Author: Unknown

Gladwell gives us a reason to revisit the Grandiosity/Contribution Ratio

Andrew Gelman has an excellent take-down of a recent Malcolm Gladwell essay. I may dive in with my own criticisms of Gladwell's arguments, but for now here's some context on one passage that particularly bothered Gelman.

"It has become fashionable to deride today’s tech C.E.O.s for their grandiose ambitions: colonizing Mars, curing all human disease, digging a world-class tunnel. But shouldn’t we prefer these outsized delusions to the moral impoverishment of Welch’s era?"

The Martian stuff is too big a topic for the moment, but the Boring Company is and has always been a Theranos-style exercise in promising incredible (in both senses of the word) proposed advances with no idea how to actually achieve them. As with Holmes, Musk used this snake oil to raise hundreds of millions in funding, but the real pay-off was in maintaining Musk's reputation as a real life Tony Stark, which props up the valuation of Tesla making Musk the richest man in the world (as long as the stock price holds).

This recent WSJ expose provides a detailed overview of the scam.

As for the origin of the "curing all human disease" line...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Grandiosity/Contribution Ratio

From Gizmodo [emphasis added]
Zuck and Priscilla laid out the schematics for this effort on Facebook Live. The plan will be part of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and will be called simply “Chan Zuckerberg Science.” The goal, (Read more...)

Few things are nicer than being cool when it’s hot and warm when its cold.

A few weeks back, while we were discussing Ukraine, Joseph pointed out that, given its role in climate change and the energy economy, heating and cooling played a huge roll but got a fraction of the attention compared to personal transportation. (At this point, long time readers of the blog are expecting a lecture on ground source heat pumps, but we'll save that for another day.)

Hopefully, we can get Joseph to make a serious deep dive into the subject. In the meantime, I thought I'd have some fun with it. I've always believed that, when wrestling with a big topic, there's a lot to be said for wandering off the path occasionally to check out the dead ends, the cool but non-scalable, and the quirky.

Like a heating system based on candles.

There are lots of basic lessons to be learned from the previous video about the science of heating: start with as small a space as possible; insulate well while maintaining good ventilation; minimize waste heat.

The next video isn't nearly so practical but it is much cooler. It's from a highly recommended channel (if you're into this sort of thing) called the Outdoor Boys and it approaches the challenge of making it through a cold Alaska night not as a matter of woodcraft but as more of a physics problem.

Tuesday Tweets — Musk Edition

See also Marshall's  "Elon Musk and the Narcissism/Radicalization Maelstrom"  (JPM's been on a roll lately).

Since the meltdown, quite a few journalists who had gotten a lot of mileage out of their access to Musk are doing some serious backtracking.

This WSJ story has been getting a lot of attention. It doesn't (pardon the pun) break a lot new ground, but it does a good job pulling the story together for a wider audience.

"As God as my witness…" is my second favorite Thanksgiving episode line [Repost]

If you watch this and you could swear you remember Johnny and Mr. Carlson discussing Pink Floyd, you're not imagining things. Hulu uses the DVD edit which cuts out almost all of the copyrighted music. [The original link has gone dead, but I was able to find the relevant clip.]

As for my favorite line, it comes from the Buffy episode "Pangs" and it requires a bit of a set up (which is a pain because it makes it next to impossible to work into a conversation).

Buffy's luckless friend Xander had accidentally violated a native American grave yard and, in addition to freeing a vengeful spirit, was been cursed with all of the diseases Europeans brought to the Americas.

Spike: I just can't take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians.
Willow: Uh, the preferred term is...
Spike: You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That's what conquering nations do. It's what Caesar did, and he's not goin' around saying, "I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it." The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.
Buffy: Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of - Not that I don't like Spaniards.
Spike: Listen to you. How you gonna fight anyone with that attitude?
Willow: We don't wanna fight anyone.
Buffy: I just wanna have Thanksgiving.
Spike: Heh heh. Yeah... Good luck.
(Read more...)

Non-Thursday Tweets (because with the current state of Twitter, running this on Thanksgiving would just be wrong)

Might as well start with...

Our standards for business disaster have gotten way too high.

Take Bob Chapek.

In a blockbuster development, Walt Disney Co.’s longtime chief Robert Iger is returning to lead the Burbank-based entertainment giant.

The Sunday night announcement by the Disney board — made shortly before Disney+ began its high-profile livestream of the Elton John concert at Dodger Stadium — stunned Hollywood.

The switch comes less than a year since Iger said his long goodbye after a storybook 15-year run as chief executive.

Disney’s board said he had agreed to serve two additional years as chief executive. Iger takes over for his hand-picked successor, Bob Chapek, who suffered a number of setbacks during his nearly three years as chief executive.

