Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Grand Ruse

Gaming the Market rocks. I learn so much about the market and how it's manipulated from these guys. They and Zero Hedge really understand the abstractions and obfuscations purposefully inserted into financial "deals" in order for the guilty to cover tracks and bamboozle the uninitiated (i.e. Greece) while making billions at public expense. The graph, courtesy of Information is Beautiful, depicts monies spent on an almost endless stream of "items" ranging from serious baubles like Iraq war costs/3 trillion to the really important Gift Cards market totaling 29 billion. The video below shows how unregulated Hedgies make money.



To add fuel to the fire, consider this little gem from Investopedia

"Portfolio Pumping : The illegal act of bidding up the value of a fund's holdings right before the end of a quarter, when the fund's performance is measured. This is done by placing a large number of orders on existing holdings, which drives up the value of the fund.

Also known as "Marking the Close."


After reading Gaming's Fed Hunter Killer piece, I realized just how insightful Danial Roth is regarding finance and regulatory. Click on Transparency to see why.

"For fools rush in where angels fear to tread" - Alexander Pope

Addendum: Read Wall Street's Bailout Hustle by Matt Tiabbi to see how ignorance covers the Goldnman's of the world. Simply unbelievable but hey, we Americans accept the worst healthcare system in the world so why not be the mark for the con artists in Wall Street to swindle as well. Works for me.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sey Hey

I only wish I could have seen Willie Mays play ball. Listening to old timers wax poetic about a supremely gifted and good guy who lit up every stadium with joy, style and plays that defied imagination, Mays, to me, epitomized what was good about baseball way back in the '50s. The best time, IMHO, would be watching Willie do The Catch in 1954 against Vic Wertz and the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the World Series at the Polo Grounds, a feat recognized as one of the greatest ever accomplished in the annuals of sport. (The Giants swept the series in four.)


Pete Hamil, who just reviewed the James L Hirsch book titled Willie Mays, the Life, the Legend in the NYTimes says it best...

"A long time ago in America, there was a beautiful game called baseball. This was before 30 major-league teams were scattered in a blurry variety of divisions; before 162-game seasons and extended playoffs and fans who watched World Series games in thick down jackets; before the D.H. came to the American League; before AstroTurf on baseball fields and aluminum bats on sandlots; before complete games by pitchers were a rarity; before ballparks were named for corporations instead of individuals; and long, long before the innocence of the game was permanently stained by the filthy deception of steroids.


In that vanished time, there was a ballplayer named Willie Mays."

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Panopticon

"The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience."[1]

Bentham himself described the Panopticon as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example."[2]]

This also applies to unauthorized spying as seen by the spycam scandal rocking the quiet world of Harriton High School in Lower Merion PA.

"Plaintiffs and Class members were never informed that the webcam incorporated into the students’ personal laptop computer could be remotely activated … at the whim of the School District, and that such activation would naturally capture images of anything in front of the webcam at the time of its activation. In as much as the personal laptop computers were used by students of the high schools and their families, it is believed and therefore averred that the School District has the ability to and has captured images of Plaintiffs and Class members without their permission and authorization [and] that many of the images … may consist of images of minors and their parents or friends in compromising or embarrassing positions, including, but not limited to, in various stages of dress or undress.”

To get the real skinny on this sorry affair, click on Strye Hax, a real pro on security and surveillance. The info seen here is chilling to say the least.

We Found the Glitch, Mrs. Buttle
The truly amazing part of this story is what's coming out from comments from the students themselves. Some of the interesting points:

Possession of a monitored Macbook was required for classes

Possession of an unmonitored personal computer was forbidden and would be confiscated

Disabling the camera was impossible

Jailbreaking a school laptop in order to secure it or monitor it against intrusion was an offense which merited expulsion

When I spoke at MIT about the wealth of electronic evidence I came across regarding Chinese gymnasts, I used the phrase "compulsory transparency". I never thought I would be using the phrase to describe America, especially so soon, but that appears to be exactly the case. On a familiar note, the authorities are denying everything. As one reads comments on this story, a consistent story begins to emerge:

"My name is Manuel Tebas. I was a student at Harriton High School, in the graduating class of 2009. We were the first year on the one-to-one laptop initiative. [...] I saw your post about removing webcam capability from the Macbook. It is possible - I did it last year. I will preface this by saying that when I did it, I was almost expelled, saved only by the fact that there was, at the time, no rule against doing so."




Here's a small sampling of surveillance cameras courtesy of Panopticon

The Prisoner beckons.

Photosynth Writ Large

Remix, the 2007 BRT blurb about Photosynth, Microsoft's very cool 3D stitcher of photos, now has a big brother, PhotoCity, courtesy of Cornell and the University of Washington, the originating sources of the tech used to create the MS application.

