Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Deep Throat Revealed

Washington Post Confirms W. Mark Felt Was 'Deep Throat':

The Washington Post today confirmed that W. Mark Felt, a former number-two official at the FBI, was "Deep Throat," the secretive source who provided information that helped unravel the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s and contributed to the resignation of president Richard M. Nixon.

The confirmation came from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, and their former top editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee.

Watergate Timeline

Monday, May 30, 2005

Chinese Textile, Housing Bubble and Farm Subsidies

China Ends Export Tarriffs from the The Economic Times (india):

China said on Monday it will abolish export tariffs on 81 categories of textile products and scrap scheduled tariff increases on 74 types of textiles as trade tensions with the European Union and United States escalated.

Housing Bubbles, the Great Plains and the Coast by Brad Setser:

My Midwestern chauvinist side always thought it was amusing that the
big, sort-of-national daily papers waxed far more eloquent about
eliminating farm subsidies than eliminating suburban housing subsidies.
Everyone has constituents.

In that post Brad Setser also mentioned: "US farm subsidies certainly do need to be reformed, particularly those that have a large impact on poor farmers in the world's poorest countries."

Big Farms Reap 2 Harvests With Aid as Bumper Crop by Timothy Egan:

Despite the fact that farm income has doubled in two years, federal farm subsidies have gone up nearly 40 percent over the same period -- projected at $15.7 billion this year, and $130 billion over the last nine years. And that bounty is drawing fire from people who say that at this moment of farm prosperity, the nation's subsidy system has never made less sense.
But because nearly 70 percent of the subsidies go to the top 10 percent of agricultural producers, the recent prosperity is not seen or felt among many small to medium-size growers who keep the struggling counties of the Great Plains alive.

Update: also see our investing and economcs blog

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Gravity's Rainbow, Millionaires and Free eBooks

Zak Smith's Illustrations for Each Page of Gravity's Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon's masterpiece):

So I illustrated Gravity's Rainbow-- nobody asked me to, but I did it anyway. Most of the pictures are drawings-- ink on whatever paper was lying around, but there are also paintings (acrylic), photos I took, and experimental photographic processes.

Number of Millionaires Hits Record - CNN 25 May 2005

The number of millionaires in America reached record highs in 2004, hitting 7.5 million, according to a new survey.

That represented a gain of 21 percent, the largest jump in the number of U.S. millionaires since 1998, according to the survey by the Spectrem Group, a Chicago-based research firm.

Spectrem counted Americans with net assets of $1 million or more, excluding primary residences but including second homes and other real estate holdings. There were 6 million millionaires in 2001, when the bursting of the tech-stock bubble pruned more than a million Americans from this status.

Record high Number of Millionaires - CNN 16 Nov 2004:

TNS found that there are now a record 8.2 million U.S. households with a net worth of more than $1 million, excluding primary residences. That's a 33 percent increase over the 6.2 million households that met that criteria in 2003.

Half of those surveyed are retired.

The number of millionaire households represents about 7 percent of all U.S. households.

Planet PDF - free PDF eBooks Archive, books available include:
  • Aesop's Fables
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  • Ulysses
  • Paradise Lost
  • The Prince
  • Utopia

Monday, May 23, 2005

Google Stock Price Rises 5.7%

The price of a share of Google stock rose 5.7% to $255.45 today. The stand "explanation" "reported" by the media is along the lines of this quote from CNN:

Internet shares rose along with Google (up $13.84 to $255.45, Research), which jumped 5.7 percent on rumors that it could be added to the S&P 500. Should that happen, the stock would benefit from index fund managers having to buy it for their portfolios.

I don't understand how these types of "explanations" are accepted by the media and their customers. If some investor really was surprised that Google was going to be added to the S&P 500 they shouldn't be investing in the market, they should just buy an index fund and leave well enough alone.

If CNN (and the others [MarketWatch Potential index inclusion drives GOOG"], Reuters (via CNBC)... reporting the same story) really believes the increase of 5.7% is due to a rumor that Google could be added to the S&P 500 I don't know what to think of the other reporting they do. Even when much smaller companies are actually announced as new additions to the S&P 500 and that company's addition really was questionable (for say anytime in the next year or two) they don't go up 5% in price. But, if CNN doesn't believe it, wouldn't that be worse? It just seems financial reporting is more concerned with finding some explanation even if that explanation lacks almost any merit.

