2007-12-16

Irony

Via Ron Paul:

“The abandonment of the gold standard made it possible for the welfare statists to use the banking system as a means to an unlimited expansion of credit. In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the hidden confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists’ antagonism toward the gold standard.”
-Alan 'Bubbles' Greenspan, 1966

The 'Bubbles' were my addition.

2007-12-12

WC Socialism

Anyone who has ever traveled to Amsterdam or a developing country can appreciate a clean city and good sanitation when suddenly it is no longer there. In Amsterdam, and to a lesser extent the rest of Holland, bathroom usage comes at a price varying by establishment. The result of this price means that a large percentage of inhabitants use the city itself as their toilet rather than the costly facilities all around. In Amsterdam, the practice is so widespread that the city wreaks of urine and public outdoor urinals without proper drainage are placed through the city as a patch on a problem seen as impossible to enforce. The United States and many other developed countries by contrast mandate that most establishments which serve food and all gas stations provide free facilities which meet some minimum health standards though results vary. As a result, most places in those countries do not smell of human waste. Sensible Switzerland, on balance the best run country on Earth, provides very clean, well designed, and low-maintenance public toilets complete with drug paraphernalia disposal facilities in many public parks.

Bathroom regulation is a good example of how a minimal and passive government standards on quality and service provision can create tremendous welfare benefits for society as a whole as widespread negative externalities are cheaply eliminated. In general, I prefer a society in which government governs as little as possible and only when the welfare benefits far outweigh the costs to the affected members of society. Though it is vague to say it, freedom itself should be valued at a high price in social welfare calculations in evaluating the merits of a potential new tax, public work project, or regulation. Negative externalities can however quickly outweigh even very high freedom opportunity costs in justifying regulation. There is unquestionably some role for government to grease the wheels of society and preserve social order and wellbeing. After visiting Amsterdam, I did become a bathroom socialist.

2007-10-28

Jacque Fresco: Future by Design

Jacques Fresco is an engineer, inventor, futurist and visionary. I believe his name will eventually become commonly known years after his passing. Future By Design (torrent) is a documentary film about the work and ideas of Jacque Fresco. Fresco has a fairly coherent vision for the transition of our civilisation to a prosperous and harmonious Type I civilisation. Mostly this involves education and culturally focusing humanity towards embracing and shaping technology to take care of our living needs, so that we might be free to pursue the higher goals. The DVD currently available on the Venus Project's website contains a book, Designing the Future.

He does not have all the answers nor does he propose that he will make a Utopia. He claims only that his ideas are a far better direction that the one in which we are currently headed. He takes a rational, analytical engineering approach towards designing an economy and infrastructure which automatically satisfies the basic needs of humanity in a sustainable way. A must see.

2007-10-14

Ron Paul News Blog

Ron Paul's Campaign has been picking up momentum. Unfortunately he is still way too far behind Guiliani for the moment. That aside, Ron Paul News is a great new blog tracking the best Presidential candidate to come forth in generations.

Incidentally, I have donated 50 USD to Paul's campaign as a small token of my support.

2007-10-02

Google Shared Stuff

Google has a new feature, Shared Stuff. My "Shared Stuff" page is linked to on the right of this blog in the Recommended Section. This section will include pages which are not shared in the Google Reader Shared section.

2007-09-25

Demonoid, Down Again.

Demonoid, one of the best torrent sites featuring rich content of all sorts has been taken down by its Canadian ISP. A sad day indeed.

*Update* Apparently the info was incorrect. They had a problem in upgrading servers, and this useful resource will return.

*Update 2* Sorry, its really dead this time.

Columbia University hosts Ahmadinejad

Reacting to yesterdays news regarding behaviour unbefitting an elite academic institution, a loyal reader had this to say.

*Update* A good Charlie Rose interview conducted before the Columbia University incident.

2007-09-17

The Northwest Passage

In all of recorded history, the Northwest Passage has been blocked by arctic ice making the route unnavigable. It is now open for business, a cause for great concern.

2007-09-14

Google Reader Part Deux

In the past few months, I have come to use Google Reader as a source for 95% of my news. Even high frequency sites I have come to accept on the reader as I have better learned to skim the headlines and not read every posting or article. There is now some fracturing of the RSS domain in which some sites give you all the content via the feed so you need not leave the Reader interface, whilst others, usually commercial news outlets, give just a snippet and force you to visit their page to view the entire article. They then can bombard you with adverts, assuming one lacks the appropriate Firefox plugins.

Unfortunately Google Reader can be so useful that it becomes somewhat addicting and time consuming. The more feeds to which one subscribes, the more one feels compelled to read. Technologies are available to distil and repackage customised information from feeds.

Besides the aforementioned sharing ability of the Reader, the Reader finally received a Search box recently which greatly enhances its utility. My shared feed is of course available. I would point to this as the cause of my decline in postings. Many of the things I wish to share with the world speak for themselves in these articles.

Today, on the Companion Page, I have exported and published my current list of RSS feeds. You can import this file directly into your own Reader Account. (More Podcasts to come)

Happy Reading.

2007-09-11

Monetary Theory and Policy

Having had some brilliant lecturers in college, particularly in History, I have always wished that those lectures would have been recorded for the world to appreciate. Gradually lectures are making their way onto the Internet. Berkeley seems to be making progress. I just discovered Mark Thoma, author of the quality Economist's View blog has his Monetary Theory and Policy course online through Google Video.

2007-09-10

A Suggestion for Microsoft

With the Windows Vista flop, M$ tried to position itself to compete directly with Apple on image alone. Undoubtedly, the Vista eye candy was in impressive display as are the animations of OSX. Having used a MacBook Pro for over a year now, I can tell you that I am less and less impressed by Apple by the day. Perhaps the biggest reason is that virtualised Windows under Parallels seems to run faster and more cleanly than all of the Mac applications. OSX I end up just using as a shell in which I run Windows. Everyone loves to slam Windows, but XP runs stably, quickly, and very easily. Compared to Linux, getting something to run just as you want it in Windows is a real breeze especially for the amateur. This has much to do with market share and demand, but some credit has to be given to good design also.

M$ is now aiming to compete directly with VMWare in the Virtualisation market. A wise move. By the way, VMW is a really good short and I am going to start buying Put options. I did not track the dot com era stocks much at the time, but this is a classic dot com irrational exuberance or simply a misinformed market. Dont get me wrong, they have a great product, but they also have much powerful competition right on their tails (Citrix, M$, Parallels). They are already giving their VMWare Server away for free. How could the market capitalisation then be anywhere near Adobe? Remember you heard it here first.

Back to M$. The one thing I still respect and cannot take away from Apple after all the pretty graphics and sexiness has lost its lustre: it is based on Unix, ie FreeBSD. It is therefore able to run any Linux application with an easy to use front end and the possibility to Virtualise or incorporate M$ products. In other words, it is a computing Superset. This flexibility alone makes having an Apple somewhat justifiable especially for scientists, quantitative researchers, and anyone in Graphics Editing.

M$ could close this gap and take back some market share from Apple by taking a few years to completely rewrite its OS this time with a Unix kernel following Apple's lead. I believe there are intelligent people in Redmond and working for M$ in India and China who still have much to offer humanity be it in OS, personal or industrial intelligent devices, other periferal software, etc. They yet could sell an OS which would be far less the disdain of computer geeks everywhere and which they actually might start to prefer above other Unices (OSX, Ubuntu, Fedora). It would be a bold and risky move to radically change course as I proposed. They should either do this and have hope of long run survival and even leadership, or they can suck out whatever is left from their current OS whilst pursuing something entirely different and dooming themselves to eventual irrelevance, hopefully still returning significant value to stockholders in the meanwhile.

As a closing thought, I used to think like one of those geeks unsatisfied with closed-source models of mediocrity, or perhaps just like an economist opposed to monopolies. However, M$ can no longer be considered a monopoly and their products, closed source though they may be, are much more stable than they used to be. I therefore have for the most part lost my disdain for them.

Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose is probably the best Interviewer I know. His interview technique is calm, respectful, engaging, and empathetic set in a minimalist black set with an unparalleled guest list. The programming used to be pay-only Google Video (besides being broadcast on PBS). Thankfully, that arrangement has terminated. It now seems his content is available freely and rightly so. Valuable video feed.

