March 31, 2009

The Wisdom of our Forebears

“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." --Thomas Jefferson

Sounds right to me. Was President Jefferson a Democrat, Republican, Progressive or Libertarian? Certainly not a Socialist!

March 30, 2009

Public Transportation in Vermont - School Buses

I was just thinking... Hundreds of school buses sit idle for a large part of the day and most of the summer. Why couldn't these be used to provide additional public transportation in this very rural state?

I can think of a dozen impediments, but does it make sense for them to sit idle so much of the time?

March 29, 2009

From the Desk of David Pogue - Should You Worry About Data Rot? -

This interview is interesting, but the one question and answer that was passed over too lightly is about storing information online. It's true that some tiny Web 2.0 companies will go out of business and your data might not be safe with them. But other very large companies with staying power like Microsoft, Google, et al, seem to me a much safer bet for archiving material.

With millions of customers now, or about to be, storing terabytes of information online, it's highly likely that the information will be retrievable in the long term. Just don't lose your password! Perhaps that's an idea for a new service for a BIG company...storing passwords with extraordinarily secure encryption! I'd buy that service in a heartbeat with a reliable company for ~$10/year.

"Keeping it on the Web is also not a really great strategy. A very large photo site just went out of business, and they gave people, I think, a month's notice to say, "We've run out of money, get your photos off the site and put them somewhere." Web sites are fine for sharing, but in terms of preserving your data, I wouldn't recommend it."

From the Desk of David Pogue - Should You Worry About Data Rot? -

Obama Will Face a Defiant World on Foreign Visit -

His first foreign trip is important, particularly since he is not well-traveled or experienced. It's good that he is doing it early in his Presidency so that he and foreign leaders can take the measure of each other.

We will soon see if President Obama's charisma stimulates foreign leaders as much as it has captivated his followers in America. Will he stand for American ideals or capitulate in policy to those who do not share our values? Will he 'embrace' the socialistic models of government that he will encounter?

I hope we get solid reporting from the media on this journey.

President Obama is facing challenges to American power on multiple fronts as he prepares for his first trip overseas since taking office, with the nation’s economic woes emboldening allies and adversaries alike.

Obama Will Face a Defiant World on Foreign Visit -

Armenian Assembly's Van Krikorian Testifies Before Congress on Aid

Map image

With only three million people Armenia is not often in the international news, but Americans should pay more attention to the plight of the Armenian people and their long-standing frustration with the repressive behavior of its neighbors.

"...In terms of U.S. assistance, Krikorian pointed out the strong bonds that Armenians and Americans share starting with the U.S. humanitarian intervention to help save the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. He noted that his family, like many other Armenian families in America, descends from Armenian Genocide survivors.

Krikorian also briefly addressed the issue of Christian minorities in the Middle East, stating, "While it is not the focus of our testimony, we would like to ask the Subcommittee that particular attention be paid to Christians in the Middle East and in Turkey, where their population has diminished because of war and other reasons. There are significant communities living in that region since ancient times, and we are sensitive to their needs, as Armenians are among that group. We would like to add our voice in support of U.S. assistance to them and to achieve peace there..."

ANN/Groong -- Assembly's Van Krikorian Testifies Before Congress on Aid

March 27, 2009

Dyson, pre-eminent physicist, challenges consensus on climate change - International Herald Tribune

Freeman Dyson, pre-eminent physicist, challenges consensus on climate change - International Herald Tribune

Whatever your opinions about climate change, this story about Freeman Dyson 's views is worth your read. The public views of such an erudite mathematician, physicist and thinker should be respected. According to the story, James Hansen, the climate change fanatic who works at NASA, "Dyson doesn't know what he's talking about."

But consider these quotes from and about Dyson in the story:

"Dyson says he doesn’t want his legacy to be defined by climate change, but his dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. Dyson has said he believes that the truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass.

In “Infinite in All Directions,” he writes that nature’s laws “make the universe as interesting as possible.” This also happens to be a fine description of Dyson’s own relationship to science. In the words of Avishai Margalit, a philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study, “He’s a consistent reminder of another possibility.” When Dyson joins the public conversation about climate change by expressing concern about the “enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” these reservations come from a place of experience. Whatever else he is, Dyson is the good scientist; he asks the hard questions. He could also be a lonely prophet. Or, as he acknowledges, he could be dead wrong."

or this; one should not trifle with a guy this smart....or is he making it up?...

"... taking problems to Dyson is something of a parlor trick. A group of scientists will be sitting around the cafeteria, and one will idly wonder if there is an integer where, if you take its last digit and move it to the front, turning, say, 112 to 211, it’s possible to exactly double the value. Dyson will immediately say, “Oh, that’s not difficult,” allow two short beats to pass and then add, “but of course the smallest such number is 18 digits long.” When this happened one day at lunch, William Press remembers, “the table fell silent; nobody had the slightest idea how Freeman could have known such a fact or, even more terrifying, could have derived it in his head in about two seconds.” The meal then ended with men who tend to be described with words like “brilliant,” “Nobel” and “MacArthur” quietly retreating to their offices to work out what Dyson just knew.
Dyson has this to say about Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, and his Harvard teacher:
"The film ended. “I think Gore does a brilliant job,” Dyson said. “For most people I’d think this would be quite effective. But I knew Roger Revelle [his Harvard teacher]. He was definitely a skeptic. He’s not alive to defend himself.”

“All my friends say how smart and farsighted Al Gore is,” she [his wife] said.

“He certainly is a good preacher,” Dyson replied. “Forty years ago it was fashionable to worry about the coming ice age. Better to attack the real problems like the extinction of species and overfishing. There are so many practical measures we could take.”

I side with Dyson.

