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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Oct 02, 2016 at 02:19:24 AM EST) Reading, MLP, Me (all tags)
Reading: "The Idea Factory". Me. Work. Links.

What I'm Reading
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner. Workmanlike history of Bell Labs in its glory days, with a focus on the invention of the transistor. Spends a lot of time on the characters, who unfortunately weren't actually that interesting.

Doesn't try to draw too many conclusions about innovation in general: does point that a huge near-monopoly being so productive shows that "start-up culture" and competition aren't necessarily as important as people think. But he also points out that other large telcos didn't really do anything with their big profits but extract them.

In general it seems a couple of CEOs were smart enough to encourage a culture of innovation and think long-term: their products were designed to last 30 years or more. Also points out that the buildings were designed to encourage contact between people, and the rule was that if approached by anyone else you were supposed to help them, however junior.

Overall, an interesting subject reasonably well told.

Work going badly. I was diverted from my normal core development onto another product developed by a company we acquired years ago. The code's a mess (plaintext passwords in database table for instance): I got one app working pretty easily, but turned out to rely on another app for which the source code had been misplaced. Got the code eventually but have totally failed to get it working.

Meanwhile someone else going off sick means I've had to take on the work for their project. And several bugs have been raised in the actual core development.

The expectation is that in a crisis people put in work from home, but I'm so tied up with childcare and chores I don't really have time.

My main hope these days is that I will be suddenly killed by falling plane debris and be freed from endless demands without it actually being my fault.

Socioeconomics. Idle men living with parents: Is it a real, new thing? Low to middle income households are no better off than in 2001 Deutsche Bank is not Lehman. Vancouver levies property tax on foreigners. The presentation of selfies in high school.

Articles. Death and Metafilter. Rap wars in Chicago. How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars.

Politics. Freedom of Movement isn’t the problem. Boundary changes – the impact on Labour reselections. Goodbye New Labour.

1945 Transcript of Surreptitiously Taped Conversations among German Nuclear Physicists at Farm Hall, via. The idea of a 'post-truth society' is elitist and obnoxious . Neo-Nazis Are Using a White-Only Homeless Charity to Spread Race Hate.

Pics. Jukeboxes. Sigourney Weaver at a Beatles concert, via.

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The first is death in Texas | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)
Fascinating by ana (4.00 / 2) #1 Sun Oct 02, 2016 at 07:52:19 AM EST
 The transcripts from the post-War incarceration of the German nuclear scientists are really interesting.

There's a fascinating play by Michael Frayn called Copenhagen, based on a real-life visit by Heisenberg to his old teacher Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark. It's unknown what they actually talked about, but Frayn gives several sketches, with alt-history consequences. It's possible that Bohr was aware that Heisenberg's estimates of the amount of U-235 required were way too high (attributed to a slightly sloppy error in a Bohr & Sommerfeld paper, confusing total uranium with U-235), but purposely didn't correct him. This error plausibly caused Heisenberg to say the project was not feasible.

On another topic, I saw a fascinating talk by Bob Wilson (of Penzias and Wilson fame, Nobel laureate, etc. etc.) about Bell Labs in the old days, the tension between doing research and working on the telephone system (or both at once... pushing down the noise in microwave links is what they were doing when they found the cosmic microwave background). Since leaving Bell Labs, he's at our institution, pushing radio receiver technologies for astronomical uses.

Or get rabies. Also don't do that. --scrymarch

The expectation is that in a crisis people put in by dev trash (4.00 / 2) #2 Sun Oct 02, 2016 at 01:52:48 PM EST
When did you move to the US?

Odd focus on the Idea Factory by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #3 Sun Oct 02, 2016 at 02:04:29 PM EST
Claude Shannon seemed to be the guy that Bell Labs existed to provide a lab for him to do his research. Basically he created the underlying theory of communications (an example was his Master's thesis: you can build a better computer if you only use 1s and 0s). Given that he wound up running the lab (and had a penchant for juggling and unicycle riding) he seems an obvious character to focus on.

Shockley seemed more political/management (he basically grabbed the research away from two guys, one of which won a nobel prize for something *else* as well as the transistor). Presumably useful for his controversial views (which in the 40s apparently including trying to hire a Jew (Feyman) at AT&T. Something that just wasn't done).