2007-09-09

Brad DeLong Lecture Podcast

My favourite economist, J. Brad DeLong of Berkeley has published on his new Podcast his lectures from this years course American Economic History. The sound quality is unusually good.

Open Media Content

Occasionally on this blog I make strong criticisms of Copyright Law. Given the recent controversy of the BBC iPlayer OS limitation and DRM, I would like to state unequivocally that publicly sponsored media including NPR, PBS, BBC, CBC, ABC, etc, should all be licenced as Creative Commons or similar licence. The distribution of such content should therefore not be distributed with DRM but rather under the most cost effective means to deliver the information to the masses and allow even the "mashup" or editing and redistribution of such content with the appropriate credit and disclaimers. This would also apply to scientific articles supported by publicly funded research. In that case, all research materials including lab notebooks and instrument readouts should be published freely in the public domain excluding information which could violate personal privacy or public (National) security.

2007-09-06

Richard Dawkins, Galapagos Lectures

On an eco-tourist cruise to the Galapagos aboard the Santa Cruz, Richard Dawkins delivers several lectures on population genetics and the evolutionary process. Having read several of his books and watched most of his documentaries, I assumed I had just about exhausted his educational potential. This lecture series showed me the fallacy of this assumption. These are some of the best lectures I have heard on the subject, beautifully delivered as always by the eloquent professor. Available at Demonoid. Some lectures available at Google Video.

2007-09-05

Irrational Living Practices

Every year, some fairly predictable natural disaster occurs and devastates large areas of land creating human death and misery and property damage. Earthquakes, flooding, and hurricanes come to mind. After the disaster, affected regions usually prey upon the sympathy of others to rebuild their homes and cities through both charity and governmental subsidy. A notable example is the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Army Corps of Engineers was widely blamed for the failure of the levies and the subsequent flooding. 1) The inefficiencies of the legal code to deploy National Guard soldiers without the consent of a State Government combined with 2) the normal inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of government at all levels and 3) a general lack of psychological preparedness for infrequent devastating events resulted finally in an anarchistic, violent scenario of devastation and distress. The reconstruction efforts have basically followed in the same mode despite billions in subsidies and tax cuts.

The critical problem which is politically incorrect to address is who decided it was a good idea to build their house in a flood zone in the first place. In the case of New Orleans, the sad answer was everybody, but especially the poor. Since in economic terms the wealthy had far more to lose, it makes sense that the wealthiest areas of New Orleans were constructed on somewhat more secure ground. It is not fair to say, however, that the risks living below sea level next to one of the world's largest rivers which regularly changes course was properly priced into the housing market. Most people who build their houses in flood zones are either ignorant of the risks, risk loving and possibly irrational, a very high personal discount rate, or a very high preference for living in those areas. Unfortunately psyche of humans, like many pack or herd species, is far more prone to feel secure in a clearly irrational situation so long as everyone else does the same.

A related problem of course is the question of climate change. Far more people are in far greater danger than Katrina owing to probable climate change from human activity. Many major cities are rationally addressing the fallout by considering dikes and other technologies to ensure the cities survive intact. Others are intelligent and ambitious enough to build flood-proof houses.

Whenever possible, avoiding a confrontation with nature is the wisest course of action. Reducing greenhouse emissions and not constructing cheaply in a predictable future disaster area are good rules of thumb. In the event of an inevitable but unfortunate catastrophe, federal governments in all of their fiscal inefficiency ought not be expected to pay.

2007-08-28

Death in Iraq

The 20th Century saw unprecedented violence, crimes of war, and deliberate genocide on a scale never before seen. Thanks to George Bush and all those who supported his invasion of Iraq, it seems the 21st Century is starting out in the same tradition. Last year the Lancet published this article from researchers at the John's Hopkins School of Public Health with the following findings:
...data from 1849 households that contained 12 801 individuals in 47 clusters was gathered. 1474 births and 629 deaths were reported during the observation period. Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 (392 979–942 636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426 369–793 663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire.
Forgetting that many American soldiers jingoistically volunteered to fight in Iraq, American propaganda outlets regularly report on the number of US soldiers that have been killed in the invasion of Iraq while rarely reporting on cumulative death tolls among Iraqi civilians. Meanwhile, the United States accepts less than 100 (figure awaiting confirmation) Iraqi or Afghan refugees every year. The mass genocide and crimes against humanity that have been caused directly or indirectly by the US Government with popular support need to be acknowledged, taught, and remembered alongside the numerous atrocities of the previous century. The politicians complicit in an immoral, illegal, and unjustified invasion including Senators and members of Congress should be tried before an International War Crimes body. The removal of a single tyrranical ruler and his imaginary war machine could have occurred with a single bullet or missile. The neoconservative experiment to impose a peaceful democratic system of government on an unwilling people by force and at great expense in money and lives has failed utterly as any informed and thinking person could have predicted. Never again.

2007-08-24

Urban Liveability

Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked world cities by liveability. Unsurprisingly, Canadian, Australian, and Swiss cities rank highest.

2007-08-21

Suprnova

The legendary torrent site Suprnova, down for several years, has been resurrected with the help of the PirateBay. Warning: Users of such public torrent sites in areas vulnerable to copyright enforcement tend to be more exposed to monitoring and legal threat. Private sites like Demonoid, BitMe, BitMeTV, and UKNova tend to be safer because of their requirements for upload ratios and their exclusivity.

2007-08-19

More Screens

Most people still use one monitor 17-19 inches for their computing display needs. Quality large screen monitors with good resolution such as the Apple 2560x1600 Cinema display still run an unreasonable 1800 USD. A good solution to increase productivity and ease of use is to add 200 USD 19 inch flat monitors to your display. Going from 1 to 2 monitors yields a vast improvement. My workstation consists of a 8 x 19 inch monitor grid powered by 2 x NVIDIA Quadro NVS graphics cards physically supported by 2 x Ergotron DS 100 Quad monitor desk stands for a combined 10.4 million pixel display for around 2700 USD, or 3800 px/USD. Considering the Cinema displays run at 2275 px/USD, my setup, though somewhat excessive, provides good bang per buck.

When using several monitors in Windows, the programme Utramon (torrents) is an indispensable addition. It extends the task bar to every monitor and adds several other simple but effective multiple monitor utilities.

2007-08-18

Cosmic Variance

Cosmic Variance is a highly regarded web log for those with a particular interest in Astronomy and Physics but do not necessarily hold graduate degrees. It is authored by seven different contributors, experts in their field.

2007-08-15

Blog Recommendation: Charles Kenny

Charles Kenny has a blog about Development and Welfare Economics.

2007-08-12

Scitalks

Scitalks is a Web video site which links to interesting scientifically relevant material.

(Unfortunately much of the content is in RealPlayer or streaming Windows Media format)

2007-08-08

Virgin America Inaugural Flight

For too long, American air travel has been dominated by behemoth, union-dominated, subsidised monsters which offer generally poor service all around including flight attendance. Even State airlines from socialist countries are consistently better. Virgin America gives great hope to the future of domestic airline travel in the United States in terms of both quality and competition. The San Francisco based airline has taken its inaugural flight as documented by Engaget.

2007-08-07

gPhone

Rumours abound regarding the development of a Google Phone. Certainly it makes a great deal of sense in light of their continued development of applications for mobile devices as well as their recent bid commitment for 700 MHz spectrum with the caveat of open access for mobile devices. A new rumour suggests the Google phone could be built upon the Open Source Linux openMoko phone currently under development and due to be released this fall. The openMoko has all the potential in itself to be a dominant device or at least force other commercial phones (ie iPhone) to open themselves up more (VoIP, etc). Creating an open source, add-driven phone would probably be the wisest business decision for Google and surely would highlight everything that is good about the company.

