My New Favorite Website: SniffPetrol

Hilarious. I just discovered a totally irreverent, satire filled, and damn funny British car blog. Apparently, it is quite well known in the UK, but, well, I'm not in the UK.

http://www.sniffpetrol.com

Here is a article spoofing the Toyotagate recall:

GOD FORCED TO RECALL HUMANS

Sniff, Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Posted in News

Mr God, yesterday

Mr God, yesterday

There was bad news for God this week as the well-known deity was forced to recall thousands of examples of His popular Human Being after reports that the model could be prone to unexpected attacks of unbelievable stupidity.

Initial reports of blithering idiocy emerged from the United States last year but these were thought to be isolated incidents caused by people who are so thick that if a floormat was touching their accelerator pedal would prefer to scream ‘Aaaaaaargh’ until they drove into a river rather than simply moving the mat backwards with their foot. However, it now seems the monumental stupidity is more widespread and may cause some Human Beings to decide that the best course of action in the event of being in a car with a throttle that won’t release is to telephone someone rather than to, for example, put the fucking car into neutral and bring it to a halt using the brakes as normal.

Jesus Christ, a member of the original God family who now runs his Father’s business, is expected to make a full statement shortly. In the meantime, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a senior manager at God’s UK operation, has told reporters that there are almost certainly Human Beings here in Britain that will need to be examined for signs of being so sodding thick that they probably shouldn’t have a driving licence in the first place. “It’s too early to say how this might affect people in the UK,” Mr Canterbury is quoted as saying. “But we have every reason to believe that there are some Human Beings that may being so brain fartingly stupid that if the throttle in their car became stuck, they would never think simply to depress the clutch and coast to a halt”.

However, it is understood that God’s representatives in the UK are keen to manage any recall as quickly and efficiently as possible, thereby minimising the number of mithering suburban twats who ring in to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 and witter on about how they’re too scared to drive their Yaris to such a blindingly crass degree that listeners eventually start to get a sense of what it would be like if the editor of the Daily Mail did a stool into a syringe and then used it to inject vile reactionary shit into their ears.

As God seeks to clarify the extent of the stupidity problem and establish how many Human Beings will need to be recalled, theologians have been assessing just what has caused the problem of quite extraordinarily thick behaviour in the first place. “I suspect the problem lies in the rather clever engineering God has given the Human Being,” noted Dr Peter Peter Cockandballs of St Gobain College, Oxford. “The modern Human Being is actually remarkably durable and reliable, capable of lasting well over 80 years, but among its clever systems is something called Cognitive Reasoning. Normally this works very well, but over time Human Beings get used to being spoon fed blindingly obvious information such as those signs on motorways that say ‘fog’, and eventually they can just give up trying to have any discernment or ability to think rationally. Basically, the Human Being becomes a stupid moron. Hence the popularly of ITV’s Loose Women”.

James Cameron Drinks too much Avatar Juice

Ok, I loved the movie Avatar. Saw it twice, in IMAX. It is probably my most memorable movie experience of all time (up there with first seeing the Matrix and Jurrasic Park).

I also really liked the story. Sure, it had.. similarities.. to Pocahontas. And the evil greedy corporate types were.. evil and greedy. But I dont really care about that when I am watching a movie. Maybe it was because I was an english major (I know... odd when you think about it) but I get tired of analyzing and looking for meaning instead of just reveling in the spectacle and pure enjoyment.

However, it seems Mr. Cameron has been having a little too much Pandora Delight. He's started to complain about his tail, tried to bond with his private jet, and made this statement:

"Nothing is going to change until we properly price carbon. Right now gas is $3 a gallon at the pump. In my perspective, gas is $15 or $20 a gallon if you fully burden it with the cost of all of these big military actions, the overall consequences to the economy and the long term costs of climate change."


Ok, the first two were not real, but the statement is. WTF? Are you out of your mind? Did you honestly just take the cost of the Iraq war, divide it by number of gallons consumed in the US, and come out with a number? Because I could make up all kinds of shit then. BMW's would be seriously freaking expensive, since we had to fight a global conflict and have millions die just so that we could get access to that German engineering. And French wine? Well its expensive now, but let me tell you that once you count in the cost of breaking Napoleon's Continental System just so that he would ship us the good stuff once again, damn we are talking a few thousand (inflation adjusted) dollars a bottle.

Not to mention the cost of Vietnamese... um.. of Vietnamese... of.. what the f? You're telling me we invaded their country and there was not EVEN ANYTHING WORTH BUYING FROM THEM??? What were we doing there? Seriously people. Get with the program.

James Cameron - don't worry, they are not going to blow up Home Tree. I repeat, simmer down, Home Tree is safe, HOME TREE IS SAFE!

The funny thing is, I agree there should be a price on carbon. Its a pollutant, there is a cost from pollution, there should be a cost to pollute. Simple. Its a market, and the objective is setting a reasonable price that achieves positive outcomes.

But really, $15-$20 a gallon? Come on. Really? Really? Reaally? We all know that's just ridiculous. Hell, that would mean Exxon would make about $50 billion in profit... per quarter. Whose side are you really on here James? Unless of course you want there to be a $17 tax on $3 of gasoline. But what happened the last time gasoline prices spiked (to the shocking price of $4 a gallon)? Oh yeah - a global recession.

I hate it when arguments (I support) are blown way out of scale. It opens them up to ridicule and greatly decreases the chance that they can be proven and accepted. The IPCC's ridiculous claims about climate change brought it climategate and the disbelief of a large chunk of the global population. This kind idiotic bullshit statement about gasoline has the same effect.

If you said gasoline should be $4 maybe $5 a gallon. Ok, lets have that debate, lets have that discussion. If you said we should adopt the EU system of taxing cars differently based on their emissions, ok, thats interesting, lets see where that goes (secession of Texas anyone...). But to say we should figure the cost of any war fought in an oil-producing region into the cost of oil is just downright idiotic.

James, you make great movies, but other than that, STFU.

First Images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory

Launched less than three months ago to look at the sun, the SDO is already giving some absolutely incredible pictures of the big hot mamma. I am sure that the science is good to.

Seriously, you just need to watch this. Incredible.

UK May not have a majority Govt.

Right now, it is looking like the Liberal Democrats (typically a small party) might have enough votes to prevent either Conservatives or Labour enough votes to make a majority government (and pick a Prime Minister). This would be the first time this has happened in the more or less two party UK system since 1974. At that time, new elections were called within months (the UK Parliamentary system can have elections whenever necessary, or in fact, whenever the Queen feels like it, as long as it happens at least once every five years (unless this is extended in a time of crises, the one thing the House of Lords still has veto power over). Alternately, if the PM asks, the monarch does not actually have to dissolve parliament).

So.... we might be seeing a coalition government. Which is another way of saying a weak government which will not get anything done and is likely to collapse.

Which is probably a good thing actually - at least the not getting anything done part. The less the government is able to do the better.

Gridlock! Huzzah, Huzzah, Huzzah!

United Continental

Ugh. I hate united, but really like Continental. Continental was the last of the big US airlines that did not hate you for showing up to travel with them. On Delta/US/United I always feel like I should be apologizing for causing inconvenience to employees by actually showing up and getting on the plane. Continental at worst treated you with a benign indifference and at best was actually pretty helpful and positive.

But now, they have been bought by United.

Which simply furthers my quest to fly, whenever possible, on JetBlue, Southwest, or Virgin.

The Daily Show on Tea Party and the media

I think the Daily show is hilarious. I dont always agree with John Stewart, but I think his premise is actually quite similar to mine - cutting through the crap of modern politics, media, and public opinion. As well as just taking about interesting and random crap.

He is probably one of the less biased "news" shows out there, though he is comedian. He is obviously intelligent, and once you understand where he is coming from, almost all of his segments are hilarious, and often well done.

For example - this is well worth the watch, as is most of his coverage of the Tea Party movement and the media around it (which has generally been ridiculous - focused only on the 'crazies' - he has another segment on that as well).


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Nationwide Tax Protests
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Immigration

Arizona recently passed a very strict anti-illegal-immigration law which is the toughest ever seen in this country. More or less, it encourages a police state where racial profiling is allowed. Everyone is up in arms, and the Democrats have sacrificed the energy bill they have been working on for the last few months (along with Republican Graham) in order to move immigration to the top of the list.

