(This is my personal annual review post; here’s the piece I wrote for 2017.)
I want to kick off this post by making a point about Moore’s Law. That’s the observation, which later turned into a prediction, that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 18 to 24 months.
Moore’s Law is not some natural law built into the fabric of the universe, designed to self-execute without a bit of engineering effort. Instead, it’s a massive industrial undertaking to push forward this technological frontier. It follows that we have agency on how quickly we can maintain the pace of technology improvements. The semiconductor industry set a benchmark for improvement early on, one that seems kind of arbitrary today, and made a collective effort to execute against it. Semiconductor companies—the leaders of which are TSMC, Intel, and Samsung—adopted Moore’s Law as an industry goal. The rate of progress seems to have gotten slower and more expensive, but it’s remarkable that Moore’s Law has held up for decades.
Now I wonder to what extent we can replicate exponential progress by doing some branding. Moore’s Law turned from a neat backwards-looking observation into an obligation for the entire chips industry to keep improving. One description that I like of it is that it’s a “clock that has become a chaotic attractor for innovation.” I don’t think there are many other technologies in which exponential growth in performance over decades is possible. But maybe there’s a handful more that are, and they await a nice label that will concentrate minds, mobilize capital, and attract talent to keep improving. Coming up with that label might be a kind of low-hanging fruit that would encourage greater growth.
I’d like this exponential progress to come to other fields, especially industrial technologies. Semiconductors are upstream of all electronics, which is a sector that has been vibrantly innovative over the last few decades. If we had exponential progress in a few more upstream technologies, we may be able to enjoy faster innovation in fields beyond computers, software, and the internet. Silicon Valley is rightly celebrated as a driver of innovation and wealth creation. But I’m not sure to what extent that Silicon Valley companies have yet promoted dynamism in the broader non-tech world. Companies there are very good at building software on top of and abstracted from the physical world. The tech companies we hear most often about tend to be capital-light, beautifully-scalable businesses that earn the most handsome returns for investors.
We’re excited about companies like Airbnb and Uber, which match consumers with underutilized assets. Better matching of supply and demand is valuable, but I’m looking for something more ambitious. Focusing on industrial technologies is more like taking a firm hold of the supply curve and pulling it downwards; that process can unconstrain the growth of many downstream companies. For example, energy is upstream of everything in the economy; think about how much more room AI would have to play with if energy costs were measured in cents rather than dollars. Smartphone components today would have been military-grade technology just two decades ago. Their costs have been brought down in some cases by the hundredfold, and are cheap enough to create whole new categories of products, like the consumer drone and virtual reality headsets.
Instead of being enamored with downstream, consumer-facing internet companies, I wish more people could be excited about upstream, industrial technology companies. It’s easy to love smartphones, the internet, and all the apps we use without thinking about how semiconductor improvements have made a lot of these things possible. Furthermore, I wish that more of these industrial components can improve at the pace of Moore’s Law. We haven’t had quite as much progress in energy, space, chemicals, and medicine that we were expecting decades ago.
To some extent, Moore’s Law is an irrational commitment by the chips industry. It’s expressly driven by an engineering benchmark, i.e. to keep doubling transistor density, which is not necessarily a market- or customer-driven demand. This is a triumph of scientists and engineers over financial types, who would question why an abstract scientific challenge should be invoked for capital allocation decisions. In my view, this sort of irrationality is not a bad thing. In many cases, we should invest more in upstream technologies, even if we have no idea what sort of downstream uses they may enable. I don’t think it would be terrible if many industries developed a maniacal commitment to lowering input costs or broadening the capabilities of these inputs.
This year, my tastes in music veered towards the more adventurous. That means I made a conscious decision to dwell less on Beethoven and Wagner. I attended three performances worth noting: the Vienna Philharmonic playing Wagner in Tokyo; the Berlin Philharmonic playing Mozart in Berlin; and the Deutsche Oper staging Lady Macbeth of the Mzensk District. The first two were nice examples of technical perfection, I enjoyed the third one the best.
