Archive for June 17th, 2015

Book review – War and Gold: A Five-hundred-year History of Empires, Adventures and Debt

June 17, 2015

This book is a good historic account of evolution of various currency systems and importance of gold. Written by Kwasi Kwarteng, a historian and a politician in UK. Earlier quite a few politicians could write really well, now it is such a rarity.

The book starts from conquest of Inca empire by Spanish empire. This conquest led to inflow of precious metals (read gold and silver) in the European country which helped finance further wars. The Spanish did a bad job of maintaining this conquest and led to build up of debt.  The high debt leads to issues of currency and inflation. This is how all these things are connected and becomes the theme of the book:

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Creator of Linux on the future without him

June 17, 2015

Interesting article profiling Linus Trovalds, the creator of Linux. Linux was an attempt to create an open source operating system and broadly succeeded. Atleast it created enough noise and highlighted the importance of open source software:

The conversation, combined with Linus Torvalds’s aggression behind the wheel, makes this sunny afternoon drive suddenly feel all too serious. Torvalds—the grand ruler of all geeks—does not drive like a geek. He plasters his foot to the pedal of a yellow Mercedes convertible with its “DAD OF 3” license plate as we rip around a corner on a Portland, Ore., freeway. My body smears across the passenger door. “There is no concrete plan of action if I die,” Torvalds yells to me over the wind and the traffic. “But that would have been a bigger deal 10 or 15 years ago. People would have panicked. Now I think they’d work everything out in a couple of months.”

It’s a morbid but important discussion. Torvalds released the Linux operating system from his college dorm room in Finland in 1991. Since then, the software has taken over the world. Huge swaths of the Internet—including the servers of Google, Amazon.com, and Facebook—run on Linux. More than a billion Android smartphones and tablets run on Linux, as do billions upon billions of everything from appliances and medical devices right on up to cars and rockets. While Linux is open-source, which allows people to change it as they please, Torvalds remains the lone official arbiter of the software, guiding how Linux evolves. When it comes to the software that runs just about everything, Torvalds is The Decider.

What’s more, Torvalds may be the most influential individual economic force of the past 20 years. He didn’t invent open-source software, but through Linux he unleashed the full power of the idea. Torvalds has proven that open-source software can be quicker to build, better, and more popular than proprietary products. The result of all this is that open-source software has overtaken proprietary code as the standard for new products, and the price of software overall has plummeted. Torvalds has, in effect, been as instrumental in retooling the production lines of the modern economy as Henry Ford was 100 years earlier.

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In the early days of Linux, proprietary software giants such as IBM and Microsoft scoffed at the idea of this man and his hobbyist code accomplishing much. As Linux’s popularity soared, their tune changed. IBM and others embraced Linux. Microsoft likened it to cancer and portrayed open-source software as an affront to capitalism. Torvalds was then made out to be the socialist software activist from Finland threatening the huge profits of the software industry earned honestly in the U.S. of A.

The truth is that Torvalds has never really been a man of the people. “It’s not that you do open-source because it is somehow morally the right thing to do,” he says. “It’s because it allows you to do a better job. I find people who think open-source is anti-capitalism to be kind of naive and slightly stupid.”

 

What explains the successes and failings of India’s bureaucracy

June 17, 2015

Hearing it from Horse’s mouth. Gulzar Natarajan, an IAS officer (and a terrific blogger) has a piece on Indian Bureaucracy:

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