Monday, March 30, 2009

Dumpster Diving

"Scavenging has a long and storied history on the margins of the mainstream, from the rag-and-bone man in Dickens' "Bleak House" to the destitute residents of "Hoovervilles" during the Great Depression and idealistic hippies like the Diggers in the '60s. Rufus and Lawson hope that today, the combination of the recession, vintage chic and our growing environmental awareness will help remove some of the stigma from scavenging and encourage more of us to embrace it.

In today's dire economic climate, Lawson and Rufus invite us to think of ourselves not as cash-poor consumers with so much less to spend but as resourceful thrift shoppers, yard salers, discount shoppers, free-box foragers, clothing swappers, freecyclers and maybe even Dumpster divers. By their definition, many of us may already be scavengers and not even realize it. They even have a name for my Saturday morning grocery store visit, timed for the free samples to snack on. Yes, I had no idea, but I'm a "free-sample forager.""


A subtly powerful article about scavenging that makes you think when seeing where some of this stuff comes from. A good read for sure and something useful to know as we move deeper into depression. Thanks Salon for posting this.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Internet Archive

A great resource for info is Archive.org where all things related to the Web and other such sundries reside. It's a great place to get lost in. :)

Geithner Plan II

Willie Sutton has nothing on these guys.




To see another two takes on why the banks make out, click here & here.

Air Force 2

Air Force 2
I must stop talking about economics but the ironies are too hard to resist. :)

Click here to get the particulars on the JPMorgan Chase acquisitions.
Click here to get the definition of TARP.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Big Takeover

The Rolling Stone image says it all but more importantly, read Mike Taibbi's The Big Takeover to learn how we have been shafted by the best in the business.

"No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline — a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire."

To get another dose of reality, Cenk Uygur's excellent piece about Naked CDS Deals should be a wake up call for us to take back our country before it's too late.

"The size of our national economy this year is roughly $15 trillion. The size of the Credit Default Swaps (CDS) market is $64 trillion. The whole world GDP is about $56 trillion [1]. How could the CDS market be larger than the world GDP combined? That doesn't make any sense.

The minute I read that many months ago, I realized that there was something unreal going on in the CDS market. By "unreal" I mean something that is given value even though it is not attached to real assets. And the more I researched, the more I realized that was true.

CDS are basically supposed to be insurance on a group of assets. So, if you have a collection of mortgages, loans and other assets, and you would like to insure their value, you get a CDS. This makes sense since some of these underlying assets turned out to be quite risky.

What doesn't make sense is for the insurance market to be many times larger than the value of all of the underlying assets combined. Well, it turns out there is a reason for that. It's called the "naked" CDS. These deals are not attached to any underlying asset. They are not collateralized. They are not attached to anything of real value. They are simply bets. As in wagers. As in gambling."


Last but not least, Simon Johnson's thoughtful article The Quiet Coup, in The Atlantic, sounds another clarion call about the takeover.

"The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time."

There's somethin' happenin' here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun, over there
Tellin' me I got to beware

(I think it's time we)
Stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look - what's goin' down? -

For What It's Worth - Buffalo Springfield

Friday, March 20, 2009

Follow the Money


The top picture depicts how the various financial parties worked with one another to separate us from our money, the bottom shows where the money went.

The Ninja strikes again

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Captions

Absolutely the best thing I have seen in the way of captioning videos. Open source, free and down loadable, (Mac only for now) this tech makes a BIG difference in allowing more people to interact with video. The image below shows how Capscribe works.

The site is chock full of examples and links to other tools designed to enhance the communicative process. Terrific resource to be sure. To get MagPie (an equivalent captioner for Windows and Mac), click on the NCAM logo seen below.

Office Makeover

Office Makeover
Stop making sense - Talking Heads

Bottled Water - Not

"Combining all the energy input totals, Gleick and Cooley found that producing bottled water requires between 5.6 and 10.2 million joules of energy per liter, depending on transportation factors (a typical personal-sized water bottle is about 0.5 liters). That’s up to 2,000 times the energy required to produce tap water, which costs about 0.005 million joules per liter for treatment and distribution.