Shostakovich may have had too much fun for his own good when he composed Lady Macbeth. It’s no wonder that Stalin is rumored to have personally penned an editorial in Pravda to denounce the work. The best parts of the opera come from the juxtaposition of beautiful musical passages with wildly inappropriate desires acted out on stage. For example, when a kulak decides that he will at last make a move on his daughter-in-law, forcing down the bedroom door if necessary, the music erupts into a gorgeous Viennese waltz. Shostakovich is not the only composer to play these kinds of games. The music of Strauss is most fine when the action on stage becomes most dreadful; sweet and triumphant tones ring out from the orchestra as Salomé fondles the head of John the Baptist, which she had just ordered to be separated from the rest of his body.
Let’s stay a bit longer on music. When I read Tyler’s interview of Elisa New this year, it struck me that many of her suggestions of how to get started on poetry apply just as well as how to get started on opera. The general plan should not be to absorb a whole work sequentially and all at once. (That is, don’t put on Parsifal or Don Carlo, plan to sit still for six hours, and expect to get something out of it.) Instead, the plan should be to look for small moments as entry points, which one can use as beachheads to expand towards the rest of the work.
While most parts of every opera are boring, some parts are the peaks of composed music. Nobody, I submit, can sit in rapture for the entirety of every performance. Instead, I believe that we’re all seeking a few morsels from any particular work. For many moments, you can’t actually hear anything the first few times. I mean that literally, in the sense that even the most beautiful bits will not necessarily register cognitively until a dozen times of repeated listening, often with more than one conductor.
I’ll suggest a few heuristics when it comes to finding morsels in Mozart and Verdi, two of my favorites. First, the endings of acts tend to burst with drama, in which large parts of the cast gather around to issue a gigantic statement of terror or grief; Verdi especially means for these scenes to arouse. Second, look for scenes with multiple voices, like duets, trios, and quartets. To me, these represent many musical peaks. (Rarely am I very moved by solos or the entire chorus.) I found the quartets in Don Giovanni and Rigoletto to be compelling beyond belief, and they were responsible for drawing me into the rest of Mozart and Verdi.
It’s sort of surprising that Verdi works as well as he does. I think it was Alex Ross who suggested that it’s hard to make sense of Verdi from the page: the orchestral accompaniment looks crude, offering usually unimaginative beats. Verdi’s best moments feature a mix of voices that drive the momentum, with urgency that’s hard to pick up from the page. I consider the best parts of Verdi to be the ruminative sections, like the quartets in Don Carlo and Rigoletto, in which each person is making a private confession of grief or joy, none of whom can enjoy the consistent support of the orchestra. Or the concluding duet of Aida, in which the tenor and soprano come to terms that death is the condition for politically-forbidden love, their voices rising and falling on top of shimmering strings. If the ruminative parts of Verdi don’t grab you, look for the fast-paced parts that feature tight rhythms: Il Trovatore offers many such points of ignition. Muti is certainly my favorite Verdi conductor.
Whereas the best of Verdi are the ruminative parts, the best of Mozart are in the flourishes, in which strings propel the action. Instead of dwelling on something marvelously beautiful, as Strauss would, Mozart wraps things up so that he can get on to unfurling the next perfect moment. He’s not like Beethoven, who is sober by default; nor like Verdi, who draws out sad moments with special weight; nor like Wagner, entirely without frivolity, who brings listeners into trancelike states of wonder.
I spent a lot of time this year listening to the Da Ponte operas. Many conductors have recorded these works, I like Currentzis and Gardiner the best. I know that we’re all supposed to prefer Don Giovanni to Figaro and Cosi, but I want to present a dissenting view. I feel that Mozart has a tendency to be ironic and cheerful. It’s harder to pull that off with Don Giovanni, which starts out being objectionable, then turns moralistic, and ends on a sappy note. Figaro and Cosi are less serious and more dialectical. Everyone has a chance to be deceitful and villainous, there is no single person who is the obvious rake. The tender moments of Figaro and Cosi feel more real, and they feature a better use of irony. My favorite morsels from these works include the false wooing of Fiordiligi by Ferrando, the false acceptance of wooing by Susanna from Count Almaviva, and the way-too-real wooing of Donna Elvira by Don Giovanni.
