Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cool Image Manipulation

via YouTube via TechCrunch


Monday, August 27, 2007

I Hope She Did Well in the Swimsuit Competition

Something tells me that she is part of that 1/5.

via YouTube

Update: Apparently the judges give this talking portion of the contest its appropriate weight (that being absolutely nothing) as Ms. South Carolina made the top 5 finalists.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

The beam of light that flips a switch that turns on the brain.

There’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.

Silicon nanocrystals for superefficient solar cells.

Google adds YouTube style embedding to Google Maps.

As technology enables people to live and work wherever they want, increasingly they are clustering in resort playgrounds that have natural amenities, good weather — and, now, lots of people like themselves.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tough Jails, Less Crime?

Do tough prisons reduce crime by acting as a deterrent?

Two studies draw contrary conclusions. Lawrence Katz, Steven Levitt and Ellen Shustorovich examined the death rate in American jails (excluding executions) as a proxy for harsh conditions. After looking at data in every state between 1950 and 1990, they estimated that each death in prison was associated with between 30 and 98 fewer violent crimes being committed. They concluded that tough conditions do deter potential criminals, though they cautioned that this did not necessarily mean they were desirable, since even criminals have rights.

Keith Chen of Yale and Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago approached the problem another way. They recently compared the experiences of prisoners who were nearly-but-not-quite bad enough to be put in a high-security jail with those only just bad enough to be in one. These two groups, they assumed, would be similar in temperament; but those in higher-security jails would endure a harsher regime and nastier cellmates.

By comparing recidivism rates for the two groups, Messrs Chen and Shapiro estimated whether tough conditions made bad men worse. They concluded that they did: similar prisoners held in higher security jails were 10-15 percentage points more likely to be re-arrested after being released. Since they estimated this effect to be larger than the deterrent effect identified by Mr Katz and co., they concluded that humane jails make for safer streets.
I am not a fan of tough jails for the following reason:
Alabama's current commissioner of prisons, Richard Allen, is also keen on rehabilitation. In April, noting that 95% of prisoners are eventually released, he announced a new programme to help them find a place to live, a job and help with staying off drugs.
If 95% of criminals are getting out, we better come up with a way to integrate them back into society or society will pay the cost in higher crime when they reoffend.

How can we pay for better jails? Well, how about letting some of them out?
Leniency is unpopular, however, even though non-violent drug offenders make up between a fifth and a quarter of prisoners, and many could be treated rather than jailed without endangering the public.
via The Economist


Interesting Articles of the Week

Researchers develop bendable battery made of paper.

In Silicon Valley, millionaires who don’t feel rich.

Does evolution explain why the industrial revolution happened in England?

Biofuels are endangering gummy bears.

Charity is just as “selfish” as self-indulgence.


Issues With GDP as a Measure of Well-Being

GDP measures the total amount of goods and services that are created in an economy. GDP per capita is used as a proxy for standard of living and more generally of well-being. It is used to compare levels of well-being between nations. It is also used as a way to compare how the level of well-being has changed over time in a nation.

While GDP is a good measurement of the size of the formal economy, using GDP per capita as a measure of well-being has 6 issues that impact its accuracy.

1) GDP gives no value to leisure. A society that works more hours will have a higher GDP but not necessarily greater well-being.

2) GDP does not capture the non-paid sector: volunteer work, the informal sector (and black market), raising children, and household duties. GDP can grown by monetizing work that previously was done for free, but this does not necessarily increase well-being.

3) GDP includes 'Regrettables' such as police protection, health care, insurance, and military spending. They are regrettable because if people were more honest, healthier, less prone to accidents and more peaceful, the money could be spent in ways that lead to greater well-being.

Imagine two countries, one with a greater level of honesty such that they can have a smaller police force than the other. The citizens of that country would spend less on fighting crime and have more money to spend in other more pleasurable ways. That society would have greater well-being but it would not be reflected in GDP. Similar scenarios could be constructed for doctors, soldiers, fire fighters or social workers. Not to say that these aren't valuable and rewarding jobs, just that society would be better off if we didn't need as many of them.

Some argue that these regrettables such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill actually increase GDP because jobs are created to clean up the spill. This is not true, but rather an example of the broken window fallacy: that breaking a window helps the economy by creating a job for that glass worker. It is incorrect because the money that is spent fixing the window could have been spent in another way that would have created another job for another person. Likewise, regrettables don't add to GDP, they just redirect spending.

