Saturday, June 27, 2009

People Are Strange: Reason #1

I am hoping to start a new series here, titled "People Are Strange". It's pretty self explanatory, but I would note that the only order these are placed in is chronological. By this I mean to point out that in no way do I believe that the following post is the best or most illustrative reason why people are strange any more than then the next is second best/illustrative. I'll just post them as I find them.

People are strange.

Andre Rison nickname: Bad Moon
Michael Jackson's Thriller: Zombies attack under the light of the moon?

Andre Rison race: African American
Michael Jackson race: African American (insert joke disrespectful of the deceased here)

Andre Rison: Played at Arrowhead Stadium for the Chiefs
Michael Jackson: Played at Arrowhead Stadium for his Victory Tour in 1984.

If anyone knows an obvious connection between the two that I am missing that would warrant an Andre Rison jersey being placed 'in memoriam' at his boyhood home, let me know and I'll print an apology.

Second guessing engagement

I felt that one of the exciting ideas proposed by candidate Obama on his path to becoming President Obama was the idea of engaging the taboo regimes of Cuba and Iran in diplomatic talks.

While I still feel this is the correct path to take with Cuba (who appears to be far down the list of threats to our nation), I am beginning to second guess engagement with Iran (at least as timing is concerned). Note that Ayatollah Khameinei's friday sermon alluded to a letter from the U.S. in the same speech he declared Iran's election issue closed and Ahmadinejad the winner. The two are not necessarily related, but it is neither ridiculous nor irresponsible to posit that the President/State Department's decision to engage Iran had something to do with Ayatollah Khameinei's decision to keep Ahmadinejad in power.

Again, the main rub here is timing. There may have been a reason why President Obama decided to act before the election, in the first six months of his presidency, and that reason may have been rational, but I am not leaning towards granting him the benefit of the doubt here (hindsight being 20/20). He could have waited until after the election, and saved himself face by not having to withdraw his party invitations and ridiculously being compared to his predecessor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Path Off Carbon

Some premises...

1) Carbon based fuels have historically had an absurdly high level of net energy potential compared to alternative sources of energy. (This is also evidenced by our very reliance upon them.)
2) Poor but growing nations with massive populations currently sit on mountains of this incredibly cheap and effective energy.(1, 2 [pdf])
3) The reductions of carbon necessary to reverse global warming amount to radical change, if any reversal can be effected at all. Worse still, feedback systems may render any small reduction in carbon use a waste of effort.
4) Meanwhile, solar use doubles every two years. Advancements in this technology respond to something like Moore's Law, generating exponential returns on investments. Wind power and nuclear (1, 2) show similar potential to outstrip the energy efficiency of carbon based fuels under certain circumstances.
5) But technological investments are costly, and require spare economic resources. (Er, hmm... this?)
6) Unfortunately, carbon reductions and offsets reduce our consumption of cheap inputs, thus lowering overall economic efficiency. (Gore claimed otherwise, but his explanation of how using different sources of energy can fuel development and improve economic growth is an example of the broken window fallacy.)
7) Moreover, local reductions of consumption make such fuels cheaper globally; while higher local consumption raises the basic price of these fuels and drives investment in cheaper alternatives.

The paradoxical conclusion:
The path off carbon requires aggressive consumption of carbon, either to power the research facilities studying alternative nuclear reactions, to fund the factories building the solar panels, or simply to deplete the cheapest sources of oil and coal to accelerate the cost competitiveness of emerging energy sources.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Computers vs. Go

Freakonomics links to a Wired article discussing the progress of Go-playing computers, and speculates as to when computers will be able to outperform humans at financial markets.

If I had any money, I would definitely invest it with a hedge fund manager named Hal. If computers could outperform human financiers, would planned economies suddenly make sense again?

For a darker picture of surrendering our financial markets to automation, you might check out Cringely's unique take on the origin of the financial crisis.