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Jared Diamond: ‘Humans, 150,000 years ago, wouldn’t figure on a list of the five most interesting species on Earth’

It was a painful thought for someone who recalled being told, by an admiring teacher at his Massachusetts school, that one day he would “unify the sciences and humanities”. Clearly, he needed a larger canvas. Even so, few could have predicted how large a canvas he would choose.

1997’s Guns, Germs and Steel – which ask the most sweeping questions it is possible to ask about human history.

Diamond, who describes himself as a biogeographer, answers them in translucent prose that has the effect of making the world seem to click into place, each fact assuming its place in an elegant arc of pan-historical reasoning.

Why? Because 8,000 years ago – to borrow from Guns, Germs and Steel – the geography of Europe and the Middle East made it easier to farm crops and animals there than elsewhere.

vicious jousting between Diamond and many anthropologists. They condemn him as a cultural imperialist, intent on excusing the horrors of colonialism while asserting the moral superiority of the west.

In person, Diamond is a fastidiously courteous 77-year-old with a Quaker-style beard sans moustache, and archaic New England vowels: “often” becomes “orphan”, “area” becomes “eerier”. There’s no computer: despite his children’s best efforts, he admits he’s never learned to use one.

What changed, Diamond argues, was a seemingly minor set of mutations in our larynxes, permitting control over spoken sounds, and thus spoken language; spoken language permitted much of the rest.

It won a Pulitzer prize and has sold more than 1.5m copies in 36 languages. Mitt Romney quoted it admiringly in his 2012 presidential campaign, garbling its message entirely.

he found himself accused of “geographic determinism”: in his critics’ opinion, his arguments squeeze out any role for human agency and decision-making, thereby sparing history’s colonisers – and today’s elites – any responsibility for having created our grotesquely unjust world.

Each of the two books has the unusual distinction of having another book dedicated largely to demolishing it: Yali’s Question, which offers a different answer from Diamond’s New Guinean acquaintance, and Questioning Collapse, which calls the Easter Island “ecocide” a myth.

Whenever I hear the phrase ‘geographic determinism’,” he says, “I know I’m about to waste time discussing with someone who has no right to be discussing [how human societies developed]. Because the fact is that geography has a strong influence on humans. It doesn’t determine everything, but it has a strong influence
bio  book  leader  human  development  inequality  world  history  biology  environment  debate  theory  geography  opinion 
october 2018 by aries1988
Steven Pinker: The Disconnect Between Pessimism and Optimism | Time

It’s not that people are naturally glum. On the contrary, they tend to see their lives through rosetinted glasses: they say they are happy, their schools are good, their neighborhoods are safe and that they are less likely than the average person to become the victim of an accident, a disease, a layoff or crime.

But when people are asked about their countries, they switch from Pollyanna to Eeyore: everyone else is miserable, they insist, and the world is going to hell in a handcart.

Most positive developments are not camera-friendly, and they aren’t built in a day. You never see a headline about a country that is not at war, or a city that has not been attacked by terrorists–or the fact that since yesterday, 180,000 people have escaped extreme poverty.

A quantitative mind-set, despite its nerdy aura, is not just a smarter way to understand the world but the morally enlightened one. It treats every human life as equal, rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of our problems and thereby implement the measures that are most likely to solve them.
optimism  pessimism  history  mindset  enlightenment  perception  society  mentality  people  idea  development 
february 2018 by aries1988
What Happens If China Makes First Contact?

Science fiction is sometimes described as a literature of the future, but historical allegory is one of its dominant modes. Isaac Asimov based his Foundation series on classical Rome, and Frank Herbert’s Dune borrows plot points from the past of the Bedouin Arabs. Liu is reluctant to make connections between his books and the real world, but he did tell me that his work is influenced by the history of Earth’s civilizations, “especially the encounters between more technologically advanced civilizations and the original settlers of a place.” One such encounter occurred during the 19th century, when the “Middle Kingdom” of China, around which all of Asia had once revolved, looked out to sea and saw the ships of Europe’s seafaring empires, whose ensuing invasion triggered a loss in status for China comparable to the fall of Rome.

Every so often, a Hans Zimmer bass note would sound, and the glass pane would fill up with the smooth, spaceship-white side of another train, whooshing by in the opposite direction at almost 200 miles an hour.

seti does share some traits with religion. It is motivated by deep human desires for connection and transcendence. It concerns itself with questions about human origins, about the raw creative power of nature, and about our future in this universe—and it does all this at a time when traditional religions have become unpersuasive to many.

