Wozniak on Borrowing Xerox Parc’s Graphical User Interface (GUI)

(p. 293) But there was one exception. Right around 1980, Steve and a bunch of us from Apple got to tour the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) facility, which is one of Xerox’s research and development labs.

Inside, for the first time ever, we saw real video displays–computer monitors–and they were showing something entirely new They were showing the first graphical user interface (GUI)–art interface that lets you interact with icons and menus to control a program.
(p. 294) Up to this point, everything had been text-based. That’s going to sound odd to all the people who don’t remember it, but that’s how everything worked back then. A computer user had to actually type in text commands–long, complicated ones–to make something happen.
But this experimental Xerox computer had windows popping up all over the place. And they were using this funny-looking device everyone now knows as a mouse, clicking on words and small pictures, the icons, to make things happen.
The minute I saw this interface, I knew it was the future. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. It was like a one-way door to the future–and once you went through it, you could never turn back. It was such a huge improvement in using computers. The GUI meant you could get a computer to do the same things it could normally do, but with much less physical and mental effort. It meant that nontechnical people could do some pretty powerful things with computers without having to sit there and learn how to type in long commands. Also, it let several different programs run in separate windows at the same time. That was powerful!
A few years later, Apple designed the Lisa computer, and later the Macintosh, around this concept. And Microsoft did it a couple years after that with Microsoft Windows. And now, more than twenty-five years after we saw that experimental computer in the Xerox PARC lab, all computers work like this.
It’s so rare to be able to see the future like that. I can’t promise it’ll happen to you. But when you see it, you know it. If this ever happens to you, leap at the chance to get involved. Trust your instincts. It isn’t often that the future lets you in like that.

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

Employment Further Below Trend than Any Time in Half Century


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) The number of nonfarm private jobs has been growing steadily since the 1950s. That number reached a peak at the end of 2007. Between 1958 and 2007, the number of U.S. jobs grew to 115.4 million from 43.5 million–about 2% per year on average. The steady upward trend reflects the long-run growth of the economy and increased participation in the labor force.

The nearby chart compares employment and that trend. It shows the percentage difference between employment and the trend line generated from monthly employment figures over the past 50 years (July 1960 through June 2010).
What we see is astounding. For almost 25 years–between 1984 and late 2008–the level of employment never fell to more than 3% below the trend line. Over that period, total employment grew by more than 36 million.
Employment fell briefly to about 6% below the trend during two previous recessions: in 1975 and again in 1982-1983. During those periods, the unemployment-rate peaks were 9% (in 1974) and 10.8% (in 1982). The unemployment rate in 2009 peaked at 10.1%.
By 2010, however, employment had fallen to about 10% below the trend, far below any previous level in the last half-century.

For the full commentary, see:
PAUL GODEK. “Jobless Numbers Are Worse Than You Think; The situation is much more dire now than it was during the 1980s.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JULY 23, 2010): A15.

Carbon Dioxide Increased After the Globe Warmed, Not Before

The passages quoted below are from an opinion piece by retired physicist Jack Kasher who was a colleague of mine at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

I was pleased to see that the Millard school district pulled Laurie David’s book, “The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming,” due to “a major factual error” in a chart that shows rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels dating back 650,000 years. The chart claims to show that global warming is caused by increases in carbon dioxide levels, but the facts show that this is not the case.

In May, I attended an international conference on global warming in Chicago, with 73 speakers from 23 countries. The book and its erroneous chart were discussed there. (Go online to http://www.heartland.org/events/2010Chicago/index.html and click on “proceedings” to see most of the talks and PowerPoint presentations.)
When the error is corrected, the chart will show that in every single case over this time span the Earth warmed up first, followed by a later increase in carbon dioxide. This is clear proof that in the past global warming was not caused by an increase in CO2. If anything, it is the other way around. In each instance, something other than CO2 caused the temperature increase, which then might have made the CO2 rise. This chart shows that past history actually contradicts David’s main assumption in her book — namely that man-made carbon dioxide is causing global warming.

For the full commentary, see:

Dr. Jack Kasher. “Midlands Voices: Let’s include uncertainties in global-warming lessons.” Omaha World-Herald (Wednesday June 30, 2010): ??.

“Portland Sucks” Pokes Fun at Angry, Elitest Localism

BechardEric2010-08-04.jpg“Mr. Bechard came to blows when he encountered the organizer of a national culinary contest held in Portland, over the winning pig from Iowa. He objected to the pig’s origin because the flier he received from the event advertised local farms and local chefs.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) In its song “Portland Sucks,” the local band White Fang pokes profanely at everything from the city’s joblessness to its self-obsession and sometimes counterintuitive rigidity, from “angry vegans” to outspoken disciples of do-it-yourself (“DIY”) culture (p. A12) — localism in the extreme.