A society that spends less on regrettables will have greater well-being at the same level of GDP as one that spends more.

4) GDP does not take into account assets. Even from a standard economics point of view, this doesn't make sense. It is like judging a company based solely on its income statement without looking at the balance sheet.

Often times after a natural disaster GDP goes up due to the economic activity generated by reconstruction. While no one thinks that destroying houses makes good economic sense, GDP does not take reflect whether assets are being increased or decreased and therefore gives an incomplete view of the economy. It doesn't make sense to look at GDP growth without taking a look at what is happening to a nations assets in the form of real estate, stocks, bonds, and cash and their liabilities such as underfunding of social security and Medicare.

Beyond these standard forms of assets, non-standard assets need to be accounted for as well. Human capital (education, knowledge), societal capital (honesty, security, institutions), health assets (value of being healthy) and environmental assets (fish stocks, forests) all impact the health of the economy and need to be reflected.

The issue of regrettables being misvalued can be taken care of with non-standard assets to reflect their value. An honest society would have less crime and require fewer police. This could be reflected in societal capital.

A nation that is increasing its assets more at a given level of GDP will be in better economic shape in the future than one that isn't.

5) Using GDP per capita as a measurement of well-being assumes that people use their time and income in a way to maximize their own well being. But this in not always the case for 3 reasons.

First, people aren't good at gauging how much happiness they will get from their purchases. For example, people typically don't take into account how quickly they will adapt to the pleasure a product gives when making purchases (hedonic adaptation). People spend their money on larger houses and fancier cars, but they come to take them for granted quicker than they expect. People would get more well-being per dollar if they were to spend money on inconspicous goods that they won't adapt to such as freedom from a long commute or a stressful job. Because of this, knowledgeable people are able to get more happiness and well-being out of each dollar they spend.

Second, people suffer from short term perspectives and lack of control. Those that can plan their spending long term can get more value from each dollar, by making purchases when prices are low or buying in bulk. Lack of control and addictions such as gambling and drugs can lead to a much lower level of well-being at the same level of consumption as someone without these problems.

Third, the value of many goods is not absolute but rather relative to what other people have. Pleasure is derived not by having a large house, but because the house is larger than that of your friends and family. The absolute size of the house doesn't impact well-being, just the relative size. Therefore, much of spending is a zero sum game. It is a consumption arms race that does little to help overall well-being, as there is still only one person in first place. More spending on these goods does not raise well-being as it just raises the absolute not the relative level.

A society that better understands what gives well-being, has a longer term perspective and avoids zero sum spending will have greater well-being at a given level of GDP than one that doesn't.

6) GDP per capita is a mean rather than median average. The more even the distribution of wealth in a society, the more well-being it will lead to.

Money becomes less valuable the more you have of it. $10,000 is more valuable to someone in poverty than it is to Bill Gates. Because of this, well-being is maximized when income is distributed evenly. While GDP per capita might not see a difference between Bill Gates increasing his wealth by $10 billion and 1 million people increase their wealth by $10,000, the second is greater in terms of well-being. A society with a more even distribution of wealth will have a greater level of well-being at the same level of GDP per capita as one that has a less even distribution.

Other issues

1) When comparing a country's GDP over time, you want to take inflation out of the equation (going from nominal to real GDP). The way inflation (GDP deflater) is calculated impacts real GDP, and therefore how much improvement has taken place.

If an identical product goes up in price, for example a dozen eggs, it is easy to calculate inflation on that item. But, other items are more subjective. For example, greater variety of goods makes for better consumption, but how much? How much better is a Netflix with a 20,000 movie library than one with 2,000? 200 channels of cable television vs. 20?

Improved technology makes for better consumption as well, but again how much? How much better is the 4th generation iPod over the 3rd generation? A 10 megabit internet connection vs. a 56k dial up connection?

If the environment used to provides services for free, such as filtering water, but it has deteriorated and now you have to pay for it, is this taken into account? Or if lumber used to be abundant and cheap but due to mismanagement in is now scarce and expensive, is this considered inflationary?

The way inflation is calculated impacts how much real GDP has changed and many of the decisions are subjective judgment calls.

