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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Just Finished Reading: The Consolations of Economics – Good News in the Wake of the Financial Crisis by Gerard Lyons (FP: 2014)

I picked this up (cheap) because I believed that I would disagree with the author. I did, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. This wasn’t because I agreed with him though – at least not very much. Written not too long after the financial crisis of 2008 this was very much a positive book looking towards the global recovery that was just beginning to show itself (rather ironically just a week or so ago the UK average monthly wage had just, by a matter of pennies, topped that in 2008). But he wasn’t just blindly optimistic about things. That would’ve made this book very difficult – if not impossible – the read. No, he backed up his ideas with facts and reasonable projections.

The bits I disagreed with were, to my mind, obvious. The author is a believer in the genius of markets – in the idea that all economic and a fair few other problems can be solved by just letting the Market do its thing and that a number of problems are caused by governments in particular meddling where they don’t belong. He did save himself though from being thrown in the nearest recycling bin by admitting more than once that the markets are far from perfect and that governments sometimes need to step in during ‘market corrections’. He also agreed that there are several areas where markets do not give the best outcome – infrastructure projects for instance or defence. Personally I would add schools, hospitals, prisons and utilities like water. He also mentioned, without a single sneer, that things after 2008 would have been a LOT worse if governments around the globe hadn’t stepped in to halt a total banking meltdown and even laid the blame where it belonged – investment bankers and the lack of sufficient regulation and control. So, points for him!

Much more interesting from my point of view was his analysis of the future prospects of Europe, Africa and China. He made a very strong case that the move to the Euro in the EU was far more a political decision that an economic one and that the difficulties in the Eurozone was, largely, of its own making and that countries on the periphery should not have been allowed to join in the way they did (and he praised the UK government for staying out). He was confident for Africa’s future despite everything we see in the News. Africa, he says, will surprise us in the not too distant future. I guess we’ll see. His detailed analysis of China was most intriguing – from their move to a more Capitalistic path to their internal problems and how they’re going to be solved. He was in the camp of ‘no future conflict’ with the US, either military or economic which has turned out to be more of a miss than a hit I think but he certainly didn’t see anyone like Trump coming or America’s slow slide into something akin to isolationism. Interestingly he expressed some disappointment with India which should be an economic powerhouse with its very large and very young population readily available. All in all a very interesting global analysis indeed.

Overall this wasn’t a bad book at all. A little too much on the Right for my liking but he made good points and may have shifted my appreciation of some subjects which is all to the good. As an introduction to future global economic trends I think this would be a good place to start for anyone new(ish) to economics. It certainly gave me a lot to think about and definitely deepened my appreciation of a subject I’m starting to find endlessly fascinating. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Larry Tesler: Computer scientist behind cut, copy and paste dies aged 74

From The BBC

20 February 2020

Larry Tesler, an icon of early computing, has died at the age of 74. Mr Tesler started working in Silicon Valley in the early 1960s, at a time when computers were inaccessible to the vast majority of people. It was thanks to his innovations - which included the "cut", "copy" and "paste" commands - that the personal computer became simple to learn and use. Xerox, where Mr Tesler spent part of his career, paid tribute to him. "The inventor of cut/copy & paste, find & replace, and more, was former Xerox researcher Larry Tesler," the company tweeted. "Your workday is easier thanks to his revolutionary ideas." Mr Tesler was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1945, and studied at Stanford University in California.

After graduating, he specialised in user interface design - that is, making computer systems more user-friendly. He worked for a number of major tech firms during his long career. He started at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Parc), before Steve Jobs poached him for Apple, where he spent 17 years and rose to chief scientist. After leaving Apple he set up an education start-up, and worked for brief periods at Amazon and Yahoo. In 2012, he told the BBC of Silicon Valley: "There's almost a rite of passage - after you've made some money, you don't just retire, you spend your time funding other companies. There's a very strong element of excitement, of being able to share what you've learned with the next generation."