I’m spending most of my time studying Chinese industrial policy and the country’s technology upgrading process. This was a busy year for work given the escalating trade war. I wrote reports on topics that included the long-term outlook of China’s semiconductor development (and how export controls can derail that progress); how China’s internet and smartphone companies are going abroad, mostly to developing countries; how multinationals are adjusting their supply chains given tariffs; a general evaluation of the prospects of success of 2025; and other stuff.
Fragments of that work exist in public. If you’re curious, you can listen to a podcast I recorded for Bloomberg’s Odd Lots, with Joe Weisenthal and Tracy Alloway. I did some live TV with Bloomberg as well, and I’ll link to that segment when it becomes available. There are also bits of my commentary in news stories. For example, I talked about China’s chip capabilities with the FT, electric vehicles with the WSJ, 2025 with the NYT, and data centers in Guizhou with the Economist.
Last year, I visited many cities of the Sinosphere. This year, aside from some time in Tokyo and Berlin, most of travel was in China itself. I’m glad to have visited eight of the country’s ten richest cities, for work or pleasure. (The two I missed were Tianjin and Suzhou.) The least interesting city of them all is Wuhan, which seems to have nothing other than industry, and no food worth remarking upon. I had the most fun in Hangzhou and Chongqing. They’re a nice study in contrasts, and I recommend visiting them as a pair.
Start the trip in Chongqing, a chaotic city in a bizarre geographic setting, with tall buildings growing out of gorges and hills. I find the dusk and night scenes there to be more dramatic than even Hong Kong’s. No wonder the gallery of cyberpunk transformations of Chongqing seems so fitting. Then head to Hangzhou, which I consider the most pleasant large city in China; when I gazed at its lake and surrounding hills of tea plantations, I thought it could plausibly resemble parts of Ontario or upstate New York. Walking around, one can tell that Hangzhou anchored the richest region of China for 1,000 years, why the poets dwelled there to find inspiration, and why the emperors liked to visit. The spicy food of Chongqing is indeed what it’s cracked up to be; and the food in Hangzhou is so fine that I feel that Jiangnan cuisine might be the most wonderful cuisine of them all.
Enough highlights; let’s get on to self-criticism.
I regret that I wrote only three pieces on this site in 2018. It’s half the number of the previous year. Ultimately I’m not so bothered however, that writing personal essays took a concession to quite a lot of work, travel, and reading. Furthermore I’m quite pleased with how my two non-review pieces turned out. Imperial History and Classical Aesthetics was an effort to capture some of the flavors of Chinese cultural sensibilities, and I’m modestly satisfied with the result. How Technology Grows is an elaboration of my thoughts on definite optimism: that we should reach for economic growth and pay more attention to the industrial world. Come to think of it, that’s a rather nice thesis statement for my site. The essay also makes the point that knowledge ought to be considered a living product, which needs to be practiced for it to be even sustained at its current level.
Certainly next year I’ll try to write more, but again I won’t be much bothered if writing here takes a backseat to other stuff. This is after all only an effort that’s meant to be for fun. Much more of my quick-take output has moved to emails and group texts, with some of it spilling over to Twitter.
I’m more aggrieved by my lack of movie and television consumption in 2018. This year I watched only a handful of movies, I think fewer than a half-dozen, and no TV. I’ll repeat what I said from last year: “I regret to have ignored TV as a creative stimulus this year, and concede that my imaginative capacity has possibly suffered as a result.” Of the few movies that I watched, three made an impression.