2) When comparing between countries you need a way to convert the GDP of one nation into the others. This can be done via the currency exchange rate, but this fluctuates often for reasons beyond the relative values of goods and services. Another way to do it is the price purchasing parity (PPP) which attempts to normalize the prices of goods between two countries, so a Big Mac in one country costs the same as a Big Mac consumed in another. But how exactly do you do this for all goods and services? Not all goods and services are identical between countries, so again judgment calls have to be made. The way PPP is calculated impacts the comparison of GDPs.

3) Some argue that because prices in an economy are based on the margin that GDP is misleading. It is true that some things that give great value to well-being are abundant (like water) and cheap and therefore show little impact on GDP while others are scarce and expensive (like diamonds) and not at all necessary for life. When comparing between different goods, their price might not reflect their value.

But, in aggregate, this is not a problem. Water is only cheap because it is abundant and everyone can have access to it. If it became scarce, resources would have to be redirected to provide it and it would become expensive. This redirection of resources would take people away from producing some other good or service and therefore lower total GDP. Valuing on the margin does not impact the results of GDP per capita, for $12,000 per capita is always better than $10,000 (assuming the GDP deflater and exchange rates are calculated properly).


While GDP per capita is often used as a proxy for well-being it has many issues. It does not value leisure, or the non-paid sector. It values regrettables just like other goods and services. It doesn't take into account assets. It is a mean average that doesn't take into account distribution of income.

These probably could be accounted for with some tweaks to the system. The value of leisure and non-paid work could be estimated and added in. Regrettables could be subtracted from the total. Asset values (both standard and non-standard) could be calculated and accompany the GDP figure. GDP could be adjusted based on the level of income inequality in a nation.

On the other hand, the fact that some societies can get greater levels of well-being on lower levels of income due to better understanding of well-being, a longer term perspective or fewer zero-sum games means that we cannot just tweak the current system. Instead, we need a new measurement system to do the comparisons. I will look into some different measurements of well-being in an upcoming post.


Friday, August 10, 2007

More Time Spent on Web Than Newspapers

U.S. consumers this year will spend more of their day surfing the Internet than reading newspapers or going to the movies or listening to recorded music, according a study released on Tuesday.
Well, you have to figure it was only a matter of time.

How are people spending their time with media?
In 2006 consumers spent the most time with TV, followed by radio, which together combined for nearly 70 percent of the time spent with media. That was followed by recorded music at 5.3 percent, newspapers at 5 percent, and the Internet at 5 percent.

But this year the study forecasts the Internet will take up a bigger chunk of time spent with media than either newspapers or recorded music. Internet will move up to 5.1 percent, while newspapers and recorded music each move down to 4.9 percent.

From 2001 to 2006, the average amount of time spent by the typical consumer on paid media has jumped 19.8 percent. Over the same period, overall time spent with traditional or ad-supported media – such as broadcast television, radio and newspapers – declined 6.3 percent, the study found.

As of 2006, ad-supported media still had a 53.8 percent share of the total amount of time people spent with media, versus 46.2 percent on for-pay media, which include the Internet, cable and satellite TV, movies seen in theaters, books and recorded music.
And what about money?
Last year, the top two advertising mediums were newspapers, at $55.7 billion, and broadcast television, at $48.7 billion, according to VSS.

But it estimates that by 2011, overall Internet advertising will become the largest advertising medium, at nearly $63 billion, describing the shift as "a watershed moment" in the media business.
via Reuters and Sign On San Diego


Why There Won't be a Clinton-Obama Ticket

There has been talk all over the Internets about a possible Clinton-Barack ticket. At a casual glance this seems like a good idea as they are the two front runners. But, it will not happen for five reasons.

First, Hillary is already overshadowed by her husband's speaking abilities. Why would she want to put a VP on the ticket that would also upstage her? Could you imagine the Democratic convention? When Bill Clinton was about to speak, there would be a rousing standing ovation. When Obama got up, they would have to give him an extra 10 minutes to allow the crowd to quit cheering. And when Hillary got up, there would be nothing but polite clapping. The press would spend all their time comparing their speeches and Hillary will end up on the short end of the stick.

Second, Obama's greatest selling point is his ability to unite the country and help stop the bitterly divisive partisan politics that is going on in Washington. If he was president, he could have a large impact on this front. But his impact on this front as VP will be marginal if anything. Hillary will make an already divided electorate even more so. Putting Obama on as VP will do little to help this problem.