2007-08-06

Heroin

From The Insider - Heroin on the NHS (torrent):
15 years ago the Swiss had one of the highest rates of drug addiction and AIDS in Europe. They decided to radically change their drug laws. To combat the spread of the disease 6000 clean needles were dispensed every day in the Zurich park. In this safe zone, addicts could shoot up openly. Shocked by the thousands of addicts who came forward, the government swiftly took control of the illegal market. They stopped criminalising heroin and made it a medical issue instead. Clinics were set up where addicts, now patients, were given as much heroin as they needed. The results have been astonishing. Drug crime and deaths have gone down dramatically, and addiction has gone down by 90%. Prescribing heroin has almost eradicated the Swiss drug problem. Addicts can now lead normal lives and because heroin is no longer seen as cool and rebellious, far fewer young people are drawn to it in the first place.
Criminalising drug use is a formula for social disaster be it alcohol or even heroin. Drug regulation through taxation, registration, or controlled usage may be beneficial to a society, but the focus of any law should be in maximising the welfare of everyone affected. At the end of the day, what a person does with their own body is their business so long as others are not negatively impacted.

Heroin by the Velvet Underground.

Missile Defence

Under the Bush administration, in 2002 the United States withdrew from the anti-Ballistic Missle Treaty and began to pursue an ABM system. According to a Congressional Budget Report, the total estimated expense of the system by 2024 could be as high as 247 billion USD. In the Cold War, an ABM system would have been quite an advantage given the Nuclear Missile Technology of the 20th Century. I put forward the idea that if a legitimately recognised Nation State possessing nuclear weapons did wish to deliver them to a target, 21st Century technology including unmanned subs and UAVs will make the delivery of such devices far easier to deliver than launching a Ballistic Missile. Even using 3000 year old technology such as shipping the nuclear device covertly in a standard shipping container would have a high probability of success. Subverting an advanced technology is always much cheaper than the technology's development.

A regular criticism of the US military is that they are constantly fighting the previous war rather than looking ahead. The money spent on Missile Defence will be completely wasted. The United States in developing this technology continues to alienate its allies, a cost which is high but difficult to quantify. Imagine if instead the $247 billion were either never spent at all or rather spent on basic scientific research grants or technological competition such as the DARPA Challenge.

Wii

Yesterday I played Wii for the first time. The game was Mario Strikers Charged, which should be called Mario Football. A motion sensitive vibrating pointing wand adds a completely new dimension to human-machine interaction. It reminds me of the leap from keyboard to mouse. In itself, it is just a toy, but one which demonstrates the advanced creativity and ingenuity of the Japanese and foreshadows future technology interfaces.

2007-08-05

Mormons

PBS recently produced a 4 hour documenatary series about the Mormons (torrents). An accurate and fairly respectful work, it does gloss over some of the stranger sides of Mormon theology. Mormonism is in many respects an American Muslim styled religion although this parallel is completely ignored by the documentary and probably most Mormons themselves. South Park had a very good episode "All About the Mormons" from Season 7. Given that Mormons now even have a US Presidential candidate, they are worth understanding.

2007-08-04

Atom

The new BBC 4 documentary, Atom, hosted by Jim Al-Khalili, is one of the best documentary series I have seen this year. It focuses on the development of the modern theory of the atom and quantum physics. Available on the usual torrent networks.

2007-07-26

NASA

Thanks to one of Bush's brilliant ideas, NASA's budget is now mostly wasted in M2M (the human Mission to Mars) and the rest on the shuttle and ISS. A recent NPR interview put the orginisation further in question. Michael Griffin, director of NASA, doubted whether we would not all be better off under global warming and therefore should not prioritise its abatement.

With regards to the manned Space programme, NASA has recently experienced an astronaut bizarre love triangle and now allegations of drunken flight and systems sabotage. If NASA is to exist, which I believe it no longer should, its beneficial role should be to fund Earth Science, Astronomy, Aerospace Engineering, and general technology research in the public interest.

The Mars Rover and the Galileo and Cassini missions are examples of the incredible benefits that can come from a serious scientifically driven Space agency. The scientific value for those programmes has vastly exceeded the costs because they had the right idea: robotic exploration of outer space. Humans were not designed to live in space and so far the cost of such adventures is no were close to the benefits. Let human space exploration take place commercially as Richard Branson and Burt Rutan are demonstrating. Let scientists do their jobs correctly, and stop distorting their mission and their budgets with a child's fantasy. If children want to go into space, let them finance it themselves.

Linux, Peu à Peu

I mentioned before that given my disgust with M$ Vista, all future PCs I run would be Linux with a virtualised Windows Server 2003 Enterprise session. Despite my flirtations with Linux, Windows frankly works for every application I need personally or professionally and I cannot use Linux just as I cannot use OS X perpetually without a Parallels Windows session running inside. Do not get me wrong; I want to see Open Source Linux come to dominate computer operating systems, but in the short run it can only attract users by doing absolutely everything a normal Windows PC can do with the same level of convenience and full compatibility. Even some of the most enthusiastic Linux geeks I know have found themselves getting sucked back into Windows.

I have recommended Parallels especially for Mac users given the coherence feature. VMWare has some other advantages like hosting and remote connection as well as mountable bootable partitions rather than strictly virtual hard drives. VMWare Server is now free!

Finally, I have made this change for my personal PC which is set to Ubuntu Fiesty Fawn 32 bit natively with VMWare running WinXP32. Using this guide it was fairly straightforward as far as Linux installs go. Unfortunately for enterprise level 64 bit computing, the free VMWare Server does not yet cut the mustard. You need the multi-k$ version for that apparently. Peu à peu, we will be always running Linux. I am now doing it, and so can you.

Robert Hanson on Intellectual Property

Robert Hanson, GWT developer and author of the well regarded guide GWT in Action, has a great new post on his blog. He shares the practical viewpoint with the rest of the rational and uncorrupted world that piracy is generally a good and inevitable phenomenon and that Open Source is generally the best model to develop software not just in the aggregate, but also for specific customers. He rightly chastises those who follow the closed-source model of development. Furthermore this post explains the usefulness to Java developers of the JAD Eclipse plugin. Since Hanson praises piracy, it is worth noting that his book is available on several torrent networks.

2007-07-19

Ron Paul

Ron Paul, a staunch libertarian, recently interviewed at Google as part of his campaign for the Presidency of the US - a must see. Many of his espoused positions such as supporting the gold and silver standards for public currency seem impractical or irrelevant, yet they are based upon sound legal foundation, ie the US Constitution. He is a candidate who is easy to distort, yet his solid character, sound principles, and political idealism are undeniable.

It is clear that the letter of the law set out by the Constitution has gradually been eroded and perverted by activist judicial decisions, misguided lawmakers, and tyrannical Presidents. Rather than a politically isolationist Republic of free citizens, the United States has become a fascist empire, able to invade, occupy, or completely eliminate other nations in blitzkrieg at the whim of a single individual. While most other current presidential candidates have supported these illegal and immoral policies, or at least in principle would use such illegal power under certain circumstances, Ron Paul is one of the few who has always in principle and practice been opposed (eg the Conquest of Iraq).

Through the "War on Drugs," a war against its own populace, their property, and freedom itself, the United States Government manifestly defecates upon the Enlightenment principles upon which it was founded and the cannabis paper upon which it was written. Any convoluted judicial argument for the legality of such policies should have long ago resulted in the prompt impeachment of any supporting justices and the arrest of any enforcing agents. By continuing to prosecute this crime against humanity, the US Government has undermined its own legitimacy.

As directed in the Constitution, Ron Paul supports States' rights in legislating or enforcing powers not guaranteed to the federal government in the Constitution.

On the Colbert Report where I was exposed to Paul, he supported the elimination of almost every federal agency and administration including United Nations agencies. In the interview, he comes off as somewhat of an extremist, yet in fact he is perhaps one of the few sane, thinking, and principled. I have little doubt that if given a proper chance, most of the World would gladly welcome a man such as this to take over the Presidency.

I realise that that the ideas asserted in this post probably do more to paint both Paul and myself as extremists than anything else, but I encourage readers to watch the Google interview and decide for themselves what the best course would be for the United States to follow.

2007-07-11

Love and Castration

I have always found it bizarre that people profess their love for their pets, treating them in many respects better than fellow humans, yet castrate these beloved animals as a matter of course. In my view, castration is a vile mutilation and an extreme violation of a creature's dignity. An animal that requires castration for the purposes of taming perhaps should not be kept as a pet in the first place. Clearly there is a need to control population. Less invasive and potentially reversible measures such as vasectomies are more humane but rarely used alternatives.