Vancouver by marvin (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Oct 02, 2016 at 02:31:12 PM EST
The media does a fairly poor job of reporting about Vancouver real estate, and the Guardian article is sadly not an exception. As soon as I see an article talking about the price of an "average detached home" in Vancouver, I know that I can instantly dismiss it - it's my litmus test for bullshit.

To some extent, the City of Vancouver is a poorer, and less populous version of London or New York - an expensive core, with international money flowing in to purchase luxury housing. Wishing for the days where any blue collar worker can buy a single-family detached house within Vancouver city limits is akin to hoping for that same blue collar worker to be able to afford a house in Belgravia, or perhaps move into a Manhattan apartment which offers views over Central Park.

With Vancouver, you have a geographically constrained city which is surrounded by water on three sides, and bordered by the suburb of Burnaby on the fourth. By selecting their "facts" carefully enough, journalists can support any narrative they want to make about Vancouver real estate. The reality is that there will never be another new single family detached development in Vancouver, detached houses will never again be affordable, and if a middle income earner wants to live in Vancouver, they either move into a smaller high density apartment, or live in a distant suburb and waste their life commuting.

Even within city limits, something like 56% of the land base is zoned for single-family detached - a huge area that is underutilized. If Vancouver's single family neighbourhoods could be easily redeveloped with 5x the population density, it would pretty much solve most of the current affordability problem down there. The people who talk about $2 million homes as a crisis are pretty much clueless. You can get apartments for far less, although new high end apartments are approaching $1,000/ft2 in the core. Why is it still considered news that only the wealthy can afford to live in desirable housing which is centrally located in major international cities?

If you have time for a longer read, Bob Rennie covers Vancouver real estate issues very well in a June 2016 speech which he gave to the leaders of the land development industry about a month before the property tax came in. He is the leading marketer in BC, and is known as the "Condo King". He gave a speech to UDI Vancouver every year for 14 years, and I got to see his 2015 speech titled "Can we solve affordability without density".

The last few minutes of the video are not in the transcript, as he recorded a postscript which was added at the 74 minute mark. Some of the soundbites are classics:

"Here’s a quick fact. Home ownership in Canada, all metro regions, is 66%. Metro Toronto is at 68%. Metro Vancouver is at 65%, so we’re right in there. And Winnipeg has only 60% home ownership, cheaper houses, less ownership. Montreal is only at 55%. We are at 65%, so let’s get some home ownership goals. How far above Canada’s metro region average do we want to be? They’re 66%, we’re 65%." (Metro Vancouver includes the suburbs, analogous to the boundary of Greater London)

"So where does the entitlement to having to live in the city in a single-family detached home come from?"

"How do we want to keep families, youth, and energy, and our seniors in our city and keep our good governments in office? But we cannot ignore the fact that we’re trying to do it on the most expensive land in Canada. As I said, affordability is a regional issue and this is the narrative that we have to change. Every survey, every statistic for the city is seen to represent the entire region and it’s deceptive. And it hurts supply and it keeps people on the sidelines."

"MC2 and Marine Gateway sold 25% of their homes without parking. Our confidence in advising on the no-car thing comes from our research that unlike their baby boomer parents, youth does not need a car to get laid....The car does not have the same social status to youth that it had to their parents."

Not sure if you have provided links from it in the past, but is my favourite site about urban planning issues. Lots of great articles on there every day.

Bell Labs and investment by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #5 Mon Oct 03, 2016 at 07:36:29 AM EST
A few interesting things around corporate and innovation investment.

This layman accessible paper shows a clear drop in the level of public company investment starting in 1985

If you crunch the numbers it turns out this is around twice the size of all venture capital funding today. Lower the closer you get to 1985. It's not a hard calculation but not readily available - I did an assignment recently and will probably put up a blog post some time.

So if you look at the US at least the only year it matched was 2001 height of the dot com boom.

Startups also focus on a particular kind of R&D. Always greenfield-y, maybe built on third party or OSS toolkits but not growing out of an existing platform. Always a rewrite / start from scratch of some kind. Always applied science never harder core research - D not R. Lots of good stuff has come out of Silicon Valley startups but I think the missing pieces are pretty revealing. The US management class basically did a 30 year feature rush while ignoring tech debt, and a lot of its engineering talent is in an industry of not-invented-here.

Iambic Web Certified

You should make a blog post out of this... by Metatone (4.00 / 2) #6 Thu Oct 06, 2016 at 07:21:39 PM EST
for sure. Important stuff.

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The first is death in Texas | 6 comments (6 topical, 0 hidden)