SmartMoney's "explanation" was much better: "Google (GOOG) shares shot up nearly 6% to the latest all-time high with nary a provocation." But if you don't know anything about investing this seems like SmartMoney don't know what the others are reporting. I don't know whether SmartMoney actually made a good editorial decision or they just wanted to vary the language a bit. I could see one could get tired of repeating the almost daily "rumor" explanation found after whatever stock went up significantly without any rational reason (even if the rumor were true - some rumors would explain price moves, if true, others like the example today have almost no actual chance of having the noted affect even if they were true). In this case you would have to assume that today the chances for Google being added to the S&P 500 greatly increased in liklihood. I would be amazed if the sites using the rumor today have in the past reported Google was to be added to the S&P 500 in 2005 - here is one example.

I have watched this type of "reporting" for years (decades actually) and really don't understand why it is accepted. Why did it go up 5.7% today? I have no idea, but we did include a large stake in Google in our 10 Stocks for 10 Years post a month ago.

It is not all that uncommon that a stock at its all time high price would move dramtically higher ("breakout") but that is not an "explanation" of why Google increased in price today it is just a statement that such an event is not uncommon. Taking advantage of this pattern is part of the investment strategy employed by many successful investors (Livermore, Darvas, O'Neil are examples) and also many investors who fail to achieve great results.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Patent System Needs to be Significantly Improved

The United States patent system is in need of significant reform. The most serious problems include patents being issued for obvious (and therefore theoretically un-patentable) things, a poor legal system to manage patent claims and organizations and people taking advantage of the first two problems to essentially extort money from others.

From the lessig blog, "The 'Progress' and 'Freedom' Foundation has called (rightly) for Supreme Court review of the 'obviousness' standard in patent law."

Even Microsoft, always a strong proponent for the protection "intellectual capital rights" sees the current system is failing. While not all Microsoft's suggestions make sense to me I do share common ground with them on several points. From a question and answer session with Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith posted on Microsoft's web site:

Microsoft Calls for Reforms to the U.S. Patent Systemwe need to ensure that interested parties have sufficient opportunities to alert the PTO about questionable patents within the PTO review process itself. Under current law, parties typically can only raise concerns after patent issuance by filing a reexamination request or a lawsuit -- an obvious disincentive, given the costs of patent litigation. One proposal that has been suggested is to allow third parties to submit information regarding "prior art" to patent examiners during the patent examination process itself, rather than only after a patent has been issued. "Prior art" is a legal term used to refer to the processes, devices and modes of achieving the end of an alleged invention that were known before and at the date of the invention.
Another proposal is to establish a post-grant patent-opposition procedure, which would allow third parties to challenge patents administratively, rather than through litigation. Such a procedure already exists in the European system and could help weed out questionable patents before they become the subject of costly and time-consuming litigation.

The statement Microsoft makes include some language about "business-process" patents and supporting addressing the problems that exist in that area. Without stating it they seem to support the current award of "business-process" patent and just want some minor adjustments. On the whole these patents seem to be obvious and unworthy of patent protection, in my opinion.

John Hunter

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hug Shirt

Technology is fun.

Hug Shirt Posted by Hello

F+R Hugs (hug shirt): is a shirt that allows to exchange the physical sensation of a hug over distance. Embedded in the shirt there are sensors that feel the strength of the touch, the skin warmth and the heartbeat rate of the sender and actuators that recreate the sensation of touch, warmth and emotion of the hug to the shirt of the distant loved one.
The F+R Hugs is a Bluetooth accessory for Java enabled mobile phones. Hug shirts don’t have any assigned phone number, all the data goes from the sensors wirelessly to your mobile phone and your mobile phone delivers the data stream to your loved one phone and seamlessly is transmitted Bluetooth to the other person’s shirt

Read more at the Cute Circuit web site. Ok, they seem to be stretching to relate points such as: "An infant may sink into depression and die without the closeness of her mothers body (studies refer of increased sudden infant death syndrome if children are not being hugged during the first 40 days of life)." Still these shirts seem like a fun idea.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Consumers Should Have Far More Control Over Their Information

Privacy experts' wish list from ccn.com:

Consumers should also be allowed to place freezes on their credit reports, they suggest. Currently, consumers are not notified when a creditor views their report. That can facilitate identity theft, since a lender might grant a thief credit in the victim's name without the victim's knowledge.