“Being elitist about it is kind of counterproductive,” said Erik Gage, 21, the band’s lead singer, . . .
. . .
For Mr. Bechard, it came down to this: never should a pig from Kansas or Iowa have even been entered in the contest; it only made it worse that the Iowa pig won. After all, there are Red Wattle heritage pigs raised right here in Oregon. The chefs who competed work in Oregon, and most promote locally produced food.
“I get there and I get the flier and I’m immediately sickened because I’m seeing ‘local,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘local farms,’ ‘local chefs,’ ‘local wine,’ ” Mr. Bechard recalled, “and then two of the pigs are from Kansas and Iowa? I’m looking at my friend and he said, ‘Eric, just let it go.’ ”
Many hours and drinks and insults later, witnesses told police Mr. Bechard was the aggressor when he encountered Brady Lowe, the event’s Atlanta-based organizer, outside a bar. Words were hurled and fists flew. The police came, firing Tasers and pepper spray.
Mr. Lowe, who said his leg was fractured in the fight, said Mr. Bechard “missed the big picture” . . .
“To grow you need to bring in ideas from the outside or you’re just living in a closed community,” he added.

For the full story, see:
WILLIAM YARDLEY. “Portland Journal; The Pride and Prejudice of ‘Local’.” The New York Times (Fri., July 9, 2010): A9.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 8, 2010.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

WhiteFang2010-08-04.jpg“In its song, “Portland Sucks”, the local band White Fang pokes profanely at everything from “angry vegans” to outspoken disciples of do-it-yourself culture–localism in the extreme. “Being elitist about it is kind of counterproductive,” said Erik Gage, right, the band’s lead singer. “You can argue about it, but I think one of the most important things about localism is getting along with the locals.”” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Wozniak Could Only Predict a Year or Two Ahead in Technology

(p. 293) If you could easily predict the future, inventing things would be a lot easier! Predicting the future is difficult even if you’re involved with products that are guiding computers, the way we were at Apple.

When I was at Apple in the l970s and 1980s, we would always try to look ahead and see where things were going. It was actually easy to see a year or two ahead, because we were the ones building the products and had all these contacts at other companies. But beyond that, it was tough to see. The only thing we could absolutely rely upon had to do with Moore’s Law–the now-famous rule in electronics (named for Intel founder Gordon Moore) that says that every eighteen months you can pack twice the number of transistors on a chip.
That meant computers could keep getting smaller and cheaper. We saw that. But we had a hard time imagining what kinds of applications could take advantage of all this power. We didn’t expect high-speed modems. We didn’t expect computers to have large amounts of hard-disk storage built in. We didn’t see the Internet growing out of the ARPANET and becoming accessible to everyone. Or digital cameras. We didn’t see any of that. We really could only see what was right in front of us, a year or two out, max.

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.

artdiamondblog.com Turned 5 on July 15th

DiamondBlogArticle2010-07-24.jpgThe article image above is a screen capture from the online PDF of the article cited below.

I usually celebrate the birthday of this blog with a few comments, and sometimes statistics, about blogging, and this blog in particular.
I had thought once or twice about the impending birthday, but as the day approached had forgotten about. On July 15th my former student, loyal reader, and friend, Aaron Brown sent me an email reminding me of the date (thanks Aaron!).
For the month of June 2010, Gongol.com’s ranking of economics blogs ranks my blog 43rd in terms of “average daily pageviews” and 39th in terms of “average daily visits.”
In the spring the blog was receiving roughly 2500 – 3000 visits a day. In June and July, as of this writing on 7/24/10, it has been receiving 1500 – 2000 visits per day. (This is consistent with my guess that students are a large part of my viewers.)
The blog occasionally receives recognition. I was invited by the Kauffman Foundation to participate in their quarterly survey of influential economics blogs, and have participated in three of their surveys so far.
A small article appeared on the blog in the Summer 2010 UNO Magazine. A reference to the article is:
Townley, Wendy. “UNO Economics Blogger Gains National Recognition.” UNO Magazine (Summer 2010): 15.


Tim Fitzgerald took this photo which can be found online at: http://unoalumni.org/unomags10-thecolleges

Both New York City and Cars Assert Individuality and Enterprise

(p. C5) If the culture and character of some cities are closely associated with modes of transportation (gondolas in Venice, bicycles in Amsterdam), the automobile may be the defining force in New York, not because it decreed the layout of streets or because it is essential (as in Los Angeles), but because its assertion of individuality and enterprise and its readiness to expand beyond assigned boundaries had so much to do with the city’s spirit.

For the full review, see:
EDWARD ROTHSTEIN. “Last Chance; Exhibition Review; The Anatomy of a Citywide Traffic Jam.” The New York Times (Tues., July 20, 2010): C1 & C5.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 19, 2010.)

