Tuesday, November 30, 2004

USB Port to the Brain II

This is version 2.0 of the kick ass BrainPort (see previous post). You wouldn't know it from the picture, but that if you put that retainer (lower picture with black background) in your mouth and it allows you to use the BrainPort technology wirelessly. You just put your toungue up against it and you get your sight back or what ever you are using it for. The Navy Seals are using it for navigation information. Sweet. I bet you even hook up a Daredevil like module to see in the dark. Or maybe a Superman like x-ray vision, or that Sony video camera that lets you see through peoples clothes. Whatever, they all rock.

Explanation of the device in Real Audio (3 min 42 sec).
Warning: never before has such kick ass techology been described in such a lame ass low tech way. Guys, have you ever heard of editing the video?


Japanese Kamasutra


Japanese Sex manuals via Boing Boing.

This completely explains 2 things:

  1. Why the Japanese birth rate is so low.

  2. Why you should never allow the Sony technical manual writers do a sex manual.


Too Much Stress May Give Your Genes Gray Hair

A team of researchers has found that severe emotional distress - like that caused by divorce, the loss of a job, or caring for an ill child or parent - may speed up the aging of the body's cells at the genetic level.

The researchers found that blood cells from women who had spent many years caring for a disabled child were, genetically, about a decade older than those from peers who had much less caretaking experience. The study, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggests that the perception of being stressed can add years to a person's biological age.

And when the researchers compared the DNA of mothers caring for disabled children, they found a striking trend: after correcting for the effects of age, they calculated that the longer the women had taken care of their child, the shorter their telomere length, and the lower their telomerase activity. Some of the more experienced mothers were years older than their chronological age, as measured by their white blood cells.

The researchers also gave the women a questionnaire, asking them to rate on a three-point scale how overwhelmed they felt by daily life, and how often they were unable to control the important things in their lives. The women who perceived that they were under heavy stress also had significantly shortened telomeres, compared with those who felt more relaxed - whether they were raising a disabled child or not.

She said the group had plans to test the effect of meditation, mindfulness training and yoga on both perceived stress and telomere length.
via New York Times


Monday, November 29, 2004

Let Them Study Here

Last year, the number of foreign students at American colleges and universities fell for the first time since 1971. Recent reports show that total foreign student enrollment in our 2,700 colleges and universities dropped 2.4 percent, with a much sharper loss at large research institutions. Two-thirds of the 25 universities with the most foreign students reported major enrollment declines.

Educating foreign students is a $13 billion industry. Moreover, the United States does not produce enough home-grown doctoral students in science and engineering to meet our needs. The shortfall is partly made up by the many foreign students who stay here after earning their degrees.

Equally important, however, are the foreign students who return home and carry American ideas with them. They add to our soft power, the ability to win the hearts and minds of others. As Secretary of State Colin Powell put it, "I can think of no more valuable asset to our country than the friendship of future world leaders who have been educated here."
The admission of foreign students to the United States has been controversial in the past. During the cold war, the Eisenhower administration negotiated a student exchange program with the Soviet Union. Opponents argued that our Soviet enemies would misuse the student visas to send spies who would steal our scientific and industrial secrets. That did occur, but it was not the most important effect of the program.

In the first exchange in 1958, one of the students was a young Communist Party official named Aleksandr Yakovlev. He was strongly influenced by his studies of pluralism with David Truman, the Columbia political scientist. Mr. Yakovlev eventually went home to become the director of an important institute, a Politburo member, and one of the key liberalizing influences on Mikhail Gorbachev. A fellow student, Oleg Kalugin, who became a high official in the KGB, said of the visa program: "Exchanges were a Trojan horse for the Soviet Union. They played a tremendous role in the erosion of the Soviet system. ...They kept infecting more and more people over the years."

Starting in the 1950's, more than 110 American colleges and universities participated; some 50,000 Soviet academics, writers, journalists, officials and artists visited from 1958 to 1988. Imagine if the visa hawks had prevented Mr. Yakovlev and his like from entering the United States.
What if instead of restricting visas from countries with known terrorists, we allowed even more students into the US?

via New York Times


Hydrogen Production Method Could Bolster Fuel Supplies

You hear a lot of talk about the "hydrogen economy". I think this is misleading and many people are under the impression that instead of drilling for oil, we just drill for hydrogen. But you don't just collect hydrogren, you have to produce it from some other energy source. Hydrogen should be thought of as a battery, a way to transport and store energy. And how is hydrogen as a store of energy?

Experts cite three big roadblocks to a hydrogen economy: manufacturing hydrogen cleanly and at low cost, finding a way to ship it and store it on the vehicles that use it, and reducing the astronomical price of fuel cells.
Pretty crappy. So instead of thinking of the "hydrogen economy" we should be thinking of the "renewable energy economy". We need to replace coal and oil with solar, wind and nuclear. We need to find a way to store and transport the renewable energy. If Hydrogen is the most economic and technically feasible way to do it great. If another gas like methane, a fluid like methanol or some sort of solid salt is better fine use that.
The heart of the plan is an improvement on the most convenient way to make hydrogen, which is to run electric current through water, splitting the H2O molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. This process, called electrolysis, now has a drawback: if the electricity comes from coal, which is the biggest source of power in this country, then the energy value of the ingredients - the amount of energy given off when the fuel is burned - is three and a half to four times larger than the energy value of the product. Also, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions increase when the additional coal is burned.
Nothing quite like getting your clean hydrogen from dirty coal and loosing 80% of the energy in the transfer.
The idea is to build a nuclear reactor that would heat the cooling medium in the nuclear core, in this case helium gas, to about 1,000 degrees Celsius, or more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The existing generation of reactors, used exclusively for electric generation, use water for cooling and heat it to only about 300 degrees Celsius.

The hot gas would be used two ways. It would spin a turbine to make electricity, which could be run through the water being separated. And it would heat that water, to 800 degrees Celsius. But if electricity demand on the power grid ran extremely high, the hydrogen production could easily be shut down for a few hours, and all of the energy could be converted to electricity, designers say.

The goal is to create a reactor that could produce about 300 megawatts of electricity for the grid, enough to run about 300,000 window air-conditioners, or produce about 2.5 kilos of hydrogen per second. When burned, a kilo of hydrogen has about the same energy value as a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline. But fuel cells, which work without burning, get about twice as much work out of each unit of fuel. So if used in automotive fuel cells, the reactor might replace more than 400,000 gallons of gasoline per day.
The Chinese are working on such a nuclear reactor as this Wired article explains. If we can create hydrogen from a nuclear plant at an economic price, this sounds like a good way to go.
Another problem is that the United States has no infrastructure for shipping large volumes of hydrogen. Currently, most hydrogen is produced at the point where it is used, mostly in oil refineries. Hydrogen is used to draw the sulfur out of crude oil, and to break up hydrocarbon molecules that are too big for use in liquid fuel, and change the carbon-hydrogen ratio to one more favorable for vehicle fuel.

