Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wall of iPods -- Part Deux

The air was unusually smooth over the north eastern Pacific this morning, which allowed the contrails of preceding jets to stretch over hundreds of miles.

There are a few things worth noting about this picture (besides wondering how many iPods are in it):
  • If you look at the horizon, the contrails appear to curve. That is no illusion. The airplanes fly at constant altitude, so you are seeing the earth's curvature affect the airplanes' flight paths.

  • The airplanes are all flying GPS, so why are their tracks scattered all over the sky? That is an illusion. There was a roughly 30-knot wind on the right beam. To stay on the black line, the airplanes have to crab into the wind. Since the contrails stream directly in the airplanes' six 0'clock, what is apparently cross track error is really the cross wind component multiplied by the time since the jet's passing the camera's vantage point.

  • There are five contrails, plus one lower you can't see because the rising sun had not yet illuminated it.

  • By the way, in case you are still, which presumes you had ever started, wondering how many iPods that is, I worked it out precisely: a bloody lot.

    Tuesday, February 27, 2007


    Detroit Dummies - Or, As David Argues, "Detroit Exec's Who Know More About It Than We Do"

    This Stock Is Going To Zero
    By Porter Stansberry
    February 23, 2007

    ...GM is already bankrupt. Over the last 10 years, General Motors has been unable to make a profit selling cars. Its gross profits have declined by 46%, from $40 billion in 1996 to only $22 billion in 2005. It hasn't been earning enough money to pay for its overhead, capital expenses (upkeep of factories), or dividend payments. The result? An exploding debt level. In 10 years, the company's total liabilities have grown from $199 billion to more than $450 billion.

    GM has been burning the family furniture to keep the furnace running. It has gone past the point of no return. General Motors will never earn enough money selling cars to repay these debts. In fact, the company cannot make enough money to merely service these debts. The final nail in the coffin came in 2005, when GM's credit rating was first downgraded to "junk" status. Since then, as its obligations have come due, the company has had to refinance at steadily increasing rates of interest. Its financing costs have soared. Over the last three years, GM's annual interest expense grew by 77%, from $9 billion to $16 billion.

    GM can downsize, it can close factories, it can lay off union workers and renegotiate pensions. But its debts cannot be downsized. And its bondholders aren't going to settle for less than the full amount they are owed. GM cannot pay. Its shareholders will be wiped out, and its bondholders will end up owning the company. GM will be bankrupt within three years – or perhaps sooner if the economy slows. [...]

    GM must spend $16 billion to $18 billion this year alone on debt financing and, with that burden, there is no way the company can make a profit. It's only a matter of time before the company goes bankrupt and the common stock goes to zero.

    Which Road for Chrysler?
    A buyout is all but inevitable...

    by David Kiley and David Welch, with Gail Edmondson in Frankfurt

    For the second time in a decade, Chrysler is on the auction block. Even more amazing, despite nine years of woe under the ownership of Daimler-Benz, Chrysler has a line of potential buyers forming to kick its tires. [...]

    At DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) sprawling Stuttgart headquarters, the decision over how to proceed has split top management and board members into opposing camps: One backs a rapid sell-off of Chrysler Group, while the other favors first completing a restructuring effort into next year to bolster the selling price. A delay might reduce the final cost to Daimler of unloading Chrysler after subtracting its $22 billion in health-care liabilities. But the sell-it-now crowd appears to have the upper hand. "The chance that Daimler will sell Chrysler by fall of this year, before a new contract has to be negotiated with the unions, is probably 100%," says one senior DaimlerChrysler official who asked not to be named. [...]

    It could cost [a potential buyer] $8 billion just to cut Chrysler down to size. And the company itself may only be worth $5 billion, according to Banc of America Securities analyst Ron Tadross. [...]

    [P]rivate equity investors in Germany have been buzzing since 2005 about the chances of bidding for control of parent DaimlerChrysler. The allure? Investors figure they could break up the company and unlock big gains from Mercedes' luxury car and commercial truck units. Analysts estimated then that the Daimler parts were undervalued by as much as $40 billion when DCX shares traded at about 40.

    The stock price has since risen to 75 a share, but raiders still see DCX as under­valued. "You dump Chrysler, spin off the truck business, and get Mercedes for free," says a German executive privy to the conversations. Michael Raab, an analyst at private bank Sal. Oppenheim, pegs DCX's breakup value at 98 a share. [...]

    Private equity firms see substantial breakup value in Chrysler alone. The Jeep brand plus its factories could bring $5 billion to $7 billion. At least a few of Chrysler's plants would be of interest to Hyundai Motor, Chinese automakers, Renault-Nissan, India's Tata Motors, and possibly Volkswagen. DaimlerChrysler Financial Services, almost a forgotten asset, earned about $2 billion last year...

    Conservative Environmentalism

    Dirty old mine has rich seam of drugs
    15 July 2006

    A contaminated lake designated hazardous is turning out to be a source of novel chemicals that could help fight migraines and cancer.
    "It's exciting to know that something toxic and dangerous might contain something of value," says Andrea Stierle, a chemist at the University of Montana in Butte.

    Berkeley Pit Lake, also in Butte, filled with groundwater after the copper mine closed in 1982. Dissolved metal compounds such as iron pyrites give the lake a pH of 2.5 that makes it impossible for most aquatic life to survive. In 1995 Stierle discovered novel forms of fungi and bacteria in the lake. More recently her team has found a strain of the pithomyces fungi producing a compound that binds to a receptor that causes migraines and could block headaches, while a strain of penicillium fungi makes a different compound that inhibits the growth of lung cancer cells.

    This week they reveal that a novel compound called berkelic acid from another new strain of penicillium fungus reduces the rate of ovarian cancer cell growth by 50 per cent (Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol 71, p 5357).

    Stierle is rushing to identify more of these extremophile creatures before the toxic site is cleaned up.

    "Before the site is cleaned up". What is wrong with whomever is in charge of this site ?
    It's not like there aren't a zillion other polluted sites that could be attended to before this one, the one that's CURING CANCER.

    Sunday, February 25, 2007

    We are not in Kansas anymore

    Ah, the 50s, when things were simple. Women stayed home to raise children, baseball players had regular sized necks, and commies, well, they were Godless. Is nothing sacred, at long last? Say it isn't so, Fidel!

    In an early letter, from December 1953, Castro decides that he and his followers will forgo Christmas as a protest against authorities. " It is decided we shall not have Christmas -- not to even drink water on that day as a sign of mourning. . . . There is no point for prisoners like us to aspire to the joys of Christmas." Castro banned the public celebration of Christmas in Cuba for nearly 30 years in 1969.

    And yet the letters suggest that Castro was a man of unusual spiritual depth -- and a fervent believer in God. Addressing the father of a fallen comrade, he writes: " I will not speak of him as if he were absent, he has not been and he will never be. These are not mere words of consolation. Only those of us who feel it truly and permanently in the depths of our souls can comprehend this. Physical life is ephemeral, it passes inexorably. . . . This truth should be taught to every human being -- that the immortal values of the spirit are above physical life. What sense does life have without these values? What then is it to live? Those who understand this and generously sacrifice their physical life for the sake of good and justice -- how can they die? God is the supreme idea of goodness and justice."

    If a newspaper had posted side by side photos of Fidel Castro and Ted Williams in 1959 and asked readers to guess which one was the athiest, I doubt anyone would guess right. It's a funny world all right.

    Saturday, February 24, 2007

    A Classical Gas

    Those of you post boomers of the Daily Duck family may not remember a very unique talent from the 1960s named Mason Williams. I got the Mason Williams Phonograph Album for Christmas in 1968 and fondly played it over and over for many years. He is known for his iconic hit of that year, Classical Gas. It was a wonderful instrumental piece, combining acoustic guitar and symphony in a very memorable, uplifting sound. I thought you would all enjoy a stroll down memory lane or a chance to hear a true original for the first time.

    Yeah, but can he find Jimmy Hoffa?

    Jemes Cameron will not let sleeping ships lie, nor apparently will he leave empty tombs alone. Time is breaking the news that Cameron will announce at a New York press converence on Monday that he has found the tomb of Jesus, along with the bodies of Jesus, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene:

    Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you 'The Titanic' is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he's sinking is Christianity.

    In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting claim that Jesus wasn't resurrected --the cornerstone of Christian faith-- and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene.

    No, it's not a re-make of "The Da Vinci Codes'. It's supposed to be true.

    Let's go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua.
    Israel's prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn't associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn't afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.

    There was also this little inconvenience that a few miles away, in the old city of Jerusalem, Christians for centuries had been worshipping the empty tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christ's resurrection, after all, is the main foundation of the faith, proof that a boy born to a carpenter's wife in a manger is the Son of God.

