Listened to Mindscape 72 | César Hidalgo on Information in Societies, Economies, and the Universe by Sean CarrollSean Carroll from preposterousuniverse.com

Maxwell’s Demon is a famous thought experiment in which a mischievous imp uses knowledge of the velocities of gas molecules in a box to decrease the entropy of the gas, which could then be used to do useful work such as pushing a piston. This is a classic example of converting information (what the gas molecules are doing) into work. But of course that kind of phenomenon is much more widespread — it happens any time a company or organization hires someone in order to take advantage of their know-how. César Hidalgo has become an expert in this relationship between information and work, both at the level of physics and how it bubbles up into economies and societies. Looking at the world through the lens of information brings new insights into how we learn things, how economies are structured, and how novel uses of data will transform how we live.

César Hidalgo received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Notre Dame. He currently holds an ANITI Chair at the University of Toulouse, an Honorary Professorship at the University of Manchester, and a Visiting Professorship at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. From 2010 to 2019, he led MIT’s Collective Learning group. He is the author of Why Information Grows and co-author of The Atlas of Economic Complexity. He is a co-founder of Datawheel, a data visualization company whose products include the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

Mindscape cover art

It was interesting to hear Cesar Hidalgo use the concept of “big history” a few times in this episode. I’m not 100% sure he meant it in the David Christian sense of the words, but it at least felt right.

I was also piqued at the mention of Lynne Kelly’s work, which I’m now knee deep into. I suspect it could dramatically expand on what we think of as the capacity of a personbyte, though the limit of knowledge there still exists. The idea of mnemotechniques within indigenous cultures certainly expands on the way knowledge worked in prehistory and what we classically think of and frame collective knowledge or collective learning.

I also think there are some interesting connections with Dr. Kelly’s mentions of social equity in prehistorical cultures and the work that Hidalgo mentions in the middle of the episode.

There are a small handful of references I’ll want to delve into after hearing this, though it may take time to pull them up unless they’re linked in the show notes.

 

hat-tip: Complexity Digest for the reminder that this is in my podcatcher. 🔖 November 22, 2019 at 03:28PM

Liked a tweet by #AbolitionMeansNoPrisons#AbolitionMeansNoPrisons (Twitter)

This is an interesting economic idea…

Bookmarked a tweet by AoverKAoverK (Twitter)
Listened to Hoptopia How the Willamette valley conquered the world of tasty beer by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Brewers have long appreciated the value of hops from the Pacific northwest, but it was Cascade, a variety practically synonymous with craft brewing, that made the area more generally famous among beer drinkers. Cascade was named for the Cascade Range, which runs down the west coast of North America. The home of the Cascade hop is the Willamette valley, roughly halfway between the mountains and the coast. Cascade was released in 1972, but the history of hops in the Willamette valley goes back to the 1830s. The industry has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs, all examined by historian Peter Kopp in his book Hoptopia.

The whole question of changing tastes in beer, and how that affects the fortunes of different hops, is fascinating. If you’ve been a listener forever, you may remember a very early Eat This Podcast, about the rediscovery of an English hop known prosaically as OZ97a. Deemed too hoppy and abandoned when first tried, the vogue for craft beers resurrected its fortunes. It’s a fun story, though I say so myself.

Notes

  1. Peter Kopp’s book is Hoptopia: A World of Agriculture and Beer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
  2. Cover photo is Ezra Meeker, the early grower of hops in the Willamette valley who pioneered the global marketing of Oregon hops. The booming hop business made him the territory’s first millionnaire, and perhaps also its biggest bust. Hop King: Ezra Meeker’s Boom Years chronicles that part of his long, rich life.
  3. Banner photo of hops by Paul on Flickr.

I know I’d listened to this a while back, but it is so dense it has a lot to unpack on so many fronts.

Listened to Food safety and industry concentration: How the back seat of a car is like a bag of leafy greens by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

microscopic image of e-coli

In the previous episode, I talked to Phil Howard of Michigan State University about concentration in the food industry. Afterwards, I realised I had been so taken up with what he was telling me that I forgot to ask him one crucial question.

Is there any effect of concentration on public health or food safety?

It seems intuitively obvious that if you have long food chains, dependent on only a few producers, there is the potential for very widespread outbreaks. That is exactly what we are seeing in the current outbreaks of dangerous E. coli on romaine lettuce and Salmonella in eggs. But it is also possible that big industrial food producers both have the capital to invest in food safety and face stiffer penalties when things go wrong.