"Computer science researchers at the University of Washington and Cornell University are deploying a system that will blend teamwork and collaboration with powerful graphics algorithms to create three-dimensional renderings of buildings, neighborhoods and potentially even entire cities."


PhotoCity's "quest is to reconstruct the world in 3D models out of pictures with your help!" could definitely come to pass if they can get the images needed to make it happen. With our input, it will.

I signed up, what the hell, I take photos all the time and the game looks like fun. Who knows, maybe their tech will help me become a better photographer as I need all the help I can get. :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Elements of Style

"Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language."—Rule 12 William Strunk, Jr

This is THE BOOK to read if you want to learn how to write. Concise, witty and above all else, competent, this little tome points the way to good writing with short commandments already adhered to by heavyweights like Hemingway, Faulkner and Orwell. Every time I reread Elements, I think of Orwell, master of the active tense and the self proclaimed enemy of turgid prose as seen by his insightful essay, Politics and the English Language
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
To see why this essay matters, consider this....

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’.

Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:


‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable
concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’"

Sounds like Obama and Afghanistan doesn't it.

Addendum: Check out Word Perfect, a blurb from Cornell (where Strunk taught) explaining how "The Little Book" came to be.



Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Digital Divide - It's Deeper Then You Think

The digital divide is often discussed only in terms of access or lack thereof to tech & the web but the divide goes beyond that as the thought process required to successfully negotiate the digital realm differs from driving a car or preparing dinner for a family of four. For example, when a tech says the file is "over there", she or he usually means it resides in a place one can get to. The physical location is of little or no consequence as long as you know the drill. i.e.
  1. have web access,
  2. know the URL (Uniform Resource Locator)
  3. (if necessary) know the directory path
  4. (if necessary) know the Login & PW
  5. know the file name and last but not least...
  6. have the program needed to open and work with the file
This notion of connectivity and how it applies to computation and the internet is akin to learning a musical instrument. At first, it's a total loss. Really ugly sounds (of notes & frustration) issue forth and the possibility of playing or doing anything of consequence in either environment seems as far away as Pluto but with practice and perseverance, the Veils of Bacon eventually part and the reality of becoming connected just "happens' just as learning how to play said instrument without thinking just "happens".

Webopedia, Techtarget & Saugus.net are great resources to learning the vagaries of tech. Also asking questions doesn't hurt as the only stupid question is one not asked.

End of spiel.

Going Mobile

"Long Term Evolution, a new mobile telecommunications standard, is poised to revolutionize mobile Internet. High transmission rates will soon be possible on mobile devices. For this purpose Fraunhofer researchers at HHI Berlin developed the cross-layer design SVC over LTE -- a coding method that offers HD films in real-time in the appropriate format for cell phones or netbooks."

Phase Transitions
(water/steam, water/ice) always happen at the edge, never the center. (The fractal is a prime example of this universal truth.)
Phase Transitions are never linear. The day before a pond freezes over, 50% of the water's surface is ice free, something to ponder as we move into the age of Minority Report and 24/7 pervasive communications.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

HCR - Put a Fork in It

Dilbert.com
Single Payer & only Single Payer/Nothing else will work for viable Health Care Reform. Just ask Anthem Blue Cross to see why.

Addendum: The Disconnect rules.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Disconnect

"I’m with Simon Johnson here: how is it possible, at this late date, for Obama to be this clueless?

The lead story on Bloomberg right now contains excerpts from an interview with Business Week which tells us:

President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.

The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is “an extraordinary amount of money” for Main Street, “there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well.”

“I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.”

This disconnect Obama has with reality is echoed in the disconnect between tech and all things political, financial and to a large degree, military and corporate as tech either works or doesn't, a fact alien to the various colluding and often incompetent parties bent on lining pockets and maintaining control while this once great nation slides slowly toward the abyss.

Maybe Obama should read this BRT tidbit regarding the banksters, maybe then he might change his tune but somehow I think he really doesn't get it and never will.

In Wired, an outstanding article titled In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits, the move toward micro manufacturing is here, driven by computation, nanotech and the ubiquity of the web.

Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.

This story is about the next 10 years.

Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits.

Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.

The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3-D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit. Anybody with an idea and a little expertise can set assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop. A few days later, a prototype will be at their door, and once it all checks out, they can push a few more buttons and be in full production, making hundreds, thousands, or more. They can become a virtual micro-factory, able to design and sell goods without any infrastructure or even inventory; products can be assembled and drop-shipped by contractors who serve hundreds of such customers simultaneously.

Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine."


The only question about this article is its tacit recommendation of sending the construct data to China instead of encouraging the building of fab factories in the US in order to resuscitate this country's ability to actually make things again instead of funding China (Walmart anyone?) and keeping this country dependent on outsiders while watching dollars leave home never to be seen again.

It makes one think, doesn't it?

