Capitalism: applied discovery

Eight years ago, Paul Romer was quoted:
The Soviet Union had very strong science in some fields, but it wasn't coupled with strong institutions in the market. The upshot was that the benefits of discovery were very limited for people living there. The wonder of the United States is that we've created institutions of science and institutions of the market [emphasis mine]. They're very different, but together they've generated fantastic benefits.
The Centre for Innovation Studies is an economic think tank in Western Canada that appears to operate in the gap between operational business issues and Romer's theories.

As a teenager and an economics undergraduate, I always had an uneasy feeling about the right-wing nature of economics and business. We would study how the growth of a cookie company could create jobs and make the GDP larger, but it seemed so pointless to me; can't people just bake cookies, or buy dates? If, instead of a cookie company, we were analyzing a company that threw computers off a cliff because there was a paying audience for such an activity, would this be an example of economic growth?

I think it's simplistic to equate all profitable business activity with economic growth; or to equate non-business activity with the opposite (economic cost). Health care is a good example; in Canada, depending on your ideology, you could view health care as a cost to society, and cookies as an example of society's productive output. But this framing is illusory; healthcare is a major fraction of Canada's GDP (10% -- retrieved today).

But much more valuable than either the cost frame or the GDP frame is to analyze the innovation within the healthcare system. How much science takes place? How much learning-by-doing? How much of this is distributed across the system, making the entire system more efficient? This is quite apart from both the utility of healthcare -- that of maintaining an able workforce -- and even further removed from the moral essence of a healthcare system.

But consider a GDP-specific examination of the computer sector that ignores any change in transistor speeds: factories are built to make computers; engineers are employed to design computers; logistics and marketing/merchandising professionals are engaged to bring the computers to market, etc. Clearly, all of this misses the point that a single, $200 computer today is more productive by a factor of millions than its 1980s counterpart; that virtually all other economic activity on Earth can exploit this improvement to become itself more productive.

Look at the centre for innovation studies; they link Moore's Law, so-named by the technology sector, with "creep capacity", so named by the chemical sector. Are the underlying mechanics of these phenomena the same or similar? Consider their "Sailing Ship" anecdote; after the invention of steam-powered ships, sailing innovation radically accelerated.

Studying innovation is kind of meta-meta. But I remember that Arthur Lydiard didn't actually earn much of a living from turning kids from his block in New Zealand into Olympic champions; he earned a living by teaching coaches.

Liberals have themselves to blame

The Globe and Mail headline describes a "surge in popularity" for Harper's Conservatives. It's true; the chess master of politics has managed once again to turn adversity -- recession and an initially dismal record thereof; standing to the right of everyone -- to achievement.

Or has he? In fact, two factors have brought our nation within reach of a "Reform" majority, and both were engineered by the loyal opposition itself.

Back in 2004, the Martin Liberals painted Harper as a scary neo-con -- which he may in fact be. Martin won that election, and lost the next playing the same card. And Ignatieff Dion lost the next playing the same card, all the while Harper governed almost like a Liberal. I believe the 1993 Tory ads poking fun at Jean Chretien's facial disfigurement -- and Chretien's historic speech following -- defined Chretien through three mandates. It reinforced his "little guy" image and endeared at least enough Canadians to the "untested" future Prime Minister. In a similar vein, while not many people feel endeared to Harper, the smart people that make up this country know when they've been told a story; and they hate being fooled twice, three times or even a fourth time?

This feeds directly into what happened this late summer and early fall, when Ignatieff decided Canadians would go the polls (and then decided not). In simple terms, Ignatieff had nothing to sell. Again, the smart people that make up this country know that we've had an easier recession than countries we care about, like the U.S. and those in Western Europe. So what was the election to be fought over -- a technical matter concerning employment insurance reform.

In fact, the Conservatives had succeeded brilliantly in striking at Ignatieff's weakness -- his presumed ugly ambition; his desire to be Prime Minister as a personal feather in the cap, not as a continuation of a lifelong pursuit of ... some policy goal.

Ignatieff was not sincere. Sure, he's new on the national stage, but he's also an experienced TV broadcaster, and, like Reagan or our most recent two Governors General, his charisma should be dancing on the television screens. It does not.

