one-eyed among the... one-eyed
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The Philosophy Force Five vs the Scientismists

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Some people are going to say this was an unfair portrayal of Sam Harris, but considering I didn't have him say anything openly sexist, I'd say it was pretty generous.
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kerray
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tante
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The Philosophy Force Five vs the Scientismists
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Fast Company: Amazon Eats the World

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With its mega-acquisition of Whole Foods, the retail behemoth moves to suck the value out of yet another market.

“Amazon just bought Whole Foods,” my friend texted me seconds after the announcement of the proposed acquisition. “It’s over. The world.”

This unease is widespread, and has raised new calls for breaking up Jeff Bezos’s impending monopoly by force. Surely the company, which now generates 30% of all online and offline retail sales growth in the United States, and already controls 40% of internet cloud services, has reached too far. The 3% hike in Amazon’s share price since the announcement—which would alone more than pay for the acquisition—may attest less to the deal’s appropriateness than to investors’ growing fear that missing out on Amazon means missing out on the future of the economy.

Whatever you may think of Jeff Bezos, and whether or not antitrust regulations can justifiably be applied to a company whose expansion doesn’t raise but actually lowers costs for end consumers, may be beside the point. Many of us get that something is amiss, but are ourselves so deeply enmeshed in the logic of last century’s version of free-market industrial capitalism that we can’t quite bring ourselves to call this out for the threat it poses to our markets, our economy, and even our planet.

The reason why monopolies were broken up in an industrial economy was that they tended to gain control over the platforms through which their products were distributed. The biggest oil company ends up controlling shipping and refineries, the biggest airline controls too many gates, and the biggest phone company controls the wires.

But in a digital economy, the platform is the business. Netflix content sells its platform. Apple’s devices sell its supposed “ecosystem.” Amazon’s book business, like Uber’s cab business, was just an easy foothold—the low-hanging fruit of an existing but inefficient marketplace—through which to establish a platform monopoly. From that beachhead, the company then pivots to other verticals.

The problem is, when an existing market is merely a means to another end, the company doesn’t consider the long-term effects of its actions. Amazon treated the book industry the same way companies like Walmart once treated the territories into which they expanded: Use a war chest of capital to undercut prices, put competitors out of business, become the sole employer in the community, turn employees into part-time shift workers, lobby for deregulation, and effectively extract all the value from a given region before closing up shop and moving to the next one.

This model of doing business—one that even a proto-fascist like Henry Ford would have considered obscene—has not served corporations well. As the data now reveals, corporate profits have been steadily decreasing relative to corporate size over the past 75 years. That’s right: Corporations are great at extracting all the value from a marketplace, but really bad at deploying the money they accumulate in the process. They take all the poker chips off the table, leaving nothing for the other players to exchange between themselves. And by sucking their customers and suppliers dry, such companies end up destroying the marketplaces on which they depend for revenue. It’s a form of financial obesity, where the only thing left for the company to do is acquire a new marketplace, extract all its value, and move on.

In the real world, such extraction took years, even decades to run through its cycle. In a digital economy, “network effects”—which is when a product or service’s value increases the more people who use it or work to create it —accelerate the cycle so that an entire taxi industry can be turned into an “internet of things” in a matter of months.

It’s not that internet founders are somehow more evil or rapacious than their forebears. It’s simply that when companies are platforms, survivability and scalability amount to the same thing. Just as winner-takes-all network effects lead to just one Taylor Swift and millions of penniless artists, these same dynamics promote the establishment of platform monopolies like Amazon.

The problem is less that these single platforms emerge than the fact that their business plans are taken from the obsolete play books of the industrial age, where extraction was the only game in town. While internet servers and financial capital can scale up almost infinitely, the real world cannot. Humans only have so much time and attention in a given day, and the topsoil only has so many nutrients in a given acre. As the merchants of abstracted digital products, like ebooks and streaming media, apply their same business models to the markets and environment on which real people depend for sustenance, power-law dynamics become a lot more dangerous.

Not that Whole Foods was ever a sustainable business in itself. Healthy food and sustainable agriculture are simply incompatible with year-round organic summer produce in all 50 states. However catchy the slogan, capitalism really has no room to be conscious. Of the three factors of production—land, labor, and capital—the “consciousness” part of the equation has always been provided by the places and the people.

Which means that if we’re actually going to confront the devastating potential of an Amazon monopoly, we have to come to grips with more than the way one company has seized control of multiple verticals. We must look instead at how we’ve employed our digital platforms solely in the service of an extractive industrial-age model of growth, and decide whether we’re capable of upgrading to a genuinely digital and distributed form of capitalism. This would mean adopting circular, even revenue-based models that sustain our marketplaces—instead of simply colonizing them.

First published in Fast Company

The post Fast Company: Amazon Eats the World appeared first on Rushkoff.

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The Illustrated Guide to a PhD: 12 Simple Pictures That Will Put the Daunting Degree into Perspective

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Matthew Might, a computer science professor at the University of Utah, writes: "Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is. It's hard to describe it in words. So, I use pictures." In his Illustrated Guide to the PhD, Professor Might creates a visual narrative that puts the daunting degree into perspective. Anyone who has already pursued a Ph.D. will see the wisdom in it. (Or at least I did.) And young, aspiring academics would be wise to pay it heed.

You can see a condensed version of the the illustrated guide above. Or follow it in a larger format below.