Third, you want a VP that can help you win a state or a specific demographic. How would Obama help Clinton at all? She will already have the black vote. She will already have Illinois. Someone that could help her capture a swing state or a swing demographic would be much more helpful to her.

Fourth, you want the VP to deliver the low blows to the opposing candidate, allowing the presidential candidate to stay above the fray. But that isn't Obama's style at all.

Finally, there is the, umm, Chris Rock problem:

Now as you know, there's been a lot of talk about a black vice president. And I just wanna tell the world that it'll never happen. As long as you live you will never see a black vice president, you know why? Because some black guy would just kill the president. I'd do it. If Colin Powell was vice president, I'd kill the president and tell his mother about it. What would happen to me? What would they do? Put me in jail with a bunch of black guys that would treat me like a king for the rest of my life? I would be the biggest star in jail, alright, people would be coming up to me and I'd be signing autographs: "97-KY, here you go." Guys would be going: "You're the brother that shot Bush. And you told his mother about it huh? I hope my children turn out to be just like you, Man, you know I was getting ready to rape you until I realized who you were." And even if they had a death penalty, what would happen? I'd just be pardoned by the black president.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

A modest proposal for the future of ethanol: cellulosic beef.

To punish Thai police, a Hello Kitty armband

Homeland Security is hoping to soon deploy an LED flashlight that causes uncontrollable vomiting.

The New York Times is poised to stop charging readers for online access to its Op-Ed columnists and other content.

Freakonomics Quorum: The economics of street charity


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Fart Neutral

Fart Neutral’s goal is to bring attention to global warming in a unique and humorous way by selling "personal emissions" carbon offset cards.

Each card neutralizes 1000 lbs. of greenhouse gas and more than offsets one individual's "personal emissions" for a period of one year. A great gift for that friend or relative that is "damaging the environment."
A perfect gift for the Mexican food lover in your life.

They also sell T-shirts, my favorite being:
Flatulence is natural. But it can be neutral.


Darpa Wants Soldiers to Eat like Pigs

Under a Darpa contract, microbiologists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Ames, Iowa have been sorting through swine poo, to try to figure out how Wilbur and friends digest what humans usually can't: cellulose, the main fibrous part of plants.

With the right "cellulose-degrading beneficial bacteria in the gut," Darpa notes, soldiers could "increase the amount of energy" they get, "from either food rations or non-traditional foodstuffs."

These novel "fibr-biotics" are able to break down non-digestible fiber (cellulose and hemicellulose) into glucose, which can be directly absorbed for energy. When added to the diet of deployed soldiers, these novel fibr-biotics will be able convert nondigestible fiber into usable energy.
This will allow soldiers to eat grass and other plants when they don't have access to other food. Of course this could also be a ploy to get soldiers to quit complaining about MREs. "Son, you think that tastes bad? How 'bout you try eating grass for a week."

I think it could have other interesting applications as well. When a nation like Ethiopia goes into famine, how about giving them the ability to eat cellulose? Might save quite a few people from dying if they could eat additional types of plants and get more calories out of the food they eat.

And hard core environmentalists and vegans could choose a diet with an even smaller ecological footprint by eating grasses and getting more calories out of the other plant foods they are eating.
Phase 1 of this effort, dubbed "Intestinal Fortitude" has already wrapped up, according to the scientists at ARS' "Swine Odor and Manure Management Research Unit." Over 1,700 degrading bacteria -- many thought to work at digesting cellulose and hemicellulose -- have been isolated. "In preparation for Phase 2 of the grant, we have been characterizing 125 human cellulolytic and xylanolytic bacterial isolates obtained from human feces that were isolated by our collaborators at the [Army's] Natick Soldier Center," the researchers note. "Twelve isolates have been identified as potential fibro-biotics."

The other element -- sorry to get all scatological again -- is about diarrhea. During the early days of the Iraq war, the Agency observes, "70 percent of soldiers experienced at least one episode" of it. Darpa would like to dial that number back, by boosting "beneficial bacteria in the gut to protect soldiers from enteric disease and to increase energy derivation."
I'm a huge fan of this type of research on our microbial better half, and am excited to see that Darpa is picking up the tab.

via Wired Danger Room


China Threatens 'Nuclear Option' of Dollar Sales

The Chinese government has begun a concerted campaign of economic threats against the United States, hinting that it may liquidate its vast holding of US treasuries if Washington imposes trade sanctions to force a yuan revaluation.