As someone who believes deeply in freedom, it might be expected that I think the law is a travesty. I don't.

The issue is this: states need to be able to control immigration in order to maintain their responsibilities to their citizens. You cannot allow free and open immigration, it would be destructive to the developed nations of the world, with the overall outcome being very much negative.

The US has long relied on a certain level of illegal immigration to help the economy, provide low paying jobs that keep the US competitive in certain areas and keep prices down, and acts as a subsidy for the incredibly mismanaged and heading-for-bankruptcy Social Security program. You see the thing is, these are always quoted as the reasons illegal immigration needs to be more or less allowed, but really what they are arguments for is much better regulation and administration. Stop illegal immigration, but allow work visas. Have programs where those consistently working in the US, with clean records etc, can eventually apply for naturalization. And of course, completely rebuild Social Security, because we are pretty much all screwed on that one even with the pay-in of illegal workers.

The second argument is really more of a feeling which no one talks too much about - we are a nation of immigrants, how can we turn anyone down? Well - we can, and we have to. We are now a mature state with a welfare system and now nationalized healthcare. Allowing huge levels of immigration would seriously harm the economy. For reference, and I think this is relatively fair, see what happened when Germany recombined the 2nd world East Germany with the 1st world West Germany.

So what about this bill? Well, the fundamental premise that state cops are allowed to deal with illegal immigration seems pretty damn sensible to me. Why should they be banned from dealing with it? It is not an issue that affects states? Are states not stakeholder in whether illegal immigrants are living in their state? Basically, this premise makes sense to me. The law does actually require probable cause - so the myth of the Latino family going out for a drive and getting pulled over and then kicked out of the state because someone forgot a driver's license is just that: a myth. Or at least it should be, though I acknowledge the possibility of abuse, it give no more power to State cops than federal cops and agents currently have. Then again, I dislike many state cops and think a large percentage of them have very twisted views of reality... so perhaps abuse of the law is likely, but I have to go with the grounds here that State cops, with probable cause, should be able to enforce the prevention of illegal activity. Flawed as cops are, that is their whole purpose of being after all.

But from then on it all goes really wrong.

First, it imposes strict immigration regulation without first establishing a new and better alternative (work visas etc) because, well, that does have to be done at the national level. So what you have here pretty much comes across (and may indeed be linked to) racism, nationalism, nativism and maybe some other unhelpful isms from dark corners of men's minds: lets just kick out the people we don't like.

Second, is that the bill goes too far. Letting State police treat illegal immigration as illegal immigration does at some point make sense. I can't think of another category of illegal activity that State officers are required to turn a blind eye to. But the bill then goes on to do crazy things, like tell citizens to sue their counties if they don't think enough is being done on illegal immigration.

So in the end you have a law that pushed it too far in a state dominated by conservative republicans. Shocking. Even McCain, whose seat is in jeopardy, came out in favor of this thing. Oh how far you have fallen ex-Maverick.

This is one of those stupid State vs. Federal govt. moments, and I feel a lot more coming on. Much of this country cannot (quite rightly) stand the current administration, just as much of it could not stand the one before. The state went too far one way, the Federal government may go too far the other. We shall see.

Jon Stewart Hammers Apple

An apple employee lost the prototype to the next iPhone. Someone with limited morals found it, offered it to Engadget (they refused) so then sold it to the 2nd largest tech site (now maybe the largest with all this traffic), Gizmodo, for $5,000.

Apple then got really pissed, and got the police on the case, to the point of breaking down the door to a Giz editor's house and confiscating his computers etc.

Funny that I just wrote a long piece about how trying to use a stick to bludgeon the internet into submission is pretty much an idiotic thing to try and do. Well, Apple, which has a history of treating everyone, especially customers, like shit and yet being loved for it, just got turned on by Jon Stewart. Which is not a good thing for a company which relies on basically his audience to sell its overpriced wares.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Appholes
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Obamacare is scarier than the Patriot Act

Liberals and libertarians and even crazy conservatives (the don't touch me kind) all rallied against the Patriot Act. Because it was a piece of legislation that gave the Federal Govt. unprecedented powers to peer into your life, and maintain a police state.

And yet - do you know what ObamaCare is based on? It is based on the premise that the Federal government has the right to regulate actions you don't take. Because actions you don't take can fall under the commerce clause.

Most people seem ok with the idea that this allows the government to regulate your decision to not buy health insurance. As this is what the bill does. It makes sure everyone is covered by regulating that they have to buy health insurance. What if I told you that if you applied the same principle to other areas, the government could regulate your decision to not buy a car? Not buy a house? Not buy a car from GM? Not buy a house with a loan from Fannie Mae? Or you are simply not purchasing enough, and in order to save the economy, all citizens must spend 15% of their annual income on non-staple goods. Make that American made non-staple goods. Scaring you yet?

Sure, you say that is ridiculous. When Medicare was passed, mandating that every American must buy health insurance would have been laughed out of town. The founding fathers would have had heart attacks at the notion of federal personal income tax, let alone automatic deductions. And don't mistake all this for progress. Some of it is, some of it is just bloat, the natural process of a government to seek additional power over its people, unless held in check (hence that little constitution thing the Obamessiah has seemingly forgotten).

It is the notion that the Federal government can regulate the "decision" to NOT DO SOMETHING as an economic action. This gives the government more or less unlimited power.

Thankfully, this country has the Supreme Court. And people started to realize that the bill would be struck down if it was passed under the commerce clause, so at the last minute the Democrats changed tactics and instead called the House bill a tax, which it isn't. But the Senate bill was passed under the auspices of the commerce clause.

It is likely that the Supreme Court will not accept this new covering of the ass, and will strike down a fair portion or all of the bill (depending on how much the current Administration tries to shake down the court - separation of powers is for non-deities after all).

Its always a good plan to keep a few Philosopher Kings in your back pocket, never know when a demagogue is going to run rampant. But really, if they do not strike this down quite aggressively, this country is going to be in deep shit. Most Americans do not realize the extent to which the constitution keeps them safe from the abuses of government. If this bill is allowed to stand, the constitution truly will have become a historical artifact rather than basis of government.


I would suggest reading this article, which prompted this post and goes into a lot more detail about how and why the bill is constitutional neither as a tax nor under the commerce clause:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704446704575206502199257916.html?mod=rss_opinion_main

HP buys Palm

HP agreed to buy Palm for $1.2 billion.

Which is friggin awesome.

I have made no bones about the fact that I love webOS and my Palm Pre. As in I think that it is by far the best mobile OS currently in existence (and I have the support of a lot of the tech news world on that one - though the Pre hardware gets knocks vs some of the competition).

And now - Palm will have the money, support, and scale to build lots of fantastic phones with great hardware across a range of devices, all running webOS.

HP has said that it will "double down" on webOS, and also that they like its ability to "scale." Which basically means we will be seeing a webOS tablet PC, which is fantastic. HP is of course the world's largest computer maker, and one that I quite like. I have three HP computers, and all of them have treated me well. HP has moved away from the PDA/smartphone market, but obviously now recognizes that you can no longer be a major 'computer' maker and not make smartphones (small computers that happen to make phone calls). They do still currently make iPaq phones (I thought they had stopped...) but sell them only to enterprise customers as far as I can tell, and they all run Windows Mobile 6.x = crap.

I have to say, I am really happy with this outcome. A webOS tablet would be sweet, mostly because of one major distinction vs. the iPad: multitasking. Real, legit, multitasking. You know, like you use your real computer for. Right now, this laptop has 14 programs open, my Pre has 6 open, and I can hardly imagine using a computer one program at a time. Not to mention that webOS is beautifully easy to navigate and understand (as in it takes no time at all - and you dont need program managers or anything like that).


Basically, I can't wait for a new wave of webOS devices with more and fancier harware, not to mention a webOS tablet. A Pre v.2 with a larger screen, the Pre+ internals but with a 1gHz chip instead of 600mHz and running on Sprint's 4G network would be my #1 order of the day. That would be sweet.

