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The wonder that is Chinese growth

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Below is an amazing illustration of shifts in the sizes of leading global economies:

For more on China see here, here, here, and here. This reminded me of this graphic from Carlos Lopes, former head of the UNECA:Dr3w9PhW4AAnCGU

All that happened in just 36 years. Time is on Africa’s side. If (and that’s a big IFF) African elites can get their act together. As shown in the graph below, the lost long decade (1980-1995) was particularly brutal for African economies — but it was a temporal dip and not a permanent feature of African economies.income

It is also worth noting that in 1980 African states and China were not at the same level of institutional development. By that time China had already accumulated centuries of coherent stateness — which made it possible for elites to optimally allocate human and capital resources in ways that produced the growth miracle.

Here is a good nuanced take on trends in economic growth and development on the Continent.



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koranteng
3 days ago
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When the Hometown You Always Knew Could Burn Gets Erased from the Map -- Paradise is Lost to the #CampFire

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Let's talk about #CampFire for a second. My family moved to Paradise in 1991, as I was starting 8th grade. I lived there through high school, until heading to college. The family stayed until all kids had graduated high school - the last in 2004.

(This story is adapted from a thread I initially posted on Twitter)


This was us at home in '91.

While news has referred to Paradise as isolated, we actually were moving from an even smaller town. I'd spent elementary school in Brownsville in Yuba County. When my dad got a new medical practice in Paradise, we were blown away by the McDonald's and "all those power lines".

The route from my elementary school home to Paradise.

I only spent one year in the Paradise school district, before my mom got a job teaching at Chico Jr. High. Through high school, I spent every early morning at church in seminary, and then driving down the Skyway to Pleasant Valley High School.


(Here's us in front of our house)

Paradise was always a retirement community. My dad's work was primarily elder care - geriatrics. Sometimes they died. More than once, I accompanied my dad to the coroner's office while on rounds. As he said, either their heart stopped, or they stopped breathing. Circle of life.

But that didn't mean death by other means was impossible. Fire was by far the top concern for the community. Paradise is located on a ridge in the foothills, placed squarely between two canyons. When fire would light, it would often head for the city.

In 1992, my sophomore year of high school, we evacuated twice. See the @ChicoER's coverage of those fires. Notice one of those started -- you guessed it -- at the Skyway. The problem with this, of course, is that was the main road out of town.

Fires have always been common in Paradise. We evacuated in 1992.

In 1992, even as we had yet to unpack from evacuating the first time, ash started to fall on our driveway and house. Thick, black smoke loomed above us, and the fire was closer than ever. Some firebug, in copycat mode, had lit a blaze near city limits. We left again.

Luckily, as with every other time, the fire crews did an amazing job stopping the flames from getting deep into town. We marveled at the burn scars that approached neighbors' property, but didn't take any homes or casualties. Some have argued Paradise is a woodsy town that had no business building where it did. But it's not all the thick forest you may have in your mind.


This is the entrance to Tiger Tail Lane from Foster Road (via Google Street View).

Long after I left to college and embedded in Silicon Valley, there have been other fires. As with those in the early 1990s, most were stopped. And as @Weather_West and others have reported, there were many plans in place to protect residents if worst-case happened.

Our home's position in a terrain map, clearly in the fire zone.

So what made the #CampFire different? How did the above map turn into this scar on the North state? In addition to the exceptionally low humidity and the high winds (which can't be discounted), I'd say the origin of the fire played a huge part.

The fire's position (and all the closed roads), as of this week.

Previous fires, which started by Skyway or the canyons, and slowly meandered their way to the city, gave residents and firefighters warning. People had time to pack and leave, and routes were not frantic. The #CampFire was a sneak attack with brutal force.

The #CampFire didn't start on the lower #Paradise side. It started in Pulga, an even tinier community. It started in the more woodsy side, where topology made it nearly impossible to stop, in starved fuel-laden forests, powered by ferocious winds and drought.

Instead of starting at the bottom of the above photo, it started at the top and right.

The winds pushed the fire into the main part of town, to all the people and all the businesses, and it hasn't stopped. Adventist Health Hospital, where my dad worked, was among the first to go.