    But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family.

    This could be really, really big, or a big fizzle. I think it will be really, really big.

    A Poem..

    in the style of W H Auden

    Moon Landing Whingeing

    It is understandable the Poets should whinge it up
    over so great a triumph of unpoetic manhood,a complaint
    it would not have occured to women to make,
    made possible only because

    we like to score with the coeds with a minimum
    of manly bother. Cry "phallus" and pout
    and whinge about the partriarchal rules
    that poems must rhyme and busy crewcut

    boys with calculators get all
    the accolades. A pose, a gesture
    but who's crap is given? We were always
    more ready with witty riposte

    than substance, and more adroit with
    glib, pompous, appealing phraseology that
    appears to say something deep and profound on
    first blush if you read it quickly enough and

    are afraid of appearing dull and provincial in
    front of your date so you blurt out a pensive
    "hmmm" just she doesn't take your silence as
    a sign of said provincial dimness than we were with

    following up on the opportunity to steal said
    damsel away from Mr Provincial Dungbeetle from
    Cow College USA with our sullen, dark pensiveness because
    even though she act all liberated and sensitive

    to the soul music of the lonely poet pouring his mind fruit
    out in verse as a gallant gesture of respect and love for
    her noble and majestic feminine soul that yearns to fly
    free of the gilded bars of her Patrician cage and

    plumb the Stygian depths of her sweet, flowering,
    sensuous hearth of life-passion with the boyish echo
    of that soul which is I, alas it turns out that the dalliance
    is but a cruel tease, and Mr Phallic Dungbeetle with

    his engineering degree and worldly ambition to spew
    his venomous brain-sperm across the galaxy on top
    of his smooth, erect shafts of nitro-burning man
    fuel takes his conquest back to his sterile little

    suburban clone-cubicle to enjoy the ravishing passion
    unleashed by my sensitive but smoldering poet's
    Blasted, friggin Moon Landing!!!

    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    How to play the game

    Gods and Politics

    So why do we have religious impulses anyhow? John Derbyshire succinctly answers this question from a naturalistic standpoint. It's all about politics:

    WFB’s piece illustrates rather clearly two things that lurk in the interstices of a great many of the creation-evolution arguments. Both those things, I am going to claim, are core features of human nature, present to some degree — though greater or lesser in individual cases, of course — in all but a pathological few of us. Those things are:

    The need to spot intelligent agency at work in the world outside our own precious selves, and

    The need to be constantly evaluating and reevaluating our status in the various groups we belong to, and ditto with the statuses of other group members.

    Both these core features of the individual human organism give rise to large-scale social phenomena: the first to religion, and the second to politics. (Two of the three topics, I note in passing, that you are traditionally forbidden to talk about in a British army or navy officers’ mess.) Over to WFB:

    “Fifteen minutes after Charles Darwin explained his theory of evolution, his disciples — apostles — ruled out any heresy on the subject of the naturalistic explanation for human life.”

    That one 27-word sentence contains three religious terms: “disciples,” “apostles,” “heresy,” and two political ones: “ruled out,” “heresy.” (Politics is about power. You can “rule out” something only if you have the power to do so. The word “heresy” is in both lists because its connotations are both religious — “You believe the wrong things!” — and political — “We have the power to punish you for believing those things!” Just how Darwin’s “disciples” managed to acquire so much power in just fifteen minutes, WFB does not tell us.)

    Here you see the natural disposition of the normal human mind. We have a mighty need to believe that all ideas about the non-human world are at root religious ideas, ideas centrally concerned with human-like agency or its absence, promulgated by charismatic teachers and their followers; and we have just as mighty a need to assign social events, including public reactions to new scientific theories, to plays of status and power.

    Why? Because the first, last, and only great truth about human beings is that we are social animals. To function as such, we need two particular abilities.

    First, we need the ability to calculate what other people are likely to do, based on our assumption (our “theory of mind” or “ToM,” in the current cognitive-science terminology) that their beliefs, desires and intentions (“BDIs” — more cog-sci jargon) are much like our own. We could not function as social animals without this ability to impute agency to the humans around us. And to impute it elsewhere, too: Survival prospects in the wild are much improved if we can impute some kind of agency to higher animals. That this ability slops over into imputing agency to the sky (weather), the earth’s crust (earthquakes), and so on, is not very surprising. In extremely complex systems like human mentation, boundaries are rarely inviolable.

    Second, we need the ability to compare ourselves with others, assess hierarchies, know whose orders can be safely ignored and whose had better be obeyed, with whom it would be reasonable to compete and with whom dire folly to do so… and so on.

    The human inclinations to religion and politics follow very naturally.

    Derbyshire leaves out one important connection, and that is that religion is, because it imputes the motives of a personal actor on the external world, necessarily political, since politics is the effort to order the relationships among personal actors. Once God is recognized as the actor behind the fate of the planet and all its inhabitants he becomes part of the political equation. All orderings of human society need to include God. Ignoring God from the political equation would be like ignoring the most powerful landowner in the kingdom.

    From an evolutionary standpoint it is puzzling how this capacity for agency detection came to dominate other ways for predicting the what the external world would act. Storms are not personal actors, yet early man universally imputed the actions of the weather to gods. You would think that agency detection would best benefit people when it is restricted to the realm of true personal agency, which is people, and to a lesser extent intelligent animals. Why this "bleed over" to all phenomenon?

    My own theory is that the social problems of early humans became so dominant that most of the higher brain capacity that evolved was put to use in bettering the person's social status. Agency detection and manipulation became the one overarching template for viewing the world. A mind that is based on one organizing principle for interpreting the world is simpler than one that has to switch between two modes, one for personal actors and one for impersonal phenomenon. There may have been little to gain for making more perfect distinctions between the two. Better to be excellent at the critical task and suboptimal at the lesser tasks than try to excel at both and do worse than the specialist in the one task that is most important for survival.

    So we created imaginary beings and organized our societies around the worship of them. There's no cost to be paid for that, is there?

    Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Post-Traumatic Tort Syndrome

    A man claiming to be addicted to internet pornography as a result of his combat experiences in Vietnam is suing IBM Corp. for $5 million for being fired over his use of sexually explicit internet chatrooms during work hours.
    James Pacenza, 58, of Montgomery, says he visits chat rooms to treat traumatic stress incurred in 1969 when he saw his best friend killed during an Army patrol in Vietnam.

    In papers filed in federal court in White Plains, Pacenza said the stress caused him to become "a sex addict, and with the development of the Internet, an Internet addict." He claimed protection under the American with Disabilities Act.

    His lawyer, Michael Diederich, says Pacenza never visited pornographic sites at work, violated no written IBM rule and did not surf the Internet any more or any differently than other employees. He also says age discrimination contributed to IBM's actions. Pacenza, 55 at the time, had been with the company for 19 years and says he could have retired in a year.

    I doubt that he has much of a chance, though this does raise some interesting legal angles. Workplace internet use is so ubiquitous that if every employer cracked down on every employee that browsed the net for other than business purposes during the workday the economy would come to a schreeching halt. Although I'm sure that every company that provides workers with an internet-connected workstation has a policy stating that use of the internet is strictly for business purposes, there seems to have evolved an unwritten code of conduct that says as long as the employee gets his work done in a satisfactory manner and does not expose the company to security or liability risks through his extracurricular internet traffic or create an offensive atmosphere for other employees who may oversee his monitor then the policy will not be enforced. One recent study actually found that employees who do online shopping from work during the Christmas shopping season are more productive than employees who take long lunch breaks to get their shopping done at stores.

    So this case may not be as trivial as it seems on first impression. The employee's lawyer will surely go after the company for overlooking all of the other employees at IBM who browse the internet during work hours. However the particulars of this case pan out, it will serve as an interesting precedent for internet in the workplace issues. Can any of our house lawyers provide color commentary on this?

    This Looks Very Interesting

    The Right Connections
    As told to Darren Dahl
    From, via Yahoo!

    Imagine surfing the Web and being able to see not only where your friends are hanging out online in real-time, but also where they've been before. And the more you surf, the smarter your browser gets at recommending new sites for you and your friends to visit.
    Whether you consider this dream a Web 2.0 breakthrough or the dawn of Big Brother, this next-generation online tool is now a reality thanks to Me.dium, the social networking software maker in Boulder, Colo. The company tabbed Kimbal Musk, a storied veteran of the early dot-com days, as CEO in January 2006.

    Though Me.dium is only available today as a plug-in to Mozilla's Firefox, an Internet Explorer version will debut later this year. [...]

