PLoS ONE: The Network of Global Corporate Control

The Network of Global Corporate Control, as revealed by a research group at ETH Zurich (kind of the Swiss MIT).  Their core finding: a densely connected “super entity” of 147 corporations, about 75% of which are financial intermediaries, has an amount of control which is ~10 times as great as their economic scale would suggest.  They are all majority owned by by other members of the super entity, and so have co-incident interests, and are likely to act as a bloc to protect themselves and each other, and to be subject to simultaneous group failure when under duress.  Not like this is a huge surprise or anything, but it’s nice to see it described in a quantitative framework.

The capitalist network that runs the world

A team at the Swiss equivalent of MIT has revealed a dense knot of power and ownership interconnections within a particular subset of the world’s transnational corporations.  It will come as no surprise that these companies are overwhelming financial firms… but this is the first time that anyone has really been able to lay out the structure of this network of power that runs the world in detail, accounting for all of the subsidiary ownerships and mutual shareholding.  Tyler Durden would be inspired.  The research paper will be published in PLoS One here Real Soon Now.

Population Growth vs. Migration in Boulder and the World

The Boulder Blue Line has a short post entitled This Law Cannot Be Repealed by Albert Bartlett, who is an emeritus professor of Physics at CU, and who is most well known for speaking about the absurdity of “sustainable” growth and what exponential growth really means.  He’s also one of the original architects of Boulder’s “Blue Line”, which has limited growth beyond certain boundaries within the city and county.

I agree with Bartlett on a lot.  Unconstrained population growth is undoubtedly, in a global context, an epic disaster.  In his collection of essays Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley noted of overpopulation that “Unsolved, that problem will render insoluble all our other problems.”  Similarly, the unconstrained geographic growth of towns and cities is a catastrophe, resulting in very low-density, car-dependent development which exacerbates the consequences of population growth by increasing the amount of resources that each individual consumes, in terms of land and energy and material goods.

Parks are for People

Urban density and good public space make scenes like this possible.

Continue reading Population Growth vs. Migration in Boulder and the World

Links for the week of September 28th, 2010

If you want to follow my shared links in real time instead of as a weekly digest, head over to Delicious. You can search them there easily too.
Continue reading Links for the week of September 28th, 2010

Links for the week of June 4th, 2010

If you want to follow my shared links in real time instead of as a weekly digest, head over to Delicious. You can search them there easily too.
Continue reading Links for the week of June 4th, 2010

Shared Links for Jun 26th – Jul 7th

You can also search or subscribe to my linkstream over at Delicious.

Shared Links for May 29th

The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

The Black Swan by Nassim TalebI finished reading Taleb’s second book, The Black Swan.  He openly admits that it’s not really a new book, but a re-writing of his first book, Fooled by Randomness, which I loved.  He’s gotten really incredibly lucky with the timing of his book releases… just before 9/11 and just before the stock market laid a giant turd on the doorstep of all the happytalk from Wall Street.  Especially lucky when you take into account the fact that The Black Swan was at least 15 months late!

Taleb really has just one big idea, and in his own obnoxious way, he’s humble enough to admit it.  His idea is that the world is less predictable than we think.  That “rare” events are both systematically more likely that we believe them to be, and that their consequences are disproportionately large.  He rails against the use of Gaussian distributions where they should not be used — against the mindless shoehorning of all kinds of processes into that bell shaped box, where they do not belong, and can do great damage.

I think the main differences between this book and his prior one are that in this book, he provides a few short words on how he thinks we should live and plan, given that we live in an inherently, and increasingly, unpredictable world.  That, and the fact that because of his prior book’s success, he was able to get away without having this book edited, apparently, at all (which I think may have been a mistake… but oh well).  Anyway, his advice in a nutshell:

Continue reading The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

Genes are sentences and genomes books

It’s really a pleasure to talk to smart people who don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  I think it forces you to come up with the best analogies and metaphors.  The most essential explanations.  It turned out that Sally read my post on watching the Long Now synthetic biology debate, and so she went and watched it too.  We talked about it on and off over a walk today, and I ended up making this analogy, which I liked a lot.

Every gene is like a sentence.  It’s the smallest unit of biology that expresses a meaningful biological idea, in the same way that it’s hard to say something interesting without constructing a whole sentence.  Of course, more complex ideas require many sentences to convey, and similarly, metabolic pathways require many genes to encode.  A genome is like a whole book, conveying a large system of interconnected biological ideas into a coherent entity.

Synthetic biology is the business, or art, of writing new biological books, using only sentences that you copied from somewhere else.  It’s as if you were given the complete works of Shakespeare, and told to write a new play, using only his own lines, but reorganized however you saw fit.  With a big enough library of books, it would be possible to pick and choose sentences, paragraphs, or entire sections or chapters, to convey pretty much any idea of your own, in someone else’s words, especially if your idea had anything to do with love, or loss, or war, or the human condition in general.  As it is now, we’re just making variations on a theme, inserting whole chapters from Moby Dick into some tract by Nietzsche or a poem by Lao Tze, but we’ll get more subtle and creative as time goes on.

Continue reading Genes are sentences and genomes books