Are small producers and short food chains better? Marc Bellemare, at the University of Minnesota, has uncovered a strong correlation between some food-borne illnesses and the number of farmers’ markets relative to the population.

Phil thinks one answer is greater decentralization. There’s no good reason why all the winter lettuce and spinach in America should come from a tiny area around Yuma, Arizona. Marc says consumer education would help; we need to handle the food we buy with more attention to keeping it safe. Both solutions will take quite large changes in behaviour, by government and by ordinary people.

Right now, it probably isn’t possible to say with any certainty whether one system is inherently safer than the other. But even asking the question raises some interesting additional questions. If you have answers, or even suggestions, let me know.

Notes

  1. Phil Howard’s work on food-borne illness is on his website.
  2. Marc Bellemare’s work on farmers’ markets and food-borne illness has gone through a few iterations. He’ll email you a copy of the final paper if you ask.
  3. An episode early last year looked at aspects of food safety in developing countries. Spoiler: shorter food chains are safer there.
  4. Banner photo, norovirus. Cover photo, E. coli. Both public domain to the best of my knoweldge.

I can’t help but think about analogizing the mass production and distribution of food to that of social media (again). Replace food producers with social media and you’ve got large mega-producers like Facebook and Twitter at one end and smaller scale indie producers at the other. Surely outbreaks of issues with democracy, bulllying, racism, doxxing, etc. will happen all around, but when they happen on the larger platforms, then far more people are affected.

From an economic standpoint it would be nice to have more significant studies to see what the overall pieces of large and small producers are (as well as for the distribution piece too). What is the ultimate equilibrium point for overall cost versus public health? What would it look like theoretically?

🎧 Food waste is #Solvable | The Rockefeller Foundation

Listened to Food waste is #Solvable from The Rockefeller Foundation

Ahmed Ali Akbar talks to activist and author Tristram Stuart about using food scraps to eliminate waste.

Tristam Stuart is an international author, speaker, and campaigner on the environmental and social impacts of food. He is the founder of Feedback, an environmental campaigning organization that has worked in dozens of countries to change society’s attitude towards wasting food. His TED Talk on global food waste has reached over 1.5 million viewers.

Notes

Companion from the Latin con meaning “with” and pan meaning “bread”. I know I’ve contemplated this word before, but it does have a whole new warmth when framed in this way.

That is what beer originally was for. Preserving the calories in grains that might otherwise be wasted.

Toast Ale – a beer brand made from left over bread and grains. 

Recommendation: Jeremy Cherfas may appreciate this particular episode.

👓 About Us | Open Market Institute

Read Our Mission and What We Do (Open Markets Institute)
The Open Markets Institute works to address threats to our democracy, individual liberties, and our national security from today’s unprecedented levels of corporate concentration and monopoly power. Launched as an independent organization in September 2017, Open Markets uses research and journalism to expose the dangers of monopolization, identifies changes in policy and law to address them, and educates policymakers, academics, movement groups, and other influential stakeholders to re-establish the competitive markets that long formed the bedrock of American democracy. 

👓 Taking Sidwell Friends to the Supreme Court is about more than rich people problems | CNN

Read Taking Sidwell Friends to the Supreme Court is about more than rich people problems by David Perry (CNN)
A student can get a spectacular education at a wide variety of institutions, not just elite institutions. We are poorer as a nation when we spread myths that say otherwise, writes David Perry

👓 Adversarial interoperability: reviving an elegant weapon from a more civilized age to slay today’s monopolies | boingboing.net

Read Adversarial interoperability: reviving an elegant weapon from a more civilized age to slay today's monopolies (Boing Boing)
What made iWork a success—and helped re-launch Apple—was the fact that Pages could open and save most Word files; Numbers could open and save most Excel files; and Keynote could open and save most PowerPoint presentations. Apple did not attain this compatibility through Microsoft's cooperation: it attained it despite Microsoft's noncooperation. Apple didn't just make an "interoperable" product that worked with an existing product in the market: they made an adversarially interoperable product whose compatibility was wrested from the incumbent, through diligent reverse-engineering and reimplementation. What's more, Apple committed to maintaining that interoperability, even though Microsoft continued to update its products in ways that temporarily undermined the ability of Apple customers to exchange documents with Microsoft customers, paying engineers to unbreak everything that Microsoft's maneuvers broke. Apple's persistence paid off: over time, Microsoft's customers became dependent on compatibility with Apple customers, and they would complain if Microsoft changed its Office products in ways that broke their cross-platform workflow.
Replied to a tweet by John StewartJohn Stewart (Twitter)

I bookmarked a great post by Jim Luke (@econproph) a few weeks ago on scale and scope. I suspect that tech’s effect on education is heavily (if not permanently) scale-limited, but scope may be a better avenue going forward.

