Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Right on New York Times Editorial Staff

The New York Times editorial team wrote about the Grokster Supreme Court case and hit the nail on the head.

But when the Supreme Court takes up the issue this week, we hope it considers another party to the dispute: individual creators of music, movies and books, who need to keep getting paid if they are going to keep creating. If their work is suddenly made "free," all of society is likely to suffer.

Movies, music and books require investments of money and time. If their creators cannot make money from them, many will be unwilling or unable to keep producing. Or they may have to finance their work in troubling ways, like by building in product placements or taking money from donors with agendas.
How right the New York Times is. Just imagine what would have happened to the New York Times if the internet suddenly made their newspaper freely distributable over the internet. If people could just "download" NY Times articles for free how could they ever pay their reporters? Just imagine being able to email NY Times content to another person without paying them for their work. Or even worse, think about the websites that could pop up that would quote their work and link to their articles, all without asking people to pay the NY Times a cent. In such a world the NY Times and all other newspapers would obviously not be able to exist. Or they would be forced to "build in product placements or take money from donors with agendas" (or as it is more commonly known: sell advertising) and oh how troubling that would be. Thank goodness none of that ever occurred.

Did they seriously write that without understanding how hilariously ironic their statement was? As I have written before, the NY Times policy of giving away the new news for free and selling the old news makes absolutely no sense. And people would be willing to pay for digital music if the record industry came up with a pricing scheme that made sense for the medium. I personally think subscription based systems like Napster and Real Rhapsody or advertising based ones like Yahoo Launch are the future. Selling music in a piecemeal way made sense in the physical age of music but not in the digital age. Same goes for movies and books (when they finally get a digital book reader to work). The economics totally change when you can distribute digital goods digitally with zero marginal cost vs. digital goods tied to physical goods like books and CDs. To think that the business models won't change as well is completely asinine.


Gold Facts and Figures

I was curious about how much gold there was in the world. I found this site and this site helpful.

1) How many tonnes of mined gold is there in the world? 145,000 tonnes

2) How much tonnes of unmined gold is there in the world? 100,000 tonnes

3) What is the value of all the mined gold in the world? $1.9 Trillion ($425 troy oz * 32,000 troy oz/tonnes * 142,000 tonnes = $1.9 tril)

4) If all the mined gold was put into a cube, how large would it be? A cube of 19.47 meters sides (63' 10") (that seems tiny when you figure 63' is about the height of a 6 story building, so just think of a cube that size and that is all the gold in the world)

5) If we were to evenly distribute the gold between all people in the world how much would there be? 145,000 tonnes / 6 bil people = 24 gm/person or .77 Troy Ounces (31.1035 grammes) or put another way 4 6 gram rings (I think 6 grams is about avg for a ring)

6) How many tons of ore are mined for each ton of gold produced? 303,000 tons. That is a crazy statistic! By far the highest ratio for any metal used.

7) How much ore needs to be mined to find enough gold for a pair of wedding rings? 10x6x6 cubic feet of ore. I think that is about the amount of space that 60 6' tall people would take up. The last two answers come from the book Eco-Economy which is a really good read.

Interesting, huh?


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Elephants Send SMS to Tell Where They Are

An elephant with a GSM/GPS collarCool, tracking elephants with collars that have cellphones with GSM/GPS.

This teasing story said that when elephants start to approach their fields, the farmers are alerted by SMS in time to politely ask the elephants to move over and save their crops. The whole story is told on the Save the Elephants (STE) site. In fact, these conservationists are putting GSM/GPS collars around elephants in some areas of Kenya. And the collared elephants are sending SMS messages directly to farmers' phones. You can even track individual elephants on the Web -- if you're an authorized user.
Ever since I saw the first critter cam I thought that they ought to put tracking devices on animals as well. I was thinking more for whale sharks so that dive boats know exactly where to go. But, elephants that works too. My concern would be that poachers could get a hold of the data as well, but hopefully they have figured out how to handle that as well.

via Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends via Engadget


Vice Fund Has Its Virtues

I have been wondering if you should expect socially responsible funds to do better than average because the same values that make companies socially responsible also make them good well run companies. Or should you expect that they return less than average because there are extra expenses that go along with being socially responsible. Score one for the later.

Dan Ahrens and investors in his Vice Fund, the top performer the past 12 months among growth-stock mutual funds with less than $500 million of assets, have been rewarded for pursuing a socially irresponsible strategy. Ahrens targets shares of companies that run casinos, sell beer and cigarettes, and make weapons.

His fund rose nearly 20 percent in the past 12 months (through March 2), the biggest advance of 84 funds tracked by Bloomberg that have less than $500 million of assets and concentrate investments in companies that generate above-average earnings growth.

The performance surpassed the Sierra Club Stock Fund, a leader in the socially responsible category, which gained 6.7 percent.
via Seattle Times


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Cost of Free Parking

We here at Fat Knowledge are raving anti-car-ites. We are also old school economists who believe that when things are free or are paid for by the government it typically leads to overuse. So we were glad to see this article.

Policies that require overconstruction of off-street parking spaces and subsidize on-street parking are fueling higher housing prices, extreme automobile dependence, extravagant energy use, rapid urban sprawl and environmental degradation, said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking."

In 2002, as much as $374 billion was spent nationally to subsidize off-street parking -- roughly as much as the government spent on Medicare or national defense that year, according to the book.

Parking is free for 99 percent of all automobile trips and the average car is parked 95 percent of the time.