March 26, 2009

To AIG: I Quit

This letter has been quite popular in the past couple of days. I certainly support the fact that Congress and the Administration have not handled the bonus issue well. If it's true, as some talking heads contend, that Senator Dodd, Secretary Geithner and others with 'Team Obama' knew about this or endorsed it while they were doling out $ billions, their recent protestations and pandering to the populace have been shameful.

Dear AIG, I Quit!! Dear AIG, I Quit!! todd sullivan This sums it up prefectly

Journal Articles Question Plan for Digital Health Records -

Journal Articles Question Plan for Digital Health Records -

Bravo for these doctors stepping up and making the case for correctly implementing electronic health records . Most present vendors thrive on locking-in doctors practices, clinics and hospitals to their proprietary software. The game must end.

It's essential that the latest and pending developments for web-centric software are targeted for spending these $ Billions.

Alas, last I read, 'team Obama's' CIO had stepped aside temporarily pending investigations of corruption charges involving some in is District of Columbia office.

I hope and expect that Microsoft, Google, IBM, GE HealthCare and others will step forward on this issue.

"In the article, identified as a “perspective,” Dr. Kenneth D. Mandl and Dr. Isaac S. Kohane portray the current health record suppliers as offering pre-Internet era software — costly and wedded to proprietary technology standards that make it difficult for customers to switch vendors and for outside programmers to make upgrades and improvements.

Instead of stimulating use of such software, they say, the government should be a rule-setting referee to encourage the development of an open software platform on which innovators could write electronic health record applications. As analogies, they point to other such software platforms — whether the Web or Apple’s iPhone software, which the company has opened to outside developers.

In the Mandl-Kohane model, a software developer with a new idea for health record features like drug allergy alerts or care guidelines could write an application, and those could be added or substituted for a similar feature.

Such an approach, they say, would open the door to competition, flexibility and lower costs — and thus, better health care in the long run. “If the government’s money goes to cement the current technology in place,” Dr. Mandl said in an interview, “we will have a very hard time innovating in health"

Learning How to Think -Nicholas Kristof

Mr. Kristof seems to be on a roll on the issue of bias. A few days ago he wrote consumers seek slanted news because we want information that lines up with our biases. I argued earlier with a friend that consumers are fed biased news from biased pundits, editors and talking heads.

I agree with Kristof that these so-called, often self-proclaimed experts and prognosticators should be held to account. The problem is: are there people unbiased enough to do so objectively? He leads with a mea culpa... a good start.

"The marketplace of ideas for now doesn’t clear out bad pundits and bad ideas partly because there’s no accountability. We trumpet our successes and ignore failures — or else attempt to explain that the failure doesn’t count because the situation changed or that we were basically right but the timing was off.

For example, I boast about having warned in 2002 and 2003 that Iraq would be a violent mess after we invaded. But I tend to make excuses for my own incorrect forecast in early 2007 that the troop “surge” would fail.

So what about a system to evaluate us prognosticators? Professor Tetlock suggests that various foundations might try to create a “trans-ideological Consumer Reports for punditry,” monitoring and evaluating the records of various experts and pundits as a public service. I agree: Hold us accountable!"

March 25, 2009

Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending - The New York Times

Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending - The New York Times:

Ah yes, the good old says of yesteryear...1999 to be exact.... when the Government persuaded Fannie Mae to get deeply into the subprime mortgage market. And the mortgage industry was cheering it on! "banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers."

I think we can conclude with certainty that this was the beginning of the mess we now find ourselves in. Note the warning by Peter Wallison quoted in the story.

"In a move that could help increase home ownership rates among minorities and low-income consumers, the Fannie Mae Corporation is easing the credit requirements on loans that it will purchase from banks and other lenders.

The action, which will begin as a pilot program involving 24 banks in 15 markets -- including the New York metropolitan region -- will encourage those banks to extend home mortgages to individuals whose credit is generally not good enough to qualify for conventional loans. Fannie Mae officials say they hope to make it a nationwide program by next spring.

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates -- anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans."

"...In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's."

''From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,'' said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ''If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.''

March 22, 2009

Response to an Email from a Friend

Our government exists on this basic premise: ".. in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."

Inherent in this ideal is the expectation that people will be reasonably free to conduct commerce, business and trade to enrich themselves in order to participate in and benefit from the framework of government created under the Constitution.

Certainly much has changed with respect to commerce and government in the intervening centuries, but one thing has not changed. That constant is the nature of Man.

While Man is capable of noble thoughts and deeds, our basic nature is inherently sinful, selfish, and greedy. Else why do we need laws to regulate and punish errant behavior and protect us from each other?  Laws are necessary to control the limits of greed and other destructive behaviors carried to extremes by some.
As long as we expect men and women to provide for their personal and family well-being and to create wages and wealth to be taxed for the 'general welfare and 'common defense,' the inherent traits of 'selfishness and greed' are a far more effective stimulus for individuals than any government decree or general prohibition.

I don't want my government prescribing how I should earn my living, regulating how much money I should earn, how much or how little wealth I can own or what business I can engage in. A framework of laws and sensible regulation for the common good, yes, but our Founders wisely recognized the inherent nature of man and intended that it flourish within a system of necessary  laws and common sense. This is the essence of freedom and an appeal to, but no guarantee of, nobler motives.

Yet because the interconnected systems of banking, finance and commerce have become so entwined and interconnected in this digital age, we are in uncharted territory. This calamitous complexity certainly could not have been envisioned by our Founders, perhaps not even by Mr. Friedman.

To avoid collapse, intervention by government is necessary, but we should recognize they are only human, too, and none of them have been down this road before. To some degree, they are winging it.

I'm not particularly an Obama fan, primarily because of his inexperience and understandable lack of wisdom. Perhaps he will mature in office. I am deeply concerned that 'team Obama' intends to implant an ideological agenda in our country disguised as an economic recovery plan and likely to spend ourselves into servitude to crushing debt and rampant inflation resulting in the country's rapid economic demise.