Mr. Herring suggested another use, however: recovering usable fuel from the Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. The reserves there may hold the largest oil deposits in the world, but extracting them and converting them into a gasoline substitute requires copious amounts of steam and hydrogen, both products of the reactor.
Interesting idea to use the hydrogen not directly, but to hydro-crack petroluem tars to create gasoline. You could put one of these mini-nuke plants next to a tar-sand refinery in Alberta and get gasoline out.

via New York Times


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

"Brain" in Dish Flies Simulated Fighter Jet

Scientists have grown a living "brain" that sits inside a petri dish and can fly a simulated F-22 fighter aircraft.

The brainchild of Thomas DeMarse, a biomedical engineer at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the "brain in a dish" is a collection of 25,000 neurons taken from the brain of a rat that are connected to a computer via 60 electrodes.

Neural network research may be setting the stage for the creation of so-called hybrid computers based on biological systems.

As the neurons begin to receive information from the computer about flight conditions—similar to how neurons receive and interpret signals from each other to control our bodies—the brain gradually learns to fly the aircraft.

"The neurons will analyze data from the computer, like whether the plane is flying level or is tilted to one side," DeMarse said. "The neurons respond by sending signals to the plane's controls to alter the flight path. New information is sent back to the neurons, creating a feedback system."
via National Geographic


USB Port to the Brain

This is fricking amazing. To be able to "see" through your toungue. Or to feel, or to hear. The plasticity of the brain is truly incredible. More examples at the BrainPort website.

The BrainPort is nearing commercialization. Two years ago, the University of Wisconsin patented the concept and exclusively licensed it to Wicab Inc., a company formed by Dr. Bach-y-Rita to develop and market BrainPort devices. Robert Beckman, the company president, said units should be available a year from now.

"We see with the brain, not with the eyes," Dr. Bach-y-Rita said. "You can lose your retina but you do not lose the ability to see as long as your brain is intact."

Mr. Weihenmayer, a 35-year-old adventurer who climbed to the summit of Mount Everest two years ago, recently tried another version of the BrainPort, a hard hat carrying a small video camera. Visual information from the camera was translated into pulses that reached his tongue.

He found doorways, caught balls rolling toward him and with his small daughter played a game of rock, paper and scissors for the first time in more than 20 years. Mr. Weihenmayer said that, with practice, the substituted sense gets better, "as if the brain were rewiring itself."

Blind people who have used the device do not report lasting effects. But they are amazed by what they can see. Mr. Weihenmayer said the device at first felt like candy pop rocks on his tongue. But that sensation quickly gave way to perceptions of size, movement and recognition.
The potential applications to this are unlimited. X-ray vision, being able to see in the infrared spectrum, night vision, super hearing. I wonder if our brains could even handle echo-location ala dolphins and bats. But of course the billion dollar idea is entertainment and video games.
Sensory substitution technology may eventually help millions of people overcome their sensory disabilities. But the devices may also have more frivolous uses: in video games, for example.

Dr. Raj said the tongue unit had already been tried out in a game that involved shooting villains. "In two minutes you stop feeling the buzz on your tongue and get a visual representation of the bad guy," he said. "You feel like you have X-ray vision. Unfortunately it makes the game boring."
via New York Times


Food Without Fear

In 1984 Americans were spending roughly 8 percent of their disposable income on health care and about 15 percent on food. Today, those numbers are essentially reversed.

If your image of a turkey's life is one of green grass and rolling hills, look more closely. Nearly 300 million turkeys are raised today on factory farms where they live in windowless buildings illuminated by bright lights 24 hours a day. (This keeps the turkeys awake and eating.) The birds stand wing to wing on wood shavings and eat an overly fortified diet that enables them to reach an ideal dressed weight of 15 pounds in 12 to 14 weeks. The most popular breed is the Broad Breasted White, aptly named because these turkeys develop disproportionately large breasts, which makes it difficult for the birds to walk (if they had room to do so) and procreate (assuming they'd want to) without artificial insemination.

So what kind of bird would fit more accurately with our agrarian fantasies? Well, how about one that spends most of its life outdoors? Such birds - called pastured birds - are able to move around freely. Instead of having to be injected with antibiotics to stay healthy, they doctor themselves, seeking out certain plants at certain times of the year for pharmacological reasons. Because they expend so much energy moving around, they also grow more slowly: it takes them a month longer to reach slaughter weight than factory birds, which is one of the reasons pasturing is less attractive to industrial farmers. Scientific research comparing the health benefits of conventionally raised turkey to pastured turkey is scarce, but some work has been done on chickens. A study sponsored by the Department of Agriculture in 1999, for example, found that pastured chickens have 21 percent less fat, 30 percent less saturated fat, 50 percent more vitamin A and 400 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than factory-raised birds. They also have 34 percent less cholesterol.
via The New York Times


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

New Gene Linked to Lighting Up

Scientists believe they have identified a gene that makes some young smokers greatly at risk to nicotine addiction, a factor that also influences the outcome of efforts to wean them off tobacco.

The finger is being pointed at two variants of a gene called CYP2A6, which controls enzymes that clear up nicotine in the liver.

Variants of this gene decrease levels of the enzymes, which means the nicotine is processed more slowly.

As a result, the brain is quickly exposed to high concentrations of nicotine, thus giving the smoker a pleasurable feeling, which is the key to addiction, according to the study, which appears on Tuesday in a British journal, Tobacco Control.
I can't wait for the day when a child will get a DNA test at birth and you will know how susceptible you are to nicotine, alcohol, and other food and drugs. I say that day is 15 years off where everyone can get their DNA sequenced for a reasonable fee.

via News24.com


Monday, November 22, 2004

When a Video Game Stops Being Fun

Interesting look at how unfun it is to work at Electronic Arts making video games.

Putting in long hours is what the industry calls "crunching." Once upon a time, the crunch came in the week or two before shipping a new release. Mr. Kirschenbaum's experience, however, has been a continuous string of crunches.

For around $60,000 a year in an area with a high cost of living, he had been set to work on a six-day-a-week schedule. On weekdays, his team worked from 9 to 10 (that is, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.), and on Saturdays, a half-day (that means 9 to 6). Then Sundays were added - noon to 8 or 10 p.m. The weekly total was 82 to 84 hours.
via New York Times


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Capitalism and Discrimination

During the Frontline show Is Wal-Mart good for America, there was an interesting part when a US TV manufacturer described how Wal-Mart had choosen to support the Chinese companies rather than his company in a price-dumping legal case. Ignoring the merits of the case (the Chinese were found guilty of price-dumping) I want to look at a comment he made:
Why would American companies fight American companies and American jobs unless it was for their own profit?