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor's degree, you gain a specialty:

A master's degree deepens that specialty:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you're at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you've made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

So, don't forget the bigger picture:

Keep pushing.

You can find Matt's Illustrated Guide hosted on his web site. This guide/reality check is published under a Creative Commons License. You can also buy a print version for $6.50. The money goes to charity.

This guide first appeared on our site in 2012. But, with all of the wisdom it packs into a small space, it seemed worth bringing back.

The Illustrated Guide to a PhD: 12 Simple Pictures That Will Put the Daunting Degree into Perspective is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

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Michael Lewis and the parable of the lucky man taking the extra cookie

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In 2012, Michael Lewis gave a commencement speech at Princeton University, his alma mater. In the speech, Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, and The Big Short, talks about the role of luck in rationalizing success. He tells the graduates, the winners of so many of life’s lotteries, that they “owe a debt to the unlucky”. This part near the end is worth reading even if you skip the rest of it.

I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

You can watch Lewis’ speech as delivered on YouTube:

I wonder if hearing that moved the needle for any of those grads? I suspect not…being born on third base thinking you hit a triple is as American as apple pie at this point. (via @goldman)

Tags: commencement speeches   Michael Lewis   Princeton   video
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kerray
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kleer001
17 days ago
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Excellent! Don't forget to help your lucky friends come to the same realization.
dmierkin
17 days ago
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well put
jheiss
19 days ago
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Well, as someone who was "born on third base" and is making decent progress on scoring a run (to keep up the analogy), I can tell you that there's at least one of us out here who is damn well aware that luck has played a significant part and does at least try to pretend that he doesn't deserve the cookie.

This Must Be The /r/Place

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On April Fool’s Day, when the rest of the internet devolves into a cesspool of unfunny press releases and fake product launches, Reddit becomes the most interesting place online by unleashing a social experiment on its enormous community.

In past years, Reddit’s mods started a color war, an exponential chatroom, and a countdown button that ran for over two months, inspiring its own cult-like religions.

This year, it was Reddit Place, a collaborative canvas of one million pixels. You can color any pixel, but only one pixel every 5-10 minutes. It ended 72 hours later.

This is what happened.

The end result is about as aesthetically pleasing as Million Dollar Homepage, but even a full-screen 4K timelapse can’t fully convey what happened over those 72 hours.

Every tiny patch of the Place is a story. Every piece of real estate represents a hard-fought battle, drawn from the collective activity of hundreds of smaller communities teaming together, and often against each other.

Communities were formed solely to rally people to various causes: painting the bottom-right corner blue, making a patch of green lattice, a rainbow road, a series of interlocking hearts, a Windows 95 start menu. The Starry Knights and the Mona Lisa Clan formed to paint pixel art renditions of famous paintings. Another just wanted to tell the the tragedy of Darth Plagueis The Wise.

Each community created strategies, locations, and grid-based templates — tools to help make sure their work found its place. And all of them had a common enemy: The Black Void, a group of nihilists repeatedly defacing artwork with a growing, spreading maw of black pixels, only to be repeatedly fought back and incorporated into new pieces.

The Place couldn’t have gone on much longer: automated tools were developed to maintain pixel colors, making it more of a technological arms race. So, 72 hours later, the experiment was over.

There’s a heatmap timelapse of activity for all 72 hours, and a static heatmap of all activity. (Full data dumps are available, if you like.)

One person made a live-updating Minecraft server to visualize all Place activity, stacking blocks as pixels change. The final result is browsable as a static render.

Reddit can be hard to love. There’s so many wonderfully creative corners of that community, but it’s often drowned out by a noisy minority of hateful scumbags and trolls, emboldened by haphazard management.

But on April 1, when the internet is at its most annoying, it’s nice to have an annual reminder of what makes it great — even for a short time.

Or, as Reddit’s Josh Wardle wrote in the Place announcement, “Individually you can create something. Together you can create something more.”

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Chat Systems

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I'm one of the few Instagram users who connects solely through the Unix 'talk' gateway.
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popular
104 days ago
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kerray
106 days ago
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fmeggers
79 days ago
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Chaos communications

iPhone: 47.398945,8.541090
tante
105 days ago
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The Internet will connect us all ... just not really
Oldenburg/Germany
bitofabother
105 days ago
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Too real.
francisga
105 days ago
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I love that AIM users are not reachable any other way.
Lafayette, LA, USA
adamgurri
106 days ago
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THIS
New York, NY
mrobold
106 days ago
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The struggle is real.
Orange County, California
JayM
106 days ago
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No bubble for: Email-SMS-Jabber-iMessage-Skype-IRC-TwitterDM-LinkedIn-PrivateForums-NewsBlurComments
Atlanta, GA
mindspillage
106 days ago
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Also, NewsBlur comments.
Mountain View, California
jth
106 days ago
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POST /inbox/new&msg=Hi!%20How%20have%20you%20been%3F%20It%27s%20been%20years%20since%20I%27ve%20seen%20you%20around.
Saint Paul, MN, USA
drchuck
106 days ago
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Nobody uses Wikipedia talk pages?
Long Island, NY
alt_text_bot
106 days ago
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I'm one of the few Instagram users who connects solely through the Unix 'talk' gateway.
HarlandCorbin
106 days ago
I found me on the diagram, i seem to be in a lonely group.
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