Coopertition

Our team, 2491 No Mythic,  is set for the North Star Robotics tournament next week. It’s an event that teaches all the aspects of engineering and entrepreneurship – design, build, teamwork, and budgeting. This year’s competition also brings back an important concept in any business – Coopertition. The teams competing in a match can bump up all their scores at once if they work together.

It goes against the sporting aspects of the match in many ways, but it is critical. In business, companies have always worked together for mutual benefit even as they have competed. Cooperation can be a powerful force for change or a descent into stagnation. No matter what, business has never been purely a “survival of the fittest” in ways that define the boundaries of ethics and will almost certainly be more critical in a close-knit global economy increasingly defined by technology.

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A Bloody, Dangerous Game

The Middle East is dangerous, complicated, and generally just plain messed up. You may respond to that statement by saying, “Yeah, and the sun rose this morning,” or something less polite. But for all the turmoil that the region has been through in recent years it’s actually much worse right now.

A combination of shifting alliances, horrific blow-back from past adventures, and an ancient rivalry blowing up fast are converging rapidly into one regional conflict. Who is on whose side? Who might or might not be winning? It’s nearly impossible to tell, and that makes everything far more dangerous than ever.

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Technology & Science

A very bizzy day is time for a diversion from the usual heavy dose of economics and politics.

If you peer through a magnifying glass at a bug on a leaf, you may find yourself looking at a different world.  Tiny legs might work their way along the delicate structure, as firm as a human hiker across the solid ground itself.

This world takes on the color of the mind observing it when it becomes a story.  Some may see this new thing and ask questions – how the bug came to like that particular leaf, how it is able to grip it, and so on.  Others may be content reporting the details of the situation, such as the shape of the legs and jaws of the bug.

Anytime new perspectives open up the difference between science and technology is revealed at its basic essence.  Science is a practice of asking questions far more than providing answers.  Technology is about rendering that new information into something practical and useful.  That difference may seem subtle, but it is critical to understanding how new information shapes our personal and public lives in a world bombarded with new ideas and observations.

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Flak Over Frack

There is probably no more contentious issue at the crossroads of politics and technology than hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process, where oil and gas drillers chew up rock deep in the earth, is responsible for the major oil boom that produced so much oil it collapsed into the current bust – with very low oil prices. It also creates a lot of environmental damage and, as a relatively new technology, is remarkably unregulated.

New rules were introduced for fracking on federal land on Friday by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Eagerly awaiting them were the drilling industry and environmentalists, both of which had a big stake in the regulations. If you are a long time follower of these procedures, or simply a cynic, it might come as no surprise that both sides are unhappy.

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Whither, Oil?

There is little more important to the US economy than the price of oil. In the last year, about $500B of gasoline alone was sold at gas stations across the nation, with another $180B in other fuel oil – about 3.9% of total GDP.

Despite its importance, no one is willing to predict where the price of oil will be in the future. The Economist said “If your correspondent could forecast that, he would be on a yacht reading The Economist rather than at a desk writing for it.” Indeed. It seems like a task for an idiot to even try, as Barataria has several times in the last year. We were so wrong about it that it might make sense to bet heavily in the opposite direction.

Low oil prices appear to be here to stay, at least through the year. The implications are worth talking about, even if we can’t be sure what happens after that.

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Smaller Government, Peaceful Government

“Get government off our backs!” It’s a chant we’ve heard a lot of over the last few years, usually in the deep, gruff voice of those old enough to remember the heyday of our parents and grandparents. It’s a call to a simpler time when there was less government, less taxation, and more to go around. At least, that’s the story we are told.

But an analysis of the size of our Federal Government as a share of the economy shows that while it is a shade bigger than it used to be, it’s way below its maximum. There are peaks in Federal Government size which fit not to an increase in social benefits or productive spending, but the very expensive line item that has been pricey enough to bring down governments and cultures for centuries – war.

In short, it’s time for the progressive left to embrace “smaller government” of a kind and to show that world that peace is not idealistic but practical.

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Capital Idea

It was 70F in St Paul today, and my mind is on other things.  This repeat from 2013 is still good, but the numbers have changed slightly since it was written.

Borrowing money isn’t bad.  When it’s used to purchase something big that will last for years, like a house or a car, it often makes sense to do it now and pay the finance charge.  Borrowing to buy equipment or a build to be rented is an investment – as is borrowing money to learn a good trade.

When we look at how the Federal government borrows to keep itself going we can and should be able to ask the same questions – was this an investment?  Did we get anything good for the money?  Unfortunately, the accounting practices used by the Feds lump capital and other investment into the same pot as operational expenses, making it impossible to tease everything out.  It’s a procedure the Founding Fathers would recognize, if you wanna get all Tea Party on the practice.  But it’s still a dangerously stupid way to run things – and totally counter to the way any business or state is run.

As we talk about the need for serious reform in Washingtoon, we should add this to the list.

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