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Welcome to hank's Page

hank's Essays

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June 5, 2011- hank
A list of things I'd like to add as the site develops. More urgent changes are in the prebeta document or the bug list.
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June 5, 2011- hank
This is the list of things I want to do before I start inviting beta users to use the site. Pretty much the stuff I'm working on right now.
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June 5, 2011- hank
Give ideas and feedback on what the domain name of this site should be.
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June 5, 2011- hank
If you're wondering what bliterati is for, or why I created it, read this.
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June 5, 2011- hank
The old way of reporting bugs. If you discover some kind of error when using the site please click the meta button at the bottom and file a bug report
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June 5, 2011- hank
Come and discuss what tags this site needs. If you want a tag added, for now, mention it in a comment here.
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Jan. 24, 2012- hank
The world is changing. In the new economy, ideas are everything. The ratio of thinkers to workers needs to change.
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March 29, 2012- hank
Some good reasons why cloud computing is the future and what that is likely to mean.
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April 18, 2012- hank
Using government to solve everything is so 20th century. We can do better.



Recent Comments

hank replied to kathleen's page
[Fri Mar 29 16:27:40 2013] hank wrote:

If you go to the your information tab at the top of your user page you can accept the circle invite. That'll allow you to see my drafts. 


This is the one I was talking about yesterday.

hank replied to xonev's page
[Fri Feb 15 14:43:16 2013] hank wrote:

Read this article regarding performance in education. 

hank replied to dave's page
[Wed Jun 27 18:53:03 2012] hank wrote:

Thanks for taking a look at bliterati.

It was great having the chance to talk with you yesterday. The whole Groupon team came across as capable and welcoming. I was excited about your apprenticeships before, and now am even more so. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed. 

Thanks again!

[Fri May 25 02:28:19 2012] hank wrote:

I agree with a lot of what you're saying. A society without violence is inconceivable. That's the fundamental logical flaw in anarchism. People will always be tempted to use force to get what they want. Those people living on the island in harmony are really just a hypothetical construct. Inevitably people would have heated disagreements and somebody would knock someone else down, or take what some other person thinks is rightfully her own.  Things would come to a head, the strongest would prevail, and a government would thus be established. A state of anarchy (the absence of established power) is unstable and can never last long. Where one person or group of people is stronger than another (that is, everywhere) there is government.

I think good government should be designed to act like a referee. It should stand watch over the guns and stop people from pushing each other down and taking their things. I know that a government that follows this principal entirely is not really possible. Governments are, after all, composed of people, and even the best people are by nature partial to their own interests. Institutions like democracy, and property, and contract, and law, and rights all play the role of locks on the box. They make people go through longer and more laborious processes in order to get access to the guns. They are the true innovations in government. They give people confidence that they will be allowed to live in peace and thus the incentive to build fruitful lives and communities.

Really what I'm saying is that, although the ideal of a totally free society is unattainable, our objective ought to be to make those locks as numerous and obstructive and difficult to open as possible. While the intent is to create a level playing field, you may be right that it would handicap one side. But I think it would be the economically powerful who would be handicapped. I think that the same skills and savvy that make some people and groups winners in the sphere of liberty (by which I mean all nonviolent human interaction) are likely to also enable them to be winners in the sphere of government (they're clever, ambitious, they have resources, concentrated interests, and good lawyers). If we loosen control over the guns, they will likely be the ones who end up in control of them. As governments grow stronger economic mobility declines because the winners can use the coercive power to lock in their gains.

I would frame it as competing default responses to inequalities of power. If group A is overpowering group B we could either strengthen group B or weaken group A. Should we open the box up and hand more guns to group B or confiscate some of group A's guns and put them back into the box? I'm saying that setting the latter default is socially optimal (both because coercion is a negative sum game and because it's more work for group A to get the guns back out of the box than to steal the new guns from the feckless group B).


[Mon May 7 16:29:46 2012] hank wrote:

I've often thought of government as being Pandora's Box. Imagine a bunch of people on an island with crate of guns in the middle. It's tempting to break out the guns and use them to get something you want. But what if you lose control of the guns? There will be no putting things back. 