Sounds like a harsh indictment of Wal-Mart and capitalism in general of being greedy and looking to make money rather than anything else.

But what if we rewrite it slightly:
Why wouldn't American companies fight against non-American companies and non-American jobs unless it was for their own profit?

Still sounds pretty good. But what if we take the same underlying logic and change the the American tribe to some other tribes:

Why wouldn't white companies fight against minority companies and minority jobs unless it was for their own profit?
Why wouldn't Christian companies fight against Jewish companies and Muslim jobs unless it was for their own profit?
Why wouldn't companies run by men fight against companies run by women and jobs for women unless it was for their own profit?
Why wouldn't 1st world companies fight against 3rd world companies and 3rd world jobs unless it was for their own profit?

Now the profit motive looks pretty good. Capitalism is being used to fight racism and sexism and other forms of discrimination. If capitalists are only concerned with making money, it means they aren't concerned about your gender, your sexual orientation, where you were born, or the color of your skin. The only color capitalists are concerned with is green. It doesn't care where you live, or what religion you belong to. It is simply based on maximizing profit and the rate of return.

The irony is that Capitalists are depicted as a greedy old boys club that protects their own. But if you believe that, then you are saying that they take their friendship and tribal identity more importantly then making money. So you can either be greedy, or support your cronies but not both. In order to truly be greedy you must also be non-discriminatory.


Is Wal-Mart good for the World?

I was watching the Frontline show Is Wal-Mart good for America and it dawned on me that I don't really care about that question. What I care about is whether Wal-Mart is good for the entire world.

Ethically and morally, I see the case for doing the most amount of good to the most amount of people. It also seems the worth of a human life is the same, whether that person was born in China or in the US. I can see the ethical argument of trying to help those that are less well off, to try and help the poor rather than the rich. But doesn't that mean if is more important to try and help those Chinese that are living on $1/day then Americans living on $15/hour? If 2 Americans lose their jobs but 4 Chinese gain jobs, isn't this a net benefit for the world? If capitalism and by extension Wal-Mart bring 300 million people out of poverty in China, isn't it worth it even if the US unemployment rate goes up by 1%? If Wal-Mart is good for the world but bad for the US, isn't that still a good thing?

I couldn't come up with a good moral or ethical reason why I should be concerned about just America. Yes, I am an American. But I am also a blue state American which means that I have more in common with blue state Europeans then I do with red state Americans. I work in technology which means I have more in common with Chinese and Indian tech workers then I do with American non-tech workers. Yes humans are tribal, and we want to belong to a tribe. But why should the nation state be that dominant tribe? If a Seattle worker loses a job because the company is moving to Iowa, how is that any different than the job going to Mexico or China?

Looking at it this way, is Wal-Mart good for the world? I don't know. But I would sure like to see a Frontline show dedicated to.


Friday, November 19, 2004

Air Jaws

This photo in Yahoo News reminds me of my favorite documentary of all times: Air Jaws. Flying great white sharks so totally kick ass. I definetly need to sign up for one of Chris Fallows Expeditions. Check out his flying shark photos.


Not in Front of the Children


Those Bake Sales Add Up, to $9 Billion or So

In an informal survey of about 100 of its member organizations by the National PTA, conducted at the request of the reporter, the group concluded that parents and their communities contribute as much as if not more than $10 billion in cash and services to the nation's schools.
Sounds like a lot of money until you realize:
Public elementary and secondary schools claimed nearly $373 billion in federal, state and local revenues during the 1999-2000 school year, federal statistics show. Nearly $9 billion of that came from nongovernmental sources.
Then the $10 billion works out to about 2.5% of all spending. The $373 billion is an important number because it includes government spending from federal, state and local. Too often you see reports just looking at the federal spending on education, which I believe is about $50 billion. $373 billion of a $10 trillion economy puts primary education at about 3.5% of GDP.
Parental giving and fund-raising varies widely by income level. The PTA's for the poorest 25 percent of schools surveyed typically contributed $13 to $68 a student, while the wealthiest 25 percent of schools surveyed typically donated $192 to $279.
I think there is too much emphasis on how much money each school gets and not enough on how much time parents volunteer to the schools. I would really like to see a study about how much volunteer time is given by parents in rich vs. poor schools. Or how much time parents spend helping their kids with school work in rich vs. poor schools. Or how much importance doing well in school is given. The ideas that all schools should perform at the same level is really an absurd one given these underlying factors. I also wonder if all schools did get an equal amount of money, how much difference in achievement would still exist?

via The New York Times


Turning the Tax Tables to Help the Poor

From an accounting standpoint, there is no difference between a direct transfer to the poor and a refundable tax credit. In political terms, one is called welfare (a sure loser) and the other tax relief (an almost certain winner).

For example, the Democrats should advocate making the child tax credit refundable. While it has been expanded under Mr. Bush to $1,000 a child from $600, the credit does not fully benefit poor families who owe fewer taxes than the full credit amount. Making it refundable changes it into a program that is no different than a negative income tax - what McGovernites were proposing back in 1972, while calling it tax relief. Or, if we do end up with a flat tax, why not play a game of political chicken with Republicans by pushing the "no-tax" income exemption as high as possible?

Why not cut the payroll tax? The Social Security payroll tax is the biggest tax burden faced by poor Americans; cutting it would put more money in their pockets. Such a move would also stimulate hiring, since employers shoulder half the burden of the tax. This plan could be kept revenue-neutral by merely raising the amount of wages subject to the tax - now capped at $87,900.
Good ideas.
The military is now the de facto welfare state. The armed forces and the Department of Veterans Affairs are the two largest health care providers in the United States. The military is also a major bankroller of higher education through the G.I. Bill. And because of America's all-volunteer force, it is the nation's poor that disproportionately serve. By proposing major increases in benefits for the families of active personnel, reservists and veterans, Democrats can use that holiest of holy grails on the right - "our troops" - to help increase opportunities in American society.
Interesting take, but I think it makes sense. I have always found it funny that the right believes that the government can't do anything right, and yet they believe that our military is the best in the world, run very well and they have no problem giving them more money to spend. Instead of fighting them on this, co-opt them. The internet was created by the military. DARPA funds lots of really cool research, why not expand this? Don't have the government fund solar cell technology directly, have DARPA fund it as a way to allow our solidiers to be more mobile.
While Mr. Bush is poised to campaign for an "ownership society," several proposals have been stymied in Congress to provide universal savings accounts. These bills would provide every American, as a matter of birthright, with a trust fund of a few thousand dollars
Great idea. The British do it and they call them Baby bonds. Give every child born in America something like $5,000. The money can't be spent until they turn 18. Forces people to save and to learn how to invest. And it will help to finance their college education.
The United States is a country where - depending on how the question is worded - 90 percent of the population defines itself as middle class (and the top 20 percent of earners think they are among the top 2 percent).
Only in America do we want to be average and above average both at the same time.

via The New York Times


Gates Most Spammed in the World

Bill gets about four million emails a day, most of them spam.
All of a sudden my 100 a day seem kind of trivial.

