euro - about $70 - you can apply for the digital ID card with a couple of PIN codes that will make you an e-resident of the country.
With a population of just 1.3 million people, they're looking at allowing up to 10 million 'e-Estonians'. An experiment to watch. Compare and contrast (Reuters).

Introverts and Extroverts

Apparently one is better than the other (Time).  Not terribly surprising - though that's speaking as an introvert who sometimes tries to emulate extroverts.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"The White Savior Industrial Complex"

For the record, despite a history of failures, I don't think the problem is "trying to save the world" (New Republic via Alan L. on FB). It's the arrogance and preconceptions but also the ignorance of how to make small innovations scale:

This isn’t a criticism of the projects themselves. This is how social policy works, in baby steps and trial-and-error and tweaks, not in game changers. Leave the leaps and bounds to computing power. If a 49-cent deworming treatment really does produce a $30 increase in wages for some of the poorest people on Earth, we are assholes for not spending it.

And this is where I landed after a year of absorbing dozens of books and articles and speeches about international development: The arguments against it are myriad, and mostly logistical and technical. The argument for it is singular, moral, and, to me anyway, utterly convincing: We have so much, they have so little.

If we really want to fix development, we need to stop chasing after ideas the way we go on fad diets. Successful programs should be allowed to expand by degrees, not digits (direct cash payments, which have shown impressive results in Kenya and Uganda, are a great candidate for the kind of deliberate expansion I’m talking about). NGOs need to be free to invest in the kinds of systems and processes we’re always telling developing countries to put in place. And rich countries need to spend less time debating how to divide up the tiny sliver of our GDP we spend on development and more time figuring out how to leverage our vast economic and political power to let it happen on its own.
Hitting the point a bit more aggressively - a hilarious parody (

Sunday, November 09, 2014

From outcast to CEO: Gabriel Bristow, Intelicare Direct

A remarkable story (inc):

It was 1989. He was 19, freezing on the streets of Lansing, Michigan, giving blood for money. A runaway. Homeless.

[...] "Throw the faggot in the river!" shouted one boy. Several other kids chimed in, and two boys grabbed Bristol. Before they could finish the job, he struggled free. Traumatized by the episode, Bristol stopped going to school shortly thereafter. Following a particularly bad fight with his parents, he got on a Greyhound bus to the first big city he could think of: Lansing.

[...] In 2012, he replied to a listing for a call center manager job at Instant Checkmate, a background-check website that, for a monthly subscription fee, lets users perform public records searches. The site, created by San Diego entrepreneurs Joey Rocco and Kris Kibak, already had a call center, but "it was poorly managed," says Kibak. "The quality control was not there."

Bristol came into the interview and promised to fix those problems. "He was very much a salesman," says Rocco. "I remember smirking in the interview, like, wow, he's good." They all agreed that he should run the customer service department as a standalone company and bring in his own clients and revenue.

And so, for the first time, Bristol was running the show. He leased new office space in Las Vegas and built another location in San Diego. He'd build call centers the way he thought his people deserved.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Jonathan Rothberg's chip that could disrupt medical imaging

Not sure whether it's bravado and whether Rothberg can deliver, but given his track record, this is something to watch which could also significantly reduce the cost of healthcare (Wired):

Rothberg says he has raised $100 million to create a medical imaging device that’s nearly “as cheap as a stethoscope” and will “make doctors 100 times as effective.” The technology, which according to patent documents relies on a new kind of ultrasound chip, could eventually lead to new ways to destroy cancer cells with heat, or deliver information to brain cells.

[...]Rothberg says he got interested in ultrasound technology because his oldest daughter, now a college student, has tuberous sclerosis. It is a disease that causes seizures and dangerous cysts to grow in the kidneys. In 2011 he underwrote an effort in Cincinnati to test whether high-intensity ultrasound pulses could destroy the kidney tumors by heating them.

What he saw led Rothberg to conclude there was room for improvement. The setup—an MRI machine to see the tumors, and an ultrasound probe to heat them—cost millions of dollars, but wasn’t particularly fast, more like a “laser printer that takes eight days to print and looks like my kids drew it in crayon,” he says. “I set out to make a super-low-cost version of this $6 million machine, to make it 1,000 times cheaper, 1,000 times faster, and a hundred times more precise.”

The problem with central planning: "the information problem"

It doesn't really matter if it's socialism, communism or fascism... the problem is the same - but it's also why even in a perfect world, socialism can't work (

In order for us to have cooperation on a massive scale-cooperation on a scale of millions or tens of millions-we need some sort of signal that tells us what's going on in the economy. It turns out we get that signal in market societies and it's in the form of prices. We're all making all these private decisions and it modifies prices a little bit and then we respond appropriately. We don't know what's causing scarcity. We don't know what other peoples' desires are or demands are, we can just see that the price of strawberries is cheap over here and it's expensive over here and that tells me everything I need to know as a consumer about what to do. The problem with socialism on a mass scale is that they don't have a substitute for prices.

[...] In principle, there are cases where an omni-benevolent, omniscient dictator could come in and fix the market and make it better. It's rarely going to be the case in actuality that a person knows when and how to intervene. Given the limits of human knowledge, given the limits of peoples' ability, and also just given their biases and so on and the fact that they're likely to use this power selfishly rather than for our own good, I think it's better not to empower them to do these things.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Why is New York trying to contain school choice?

In a world that's becoming increasingly global, with the persistent rhetoric on the importance of giving kids the best possible education, New York is going to close the doors to any new charter schools that parents are clamouring for, despite a few facts:

Of the city public school system’s 717 high-poverty public schools enrolling a large number of black and Hispanic students, only 3.6% of them have a proficiency rate in either math or English that is above 50% (and seven of those high achievers select their students). In contrast, fully one-third of similarly situated charter schools meet that bar, a rate almost 10 times higher.

When charter schools are compared to district schools in the three areas in which they are concentrated — Harlem, Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx — charters once again far outpace their district counterparts in both subject areas, with proficiency rates more than double in math, and in English higher by between seven and 14 points.

Some 50,000 parents applied to a charter school and did not get in because there simply aren’t enough charter-school seats. Those parents are sitting on waiting lists and too often their children are sitting in struggling public schools where their future is slowly disappearing before them.

Opponents imply that charters are selective, that they gin up their test scores by systematically cherry-picking the most motivated students and forcing out kids who don’t measure up.

That’s wrong. Not only is admission by open lottery, but over the past several years, charter schools have taken important steps to enroll populations of students that more closely reflect their neighborhoods.

The number of special-needs students and English Language Learners now attending charters has gone up. And what’s more, the results show many charter schools are having tremendous success in not just enrolling but educating them.

Is Amazon really like ISIS?

You have to hate competition a lot in order to make stupid pronouncements like this. Book agent Andrew Wylie Calls Amazon An "ISIS-Like Distribution Channel" (TechCrunch).