There are between three and four parking spaces for every car in the United States, or between 705 million and 940 million spaces. If all U.S. parking spaces were combined into one surface lot, it would cover a land area the size of Connecticut.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Tron Guy

This is an old one, but for those loyal FatKnowledge readers who haven't seen it you are really missing out. Most of us got our dressing up like Tron characters out of our systems when we were 10 years old, but fortunately this dude must have missed that childhood experience.

More hilarious pictures at the Tron Guy website. After posting this site, he became a minor (and I need to stress minor) celebrity when Jimmy Kimmel brought him on his show. You can check out the videos here.


Why You Shouldn't Eat Mexican Before Ice Skating

God, that picture just cracks me up.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Social Security in Other Countries

Dallas Morning News

This was a good article that looked at how Social Security is working in other countries. In a nutshell, not well. Looks at China, Japan, Chile and Sweden. I wish they would have added Singapore. I think their system works pretty well.


More Energy Than All The Oil in The World: Methane Hydrate

I am reading my Scientific American and they are talking about the warming of the arctic region and how it will cause the permafrost to melt, and they casually mention that this warming could release methane hydrate. Oh, and by the way there is more energy held in methane hydrates then all the known oil and natural gas in the world. Wait, back up the bus, what the heck is methane hydrate? And why have I never heard of it?

So I do a little research here. (Oh and by the way he won the award in 2001 not 2002. Geesh, you would think he could at least figure out what year he won a Science in Society writing award.)

Beneath permafrost alone, the resource ranges from 5,000 to 12 million trillion cubic feet (tcf).

For comparison, the United States uses about 22 tcf of natural gas per year, and the global gas resource is about 13,000 tcf. (In geo-speak, "resource" is the amount of a material thought to exist in the Earth; "reserves" can be economically extracted at present. Higher prices make it feasible to spend more for extraction, so reserves in the ground -- not to be confused with reserves in tanks and ships -- reflects the price of the commodity.)

The real bonanza, however, is under the ocean, with a wild estimate ranging from 30,000 to 49 million tcf.

Add it up, and the gas hydrate resource could exceed 60 million trillion cubic feet of gas -- almost 5,000 times the conventional natural gas resource. That number is also 730,000 times annual gas consumption for the globe -- which equaled 82 tcf in 1998.
This graphic shows gas hydrates have twice the carbon as all fossil fuels.

Then I am reading Wired today and by some cosmic coincidence they are writing an article on it as well.
An estimated 200,000 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates exists under the sea, and the Department of Energy has a major research program under way that could result in commercial production starting by 2015.

In cold, high-pressure environments at depths of 1,000 feet and more, individual methane molecules get trapped in ice-like cages of frozen water -- methane hydrates.

When they are brought up from the sea floor, the ice cages fizzle and decompose, releasing the trapped methane. Put a match to the decomposing ice and voilà: Ice that literally burns.

Japanese and Canadian research in the Arctic has proven that economically viable quantities of methane can be obtained from onshore hydrates, he said. While Alaska's land-based Arctic methane hydrates are limited, the amount of offshore marine hydrates there and elsewhere is far greater.
Those are some serious numbers behind the hydrates. If we could economically harvest this it will give the world lots of energy for the future. Of course there are some serious greenhouse gas issues that need to be looked at as well. But definitely something to keep my eye on.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sweet Underwater Photography

This underwater photographer totally rocks. Check out this gallery and this one as well. Some of the best shots I have ever seen in my life.


Every Breath You Take

As readers of Fat Knowledge know, I am a huge fan of continual monitoring devices. I am digging on this LifeShirt.

VivoMetrics, a company based in Ventura, Calif., has fashioned a wearable device that can record vital signs throughout the day and night. Called the LifeShirt, it is a sleeveless spandex garment equipped with an electrocardiogram (ECG) for gauging heart rate and embedded wires for measuring respiration.

The LifeShirt can be outfitted with additional monitoring equipment, including a pulse oximeter for measuring the amount of oxygen in the blood and a throat microphone for determining the frequency of coughing.

By examining the data collected by the device, physicians can determine whether a child has sleep apnea and whether the condition is serious enough to warrant a surgical intervention, such as the removal of the tonsils or adenoids.
I think you could do lots of other cool stuff with this as well. Capturing heart rate, breathing rate you should be able to figure out other stuff as well.
The main advantage of the device is that it can provide researchers with a continuous stream of information about a patient's health. Instead of relying on intermittent tests conducted during office visits, physicians can analyze heart and respiratory rates measured over long periods and use the system's software to pinpoint signs of illness among the reams of data.
I totally love the concept of continual monitoring along with smart software. I think it is only a matter of time (well lots of time like 20-30 years) before everyone is wearing something like this. Adoption curve: soldiers, firemen, professional athletes, sick people then on to "normal" people.
Fire departments in Connecticut and Minnesota have tested LifeShirts in training exercises; worn under the firefighters' flame-retardant suits, the devices can wirelessly transmit data on heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen level and body temperature to officers in a nearby command truck. And the U.S. Army has signed a contract with VivoMetrics to incorporate the company's technology into a system designed to monitor the vital signs of soldiers during battle.
Now we are talking. Wirelessly transmitting data to a central command truck. This would also be cool for professional athletes. Imagine a coach being able to know if a player is being overworked without even having to ask him. Good stuff. Sign me up for one.

via Scienctific American


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Who The Hell is Lakshmi Mittal?

