December 31, 2011

Questions About Organic Produce and Sustainability -

The 'organic' fad may not be sustainable as demand for products year-round seems to be creating an environmental strain in those areas where factory-scale organic farms supply U.S. supermarkets.

I think 'organic' foods have not been demonstrated to provide health benefits that justify their high prices. Instead, 'organic' serves mostly as emotional comfort food for those who can afford it.

Buying local, however, makes more sense whether organic or not because the purchase provides direct support for local farmers who work hard to make ends meet.
"...But even as more Americans buy foods with the organic label, the products are increasingly removed from the traditional organic ideal: produce that is not only free of chemicals and pesticides but also grown locally on small farms in a way that protects the environment.
The explosive growth in the commercial cultivation of organic tomatoes here [Mexico's Baja Peninsula], for example, is putting stress on the water table. In some areas, wells have run dry this year, meaning that small subsistence farmers cannot grow crops. And the organic tomatoes end up in an energy-intensive global distribution chain that takes them as far as New York and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, producing significant emissions that contribute to global warming..."

December 27, 2011

The Anti-Entitlement Strategy -

Romney has set out his ideas about the role of government in our lives. Should Romney be the Republican candidate facing Obama, his stance of the proper role of (big) government will be a key element in the ideological battle to be waged.

With Romney as the Candidate, it'll be Wall Street Baron vs. Community Organizer and all the baggage those terms carry.

Already the liberal opinionators are setting out the opposite view which Obama is certain to include in his campaign. Here's the view of a professor at the Columbia Jounalism School, a liberal bastion. 

Here's another view, Beyond the Welfare State, by Yuval Levin

December 26, 2011

A Gloomy New Year and Beyond

Much of my current reading promotes little optimism for the future of the United States economy, at least as it is defined by job creation and employment. The viability of our present political system, long term, is doubtful. We seem to be dysfunctional in many domains including economic, political, and cultural aggravated by a leadership vacuum that portends little positive change for the foreseeable future.

Some of my reading:

...and of course the daily slurp from the Times, the Journal, the TV talking heads and other online sources.

I believe we are in the midst of a substantial economic dislocation driven by the rapid and pervasive creation and adoption of technology by businesses, large and small. This accelerating trend means that fewer workers are required to deliver higher productivity in our economy. The resulting systemic upheaval means that not only ours, but the world's economy can produce goods and services with far less human capital than has been required historically. The result of a declining need for workers and increases in output creates societal and political strains that may lead to massive changes that we are ill-prepared to cope with. Government aid and backstops may be insufficient to deal with the magnitude of this change.

I hope to write more on this topic before the start of the new year.

December 25, 2011

How Harvard Shaped Mitt Romney -

Could we read anecdotes and vignettes from President Obama's years as a college student? Are there none or are they being suppressed?
"...Invited to give a presentation on balancing work and family, he [Mitt Romney] began by telling students that they were like multinational corporations, recalled Clayton M. Christensen, who organized the event. “You have the same question as General Electric,” said Mr. Romney, then a young father and a management consultant. “Your resources are your time and talent. How are you going to deploy them?”"

December 24, 2011

The Browser Wars 2010-2011

What a difference a year makes in the browser world! I use Chrome mostly with occasional forays into Firefox and Internet Explorer. IE continues to lose market share to Chrome while Firefox and Safari are relatively stable.

December 21, 2011

BP abandons solar quest - MarketWatch First Take - MarketWatch

Smart business people make rational economic decisions. Kudos to BP. Meanwhile, politicians pander to the alternative energy proponents and spend our tax dollars to do it. A lump of coal for them this Christmas.
"...Despite all the negative fallout from its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP has had huge success developing deepwater oil fields around the world. This, combined with high oil prices, is the engine driving BP’s profits.
Bob Dudley, the current American-born CEO of London-based BP, is clearly taking the company back to its roots in the oil patch. And when sizing up China, vanishing government funding and a world apparently more alarmed about the economy than the environment, he’s found it hard to justify BP’s dabbling in solar power.
Some day the oil industry will have to revisit alternative energy in a big way. They all know it. But, just like in government, it’s easier to kick that can down the road for future generations to deal with.
But for the time being, old fashioned oil-field profits are just too good to get sidetracked by all that solar stuff. Besides, it will likely be many years before history shows whose vision was the right one -- Browne’s, Dudley’s or China’s..."

Tribe Believes that SOPA Violates the First Amendment

I haven't been following the ins and outs of the proposed SOPA legislation, but I hope to read this respected legal opinion when times are quieter. Tribe Legis Memo on SOPA 12-6-11 1

December 19, 2011

AT&T Drops T-Mobile USA Deal -

Do 'go-backward' plans exist? 'Go-forward' plans must be the current 'corporate speak.'