China could rightly regard itself as the lone survivor of the great Bronze Age civilizations, a class that included the Babylonians, the Mycenaeans, and even the ancient Egyptians. Western poets came to regard the latter’s ruins as Ozymandian proof that nothing lasted. But China had lasted. Its emperors presided over the planet’s largest complex social organization. They commanded tribute payments from China’s neighbors, whose rulers sent envoys to Beijing to perform a baroque face-to-the-ground bowing ceremony for the emperors’ pleasure.
astronomy  seti  china  alien  chinese  project  state  scientist  scifi  technology  development  2017  future  human  discovery  history  Space  interview 
november 2017 by aries1988
Wolf Puppies Are Adorable. Then Comes the Call of the Wild.

As close as wolf and dog are — some scientists classify them as the same species — there are differences. Physically, wolves’ jaws are more powerful. They breed only once a year, not twice, as dogs do. And behaviorally, wolf handlers say, their predatory instincts are easily triggered compared to those of dogs. They are more independent and possessive of food or other items. Much research suggests they take more care of their young. And they never get close to that Labrador retriever I-love-all-humans level of friendliness. As much as popular dog trainers and pet food makers promote the inner wolf in our dogs, they are not the same.

Dog puppies will quickly attach to any human within reach. Even street dogs that have had some contact with people at the right time may still be friendly.

Some recent research has suggested that dog friendliness may be the result of something similar to Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder in humans that causes hyper-sociability, among other symptoms. People with the syndrome seem friendly to everyone, without the usual limits.

As I was emphatically told in a training session before going into an enclosure with adult wolves, the one thing you definitely do not do is look them in the eye.

whether a delay in social development in a dog’s early life could explain the difference between wolves and dogs

That’s very important, because both wolves and dogs go through a critical period as puppies when they explore the world and learn who their friends and family are.

With wolves, that time is thought to start at about two weeks, when the wolves are deaf and blind. Scent is everything.

In dogs, it starts at about four weeks, when they can see, smell and hear. Dr. Lord thinks this shift in development, allowing dogs to use all their senses, might be key to their greater ability to connect with human beings.

Perhaps with more senses in action, they are more able to generalize from tolerating individual humans with a specific scent to tolerating humans in general with a scent, sight and sound profile.

When the critical period ends, wolves, and to a lesser extent dogs, experience something like the onset of stranger anxiety in human babies, when people outside of the family suddenly become scary.
quebec  wolf  zoo  dog  biology  gene  animal  evolution  human  comparison  research  scientist  experiment  development  baby 
october 2017 by aries1988
China's Day In The Sun And The Future Of The Solar Industry
China’s out to own the sun. What about the United States? Plus, what we're doing to protect ourselves from cyberattacks on energy grids.
energy  china  industry  job  workforce  usa  comparison  numbers  development  today 
may 2017 by aries1988
MinGW | Minimalist GNU for Windows
MinGW, a contraction of "Minimalist GNU for Windows", is a minimalist development environment for native Microsoft Windows applications.
windows  programming  development 
january 2017 by aries1988
A Culture of Growth by Joel Mokyr — why did the Industrial Revolution happen?

A Culture of Growth, by the equally distinguished historian Joel Mokyr, also sees economic growth as the result of ideas rather than material conditions or political and economic institutions.

Mokyr’s new book seeks to identify the conditions that turned the inventions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries into sustained, modern economic growth. There had been earlier significant waves of invention in China and the Islamic world, for example, but none snowballed into a world-changing industrial revolution. Mokyr argues that in western Europe at the time of the Enlightenment, a set of conditions happened to coincide to create a Republic of Letters, a ferment of public debate and innovation we might now label as open science. Knowledge, from deep scientific insight to more practical technological know-how and tinkering, became a common resource. Leading scientists and thinkers corresponded with counterparts around the continent, and were helped by the political fragmentation of Europe, which led to rulers competing to attract the most prominent intellectual stars to their own territories.
book  history  development  opinion  knowledge  culture  modernity  human 
december 2016 by aries1988
Joel Mokyr: Progress Isn't Natural - The Atlantic
How and why did the modern world and its unprecedented prosperity begin? Many bookshelves are full of learned tomes by historians, economists, political philosophers and other erudite scholars with endless explanations. One way of looking at the question is by examining something basic, and arguably essential: the emergence of a belief in the usefulness of progress.