Who would have ever thought this juvenile delinquent would grow up to rule the world?

via The Inquirer


Thursday, November 18, 2004

SBC in Deal With Microsoft to Provide TV on High-Speed Lines

SBC Communications, as part of its effort to compete head-on with the cable industry for television subscribers, plans to announce today that it will pay $400 million to Microsoft for software used to deliver TV programming over high-speed data lines.
$400 million? What does this software do that is so good? Why not buy all of Tivo for $500 million?
All IP-TV programs will be delivered as video-on-demand - consumers request a program from a central server and it is delivered immediately. In contrast, cable companies typically send hundreds of channels to customers' homes all at once - although newer, digital cable systems can also send programs one by one as in video-on-demand.
IP-TV? Not a bad name, but what happened to TVOIP?
Initially, SBC hopes that the Microsoft technology will allow it to simultaneously send two high-definition channels and two standard-definition channels for consumers with two televisions on at once, as well as a high-speed Internet connection to consumers. Subscribers will need to add only a new set-top box to receive the programming. SBC will also have to achieve vast increases in data speeds on its network.
Mom, Billy is watching two TV shows and slowing down my downloads.
A major hurdle for SBC, however, is how to increase the speed of its network to deliver the television and Internet services it promises. SBC will have to increase its current connection speeds by sevenfold, which may make the company's goal of providing television programming within a year difficult to achieve.
I hate it when the writers think we are too stupid to handle numbers. What is the current speed and what do they need to get to? What does HDTV take, about 10Mbs? So they would need about 25Mbs to make 2 HDTV, 2 regular and broadband?

This is a major change in TV and could be a major competitive advantage for the telcos. The idea of the TV "channel" is dead. Syndicated tv shows will be more important then ever. Instead of watching one episode of the West Wing a week, why not wait until the season is over and then watch all the epsiodes back to back? I forsee a day of "series addicts". I first saw this when I loned by 24 DVDs to a friend, who then then spent 24 hours watching them back to back (well actually just 16 without the commericals).

Imagine having access to every interview Charlie Rose ever did. You aren't limited by who he has on the show tonight, this week, or even this month. If he ever did the interview you can watch it when you want. Want to see how Bill Gates has changed over time? Pull up his interviews over the years. Want to see how his vision of the world differs with Jobs? Watch interviews back to back.

The other big thing is the birth of TV Blogs. By this I mean individuals creating video material for others to view. Micro-audiences. Think Wonkette/Gizmodo/BoingBoing meets TV. Those of us that think that a week is just to short of time for Shark Week. Homemade/low buget underwater video of sharks. Bring it on, I will watch all that you have. Travel shows to exotic locations (particularly ones I am about to visit), I will watch it. Cooking shows that can be chosen based on the recipe, I love it. A Seattle (or any city) version of the Daily Show, I'm so there. Family vacation video, uhh get back to me on that one.

For those who are concerned about media concentration this is going to be a major opportunity to make sure that the law requires the providers to allow access to any "channel" that is out there. Because the big telcos are technological idiots I don't think they will see the advantage to them of doing this. Activists will have to take it to them to force the lines open. NTT DoCoMo created such an economic model that allowed small players to make money and it became a huge success.

via NY Times


Belarus is Rebuilidng on Top of Chernobyl Radiation

As the need for more energy from global warming friendly technology grows, we need to take a look at Nuclear again. Part of this discussion should be about just how bad nuclear waste is. We need to get perspective on it. Instead of saying that radiation causes cancer, we need to say that a prolonged exposure to low doses of radiation is the equivalent of smoking 1/2 pack of cigarettes a day. This isn't nearly as scary.

So why can't we get good data from the Chernobyl region about how bad the effects of radiation are? This article is a start.

In all, 7 million people in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are believed to have suffered medical problems as a result of the April 25, 1986, accident. In Ukraine, more than 2.32 million people, including 452,000 children, have been treated for radiation-linked illnesses, including thyroid and blood cancer and cancerous growths, according to Ukrainian health officials.
Interesting stat, but how many of them had serious life altering illnesses or were killed? And could we compare these illnesses to those that are caused by burning coal for electricity? The air pollution and mercury caused by coal are bad too, but they aren't as scary as radiation.
Nikolai Nagorny, director of the International Committee of the Red Cross' Chernobyl program, said that cases of thyroid cancer -- one of the few radiation-related illnesses that has been well studied around Chernobyl -- have skyrocketed among children in Belarus' affected regions, from just two cases of thyroid cancer before the accident to at least 1,000 in the 10 years after.
Yes, the rate of thyroid cancer has skyrocketed, but it is still only 100 people per year. And thyroid cancer is not usually fatal. You need to have your thyroid removed and you are put on iodine pills for the rest of your life. Compare this with the number of people that are maimed each year from automobile accidents. Or what is happening in Iraq right now.

via North County Times


Tax Reform

Interesting ideas by Michael Graetz on how to reform taxes.

Enacting a value-added tax - a tax on sales of goods and services collected at all stages of production - at a rate of 14 percent would finance an income-tax exemption of up to $100,000.

Imagine a world of no tax returns for families that earn less than $100,000. Wealthier families, meanwhile, would face a vastly simpler income tax at a 25 percent rate on income of more than $100,000 after deductions for charitable contributions, home mortgages, medical expenses, and state and local taxes. Low and middle-income families would be protected from any tax increase by refunds of their payroll taxes.

This tax reform would eliminate more than 100 million of the approximately 130 million income tax returns filed each year. Unlike the flat tax or the sales tax, it would also keep income tax incentives for employers to provide health insurance and pensions to their employees. At the same time, the corporate income tax rate could be whittled down to 25 percent and, to eliminate corporate tax shelters, changes could be made to more closely link tax and book income.
I think I would get rid of the home mortgage deduction since it would only go to those making over $100,000. Why subsidize the purchasing of mansions?

And it would make for an interesting social situation. Income tax paying now becomes a sign of success. People would start bragging about how they have to pay income taxes.

via NY Times


George Will: Questions for Condi

Not usually a big fan of George Will, but these questions for Condi are right on.

If you had been secretary in 1991, would you have advocated regime change — driving on to Baghdad?

In 1991, the secretary of defense, explaining the unwisdom of regime change, said: "Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shi'a regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists?

"How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?"

