July 2012 Archives

I heard on NPR this morning that hundreds of millions of Indians lost electrical power today, but it's hard to grasp the total: 370 million.

While the midsummer outage was unique in its reach - it hit 370 million people, more than the population of the United States and Canada combined - its impact was softened by Indians' familiarity with almost daily blackouts of varying duration. Hospitals and major businesses have backup generators that seamlessly kick in during power cuts, and upscale homes are hooked to backup systems powered by truck batteries.

Related thought: we can't reduce carbon emissions without India and China, but who really thinks those 2.5 billion people are going to want to continue to live without reliable electricity?

(HT: Instapundit.)

Lefties hate cars and suburbs because they let the rest of us escape with our lives.

But cars didn't shape our existence; cars let us escape with our lives. We're way the heck out here in Valley Bottom Heights and Trout Antler Estates because we were at war with the cities. We fought rotten public schools, idiot municipal bureaucracies, corrupt political machines, rampant criminality and the pointy-headed busybodies. Cars gave us our dragoons and hussars, lent us speed and mobility, let us scout the terrain and probe the enemy's lines. And thanks to our cars, when we lost the cities we weren't forced to surrender, we were able to retreat.

(HT: Instapundit.)

I'm so glad I didn't go to law school.

Things began to change in 2010, when the recession more fully impacted law firms, affecting the Class of 2010 in many ways, including a marked shrinking of summer classes in 2009. This resulted in the right-hand peak eroding back to 18% of reported salaries, and the left-hand peak bulking up to almost half (48%) of reported salaries. The erosion continued in 2011, with $160,000 salaries accounting for 14% of reported salaries, and $40,000 -$65,000 salaries accounting for over half (52%) of reported salaries.

The legal profession is collapsing because it's so easy to outsource the work. Just because your client is in New York doesn't mean your paper pushers can't be in India, China, Alabama, or wherever.

Sure, it's the same for some kinds of engineering, but not all....

Walter Russell Mead describes how the cash crunch is hollowing out the university operating model.

What's going on here, however, is less about quality than it is about money and the outmoded foundations of American institutions and practices built in the post World War Two era. The baroque inefficiency of the academic enterprise--and especially the research model university, which transposes a vision of the intellectual life from the hard sciences and engineering into the social sciences and the humanities--has built a system that demands enormous outside resources to continue to function.

In a handful of cases, notably the best endowed private universities, there is enough money on hand to make this system work. But less affluent private universities and virtually all public universities face a harsher climate. And as state governments in particular face claims on their tight revenues from more powerful constituencies than university faculty and staff, the public universities are being systematically starved of cash.

Most universities are asking themselves: "how can we lean down our operations to survive this temporary cash crunch?" They make small cuts here and there -- deflating a balloon but keeping all the structure in place until more air is available to blow things back up again. But the money isn't coming back. The real question they need to ask is: "how can we thrive with [a lot] less money per student?" This will require re-inventing the whole operating model, not just saving nickels and dimes.

My daughter's college experience in 15 years will be completely different than mine was.

Investor Peter Thiel asks if Google's and Apple's piles of money mean that we're at the end of technology, or if we're being stifled by regulation. Said Thiel:

I'm Libertarian, I think [technological stagnation is] because the government has outlawed technology...I think we've basically outlawed everything having to do with the world of stuff, and the only thing you're allowed to do is in the world of bits. And that's why we've had a lot of progress in computers and finance. Those were the two areas where there was enormous innovation in the last 40 years. It looks like finance is in the process of getting outlawed....

[Google] has 30, 40, 50 billion in cash. It has no idea how to invest that money in technology effectively. So, it prefers getting zero percent interest from Mr. Bernanke, effectively the cash sort of gets burned away over time through inflation, because there are no ideas that Google has how to spend money....

if we're living in an accelerating technological world, and you have zero percent interest rates in the background, you should be able to invest all of your money in things that will return it many times over, and the fact that you're out of ideas, maybe it's a political problem, the government has outlawed things. But, it still is a problem....

the intellectually honest thing to do would be to say that Google is no longer a technology company, that it's basically ‑‑ it's a search engine. The search technology was developed a decade ago. It's a bet that there will be no one else who will come up with a better search technology. So, you invest in Google, because you're betting against technological innovation in search. And it's like a bank that generates enormous cash flows every year, but you can't issue a dividend, because the day you take that $30 billion and send it back to people you're admitting that you're no longer a technology company. That's why Microsoft can't return its money. That's why all these companies are building up hordes of cash, because they don't know what to do with it, but they don't want to admit they're no longer tech companies.

My take is slightly different. I think the "world of stuff" is too highly regulated and that this does strangle innovation, but even more generally I think there's a ton of uncertainty out there right now. No one knows who the next victim of government "help" will be, so people sit on their cash and wait. Sure, the cash loses value due to inflation, but that's better than getting smacked down by the government.

(HT: Marginal Revolution, who has the transcript.)

Obama truly does not know how our economy works. Said President Obama:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

This kind of philosophy completely undermines the concepts or hard work, individual merit, and private property. Plus, the internet was created to support national security in the event of a nuclear war, not so that companies could make money.

