Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Daydreaming is an art form for yours truly. As artist and designer, I find myself doing this constantly and, for me, and for people like Einstein, it's a good thing. For Albert, he daydreamed about riding on a beam of light while riding the tram to work as a patent clerk. For Arthur Koestler, daydreaming,  humor and the combination of two or more dissimular ideas to come up with a new idea are the prime drivers for creativity and imagination, concepts I find comforting as I look out the window, continuing to dream about whatever comes to mind. :)

Bailouts - The "Legal" Way to Steal

Read the shockingly honest and well written article from the NY Times titled In U.S. Bailout of A.I.G., Forgiveness for Big Banks showing how we were totally screwed by the three personages seen above. Without a doubt, the biggest theft in history perpetrated by government, the Fed and Wall street, which includes the aforementioned AIG affair, will cost this country in ways that cannot be fathomed as we slide ever closer to sovereign insolvency. What a sad thing to see in this once great nation where innovation and creativity ruled in business and not corruption, incompetence and greed. 

After reading this, check out Regulation Blues seen below to see how transparency would have prevented the meltdown we are experiencing today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Regulation Blues

I am showing this image again because the Daniel Roth article supporting it continues to amaze me as to just how sound an approach it is in achieving true financial reform in the US while Obama & Company foist upon us another ineffective regulatory agency intended to keep Wall Street in check but can't while forcing us to spend money we don't have on an entity we don't need.

"This is a cycle that goes on and on—and will continue to get repeated," says Peter Wysocki, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. "You can't just make new regulations about the next innovation in financial misreporting."

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.

The time to act is now... but we won't - ed

As a techie, I know first hand just how powerful transparency is. Open source Software is one example and Peer for Patent is another and we haven't even discussed the sunshine law (even with all of it's shortcomings) or open source treasures like PLOS. The other interesting fact is that transparency doesn't have to cost very much because XBRL, the mechanism for financial metadata works and is in place, just ask IBM, Apple and Microsoft to see why.

Question: Why wasn't Glass-Stegall reinstated? 

Where Education is Going

When talking about education, one begins to wonder about the long term life expectancy of colleges costing $50-70K/year, especially when the middle class has no money to pay for it. My alma mater, Lafayette, costs a cool 55K/year and that doesn't even cover the living incidentals Larry's parents have to cover in sending their cherub to school while at the same time watching these astronomical tuition costs (including Lafayette's) continue to rise faster then the rate of inflation, a notion which mystifies me every time I see it. The same cost equation, in indirect fashion, also applies to pre college with property taxes going through the roof while the debt-ridden middle class inches toward fiscal insolvency. Economics 101, if there is no borrowing, there is no economy

Enter the web and the approach one really creative guy has for teaching people in ways that makes learning fun (and free), an all too rare commodity in this day and age of canned education geared for the mediocre and uninspired.

From a tiny closet in Mountain View, Sal Khan is educating the globe for free.
His 1,516 videotaped mini-lectures — on topics ranging from simple addition to vector calculus and Napoleonic campaigns — are transforming the former hedge fund analyst into a YouTube sensation, reaping praise from even reluctant students across the world.

"I'm starting a virtual school for the world, teaching things the way I wanted to be taught," explains Khan, 33, the exuberant founder and sole faculty member of the nonprofit Khan Academy.

When the concept of a Khan's Academy is combined with OCW & UTube EDU, the word that comes to mind regarding the status quo of education vis a vis the net is disruptive, a term that promises to change the landscape of education in ways unimagined just a few years ago.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Get Fuzzy

Hypocrisy in all forms is such a turn off. It matters not what discipline it may reside in (religion, law, governance, business, science, etc., etc.) as the end result of such action is always the same. Somebody or some thing is compromised in unjust fashion. In a small way, the Rob/Bucky dialog shows why being truthful to one's character, no matter how questionable (or funny) it may be, is, in the long run, the right way to go.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Losing Power

Small tornadoes touched down in Bridgeport and Easton, CT on Thursday, June 24, 2010, knocking out power for us natives for about a day. People tend to think tornadoes don't happen in the Northeast but they do.  Yours truly was working on a video project on system and poof, everything went dark. As always, one of the first things we put out are the kerosene lanterns. Reliable, long burning and giving off a friendly glow, they came through as they always do even though they smoke a little and kerosene is somewhat messy to store (We use them for camping.) but this short riff centers on the impact of losing power and how quickly the 18th century beckons.

