What I'm reading

Some valuable pieces you might have missed: 

On being the right shape. Fistful of Euro’s Ajay (a writer new to me) looks at the unfashionable subject of strategic geography and posits that Europe’s compactness may be a key advantage in a world where a millisecond’s delay can cost algorithmic traders lots of money: 

I think this could be one of the neglected advantages that geography gives Europe (along with all the others) – realtime, high-bandwidth data services are only going to expand in the future, and that means smaller delays will be at a premium. Shipping data off to cheap centres in India is all very well for some applications, but for fast interaction you need as close to co-location as you can get, and a European country with lots of cheap, clean electricity and lots of cold water to cool data centres with will do rather well. Possibly one for the Nordics to look at, when the oil starts to run out?

Saudi Arabia’s big bet on innovation and education. I’m very skeptical of “big bang” approaches to either innovation or institution building. But the facts behind Saudi Arabia’s nascent King Abdullah University of Science and Technology are astonishing. If it succeeds even partly, it could be a major influence in hauling the Arab world into better engagement with the leading forces of modernity.

In addition to its $11 billion dollar campus, KAUST was endowed on day one with $20 billion, making it one of the wealthiest universities in the world—only Harvard and Yale are in the same league. Relative to its expected size in students and faculty, KAUST will be the richest university in the world. Oxford and Cambridge are more than 900 years old. Harvard and Yale are more than 300 years old. Per student or per professor, however, the richest university in the world has not yet opened its doors.

Design aspects of software: maps as “thinking tools”. James Fallows has been on a real tear recently. His series of posts on the Chinese education system are key readings for understanding both China and some of the challenges facing American education as well. But I was particularly struck by his discursion on maps as thinking tools. He points to a great paper that deserves much more attention: 

The best article I have read on the subject is “Enhancing our Grasp of Complex Arguments,” by Monk and van Gelder, presented as a speech five years ago. They make a powerful point: if we recognize the need for graphic aids to help us keep track of mundane matters like street directions, might they not also be useful in keeping track of the much more consequential and complex arguments that go into major public and personal choices? This paper is very much worth considering by anyone interested in human intelligence, machine intelligence, public decision-making, and the potential and limits of public discourse. Seriously, I have thought about this paper often since reading it.

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