Two officials at leading Communist Party bodies have given interviews in recent days warning - for the first time - that Beijing may use its $1.33 trillion (£658bn) of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the US Congress. Shifts in Chinese policy are often announced through key think tanks and academies.

Described as China's "nuclear option" in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is already breaking down through historic support levels.

It would also cause a spike in US bond yields, hammering the US housing market and perhaps tipping the economy into recession. It is estimated that China holds over $900bn in a mix of US bonds.
First, how stupid have we been in the US to have given this power to China? By spending more than we earn we have given the Chinese (and also the oil exporters of the world) the ability to tank our economy whenever they choose. All they have to do is sell their US bonds and take the money out of the US.

Second, how stupid is this Chinese threat? They are planning to do this because they don't want trade sanctions or a yuan revaluation. But, if they tank the dollar, the yuan will become stronger in relation and yet this is exactly the kind of yuan revaluation that the Chinese have been fighting. And if they tip the US economy into recession, this will lower demand for Chinese goods more than any trade sanction would.

The fact of the matter is that the Chinese and American economies are in a co-dependent relationship, and the Chinese can't pull off this threat without harming their economy as much as America's.

via The Telegraph


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Walking to the Store 'Damages Planet More than Going by Car'

At least according to Chris Goodall. His math?

“Driving a typical UK car for 3 miles [4.8km] adds about 0.9 kg [2lb] of CO2 to the atmosphere,” he said, a calculation based on the Government’s official fuel emission figures. “If you walked instead, it would use about 180 calories. You’d need about 100g of beef to replace those calories, resulting in 3.6kg of emissions, or four times as much as driving.
An intriguing comparison. Is it accurate?

Assuming your car gets 30 miles to the gallon and 20 lbs of CO2 per gallon, then yes, driving 3 miles emits 2 lbs of CO2. As for the beef, based on the data used comparing Hummers with Vegans (this is the source for all food based CO2 numbers below), there are 1.382 kg of CO2 emitted per 100 calories or 2.5 kg for 180 calories. This is a bit lower than his 3.6 kg estimate, possibly due to the fact that his data is based on Japanese beef raising which might be more energy intensive. But either way, eating beef as a means of calories to walk to the store does emit more CO2 than driving a car.

But, unless you are some crazy Atkins devotee, you are not likely to use beef to provide the extra calories you need in your diet for increased exercise. If we assume instead that you drink Gatorade or some other drink using corn (high fructose corn syrup) as its source of calories, you would emit approximately .02 kg of CO2 for 180 calories (based on a rate of .011 kg of CO2 per 100 calories for corn). This is much less than the .9 kg of emissions from driving.

What about drinking milk? In the article they state that 180 calories of milk emits 1.2kg of CO2. Based on the numbers I looked at previously, I put it at .5kg of CO2. Not sure what the difference is. The .9 kg of emission from driving is then either lower or higher than drinking milk depending on which set of numbers you use.

And you could always choose to bike rather than walk, as a human riding a bicycle is the most efficient means of travel of any living thing in the animal kingdom pound for pound. At 10 mph it is estimated you burn 26 calories per mile. That would be 78 calories for 3 miles, or 43% the expenditure of walking. Getting 78 calories from beef would emit 1.075 kg of CO2 (based on my numbers) which is just slightly more than the .9 kg of driving.

This comparison also assumes that you would need extra calories to walk to the store. If you use the walk as part of your daily exercise (or if you are already eating more calories than you need and should add some exercise) then no extra calories are required.

My conclusion would be that walking is still by far the preferable choice to get to the store over driving.

This also made me wonder how much additional CO2 you would emit if you were a hard core athlete like an ironman triathlete. If you ate an extra 2,000 calories a day to support your workouts, this would lead to extra annual emissions of 1.2 tonnes of CO2 if you ate the average American diet, .65 tonnes on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and .1 tonnes on a vegan diet. To put that in perspective, a tonne of CO2 is emitted per 113 gallons of gasoline burned. Training a year for a triathlon and getting the extra calories from an average American diet would have the same CO2 impact as driving a Hummer for 1,700 miles (which ironically is also the same distance of the actual ironman race, I believe :)).