We tend to create government power to get something we want, but others don't, and are then surprised when those others turn around and use the same power to get something they want that we don't. In any society, the more powerful government becomes, the more that society devolves into a perpetual wrestling match for the control over it.

hank replied to kayakguy's page
[Fri Apr 27 16:55:53 2012] hank wrote:

Hey dad. I was just thinking that if you got an email from bliterati you'd know which email address you used to sign in. This comment on your user page should trigger the site to send you an email.

hank replied to Phase Shift
[Thu Apr 19 18:31:26 2012] hank wrote:

I think that genuine returns to scale are in decline. I hadn't appreciated just how in vogue the ideas I talked about in this essay were when I wrote it, but I saw this on the Economist today. It shares my opinion that the advantages of scale are gradually evaporating.

Beyond actual efficiencies coming from scale there are other forces that drive companies to scale up. I think that CEOs have the same incentive as government bureaucrats to grow the empire under them since their compensation is strongly correlated with the overall revenues and profits of the company they run. I would argue that this self-interest runs contrary to the interests of the shareholders. When companies spin off divisions, the combined share prices of the parent company and the spinoff are usually substantially higher than those of the combined shares were. When companies make acquisitions on the other hand, it usually enriches the managements of both companies while impoverishing the shareholders (the acquiring managers expand their empire, the acquired owners get rich on a flood of goodwill).

Historically CEOs have consistently been able to push their interests over shareholders, but as the diseconomies of scale grow I think the risk to CEOs of pursuing this strategy will rise. That is, as the differential between the value of a company as a whole versus in pieces rises, so do the rewards of a hostile takeover. If CEOs are too greedy they can still lose their jobs.

I agree with your last paragraph but I think it supports the fragmentation model. Big ideas are what matters, not small marginal improvements. Bureaucracies aren't all that bad at small marginal improvements, but they tend to be terrible at cultivating new revolutionary ideas. If a big company has one big monolithic in house marketing division, innovation will be hard to cultivate and hard to measure and reward when it is cultivated. If on the other hand the managers of different products are free to contract marketing services from many different dedicated marketing firms, there will be a framework for innovation and competition. New big marketing ideas will be more likely to arise, more likely to be recognized, more likely to be rewarded, and easier to scale. Companies that plug into this marketing cloud will get better marketing service cheaper than those that try to maintain in house divisions. And because we're talking about big ideas not marginal improvements, better is an exponential concept.

Virtually all of the big ideas in computing for instance have come from small start-ups. When Apple tried to maintain tight control over it's hardware market, it nearly died. Only when they decided to join their competition in using the hyper-competitive hardware industry cloud did they experience a revival. It wasn't an option. Decentralization was a force of nature like the tides. The realities of the market were saying that any company that wanted to create it's own hardware was doomed.

I think that information technology is the key to making this process go critical. It makes the kind of loose connections, just in time contracts, and rapid communication between contractor and contractee that this kind of system thrives on possible.

Even if a company doesn't actually choose to fragment itself, I think it should virtually fragment itself. It should, for instance divide its hundred person marketing division into ten ten-person teams. Then those teams should act like independent units. They should contract with the business units that use their services. The teams will compete with each other for the best employees and try to make the most competitive bids. The teams that do the best job will get the most work, earn the most money, and end up hiring new people and scaling automatically. The teams that don't work well will eventually dissolve due to lack of contracts and their best marketers will find work on other teams. Skilled marketers with their own ideas could create their own start-up teams. It would create a market within a company.

I think this is pretty much what Google tries to do. They try to run their company more like a constellation of start-ups than as one monolithic enterprise. They give their employees substantial amounts of time to work on projects of their own choosing. Some of those projects become something cool and attract more and more people and funding. Others burn out and disappear. It's all about simulating the sort of creative trial and error that a market would give you.

Steve Jobs may have gotten his god-like reputation from doing the opposite of this. If he had created an entrepreneurial atmosphere we would have seen Apple's products as having emerged from a hothouse of innovation.  But we see Jobs as having been a genius because he was a dictator and all ideas had to be funneled through his desk. Jobs may have picked the winners and tweaked the vision and plotted the grand strategy, but to suggest that 99% of what Apple produced didn't come from the employees is to take a skewed perspective on how new technologies are created. Jobs appears to have been very good at picking winners, but it's impossible to know how many winners he missed. I can totally believe that Apple actually has an incredible talent pool. There's probably no other company in the world that has as many passionate devotees. How many of these very intelligent people would prefer nothing more than to work for Apple even if that meant being an anonymous cog in the machine of a dictatorial strong man.