Making the web pay | The end of the free lunch—again | The Economist

Making the web pay | The end of the free lunch—again | The Economist:

The long-standing internet notion that "information wants to be free" has beguiled users for a couple of decades now. It is the entry point, if unspoken, mantra for new companies seeking their fortunes by attracting millions of users, then expecting a revenue payoff later through advertising or selling to a larger company that does make money.

As the economy languishes, many Web 2.0 startup companies will not be able to sustain themselves without revenue, as The Economist opines. The lesson is also not lost on the newspaper business which, with the notable exception of the Wall Street Journal, finds that advertising cannot adequately sustain their costly business model. Most made the error of giving away their content free online.

"The bill, sir."

"The idea that you can give things away online, and hope that advertising revenue will somehow materialise later on, undoubtedly appeals to users, who enjoy free services as a result. There is business logic to it, too. The nature of the internet means that the barrier to entry for new companies is very low—indeed, thanks to technological improvements, it is even lower in the Web 2.0 era than it was in the dotcom era. The internet also allows companies to exploit network effects to attract and retain users very quickly and cheaply. So it is not surprising that rival search engines, social networks or video-sharing sites give their services away in order to attract users, and put the difficult question of how to make money to one side. If you worry too much about a revenue model early on, you risk being left behind.

Ultimately, though, every business needs revenues—and advertising, it transpires, is not going to provide enough. Free content and services were a beguiling idea. But the lesson of two internet bubbles is that somebody somewhere is going to have to pick up the tab for lunch."

March 21, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist - Perverse Cosmic Myopia -

Op-Ed Columnist - Perverse Cosmic Myopia -

Mr. David Brooks is unhappy, frustrated and always willing to provide free advice. It's amateur hour at the White House and perhaps we can figure out who's fiddling while the world burns. Do you really think that President Obama has a clue? Do his advisers? Maybe he should hire Brooks.

This is not a time for political ploys. We need smart people with solid ideas about how to ameliorate this crisis. President Obama does not inspire confidence and certainly the Leno show is not the forum to do that.

The Burlington Free Press today reveals that President Obama's inexperience is showing . He's not had a good week.

  • His gaffe on the Jay Leno show comparing his bowling to that of Special Olympians demonstrates why any President would be wise to avoid appearing on entertainment shows. It demeans the office and leads to foolish comments like his. Presidents should stick to leading, not trying to entertain us.

  • Next, his administration has been exposed to have collaborated with Senator Chris (Secret Counrtywide mortgage) Dodd, Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, to have approved the paying of large bonuses to employees of AIG and others in hurried legislation. Then their protestations to tax these bonuses amid the outrage created by their own action, makes him and his Treasury Secretary, Geithner, seem inept and incompetent.

  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates that President Obama's spending plans would create $9.3 trillion in deficits during the next decade...more than 4 times those already exorbitant deficits created by Congress and the Bush administration. This CBO estimate is $2.3 trillion worse than 'team Obama' suggested just a couple of weeks ago. This is insane, not to mention that if Congress foolishly approved this level of spending, higher taxes are inevitable. NY Times reports on it here.

  • Finally, while touring a California electric car plant, Obama said "The 1908 Model T - think about this -the 1908 Model T earned better gas mileage than the typical SUV in 2008." "Think about that: 100 years later, and we're getting worse gas mileage, not better." What a stupid, foolish, absurd comment. There can be no valid comparison of vehicles separated by 100 years and thousands of pounds in weight, horsepower and technology. While this ridiculous chatter may resonate with dolts, for a President to engage in such surreal comparisons reveals how inexperienced, shallow and pandering he is.

I hope he fares better next week, but I think we're seeing the true Obama as his charisma fades in the harsh light of reality. I'm disappointed but not surprised.

March 20, 2009

Study Finds PSA Test Saves Few Lives -

Study Finds PSA Test Saves Few Lives -

As awful a killer as cancer is, a reliable test for prostate cancer does not exist. Until one is available, I choose not to be PSA tested unless my physician can factually persuade me otherwise.

Will someone please tally the health care costs that would be saved if this test were not routinely performed?

The United States Of Ponzi -

The United States Of Ponzi -

Call it what you will, the debt culture and all its ramifications may yet unravel the United States. We simply must live within the ability of the economy to support our needs, wants and desires. Or we must exercise far more spending this even possible in this spendthrift culture?

Debt has a rational place in a capitalist economy but it must be used judiciously or individuals, families and the country may fall over the precipice of excess.

"Americans lived in a 'Made-off' and Ponzi bubble economy for a decade or even longer. Madoff is the mirror of the American economy and of its over-leveraged agents: a house of cards of leverage over leverage by households, financial firms and corporations that has now collapsed in a heap."

Here's more from the NY Times this morning:

High and Low Finance - Facing the Reality That the Money Is Gone-

"...As a society, we are not as rich as we thought we were. The Federal Reserve now estimates that American households as a group are poorer than they were four years ago, even before adjusting for inflation. That had not happened in any four-year period since the Fed began making those estimates more than half a century ago.

It is not an easy reality to adjust to. But simply assuming that we deserve to live as if it had not happened will only make things worse."

March 19, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist - The Daily Me -

Op-Ed Columnist - The Daily Me -

Kristof's argument that the demise of print newspapers and the rise of the 'Daily Me' will further polarize consumers of media may not matter much as long as the creators and editors of the CONTENT choose to present (or not present at all) biased content! The mode of presentation is irrelevant, and for my money the quicker the newspapers move to digital, the better.

The problem he describes is shared equally by the creators/shapers of information and the consumers. It has little to do with the method of delivery.

"...That’s because there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information — but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber."

"...So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count."