The article also mentions other "great green myths":
Burning wood for fuel is better for the environment than recycling it, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs discovered.

Organic dairy cows are worse for the climate. They produce less milk so their methane emissions per litre are higher.

Catching a diesel train is now twice as polluting as travelling by car for an average family, the Rail Safety and Standards Board admitted recently. Diesel trains in rural Britain are more polluting than 4x4 vehicles. Douglas Alexander, when Transport Secretary, said: “If ten or fewer people travel in a Sprinter [train], it would be less environmentally damaging to give them each a Land Rover Freelander and tell them to drive.”

Trees, regarded as shields against global warming because they absorb carbon, were found by German scientists to be major producers of methane, a much more harmful greenhouse gas.
These are also thought provoking, and I would like to see how they calculated the numbers on those.

Update: Master comment critter odograph reminds me of a previous post estimating the carbon footprint of a bag of potato chips at 75g of CO2. I am not sure how many calories are in the bag of chips, but 180 sounds about right. If so, that would be a bit more than the 20g of CO2 from corn, but much less than driving, milk or beef.

via Times Online


Young Women Make More Than Men in Big Cities

Young women in New York and several of the nation’s other largest cities who work full time have forged ahead of men in wages, according to an analysis of recent census data.

Women in their 20s also make more than men in Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and a few other big cities.

Women of all educational levels from 21 to 30 living in New York City and working full time made 117 percent of men’s wages, and even more in Dallas, 120 percent. Nationwide, that group of women made much less: 89 percent of the average full-time pay for men.
So, the ladies have overtaken the men in salaries in NYC. How long has this been going on for?
In 1970, all New York women in their 20s made $7,000 less than men, on average, adjusted for inflation. By 2000, they were about even. In 2005, according to an analysis of the latest census results they were making about $5,000 more: a median wage of $35,653, or 117 percent of the $30,560 reported by men in that age group.

The shift has occurred in New York since 2000 and even earlier in Los Angeles, Dallas and a few other cities.
What explains the change?
But a major reason, experts say, is that women have been graduating from college in larger numbers than men, and that many of those women seem to be gravitating toward major urban areas.

In 2005, 53 percent of women in their 20s working in New York were college graduates, compared with only 38 percent of men of that age.
The article also has a graph of the breakdown of wages by sex and race, but I wasn't able to reconcile the wages by race with the total for all races (using this Census data), so I think there is probably an error with their calculations and am leery of drawing anything from it.

via NY Times


Fixing the Blogger Older Posts Feature Bug

For reasons that are beyond me, when you click on the "Older Posts" link at the bottom of Blogger blogs, instead of taking you to a new page, they load the older posts on the same page. I believe they did this so that the URL of the page stays the same, but it inhibits the back and refresh buttons from working properly. It also screwed up my custom expandable posts so every post on the older pages had a "Read More..." option even when they shouldn't have.

To fix this bug, you can do the following:

1) From Blogger, select the Template tab.
2) Select the Edit HTML link.
3) Check the Expand Widget Templates checkbox.
4) Find the part of the code that starts with
<b:if cond='data:newerPageUrl'>, and replace that "paragraph" and the next one with the following:

<b:if cond='data:newerPageUrl'>
  <span id='blog-pager-newer-link'>
  <a class='blog-pager-newer-link' expr:href='data:newerPageUrl' expr:id='data:widget.instanceId + "_blog-pager-newer-link_JUST_SAY_NO"' expr:title='data:newerPageTitle'><data:newerPageTitle/></a>

<b:if cond='data:olderPageUrl'>
  <span id='blog-pager-older-link'>
  <a class='blog-pager-older-link' expr:href='data:olderPageUrl' expr:id='data:widget.instanceId + "_blog-pager-older-link_JUST_SAY_NO"' expr:title='data:olderPageTitle'><data:olderPageTitle/></a>

This just adds _JUST_SAY_NO to the end of expr:id='data:widget.instanceId + "_blog-pager-newer-link and expr:id='data:widget.instanceId + "_blog-pager-older-link. You can actually add any text that you want, but "just say no" seemed appropriate to me.

Once you make the change, save the template. The older posts link will now take you to a new page, allowing your back and refresh buttons to work and not screwing up your expandable posts.


