Coyne v. Wells IV: The All Sweater Version!


In which Paul makes the case for innovation, R&D and educating our youth, and I make the case against…

[wpvideo TSbF64WQ]

Filed under:

Coyne v. Wells IV: The All Sweater Version!

  1. PARC was not funded by the government, but by Xerox.

    • I was a bit schematic. “Just one example is the ubiquitous graphical interface used by Microsoft Windows 95, which is based on the Macintosh, which is based on work at Xerox PARC, which in turn is based on early research at the Stanford Research Laboratory (now SRI) and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. …
      A motivation for this article is to overcome the mistaken impression that much of the important work in Human-Computer Interaction occurred in industry, and if university research in Human-Computer Interaction is not supported, then industry will just carry on anyway. This is simply not true. ”


      Driving distance from Stanford to Apple HQ in Cupertino: 14.6 miles.

      • “During the mid-1960s Xerox Corporation began to investigate ways to extend beyond its paper copier business. A few years later a plan was established for a scientific laboratory to develop advanced physics, materials science, and computer science technologies. The region around Palo Alto, California, was earmarked after nearby Stanford University showed a commitment to work with electronics and computer companies. This region is now collectively known as Silicon Valley.”


        • Silicon Valley got it’s start way before Xerox failed to realise what it had at PARC and “gave” it to Apple. Dave Packard and BIll Hewitt invented some stuff in their garagae (now an historical sight) in the years following WWII and thus both Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Valley were born.

          • Hewlett was from Michigan. Packard was from Colorado. They met as undergraduates… at Stanford.

      • actaully Paul it was quite before windows 95 -> windows 1,2,3 came first it was in 85 when it first came out.

  2. Personally I think that youth is wasted on the young they neither appreciate nor respect it and more often than not are in a sure fire rush to get it over with !

  3. Re: hewers of wood, drawers of water.

    I was under the impression that the Canadian forestry/pulp and paper industries were in decline due to reduced demand in N.A. for newspapers, recycling, and stiffer competition internationally by faster growing species in warmer tropical climates – but I stand to be corrected.

    Also, the oil sands may be driving Canada’s economic engine of late, but don’t forget, a good portion of that fuel originates from a spike in capital investment (the $100-$200 billion) all arriving at once. The ongoing employment levels in plant operations, tradespeople and professionals req’d once the majority of the plants are built within the next few yrs will drop off significantly. Then what does everyone do?

    Yes, private enterprise is the best decider on where to invest and in what manner – but the individual economic decision will be largely dictated by gov’t regulation or lack thereof. (ie investing in upgrading bitumen from the oil sands and refining /petrochemical plants in the US as opposed to Alberta due to out of control inflation, or no requirement as a regulutory condition of development approval). Tax and royalty rates are one lever, there are others.

    As for rocks and water, no comment.

    • The point here is that the prices of those commodities have been going up, and are almost certainly to go on rising after this recession: peak oil and all that. There’s no shame in sitting back and cashing in on higher prices: no-one is giving points for style.

      • Well, if I was living in Norway, and most of my government owned oil wealth was derived from offshore production rigs (lightly manned), yeah, I’d be quite happy to sit back and enjoy the windfalls – because in all likelihood, I’d be employed in a different industry. Different situation in Alberta though. Have a look at Alberta’s economy – a good portion derived form gas royalties (declining), oil royalties (declining as the transition from conventional to oil sands) and building things – houses and O&G facilities and related infrastructure.

        Good for the shareholders or those with fat stock options. Not sure how the remainder will fare over time.

        • And, I forgot to mention – a good portion of income from selling off oil sands leases (drying up)

  4. Love the “I love Alberta education” poster on the wall behind Paul.

    • Reminds me of a similar Alberti bumper sticker – but instead: “All hat, no cattle”

      • The classic Alberta bumper sticker, from which all of these variations are derived, is “I love Alberta beef” It seemed to be on every third vehicle during the mad cow crisis years ago. Albertans are passionate about supporting local industries.

        • Or simply red meat lovers.

          • That too.

    • Is that it? I thought the vlog was checking in with him while he was at the optometrist.

  5. Paul seems to be conflating two separate – but clearly related – notions: the development of new ideas and the development of human capital. The availability of human capital is what makes what’s going on in Waterloo possible; no-one would invest in R&D there if K-W was not well-endowed with freshly-minted engineers. It’s very easy to make a case for investing in human capital: it’s less mobile than the physical kind, and most of the benefits stay with the people who have the skills. And this links with the point of making new labs a lesser priority: it’s better to focus on training people who know how the lab equipment actually works.

    But as Andrew says, the case for investing in R&D per se is much less convincing. The gains from those investments are wildly unpredictable, and may not occur in Canada.

  6. I should point out that the phenomenon Coyne was referring in rebutting Wells advocacy for domestically beneficial clusters of economic activity (eg. Waterloo & Blackberry, Apple & Palo Alto) is called “hindsight bias” – the tendency to see things that have already happened as more predictable than they were prior to taking place. Not, mind you, that I think Paul would call these breakthroughs reasonably “predictable” in the future by any means, only that pointing to them as models for future government sponsorship assumes they are somewhat more predictable than they likely are in reality.