Was Dick Cheney right?
And, you might want to ask Dickie boy about that one as well.
The president says it is "cultural condescension" to question "whether this country, or that people, or this group, are 'ready' for democracy." Condescending, perhaps, but is it realistic? Tony Blair says it is a "myth" that "our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture." Are there cultural prerequisites for free polities? Does Iraq have them? Do the Palestinian people, after a decade of saturation propaganda inciting terrorism and anti-Semitism? Does the United States know how to transplant those prerequisites?
Good question. Seems like stability and security are prerequisites and that democracy can't be imposed from the outside, but what do I know?
You have said that it would be "unacceptable" for Iran or North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons. What, if anything, does that commit the United States to do if negotiations continue to be unavailing? Or if, as some intelligence reports suggest, North Korea already has several such weapons?
All of his questions are excellent, I would recommend reading the whole article.

New York Post


In Asia, China Gains Economic Hold

"For a few years ahead, it will still be the United States as No.1, but soon it will be China," Long, the son of a Thai businessman.

The center is part of China's expanding presence across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where Beijing is making a big push to market itself and its language, similar to the way the United States promoted its culture and values during the Cold War. It is not a hard sell, particularly to young Asians eager to cement cultural bonds as China deepens its economic and political interests in the region.

Put off from visiting the United States by the difficulty of gaining visas after 9/11, more and more Southeast Asians are traveling to China as students and tourists. Likewise, Chinese tourists, less fearful than Americans of the threat of being targets of terrorism, are becoming the dominant tourist group in the region, outnumbering Americans in places such as Thailand and fast catching up to the ubiquitous Japanese.

But the trend is clear, educators and diplomats here say: The Americans are losing influence.

As Washington cuts back, China is providing concrete alternatives. The Chinese president and Communist Party chief, Hu Jintao, told the Australian Parliament last year:

"The Chinese culture belongs not only to the Chinese, but also to the whole world," he said. "We stand ready to step up cultural exchanges with the rest of the world in a joint promotion of cultural prosperity."
via Seattle PI


Oprah Celebrates 20,000th Pound Lost

Talk-show superstar Oprah Winfrey celebrated losing her 20,000th pound in a star-packed gala at the Sutton Place Hotel in Chicago's Gold Coast Monday night.
According to her spokesman, Winfrey has been on 674 diets, embarked on 255 fitness routines, and weighed herself 4,349,571 times during her 30-year career in broadcasting and film.
Yeah Oprah! And best wishes on going for 30,000.

via The Onion


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers' Habits

By its own count, Wal-Mart has 460 terabytes of data stored on Teradata mainframes, made by NCR, at its Bentonville headquarters. To put that in perspective, the Internet has less than half as much data, according to experts.

With 3,600 stores in the United States and roughly 100 million customers walking through the doors each week, Wal-Mart has access to information about a broad slice of America .

Eventually, some experts say, Wal-Mart will use its technology to institute what is called scan-based trading, in which manufacturers own each product until it is sold.

"Wal-Mart will never take those products onto its books," said Bruce Hudson, a retail analyst at the Meta Group, an information technology consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. "If you think of the impact of shedding $50 billion of inventory, that is huge."
via New York Times


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

World Community Grid

I.B.M. plans today to announce a project to harness untapped computing power from millions of personal computers to help unlock the genetic mysteries of illnesses like AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, malaria and cancer.

The project, called the World Community Grid, was developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the United Nations and other organizations, and represents a significant step in the use of the Internet to foster collaborative scientific research. The goal is to combine computer resources and the shared knowledge of researchers to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery.

The new network's resources will be devoted to a series of problems chosen by a 17-member advisory board. Its first mission will be the Human Proteome Folding Project, directed by the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit research organization in Seattle. The proteome project seeks to identify all the proteins in the human body and their functions.

Researchers wishing to take advantage of the grid must agree to keep their research and software tools in the public domain.

Those wishing to join the grid project and donate computer time will be able to download software from a Web site, www.worldcommunitygrid.org.
via New York Times


Sunday, November 14, 2004

As the Dollar Declines

The dollar, which has declined nearly 30 percent against the euro since President Bush took office in 2001, fell to a record low this week. The decline has not been as marked against other currencies, largely because China and Japan prop up the dollar by investing heavily in United States Treasury securities - in effect, lending us money so we can buy their goods.

During the Bush years, 92 percent of the nearly $1 trillion increase in publicly held debt has been financed by foreign lenders.

Foreign ownership of Treasuries has tripled from the peak of the Reagan deficits in 1983. Because of this enormous dependency, anything that might affect foreign lenders' willingness to invest in Treasuries - including dismay over the United States' long-term fiscal disarray, better investment opportunities elsewhere, or geopolitical or economic strife - could cause the dollar to tank.
This is both amazing and underreported. All of our tax cuts are being financed by foreigners. This also means all of the Bush GDP "growth" has been put on credit cards owned by foreigners. I wish the article would have said which countries picked up this $920 billion tab. I would guess China and Japan own the majority of it, but I would like to see the actual numbers.

Clinton tried to warn us in his Democratic Convention speech, but Kerry never touched on it.

Argentinian style fiscal collapse, here we come!

via The New York Times


Saturday, November 13, 2004

Cellphones Take iPod Challenge

Cellphones handling music is the next step. Why have one device to play music and another to make calls/access the internet? This is the first step, but I think streaming the songs makes the most sense from a business plan perspective. You can't steal if you already have access to all music. The cellphone nimrods are working on video when they should be focusing on music. The files will be smaller. Follow the adaption curve just like on internet PCs: first text, then voice/music, then pictures/video. Give me a cell plan with unlimited 128kbs internet access for around $20/month. Give me a Rhapsody like subscription service music plan for $10/month. Call it the infinite iPod. Access to 70,000 songs, no hard drive necessary. But these guys aren't going that way yet.

The potential of mobile devices as a music delivery platform is clear. There are hundreds of millions of cell phone owners, particularly in European countries, where penetration rates can be as much 80 percent of the population. That pool represents a vastly larger potential market than the millions of people who use iPods or other MP3 players.

Music for cell phones is relatively expensive and scarce--just 3,000 songs are available through Vodafone's music download store, although the company promises that will rise to 50,000 in just a few months.

Getting the pricing right for music on cell phones can be a headache. Vodafone charges about $2.75 for each song, and in Japan, carrier KDDI plans to launch a service this month that will offer wirelessly downloadable songs for between $2 and $3. That compares with the 99-cent price per song at Apple's iTunes and other PC-based download stores. In addition, the cost of downloaded tunes is easily comparable to the cost of buying a CD.
via CNET News.com


Friday, November 12, 2004

We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin

"Backed by the ministry of culture and directed by Ronaldo Lemos da Silva, a law professor and point man for Creative Commons in Brazil, the project has rounded up an impressive starter collection of public-domain titles for digitization, mostly recordings produced by Brazil's music industry in its fertile early days. The hope, though, is that in the long run this initial collection might yield an even more ambitious scheme: an alternative compensation system for online music that could break the stalemate between industry and fans once and for all. One plan is to grant a copyright license to file-sharers, similar to the one that lets radio stations broadcast songs without prior permission. And as with radio, an agency would track downloads and then pay rights-holders their fair share of a universal service fee levied on all Internet subscribers.