A freeze would mean a consumer would have to grant permission to any party wishing to view his credit report.

Right now, credit freezes are permitted in only four states -- California, Texas, Vermont and Louisiana.

This seems like a pretty obvious move that should have been made years ago. It seems the money given to legislators that don't want people to have control over private personal information has prevent such moves thusfar. Maybe enough people have had their identities stolen to final get some action. At some point the number of people having their identities stolen will finally overcome the resistance (created largely by donations - no other explanation make much sense) legislative action.

The only argument I have heard from legislators for allowing consumers to control their private information is that the consumers don't understand the harm they would cause themselves if they placed such a freeze on their account - that the consumers don't understand that means they might have to wait days (or even weeks) to get new credit. If the legislators actually believe that the government knows better than the individual the balance what that consumer wants (between having their private information shared and the speed at which the consumer will get credit) it seems their are many other decisions that legislator would support government making for the consumer. That doesn't seem like the real reason most of those who have prevent such legislation. It seems more likely the money given by those that wants to prevent consumers from having the right to protect their private information is having the desired effect and preventing such legislation (and if not completely preventing it, then limiting the effect of any such legislation).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Geography, Google and the Dial Tone

  • States Web Games - simple and interesting web games to teach geography.

  • Cracking the Google Code… Under the GoogleScope - an interesting read. I think the author might overstate some claims. The methods Google files in the patent don't necessarily mean those are the methods they are actually using today. It is interesting to see what Google files and see how they are trying to find actual relevant content from all the content created only to get search result listings.
    Google has raised the bar against search engine spam and artificial link inflation to unrivaled heights with the filing of a United States Patent Application 20050071741 on March 31, 2005.

  • Dial Comes To Town - a wonderful online video (mpeg) of a public service announcement from the phone company as they switched from operator dialed calls to the dial tone (and calls dialed by customers). Even the reviews of the video are fun to read. A great stress break, take a look to enjoy a few relaxing minutes.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Science, Music and the Theory of Knowledge

  • We have started a new Curious Cat Science Blog for posts on science and engineering news, breakthroughs, education and research.
  • thepartyparty.com is a collection of "songs" where samples from President George Bush's speeches are put together to have it appear he is signing such songs as "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Imagine."
  • Beyond Fear, speech by Bruce Schneier from IT Conversations (a great site with excellent and free audio speeches and interviews). In this interview Bruce Schneier talks about the way we evaluate and react to risks:
    We're seeing so much nonsense after 9/11, and so many people are saying things about security, about terrorism that just makes no sense.

    More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good we are at evaluating risk.

    Did you ever wonder why tweezers were confiscated at security checkpoints, but matches and cigarette lighters--actual combustible materials--were not?...If the tweezers lobby had more power, I'm sure they would have been allowed on board as well.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

China, RSS and Clinical Trials

  • Very interesting article by Brad Setser and Nouriel Roubini - blog post - full article
    The recent real estate boom (bubble?) in China has clearly been fueled in part by the loose monetary conditions associated with the peg – but that is not the entire story either.
    As we will discuss later, the communist party’s control of both land and credit creates strong structural incentives for corruption, and gives the party a large direct stake in the real estate market.
    China’s existing growth model looks to be running up against real limits, both
    internally and globally. Sustaining growth will require reorienting China’s economy –
    and relying, at least on while, on rapid expansion of domestic consumption to sustain
  • Really Simple Slate - Good explanation of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) for beginers. Another Slate article on RSS: How To Speed-Read the Net.
  • Establishing Proof by David Brown, Washington Post
    Some Fifty Years Ago a Baby-Blinding Epidemic Confounded Experts -- Until a Pioneering Study Conclusively Tied Cause and Effect, and Enshrined Clinical Trials in Medical Practice