Politics, culture, business, and technology

I also blog at ChicagoBoyz.


Selected Posts:
Sleeping with the Enemy
Dancing for the Boa Constrictor
Koestler on Nuance
A Look into the Abyss
Hospital Automation
Made in America
Politicians Behaving Badly
Critics and Doers
Foundations of Bigotry?
Bonhoeffer and Iraq
Misvaluing Manufacturing
Journalism's Nuremberg?
No Steak for You!
An Academic Bubble?
Repent Now
Enemies of Civilization
Molly & the Media
Misquantifying Terrorism
Education or Indoctrination?
Dark Satanic Mills
Political Violence Superheated 'steem
PC and Pearl Harbor
Veterans' Day Musings
Arming Airline Pilots
Pups for Peace
Baghdad on the Rhine

Book Reviews:
Forging a Rebel
The Logic of Failure
The Innovator's Solution
They Made America
On the Rails: A Woman's Journey

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invisible adjunct
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rachel lucas
betsy's page
one hand clapping
a schoolyard blog
joy of knitting
lead and gold
damian penny
annika's journal
little miss attila
no credentials
university diaries
trying to grok
a constrained vision
victory soap
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right reason
quid nomen illius?
sister toldjah
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reflecting light
dr sanity
all things beautiful
dean esmay
brand mantra
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right on the left coast
digital Rules
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Friday, November 30, 2007  

The University of Bath announced that one of its researchers has developed a greatly improved process for the extraction of heavy oil....a substance which exists in great quantities, but for which extraction has hitherto been too expensive.

The air-injection process developed by Prof Malcom Greaves is said to recover 70-80% of the oil, compared with 10-40% using other technologies. The process was first used at the Christina Lake site in the Athabasca Oil Sands, Canada. This pilot operation--currently producing 3000 barrels per day beginning June 2006--is producing from deposits of bitumen - similar to the surface coating of roads - rather than heavy oil. The first test with the heavy oil for which the process was developed will be at at Duvernay Petroleum site in Alberta.

Much more about heavy oil and its extraction in this, which I haven't yet read.

I haven't yet seen any numbers on estimated cost per barrel--also, I'm guessing that the refining process for this syrup-like substance will be more expensive than that for the lighter oils. But there's apparently a lot of this stuff...the main locations being Russia, Venezuela, and (thankfully) Canada.

Professor Greaves has been working on this technology for 17 years--it must be a real thrill for him to see it finally beginning to enter commercial production.

(via The Energy Blog)

8:31 AM

Thursday, November 29, 2007  

Here's a math textbook which includes the following exercise:

A. If math were a color, it would be --, because --.
B. If it were a food, it would be --, because --.
C. If it were weather, it would be --, because --.

This series of textbooks has been dropped by Texas, but is mandated for use in the New York City schools.

Via Joanne Jacobs.

6:47 AM

Tuesday, November 27, 2007  

Interesting--if somewhat strident--thoughts on the current state of the Euro and its impact on European economies.

10:46 AM

Monday, November 26, 2007  

In an experiment conducted with 400 fifth-graders, half were praised for being "really smart" for doing well on a test; the others were praised for their effort. The kind of praise received had interesting effects on their future behavior.

The students were next given two tasks to choose from: one that was easy--but from which they would learn little--and one that was more challenging. The majority of the "really smart" group chose the simple task, while 90% of the "hard-working" group chose the more difficult one.

Finally, they were given another test--a difficult one--and asked to write anonymously about their experience to another school and report their scores. 37% of the "really smart group" lied about their scores, while only 13% of the other group did.

The researcher who did the above research (Carol Dweck of Stanford) also did a related study with college students. The subjects were divided into two groups: the first was assigned reading asserting that intelligence is fixed, and the second group was given reading asserting that intelligence can grow and develop if you work at it. They were then given a very difficult test on which most did badly, and after getting the results they were given the option of looking at the scores and strategies of those who did worse or those who did better. Students who had been exposed to the "fixed" propaganda tended to look at the work of those who had performed worse, whereas those exposed to the "growth" propaganda chose more frequently to look at the work of those who had performed better.

6:05 AM

Sunday, November 25, 2007  

A couple of years ago, I posted about International Development Enterprises, a non-profit that develops and markets low-cost irrigation devices. The post also discusses Dr Amy Smith, an MIT mechanical engineer who specializes in the invention of technology for the very poor. Her work has included innovations in grain milling and water purification.