It's conceivable to me that even the employees of Apple, which I admit is probably the best example of synergy in the corporate world, could produce more value divided than united.

hank replied to About bliterati
[Wed Apr 18 02:27:40 2012] hank wrote:

Yeah I've wondered about that. The way comments appear in streams doesn't seem optimal as is. I've considered trimming a lot of what's going on at the top to leave room for more of the actual content.

hank replied to About bliterati
[Wed Apr 18 02:24:25 2012] hank wrote:

Second, is there a preferred way to submit site feedback?

Currently you can go to the meta page in the footer or through the link I've put on the homepage. There you can create a feature request or bug report. This would create a unified place where people could share there ideas and vote other people's ideas up. 

"expand all with a rating of 3 or higher"

Right now you can specify the minimum rating you want to display maximized in the information section on your page. Though a more dynamic system would make sense. If there're only three or four comments on a page for instance they might as well all be maximized as long as they don't have a negative rating.

Both of these highlight the need for me to make features as accessible as possible. I think I'm going to put some work in on that later this week.

hank replied to Phase Shift
[Wed Apr 18 02:13:34 2012] hank wrote:

I definitely need a funny mod.

hank replied to Phase Shift
[Mon Apr 16 17:32:30 2012] hank wrote:

This is a serious issue, though I think it's still a ways off. I'm saying that for the next phase of economic development the primary role of human beings will be to imagine, innovate, invent, design, and create. Sooner or later computers will probably be able to do these things too. Once they can do them it will only be a matter of time before they can do them better than we can. What exactly will people do then? A total welfare state where we just sit around and let the machines take care of us?

In the economic sense we can never get to post-scarcity. The problem is that people have unlimited wants. Like I said in the essay, the average American today, adjusted for inflation, earns eight times what the average American did in 1900. Are we satisfied yet? Will our great-grand-kids be satisfied if they're earning, on average, the inflation adjusted equivalent of  $320,000? Probably not. An American family that lived entirely off of government benefits today would enjoy a material standard of living higher than the average American of 1900. They would be about ten times richer than the typical Congolese. So in a sense we've already reached the era of abundance. We just don't realize it because human psychology is tuned to focus on relative rather than absolute wealth. Even if we each had our own custom solar system, we'd still have a fancy new planet we've been thinking about adding.

We psychologically calibrate our desires to the attainments of those around us. We want to keep up with (preferably get ahead of) the Joneses. Maybe in the future we'll engineer our emotions to edit out problems like this. But it's unclear what this would mean. Our drive to satisfy our insatiable appetites for food, sex, success, excitement, etc. are what make us go. If we had some fixed satiation point after which we declared ourselves satisfied, would we have any motivation to do anything?

Alternatively we could balance out the distribution of wealth so there would be no Joneses to chase after. But I don't think that would really change the situation at all. There are plenty of rich people who are envious of people with less money but more beauty, popularity, or talent than they have. In our world of perfect equality will we give everyone equal access to the most desirable sex partners? Will we all hang out with everyone equally regardless of who we actually like to be around? Will we applaud everyone's creative efforts equally regardless of their product? If so, I think I'd rather not go there. If not, then there will still be a heap, and the people on the bottom will still resent those on top.

Also, even if we distribute wealth evenly, some people will squander it while others will do amazing things with it and turn their initial endowment into more wealth. Does equalizing distribution mean that every year we should take the products of the creative people and redistribute them  to those who burned through their share?

To stop short of writing a whole new essay I'll just conclude by saying that my best guess is that there will always be competition and that additions to technology will just amplify the marginal differences in human capacity, thus increasing inequality at the same time that they drive up absolute levels of wealth.

hank replied to Phase Shift
[Thu Apr 12 19:05:16 2012] hank wrote:

I think you're right. Well, depending on what you mean by very robust. But it definitely seems like having a baseline safety net would make sense.