When @Weather_West shared a tweet from @Gloria2marie, showing fire South and West of Paradise, I immediately realized the town was gone. In a Slack message to a friend, I wrote:

"This means, if true, it's going to F--- up the whole town. Bye."

Classy, I know. But not wrong.

The casualty totals, surpassing all records in California, have not been a surprise. Knowing the aging, slow, immobile population, many who don't drive, and the speed of this fire, we're lucky thousands did not perish. But the loss is still stunning.

That an entire town can be zapped off a map is practically unprecedented. And for those who want to go back... to what exactly? No infrastructure. No power. No water. No cell service. And possibly human remains waiting for you.

Everyone who fled the Camp Fire has a story about when they knew things were going to be very, very bad on that fateful Thursday that the flames tore through the town of Paradise and the surrounding … https://earther.gizmodo.com/what-happens-after-an-entire-town-burns-to-the-ground-1830441990

Chico, where I went to high school, has for the most part escaped the direct flames. But now the refugees from Paradise are encamped at the town Walmart, a drier, more outdoor version of the Lousiana Superdome during Katrina. Thousands have nowhere to go.

More than 52,000 people have been evacuated since the Camp Fire erupted in Paradise on Thursday, packing parking lots, shelters and hotels across Northern California, and straining the housing stock.

There are still hundreds missing. So many are unaccounted for that law enforcement is releasing names in batches to avoid overload. Imagine that. The fire was so intense, many people may never be found -- incinerated and returned to the dust.

The #CampFire is not just another news story or a set of headlines, or an unfortunate reason the Bay Area is smoky. It's a remarkable human and modern disaster.


This was our Christmas photo our first December in our Paradise home.
It's almost certainly gone now, but we're alive.


I've read some ridiculous tin foil hat conspiracies on Twitter that you wouldn't believe about how the #CampFire started. You could say this type of fire was inevitable, but also preventable. Of course climate change played a role. Of course the town makeup played a role.

Either way, this is a conversation we are going to keep having in California, and throughout the Western US and beyond. Is Lake Tahoe safe? Is Sunnyvale? Last year Napa found out the hard way. My grandparents' home in Redding was threatened in the #CarrFire.

It's reality.

This isn't a "feel sorry for us" thread. It's been a while, and my whole family is safe. But they are active in connecting with those who stayed. The woman who prayed her way to safety in a firey ride you may have seen on @Gizmodo was a high school friend I've heard pray before.


This was the last photo I took in #Paradise, in May 2015, when I took my boys to a party for my brother's child - their cousin. The home that looks like it was under construction a few short years ago... it's gone now, to dust and ash.

As you lament the bad air and see the numbers rise ever upward, I hope this helps remove the abstract from what seems like a tiny town far away. Like the #WoolseyFire and the #CarrFire and all the others, your home could be the next hashtag. Have a plan.
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koranteng
3 days ago
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Choose Technology Suppliers Carefully

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Many years ago, Amazon chose to use Oracle database products to run the business. At the time it was a perfectly rational decision and, back then, many customers made the same choice and some took a different path. I’ve worked on both DB2 and SQL Server over the years so I know well the arguments on why Oracle isn’t the best choice to run a business and many customers elected to use DB2 or SQL Server. One of the strongest reasons not to use Oracle is they are very expensive, famous for customer unfriendly price increases once you are “locked in”, and license audits once the customer has little negotiating power. The Oracle database has many faults but the primary faults are non-technical: Oracle business practices are based upon developing weakness in the customer negotiating position and then pouncing on those weaknesses at license negotiation time.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years of watching Oracle/customer relationships is customers will put up with a lot. Each customer has to run their own businesses and successfully serve their respective customers. They are all busy and, although they will quickly tell you how annoyed they are with Oracle, some still use the Oracle database. It takes work to move to another solution and everyone is busy.

However, the second thing I’ve learned from watching Oracle/customer relationships over the years is there really are limits to what customers will put up with and when hit, action is taken.  Eventually, a customer will focus on the “Oracle Problem” and do the work to leave the unhealthy relationship. When they do, the sense of relief in the room is absolutely palpable. I’m super happy to have been part of many of these migrations in my near-decade on each of IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server. It’s fun when helping to make your product work for a customer not only helps your company but also helps the customer save money, get a better product, and no longer have to manage an unhealthy supplier relationship.