So I am taking a look at the list of the Forbes Riches people and you have your standards in there: Gates, Buffett, the IKEA guy (you don't have to be rich, just smart, easy for him to say), Paul Allen, Ellison and then there is a new #3 richest person in the world: Lakshmi Mittal. Who the hell is that? Turns out he is an Indian steel mogul. Indian steel mogul, what the fuck? I thought the rich people in India were all computer IT dudes. And aren't steel moguls so 19th century?

How did his net worth quadruple going from $6.2 bil to $25 billion in one year? Who is this guy? Turns out Forbes did a little profile on him as well. A big steel merger, more transparency in his company and rising steel prices led to the vast increase. He is living in London, apparently kicking it Russian oligarch style.

His company Mittal had $4 billion in profits last year yet only has a market cap of $25 bil. That PE of 5.3 seems awful low and could go to 10 or 15, especially with another merger or two. That would make Lakshmi the richest man in the world. Lakshmi owns 95% of Mittal which only gives the stock a 5% float. That is a crazy low float, that I would think could lead to big fluctuations but with $1 bil in float maybe that isn't as big of deal as it was with dotcoms.

Anyway, with steel company consolidation occurring and rising demand from China, I think that we are going to be hearing more about Lakshmi occurring in the future.

via NewsFactor Fort Wayne Journal Gazette


Sunday, March 13, 2005

McDonald's Outsourcing Drive-Thru Operators

You just can't make this story up.

McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant chain, is testing the use of remote call centers to handle drive-thru orders in an effort to improve service.

"If you're in L.A. and you hear a person ... with a North Dakota accent taking your order, you'll know what we're up to," McDonald's Chief Executive Officer Jim Skinner said during a presentation to analysts Thursday in New York.
North Dakota accent my ass. If you call up and someone asks you "if you would like fries with that" in an Indian accent then you know that is really happening. Why would you outsource to North Dakota when you can outsource to India? Of course this would raise wonderful moral and ethical questions for those Hindus who don't think we should be grubbing on the cows. If you are working in a call center 10,000 miles away and just taking an order for a double cheese burger is that so wrong?
"You have a professional order taker with strong communications skills whose job is to do nothing but take down orders," said Matthew Paull, the chief financial officer.
A professional order taker? Do you need a college degree for this position? I thought you gave the order taker job to the moron who couldn't handle and of the other positions. What does this say about the American workforce that they can no longer be expected to be able to take down a drive through order correctly? How bad is our education system?

via Seattle PI


Shot Down in a Blaze of Glory

This is so frickin funny.

Remember kids, if you are out re-enacting your favorite Dungeon and Dragons scene, be sure to leave that video camera at home. But, should your friends happen to have such a tape, remixing it in slow mo with a little Bon Jovi is such the right thing to do. MegaDorks.wmv

Original version: ogre-battle.large.mpg

via Boing Boing


Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Brain Drain Myth

You often hear of 3rd world countries that have a "brain drain" where their best and brightest leave for the United States or other rich nations. I argue that if a country is thinking in its best interest it should let (and even encourage) its best and brightest to leave the country. Why do I think this? Lets go through it.

In many cases a person can immigrate to the US and still be able to send more money home then they could if they lived and worked in their home country. By immigrating to the US they are more able to take advantage of their skills and education with the better working environment in the US. The world is best off when people are in situations where they are able to maximize their contributions. A person living in a 3rd world country that doesn't have the ability to do this.

I read the following in an article a while back though I don't remember who wrote it:

In 2002 the US gave $12.9 billion in foreign aid. Foreign workers on the other hand earned at least $20 billion in US that they took back to their homeland in private remittances. For some countries this is larger than their exports and tourism trade. This private "aid" bypasses the sticky fingers of corrupt government and banking officials.
So the workers in the US are still contributing to their mother country.

Most people would still rather live in their country of birth (unless of course you are a Democrat) so if opportunities appear they will want to move back.

In an article in the Washington Post you see this scenario playing out in Ethiopia.
Among Ethiopians, however, many young emigres from the business and professional set are looking to return. This unique situation can be attributed in part to the financial success of Ethiopians in the United States, and in part to a campaign by the government to woo them back.

Last year, Ethiopians in the United States sent home $6 million in remittance money, eclipsing coffee, the country's biggest export, which earned $4 million.

"There is the sentimental pull of home and at the same time a thriving business atmosphere," Kinfe said. "Successful people feel they owe something back to their country. Ethiopians love their culture. They want to come back. They just want to know they can also support their families here."

But officials hope that after the first investors come, doctors, lawyers, educators and other professionals will follow. The government is especially eager to attract those in the medical profession. At present, there are more Ethiopian doctors living in the United States than in Ethiopia.
My 3rd world development plan:

Step 1: Let your best and brightest leave for the US, Europe and developed Asia.

Step 2: Collect remittances from these workers and use the money to improve your country. Meanwhile your best and brightest are working with the world's best and brightest learning the ways of the best companies and academic institutions in the world.

Step 3: Your best and brightest see that their home country has made changes and is committed to progress. The best and brightest determine that they can have a larger impact in their home country (and quite possibly live better) than in the US. They return bringing with them the tricks of the trade that they picked up in the US.


Water and the Las Vegas Strip

George Will has some interesting stats on water for California and neighboring states that depend on the Colorado river.

Today, 30 million people from Denver to Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles and San Diego -- almost a tenth of all Americans -- depend on the (Colorado) river's water. But agriculture sops up 90 percent of it. The sprawl of Phoenix onto agricultural land actually decreases water use.