    [Kimbal sez:] "After college, my brother and I moved to California. We got jobs at an early Internet startup that provided online maps and directions. We then decided to start our own company that would sell address information. We founded Zip2 in 1995 and, four years later, we had evolved into a content-management aggregator for companies like the New York Times and Knight Ridder. We were able to tie information about classified ads down to local street data. We were acquired by Compaq, which owned AltaVista at the time, in 1999.

    "After the sale, I moved to New York City to work for a company called FunkyTalk, which was supposed to be an early online community, like a precursor to MySpace. Then everything crashed in April 2000 and we decided to shelve the business plan. I did have a big break in that I was an early angel investor in PayPal, which worked out OK.

    "But I decided I was done with software. I went to cooking school instead. and after graduating, I moved to Boulder, where I opened a restaurant called The Kitchen. [...]

    "[But in January of 2006 I had a chance to] look at the Me.dium prototype. What I saw was so fundamentally interesting and core to what was missing on the Internet, I was blown away. It was a real 'a-ha' moment for me.

    "The idea behind the product is to take your blinders off while you surf the Web and actually interact with other people. Using the Internet is the loneliest thing you can do. In real life, your interactions with other people when you walk down the street influence your decisions. What Me.dium does is match you with people like yourself by using real-time and historical information about how you browse to steer you toward other people like you. [...]

    "[B]rowsing along with other people [is] a right-hand turn to what people are used to, and will change people's entire way of thinking about the Internet. We're revealing the hidden world of activity behind your browser."

    This is what it does.

    I'm going to check this out. It may enhance the experience of being on-line, or it might just be annoying.

    But half of what I do on-line is purely social, anyhow, so for me it might be a good fit. And hey, how good is their timing, with Time mag naming the type of person that "Me".dium's hoping to convert to users as the latest "Person of the Year" ?


    I happened to run across mention of Kimbal's brother, who looks like he's having fun too:

    Elon Musk
    Age: 33

    Company: PayPal, an online payment service based in San Jose
    Founded: Early 1999
    Sold to: eBay for $1.5 billion in stock in June 2002. Musk owned 11%.
    Big Post-Sale Splurge: A $250,000 L39, the fighter plane trainer used by the Soviet bloc during the Cold War

    Explanation: This isn't Musk's first success. After dropping out of Stanford, he founded a newspaper software company, Zip2, and sold it to Compaq for $300 million in 1999. He then bought a McLaren F1, the fastest car on the road (and one of the most expensive, with a $1.2 million price tag).

    "A fighter jet sounds expensive, but it's really just a fun little thing," says Musk of his latest toy, which can pull up to 8Gs. His main investment has been $50 million in his new company, SpaceX, which develops rockets to launch satellites and -- someday -- people into space.

    For now, Musk, who lives in Bel Air, Calif., is keeping himself closer to earth, despite occasional L39 acrobatics. "I'm going to curtail that sort of activity," he says, citing his wife and two kids. "It does have an ejection seat, though."

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    The Future Will Be So Fine

    Intel Corp. said it has successfully built a computer chip that could shatter processing-speed records. The last big leap came when chipmakers fit more than one processing engine -- or cores -- onto a single chip. Intel said its experimental chip, which could be available commercially within five years, has 80 cores. It can process a trillion calculations a second using no more electricity than a light bulb. ( In 1996, a supercomputer that powerful at Sandia National Laboratories took up 2,000 square feet, used 10,000 Pentium Pro processors, and consumed 500 kilowatts of electricity. "This is significant," said Jim McGregor of market researcher In-Stat. (AP in Yahoo! News)

    From Harold Maass' The Best of Today's Business

    This type of thing is why I make extremely optimistic forecasts about the future. (Although even I pale before Ray "The Singularity Is Near" Kurzweil's optimism. His site is here). If the time-frame to market pans out, we'll have had a house-sized computer, using 500 Kw of juice, reduced in 15 years to A SINGLE CHIP, using 100 watts.

    Kurzweil makes the same point here about biological science:

    "It took us 15 years to sequence HIV. We sequenced SARS in 31 days. We’ll soon be able to sequence a virus in just a few days’ time. We're basically doubling the power of these technologies every year."

    We are made demi-gods.

    I know, I know, "But what about the flying cars, huh? We was promised flying cars, and that never panned out, so what makes you think that this stuff will be more than interesting trivia?"
    In point of fact, we've had practical flying cars since the 70s. The problem is, you need a pilot's license to operate them, so the masses never took to 'em. Which may be a bit of a dodge on technical grounds, but I think that one has to admit that the "flying car" promise was at least half-fulfilled.

    So what does Ray think we'll do with all the computing power? :

    Consider that the price-performance of computation has grown at a super-exponential rate for over a century. The doubling time (of computes per dollar) was three years in 1900 and two years in the middle of the 20th century; and price-performance is now doubling each year. This progression has been remarkably smooth and predictable through five paradigms of computing substrate: electromechanical calculators, relay-based computers, vacuum tubes, transistors, and now several decades of Moore's Law (which is based on shrinking the size of key features on a flat integrated circuit). The sixth paradigm--three-dimensional molecular computing--is already beginning to work and is waiting in the wings. We see similar smooth exponential progressions in every other aspect of information technology, a phenomenon I call the law of accelerating returns. [...]

    Consider the following: As with all of the other manifestations of information technology, we are also making exponential gains in reverse-engineering the human brain. The spatial resolution in 3D volume of in-vivo brain scanning is doubling each year, and the latest generation of scanners is capable of imaging individual interneuronal connections and seeing them interact in real time. For the first time, we can see the brain create our thoughts, and also see our thoughts create our brain (that is, we create new spines and synapses as we learn). The amount of data we are gathering about the brain is doubling each year, and we are showing that we can turn this data into working models and simulations.

    Already, about 20 regions of the human brain have been modeled and simulated. We can then apply tests to the simulations and compare these results to the performance of the actual human brain regions. These tests have had impressive results, including one of a simulation of the cerebellum, the region responsible for physical skill, and which comprises about half of the neurons in the brain. I make the case in my book (The Singularity is Near) that we will have models and simulations of all several hundred regions, including the cerebral cortex, within 20 years. Already, IBM is building a detailed simulation of a substantial portion of the cerebral cortex. The result of this activity will be greater insight into ourselves, as well as a dramatic expansion of the AI tool kit to incorporate all of the methods of human intelligence.

    By 2029, sufficient computation to simulate the entire human brain, which I estimate at about 1016 (10 million billion) calculations per second (cps), will cost about a dollar. [Emph. add.] By that time, intelligent machines will combine the subtle and supple skills that humans now excel in (essentially our powers of pattern recognition) with ways in which machines are already superior, such as remembering trillions of facts accurately, searching quickly through vast databases, and downloading skills and knowledge.

    But this will not be an alien invasion of intelligent machines. It will be an expression of our own civilization, as we have always used our technology to extend our physical and mental reach. We will merge with this technology by sending intelligent nanobots (blood-cell-sized computerized robots) into our brains through the capillaries to intimately interact with our biological neurons. If this scenario sounds very futuristic, I would point out that we already have blood-cell-sized devices that are performing sophisticated therapeutic functions in animals, such as curing Type I diabetes and identifying and destroying cancer cells. We already have a pea-sized device approved for human use that can be placed in patients' brains to replace the biological neurons destroyed by Parkinson's disease, the latest generation of which allows you to download new software to your neural implant from outside the patient.

    If you consider what machines are already capable of, and apply a billion-fold increase in price-performance and capacity of computational technology over the next quarter century (while at the same time we shrink the key features of both electronic and mechanical technology by a factor of 100,000), you will get some idea of what will be feasible in 25 years.

    By the mid-2040s, the nonbiological portion of the intelligence of our human-machine civilization will be about a billion times greater than the biological portion (we have about 10^26 cps among all human brains today; nonbiological intelligence in 2045 will provide about 10^35 cps). Keep in mind that, as this happens, our civilization will be become capable of performing more ambitious engineering projects. One of these projects will be to keep this exponential growth of computation going. Another will be to continually redesign the source code of our own intelligence. We cannot easily redesign human intelligence today, given that our biological intelligence is largely hard-wired. But our future--largely nonbiological--intelligence will be able to apply its own intelligence to redesign its own algorithms...

    I don't buy the "by the mid-2040s" timeframe, but that's just caution based on my experience of how human events typically go. I have no actual rationale for why it probably won't be so.

    But more importantly, I think that Kurzweil resembles those who, in an earlier era, thought that television would be the perfect tool for teaching the masses. While it certainly has delivered on that promise, what it teaches generally isn't all that progressive or positive.
    There are many, many opportunities for people to learn actual useful and/or highly sophisticated stuff from television shows, but the people who participate in "educational TV" are a self-selecting, small minority.