But there is a lot more to offer. From Engadget:
"The future possibilities are endless: netbooks / netvertibles that dual boot webOS and Windows or even run webOS as a software layer, pure webOS tablets / smartbooks that get hours of battery life, webOS smartphones that dock into HP touch PCs and share their apps and settings -- hell, we'd even love to see HP take its touchscreen printer line to the next level with a healthy dose of webOS. Talk about the world's first web-connected printer."

But really - this also means the growth of webOS across multiple platforms and as a legitimate contender to Windows Phone 7, Android, iPhone OS, and Blackberry and Nokia assuming those two ever get their act together.

w00t w00t

Speeding Tickets from Space

This is just seriously creepy and screwed up. And I have no idea how this can be cost effective. No to mention, and this is a massive pet peeve of mine, the fact that these tickets basically have to be issued just for speeding, while speeding DOES NOT EQUAL driving unsafely. I had a 75yr old woman driving in front of me today, wobbling over two lanes and then randomly slowing down and speeding up until putting her right blinker on and turning right four roads later. This is unsafe driving (people over the age of 70 are 4 times more likely to be at fault in accidents which lead to death), but no cop will ever, ever, pull her over. But if I was doing 78 in a 65 on a clear day on an empty road in a good car with good brakes and good tires, I could get a ticket, and have gotten tickets. WTF.

Anyway, here is the article.

http://scitech.blogs.cnn.com/2010/04/22/satellites-to-issue-speeding-tickets-from-space/?hpt=T2

April 22, 2010

Satellites to issue speeding tickets from space

Posted: 03:14 PM ET

From our content partner Mashable:

UK drivers had better stay under that speed limit, because the traffic authorities are watching… from outer space. According to The Telegraph, an American company called PIPS Technology has developed a system that uses two cameras on the ground and one mounted on a satellite in orbit to catch speeders.

The system - called “SpeedSpike” - figures your average speed between two points, captures an image of your license plate and reports you if you’re going faster than the law allows. Oh, and if you’re hoping Great Britain’s notoriously gray weather will save you, you’re out of luck; the system works even when it’s cloudy or dark.

SpeedSpike will be tested in two places: the London borough of Southwark, and along the A374 between Torpoint and Anthony in Cornwall. If the trial is successful, the tech may be used to enforce speed limits near schools, to reduce the need for speed bumps, and for “main road enforcement for traffic reduction.”


whatthefuckasaurus

Brand Protect

Frankie sent me this one, and I find it interesting. It is a company which promises to help brands deal with the risks, dangers, copyright abuses, and attacks of web 2.0 - bloggers, facebook groups, twitter, etc etc.

http://www.brandprotect.com/

I do find it kind of amusing, since I just read Boomsday by Christopher Buckley, which was a fantastic book (and the sequel to Thank You for Smoking") and in it one of the products that makes billions for a soulless character is one that hides webpages you dont like from Google and other search engines.

I dont disagree with the notion of these companies, but I worry about consequences and tactics. Though it is increasingly the case - as with online shopping ten years ago - that we are seeing the emergence of a few giants of the online world who really have most of the volume, too often this will still be a mismatch which is easy to abuse. Send in one scary letter form letter from the legal department - and a post/article/comment disappears. Even places like Gawker Media dont have that much money behind them, and a lot of "new media" (like BoN) is just individuals. However, the internet is also something of a self leveling playing field: if companies like this get too aggressive, blogs etc will just write about them - in the same way that tech blogs regularly post legal letters from various big companies.

In the end, the best way for big companies to deal with web 2.0 is to embrace it. There are two good examples of this I recently read about, and one massive fail (all related to car companies).

The first is that GM has now created a task force (only about 6ppl so far) to search the web for customer complaints (generally dealing with newish vehicles) and try and figure out what they can do to help. This is a good thing.

The second is the case of Hyundai dealer who tried to screw and eBay buyer out of getting the car they bought on eBay at the price they paid for it. It is actually worth the read - so I will put it here (from Autoblog):

"Glenn Hyundai of Lexington, Kentucky placed a slightly used Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T on eBay Motors. There was no reserve, and a gencoupe.com forum member named McFly made a bid of $16,125 and won the auction (here's a PDF of the auction in case the eBay link goes dead).

Not a bad price, especially as the Gen Coupe in question had less than 5,000 miles on it and costs over $22,000 when new. McFly then secures financing from his bank to pay for the Coupe, makes the necessary travel arrangements to go pick up his car (he doesn't live in Kentucky) and calls the dealer to put down a deposit with his credit card. This is when things begin to go bad. We'll let McFly take it from here:

I talk to the front desk secretary, ask her how to make my deposit for an Internet Sales deal I have, and she immediately transfers me to Eric Manley. I talk to Eric briefly and he laughs at me over the phone, "Sorry buddy but you're not getting it for that price, he says." I tell him it's a deal that I have worked out with the Internet Sales guy, and I'm ready to make the deposit. He laughs at me again, and says, "sorry buddy, not for that price." It's obvious that this guy knows nothing about it, but it's odd that he won't let me make my deposit. He's clearly either confused or not the right guy.

Tad tells me that he's the one that made the deal (listed the ebay auction), and there is no way I'm getting it for that price, and that he doesn't care about the Legal Binding Contract that they have (the ebay auction), I'm not getting the deal.

We argue back and forth for a while. He offers a Christmas card, and then a Turkey [sic] for compensation, while I tell him that I have a "Legal Binding Contract" from them and that I'm not going away until I get my car or some compensation for this headache that they've put me through." He then says, that "Sorry, car has already been sold, so you can't have it it's gone."

...He says "we're going around in circles, you're not getting the car that I don't have here to sell you, and definitely not for that price. You've had a few people hang up on you already, why continue this. Didn't I tell you I was the owner." All lies of course, as I tell him "No you told me that you were Tad, not Cy Dicken, and everyone has been real nice so far, no ones hung up on me."




Long story short, the buyer told a forum about it, the forum told the big car blogs (Autoblog, Jalopnik, The Truth About Cars), and the public in general got good and pissed off (I wrote in my own short pissed email to the dealer).

Jalopnik spoke to Internet Manager Eric Manley, who said, "I don't know what the kid's problem is other than he's a little psycho." He's also threatened to sue the buyer because of "slander" and claims he "lost his mind.' - this is the kind of thing I that would worry me about "brand protect" - but as I said before, the internet has a way of dealing with assholes. The story on Autoblog alone had about 3,000 "Diggs" - which is a hell of a lot.

More of the story:

Glenn Hyundai's lawyer called me (about 1 hr ago). He says that there have been numerous calls to the dealership today, and that I need to stop. I told him that I hadn't called since December (it was actually on 12/18/09 when I talked to Elizabeth McKinley about the last and final purchase order, which stated 'Not ebay internet price'). He said he found the information I posted on the internet, and to stop contacting the local news (which I haven't contacted, maybe someone else did, I don't know). He also asked that I take off all the information from the internet. If I don't comply that the dealership and he will take legal action. He asked me for my address so that he could send a formal letter requesting these things. He has my address, 'it's on the purchase order they faxed me,' I told him.

"Good news, Glenn Hyundai and I have come to an agreement. I am now taking the next step, and changing every one of my posts to reflect that 'This was a misunderstanding and we have come to an agreement.'

Then Autoblog posted: If you're still calling the dealership to voice your opinion, please stop. There are reports that McFly could be in danger of losing the deal if calls to the dealership continue.

McFly and the dealership reached a verbal agreement, but that agreement was then broken by the dealership. He retained a lawyer, and the internet went back into action, raining hate on the dealer.

And this is where Hyundai America stepped in and made the idiotic dealership just give the man his car, at the price he bought it for. Which made the internet happy, made the whole thing go away, and left everyone feeling good about Hyundai while hating the dealership. This is how big companies need to deal with these challenges - monitor them, and use them/see them as marketing opportunities.

The failure was the launch of the Honda Accord Crosstour - which will go down as a massive fail in the biz-school books. Basically, everyone was expecting something that looked like the European Accord (Acura TSX) wagon, but instead we got a boatload of butt-ugly. The reveal was done on facebook, and the comments were.... bad. Until someone from Honda--unofficially--got on there and started telling people they were all wrong. Ermmm... bad move. The hating and bashing was not helped by this, and the product launch was a total failure. Though - as the Crosstour is really sold to old people and soccer mom's, this did not have a big effect on the product as some predicted it would.