 "T-Mobile USA chief executive Philipp Humm urged his staff Monday to remain upbeat. "We have an opportunity to write our own future," he wrote in an internal memo. "The leadership team and I will be meeting intensively in the next few weeks on our 'go-forward' plans for the business.""

IBM's 2011 Big Five Predictions

December 16, 2011

Congress Occupied Wall Street First!

Think what you will about Sarah Palin who has taken a back seat to others in the media recently. Congress is a problem that needs a remedy. Here's the reasons why.

I have always laid blame with Congress rather than the President for our fiscal pain because they are in control of spending under our Constitution. 
How Congress Occupied Wall Street
Politicians who arrive in Washington as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires. Why?

Mark Twain famously wrote, "There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
Peter Schweizer's new book, "Throw Them All Out," reveals this permanent political class in all its arrogant glory. (Full disclosure: Mr. Schweizer is employed by my political action committee as a foreign-policy adviser.)
Mr. Schweizer answers the questions so many of us have asked. I addressed this in a speech in Iowa last Labor Day weekend.
How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires?
How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us?
How do politicians' stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers'?
I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.


The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad, and Mr. Schweizer details the most lucrative methods: accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it's sickening. [emphasis added]

Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress.Members of Congress exempt themselves from the laws they apply to the rest of us. That includes laws that protect whistleblowers (nothing prevents members of Congress from retaliating against staffers who shine light on corruption) and Freedom of Information Act requests (it's easier to get classified documents from the CIA than from a congressional office).

The corruption isn't confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It's an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle.
It's an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests.

None of this surprises me. I've been fighting this type of corruption and cronyism my entire political career. For years Alaskans suspected that our lawmakers and state administrators were in the pockets of the big oil companies to the detriment of ordinary Alaskans. We knew we were being taken for a ride, but it took FBI wiretaps to finally capture lawmakers in the act of selling their votes. In the wake of politicos being carted off to prison, my administration enacted reforms based on transparency and accountability to prevent this from happening again.

We were successful because we had the righteous indignation of Alaskan citizens on our side. Our good ol' boy political class in Juneau was definitely not with us. Business was good for them, so why would they want to end "business as usual"? The moment you threaten to strip politicians of their legal graft, they'll moan that they can't govern effectively without it. Perhaps they'll gravitate toward reform, but often their idea of reform is to limit the right of "We the people" to exercise our freedom of speech in the political process.

I've learned from local, state and national political experience that the only solution to entrenched corruption is sudden and relentless reform. Sudden because our permanent political class is adept at changing the subject to divert the public's attention—and we can no longer afford to be indifferent to this system of graft when our country is going bankrupt. Reform must be relentless because fighting corruption is like a game of whack-a-mole. You knock it down in one area only to see it pop up in another.

What are the solutions? We need reform that provides real transparency. Congress should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act like everyone else. We need more detailed financial disclosure reports, and members should submit reports much more often than once a year. All stock transactions above $5,000 should be disclosed within five days.

We need equality under the law. From now on, laws that apply to the private sector must apply to Congress, including whistleblower, conflict-of-interest and insider-trading laws. Trading on nonpublic government information should be illegal both for those who pass on the information and those who trade on it. (This should close the loophole of the blind trusts that aren't really blind because they're managed by family members or friends.)

No more sweetheart land deals with campaign contributors.
No gifts of IPO shares. No trading of stocks related to committee assignments.
No earmarks where the congressman receives a direct benefit.
No accepting campaign contributions while Congress is in session.
No lobbyists as family members, and no transitioning into a lobbying career after leaving office.
No more revolving door, ever.

This call for real reform must transcend political parties. The grass-roots movements of the right and the left should embrace this.
The tea party's mission has always been opposition to waste and crony capitalism, and the Occupy protesters must realize that Washington politicians have been "Occupying Wall Street" long before anyone pitched a tent in Zuccotti Park.

Ms. Palin, a former governor of Alaska, was the Republican nominee for vice president in 2008.'

Amazon: We're selling over 1 million Kindles per week | Nanotech - The Circuits Blog - CNET News

Amazon seems to have struck a sweet spot with consumers, leading to rumors that Apple will launch a similar sized tablet sometime next year. I have a Kindle Fire and it performs as advertised. I can do what I want with it as long as I'm tolerant of its quirks. It's not fat finger friendly, but tolerable.

I don't regret shelling out the 200 bucks for it. It's quick, quirky and easy to use. Could it be improved? Of course, but at what price?

Amazon has a winner here.

