Ad hoc research anyone?

I have a reminder from a dentist to go see him so he can check his handiwork putting a cap on one of my teeth. From memory this took four visits and cost several thousand dollars. He seems like a good dentist. Anyway, I’m sure he’s following good practice in sending me the reminder. I’m not suspicious that he’s a nasty profiteering dentist – he’s an expensive one. But I’d like some independent and reasonably informed advice about the benefits of doing the checkup and the costs or risks of not doing so. There ought to be a website where I can pay a dental student to spend an hour or so if necessary checking out the literature and advising me.

I think I’ve made this observation at least once before on this blog in the last ten years. But I think I didn’t get anywhere that time. And I also think that perhaps now, in the age of platforms for everything, such a platform might exist now.

Can anyone tell me – and if so point me to it?


Public goods morphing through the ages: the case of Abbotsford Convent

Restoration work at the Abbotsford Convent is ongoing. Picture: Derrick den HollanderThe people at Abbotsford Convent asked me to pen a ‘shout’ for their fundraising campaign. I’d recently been on a tour of the place, and though I’d been there before and wandered around curiously, on the tour I was transported by a Big Idea, though those who’ve read my stuff here will know that the Big Idea is just a variation on my general way of looking at the world – as an ecology of public and private goods. So I told them I’d write them a bit more than a ‘shout’ and write them a ‘foreword’ length piece which, having been published in Their fundraising brochure, Heritage Reinvented – Let’s Finish The Job, duly appears below.

I’ve already given to the fundraising campaign, but would be happy to match anyone else’s donation up to an additional $1,000. Just email me on ngruen at gmail and I’ll send you instructions.

From economic textbooks to informal popular usage – public goods are supposed to be provided by governments, private goods by the market. But that’s never been true.

Though he never used the term, economics’ founder Adam Smith put public goods at the centre of the good society. Smith asked where social mores came from – for they’re the glue that holds together groups of people from families, firms and football teams right through to the family of nations.

His first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments answered that social mores were an emergent property of life itself. Culture in this schema is an emergent public good. So too is language. And governments built neither.

Another emergent public good is religion. It binds its adherents together. And particularly in Europe, religious institutions provided all manner of public goods from arts patronage and the preservation of learning and heritage to poor relief, from schools to hospitals.

And so when I went on a tour of Abbotsford Convent I saw miracles of translation – across continents and across the millennia. The French Order of Our Lady of Charity reached across the oceans investing some of its vast reserves of capital – of treasure and knowhow – to build a public good institution for the nascent colony of Victoria.

Yet before long that investment was stranded, increasingly anachronistic in a changed world in which religion had declined and governments were dominating public good provision.

As Abbotsford Convent’s potency in providing public goods atrophied, a burning question arose. What would we make of its legacy?

The site made a promising investment for private property development. But privatisation would also compromise much – though not all – of its public good value. Or it could continue in the ownership of a proud community, eager to rebuild and reinterpret its role as provider of public goods.

Ten years on, how thankful we all are that the latter, more immediately difficult course was chosen.

I don’t know about you but I’ll be giving generously to this appeal, grateful for the vision and love of others stretching back through 2004 to the founding of the Order of Our Lady of Charity in seventeenth century France.

Lentil as Anything: a good name for a very delicious vegetarian café inhabiting some buildings from the old convent.

This offer can’t last: in fact it won’t last and is off after Friday 20th Feb. NG

Double Bleg: Great Accountant and Dentist needed

Well here we are at the beginning of another year trying to get things in order. And I’ve got two bits of spring cleaning (OK so seasonal metaphors are dominated by northern hemisphere geography – I guess I’m doing summer cleaning).

Having been slack in not having my checkup for a long time, the local dentist discovered about four pieces of ‘work’ I need done. I’m after a dentist who someone thinks is Great, for a second opinion and to do whatever work remains after that second opinion.

Also I’m trying to find a good accountant – as I told you a couple of years ago – and then the tax deadline snuck up on me and I couldn’t do the transfer. So I’m open for suggestions – either below or by email on ngruen at gmail.

Boxing day bleg: how strongly do you feel about the weather?

I know three people who say they’re quite strongly affected by the weather. They dislike rainy, overcast or muggy days and like fine ones that are not too hot or cold. Me? Well I agree, but while I can enjoy a nice day, I have no feeling of a bad day weighing me down.

I’ve just realised that the three people I know who react more strongly than me are female. And I know quite a few men who are relaxed about the weather like I am. So while I’m sure there’s no one-to-one mapping between gender and this strength of reaction to the weather, I wonder on this tiny sample if I’m seeing a more generally applicable pattern. And perhaps there are other things to be learned about the kinds of people whose mood is strongly influenced by the weather.

So, O Troppodillians, spare us a couple of moments of your time and fess up to your own predilections and sensitivities, and those of people you know.

China-US travel bleg


File:Statue of Liberty, NY.jpgI’m heading off overseas with my 15 year old son. Turns out the cheapest way to get to the US, where we’re spending most of our time is via China. And, in case you’re interested and didn’t know of it, Flightfox is a great way to pay people who know what they’re doing to do lots of research for you on the best value flights.

So this is a list of places we’re going. I’m after any tips you may have on where to stay and what to see. Or useful web resources to plan the trip. Or best car hire etc.

Continue reading

Dear Nokia: a plea for simplicity. Guest post by Mike Pepperday


Dear Nokia,

I hear you have fallen on hard times. I have two product suggestions:

1. Make a mobile that is purely a telephone
2. Make a phone in the shape of a pen

The two could well be combined.

1. Pure phone

There are countless millions of older people who would appreciate a mobile phone but they can’t manage the complications. If they were offered a phone, which was just a phone, they might be interested.

You could promote it as “SMS-FREE!” “CAMERA-FREE!” “INTERNET-FREE!” “MENU-FREE!” “Like phones of old: you talk on it!” You would have to invent a generic name. Purephone? Cleanphone? Straightphone?

It would have no alarms, no recording, no FM radio, no messages, no answering service, no “settings,” no adjustments. Continue reading

Mac Malware Bleg

Malware is slowing down my Mac :(

For a month or so I had a small Bing sponsored magnifying glass appear over all graphics.  Then it went. But now, whenever I’m on a news-site I get a ‘Discovery Bar’ appearing at the bottom of my screen. It only appears in Chrome which I use as my default browser. But it and the Mac generally are slowing down after about two years of use. Anyway, if anyone has some tips on how I can reliably restore my Mac to better working order without a full system rebuild, I’d be grateful. Here’s what I see when I go to the SMH for instance – see the bar at the bottom.

Discover Bar

Our language and how it changes . . . and doesn’t

Our language is changing all the time and is probably changing faster than at any time in its history. We now tweet things and Google them and have LOLs AFAIK.

In any event there are some things our language is stubborn about. It doesn’t like innovation deep in its operating system. We don’t have lots of basic words which we should have. The word ‘whose’ works for a person, but not, strictly speaking for a non-person. So you can say “that person whose property was stolen”. But not really “That company whose property was stolen” – though lots of people do say things like that. If you want a non gender specific pronoun for a person - because you don’t know their gender, you can’t say ‘it’ – or you can but it’s both strange and rude. There are lots and lots of examples, and I know you can’t wait to point to some in comments.

Sometimes when things get political we fix things like this – as we did with “Ms”. But it’s a pity we can’t fix the other stuff. Why can’t we? And what could be done about it? (Actually I know the answer to the second question – not much. But not the first.) So O Troppodillians what dost thou reckon?