So there you have it - the new web is a scary place for companies, and I understand the desire to turn to someone to try and manage it for you, but in almost all cases, the carrot is a much better option than the stick. The internet does not respond well to sticks.

Creepy....

This is just plain weird, and creepy.. and encourages (in my opinion) some sort of glory to dying in crime..

ghost-rider-1.jpg

David Morales Colón is a Puerto Rican man who passed away in a gun-related incident last week. And, instead of a traditional casket, is being displayed atop a motorcycle at his wake. Vroom vroom -- I'm comin' God!

Yesterday and today, callers who stopped to pay their final respects to the late Mr. Colón got a bit of a surprise. Instead of the traditional presentation of the body in a casket, Mr. Colón's corpse, dressed in casual duds and sunglasses, was instead posed in a very lifelike position atop his Repsol-liveried Honda CBR600 F4. According to Puerto Rico's Primera Hora newspaper, the motorcycle was given to the victim by his uncle, and upon Mr. Colón's untimely demise, family members delivered the bike to the funeral home specifically for this unusual wake.

GM's $4.7 billion govt loan repayment was paid with.. Govt. Loans

Hilarious.

This is the kind of bullshit you get when a government is running a company with a political aim (look - nationalizing industry and giving control to the unions does work!).

Turns out that the $4.7 billion that Government Motors paid back a week ago was actually from an escrow account using... government loans as a source of funding.

The govt. is coming out and saying that the govt. did nothing wrong by paying the govt. back with money from the govt. but it is pretty damn clear that the whole thing stinks like Al Gore's feet.

The money specifically came from TARP funds. Which means that GM really has paid back nothing. This administration is honestly the sleazyest most double-dealing and morally corrupt administration that I have ever seen. At least with Billy Bob Clinton you knew you were dealing with an operator, somehow the Obama administration simultaneously claims to be clean while continuously abusing their rights, powers, the constitution, the beliefs and decisions of the American public, and basic morality.

Ohhh... I forgot. They are doing it all for our good, because we don't what is best for ourselves. Forgot about that part.

ROV tries to activate Blow Out Preventer for Deepwater Horizon


Graphic of ROV on seabed

Cape Wind

Cape Wind just got approval from federal regulators, as it is a pet project of the democrats and a leading contender for shoving green energy up America's ass.

Cape Wind has been fought over for the last 9 years, and this is not just conservatives vs eco-hippies. In this case, there are environmental groups on both sides, because Cape Wind will provide clean energy - but it will also provide a deathtrap for local bird populations as well has have a pretty significant impact on the local ecology.

And this is where Cape Wind starts to get stupid. It is a land grant giveaway in order to produce enough energy to power 75% of the needs of... Nantucket, Cape Cod, and Martha's Vineyard. In other words, almost nothing. But it is projected to cost $1 billion dollars (for a controversial first-of-kind clean build. In Massachusetts.Which means it will cost $2-5 billion or so.)

One of my main points on this blog is that most people think too small. This is a perfect example. It is a matter of resources and potential. Nantucket sound is used by a lot people for boating recreation, etc. Not to mention used by a lot of birds for flying, and not getting chopped in half. And yet, what does this country have a lot of? Energy. Specifically, nuclear and coal.

Lets start with nuclear. It is the only clean energy available today which can actually power all of America. Easily. Wind and solar at this point are a joke. 75% of a peninsula and two small islands? What is that, like powering a block of NYC? Instead, at much lower cost, you could build a modern, safe, nuclear reactor which powers half of New England with energy costing 1/4 as much (not to mention baseline power). Oh yeah, and the only waste product would be limited nuclear waste - which there are options for dealing with, and regardless has become a much bigger issue than it should be, and steam. Damn, that steam can really hurt the environment.

Then lets talk about coal. Right now, it ain't clean. But in 10 years, we should have full effective CCS (carbon capture and storage). Then the question becomes - what the hell to do with all that carbon. Well - remember your high school bio classes? - CO2 is actually what plants, and algae, live on. They like it, a lot. To them, oxygen is a waste gas (its why we live so well together). So you take the CO2, feed it to special algae, and voila, you have biodiesel. So what is now a downside to coal becomes, in 20-30years, a viable commodity feedstock to create renewable fuel. Isn't science wonderful.

What isn't wonderful is when the public and politicians get hold of the wrong end of the stick, and hammer an idiotic plan through that does very little, costs a lot, and acts mostly to "green" up an already over-budget and idiotically mismanaged state. This is the state equivalent of buying a Prius.

Top 10 Ways Human Civilization Could End

No, I did not just finish reading On the Beach, watching Mad Max or playing Fallout 3 (though I enjoy all of the above).

Specifically, this came about because of Eyjafjallajokull (which is, incidentally, my middle name). I started to think about volcanoes - big ones. Ones that make Eyjafjallajokull look like a pimple on the face of a 13yr old girl. Volcanoes like the Lake Toba eruption which likely lead to the emergence of modern man. And then I though - gee - what else could do this... and here we are.

Most of these will not end life on earth. Life on earth is a hell of a lot hardier than the dominant species. So even if mankind goes the way of the Whatthefuckasaurus, life will probably stick around. Turns out that crows are nearly as intelligent as humans (more on that later) - so I am betting on them to take over after we are gone.
http://itp.nyu.edu/projects_documents/1176151461_crow-soccer.jpg
-They decided to adopt some of our human sports

The chances of each of these happening is very very small. But together, the chance of human civilization ending is... still basically 0% if you were paying attention to all that significant digit crap, man I always hated that.

So, starting off:

10) Astrophysics decides to kill us

Astrophysics is a decidedly nasty field of science. We dont really know how a lot of it works, but we know a lot of it could kill us. In this case - I am talking about two possibilities: 1) that the laws of science do something funky and we all end up dead, or 2) Humans do something funky to figure out the laws of science, and we all end up dead.

In the first category, there is about a 1% chance, that Mercury's orbit could be made unstable by Jupiter, sometime during the lifespan of the sun. Simulations suggest a collision with Earth as one of four possible outcomes (the others being colliding with the Sun, colliding with Venus, or being ejected from the solar system altogether). If this were to happen, all life on earth would obliterated. Seriously, all of it, even the crows.

There is also the possibility of a Vacuum metastability event. Which means this: "The possibility that we are living in a false vacuum has been considered. If a bubble of lower energy vacuum were nucleated, it would approach at nearly the speed of light and destroy the Earth instantaneously, without any forewarning." There are actually a lot of variations on this one, all based around the idea of that we are not living in a four dimensional world, but rather something a lot more exotic, and exciting. As we all know, "exotic and exciting" can also leave you broke and nursing a hangover from too many sugary drinks, or in this case lead to the collapse of the universe. One of the ways this could happen is if the fine people building particle accelerators do something to puncture this quite nice vacuum/brine/hologram/fisher price view master we are all living in.

http://i55.photobucket.com/albums/g136/youngcaps/ViewMaster_red_with_reel.jpg

Other options in this category include, but are not limited to:
- Our galaxy or solar system getting too close to a black hole and deciding that it was just going to dip its toe in, just to see what it feels like, only then realizing seconds too late it is caught in a multi-million year agonizing inescapable spiral of death

- Radiation: "A gamma ray burst or other devastating blast of cosmic radiation. One especially deadly hypothesized source is a hypernova, produced when a hypergiant star explodes and then collapses, sending vast amounts of radiation sweeping across hundreds or even thousands of lightyears of space. Hypernovas have never been observed; however, a hypernova may have been the cause of the Ordovician-Silurian extinction events. The nearest hypergiant is thought to be Eta Carinae, approximately 8,000 light-years distant." In other words, the Earth has probably been inter-stellar microwaved before, and it could be again.

- A drastic and unusual decrease or increase in Sun's power output; alternately a solar superstorm leading to partial/complete electrical/technological death of human civilization. Too much = bad. Too little = bad. The human race is pretty much Goldilocks.

