Assorted links

by on March 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is internal devaluation boosting Greek exports much?

2. In praise of the London Review of Books.  And updated economics on the NYT paywall.

3. The NIH is culling the number of labs it supports.

4. Mega-list of links with advice for economists and students of economics, at various stages of their careers.

5. The new Summers version of the secular stagnation argument doesn’t seem to rely on negative natural rates of interest.  That said, it is getting closer to a supply-side version of the view.

6. What’s it like to own a 3-D printer?

Picador March 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm

#6: Wow, I haven’t seen a case of Slate-itis that bad in a long time. It reads like every pre-2000 article ever written about the Internet. “I hooked up the computing-device, but the foot pedal didn’t even turn it on. And once my grandson walked me through the endlessly complicated instructions about how to log on to my info highway softwares (that’s the blue “E” on the main page of your computer), what was there to see? Nothing useful, that’s for sure! This fad won’t last more than a fortnight, mark my words.”

john personna March 10, 2014 at 1:47 pm

My reaction is much the opposite. I suppose you are right that both internets and 3d printing have had hype cycles, but I don’t think hype cycles are uniform. The ratio of promise to noise varies greatly. To choose another pair of examples, hydrogen cars were hyped a lot before hybrids made their name. Hybrids started with a hype deficit.

In the specific case of 3d printing, there seems to be some improper generalization, especially the idea that accomplishments in high end commercial systems will “naturally” migrate to the home, because the home already has these cheap plastic extruders.

Picador March 13, 2014 at 11:36 am

Agreed that lots of technologies are overhyped. And I agree that 3D printers are being prematurely hyped for home use.

However, I think that 3D printers in the current environment will be transformative for manufacturing and distribution of small devices and parts. They will disrupt entire supply chains for millions of items currently manufactured in one location and shipped all over the world.

In addition, they WILL eventually find their way into widespread domestic use, in all kinds of ways that aren’t immediately obvious. Dozens of applications are suggested below. A “killer app” will emerge, then another, then a hundred more. This was one of my points about the similarity to early Internet cluelessness: unimaginative people couldn’t figure out what the ‘net could be used for, so they assumed it was overhyped even while it was transforming entire industries. It took a good decade or so of widespread adoption before Joe Clueless got Wikipedia, Facebook, and Netflix and forgot what life was like before the Internet, or that he had once been so skeptical of its utility.

Picador March 13, 2014 at 11:42 am

If you need some hard data points: in the last six months I’ve met with two startups who rely on 3D printers, not as the focus of their business, but as a key component of their prototyping and manufacturing processes. I’m talking about one to five guys in a shop making medical devices or manufacturing custom industrial devices to order. This technology makes the companies fast, lean, agile, and self-sufficient. This is not whimsical DIY hype: it is serious business.

Michael B Sullivan March 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Okay, so, seriously, tell us what it’s going to be used for. I’ve been racking my brains for the last five years, and I just fundamentally can’t think of anything I’d want to print, even if I had a great, flawlessly working 3D printer for free. Even if I had one that’s better than the current state of the art.

Hell, I’m not entirely sure I’d have a use for one even if it could print out integrated electrical systems in its models.

I’d love to be wrong. Tell me what anyone will use this for.

Finch March 10, 2014 at 3:17 pm

I don’t believe the hype either, but this is extreme.

If you had a great, flawlessly working 3D printer for free, you’d use it to print anything you would buy smaller than a breadbox and not made from really exotic materials.

Toys come to mind. And they’ll be easy to print, as they are already mostly injection-molded plastic. I understand it’ll be a while before you can print, say, a camera. But if you could, wouldn’t you have use for a device like that?

Z March 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Toys with no moving parts maybe. Once you move from plain old three dimensional solids into stuff kids actually play with, you’re investing a weekend to make what you can buy in five minutes. As I said below, I can see hobbyists maybe wanting one. People into restoring old cars could make their plastic trim parts that are no longer available.

I do like how people think your going to be printing cameras from these things.

Finch March 10, 2014 at 5:24 pm

> Toys with no moving parts maybe.

Why would you expect that to be a limitation? MEMS devices are routinely made with moving parts.

I don’t understand your quip about cameras. I suppose I was thinking of a digital camera, and film might be trickier. And for a long time a bigger and cleaner facility is going to make finer semiconductors than something you could reasonably have in your house.

