2018/10/10: it’s not that the news about climate has changed, but that the scientific community is finally discarding caution in describing the implications of its own finding.
They have also, thankfully, offered a practical suggestion, proposing the imposition of a carbon tax many, many times higher than those currently in use or being considered — they propose a tax of up to $5,000 per ton of carbon dioxide by 2030, growing to $27,000 per ton by 2100. Today, the average price of carbon across 42 major economies is just $8 per ton. The new Nobel laureate in economics, William Nordhaus, made his name by almost inventing the economic study of climate change, and his preferred carbon tax is $40 per ton — which would probably land us at about 3.5 degrees of warming. He considers that grotesque level “optimal.”
But a carbon tax is only a spark to action, not action itself. And the action needed is at a scale and a speed almost unimaginable to most of us. The IPCC report called it unprecedented. Other activists often see one precedent, in all of human history, citing the model of how the United States prepared for World War II, and calling for a global mobilization of that kind — all of the world’s rivalrous societies and nationalistic governments and self-interested industries organized around the common pursuit of a stable and comfortable climate as though warming was an existential threat.
It is. And the World War II mobilization metaphor is not hyperbole.
A few weeks ago, as the IPCC report loomed, I had lunch with a prominent climate scientist who’d been involved in earlier reports and has done considerable work on local preparedness as well. I asked if he thought New York would eventually build a sea wall or surge barrier to protect the city from sea-level rise and flooding. Yes, he said, Manhattan will be protected, at any cost. But major infrastructure projects like these take decades — typically about 30 years. Even if we began building today, he said, the barrier would not be finished in time to save Howard Beach and other parts of southern Queens and Brooklyn. Soon enough, he said, you’ll see the city adjust accordingly — halting new infrastructure projects there, eventually pulling back from even quotidian maintenance like sewer repairs and generally signaling to current residents that they will not be able to leave behind their homes, when they die, to their children. And of course a sea wall to protect New York only encloses the narrows of New York Harbor, leaving all of Long Island exposed.
This is just the threat from sea level, and just one (very rich) metropolitan area. The world is much bigger than that, but so is climate change. It is also very fast, with more than half the carbon humanity has ever emitted into the atmosphere having come in just the last 25 years, since Al Gore published his first book on climate change. Monday’s IPCC may seem like a dramatic departure, and it is. But there is going to be much more like it coming. So long as we continue to squander what little time we have, the news will only get worse from here.
2018/10/10: There is a "machine learning is hard" angle to this: while the flawed outcomes from the flawed training data was totally predictable, the system's self-generated discriminatory criteria were surprising and unpredictable. No one told it to downrank resumes containing "women's" -- it arrived at that conclusion on its own, by noticing that this was a word that rarely appeared on the resumes of previous Amazon hires.
The group created 500 computer models focused on specific job functions and locations. They taught each to recognize some 50,000 terms that showed up on past candidates’ resumes. The algorithms learned to assign little significance to skills that were common across IT applicants, such as the ability to write various computer codes, the people said.
Instead, the technology favored candidates who described themselves using verbs more commonly found on male engineers’ resumes, such as “executed” and “captured,” one person said.
Gender bias was not the only issue. Problems with the data that underpinned the models’ judgments meant that unqualified candidates were often recommended for all manner of jobs, the people said. With the technology returning results almost at random, Amazon shut down the project, they said.
2006/10/15: The Digital Collections and Archives of Tufts University and Manuscripts and Archives of Yale University have recently completed a National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) electronic records research grant (grant number 2004-083) entitled “Fedora and the Preservation of University Records.” The Tufts-Yale Project focused on three main areas of research: requirements for trustworthy recordkeeping systems and preservation activities, the ingest of records into a preservation system, and the maintenance of records in a preservation system.
The project aimed to combine electronic records preservation research and theory with digital library research and practice. In particular, the Tufts-Yale Project planned on answering the question: Does Fedora have the ability to serve as an electronic records preservation system. Tufts University has been using Fedora as the basis of the Tufts Digital Repository for several years. As it was already strongly invested in developing and managing this repository with an expanding set of services, Tufts was keen on exploring Fedora’s ability to serve as a preservation system for electronic archival records. At the start of this project, Yale had been considering various alternatives for a preservation system, including a Fedora-based solution.