Once again, technology comes to our rescue, allowing us to be more civilised. A new drug has been released in Australia which limits both sperm and testosterone production for several months thus fulfilling the targeted aspects of castration whilst preserving dignity and reversibility. There is an argument to be made for administering this to some people.

2007-07-06

Photosynth

Microsoft has an impressive 3D photo viewing and analysis software, Photosynth, currently under development. A presentation from TED2007. Via Crooked Timber.

2007-07-05

Portable Phones

From Freakonomics:
David Pogue of the New York Times points out that, in the midst of last week’s iPhone mania, most of us missed T-Mobile’s announcement of an innovative new system in which, under a certain plan, all calls made within range of a Wi-Fi wireless network are free.
The new T-Mobile cellular/VoIP WiFi crossover is the real smart-phone feature consumers should be demanding. The iPhone could have this capacity through a software upgrade, and only in implementing this feature along with opening up to other carriers, greater plan flexibility, and faster data networks would their elegantly designed product be truly compelling. Until then, I am holding out.

2007-07-04

Hardware Recommendation: Addonics Diamond

The Addonics Diamond hard drive kit offers the highest quality external enclosure available for SATA drives. An optional 5.25" 'Mobile Rack' component allows the enclosure to slide seamlessly into a tower or server even as part of a hot-swappable RAID. As stated on their website, this drive kit makes any SATA drive into a portable data store. The kit works modularly to allow for USB, SATA, eSATA, IDE, or SCSI connexion. Given the quality construction and impressive flexibility, the Addonics Diamond kit is well worth the price.

2007-07-02

The Least Among Us

Niall Ferguson, a history author, journalist, and Harvard professor, has a well written review of three new books on African Development politics and economics. I will add them to the list of things to read. Eliminating disease and poverty are the two biggest moral imperatives for the developed world. Nowhere are those problems more dire than sub-Saharan Africa.

2007-06-30

Google Reader

I have long been an avid user of the Google Personalised Page, iGoogle as mentioned frequently. I have loaded it up with scores of RSS feeds and spend too much time on it. I have known for a while about Google Reader, but never preferred it over iGoogle. Recently though I have been converted, at least for blogs and magazines that update less than five posts per day. High frequency news sites such as the NY Times are better on iGoogle since they clutter the Reader. One of the nice features of Google Reader is the Shared Items which has been posted as a Gadget on the right side of this blog. It has its own syndication too.

*Update* Google Operating System also informs us of a powerful feature of Google Reader to reconstruct feed history not even available on the original site.

2007-06-29

Gawking at Google Maps

I am absolutely blown away by the new dynamic route adjustment feature of Google Maps. This is years ahead of what I would have expected.

GWT

As announced in November, I have spent significant time this year programming fairly advanced webpages using the Google Web Toolkit. The toolkit was released spring of 2006. It features not a Java wrapper for Javascript as previously stated, but rather a full compiler which translates Java code resembling the Swing graphical interface package to pure Javascript. Google currently uses the toolkit to make services such as Google Groups and Picasa Web Albums although some of their most sophisticated services such as Gmail, iGoogle, and Docs and Spreadsheets still relies on low level Javascript.

I Cringely recently predicted that Javascript toolkits, especially GWT, would become the standard not just for web development, but especially and more immediately for applications designed to run securely on mobile devices such as the iPhone. Apple's recent move to open Safari to Windows (especially in a very broken condition) was a well thought out strategic move to encourage Javascript programmers to begin supporting Apple's proprietary web browser. The GWT connection comes from the fact that Google has put significant effort in ensuring that GWT compiled JS functions on all major browsers since most browsers process JS differently and often fail as a result. At the same time, Google is making concessions to Apple in making YouTube videos available in Apple format.

Let me pause and say that for all of its impressive strengths, Apple's critical weakness comes from its obsession with its own closed platforms and formats.

Back to GWT. I am honoured that the GWT news site, onGWT has on my recommendation posted the link to the Cringely article. onGWT is the best site available for the latest news and resources for GWT.

2007-06-22

Blog Recommendation: Future Pundit

Future Pundit (RSS) is in many regards what I wish my blog were. He has an informed perspective on current world developments and understands their implications for the future of technology. Previous generations did not have the luxury of understanding the laws of physics and knowing what technologies would be possible in the future. Today, the physical laws are understood well enough to predict the general range of human technology for several millenia. In my opinion, a great deal more human discussion must focus on the future. Unfortunately, with a world all too focused on petty squables over land, primitive energy resources, and backwards religious belief, we loose sight of the larger picture to the detriment of the emerging future world.

2007-06-19

More on Pigovian Taxes

Steven Levitt of Freakonomics has a great post in favour of further petroleum taxes. Interestingly, he argues that carbon taxation to prevent global warming is less important than reducing congestion and traffic accidents for social welfare. I suspect that he is not properly factoring in the globally felt negative externalities of global warming, but his conclusion is nonetheless correct that at least a tax of USD 1.00 on petroleum is dearly needed.

The most economically efficient solution to the issue of congestion, ie a proper Pigovian tax, would be a system like London's centre where only those vehicles which have paid a daily fee may enter. Their system relies on sophisticated network of cameras and plate recognition software to automatically bill and fine drivers.

Traffic accidents are doubtless a problem which should be seriously considered. I would expect that insurance and lawsuits already captures those externalities, but I do think a tax on vehicle size and weight per mile driven would help to counter the runaway arms race of personal safety that exists in vehicle addicted nations. I am mostly referring to the exorbitant demand for SUVs particularly for women. The individual driver, surrounded by an armada of SUVs piloted by cellphone distracted drivers, is not inclined to purchase a Volkswagon Golf. Thus the rational individual, in the interests of self preservation, chooses to join the backwards collective. This lesson I learned quite vividly on my first visit to Texas.

Nonetheless, a gasoline tax would as Levitt suggests have a beneficial effect on many things including congestion, traffic accidents, climate change and obeisity.

Petroleum and Obeisity

In the United States, a morbidly obese country, rising fuel prices will have a very positive effect on public health. Sustained high energy prices should accelerate the effect owing to increased investment in public transit and more rationally designed cities.

2007-06-18

Film Review: Sicko

The propagandist Michael Moore, perhaps partly responsible for the Bush reelection, has produced a new film. Google's ratings suggest it is being received extremely well. Like all of his work, Sicko appeals much more to emotion than to reason. In seducing the American populace with the conveniences of socialism, he completely whitewashes the costs paid in high taxation, lower economic growth, high unemployment, and reduced technological advancement. Perhaps this is why country after country in Europe has been electing conservative governments; they have learnt the lessons of socialism the hard way. I agree that for poor, unproductive, and unambitious people such as those featured in Sicko, socialism is an absolutely fantastic deal. Goods and services are provided at someone else's expense. Michael Moore would lead one to believe that it is the greed of megacorporations who are responsible for all human suffering in the United States. The problem of unaffordable health care in the United States does not come from competing insurance companies. It is a problem of monopoly.

The American Medical Association, the State union of doctors, maintains medical school quotas and strictly suppresses the licencing of foreign trained doctors. This medical monopoly also maintains the sole ability to prescribe medication. Prescription fraud such as trying to fill a prescription in a higher amount than ordered by a doctor, is a felony punishable by prison sentencing. Doctors tend to prescribe medicines in artificially low quantity so as to encourage more overpriced visits for a refill. On top of this the medicine which is prescribed is sold at a large premium because of the lack of regulation in drug pricing as well as the overprotective intellectual property inherent in the American patent system.

Medical expenses are further inflated by the inordinate costs of doing business. Malpractice insurance is extremely expensive. There is no upper limit to the damages in a medical malpractice suit. Merck was famously ordered to pay USD 253 million for the death of one marathon runner. With 33% cuts, over-educated and overpaid lawyers are all too happy to help recover alleged damages. Lawyers such as John Edwards make fortunes preying upon the misfortunes of others.

There are of course some delightfully positive aspects of the US system. With the supply of doctors kept artificially small, the competition to be one of those doctors is increased so that American doctors, after they have been paid, are some of the best in the world. Maltreated patients do have the recourse to sue. Overprotected intellectual property drives innovation in medicine saving countless lives and improving quality of life in the long term. With drug price regulation in most other countries, America effectively subsidises medicine for the rest of the World.