I think that the risks of entrepreneurship will be lower in the future though. An idea that I didn't talk about in this essay is that one place where there's room for a lot of entrepreneurial ideas is in enabling entrepreneurship. For instance, creating html emails that have a consistent appearance across mail clients is a big pain. As soon as I saw how difficult it can be I thought, hmmm, that could be a good business opportunity. Then I looked, and found that there are a few recently started companies that have sprung up to fill this niche and are doing quite well. There's lots of money to be made in making it easy for entrepreneurs to do what they do. As these opportunities are exploited, the barriers to entrepreneurship are gradually lowered.

Ultimately I expect the total fragmentation of companies. That is, the typical company actually performs thousands of unrelated tasks. From maintaining office space, to serving people lunch, to maintaining computers and servers, to accounting and economic forecasting, to all the things that are required to make whatever it is they actually make. Outsourcing is gradually pulling pieces out of this stack and allowing companies to focus more and more on their area of specialty. Essentially, you could take one big company with 10,000 employees and turn it into 1,000 companies with ten employees each. As the company is divided in this way, efficiency sky rockets because market forces can reach down into spaces that used to be buried under layers of bureaucracy. In fact, you could cut out so much middle management and bureaucratic hoop jumping that I suspect that you'd need a lot fewer than 1,000 ten employee companies to do the work of a 10,000 employee company.

These little ten employee companies would be totally specialized and contract all of the functions outside of their specialty from the other little ten employee companies. If you wanted to start a new company you could just plug your new idea into this service cloud and be up and running almost immediately with virtually zero fixed cost.

This may not be totally convincing but I intend to write a whole essay on the topic. I actually removed a paragraph that touched on this idea from the above essay because I knew it needed an essay of it's own to do it justice. But for now I'll just say that I think there's pretty much unlimited room for entrepreneurship. A lot of the best ideas fit so naturally with people's needs that people are drawn to them like water flowing downhill. And if an idea for a new product or service is good and adds a lot of value, but is hard to use, then there's room for a whole other company that interfaces with it and makes it easy for people to use.

hank replied to veritas's page
[Thu Apr 5 20:21:08 2012] hank wrote:

Thanks for creating an account. I just invited you to join my writer's circle. You can accept in the information tab on your page. It'll allow you to see my drafts on my page.

If you get a chance, check out the one titled "Thinking Outside of Government".  I'd like to publish it by the weekend, but I'd be interested in what you think.

[Tue Apr 3 21:09:54 2012] hank wrote:

While it's true that the average proportion of idle cars to moving cars is also pretty wasteful, I don't think that the arguments in favor of car sharing are very convincing (at least not for daily use).

There are some key differences between cars and cloud computation. When a smoker uses gmail, it doesn't make your gmail account smell funny. When someone across town uses gmail, it doesn't mean that you now have to go to their house in order to use your account. If other people use gmail carelessly, it won't stain your inbox or wear out your send button.When you log out of your gmail account you don't have to take all of your data with you.

That is, apps can be sandboxed so that users have no impact on one another's experience and the location of resources is largely inconsequential.

Using a shared car will always be limiting and inconveniencing, though perhaps more cost effective. Cloud computing on the other hand is exactly the opposite. It's the equivalent of a car that is magically always there when you need it, say right off the plane in Tahiti, and can get 50 mpg when you just need to get around, but can also do zero to sixty in three seconds when you're in the mood for fun, and with infinite trunk space to boot. If you could get one of those for less than you're spending on your current car, it wouldn't be a tough decision.

hank replied to emilysue's page
[Sun Apr 1 18:05:33 2012] hank wrote:

I'm assuming that you created your account after you left your other comment. Is everything good now?

Any ideas how I could make things more clear?


Re: hank's Page (Rating: 1)
[Fri Mar 30 17:24:55 2012] mamadoodled wrote:
Registered users can gain the ability to moderate comments.

How do I subscribe to you?

subscribing (Rating: 1)
[Fri Mar 30 17:46:43 2012] hank wrote:
Registered users can gain the ability to moderate comments.

Right now you have to click on the "connect" tab and then click on the "subscribe" tab. I should streamline the process though.