“links” Category

EV Chargers and Markets

“Free” electric vehicle chargers are an excellent example of what happens when valuable resources are priced at zero:

The bad moods stem from the challenges drivers face finding recharging spots for their battery-powered cars. Unlike gas stations, charging stations are not yet in great supply, and that has led to sharp-elbowed competition. Electric-vehicle owners are unplugging one another’s cars, trading insults, and creating black markets and side deals to trade spots in corporate parking lots. The too-few-outlets problem is a familiar one in crowded cafes and airports, where people want to charge their phones or laptops. But the need can be more acute with cars — will their owners have enough juice to make it home? — and manners often go out the window.

There is always a cost, and the resource is always allocated in some manner. But it is usually in a much more arbitrary, inefficient, and unjust manner.

October 12th, 2015

“I own guns. Here’s why I’m keeping them”

Jonathan Blanks writes on why he owns guns and believes gun ownership is everyone’s right:

Like many Americans, my family history is closely tied to firearms. I was raised with a sense of duty to protect my loved ones. Danger wasn’t something that was abstract or imaginary in my family history or my upbringing, and so we had to learn to deal with it.

I’m not a Second Amendment absolutist, and I am open to changes to our gun laws. But gun ownership is important to me, and responsible individuals must be allowed to make the choice for themselves and their families if they want to own firearms.

Absolutely worth reading, especially with Twitter full of righteous stupidity like this:

So if you define “liberty” as the right to own a gun, go fuck yourself. You are a disgrace to all that’s good and right about America. – Mike Monteiro

Monteiro’s indignant tirade is representative of a sentiment that, in typical fashion, swept across Twitter and fell away in a matter of days—all anger, hate and righteous assurance that the speaker is absolutely right, and that the people they disagree with are not only wrong, but utterly stupid or evil. But for all of this righteousness, all of this anger, it is all hot air.

This sort of thing replaces thinking about an issue, reading about it and reading what other people think and actually considering it, with posturing. It is, ultimately, self-aggrandizing. It accomplishes zero, besides make the person feel good about themselves for their 140 characters.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jonathan Blank’s piece. He doesn’t argue by denigrating people he disagrees with, or questioning their intelligence or motivations—he makes a calm, reasoned argument for what he thinks.

Blanks argues that, as a black family in Indiana, guns were vital to his family’s defense from the KKK, and that having a gun was necessary to defend his girlfriend’s friend from an abusive husband. His thesis is that people have the right to protect themselves, and a gun is often the only way to do that.

That doesn’t just extend to defending yourself against other individuals, but also against an abusive state. The left is fond of arguing that gun ownership as a check against government violating our liberty is absurd because no one with a shotgun or AR-15 could successfully take on the U.S. military. This argument is absurd. The goal is not simply to defeat an abusive government, but to make it prohibitively difficult and bloody for the government to become tyrannical. And, indeed, it would certainly be possible to defeat an abusive government—the Afghan wars, Iraq war, Vietnam war,… and on and on show what guerrilla fighters can do against an overwhelmingly superior force.

But Blanks makes an even more important point: even if defeat was certain, it would not matter. Individuals have the right to defend themselves against violations of their rights, whether it comes from individuals or the government, and whether or not they will win. And guns are vital to that. There is no liberty if people cannot even attempt to protect themselves.

October 12th, 2015

Don’t Use a Spreadsheet, Use Transpose (Sponsored Post)

My thanks to Transpose for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed.

Transpose is a dead-simple way for anyone to build databases for their data. Anyone can use Transpose, in any field, because of how it works: Transpose lets you create simple forms for collecting your data, and from there, you can filter, sort and search your data in any way you want. Even better, Transpose identifies names and locations to create suggested searches, so you can quickly drill down in your data for what you are looking for. If you are creating a database of media contacts for your new project, or even organizing purchase orders for your business, don’t use a spreadsheet: Transpose is the right tool for the job. You can create a form that is exactly right for your task. Transpose is tailor-made for these sorts of tasks, so you can quickly enter your data, sort through it, and even export in a variety of formats. And, of course, this is all online, and not stuck in a spreadsheet on your PC. Transpose is a single place you can do data management, note-taking and to-do tracking all in a single, integrated place, and replace disparate tools like Evernote and Trello with a single tool.