Possibly Mr Tesler's most famous innovation, the cut and paste command, was reportedly based on the old method of editing in which people would physically cut portions of printed text and glue them elsewhere. The command was incorporated in Apple's software on the Lisa computer in 1983, and the original Macintosh that was released the following year. One of Mr Tesler's firmest beliefs was that computer systems should stop using "modes", which were common in software design at the time. Modes allow users to switch between functions on software and apps but make computers both time-consuming and complicated. So strong was this belief that Mr Tesler's website was called "nomodes.com", his Twitter handle was "@nomodes", and even his car's registration plate was "No Modes". Silicon Valley's Computer History Museum said Mr Tesler "combined computer science training with a counterculture vision that computers should be for everyone".

[Next to the Undo Button cut & paste has to be my all-time favourite function on the PC. It has saved me SO much time over the past 25+ years. I do hope that there’s a statue somewhere of Mr Tesler – their certainly SHOULD be…. And to the Undo guy/girl whoever they are!! Farewell Mr Tesler. Every time I cut & paste something in future I’ll raise a glass of something to your memory!]

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Just Finished Reading: The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin (FP: 2008)

England, Winter 1172. The Rose of the World, Rosamund Clifford, is dead – poisoned. The prime suspect is lover’s wife. Her lover is Henry II, King of England. His wife is Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful women in Christian Europe. If the rumours are true, or even if they are believed by enough people, the country could quickly descend into Civil War. But if Eleanor is innocent there is something far more dangerous abroad than a woman scorned. At the heart of the kingdom are those willing to manipulate the monarchy for their own ends no matter the consequences for the country. But how to get to the bottom of things? Bishop Rowley has just an investigator in mind. Brilliant, incisive, educated, fluent in languages and knowledgeable of the way of the world – plus the mother of his illegitimate daughter. Adelia Aguilar is this and more. University educated in Seville, Italy she is a speaker for the dead, able to their story from the evidence left behind when their spirit left them. Some regard her skills with suspicion (whispering witchcraft), others regard them with distain because of her sex, and a few regard them with fear as she closes in on those who would kill to get their way and silence those who oppose them.

I will be the first to admit that 12th century England is most definitely not my ‘specialist subject’. So I had to let at least some of the historical references fly by me. I suppose that I could have Googled my way through the book checking facts or word usage as they arose but that’s hardly conducive to enjoyment of a novel. Apart from the enormous elephant in the room things seemed, at least on the face of things, reasonable enough to let it slide. My pedant alarm did go off once or twice – not too loudly – but I think it felt somewhat overwhelmed by the central character in the novel to show much more than a muted grumbling. Now (again) I’d be the first to admit that the main character Adelia is excellent, she has enough depth and more than enough humanity and human failings to make her interesting. She’s a good person whose focus is on helping people, making the world a better place and bringing up her infant daughter safely. I liked her – a lot. BUT, oh BUT, the idea that a 12th century woman – even a foreigner – would be a well-respected, university educated, wait for it, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST is SO out their (at least in my ignorant of the period opinion) as to invalidate the whole novel moving it from the historical crime section into the fantasy section. Not only was Adelia a working breathing anachronism in that regard – if that wasn’t bad enough – but she was highly sceptical of all religion (having a working knowledge of Christianity, Judaism and Islam), a Socialist (or at least highly critical of the existing social structure) and a Feminist. In other words she was an early 21st century woman transported to the late 12th century without any apparent conflict or discontinuity. What makes the whole thing worse for me though was that this was a bloody good novel. Characterisation was good down to the level of very secondary characters who had believable backstories and reasonable motivations for their actions, the setting was very well done and was easily visualised throughout, and the pace was good and never lagged or raced ahead of the narrative. It was, in essence, very well constructed and equally well executed. I honestly really enjoyed it – despite the GLARING anachronism at its very heart. If it had taken place in the 20th century I would have heaped nothing but praise on this book. However, I just can’t get over the central character being so out of place. If, in later novels, it turns out that Adelia is an amnesic time-traveller that would make PERFECT sense and would make me very happy. Recommended – kind of!