A super interesting example of this unhealthy customer relationship problem is Larry Ellison frequently referencing Amazon and saying they run their entire business on Oracle. He even goes on to say Amazon tried to move databases and failed.  These frequent claims from the Oracle leader are interesting for two reasons: 1) the statement is incorrect and 2) Amazon doesn’t allow Oracle to use the Amazon brand in marketing and yet Larry just does it anyway. Who wants a supplier that users your brand in their own marketing campaings without either permission or even accuracy. It’s not the biggest problem with Oracle as a technology supplier but it’s a material annoyance and it’s kind of amazing first that they do it and second that the claims aren’t even correct.

One of the most important databases at Amazon.com is the data warehouse system. The reports from this giant cluster drive pricing, purchasing decisions, and helps guide web site design choices. Amazon is a data driven company and this system is the supplier of much of the data that drives daily decisions at Amazon.

There was a time when this system was running on Oracle. Like a lot of customers, Amazon was paying too much and not treated terrible well by Oracle. But at Amazon, as at most companies, serving customers is always a higher priority than spending the effort to move to another database even though better solutions were available. However there are limits to what any customer will endure and Oracle is always probing that mark. Eventually the combination of better products like Amazon Redshift being available and Oracle being so incredibly customer-unfriendly swung the attention of Amazon to the database technology choice behind the data warehouse. Quite a while back the decision was made that this vital, mission critical system simply had to come off Oracle.

Oracle pricing was annoying, better database solutions are available in the cloud but, perhaps even more important, being held hostage by Oracle believing that moving to another database is difficult to schedule, hard to finance, and unlikely to be executed upon just isn’t the right place to be.  Unhealthy supplier relationships rarely yield good business results and almost never get better on their own.

Amazon now runs their entire data warehouse system on AWS Redshift in the AWS cloud. It’s less expensive, AWS doesn’t talk about their customers without permission, and, in the cloud, moving to different database solutions is far easier — no more end of quarter license audits for those that have had the privileged to enjoy that experience with Oracle.  I’m told it’s excruciating.

It’s a new database world and customers are moving to better database products as they make the move to the cloud. For some, better database solutions is one of the drivers of their move the cloud. Being able to use specialized databases for different workloads rather than having to use the one-size-doesn’t-really-fit-all-approach is a big benefit of the cloud. In the cloud, you can easily choose to run many different database products, each optimized to the workload.

Oracle no longer plays any part of the Amazon.com retail data warehouse. There are lots of smiles in that room. Of course Larry is still talking, but that’s been trailing indicator for decades :-).

From Andy Jassy of AWS:

In latest episode of “uh huh, keep talkin’ Larry,” Amazon’s Consumer business turned off its Oracle data warehouse Nov 1 and moved to Redshift. By end of 2018, they’ll have 88% of their Oracle DBs (and 97% of critical system DBs) moved to Aurora and DynamoDB. #DBFreedom

This relief from both distraction and cost has been wonderful, and more and more customers are making this decision. There really are limits to what customers will put up with and excellent database alternatives are now broadly available. Cloud computing makes moving between databases far easier and more and more customers are saying “enough” and are electing to make the investment in database freedom. But I suspect we’ll keep hearing protests from Oracle’s Leadership.

 

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koranteng
4 days ago
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JayM
5 days ago
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Yeap.
Atlanta, GA
skorgu
5 days ago
ORA-$$$$: Insert Coin

Trump the Revealer

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I have penned a set of nonpartisan observations prior to each Presidential re-election. In 2004, I wrote The Tragedy of the Bush Administration, and in 2012, The Tragedy of the Obama Administration. Mid-terms don’t usually warrant such a review, but I have been rolling over a fascinating idea in my mind about President Trump: He…

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The post Trump the Revealer appeared first on The Big Picture.

