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Hardware is unforgiving
Today, anyone with a CS 101 background can take Geoffrey Hinton's course on neural networks and deep learning, and start applying state of the art machine learning techniques in production within a couple months. In software land, you can fix minor bugs in real time. If it takes a whole day to run your regression test suite, you consider yourself lucky because it means you're in one of the few environments that takes testing seriously. If the architecture is fundamentally flawed, you pull out your copy of Feathers' “Working Effectively with Legacy Code” and you apply minor fixes until you're done.

This isn't to say that software isn't hard, it's just a different kind of hard: the sort of hard that can be attacked with genius and perseverance, even without experience. But, if you want to build a ship, and you "only" have a decade of experience with carpentry, milling, metalworking, etc., well, good luck. You're going to need it. With a large ship, “minor” fixes can take days or weeks, and a fundamental flaw means that your ship sinks and you've lost half a year of work and tens of millions of dollars. By the time you get to something with the complexity of a modern high-performance microprocessor, a minor bug discovered in production costs three months and five million dollars. A fundamental flaw in the architecture will cost you five years and hundreds of millions of dollars2.

Physical mistakes are costly. There's no undo and editing isn't simply a matter of pressing some keys; changes consume real, physical resources. You need enough wisdom and experience to avoid common mistakes entirely – especially the ones that can't be fixed.
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4 weeks ago by nhaliday
Sources on Technical History | Salo Forum - Chic Nihilism
This is a thread where people can chip in and list some good sources for the history of technology and mechanisms (hopefully with illustrations), books on infrastructure or industrial geography, or survey books in engineering. This is a thread that remains focused on the "technical" and not historical side.

Now, on the history of technology alone if I comprehensively listed every book, paper, etc., I've read on the subject since childhood then this thread would run well over 100 pages (seriously). I'll try to compress it by dealing with entire authors, journals, and publishers even.

First, a note on preliminaries: the best single-volume primer on the physics, internal components and subsystems of military weapons (including radar, submarines) is Craig Payne's Principles of Naval Weapons Systems. Make sure to get the second edition, the first edition is useless.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Definite optimism as human capital | Dan Wang
I’ve come to the view that creativity and innovative capacity aren’t a fixed stock, coiled and waiting to be released by policy. Now, I know that a country will not do well if it has poor infrastructure, interest rate management, tax and regulation levels, and a whole host of other issues. But getting them right isn’t sufficient to promote innovation; past a certain margin, when they’re all at rational levels, we ought to focus on promoting creativity and drive as a means to propel growth.


When I say “positive” vision, I don’t mean that people must see the future as a cheerful one. Instead, I’m saying that people ought to have a vision at all: A clear sense of how the technological future will be different from today. To have a positive vision, people must first expand their imaginations. And I submit that an interest in science fiction, the material world, and proximity to industry all help to refine that optimism. I mean to promote imagination by direct injection.


If a state has lost most of its jobs for electrical engineers, or nuclear engineers, or mechanical engineers, then fewer young people in that state will study those practices, and technological development in related fields slow down a little further. When I bring up these thoughts on resisting industrial decline to economists, I’m unsatisfied with their responses. They tend to respond by tautology (“By definition, outsourcing improves on the status quo”) or arithmetic (see: gains from comparative advantage, Ricardo). These kinds of logical exercises are not enough. I would like for more economists to consider a human capital perspective for preserving manufacturing expertise (to some degree).

I wonder if the so-called developed countries should be careful of their own premature deindustrialization. The US industrial base has faltered, but there is still so much left to build. Until we’ve perfected asteroid mining and super-skyscrapers and fusion rockets and Jupiter colonies and matter compilers, we can’t be satisfied with innovation confined mostly to the digital world.