It's a tough sell for sure, especially to an industry from which even Brazil's most politically powerful musician couldn't ransom 10 seconds of his own music. But so far no other plan for resolving the online-music wars promises to get closer to that best of all possible outcomes: artists get paid and peer-to-peer thrives. And so far, only Brazil has shown anything like the political will required to make it happen. "
Interesting idea. Music is going to become all about the subscription. Finding a way for people to consume as much as they want when they want, allowing artists to build on previous artists work, and allowing artists to get paid. A universal service fee on all Internet subscribers is such a subscription. It is also very similar to a tax. I like it!

via Wired 12.11


Is the Grass Greener in a Bush-less Country?

I guess I wasn't the only one checking the prices on a one way ticket to New Zealand. The ramifications of this will be felt for decades after Bush leaves office. If the most creative people choose to leave the US (or never immigrate to begin with) the economy will feel it and it will trickle down to all Americans, even those in red states.

While no one has good estimates yet on how many Americans may leave the country due at least partially to politics, if Web sites are any indication, the numbers are not paltry, or a few hundred on the fringe. Last Wednesday, Canada's immigration Web site had almost 180,000 visitors -- most from the United States -- six times its normal traffic. On the same day, a site for New Zealand received over 10,000 hits, more than four times its usual count of 2,500. And the people we spoke with were nearly all college-educated, well-employed homeowners -- the kind of people other nations usually welcome.

Terry Murphy, marketing director for the New Zealand Immigration Service in Portland, says he's getting five times the normal volume of calls, with many inquiries from Portland, Seattle, Idaho and Alaska.

He said about 25,000 Americans live in New Zealand now. Normally, 250 apply each year through their skilled migrant category; this year, pre-election, they were already at 350. They expect those numbers to spike as what some call "Bush refugees" send in applications.
via Seattle PI


Unanswered Election Questions

I have been thinking about this for a little while, and I have a whole different way of thinking and set of questions to be answered then what I have read in papers.

On the question of whether the Ohio votes weren't accurate: who cares? When Gore lost in 2000 I was upset because he had won the popular vote. I really don't like the electoral college. So I think when Bush won the popular vote by 3.5 million votes that he is the president. Had Kerry won the popular vote and lost electoral vote by 150,000 votes in Ohio, then I would be concerned about vote tampering. The fact that if 70,000 Ohioans had changed their votes that Bush could have lost the election while winning the popular vote 51% to 48% is more concerning to me.

There has been a lot of talk about how how about the problem of electronic voting machines not having paper trails. But, if you have a paper trail and the paper and electronic results differ, which one would you believe is more accurate? Why, or under what scenarios would you trust one over the other? I think the better question is what potential fraud strategies would paper trails deter, and do paper trails add more potential fraud strategies then they remove? I have yet to see any analysis of that question.

I think that we give up on the idealist vision that elections should be 100% accurate. Instead we should move to margin of error ala polls. The election result is 49% +-3%. We should aim to get our voting machines/system to an accuracy of 1% but we should base the error margin on type of voting system and previous results. If the voting ends up in the error of margin then there should be a coin toss. Or maybe set it up like College Basketball with a possession arrow. Do it alphabetically. Idaho went to Bush, so Indiana now goes to Kerry. :)

Ever notice how all the pundits on TV start by saying "well the exit polls may not be that accurate" and then go on to tell you why Americans voted the way they did based on the exit polls? Or they say, the exit polls might not be the best way to tell final outcome, but you can trust them for answering why people voted the way they did. But if the polls oversampled Kerry voters, wouldn't the results also over represent Kerry voter's ideas? Shouldn't they at least give you an error margin on the results? 22% of Americans voted on moral values +-10%. Supposedly 17% of voters in 2000 and 04 were 18-29. But if 2000 was 17+-3% and 2004 was 17%+-3%, then they actually could have been 14%-20% which is a major increase.

2004 Results:
Bush: 59.7 mil (+9.2 mil)
Kerry: 56.3 mil (+5.3 mil)
Other: 1.2 mil (-2.7 mil)
Total: 117.2

2000 Results:
Bush: 50.5 mil
Gore: 51.0 mil
Other: 3.9 mil
Total: 105.4

The question I still don't understand is where did all of these new Bush voters come from? 12 million more voters or 11% increase from last year. (Side point - Why the hell were the voting lines so long if the increase was only 11%? Sure seems like the wait increased more than 11%, but maybe that was just in a couple of counties where the increase was greater). If you look at this result from the exit poll (standard +-3% disclaimer :)) you see a couple of things:

Bush Kerry
Did Not Vote (17%) 45% 54%
Gore (37%) 10% 90%
Bush (43%) 91% 9%
Other (3%) 21% 71%

(By total vote) Bush Kerry
Did Not Vote (17%) 7.7% 9.2%
Gore (37%) 3.7% 33.3%
Bush (43%) 39.0% 3.9%
Other (3%) .6% 2.1%
51.0 48.5

(By mil people) Bush Kerry
Did Not Vote (17%) 9.0 10.8
Gore (37%) 4.3 39.0
Bush (43%) 45.6 4.6
Other (3%) .7 2.5
59.6 56.9

While there were 12 million extra voters, based on this data there was actually 20 mil new voters - 7.9 mil didn't voters (voted in 2000 not 2004). Of the didn't voters, 7.7 mil voted for Gore and .3 mil for Bush! What happened to all the Gore voters? 15% of people who voted for Gore in 2000 didn't vote! While 99.5% of 2000 Bush voters voted again in 2004.

Maybe the Gore voters died? About 3.8 million people die a year * 4 years = 15.2 million Americans * 50% voting rate = 7.2 million voters died since last time. But I wouldn't think they would all be Gore guys.

Maybe the Gore voters stayed home? But why? Were there disgruntled Gore supporters that wouldn't vote for Kerry? Haven't heard about them. Maybe the exit polls are off, but Bush's new voters had to come from somewhere. This seems to be a very important question to answer in explaining how Kerry has lost and I haven't read any analysis of it anywhere.

Another interesting question is if all 100% of eligible voters voted, who would have won? I think that the will of all eligible (or maybe you just look at registered) voters might be a more important question of who the American people support than just looking at the 60% that did vote. I wonder if the pollsters did any polls on registered voters vs. likely voters. And why the hell didn't the 40% get off their lazy behinds to vote this year? Maybe they didn't like either candidate? Haven't seen any analysis of eligible voters who didn't vote and who they are, who they would have voted for, and why they didn't vote. This is also important to understanding how Kerry lost.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

More Purple States

Cool Red, Blue, Purple State Maps
Image of Red, Blue, Purple counties resized by population:


Scans of Monks' Brains

The result was the scans that Prof. Davidson projected in Dharamsala. They compared brain activity in volunteers who were novice meditators to that of Buddhist monks who had spent more than 10,000 hours in meditation. The task was to practice "compassion" meditation, generating a feeling of loving kindness toward all beings.