Unfortunately, Michael Moore does not address any of these real issues. He is long on sob stories and short on understanding. American medicine is no doubt expensive and long overdue for anti-trust and tort reform, but calls for a medical socialist revolution are entirely inappropriate.

2007-06-17

Weather

It took me a while to find a decent website for weather. Weather.com is owned by the weather channel and is mostly spam from what I can see. Sadly, this is where I would often go when I needed some weather information. Intellicast.com on the other hand is a great site. No advertising, global content, and readily-accessible multifactor weather forecasts. If you know of some other good weather sites, by all means share with the group.

2007-06-15

Another Successful SCRAM Jet Test

SCRAM Jet engines offer the potential for up to Mach 15 atmospheric flight. At these speeds, one could fly from Ney York to Syndey in under 2 hours. Satellites could also be launched into orbit much more cheaply with a SCRAM jet than with rockets alone since rockets must carry their oxidiser. Unlike traditional jet engines, SCRAM jets have no moving parts and rely on air compression alone to ignite fuel at very high speeds.

While wind tunnel experiments have shown the potential of SCRAM jets for many years, expensive field tests have been rare but promising. Reuters reports that another successful field test has been carried out over the Australian outback. The experiment results from the collaboration of the Austrialian Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA, the original creator of the Internet, is one of the few truly profitable and effective components of the United States military.

*Update* I have been informed by an esteemed SCRAM Jet research engineer at Cal Tech that depending on fuel, the theoretical maximum speed could be as high as M 25.

2007-06-13

N-tuplets

Humanity has long been plagued with the very difficult task of bearing and birthing children. It is one of the most dangerous periods of life for both mother and child. Complications from this ordeal more often than not resulted in mortality. Today, modern medical science has drastically reduced the probability of death from such complications and has even given fertility hope to many couples who would have been doomed by their own biology never to produce viable offspring. Unfortunately, the innate drive to reproduce has caused many couples to push their own biology to the limit of medical science in trying to produce offspring. Once impregnated through a cocktail of drugs, hormones and possibly invasive procedures sometimes involving third parties as donors or hosts, couples will then decide to try to simultaneously bring multiple babies to term even as many as 7 at a time. If this is not a crime against those children and a crime against nature then I do not know what is. The children tend to be born prematurely and are at extreme risk through their entire development process. The most bizarre part is that these couples will not terminate some of the pregnancies for the good of the rest because of their religious hang-ups. I can appreciate an anti-abortionist position, but for a woman to undergo such unnatural and dangerous procedures and then claim a profound respect for the dignity of human life is well beyond my comprehension.

When technology is sufficiently advanced, one can more seriously consider a Brave New World in which children are grown by the hundreds in artificial wombs. In such a scenario, there would presumably be little danger to the child's safety or development. A person could then spawn as many genetically similar children as they had desire and means to support.

Here on early 21st Century Earth, upright, large brained humans cannot reproduce in litters. Reproductive technologies are very fresh and need not be used lightly to satisfy some perverted fantasy or primitive impulse. There are literally millions of unwanted or orphaned children around the world. Infertile parents should consider adoption. I propose that carrying greater than 3 unnaturally conceived children simultaneously to term should be criminally prosecuted or prohibitively taxed. Society might also consider removing the children from those households since clearly such parents are unfit.

2007-06-06

Google Maps

I am frequently puzzled when I hear of people who still use MapQuest. MapQuest was indeed useful in the late '90s during the Dot Com era. Today Google Maps is the way to go. They recently rolled out a new feature, Street View.

Surface Computing

Popular Mechanics has an impressive demonstration of new human-computer interaction technology being developed with Microsoft.

Green Energy Technology

Last Friday, on NPR Science Friday, two developers of clean energy technology were interviewed.

Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University, presented technology which could relatively cheaply sequester carbon directly from the atmosphere. His breakthrough was not so much in the basic principle, but in significantly reducing the cost. He believes that very soon the CO2 from a litre of petroleum could be sequestered for merely an additional USD 0.07 per litre. Emissions could be sequestered into sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or calcium carbonate (chalk, antacid).

Meanwhile, Jerry Woodall a very accomplished inventor at Perdue University has developed a simple means of using aluminum, gallium, and water to generate hydrogen. His proposed aluminum cycle could be a very useful way to allow hydrogen fuel portability at about 40% energy efficiency. The hydrogen could then be used in fuel cells or if necessary, combusted.

Today from New Scientist: University of Utah scientists have developed a means of recovering waste heat energy through an acoustic heat engine which converts heat to sound to electricity also at about 40% efficiency. One cubic centimetre of these small devices could recover about 1 W of power.

2007-06-04

Andrew Sullivan

Notes from the Underground is back with an excellent review of Andrew Sullivan's new book. While I have always admired Sullivan's intellect, eloquence and 'eclectic' background, I lost most respect for him when I saw him transition from classical conservative thinker to Neoconservative attack dog. He became in my mind one of the most pernicious types of people alive today akin to wartime National Socialist supporters, and his reverence for the (divine) Lincoln makes him even more suspect. Nonetheless, he is yet worthy of some attention. His blog is the Daily Dish.

Another Reason Not to Smoke

If you are still a tobacco smoker, you may wish to take note of a new study out of Hellas, the country where tobacco consumption AVERAGES one pack per day per person making it the highest per capita. Tobacco absorbs large quantities of radionuclides making the deadly smoke not just chemically harmful, but also radioactive.

2007-06-03

Google Compound Gadget

My readers will know how useful I find the Google Personalised Page which has been poorly renamed iGoogle. A Compound Gadget has been released which is very useful for decluttering the personalised page into tabbed gadgets. I will soon be reposting all the RSS and XML feeds to which I link on my own personalised page.

The Mandelbrot Set

Fractals - The Colours of Infinity is an excellent documentary on fractal geometry with particular regard to the Mandelbrot Set which is generated by iterating: fc(z) <-> z^2 + c. More can be learned from Wikipedia. The afore linked documentary is narrated by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. It features colour cycling of the Mandelbrot Set which result in stunningly beautiful visualisations of the infinite complexity and repetitive order inherent to this particular fractal at any magnification. Indeed, one begins to appreciate that the geometry of the natural world is seemingly a special case of fractal geometry.

Politics and US Healthcare

As I have mentioned before, the biggest flaw I see in the current US system is the problem of the limited supply from the American Medical Association doctor's labour union. This aside, I would like to draw attention to Brad DeLong's FT opinion article endorsing Barak Obama's proposed healthcare "solution." Obama should be applauded for having the courage to announce such a detailed proposal which exposes him to political attacks.

2007-06-02

DNA Discoverer has Personal Genome Sequenced

Nobel laureate James Waston, together with Francis Crick, discovered the double helix structure of DNA along with the mechanism by which it is the medium for Genetic information. The entire human genome was sequenced only 4 years ago as a large collaborative effort costing USD 3 billion over 13 years. Gene sequencing technology, like computing is advancing exponentially such that in 60 days Watson's genome was sequenced for under USD 1 million. A genome's information will fit on a single DVD.

Watson is an active proponent of human genetic engineering, what could be termed "eugenics." While many support the idea of genetic therapy to cure or prevent disease, Watson goes farther, supporting genetic engineering even for cosmetic purposes. This issue will more and more come to the forefront of public policy and debate, hopefully even overshadowing the Anna Nicole Smith's baby daddy controversy or Paris Hilton's jail sentencing. I fully support reproductive freedom with the limits that parents are taxed for bringing new people into the world (perhaps progressively) and parents and doctors punished if their genetic or fertility experiments result in undue or unnatural human suffering. The unfortunate result of this may be that the human genome experiences fads where some celebrity's genes become very quickly overrepresented in the population, but overall I expect people will wish to preserve large sections of their own genome in the next generation while tweaking out negative carcinogenic genes and aiming for healthy life extension in the next generation. Meanwhile the cult of the "organic" will come to encompass the human population where a natural and more diseased segment of the population will remain reproductively exclusive. If I had the choice and the technology were sufficiently developed so as to be well understood and extremely reliable, my offspring would probably not be organic. To quote Watson, "If every girl were beautiful, I think it would be great!"