For Ignatieff to have a hope, he must follow this approach:

  1. though you came late to the party, recognize that last-fall's near two-for-one election campaign taught Canadians to seek a resolution to the string of minority governments. the reasons for not choosing Harper have diminished since 2004, and amendments to EI reform are not going to overturn everything since. be a real policy alternative.
  2. stop thinking you're smart. you are in close quarters and on typewriters, but -- perhaps unlike the U.S. -- Canadians en masse tend to act more intelligently than their average IQ. We can smell a lie, so tell it to us straight.
  3. attack Harper on his systemic failures. Most critically, you should take credit for Canada's relatively light recession, given Harper's abysmal blindness and inaction on the issue just 12 months ago. He had to be led to the policy he now takes credit for. Exploit that.
  4. take a charisma pill; we'll excuse you for being smooth. We won't excuse you for handing the charisma crown to Stephen Harper.

Taglocity -- making MSOutlook more like Gmail

I prefer Gmail because it's quicker and less bloated. But Outlook will definitely be with us for some time, and while it is, Taglocity offers a product that closes the gap a little.

I'm running Taglocity 3.0 professional edition (free trial; soon to revert to standard edition), after using the 2.0 for about eight months.

In a nutshell, Taglocity radically enhances an existing Outlook feature called "Categories." (Categories = tags). For some time, Outlook has allowed you to categorize emails, but it was clunky.

Here's how I set up and use Taglocity, after installing it:
  1. Assuming you currently store your Outlook email in folders, open a folder and select all emails. Now, use the Taglocity Pane (atop your main Outlook page) to assign a tag to all items in this folder. You can just use the name of the folder, but I believe in following these conventions:

    a) don't pluralize ("report" not "reports") or capitalize, except
    b) capitalize acronyms ("PR", not "pr"), and
    c) add a hypen after tags that would otherwise form words or parts of words; e.g., "PR-" and "Toronto-". This will pay off later if you run a search for "professional". [Granted, it will fail if your email includes something like, "Toronto-based accountant"].

  2. Go through all your folders and repeat this
  3. Open your Tag Bar window (click "Tag Bar") clean up your tags. Through right-clicking you can consolidate similar tags.
  4. Now, within your Tag Bar window, move the tags around into groups and then assign a colour to each group (e.g., industries are blue; administration is green; personal is yellow)
  5. Still within the Tag Bar window, add a half dozen of your most popular tags to the actual Tag Bar. This bar sits atop Outlook's main page, and makes it easier to assign tags to emails.
  6. Now, go back and see where you can assign more than one existing tag to an email. E.g., you have an email about a flight on Air Canada and another about consulting services to Air Canada. Tag both "air-canada" but tag one "flight" and another "consulting" or something.
  7. When you've done all this, put all of your email in an "archive" folder and delete your other folders. One caveat, for repetitive projects, I prefer to use folders to tags. E.g., I write a monthly newsletter and I store material for it throughout each month; I will tag this material with the name of the newsletter, but I also store it in a folder called "May 2009" or whatever.
Yes, all of this takes some time. You may not follow all these steps for the email you received in the past. But the process demonstrates how to use Taglocity for email as you receive it. When an email arrives, once it's dealt with as a work task, you can click twice and deal with it as clutter.

Finding anything is simply about narrowing down the options -- triangulating. If, in six months, you need details about that Air Canada flight, you can use Outlook's search box to run a keyword search "category:air-canada, category:flight". Even if this produces 100 emails, you can easily scroll to the rough period of the flight. And you can combine the search with "from:dave"-type commands.

If the size of your company permits it, you can benefit from a network effect by making all of your tags public; i.e., the tags you assign to an email will travel with the email when an email is forwarded or replied to. If you invest the time to create a taxonomy for your firm, email conversations will only have to be tagged once, rather than by each recipient.

Sounds complicated, but in fact the top benefits I've experienced from using this are:
  1. if you equate a tag to a folder, you can put one email in two or more "folders" at the same time, so it's easier to find regardless of how your brain is working when you need the email. E.g., you might spend a year storing email first by industry (or client) and then by service performed, and then decide you want to store by service performed first and then by industry/client within those folders. With tags, you just do both.
  2. it's ridiculously quick to tag and drag emails to a single folder than to drag up and down Outlook and through nested folders.
  3. though command-line searches are not popular, in fact we have all become used to them through Google; they're quite quick when you get used to them. have you ever watched someone painfully spend two or three minutes trying to find a simple email? if you can narrow the problem down by two or three tags (and perhaps a rough date), it shouldn't take more than ten or fifteen seconds to find a needle in a 10,000 email haystack.
In time, people will no doubt have personal taxonomies. You'll add 100 tags to Gmail and you'll use them for all work documents, personal documents, calendar items, emails, photos and videos, and basically any discrete piece of content you store.