 ""For the third week in a row, customers are purchasing well over 1 million Kindle devices per week, and Kindle Fire remains the #1 bestselling, most gifted, and most wished for product across the millions of items available on since its introduction 11 weeks ago," the company said."

December 14, 2011

Google Working On Siri Response Codenamed Majel; Aiming For End of Year Release

I love it! The computing horsepower provided by the cloud enables this wonderful world of voice activation for all that we seek to know and do!
Go Apple! Go Google! Go Microsoft!

"“Our approach is more like Star Trek, right, starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware. It’s not that there’s a personality, it doesn’t have a name, it’s just Computer.”"

Gmail Calling Stays Free Through 2012 | PCWorld

Wonderful, useful, and Google Voice remains FREE for another year! I love it.

"...The main difference between Gmail and Skype is that Google allows users to call mobile phones and landlines for free, whereas Skype only allows free calls to other Skype accounts. Skype, however, offers mobile apps for calling other users. Google doesn't offer any free voice calling on mobile phones. Both services charge for international calls...."

December 13, 2011

Speed of Light Lingers in Face of M.I.T. Media Lab Camera -

In the early 1960s, I worked in a laboratory that used Doc Edgerton's ultra high speed strobe lights to measure the elongation (and breaking strength via deflection of a pendulum of know mass and period) of nylon cargo parachute webbing. It was a simple method to capture stretching/elongation characteristics of the various webbing samples sent to us by the Army and the Air Force. 

We set up a camera in a pitch black room and fired a projectile from a compressed air gun into a V-shaped webbing sample. When the projectile struck the webbing, the strobe light flashed at a very high rate. This created multiple exposures on the film.

We developed the photographs and measured (with a ruler!) the elongation as the webbing stretched to the breaking point from the impact of the projectile. A simple but effective way to determine the 'stretch' of each sample.
"More than 70 years ago, the M.I.T. electrical engineer Harold (Doc) Edgerton began using strobe lights to create remarkable photographs: a bullet stopped in flight as it pierced an apple, the coronet created by the splash of a drop of milk.
Now scientists at M.I.T.’s Media Lab are using an ultrafast imaging system to capture light itself as it passes through liquids and objects, in effect snapping a picture in less than two-trillionths of a second.
The project began as a whimsical effort to literally see around corners — by capturing reflected light and then computing the paths of the returning light, thereby building images coming from rooms that would otherwise not be directly visible."

December 9, 2011

The Gingrich Tragedy -

Now that Mr. Gingrich has surged in the polls and is now the front runner, the gloves are coming off as the Republican 'establishment' aims to take him down a peg or two. Noonan in the Wall Street Journal today and here by David Brooks.

Fascinating to observe this pre-primary battle for the Republican nomination. Lots of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth as we watch Democracy at work! It is truly entrancing to watch grass roots Republicans/conservatives take on the 'establishment' Republicans/conservatives who clearly believe that Speaker Gingrich is unfit to serve as President.

"But they have very different temperaments. Romney, Levin observes, has an executive temperament — organization, discipline, calm and restraint. Gingrich has a revolutionary temperament — intensity, energy, disorganization and a tendency to see everything as a cataclysmic clash requiring a radical response.
I’d make a slightly similar point more rudely. In the two main Republican contenders, we have one man, Romney, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1950s, and another, Gingrich, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1960s. He has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form."

December 8, 2011

The Health Risks Of Being Left-Handed -

The Health Risks Of Being Left-Handed -

A fascinating story in the WSJ (may be behind the paywall) about the research and implications of left-handedness.
 "•Six of the last 12 U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama and George H. W. Bush, have been lefties.
• Left-handed people earn on average 10% lower salaries than righties, according to a recent study. Findings of some earlier studies on income have been mixed.
•Despite popular misperceptions, lefties aren't more accident prone than right-handed people and don't tend to die at a younger age.
•Left-handedness has been linked to increased risk of certain neurodevelopmental disorders like schizophrenia and ADHD. Mixed-handedness is even more strongly associated with ADHD.
•Most people's brains have a dominant side. More symmetrical brains of mixed-handed people may explain the link to some neural disorders."

December 7, 2011

Blagovich Sentenced!

Bravo! Seems justice has been done.

from the Wall Street Journal (may be behind the paywall):
"A federal judge sentenced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison nearly three years after he was arrested and charged with a wide-ranging corruption spree that included trying to auction off President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

Mr. Blagojevich, a onetime rising star in the Democratic party whose media-driven defense included stints on reality TV and a book tour, was convicted on 18 counts of corruption."

December 4, 2011

The Eurozone 's Stark Choices

Below is an excerpt from writings of John Mauldin, <> a financial analyst which sums up the choices facing the EuroZone. December 9 is shaping up as a very big day for Europe and world financial markets.