Personal genome sequencing has more immediate implications for health care, preventative medicine, insurance, and medical economics, but that is a topic for another time.

2007-05-30

Global Peace Index

The Economist Intelligence Unit together with several other think tanks has compiled a Global Peace Index by country. Norway ranks first, while the United States ranks 96th and its protectorates Israel and Iraq rank 119 and 121 respectively filling the bottom tier. BBC article.

2007-05-16

Mathematica 6.0

Mathematica, the child of Stephen Wolfram, is a Kernel and a Development package and a symbolic language for mathematical evaluation and manipulation. Beyond its core functionality, Mathematica has a vast function library which allows it to be tied in or to glue together many other platforms and languages including Matlab, C++, Python, Java and .Net. A skilled Mathematica programmer can develop extremely complex and sophisticated programmes with ease. Unfortunately, being a closed source platform which retails for around 2000 USD per copy, it remains a niche product for academics and some quantitative professionals. Mathematica 6.0 was recently released as announced by /. I have had the pleasure to use Mma 6.0 and I have been extremely impressed with the the upgrade. Improvements include text coloration for different language types which makes reading the code far easier as well as the new Dynamic evaluation function which allows for greater flexibility in realtime evaluation and animation. Since Mma relies only on a serial number for activation and every previous version of Mathematica was easily cracked, I assume Mathematica 6.0 will soon become common in underground circles.

2007-05-14

Economic Thinking vs. Evolutionary Thinking

Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources in the production and consumption of goods and services. Mankind has finally entered a stage where the economy tends to increase at a positive rate owing to scientific understanding and the mastery of the physical world through technology. If humanity survives past its current critical phase (Type 0), the economic expansion will likely continue until the energy of the nearby galaxies has been exhausted and the Universe gradually begins to die a particle death.

During large periods of human evolution such was not the case. Resources and technology were stagnant. One person's average gain was another's average loss. Accepting immigrants into the community or yielding resources to a nearby tribe could have been an existential threat to a population's genetic prevalence. Thus humans have evolved with an inherent suspicion of outsiders and reluctance to trade with them. It works well as an evolutionary survival strategy on the African forest or Savannah, but is a very poor strategy for expanding wealth and resources in a positive-sum, technologically advancing civilisation. Without education to overcome the protectionist genetic instincts of primitive man or similar memetic cultural exclusivity, politics and laws end up restricting trade and immigration in very unproductive and uncooperative ways to the detriment of everyone.

Paul Rubin has written a very interesting piece about this. Via Mankiw.

2007-05-10

Euro Monetary Policy

Quite unlike the possibilities for future private currencies, I find traditional governmental monetary policy generally uninteresting. The 20th Century taught us that the most economically and politically stable monetary policy is one in which money supply and interest rates are gently tweaked only to maintain price stability. The US Federal Reserve and the now the ECB have held to this fairly well thus making them the World's reserve currency. A stable money supply also promotes economic activity with participants confident in the future value of their long term contracts.

Price stability really is a one-size fits all solution. Countless models have been able to show circumstances where deviation from this policy could be beneficial. Despite the painful inflationary lessons many countries learned in the last century, there are always some who wish to manipulate the money supply to take advantage of the short term benefits of the Phillips Curve in lowering the rate of unemployment. Sarkozy has been among those calling for monetary policy to target job creation rather than price stability. For the specific case of France, Sarkozy's suggestion likely would be a net benefit since their labour market is so completely bureaucratic, over-regulated and backwards. Some inflation would act like a lubricant on rusted metal. Tyler Cowen explains it a bit better. However, France's focus really should be on firing its State employees, eliminating labour market regulations, and cutting back on welfare benefits. Just because inflationary monetary policy would be politically acceptable amelioration in France does not mean the rest of Europa should have to suffer.

2007-05-06

Happy Planet Index

Human Development and quality of life most often comes at the price of environmental destruction. The New Economics Foundation's HPI makes a fair attempt to rank different countries on the basis of human quality of life or happy human years per environmental footprint. Vanuatu has the highest HPI. Maximising measures such as these rather than artificial production or velocity measures such as GDP should be the aim of economists and policymakers.

2007-05-05

09*F9*11*02*9D*74*E3*5B*D8*41*56*C5*63*56*88*C0

The title to this blog is allegedly a key to the new HD DVD encryption. Previous Post. Since its publication has caused great controversy, I thought I would help raise awareness on the issue. I am curious to see if the title of this post elicits a "Cease and Desist" response from AACS or a forced takedown from Google.

Incidentally, I believe I previously posted about the cracking of the Blue Ray format, but now that post seems to be missing. I believe that it was removed by Google without my consent or notification. I cannot blame them for avoiding any potential legal exposure, but notification at least would be appreciated.

Limiting users access to media content is at best difficult. Anything which must ultimately be decoded into a form suitable for human comprehension is extremely easy to crack, replicate, or circumvent. Intellectual Property is in general overprotected by International law (and especially US law) beyond a socially beneficial level. In light of tecnological advances, a newer subscription/taxation/library model for content remuneration bolstered by demand measurement mechanisms would be far fairer and more effective than the current model of imposed artificial monopolies over otherwise free, infinitely reproducable media.

2007-05-04

Simon Schama

Simon Schama, one of the great public intellectuals of our time, masterfully delivers his erudite historical and artistic knowledge and appreciation through his books and documentaries. His latest documentary, 'The Power of Art,' is now available on MVGroup. One of these episodes focuses on Mark Rothko's Seagram Murals which I was pleasantly surprised to encounter recently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

'Rough Crossings,' Schama's historical book and documentary relates the story of the establishment of Freetown in modern Sierra Leone. For me, currently mired in a United States of "support our troops" and "spread freedom and democracy" it was particularly poignant to remember that the success of the American Revolution meant more slavery. The founders of Freetown had to struggle immensely and flee from the States to Canada and finally to the jungles of Sierra Leone just to have a remote chance at a "free" and democratic existence. Refugees from American slavery, these slaves in fact experienced the brief 18th century experiment in 'British Freedom.' While there is a valuable mythology of the Founding Fathers and the story of 'American Freedom,' the story of the settlers of Freetown greatly enriches the understanding of 'American Freedom,' particularly in the context of African-American History.

Finally, Schama's 15 part 'History of Britain' stands as his best work to date.

*Update: Regarding Schama's book, 'Rough Crossings,' on his book tour, Schama gives two superb lectures at the Google Mountain View Campus. Lecture 1, YouTube as part of the Authors@Google programme. Lecture 2, Google Video. Both Highly Recommended!

Fascism

Laws and Principles are meaningless when blatantly violated by those responsible for upholding them. Granting a general amnesty to those who were complicit in violating those laws and principles should be considered with the greatest sobriety. Such actions should not be permitted to reinforce a corrupt regime or to whitewash their misdeeds and those of their traitorous collaborators. More often than not, the proper response is to overthrow the corrupt authority and hold their allies to account. Too many people have sacrificed too much in support of those principles to casually permit their debasement.

2007-05-02

Allowing the Extinction of Species

Under the Bush Administration's "interpretation" of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, species need only be listed as endangered whose existence is threatened in its current viable range, not its traditional range. So far 38 prominent scientists have signed a letter of protest.

Larry Summers on Climate Change

Finally, the Global Warming debate is hotting up. Larry Summers begins to call for practical solutions to the crisis in his FT column. The first in a series I presume.

Via DeLong.

2007-05-01

Dell and Linux Take a Step Forward

Dell will begin shipping their computers with Ubuntu Linux installed. This is a great step forward for the OS since it will be well supported now by a major hardware vendor. I recently tried to convert my system to Linux, but I ran into some problems because I could not get my video card to function properly. Meanwhile, M$'s lasts advantage is as a former monopolist, they support almost all hardware, or to put another way, almost all hardware supports M$.

Dell is in a unique position to reassert its dominance in the hardware arena while at the same time lowering its variable costs by supporting free software. Dell should be aiming to better assert themselves into peripheral devices such as TVs and DVRs which also could be manufactured cheaply and run Linux (ie MythTV). They ought to be positioning themselves to partner with an Apple or a Google to produce high quality affordable computers with top notch user friendly software and once and for all crush the M$ abomination.