The Tufts-Yale Project focused on university records because each institution has a primary responsibility to preserve these records. However, the findings of this project are not particularly university-specific and are easily applicable to the management and preservation of electronic records in most industries.
2018/10/11: C'è una bomba pronta ad esplodere su "quota 100". Il 40% dei pensionati che anticiperanno la pensione grazie alla norma di Lega e Cinque Stelle - a partire da chi ha 62 anni e 38 di contributi - è composto da statali, come ha confermato ieri il presidente Inps, Tito Boeri. Si tratta, secondo questa stima, di 160 mila pensionati su 400 mila. Ebbene, a loro lo Stato dovrà erogare anche la liquidazione che si chiama Tfs: trattamento di fine servizio.
2018/10/08: Upon closer inspection, GVCs and new technologies exhibit features that limit the upside to – and may even undermine – developing countries’ economic performance. One such feature is an overall bias in favor of skills and other capabilities. This bias reduces developing countries’ comparative advantage in traditionally labor-intensive manufacturing (and other) activities, and decreases their gains from trade.
Second, GVCs make it harder for low-income countries to use their labor-cost advantage to offset their technological disadvantage, by reducing their ability to substitute unskilled labor for other production inputs. These two features reinforce and compound each other. The evidence to date, on the employment and trade fronts, is that the disadvantages may have more than offset the advantages.
The usual response to these concerns is to stress the importance of building up complementary skills and capabilities. Developing countries must upgrade their educational systems and technical training, improve their business environment, and enhance their logistics and transport networks in order to make fuller use of new technologies, goes the oft-heard refrain.
But pointing out that developing countries need to advance on all those dimensions is neither news nor helpful development advice. It is akin to saying that development requires development. Trade and technology present an opportunity when they are able to leverage existing capabilities, and thereby provide a more direct and reliable path to development. When they demand complementary and costly investments, they are no longer a shortcut around manufacturing-led development.
Compare the new technologies with the traditional model of industrialization, which has been a powerful engine of economic growth in developing countries. First, manufacturing is tradable, which means domestic output is not constrained by demand (and incomes) at home. Second, manufacturing know-how was relatively easy to transfer across countries and, in particular, from rich to poor economies. Third, manufacturing did not make large demands on skills.
These three characteristics collectively made manufacturing a fantastic escalator to higher incomes for developing countries. New technologies present a very different picture in terms of the ease of transferring know-how and the skill requirements they imply. As a result, their net impact on low-income countries looks considerably more uncertain.
2018/10/10: In Edna Mall on the bustling Bole Road in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Mesert Baru poses for her Tecno Camon i. "This phone is seriously nice for selfies," says the 35-year-old shop assistant, admiring the picture she just took.
Mesert's satisfaction is no accident. Tecno cameras have been optimized for African complexions, explains Arif Chowdhury, vice president of Transsion. "Our cameras adjust more light for darker skin, so the photograph is more beautiful," he says. "That's one of the reasons we've become successful."
More innovations followed. Transsion opened research and development centers in China, Nigeria and Kenya to work out how to better appeal to African users. Local languages such as Amharic, Hausa and Swahili were added to keyboards and phones were given a longer battery life.
Chinese companies have been eager to use technology to tap into Africans' spending habits. In 2015, Kenyan mobile payments operator M-Pesa migrated all of its 12.8 million subscribers to Huawei's Mobile Money platform as it expanded across East Africa and beyond. The move increased the number of transactions M-Pesa could process, and the app's user base has more than doubled since then.
For Transsion, future growth is set to come from building its business outside Africa in other developing markets, such as Russia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. In 2017, it launched Tecno in India and within a year had claimed 5% of the huge market, according to IDC.
How did Tecno make such rapid progress? Transsion's Chowdhury says another innovation tailored to local customs has helped.
"Indian people use their hands to eat food," he says, "so their fingers get oily. What if you're having lunch and your boss calls? You try to take the call but your fingerprint won't work." The fix: screens that can read greasy fingers.