Those who don’t mind the decline of manufacturing employment like to say that people have moved on to higher-value work. But I’m not sure that this is usually the case. Even if there’s an endlessly capacious service sector to absorb job losses in manufacturing, it’s often the case that these new jobs feature lower productivity growth and involve greater rent-seeking. Not everyone is becoming hedge fund managers and machine learning engineers. According to BLS, the bulk of service jobs are in 1. government (22 million), 2. professional services (19m), 3. healthcare (18m), 4. retail (15m), and 5. leisure and hospitality (15m). In addition to being often low-paying but still competitive, a great deal of service sector jobs tend to stress capacity for emotional labor over capacity for manual labor. And it’s the latter that tends to be more present in fields involving technological upgrading.


Here’s a bit more skepticism of service jobs. In an excellent essay on declining productivity growth, Adair Turner makes the point that many service jobs are essentially zero-sum. I’d like to emphasize and elaborate on that idea here.


Call me a romantic, but I’d like everyone to think more about industrial lubricants, gas turbines, thorium reactors, wire production, ball bearings, underwater cables, and all the things that power our material world. I abide by a strict rule never to post or tweet about current political stuff; instead I try to draw more attention to the world of materials. And I’d like to remind people that there are many things more edifying than following White House scandals.


First, we can all try to engage more actively with the material world, not merely the digital or natural world. Go ahead and pick an industrial phenomenon and learn more about it. Learn more about the history of aviation, and what it took to break the sound barrier; gaze at the container ships as they sail into port, and keep in mind that they carry 90 percent of the goods you see around you; read about what we mold plastics to do; meditate on the importance of steel in civilization; figure out what’s driving the decline in the cost of solar energy production, or how we draw electricity from nuclear fission, or what it takes to extract petroleum or natural gas from the ground.


Here’s one more point that I’d like to add on Girard at college: I wonder if to some extent current dynamics are the result of the liberal arts approach of “college teaches you how to think, not what to think.” I’ve never seen much data to support this wonderful claim that college is good at teaching critical thinking skills. Instead, students spend most of their energies focused on raising or lowering the status of the works they study or the people around them, giving rise to the Girardian terror that has gripped so many campuses.

College as an incubator of Girardian terror: http://danwang.co/college-girardian-terror/
It’s hard to construct a more perfect incubator for mimetic contagion than the American college campus. Most 18-year-olds are not super differentiated from each other. By construction, whatever distinctions any does have are usually earned through brutal, zero-sum competitions. These tournament-type distinctions include: SAT scores at or near perfection; being a top player on a sports team; gaining master status from chess matches; playing first instrument in state orchestra; earning high rankings in Math Olympiad; and so on, culminating in gaining admission to a particular college.

Once people enter college, they get socialized into group environments that usually continue to operate in zero-sum competitive dynamics. These include orchestras and sport teams; fraternities and sororities; and many types of clubs. The biggest source of mimetic pressures are the classes. Everyone starts out by taking the same intro classes; those seeking distinction throw themselves into the hardest classes, or seek tutelage from star professors, and try to earn the highest grades.

Mimesis Machines and Millennials: http://quillette.com/2017/11/02/mimesis-machines-millennials/
In 1956, a young Liverpudlian named John Winston Lennon heard the mournful notes of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, and was transformed. He would later recall, “nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.” It is an ancient human story. An inspiring model, an inspired imitator, and a changed world.

Mimesis is the phenomenon of human mimicry. Humans see, and they strive to become what they see. The prolific Franco-Californian philosopher René Girard described the human hunger for imitation as mimetic desire. According to Girard, mimetic desire is a mighty psychosocial force that drives human behavior. When attempted imitation fails, (i.e. I want, but fail, to imitate my colleague’s promotion to VP of Business Development), mimetic rivalry arises. According to mimetic theory, periodic scapegoating—the ritualistic expelling of a member of the community—evolved as a way for archaic societies to diffuse rivalries and maintain the general peace.

As civilization matured, social institutions evolved to prevent conflict. To Girard, sacrificial religious ceremonies first arose as imitations of earlier scapegoating rituals. From the mimetic worldview healthy social institutions perform two primary functions,

They satisfy mimetic desire and reduce mimetic rivalry by allowing imitation to take place.
They thereby reduce the need to diffuse mimetic rivalry through scapegoating.
Tranquil societies possess and value institutions that are mimesis tolerant. These institutions, such as religion and family, are Mimesis Machines. They enable millions to see, imitate, and become new versions of themselves. Mimesis Machines, satiate the primal desire for imitation, and produce happy, contented people. Through Mimesis Machines, Elvis fans can become Beatles.