The Strip --- the portion of Las Vegas Boulevard that has 15 of the world's 20 largest hotels -- features vast fountains, a sea battle between pirate ships and an 8.5-acre lake in front of the Bellagio hotel. However, Mulroy says, The Strip accounts for less than 1 percent of the state's water use -- while producing 60 percent of the state's economy. The average hotel room uses 300 gallons of water a day, but it is all recycled.
I had no idea that hotels recycle their water on the Strip. I wonder how they do it?

via Seattle PI


Chicks and Science

New York Times looks at the improvements women have made in getting degress in the sciences. Pretty amazing really. If you extrapolate those curves it is only a matter of time before all scientists are women. :)


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Rewiring The Body

Medicine is starting to shift from drugs to implants. The cyborgitization of humanity has begun.

Forty-five years ago, doctors successfully implanted a cardiac pacemaker for the first time in the U.S., providing long-term hope for millions of people with heart disease and creating what has become a hugely profitable -- and still fast-growing -- $10 billion-a-year business. Now, electrical therapy may be approaching an historic transition. Using advances in pacemaker technology, researchers and doctors are finding that rapid-fire bursts of low-voltage electricity can alleviate symptoms in an astonishing number of illnesses in many other parts of the human body. Scourges such as depression, post-stroke paralysis, migraines, sleep apnea, angina, obesity, tinnitus, and digestive tract disorders all may be treated with neurostimulators by the end of the decade. If early-stage experiments pan out, Alzheimer's disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, bulimia, and other brain ailments could be next.

Any organ that a nerve can influence -- and that's every organ in the body -- can be affected using this technology," says Dr. Ali R. Rezai, who is director of functional neurosurgery at the Cleveland Clinic. "It's a new era in neurology."

The use of implantable mini-generators is more widespread than you probably think. Already, 190,000 patients are wearing electrodes in their heads to control Parkinson's disease tremors or spinal-cord stimulators to relieve pain or prevent urinary incontinence. Some 30,000 have wires threaded to the vagus nerve in the neck to treat epilepsy, while 60,000 have microtransmitters in the inner ear enabling them to hear. These numbers are likely to grow -- and quickly. One of the most promising devices is a $15,000 neurostimulator for chronic depression from Cyberonics Inc., which the Food & Drug Administration conditionally approved on Feb. 2.
Cool stuff but how the heck are we going to pay for it?
But if only a fraction get an implant, executives at medical-device companies project that overall sales of noncardiac pulse generators should balloon from $1.6 billion today to $10 billion in 10 to 15 years, depending on how quickly the FDA approves new uses.

Nevertheless, as more patients request implants for conditions that drugs can't treat, the creaky health-care system will have to brace itself for yet more financial strain. Today, a patient with migraines might get by on $10 a day for drugs. A neurostimulator, by comparison, typically costs $15,000, or about as much as a heart pacemaker or defibrillator. The total bill can hit $50,000 with doctors' and hospital charges. Equipping just 10% of the estimated 500,000 Americans with epilepsy that drugs can't help could cost $2.5 billion. Even amortized over the average 7 1/2-year life of a device, that $50,000 would cost about $17 a day.
via BusinessWeek Online


India's R&D: Reaching for the Top

Science Magazine interviews Raghunath A. Mashelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research.

In 1926, the distribution of scientific productivity was analyzed by Alfred J. Lotka of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in New York. The result of his investigation, which remains largely valid, was an inverse square law of productivity, by which the number of people producing n papers is inversely proportional to n2. This means that for every 100 authors who produce, say, one paper in a given period of time, there are approximately 100/22, or 25 authors, who produce two papers and one author, who will produce 10 papers. Thirty years later, the same law was found to be applicable to patents.
Interesting. Not sure that number of papers published is the same thing as productivity, ie. it seems like some people publish a lot of crappy papers while some people just publish a couple of very good ones, but interesting way to look at the distribution of talent.
A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme* estimates that 100,000 Indian professionals leave the country every year to take up jobs in the United States. If one considers the potential economic gains, which these exceptionally talented people could have brought to India, one realizes that the economic losses due to this mass migration are enormous.
Not sure I completely agree that there is really that much loss when you consider the expatriated funds sent back and the fact that these people are able to take greater advantage of their talents with better labs and more capital available (though that is changing).
Using the data provided by Sir David King (chief scientific adviser to the UK government) for scientific publications in major, peer-reviewed journals (SCI publications), I calculated the number of journal publications per gross domestic product (GDP) per capita per year. The top three nations were India (31.7), China (23.32), and the United States (7.0).
What is that the "struggling scientist index"? Not sure if it implies lots of good research in India or lots of poverty holding down the GDP per capita.
Multinational companies are locating their R&D resources in India to create proprietary knowledge for private good--that is, for the stockholders--through private funding. However, my dream is to create a global knowledge pool for global good through global funding. Here, India can become an agent for change. This global-good perspective could become the case in diverse sectors ranging from biotechnology to information technology to space research.
I like this idea: "global knowledge pool for global good through global funding". I like his idea of creating faster wireless internet access, and better drugs and getting it to as many people as possible. Not so sure about his idea of trying to remove illiteracy using computers. I think this framework would also work well for trying to make more efficient crops.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Thank the Chinese for the Low Mortgage Rates

Interesting article in the New York Times on Asian foreign reserve investing in the US and in particular China.

I have never been able to really understand foreign reserves. Is it real money? Is it funny money? Do you use it just to stabilize your exchange rate? Do you use it to try and invest? This article didn't really answer those questions, but gave me lots of other insight.

Japan's total stockpile of foreign currency, at $817 billion, is still the largest in the world, but China, which now owns about $600 billion, is catching up fast.

