Web entrepreneur & bizdev ops. Vancouver. Startups. Infovore. Managing director @FullStackDotCa
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Interoperability and Competition (for Scooters, Bikes, etc)

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I was in Berlin a couple of weeks ago and there appear to be at least half a dozen bicycle and scooter networks in the city. This makes for a terrible experience because you have to sort of guess which network you might want to use and if that one doesn’t have equipment nearby try another one. It also means that usage of equipment on any one network is far below what it could be resulting in lots of bikes and scooters sitting around on sidewalks.

What should be done instead? Cities should get together and publish an interoperability standard that every bike and scooter sharing company needs to adhere to. Then as an enduser, I could pull up a single app (either by one of the networks or by a third party provider) and see + book all available equipment.

This would mean that equipment providers would have to compete on the quality of their equipment (e.g. comfort, safety) instead of who has raised the most money to build the densest network themselves. It would also allow cities to have an easy birds-eye view of total capacity, utilization, etc. – which is the type of information needed for intelligent planning and regulation (eg where should the city create more bike and scooter lanes).

I believe a similar approach would work well for ridesharing networks, such as Uber, Lyft, myTaxi and others. 

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bmann
723 days ago
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Yes! This has been exactly what I have said to civic leaders.
vancouver, bc
sillygwailo
723 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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Fifteen Years

AVC
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Fifteen years ago, I sat down in front of a website called Typepad and wrote this post.

I ended that short post (six brief paragraphs) with this:

I read blogs a lot. And i think they are great. So i am starting a blog. I have no idea if i’ll write a lot in my blog or rarely. I hope its a lot, because i have a lot to say. But we’ll see about that.

Well, we did see about that. I do have a lot to say. As a hater commenter said here a few weeks ago, I talk too much.

But out of all of that writing has come a few gems that still are as good as the day I wrote them, a series of blog posts called MBA Mondays that people continue to come across and read from start to finish, and a connection to a readership that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

For me, I have gained a daily practice that starts me off with a wide-open mind, that makes me think and articulate that thinking, that has led to numerous spectacular investments and has honed my ability to communicate, not just in the written word, but also in many other ways.

In those fifteen years, I have posted 8,033 times. That is way more than 15*365 because, in the early years, I would post multiple times a day. I settled on once a day about five years in and that has become my practice since.

I regularly get people coming to me and asking me to write a book. I always pass because I can’t imagine writing in a format that has an end. I can’t imagine writing in a format that doesn’t provide instant feedback. I can’t imagine writing in a format that requires a structure. I can’t imagine writing in a format that isn’t a stream of consciousness. I can’t imagine thinking about what I am going to write more than ten minutes before writing it. I can’t imagine killing trees to carry my words. So I will continue to write a blog. It’s the perfect format for me. AVC is way more than a book. It is a living breathing thing that sustains me and that is me.

When this blog turned ten, we had a big party. Many people traveled long distances to attend. It was a lot of fun. I met many AVC readers for the first time.

Five years later, I am in a different frame of mind on how to celebrate the anniversary. I want to acknowledge the moment and then move on. I am trying to contain what this blog is to keep it manageable for me. There are many times it has tested those limits. Lately, I have gotten it in a good place where it is working well for me. And hopefully for you too.

Happy fifteenth birthday, AVC.

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bmann
729 days ago
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Another blogger with a 15 year pin. I am very grateful to have a lot of these people as contemporaries.
vancouver, bc
sillygwailo
728 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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Fifteen Years of Tao of Mac

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Any way I look at it, this site is effectively fifteen years old this year–although it started out under another domain name, it’s been publicly called taoofmac.com since September 18th, 2003, and spotted by Netcraft in November of the same year. For most of that time I’ve written about the Mac, Apple or mobile tech in one form or another, and it’s been a rollercoaster in more ways than one.

The site itself has waxed and waned in popularity over the years, as has the balance between obligation and enjoyment in maintaining it, but it has chugged along throughout becoming a parent (twice), a number of medical incidents (of which this one was the most colorful, but certainly not the most serious), and three changes in employer (and industry).