Ash is Purest White, Jia Zhangke. It’s a gangster movie for the first hour that turns into a Jia movie in the second, starring as usual Zhao Tao. The trailer is great. One kind of knows now what one is getting into with Jia: he will offer poignant scenes, sometimes dropping in the baffling or surreal, and adding a touch of the supernatural. Jia prefers understatement, but the prospect of violence hovers more closely in sight in this more than his other movies.
There are many references to his previous works. Zhao Tao travels through the Three Gorges as she did previously in Still Life. I love that you can find random snatches of Village People in Jia’s movies; he must appreciate their terrible catchiness. Jia used mobile phones to marvelous effect in The World, and the evolution of their use features prominently in Ash is Purest White.
2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick. I saw this movie on TV maybe a decade ago and didn’t think much of it. This time I saw it in 70mm with a full sound system at the Alamos Drafthouse and found the experience stunning. (I’m thankful to Eugene Wei for taking me to the showing; one of my goals in life is to follow Eugene to at least one movie a year.) I thought that the depictions of space travel and orbiting structures were really marvelous. Afterwards I was astonished to discover that the movie was released in 1968, i.e. a full year before we were sure that we could put a man on the moon. Wasn’t it remarkable that Kubrick and the rest of Hollywood had such confidence that space travel could be easy, and a bit disappointing that we’re not going to space in the same way, 17 years after his expected timeline?
Here’s another thought about the movie’s circumstances. I had just finished the fourth volume of Caro’s biography of LBJ before I watched the movie. Towards the end, Caro discusses Johnson’s Great Society initiative to alleviate widespread poverty in the US. It’s all the remarkable then that the US government prioritized going to space—at the peak committing a mid-single-digits share of the federal budget to NASA—before trying to reduce poverty at home. The government made a political decision that technology should come before poverty relief. Regardless of whether one thinks whether that was the right tradeoff then, it’s quite a bit more difficult to imagine that the US government could commit so much to a scientific endeavor today.
After the movie, I re-read Kennedy’s moon speech. Isn’t it a wonderful example of definite optimism? “If I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall… made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun… and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out—then we must be bold.”
The US did all this, and did it right, and did it before the decade was out.
Since I bring up Kennedy, it’s also fair to bring up the definite optimism of Khrushchev. Whereas Kennedy directed his gaze towards celestial bodies, Khrushchev—who supervised the construction of subway lines in Moscow—concerned himself with matters closer to the earth. I’ve discovered a speech the general secretary gave to the National Conference of Builders, Architects, and Workers in 1954. It was an impassioned argument on the virtues of construction in concrete, lasting the better part of two hours. Has any other modern head of state been so full of whimsy as Khrushchev, and could make such a well-informed case for a building material?
Concrete construction prompted a building boom of squat, low-cost apartment buildings that earned the affectionate name of Khrushchyovka. (No wonder the USSR urbanized so quickly.) Khrushchev listened to his scientific and engineering advisors, gained personal conviction of the superiority of concrete, and took it upon himself to sell the idea to the public, which he did with enthusiasm. Shouldn’t this trait, possessed by both Kennedy and Khrushchev, be one of the top qualities we ought to seek in our politicians today?
The Story of Qiu Ju, an early Zhang Yimou movie, maybe the better translation is Qiu Ju Goes to Court or Qiu Ju Pursues Litigation. It’s charming from beginning to end, with many occasions for whimsy. Some of the street scenes were filmed live with a hidden camera. So many shots of ordinary life in a mid-sized Chinese city in the ‘90s would make the movie worth watching alone.
It’s time to talk about books.
My fiction reading this year revolved around Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber. It’s the chronicle of the fortunes of a noble family during peak-Qing, which enjoyed prosperity until it fell into imperial disfavor, after which it suffered waves of calamity. The Dream is our Proust. I mean that the plot is mostly beside the point: one needs not ever care about our protagonist, who is an absurd boy. Instead, it is about drinking in the scenes of everyday life that make the novel so worthwhile.