As in Japan and China, small groups of civil servants in Taiwan and South Korea are struggling to invest sizable foreign currency reserves of $235 billion and $193 billion, respectively. For years, all four countries have held the bulk of their reserves in the Treasury bills, notes, and bonds that finance the federal budget deficit, leaving American consumers and companies free to spend more on other things and invest their spare cash in more promising ventures.

Together, these Asian institutions are responsible for holding roughly 40 percent of the American government's public debt.
Wow 40% not of foreign holdings but of total holdings. No wonder we are able to rack up big federal deficits and still see low interest rates.
Instead (of Treasury holdings), officials at the State Administration of Foreign Exchange in Beijing have been seeking higher yields by plowing billions of dollars a month into bonds backed by mortgages on houses across the United States, according to bankers who help Beijing manage the money. By helping keep mortgage rates from rising, China has come to play an enormous and little-noticed role in sustaining the American housing boom.

The proportion of China's hoard in Treasury securities has dropped to about 35 percent, they say, compared with the roughly 90 percent of Japan's foreign currency reserves still parked in Treasury securities.
Didn't know that. Wonder if they will start putting "Made in China" tags on the mortgage applications?
In Beijing these days, one of the fastest-growing fortunes the world has ever seen is managed by fewer than two dozen traders, chosen for showing mathematical brilliance at China's top universities.
Why is it that every financial catastrophe always starts with "a few brilliant mathematicians lost a fortune today when an unexpected event ..."?
As he sees it, anything Japan might do to slow its dollar purchases would only create a self-inflicted wound. "If they could move it all out of dollars in one day, I am sure they would do it in an instant," Mr. Koo said. "But if they move 10 percent, and the dollar goes down 20 percent, they are stuck with 90 percent of the portfolio worth 20 percent less."
Sucks to be them.


Barry Bonds: My Head isn't Bigger

Barry, Barry, Barry. In the worst interview since John Rocker, Barry Bonds gives us his opinions on steroids. I wasn't able to find the original transcript so we get these nuggets of wisdom via Seattle PI, The China Post and Inside Bay Area.

"You're talking about something that wasn't even illegal at the time," Bonds said. "All this stuff about supplements, protein shakes, whatever. Man, it's not like this is the Olympics. We don't train four years for, like, a 10-second (event)... We're entertainers. "
Yeah, the Major League Baseball isn't like the Olympics where they have those "records" that people spend their whole lives trying to break. Baseball players don't spend 4 years for a 10-second event. They are able to get 3 30 second at bats done in only 3 hours. No comparison.

Barry if you want to be an entertainer and use 'roids, why don't you do it like everyone else and become a Pro Wrestler?
"If I can't go out there and somebody pays $60 for a ticket, and I'm not in the lineup, who's getting cheated? Not me."
Someone is being cheated alright. $60 for a ticket?
"There are far worse things like cocaine, heroin and those types of things."
Isn't that the line you use when your Mom catches you smoking dope?
"You can't see, things look fuzzy, so what do you do? You go get glasses. Is that cheating? You get glasses so you can see, so you can do your job. What's the difference?"
No difference. Wearing glasses and doing 'roids are the same damn thing. Can't tell you how many times I got a worse grade than a guy wearing glasses and I would be like, "Oh yeah, lets see you do that without your glasses. Pussy."
"You want to define cheating in America? When they make a shirt in Korea for a US$1.50 and sell it here for US$500. And you ask me what cheating means."
Yeah and don't forget to mention those sneakers made in Thailand for $1 and then sold for $100 because the athlete that endorses it is making $50 million dollars. Ohh, maybe you didn't want that example. Ok, how bout this one: the average professional baseball player gets $3 million a year while the average teacher makes $40,000. Ohh, maybe you don't want that cheating example either.
"It busts me up when they show some teenager who's been on steroids and his life is suddenly messed up," Bonds said. "It's the parents' job to be a parent to that kid. ... I tell my boy (Nikolai), if I see you doing steroids, I'll bust you up. And I mean it."
Great, now you are going to take your Roid Rage aggression out on your kid. Nice parenting skills buddy.
"And you ask me what cheating means? I'll tell you how I cheat. I cheat because I'm my daddy's son. He taught me the game. He taught me things nobody else knows. So that's how I cheat. I'm my daddy's son."
I guess your daddy should have "busted you up" one time.
"What's all this about my head size?" Bonds asked. "My hat size is the same today as when I started. My head hasn't grown. I've always been a 7 1-4 to a 7 3-8 my whole career.
Barry its not the steroids that are giving you the biggest head in all of baseball.
"I can tell you my testicles are the same size," he added later. "They haven't shrunk. They're the same and work just the same as they always have."
Three words: too much information.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

A Couple of Noodles Short

So I am sitting and watching the Globe Trekker show on PBS (this show totally rocks and you should definitely check it out, especially if you like seeing other parts of the world and different cultures but aren't so keen on the gastrointestinal issues that accompany it) enjoying a show on Ecuador and the Galapagos and totally wishing I was there rather than here.

Then they do a little 7 minute bit at the end about Taipei. There is a guy who is making noodles by starting with one long piece and then dividing it in half to make two pieces and keeps repeating this. So he starts counting 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 128, ... , 512 , ... , 2048 , ... 8124. At first I am thinking wow, that is pretty cool to make such thin noodles. Then I am thinking wait, 8124, that doesn't sound right.

