August 2012 Archives

The Apollo 11 crew had a risky job and couldn't buy life insurance to protect their families, so they made their own!

About a month before Apollo 11 was set to launch, the three astronauts entered quarantine. And, during free moments in the following weeks, each of the astronauts signed hundreds of covers.

They gave them to a friend. And on important days -- the day of the launch, the day the astronauts landed on the moon -- their friend got them to the post office and got them postmarked, and then distributed them to the astronauts' families.

It was life insurance in the form of autographs.

"If they did not return from the moon, their families could sell them -- to not just fund their day-to-day lives, but also fund their kids' college education and other life needs," Pearlman said.

Brilliant... but then, they were astronauts.

Everyone knows that Todd Akin made some bizarre and offensive comments about rape and abortion, but no politician (including Akin) wants to talk about the substantive issue.

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said in an interview Sunday that pregnancy from rape is "really rare," and doesn't happen in instances of "legitimate rape" because women have "ways to shut that whole thing down."

Glenn Reynold's is right about two things.

First, everyone knows there are such things as "legitimate rapes" and "non-legitimate rapes". It's a clumsy use of words, but presumably Akin was trying to differentiate between rapes and false accusations of rape. Maybe he was also trying to differentiate between forcible rape and statutory rape, in which the victim is willing but is not legally allowed to give consent. Anyway, these distinctions are not insignificant, but they are meaningless when it comes to the discussion of rape and abortion.

Second -- regardless of how you define "rape" -- women do get pregnant from rape. Rape can result in pregnancy, so both pro-choicers and pro-lifers need to address the matter rather than avoid it. Regardless of how rare pregnancy from rape may be, the incidence is non-zero.

Jenni was conceived when her mother was raped by a boyfriend as a teenager. She is a human reminder of an uncomfortable truth denied and minimized by people on all sides of the abortion issue: Rape can result in pregnancy, which means it can create innocent babies.

"A lot of people like to sweep it under the carpet," Jenni told me Wednesday. But, if commonly cited statistics are correct, hundreds of thousands of Americans walking around today were conceived in an act of rape. Jenni, and legions like her, raise a tough question for pro-lifers who don't want to talk about rape cases. Her smiling face and growing family -- she has three kids of her own -- is also damning to pro-choice people who argue that abortion is a necessity for a woman impregnated by rape.

Pro-lifers want to dodge the issue by saying that it's very rare, but that's irrelevant even if true. They don't want to be saddled with accusations of punishing a woman who was the victim of a terrible crime.

Pro-choicers want to dodge the issue because a baby that is the result of rape is no less worthy of life than any other baby. A baby is a baby, regardless of whether the mom was raped or forgot her birth control pill or was trying to conceive.

For my part, I don't think we need special rules for abortions. I think unborn babies are people, and the rules for killing them should be the same as the rules for killing anyone else. Killing can be justified in self-defense, but you can't go around killing people just because they are a huge inconvenience to you or because their father committed a horrible crime against you.

I can barely imagine how difficult it would be for a woman in such a circumstance, but victims of crimes should not ease their own suffering by inflicting suffering on other innocent people.


Actually it's pretty clear what likely happened: the spellers began their spelling from stage-left, their left-hand sides based on the way they were all facing. The far-left guy probably put up an "O", and President Obama followed with an "H". The spelling comes out backwards for the camera, but is correct from the perspective of the participants.

But yeah, it's pretty funny!

(And no, the image wasn't simply reversed... check out the letters on the red shirt behind the quartet.)

(HT: Rachel Weiner, Instapundit.)

Manufacturing is very labor intensive which is why countries with low labor costs (e.g., China) have come to dominate global manufacturing. But what will happen as machines displace more and more humans? The cost of human labor will shrink as a proportion of the total cost of manufacturing.

At a sister factory here in the Dutch countryside, 128 robot arms do the same work with yoga-like flexibility. Video cameras guide them through feats well beyond the capability of the most dexterous human.

One robot arm endlessly forms three perfect bends in two connector wires and slips them into holes almost too small for the eye to see. The arms work so fast that they must be enclosed in glass cages to prevent the people supervising them from being injured. And they do it all without a coffee break -- three shifts a day, 365 days a year.

All told, the factory here has several dozen workers per shift, about a tenth as many as the plant in the Chinese city of Zhuhai.

This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution. Factories like the one here in the Netherlands are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.

Those millions of low-skilled jobs will be eliminated very rapidly, and China will quickly lose its manufacturing advantage.