Apple-related blogging was a niche thing fifteen years ago, and my not being in the US (or part of the anointed who actually attend Apple events) wasn’t a serious handicap in joining the fun, because most of the people who wrote about Apple and the Mac did so with their own voices and at a deeply personal level.

Right now it doesn’t really have the kind of popularity it had before social networks and commercial sites drew away the bulk of traffic by dint of hype and horrid fascination, but I still get enough visitors and feedback to make this more than a set of semi-personal notes–most of my audience doesn’t come from HackerNews or Twitter, and that’s a good thing.

Waves Of Change

Over the last decade and a half, the computing landscape changed tremendously, and even considering I enjoyed a ringside seat in the rise of mobility and connectivity1, the site soon stopped being just about the Mac and more about the iPhone–and, later, as the smartphone revolution raged on and my family grew, more about what tech I could squeeze in during my leisure time.

A nice change is that Linux, Android and Open Source are now everywhere, but that also means there is too much to cover and fiddle with, as well as the emergence of “new normals” for Apple’s ecosystem to compete with in several fronts.

As time moved on my priorities changed, but it’s fun to look back and watch some patterns emerge as mobility turned computers into phones and computing itself upside down. Software and applications bet increasingly on mass appeal2 over sophistication, and even if it meant seemingly endless variations on flashlight apps for mobile phones in the early days, billions more people have access to them now.

A broader audience also means that many niches became mainstream markets–just look at the size of Fortnite, which is today’s closest analogue to Quake, and how mobile gaming and streaming entertainment have grown into massive industries in their own right.

Behind The Scenes

The machinery running the site itself also changed a lot (and I’ve kept a list of the hows and wheres), but one of the main reasons the site lasted this long is that I removed nearly all the friction involved in authoring and publishing–for a long time now, I just drop Markdown files onto Dropbox and they pop up online, which is almost as easy as impulse tweeting even if it requires a lot more forethought and reviewing (which, as anyone in the writing business will readily point out, is the actual work it entails).

Fifteen years after I decided to go all out on the Mac to make my life easier, the Cambrian explosion of mobility and its demand for server-side compute has reached beyond carriers to the datacenter, and companies are (finally) following suit and moving their stuff to the cloud. Distributed systems and scalable software architecture is now the critical (but, alas, underrated) factor to grow a mass-market business, and high-impact, heavy demand workloads like machine learning are suddenly everywhere–so most software I care about these days is server-side software that runs on Linux, and not anything I can run on my Mac.

But I still develop on my Mac, and derive much more enjoyment from the experience than anywhere else3, even if the paradigms and user experience of the stuff I build have changed as dramatically as TV (which my kids can’t believe wasn’t pausable and rewindable before).

I can’t be sure that the Mac itself will be around (or in my life) for another fifteen years, but I had no guarantees back when I started writing, and what drove me to start (effortless, frictionless doing) is still valid today, and that is good enough for me.

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you around for another fifteen years.


  1. While I was at Vodafone (which resulted in dozens of posts with notes on phones, most of which were completely obsolete and have slowly removed). ↩︎

  2. Which, sadly, was largely about dumbing down both the apps themselves (and the experience) and the ways they are built (and no, I’m not happy about the rise of web apps, not technically). ↩︎

  3. Even working at Microsoft and quite liking Windows 10’s Linux subsystem, the Mac is still my favorite (more productive and less distracting) environment. ↩︎

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bmann
729 days ago
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I have been reading Rui for a lot of that time. Circling back to RSS and delving into his stuff again it’s as good as ever.

I’m at ~16 years of publishing, although a lot less prolific than Rui as I have twitter-ized a lot of my output.
vancouver, bc
sillygwailo
728 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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New Economics

AVC
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I am tired of the classic left/right perspective on society, policy, and politics. I realize that markets are an incredible tool to allocate resources efficiently. And I also realize that markets are subject to failure and we need to protect our society from these market failures. I am not a purist on either side of this debate and I find the hard core advocates on the far left and the far right impossible to take. I believe orthodoxy is one of the worst human traits.