Use the right tool for the job. Give Transpose a try today.

Sponsorship by the Syndicate.

September 29th, 2015

Shouting Fire in a Theater

Today is an excellent day to re-read Ken White’s excellent overview of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’s oft-referenced “shouting fire in a theater” quote:

Holmes’ quote is the most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech.

January 7th, 2015

Elon Musk May Unveil Mars Colony Plans This Year

During a Reddit AMA earlier this week, Elon Musk said he hopes to announce his Mars transport system plans.

As you’d expect, I’m incredibly excited about this. We are still obviously a long ways away from the first manned mission to Mars, but there is finally substantive work being done to get us there. Of course, NASA announced late last year that the Orion space capsule is a part of their plan toward a manned mission to Mars, which is terribly exciting. Humans conducting experiments on Mars and exploring the planet is something I hope to see before I die.

But Musk and SpaceX, I think, are even more exciting, because Musk’s intent is not just to send a scientific mission to the planet. Musk’s intent is to send waves of one-way missions to Mars full of people to colonize the planet. Musk’s intent, then, is a magnitude more ambitious than NASA’s. Musk’s intent is to start humanity’s expansion through space.

In October, I lamented our lack of progress with space travel. I hope more than anything that, in two decades, I can look back at that piece and laugh—while watching the greatest explorers in the history of our species make one more giant leap for humanity.

January 7th, 2015

Hong Kong’s Challenge to China

After China placed limitations on candidates for Hong Kong’s city leader, Hong Kong erupted in protest. This, of course, presents a large challenge to Xi Jinping and the PRC. Edward Wong and Chris Buckley write for the Times:

China’s Communist Party has ample experience extinguishing unrest. For years it has used a deft mix of censorship, arrests, armed force and, increasingly, money, to repress or soften calls for political change.

But as he faces massive street demonstrations in Hong Kong pressing for more democracy in the territory, the toolbox of President Xi Jinping of China appears remarkably empty.

It’s an especially difficult challenge for Beijing because their options are so limited. If they come to an agreement with the protesters, or even remove the limits entirely, it will not only show weakness on Beijing’s part (something they are loathe to do), but could encourage similar protests in China proper. But they also have little ability to clamp down on protests in Hong Kong.

This is as large a threat to the PRC we’ve seen in years, and it has the potential to rival the 1989 protests.

September 29th, 2014

The Successor to Siri and Open Data

The founders of Siri are working on a new service called Viv that can link disparate sources of information together to answer questions:

But Kittlaus points out that all of these services are strictly limited. Cheyer elaborates: “Google Now has a huge knowledge graph—you can ask questions like ‘Where was Abraham Lincoln born?’ And it can name the city. You can also say, ‘What is the population?’ of a city and it’ll bring up a chart and answer. But you cannot say, ‘What is the population of the city where Abraham Lincoln was born?’” The system may have the data for both these components, but it has no ability to put them together, either to answer a query or to make a smart suggestion. Like Siri, it can’t do anything that coders haven’t explicitly programmed it to do.

Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required. Take a complicated command like “Give me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in.” Viv will parse the sentence and then it will perform its best trick: automatically generating a quick, efficient program to link third-party sources of information together—say, Kayak, SeatGuru, and the NBA media guide—so it can identify available flights with lots of legroom. And it can do all of this in a fraction of a second.

If I understand the advancement they’ve made, the service (1) will allow third-parties to link in their information or service and define what it is in a structured fashion (so Yelp could define their information set as points of interest, user ratings and reviews, and Uber could make their car service available) and (2) the service knows how to connect multiple information and/or services together so that it can answer a user’s question or fulfill their request.

The Wired article linked above provides an example of what this would look like. A user tell Viv that they need to pick up a bottle of wine that pairs well with lasagna on the way to their brother’s house.

Providing a solution to that requires the interaction of many different information sets and services. Viv would (1) use the user’s contacts to look up their brother’s address, (2) use a mapping service to create a route from the user’s current location to their brother’s house, along with some radius along the route with which the user is willing to deviate from to pick up the bottle of wine, (3) identify what ingredients compose “lasagna,” (4) identify what wines pair well with those ingredients, and (5) find stores within the specified radius of the user’s route that carries that wine.