In 2007, US consumers purchased more than 33 billion liters of bottled water, or 110 liters (30 gallons) per person. The total energy required to produce 33 billion liters is equivalent to 32-54 million barrels of oil (although not all the energy used comes from oil). Energy to produce bottled water accounts for about one-third of one percent of total US energy consumption."


Any questions?

Connections

Click on this extraordinary map to see how the major disciplines of man relate to one another courtesy of PLOS One, the open source repository that's changing how science & medicine does business. The article, Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science used the following criteria to show how the sciences and the humanities interact with each other on the web.

"Over the course of 2007 and 2008, we collected nearly 1 billion user interactions recorded by the scholarly web portals of some of the most significant publishers, aggregators and institutional consortia. The resulting reference data set covers a significant part of world-wide use of scholarly web portals in 2006, and provides a balanced coverage of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. A journal clickstream model, i.e. a first-order Markov chain, was extracted from the sequences of user interactions in the logs. The clickstream model was validated by comparing it to the Getty Research Institute's Architecture and Art Thesaurus. The resulting model was visualized as a journal network that outlines the relationships between various scientific domains and clarifies the connection of the social sciences and humanities to the natural sciences."

Click on the image above to view the slide show accompanying this amazing article. In seeing how the sciences and humanities interact as a system for the first time, the start point to solving society's most complex problems becomes possible.

“I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then” - Lewis Carroll

Monday, March 16, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Stripgenerator

How Money Works
Except for spelling except wrong in the strip, How Money Works is how it works. The only other problem is the fact Stripgenerator is another time killer to the max. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brave New Worlds

Terrific article from Physics World about the search for extrasolar planets.

"Now we are poised to move far beyond our own planetary system — if not yet physically, then at least intellectually — as we learn how many other habitable worlds exist in our galaxy. The expectation of most astronomers is that Earth-like planets will be commonplace; in other words, Earth-size planets will be found orbiting at distances from their parent suns that would allow liquid water to exist on or near the planet’s surface. This prediction is not simply a conceit concocted by wild-eyed planet hunters, but is a logical outcome of what we have learned in the last decade about extrasolar planetary systems. All of the evidence points to the inescapable conclusion that rocky, terrestrial planets similar to the Earth should be orbiting unseen around many, if not most, of the myriad of stars that we see when we look up at the night sky."

After looking at this Extrasolar Planet Encyclopaedia "discovery space", chances are we're not alone. :)

World Builder


World Builder from Bruce Branit on Vimeo.

Vannevar Bush would have loved this!!!

Exquisite work - Enjoy

Transparency

Danial Roth's prescient article about real transparency and Wall Street has implications that go far beyond the raison d'ete of keeping tabs on an industry run amok. It's really a blueprint about how all significant business on planet earth should operate. Instead of regulation, you

  1. Systematize content organization via XBRL.
  2. Use clear language to define financial transactions and
  3. Provide universal access to investors and the public alike by putting the data on the web, thus eliminating the costly and often inefficient regulatory agencies (SEC ?) that don't guard the hen house due to budgetary constraints and hidden pressures from businesses that don't want to be regulated.

"That's why it's not enough to simply give the SEC—or any of its sister regulators—more authority; we need to rethink our entire philosophy of regulation. Instead of assigning oversight responsibility to a finite group of bureaucrats, we should enable every investor to act as a citizen-regulator. We
should tap into the massive parallel processing power of people around the world by giving everyone the tools to track, analyze, and publicize financial machinations. The result would be a wave of decentralized innovation that can keep pace with Wall Street and allow the market to regulate itself—naturally punishing companies and investments that don't measure up—more efficiently than the regulators ever could.

The revolution will be powered by data, which should be unshackled from the pages of regulatory filings and made more flexible and useful. We must require public companies and all financial firms to report more granular data online—and in real time, not just quarterly—uniformly tagged and exportable
into any spreadsheet, database, widget, or Web page. The era of sunlight has to give way to the era of pixelization; only when we give everyone the tools to see each point of data will the picture become clear. Just as epidemiologists crunch massive data sets to predict disease outbreaks, so will investors parse the trove of publicly available financial information to foresee the next economic disasters and opportunities."