This was a departure from the beliefs of most societies in the past, which were usually given to some measure of “ancestor worship”—the belief that all wisdom had been revealed to earlier sages and that to learn anything one should peruse their writings and find the answer in their pages.
essay  human  history  technology  science  knowledge  development 
november 2016 by aries1988
资本主义是怎么诞生的?历史社会学家这么说 | 政见 CNPolitics.org

为了回答这个问题,二十世纪中后期的一大波研究转而强调农业生产力发展的作用。在这批学者看来,十八世纪英国的特殊性不在于城市工商业精英的活跃,而在于农业生产力出现了质的飞跃。一方面,农业生产力发展解放了大量剩余劳动力;另一方面,农业生产创造了大量价值,这些价值进一步转化为工商业投资,这才有了工业革命。

彭慕兰给出了一个“资源决定论”的解释:将英国和中国区分开的关键因素是自然资源。英国在十八世纪发现了大量容易开采、运输的煤炭,同时美洲殖民地也向英国源源不断输送各种资源,这才使得英国在经济发展中占据关键优势。

孔诰烽认为,资本主义要想兴起,农业生产力的发达确实是必要的,但这只是必要条件之一。相对独立而活跃的城市工商业精英阶层,是另一个必要条件。农业发达、工商业精英活跃,这两个条件缺一不可。在孔诰烽看来,这一分析框架,能很好地解释英国、中国和日本在发展轨迹上的差异。

清代中后期的一个普遍趋势是,商人发家致富之后,往往热衷于办学校、鼓励子孙后代考科举、在农村购置地产。大量的商人家庭致力于转型成为吃俸禄的官僚阶层或者吃地租的士绅地主阶层,愿意代代经商的少之又少——这种现象在徽商群体中尤其突出。这一现象造成的结果是,虽然不断有平民通过经商致富,但商业资本无法一代一代地积累起来,也无法持续转化为工商业投资,而是最终“转回”到农业中。

孔诰烽指出,政府在处理城市阶级矛盾时倾向底层的立场,是导致工商业精英更愿意放弃经商、积极向官僚和地主士绅转型的重要因素。而工商业精英普遍热衷于向官僚和地主士绅转型,使得十八世纪的中国不存在真正独立而活跃的城市工商业精英阶层,也就无法将农业产出有效转化为自我增殖的工商业资本。

这样看来,明治维新之后的日本之所以能走上资本主义的发展道路,是因为政府通过繁重的农业税负将农业产出集中起来、进行工商业投资,在此过程中培育出相对活跃的城市工商业精英阶层。这个由国家“制造”的工商业精英,成为了日本迈向资本主义的关键。

针对孔诰烽的观点,另一位历史社会学家Mark Cohen提出了不同意见。在2015年发表于《美国社会学评论》的研究中,Cohen指出,要想真正弄清楚资本主义是如何到来的,就必须对前资本主义经济体的运行模式有更加透彻的理解。

在Cohen看来,前资本主义经济体的特征可以总结为两个基本要素。第一,农业生产是最为主要的生产活动,而作为农业生产直接参与者的农民,基本上是自给自足的——他们通过自己的生产来满足各种物质需要,基本不依赖于市场交换。第二,精英群体的收入来源是从农民那里掠夺他们农业产出的一部分,而这种掠夺主要通过政治手段完成——精英们的“掠夺权”来自于他们的政治地位或者手中所掌握的暴力工具,他们本身不直接介入农业生产。

前资本主义经济体中出现繁荣的商业并不奇怪,但这种商业有着特定的政治经济基础。随着农业生产力发展,政治精英们从农民手中掠夺的财富越来越多,他们的消费需求也越来越旺盛。前资本主义经济体中之所以出现商业,本质上是为了满足这些政治精英的消费需求,因为广大农民自给自足、基本上没有市场消费需求。

前资本主义经济体中的商业不可能一直繁荣,商人群体和商业财富也不可能通过工商业投资而持续扩大生产规模和市场贸易规模。(中国:科举+政治环境不稳定+私有财产保护法律欠缺)导致家族财产继承甚至不能得到保障)某种程度上说,转型成握有政治权力、靠掠夺农民为生的精英士绅阶层,根本就是商人群体所能选择的最为保险的长期策略。在Cohen看来,这是前资本主义经济体的普遍现象。

从Cohen的理论框架看,“活跃的城市工商业精英”本身并不是历史变革的逻辑起点,而只是一种更深层变革的表面现象。

在满足了“农业生产力持续发展”的物质条件之后,资本主义转型的核心问题,不在于城市工商业精英是否活跃,而在于这个倚仗政治权力的、不直接参与农业生产的、纯靠吃地租等方式掠夺农业产出的传统精英阶层——这个前资本主义经济体中最为关键的行动者群体——能否被消灭。

更深层的变革,便是打破前资本主义社会中“自给自足的小农——掠夺农民的精英”这个二元格局。只要这个二元格局不被打破,“活跃的城市工商业精英”就不可能出现。

历史社会学家Vivek Chibber指出,在十七世纪早期之前,英国的主要农业生产方式就已经变成了由土地所有者直接组织雇佣工人进行生产、通过市场交易将产出变为利润的“类资本主义”方式,“自给自足的小农——掠夺农民的精英”二元格局已不复存在。