Volatile societies, on the other hand, possess and value mimesis resistant institutions that frustrate attempts at mimicry, and mass produce frustrated, resentful people. These institutions, such as capitalism and beauty hierarchies, are Mimesis Shredders. They stratify humanity, and block the ‘nots’ from imitating the ‘haves’.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
The rise of robots in the German labour market | VOX, CEPR’s Policy Portal
Recent research has shown that industrial robots have caused severe job and earnings losses in the US. This column explores the impact of robots on the labour market in Germany, which has many more robots than the US and a much larger manufacturing employment share. Robots have had no aggregate effect on German employment, and robot exposure is found to actually increase the chances of workers staying with their original employer. This effect seems to be largely down to efforts of work councils and labour unions, but is also the result of fewer young workers entering manufacturing careers.
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september 2017 by nhaliday
Which industries are the most liberal and most conservative?
How Democratic or Republican is your job? This tool tells you: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/06/03/how-democratic-or-republican-is-your-job-this-tool-tells-you/?utm_term=.e19707abd9f1


What you do and how you vote: http://www.pleeps.org/2017/01/07/what-you-do-and-how-you-vote/


The Legal Academy's Ideological Uniformity: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2953087

Homogenous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty: https://sci-hub.tw/10.1007/s12129-018-9700-x
includes crosstab by discipline

Neil Gross, Solon Simmons

another crosstab
description of data sampling on page 21, meant to be representative of all undergraduate degree-granting institutions

Computer science 32.3 58.1 9.7

It’s finally out–The big review paper on the lack of political diversity in social psychology: https://heterodoxacademy.org/2015/09/14/bbs-paper-on-lack-of-political-diversity/
What’s interesting about Haidt’s alternative interpretation of the liberal progress narrative is that he mentions two elements central to the narrative—private property and nations. And what has happened to a large extent is that as the failures of communism have become increasingly apparent many on the left—including social scientists—have shifted their activism away from opposing private property and towards other aspects, for example globalism.

But how do we know a similarly disastrous thing is not going to happen with globalism as happened with communism? What if some form of national and ethnic affiliation is a deep-seated part of human nature, and that trying to forcefully suppress it will eventually lead to a disastrous counter-reaction? What if nations don’t create conflict, but alleviate it? What if a decentralised structure is the best way for human society to function?
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september 2017 by nhaliday
The China Shock: Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade
Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income. At the national level, employment has fallen in the US industries more exposed to import competition, as expected, but offsetting employment gains in other industries have yet to materialize.

Slicing the Pie: Quantifying the Aggregate and Distributional Effects of Trade: http://www.nber.org/papers/w23737
We find that the China shock increases average welfare but some groups experience losses as high as five times the average gain. Adjusted for plausible measures of inequality aversion, gains in social welfare are positive and only slightly lower than with the standard aggregation.

The Surprisingly Swift Decline of US Manufacturing Employment: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20131578
- Justin R. Pierce, Peter K. Schott
This paper links the sharp drop in US manufacturing employment after 2000 to a change in US trade policy that eliminated potential tariff increases on Chinese imports. Industries more exposed to the change experience greater employment loss, increased imports from China, and higher entry by US importers and foreign-owned Chinese exporters. At the plant level, shifts toward less labor-intensive production and exposure to the policy via input-output linkages also contribute to the decline in employment. Results are robust to other potential explanations of employment loss, and there is no similar reaction in the European Union, where policy did not change.

China-Like Wages Now Part Of U.S. Employment Boom: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2017/08/04/china-like-wages-now-part-of-u-s-employment-boom/

U.S. Companies Were Hurt by Trade With China Too: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-12-12/u-s-companies-were-hurt-by-trade-with-china-too
David Autor and David Dorn are two human wrecking balls smashing the edifice of economics consensus. For decades, the one big thing economists could agree on was that free trade, on balance, was good for the U.S. economy. Now, in a series of papers with a variety of co-authors, Autor and Dorn have shown that the dramatic increase in U.S. trade with China in the 2000s was a different and far more destructive beast -- a phenomenon commonly called the China Shock.