As per example, this is a short list of what goes down at our house.

  • Computers
  • Monitors
  • Lights
  • Well pump
  • Septic pump station
  • Sump pump
  • Fridge
  • Furnace
  • Ceiling fans
  • Shower
  • Toilets
  • Sinks
  • Washing machine
  • Dryer
  • Air conditioner
  • Garage power door
  • TV
  • Cable box
  • Dehumidifier
  • Clocks
  • Stove 
  • etc., etc. etc.
Needless to say, the house is not 18th century but the level of energy used in a blackout is, something most telling as to showing just how vulnerable and dependent on intense power as modernity truly is. As stated before in BRT, most complex systems are inherently fragile when redundancy is not built into the environment. (One car can and does totally stop traffic on I95 in ways that boggle the mind.) The web and biological life are robust but the power grid, when hit by severe weather is not, a notion I always keep in mind whenever the lights go out. :)

Monday, June 21, 2010


I cycle. My son turned me onto the sport back in 1992 and I've been on the road ever since as cycling is like Zen: Head moving through space being in the world but not of it while pedaling with intense effort traversing hills and dealing with headwinds. (The Zen archer comes to mind here.) Waxing poetic about cycling is cool but this piece isn't about riding but rather about the first law of thermodynamics, you know, the one stating energy can never be created or destroyed, only transformed.

In cycling, you feel this transformation process happening all the time; go up a hill, potential energy increases, going down the hill, potential coverts to kinetic, thus showing the rider first hand how energy works in the real world. When coupled with quantum, chaos and relativity, the power of the first law and how it drives reality becomes really interesting...

At a cocktail party, particularly big ones, the amount of noise generated by talking is astounding. It's a quantum sea of noise with bits of intelligible conversation periodically emerging like rogue waves in the ocean, able to be comprehended but never predicted though the probability of these bits of recognizable sounds popping up from time to time at any given cocktail party is an absolute certainty as defined by the rules of quantum mechanics and chaos theory.

If the ramifications of the first law are truly understood, then understanding how reality works, at least in part, becomes possible because transactions or, as John Wheeler so famously said, From It to Bit rules, something society should intuitively recognize in trying to move toward a viable future of sustainability and not consumption.

Friday, June 18, 2010

X Marks the Spot

Now I know why we are in Afghanistan...

What's even more amazing is this:

 "The issue of "previously unknown deposits" sustains a falsehood. It excludes Afghanstan's vast mineral wealth as a justifiable casus belli. It says that the Pentagon only recently became aware that Afghanistan was among the World's most wealthy mineral economies, comparable to The Democratic Republic of the Congo or former Zaire of the Mobutu era. The Soviet geopolitical reports were known. During the Cold War, all this information was known in minute detail: 

... Extensive Soviet exploration produced superb geological maps and reports that listed more than 1,400 mineral outcroppings, along with about 70 commercially viable deposits ... The Soviet Union subsequently committed more than $650 million for resource exploration and development in Afghanistan, with proposed projects including an oil refinery capable of producing a half-million tons per annum, as well as a smelting complex for the Ainak deposit that was to have produced 1.5 million tons of copper per year. In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal a subsequent World Bank analysis projected that the Ainak copper production alone could eventually capture as much as 2 percent of the annual world market. The country is also blessed with massive coal deposits, one of which, the Hajigak iron deposit, in the Hindu Kush mountain range west of Kabul, is assessed as one of the largest high-grade deposits in the world. (John C. K. Daly,  Analysis: Afghanistan's untapped energy, UPI Energy, October 24, 2008, emphasis added)"

Resource wars have been fought for thousands of years and this is just another one where people die but corporations and outside countries prosper, which is good news for the Pentagon as we now have the means to not only pay for this war but also to keep China & Russia at bay, something that sounds somewhat disquieting seeing they share a border with Afghanistan while we obviously don't.