    So my long-standing guess is that the majority of people will use this new-found computing power for entertainment, by living most or all of their lives in virtual universes of their own creation.

    But those who don't eat of the lotus will have mind-boggling tools to work with, to shape the objective universe - or at least our own solar system.

    On a personal note, I'd like to think that I'd be among the world-shapers, but I suspect that I'll spend most of my time on the holo-deck. Snap.

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    My wonderful virtual life

    The cost of fame is dropping everyday, along with the price of bandwidth and network storage. But when everyone is famous, is it worth anything to be so? If you have to ask this question, then you know that you're just too old to get it, because the Millennial generation has grown up with the attitute of putting it all out there for everyone to see:

    Yeah, I am naked on the Internet,” says Kitty Ostapowicz, laughing. “But I’ve always said I wouldn’t ever put up anything I wouldn’t want my mother to see.”

    She hands me a Bud Lite. Kitty, 26, is a bartender at Kabin in the East Village, and she is frankly adorable, with bright-red hair, a button nose, and pretty features. She knows it, too: Kitty tells me that she used to participate in “ratings communities,” like “nonuglies,” where people would post photos to be judged by strangers. She has a MySpace page and a Livejournal. And she tells me that the Internet brought her to New York, when a friend she met in a chat room introduced her to his Website, which linked to his friends, one of whom was a photographer. Kitty posed for that photographer in Buffalo, where she grew up, then followed him to New York. “Pretty much just wanted a change,” she says. “A drastic, drastic change.”

    Her Livejournal has gotten less personal over time, she tells me. At first it was “just a lot of day-to-day bullshit, quizzes and stuff,” but now she tries to “keep it concise to important events.” When I ask her how she thinks she’ll feel at 35, when her postings are a Google search away, she’s okay with that. “I’ll be proud!” she says. “It’s a documentation of my youth, in a way. Even if it’s just me, going back and Googling myself in 25 or 30 years. It’s my self—what I used to be, what I used to do.”

    We settle up and I go home to search for Kitty’s profile. I’m expecting tame stuff: updates to friends, plus those blurry nudes. But, as it turns out, the photos we talked about (artistic shots of Kitty in bed or, in one picture, in a snowdrift, wearing stilettos) are the least revelatory thing I find. In posts tracing back to college, her story scrolls down my screen in raw and affecting detail: the death of her parents, her breakups, her insecurities, her ambitions. There are photos, but they are candid and unstylized, like a close-up of a tattoo of a butterfly, adjacent (explains the caption) to a bruise she got by bumping into the cash register. A recent entry encourages posters to share stories of sexual assault anonymously.

    Some posts read like diary entries: “My period is way late, and I haven’t been laid in months, so I don’t know what the fuck is up.” There are bar anecdotes: “I had a weird guy last night come into work and tell me all about how if I were in the South Bronx, I’d be raped if I were lucky. It was totally unprovoked, and he told me all about my stupid generation and how he fought in Vietnam, and how today’s Navy and Marines are a bunch of pussies.” But the roughest material comes in her early posts, where she struggles with losing her parents. “I lost her four years ago today. A few hours ago to be precise,” she writes. “What may well be the worst day of my life.”

    Talking to her the night before, I had liked Kitty: She was warm and funny and humble, despite the “nonuglies” business. But reading her Livejournal, I feel thrown off. Some of it makes me wince. Much of it is witty and insightful. Mainly, I feel bizarrely protective of her, someone I’ve met once—she seems so exposed. And that feeling makes me feel very, very old.

    Because the truth is, at 26, Kitty is herself an old lady, in Internet terms. She left her teens several years before the revolution began in earnest: the forest of arms waving cell-phone cameras at concerts, the MySpace pages blinking pink neon revelations, Xanga and Sconex and YouTube and and Flickr and Facebook and and Wikipedia and especially, the ordinary, endless stream of daily documentation that is built into the life of anyone growing up today. You can see the evidence everywhere, from the rural 15-year-old who records videos for thousands of subscribers to the NYU students texting come-ons from beneath the bar. Even 9-year-olds have their own site, Club Penguin, to play games and plan parties. The change has rippled through pretty much every act of growing up. Go through your first big breakup and you may need to change your status on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single.” Everyone will see it on your “feed,” including your ex, and that’s part of the point.

    I'm not sure whether to be shocked and appalled or bored to tears. The conventional wisdom would counsel fear over the ever-shrinking privacy zone, but to be honest privacy was never much a luxury that the common man could afford. Rural town life offered none of it. Even with the relative autonomy that urban life offered to industrialized workers, an employer took it upon himself to know everything about his workers that he thought necessary to judge their character, from their marital situation, religion and worship habits, their politics and preferences in beverages.

    I actually see this passion for putting it all on the internet as a sign that we now have too much privacy. We're more isolated than before, living in smaller, and fragmented family structures or alone. Our fellow employees may never see us in their neighborhood or church or even know if we belong to one. Houses are so far apart that the neighborhood snoop can't even tell if we are home half the time. People seem desperate just to get other people to witness the daily humdrum events of their lives. The internet isn't invading our privacy so much as we are invading it with our own need for recognigion.

    I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing, or just a different thing. I grew up in a crowded household with 5 siblings and I craved solitude. I would stand in the backyard at night staring at the stars, even in winter, just to be alone for a short while. I can't imagine enjoying the forced familiarity of small-town life or some collectivized community. For people like me the modern, autonomous information age lifestyle offers the best of two worlds - the sense of space and privacy that I crave and the easy conviviality of the internet where I can pick and choose my acquaintances according to my own tastes.

    Of course not everyone is as introverted as me, and the rise of autonomy does not sit as easily with the more communitarian minded. Internet communities won't replace the authenticity of small town life, but I think most of us will manage well enough.


    San Francisco's historic State Armory and Arsenal building has been reborn as a pornographic film studio, after proposals to turn it into a church, storage space, and condos got shot down. "The planning code," says Amit Ghosh, the city's Planning Department director, "is not really worried with moral propriety." (in The Wall Street Journal)

    The number of checks paid in the U.S. fell to 36.6 billion in 2003 from 49.5 billion in 1995. From 2000 to 2003, the number of debit card transactions jumped from 8.3 billion to 15.6 billion, and the number of credit card transactions climbed from 15.6 billion to 19 billion. (AP in the Los Angeles Times)

    (The above from Harold Maass' The Best of Today's Business)

    Sex Lives Of The Super-Rich
    by Allison Van Dusen

    Ever wonder how your life would change if you suddenly became filthy rich?

    Well, for one thing, you'd have a better sex life. That's the finding of a new report by market research and consulting company Prince & Associates, and private wealth expert Hannah Grove.

    The 2006 survey released last month looked at the sexual views, behavior and experiences of just under 600 men and women, most of whom were married, an average age of 57 and with a net worth of $89 million.

    The findings showed that the majority, 63% of men and 84% of women, credited their wealth with helping them achieve a better sex life. In addition, 43% of men and 80% of women said they believe their money has let them lead more daring and exciting sex lives. One-third of men and 72% of women are members of the mile-high club, having had sex while in flight; all had access to a private jet. [...]

    Patti Britton, [president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists] and author of The Art of Sex Coaching, says the findings aren't surprising because the respondents’ extreme wealth means less struggling to feed and house themselves and more downtime and luxuries, such as spa weekends and lavish vacations--the perfect backdrop, some argue, for a robust sex life. [...]

    Sex For The Rest Of Us

    But if you're not pulling in the big or even medium bucks, don't despair. More money doesn't always equal bedroom fireworks.

    Barnaby Barratt, a Santa Barbara-based sex therapist, says people shouldn't just assume that the wealthy generally have sex lives worthy of envy. Barratt says some studies have shown that people in upper-income brackets, earning more along the lines of $100,000 to $1 million a year, have high-stress professions--think stock brokers, attorneys or physicians. They don't usually have a lot of time to devote to sex. In fact, that portion of their lives may deteriorate.

    "It tends to be a sort of quick engagement, quick sex or wham-bam sex and it's not as satisfying to people," Barratt says. "A lot of people in high-powered positions--their sex life dwindles."

    Is it significant that twice as many women as men have had sex while flying ?
    Or is it just a statistical fluke, because of the low sample size ?

    We'll Have to Wait a Little Longer for the Chinese to Take Over the U.S.

    Chinese automaker Chery will not be exporting vehicles to the American market, citing a lack of confidence in their ability to meet No. American consumer standards:

    Yugo mastermind Malcolm Bricklin, through his Visionary Vehicles, originally planned to [import] a low-priced, high-quality, Chinese-built car [to] the US. [...]