Foxconn has not disclosed how many workers will be displaced or when. But its chairman, Terry Gou, has publicly endorsed a growing use of robots. Speaking of his more than one million employees worldwide, he said in January, according to the official Xinhua news agency: "As human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache."

The cost to manufacture with robots will not be significantly cheaper in China than in the United States, and America's relative stability and lack of corruption will make it very tempting to build more here. This will lead to massive unemployment and social unrest in China, which the country may not survive.

Some former special forces and intelligence operatives are claiming that President Obama has leaked secret national security information to make himself look good before the election. You make the call.

President Obama likes to tout General Motors as one of his administration's big successes, but in reality the GM bailout has been a disaster for the company and for taxpayers.

Since GM's IPO almost two years ago, the broader S&P 500 has gone up about 30%. During that period, Ford shares have gone down about 15%, Toyota up about 15%, Honda up about 5%, Nissan up about 35%, Hyundai up about 60% and Volkswagen up about 85%. Make no mistake; GM is vastly underperforming the industry, despite an influx of approximately $50 billion of taxpayer funds. In addition to US taxpayers anteing up, Canada put in over $10 billion and GM was relieved of about $28 billion of bondholder obligations as UAW claims were protected. That's an improvement of almost $90 billion to the balance sheet and the company still lags the competition!

GM's performance is an embarrassment to its Obama-appointed leadership and an indication that the Administration has not fixed the underlying problems there. Worse yet, when a possible solution to one of the biggest overhangs, GM Europe, was on the table, the new leadership nixed the deal. And now an unstable management team, which seems to be constantly reshuffling as it tries to find direction, does not inspire confidence. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, it appears the damage is done and the ability to pull out a recovery is all but passed. There is no reason to continue the market-timing gamble that sees taxpayer money risked on a company that should be allowed to sink or swim on its own, without government input. It's time to simply cut the losses and dump taxpayers' remaining stock and end this failed experiment once and for all.

This failure in the market highlights that the Obama Administration's eyes are not on the bottom line, but rather on the number of union jobs propped up with taxpayer money.

"On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen," the president said. "Today, General Motors is back on top as the world's No. 1 automaker."

Even that's a stretch. GM edged tsunami-crippled Toyota by counting sales at its joint ventures in China, which aren't wholly owned subsidiaries. And the government is directly subsidizing new GM auto lines like the star-crossed Chevy Volt.

But GM is on the verge of bankruptcy again! When all is said and done, the bailout will be recognized as a huge failure and tons of jobs will be lost along with the billions of taxpayer dollars.

Dinesh D'Souza helps President Obama's brother while Barack ignores his family's plight.

A few days ago I received a call from a man I recently met named George. He was a bit flustered, and soon informed me that his young son was sick with a chest condition. He pleaded with me to send him $1,000 to cover the medical bills. Since George was at the hospital I asked him to let me speak to a nurse, and she confirmed that George's son was indeed ill. So I agreed to send George the money through Western Union. He was profusely grateful. But before I hung up I asked George, "Why are you coming to me?" He said, "I have no one else to ask." Then he said something that astounded me, "Dinesh, you are like a brother to me."

Actually, George has a real life brother who just happens to be the president of the United States. (George Obama is the youngest of eight children sired by Barack Obama Sr.) George's brother is a multimillionaire and the most powerful man in the world. Moreover, George's brother has framed his re-election campaign around the "fair share" theme that we owe obligations to those who are less fortunate.

This story is utterly damning. President Obama claims to be a Christian, so consider this verse:

1 Timothy 5:8
"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

Will Barack's neglect sit well with Hispanic voters who send billions of dollars in remittances to their international family members?

And remember: Barack isn't a middle-class worker just trying to make sends meet. He's a multimillionaire, and he stands to make hundreds of millions more whenever he leaves the presidency. George Obama is one of Barack's closest living relatives, and Barack could have helped him at very little personal cost. So why didn't he?

Barack Obama Jr. first met George in 1987, when George was five years old. He met George again in 2006 when he visited Kenya as a U.S. Senator from Illinois; George was then in his early twenties. Had Obama helped George along the way, perhaps this young man would not have ended up dirt-poor and living such a degraded life.

I love the term "wormhole" to describe the kind of persistent videoconferencing that I think will really be a game-changer for business.

Some firms are buying enhanced videoconferencing systems that allow remote workers to join meetings and share notes, data or sketches with ease, imbuing conference calls with Hollywood-style lighting and sound.

Others are installing video screens dubbed "wormholes" or virtual windows, so that far-off teams appear to be working side-by-side. Firms are also installing meeting areas with seating configured in a horseshoe shape so that workers attending via videoconference appear to be sitting in the same room.