(HT: Ed Driscoll

This was a pretty small (two kiloton) air-burst nuke, so I bet these five guys were all pretty much fine. NPR did some research and it seems like they mostly died of old age:

Alex looked, and here's what he found:
  • Col. Sidney C. Bruce -- died in 2005 (age 86)
  • Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball -- died in 2003 (age 83)
  • Maj. John Hughes -- very common name, but I'm guessing he is Maj. John W. Hughes II (born 1919, same as the above) -- died in 1990 (age 71)
  • Maj. Norman Bodinger -- unclear (not listed in the database), he may still be alive?
  • Don Lutrel -- I think this is a misspelling of "Luttrell." There is a Donald D. Luttrell in the DVA database, US Army CPL, born 1924, died 1987 (age 63). Seems like a possibility.

(HT: Gizmodo, who can't resist making historically ignorant comments.)

As far back as 2003 I've written about how Baby Boomers are robbing their children and grandchildren via the ballot box. Nick Gillespie has the numbers.

You're not getting screwed by billionaires and plutocrats. You're getting screwed by Mom and Dad.

Systematically and in all sorts of ways. Old people are doing everything possible to rob you of your money, your future, your dignity, and your freedom. ...

As a point of fact, retirees aren't particularly "independent" if they rely on tax dollars for income, are they? But here's the real rub, kids: You're getting screwed by Social Security, a program that is now more sacrosanct to aging boomers than Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. You're paying more into the system than you're ever going to get out. No wonder it's mandatory. C. Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennane put out a study for the Urban Institute last summer that should have caused far more riots than anything that happened at Zuccotti Park. They document that folks making average wages who retired in 2010 will get a raw deal over the coming decades. The deal will only get worse if you retire in, say, 2030. Read it and weep, kids, and don't believe it when old people who are either already on Social Security or about to join that club tell you it's part of a generational bargain that can't be changed even if retirees are totally wealthy compared to you.

Just last month I wrote that we need to dramatically increase the retirement age right now.

I agree that rapid changes to the retirement system will be disruptive for current and near-term retirees, but I don't care. Just because they've built their lives around the prospect of looting and pillaging my generation doesn't mean that they're entitled to succeed. They're attempting to use democracy to transfer a massive amount of wealth from my generation to theirs by borrowing money to spend on themselves that we are going to have to pay back. I say no! I say that we link the Social Security retirement age to longevity and push it back dramatically effective immediately.

Just because Boomers are using democracy to rob us doesn't make the theft legitimate.

How many features can we cram in to one device with the fewest number of buttons?

I'm a runner and I've used numerous GPS watches and they all share a common defect: too many features and too few buttons. Runners care about two-and-a-half things: distance, time, and pace/speed. All the other fancy capabilities are worse than distraction: by overloading the few available buttons with context-sensitive functions you make the watches very hard to use, especially while in motion.

I get it: software is cheap and buttons are expensive. Also, yes, I know it's easy for your designers and engineers to use the watch. But seriously, focus on core functionality and discard the rest.

Here's the Nike+ SportWatch GPS Powered by TomTom (Black/Volt), currently the best-selling GPS watch on Amazon with a list of features, most of which are not useful:

Technical Details

- Water resistant Nike+ SportWatch features TomTom GPS for accurate speed and distance information, indoors or out--even if the GPS signal gets interrupted

- Track your time, distance, pace, heart rate (with optional sensor), and calories burned; view your mapped route with pace data/changes in elevation on Nikeplus.com

- Rechargeable lithium polymer battery charges via USB, provides eight hours of run time with the GPS and sensor both turned on, up to 50 days of standby power

- Join challenges and connect with friends as a member of Nikeplus.com--view/share routes, find popular running areas, share activity on Facebook or Twitter

- Personal coaching features help keep you at your best--reminds you to run, stores your run history, and remembers your personal records

What happens if the pitcher pitches the ball at 0.9c?

Short, boring version: You get to advance to first base -- but you, first base, and the stadium are all destroyed in a nuclear explosion.

(HT: GeekPress.)

In celebration of Independence Day Randy Barnett has posted an annotated Declaration of Independence. It is humbling to recognize that the signatories were condemning themselves to death as traitors if their cause was lost.

The assumption of natural rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence can be summed up by the following proposition: "first comes rights, then comes government." According to this view: (1) the rights of individuals do not originate with any government, but preexist its formation; (2) The protection of these rights is the first duty of government; and (3) Even after government is formed, these rights provide a standard by which its performance is measured and, in extreme cases, its systemic failure to protect rights -- or its systematice violation of rights -- can justify its alteration or abolition; (4) At least some of these rights are so fundamental that they are "inalienable," meaning they are so intimately connected to one's nature as a human being that they cannot be transferred to another even if one consents to do so. This is powerful stuff.

We are very blessed to live in such a wonderful country with institutions that generally respect our natural rights.

Even though our genetic manipulation technology isn't good enough to reliably augment our natural abilities, it might be good enough that countries without ethical qualms about human experimentation are already at work creating super-athletes. Sure, most of the experiments will be failures, but if the high defect rate doesn't bother you then why not throw a few thousand darts and see if anything sticks?

Assuming that these augmented athletes will age at a normal human rate, we should expect to start seeing the successful experiments show up at the Olympics by 2024.

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