2018/10/10: Climate change will be worse for people who are poor, or not white, or not men, or very young, or very old — or any combination of the above. So if you, in your daily life, are doing anything to make life easier for any of those groups, you are helping to fight the devastating impacts of climate change
Lots of web developers want to achieve fast loading web pages. As more page views come from mobile devices, making websites look better on smaller screens using responsive design is just one side of the coin. Browser Calories can make the difference in loading times, which satisfies not just the user but search engines that rank on loading speed. This article series covers how to slim down your web pages with tools Fedora offers.
San Francisco's fleet of semi-derilict e-scooters shares sidewalk space with San Francisco's army of homeless people, who live in naked squalor alongside the some of the world's greatest displays of wealth.
It's a heady cocktail, and what's emerged from it is a homeless folk-hacking practice that has homeless people removing scooters' main computer (along with its GPS tracker), stripping off the logos, and hotwiring it, turning it into an untraceable personal transportation system.
"Every homeless person has like three scooters now," Ghadieh said. "They take the brains out, the logos off and they literally hotwire it."
I've seen scooters stashed at tent cities around San Francisco. Photos of people extracting the batteries have been posted on Twitter and Reddit. Rumor has it the batteries have a resale price of about $50 on the street, but there doesn't appear to be a huge market for them on eBay or Craigslist, according to my quick survey.
2018/10/10: there's a paradox here: New York real estate is valuable because of the people who want to live there because of the vibrancy of the city -- but as the city is choked off from real activity, the value of the real-estate begins to fall. And once the fall starts, it accelerates: as with all bubbles, a crisis of faith in the market precipitates a panicked sell-off, which deepens the crisis.
That dynamic is playing out in New York today: September 2018 sales volume is down 39% from September 2017, with prices dropping by 9%;
There is a ton of super-lux property about to enter the market: 9 skyscrapers this year, and 20 more by 2020.
Garrett Derderian of Stribling thinks the real number is more like 1:15, since, he claims, developers have been lowballing their supply numbers, mindful that a full picture will send prices falling further. “They are holding back homes that they would otherwise be actively marketing, and which would therefore show up in inventory figures,” he says. Inventory figures are being “significantly manipulated” by the practice of excluding this so-called shadow inventory, according to Miller.
Prices for super prime homes have been falling steadily. “In the market north of $10m, you’re seeing prices off anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent from the peak in 2014,” says Miller. In the third quarter of this year, the average home sold above $10m went for 13 per cent less than its asking price, the biggest discount of any price bracket tracked by Stribling.
2018/10/10: Il sistema può scalare? (“Scalare” significa cambiare livello di scala, ovvero essere esteso da una porzione particolare a un intero ambito o a una generalità di ambiti). Ad esempio le mie valutazioni scolastiche nei test possono essere utilizzate come una variabile per valutare la mia affidabilità nella concessione di un mutuo? È proprio la scalabilità che rende l’ADM un’arma terribile. Sin tanto che una valutazione negativa, giusta o sbagliata, resta in un ambito ristretto, il danno è limitato, ma se “scala” a un contesto più ampio, il danno può essere terribile. Provate a ritrovarvi classificati dal sistema come “cattivi pagatori” e a vivere comunque una vita normale: questo capita già oggi, poiché per essere considerati tali basta aver saltato il pagamento delle rate di un debito. E che succederebbe se creassimo un modello che identifica un probabile “cattivo pagatore” mettendo questa variabile in relazione con altre caratteristiche personali rilevate statisticamente, fino a scoprire una correlazione tra “cattivi pagatori” e neri o meridionali? Chi pensa che sia futurologia o fantascienza alla Minority report non conosce i primi sistemi anti-cheating di Invalsi che prevedevano una correzione automatica dei risultati sulla base della provenienza regionale.
Il libro di Cathy O’Neill non è un invito a rinunciare al potere descrittivo e modellizzante della matematica, ma a riconoscere il suo enorme potere, i suoi usi nefasti se non addirittura fraudolenti, per poterne così chiedere un uso corretto e legittimo.
2018/10/09: In the past few years, California has emerged as a global leader in tackling climate change through agricultural policy. One of its most successful programs to date has been the State Water Efficiency Enhancement Program, known as SWEEP. The first program of its kind in the country, SWEEP provides financial incentives to farmers to improve irrigation management in ways that both save water and reduce emissions. So far, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions the program is projected to achieve over its lifetime are equivalent to taking nearly 65,000 passenger vehicles off the road. However, state funding for the program hasn’t kept up with farmer demand. In the first three years, applications outnumbered awards by a nearly three-to-one ratio. And since drought faded from the headlines, funding for the program is in question.