So I enjoyed reading this post on “new economics” and I particularly like this table that shows the difference between traditional economic thinking and new economic thinking:

The post goes on to explore how these new economics thinking will eventually impact politics, policy, and society at large.

One particular example reminds me of our work at USV on “Regulation 2.0”:

First, rather than predict we should experiment. Policymaking often starts with an engineering perspective – there is a problem and government should fix it. For example, we need to get student mathematics test scores up, we need to reduce traffic congestion, or we need to prevent financial fraud. Policy wonks design some rational solution, it goes through the political meat grinder, whatever emerges is implemented (often poorly), unintended consequences occur, and then – whether it works or not – it gets locked in for a long time. An alternative approach is to create a portfolio of small-scale experiments trying a variety of solutions, see which ones work, scale-up the ones that are working, and eliminate the ones that are not. Such an evolutionary approach recognises the complexity of social-economic systems, the difficulty of predicting what solutions will work in advance and difficulties in real-world implementation. Failures then happen on a small scale and become opportunities to learn rather than hard to reverse policy disasters. It won’t eliminate the distortions of politics. But the current process forces politicians to choose from competing forecasts about what will and won’t work put forward by competing interest groups – since it is hard to judge which forecast is right it is not surprising they simply choose the more powerful interest group. An evolutionary approach at least gives them an option of choosing what has been shown to actually work.

I also like this bit about the tolerance for failure:

A major challenge for these more adaptive approaches to policy is the political difficulty of failure. Learning from a portfolio of experiments necessitates that some experiments will fail. Evolution is a highly innovative, but inherently wasteful process – many options are often tried before the right one is discovered. Yet politicians are held to an impossibly high standard, where any failure, large or small, can be used to call into question their entire record.

I don’t think the way we do things in startup land should be a model for how everything should work, but there is a lot to be learned from the way the tech sector works. Innovating, trying new things, measuring the impacts of these new things, and evolving leads to forward progress. And when something fails, we accept is as a lesson learned, not something to be embarrassed about (or fired for).

If the worlds of economics and politics are moving in our direction, I am very pleased and optimistic about that.

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sillygwailo
1370 days ago
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bmann
1371 days ago
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The ultimate answer to “government is useless”

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The following ran as a special report in the January 2016 newsletter of Mark Anderson’s Strategic News Service. I post it now, as the right's hate-all-government narrative hits hysteric-histrionic levels. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, recently selected as Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget, posted “Do we really need government-funded research at all?” Which makes this an existential threat to your lives, and mine.


Does government-funded science play a role in stimulating innovation?

By David Brin

The hypnotic incantation that all-government-is-evil-all-the-timewould have bemused and appalled our parents in the Greatest Generation – those who persevered to overcome the Depression and Hitler, then contained Stalinism, went to the moon, developed successful companies and built a mighty middle class, all with powerful unions and at high tax rates. 

The mixed society that they built emphasized a wide stance, pragmatically stirring private enterprise with targeted collective actions, funded by a consensus negotiation process called politics. The resulting civilization has been more successful – by orders of magnitude – than any other. Than any combination of others.

So why do we hear an endlessly-repeated nostrum that this wide-stance, mixed approach is all wrong? That mantra is pushed so relentlessly by right-wing media -- as well as some on the left -- that it came as no surprise when a recent Pew Poll showed distrust of government among Americans at an all-time high. 

This general loathing collapses when citizens are asked which specific parts of government they’d shut down. It turns out that most of them like specific things their taxes pay for.

In a sense, this isn’t new. For a century and a half, followers of Karl Marx demanded that we amputate society’s right arm of market-competitive enterprise and rely only on socialist guided-allocation for economic control. 