The first of these papers showed that the China Shock left deep and lasting scars on huge swathes of the American workforce. The second demonstrated that the China Shock increased political polarization. Now, together with Gordon Hanson, Pian Shu, and Gary Pisano, the wrecking-ball duo have a third paper, showing that the China Shock decreased U.S. corporate innovation.

Importing Political Polarization?: The Electoral Consequences of Rising Trade Exposure: http://economics.mit.edu/files/11499
Trade-exposed districts with an initial majority white population or initially in Republican hands became substantially more likely to elect a conservative Republican, while trade-exposed districts with an initial majority-minority population or initially in Democratic hands became more likely to elect a liberal Democrat.

The China Shock was Matched by a China Boom: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/01/china-shock-matched-china-boom.html
Our results fit the textbook story that job opportunities in exports make up for jobs lost in import-competing industries, or nearly so. Once we consider the export side, the negative employment effect of trade is much smaller than is implied in the previous literature. Although our analysis finds net job losses in the manufacturing sector for the US, there are remarkable job gains in services, suggesting that international trade has an impact on the labour market according to comparative advantage. The US has comparative advantages in services, so that overall trade led to higher employment through the increased demand for service jobs.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016
We find that official survey-based measures vastly under-estimate the rise of inequality since 1990. According to our benchmark estimates, top income shares are now similar to (or higher than) the levels observed in the United States. We also find that inequality has increased substantially more in Russia than in China and other ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe. We relate this finding to the specific transition strategy followed in Russia. According to our benchmark estimates, the wealth held offshore by rich Russians is about three times larger than official net foreign reserves, and is comparable in magnitude to total household financial assets held in Russia.

Figure 1a, 8abc, 9b

The Role of Oligarchs in Russian Capitalism: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/0895330053147994

Using a unique dataset, we describe the degree of ownership concentration in Russian economy and its role in shaping economic and political institutions in Russia. In particular, we find that Russian "oligarchs" do control a substantial part of the economy. While the relative weight of their firms in Russian economy is huge, they do not seem to be excessively large by the standards of the global economy where most of them are operating. The oligarchs seem to run their firms more efficiently than other Russian owners controlling for industry, region and size.

Russia's Billionaires: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.p20161068

Using data collected by Forbes since the 1990s, I examine the emergence and survival of the super-wealthy in Russia over the past two decades and compare Russia's record to those of other countries. The major surge in the number of Russian billionaires came in the mid-2000s, mirroring the dynamic worldwide. While early billionaires were predominantly found in the oil, gas, metals, and banking sectors, the distribution has become more diverse, now including some in trade, real estate, chemicals, and information technology. Only a minority of today's Russian billionaires acquired significant assets in the privatization of the 1990s.

Popular Attitudes towards Markets and Democracy: Russia and United States Compared 25 Years Later: http://www.nber.org/papers/w22027

While we find some differences in attitudes towards markets across countries and through time, we do not find most of the differences large or significant. Our evidence does not support a common view that the Russian personality is fundamentally illiberal or non-democratic.

The Political Economy of Transition: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/0895330027102
- Gérard Roland, 2002

The overriding importance of political constraints in the transition process has led to developments of the theory of the political economy of reform. What are the main insights from that theory? How does it reflect the transition reality? What have we learned, and what do we still need to learn? The present article will attempt to answer those questions.

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august 2017 by nhaliday
Muscle, steam and combustion
Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization is a monumental history of how humanity has harnessed muscle, steam and combustion to build palaces and skyscrapers, light the night and land on the Moon. Want to learn about the number of labourers needed to build Egypt’s pyramids of Giza, or US inventor Thomas Edison’s battles with Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse to electrify homes and cities, or the upscaling of power stations and blast furnaces in the twentieth century? Look no further.
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august 2017 by nhaliday

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