I think the key capabilities that would enable a real office "feel" would be:

  1. Persistent connection. The system needs to be on all the time and facing your coworkers. If they're not there, then you can glance up from your desk and see that. You don't need to schedule a call or turn the system on to interact, it's always on.
  2. Reduced latency. Video chatting now is awkward because of the >500ms latency. That's got to get <100ms for it to feel natural. This can be achieved with modern technology, but may require some dedicated systems. (I.e., you may not want to send your packets over the general internet.)
  3. Wide-angle cameras and displays. You don't want the system to feel like a collection of 1-on-1 discussions (like the Tandbergs are now). You want the interactions to be many-on-many. If you've got three systems connected, you need to position the screens and cameras so that when A talks to B, it appears to C as if A is looking towards B. This kind of "facing" algorithm will be hard to extend to 4+ systems.

I really like Romney's characterization of Obama's election strategy (and the Democrats' in general).

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee accused the president of running a dirty and petty campaign. "He demonizes some. He panders to others," Romney said. "His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then cobble together 51 percent of the pieces."

The Democrats thrive on identity- and group-base politics. This group versus that group. It is intentionally divisive and it attracts votes by pitting groups against each other.

There's no doubt that individuals in different groups often have different political agendas, but I think the goal should be for the federal government to operate in the zones of commonality. This would mean that the government would be much smaller, but that each program could be designed to achieve 70%+ support from the public. As it is now, very few government programs even get a majority of support.

This kind of thing blows me away. Powerful, flexible telepresence will transform the way we work, go to school, and go on vacation. Our kids will interact with the world more virtually than we have... they'll probably be jealous of all the travel we do now, but they'll have different vistas open to them than.

Imagine being able to rent-a-robot at your favorite vacation destination for 1% the cost of going there yourself? Sure, an iPad interface is primitive, but the controls will become more immersive over time.

(HT: Engadget.)

I wonder if this toilet stall gets used for activities other than it's intended purpose?



(HT: Agoraphilia, JG, and WH.)

Radiologist Paul Hsieh describes just a few of the ways that Obamacare's regulations will strangle medical innovation.

The first prong is through new taxes. Recently, the Cook Medical company announced that it was canceling plans to open new factories because of the impending ObamaCare tax on medical device manufacturers scheduled to take effect in 2013. The 2.3% tax on total sales (not profits) will cost Cook $20 million dollars a year. As a result, the company will not be opening five plants that would have employed up to 300 people each. ...

The second prong of the war on innovation is through regulations. The Wall Street Journal recently reported how a single FDA scientist, Dr. Robert Smith, blocked approval of digital mammography machines for several years last decade. Breast cancer specialists like Dr. Etta Pisano stated that Smith had imposed "obstacles to approval that were unreasonable." This was especially frustrating for Pisano, who had co-authored a 42,760-patient study in the 2005 New England Journal of Medicine that demonstrated the reliability of digital mammography and showed that it was "'significantly better' than film in finding cancer in women under 50 and those before or during menopause."

Was Smith "just doing his job"?

It would be bad enough if Smith had been a rogue, overzealous regulator. But it's even worse if Smith is correct, because that means Smith represents how the system is supposed to work.

Great article... but when did get so cluttered and busy? Ugh, the site looks horrible. Added insult: I can't find a way to view a single-page printable version of the article. If there's a way to do it, it's lost in the visual chaos.

Congressman David Camp says that tax reform is coming in 2013 no matter who wins the election.

His twin goals are, first, to back America away from the 2013 tax cliff "so that no one's taxes go up," and second to pass tax reform, creating what he calls "a fairer, flatter and simpler tax code that lowers rates, gets rid of lobbyist loopholes, and creates more growth and jobs." Those two goals are pretty much the polar opposite of what the president is seeking.

The surprise is that Mr. Camp remains upbeat about accomplishing both, including finally cracking the code on tax reform by the end of next year. It's a sure thing if Mitt Romney wins, he thinks, and even possible in a second Obama term. "The next president, no matter who that is, is going to have to lead on this issue," he insists.

This is certainly a minority opinion--so why the optimism? "We're facing a train wreck with the tax system in 2013. Pretty much the whole tax code expires next year--the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the Alternative Minimum Tax hitting the middle class, the estate tax, and all the rest. Given the weakness of the economy, voters are going to demand that we get this done."

Sounds optimistic, but then that's kinda refreshing.

Here's a fascinating account of a live social engineering capture-the-flag game in front of an audience at the Defcon hacker conference.