Meanwhile, Ayn Rand’s ilk led a throng of those proclaiming we must lop off our leftarm – forswearing any coordinated projects that look beyond the typical five year (nowadays more like one-year) commercial investment horizon. 

Any sensible person would respond: “Hey I need both arms, so bugger off!  Now let’s keep examining what each arm is good at, revising our knowledge of what each shouldn’t do.”

Does that sound too practical and moderate for this era? Our parents thought they had dealt with all this, proving decisively that calm negotiation, compromise and pragmatic mixed-solutions work best.  They would be stunned to see that fanatical would-be amputators are back, in force, ranting nonsense.

Take for example Matt Ridley’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal, deriding government supported science as useless and counter-productive— a stance dear to WSJ’s owner, Rupert Murdoch. Ridley’s core question - recently reiterated more concisely by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump's nominee as director of the Office of Management and Budget - is “Do we really need government-funded research at all?” 

Ridley asserts that the forward march of technological innovation and discovery is fore-ordained, as if by natural law. That competitive markets will allocate funds to develop new products with vastly greater efficiency than government bureaucrats picking winners and losers. And that research without a clear, near-future economic return is both futile and unnecessary. 
        
 == The driver of innovation is… ==

Former Microsoft CTO and IP Impressario Nathan Myhrvold has written a powerful rebuttal to Ridley’s murdochian call for amputation. Says Myhrvold: “It’s natural for writers to want to come out with a contrarian piece that reverses all conventional wisdom, but it tends to work out better if the evidence one quotes is factually true. Alas Ridley’s evidence isn’t – his examples are all, so far as I can tell, either completely wrong, or at best selectively quoted. I also think his logic is wrong, and to be honest I don’t think much of the ideology that drives his argument either.”  Nathan’s rebuttal can be found here, along with links to the original, and Ridley’s response.

Myhrvold does a good job tearing holes in Ridley’s assertion that patents and other IP do nothing to stimulate innovation and economic development. (Full disclosure: Nathan is more self-interested in fierce IP protection than I - a patent and copyright holder - am.) Only, in his refutation of Ridley, even he does not go far enough or present a wide enough perspective. 

Myhrvold fails, for example, to put all of this intothe context of 6000 years of human history.  So let me try.

During most of that time, independent innovation was actively suppressed by kings and lords and priests, fearing anything (except new armaments) that might upset the stable hierarchy. Moreover, innovators felt a strong incentive to keep any discoveries secret, lest competitors steal their advantage. As a result, many brilliant inventions were lost when the discoverers died. Examples abound, from Heron’s steam engines and Baghdad Batteries to Antikythera-style mechanical calculators and Damascus steel -- from clear glass lenses to obstetric forceps – all lost for millennia before being rediscovered after much unnecessary pain. 

In his monograph: "Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive," William J. Baumol tells a story widely repeated among classical sources like Pliny and Petronius, of an inventor who presented the secret of unbreakable glass to Emperor Tiberius, only to receive death, instead of a reward, because the invention was viewed as destabilizing... a tale reset in China by Ray Bradbury in "The Flying Machine." Baumol cites earlier words by M. Finley:

"Technological progress, economic growth, productivity, even efficiency have not been significant goals since the beginning of time. So long as an acceptable life style could be maintained, however that was defined {by the ruling castes}, other values held the stage."

Those "other values" were critiqued by Adam Smith when he castigated the way oligarchs would rig markets to reward rent-seeking, noble privilege, monopolies, cartels or (in Baumol's more modern analysis) state corporations or organized crime. With rare exception, all such parasitical activities were more privileged than competitive innovation.

Staring across that vast wasteland of sixty feudal and futile centuries — comparing them to our own dazzling levels of inventive success, especially since World War II — slams a steep burden of proofupon someone like Ridley, who asserts we are the ones doing something wrong. Or that innovation zooms ahead as if by natural law.