Similarly promising, but struggling, is another first-of-its-kind climate-smart agriculture program: The Healthy Soils Initiative. This initiative offers financial assistance to farmers for a whole suite of practices that sequester carbon in soils, from reducing tillage to planting perennial vegetation to adding a thin layer of compost to the land. Although small, this program has been celebrated far beyond California as a particularly promising win-win policy, since carbon sequestered in soils not only reduces the burden on the atmosphere, but actually improves soils’ fertility and capacity to support healthy crops.
2018/10/09: Every scenario for keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius requires reducing per capita consumption. The scenarios range from shrinking world energy demand 15 percent by 2030 to constraining it to a 17 percent increase. Either way would mean less power for anyone rich enough to read this on a computer (if poorer people get more stuff under constrained growth, it means the richer people are going to have to make some lifestyle changes).
Some of this would come from efficiency, but it would also require “behavioural changes.”
Biofuel: Every scenario laid out by the IPCC relies on ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels to some extent, and projects an increase in farmland devoted to growing fuel. We could really use biofuels to replace jet fuel and gasoline, but it’s controversial. There are good scientists who say corn ethanol has a bigger carbon footprint than gasoline. Others say burning ethanol is already carbon negative and getting better all the time. It seems impossible to tell who is right. If you are cutting down rainforests for palm oil, that’s definitely a climate catastrophe. If you can get algae in a tank to turn sunlight to fuel, well, that’s awesome.
Nuclear power: All scenarios have nuclear providing a greater share of our electricity through 2050. Right now, nuclear power provides 11 percent of the world’s electricity. In one 1.5 degree scenario, the IPCC report has the world doubling the percentage of electricity it gets from nuclear by 2030, and quintupling it by 2050. The most “degrowthy” scenario, with dramatically decreasing energy demand, doesn’t require building new atomic plants but does require keeping the ones we have open.
2018/10/08: The Paris Agreement notes how it will take a little longer for poorer countries to fully decarbonise, raising the bar still further for the UK, USA and other wealthy nations.
To genuinely reduce emissions in line with 2 C of warming requires a transformation in the productive capacity of society, reminiscent of the Marshall Plan. The labour and resources used to furnish the high-carbon lifestyles of the top 20% will need to shift rapidly to deliver a fully decarbonised energy system.
No more second or very large homes, SUVs, business and first-class flights, or very high levels of consumption. Instead, our economy should be building new zero-energy houses, retrofitting existing homes, huge expansion of public transport, and a 4-fold increase in (zero-carbon) electrification.
Sadly, the IPCC fails, again, to address the profound implications of reducing emissions in line with both 1.5 and 2 C. Dress it up however we may wish, climate change is ultimately a rationing issue.
2018/10/09: while Couchsurfing emphasizes people, Airbnb places more emphasis on places. One of our participants explained:
“People who go on Airbnb, they are looking for a specific goal, a specific service, expecting the place is going to be clean […] the water isn’t leaking from the sink. I know people who do Couchsurfing even though they could definitely afford to use Airbnb every time they travel, because they want that human experience.”
In a follow-up quantitative analysis we conducted of the profile text from hosts on the two websites with a commonly-used system for text analysis called LIWC, we found that, compared to Couchsurfing, a lower proportion of words in Airbnb profiles were classified as being about people while a larger proportion of words were classified as being about places.
Finally, our research suggested that although hosts are the powerful parties in exchange on Couchsurfing, social power shifts from hosts to guests on Airbnb. Reflecting a much broader theme in our interviews, one of our participants expressed this concisely, saying:
2018/10/09: We live in the age of envy. Career envy, kitchen envy, children envy, food envy, upper arm envy, holiday envy. You name it, there’s an envy for it. Human beings have always felt what Aristotle defined in the fourth century BC as pain at the sight of another’s good fortune, stirred by “those who have what we ought to have” – though it would be another thousand years before it would make it on to Pope Gregory’s list of the seven deadly sins.