In a striking difference between novices and monks, the latter showed a dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity called gamma waves during compassion meditation. Thought to be the signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-flung brain circuits, gamma waves underlie higher mental activity such as consciousness. The novice meditators "showed a slight increase in gamma activity, but most monks showed extremely large increases of a sort that has never been reported before in the neuroscience literature," says Prof. Davidson, suggesting that mental training can bring the brain to a greater level of consciousness.

Using the brain scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging, the scientists pinpointed regions that were active during compassion meditation. In almost every case, the enhanced activity was greater in the monks' brains than the novices'. Activity in the left prefrontal cortex (the seat of positive emotions such as happiness) swamped activity in the right prefrontal (site of negative emotions and anxiety), something never before seen from purely mental activity. A sprawling circuit that switches on at the sight of suffering also showed greater activity in the monks. So did regions responsible for planned movement, as if the monks' brains were itching to go to the aid of those in distress.
via WSJ.com - Science Journal (Journal Article (pdf))


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Conflicting Views of Reef-Fish Colors

People can theorize till the cowfish come home about what they see on a reef, but what matters is what fish see, and that's been hard to determine.

Improvements in cameras and in equipment for analyzing light and color are now inspiring new approaches to approximating a fish-eye view of the reefs. Looking at the abundant coloration from a fishy perspective, the new work demonstrates that people can be quite wrong about what's showy and what's subtle.

At the wavelengths in which fish see the world, the yellow of a trumpet fish swimming along 3 meters or more away becomes a "very good match" for the average reef background, says Marshall.

These researchers measured the wavelengths bouncing off various parts of the reef to come up with what they call an average reef color. They found, for example, that a common light-blue color, familiar to fish fanciers in the bands on the blue-and-yellow angelfish Pygoplites diacanthus, matches the general bluish background a fish sees when looking into the distance through relatively deep water.

"What's surprising is that some of the colors that look bright to us are for camouflage," Marshall says.
via Science News


Schizophrenia Brain Fault 'Found'

Scientists say they have identified faulty brain waves that may explain the symptoms of schizophrenia.

When the researchers looked at the brain wave patterns they found the patients with schizophrenia showed no activity in a certain wave band when performing the button-pushing task.

However, the healthy volunteers had visible gamma wave activity, indicating that their brains were processing the visual information to guide their response.

"If the most efficient communication between assemblies of neurons is at 40 hertz, and the schizophrenics are using a lower frequency, it's likely they have defective communication between cell assemblies and brain regions."

"If you know the neurochemical identity of the neurons and synapses involved in generating gamma activity, you can try to target treatments toward them."
via BBC


Monday, November 08, 2004

How To Be Creative

My favorite points:

2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.

3. Put the hours in.
Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. 90% of what separates successful people and failed people is time, effort, and stamina.

5. You are responsible for your own experience.
Nobody can tell you if what you're doing is good, meaningful or worthwhile. The more compelling the path, the lonelier it is.

7. Keep your day job.
I'm not just saying that for the usual reason i.e., because I think your idea will fail. I'm saying it because to suddenly quit one's job in a big ol. creative drama-queen moment is always, always, always in direct conflict with what I call "The Sex & Cash Theory."
THE SEX & CASH THEORY: The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs. One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.
A good example is Phil, a NY photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the indie magazines.it pays nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he.ll go off and shoot some catalogs for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.
I'm thinking about the young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool and hip magazines who dreams of one day of not having her life divided so harshly. Well, over time the "gharshly" bit might go away, but not the "divided". This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended. Anyway, it.s called "The Sex & Cash Theory." Keep it under your pillow.

13. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.

17. Merit can be bought. Passion can’t.
The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.

21. Selling out is harder than it looks.
Diluting your product to make it more “commercial” will just make people like it less

via Change This (pdf)


Conservative vs Liberal Child Raising

I took the various positions on the conservative side and on the progressive side and I said, "Let's put them through the metaphor from the opposite direction and see what comes out." I put in the two different views of the nation, and out popped two different models of the family: a strict father family and a nurturant parent family.
Strict father family:
The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore, they have to be made good. What is needed in this kind of a world is a strong, strict father who can:

-Protect the family in the dangerous world,
-Support the family in the difficult world, and
-Teach his children right from wrong.

What is required of the child is obedience, because the strict father is a moral authority who knows right from wrong. It is further assumed that the only way to teach kids obedience — that is, right from wrong — is through punishment, painful punishment, when they do wrong. Without such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality.
Nurturant parent family:
In the nurturant parent worldview, both parents are equally responsible for raising the children. The assumption is that children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that. The parents' job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others.

What does nurturance mean? It means two things: empathy and responsibility. If you have a child, you have to know what every cry means. You have to know when the child is hungry, when he needs a diaper change, when he is having nightmares. And you have a responsibility — you have to take care of this child. Since you cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself, you have to take care of yourself enough to be able to take care of the child.

Second, if you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are an unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are. The Dalai Lama teaches us that. Therefore it is your moral responsibility to be a happy, fulfilled person. Your moral responsibility. Further, it is your moral responsibility to teach your child to be a happy, fulfilled person who wants others to be happy and fulfilled.
via Alternet


Feds: Obesity Raising Airline Fuel Costs

Interesting article on the impact of heavier people on flying. The obvious solution to this problem isn't even mentioned: charge more for heavier people. No way I am going to subsidize someone elses fat ass.

America's growing waistlines are hurting the bottom lines of airline companies as the extra pounds on passengers are causing a drag on planes. Heavier fliers have created heftier fuel costs, according to the government study.

Through the 1990s, the average weight of Americans increased by 10 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites). The extra weight caused airlines to spend $275 million to burn 350 million more gallons of fuel in 2000 just to carry the additional weight of Americans, the federal agency estimated in a recent issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The extra fuel burned also had an environmental impact, as an estimated 3.8 million extra tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air, according to the study.
via Yahoo News


Apply Current, Boost Brain Power

Sending a weak electrical impulse through the front of a person's head can boost verbal skills by as much as 20 percent, according to a new study by the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

In the study, researchers at the institute asked 103 volunteers to recall as many words that begin with a particular letter as possible. The researchers then passed a 2-milliamp current -- one-tenth of what is needed to power a small LED (light-emitting diode) light -- through electrodes attached to the surfaces of the volunteers' foreheads. When the volunteers were quizzed again while the current was still on, this time with a different letter, they were able to come up with 20 percent more words on average.

"This process is so easy to miniaturize that it essentially becomes wearable," he said. "One day, a patient could be wearing it in a hat with the power source in a bucket and turning it on perhaps at critical times of day."