The hype I don’t believe is that this is going to happen in the next few years, rather than the next 20-50 years, and that we won’t see commensurate improvement in the technology of mass manufacturing, so that it won’t still make sense to make things in big factories even if you could technically make them at home.

john personna March 10, 2014 at 6:47 pm

If we are talking about commercial machines as precursors to enthusiast machines, and then hypothetical commodity machines, that’s one thing.

But is there even a commercial precursor to metal/plastic conductor/insulator 3d printing? The mainline machines that I know of print in metal OR plastic.

Z March 10, 2014 at 7:21 pm

@Finch: Well, we need to define our terms. At this stage, these things can create a single three dimensional object in one material. 50 years from now who knows? To make a camera, you are creating a dozen parts in a few different materials and then assembling it. Making the metal parts in a box sitting on your desk would be rather interesting.

Finch March 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Semiconductor manufacturing routinely works with mixed materials, including conductors and insulators, and can manufacture parts with gaps. As I said, MEMS fabs already do this every day. You can make astoundingly complicated things with etching, deposition, and a few other processes, with amazing precision. So cameras are sure to happen – there won’t be any assembly; you’ll just grow it in place and remove whatever scaffolding you needed to hold the parts when you don’t need it any more. The fact that version 0.0 works only in sintered-steel, or whatever, is irrelevant. People are excited because the technology to do much more sophisticated things already exists.

Where it gets harder is strange materials, and requirements for really precise atomic positioning. I doubt we’ll ever have top-quality turbine blades made at home, and your device will presumably have fairly limited feedstock. My concern about film is similarly based.

And as I said before though, there will be advances in larger scale manufacturing too, the home printer needs to compete with those, and I imagine it will mostly come up short.

Finch March 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm

To give a large scale example of mixed material work using these this sort of technique, albeit one that’s forty years old, the Space Shuttle Main Engine (“SSME”) combustion chamber starts as a large piece of a copper alloy in roughly the shape of the chamber, it’s then milled to the precise contour, coolant channels (which are pretty complex and precise) are milled in the outside, and a nickel alloy closeout is deposited over the channels. I think there’s a filler material that goes in the channels while the nickel is vapor deposited that is subsequently removed (probably by melting, but I’m not sure without looking it up).

The result is a complicated 3D part made from different materials, hollow and with significant internal structure, that operates in a pretty extreme environment of high pressure and temperature, and large temperature differences and rates of change. It’s nowhere near as precise as modern MEMS manufacturing, but it doesn’t need to be. And it’s much bigger.

Michael B Sullivan March 11, 2014 at 9:02 am

But… What do I buy that’s smaller than a breadbox and not made of really exotic materials? I don’t buy toys: I don’t have kids.

I suppose I might print a camera, if such a thing were possible. Once every few years. If clothes were printable, I obviously buy clothes, but as obviously, 3d printing technology isn’t even on the path towards making clothes.

Finch March 11, 2014 at 12:07 pm

I don’t know, socks? Plates? Cutlery? TV remotes? Binder clips? Spare parts? Envelopes? Picture frames? Staplers? Puzzles? Pencils?

Is this really a question?

bluto March 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm

One would be great to end the razor/blade systems used with a decent number of accessories or repair parts.

Becky Hargrove March 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Local recyclables, as material for snap together and pull apart building and other environment components.

yo March 10, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Teeth. Your dentist probably has one and uses it every day.

byomtov March 10, 2014 at 7:41 pm

My own idea is that the printers will follow the pattern of fax machines.

Remember when no one had a fax machine at home? Heck, I can remember when buying one for a small company was actually a decision. So you went some place to send a fax and paid a dollar a page or the like. Gradually, they got cheaper and better and became common in homes.

So I can envision a hardware store, say, buying a reasonably capable machine and manufacturing plastic parts of various kinds for customers. After a while, the printers will move into homes.

Nikki March 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Space, and remote locations on this planet. You may not need a 3D printer when you are next door to a supermarket, but not everybody is.

ummm March 10, 2014 at 3:33 pm

yea …it’s called an assembly line with molds and plastics …they make 3-d stuff

That’s why 3-d printing hype will never live up to the hype of the internet. It’s not really a new concept.

john personna March 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Related to #6, and hype cycles, I’ve recently decided something about self-driving cars. It isn’t about the cars(!). It is about the related robots, like Kiva warehouse workers, that do much simpler “driving” to replace human labor. Look for a lot more such small niches to fall in the many years before your taxi shows up pilot-less.