 "War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. " - George Orwell.

Deep Thought

Two watershed events happened this week. The first deals with change blindness, the second with Jeopardy. For CB, researchers have used AI to predict how we fail to see changes in a given scene.

For Jeopardy lovers out there, IBM is putting up a digital challenger to see how AI, Neural Nets and parallel processing stacks up with some of Jeopardy's best contestants.

"IBM is working to build a computing system that can understand and answer complex questions with enough precision and speed to compete against some of the best Jeopardy! contestants out there.

This challenge is much more than a game. Jeopardy! demands knowledge of a broad range of topics including history, literature, politics, film, pop culture and science. What's more, Jeopardy! clues involve irony, riddles, analyzing subtle meaning and other complexities at which humans excel and computers traditionally do not. This, along with the speed at which contestants have to answer, makes Jeopardy! an enormous challenge for computing systems. 

Code-named "Watson" after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, the IBM computing system is designed to rival the human mind's ability to understand the actual meaning behind words, distinguish between relevant and irrelevant content, and ultimately, demonstrate confidence to deliver precise final answers."

What is  42?.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Of Mice & Men

There was a treasure trove of intellectual goodies in the Sunday Times (06/13/2010) with one article discussing the  prospect of a trans-human future driven by the Verner Vinge inspired Singularity while two book reviews covered the mysteries of technology (The Rational Optimist) and Quantum Theory Quantum in elegant fashion. On all three subjects, yours truly has voiced opinions and reservations as I find assuming something to be true about anything is dangerous due the fact Black Swans rule and Quantum Theory & Chaos tell us why this is so. 

In Merely Human? That's so Yesterday, the main thrust of the article is that tech nirvana is just around the corner, especially if you can afford the price of entry along the way.

On a more millennialist and provocative note, the Singularity also offers a modern-day, quasi-religious answer to the Fountain of Youth by affirming the notion that, yes indeed, humans — or at least something derived from them — can have it all.

Because Quantum Mechanics and Chaos Theory prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that sh*t happens, the sense of ease regarding the inevitability of the singularity and the benign future it portends in this piece give me pause, especially when reality rears it's ugly head able to disrupt the best laid plans of mice and men in totally unexpected ways. (1929 & 2008 market crash, JFK, RFK & MLK assassinations, Hitler etc., etc., etc.)

Having been involved in tech for over 30+ years, I can honestly say, IMHO, learning how to intuitively understand the implications of tech at the level of the singularity does not come forth by taking a 10 week crash course, particularly if one has never dealt with tech in the vagaries of the real world. This sounds arrogant but one learns through mistakes, not though success. Classes are the start point to learning, doing it is the start point to wisdom. 

Excessive simplicity, when it comes to the positive future of man and tech renders Rational somewhat less persuasive though Ridley's thoughts about the origins of trading really hits home in terms of how man gained dominance over the world using the marketplace as the engine to making it happen. In other areas, there are questions, to whit...

"One problem is that the link between specialization and technological innovation is not so clear. Certainly, specialists make promising candidates to develop further improvements in technology in their own area. Yet specialists often have the most to lose from new technologies that displace the old ones they know so well, and may want to block innovation. Perhaps this is why many breakthroughs come from creative outsiders who combine technologies generated by different specialties."

In Quantum, the discomfort the originators had about the most successful theory ever conceived shows why the definition of assume will forever be "the ass of you and me".

"In his lively new book, “Quantum,” the science writer Manjit Kumar cites a poll about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, taken among physicists at a conference in 1999. Of the 90 respondents, only four said they accepted the standard interpretation taught in every undergraduate physics course in the world. Thirty favored a modern interpretation, laid out in 1957 by the Princeton theoretician Hugh Everett III, while 50 ticked the box labeled “none of the above or undecided.” Almost a century after a few physicists first set out the basic theory, quantum mechanics is still a work in progress."