"...Merkel and Sarkozy have told us they will meet Monday and announce a plan on December 9, when the full eurozone meets. Forget bazookas, this needs the equivalent of a howitzer. They are seemingly intent upon rewriting the treaty, which is the only way that the Germans will go along with any major ECB action. But by my reckoning, a few hundred billion, or even a trillion, is not major action, at least not on the level of what will be needed.
The price for German acquiescence will be a loss of sovereignty and the ability to run deficits of any real size for any appreciable length of time for the countries of Europe. Will the peripheral countries go along? Heck, forget them; will Finland go along? This situation has been coming along since the foundation of the eurozone. The early founders acknowledged that a tighter fiscal union would eventually be necessary if the euro experiment were to survive. And eventually is now. As in this month. Time is running out if they want to forestall a credit crisis that would be worse than 2008.
The world is watching, as what happens in Europe will affect us all, in every part of the globe. It could easily tip the US into recession, and it will only be worse for the emerging markets. For Europe, the Endgame is now. We can only hope they come up with a plan that avoids disorderly defaults and a crisis far graver than 2008. They have no good choices, only difficult ones and disastrous ones. Let us hope they choose wisely.
(And for my fellow Americans, note that we will face the same consequences if we do not get our own house in order, and very soon. This is more than an academic observation.)" [emphasis added]

Internet Access and the New Divide -

This story begins with a recounting that Cyber Monday's online sales volume in 2011 exceeded that of Black Friday's retail sales setting a new record. I thought I'd read about the good news that America's online experience was only getting better. Nope. We've got to do better...
 "Such numbers may seem proof that America is, indeed, online. But they mask an emerging division, one that has worrisome implications for our economy and society. Increasingly, we are a country in which only the urban and suburban well-off have truly high-speed Internet access, while the rest — the poor and the working class — either cannot afford access or use restricted wireless access as their only connection to the Internet. As our jobs, entertainment, politics and even health care move online, millions are at risk of being left behind."
Now, further into the story, Ms Crawford suggests it's time for regulators to intervene and fix the digital divide.
"IT doesn’t have to be this way, as a growing number of countries demonstrate. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks America 12th among developed nations for wired Internet access, and it is safe to assume that high prices have played a role in lowering our standing. So America, the country that invented the Internet and still leads the world in telecommunications innovation, is lagging far behind in actual use of that technology.
The answer to this puzzle is regulatory policy. Over the last 10 years, we have deregulated high-speed Internet access in the hope that competition among providers would protect consumers. The result? We now have neither a functioning competitive market for high-speed wired Internet access nor government oversight.
By contrast, governments that have intervened in high-speed Internet markets have seen higher numbers of people adopting the technology, doing so earlier and at lower subscription charges. Many of these countries have required telecommunications providers to sell access to parts of their networks to competitors at regulated rates, so that competition can lower prices."

But how will this happen? Will regulation be combined with government subsidies to build fiber optic networks to every home, which Ms Crawford suggests is the 'right' technology? She doesn't describe the new economics underlying the regulatory policy she believes is necessary. Lot's of advocacy, but little detail and the devil is always in the details.

I can hear the screams now from many quarters, "Don't regulate my Internet"

The fact is that the costs of fiber to the home for all of America are just too high unless there is long term revenue to pay for it.

One only has to look at Burlington, Vermont (in my backyard) for an example of a first rate fiber-to-the-premise system, built and managed by a city of 40,000, that cannot support itself because the costs of construction far exceeded estimates and the take rate of cable, voice and high speed Internet services provides insufficient revenue to pay for the costs of construction (debt service) and operations.

It will be fascinating to learn what Google's experience will be in Kansas City where they will do a similar thing.

In America's last century, we built a nationwide telephone system as a tightly regulated monopoly with massive internal subsidies for high cost areas. That regulatory model won't be repeated in this century, so I'm at a loss to understand what 'regulatory policy' will build an 'affordable' fiber network to everyone's home. Please elaborate, Ms Crawford.

December 1, 2011

The Personal Computer Is Dead - Technology Review

A lawyer/technolgist's take on the swing to 'closed gardens' of smartphones, particularly Apple's practices and how different the present and future is from the 'old' days of the open PC. Will government step in or is competition sufficient to keep the markets open?
 "The PC is dead. Rising numbers of mobile, lightweight, cloud-centric devices don't merely represent a change in form factor. Rather, we're seeing an unprecedented shift of power from end users and software developers on the one hand, to operating system vendors on the other—and even those who keep their PCs are being swept along. This is a little for the better, and much for the worse."

'via Blog this'