That’s incredibly complicated. If Viv can do that not just for pre-planned scenarios (like Siri and Google Now currently do), but for arbitrary scenarios provided they have the necessary information and services, then they must also have made an advancement in natural language recognition to support it.

What most intrigues me, though, is the founders’ vision for providing Viv as a “utility” akin to electricity, so that any device could tap into the service and use its power. Effectively, what they are trying to build is a structured, universal data source. I wrote about this idea when Apple released Siri in 2012 and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last 5 years. The idea is to structure the world’s data so that it can be retrieved in a useful (read: computer usable) form.

It’s incredibly ambitious. With a sophisticated natural language front-end, users could ask for information on virtually anything and receive it immediately. You could, while cooking (is it obvious I make an application for cooking?), ask for healthy substitutes for butter, or the proper technique for blanching vegetables. The service would also have an API so that other software and services could access it. Imagine a hypothetical research application that allows you to request (not search!) the average temperature for each year in Los Angeles for 1900-2010, and getting back the data, and the data assembled into a chart. And then imagine requesting the average temperature for Los Angeles for 1900-2010 along with the amount of CO2 emissions for each year in the same range. With the data charted.

That’s a rather mundane example, actually. Imagine what kind of analyses would be possible if the world’s data is not only made available, but is immediately available in a structured format, and is constantly updated as the data is produced. There is the potential here, I think, for this to be as important as the advent of the Internet itself.

What concerns me, though, is how will this be made accessible. The article quotes Dag Kittlaus as saying that they envision deriving revenue from referrals made within the service. So, if you buy something through Amazon or request an Uber ride through Viv, they will earn a referral fee for it.

That makes perfect sense and is fairly brilliant. But what about making scientific data accessible? Will that require some kind of payment to access? Will I only be able to access that information through some kind of front-end, like a research application that I’ve paid for (and where the application’s developers pay some kind of fee to get access)? That would certainly be an advancement over where we are today in terms of making data accessible, but it would also prevent incredible innovation that open access could allow. Imagine if Wikipedia was a for-profit operation and, instead of being publicly available, was only accessible through subscription or through some kind of front-end. It would not be nearly the same thing.

It is heartening, though, that they are thinking so deeply about a business model. It would be a shame if such a terrific idea and incredible technology fails (or is absorbed by another company) because they hadn’t considered it. However, I hope they are considering, too, what open access to certain kinds of data (historical, political, scientific) could allow.

August 12th, 2014


Tesla plans to build a massive new lithium ion factory that would double world production volume. Doing so could dramatically change the car industry:

When Tesla first began working on its Model S saloon barely five years ago, lithium-ion batteries were priced at about $1,000 a kilowatt-hour (kWh). Manufacturers are notoriously secretive about pricing details, but industry insiders hint that prices have now slipped to anywhere from $400 to $750 a kWh. Even so, that means the 85 kWh pack in a Model S costs Tesla between $34,000 and $63,750. A study by the Boston Consulting Group projected that prices would need to come down to $200 or less per kWh to make electric vehicles truly competitive with the more familiar car that relies on internal combustion. The gigafactory would slash these production costs.

Tesla intends to do so, presumably, to reduce cost enough to make an affordable Tesla.

People enjoy making Hyperloop jokes about Elon Musk, but there’s really no one else in the world doing such ambitious work. How can you not love that?

March 4th, 2014

Discriminating Between Discriminations

Julian Sanchez:

I’m perfectly open to the notion that it may be wise and justifiable to extent the protections of anti-discrimination law to groups not currently covered—but I also wish supporters of such reforms would acknowledge that there’s a genuine impingement on associational freedom involved in such extensions, and that no simple sweeping principle can obviate the need for a close examination of the tradeoffs in each case.

March 1st, 2014

Sean Penn Wants Chavez Critics Imprisoned

Sean Penn:

The Oscar-winning actor and political activist accused the US media of smearing Venezuela’s socialist president and called for journalists to be punished.

“Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it. And this is mainstream media. There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.”

Not only does Sean Penn defend authoritarianism, but he suggests that critics should be imprisoned for calling Hugo Chavez a dictator.