Minesweeper: The Movie

via College Humor


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Shark Piledriver

The Sharkman balances a Caribbean reef shark on his hand after putting it into a catatonic state. I was waiting for him to finish the shark off with a piledriver, but alas, he set it free instead.

via Yahoo


Shark Tonic

There was a time when I was impressed by cage diving with sharks. Then I was impressed by shark riding. Now it is all about putting a shark into a catatonic state as this video (longer version here) shows:

That might be the most amazing piece of shark footage I have ever seen. Who knew that you could do that to a Caribbean reef shark?

This is from the show Sharkman, part of Discovery Channel's 20th Anniversary Shark Week (20 years!?! Man, I feel old).

The Sharkman was also able to put a large tiger shark into tonic, which was astonishing. He was in the water with multiple man eating tiger sharks, a few that appeared to be over 10 feet long and weigh over 500 lbs, with just standard scuba gear (no cage, no protective chain armor). He grabbed on to one, put it into tonic, and held on to it as it peacefully drifted down 50 feet.

He tried with great whites and got close, but never pulled it off completely. For the climax to the show he held on to the dorsal fin of a great white and rode it for something like 500 feet. The announcer said that was even better than tonic, but that is total BS for we all know that shark riding is now passe and putting sharks into tonic is the new hotness. I am crossing my fingers that he actually was able to make it happen with the great white, but they held on to the footage to make a sequel for next year's Shark Week to be called "G. White and the Tonic".

Move over Chris Fallows, Michael Rutzen you are my new hero.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Interesting Articles of the Week

Full swimming pool stolen, not a drop spilled.

Grim rea-purr: The cat that can predict death.

First armed robots on patrol in Iraq

Hollywood pigeons to be put on the pill. Still waiting for reaction from the Vatican.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Making Gasoline from Bacteria

LS9, a company based in San Carlos, CA, and founded by geneticist George Church, of Harvard Medical School, and plant biologist Chris Somerville, of Stanford University, had previously said that it was working on what it calls "renewable petroleum." But at a Society for Industrial Microbiology conference on Monday, the company began speaking more openly about what it has accomplished: it has genetically engineered various bacteria, including E. coli, to custom-produce hydrocarbon chains.

Next year LS9 will build a pilot plant in California to test and perfect the process, and the company hopes to be selling improved biodiesel and providing synthetic biocrudes to refineries for further processing within three to five years.
I have written about these custom biofuels before. But what was interesting about this article, was this tidbit on yield:
LS9's current work uses sugar derived from corn kernels as the food source for the bacteria--the same source used by ethanol-producing yeast. To produce greater volumes of fuel, and to not have energy competing with food, both approaches will need to use cellulosic biomass, such as switchgrass, as the feedstock. Del Cardayre estimates that cellulosic biomass could produce about 2,000 gallons of renewable petroleum per acre.
Last time I looked into it, the estimate was 165 gallons of gasoline per acre of switchgrass. Here they are saying 2,000 or over 10 times as much!

The process is also much more energy efficient.
Producing hydrocarbon fuels is more efficient than producing ethanol, del Cardayre adds, because the former packs about 30 percent more energy per gallon. And it takes less energy to produce, too. The ethanol produced by yeast needs to be distilled to remove the water, so ethanol production requires 65 percent more energy than hydrocarbon production does.
The 65% reduction in energy will make the energy return on investment much larger than corn ethanol.

via Technology Review via Digg


American Technology Spending

Interesting look at how Americans spend their technology dollars courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I predict that cellular phone service spending overtakes residential phone service within two years. Longer term I see residential phone service and Internet access spending morphing into one, with voice service (VOIP) being a free feature of it.

via Wired


Implant Boosts Activity in Injured Brain

Brain function has been improved in a patient who was in a minimally conscious state, by electrically stimulating a specific brain region with implanted electrodes. The achievement raises questions about the treatment of other patients who have been in this condition for years, the researchers say.

In the latest case study, neuroscientists describe how they implanted electrodes in the brain of a 38-year-old man who had been in a minimally conscious state for more than six years following a serious assault. By electrically stimulating a brain region called the central thalamus, they were able to help him name objects on request, make precise hand gestures, and chew food without the aid of a feeding tube (see page 600). The thalamus is involved in motor control, arousal and in relaying sensory signals — from the visual systems, for example — to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain involved in consciousness.
via Nature