Gongol.com Archives: September 2013
Brian Gongol

September 12, 2013

Science and Technology "We're being outsmarted by an organism that doesn't even have a brain"
Commentary on the evolution of weed resistance to herbicides actually echoes for many things that we humans do in life. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because we're sentient, we're smart. Not necessarily true. While we are aware of our ability to think, we can only think in relatively linear ways. (Algebra, for example, is approached by executing multiplication, then division, then addition, then subtraction.) The advantage that Nature has over us isn't self-awareness...it's the ability to try many things at once, and in massive quantities. Thus, in a field full of crops that have been treated with herbicides, it may take only one tiny mutation inside one weed -- among thousands and thousands -- for resistance to those chemicals to appear. But once that single mutation occurs, the plant bearing those genes can reproduce and may ultimately become predominant. The same thing goes for our use of antibiotic drugs and soaps -- which we use because we are smart, but which can fail when even a tiny window opens for a mutation to thrive, leading to antibiotic resistance. These things happen not because Nature is "thinking" about it, but because the systems that define nature involve consequences and rewards that don't necessarily require thinking. There is an important lesson for us (as humans) to extract from this: There are other systems that work in the world around us as well...true forces of nature. These include systems like the laws of supply and demand. We can tell ourselves that we're smarter than those systems -- saying, for instance, that it's all the fault of economists and "corporations" that degrees in petroleum engineering pay three times what fine-arts degrees do. But the nature of the system behind those inequities is, well, natural. It isn't the result of deliberate oppression by The Man, or by a cabal of sinister people trying to manipulate the world. It's the result of supplies for some things (usually hard things, or things that aren't very emotionally fulfilling) falling short of demand at one price, and less so at a higher price. And, on the other side of the coin, it's the result of some things feeling so good that many people will do them for free or nearly for free. Nature is really the party to blame, and if we think we can overcome these natural forces by brute-force human thinking, then we're prone to making serious mistakes like the errors that riddled Soviet medicine with corruption and bad practices.

Computers and the Internet An IPO for Twitter
The company is going to go public, likely sometime soon. What should you take away from that news? That the people who own the shares now think they're at the peak convergence of profits and future expectations. You don't sell something when you think the market is ready to under-pay for something. Outsiders will struggle to put a price tag on the company ($10 billion, says one), but even after the full financial details are revealed, there will still be a great deal of speculation involved. (We do know that they're bringing in less than $1 billion a year in revenues.) And meanwhile, you should note that Hilton Hotels is about to have an IPO, too.

Business and Finance Debt kept things growing in China during the West's slowdown
Can they continue to afford that debt burden for long?

Business and Finance "If you're comfortable with what you can get this year, lock it in"
Mortgages will cost more next year, and the Federal government is likely to back off some of the steps it's taken to prop up the housing market

Weather and Disasters Shocking floods hit Denver/Boulder area
A 30-foot wall of water and debris is supposedly coming down a creek towards the city

Business and Finance What good are management consultants?