I start with the fact that 2^10 equals 1024. This is a fact that everyone should know, but somehow most don't. If you didn't know it, memorize it now! How anyone should be allowed to graduate high school without knowing this is beyond me. They make you memorize state capital which is totally worthless (when have you ever wanted to visit a state legislature and what else is important about a state capital than that?) and yet people don't know that 2^10 =1024. 1024 almost equals 10^3 which allows you to quickly change between base 10 and base 2. Now that comes in handy all the time. All the time I tell you, so don't try and tell me that you never once had reason to do such a thing in your head.

But, anyway I digress. I calculate in my head 1024 * 2 = 2048 * 2 = 4096 * 2 = 8192. 8192 not 8124. So, the moral of this story is that you should not believe that Taiwanese are better at math than Americans. Or maybe you should believe that they are smarter than Americans and more devious. That the noodle maker realized that the American tourists were not going to discover his mathematical error and that he is going to try and charge them for an extra 68 noodles without anyone being the wiser. I am not sure which is the case but I am now very wary of Taiwanese noodle makers and so should you if you ever go to Taipei. And that is one to grow on. And knowing is half the battle.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

Wired on Wikipedia

This was a great article looking at Wikipedia. All sorts of questions are answered.

How does the Wikipedia model differ from other encyclopedias?

In the beginning, encyclopedias relied on the One Smart Guy model.

With the Industrial Revolution, the One Smart Guy approach gradually gave way to the One Best Way model, which borrowed the principles of scien­tific management and the lessons of assembly lines.

Now Wales has brought forth a third model - call it One for All. Instead of one really smart guy, Wikipedia draws on thousands of fairly smart guys and gals - because in the metamathematics of encyclopedias, 500 Kvarans equals one Pliny the Elder. Instead of clearly delineated lines of authority, Wikipedia depends on radical decentralization and self-organization - open source in its purest form. Most encyclopedias start to fossilize the moment they're printed on a page. But add Wiki software and some helping hands and you get something self-repairing and almost alive. A different production model creates a product that's fluid, fast, fixable, and free.

Encyclopedias aspire to be infallible. But Wikipedia requires that the perfect never be the enemy of the good. Citizen editors don't need to make an entry flawless. They just need to make it better. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give Wikipedia a 7.8 in reliability," Kvaran told me in New Mexico. "I'd give Britannica an 8.8."

There's another equally important difference between the two offerings. The One Best Way approach creates something finished. The One for All model creates something alive.

How do you handle people who "graffiti" the site, and how big of a problem is it?
When MIT's Fernanda Viégas and IBM's Martin Wattenberg and Kushal Dave studied Wikipedia, they found that cases of mass deletions, a common form of vandalism, were corrected in a median time of 2.8 minutes. When an obscenity accompanied the mass deletion, the median time dropped to 1.7 minutes.

It turns out that Wikipedia has an innate capacity to heal itself. Making changes is so simple that who prevails often comes down to who cares more. And hardcore Wikipedians care. A lot.
What motivates people to contribute?
For Danny Wool, chance arrived on a winter afternoon in 2002, after an argument about - of all things - Kryptonite. Googling the term from his Brooklyn home to settle the debate, he came upon the Wikipedia entry. He looked up a few more subjects and noticed that each one contained a mysterious hyperlink that said Edit. Curious but too nervous to do anything, he returned to Wikipedia a few more times. Then one night he corrected an error in an article about Jewish holidays. You can do that?! It was his first inhalation of Wiki crack. He became one of Wikipedia's ­earliest registered users and wrote his first article - on Muckleshoot, a Washington state Indian tribe. Since then, he has made more than 16,000 contributions.
One thing I was not able to figure out is how long the tail of contributions is. What % article edits are inputted by people that only add a contribution or two? While you can see who the top editors are, you can't tell what % of total edits these people make up.

via Wired Magazine


Mind Control

A good article on the BrainGate technology: a brain implant that allows you to control prosthetics (or play pong) just by thinking.

Magnetic resonance imaging allowed Friehs to plot in advance the region on Nagle's motor cortex most likely to provide readable arm-movement signals to the BrainGate. One revelation of BCI research has been that brain functions are highly distributed: Any spot within a given region can provide neural signals to operate a prosthetic.
The plasticity of the brain never ceases to amaze me.
Using a small pneumatic inserter, Friehs tapped in the tiny array - 100 electrodes, each just 1 millimeter long and 90 microns across at its base. Friehs closed Nagle's skull with titanium screws, leaving a tiny hole. Through that he threaded gold wires from the array to an external pedestal connector attached to Nagle's skull. Matthew Nagle was now part biological, and part silicon, platinum, and titanium. A 4-millimeter square silicon chip studded with 100 hair-thin microelectrodes is embedded in Nagle's primary motor cortex - the region of the brain responsible for controlling movement.
That is so Matrix. I love it. Of course they could use some work on the actual plug they are using. The picture of the device looks pretty lame. Could we get a couple of Apple engineers to donate a little time to help this fellow out? A small plug like the one they use in the Matrix or maybe a wireless version would be way better.
At a conference in 2002, Anthony Tether, the director of Darpa, envisioned the military outcome of BCI research. "Imagine 25 years from now where old guys like me put on a pair of glasses or a helmet and open our eyes," Tether said. "Somewhere there will be a robot that will open its eyes, and we will be able to see what the robot sees. We will be able to remotely look down on a cave and think to ourselves, 'Let's go down there and kick some butt.' And the robots will respond, controlled by our thoughts. Imagine a warrior with the intellect of a human and the immortality of a machine."
What the fuck? Who the hell looks at this kick ass technology and thinks what kind of ass can we kick with it? These ideas never even crossed my mind. Besides, why do you need this technology at all to do what he is envisioning? You should be able to do it with a joystick and a PC. Not sure how much the brain implant gains you here. But it is kind of scary that the Darpa guys are even thinking about this. But, if allowing these Darpa guys to have these crazy ideas (that I don't think will ever come to pass) is what it takes for the government to pay for this research, I guess that is a deal I can live with.
By 2003, Donoghue and Normann had tested the device, now called Brain­Gate, in 22 monkeys.
Not sure how smart that is. If the monkey's ever got a hold of DARPA's technology next thing you know we are battling a bunch of cranially enhanced primates for dominance of the earth. Has Planet of the Apes taught us nothing?