Finally, Darnell directed the manager to an external website to fill out a survey to prep for the upcoming visit. The manager dutifully plugged the address into his browser. His computer blocked the connection, but Darnell wasn't fazed. He said he'd call the IT department and have it unlocked.

The manager didn't think that was a concern. "Sounds good," he answered. "I'll try again in a few hours."

After thanking the manager for his help, Darnell made plans to follow up the next day. The manager promised to send Darnell over a list of good hotels in the area.

Then "Gary Darnell" hung up and stepped out of the soundproof booth he had been in for the last 20 minutes.

"All flags! All flags!" he announced, throwing his arms up in a V-for-Victory symbol.

His audience of some 100 spectators at the Defcon conference in Las Vegas burst into applause. They had been listening to both sides of the call through a loudspeaker broadcast.

I would have loved to see it live. Be on your guard.

This article presents two very different views on the looming defense sequestration. It begins:

As the defense industry and its allies in the Pentagon and Congress stepped up their drum beat Wednesday about the dangers that scheduled automatic cuts in the defense budget pose to national security and the economy, there could be little doubt that Congress and the White House will block or defang those cuts by the end of the year.

Which makes it sound like the sequester is DOA, right? But look at the end of the article:

Foreign policy and defense expert Gordon Adams of the Henry L. Stimson Center wrote this week that the current projection of a flat defense budget is "the most moderate and shallow build down we have ever experienced" since the end of the Korean War. He said the last three defense build downs saw defense resources actually fall, on average, 30 percent in constant dollars over ten years. Even with a sequester, the overall cut of an additional $500 billion, in round numbers, would be only 17 percent, and that's from a budget that was projected to grow.

"We're a long way from doomsday,"Adams said, adding that "all the political hair tearing, garment rendering, and teeth gnashing" by defense executives and lawmakers was unfounded.

So, perhaps in the end it will be easier to do nothing, and the sequester will happen. I'm sure there will be a lot of posturing and playing chicken, but in the end if the sequester is to be prevented the repeal will require 60 votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Just because you think something "should be" doesn't mean it "can be", no matter how smart or powerful you are.

The Atlantic has an article this month with the title "Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don't Realize It)." I am always curious when intellectuals announce that the people (who in the American constitutional system serve as the sovereign power) don't know what's good for them (What's the Matter with Kansas?) or don't even know what they want.

Implicit in all of these revelations, of course, is the firmest, if never directly expressed, belief of the Left: That the average person is too stupid to run his own life, let alone make public policy decisions. Those few, those happy few, that band of liberal intellectuals, must do that for them. ...

The idea that something as fundamental as the distribution of wealth can be radically altered in a democracy without disastrous side effects is an intellectual fantasy. Prohibition, a far simpler social engineering project than fundamentally redistributing wealth, didn't get rid of demon rum, it gave us Al Capone. And the people who wanted to drink kept right on doing so.

This is a variation on the common trope: the perfect is the enemy of the good. More precisely, the attempt at perfection can ruin the good you've already got.

This hacking story demonstrates why you have to use multifactor authentication to secure your critical accounts. It's almost certain that your email provider and your bank support it, and those are generally your most important accounts. Please take security seriously.

And make offline backups of your important data.

Apparently President Obama really dislikes Mitt Romney.

When President Obama talked about Mitt Romney in recent months, "aides picked up a level of anger he never had for (Hillary) Clinton or (John) McCain," writes Politico's Glenn Thrush in Obama's Last Stand, which will be out on Aug. 20.

Thrush notes that Obama "began campaign preparations feeling neutral about Romney, but like the former governor's GOP opponents in 2008 and 2012, he quickly developed a genuine disdain for the man," according to excerpts released by Politico.

Maybe Obama feels this way because he sees that Romney has a strong chance of winning. There was a strong chance for Hillary to beat Obama, but no need to dislike her because she was the presumptive nominee all along. John McCain ran a weak campaign throughout.

Valve co-founder Gabe Newell on video games morphing from entertainment to value delivery.

"We think the future is very different [from] successes we've had in the past. When you are playing a game, you are trying to think about creating value for other players, so the line between content player and creator is really fuzzy. We have a kid in Kansas making $150,000 a year making [virtual] hats. But that's just a starting point.

"That causes us to have conversations with Adobe, and we say the next version of Photoshop should look like a free-to-play game, and they say, 'We have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, but it sounds really bad.' And, then we say, 'No, no, no. We think you are going to increase the value being created to your users, and you will create a market for their goods on a worldwide basis.' But that takes a longer sell.

"This isn't about videogames; it's about thinking about goods and services in a digital world."

Newell is exactly right. Many business systems of the future will be based on the technology and psychology of today's games.

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