- Abrupt geomagnetic reversal and/or drastic decrease of magnetic field of the planet Earth. Consequences can be the same as in the cases of cosmic radiation or solar radiation blasts. Why that is, I have no damn idea. But supposedly this could wipe us out, rather than just make it a nuisance to navigate by a compass.. "Goddamn it, we hit Antarctica again."

- The solar system passing through a cosmic dust cloud, leading to a severe global climate change. Sort of like biblical blocking out the sun, just less pro-Jewish.

9)An exceptionally devastating hypercane (hypercane is to hurricane as Chuck Norris is to Joe Lieberman) probably combined with global dust storm, taking up to the atmosphere enormous quantities of dust. This leads to the same doom and gloom the dinos went through. Waking up each morning and finding out that not only do you have just the crumbs left in the bottom of the box of Rasin Bran, but also that the Earth is getting about 50% less sunlight than it needs to survive. In this scenario it is essentially guaranteed that crows take over the earth.
http://farm1.static.flickr.com/18/24057125_4028cf1e4a.jpg

8) Severe climate change, due to pretty much anything. Solar shifts, changing ocean currents, humanity destroying what it touches, etc etc. Generally, this could lead to all sorts of bad things which I recommend you ask your local hippie about (they can be frequently found at thrift stores, Whole Foods, and community organized events. They can also been seen driving small, older yet reliable and generally fuel efficient cars. Avoid people in Priuses - this means they have lots of money, large houses, and believe being green means great looking bamboo floors shipped from China).

7)A cybernetic revolt. Think iRobot, then take away Will Smith. Or Terminator, but take away the Connors, and Arnold after he turns to the good side. Its like that. Or basically - in the long run it is the Matrix, which turned into the worst sequels of all time because in the end, the fucking robots basically win. WTF. But yeah...

In the not too distant future we will reach the singularity, and will create a computer which is more intelligent than man. Though really - I think this has a fair way to go, it is still a distinct possibility. Assuming we then give that computer, or network, access to and control over sufficient resources in order to take us on - for "our own good" or otherwise - human society then gets taken over by our creation. Caveat Deum.

6) Polarity shift
An abrupt repositioning of Earth rotation axis. It could be caused by extremely powerful internal geological or/and external cosmic factors. If it happens abruptly (and not slowly within a very prolongated interval of time) it will generate enormous multiple earthquakes, multiple volcano eruptions, a hypercane or multiple megacyclones, giant tidal waves and megatsunamis all around the globe. In other words - giant surfboard city ships at the ready, this one is going to be fun .

5) Armageddon. As in the movie. But without space cowboys and a lot more like the BP rig fail that is actually going on right now. From wikipedia: "An impact event causing a collision (or extremely close passage) of a large meteorite, asteroid or comet. A common theory postulates that the extinction of the dinosaurs occurred approximately 65 million years ago as a result of the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event when a large asteroid struck the earth, producing atmospheric dust which blocked solar energy and caused a significant lowering of temperatures worldwide("nuclear winter"). Evidence for this theory includes a sedimentary layer of iridium in the geological record and a large crater in the area of Chicxulub, Mexico. The Tunguska event (1908) was on a much smaller scale. In the case of a close passage of an object(a large asteroid, comet or planet) with a significant gravitational impact on Earth, the consequences could be the same as in the case of an abrupt repositioning of Earth rotation axis. And such a repositioning of the axis would not necessarily have to take place for the earth to see the same global effects."

Long story short - it does not even need to hit us in order to completely destroy human society.

4) Supervolcanoes
A "supervolcano" refers to any volcano capable of throwing out at least 300 cubic kilometres of magma during an eruption, sort of like Long Island getting blown up. At least one of these beasts explodes every 100,000 years or so, the geological record suggests.... and... the last one blew up 74,000 years ago... hmmmm... aww crap. That was the Toba eruption, which pretty much lead to the development of man as we know it - because it greatly reduced the amount of light available etc, the theory is that man had to work together as a social animal to survive, and do think like talk to each other.

A medium-sized super-eruption, releasing 1000 cubic kilometres of magma, would wreak the same devastation as a 1-kilometre-wide asteroid smashing into the Earth. The bad news is that such a super-eruption is five to 10 times more likely than an asteroid strike, according to a 2005 report by the Geological Society of London.

Previous super-eruptions have been linked to mass extinction events, such as the Permian mass extinction 250 million years ago, which wiped out more than 90 per cent of marine species and was associated with an eruption at the Siberian Traps. The eruption of the Deccan Traps in India, together with a meteorite impact, might even have finished off the dinosaurs.

There is no doubt that Earth will experience more super-eruptions. "It is not a question of 'if' - it is a question of 'when'," says Bill McGuire, director of the Aon Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College London.

Possible contenders for the next eruption include Yellowstone volcano in Wyoming, the Phlegrean fields volcano west of Naples, Italy, and Lake Taupo in New Zealand. However, there are many other areas where a supervolcano could one day pop up, including Indonesia, the Philippines, several Central American countries, Japan, the Kamchatka peninsula in eastern Russia, and even Europe (the area around Kos and Nisyros in the Aegean Sea might be a supervolcano).

As the recent research into the impact of the Toba eruption reveals, super-eruptions may not necessarily be as catastrophic as we fear. That said, a super-eruption would almost certainly devastate our civilisation. Unlike the humans living when Toba erupted, we depend on globalised trade and food production, with much reliance on air travel and space-borne communications, all of which would be severely knocked by a super-eruption.

Using similar considerations as they did for the Toba model, Hans Graf and his team at the University of Cambridge predict a Yellowstone super-eruption would cause the global temperature to drop by at least 1 °C. Several centimetres of ash would blanket all of North America. Oceans would become even more acidified and plant growth across the globe would be disrupted for several years.

The Geological Society of London's working group went one step further in 2005 when they described the impact of a generic super-eruption. "An area the size of North America or Europe could be devastated, and pronounced deterioration of global climate would be expected for a few years following the eruption. Such events could result in the ruin of world agriculture, severe disruption of food supplies, and mass starvation. The effects could be sufficiently severe to threaten the fabric of civilisation," they conclude.

So yeah - we dont want that to happen. The good news is that it would probably not wipe out all of human civilization. So, even though it is pretty likely, mankind would stick around, leaving this at number four on my list.

3) Ecology

An ecological disaster, such as world crop failure and collapse of ecosystem services, could be induced by the present trends of overpopulation, economic development, and non-sustainable agriculture. Most of these scenarios involve one or more of the following: Holocene extinction event, scarcity of water that could lead to approximately one half of the Earth's population being without safe drinking water, pollinator decline, overfishing, massive deforestation, desertification, climate change, or massive water pollution episodes.

A very recent threat in this direction is colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon that might foreshadow the imminent extinction of the Western honeybee. As the bee plays a vital role in pollination, its extinction would severely disrupt the food chain. Not to mention would be a cryin' shame, because honey is so damn delicious. But seriously, in China there are regions where they hand-pollinate fruit trees, so this specific threat is bad, but no the end of the world. On the other hand, I am a pretty firm believer that we are royally screwing up Earth's ecology, and give us a few hundred more years on the same course (before we learn to be completely sustainable) and the devastation could come back to bite us in the ass.

2) Pandemic

A less predictable scenario is a global pandemic. For example, if HIV were to mutate and become as transmissible as the common cold, the consequences would be disastrous. As in we all die disastrous. Either that - or we all become Mormon, which is pretty much just as bad.

It has been hypothesised that such an extremely virulent pathogen might not evolve, because, well, it is extremely virulent. A pathogen that quickly kills its hosts might not have enough time to spread to new ones, while one that kills its hosts more slowly or not at all will allow carriers more time to spread the infection, and thus likely out-compete a more lethal species or strain. We hope. This simple model predicts that if virulence and transmission are not linked in any way, pathogens will evolve towards low virulence and rapid transmission. However, this assumption is not always valid and in more complex models, where the level of virulence and the rate of transmission are related, high levels of virulence can evolve. The level of virulence that is possible is instead limited by the existence of complex populations of hosts, with different susceptibilities to infection, or by some hosts being geographically-isolated. The size of the host population and competition between different strains of pathogens can also alter virulence. Interestingly, a pathogen that only infects humans as a secondary host and usually infects another species (a zoonosis) may have little constraint on its virulence in people, since infection here is an accidental event and its evolution is driven by events in another species.