    When Bricklin first rolled out his idea for importing Chinese cars, many snickered. [...] After all, the conventional wisdom was that “high-quality Chinese car” was right up there with “honest used car salesman” in the world of automotive oxymorons. [...]

    [Bricklin's team] hope to move forward with an as-yet-unnamed Chinese partner or partners to build cars that will be designed and engineered in the US.


    Dusting Off The Taurus
    By Joann Muller

    DETROIT - Ford Motor is about to dust off the once-proud Taurus nameplate and put it on the slow-selling Five Hundred sedan, proving that a change at the top doesn’t necessarily lead to clearer thinking.

    Ford has suffered plenty of self-inflicted wounds in recent years. And Alan Mulally, Ford's new chief executive, has made it clear he thinks killing off the Taurus last year was one of the doozies. But Mulally's first major product-related decision since taking over in October is exactly the kind of shortsighted thinking that got Ford in trouble in the first place.

    Mulally's right about one thing: It's a crime that Ford allowed what was once America's best-selling car to wither on the vine. The company should have been reinvesting to keep the Taurus ahead of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Even so, the Taurus managed to retain a loyal following, even after it was relegated to rental car status in recent years. [...]

    There's some logic to the name change. In today's hypercompetitive market, the explosion of new models makes it difficult to build awareness for new nameplates. Ford sold 6 million copies of the Taurus during its 21-year run, and 3 million of them are still on the road today. Consumer awareness of the Taurus nameplate is almost 90%--twice the level of the Five Hundred. That makes marketing easier, and less expensive.

    Despite its lackluster sales, [...] the Five Hundred is a decent car. It's recommended by Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. [...]

    But whether it's called Five Hundred or Taurus, the car still doesn't have the appeal of [its rivals]. And that's what’s wrong with Mulally's reincarnation plan.

    The original Taurus [...] sold well for a decade. Subsequent generations, however, failed to stay competitive with midsized Japanese rivals. Demand slid, yet Ford didn't cut production accordingly. Instead, it continued to pump out nearly 400,000 Tauruses a year, at two plants.

    To offset the softer demand, the company offered heavy discounts and sold many Tauruses to rental companies. By the end of its life, 80% of all Tauruses were sold to rental fleets. Margins eroded, and so did the Taurus' brand image. By 2004, the damage was so extensive that Ford decided to replace the Taurus with the Five Hundred and a smaller sedan, the Fusion. Production finally ended in 2006...


    Suicidal GM robot fails to inspire consumer confidence
    By James Bryant

    According to researchers at UCLA, General Motors is now turning consumers off in a physiologically measurable way.

    After the Super Bowl, researchers at UCLA showed about 20 ads that aired during the big game to five women and five men while measuring their reactions to the ads with a gizmo called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Different emotions prompt activity in different centers in the brain which increases blood flow to those brain centers. The fMRI basically detects the increase in blood flow to a given area of the brain that is associated with different feelings or emotions.

    GM’s ad, [featuring] a clumsy automotive assembly robot having an anxiety attack complete with suicidal daydream fantasy, evidently freaked out the UCLA test subjects, as the fMRI scan revealed their brain centers associated with fear and anxiety were lit up like the JumboTron at Dolphin Stadium.

    This is ironic for at least a couple of reasons:

    - The ad’s point was to put the potential GM customer’s mind at ease via the new GM 100,000 mile warranty. The fMRI scans suggest an existentially disturbed robot was not the best way to get this point across. [...]

    In fairness to GM, the UCLA researchers suggested that Honda’s Super Bowl ad was considered to be the least effective of all, as test subjects [had a greater response to a blank screen than to the Honda ad]...

    For M Ali

    It was the summer of ’65. "Help Me Rhonda" was blasting from the speakers of newly minted Mustangs and T-Birds. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House and The New York World’s Fair was offering a hope-filled but commercialized glance into the future.

    It was that very future that Fred DeLuca was concerned about. Having just graduated from high school, young DeLuca turned his thoughts toward achieving a higher education. An education would no doubt be the key to success; the type of success that not even Fred himself dared to dream about. At this moment in time, a college education seemed as far-flung as the prospect of a man walking on the moon.

    It was a typically hot and humid summer day in Bridgeport, Conn., when the DeLuca family’s phone rang. Dr. Peter Buck, a family friend called to announce that he had changed jobs and was moving his family to Armonk, New York, only 40 miles away. It was time for celebration, indeed, for it had been almost a year since the Bucks and the DeLucas had parted company.

    Plans were quickly made for a reunion. It was on that fateful Sunday afternoon in July, 1965, during a barbecue at the Buck’s new home, that a business relationship was forged between young Fred DeLuca and Dr. Buck that would forever change the landscape of the fast food industry.

    During the summer of ’65, there wasn’t that much hope that the eldest DeLuca child would have enough money to pay for his college tuition. He was a hard-working, competent and dependable young man but the $1.25-per-hour minimum wage job that he had at the local hardware store wouldn’t begin to pay for an education. As they pulled into the Buck’s driveway, it occurred to Fred that perhaps he could ask Pete for some advice. He half expected Dr. Buck to offer to loan him the money. After all, they had known each other for years and when Pete would learn how badly Fred had wanted to go to college, to study to become a medical doctor, there might be a good chance that he would offer to help.

    "I think you should open a submarine sandwich shop," said Buck.
    "What? What an odd thing to say to a seventeen-year-old kid," thought Fred.
    Before Fred could respond or express his surprise, he heard himself say, "How does it work?"

    Pete explained the submarine sandwich business. He said that all one had to do was to rent a small store, build a counter, buy some food and open for business. Customers would come in, put money on the counter and Fred would have enough to pay for college. To Pete, it was just as simple as that, and if young Fred was willing to do it, Pete was willing to be his partner.

    As the DeLuca’s were getting ready to leave, Dr. Buck pulled out his checkbook and wrote a check for $1,000. That was his investment in their new venture.

    On the drive back home, little did Fred know that if he succeeded at opening a submarine sandwich shop, he would accomplish more than funding his education. Success would mean financial independence and everything that comes with it, not just for him, but for many other people around the world. Success would mean adventure and excitement on a non-stop roller coaster ride that would eventually be called SUBWAY® Restaurants.

    The duo had worked hard over the years. In fact, they had a goal of opening 32 submarine sandwich shops within 10 years. By 1974 they owned and operated 16 units throughout the state of Connecticut. Although it seemed unlikely that they would double that number in two years, DeLuca concentrated on expanding SUBWAY® Restaurants.

    On a Monday night in 1974, Buck and DeLuca met with their attorney. With him, they discussed the future of their business. As they evaluated their options, talk turned to franchising. Franchising, they had previously thought, was for the big companies and had dismissed the idea. Now, being behind schedule, they were willing to look into it. All there was to do was recruit people who would invest their money and use Pete and Fred’s management system to open and run SUBWAY® restaurants in their hometown.

    Rather than hiring consultants, DeLuca figured that the fastest way to expand the business was to go out and find a franchisee. That’s when he spoke to his friend Brian Dixon. DeLuca made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. He told him about their franchising plans and offered to loan him the money to buy their restaurant located in Wallingford, Conn. DeLuca even said that if he didn’t like the business, he could return it to them and owe them nothing.

    Dixon refused. He was used to getting a paycheck every week and didn’t want to risk going into business. DeLuca devoted his time to managing their existing restaurants and decided to worry later about franchising.

    One day, Brian Dixon changed his mind. When he reported to work that morning, he was shocked to discover a padlock on his boss’s office and a sheriff’s note that stated that the business was closed. It was bankrupt. Brian didn’t panic. Somewhere in that sheriff’s notice, he saw the word "opportunity" and decided to call DeLuca and take him up on his previous offer to become the very first SUBWAY® franchisee. From that day forward, not only did Dixon’s life change, so did the way that SUBWAY® did business.

    In the year 2004, the SUBWAY® chain entered its 39th year of operation. The SUBWAY® name and its products have even appeared in numerous television and motion picture productions. Not bad for a seventeen-year-old kid from “the projects”!


    Fred DeLuca described Subway’s tentative early days and dispensed advice for young professionals, speaking to about 40 students in the Dunster House Junior Common Room.

    DeLuca said he co-founded the Subway franchise in 1965 in hopes of covering his college expenses. When DeLuca hit hard financial times early in Subway’s history, he faced a choice between shutting down the original location or trying another location, according to DeLuca, who attended University of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The founders took a risk and chose the latter, which proved to be successful.

    “I was able to solve enough big problems along the way that the sheriff didn’t come along and put the ‘bankruptcy’ sign up,” he said.

    As he faced early financial uncertainties, DeLuca had to juggle his Subway responsibilities with a romantic life, he said.