But with the advent of social media, says Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who studies the impact of Facebook on our wellbeing, “envy is being taken to an extreme”. We are constantly bombarded by “Photoshopped lives”, he says, “and that exerts a toll on us the likes of which we have never experienced in the history of our species. And it is not particularly pleasant.”
Clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew says she is seeing more and more envy in her consulting room, from people who “can’t achieve the lifestyle they want but which they see others have”. Our use of platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, she says, amplifies this deeply disturbing psychological discord. “I think what social media has done is make everyone accessible for comparison,” she explains. “In the past, people might have just envied their neighbours, but now we can compare ourselves with everyone across the world.” Windy Dryden, one of the UK’s leading practitioners of cognitive behavioural therapy, calls this “comparisonitis”.
And those comparisons are now much less realistic
The technological and social change the world needs dwarfs anything that’s come before in history.
we aren’t going to geoengineer our way out of this mess—cutting emissions is our number one priority. But as this new report makes abundantly clear, the disease we’ve unleashed on this planet is only getting worse, and we aren’t doing nearly enough to find the cure.
To correct course and avoid 1.5 C, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll need to cut emissions by half before 2030, and go carbon-neutral by 2050, the report says. That gives us three decades to transform our energy production into something unrecognizable, with renewable energy galore combined with carbon capture techniques like the bolstering of forests, and maybe even sucking the stuff out of the atmosphere and trapping it underground. We’ll have to change our behavior as individuals, too. Meaning, we’re looking at unprecedented change, what is essentially the restructuring of civilization.
Shipwell, a startup pitching a marketplace for domestic ground shipping and fleet and cargo management services for freight trucking companies, has raised $10 million in a new round of funding.
A booming American economy coupled with failing infrastructure and a low-margin business reluctant to adopt new technologies have put stress on domestic logistics companies in the $900 billion market for U.S. trucking services.
Shipwell combines a marketplace for shippers to connect with freight companies and online tools to manage those shipments. In effect, the company is pitching a version of the proprietary logistics management toolkit that has made Amazon so successful, to any retailer or outlet.
We coordinate the freight, we pay the truckers, we help optimize the fleets.
The company’s business isn’t for big shippers that deal with thousands of shipments per-day, but rather the small and medium sized businesses that spend $100 million or less per-year on freight. And the small-fleet shipping companies that make up the bulk of the industry.
That report says almost explicitly that, starting next Monday, an awfully big lot of people worldwide should really just sit still and smell the roses, consuming as little physical resources as it is possible to do while still living a decent, happy, meaningful life. Deliberately or not, that report is the single biggest argument in favour of real Universal Basic Income (UBI) that I have ever seen. If that report is correct, it has just made UBI just like democracy: paraphrasing someone quoted by Churchill, after that report “UBI is the worst form of economy, except for all those other forms that have been tried”.
Speaking of (digital) buzzwords…
That report is also a death sentence for several things much more related to my main line of work, and a well deserved sentence, in some cases. That report says that:
we may still have stuff like Instagram or Netflix, but on the same smartphone we already have, until it physically falls apart. More generally, we should all:
stop now buying anything electronic, unless it is really, really, really necessary
never buy anything that is deliberately made impossible to repair, even if it comes from the “coolest” company on Earth
only use and tolerate software that does not pollute more than absolutely needed
something like at least 80% of what is currently being marketed as “Internet of Things” (IoT) should simply fade away as quickly as possible. IoT is the new plastic. Stuff like Juicero, or the Tapplock should never go into production.
Community-level Digital DIY, instead, makes even more sense than it already did
the really smart home is the one made in this way
the only “smart cities” worth building are those made with Open Standards, instead of blockchains, just because it’s trendy
none of the bullets above means living worst than today, when it comes to stuff that matters
2011/12/20: the amount of electricity that goes to HFT activity is not only not presently a problem, but it has a very long way to go before it’s cause for concern. But my point is that, unlike other types of energy use, which have natural limits and constraints, and which deliver actual goods and services as an end product, there seems to be nothing stopping HFT from becoming a problem at some future date. There is no theoretical cap on the number of participants in the stock market, and there’s no theoretical cap on the number of trades per second that those participants can generate, and, thanks to derivatives, there’s no theoretical cap on the notional amount of money that market participants can shuffle around among themselves. So, again, the amount of power that goes into HFT activity can and will grow, and nothing can stop it.