In other words, the most likely way we are going to all die from a pathogen is when it is transmitted by a species other than us. Prime contenders? Mosquitoes, rats, and of course, crows.

1) Nuclear war

Yeah - there really needs to be no discussion on this one. It is clearly the most likely way for everything on earth to very quick go from hunky dory to hunker down.

We have enough nuclear fissile material to end human live as we know it many times over. But we don't even need that much. An air-burst nuke set up to be an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) would destroy everything electronic... which would have pretty much the same effect. Option three is wrapping a nuke in cobalt to make a so called "salted" nuclear device, which creates a giant radiation cloud. Granted it would take 530 tons of cobalt and an equivalent size thermonuclear device to wipe out life on earth, but even a 2 ton bomb could render an entire region (US East Coast, Beirut etc) uninhabitable. The Israelis have supposedly designed and built just such a bomb.

Of course, in my mind the reason this is number one is because all it relies on is humans wanting to do it. All the other possibilities are either unintended consequences or events unrelated to mankind in any way. Nuclear winter could be caused by Putin getting road-rage over where the Chinese embassy decided to park their limo.

The upshot is that I think it is unlikely to completely wipe out human civilization. The downside is that I think it is pretty damn likely that nuclear devices will again be used in anger or conflict in the future.

The Enemy is... PowerPoint

PowerPoint is a great tool. When used in moderation. Interesting article today in the NYT about how there is a backlash against the overuse of powerpoint within the military. Though the slide that brought this about is a spaghetti bowl organizational chart, the real issue is bullets.

Which brings me to this fantastic quote:
“Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
- General McMaster

Hell of a quote, and a hell of a name.

I can see how the rigid regularity of ppt goes oh so well with the military, to the point that it stifles original thinking and problem solving. I think we need to move past PowerPoint v1.0 (honestly - have they really changed much in years?) and move on towards using it as an informative tool. Slides should have far fewer bullet points, and instead be focused on informative graphics and media which cannot be relayed through words.

Great article though - well worth the read:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html

Controlled Burn

Crazyness is going on in the Gulf.

There was the blowout on the BP operated Transocean rig, which I am sure you all know about.

But here are some of the kind of crazy parts you may not know about:

1) The blowout happened after they lined the bore hole with cement. Which basically never happens and should pretty much be impossible

2) They thought that the well was not leaking - then they found that it is. To the rate of 42,000gl a day (amazingly - according to Wolfram|Alpha, that is only 20% of the rate at which the SR-71 Blackbird consumes fuel while flying at Mach 3 - that is a crazy plane.)

3) The spill is heading for the wetlands of Louisiana, which account for about 40% of US wetlands



4) The wellhead is 5,000 feet down. Which is really, really far down. There is a safety valve (blowout preventer) at the wellhead - which is not working

5) The plan to deal with the spill, currently, is to set it on fire. This would protect the wetlands, burn off 50%-90% of the oil, and make for a great sequel to Waterworld

6) The first plan to capture the leaking oil is a giant tent or dome over the wellhead - which is pretty crazy, but is only 2-4 weeks away

7) The long-term plan is to bore in from about 1/2 a mile away, and try and cap the well

8) BP, honestly, could not have had worse timing, the with the new administration warming up to more offshore drilling, and a new energy bill recently proposed -this is just a bad time to be causing ecological disasters (not that there is a good time).

Norm wants

This little thing is friggin awesome. One of the best uses of RC robotics since Robot Wars went off the air (why the hell did that go off the air anyway?)

How long are you planning on keeping that hybrid?

Own a Toyota Prius? Do you plan on owning it for the next twenty years?

Because that is how long it will take for your purchase to make sense. Actually - that is assuming it holds its MPG rating and reliability for 20 years, which I am highly skeptical of (it being impossible without changing the battery at a minimum.)

A new report comes from the SF Chronicle about popular hybrids and their costs, and the time it takes to get save the money you paid upfront to buy a hybrid instead of an un-besmirched ICE counterpart.

Nissan Altima Hybrid - 21 years
Toyota POS Prius - 20 years
Honda Civic Hybrid - 17 years
Honda Insight - 16.5 years
Toyota Camry Hybrid - 15 years
Mercury Milan Hybrid - 13 years
Fod Fusion Hybrid - 5.6 years

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/04/22/investopedia43617.DTL

This is probably also a good time to mention that the Ford Fusion is also good looking and keeps wining comparison tests, gets similar MPGs to a Prius but is much larger and a much better car. But because it is not the instantly recognizable shape of a suppository designed to make you green, it has not been that popular. Perhaps if Ford made it smaller, crappier, and more obnoxious they would sell more of them.

On a related note - I am debating putting a "Hybrid" sticker on my tank/tahoe, as it now has a 1.8watt solar panel. Which equals 0.0024hp, or a little less than 1/100,000th of the output of the engine. I think the letters should be about a foot tall, have leaves growing out of them, and give me a sense of supremacy which lets me sit in the left lane at 67mph in 65 zone.

Earth Day Special: Iceland's Retribution

Iceland a year and a half ago went into meltdown because its highly leverage banks quickly lost capital and had to deleverage. The result was disaster, and as the tiny (population wise) nation's economy was based largely around banking (and fishing and tourism - but had been mostly banking at that point), the result was a destruction of the country's economy.
File:OMXI15.jpg

This is a graph of the OMX15 - the biggest 15 Icelandic companies (sort of a DOW and S&P500 rolled into one). The destruction was... err... total.

Sovereign debt was severely downgraded
Agency 29 Sept. 10 Oct.
Fitch A+ BBB–
Moody's Aa1 A1
R&I AA BBB–
S&P A– BBB







Many of the banks that defaulted did so mostly with foreign deposits - a lot of deposits specifically from Holland and especially the UK, where online Icelandic banking had become very popular.

Noises were made about not paying back the money, such as this statement from a Central Bank Governor "we [the Icelandic State] do not intend to pay the debts of the banks that have been a little heedless." The brits froze all the Icelandic banks assets they could, but were still left with not that much.

Quite a few shenanigans came out of the crises, with payments and govt. takeovers and mergers etc etc.

The long and the short of it is that England and the Netherlands demanded that they get their money back. From wiki:
"On August 28, 2009, Iceland's parliament voted 34-15 (with 14 abstentions) to approve a bill (commonly referred to as the Icesave bill) to repay the United Kingdom and the Netherlands more than $5 billion lost in Icelandic deposit accounts. Initially opposed in June, the bill was passed after amendments were added which set a ceiling on the repayment based on the country's Gross Domestic Product. Opponents of the bill argued that Icelanders, already reeling from the crisis, should not have to pay for mistakes made by private banks under the watch of other governments. However, the government argued that if the bill failed to pass, the UK and the Netherlands might retaliate by blocking a planned aid package for Iceland from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Under the deal, up to 4% of Iceland's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be paid to the UK, in sterling terms, from 2017-2023 while the Netherlands will receive up to 2% of Iceland's GDP, in euro terms, for the same period."

But at the same time, they got something else:
http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2010/04/21/article-1267663-0939D67A000005DC-119_634x822.jpg

A little Icelandic national natural present.

And so goes the Icelandic joke:
Holland and Britain asked Iceland to pay back the money it had borrowed. When Eyjafjallajokull erupted and closed down air traffic across much of Northern Europe, the Icelanders explained. "The letter C doesn't' exist in the Icelandic alphabet. So when you asked for 'cash' we could only send you 'ash.'

So yes - England should get back most of its $5 billion. After another $10 billion in losses or so.

p.s. no, I dont think that natural events are in any way tied to the financial sector. I just think is ironic, and pretty damn funny.

Social Spiders - Scary

http://scienceblogs.com/zooillogix/Social%20Cob%20Web%20Spiders.jpg
Communal Cobweb Spider - Anelosimus studiosus (Hentz, 1850)

No - these are not pictures from Indiana Jones. They are webs created by social spiders. That's right, spiders that like to live together, often by the thousands. Spiders are rarely known to work together, but there are a few species (about 20 out of 38,000) which just love their brothers and sisters. Its kind of like Thanksgiving, but the food flies or walks in. As you can see, these guys like to go big - the webs above were from Texas, where the main prey was, thankfully, mosquitoes. Others, such as the ones below, live in South America and catch prey individually and bring it back to the nest.

http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/ns/cms/dn9820/dn9820-1_600.jpg

Pretty wild behavior from a small bunch of arachnids.