Unfortunately, the executives at Dell seem to be too ensconced in their traditional way of doing business and loathe to adopt or experiment with new ideas. They certainly cannot risk alienating M$ too much and loosing their lucrative OEM status but they should at the same time recognise that M$ is the Titanic and they had better have a lifeboat secured.

2007-04-26

WTF CNN?

Following up my rant about television news, I find CNN a worthless platform for infotainment. With so much trouble in the World they will not report, I find their assertion of being a news organisation offensive. It is not even funny, typically relying upon shock, fear, and anger as its hook to sell adverts. I question Google's default link to CNN on their personalised page. If infotainment is what you seek, at least watch Colbert or read the Onion before you turn on CNN. WTF CNN seems like a great blog elucidating the absurdity of CNN and is at least distilled comedic infotainment. Video of Jon Stewart's legendary appearance on CNN's Crossfire.

Thanks to Meredith for the link.

Wealth and Efficiency at the Cost of Privacy

The Economist has an article about the coming wireless revolution. Gradually, wireless-enabled microchips will be embedded in almost everything that is manufactured turning our cities into giant sensor nets. The benefits of this will be unprecedented, but so will the ability for even the average person to spy on almost anything. It is Little Brother rather than Big Brother who will be the menace of the 21st Century. I believe that no matter what the laws are, in future privacy will be all but eliminated. People will do well to live their lives with this in mind.

2007-04-24

Debating the Future

This BBC article concerns a debate being held by London's Science Museum regarding the future impact robotics will play in our lives and how liability for robot behaviour and mistakes will be determined. Addressing future technological impact in a mature way is healthy for our society. It allows us to look forward, to consider and shape the world and society in which we actually want to live. Rather than Anna Nicole's baby daddy, at such a critical point in human evolution, society should be considering privacy rights, reproductive regulation, genetic engineering, and particularly environmental protection. Simply put: long term welfare.

Theoretical Physicist, Michio Kaku, concluding 'Parallel Worlds':
The generation now alive is perhaps the most important generation of humans ever to walk the Earth. Unlike previous generations, we hold in our hands the future destiny of our species, whether we soar into fulfilling our promise as a type I civilization or fall into the abyss of chaos, pollution, and war. Decisions made by us will reverberate throughout this century. How we resolve global wars, proliferating nuclear weapons, and sectarian and ethnic strife will either lay or destroy the foundations of a type I civilization. Perhaps the purpose and meaning of the current generation are to make sure that the transition to a type I civilization is a smooth one. The choice is ours. This is the legacy of the generation now alive. This is our destiny.

Personally, I have no fear of robotics, though I expect to be held completely liable for any damages my machines may one day cause. I welcome the day that machines exceed my own intelligence and the day that people merge themselves with intelligent or even spiritual machines.

Social Choice and Voting Systems

The Economist's blog, Free Exchange, has a post relating the characteristics of the French election to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, (pdf proof) from Kenneth Arrow's 'A Difficulty in the Concept of Social Welfare,' The Journal of Political Economy, Volume 58, Issue 4 (August, 1950), pp. 328–346. This and his more comprehensive book 'Social Choice and Individual Values' won him the Nobel Prize in 1972. The theorem explains the inefficiency of voting systems with more than two candidates and more than one voter in determining the one candidate who is the social optimum. It can be shown that in some voting scenarios, the aggregate outcome can produce a result which is below the social optimum. In the case of France, François Bayrou was the clear social optimum, but in only a two round election system, the results were polarised in the first round between Ségozy and Sarkolène as Jean-Marie Le Pen called them. The United States also has a particularly inefficient selection system where geographic area and party affiliation vote on a candidate in the primaries, then geographic areas vote again for a president who is elected then by several hundred members of the Electoral College. For example, Albert Gore won the popular election but ultimately lost the election in the Electoral College. The inefficiency of voting systems can also be exacerbated or exploited as in Tom Delay's infamous Tejas redistricting of 2003.

It should be stated that a voting system based on modern information technology could easily be far superior to all of the 18th Century systems currently in use.

2007-04-18

The Economics of Climate Change

In fall 2006, the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change,a British government commissioned study, was released. Most scientific or economic criticisms have said that the review did not go far enough in assessing the effect of climate change, although it did present extremely stark warnings for the future. Martin Weitzman has a upcoming book review of the Stern Review in the upcoming Journal of Economic Literature. Brad DeLong also has a great post on this topic. Combined with UN reports on climate change, the evidence for highly destructive global climate change is conclusive and undeniable. The solutions to this crisis are clear, and yet the corruption and inefficiency of the geopolitical system allows the perpetuation of such egregious harm to life on Earth and human well being. How and when will it end?

2007-04-17

Quantifiable Advantages of a Large City

An article in Scientific American pointed me to an interesting article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From SciAm:
"This is a fascinating paper that quantitatively explores the complex interactions between urbanization, sustainability and social innovation...Insights, such as those presented in this paper, will help guide our collective choices as the pace of socioecological change accelerates."

-Thomas Parris

2007-04-14

2007-04-10

Privatised Currency

Introductory Economics teaches that there are 3 fundamental properties of money: divisibility, transferability, and storing of value. Traditionally, various commodities which were rare, small, and relatively indestructible such as precious metals were the dominant currency or at least backed the value of dominant currencies. As governments became more stable and dominant in people's lives in the last two centuries, they were able to abandon all commodity backing of their treasury notes whilst letting currencies stand on their own merit as stores of value. This served to further governments grip over its populace by permitting enormous macroscopic control over wealth, interest rates, and inflation in the economy for good or ill.

We are now entering the information age where anyone may be able to create their own effective "virtual" currencies through modern technology. This soon will allow encrypted and anonymous transactions which will effectively transfer value beneath the radar of government. Governments will try to suppress this activity, but ultimately currency simply represents information and the preservation of information is a law of physics. With satellite internet available in a wristwatch, who will possibly be able to destroy the flow of information? Currency is an important example of the gradual inevitable decline in power and authority of governments and the rise of the multinational corporations as the dominant world powers of the future. After all, the modern system of Nation-States is an idea less than 200 years old, having been created at the Congress of Vienna. It will pass, like all previous forms of rule and diplomacy, into mere history texts.

The currencies of the near future will be varied, exchangeable, customised to individual financial needs and desires, and backed by a tradable basket of securities. To buy a haircut, you could be paying with shares of IBM and GOOG whilst the barber is receiving credit towards his new telescreen and futures contracts on organic wheat. I must thank David Friedman for first sharing this revelation with me in his book 'The Machinery of Freedom.'

This post was prompted by this WSJ article describing the current "virtual" currency, QQ, now being suppressed in Zhong Guo for doing just what I have described, undermining the legitimacy of the Yuan. As with other forms of information oppression, Zhong Guo is doomed to fail.

Never Slap the Gift Donkey

A good friend of mine has a new blog, 'Never Slap the Gift Donkey.' (feed) It promises to be completely random, and always entertaining.

Architectural Blog

Following up on de Botton, since architecture is one of my passive interests, I have begun following '[The] Daily Dose of Architecture' blog. Architecture and more generally urban planning are often ignored but extremely important subjects. Like the natural world, changes in our artificially constructed world tends to change gradually, making it easy to ignore the big picture. Meanwhile their real impact on our lives, though difficult to quantify, is at least equivalent to most other factors. Living in the United States, I am daily confronted by congestion, sprawl, cheap construction, and shameful architectural design and urban planning. Bob Marley (discography) rightly referred to the modern cities of Babylon as "Concrete Jungles." Americans especially have allowed their lives to become dominated by the illusory convenience, comfort, and sexiness of their automobiles. In so doing, they have sacrificed their society, economy, environment, and quality of life. Now many emerging economies are in danger of making the same mistakes. Just as travel enriches us by exposing us to new and varied cultures, attitudes, and lifestyles, constant exposure and reminders of new architectural ideas can similarly enrich our lives, foster creativity, and help redirect our long term thinking to a forward, positive direction.

Please feel free to recommend other quality sites.