    “Basically, my dating life was driving around from store to store,” DeLuca said, telling of personal sacrifices he and his then-girlfriend, now wife, made while operating Subway before it became a franchise.


    Fred DeLuca was a recent high school grad looking for a way to pay for college when he founded a sandwich store in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He had $1,000 in his pocket. He didn’t sign a lease, in part because the $25 lawyer’s fee was too steep. Three decades and 25,818 stores later, DeLuca’s company, Subway, is one of the largest privately held businesses in the world and he is worth at least $1 billion. DeLuca shared his experiences with writer Tom Nawrocki.

    Before they made their first submarine sandwich, Subway CEO Fred DeLuca and his partner, Pete Buck, toured other sandwich stores to see how their business operated, down to watching how they poured oil onto the meat. But until the morning of Aug. 28, 1965, they hadn't yet put theory into practice - the sandwich that Deluca made for his first customer was the first submarine sandwich that he'd ever made, he claims.

    In 1965 Pete Buck, a friend of your family’s, gave you $1,000 and suggested you open a sandwich shop. Why sandwiches?
    When Pete was a kid up in Portland, Maine, the big treat on Sunday was to go down to an Italian delicatessen. Then, where our families had met in upstate New York, there was a small chain called Mike’s. The day we talked, he pulled out a little newspaper clipping about Mike Davis, the guy behind Mike’s. He started with nothing, and after 10 years, he owned 32 stores.

    How quickly were you able to open your first store?
    I talked to Pete on Sunday. I borrowed my dad’s car on Monday and drove around a little bit and found a vacant store. Pete came over on Saturday, and we rented it, with no lease — you probably couldn’t do that today. Then, I built a counter and a partition, using eight-foot studs. I didn’t even carry it to the ceiling or put Sheetrock on the back.

    I put ads in the newspaper saying something like, “Student needs refrigerator,” and I’d buy old household refrigerators for 10 bucks apiece. Never had plans drawn, never went to the city for building permits.

    Really? You opened without official approval?
    Somewhere in the middle of construction, somebody came by and said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m building a sandwich store.” They said, “You know, you can’t just build a sandwich store without getting some approvals.” I walked to town hall and said, “I have to get some kind of license for the store I’m gonna open.” The lady behind the counter said, “We need some kind of plans for your store.” I said, “Well, I don’t have any plans.” She said, “If you could draw something out, that would be great.” So I drew a sketch, gave it to her, she stamped it, and that was it.

    The city didn’t require anything else of you?
    This was almost a backbreaker: We learned that we had to install a special sink that cost $550, so Pete had to give me a second thousand dollars.

    And operating capital?
    You’d sell the sandwiches for cash today, and you’d pay the employees and the food bill tomorrow. So we had the float.

    How were your vendors?
    Every Friday, my mother and I would pay a visit to the people who sold us meat, vegetables, bread, and paper. It was a little social call. We’d come with a check and they’d say, “How’s business?” and we’d say a little something. They knew we were always there to pay the bills, even though we never paid as much as we bought and balances always built up. If we didn’t drive around to deliver checks, which is a totally inefficient thing to do, I am positive that we would not have built the kind of relationship that allowed them to be as comfortable with us.

    Subway had its struggles, but I know opening day was busy. What happened?
    On the first day that we opened, I had to go to the university to take an English exam. I make the first sandwich to show my buddy how to make a sandwich, then I go to take the test. I come back, and there’s a line of customers out the door. And Pete is walking across the parking lot holding this paper bag. He said, “I had to go buy some knives.” I worked in a hardware store, so I knew that knives could be expensive or cheap, so I looked in the bag and said, “Oh, Jesus, there goes the budget.”

    Was it hard being a 17-year-old who didn’t know anything about business?
    I had a lot to learn. One time, my car broke down. This kid picked me up, we get to talking, and we passed by my store. He says to me, “That is a great place to eat. They make terrific sandwiches, and you get all the soda you want for free.” I said, “How does it work?” He said, “You order some sandwiches, and when the kid”—he was referring to me—“when the kid turns around to make them, you just take a case of soda out of the cooler and sneak it out to your car.” So, you see, the lessons I learned back then—they were so simple.

    After that first day, your sales dropped pretty much continuously for a long time. How did you make it through that period?
    Number one, I didn’t have big family expenses. Number two, I didn’t have high expectations. I was willing to try solutions that other people may not even have thought of -- I’m not saying they were all smart solutions, but I tried them. I didn’t know enough about business to realize how bad we were doing. And I didn’t have the concept that you should quit at something. I can think of so many reasons why we shouldn’t have made it. We were on the edge continuously.

    What happened when you opened the second store?
    The business in that second store was good from the day we opened it -- and the business in the first store picked up also.

    Could the same kind of success happen today?
    Today, it just doesn’t work like that. There is so much bureaucracy that it would have broken our backs. We would not have gotten it open.

    On that first day, you spent part of the afternoon sitting in the back, chopping up vegetables with a three-dollar knife, using an old sheet of plywood for a cutting board. I don’t think that would pass muster with the health department today.
    There’s nothing in that store that would pass muster today.

    Since Davis had owned 32 stores, you and Pete Buck planned from the beginning to open 32 stores yourselves. How important – and realistic - was that goal?
    It was an extremely serious goal in that it never changed. We never had a discussion about changing the goal, we always talked about the goal, we always kept it in mind. We thought it was achievable because the other guy had done it.


    Doctor's Associates Inc. operates the Subway chain of sandwich shops, the second-largest quick service chain behind McDonald's. It boasts more than 26,500 franchised units in 86 countries as of November 21, 2006, with more US locations than the Golden Arches, and is the fastest growing franchise in the world. This rapidly growing chain added over 2,000 locations in 2005. McDonald's has more than 30,000 restaurants in 119 countries. Fred DeLuca says that he wants 30,000 outlets worldwide by 2010.

    In comparison, the second-largest submarine sandwich shop chain in North America, Quiznos Sub, has an estimated 5,000 locations worldwide. (Although Quiznos' growth has been spectacular - as recently as 1996, they had only 100 locations. In 2000, they had a thousand locations; in 2003, two thousand; and by 2004 they had opened their three thousandth location).

    Subway has been voted as #1 franchise in Entrepreneur magazine 15 times as of 2007. Virtually all Subway restaurants are franchised and offer such fare as hot and cold sub sandwiches, turkey wraps, and salads. Subways are located in freestanding buildings, as well as in airports, convenience stores, sports facilities, and other locations.

    Doctor's Associates is a private corporation, owned by co-founders Fred DeLuca and Peter Buck, who opened the first Subway in 1965. Fred DeLuca still runs the company.

    In 2005, revenues for the Subway chain were $ 9.05 billion.
    In 2005, revenues for the publicly-traded McDonald's Corp. were $ 20.5 billion, and for the twelve months ending on Sep. 30th, 2006, revenues were $ 21.8 billion. As of Feb. 13th, 2007, McD had a market cap of $ 55.5 billion.

    So, if Doctor's Assoc. Inc. were a publicly-traded company, it's reasonable to estimate that they'd have a market cap of somewhere around $ 30 billion, given their high growth rate. That would make them more valuable than Ford & GM combined, or American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Air, and United Airlines combined.

    Or to use some examples from less troubled industries, they'd have a larger market cap than the combined value of North America's #2 & #3 burger chains, Burger King and Wendy's, plus KFC and Taco Bell, plus No. America's three largest pizza chains: Dominos, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut.

    Their revenues and market cap are/would be about the same as Starbucks.

    Sources: The Harvard Crimson; Hoovers;; the Organic Consumers Association; Quiznos; Subway; Wikipedia, also here; Yahoo! Finance

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    A Contrarian View from Dr. Art Robinson

    Life Extension By Plutonium

    Enviros assure us and news media parrot their claims that plutonium is the most dangerous substance known to man. American nuclear power plants are still not permitted to recycle their high-level radioactive waste, while most countries do recycle. Recycling automatically disposes of 97% of this waste. Our bureaucrats prohibit recycling largely because of the terrible "dangers'' posed by plutonium - the most demonized material on the planet.

    Of interest, therefore, is "Fifty Years of Plutonium Exposure to the Manhattan Project Plutonium Workers: An Update'' by G. L. Voelz, J. N. P. Lawrence, and E. R. Johnson, Health Physics 73, No. 4, pp 611-618 (1997). The subjects (workers at Los Alamos) received, on average, a three-fold higher exposure to plutonium than the maximum currently recommended by the National Council on Radiation Protection.

    Standard mortality ratios of the exposed workers when compared to the general population and to unexposed contemporary Los Alamos workers were 0.43 and 0.77 respectively. In other words the number of exposed workers who have died as compared with the these two groups is less by 57% and 23%. The second comparison is especially relevant, since it avoids systematic differences in life style between Los Alamos workers and the general population.

