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How Do You Stay Upbeat Amidst the Idiocy?

ATKeiper 'Progress' is in the eye of the beholder (442 comments)

Mr. Masnick's techdirt post is a welcome call for calm and even optimism. It is a reminder of the importance of perspective, the sort of wisdom encapsulated in the expression "This, too, shall pass" -- that is, just as most joy and glory is transient, so will the troubles and woes of today eventually vanish.

That said, his post is revealingly presumptuous. He writes about people trying to "hold back progress" and describes his frustration at not being able to convince them "of just what opportunities moving forward provides." But perhaps the reason he is so frustrated is that he misses a basic truth: that the people he describes aren't actually seeking to "hold back progress" -- they just have a different understanding of what is progress and what isn't, of what counts as "moving forward" and what doesn't. People do not agree on what is in the public interest; they do not agree about what is best for society, for the state, for the family.

Persuading those who disagree with you is not always a matter of marshalling facts or, as Mr. Masnick puts it, "clearly paint[ing] a picture." Often the people who disagree with you already understand the facts full well and already see the picture clearly -- they just disagree about whether what you call progress is indeed progress. This disagreement might well be rooted in a vision of the future that is fundamentally in conflict with your own. (See, for example, Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions and Yuval Levin's Imagining the Future .)

This, incidentally, is why the book that Mr. Masnick approvingly cites, Robert Friedel's excellent A Culture of Improvement, deliberately eschews the term "progress". You might think human cloning or nuclear weapons or Windows Vista are all examples of unambiguous progress; your neighbor might well disagree.

more than 5 years ago
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Why Buggy Software Gets Shipped

ATKeiper Buggy Software and Basic Economics (422 comments)

"[W]hy are programs so buggy? A general answer has already been given: because it is human nature to push until we get into trouble -- and then blame our tools. We load the elephant with feathers until the elephant collapses, whereupon we conclude that feathers are too heavy for elephants. No matter how amenable software is to our efforts, it can overwhelm us if we pile the code high enough -- and we often do, because it's so fatally easy. But the special reason for software's bugginess is that we almost never demand that it be bug-free (I use "demand" here in the economist's sense: not just desire, but desire backed up by ability and readiness to pay).

"Software manufacturers are rational economic actors; if they can sell us software without going to the expense of thoroughly debugging it, they will. The copy of Microsoft Word that occasionally drives me crazy cost around $200; if Microsoft had been forced to debug it thoroughly before releasing it, its price would be closer to $2,000. Would I pay that much for a version that I could be sure would never crash at a critical moment, losing hours or days of my work? Probably not; apparently, I don't value my sanity that highly. I am neither blaming anyone nor apologizing for anything; I am simply reporting Microsoft's behavior and mine, in the belief that they are typical of just about all software developers and computer users. In a word, we have buggy software because we consumers won't pay what effectively bug-free software would cost.

"The reasons why software is almost always buggy are not inherent in the technology and thus inevitable, but spring from human choices and practices that we can understand and could change if there were a compelling reason to do so. Those habits include piling the code on until it overwhelms us, and taking our chances with buggy software in order to get it more cheaply. Both problems could be overcome if we wanted to overcome them badly enough."

[Mark Halpern, "Buggy Software and Missile Defense," The New Atlantis, Number 10, Fall 2005, pp. 47-57.]

more than 8 years ago

Submissions

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Does all of science really move in "paradigm shifts"?

ATKeiper ATKeiper writes  |  about 2 years ago

ATKeiper (141486) writes "Thomas Kuhn's landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions just turned fifty years old. In that book, Kuhn coined the expression 'paradigm shift' to describe revolutionary changes in scientific fields — such as the replacement of the geocentric understanding of the universe with the heliocentric model of the solar system. The book was hotly debated for claiming that different scientific paradigms were 'incommensurable,' which implied (for example) that Newton was no more right about gravity than Aristotle. A new essay in The New Atlantis revisits the controversy and asks whether the fact that Kuhn based his argument almost exclusively on physics means that it does not apply as well to major developments in biology or, for that matter, to the social sciences."
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Property Rights in Space?

ATKeiper ATKeiper writes  |  about 2 years ago

ATKeiper (141486) writes "A spate of companies has announced plans in the last couple of years to undertake private development of space. There are asteroid-mining proposals backed by Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, various moon-mining proposals, and, announced just this month, a proposed moon-tourism venture. But all of these — especially the efforts to mine resources in space — are hampered by the fact that existing treaties, like the Outer Space Treaty, seem to prohibit private ownership of space resources. A new essay in The New Atlantis revisits the debates about property rights in space and examines a proposal that could resolve the stickiest treaty problems and make it possible to stake claims in space."
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How Yucca Mountain was Killed

ATKeiper ATKeiper writes  |  about 2 years ago

ATKeiper (141486) writes "The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, which was selected by the U.S. government in the 1980s to be the nation’s permanent facility for storing nuclear waste, is essentially dead. A new article in The New Atlantis explains how the project was killed: 'In the end, the Obama administration succeeded, by a combination of legal authority and bureaucratic will, in blocking Congress’s plan for the Yucca Mountain repository — certainly for the foreseeable future, and perhaps permanently.... The saga of Yucca Mountain’s creation and apparent demise, and of the seeming inability of the courts to prevent the Obama administration from unilaterally nullifying the decades-old statutory framework for Yucca, illustrates how energy infrastructure is uniquely subject to the control of the executive branch, and so to the influence of presidential politics.' A report from the Government Accountability Office notes that the termination 'essentially restarts a time-consuming and costly process [that] has already cost nearly $15 billion through 2009.'"
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How Does GPS Change Us?

ATKeiper ATKeiper writes  |  more than 3 years ago

ATKeiper (141486) writes "People have talked for a while about the effects of GPS on our driving ability and our sense of direction; one researcher at McGill has even been
developing an exercise regimen to compensate for our supposedly atrophying navigational ability. But is GPS reshaping our lives in a more fundamental sense? The author of this new essay draws on science, sociology, and literature to argue that GPS is transforming how we think about travel and exploration. How can we discover “the new” in an age when everything around us is mapped?"

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Gas Stations in Space?

ATKeiper ATKeiper writes  |  more than 5 years ago

ATKeiper writes "With the help of yet another committee in a long line of committees studying space, the Obama administration is reconsidering NASA's future in light of new budgetary realities and in the wake of a series of technical problems for the Constellation architecture that the space agency developed as part of the post-Columbia Vision for Space Exploration. In a new essay, aerospace engineer and blogger Rand Simberg reviews NASA's history and argues that the agency should scrap Constellation and instead work toward a space infrastructure — featuring propellant depots in orbit and elsewhere. 'It isn't NASA's job to put humans on Mars,' he writes. 'It's NASA's job to make it possible for the National Geographic Society, or an offshoot of the Latter-Day Saints, or an adventure tourism company, to put humans on Mars.'"
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ATKeiper ATKeiper writes  |  more than 8 years ago

ATKeiper writes "A major essay in the latest issue of the journal The New Atlantis (which I help edit) describes the decline of manual competence — the ability to build and fix things with our own hands — in the age of prefabricated parts and hidden workings. The author, Matthew B. Crawford, writes that schools nowadays are wrong to steer young people away from the manual trades and toward 'the most ghostly kinds of work.' Manual work, he argues, is more cognitively demanding and personally fulfilling than many people would expect. Meanwhile, white-collar 'knowledge worker' jobs — the jobs that put us in front of computers all day — seem to be heading more and more toward routinized mindlessness."

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