March 17, 2009

Massachusetts Faces Costs of Big Health Care Plan -

Massachusetts Faces Costs of Big Health Care Plan -

I don't claim any expertise in health care, but the only practical and direct way to reduce system health care costs is to spend less. That seems logical to me, but the answer is not one we want to receive on a personal level.

The push in the past few years has been for universal access and insurance coverage for everyone. That may be wonderful for those individuals not now covered by insurance and who go without care or use the ER, but it will not, by itself, reduce the systemic costs for health care. Reducing overheads can help to control costs, but no breakthrough solution will occur in that arena until we have a standard, universally-used electronic record for each of us.

I'd really be interested to hear arguments otherwise. Until then, I agree with "some health policy experts."

"...Some health policy experts argue that changes in payment practices will not be enough to slow the growth in spending, even when combined with other cost-cutting strategies. To truly change course, they say, the state and federal governments may need to place actual limits on health spending, which could lead to rationing of care."

Too Good to Ignore

Thanks to Rough Fractals for posting this yesterday, and to Andy Borowtiz for cleverly crafting it. It's right on.'

Andy Borowitz of The Borowtiz Report got it right:

"MARCH 15, 2009
In New Terror Video, AIG Demands Huge Ransom from U.S.
Shadowy Group Seeks Bonuses, Golf Retreats

American intelligence experts are analyzing a new terror video from the American International Group (AIG) in which the leader of the shadowy organization demands billions of dollars from the United States.

In the four-minute tape, which surfaced over the weekend and caused deep concern among U.S. officials, a man believed to be the chairman of AIG says that if his organization is not paid its ransom, "chaos and destruction will rain down on the American economy."

"If we are not paid billions more in bonuses and corporate golf retreats, America will be made to suffer," the man threatens.

Intelligence analysts said that the man, AIG chairman Edward M. Liddy, appears to be speaking at a luxury beach resort that offers few clues as to his exact location, although there is "good intelligence" pointing to the Ritz Carlton in the Cayman Islands.

"We have some reason to believe that he and other AIG executives are there, based on a series of intercepted room service orders from the all-day dining menu," one analyst said.

Reacting to the video, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano raised the nation's terror alert level to orange, meaning "taxpayers are about to get reamed again."

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also released a response to AIG's latest demands, but intelligence experts said they would need several weeks to decipher Mr. Geithner's response."

March 15, 2009

Not-for-Profit Journalism

A friend turned me on to this notion of not-for-profit journalism. So I registered with Pro Publica and read the extensive 'About Us' description.

I applaud their goals and focus in this age where newspaper business models are collapsing in the face of online distribution of information and precipitous loss of advertising. No bailout for news media...First Amendment protections doncha know.

However, I think Pro Publica should add to their currently targeted areas of business and government the powerful domain of "special interest groups." Surely some of them are funded by and represent business, but many others have scale and support to influence policies and national well-being.

Examples of groups in this category are ACLU, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, NAACP, immigrants rights organizations, ACORN, various think tanks, e.g., Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, veterans groups, AARP, etc., etc.

These 'powerful influencing organizations' should also be subject to investigative journalism when/if warranted.
I look forward to the work of Pro Publica and wish them great success! This may be the evolving journalism model. I encourage you to read their "About Us" section. It provides an extensive description of their goals and methods

March 14, 2009

An expensive approach to climate change | Cap and binge | The Economist

An expensive approach to climate change | Cap and binge | The Economist

The Economist has some problems with President Obama's cap and trade plan. So do I.

C&T will be an overly expensive way to reduce greenhouse gases and as I have posted previously, if public policy evolves to reducing carbon in the unproven belief that the climate can be changed, let that play out with a tax on the end users of products and services with a 'carbon content.' Let consumers know what they are paying for, rather than masking the 'carbon cost' in energy and product price increases brought on by C&T.

If public policy is established is to reduce carbon emissions, the government should be willing to take the heat directly via proposing and defending a tax rather than forcing the public to blame providers and moan about higher prices. The politicians should be willing to stand up and defend the tax. C&T is nothing but a tax disguised as a market mechanism.

Some quotes from The Economist piece:

..."But fighting climate change will be costly. It will involve swapping cheap but dirty fuels for cleaner but dearer ones, as Congress intends, as well as building lots of expensive new power plants to replace older, more polluting ones. That in turn will lead to higher electricity and fuel prices. Despite the president’s airy talk of green jobs, cutting emissions, by almost all calculations, will increase costs for most businesses and families. Those extra costs must be kept to a minimum.

....The main effect of these schemes would be to raise the costs of cutting emissions. Much of the money doled out by the government would inevitably be wasted, adding to the overall bill for fighting climate change. Worse, such measures would risk distorting the carbon market, steering private capital as well as public money away from the cheapest technologies and towards those that have caught the eye of the politicians...."

March 12, 2009

Google Voice May Threaten Other Phone Services -

Google Voice May Threaten Other Phone Services -

03/13/09 Update: Following up with more coverage...Here's a quick summary of Google Voice and it's impact from David Pogue of the NY Times. Here's his complete description. Here's the lead paragraph in Pogue's story:

"If Google search revolutionized the Web, and Gmail revolutionized free e-mail, then one thing’s for sure: Google Voice, unveiled Thursday, will revolutionize telephones."

He sees this as a VERY big thing and I agree! Google has inserted itself big time into the middle of call management services and provided for free these very profitable services offered by traditional landline phone companies. How's this title... Google Voice Speaks of World Domination from a Wired blog.

On March 11, prior to the announcement, Stephen Shankland at his cnet News WebWare Blog has an extensive and reasoned analysis of the implications of Google Voice. Worth a read.

VoIP's quality has become so good that traditional phone companies are headed for the role of last mile Internet access providers because Google potentially will suck off so much of the value-added voice services and reduce their already shrinking landline revenue stream. The phone companies are left with the tough and costly task of maintaining and building a physical infrastructure with less revenue added from the optional call management services.

It certainly explains why in the recent past the large phone companies like Verizon and AT&T have not been willing or able to get close to Google for partnerships and did not use many Google services. They obviously knew this was coming and now have to be very concerned with having their lunch eaten, maybe breakfast, too. The impact will be important and early adopters will hop on as soon as it's widely available. Definitely a very disruptive service!! I'll be there!

Google is now a phone company without all the costly depreciating infrastructure! How will the big telcos respond? I think they see their salvation in the 4G wireless services which will provide broadband access.

It will take a few years, but except for multi-channel HDTV access, voice landline services will die rapidly.

More later, but wanted to get this post up quickly as I'm headed out the door.

Google Voice is a very BIG deal and will stir immense controversy within the industry, but, as Google is so good at, they make their appeal to a mammoth user base that is 'captured' by their panoply of free and low cost applications and services. Disruptive behavior, no?

Here's the Google Voice feature list.

March 11, 2009

Wal-Mart Plans to Market System for Digital Health Records -

Wal-Mart Plans to Market System for Digital Health Records -

This would seem to be just what's needed to jump start electronic health care records in small physician practices, but the story is lacking at least two key elements.

1./Are all the standards in place now so that medical information can be exchanged between all the stops along the health care path? Will these systems in doctors offices be able to easily interface with insurers, hospitals, labs and clinics so that all the info sources can come together on the doc's PC? Who will be the gatekeeper for all those points of interface?

2./How will the web-savvy patient connect with his/her health information? I recently changed physicians and now I can at least use email for simple communications. But I can't schedule or change appointments online. I want far more robust access to my records and the ability to insert my own comments and information into my electronic health record.

March 10, 2009

The Problem of Scale

Because the story may not be viewable after a while due to the WSJ policy of limited time for reading without a subscription.

Mr. Bryce, the author, is the managing editor of Energy Tribune. His latest book is "Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence'"(Public Affairs, 2008).

He clearly points out the difficulty with the whole notion of 'energy independence' showing the tiny contribution of wind and solar to the energy requirements of our country. To grow that proportion will take an enormous amount of time and funding.

In the story, unfortunately, Bryce bounces between total energy and electricity with his data. This may create some confusion, but his facts seem correct in each domain.

"...the key problem facing Mr. Obama, and anyone else advocating a rapid transition away from the hydrocarbons that have dominated the world's energy mix since the dawn of the Industrial Age, is the same issue that dogs every alternative energy idea: scale.

Let's start by deciphering exactly what Mr. Obama includes in his definition of "renewable" energy. If he's including hydropower, which now provides about 2.4% of America's total primary energy needs, then the president clearly has no concept of what he is promising. Hydro now provides more than 16 times as much energy as wind and solar power combined. Yet more dams are being dismantled than built. Since 1999, more than 200 dams in the U.S. have been removed.

If Mr. Obama is only counting wind power and solar power as renewables, then his promise is clearly doable. But the unfortunate truth is that even if he matches Mr. Bush's effort by doubling wind and solar output by 2012, the contribution of those two sources to America's overall energy needs will still be almost inconsequential.

Here's why. The latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that total solar and wind output for 2008 will likely be about 45,493,000 megawatt-hours. That sounds significant until you consider this number: 4,118,198,000 megawatt-hours. That's the total amount of electricity generated during the rolling 12-month period that ended last November. Solar and wind, in other words, produce about 1.1% of America's total electricity consumption..."

March 9, 2009

Obama is Not a Proponent of Nuclear Power

Watch this video and see that President Obama does not favor nuclear as a source of electricity. While he does not rule it out completely (otherwise he would have to advocate closing nuclear plants....Vermont would love that!), he has remained consistent from the campaign to his present position. But he's wrong and continues to pander to emotion rather than the reality that nuclear is our most effective choice as a clean replacement for coal to meet our increasing needs for electricity.

Energy tech innovation threatened by economy | Green Tech - CNET News

Energy tech innovation threatened by economy | Green Tech - CNET News

An interesting report. Two things stand out for me:
1./ What will be the price of electricity for consumers in year 5 and year 10 if the U.S. embraces cap and trade and the development of alternative/renewable sources under President Obama's proposals. This should be estimable. Does anyone have a source for this information? Is anyone in the media asking?

2./ What will be the price without cap and trade, i.e., letting development of alternative energy sources take its natural/normal course of growth, along with the unhindered price of coal and natural gas with whatever subsidies and spending the government decides to enable for alternatives.
The alternative energy establishment is powerful and growing, but is saying they are stymied because we are in a recession. If the price of fossil fuels and capital determine the pace at which alternatives become a larger part of the mix, then they are really saying that the only way for alternatives to grow is with a dramatic change in public policy and massive government funding and subsidies.

We should keep in mind the following realities as this debate unfolds:

Electricity Sources (U.S. Nov 2008)

Coal 48.4%
Petroleum 1.1%
Natural Gas 21.4%
Hydro 6.4%
Nuclear 19.4%
All other 3.3% (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, etc.)

It's obvious that the real purpose of cap and trade has little to do with climate change and everything to do with pricing coal out of the market as a source of electricity because nuclear and hydro have essentially no carbon emissions. Natural gas is also relatively clean and petroleum is a de minimus source of electricity.

So, anyone with the answers to my two questions, please step forward. The price of energy will be high. Please tell us how high.

The Global Economy Unravels -

The Global Economy Unravels -

Scary thoughts, indeed!
"...A prolonged global downturn, let alone a collapse, would dramatically raise tensions inside these countries. Couple that with possible protectionist legislation in the United States, unresolved ethnic and territorial disputes in all regions of the globe and a loss of confidence that world leaders actually know what they are doing. The result may be a series of small explosions that coalesce into a big bang.
One has to hope that ahead of the next G-20 summit in London this April, global policymakers will get real about the gravity of the present global economic and political situation. For only with a coordinated and forceful economic policy response is there any hope of extricating ourselves from what is turning out to be the most serious global economic slump since the Great Depression."

Utility AEP plans backyard energy storage | Green Tech - CNET News

Utility AEP plans backyard energy storage | Green Tech - CNET News

Both grid and neighborhood scale storage technology to cope with the vagaries of wind and solar produced electricity will need to come a long way to be cost effective. Nevertheless, it's encouraging to see companies and researchers devoting resources to new developments in this field.

We hear little about this in the popular media, which may lead people to believe incorrectly that solar and wind are direct replacements for baseload power from nuclear, hydro and coal. Without storage capacity, they will continue to be bit players on the electricity stage.

Let's remember these are real costs to added to the sources of renewable/alternative electricity when they grow beyond today's minuscule contribution they will make to our electricity supply.

March 8, 2009

Global Warming Bait and Switch

The following essay written by Paul Dreissen deserves a read. See credits at the end of the piece. Ask yourself this question: Why has the average temperature of the earth not risen in the last 10 years? Does this fact square with the alarmists' claims that we're headed for a climate disaster? We certainly have not reduced the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere. Why then, has the temperature not risen if human-generated carbon dioxide is the cause of 'global warming?'
Global Warming “bait-and-switch”

Scientific “consensus” and other shady sales tactics promote alarmist theories

Paul Driessen

"Fred Schwindel’s TV City ad promises 40” flat screen televisions for $200. You rush to his store, to learn he’s “fresh out” – but has some 42” models for $1000.

That’s “bait-and-switch,” and Fred could be prosecuted for consumer fraud.

In the political arena, however, bait-and-switch is often rewarded, not punished – especially in the case of global warming alarmism. Instead of fines or jail time, politicos get committee chairs, presidencies, speaking fees and Nobel Prizes. Scientists and bureaucrats receive paychecks, research grants and travel stipends for Bali. Activists get secretive government payments for “public education” campaigns. Companies get government contracts, subsidies and seats at the bargaining table. And all are lionized or canonized for supporting Climageddon theories and policies.

Global warming bait-and-switch starts with simple statements that few would contest – then shifts seamlessly to claims that are hotly disputed and supported by little or no evidence.

The bait: Global warming is real. The switch: Global warming is intensifying and threatens agriculture, human civilization and the fabric of life everywhere on earth.

Bait: 99% of scientists agree on the presence of human-caused global warming. Switch: The debate is over. Humans are the primary cause of temperature increases.

Bait: Atmospheric carbon dioxide from human activities is increasing. Switch: CO2 is the dominant greenhouse gas and is reaching unprecedented and dangerous levels.

Bait: Earth warmed during the twentieth century, as CO2 levels increased. Switch: Runaway warming is increasing hurricanes, melting polar ice caps, raising sea levels and causing species extinction.

Bait: Even little things like reducing personal energy consumption help the environment. Switch: We can stop climate change by switching to wind and solar energy.

The perpetrators of these B/S schemes may never be chastened or prosecuted. However, as in the case of consumer fraud, an informed public is less likely to get fleeced.

President Obama and congressional Democrats support a $650 billion carbon cap-and-trade tax on every household, business and factory in America. If they introduce legislation amid this recession, voters, energy consumers and more responsible legislators should keep important facts in mind.

Global warming (aka climate change) has been “real” since time began. Witness the Ice Ages, interglacial periods, Medieval Warm Period (950-1350), Little Ice Age (1400-1850), Anesazi drought, Dust Bowl, and conversion of verdant river valleys into the Sahara Desert some 4,000 years ago.

No one yet knows what solar energy fluctuations, planetary orbit shifts, recurrent oscillations in ocean currents, cloud cover variation and other natural forces combined to cause these potent climatic changes. But there is no evidence that they have suddenly been displaced by human CO2 emissions.

Growing numbers of scientists say the climate change debate is far from over, and global warming was never a crisis. Over 650 certified meteorologists and climate scientists are on a US Senate compilation of climate cataclysm skeptics – and 32,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, saying they dispute claims that humans are causing climate change, and the changes will be disastrous.

Many of them are meeting in New York March 8-10, at the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change. They may not drive the final nails into the coffin of climate hysteria, but their findings and analyses underscore the lack of evidence for scary “forecasts” that are routinely generated by woefully inadequate computer models and self-interested researchers, activists and politicians. They will point out that planetary temperatures are no longer rising, hurricanes are not increasing in number or intensity, ice caps are not disappearing, and moderate temperature and CO2 increases benefit plant growth.

The UN’s Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change claims to be the world’s “most authoritative body” on the subject. However, only “something on the order of 20%” of the panel’s scientists “have some dealing with climate,” admits a senior member. Even the IPCC chairman is an economist, not a scientist.

Worse, says atmospheric scientist Dr. Roy Spencer, the IPCC insists that human carbon dioxide emissions drive global warming. It has “never seriously investigated” the possibility that climate change might be natural. The IPCC sees only what it is looking for; it sees nothing it is not looking for.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may have “soared” from 280 ppm to 385 ppm over the last century. But this represents an almost trivial rise from 0.03% of the atmosphere to 0.04% – the equivalent of an increase from 3 cents to 4 out of $100, or from 1.08 inches to 1.44 inches on a football field. The dominant greenhouse gas is water vapor, which nature controls via evaporation and precipitation.

Planetary temperatures may have increased during the last century, as CO2 levels increased. But not in a straight line. They rose 1900-1940 (1934 was the century’s warmest year), fell 1940-1975, rose again 1975-1998, then stabilized and even declined slightly from 1998 to 2008.

New York, Holland and Bangladesh might be inundated by a 49-foot rise in sea level, if the entire West Antarctic ice sheet melted. But that would require a global temperature spike far greater than even Al Gore has prophesied. The average temperature for the peninsula’s two-month summer is barely 36 F; in the winter, temperatures are below minus 50.

Unplugging unused appliances and switching to CFL bulbs may help jet-setting Hollywood celebrities feel better. But they will not stabilize Earth’s climate. Even grounding Al Gore and John Travolta’s private jets, scrapping every US automobile, mothballing America’s coal-fired power plants, and slashing US CO2 emissions by 80% (back to 1905 levels), as President Obama wants to do, will have little effect.

Even the IPCC recognizes that perfect compliance with the Kyoto Protocol by every country would reduce global temperature increases by only 0.2 degrees by 2050 (assuming CO2 does drive global warming). But Europe has put its greenhouse gas reduction programs on hold. Australia is poised to reject cap-and-trade plans. China and India are building new coal-fired power plants every week.

Nearly 85% of US energy is hydrocarbon based, whereas wind turbines currently provide 0.5% and generate electricity only 25% of the time. Even absent the deepening recession, taxing and penalizing hydrocarbon use and CO2 emissions will drive up energy costs and extinguish far more jobs than can possibly be created via government-subsidized renewable energy and green-collar job initiatives. The impacts on poor families, economic civil rights, living standards and civil liberties would be severe.

Not surprisingly, the more people understand these facts, the worse the hysteria gets. Al Gore: Soaring global temperatures will “bring human civilization to a screeching halt.” Energy Secretary Stephen Chu: “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” NOAA scientist Susan Solomon: “In ten years the oceans will be toxic, and all life in them will die.” NASA astronomer James Hansen: “Death trains” are carrying poisonous fuel to “coal-fired factories of death.”

Hollywood horror movie writers couldn’t possibly top this stuff.

So when Congress and the President call for more economic pain through energy restrictions and cap-and-trade bills, demand solid evidence for catastrophic warming and human causation. Don’t accept worthless computer models and worst-case scenarios. And don’t be conned by bait-and-switch tactics."


Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow ( and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – black death.

March 7, 2009

Mobile telecoms in the recession | Boom in the bust | The Economist

Mobile telecoms in the recession | Boom in the bust | The Economist:

Always insightful, I think The Economist gets it right on this subject.

The boom in mobile...'computers' in all shapes and forms on 3G & 4G networks.... will release the industry from its moorings where the service providers with the networks controlled the customer. This is changing as the flood of communications moves to wireless, both voice and data. With smart devices and creative applications, many players will slice the pie horizontally where previously it was a vertically integrated business.

It will be a stupendous time that is presently foreshadowed by the wild success of the iPhone and Apple's Apps store. The carriers will not be losers because those with the physical network infrastructure will be major players as long as they continue to keep the network current and open it at the proper pace. Just think about the passive monitoring applications that can be handled on this network! Truckers who are tied to satellites can now be linked via terrestrial wireless, etc, etc.

"But not everyone will be a winner. As handsets slowly turn into computers, the mobile industry will at last undergo the shift that has been predicted for several years: from being vertically integrated to being sliced into distinct, horizontal technology layers, such as networks, devices, operating systems and applications. The vertical “sausage” that was the industry is becoming a layered “hamburger”, says Carl-Henric Svanberg, the boss of Ericsson, the largest maker of mobile-network gear.

This will transform the economics of the industry. Historically, network operators have been in the strongest position, explains Ben Wood of CCS Insight, a market-research firm. They owned the radio spectrum, built the networks, maintained the relationships with customers—and then grabbed most of the spoils. But in the new world, predicts Mr Wood, they will have to share revenues and profits with providers of software and services, such as Apple, Google and Facebook.

....But despite the economic turmoil elsewhere, the industry seems justified in its confidence that the smart-phone is finally emerging as a powerful, innovative and lucrative new computing platform."

Kimberley Strassel Says the Climate Change Lobby Is Beginning to Realize That Cap and Trade Is a Tax -

Kimberley Strassel Says the Climate Change Lobby Is Beginning to Realize That Cap and Trade Is a Tax -

With so many massive programs unveiled by Team Obama since his inauguration, cap and trade (C&T) for carbon emissions has not received a great deal of public input or media coverage. This is a complicated system for TV's talking heads to explain and really isn't of much interest to most people when they are struggling in this recession...until they learn what it will do to their budget

Now that a few more details have become available, it's clear this is a plan to raise revenue, raise prices for traditional sources of energy, particularly electricity, so as to make alternatives and renewables more price competitive with coal and petroleum.

The idea of cap and trade and the carbon credits market that would be created is fraught with risk. If climate-savers want to manage carbon dioxide emissions, they should propose taxing consumers directly and transparently, consumers who also vote, rather than disguise the increased costs for electricity in a C&T scheme.
"...People are learning," says William Kovacs, vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which has been cautious about embracing a climate plan). "The Obama budget did more to help us consolidate and coalesce the business community than anything we could have done. It's opened eyes to the fact that this is about a social welfare transfer system, not about climate."

Truth is, any cap-and-trade system is a tax, even if Mr. Obama's plan has only started to force business proponents to admit it. The government sets a cap on how much greenhouse gas can be emitted annually. Companies buy and sell permits that allow them to emit. Customers bear the price of those permits..."

March 5, 2009

American West Politics - Timothy Egan Blog -

American West Politics - Timothy Egan Blog -

It will be fascinating to learn how Limbaugh deals with this piece by T. Egan where he goes for the throat. My guess is that Limbaugh will revel in the publicity and his radio show ratings will rise as he tackles Egan.

The ‘Organic’ Stamp - Does It Mean That Food Is Safer? -

The ‘Organic’ Stamp - Does It Mean That Food Is Safer? -

We should all be very concerned about food safety and nutrition, but an 'Organic' label guarantees neither. I have long believed that the mass migration to "Organic" and "Supplements," both multi-billion dollar industries, has far more to to do with emotion, marketing, ideology, and style than sound, common sense health and eating habits.

One thing I know, 'Organic' means costlier, not necessarily healthier.

"...Meanwhile, consumers are becoming more skeptical about certification, said Laurie Demeritt, president of the Hartman Group, a market research firm.

Some shoppers want food that was grown locally, harvested from animals that were treated humanely or produced by workers who were paid a fair wage. The organic label doesn’t mean any of that.

“They’re questioning the social values around organics,” Ms. Demeritt said.

The Organic Trade Association, which represents 1,700 organic companies, wants to shore up organic food’s image. This week it’s beginning a $500,000 Web-based campaign on the benefits of organic food with the slogan: “Organic. It’s worth it.”

Supporters of the National Organic Program think additional money in the recent farm bill will help improve its reach."

March 4, 2009

The Broadband Hot Potato -

The Broadband Hot Potato - Vermont's ValleyNet Project

Worth a read to understand the difficulty of providing fiber broadband to sparsely populated areas. No mention in the story of the possibility that 4G wireless may be a realistic option. Then again, no one wants to wait for that.

"...The economic stimulus package, which sets aside $7.2 billion for broadband initiatives, could provide a crucial lifeline to municipalities struggling to bring broadband access to millions of Americans who don't have it -- a key initiative of President Barack Obama. The saga of the central Vermont project shows how the financial turmoil has exacerbated the already daunting challenge of reaching the most sparsely populated areas of the country.

From accountants to small-business owners to housewives, the residents of the 22 towns that hired Mr. Nulty are effectively living in the dial-up era. One Tunbridge resident, Kathi Terami, who runs a nonprofit group, keeps a list of things that require a broadband connection -- downloading "Sesame Street" podcasts for her two small children, watching YouTube links sent by her sister -- and goes into town once a week to a library with a high-speed connection. Another, sheep farmer Marian White, pays $60 a month for a satellite Internet service to get a slight boost over dial-up, but says the service is unreliable, especially when it snows and the dish stops receiving a signal. She has perfected a solution.

"I open a window and I take a pan of water and, a cup at a time, I launch warm water at the satellite dish until I have melted all the snow off the dish," Ms. White says. "It works."

Lack of standards could stymie smart grid | Politics and Law - CNET News

Lack of standards could stymie smart grid | Politics and Law - CNET News

It seems smart grid standards are woefully lacking. Too many 'demonstration projects' will be a waste of money. We should spend the time to get this right because the electrical grid is too important to tinker with.

"Successfully integrating interoperable smart-grid technology into the electric grid will require standards on a number of issues, including security, reliability, data sharing, and privacy. Standards could be developed for a number of other facets of the smart grid as well, such as charging standards for electric hybrid vehicles and open architecture standards."

"There are so many standards to consider, said Patrick Gallagher, deputy director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), that his organization's primary responsibility is simply prioritizing the order in which standards should be developed.

"What's desperately needed is an overall roadmap by which we can decide which standards affect regulatory concerns or technical challenges and need to be addressed right away," he said.

The NIST is currently developing such a roadmap, Gallagher said, and hopes to have initial drafts of its priorities by this summer. The NIST's priorities will not impede private industry from taking the lead in developing standards--so long as they are flexible and technology neutral--Gallagher said. He nevertheless expressed concern that the private sector's interest in moving forward as quickly as possible could make it difficult for all companies and organizations to reach a consensus on standards...."

March 2, 2009

AIG May Become a Government Owned Insurer Like Fannie Mae

from The Wall Street Journal
March 2, 2009

The federal government has revamped its rescue package to American International Group and will provide the troubled company another $30 billion, with the Treasury saying AIG continues "to face significant challenges." The announcement comes as the insurance giant posted a $61.66 billion net loss for the fourth quarter.
The new package comes as the company has burned through cash and has been unable to find buyers for pieces of its company that it hoped to sells to repay the government on its existing loan package, which totals some $150 billion.

March 1, 2009

Obama’s Backing Raises Hopes for Climate Pact -

Obama’s Backing Raises Hopes for Climate Pact -

Below is a quote from the the NY Times story. Ashton's quote portrays him as a dunce, although that's unlikely the author's intent. Who know perhaps he is, like many of the fanatics pushing an agenda that supposes that we can change the climate back to some 'desired state.' What is that state? Do we really think we are 'in charge' of the climate?

Nevertheless, if voting is permitted on that question, I''ll vote for the temperatures when the Vikings were farming in Greenland, a thousand years ago. What's your vote?

When will rationality and sanity rise up in this rush to climate nirvana promoted by fanatics?
"Climate experts added that the United States did not need to have in place national legislation to limit greenhouse gasses, a process that could take months, to negotiate in Copenhagen. “It’s not just about analyzing a piece of legislation,” Mr. Ashton (the British foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change) said. “It’s about the feeling you get if you’re a leader sitting in Beijing. It’s like love; you know it when you feel it.”"

I'm all for reducing the amount of petroleum we burn, not because of anything connected with the climate, but because we have far higher uses for it such as chemicals, plastics, and other products that are of immense benefit to humankind everywhere.

Comparative Costs of Renewable Electricity Sources

An interesting price comparison of alternative energy sources. It's patently clear that photovoltaic solar is presently uneconomic. Geothermal looks interesting, but the capital costs of getting at it are somewhat of a mystery.

Vermont would do well to continue its relationship with HydroQuebec as a principal supplier of our baseload electricity needs. They are also developing wind resources in far northern Quebec which will be integrated into their supply.