Business is the only area of human activity where you get paid to change your mind

“A few years ago, a team led by Pierre Azoulay at MIT set out to test Max Planck’s maxim that ‘science progresses one funeral at a time’. They found 452 elite scientists who had died prematurely between 1975 and 2003 and measured the effect of their death on work in their respective fields. After the death, the number of articles by collaborators of the deceased fell dramatically — by about 40 per cent. But non-collaborators published 8 per cent more. Five years after a death, the extra activity from non-collaborators offset the fall in productivity of collaborators. Moreover ‘these additional contributions are disproportionately likely to be highly cited’, the researchers found, ‘and more likely to be authored by scientists not previously active in the deceased superstar’s field’. “

Spectator

Ethicists Aren’t.

Quartz article about a paper replicating another paper.

…ethicists on average said a professor should donate 6.9% of their annual income to charity per year, versus non-philosophers’ recommendation of 4.6%, and other philosophers’ suggestion of 5.1%. But when it came to following through on this moral guidance, there was no gap: Ethicists reported donating 4.6% of their annual salary to charity in the past year, compared to non-ethicist philosophers’ 4.6% and non-philosophers’ 4.4%.

Olivia Goldhill

Or – do as I say not as I do.

Elizabeth Warren wants to break up Google, Amazon and Facebook

DUBUQUE, IOWA – MARCH 01: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks at a campaign rally at the Stone Cliff Winery on March 1, 2019 in Dubuque, Iowa. Warren is campaigning in the state with the hopes of securing the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Warren thinks these organizations are too powerful. The irony is of course, whether you agree with her or not, is that she works for the most powerful organization that’s ever existed.

It might be interesting to think of this not as powerful tech companies but competing organizations, much as how Russia or China think about religion. Their response is to subjugate or ban religion as a competing way of organizing people and thus a threat to the state.

Tech companies need to be controlled as much as newspapers were, as a source of information and the center of where eyeballs go every day.

Gates told Zuckerberg to be mindful of Washington.
“I said, ‘Get an office there — now,'” Gates said. “And Mark did, and he owes me.”

CNBC

At a higher level these are systems trying to understand each other and communicate. Tech is to DC (and vice versa) as apples are to oranges.

Boeing Was ‘Go, Go, Go’ to Beat Airbus With the 737 Max


Work on a 737 Max 8 this week at Boeing’s plant in Renton, Wash. When Airbus competed for a big order from American Airlines in 2011, Boeing opted to update its 737 rather than design a new jet. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Great article by the NYT:

When upgrading the cockpit with a digital display, he said, his team wanted to redesign the layout of information to give pilots more data that were easier to read. But that might have required new pilot training.

So instead, they simply recreated the decades-old gauges on the screen. “We just went from an analog presentation to a digital presentation,” Mr. Ludtke said. “There was so much opportunity to make big jumps, but the training differences held us back.”

NYT

What a great example of a cargo cult, or making a bad thing better rather than making a good thing.

The 737

Imagine you took a VW Beetle, like this:

The best known beetles date from 1970 or so. Let’s say we want to take this standard old Beetle and make it better.

What we’re going to do is take twice as many people, so we want 8 seats not 4. We’re going to double the power of the engine. We’re going to make it drive twice as far on the same tank of fuel. This all sounds pretty great.

Is it still a Beetle? No, it’s not.

It’s now a VW Bus. Or it’s a modern VW Beetle. Or it’s something else. But it’s not a VW Bug any more.

It would be like calling a banana an apple because they’re both about the same size and they’re both fruit.

Old and busted turbojet.

And yet that’s what we did with the 737, which also happens to date from 1970 or so. If you look at the 737 specs you can see that from the original 737-100 in 1968 to the 737 MAX 8 we:

  • ~Doubled the passengers from 85 to 162
  • ~Doubled the range from 1,500 to 3,300 miles
  • ~Doubled the cargo capacity from 650 cubic feet to over 1,500
  • ~Doubled the thrust from ~14,000 to ~29,300 pound-feet
  • Added about 30% more wing area

Practically everything has changed apart from the fuselage cross-section and the name.

New hotness turbofan-winglets-with-inflight-wifi.

Systems aren’t optimizable by breaking them down and optimizing the sub-components all by themselves. If you take the VW Beetle and drop in an engine that’s twice as good on every metric is has impacts across the system we call a “Beetle”. The heavier engine needs more structure to support it. The load it puts on the transmission is higher so you need a better transmission. The transmission now may need higher quality oil. And on and on. The effects ripple through the system.

We (or rather, Boeing has) have been incrementally improving the 737 for 50 years. As so often happens, we’ve been making a bad thing better, dramatically better it must be said, rather than making something good.

Aircraft are systems too and there’s a complex interplay between all the parts. That’s why superficially a 777 might look like a really big 737 but really they’re completely different animals with their own characteristics, designed for different things.

Hammond hates inspections. They slow everything down.

Jurassic Park

So why isn’t there a new thing? Why still the 737?

The regulatory environment deems it so. It’s vastly easier to make an incremental change to a validated airframe than to make a new one. A new one requires certifying everything and retraining everyone in the system. Pilots, crew, maintenance, gate handlers. Everyone gets new training and it’s all expensive and takes time.

The military doesn’t buy weapons, they buy weapon systems. There’s people, processes and vast infrastructure to field a weapon on the other side of the planet. It’s those systems that make it all expensive and complicated.

Boeing has been reasonably optimizing a system for 50 years and it finally “broke”. As Taleb would say, it got fragile.

It’s arguable it isn’t broken at all. It’s arguable it broke a while ago. Whatever.

Either way, it’s not entirely their fault. We made it approximately impossible to make a new type of plane unless you’re Boeing. And even then we made it devilishly difficult. So they did what we asked of them and made existing designs more and more efficient until suddenly it wasn’t.

The actual details of the two MAX crashes, ET302 an JT610 are going to be fascinating to read in 2-5 years when the investigations are all settled. Maybe it was the MCAS, maybe it wasn’t.

Either way, eventually the optimizations would run out and the system would break somehow, due to some thing or other.

My bet is Boeing will be fine, because:

  • They did what we asked them to do
  • Airbus is no better
  • The airlines involved are far away and constrained in various ways
  • The pilots are dead, so we can easily blame them

More training will be designed and implemented. Maybe there will be other systems changes like software updates. Boeing will recover unless a well-funded domestic airline loses an aircraft.