The novel features many details. These include intricacies of food, textiles, and trinkets, along with how they’re used in family and imperial rites. How the noble Jia family, which managed to produce an imperial concubine, has to pay attention to the changing political currents at court. How the family has to manage an enormous staff of servants, who are able to assert their independence by generating an endless stream of gossip. How the women, both noble and common, could spend all day weaving. (While I was reading the books, I was pleased to come across Melanie Xue’s research, which brought up the fact that regions with more pre-modern cotton-textile production were more likely to view women to be just as competent as men.) I thought that the second half of the dream was most interesting. The family is no longer prosperous and has to suffer unrelenting woe. The characters then stop being such models of piety and literary virtuosity, instead descending into deception, pride, and superstition. It’s a wonderfully Chinese novel.
The Dream has one important difference with Proust worth highlighting: Cao uses his considerable powers to paint vivid female leads, while his men tend to be boring and stupid. (Our protagonist literally turns into an imbecile in the final quarter of our dream.) It’s much the opposite with Proust, whose female characters are mostly flat.
To my surprise, my nonfiction reading revolved around three political biographies this year. They are Deng Xiaoping (by Vogel), Park Chung Hee (by Kim and Vogel), and Lyndon B. Johnson (Caro, specifically Volume 4: The Passage of Power). I found the books about Deng and Park to be useful, and the book about Johnson to be most enjoyable. At last I can appreciate why my friend Kevin Kwok is prosecuting such a spirited campaign to compel everyone he knows to read the Caro books. I don’t care much about LBJ himself, instead I was absorbed by the storytelling. The usual exhaustion of following small details never overwhelmed me, because Caro is so earnest about their importance.
It’s easy to recommend these books. But you’ve likely already heard of them, and I don’t see my role here to be telling people to read what many other people are already recommending. Instead I feel that I can play a more useful role by pointing towards more obscure works. Of this genre I wish to cast a spotlight on three.
I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, by René Girard. This short book is the best case I’ve read for Christianity. Most faiths (and pagan myths) take the side of the crowd when they strike down their victims, who are denounced to be the cause of general misfortune and woe. The Bible takes the side of victims. It offers one example after another to show how crowds can be whipped up to persecute the innocent. I thought that nearly every page of this book offered insight, all the way through the end where Girard evaluates Nietzsche.
I consider the Cultural Revolution to be the greatest possible Girardian nightmare, and I wish that many more Chinese would study the work of Girard. More people should get to know the virtues of Girardian renunciation and forbearance. I’d even go as far to suggest that encouraging the appreciation of Girard in China could be one of the highest-leverage acts that we can do for humanity, and I’m personally willing to put in some effort to encourage more people to study his work.
Exact Thinking in Demented Times, by Karl Sigmund, can one imagine a more delightful title? A professor of mathematics has written this intellectual biography of the Vienna Circle, a group of logicians, mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers who worked in Austria over the ‘20s and ‘30s. Readers will recognize the names of members of this circle and those who dropped in on them: Gödel, Carnap, Popper, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Mach, and more. The Vienna Circle held monthly discussions to clarify questions in language, logic, and mathematics. Its members produced insights that fundamentally advanced progress in physics and computing.
The group probed ever more abstract questions while the real world fell apart around them. They wanted to debate logic, but increasingly unnerving events of the world had a tendency to intervene—the German annexation of Austria was not even the most severe disruption that the group had to face. This society of logicians and mathematicians was shockingly susceptible to murder and intrigue. Ludwig Boltzmann died by his own hand, after declaring that too many smart people become obsessed with sterile pseudo-problems. (Perhaps we’re not much closer to eradicating this epidemic today.) Kurt Gödel descended into paranoia, eventually starving himself to death after he emigrated to the US. Moritz Schlick, chief organizer of the Vienna Circle, was murdered by a deranged student, who got off easy after the press mostly took the killer’s side.
I liked this bit about Hans Hahn, the mathematician: “His talks and papers were of supreme clarity. To deliver his daily lectures, which he always prepared with meticulous care, he had developed a peculiar technique and carried it to its limits. His favorite student Karl Menger wrote: ‘He proceeded by taking almost imperceptible steps, following the principle that a mathematical proof consists in tautological transformations; yet at the end of each lecture, he left the audience dazzled by the sheer number of ideas he managed to cover.’”