Cheese

I like real cheese. Crumbly cheese. Cheese where breaking off a piece is a geologic process. Where a new chunk of cheese calves away from the mass like an iceberg crumbling away from the antarctic shelf.

Citi

For some reason I have latched on to Citi as the main financial company that I follow. It has also been one of my worst investments, and now one of my best investments.

As its shares tanked, I kept buying. The sad thing is, I started far too early, but then it bottomed out, I kept buying, and then I started putting money into calls. And they have done spectacularly well. A few days ago during the big rally, I sold my positions, and waited for a pullback. It came with the Goldman getting attacked by the SEC announcement, and I bought the largest option position I have ever held. Which basically makes me pretty damn nervous, but today, with Citi's announcement of actually making a profit, most of those nerves are gone.

Which brings me to the interesting part of the story. Citi is the last single company that I hold. I bought companies that I thought were wildly undervalued, and a few days ago in that big rally, I sold out of almost every position I had in individual companies, because they had rallied and were back to what I consider reasonable valuations. This was mostly SanDisk, Ford, Microsoft, RFMD, GE, Citi, and yes, even though I hate them, Golden Ballsacks (GS).

So now, I have leveraged sector ETFs, leveraged S&P and index investments, and my big Citi position. But thats about it. Investing at the bottom of the market, when valuations were ridiculous, was easy. But now I think we are dangerously close to sensible valuations, and that makes things a lot trickier. My personal inclination is to short gold, but since I dont really know a damn thing about gold other than the fact I think it is way overvalued due to the commodities run and then flight to quality of the last couple years, I am a little uneasy. I don't think it has a leg to stand on anymore, and I will follow that to an extent, but my main point here is that it seems we are approaching more of a "normal" market and less of a recovery, which makes things a little more complex.

Bumper sticker I actually want

Why I hate unions, and teachers: the NYC rubber rooms

NYC has a policy of putting teachers who suck at teaching, never show up to teach, are accused of sexual misconduct, or use drugs/abuse alcohol in "rubber rooms."

These are places where the teachers go and sit under supervision every day, and get full pay. Full freaking pay. To do nothing. Because they should be fired, but they can’t be because the teacher's unions make it practically impossible to fire a teacher. As in it costs millions of dollars in legal fees to just fire a teacher in NYC, and indeed in many parts around the country. I have taken flack among my friends (predominantly young and hard-working) about giving teachers a hard time, but teachers, like most unionized protected jobs, often completely abuse the system.

It is common that teachers in the NYC system spend between 2-3 years in the rubber rooms, and not infrequently 5-10 years sitting on full pay. This is because it takes so long to fire anyone, and is so damn near impossible, that it takes years and huge amounts of money to bring a case against a teacher with any chance of success. The teacher’s unions solution was always to claim that the city was simply not investing enough money. My solution would be to hire Maggie Thatcher as a consultant.

NYC has announced a landmark move to eliminate the rubber rooms, and do something with the 600 teachers who currently sit in them, a major step forward.

Except listen to this:
"Present occupants of the centres will have to wait until September until the new system comes into effect, but when it does those with minor cases will be given non-teaching jobs inside schools. Anyone facing criminal charges will be sent home without pay, and if sexual or financial misconduct is alleged they will be allowed to stay at home on full pay."

If you have committed sexual misconduct against a student, just head home, take some time off, no worries. We have you covered.

And the new system which will go into place?
"In new cases, charges must be brought within 60 days and hearings into their cases convened within a further 15 days of that, or the teacher will be entitled to return to the classroom."

Does anyone see anything wrong here? They did not change any of the damn union rules protecting teachers, and making it nearly impossible to fire them, all they did was change how much time the city had to bring charges. And if the city does not bring charges quickly enough, THE TEACHERS GET AWAY WITH WHATEVER THEY WANT.
whatthefuckasaurus

Honestly, what a screwed up system. I can't stand teachers unions, I can't stand unions, and I can't stand the fact that teaching is regarded as some protected holy right the with the mere act of teaching causing a halo of angelic pixi dust and lotus petals to spontaneously erupt out of your ass appear around your head. There are fantastic teachers out there who try really hard, many of them, hell it might even be the majority (though I personally doubt it). Those teachers, the ones who really are trying and are making a difference, would be much better off if we could create a better system.

Want to fix the system? Fire the bad teachers, fire the sex offenders, and make teaching competitive. You know, with things like bonuses, raises, promotions, competition, evaluation.

Or we could stick to the current system, and pay child molesters to stay at home on full pay, never fire anyone, and give raises based on seniority. That seems to be working well.

Which is exactly why when Florida recently tried to pass a bill that would tie teacher's salaries to the performance of their students, as well as bar recently hired teachers from getting tenure (so unfair! Guaranteed life employment or nothing!!), it was vetoed by the Governor after massive protests from Florida teachers. Because, you know, their jobs would be based on performance. The horror.

As a final note, US teachers work an average of 180 days a year, instead of 244 days for the rest of us. Which means, if you make the average $43,000 a year as a teacher, you are making the equivalent of $58,300 a year. Boo freaking hoo. Teachers generally fail to mention their 35% annual bonus.

Norm Corrects the News

If this works well - I am going to make it more of a regular feature. I read a lot of news (hence where a lot of the BoN comes from). At the same time, a lot of the news pisses me off, because it gets things wrong.

Norm does not like.

So, here we go:
1) The Aptera is not a car. They are getting a lot of press recently because they went under the radar for most of the last year. They are now back, and a lot of the press loves to talk about Aptera, I have seen it popping up all over the place.
http://streetknowledge.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/aptera_6.jpg

The thing is - this is not a car. It is actually classified as a motorcycle. Because it has three wheels, Aptera is gaming the system and claiming it needs to meet only motorcycle safety standards. Which, as far as I can tell, pretty much only means it does not come packed with explosives, and it has headlights.

2) The X-37B Spaceplane

The headline:
"Move over NASA. The U.S. Air Force has spent decades on the concept: an unmanned space plane that can be used to spy, reposition satellites, possibly even bomb targets, then return to base. A successful launch next week could turn that vision into a reality." - Nope. The X-37B was a NASA program until 2004 and then was taken over by the Air Force when NASA did not have the funding. The Air Force also paid a lot for the Space Shuttle - and that vehicle's payload capacity and bay size were largely dictated by the need to launch the Keyhole (Hubble's 12 identical twins that face Earth instead of space) satellites. So this is a) not really an Air Force program until recently and b) not at all, in any way, new. It is just a smaller automated shuttle which rides an Atlas V. Which is cool - but not nearly as interesting as the headline sounds.

"If all goes well, the X-37B will be the first unmanned space plane to complete an orbital mission." - wrong. The Russian copy of the Space Shuttle - called the Buran - did this very successfully back in 1988.

3) Goldman Sachs committed "fraud"
I can't stand Goldman Sachs. They really fucking piss me off. They are arrogant manipulative sons of bitches who use and abuse every opportunity they can to screw people over. They are well connected to many branches of the US govt (though it seems the Obama administration is now after them), and they constantly abuse their connections in order to cheat the US taxpayer and others. They are the worst of the worst when it comes to Wall Street, exemplifying a culture of greed that even I cannot agree with, as it is often based on manipulations of the system.

All of that said - they did not really commit fraud in the case being brought against them and Paulson. It was a shitty and shady deal, something which is pretty much standard for Goldman, but it should not be regarded as illegal. The thing was, investors should have known that the CDO's they were buying had more shit in them than a Wisconsin farm stream. Even if they didn't, and yeah the prospectives for CDOs were pretty much unintelligible, then they should have stayed the hell away. If you dont know what you are investing in, DON'T INVEST IN IT. Fergoddsake, that's some pretty basic advice.