I also suspect that Cesar Hidalgo’s text Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies may provide a strong clue with some details. To some extent I think we’ve generally reached the Shannon limit for how much information we can pour into a single brain. We now need to rely on distributed and parallel networking among people to proceed forward.

Watched Generous Thinking: Sustainability, Solidarity, and the Common Good by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities Professor of English Michigan State UniversityKathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities Professor of English Michigan State University from Coalition for Networked Information | Vimeo

Generous Thinking: Sustainability, Solidarity, and the Common Good from CNI Vimeo Video Channel on Vimeo.

See cni.org/events/membership-meetings/past-meetings/spring-2019/plenary-sessions-s19#opening for more information.

Coalition for Networked Information (CNI)
Spring 2019 Membership Meeting
April 8-9, 2019
St. Louis, MO
cni.org/mm/spring-2019/

Joseph explores the extent to which discourses about community suggest an antidote to or escape from capitalism’s depredations, while distracting us from the supplementary role that community actually serves with respect to capital, filling its gaps and smoothing over its rifts in ways that permit it to function untrammeled. The alternative presented by community allows the specter of socialism, or genuine state support for the needs of the public, to be dismissed. This relationship becomes particularly clear in Joseph’s discussion of the role of non-profit organizations — entities highly likely to participate in and benefit from the idealized discourse of community — which often fill needs left behind by a retreating state, allowing that retreat to go unchallenged.

— Kathleen Fitzpatrick in Community, Privatization, Efficiency

Also cross reference: Strategy and Solidarity

From the video at timecode [22:05]:

…raises the key question of what it is we mean when we talk about community?
As Miranda Joseph argues in Against the Romance of Community, the concept is often invoked as a place holder for something that exists outside the dominant economic and institutional structures of contemporary life. A set of estensibly organic felt relationships that harken back to a mythical pre-modern moment in which people lived and worked in direct connection with one another  without the mediating forces of capitalism.
Now community is in this sense, in Benedict Anderson’s sense, an imagined relationship, and even an imaginary one. As its invocation is designed to yoke together bodies whose existence as a group is largely constructed. It’s a concept often used both idealistically and as a form of discipline. 
A claim of unity that smoothes over and thus suppresses  internal difference and disagreement. And as Joseph points out, the notion of community is often deployed  as if the relationships that it describes could provide an antidote to or an escape from the problems created by contemporary political and economic life. 
But this suggestion,  serves to distract us, she says, from the supplementary role that community, in fact, actually serves with respect to capitalism. Sort of filling its gaps and smoothing over its flaws in ways that permit it to function without real opposition. So we call upon the community to support projects  that the dominant institutions of the mainstream economy will not. And this is how we end up with social network-based fundraising campaigns to support people facing major health crises rather than demanding universal health care, and elementary school bake sales rather than full funding for education.
So community becomes, in this sense, an alibi for the creeping privatization of what should be social responsibilities.

Some interesting thought here with respect to economics, community, the commons, and education. While a large piece of the talk is about higher education, there are definitely some things that can be learned and used with respect to social media, and particularly the IndieWeb movement. I’d recommend everyone take a peek at it and think about how we can better deploy and give credit to some of our shared resources.

👓 Scale and Scope | Jim Luke

Read Scale and Scope by Jim LukeJim Luke (EconProph)
I’ve been saying for awhile now in discussions of the commons, OER, and higher education that a “commons doesn’t scale, it scopes”. Before I explain why I think a commons doesn’t scale very well, I probably need to briefly clarify what’s meant by scale and scope. Like many terms in economics, they’re both commonly used terms in both business and everyday life, but in economics they may carry a subtly different, more precise, or richer meaning. Both terms refer to the production of an increasing volume of output of some kind. Enthusiasts of particular good(s), be they an entrepreneur producing the a product they hope will make them rich or an open educator advocating for more open licensed textbooks because it will improve education, generally want to see their ideas scale. And by scale, they generally mean “be produced in larger and larger volumes”. Larger volume of output, of course, brings a larger volume of benefits to more users. More output –> more users –> more benefits. But it’s the behavior of costs that really intrigues us when we think of “scaling” as a way to increase output. More benefits is nice, but if more benefits also means an equal increase in costs, then it’s not so attractive.