Here's another organization that operates in the same general space. Their principal creation to date is the universal nut sheller, designed to serve the half billion people who depend on peanuts as a primary source of protein. The history of the device is interesting: in 2002, a sound-and-light engineer named Jock Brandis visited a village in Mali for the purpose of repairing some local machinery. He noticed that women were spending hours shelling peanuts--which had very hard shells consequent to the sun-drying process. Some of the women had bleeding hands, and the whole process was so labor-intensive that it discouraged development of peanuts as a cash crop. It is estimated that in Africa alone, women spend 4 billion hours per year shelling peanuts by hand. If you assume 4000 working hours per person per year, this equates to one million people shelling peanuts full time.

Brandis saw that the lives of the local people could be improved if they had a machine to do the shelling, but could not locate an appropriate product. So he invented one. His machine can be made from a couple of concrete casting (created via a reusable fiberglass mold) and a small number of metal parts--assembly requires only basic hand tools and a welder. Although the device is hand-powered, it can shell 50 kg of peanuts per hour, compared with the 1.5 kg that average individual can shell by hand.

Simple and cleverly-engineered devices, designed to be assembled and supported under realistic field conditions, can make a major contribution to the economic development of impoverished countries.

12:44 PM

Friday, November 23, 2007  

...but I'm afraid it's not.

A factory, an employee suggestion system, and the measurement of sucess.

via Lean Blog.

6:06 AM

Thursday, November 22, 2007  
(rerun of a post from 2003. Cross-posted today at Chicago Boyz.)

Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said "Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?" ("She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source", Stuart comments.)

She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it's an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

The example of knowledge that people usually throw out is "computers." But the truth is, to be a casual user of computers (I'm not talking about programming and systems design), you don't need much knowledge. You need "keyboarding skills"--once called "typing." And you need to know some simple conventions as to how the operating system expects you to interact with it. That's about it. Not much informational or conceptual depth there.

Consider the knowledge possessed by by the Captain of a sailing merchant ship, circa 1840. He had to understand celestial navigation: this meant he had to understand trigonometry and logarithms. He had to possess the knowledge--mostly "tacit knowledge," rather than book-learning--of how to handle his ship in various winds and weathers. He might well be responsible for making deals concerning cargo in various ports, and hence had to have a reasonable understanding of business and of trade conditions. He had to have some knowledge of maritime law.

Outside of the strictly professional sphere, his knowedge probably depended on his family background. If he came from a family that was reasonably well-off, he probably knew several of Shakespeare's plays. He probably had a smattering of Latin and even Greek. Of how many high-school (or college) seniors can these statements be made today?

(In his post, Stuart compares knowledge levels using his grandfather--a farmer--as an example.)

Today's "progressives," particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It's a form of temporal bigotry, and is the direct opposite of the spirit of appreciation upon which we should be focusing particularly at Thanksgiving.

As C S Lewis said: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its neighboring units. If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. (Approximate quote.)

How better to conduct such destruction than to tell people that previous generations were ignorant and that we have nothing to learn from them?

7:13 AM

Tuesday, November 20, 2007  

See my post at Chicago Boyz.

9:09 AM

Monday, November 19, 2007  

Emmy-award-winning screenwriter Robert Avrech shares his experiences in dealing with the mental rigidity and bias that are unfortunately so common in his industry.

His excellent blog is here.

9:24 AM

Saturday, November 17, 2007  

In the U.K., a leading children's author was told to drop a fire-breathing dragon shown in a new book - because the publishers feared they could be sued under health and safety regulations. (via Five Feet of Fury)

And in Cambridge, Massachusetts, election commission officials ordered the removal of Boy Scout donation boxes collecting amenities for troops serving overseas. Someone complained that the collection boxes were "pro-war."

7:18 AM

Friday, November 16, 2007  

See my post and the ensuing discussion at Chicago Boyz.

3:41 PM


Governments are increasingly looking at improving the return on their currency reserves by investing them in corporate stocks and bonds, and in private equity partnerships, rather than limiting their investments to the traditional government bonds. The phrase "sovereign wealth funds" has been used to refer to these efforts.

Advanced Micro Devices announced today that it has received a $622 million investment from the Mubadala Development Company, which is wholly owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.

I expect we will be seeing much more of this kind of thing, with significant implications for the markets as well as for government policy.

More on the AMD/Mubadala deal, and its implications for AMD's competitive position vis-a-vis Intel, here.

8:32 AM

Thursday, November 15, 2007  

Ralph Peters writes about the 12 myths of 21st century war. These include:

Myth No. 1: War doesn’t change anything.
Myth No. 2: Victory is impossible today.
Myth No. 3: Insurgencies can never be defeated.
Myth No. 4: There’s no military solution; only negotiations can solve our problems.
Myth No. 5: When we fight back, we only provoke our enemies.
Myth No. 6: Killing terrorists only turns them into martyrs.