Any other year, he would have been a contender.

Under Chapek, Disney’s theme parks division posted an impressive rebound from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic [as did everything else in the tourism economy -- MP], in part through the kind of aggressive price increases that analysts believe Iger opposes. And its streaming business has grown rapidly, reaching 235.7mn across Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus.

But shareholders are no longer willing to fund streaming growth at any cost, as they were in the early stages of Disney’s foray into the business. Disney shares fell 13 per cent earlier this month after it reported that quarterly operating losses had risen by $800mn to $1.5bn due to exploding content spending and marketing expenses. Days later, Chapek announced a cost-cutting plan.

Chapek was a gifted rake-stepper. To paraphrase Twain, there may (Read more...)

Back on the Ithuvania beat — "Hipster Eugenics"



 Just to review...

Sometimes, when I come across yet another bit of jaw-dropping flakiness from some tech-bubble billionaire, my thoughts turn to Ithuvania. What if this were an experiment? What if some well-funded research organization decided to see what would happen if it randomly selected individuals of average intelligence, handed them huge checks and told them they were super-geniuses?

I'm not saying that's what happened; I'm just saying the results would have been awfully damned similar.

In his review of the remake of Death Wish, Bob Chipman was talking about the premise of the new version when he stopped and looked around the said, "Y'know, I don't hear anything, but my dog is going nuts."

 If you listen to this article by Julia Black, I'm pretty sure you'll get the same reaction. [emphasis and commentary added]

Malcolm, 36, and his wife, Simone, 35, are "pronatalists," part of a quiet but growing movement taking hold in wealthy tech and venture-capitalist circles. People like the Collinses fear that falling birth rates in certain developed countries like the United States and most of Europe will lead to the extinction of cultures, the breakdown of economies, and, ultimately, the collapse of civilization. [As has been pointed out numerous times (including this post by Joseph), these nations maintain a growing population though immigration which suggests that these particular pro-natalists have less of an issue with birth rates and more of an issue with which people are being born -- MP] It's a (Read more...)

Repost: We’re about to revist that first paragraph in a big way


Monday, September 12, 2022

"Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal"

2022 has been, so far, a remarkably bad year for expert opinion. We've been dabbling in press criticism now for more than a dozen years and I can't think of a time when the anointed experts of the mainstream media been more wrong on more important questions than they have been over the past 9 months. The  conventional wisdom has been comically off on the reaction to Dobbs and the January 6 hearings, the viability of prominent candidates, the GOP "moving on" from Trump, the importance of Social Security and Medicare as an electoral issue, and, of course, the war in Ukraine.

If recent trends continue (always a big if), we can expect to see a lot of revisionism from major pundits and publications. They will shove as much as they can down the memory hole. Where that fails, they will either dredge up some ass-covering quote from paragraph twenty-three and pretend that was the main thrust of their position or they will claim that "It wasn't just us. Everybody got it wrong."

 That last bit of retconning distorts what really happened in two ways. It ignores both the people who actually did get it (Read more...)

"If this is the last thing everyone sees on Twitter then I can absolutely live with that…"

Twitter (in perhaps the most Twitter thing ever) may be giving its own eulogy. The big topic on the platform tonight is whether it will be there in the morning. Things are speeding up. A couple of days ago. people were debating whether it would last a year; now the discussion is over whether it will last the weekend.

Like Rasputin, Twitter has recently suffered numerous seemingly mortal blows but the proximate cause was the wave of resignations. You probably recall Musk firing half the company, including quite a few people who turned out to be mission critical. He then fired anyone who criticized him either publicly or internally. 

Between the insult and the injury (both to them and to the company they'd built), pretty much everyone who actually made Twitter run by this point hated their new boss. This was the moment Elon chose to play the tough guy, telling his employees they'd have to put in insane hours with no remote work. Then things got ugly.

Personally, I expect the company will limp on for a while, but between the crippling debt and the loss of ad revenue, it's a dead man walking (if the poison doesn't get you the bullets will).

Five years ago at the blog — I’d forgotten how non-annoying Pinker used to be

 Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Igon values, superstar coin flippers, and the Gladwell problem

Malcolm Gladwell has started coming up in quite a few major threads and larger pieces, so I decided I needed to get up to speed on some of the controversies involving the author. Some of the more substantial have centered around what Steven Pinker has called the Igon value problem

From Pinker's review of "What the Dog Saw"
An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “sagittal plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.

Gladwell got the best of the follow up exchange, dismissing “igon value” as a spelling error while getting Pinker sucked into a bunch of secondary or even tertiary arguments. (One of the best indicators of intelligence is the ability to avoid discussions about the heritability of intelligence.)

The spelling error defense is technically correct but it misrepresents the main point of the criticism. First off, on a (Read more...)