via Wired Magazine


Yahoo vs. Google

An interesting look at Yahoo vs. Google and how on the surface these companies seem similar and yet seem to be moving in different directions. I think this line summed it up best:

Google is on its way to Redmond to battle Microsoft later this decade, while Yahoo! is going Hollywood.
Don't miss the graphics on the right hand side. The most surprising thing is that Google has only produced 9 patents while Yahoo has 150. Would have thought it would the other way around.

via Wired Magazine


Friday, March 04, 2005

Robot Arm Controlled with Thought

This is so Star Wars and I am totally loving it.

Scientists in the US have created a robotic arm that can be controlled by thought alone.

Developed at the University of Pittsburgh, it has a fully mobile shoulder and elbow and a gripper that works like a hand.

In early tests, monkeys had tiny probes inserted into their brains and had their limbs restrained - but were then able to manipulate the robotic arm

The monkeys in the experiment were able to grasp and hold food with the robotic arm while their real arms were restrained.
via Gizmodo via The Raw Feed via BBC


Glucose Monitoring Watch

I am always a sucker for new ways of monitoring and measuring how the body is running. This one seems pretty slick.

Details in an article at Globes Online:

Glucon’s flagship device, the Glucose Monitoring Watch, will display a continuous reading of the patient’s real time blood glucose level, enabling the patient to take the necessary measures to treat their condition. It will do so by marrying two proven scientific tools - photonics and acoustics. Ultrasound imaging is employed to identify a blood vessel and optical spectroscopy is used to quantify the glucose concentration within the blood vessel.
Basically, you will be able to monitor your blood sugar levels real time all the time without having to prick yourself or otherwise obtaining blood.

I would love to know how my blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day and how that correlates with moods and concentration. I would also like to know how much different types of meals affect my blood sugar. This would be pretty slick to figure out that kind of stuff.

via Gizmodo


Thursday, March 03, 2005


The more I look into environmentalism and energy policy, the more it becomes clear that conservation is the best way to go. Using less, and in particular less energy, has positive benefits that stretch from the environment to geo-politics (see earlier post on Geo-Greens).

For me, the first part of this is figuring out how much energy I actually use. Then I would like to figure out ways that I can use less of it while accomplishing the same activities.

But getting good numbers as to how much energy you are using is tricky. I know how many total kilowatts of electricity a month I use, but I don't know how much electricity each device I have plugged in takes up. How many kwh does it take to run my computer and monitor for an hour? You can look at the documentation and they will tell you how much maximum energy they can draw (usually measured in amps) but not how much on average they draw.

So I found this cool tool called the Kill-A-Watt (this is a good review of it with pictures). It is a small device that plugs into a wall and then you plug your device into the Kill-A-Watt. It tells you how many amps, volts, watts and a ton of other stuff I don't understand that you are drawing.

I would highly recommend picking one up and figuring out where your electricity is going.

I use about 8kwh a day, of which 1.8 goes to the fridge, 2.2 goes to my computer, 1.4 goes to the TV/Replay/Stereo, .9 goes to lighting and 1.3 is unaccounted for (stove, washer dryer, mircowave or something else).

For me I found out that my computer uses 85 watts to run normally but uses an extra 40 watts when the CPU is maxed. I like to run one of those screen savers that tries to cure cancer in the background. Now I know that it costs an extra 40 watts for every hour it runs. Considering I could put the computer in standby mode (which only takes 2 watts) it is taking 125 watts to run. Over a full day that would be 3kwh or about $.30. Not super expensive but still quite a bit considering my refrigerator takes about 1.75kwh a day.

My 19" Monitor uses 70W. My laptop on the other hand only uses 23 on average and 35 on high CPU usage. The laptop is only using about 1/7 the power of my desktop machine. So using that saves me a lot of juice.

My plasma TV hasn't helped my efforts. My old TV was using 80W on average. The plasma is using 170W. Plus it uses 16W when it is "powered off". Don't know what's up with that. Must make it quicker to turn on or something. The ReplayTV uses 34 watts but is on 24/7 so it takes .8kwh to run each day. Not that it is a big draw but it seems like it ought to have a standby mode for when you aren't watching and it isn't recording.

And for those of you that are wondering a Foreman grill uses 770 watts. Don't know how that compares with my stove because I can't measure that.

Anyway, as you can tell I was having lots of fun measuring every device in my house and I recommend everyone do the same.


Worst TV Clip of the Week

Lewis Black highlighted this site on The Daily Show and it too good not to pass on.

The Parents Television Council with their tagline "Because Our Children Are Watching" puts out its pick for the worst TV clip of the week.

I love it. These guys are going out and finding the most explicit TV they can find and then uploading it to the web, so that people like me don't have to waste my time trying to find them. I would have thought that these guys would be from the "don't tell the children about sex education because it will just encourage them to do it" school. But apparently not, and oh how grateful I am.

