February 14, 2017

Aeon - This granular life 17min

What Leucippus and Democritus had understood was that the world can be comprehended using reason. They had become convinced that the variety of natural phenomena must be attributable to something simple, and had tried to understand what this something might be. They had conceived of a kind of elementary substance from which everything was made. Anaximenes of Miletus had imagined this substance could compress and rarefy, thus transforming from one to another of the elements from which the world is constituted. It was a first germ of physics, rough and elementary, but in the right direction. An idea was needed, a great idea, a grand vision, to grasp the hidden order of the world. Leucippus and Democritus came up with this idea. ... The idea of Democritus’s system is extremely simple: the entire universe is made up of a boundless space in which innumerable atoms run. Space is without limits; it has neither an above nor a below; it is without a centre or a boundary. Atoms have no qualities at all, apart from their shape. They have no weight, no colour, no taste. ... Atoms are indivisible; they are the elementary grains of reality, which cannot be further subdivided, and everything is made of them. They move freely in space, colliding with one another; they hook on to and push and pull one another. Similar atoms attract one another and join. ... We know of his thought only through the quotations and references made by other ancient authors, and by their summaries of his ideas.

Inc. - These Entrepreneurs Spotted the Housing Boom and Bust. Now They're Having Déjà vu 12min

Residential real estate construction is a massive sector, generating about $466 billion annually, according to the Census Bureau's most recent figures. What's more telling than outright size, though, is that the publicly traded builders, such as D.H. Horton and Lennar Corporation, have gained market share since the recession but built fewer homes. RCS, on the other hand, is ramping up. Arsenault and Wells, with projects stretching from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, are using their operational know-how and geeky instincts to survive in an industry that is increasingly dominated by giants. ... The 90-employee RCS acts solo or teams with other investors and builders to construct its apartments, standalone homes, and vacation properties. The company has some $1.6 billion in assets under management. Though Arsenault will not disclose total revenue, he says it grew 50 percent last year and is growing at 20 to 30 percent on a compound basis. "We could double from here, no problem," he says. How? "I borrow outrageous amounts of money." ... they've counted on two diverging trends: a coming surge in demand for new homes, and a plummet in the number of entrepreneurs who can build them.

The Guardian - Vanishing point: the rise of the invisible computer 9min

Everyone knows that modern computers are better than old ones. But it is hard to convey just how much better, for no other consumer technology has improved at anything approaching a similar pace. The standard analogy is with cars: if the car from 1971 had improved at the same rate as computer chips, then by 2015 new models would have had top speeds of about 420 million miles per hour. ... There have been roughly 22 ticks of Moore’s law since the launch of the 4004 in 1971 through to mid-2016. For the law to hold until 2050 means there will have to be 17 more, in which case those engineers would have to figure out how to build computers from components smaller than an atom of hydrogen, the smallest element there is. ... a consensus among Silicon Valley’s experts that Moore’s law is near its end.

Bloomberg - The World According to a Free-Range Short Seller With Nothing to Lose 14min

His time among the horses and chickens—outside the money management industry—may even have helped him return to the top of his game. Slimmed down and fighting fit, he’s been winning big on a series of short bets against Canadian companies since he made his comeback. ... Cohodes says he’s committed to exposing companies that he believes may be ripping off ordinary, unwary investors—“Joe Six-pack,” as he puts it. ... he’ll go to great lengths to chase them down: dumpster-diving to find clues of wrongdoing, lambasting enemies on Twitter (where his rambunctious character is on full display) ... Short-biased funds managed only $5.5 billion in assets as of the end of September, a tiny fraction of the roughly $3 trillion the hedge fund industry oversees, according to Hedge Fund Research. The number of short-biased funds had fallen to 18 at that time, from 50 in 2009. Cohodes wants to make sure the “old-school” craft gets passed along to a new generation of people with—he jokes—that “genetic defect” that makes them want to take on all of Wall Street.