Tuesday 2013-02-19

Why Things Bite Back by Edward Tenner

Tenner lists "revenge effects": negative unintended consequences. E.g. Florida law requires land developers to relocate tortoises, which spreads communicable diseases by stressing the tortoises and then dropping them into a new population.

Unanswered is why we respond in different fashions to similar threat levels. Is it purely economic, why we require pilots (of cargo-only or small personal craft) to have much more training than drivers? Or are other things at work? If so, what?

Pushing technology's frontier has always had costs, and probably always will. Vastly different reactions against experimental costs will inadvertently shape the innovation frontier: whether by requiring transparency, or requiring gov't approval, or ignoring the problem.

Morbo laughs while we continue to fumble.

Ancient Rome had large apartment buildings, too, but while its public baths, bridges, and aqueducts have lasted for two thousand years, its big residential blocks collapsed with appalling regularity. Not one is left in modern Rome, even as a ruin.
-- Ever Since Frankenstein
We are willing to take more risks when we feel in control, as when driving, than when giving responsibility to professionals. And powerful and influential people fly a lot, usually on public carriers, reinforcing political interest in air safety.
-- Ever Since Frankenstein
By the 1880s, the advantages of powering each machine with its own electric motor were apparent...
Yet it took forty years or more to transform industrial processes and raise workers standards of living and conditions in the 1920s
-- The Computerized Office: Productivity Puzzles
Howard Head, an engineer who made millions developing and producing laminated skis, saw that many amateur tennis players were frustrated by their inability to hit the ball consistently with conventional rackets...
Head realized that the absence of official specifications created a unique opportunity. A patent issued in 1974 for his aluminum model (marketed as the Prince in 1976) gave him a legal monopoly on oversized rackets.
-- Sport: The Paradoxes of Improvement