The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China, by Timothy Brook. How quickly could a Ming emperor’s couriers reach the distant outposts of the empire? How did the merely wealthy try to match the fashions of the actually noble elite, and how did the elite stay a step ahead? How did local cadres attempt to govern in an age of growing commercial sophistication? How did the empire deal with massive weather disruptions through the Little Ice Age? Why did the spread of the printing press cause a century of sectarian warfare in Europe, but barely a political ripple for the Ming?
Brook offers answers to these questions and many others. It’s valuable to read about the development of the crafts and commercial culture on its own terms; Brook makes it easy by being a wonderful stylist. My favorite parts were about how foreigners and imperial subjects were able to travel throughout the empire, on a well-functioning logistics network. This book and the Dream offer reminders of the importance of the material world. We take tools and trinkets for granted, but these books remind us how difficult it was to produce anything at all, much less move it at any distance.
I should also mention that I loved Disturbing the Universe, the memoirs of Freeman Dyson. He is someone we can say has been living a full life. Outside of books, I loved this article by Doug Irwin on the semiconductor trade war that the US launched against Japan in the ‘80s. It’s a fascinating history of technology and political economy. It features a diverse cast that includes the USTR, Japanese trade negotiators, the PC industry, and other fun characters. Semiconductors are kind of a successful application of US industrial policy.
My life this year was not totally bereft of television entertainment. The most novel thing I watched this year was the UFC fight between McGregor and Nurmagomedov. I found it a deep experience, and I thank my friend Dave Petersen for putting it on TV and insisting that I watch it with him.
At first I found the show too gruesome to endure. There were many moments where I could hardly believe what I was seeing, like when one grown man had another pinned to the floor, landing punches on his opponent’s face, while the victim’s own blood was dripping on him from his aggressor’s mouth. But the more I watched, the more I was engrossed. Not so much by the fight, but by everything around the fight.
When I saw the Berlin Philharmonic this year, I thought about the complex system required to produce music of this quality. The few dozen musicians on stage are extraordinarily talented. They’re so good because the world, and especially Germany, has developed a superb pipeline of talent to staff this orchestra and others. The program was Schoenberg and Mozart, and I thought about how long it took to develop such a deep repertory of pieces that would include these two composers. I can also bring up the technologies required for the orchestra. The Berlin audience was sophisticated, and that takes time to develop too. That is a wonderful system that has gotten a lot of things right.
I had the same type of thought watching UFC as I did when I listened to the Berlin Philharmonic. UFC is an amazing spectacle, and so many things had to be developed before something of that quality could be produced. Think of Vegas, first of all, a remote city in the desert that has managed to attract people, not just for this fight, but year-round for entertainment. Second, consider all the accouterments around the fight: the seamless transitions; the interludes from Joe Rogan and Bruce Buffer, who are both talented announcers; the special effects of lighting, fog, and music, all of which combine to marvelous effect. Third, think about what it takes to market this type of event. And finally the fighters themselves, who know what they have to do to provide a good show.
It was then I felt that I grasped how outstanding the US is at producing entertainment. This is a valuable cultural competence. I don’t think there are any other countries that can develop an audience and put on so many types of high-quality shows.
I failed this year when it comes to the most important type of learning activity that I do: playing enough sessions of Avalon, my favorite board game. Kevin suggests that he’d like to promote Avalon to become the golf of tech. I want that as well, so I’ll take this chance to evangelize the game.
Avalon is made up of typically seven players: three are evil—and they know who each other are—and four are good, and they generally don’t know who anyone else is. The goal for the good people is to discover the identities of the evil people; the goal for the evil people is to insinuate themselves as good people. Everyone takes turns proposing different configurations of people to make up a team. We’ll find out if the proposed team includes any evil people, discuss the results, and engage in a total of five rounds of play.