    These results are in agreement with the many other studies of nuclear workers and other groups, (see previous issues of Access to Energy), which have shown that radiation exposure extends lifespan.

    Cool It

    Although we do not know which direction the sun will fluctuate over the coming years - warmer or cooler - it is clear which direction we should hope that it will fluctuate. If the Earth becomes warmer than humans think desirable, there are several means by which human activity can cool the Earth. If the Earth becomes too cool, however, there is no known practical way to generate enough energy to warm it.

    [For instance], S. S. Penner, (Journal of Clean Technology and Environmental Sciences 3, No. 3/4 (1993), who works at the University of California at San Diego, has estimated that the conversion of about 2% of the jet fuel in commercial jet airliners during a four-year period into particulate forms similar to those emitted by volcanoes could cool the Earth by about 3 ºC. Extrapolating to expected air transport in the year 2050, he estimates that this could be done by the same means in one year rather than four.

    Professor Penner estimates the cost of this cooling method based upon either conversion of ordinary jet fuel or the use of a new jet fuel into which coal has been blended. He proposes that the method be developed by careful studies of volcanoes - which currently cool the Earth in the same manner. His rough current estimates are that 1.5 ºC of cooling with coal blended fuel would cost less than $300 million. The particulates produced would shield the Earth from a part of the sun's radiation - so small a part that people on the Earth could not see the shield or personally detect its presence. [...]
    [W]e can be certain that this method would work because volcanoes frequently cool the Earth in the same way.

    We can only hope that the sun's activity tends toward the warm side. [...] We have means available to cool the Earth, but we have no means available to warm it. If our climate becomes too warm, human engineers can fix it. If, on the other hand, natural forces were to lead us into a new ice age, our engineers have no means available with which to counteract this.

    Human engineers have available a low cost air conditioning cooler than can be applied to the whole Earth. They do not, however, have available a heater. Therefore, we should bias all of our activities toward warming in case the sun becomes cooler.

    Monday, February 12, 2007

    This is the Book

    Which will settle the bet on '06 oil prices. Note that Duck isn't wrong, he was just early.

    Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days, by Jessica Livingston

    A list of those interviewed for the book can be found here, and here is an extremely interesting and lengthy interview of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak - among other things, he says that he was completely uninterested in making a ton of money, he just wanted to show off his computer-design skills. As a result, his Apple II design was widely admired, and he made almost nothing compared to Steve Jobs.

    Here is an interview with Joel Spolsky, a co-founder of Fog Creek Software, who writes the very informative Joel on Software blog, which is where I found mention of the book.

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Banish Alzheimer's

    Research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates regular consumption of niacin-rich foods like peanuts provides protection against Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive decline.

    Researchers from the Chicago Health and Aging Project interviewed 3,718 Chicago residents aged 65 or older about their diet, then tested their cognitive abilities over the following six years.

    Those getting the most niacin from foods (22 mg per day) were 70% less likely to have developed Alzheimer's disease than those consuming the least (about 13 mg daily), and their rate of age-related cognitive decline was significantly less.

    Some foods rich in niacin are green peas, peanuts, and soy products.
    Another way to boost niacin levels is to eat more foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan. The human body can convert tryptophan to niacin, with a little help from other B vitamins, iron and vitamin C. Foods high in tryptophan include shrimp, crimini mushrooms, yellowfin tuna, halibut, chicken breast, scallops, salmon, and turkey.

    Saturday, February 10, 2007

    Well, at least their art is about something

    Johann Hari profiles the Chapman brothers, two English post-modern artists with a very nasty agenda:

    If a single work of modern art has penetrated our distracted consciousness in the past decade, it is the penis-nosed, vagina-mouthed child-mannequins designed by Jake and Dinos Chapman. These monstrous "zygotic twins" stare at us from behind their genital-noses and demand we stare back. After an infinity of watery watercolours and old Old Masters served up as the only face of Art, the Chapman Brothers offer a kind of punk art that spits in your face, punches you in the stomach, and nicks your wallet while you are puking on the floor.

    These works have somehow leeched into our collective subconscious. So why - as I staggered around their retrospective in Tate Liverpool, gaped at their new exhibit at Tate Britain, and read through their scattered essays - did I find myself ravaged by hatred for them?

    Many people assume that the Chapmans' work is simply a scattering of anarchic insights and provocations with no underlying coherence. They're wrong.

    In the 18th century, a swelling of philosophers, scientists and artists launched the Enlightenment. At its core, they argued that instead of relying on divine revelation, we should closely observe the world around us and base a rational world-view on the empirical evidence we gather. Everything good about our world, such as the miracle of modern medicine, or the birth of human rights movements, comes from this project. The Chapmans' declared aim is an old one, offered by fascists and priests for the past 300 years: to puncture and destroy it.

    Jake Chapman has declared that "the Enlightenment project. ... virulently infects the earth". Let's look at an example of how this hatred animates their work.

    Francisco Goya was one of the first great artists of the Enlightenment. In 1799, in his famous Caprichos etchings, he caricatured the religious figures who controlled Spain, and he lauded the secular and liberal politicians who fought against them. It was his Enlightenment commitment to showing the unvarnished truth that later made him paint war-scenes as they really were, for the first time. He stripped out the old chivalry and romance; he showed the blood and broken bodies. In 2003, the Chapmans bought some of Goya's original prints - and vandalised them.

    Where Goya drew with documentary clarity the agonised victims of war, the Chapmans painted the jeering faces of clowns and puppies over them. "Goya's the artist who represents the kind of expressionistic struggle of the Enlightenment with the ancien regime," Jake Chapman explained, "so it's kind of nice to kick its underbelly." Goya famously said "the sleep of reason produces monsters". The Chapmans say the opposite: it is when reason is wide awake that it produces monsters. (Really? Did Hitler scrupulously adhere to fact, evidence and reason-based inferences?).

    The Chapmans trashing Goya is a pure expression of postmodernist philosophy. They vandalise and ridicule the fruits of reason - and what do they offer in its place?

    At times, they offer up a mythical pure, pristine past, before reason supposedly contaminated the world. Jake Chapman says, for example, we shouldn't think of the sun through "any kind of enlightenment notion of photon particles being useful". No: we should, like premodern tribes who died at the age of thirty of diseases they did not understand, "start thinking about the sun as a kind of excessive, catastrophic energy." You can see this mentality in The Chapman Family Collection, their fake African tribal artifacts which the viewer gradually realises are modelled on Ronald McDonald and his friends. We are supposed to lament the contrast between their 'authenticity' and our 'fakeness'.

    But ditching the Enlightenment quickly leads to even darker places than this. The Chapmans' intellectual hero is Georges Bataille, the French writer and (anti-)philosopher who was obsessed with moments of "transgression", when the "prison" of the Enlightenment could be left behind. And these glorious moments? They mostly consist of torture. He lauded the Marquis de Sade, an aristocratic rapist who preyed on working-class women, because he "had only one occupation in his long life which really absorbed him - that of enumerating to the point of exhaustion the possibilities of destroying human beings, and of enjoying the thought of their death and suffering".
    It's hard to fathom where people like the Chapmans get their intense hatred from. However, it is even harder to fathom how the art establishment can tolerate, or even celebrate such anti-human bile. I could launch into a strident indictment of the irresponsibility and hypocrisy of the promoters, collectors and enablers of these monstrous clowns, but that is such burned over territory that it is hardly worth the effort.

    Instead, I'm more interested in theories of why the Enlightenment and its accomplishments continues to breed such self-hatred. Where does this come from, psychologically speaking? Is there something about Enlightenment based societies that make them inherently unstable? Are the Chapmans just an aberration, or do they represent something that is much more dangerous to civilization than we recognize?

    Friday, February 09, 2007


    Where and how does power fit into morality ?

    We say that "might makes right", but that's a comment on political reality, not about morals. If there is such a thing as God-given morality, is it because God can destroy us if we don't toe the line ?

    I'm wondering about this because there are parts of Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan where women are treated like sub-humans, and large parts of the world where women are distinctly inferior in the eyes of their cultures, and the law. About the horrors inflicted upon women in Africa, I don't even want to discuss.

    If I were King of the World, I would immediately smash such abominable societies.

    However, we've defined "morality" at this forum to be "that which most people agree upon", and most people in those places appear to agree that that's how women should be treated. (Women in such places have no power to agree or disagree, of course, and nobody's asking their opinion, but they could easily shove a knife into the guts of their sleeping husbands if they were truly opposed).