Writing & The Vagaries of History

Writing, an art form going back over 6000 years, is fascinating, frustrating and addictive. The computer, for me, has enabled me to write with relative ease due to the ability to edit at nearly the speed of thought, something not envisioned when going to school as a English Major at Lafayette back in the late 60's. The reason for the post was the Summer Fiction: 20 Under 40 issue of The New Yorker as

it shows how vastly different the world view is of a person much younger then yours truly as history accumulates in one who is old while history is "just" becoming with one under 40. For instance:

  • JFK: I remember the optimism, the eloquence and the horror of Dallas.
  • King: I have a dream resonates, his assassination also 
  • RFK: The all-powerful Attorney General, the carpetbagger and his transformation into a statesman who could have changed the nation died on June 6th, 1968, a victim of another assassin's bullet.
  • Nam: The tragedy of the 60's and early 70s, the time the US lost it's innocence and civility.
  • Nixon: I am not a crook president who opened up China. A chimera of the first order
  • Analog: I remember the world without the computer or the net, an inconceivable concept to anyone under 30.
  • Woodstock: I was there, honest. :)
  • Music: My generation had the best of it. Free love, righteous pot, amazing rock. The bummer, Nam. Any questions?
  • Cheap Gas: 22 cents a gallon in Texas
  • Muscle Cars: The Hemi and Cobra ruled
  • Chuck Berry: Marbelline & Johnny Be Goode 
  • Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Show
  • The Beatles: The needed diversion from Dallas
  • Seeing color television via Gramp's RCA
  • McDonald's, one of the first of their franchises came to West Springfield MA way back when, a concept we actually thought was marvelous in the year 1959
  • The Moon Landing/1969: I was jamming with my jazz rock band in Boston. (Berklee Alum I am) Almost got busted but the cops were cool as they liked our music. Never will forget that, ever.
  • Jazz: It was the golden age from Davis & Brubeck to Nelson and Ellington. The list extends far too long but Brubeck, Jarret & Konitz live on, happy to say.
The rest of history after 1970 (a really bad decade save for Steely Dan) I keep up with thanks to the Net and the 24/7 connectivity it provides to the world.

Like Bird, Tech lives.


Bob Herbert is one of the few reporters who "gets it". His op-ed pieces in the NY Times are fiery, intelligent and honorable in intent. 

"Early this year, we were told that at long last the tide had turned in Afghanistan, that the biggest offensive of the war by American, British and Afghan troops was under way in Marja, a town in Helmand Province in the southern part of the country. The goal, as outlined by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our senior military commander in Afghanistan, was to rout the Taliban and install a splendid new government that would be responsive to the people and beloved by them. 

That triumph would soon be followed by another military initiative in the much larger expanse of neighboring Kandahar Province. The Times’s Rod Nordland explained what was supposed to happen in a front-page article this week:

 “The goal that American planners originally outlined — often in briefings in which reporters agreed not to quote officials by name — emphasized the importance of a military offensive devised to bring all of the populous and Taliban-dominated south under effective control by the end of this summer. That would leave another year to consolidate gains before President Obama’s July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing combat troops.” 

Forget about it. Commanders can’t even point to a clear-cut success in Marja. As for Kandahar, no one will even use the word “offensive” to describe the military operations there. The talk now is of moving ahead with civilian reconstruction projects, a “civilian surge,” as Mr. Nordland noted. 

What’s happening in Afghanistan is not only tragic, it’s embarrassing. The American troops will fight, but the Afghan troops who are supposed to be their allies are a lost cause. The government of President Hamid is breathtakingly corrupt and incompetent — and widely unpopular to boot. And now, as The Times’s Dexter seems to be giving up hope that the U.S. can prevail in the war and is making nice with the Taliban. 

