Articles worth thinking about – Feb 2013

thinker

This week’s post is commentary and links to other essays and posts. It’s a common way to blog, so let’s try it out. The selection criteria was for essays or posts that made me think.

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From David Brooks:

One of the features of the Obama years is that we get to witness an enormous race, which you might call the race between meritocracy and government. On the one side, there is the meritocracy, which widens inequality. On the other side, there is President Obama’s team of progressives, who are trying to mitigate inequality. The big question is: Which side is winning?

[T]here is our system of higher education, which is like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up some of the smartest people from across the country and concentrates them in a few privileged places.

This is not to make a partisan point. The Republicans do not have a better approach. It’s simply to say that the liberal agenda is not very good at addressing the inequality problem it seeks to solve. The meritocracy is overwhelming the liberal project.

Brooks namechecks Enrico Moretti’s excellent book “The New Geography of Jobs”, which I recommend. Moretti’s thesis is that a key factor in the recent growth of inequality is driven by college grads clustering and isolating themselves into a few rich areas of the country like San Antonio, Boston and San Jose.

Obviously I agree with Brooks that meritocracy is a key driver of inequality. My related post: Perfect meritocracy replaces class with caste.

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From Michael Lewis’ book review:

Stop and think once more about what has just happened on Wall Street: its most admired firm conspired to flood the financial system with worthless securities, then set itself up to profit from betting against those very same securities, and in the bargain helped to precipitate a world historic financial crisis that cost millions of people their jobs and convulsed our political system. In other places, or at other times, the firm would be put out of business, and its leaders shamed and jailed and strung from lampposts. (I am not advocating the latter.) Instead Goldman Sachs, like the other too-big-to-fail firms, has been handed tens of billions in government subsidies, on the theory that we cannot live without them. They were then permitted to pay politicians to prevent laws being passed to change their business, and bribe public officials (with the implicit promise of future employment) to neuter the laws that were passed—so that they might continue to behave in more or less the same way that brought ruin on us all. And after all this has been done, a Goldman Sachs employee steps forward to say that the people at the top of his former firm need to see the error of their ways, and become more decent, socially responsible human beings. Right. How exactly is that going to happen?

Lewis’ review is not surprisingly far better than the book he’s reviewing.

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From Marco Arment, explaining one sided anger at Apple:

I’ve noticed a very clear trend among tech sites I read: Android fans are unusually quick to fill the comment box with rage on articles that mention anything positive about Apple or its products. The reverse — Apple fans leaving angry comments on pro-Android articles — is almost completely absent from the sites I’ve seen, including sites like The Verge that have many readers in both camps.

Our technology choices reflect our values. People willing to yield some control to Apple for their needs are more likely to enjoy the benefits that Apple’s products bring by exerting that control. But people who don’t like being told what to do — people who believe they know what’s best for them, want full control over everything, and are willing to accept the resulting responsibilities — will be more comfortable with the alternatives.

The philosophical differences between these approaches, and the frequent failure to understand both viewpoints, are the roots of anti-Apple anger.

I think Arment underestimates a bit of fanboy smugness on the Apple owner side. People who have the “Porche, there is no substitute” mindset for Apple. But that mindset was always greatly exaggerated by haters. And that’s especially true now that the iPhone is so mainstream, at 50% of the phones sold in the US. So that’s a minor caveat, and Armet’s article helped me get my head around the puzzling asymmetry of Android-Apple anger.

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From Bruce Tognazzini, former Apple designer speculating on an Apple smart watch:

The watch can and should, for most of us, eliminate passcodes altogether on iPhones, and Macs and, if Apple’s smart, PCs: As long as my watch is in range, let me in! That, to me, would be the single-most compelling feature a smartwatch could offer.

Tognazzini is obviously a huge Apple fan since he was Apple employee #66. So I take his comment later in his post that “only Apple” could do a good smartwatch with a grain of salt.

That aside, where Tognazzini really shines is in giving a detailed list of compelling and practical uses for normal people to buy a smartwatch. This is in contrast to the vague utopian reasons for buying wearable computers I’ve seen elsewhere. My favorite potential usage is the password manager quoted above, plus I’d really like a smartwatch with GPS to run with. I use my phone for GPS tracking now since I can’t justify spending $300 for the clunky GPS watches currently on the market. But if I could get a smart watch with several of the killer apps envisioned by Tognazzi, I may buy one. Worth reading if you are interested in where smartwatches might be headed.

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Finally, no post on other posts would be complete without this great comic. Click here to see it better:

doghouseblogging

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