Michael B Sullivan March 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm

It’s a good argument, and I think there’s a plausible case for, like, warehouse robots to precede driverless cars. But I’m not completely sure that the driving is unambiguously easier (the speeds are slower, the surface is uniform, yes, but the tolerances are much tighter as well), and there are other automation challenges to solve at the same time in terms of replacing a warehouse worker (like the actual picking).

mark March 10, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Summers’ argument starts off with the common, yet ridiculous, proposition that the Fed’s 2007 forecast of the future state of the economy should be used as the baseline, and everything since then is an underperformance. When it seems absurdly obvious that the forecast was just wrong when made. The Fed’s forecasts never project a recession, even though 5 years had passed since the last one. The Fed’s models failed to capture the effects of horrendously weak balance sheets in multiple large sectors of the economy. The Fed’s 2007 forecast failed to recognize that a portion of the economic growth of the preceding 5 years was based on cheap money and cheap credit and the level the Fed was extrapolating from was simply inflated and not stable. A GDP number goosed by loose consumer credit makes no sense as a baseline.

Z March 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm

#6: I do chuckle at the 3D printer hype. It seems to come from quarters not known for much knowledge of the DPS. Putting a miniature CNC machine in every home is not going to usher in a return to cottage industry. Those with a need to make small plastic parts will have a use for it. I can see repair shops like car dealerships making trim pieces in house from the manufacturers drawings. Otherwise, the typical American will have no use for these things.

S March 10, 2014 at 3:55 pm

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, 1981

john personna March 10, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Not at all related. Seriously, how many small (purely) plastic parts do you buy in a year? I think for me it might be $10-20, but let’s say it is $100. How much time and money should you invest to save $100 in small plastic purchases?

(Possibly it is worth it as an educational toy, if you have a kid who will invest hundreds of hours building expertise, or if you aspire to take your demo work to a fab shop job interview. But that is not “consumer” printing.)

Marian Kechlibar March 11, 2014 at 6:49 am

I think that the future role of 3D printers can’t really be approximated from the current needs and conditions. That would be like trying to approximate the future role of jet aircraft in the balloon era. Or, more recently, e-mails, which are today used very differently from their paper predecessors.

Once the market penetration of 3D printers is big enough, people will think about novel ways how to use them. Maybe they will print their own table games, or 3D portraits of their loved ones, hard to say. I can’t predict this development myself; I doubt that anyone really can.

Z March 10, 2014 at 4:53 pm

“A penny saved is a penny earned” – Ben Franklin

See, I can post totally unrelated quotes too!

Marie March 10, 2014 at 11:01 pm

My husband does molding and casting, there is definitely use for this in some small business niches as the quality improves, and if the tech were there he’d certainly use it in his “cottage” industry, but I can’t see there being that many of them. I don’t really see the point of having one for home use.

Guest March 10, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I want to make a mini Z-Man plastic action figure. And a Ray Lopez.

msgkings March 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm
ummm March 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm
ummm March 10, 2014 at 3:53 pm

#3 biggest complaint about economic research is that there is so much minutia. Seems like there is a lot of publishing for the sake of publishing instead of producing results that are really meaningful, interesting or useful.

rayward March 10, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I suppose it doesn’t matter, but isn’t the decline in the “real interest rate” the same thing as the decline in the “return on capital” that was identified several decades ago?

Thor March 10, 2014 at 10:06 pm

And here I was thinking that the LRB has experienced a serious decline, now that it is the organ of the likes of Zizek.

The TLS at least selects reviewers/writers from the whole political spectrum.

Eric March 11, 2014 at 12:25 am

#1 : My pet theory is that they should have done a QE – but only in the form of vouchers distributed in Denmark and Germany for use in vacations in Greece and Spain.

Wolf March 11, 2014 at 3:54 am

#4:
That list is awesome.
Wonder if there’s something like this for computer science or mathematics.

Marian Kechlibar March 11, 2014 at 6:50 am

As far as I know, some Dutch engineers tried to 3D-build whole houses. It was remarkably efficient, because they would leave all the correct spaces for electrical wires, water pipes etc., instead of having to bore them into walls.

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