    So if I were to install feminine equality by force, would that be moral, or not ?
    And if it is moral to make everyone play fair, what does that do to the Daily Duck Definition of "morality" ?

    Thursday, February 08, 2007

    The Ballad of the Lovesick Astronaut

    A woman with accomplishments stellar
    Took fancy to another one's fella
    For romance's survival
    Deep sixing her rival
    Her desperate heart did propel her

    Discovery could not be permitted
    Endeavor to conceal she committed
    Inadequate thought
    And hasty decisions wrought
    Dim hopes that she will be acquitted

    Now America's golden girl's tarnished
    Her sad story exposed and unvarnished
    The gossipy ilk
    Huge ratings they'll milk
    With tragedy their paychecks are garnished

    Monday, February 05, 2007

    The big squeeze

    Don Cupitt writes a succinct but thought-provoking piece in the Guardian about Christianity in the 'post-Derrida' world:

    Much more than any of their recent predecessors, the Pope and the archbishop are trained academics who know the score. They know that mainline western belief in God was tied up with all the founding ideas of western thought first laid down by Parmenides and Plato. We used to assume that behind the flux of experience there had to be something Real, one, intelligible to us, and perfect. We used to assume that we were presented with a ready-made world, with a built-in order that we were predesigned to be able to grasp. But since Kant, and especially through the philosophies of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida, the old western metaphysics has now been radically destabilised, deconstructed. The old west has gone.

    The upshot of all this is very severe; so severe that from the point of view of modern philosophy even Richard Dawkins believes in God. He has abandoned popular belief in God (Derrida's "restricted theology"), but clings to what Derrida calls "general theology", a belief in one ready-made truth of things out there, waiting to be copied into our language. Unfortunately, Dawkins' god is now dead too.

    So the great churchmen know that sooner or later Christian thought must undergo a very great transformation. A handful of writers are already describing it, but they are not popular, for it is a change far too big for the church to contemplate as yet. In the short run most of Christianity will choose to go fundamentalist and countercultural, and in the short run church leaders cannot give us a worked-out rational alternative to fundamentalism. It would be much too radical, and people would not accept it. Hence the impotence of liberal theology.

    I disagree with his underlying premise that objective truth is dead. This is a post-post-Derrida world. Deconstruction is no longer de rigeur. But he is right that moderate, donnish, intellectual Christianity is in a fix: squeezed between fundamentalism and anything-goes truth relativism.

    That is, it is very difficult for the likes of Rowan Williams to attack Bible literalism without sanctioning as valid 'Christianity' any old conception of God that anybody likes.

    Saturday, February 03, 2007

    Resources for Auto-didacts

    Neat link of the day, via Evangelical Outpost:

    Massive Resource List for All Autodidacts

    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    The Castle Doctrine and its detractors

    There are a few hot-button topics in American political life: abortion, gays, gay marriage, gays in the military, gay military weddings, etc. One button that has gotten less hot in the last few election cycles has been gun control. Less hot because while once guns were public enemy number 1 for anyone espousing "progressive" political views, it has become such a losing issue for Democrats that they have essentially thrown in the towel. Americans can feel confident that their right to own and bear arms is safe - for now.

    One sign of this emerging consensus on gun rights can be seen in the new front in the gun rights movement, which involves where and when citizens can use their guns for self defense. Many states including Minnesota, where I live, have passed Concealed Carry laws which authorizes citizens to obtain permits which allow them to lawfully carry handguns in public. Another movement to expand self defense rights takes the form of "Castle Doctrine" laws, otherwise known by its proponents as "Stand your Ground" laws, and by its detractors as "Shoot First" laws.

    Most states have some form of legislation that permits citizens to protect themselves inside their homes with deadly force, if necessary, against intruders if f they feel that their life or safety is threatened. In some states the law is not explicitly documented but is ensconsed in judicial precedent that recognizes traditional rights of self defense under English Common Law.

    "Stand your Ground" laws aim to both make such traditional protections explicit and safe from judicial erosion, and also to expand the reach of where such protections are recognized, to include a persons car, workplace and any public place where the person has a legal right to be. It would absolve citizens of the duty to retreat from a violent attack, and allow a person to answer force with force.

    Here in Minnesota two lawmakers have introduced such a measure in the state legislature. Other states, including Florida have already passed Stand your Ground laws.

    Contrast this trend with the situation in the home of English Common Law, England:

    On a June evening two years ago, Dan Rather made many stiff British upper lips quiver by reporting that England had a crime problem and that, apart from murder, "theirs is worse than ours." The response was swift and sharp. "Have a Nice Daydream," The Mirror, a London daily, shot back, reporting: "Britain reacted with fury and disbelief last night to claims by American newsmen that crime and violence are worse here than in the US." But sandwiched between the article's battery of official denials -- "totally misleading," "a huge over-simplification," "astounding and outrageous" -- and a compilation of lurid crimes from "the wild west culture on the other side of the Atlantic where every other car is carrying a gun," The Mirror conceded that the CBS anchorman was correct. Except for murder and rape, it admitted, "Britain has overtaken the US for all major crimes."

    In the two years since Dan Rather was so roundly rebuked, violence in England has gotten markedly worse. Over the course of a few days in the summer of 2001, gun-toting men burst into an English court and freed two defendants; a shooting outside a London nightclub left five women and three men wounded; and two men were machine-gunned to death in a residential neighborhood of north London. And on New Year's Day this year a 19-year-old girl walking on a main street in east London was shot in the head by a thief who wanted her mobile phone. London police are now looking to New York City police for advice.

    None of this was supposed to happen in the country whose stringent gun laws and 1997 ban on handguns have been hailed as the "gold standard" of gun control. For the better part of a century, British governments have pursued a strategy for domestic safety that a 1992 Economist article characterized as requiring "a restraint on personal liberty that seems, in most civilised countries, essential to the happiness of others," a policy the magazine found at odds with "America's Vigilante Values." The safety of English people has been staked on the thesis that fewer private guns means less crime. The government believes that any weapons in the hands of men and women, however law-abiding, pose a danger, and that disarming them lessens the chance that criminals will get or use weapons.

    The results -- the toughest firearm restrictions of any democracy -- are credited by the world's gun control advocates with producing a low rate of violent crime. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell reflected this conventional wisdom when, in a 1988 speech to the American Bar Association, he attributed England's low rates of violent crime to the fact that "private ownership of guns is strictly controlled."

    In reality, the English approach has not re-duced violent crime. Instead it has left law-abiding citizens at the mercy of criminals who are confident that their victims have neither the means nor the legal right to resist them. Imitating this model would be a public safety disaster for the United States.

    The article points out the ridiculous lengths to which English courts have upended the traditional deference to the rights of individuals to self-defense:

    � In 1973 a young man running on a road at night was stopped by the police and found to be carrying a length of steel, a cycle chain, and a metal clock weight. He explained that a gang of youths had been after him. At his hearing it was found he had been threatened and had previously notified the police. The justices agreed he had a valid reason to carry the weapons. Indeed, 16 days later he was attacked and beaten so badly he was hospitalized. But the prosecutor appealed the ruling, and the appellate judges insisted that carrying a weapon must be related to an imminent and immediate threat. They sent the case back to the lower court with directions to convict.

    � In 1987 two men assaulted Eric Butler, a 56-year-old British Petroleum executive, in a London subway car, trying to strangle him and smashing his head against the door. No one came to his aid. He later testified, "My air supply was being cut off, my eyes became blurred, and I feared for my life." In desperation he unsheathed an ornamental sword blade in his walking stick and slashed at one of his attackers, stabbing the man in the stomach. The assailants were charged with wounding. Butler was tried and convicted of carrying an offensive weapon.

    � In 1994 an English homeowner, armed with a toy gun, managed to detain two burglars who had broken into his house while he called the police. When the officers arrived, they arrested the homeowner for using an imitation gun to threaten or intimidate. In a similar incident the following year, when an elderly woman fired a toy cap pistol to drive off a group of youths who were threatening her, she was arrested for putting someone in fear. Now the police are pressing Parliament to make imitation guns illegal.

    � In 1999 Tony Martin, a 55-year-old Norfolk farmer living alone in a shabby farmhouse, awakened to the sound of breaking glass as two burglars, both with long criminal records, burst into his home. He had been robbed six times before, and his village, like 70 percent of rural English communities, had no police presence. He sneaked downstairs with a shotgun and shot at the intruders. Martin received life in prison for killing one burglar, 10 years for wounding the second, and a year for having an unregistered shotgun. The wounded burglar, having served 18 months of a three-year sentence, is now free and has been granted �5,000 of legal assistance to sue Martin.

    There has to be a tremendous lode of irony to be mined from this sad state of affairs, though only a certified and trained professional ironist should attempt it.