Was it unbelievably shitty and immoral to have a hedge fund that is shorting the CDO's select securities for the CDO? Hell yeah. Most of Goldman is going to be rotting in the 4th-7th rings of hell for all eternity anyway. But is it illegal? No. Caveat Emptor.

Europe is Grounded

Volcanic ash rises from Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland

Volcanic ash rises from Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland. Photograph: Reuters

Planes across Europe remain grounded due to Eyjafjallajokul's eruption. As the BoN reported a few weeks ago, Eyjafjallajokull was erupting. What sites other than the BoN continue to fail to talk about is that Eyjafjallajokull (I love that name, I think my first born son will be called Eyjafjallajokull) serves as the blasting cap for the much bigger and scarier, and easier to pronounce, Katla.

Other fun facts:

The last time Eyjafjallajökull erupted, it lasted 2 years stretching from 1821-1823 (err... have summer flights to the UK? might want to check into those..)

The 1821 eruption spread fluoride across iceland, damaging livestock and human well-being

Eyjafjallajokull is pronounced [ˈɛɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœːkʏtl̥], and can be translated as "island-mountains glacier"


Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland

Posted March 27, 2010
Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland

Classics from the company inbox

Got this one last night, classic:

First Name: sri dewi
Last Name: maharani
Email: smaharani@gmail.com
Telephone: 6221 98568759
Comments: I have client want to buy oil refinery with capacity 100 000bbld, do you have ?
please advice . urgent


Hmmmm... yeah, I have one right over here... because, you know, I a few oil refineries sitting around to go with my collection of closed GM factories..

Govt. Motors

Today, I sold my shares in Ford. I had bet on Ford a couple years ago when it looked like everything was doom and gloom for the US auto industry - though not yet the point of apocalypse we later reached. Today, as the shares rallied, I sold my position. But I maintain a strong belief that Ford is a good company, with good management, and strong products with an effective narrowly-targeted focus on a few great vehicles, similar to Honda and Toyota.

On the same day comes further news from the travesty that is Government Motors (GM). This woman has been announced as new boardmember:

Cynthia A. Telles.

GM officially added an extra seat to its board, just to add her on. Because... she has deep industry experience and a long history of reviving troubled manufacturing firms is a lackey of the Obama administration.

Cynthia spent 13 years as a Los Angeles commissioner, which according to Obama makes you much more eligible to run a company than say... someone with experience running a company.

She has a Ph.D... in Clinical Psychology.

She is currently the director of... the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute Spanish-Speaking Psychosocial Clinic. (WTF)

She sat on a number of boards... such as Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, Americas United Bank and Sanwa Bank California.

In other words - she has a couple of local bank boards and a career with absolutely no connection to the car industry. Where the hell does Obama find these people? At Michelle's fund raisers? I would expect so.

Yet again, I feel like I am living in Atlas Shrugged. Too bad there is no Ragnar Danneskjöld, he would be useful to sink a few shipments of Pontiac G3's and Jeep Patriots.

whatthefuckasaurus

The Holy Bullshit

The pope has been rightly taking a lot of flak recently for the fact that his role for many years at the Vatican was to handle pedophile scandals and cases. Which he mostly did by threatening excommunication to anyone who... reported a case of pedophilia. Oh, and he also covered up many cases, put child molester priests back to work etc etc.

It is the worst of the Catholic church, which in my opinion embodies the worst of Christianity.

In a move to try and show that the fault does not lie with the church, the Pope's top aide made this inspired statement:
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia," the Italian cardinal said. "But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."

It turns out, shockingly, that the statistics were supplied by the Vatican's own prosecutor for pedophilia cases.

It comes as no surprise that when faced with the fact that it is a base, worldly, money seeking, power loving, unholy entity that the catholic church blames something outside itself in order to try and shift the blame. It is sad and pathetic, yes, but not unexpected.

Hopefully there are few enough fools left in the world to really believe what they are told from the church. Because today, the catholic church and its "Holy See" make me sick to my stomach.

Invest $4,500 get back $450,000 - NO RISK AT ALL!!!

Norm has a brilliant new idea for guaranteed %100 return on your money - with no risk! Err... kinda...

5lb Bag of Shredded U.S. Currency

5lb Bag of Shredded U.S. Currency Image
Price: $45.00
Item Number: 804
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing offers 5lb bags of Shredded U.S. Currency. This bag contains approximately $10,000 worth of Shredded U.S. currency notes.

These notes were removed from the manufacturing process prior to delivery to the Federal Reserve System and have not been monetized.

Palm for sale

After truly failing with the Pre (despite the fact that they have the best phone OS right now), Palm is up for sale.

It is sad to see that they did such a crappy job marketing the first real competitor to the iPhone that they are now looking to be bought out. The tech reviewers generally loved it, especially the software, but the marketing and the decision to launch with only Sprint for 6mo were truly idiotic.

I agree with Engadget and Gizmodo that the best buyer is HTC. They make many of the world's best smartphones, and have shown a lot of skill re-skinning shitty OS's from other companies (namely Symbian and Windows Mobile), but they dont have their own OS. WebOS is generally regarded as the best OS out there right now (iPhone OS 4 and Andriod 2.1 and Windows Phone 7 all explicitly copy from webOS, and attempt to make their platforms more "webOS like"), and mating that with the beautiful hardware which HTC puts together would create company largely unrivaled - especially considering the slow disintegration of android due to all the different versions, it remains to be seen if Google can right that ship.

Also Palm has a huge patent portfolio dating back to 1992 as it basically invented mobile computing and the smartphone. That portfolio kept Apple at bay, even when the Pre blatantly infringed on Apple patents, and pretended to be a iPod when you hooked it to your computer - I love that one. The reason? The iPhone infringes on a ton of Palm patents, and both sides knew it. Palm would give HTC the patent portfolio it needs to fend off Apple (who is currently suing them over the Nexus One).

Another company talked about is blackberry, which has a huge chunk of the US market, but an outdated OS which has been losing it consumers for the past couple years (though I know it has been gaining market share it is undeniable that it has lost ground on the high-end to the iPhone in particular, and that the Storms (1 and 2) were total failures).

Again, the logic here is buy Palm for the webOS and keep blackberry hardware, but there is an issue - which is that webOS is not really built for companies and sprawling IT departments. Blackberry has recently bought a webkit browser company and a new linux OS company, so it is widely expected they are developing a new and more modern OS with a usable browser.

The one that would perhaps make the most sense, but will never happen, is Nokia. Remember the last time someone talked about a Nokia smartphone? Yeah, they never have. Ever. Nokia has been totally focused on shipping a gajillion basic phones to the developing world. It is the largest cell-phone company in the world, but it just sucks at the smartphone game. And honestly, that is what it is all about right now.

A big part of the reason it sucks so badly is its OSs - yes it has two. It had Symbian, which is terrible and ancient and awful and useless, but which Nokia paid $1 billion for (to be fair, Symbian runs almost all of Nokia's phones, it is just the "advanced" smartphone version is equivalent to bringing a Buick to a supercar party). But way back in 2005 Nokia released a pocket-size touch-screen internet tablet, the n770, which I own and loved (it has gotten much less use now I have a smartphone), and it ran on a version of Linux, Memo, which Nokia has slowly developed with almost no money behind it, but has ended up being far far better than Symbian.

Really Nokia would be a lot better off just buying Palm, scooping up the patents, and releasing a slew of webOS phones. Overnight it could become a leading contender in smartphones. But no one expects them too, as they are too heavily invested in their current two OS's.

The scariest prospect is Apple buying Palm. Apple hired away a number of key Palm execs in order to develop the iPhone. Palm then hired a number of key Apple execs to build the Pre to compete with the iPhone. Sadly, they forgot to hire anyone from Apple's marketing or biz-dev departments, and totally screwed the pooch. So now Apple could buy Palm up, actually probably a small forgotten division of Apple (laptops?) could buy Palm without even noticing the cost, and it would give a litigious Apple one of the biggest patent portfolios in cell-phones and touchscreen devices, and kill off the best phone OS currently available (have I mentioned that webOS does everything iPhone OS 4.0 does, and far far more? Like real, full, honest multitasking? And push notifications? And flash?).

So here is one more vote for HTC, but sad to see Palm really blew the launch and marketing of the Pre this badly. Sad.