== We are different. And different is difficult. ==

In fact, though well-nurtured and tended competitive markets are remarkably fecund, they are anything but “natural.” Show us historical examples! Kings, lords, priests and other cheaters always — always — warped and crushed market competition, far more than our modern, enlightenment states do. Indeed, Adam Smith’s call for a more “liberal” form of capitalism offered little ire toward socialists. His liberal approach calls on the state to counter-balance oligarchy, in order to keep capitalism flat-open-fair. 

Our maligned democratic states — while imperfect and always in need of fine tuning — engendered revolutions in mass education, infrastructure and reliable law that unleashed creative millions, maximizing the raw number of eager competitors— exactly the great ingredient that Friedrich Hayek recommended and that Adam Smith prescribed for a healthy, competitive market economy.  

To be clear, those who rail against 200,000 civil servants – closely watched, compartmentalized and accountable – “picking winners and losers” have a reasonable complaint! We are well-served by libertarians who point at this or that meddlesome excess. But not when their counter-prescription is handing over the same power to a far smaller cabal of 5,000 secretive and unaccountable members of a closed and incestuous oligarchic-CEO caste. Smith and Hayek both had harsh words for that ancient and utterly bankrupt approach.

(Question: who actually de-regulates, when appropriate? Democrats banished the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) when they were captured. AT&T was broken up, and the Internet was unleashed by Al Gore’s legislation. Add in Bill Clinton’s deregulation of GPS and Obama's declaration that citizens may record police... and one has to ask a simple question. Does anti-regulatory polemic matter more… or effective action? Despite their railings, 'conservatives' never deliver deregulation, except in two particular industries - finance and resource extraction - with historic results. Please name another example.)

Yes, history does offer us a few, rare examples in the past, when innovation flourished, leading to spectacular returns.  In most such cases, state investment and focused R&D played a major role: from the great Chinese fleets of Admiral Cheng He, to impressive maritime research centers established by Prince Henry the Navigator that made little Portugal a giant on the world stage. Likewise, tiny Holland became a global leader, stimulated by its free-city universities. England advanced tech rapidly with endowed scientific chairs, state subsidies and prizes. 

Those rare examples stand out from the general, dreary morass of feudal history. But none of them compare to the exponential growth unleashed by late-20th Century America’s synergy of government, enterprise and unleashed individual competitiveness, the very thing that all those kings and priests and lords used to crush, on sight. One result was the first society ever in the shape of a diamond, instead of the classic, feudal pyramid of privilege – a diamond whose vast and healthy and well-educated middle class has proved to be the generator of nearly all of our great accomplishments.

It is this historical perspective that seems so lacking in today’s shallow political and philosophical debates. It reveals that the agenda of folks like Matt Ridley, Mick Mulvaney, or Rupert Murdoch is not what they claim -- to release us from thralldom to shortsighted, oppressive civil servants and snooty scientist-boffins. 

Their aim is to discredit all of the modern expert castes that we have established, who serve to counterbalance (as Adam Smith prescribed) the feudal pyramids under which our ancestors sweltered in constraint. Their aim is a return to those ancient, horrid ways.

==  Before our very eyes ==

I believe one of our problems is that the Rooseveltean reforms – which historians credit with saving western capitalism by vesting the working class with a large stake, something Marx never expected – were too successful, in a way. So successful that the very idea of class war seems not even to occur to American boomers. This despite the fact that class conflict was rampant across almost every other nation and time.  But as boomers age-out is that grand time of naïve expectation over?

Forbes recently announced that just 62 ultra-rich individuals have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. Five years ago, it took 388 rich guys to achieve that status. (See: The 500 Richest Individuals in 2015 and commentary.)  Which raises the question, where the heck does this rising, proto-feudal oligarchy think it will all lead? 

To a restoration of humanity’s normal, aristocratic pyramid of power, with them staying on top? 

Or to radicalization, as a billion members of the hard-pressed but highly skilled and tech-empowered middle class rediscover class struggle?

