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HLG Notebook | November 2013


1. Killing Me QWERTY

Who killed QWERTY? With Blackberry barely hanging on, the physical QWERTY keyboard may never again appear on a cell phone. Tech writer Sean Hollister, a QWERTY bitter-ender, discovers that the decline of the keyboard may be the result of the decline of writing itself:

The real reason is not design, but the changes in behavior. There became this interesting tension where people wanted to see information, but they didn’t need input as much.


2. Tesla: How to Put Out a Fire

Following three fires in Tesla’s Model S electric car and the ensuing alarmist press, the National Highway Transportation Safety Board announced it was conducting a probe. Tesla founder Elon Musk responded with a textbook example of how to refute inaccurate public criticism with clear statistical reasoning. Musk appears to win the debate hands down:

There are more than 19,000 Model S vehicles on the road, for an average of one fire per 6,333 cars, compared to the rate for gasoline vehicles of one fire per 1,350 cars. By this metric, you are more than four and a half times more likely to experience a fire in a gasoline car than a Model S! Considering the odds in the absolute, you are more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime than experience even a non-injurious fire in a Tesla.

But wait. Dale Buss in Forbes offers some second thoughts. He thinks Musk is getting off easy:

Whatever “persecution” Tesla might be suffering at the moment at the hands of the media – most of whom actually seem to adore Musk, his technology and his cars – is nothing compared to what, for example, General Motors has suffered in the past.


3. America on the Move

Excellent, interactive infographic that shows where people moved across the U.S in 2012. Engaging, if not Earth-shattering. People are leaving New York and California. Hardly anyone moves from a warm climate to a cold one. Everyone is moving to Florida – even people in Georgia. People in and around D.C. stay put.


4. Can Bill Gates Eradicate Polio?

Long, provocative profile in the Financial Times on Bill Gates’s effort to eradicate polio. Filled with interesting observations on technology, philanthropy, and policy. The piece explores Gates’s frustrations with politics, including his uncertainty about whether democratic systems can respond to public policy challenges. According to Gates:

The idea that all these people are going to vote and have an opinion about subjects that are increasingly complex – where what seems, you might think … the easy answer [is] not the real answer. It’s a very interesting problem. Do democracies faced with these current problems do these things well?


5. Driverless Cars Are Inevitable: Is That a Good Thing?

The internet is full of praise for The New Yorker’s long, worshipful profile of Anthony Levandowski, an engineer working on Google’s driverless car. But not everyone is cheering this development. Evgeny Morozov, a proud neo-Luddite, sees a more Orwellian future:

Yes, a self-driving car could make our commute less dreadful. But a self-driving car operated by Google would not just be a self-driving car: it would be a shrine to surveillance – on wheels! It would track everywhere we go. It might even prevent us from going to certain places if we our mood – measured through facial expression analysis – suggests that we are too angry or tired or emotional.


6. Greenspan: How the Mighty Have Fallen

Alan Greenspan offers a cautionary tale for Washington celebrity. More than a decade ago, when Bob Woodward published his hagiographic biography of the central banker, Greenspan was described as “a maestro, a conductor, exquisitely attuned to every instrument in the political and economic orchestra.” Compare this bootlicking to the spate of devastating reviews of Greenspan’s latest book, The Map and the Territory:

“It could have been fascinating…But hopes for clarity prove as unjustified as 1990s share prices. This book is a difficult read, jumbled and confused…Though occasionally arresting, these globs of discussion never coalesce into a sustained argument.” The Economist

“Readers are treated to a somewhat haphazard macroeconomic survey that lurches between banal behaviorism (fear drives markets) and technocratic obscurity…The 13 pages (of the 388 total) Greenspan devotes to ‘Money and Inflation,’ presumably an overriding preoccupation for a central banker, are insultingly content free.” Forbes

“If you have read an economics book in the last ten years, you won’t find anything new here.” An Amazon reviewer.