Because the web is the connect to the world, why not use this powerful resource to eliminate or improve relegatory guidelines in all of government. For starters, patent application is now going online with peer review of same, something long overdue in this era of patent trolls in search of a quick buck. To see where this is going, click on the icon below.

Extensible transparency can be applied in many different ways. In The Transparent Society, David Brin talks about Tit For Tat as the only intelligent way to dealing with privacy now that we have none.


"Street crime has nearly vanished from both towns.

But that is only a symptom, a result. The real change peers down from every lamp post, every roof-top and street sign.

Tiny cameras, panning left and right, surveying traffic and pedestrians, observing everything in open view.

Have we entered an Orwellian nightmare? Have the burghers of both towns banished muggings at the cost of creating a Stalinist dystopia?

Consider City Number One. In this place, all the myriad cameras report their urban scenes straight to Police Central, where security officers use sophisticated image-processors to scan for infractions against the public order -- or perhaps against an established way of thought. Citizens walk the streets aware that any word or deed may be noted by agents of some mysterious bureau.

Now let's skip across space and time. At first sight, things seem quite similar in City Number Two. Again, there are ubiquitous cameras, perched on every vantage point. Only here we soon find a crucial difference. These devices do not report to the secret police. Rather, each and every citizen of this metropolis can lift his or her wristwatch/TV and call up images from any camera in town.

Here a late-evening stroller checks to make sure no one lurks beyond the corner she is about to turn.

Over there a tardy young man dials to see if his dinner date still waits for him by a city fountain.

A block away, an anxious parent scans the area and finds which way her child wandered off.

Over by the mall, a teenage shoplifter is taken into custody gingerly, with minute attention to ritual and rights, because the arresting officer knows the entire process is being scrutinized by untold numbers who watch intently, lest her neutral professionalism lapse.

In City Two, such micro cameras are banned from some indoor places... but not Police Headquarters! There, any citizen may tune in on bookings, arraignments, and especially the camera control room itself, making sure that the agents on duty look out for violent crime, and only crime."

Last but not least, isn't it about time for people to have the right to directly vote on issues that affect us all? Why should Congress have complete control over the voting process on such vitally important matters such as war or the economy because in many instances, they were wrong (Bank Bailouts, Iraq & Vietnam anyone?). Prior to the web, the notion of direct voting by the public was not possible but now it is.

Changing the Constitution to enable direct voting on national issues is more than idle speculation as Thomas Jefferson stated repeatedly that the Constitution should be revisited every 20 years and changed as needs warrant because he realized society and technology would change and governance should change with it.

"No work of man is perfect. It is inevitable that, in the course of time, the imperfections of a written Constitution will become apparent. Moreover, the passage of time will bring changes in society which a Constitution must accommodate if it is to remain suitable for the nation. It was imperative, therefore, that a practicable means of amending the Constitution be provided."

Now that we are connected, the opportunity to build a direct republic with proper constraints becomes possible. The ancient Greeks had one so why not us.

It's food for thought.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Contagion Among Banks

To follow up on Musings, here's a really good post from TNT about banks and the tools Valdis Krebs, the author, used in analyzing how they got into trouble. Every endeavor known to man has a cost. Because of this fact, the question one must ask before doing the endeavor is, Do the benefits outweigh the costs? - RM

"This week's PBS Frontline show was fascinating. They discussed the financial meltdown and how it was exacerbated by the massive intra-connectivity of the banking system.

Frontline focused on the trade-offs between "moral hazard" -- punishing the bad guys for bad behavior, and "systemic risk" -- allowing the bad guys to fail and effect the rest of the interconnected system. The main contagion under discussion were the investments created by Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers -- packaging up sub-prime and other mortgages into mortgage-backed securities which were then sold to other banks and investors."


Young Chuck, moved to Texas and bought a donkey from a farmer for $100.

The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day. The next day he drove up and said, "Sorry son, but I have some bad news. The donkey died."

Chuck replied, "Well, then just give me my money back."

The farmer said, "Can't do that. I went and spent it already."

Chuck said, "Ok, then, just bring me the dead donkey."

The farmer asked, "What ya gonna do with him?"

Chuck said, "I'm going to raffle him off."

The farmer said, "You can't raffle off a dead donkey!"

Chuck said, "Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead."

A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked, "What happened with that dead donkey?"