It is so great to when you click on the link it says "WARNING: Graphic Content!!! Do NOT push play if you don't want to see the explicit video!!!". Man, how can you say no when you see a warning like that?

And they have a list of all of the previous worst clips as well in case you missed it. Now if only someone would set it up as a Video Podcast, then I could get these clips in my inbox without having to lift my mouse clicking finger.


Health Crisis Ravages Russia's Men

These were such crazy statistics that it was almost hard to believe they are real. I had no idea things were this bad in Russia.

There are so many odd and horrible ways to die in Russia that it's almost no surprise that the average Russian man isn't expected to see his 59th birthday. Men in Bangladesh live longer.

Government statistics show that the average Russian man lives 58.6 years, compared with 73 years for the average Russian woman. In 1990, life expectancy for men was 63.4 years.

The health slide for Russian women isn't nearly so dramatic. While 40 percent of all Russian men die between 16 and 59, the average life expectancy for Russian women has dropped about a year since 1990, when it was 74.
40% die between 16-59. Wow. I think that is even worse than black Americans.
Military leaders complain that most new draftees are so unfit, drug-addled or psychologically damaged that only about 10 percent are capable of withstanding boot camp.

Tens of thousands die from alcohol poisoning every year, so many that alcohol poisoning is a separate subcategory in government statistics tracking accidental deaths, along with traffic accidents and drowning.
via Seattle Times


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

White Flight from ... The Netherlands?

Due to low birthrates, Europe has opened up to immigration. Most of these immigrants come from the surrounding poorer countries of Northern Africa and the Middle East. This is causing the percentage of Europeans who are Muslim is growing rapidly. While America worries about Islam in terms of terrorism, Europe has much different issues. Interesting article about how the well off in the Netherlands are emigrating to other countries.

This small nation is a magnet for immigrants, but statistics suggest there is a quickening flight of the white middle class. Dutch people pulling up roots said they felt a general pessimism about their small and crowded country and about the social tensions that had grown along with the waves of newcomers, most of them Muslims.

There is more than the concern about the rising complications of absorbing newcomers, now one-tenth of the population. Many Dutch also seem bewildered that their country, run for decades on a cozy political consensus, seems so tense and prickly and bent on confrontation.

Those leaving have been mostly lured by English-speaking nations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, where they said they hope to feel less constricted

To Hiltemann, the emigration consultant, what is remarkable is the type of Dutch people leaving. "They are successful people, I mean, urban professionals, managers, physiotherapists, computer specialists," he said.

What is new," he said, "is that Dutch people who are rich or at least very comfortable are now wanting to leave the country."
via Seattle Times


Happiness Brain Implant

Well, not exactly but pretty close. There is now a brain implant that can stimulate the "sadness center" in the brain and can remove severe depression. Can't wait for the 2.0 version of this that stimulates the happiness center of the brain.

From CBC News:

Deep electrical stimulation of the brain may help alleviate severe, chronic depression in patients who don't respond to other treatments, researchers in Ontario have found.

The experimental treatment consists of a pacemaker implanted under the collarbone, as well as electrodes in the brain.

When neurosurgeons applied an electrical stimulation to the electrodes, four of the six patients showed remarkable improvement in mood and sleep, the study's authors reported in this week's issue of the journal Neuron.

The researchers hypothesized that by targeting an area of the brain's sadness centre, they could treat depression. The technique has been used since the late 1990's to treat tremors in patients with Parkinson's disease.

The sadness centre, called Cg25, is thought to play a critical role in sadness and mood. People with depression may have too much activity in the part of the brain, scientists speculate.
I didn't know there was a sadness center in the brain. I am always skeptical of these brain regions due to the plasticity of the brain but you have to give the scientists their props if they were able to stimulate a region of the brain and alleviate depression.

More from The Seattle Times:
But today, two years after she agreed to take part in the landmark Canadian experiment, Harris could hardly be happier for the electrodes buried in her brain: two wires, nearly as thick as spaghetti and a foot long, pulsing 130 times a second to silence the negativity of her mind


20,000 People Perished Yesterday

I recently read Varry Schwartz's book Paradox of Choice. It was a great read, and fairly short so I recommend it to all. Hopefully I will get a chance to blog on the insights that I found in it.

One of those insights was that people tend to overestimate the vivid causes of death (accident, homicide, tornado, flood, fire) and underestimate the mundane causes of death (diabetes, asthma, stroke, tuberculosis). Why is this? A study has shown that the frequency of newspaper coverage and the respondents' estimates of the frequency of death were almost perfectly correlated.

So we estimate our chance of death based on what we read and see in the media. This also leads our society to put emphasis on trying to reduce causes of death that are spectacular (like terrorist attacks) and ignoring those that don't make the news (like extreme poverty). So I write this blog as a way to add one article in the mundane category so we can align our resources appropriately.

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who heads the United Nations' Millennium Development Project to end global poverty, rightly takes issue with the press in his book "The End of Poverty": "Every morning," Mr. Sachs writes, "our newspapers could report, 'More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty.' "
To put it in perspective that is a Tsunami a week. And while the Tsunami has got a ahh, well, Tsunami of media attention and resources to go along with it, others in the world continue to suffer and the US could do something to alleviate it and doesn't.
This country is going to spend more than $400 billion on the military this year, and another $100 billion or so for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that amount is never going to buy Americans peace if the government continues to spend an anemic $16 billion - the Pentagon budget is 25 times that size - in foreign aid that addresses the plight of the poorest of the world's poor.
This article also points out different ways that the US could help Africa if we wanted.

via New York Times