“Intimidation, Threats and Violence Against the White Farmers” in Zimbabwe

ForcingWhiteFarmerOffLand2010-08-04.jpg“A man tries to force a white Zimbabwean farmer off of his land in “Mugabe and the White African.”” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C9) Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson’s “Mugabe and the White African” is a documentary account of the efforts of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, to hold onto their farm. It tracks their precedent-setting lawsuit against Robert Mugabe, the authoritarian Zimbabwean president, in a regional African court, as well as events on the ground in Zimbabwe: intimidation, threats and violence against the white farmers still holding out after a decade of land seizures by the government.

Many viewers will leave “Mugabe and the White African” thinking that they have seen few, if any, documentaries as wrenching, sad and infuriating, and those feelings will be justified. What has happened (and continues to happen) to the Campbells, the Freeths and some of their white neighbors is not only unjust but also a horrifying, slow-motion nightmare. That sensation is reinforced by the movie’s political-thriller style, partly a result of the covert filming methods necessary in a country where practicing journalism can get you thrown in jail.

For the full movie review, see:

MIKE HALE. “Fighting His Country to Keep His Farmland.” The New York Times (Fri., July 23, 2010): C9.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 22, 2010.)

Inventors Should Work Alone, Even If They Have to Moonlight

(p. 291) If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone.

When you’re working for a large, structured company, there’s much less leeway to turn clever ideas into revolutionary new products or product features by yourself. Money is, unfortunately, a god in our society, and those who finance your efforts are businesspeople with lots of experience at organizing contracts that define who owns what and what you can do on your own.
But you probably have little business experience, know-how, or acumen, and it’ll be hard to protect your work or deal with all that corporate nonsense. I mean, those who provide the funding and tools and environment are often perceived as taking the credit for inventions. If you’re a young inventor who wants to change the world, a corporate environment is the wrong place for you.
(p. 292) You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team. That means you’re probably going to have to do what I did. Do your projects as moonlighting, with limited money and limited resources. But man, it’ll be worth it in the end. It’ll be worth it if this is really, truly what you want to do–invent things. If you want to invent things that can change the world, and not just work at a corporation working on other people’s inventions, you’re going to have to work on your own projects.
When you’re working as your own boss, making decisions about what you’re going to build and how you’re going to go about it, making trade-offs as to features and qualities, it becomes a part of you. Like a child you love and want to support. You have huge motivation to create the best possible inventions–and you care about them with a passion you could never feel about an invention someone else ordered you to come up with.
And if you don’t enjoy working on stuff for yourself–with your own money and your own resources, after work if you have to– then you definitely shouldn’t be doing it!

. . .

It’s so easy to doubt yourself, and it’s especially easy to doubt yourself when what you’re working on is at odds with everyone else in the world who thinks they know the right way to do things. Sometimes you can’t prove whether you’re right or wrong. Only time can tell that. But if you believe in your own power to objectively reason, that’s a key to happiness. And a key to confidence. Another key I found to happiness was to realize that I didn’t have to disagree with someone and let it get all intense. If you believe in your own power to reason, you can just relax. You don’t have to feel the pressure to set out and convince anyone. So don’t sweat it! You have to trust your own designs, your own intuition, and your own understanding of what your invention needs to be.

Wozniak, Steve, and Gina Smith. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006.
(Note: Italics and centered ellipsis in original.)

Documenting Dangers of Growing Public Debt (and of Replacing History with Math)

RogoffReinhart2010-08-04.jpg “Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart at Ms. Reinhart’s Washington home. They started their book around 2003, years before the economy began to crumble.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Like a pair of financial sleuths, Ms. Reinhart and her collaborator from Harvard, Kenneth S. Rogoff, have spent years investigating wreckage scattered across documents from nearly a millennium of economic crises and collapses. They have wandered the basements of rare-book libraries, riffled through monks’ yellowed journals and begged central banks worldwide for centuries-old debt records. And they have manually entered their findings, digit by digit, into one of the biggest spreadsheets you’ve ever seen.