Chuck said, "I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars a piece and made a profit of $898.00."

The farmer said, "Didn't anyone complain?"

Chuck said, "Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back."

Chuck now works for Morgan Stanley in their OTC Default Derivative Department.

Musings

In looking at the inherent ethical neutrality of tech and how it relates to the machinations of man, the type of impact it can have on the world totally depends on who's running the system. On one end, computing points the way to finally understanding how photosynthesis actually works in order to build truly efficient solar collectors while on the other, the same computer transforms dollars into bits able to be rolled into Certificates of Debt Obligations or Derivative Swaps, abstract financial instruments whose sole intent is to generate something out of nothing, which, in large part, helped to plunge this country into depression.

Because technology advances at double exponential rates, the need to make the right choices in controlling this valuable resource for the benefit of society depends on the kind of morality we have as a species or, as Peter Parker's Uncle Ben so rightly says, With great power comes great responisibility.

Goin' Fishing - Not

In one way, Agent Smith was right.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

SunCat Batteries

Great idea are based on seeing the obvious and taking advantage of same, something 99.9% of the people of the world miss out on.

"At home I always have some batteries lying around, either rechargeable or normal ones. Usually they are empty, but I'd like them to be always fully charged. I could use a normal charger and there is a lot of solar devices that charge rechargeable batteries. I wanted it simpler; why hasn't anyone made a battery with integrated solar cells? The idea of the "SunCat" batteries where born. The batteries should just bask in the sun like a cat and left for a while, in a sunny window, they would slowly recharge."

Any questions? :)

The World's Water

This is a wake up call courtesy of Alternet and The World's Water.

"A report from the World Economic Forum warned that in only twenty years our civilization may be facing "water bankruptcy" -- shortfalls of fresh water so large and pervasive that global food production could crater, meaning that we'd lose the equivalent of the entire grain production of the US and India combined.

But we don't have to wait twenty years to see what this would look like. Australia, reeling from twelve years of drought in the Murray-Darling River Basin, has seen agriculture grind to a halt, with tens of billions of dollars in losses. The region has been rendered a tinderbox, with the deadliest fires in the country's history claiming over 160 lives so far. And all this may begin to hit closer to home soon. California's water manager said that the state is bracing for its worst drought in modern history. Stephen Chu, the new US secretary of energy, warns that the effects of climate change on California's water supplies could put an end to agriculture in the state by 2100 and imperil major cities."


When this data is factored in with security, Homeland Security must change, now.

"Now that we've decided to "green" the economy, why not green homeland security, too? I'm not talking about interrogators questioning suspects under the glow of compact fluorescent light bulbs, or cops wearing recycled Kevlar recharging their Tasers via solar panels. What I mean is: Shouldn't we finally start rethinking the very notion of homeland security on a sinking planet?"

Gives one something to think about, eh?

Monday, March 02, 2009

The World is a Business



Transcript/Network

"You have meddled with the primary forces of nature, Mr Beale, and I won't have it! Is that clear?

You think you merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tide and gravity. It is ecological balance.

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no Third Worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems. One vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-varied, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rands, rubles, pounds and shekels.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic, and sub-atomic and galactic structure of things today.

And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature. And you will atone.

Am I getting through to you, Mr Beale?

You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.

What do you think the Russians talk about in their Councils of State? Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, mini-max solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do.

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bye-laws of of business. The world is a business, Mr Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime.

And our children will live, Mr Beale, to see that ... perfect ... world in which there is no war nor famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company for whom all men will work to serve a common profit. In which all men will hold a share of stock.

All necessities provided. All anxieties tranquilized. All boredom amused."

Network strikes again

Essential Project

Just when I think everything's going to hell due to our wretched monetary system, unbridled corruption and incompetence in government and the never ending greed of wall street, glimmers of real hope comes forth from the Net, the last bastion of unfettered communication and access to amazing tools like Essential Project, a free, open source resource that "provides a useful, active forum for sharing ideas and experiences of applying Enterprise Architecture practices to real world business problems..."

The graphic below shows the approach they are taking in building a semantic framework to foster intelligent decision making to better deal with the myriad of wicked problems plaguing planet earth.

The Web, you gotta love it. :)