Cohen, M. (2015). Historical sociology’s puzzle of the missing transitions: A case study of early modern Japan. American Sociological Review, 80(3), 603-625.
Hung, H. F. (2008). Agricultural revolution and elite reproduction in Qing China: The transition to capitalism debate revisited. American Sociological Review, 73(4), 569-588.
sociology  modern  history  uk  china  japan  debate  theory  economy  development  comparison 
october 2016 by aries1988
With the iPhone 7, Apple Changed the Camera Industry Forever - The New Yorker
The distinct business advantage that Apple has achieved thanks to its hardware is the sheer volume of iPhone sales, which justifies the big spending on the specialized chips that make that hardware so powerful. The new image processor is a perfect example. It can spread the cost of that investment in chips over hundreds of millions of iPhones. In comparison, the falling sales of stand-alone cameras have hampered the ability of camera companies to innovate and spend on core technologies. Given that hardware and software are equally important today, Apple’s advances in both areas makes it difficult for anyone to beat the company in photography for the masses. You can see why the camera companies are doomed.
photography  market  camera  iphone  2016  analysis  technology  software  development 
september 2016 by aries1988
How to Write a Git Commit Message
The seven rules of a great git commit message
Keep in mind: This has all been said before.
Separate subject from body with a blank line
Limit the subject line to 50 characters
Capitalize the subject line
Do not end the subject line with a period
Use the imperative mood in the subject line
Wrap the body at 72 characters
Use the body to explain what and why vs. how
best  practice  git  development  programming  tool 
august 2016 by aries1988
关于教育,中国人很少会质疑的信念_维舟_腾讯大家
反过来,在19世纪的俄国,社会的发展使许多贵族阶层的年轻人开始受到良好的文化教育,他们看到了俄国现状的不足与落后,也不是不想推动社会的发展,然而却发现根本没有适合他们发挥才能的职位,他们所受的教育虽好,却是与社会脱节而不被需要的,因而成了一群苦闷的所谓多余人,除了文化事业的进步外,似乎也并未推动国家的富强,俄国一如既往地大大落后于西欧。

教育发展仅是社会发展的一个必要但不充分的条件。像菲律宾和前苏联-俄罗斯这样,虽然培养出了高素质的人才,但本国社会的发展却使他们找不到用武之地,甚至博士研究员为了谋生被迫去开出租车,那在这些结构性的制度问题得到解决之前,仅仅提升人口的受教育水平是无法产生明显的经济效应的。
education  state  development  history  comparison  russia  fail  future  youth 
july 2016 by aries1988
历史的发展路径已经确定了吗?
以西方的兴起为例,正如伊恩•莫里斯在本书中简洁概括的,所有的解释大抵可以分为两类:一类认为西方的兴起是“长期注定”的,另一类则强调那只是“短期偶然”所导致。前者强调有某个关键因素(人种、地理、文化、政治等)在很久之前(常常追溯到古希腊)就决定了工业革命必然发生在西方;而后者则认为西欧不过是运气较好而已,而且其优势直到1750年代仍不明显,换言之,西方的兴起不仅偶然,而且领先于世界其他地区不过是最近两百多年的现象。

他的结论是:“生物学和社会学能解释全球范围内的相似之处,而地理学则能解释区域差异。从这个意义上讲,是地理学解释了西方为何主宰世界。”在他看来,是地理这一非人为因素致使中西方走上了不同道路,这是因为第一,中国“无法拥有属于自己的地中海”,因而就缺乏廉价和便捷的水运通道,导致贸易活动只能局限于相对较小的范围内;其次,地理因素使西方人比东方人更容易到达美洲。他反复强调,“明朝的中国永远也不可能创造一个西方后期大西洋经济的东方版本”,因为对中国人来说“地理是一个极为不利的因素”。
book  history  comparison  development  academia  debate  geography  fate  future  explained  question 
june 2016 by aries1988
Transitioning out of academia
I have to admit I do miss aspects of the academic and research environment. I never thought I would say that, but I do. I miss the solitude; the ability to focus on a task; to really, really think about an issue; to identify a research question; to develop an hypothesis and then to test if it is true; and the opportunity to debate and discuss with like-minded peers and colleagues. It really is a unique environment.
temoignage  phd  life  career  advice  development  self  howto  moi 
june 2015 by aries1988
Unicode in the real world
Another example is posting to del.icio.us, using pydelicious; every link I post here is also submitted to my del.icio.us account via this API and, again, I just use smart_str() to convert the various values (three of them in this case: the link’s title, its URL and a list of tags).
development  programming  python  utf 
december 2012 by aries1988

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