I can see a relation to the economies of scope that Jim Luke is talking about here in relation to the IndieWeb principle of plurality. For a long time the IndieWeb community has put economies of scope first and foremost over that of scale. Scale may not necessarily solve some of the problems we’re all looking at. In fact, scale may be directly responsible for many of the problems that social has caused in our lives and society.

I’m also reminded of a post I annotated the other day:

Data sharing and how it can benefit your scientific career (Nature)

Crowther offered everyone who shared at least a certain volume of data with his forest initiative the chance to be a co-author of a study that he and a colleague led. Published in Science in 2016, the paper used more than 770,000 data points from 44 countries to determine that forests with more tree species are more productive.

I suspect a similar hypothesis holds for shared specs, code, and the broader idea of plurality within the IndieWeb. More interoperable systems makes the IndieWeb more productive.

I also can’t help but think about a reply to a tweet by Chris Messina in relation to the IndieWeb related article in this week’s The New Yorker:

Boris is asking a problematic question not remembering early issues with the Model T, which Jim Luke reminds us of in his article:

Remember Henry Ford’s famous quote about “the customer can get [the Model T] in any color they want as long as it’s black”?

We’ve already got the Model Ts of social media–it’s called Facebook. It’s Twitter. It’s Instagram. And they’re all standardized–black– but they all require their own custom (toxic and limited) roads to be able to drive them! I can’t drive my Model Twitter in Facebookville.  My Instagramobile has long since broken down in Twittertown. Wouldn’t you rather “See The U.S.A. In Your [IndieWeb] Chevrolet“?!

The answer to Boris is that the IndieWeb has been working on the scope problem first knowing that once the interoperable kinks between systems can be worked out to a reasonable level that scale will be the easy part of the problem. Obviously micro.blog has been able to productize IndieWeb principles (with several thousands of users) and still work relatively flawlessly with a huge number of other platforms.  There have been tremendous strides towards shoehorning IndieWeb principles into major CMSes like WordPress (~500+ active users currently) and Drupal (~50+ active users) not to mention several dozens of others including Known, Perch, Craft CMS, Hugo, Kirby, etc., etc.

I haven’t heard aggregate numbers recently, but I would guess that the current active IndieWeb user base is somewhere north of 10,000 people and individual websites.  Once the UI/UX issues have all been ironed out even a single platform like WordPress, which could easily add the individual pieces into its core product in just a few hours, would create a sea-change overnight by making more than 30% of the web which runs on it IndieWeb friendly or IndieWeb compatible.

Yes, friends, scale is the easy part. Plurality and scope are the the far more difficult problems. Just ask Zuck or Jack. Or their users products.

👓 Why Are So Many Longtime L.A. Bookstores Closing? | Hollywood Reporter

Read Why Are So Many Longtime L.A. Bookstores Closing? (The Hollywood Reporter)
Despite the recent shuttering of Circus of Books, Caravan Book Store and Samuel French, bookstore experts say the end for the city's brick-and-mortar stores isn't nigh: "There is a sea change happening, and it is noteworthy."

🎧 How Is Lead Still A Problem? | The Stakes | On the Media | WNYC Studios

Listened to How Is Lead Still A Problem? from On the Media | WNYC Studios

Once in a while, in this space, we offer you an episode of another podcast that we think is pretty aligned with our goals here at On the Media. This week, we’re offering you the first episode of a new podcast from WNYC Studios, called The Stakes. The angle is: we built the society we've got. And maybe it's time to build a new one.

You can and should subscribe to The Stakes wherever you get your podcasts (we are). But in the meantime, here's their first episode all about the pervasive problem of lead paint stillpoisoning children. The ancient Greeks knew lead is poisonous. Ben Franklin wrote about its dangers. So how did it end up being all around us? And how is it still a problem?

I knew lead paint was a huge problem, but didn’t know about some of the early history about why. It’s painful that this is still such a problem in current society. It’s deplorable that corporations can get away with exploiting society with externalities like this.

On the Media is one of the few podcasts that I don’t mind when they sneak other episodes of material into their feed because they have such a solid editorial voice of what does or doesn’t appear in their feed.

The general idea behind The Stakes is very solid. Their general premise makes me think they should potentially interview Mike Monteiro whose book Ruined by Designed I’ve recently begun reading

Another interesting episode idea for the show with this theme could cover surveillance capitalism and digital redlining potentially with interviews with academics/researchers like Chris Gilliard, Cathy O’Neil, and Tressie McMillan Cottom.