There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It’s just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year. The 18-year-olds fighting (and, increasingly, dying) in Afghanistan now were just 9 or 10 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked in 2001."

This kind of ineptness has become the way Obama does business. Status quo and lack of courage and vision are the hallmarks of this administration. BRT doesn't often rant about politics save for how tech and science impacts same but after reading Herbert's heart felt article about the lost cause of Afghanistan, I felt it time to say some things about the current state of affairs in this nation.
  • In Nov of 2008, I voted for change, to leave behind the eight years of the worst administration in our history. The things I wanted to see happen were :
  • Really deal with the banks. Protect the depositors, let the banks themselves die. Rome wasn't too big the fail and last time I checked, that empire was far bigger then the Fed, Goldman Sachs or J.P. Morgan Chase in terms of size, power and status at that point in time.
  • Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan as we cannot afford to fight these lost causes. Nam proved why indigenous troops don't have to win, all they have to do is outlast as we will eventually leave while they will remain in their country, forever. I detest the Taliban but it's Afghanistan's problem, not ours.
  • Health care. The plan we got is a giveaway for the drug and insurance companies. Question, why does Obama continue the policy of the government not being able to compete for the cost of drugs just as Canada does? Bush cut that disastrous deal with big pharma with the end result we Americans pay twice as much for drugs then Canada.
  • Surveillance: The Bush policy continues unabated. Nothing has changed regarding 24/7 unwarranted surveillance of Americans. Ditto on incarceration without Habeis Corpus.
  • Balanced budget: The grand illusion continues with defense getting over 700 billion while crushing US debt continues to push us toward sovereign insolvency
  • Vision: There is none. Intelligence is a prerequisite of vision, vision is not a prerequisite of intelligence, something Obama has exhibited with great flair, We hear nothing about light rail or a way toward sustainability while Wall Street continues to siphon money from the middle class.
  • Courage - There is none. As much as I hated Bush, the guy had the wherewithal to "articulate" his twisted vision in simple fashion and was able to get the word out, via an integrated communications system, with great effectiveness.  He also established a fear factor (after 9/11 of course) people respected. Just see how effective W was in perpetrating the lies in pushing this country toward war with Iraq to see why. (War crimes anyone?) No one fears Obama because he doesn't intuitively understand how to pull the levers of his office to make it happen. (FDR was the master on this one.)
  • Leveraging Tech: Why isn't there a cohesive policy to get the nation off of oil? Isn't the Gulf Spill enough reason to do this? As often stated before in BRT, the tech is in the lab able to change how this country does business regarding energy. It's now time to move on this before it's too late. How about a WPA program to to start the ball rolling in the Gulf to get people back to work as the era of cheap oil is gone. You can pay for this by getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan now.
  • Be honest:: Yes, as I.F. Stone said, Governments lie, but not to the extent of trying, at all costs, to hold onto the myth of getting back to "normalcy" (unfettered growth, happy motoring etc., etc.)  even though we lack the money to do it nor do we have the 'cheap" energy needed, at this point in time, to make it happen.
We are squandering what we have left and it saddens me to see how lost our "leaders" are. If Alexander the Great acted this way, he would never have become Great.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Maybe Just Maybe...

Maybe just maybe this tech will work as it looks like it has legs, particularly in the energy storage part of the equation. If so, perhaps we can finally say goodbye to the BP's of the world who sell the Devil's Excrement to those who have the money to buy it, no matter what the cost may be.

Higgins: It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. Maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then? 
Joe Turner: Ask them? 
Higgins: Not now - then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em! - 
Three Days of the Condor 

Big Brother...

Implications of this tech needs no embellishment. Database nation will now become surveillance nation enhanced by AI and Semantics. For in depth info on this tech, click here. No doubt other benefits gained from this research is in the offing (science, medicine et al) but the slippery slope awaits in harnessing this most powerful technology for a clearly stated purpose of spying on us. (Will work on the battlefield as well once the image net learns what's going on in the field of battle.)