The NY Times is running a debate on whether (home) 3-D printers are the Next Big Thing. My guess is not, partly for reasons advanced in the debate (making plastic shapes is limited, handling other materials is messy and dangerous) and partly from the observation that home 2-D printers have proved pretty much transitory. I suppose most people have one or two sitting around, but I only use mine when someone makes a mistake: typically sending me a non-editable PDF that needs to be printed out, filled in, signed and scanned. This happens rarely enough that I usually need to download a new driver, which is a real pain (honestly, after 30 years, we still need drivers!?). My guess is that if 3D printing becomes a Big Thing, it will be on the basis of same-day delivery from a special-purpose facility to which we send our customised product requests.
But what really interested me was a sceptical piece premised on bagging out the paperless office as a precursor of 3D printing hype. The line was that it was first predicted in the 1970s, but that US businesses are using more paper now than they did then. This struck me as probably true but misleading for two reasons
(i) the population has grown, as has the proportion of workers who deal with text in one form or another
(ii) the two point comparison conceals a rise and fall.
Point (i) is obvious. A quick check reveals that (ii) is also correct. Paper consumption peaked in the late 1990s and has fallen sharply since 2005. Consumption per person is the lowest on record (going back to 1965). I’m pleased with this because back in 2007, I noted that the much-mocked “paperless office” was become a reality, and predicted that the trend would accelerate (reprinted over the fold)>
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* A reader suggests using that the term “Robin Hood tax” for the proposed tax on financial transactions is unfortunate, and that Global Financial Crisis Tax would be better. I agree. The ‘Robin Hood’ term applies to any redistributive tax, and is more directly descriptive of a progressive income tax. The ‘GFC tax’ term reminds everyone of the burden placed on the global community as a whole by excessive financial speculation.
* My colleague and co-author Grace Lordan, has an interesting post on health and discrimination
* Nine of ten authors on a list of “climate sceptical” papers have close links to ExxonMobil. Whocoodathunkit? 
** And surprise, surprise a large proportion of the “peer reviewed” articles are in sham journal Energy and Environment, while quite a few others are listed as “submitted”. Check the list here
fn1. Any commenters tempted to cry “ad hominem” at this point should look up “argument from authority” before making fools of themselves.
After the usual hassles, UQ School of Economics finally has its own videoconference facility, an IP-based Tandberg system, which should (fingers crossed) be interoperable with other standards-based systems. I just did my first conference, and it worked very well. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for an upgrade that will let me run a presentation at the same time as appearing on video. But I’m confident of ultimate success, so I’m now announcing that I’m available to give seminars and talks on a wide range of topics to anyone (subject to time and timezone constraints!) who would like to organise a videoconference. Email me j.quiggin at uq.edu.au if you are interested.
Despite strenuous efforts, it’s hard to avoid air travel in my line of work, and I’ve been doing more than usual lately. One strategy I use to reduce travel is to bundle multiple commitments into a single trip and I’ve done this reasonably effectively with my latest visit to Adelaide. I presented a paper at the Australian Conference of Economists, a public lecture for the Don Dunstan Foundation and an assessment of the economic outlook for the ACE Business Symposium as well as taking part in several meetings. (A couple of presentations are linked).
My presentations were mostly concerned with the financial crisis and its implications, but I also had meetings on water allocation in the Murray Darling Basin and on Internet access to public information and cultural assets such as image libraries. ???? ??????? 50 ???
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While Michèle Lamont is visiting CT, and talking about cross-disciplinary comparisons and interactions, I thought I would raise a question about questions.
As background, my first “real” job was in a government research agency. Seminars were part of the process, and the norm was that senior staff would open the questions. In this context, it was almost invariably safe to ask “What are the policy implications”. That’s still true for some of the seminars I attend, but in others (economic theory, for example), such a question would be at best a faux pas, and the all-purpose question might be something like “Does this work in a monetary economy?”.
So, what are the all-purpose questions in different fields (or are there fields without such questions), and what, if anything does this reveal about those fields?
When a Man Loves a Woman trailer
In the grid parity discussion, reader Salient mentioned a report on energy generation options including solar thermal. There was a lot of interest, and Salient has kindly sent me the report, which is available here (7.5 Mb PDF).
The news from the fires in Victoria just keeps getting worse, with whole towns wiped out and more than 60 people confirmed dead. We can only hope the change in the weather will give firefighters a better chance. The loss of life in the Queensland floods has not been so severe, but there is still widespread devastation.