Longreads + Open Thread
Games, MBO, Espionage, Manchukuo, France, Fracking, Banks
From IGN, a long and interesting throughout piece on how hard it is to make a video game. The details that add realism also add lots of effort, and simulating a physical world with all its attendant edge cases is nontrivial. This is a good illustration of why gaming is a good leading indicator of general changes in programmers' skill for large projects: games get tested more heavily by users than most pieces of software, so the edge case bugs all get noticed.
In defense of management by objective: while not all management problems are measurement problems, a company with a measurement problem definitely has a management problem. In general, the tradeoff in coming up with any kind of objective is that inputs are easier to control but outputs are what really matters. Often the task at every level is to develop a good enough model of the input-output relationship that the goals can mostly be inputs, while the outputs take care of themselves.
Protocol highlights the rise of economic espionage. Particularly interesting "This is about: What is any individual's or entity's vulnerability to the jurisdiction of an autocracy? Because what we see overwhelmingly is people who end up stealing intellectual property, very often, they have no desire to be stealing intellectual property." As in many other domains, thinking in terms of incentives rather than moral culpability makes problems easier to manage, even if culpability matters.
The School That Built Asia: Manchukuo is a very interesting bit of history, as it represented an experiment with a very different kind of imperialism from the sort practiced by most Western colonial powers. And some of the Manchukuo economic model found its way to Japan after the Second World War, and thence to Taiwan, both Koreas, and China. This essay is on a university that acts as a microcosm for that experimentation.
A very interesting piece from Nintil on different countries' levels of scientific leadership. One concern that will get more important over the next few decades: how can non-superpowers still be globally dominant in certain areas? This problem has been solved in a few industries, but the French example is worth reading about.
The Frackers: a history of the rise of fracking, told through parallel stories of flamboyant and risk-tolerant entrepreneurs. It's interesting that executives in the energy industry are sometimes so much larger than life. One possible reason: the industry is everywhere, but the product is invisible; gas pumps used to have a glass bulb at the top showing you how pure the product was, but now if you can see it, you've done something wrong. And it's a commodity; if an oil company makes energy cheaper, it's an aggregate phenomenon, and nobody thinks about using a specific company's oil or gas. Whereas with consumer-facing products, the product itself is a direct reflection of the CEO (the footer to Facebook's site used to say "A Mark Zuckerberg Production"). So participants compensate by being more personally flamboyant.
Lords of Finance is a parallel biography of four central bankers from the time of the First World War through the Great Depression. It's a story about painfully learning what money really is. In one sense, that lesson was hard to learn because the nature of money changed, both because an industrial economy supports more investment and growth and because governments got much bigger.
Drop in any links or books of interest to Diff readers.
As a follow up to the Manchukuo example above, are there any governments, institutions, or trends that didn't make a big impact themselves but ended up getting copied to greater effect, or having an amazing alumni network? There are some good examples in business, like Fairchild Semiconductor and Paypal, but what about in government or academia?
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