"Two trends are driving this. First, there’s the maturation and increasing Web-centrism of business practices in China. Now that the Web generation is entering management, Chinese factories increasingly take orders online, communicate with customers by email, and accept payment by credit card or PayPal, a consumer-friendly alternative to traditional bank transfers, letters of credit, and purchase orders. Plus, the current economic crisis has driven companies to seek higher-margin custom orders to mitigate the deflationary spiral of commodity goods.

For a lens into the new world of open-access factories in China, check out Alibaba .com, the largest aggregator of the country’s manufacturers, products, and capabilities. Just search on the site (in English), find some companies producing more or less what you’re looking to make, and then use instant messaging to ask them if they can manufacture what you want. Alibaba’s IM can translate between Chinese and English in real time, so each person can communicate using their native language. Typically, responses come in minutes: We can’t make that; we can make that and here’s how to order it; we already make something quite like that and here’s what it costs.


"Intelligence is a prerequisite of vision, vision is not a prerequisite of intelligence." - Robert E

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Another Book to Read

Phillip Hoare's book, The Whale, sounds absolutely fascinating...

Hoare muses on "Moby-Dick's" abject failure to stir the collective imagination during Melville's lifetime and the classic status it has since achieved. "Each time I read it, it is as if I am reading it for the first time ...; Every day I am reminded that it is part of our collective imagination; from newspaper leaders that evoke Ahab in the pursuit of the war on terror, to the ubiquitous chain of coffee shops named after the Pequod's first mate, Starbuck ...;"

and...

"The Whale" does not disappoint. First, there are the simple, shocking facts about whales. A fin whale off the coast of Nantucket can be heard by its counterpart off the coast of England, more than 6,000 miles away. Inuit harpoons dating back 235 years have been found in the belly of hunted bowhead whales — one of the world's longest-living mammals. The right whale is the owner of the largest testes in the animal kingdom (around 1,100 pounds each), and, after foreplay sessions involving sensuous flipper stroking, the female may let more than one partner enter her at the same time.

and last but not least...

"At the end of the book, you finally jump into the water with a giant sperm whale. What was that like?

Normally you see the whale from the surface of the ocean, or dead, or mediated. So going into the world of the whale was a complete mindfuck. I felt slightly insane, partly because of its sonar echo-locating my skeleton. It’s a powerful electrical charge going through your body; you feel this 3-D image of yourself being relayed back to the whale, much as you might see your reflection in the mirror. And yet it’s entirely silent.

This female whale eyeballed me and then jack-knifed through the blue into the black. It was just so improbable. It’s like a CGI re-creation of a whale. It’s almost laughable. For three days afterward I’d close my eyes and this whale would swim through my head. At that range, you can just tell they’re sentient, intelligent animals. I felt like I ought to apologize to it for the weight I’d brought with me into the water.

This kind of writing reminds me of Arthur C Clarke's 1957 prescient novel, The Deep Range, a book describing how man mines the sea, including whales, with increasingly dire results.

"But as soon as such killing is no longer essential, it should cease. We believe that this point has now arrived s far as many of the higher animals are concerned. The production of all types of synthetic protein from purely vegetable sources is now an economic possibility-or it will be if the effort is made to achieve it. "

Unfortunately, we're not there yet.

It's About Time


Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet, the truly excellent piece written by Frank Rich, is spot on. It's about time gays and lesbians can serve our country without shame or deception.

A funny thing happened after Adm. Mike Mullen called for gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military: A curious silence befell much of the right. If this were a Sherlock Holmes story, it would be the case of the attack dogs that did not bark.

John McCain, commandeering the spotlight as usual, did fulminate against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But the press focus on McCain, the crazy man in Washington’s attic, was misleading. His yapping was an exception, not the rule.

Many of his Republican colleagues said little or nothing. The right’s noise machine was on mute. The Fox News report on Mullen’s testimony was fair and balanced — and brief. The network dropped the subject entirely in the Hannity-O’Reilly hothouse of prime time that night. Only ratings-desperate CNN gave a fleeting platform to the old homophobic clich├ęs...

Mullen’s heartfelt, plain-spoken testimony gave perfect expression to the nation’s own slow but inexorable progress on the issue. He said he had “served with homosexuals since 1968” and that his views had evolved “cumulatively” and “personally” ever since. So it has gone for many other Americans in all walks of life. As more gay people have come out — a process that accelerated once the modern gay rights movement emerged from the Stonewall riots of 1969 — so more heterosexuals have learned that they have gay relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and co-workers. It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.


If only this sound logic was applied to race, healthcare, the banks and governance, then maybe this country can get it's act together to become a nation envisioned by the Founding Fathers as a place that's flawed but evolving into something of great value and tolerance, concepts all too alien in this fractured and dysfunctional world.