Lovely guy.

February 22nd, 2014

Campaign Monitor (Sponsor)

My thanks to Campaign Monitor for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed.

Designing emails that look beautiful, render perfectly and drive strong response is increasingly difficult. That’s why Campaign Monitor compiled the top 100 emails of 2013 into a free eBook, alongside tips on design and content. The Top 100 Email Marketing Campaigns eBook features brands like Fitbit, SmugMug, Panic and includes:

  • High performing newsletters with open rates of more than 50%.

  • Examples of great layouts & responsive designs.

  • Emails that go against best practices and still drive top results.

  • Campaigns that saw open rates improve by 20% after A/B testing, and more.

Check out the free eBook at campaignmonitor.com/top100.

Campaign Monitor makes software that lets you create and send beautiful emails. Today more than 800,000 designers, agencies, and amazing companies across the globe rely on Campaign Monitor to manage their email marketing.

February 22nd, 2014

Lowering the Gates

Matt Bischoff on the New York Times’ 10-free-articles-a-month limit:

Since The Times’s mobile products are partially supported by advertising, it’s counterintuitive to drive down the number of ad impressions by cutting off enthusiastic users just as they’re getting excited about the content. Ten articles per month just aren’t enough to justify keeping the apps installed; it’s almost insulting. The proof is in the plummeting App Store ratings as well as in the company’s usage statistics, which I suspect show readers returning less frequently since the change.

I read the Times every morning and have for the past five or six years. So let’s be honest: Not only are their subscription plans inscrutable (separate plans for smartphone and tablet access? Why?), but the new 10 articles-per-month limit is clearly designed to coerce people into subscribing. But instead of convincing more people to subscribe, it’s likely to piss more people off and turn them away from the Times.

It appears that the Times doesn’t have a unified strategy to transition their company to digital. Sad.

February 12th, 2014

Shoddy, Dangerous Thinking (GMO Edition)

Amy Harmon wrote a terrific article for the New York Times about a Hawaiian town’s “debate” over whether to ban genetically-engineered crops, and the insanely stupid things said about them:

A report, in an obscure Russian journal, about hamsters that lost the ability to reproduce after three generations as a result of a diet of genetically modified soybeans had been contradicted by many other studies and deemed bogus by mainstream scientists.

Mr. Ilagan discounted the correlations between the rise in childhood allergies and the consumption of G.M.O.s, cited by Ms. Wille and others, after reading of the common mistake of confusing correlation for causation. (One graph, illustrating the weakness of conclusions based on correlation, charted the lock-step rise in organic food sales and autism diagnoses.)

The left’s global warming.

January 28th, 2014

Building the Insect Drone

Fascinating article in Popular Science about the development of insect-like drones:

They teamed up with Wood, whose lab had since joined Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and together they applied for an Air Force grant. Wood’s group then used an image-capture system to record and analyze fly behavior before, during, and after collisions with glass. By closely observing the positions of the flies’ body parts, they could measure the exact flip and twist of wings and legs. 

When Guiler and Vaneck slowed down the film, they were amazed at what they saw. “I thought the fly would tumble a bit and lose a lot of altitude,” Vaneck says. “But the fly recovery was elegant. It happened so rapidly; it was breathtaking.”

One of the more thought-provoking articles I’ve read in a while. What struck me while reading it is how much we are now learning about life by observing and understanding how the simplest creatures—worms and insects—deal with and thrive in a complex, changing and threatening world. We may be the dominant and most intelligent species, but we have much to learn about how life succeeds. And by casting away the arrogance that being the dominant species engenders, we will learn much, much more.

January 27th, 2014

The LACMA Art + Technology Lab

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has announced an art and technology lab sponsored by Google and SpaceX that will allow artists to experiment with new technologies.

The lab will also feature talks, demonstrations and prototypes for the public.

I absolutely love this, and I’m particularly excited that it’s happening at LACMA—one of my favorite places to visit, and something that could help foster the technology community here in Los Angeles. In addition, I love that they’re facilitating experimentation with technology for the sake of experimentation itself. We need more blue sky projects in technology that aren’t necessarily directly actionable. Those sorts of projects can often be a fountain of inspiration and ideas.

December 30th, 2013