== We've been here before ==

The last time this happened, in the 1930s, lordly owner castes in Germany, Japan, Britain and the U.S. used mass media they owned to stir populist rightwing movements that might help suppress activity on the left. Not one of these efforts succeeded. In Germany and Japan, the monsters they created rose up and took over, leading to immense pain for all and eventual loss of most of that oligarchic wealth.

In Britain and the U.S., 1930s reactionary fomenters dragged us very close to the same path… till moderate reformers did what Marx deemed impossible – adjusted the wealth imbalance and reduced cheating advantages so that a rational and flat-open-fair capitalism would be moderated by rules and investments to stimulate a burgeoning middle class, without even slightly damaging the Smithian incentives to get rich through delivery of innovative goods and services.  

That brilliant, positive-sum moderation led to the middle class booms of the 50s and 60s and – as I cannot repeat too often - it also feature big majorities in our parents’ Greatest Generation adoring one living human above all others: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

(Pose the question to your "make America Great again" neighbors: "When was America great?" Then remind them who the GGs loved.)

Some billionaires aren’t shortsighted fools, ignorant of the lessons of history. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and many tech moguls want wealth disparities brought down through reasonable, negotiated Rooseveltean-style reform that will still leave them standing as very, very wealthy men. Heck, even Glenn Beck can see where it all leads, declaring (in effect) "OMG what have I done?"

The smart ones know where current trends will otherwise lead. To revolution and confiscation. Picture the probabilities, when the world’s poorest realize they could double their net wealth, just by transferring title from 50 men. In that case, amid a standoff between fifty oligarchs and three billion poor, it is the skilled middle and upper-middle classes who’ll be the ones deciding civilization’s course. And who do you think those billion tech-savvy professionals – so derided and maligned by murdochian propaganda -- will side with, when push comes to shove?

== Back to innovation ==

Oh, for an easy-quick and devastating answer to the “hate-all-government” hypnosis! How I'd love to see a second "National Debt Clock" showing where the U.S. deficit would be now, if we (citizens) had charged just a 5% royalty on the fruits of U.S. federal research. We'd be in the black! How effective such a “clock” would be. We deserve such a tasty piece of counter propaganda. (See: Eight Causes of the Deficit Fiscal Cliff.) 

Closer to the point, consider this core question: how have we Americans been able to afford the endless trade deficits that propel world development? (And make no mistake; 2/3 of the planet developed - sending their kids to school - in one way only: by selling Americans trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed.) 

How did we afford this flood of stimulating red ink for 70 years?

Simple. Science and technology.  Each decade since the 1940s saw new, U.S.-led advances that engendered enough wealth to let us pay for all the stuff pouring out of Asian factories, giving poor workers jobs and hope.  Our trick was to keep the wonders coming -- jet planes, rockets, satellites, electronics & transistors & lasers, telecom, pharmaceuticals... and the Internet.

Crucially, the world needs America to keep buying, so that factories can hum and workers send their kids to school, so those kids can then demand labor and environmental laws and all that.  The job of George Marshall’s brilliant trade-policy plan is only half finished. Crucially, the world cannot afford for the U.S. consumer to become too poor to buy crap.

Which means we must protect the goose that lays golden eggs – our brilliant inventiveness. Our ability to keep benefiting from enlightenment methods that stimulate creativity. And that will not happen if the fruits of creativity are immediately stolen.  There is a bargain implicit in today’s rising world.  Let America benefit from innovation, and we’ll buy whatever you produce. 

Foreign leaders who ignore that bargain, seeking to eat the goose, as well as its eggs, only prove their own short-sighted foolishness… like our home-grown fools who rail against all government investment and research.

It is time to have another look at the most successful social compact ever created – the Rooseveltean deal made by the Greatest Generation, which we then amended and improved by reducing race and gender injustice and discovering the importance of planetary care. 

Throw in a vibrantly confident wave of tech-savvy youth, and that is how we can all move forward. Away from dismal feudalism.  Toward (maybe) something like Star Trek.

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sillygwailo
1371 days ago
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Toronto, ON
bmann
1371 days ago
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vancouver, bc
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