But don't expect to be able to buy a "thinking cap" to help your kids with their homework anytime soon. Wassermann said he and his team only plan to focus on medical applications right now.
via Wired


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Are We Really Red and Blue States...

The Breakdown of Red States vs Blue States gets even worse when you look at it by county: USA Today Map
Click on the 2000 tab and notice how nothing has really changed (well except the fact that the US appears to have picked up 12,000 square miles).

Notice anything similar on the map of:Free States and Slave States, before the Civil War?

or are we actually Purple States...

Larger Version

Possibly the whole red/blue thing is overdone. Even the county level there are lots of red and blue people throughout the USA.

or are we two separate countries?

Then again, maybe it is time to think about splitting the country in two (or three). The India/Pakistan split ought to be a good model. Or maybe we just do a little North American Redistricting.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

India Looks to China for Techies

Seattle PI Article on India not being able to keep up with demand for IT workers.

Vigorous global demand -- revenue from India's information technology exports was $12.5 billion in the year ended in March, up 30 percent from the previous year -- has resulted in a 10 percent to 15 percent annual rise in wages in India's software and back-office services industry.

According to a KPMG study for the National Association of Software and Services Companies, an industry trade group in India, the country will face an acute shortage of technical employees by 2009, falling short by about 250,000 workers.

China has some 200,000 information technology workers -- compared with India's 850,000 -- in 6,000 local companies, according to some estimates. More than 50,000 Chinese software programmers are being added to this pool annually.

China also offers Indian outsourcing companies a low employee turnover rate. For instance, Tata Consultancy's staff turnover in China is less than 6 percent a year, compared with 15 percent in its Indian operations.


Democracy or Honesty?

Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2004

TI estimates that the amount lost due to bribery in government procurement is at least US$ 400 billion per year worldwide.
Finland is the least corrupt country, US shows up at 17, Japan 24, China 71, India and Russia 90, Haiti and Bangledesh tie for last at 145.

Maybe it is jut me, but I think the US is putting too much emphasis on democracy and not enough on lack of corruption. I would rather live in an honest non-corrupt dictatorship than a corrupt democracy. Democracy allows you to have input into who the leader is, but I would rather not have input and have a good honest leader, then the ability to choose between two incompentant corrupt leaders.

Where would you rather live today, in Communist China or the kleptocracy known as Russia? Russia maybe a democracy, but it is more corrupt than China and has less economic opportunity. And who has better leaders these days?

Or how about would you rather live in China or India? India is a democracy but has higher corruption on the TI scale.

Should the US be spreading democracy or should we instead focus on fighting corruption and spreading good governence and transparency? In Iraq maybe we should be focusing more on transparency and less on democracy.
“The future of Iraq depends on transparency in the oil sector,” added Eigen. “The urgent need to fund postwar construction heightens the importance of stringent transparency requirements in all procurement contracts,” he continued. “Without strict anti-bribery measures, the reconstruction of Iraq will be wrecked by a wasteful diversion of resources to corrupt elites.”
The study also shows the oil often goes hand and hand with corruption. Think a developing country would be better off if it found oil? Think again.
As the Corruption Perceptions Index 2004 shows, oil-rich Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen all have extremely low scores. In these countries, public contracting in the oil sector is plagued by revenues vanishing into the pockets of western oil executives, middlemen and local officials.


Japan Issues New Currency

What's the latest in the wackiest country on earth? New currency.

Ostensibly, the newly designed notes that will flood into A.T.M.'s this week were introduced to foil counterfeiters. In 1998, only 800 cases of forged yen notes were detected.

Counterfeiting probably costs Japan only $1 million a year in direct losses. Most fake bills, generally 1,000-yen notes, are swallowed by vending machines, Japan's ubiquitous mechanical purveyors of drinks and cigarettes. Introducing the new currency will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, partly to issue 10 billion new bank notes, and partly to modify the 1.8 million vending machines in Japan.
I love the vending machine culture in Japan. Where else can you buy hot and cold drinks and whatever else you want?
"The trick in Japan is to unlock the mattress money, the futon money," Jesper Koll, chief economist for Merrill Lynch Japan, said. "In Japan, coins and notes account for about 15 percent of national income, which compares to 6 percent in Germany and 3 to 3.5 percent in America."

Until Japan's banking crisis hit a decade ago, 7 percent of the national income was held in cash. Now, with the banks increasingly stable, the government hopes to lure some of the $700 billion in mattress money into banks, or better yet into consumer spending and investments.
Those crazy cash in the mattress hoarding Japanese grandparents. Most countries have a black market, the Japanese have a mattress economy.
The new 1,000-yen bill features Hideyo Noguchi, a scientist credited with isolating the bacteria that causes syphilis.
Ahh, why? No way I am touching that bill without plastic gloves. All I read in that last line was "The new 1,000-yen bill ... causes syphilis."

via link


Monday, November 01, 2004

Nationalist Fervor Gains Ground in China

Disturbing happenings in the land of the crazy Capitalist Communists. Also great investment opportunity to bring Nationalistic Cable TV to China. The Arab countries have Al-Jazera, the US has Fox news, now China needs a "news" channel to ferment nationalist fervor. Rupert Murdoch, are you listening?

Among the marchers was one of their chief organizers, an earnest 29-year-old computer programmer named Lu Yunfei. His boyish face, with his conservative haircut and wire-rim glasses, is the new face of China's resurgent nationalism: a well-organized movement that exploits Internet technology to launch petitions and verbal attacks against Japan and the United States.

As communism slides into irrelevance, the new nationalists are emerging as a powerful force in China, with ominous implications for its neighbors.

After a soccer match between China and Japan in Beijing this summer, hundreds of angry Chinese men chanted "Kill the Japanese" as they pelted Japan's team bus with plastic bottles and forced Japanese fans to hide behind a police barricade for hours.

A few years ago, Lu spent his weekends strumming his guitar and singing karaoke at Beijing nightclubs. Now, he spends his spare time -- up to 50 hours a week -- on his work with the Patriots Alliance, a network of nationalist activists with close to 100 volunteer workers and 79,000 registered supporters on its Web site.

It was further evidence of Beijing's semiofficial approval of the new nationalists. The Communist leaders are seeking to harness Chinese nationalism as a unifying force, a sentiment that can be tapped by authorities to build loyalty, to quell opposition and to fire the passions of young people who might otherwise drift into dissent.
via Seattle PI


Students Stop Flocking to Tech Field

Because of all of those damn articles that keep talking about how outsourcing is going to take all of the tech jobs, students are going into other fields. This is going to be a major issue for the US going forward as both India and China are graduating tons of computer scientists and other engineers.

The number of new undergraduate majors in U.S. computer science programs has fallen 28 percent since 2000, reports the Computing Research Association, a group of more than 200 North American computer science, computer engineering and related academic departments.
via Rocklin & Roseville Today