Alain de Botton

Son of a wealthy Swiss banker and a Cambridge scholar of philosophy, literature, and architecture, Alain de Botton has produced several documentary series focusing on how an understanding of philosophy, conscious architectural design, or approach to travel can significantly improve one's life. Breaking down trends in our modern Western lives to their simplest terms, de Botton skillfully calls our ambitions, attitudes, and decisions into question by merely stating the obvious while doing homage to great thinkers of the past.

Perfect Home
Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness
Art of Travel
Status Anxiety
How Proust Can Change Your Life

2007-04-04

LEDs

A FT article about the development of the Blue LED, which makes possible white LEDs. This technology is set to vastly reduce world energy consumption and improve quality of life. Note the willingness of some corporations to completely screw employees that have made them billions of dollars for extremely little pay. Yet another reason to have a significant ownership or partnership interest in your company.

Progress in Environmental Protection

No thanks to Republican appointed Supreme Court justices, the Supreme Court ruled April 2 that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate the emissions of greenhouse gasses. Enforcement of this obligation will still be an uphill battle with Republicans controlling the Presidency, but the precedent of this decision could have positive lasting consequences. The dissenting viewpoint of the Republican judges that this type of ruling exceeds the limited authority of the courts in a democratic society if anything undermines the legal authority of the Constitution of the United States itself. How can the Supreme Court have no authority to rule on the necessity to regulate a pollutant which exacerbates a mass extinction event? NY Times opinion.

2007-03-30

Starting Your Own Business

For anyone who has ever thought about starting their own business, this essay by Paul Graham may be encouraging. I am among many people I know who have started a business. Most of them have not yet acheived great success and even if it has to be a part time gig at first, it is all still worth it for the experience alone. If you can do it full time and make good money, tant mieux. Working at a start-up is also much better in terms of setting your own schedule. As such, the BBC found that flexible hours were the most valuable job benefit.

2007-03-29

Tax Reform in Sverige

In both a symbolic and truly effective move, the Swedish government plans to eliminate the wealth tax which encourages successful Swedes to shelter their money in other countries, or move entirely as in the case of Johnny Hallyday from France. In a world of capital mobility, this can only be a positive move for the Swedish economy.

Quote of the Day: 2007-03-29

"Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles."

- George Jean Nathan

2007-03-22

Adam Curtis Documentaries

Adam Curtis, creator of 'The Power of Nightmares' has produced several documentary series about the political, economic, and psychological forces driving Western society. UKNova has a torrent for a collection of his series. His new series, 'The Trap: What Happened to our Dreams of Freedom' is currently airing in the UK. It can be accessed on MVGroup.

School Vouchers

School vouchers is an idea which I first heard proposed by Milton Friedman in 1962 in 'Capitalism and Freedom.' The idea is a public good with positive externalities and therefore needs subsidy. However, rather than a limited and uncompetitive system of public schooling, education should be subsidised as vouchers which can be applied to private or public education. Especially in the United States, the educational system is completely broken. Public schools are funded by neighbourhoods, which result in well funded and decent public school in rich school districts, and absolutely abysmal prison-like schools in poorer areas. The problems are compounded by teachers unions which block the firing of incompetent teachers and support the interests of established teachers instead of students' education. Even George Bush campaigned for president by supporting school vouchers, but as with most of his campaign promises, they had very little to do with his actual policies. Having attended private school and realising their enormous superiority over their public counterparts, I have always supported the idea of school vouchers. If education should be subsidised at all, then private schooling should be accessible by anyone who is accepted, not just the wealthy. Financial limitations on access to education serve only to reinforce class differences, reduce competitiveness of the public schools, distort real estate markets, and dampen long run productivity of the economy.

Tyler Cowen on vouchers.

2007-03-20

US Department of Transportation: Not Completely Worthless

The Department of Transportation has tentatively approved Virgin America as a new domestic United States carrier allowing renewed life and competition into this overprotected and stagnant industry.

I have posted before on this story. Thank you to everyone who petitioned the DoT to achieve this result.

Home Ownership and Unemployment

Via Mankiw again, I have learned something I never before considered. Home ownership, by reducing geographic mobility, greatly increases unemployment. Of course! On the other hand, it is important to remember that owning a home gives strong incentive to improving it, while renting has almost no such incentives. Given the overwhelming amount of wealth tied up in real estate and the externalities of neighbourhood effects, the unemployment factor cannot be taken at face value to completely demonise home ownership subsidies.

Freedom of the Press

I had a discussion recently with a friend regarding sensationalistic television news stories in the United States and what it says about our society in general. The discussion was provoked by a local Bay Area television news story which targeted the fears and frustrations of drivers concerning high gasoline prices in California. Rather than addressing the root causes of rising petroleum price or the strong economic arguments behind high consumption taxes on fossil fuels, the story instead targeted the anger and frustration of lower-income, uninformed drivers.

I have almost completely given up consuming television news media, but these stories get to the heart of the failure of modern American "democracy". The founders of the United States realised that freedom of the press and more abstractly, freedom of information, was fundamental to the proper functioning of a representative republic where the will of the masses translates ultimately into political policy and law. Unfortunately, the capitalist environment in which this "free press" operates, has transformed mass media into either infotainment, sensationalism, or fear-mongering. The purpose is simply to sell advertising by any psychological technique necessary to attract viewership and boost ratings. A society whose press is controlled by commercial interests is arguably as bad as or worse than one with governmental controls over the dissemination of information. The same distortions and manipulations are possible: media-driven public support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq proves the point.

The makers of the gasoline price stories are probably reasonably intelligent people of above average education. They likely understand that raising gasoline prices and especially raising prices through taxation are extremely beneficial overall to the global economy and environment. However, the stories lament high gasoline taxes, claiming they are an injustice. Ignoring economists or sensible policy makers who might actually enlighten the public, they focus on the petty frustrations of gasoline consumers of low education and attempt to elicit similar anxieties in the viewer and thereby making the viewer more likely to sit through the commercial. The wider repercussions of misinforming the public are of no concern to the television producers. En masse, people are controlled by fear, not responsibility. Their consumption of information and their political reactions will follow the same overall trend.

As a college student exploring the ideas of libertarianism, one of the strongest arguments I found for maintaining a government paternalistic presence in the media was the manifestly brilliant quality of BBC, PBS, NPR and other publicly sponsored media in stark contrast to the base intellectual standards and low overall quality of commercially driven and advertisement interrupted media. While a high value should be placed on freedom and choice, it should not completely supersede pragmatism, efficiency, and social progress.

Mankiw on Friedman on Global Warming

David Friedman, wary of ever expanding government, expresses caution for the seemingly obvious imposition of a Pigovian carbon tax. Greg Mankiw gives an excellent response to Friedman's slippery slope argument, citing his father, the legendary Milton, as a supporting argument.

2007-03-19

More on Virtual Machines

The new version of Parallels for Mac has a great new view called 'Coherence.' Windows and the Mac OS can be used as a single integrated environment with both the Windows taskbar and Apple Dock and Menubar accessible simultaneously. Additionally, the Apple Doc now contains all the programmes running within Windows as well as OSX. With a click of the mouse, the Windows or OSX desktops are brought to the front and accessible. One may easily drag and drop files between the Mac and Windows file systems as well. This software greatly increases the value, accessibility, and productivity of both the Mac OSX and M$ Windows desktops.

Another virtualisation software, VMWare, can run a virtual OS from a separate bootable partition.

2007-03-18

The End of Stargate

Stargate SG-1 was one of the funniest and consistently well made science fiction shows ever made. Indeed, 10 years also makes it one of the longest running. It started to decline in the 8th season with the gradual exit of Richard Dean Anderson (aka MacGuyver) from the show yet still held up reasonably well with the other core characters and the absorption of the actors from the failed Farscape series. I recently finished watching the final episode of this enjoyable show. A collection of all the episodes is available here in high quality formats.

Google Talk Gadget

While as I have stated before, Google should provide secure encryption for their Instant Messaging and voice link communications, they have taken a giant step forward with the new Google Talk Gadget for the Google personalised page or other Google Gadget capable sites.

2007-03-07

Caloric Restriction versus Obesity

This is my response to David Friedman's thought that a parent who does not enforce a Calorie Restricting diet (ie provides a standard diet) on their children is nearly as unfit a parent as one who overfeeds their children because in both cases lifespan is being shortened.