Gameplay is simple, the dynamics are not. There are several remarkable things about Avalon. First, it’s a game that gets more interesting by playing with the same group. Usually board games stop being fun once everyone has mastered the mechanics; that’s not the case for Avalon, because the rules are few, and the game is fundamentally about trying to understand other people. I play with different groups in a few cities, and perceive a distinct hierarchy of competence. At the bottom of the hierarchy are tech people in San Francisco: they tend to misread probabilities, stick with their early impressions of people without updating their views given new information, and are worse at moving fluidly between good and evil roles. The mostly-finance crowd I play with in New York are better on every front, probably because there’s a greater role for scheming when one works at a big bank.
The very best Avalon players are mainland Chinese, who astonish me again and again with their brilliance. I’ve come to believe that merely thinking in Mandarin makes one a better Avalon player.
I’ve appreciated an analogy a friend offered about Avalon. He compares playing the game to getting into the mindset of the Enigma codebreakers (as depicted in Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.) The Allies may have broken the codes of the Axis, but generals and admirals shouldn’t act on every piece of intelligence. Instead, they have to engage in parallel construction based on public data to maintain the enemy’s faith in his communications system. So the Allies might send surveillance planes to where the enemy is known to be, make sure that the enemy sees these planes, and engage in combat only afterwards. One is always asking: how deeply to press the information advantage, and is it possible to generate alternative explanations for success?
Avalon rewards people for being both social and deductive. Unlike Werewolf, it’s not a purely social game, in which unfounded accusations are all that anyone has to go on; nor chess, a game with perfect information. Avalon is more like poker, in which a player has to persuade with both logic and lies.
(I loved this gallery of different celestial bodies produced by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Visions of the Future, with a hat tip to @natfriedman. This picture of Europa makes me recall a line in my previous post: “Why have we not made it a priority to look for extraterrestrial life that might exist on our planetary doorstep, within our very own solar system? I’m volunteering right now to go on the mission that explores these oceans (of the moons of Jupiter). If I must crowdfund my way up there, I’ll offer to write the next Moby-Dick, or Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, depending of course on the nature and economic value of the monsters that dwell in those depths.”)
I have several questions.
When I cast my eye around the industrial world, I see many consolidated industries. We went from having around 20 DRAM memory chip makers in 1995 to 11 in 2008, and just 3 players today. Wide-body aircraft is a well-known duopoly made up of Boeing and Airbus. For many segments of semiconductors, there’s a single overwhelmingly dominant company or a few holders of critical IP. This list can go on. So why does so much of the popular antitrust discussion in the US focus on internet companies, which I would say for the most part are providing nearly free products to consumers? I’m not saying that the internet companies should be free from regulatory scrutiny, nor that industrial technology companies are totally free from competition. But as a first cut, I think that there are worthier tech targets for competition regulators than the internet giants.
Any sufficiently-capitalized firm is able to buy leading tools from the market to make advanced technology products. But industrial technology companies are concentrated in only a handful of rich countries. In a more extreme case, PCs and software is accessible to most people in the world, but nearly all large internet companies are based in either the US or China. Isn’t that a good case that agglomeration effects and process knowledge are important for building large companies? And should some other hard-to-measure factor be thrown into that consideration?
Michael Pettis is an optimist on Chinese contemporary culture: “the culture that is emerging out of young, urban China is vibrant, exciting, chaotic, and perhaps among the most interesting in the world.” That’s not all: “there is a positive side to this dizzying social transformation, namely the explosion of new culture emanating from China—not just on the music scene but also in literature (especially science fiction), painting and comic-book art, along with fashion and other aspects of youth culture… young Chinese artists are negotiating their complicated and confusing world with a cultural elan whose exuberance probably will be remembered and admired for hundreds of years.” Liu’s Three Body Problem has been a nice export success, but I struggle to name many other examples of Chinese cultural products being noticed abroad. Will we see an acceleration of Chinese cultural products becoming globally popular, or will most of them be confined to being displayed in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu?