February 28, 2010

The Data Deluge - What to do about it


More openness by companies about their data collection, mining and use of personal information is needed. The Economist recommends a periodic security audit, similar to an accounting audit, making the results public would allow folks to know how their information was collected and used, Then they could decide which companies best protected their information and privacy.

February 23, 2010

Intel alliance to invest $3.5 billion in U.S. tech | Cutting Edge - CNET News

Intel alliance to invest $3.5 billion in U.S. tech | Cutting Edge - CNET News

This strikes me as a very big commitment by Intel in a very short period, two year; one that could produce some real innovation by American researchers and entrepreneurs.

February 22, 2010

The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough? - 60 Minutes - CBS News

The Bloom Box: An Energy Breakthrough? - 60 Minutes - CBS News

What to make of the claims for this technology? Can it be cheap? Is it reliable? What is the power output? Will it operate 7x24? Is it temperature sensitive, particularly to cold climates?

I have to say that venture capitalist John Doerr is not a sucker for a dumb scheme. But at least one statement baffles me. The inventor/scientist said that solar energy could be an input to the Bloom Box. I don't follow that. If this technology is basically solid-state fuel cell technology, then a fuel is needed. The examples showed natural gas and landfill gas as fuel inputs. How does solar radiation become a 'fuel.'

My interest is piqued, but so much more information is needed.

TechCrunch's take on it is here.

February 21, 2010

Washington Gridlock

The Eonomist Magazine Feature this Week

Obviously Washington is not working to the expectations of most Americans. Some call it partisan gridlock; some say TeamObama's policies are unpopular. I think people's views are shaped by a lingering bad recession and the absurd complexity of laws and regulations that thwart the American dream that we have grown up to believe in.

Has the dream become dependent on Washington? If so, government has become far too overbearing and has hindered rather than enabled personal success for Everyman.

Without doubt, the voracious spending of Government has created a debt that cannot be repaid and will only be settled by a deflation of the currency sometime in the future.

Washington is not 'working' for Americans

What's gone wrong in Washington?

Imagine a democracy where politicians representing only a tenth of the population can frustrate the will of the majority, where the legislature is divided up into absurdly gerrymandered seats, where money politics is rife, where bipartisanship has disappeared—and where nothing ever gets done. With Congress failing to do anything about health care, climate change or the deficit, that is how an increasing number of Americans see Washington. Meanwhile businesspeople and politicians in the emerging world contrast this paralysis with China's autocratic efficiency. In our cover leader we look at the idea that Washington is broken. We argue that it is wrong to blame the system, not least because it lets Barack Obama off the hook. The main reason why his laws are not passing is because they are unpopular. He has done too little to win over independents and Republicans.

Here are some other pieces from this week's issue you might also be interested in. You can click straight through to each one and read it at
The Economist online

The Myth of Local Control 021010

(Published in the Colchester Sun February 18, 2010)

The Myth of Local Control

Vermont's reputation of local school boards and voters balancing the tough choices between spending and taxes is mostly myth. The reality is that state K-12 education costs and the funding scheme that feeds them is breaking the backs of taxpayers and the state budget. True control rests with the Legislature.

Funding and spending for education is a jumble of sources, rules, regulations, formulas and obscure budget mechanisms. Few citizens understand this complex stream of policies and rules flowing from the Legislature and the Department of Education. Unless more taxpayers understand and experience the financial effects of their votes, local control is a fantasy.

Here's why. The General Assembly enacted laws that now shield approximately 65% of property taxpayers from the full tax effect of local education spending decisions. This income sensitivity mechanism effectively warps the choices local taxpayers make. A local budget 'yes' vote is too easy because so many property taxpayers/school budget voters are shielded and desensitized from the full financial consequences of their decisions.

Common sense says that desensitized voters probably are far too generous spending others’ money than when voting to spend their own. The Legislature has gone far overboard with income sensitivity rules originally intended to protect low income earners from high homestead property taxes. A correction is essential.

Reductions in income sensitivity are long overdue as statewide school spending per student has grown 6.7% annually for ten years.

Instead of voting real change, state politicians resort to salving us with frequent references to maintaining local control. This implies that Vermont's over-spending on education is a 'good thing,' the result of budget decisions made by local school boards and endorsed by local voters. That is only partially true. Talk with anyone in the school system and they will tell you how 'the state' has loaded them up with unfunded mandates and requirements that increase local costs.

Certainly, voters have the power to approve or reject local education budgets, and school boards have the power to hire, fire, train and manage staff to implement local education. However, the degree of voter control is subtly manipulated by income sensitivity formulas.

The complex web of laws, rules, regulations and standards from the Department of Education for curriculum, class size, special education, and other details are cumbersome and costly. This combination of overly broad income sensitivity rules combined with these mandates, arcane formulas and standards work against true local control.

Act 60 followed by Act 68 set off an unsustainable education spending spree consuming half of Vermont's state budget.

Look at it this way: 100% of education property taxes (net of prebate) pay for approximately 66% of education spending; plus 45% of personal income taxes pay for approximately 23% of education spending; plus 33% of sales taxes pay for approximately 9% of total education spending.

As Montpelier struggles to balance a budget during this session, Gov. Douglas and Treasurer Jeb Spaulding have recommended modest changes to constrain the exorbitant costs of K-12 education. Among them, increasing the retirement age and contribution rules for the abundant education staff and including retirement costs in the Education Fund where they belong.

To their credit, some teachers and their union have finally publicly demonstrated willingness to share more costs of their retirement and offered to freeze salaries in some towns. However, more cost control is needed as student enrollment continues to decline.

Indeed, the Legislature should include the full cost of education, including pension and post-retirement health care benefits in the Education Fund. This would not be an automatic tax increase as many would have us believe. Instead, local voters would be empowered and stimulated to turn local education control from myth to reality.

February 19, 2010

February 14, 2010

Official Gmail Blog: A new Buzz start-up experience based on your feedback

Official Gmail Blog: A new Buzz start-up experience based on your feedback

Buzz, Google's latest experiment with social media, riled a few users with the privacy issues associated with Buzz' initial appearance with Gmail users. Here's G-'s explanation of changes they have already made and those in the days ahead. I'll bet if they could re-launch Buzz, they'd do it differently.

Perhaps their decisions about how to launch came from too much internal introspection. I should think they'd be using focus groups for such a major change to the capabilities of Gmail, a product used by tens of million and which I dearly love. Google has already intimated that Buzz could be a standalone offering, but I like the fact that it's integrated with Gmail.

If you use Buzz and want to keep who you follow and who follows you from public view, probably the biggest privacy concern for most folks, be sure to change your Google Profile options as described in the link above.

February 13, 2010

Senator Sanders Solar Dream

If my arithmetic is correct, Sen. Sanders plan would cost federal and state governments $271,250,000,000 out-of-pocket for these solar system subsidies. That's $271 Billion of additional government spending, all adding to the deficit for the federal portion of the subsidies and the remainder requiring scarce state tax dollars.

Sanders would have us believe ("This country spends, in a typical year, $350 Billion importing oil from Saudi Arabia and other countries.") that somehow this solar plan would save us from importing all this oil. That's nonsense. The reality is that a minuscule fraction (less than 1%) of today's U.S. electricity is produced from oil. He mixes all energy sources together on the dubious assumption they are interchangeable.

Solar may have some value to provide electricity for future electric cars if they are charged when the sun shines. Those vehicles will reduce demand for oil by a tiny amount.

The fallacy of his proposal is the implication that baseload electricity needs (the 7x24x365 requirement that's still needed when the sun doesn't shine) can be reduced by adding solar to the mix. At best, some small daytime demand for electricity can be met by solar, but the coal, nuclear, natural gas and hydro plants must remain and operate when the sun does not shine (or the wind does not blow). No effective technology yet exists for storing electricity at the scale required to overcome this basic fact.

If his plan has substantive value, Senator Sanders should clearly explain what portion of today's or tomorrow's U.S. electricity demand will be produced by his plan. Further, he should be asked to explain what portion of baseload generating capacity will no longer be needed if his plan were implemented.

February 12, 2010

Climate change debate crowded with ignorance Thomas Kostigen's Ethics Monitor - MarketWatch

Climate change debate crowded with ignorance Thomas Kostigen's Ethics Monitor - MarketWatch

I couldn't have said it better. The nonsense that passes for argument about climate change deserves to be drowned out. The fact is the climate is changing, always has, always will. Those who believe mankind can change the future climate have a responsibility to describe what condition they would change it to...in all parts of the earth.

"...The skeptics say the snow disproves global warming. The believers say the snow proves extreme climate events associated with global warming. Both sides are being stupid about the cause and effects of climate change.

Climate is not the weather on any particular day, or week, or month. Climate is the accumulation of weather patterns over the course of years.

I know that we live in a world of Twitter feeds, blog reports, and real-time cable news, but immediacy has no place in climate talks. Hence, knee-jerk reactions to storms, disasters, and temperature readings -- whether you believe in climate change or not -- shouldn't be deemed credible evidence of much of anything..."

February 11, 2010

Google's Move Into Fiber Networks

Mayor Kiss, Jonathan Leopold, the City Council, Burlington Telecom and city taxpayers may have just found their financial savior. They had better get cracking to write their application for Google's recently announced high speed fiber experiment.

Google doesn't have to place the fiber, except to insure the build-out is complete throughout the city. Google would be concerned only with the electronics and the premises equipment to insure that the high speeds they intend could be provided. The underlying fiber infrastructure should be perfectly adequate.

They'd have a major medical center and colleges and universities to participate and 38,000 potential residential customers along with hundreds of small businesses.

Burlington may also be able to leverage Google's investment in Clearwire to bring 4G WiMax wireless technology to the city.

What an opportunity! Sell BT to Google or bring them in as the 'private partner' recommended in the recent BT blue ribbon commission's report. This is a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to solve BT's and the taxpayers' financial problem.

(from WSJ 2/11/10)

Google said in a statement it knows "that other companies have been in this business a long time, and we're not pretending to have all the answers here." It added, "We do have experience with Web infrastructure from operating our data centers."


Ms. Ingersoll said Google will manage the deployment of the fiber network, but probably partner with contractors to help build it. Google said it would offer service at a speed of one gigabit per second—100 times faster than what many U.S. consumers have access to today.

February 10, 2010

Iran: Death to Gmail!!

News Alert
from The Wall Street Journal (02/10/10)

The mad actions of a dying regime. The question is will it die by itself via revolution from within or will the rational world need to kill it with sanctions... or worse?

"Iran's telecommunications agency announced what it described as a permanent suspension of Google's email services, saying a national email service for Iranian citizens would soon be rolled out.

It wasn't clear late Wednesday what effect the order had on Gmail services in Iran. Iranian officials have claimed technological advances in the past that they haven't been able to execute.

Google didn't have an immediate comment about the announcement.
An Iranian official said the measure was meant to boost local development of Internet technology and to build trust between people and the government.

The measure was announced on the eve of the culmination of celebrations to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Republic. Competing plans for pro-government and antigovernment demonstrations have set the stage for clashes between authorities and opposition protesters, who have taken to the streets repeatedly since contested presidential elections in June."

February 8, 2010

Google Mobility and Cloud Focus

It's clear that Google's strategy is to leverage cloud computing and communications, particularly wireless emphasizing mobility. The launch of the Android OS, the NexusOne phone, its acquisition of Gizmo5, the Chrome browser and OS all point in this direction. Google Voice has the potential to be a killer app, particularly for small businesses. Coupled with Google Apps, all these platforms and devices spell long term trouble for Microsoft.

"...One not so discrete launch will be an enterprise version of the Google Voice phone management application for businesses.

Google Voice, used by more than 1.4 million users in the U.S., routes calls to users' home, work and mobile phones using a special number assigned by Google.

The free app doesn't currently connect calls from one PC to another, or between PCs and phones, or phones and phones. However, Google acquired Gizmo5, whose softphone technology works like the popular Skype VOIP app, connecting calls from PCs to PCs and from PCs to phones. Google plans to add these direct calling capabilities to Google Voice..."

February 6, 2010

How Scott Brown LOLed All the Way to his Senate Seat - PCWorld

How Scott Brown LOLed All the Way to his Senate Seat - PCWorld

A fascinating and well-written account of the use of social networks to create the momentum and raise the money that elected a Republican in Democrat-dominated Massachusetts. The seat owned by the Kennedys for decades decisively went to Scott Brown from Wrentham, just a few miles from my birthplace. Not only did Scott Brown come from practically nowhere to beat the hapless Attorney General Coakley and stun the Democrats' political establishment nationwide, his election changed the game in Washington even before he was sworn in as the 41st Republican senator.

Any serious candidate for public office should read and heed the strategy and tactics described here. Without a savvy campaign team exploiting these online tools, a candidate will have no chance against one who understands and leverages the deep value of the internet.

Read the full story. If you don't understand the language, the tools, or their relevance in what the Brown campaign accomplished, it's time you came up to speed on the value and the pervasiveness of these free social networking assets.

As an aside, Facebook this week surpassed 400,000,000 users; that's nearly 7% of our planet's population...and the company didn't exist 6 years ago!

An excerpt describing the power and reach of Brown's vibrant, social-media based campaign

"...On Jan. 9, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-affiliated polling firm, reported that Brown was leading Coakley by one point. On Jan. 11, the Brown campaign launched a one-day effort to raise $500,000 online, a project dubbed the moneybomb.

The "Moneybomb" Detonates

Campaign workers tracked the contributions, reaching the goal by noon, and then topping $750,000 by late afternoon. "We were kind of watching on Twitter, and Facebook, and the blogs, and the volunteers were saying, 'I think we can go to a million,'" Luidhardt recalls. In response, the campaign chiefs set a new goal of $1 million. By midnight, the total was over $1.3 million. The next day, the campaign raised the same amount again, and nearly $1.7 million the day after that.

"You can't say social media made this happen," LaRosa says. "But without it, it couldn't have happened….It was the network set-up online that responded."

Over the entire campaign, more than $12 million was raised, with Twitter being one of the largest fund-raising channels, according to Luidhardt. The influx of funds made it possible to pour a flood of money in the campaign's last 10 days on conventional campaign tools such as TV, newspaper and radio ads..."

February 5, 2010

U.S. Constitution Amendment 28

Wouldn't it be fun if we had a 28th Amendment proposed to the Constitution that read...
"Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators or Representatives, and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."

Peggy Noonan: Question Time Isn't the Answer - WSJ.com

Peggy Noonan: Question Time Isn't the Answer - WSJ.com

Peggy Noonan nails it! When will our elected representatives become statesmen rather than politicians? Our nation is in dire straits on many fronts, yet for far too many politicians in Washington, it's politics as usual.

It must be time for term limits.

"...But the tendency of both parties to default to politics when they think about terrorism—"You're weak," "No, you're bellicose," "You're avoiding reality to advance some dreamy geopolitical vision," "You're exploiting reality to make cheap points"—cannot be heartening to the public.

I think sometimes of the suburbs around Washington, which are planted thick with knowledgable veterans of government—old national-security and foreign-policy hands, patriots of both parties who've served within government, in and out of the military. How painful it must be for them to watch all this, knowing what they know and understanding that political party, at a time like this, means nothing. There is so much experience to share, and so much wisdom, from both parties. I wish those old hands had more say.

The biggest historic gain of this administration may turn out to be that Democrats in the White House experienced leadership in the age of terror, came to have responsibility in a struggle that needs and will need our focus. It wasn't good that half the country thought jihadism was some little Republican obsession.

But both parties should sober up. The day after the next bad thing, we will all come together, because that is what we do. Republicans and Democrats will work together, for a while.

It would be better to do it now. It is their job to do it now"

February 4, 2010

Public Health-Care Spending to Hit Milestone - WSJ.com

Public Health-Care Spending to Hit Milestone - WSJ.com

The U.S. Government is on a collision course with finacial disaster, driven mostly by entitlement programs. This cannot continue without serious damage to the country. In fact the damage is already evident.

In health care, the mood of voters is already evident in Senator Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts. TeamObama and Congress seem powerless to fix anything fiscal.

In health care, the only prudent short term course is rationing of services to control costs. That will be a necessary step, but the health care system needs fundamental overhaul and a set of revised incentives for care providers.

It's insane to allow health care to consume 20% of our country's Gross Domestic Product while at the same time running trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see... a recipe for disaster

"Government health programs are a growing burden on the federal budget, which is running annual deficits of more than $1 trillion, and rising health costs continue to batter private industry.

By 2020, according to the new projections, about one in five dollars spent in the U.S. will go to health care, a proportion far beyond any other industrialized nation.

"It's going to be a desperate issue five to 10 years out," said Gail Wilensky, the former top Medicare official in the George H.W. Bush administration. She said the U.S. will have to decide soon between raising revenue to pay for Medicare or reducing benefits.

Public funds accounted for 47% of the $2.34 trillion of national health spending in 2008, the last year for which figures are available. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates in a paper to be published Thursday in the journal Health Affairs that the proportion will rise to 50.4% by 2011. Last year, the federal actuaries had predicted the 50% mark wouldn't be reached until around 2016.

The latest estimate assumes Congress will act to prevent a sharp cut in Medicare payments to doctors, which is set to take effect in March under current law. Congress has consistently done so in earlier years."

February 3, 2010

$2 Trillion in New Taxes Proposed by TeamObama

The Wall Street Journal today published this summary of TeamObama's proposed tax increases to support a mind-boggling $3.4 budget, including continued massive deficits. In addition to this outlandish spending proposal, most troubling are the increases in 'mandatory' or entitlement government spending. For example:
"...As further proof, the White House proposes to convert long-standing "discretionary" spending that requires annual appropriations into permanent entitlement programs. A case in point is the Pell Grant program for college, which the budget would shift into the "mandatory" spending column at a cost of $307 billion over 10 years. The political goal here is to make a college education as much of a universal entitlement as Social Security."
Budgets such as this will ruin America by running up deficits, encouraging massive transfer of wealth via government programs, create expanding bureaucracies and push the country ever further into the socialist camp. Enough! This budget represents 'Change we cannot believe in or accept.'

As Vermont's socialist senator is so fond of saying, this is "outrageous." While on that subject, if Vermont's Congressional delegation supports this budget, they rightly deserve to be unelected at the earliest possible opportunity.

The Economist has this to say (deficit chart above from The Economist):

Clueless in Washington

Neither the president nor Congress shows any sign of knowing how to tackle the deficit

"...What is truly worrying, though, is the medium-term outlook. Mr Obama’s budget reveals a road-map to fiscal catastrophe. At no point over the coming decade will the deficit be below 3.6% of GDP; and after 2018, it starts rising again. The cuts the president has proposed are comically insufficient: a budget freeze on non-security discretionary spending, which amounts to only about 17% of the entire $3.8 trillion budget; and a toothless deficit commission (a better version has already been killed by obstructive Republicans in Congress) whose recommendations will doubtless be ignored."

February 2, 2010

Fruited Chicken Tagine

Fruited Chicken Tagine

[Moroccan tagines often combine lamb or chicken with a medley of ingredients or seasonings: olives, quinces, apples, pears, apricots, raisins, prunes, dates, nuts, with fresh or preserved lemons, with or without honey, with or without a complexity of spices. Traditional spices that are used to flavor tajines include ground cinnamon, saffron, ginger, turmeric, cumin, paprika, pepper, as well as the famous spice blend Ras el hanout]

I made this for friends this weekend and it was delicious! Had no apricots on hand so used dried mangoes and dried apple slices instead.

8 boneless chicken thighs (Remove all fat, bones and skin; keep in one piece)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
1 tsp. ground turmeric
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup dried apricots cut into quarters [note: I had no apricots so substituted dried mangoes and dried apple]
1/2 cup prunes (dried plums) cut into quarters
1/4 cup orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup of water mixed with 2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Sprinkle the chicken with the salt and the cayenne. Heat oil over high heat in a skillet. Add chicken a few pieces at a time and brown on all sides. Transfer the browned chicken to a 5-7 qt. slow cooker.

In the same skillet, add the onion, turmeric, garlic, cumin, ginger and brown sugar and saute until the onion begins to soften, about 4 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the skillet to the crock pot. Add apricots, plums, orange juice, zest and broth to the crock pot.

Cover and cook on high heat for 4 1/2 - 5 1/2 hours until the chicken is tender and the fruit is plump. [a small amount of liquid will remain in the pot].

Add the cornstarch-water mixture to the crock pot and cook for another 30-45 minutes, until the sauce has thickened a bit.

Serve on a bed of rice or couscous.

Makes ~6 delicious servings