Peters is always an interesting and provocative thinker--read the whole thing.

Via Dr Sanity, who has a discussion on the article.

3:36 PM


Document custodians are the Nerdiest Nerds there are...They are the thin red-tape line between us and chaos...They are, personally and institutionally, the kind of people who count the teaspoons after the dinner party guests leave.

From Tanta at Calculated Risk, an amazing source of information (and humor!) concerning all things mortage-related.

12:39 PM

Tuesday, November 13, 2007  

Via Right on the Left Coast, some heartfelt thoughts from an Iraqi exile:

I know those who are wedded to the idea of a failed Iraq are calling me a deluded idiot and worse. But things are improving slowly. My relatives in Baghdad say there's no comparison; things are much better than they were six months ago. They can visit friends in different areas and walk about the neighbourhood in the evening.

Frankly, I don't understand why so many mock us for wanting a future for Iraq. Is your hatred for George Bush so great that you prefer to see millions of civilians suffer just to prove him wrong?

It really comes down to this: you are determined to see Iraq become a permanent hellhole because you hate Bush. And we are determined to see Iraq become a success, because we want to live.

And via Newmark's Door, Megan McArdle offers a ringing defense of school vouchers--and an attack on the hypocrisy of many vouchers opponents:

A private school doesn't need to be Groton in order to make it worthwhile sending needy kids there; it just needs to be better than the hell-hole they currently attend. And frankly, that's a really, really low bar. There are a lot of kids for whom a trip to Chuck E. Cheese would be safer and more educational than a day at their district school.

Read the whole thing.

6:35 AM

Monday, November 12, 2007  

...an appropriate occasion for making a contribution to Project Valour-IT. This effort provides voice-controlled laptops to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who, due to the nature of their wounds, are not able to use a standard computer keyboard.

You can contribute here. Please help if you can--the results so far for this campaign are not tremendously impressive.

Here are some poetic thoughts on a nation's responsibility to its veterans.

11:58 AM

Saturday, November 10, 2007  

A recent study shows a significant increase in narcissism among college students over the last 25 years. The authors believe that the trend is related to the simple-minded "self-esteem-building" programs that have become popular.

"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already."

Dr Sanity has an extensive discussion: Ego-Stroking Madness.

See also the numerous posts in my superheated 'steem thread.

6:14 AM

Wednesday, November 07, 2007  

As most blog readers know, UD's indoctrination program was terminated by the President of that institution in the wake of pressure by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the blogosphere, and some newspapers. There is lots of information on this case at the FIRE website.

Be sure to read this document...the second part describes an indoctrination session with a woman who wasn't going along with the program, and showed a lot of courage and spirit in standing up to intrusiveness and incipient totalitarianism.

There is a related discussion at University Diaries.

6:10 AM

Tuesday, November 06, 2007  

I've written previously about ultracapacitors, which store electricity in a way similar to the Leyden Jars used by Benjamin Franklin in his lightning experiments. (More information here.)

Spectrum has just published a fairly long article about the state of play in the ultracapacitor field, and about how this technology might fit into the overall energy mix.

2:55 PM

Sunday, November 04, 2007  

Please consider making a contribution to Project Valour-IT. See my post at Chicago Boyz.

8:38 PM

Saturday, November 03, 2007  

On June 7, 1981, Israel jets destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. The editorial reaction of The New York Times was this:

Even assuming that Iraq was hellbent to divert enriched uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, it would have been working toward a capacity that Israel itself acquired long ago.

Contrary to its official assertion, therefore, Israel was not in ‘mortal danger' of being outgunned. It faced a potential danger of losing its Middle East nuclear monopoly, of being deterred one day from the use of atomic weapons in war.

The kind of reasoning demonstrated in this editorial was also on display a few decades earlier:

When Germany moved troops into the Rhineland in 1936, many argued that there was no reason for concern. "There is no more reason why German territory should be demilitarized than French, Belgian, or British," editorialized one British newspaper. This argument is structurally identical to the one made by the NYT above.

Similarly, the British statesman Lord Lothian asserted that Germany could not be expected to accept armament limitations without first being permitted to re-arm. His thought process is summarized in the book The Appeasers: "If Germany were allowed to rearm, this would give her an 'equality' that would enable her to sit without any sense of weakness or inferiority at the Disarmament Conference."

The 1981 NYT editorial, and the comments of the appeasers from the 1930s, are obviously ridiculous today. But the same kinds of reasoning continue to be very common.

Rhineland editorial is from Hitler and His Secret Partners, by James Pool. The Appeasers is by Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott.

6:41 AM

Thursday, November 01, 2007  

ShrinkWrapped writes about the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism, particularly in Britain.

8:17 PM

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