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koranteng
4 days ago
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How Brexit Broke Up Britain

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There is overwhelming evidence that the English people who voted for Brexit do not, on the whole, care about the United Kingdom and in particular that part of it called Northern Ireland. Asked whether “the unravelling of the peace process in Northern Ireland” is a “price worth paying” for Brexit, fully 83 percent of Leave voters and 73 percent of Conservative voters in England agree that it is. So, while the people who voted for Brexit are waving goodbye to the United Kingdom, Theresa May—with, in this, the support of Corbyn’s Labour—has vowed to “always fight to strengthen and sustain this precious, precious Union.” Brexit cannot be properly articulated because it has made a sacred cause of fighting for the very thing Brexit voters don’t care about.
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koranteng
5 days ago
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Boeing 737 crash is first mass killing by software?

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The Lion Air 610 mystery/tragedy seems to be mostly solved. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 airplane, which uses a de Havilland Comet (1949; also BBC)-style hydro-mechanical flight control system, has a touch of intelligent software layered on top. This NYT article and an Emergency Airworthiness Directive #2018-23-51 explain how the airplane will trim itself into a crazy nose-down attitude in the event of a single angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor going bad.

“At Doomed Flight’s Helm, Pilots May Have Been Overwhelmed in Seconds” (nytimes) explains 

[disabling the system] would not have been a simple matter of pushing a button. Instead, pilots said, Captain Suneja could have braced his feet on the dashboard and yanked the yoke, or control wheel, back with all his strength. Or he could have undertaken a four-step process to shut off power to electric motors in the aircraft’s tail that were wrongly causing the plane’s nose to pitch downward.

Can we consider this the first mass killing by software?

[Background: an airplane wing will suffer an aerodynamic stall, in which the airflow over the top of the wing is no longer smooth, and lose Bernoulli-effect lift, if the angle between the relative wind and the wing is too large. This is what limits an airplane’s ability to hover. To generate sufficient lift, the wind has to be within about 12 degrees of level and the wing needs to keep moving. It isn’t possible to fly super slowly at a 45-degree nose-up angle and still have enough lift to remain at the same altitude. The helicopter works by spinning a conventional airfoil so that, even if the fuselage isn’t moving, the wing is still moving rapidly and generating lift.]

What are some alternatives to Boeing’s design, you might ask? The Airbus philosophy, as embodied in the A320 and subsequent airliners, is to turn everything over to the computer(s). Despite holding the stick all the way back, Captain Sully was not able to stall the A320 that landed in the Hudson River. If the fancy computers on an Airbus aren’t getting what they think is good or consistent data from the various sensors, they hand over the machine to the pilot who can look out the window or at the attitude indicators in the cockpit and do something sensible (or panic like a student pilot, as with Air France 447).

Stepping down the food chain, we have the Pilatus PC-12, a Swiss-designed 11-seat turboprop. The plane starts out with a standard light aircraft flight control system. The pilots’ yokes are connected directly to control surfaces via pushrods and cables. On top of this Pilatus has layered a stick shaker to warn pilots that the airplane is nearing a stall and a stick pusher that yanks the yoke forward. The airplane has a great safety record despite being operated into some challenging short runways and being flown, in some cases, by inexperienced pilots.

Instead of Boeing’s single AOA sensor and software to run the trim, the PC-12 has two AOA sensors and two computers. If both sides agree that it is time to go nose-down, then and only then will the stick pusher be engaged. If somehow both sensors and both computers are defective and push inappropriately, a “pusher interrupt” button is always right there on each yoke. From the AFM (“owner’s manual”):

A friend who is a Silicon Valley engineer texted me incredulously “Wouldn’t they do fusion from zillions of sensors?” My response on the FAA certification process:

It is like ISO 9000. Boeing had binders of paperwork and bureaucratic approval for their design, but the design itself may never be scrutinized.

Almost certainly if the B737 had the same system design as the PC-12 all 189 folks aboard Lion Air 610 would have arrived safely at their destination. The worst that would have happened is the pilots being briefly annoyed by a shaking stick and having to hit a checklist.

I’m not sure if this crash can fairly be attributed to a software problem, since the software presumably did function as designed. It seems that we can attribute the crash to a poor system design, but ultimately the plane was crashed into the water by software.

Related:

  • Wikipedia has a good article on the various aircraft flight control system alternatives
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koranteng
7 days ago
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