Their handiwork is contained in their recent best seller, “This Time Is Different,” a quantitative reconstruction of hundreds of historical episodes in which perfectly smart people made perfectly disastrous decisions. It is a panoramic opus, both geographically and temporally, covering crises from 66 countries over the last 800 years.
The book, and Ms. Reinhart’s and Mr. Rogoff’s own professional journeys as economists, zero in on some of the broader shortcomings of their trade — thrown into harsh relief by economists’ widespread failure to anticipate or address the financial crisis that began in 2007.
“The mainstream of academic research in macroeconomics puts theoretical coherence and elegance first, and investigating the data second,” says Mr. Rogoff. For that reason, he says, much of the profession’s celebrated work “was not terribly useful in either predicting the financial crisis, or in assessing how it would it play out once it happened.”
“People almost pride themselves on not paying attention to current events,” he says.
. . .
(p. 6) Although their book is studiously nonideological, and is more focused on patterns than on policy recommendations, it has become fodder for the highly charged debate over the recent growth in government debt.
To bolster their calls for tightened government spending, budget hawks have cited the book’s warnings about the perils of escalating public and private debt. Left-leaning analysts have been quick to take issue with that argument, saying that fiscal austerity perpetuates joblessness, and have been attacking economists associated with it.
. . .
The economics profession generally began turning away from empirical work in the early 1970s. Around that time, economists fell in love with theoretical constructs, a shift that has no single explanation. Some analysts say it may reflect economists’ desire to be seen as scientists who describe and discover universal laws of nature.
“Economists have physics envy,” says Richard Sylla, a financial historian at the Stern School of Business at New York University. He argues that Paul Samuelson, the Nobel laureate whom many credit with endowing economists with a mathematical tool kit, “showed that a lot of physical theories and concepts had economic analogs.”
Since that time, he says, “economists like to think that there is some physical, stable state of the world if they get the model right.” But, he adds, “there is really no such thing as a stable state for the economy.”
Others suggest that incentives for young economists to publish in journals and gain tenure predispose them to pursue technical wizardry over deep empirical research and to choose narrow slices of topics. Historians, on the other hand, are more likely to focus on more comprehensive subjects — that is, the material for books — that reflect a deeply experienced, broadly informed sense of judgment.
“They say historians peak in their 50s, once they’ve accumulated enough knowledge and wisdom to know what to look for,” says Mr. Rogoff. “By contrast, economists seem to peak much earlier. It’s hard to find an important paper written by an economist after 40.”

For the full story, see:
CATHERINE RAMPELL. “They Did Their Homework (800 Years of It).” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., July 4, 2010): 1 & 6.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 2, 2010.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

The reference for the book is:
Reinhart, Carmen M., and Kenneth Rogoff. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.


Source of book image: http://www.paschaldonohoe.ie/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/This-time-is-different.jpg

We’re from the Government, and We Are Here to Help

In February, I heard a wonderful presentation by Emily Chamlee-Wright on the recovery process from Hurricane Katrina. One of my favorite parts of her presentation was an account of how the federal bureaucracy hindered those whose entrepreneurship was needed for recovery. The account is included in her book The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery, that documents her research on Katrina:

(p. 142) . . . , the bureaucratic structure governing disaster relief can stifle, or at the very least frustrate local leadership driving community redevelopment. Doris Voitier’s efforts to re-open the public school system in St. Bernard Parish illustrate this point. Voitier had initially assumed that FEMA’s newly created task force on education would lend the support and expertise she needed. But she quickly learned that FEMA’s role was not so much to lend support as it was to regulate the decisions coming out of her office.

VOITIER: [W]e had our kickoff meeting in September. We didn’t even know what a kickoff meeting was nor did we know we were in one until after it was over . . . . In their little book, which I read later, they tell them, “meet in the person’s home territory,” basically. Now . . . we were operating out of Baton Rouge, and so were all of the people who attended this meeting. We all got rental cars and drove down [to St. Bernard Parish] and met on the third floor of the building over by Chalmette Refining at 2 o’clock in the afternoon in 100 degree heat with no air conditioning or anything. [M]y assistant superintendent and I walk into this meeting and there were 27 people in this meeting are sitting around this table . . . and we were going through the introductions. And the first two people said, “We’re so and so. We are the FEMA historical restoration team” I said, okay, tell me what you do. “Well, we make sure any buildings that are 40 years old or more, they’re designated a historical building, we make sure all of the rules and regulations are followed for that or if there are any historical documents, paintings, or whatever, that they’re preserved properly, and that you do (p. 143) everything you’re supposed to do . . . .” Now here we are just trying to, you know, trying to recover, not worrying too much about that sort of stuff, but . . . thank you very much. So the next two introduced themselves and I said, “Well who are you?” “We are the FEMA environmental protection team.” I said, “Tell me what you do.” Well, same thing. “We make sure all of the environmental laws are followed, that if there are any endangered species that they’re protected,” you know, yadda, yadda, yadda. Okay. The next two, “We are the FEMA 404 mitigation team.” I’m looking at them and I’m thinking, what in the heck is 404 mitigation? Because the next two were the FEMA 406 . . . . So I’m looking at them, I’m thinking, I don’t know what 404 was and I certainly don’t know what 406 is . . . . And you know. . . [I’m thinking] can’t somebody help me get a school started and clean my schools . . . ?

Chamlee-Wright, Emily. The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery: Social Learning in a Post-Disaster Environment, Routledge Advances in Heterodox Economics. London: Routledge, 2010.
(Note: first ellipsis added; other ellipses in original.)