    I learned that from reading Dan Gardner’s book Risk. And then I forgot it. And then I read it today again in Ferguson’s Ascent of Money. As I will probably forget that too within a few weeks, I thought I should show off my temporary knowledge of cognitive biases in the meantime.

  7. Two boobs on the tube.

    • Heh. What do you know? I’ve been unbanned.

      • They probably couldn’t do without your obvious addition of value. That boobs on a tube thing? Priceless! I can’t believe no one has thought of that before.

        • It was just a test, Olaf. I wanted to say something more substantive, but…well, I’m tired. So, so tired. The last 20 seconds of that exchange, exhorting Canadians to support the knowledge economy of punditry was, you have to admit, draining.

          • Aisle 6 must have been a real mess.

          • Aisle 6 must have been a real mess.

            I don’t work in a grocery store (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I have a post graduate degree and am on sabbatical.

            You can stop with the classist insults.

          • I think CR was referring to an earlier quip of his.

            Well, I for one hope you are no longer banned. You have some interesting points…on occasion.

            Other times…I’d ban you as well :)

          • Well, I for one hope you are no longer banned. You have some interesting points…on occasion.

            Other times…I’d ban you as well :)

            *shh* Adults talking.

  8. Ah, the intelligentsia wants us all to share in their good fortune, how sweet !

    Actually, Wells almost makes working in the dark satanic mills sound attractive, at least for a short time …

  9. The commentary about Chrysler’s photocopied submission struck a chord for me. Perhaps Chrysler has as little faith in the ability of our government (and system) to act with certainty, substance and speed.

    Then you go on to discuss the formation of ideas and “innovation” through R&D. In my naivete, I keep wondering about focus. We have governments at all levels that can’t seem to get anything done, we have industries that can’t compete, we have institutions that can’t decide their real purpose and so on.

    Somehow we have to snap out of it. All the psychobabble I hear and read seems like an excuse for a lack of courage and a smokescreen for narrow self-interest.

    I am now looking forward to the decline we’re in — because no matter how much it hurts, I think it’s the only circumstance that will awaken us from our delusion.

    • We, as a society have so corrupted the origins of any of our pillars such as government, education and business they are all bankrupt of ideas on how to proceed. As for the inevitable decline and collapse? Bring it on!
      My only hope is tha from the ashes a new and better way to proceed will emerge.

  10. I don’t see any role in R&D for government. I’ve dealt with government drones who were trying to determine if this piece of research or that piece of research was “innovative” enough to qualify for their little tax incentive programs. What a waste of time.

    If you make something and you sell it to the public and make a profit, then you have innovated and you deserve to keep what you make. What value can a stiff from the government add? The answer is, nothing. They are redundant. Without working in industry, and without having to invest their own money, invest their time, take risks or work up a sweat, they want to pull down a cushy, safe and utterly undemanding “public service” job in which they live the lie that they know more about what is “innovative” and “promising” than any of the serious, dedicated, lifelong professionals who actually work in industry.

    “I really like to hope that Canada’s future is going to look a lot more like Waterloo than like Windsor”

    Do you know why Windsor ended up as the dump that it is? Government first tried to protect the automakers with trade barriers. That made them weak and uncompetitive. Then they helped unions take over the factories and jack up wages and benefits beyond what could be sustained profitably. They wrote tax codes so complicated that it takes an army of accountants and lawyers to figure them out. They made minimum wage laws to make it impossible for the young and unskilled to find work, and created welfare programs so that they lost any desire they had to work. Finally they added a casino to “save the economy”, or maybe it was to create more gambling addicts to make more work for government social workers. Now, I’m told that the downtown is like one big government complex. “It’s like one stop shopping – you lose your job in the factory because CAW drove the employer out of town, so you gamble away your savings in the government casino, you get wasted and end up in the police station, then the courthouse, then city jail, your family busts up and you go to family court and social services, finally you move into a halfway house and your kids end up as drug addicts on welfare.”

    If you don’t start becoming a lot more skeptical and disdainful of government “help”, then in a few decades this is exactly how Waterloo is going to end up.

  11. I like Paul’s bit at the end about earning money with his brain. Next time his car needs a tune up, maybe he can just think it repaired.

    • Dumbest comment on this thread.

      • And if anyone knows dumb, it would be kc.

        • Yep i sure do. Not all spacemen are smart i guess!

    • Next time his car needs a tune up, maybe he can just think it repaired.

      Uhhh, or he could just exchange some of his brain-earned money for the service of having his car repaired!

      Or did I miss the announcement that mechanics will no longer accept money from people who don’t work with their hands?

    • Are you saying that car repair doesn’t require brains? I’m sure an awful ot of car mechanics etc. would beg to differ.

      • Our civilization would cease to be as we know it without mechanics. Even here computer skills are becoming a must. I can’t wait for the computers to learn to drive the things so’s i can do more useful things like post at Macleans.

  12. I’ve never owned a car.

    • You media types can apparate eh? I saw it on HP, looks cool.:)

Sign in to comment.