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

arts & letters daily
natalie solent
critical mass
john bruce
joanne jacobs
number 2 pencil
roger l simon
common sense and wonder
sheila o'malley
invisible adjunct
red bird rising
academic game
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
business pundit
right reason
quid nomen illius?
sister toldjah
the anchoress
reflecting light
dr sanity
all things beautiful
dean esmay
brand mantra
economics unbound
dr melissa
dr helen
right on the left coast
digital Rules
college affordability
the energy blog
tinkerty tonk
meryl yourish
kesher talk
assistant village idiot
evolving excellence
neptunus lex
the daily brief
roger scruton
bookworm room
villainous company
lean blog

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Thursday, January 31, 2008  

Chicago Boy John Jay has an interesting post on education, credentialism, and job performance.

9:13 AM

Monday, January 28, 2008  

Piet Eichholtz, a professor at Maastricht University, has studied 350 years of price records for houses alongside Amsterdam's Herengracht canal. A summary is here, and the full paper can be downloaded here. The graphs showing nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) prices are on pages 21 and 22 of the PDF.

Via The Big Picture.

2:50 PM

Sunday, January 27, 2008  

Erie (PA) is one of the few U.S. communities that probably has a positive balance of trade with China. Of the 900 locomotives to be produced this year at the GE plant there, 200 are destined for China. Other substantial export orders this years are for Brazil and Kazakhstan.

The GE locomotive business for 2007 was around $1.8 billion; total revenue for GE Transportation, which includes other rail-related business such as signaling systems, as well as some non-rail activities, ran around $4.5 billion, which is almost twice the number for 2003.

With results like this, GE Transportation is currently one of the company's stars. During late 1990s, though, it must have been awfully tempting to GE top management to ditch this business, which appeared old-hat in an era when everyone was obsessing about "high technology." Indeed, General Motors did divest their locomotive business, the Electromotive Division, although not until 2005.

And here is an interesting article on the role of GE Transporation in the company's leadership development program.

Disclosure: I'm a GE shareholder.

7:36 PM

Friday, January 25, 2008  

We don’t repeat the mistakes of our parents; we repeat the mistakes of our grandparents.

--via David Merkel, who attributes this observation to his former boss.

Previous Worth Pondering

7:50 AM

Wednesday, January 23, 2008  

In 2002, Wall Street Journal editor John Blanton decided on a career change and enrolled in nursing school. Here, he writes about his experiences after graduation:

Editor Finds Care, Chaos On the Night Nursing Shift

Mark Graban, who has done Lean consulting in manufacturing and is now focused on healthcare, says:

...if you think factory work is grueling, follow a nurse around for 12 hours. It's quite an eye opener.

UPDATE: Link fixed--it was working when I posted it, but later stopped. Apparently, even relatively clueful old-media organizations have a hard time grasping the importance of link stability.

8:53 AM


This is an old Photon Courier post which I've reposted at Chicago Boyz.

8:51 AM

Tuesday, January 22, 2008  

With all eyes on the markets, here are some sites I find worthwhile for providing perspective:

The Big Picture, by research director and fund manager Barry Ritholtz

Hussman Funds, by fund manager John Hussman and his staff. I previously linked some of Hussman's work, including his assessment of the so-called "Fed model" for stock market valuation: Wall Street is presently managing trillions of dollars of other people's money on the basis of a single toy model, originally discovered in a packet at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.

Calculated Risk, by CR and Tanta, both of whom know a lot about banking and mortgages and even have the ability to put these phenomena into musical settings.

MaxedOutMama, who combines banking/mortgage/economic blogging with thoughtful analysis of cultural and political issues.

As always, nothing on this weblog should be considered as investment advice.

9:46 AM

Sunday, January 20, 2008  

...at Calculated Risk.

4:36 PM

Friday, January 18, 2008  

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur displays her ignorance.

(via MaxedOutMama)

7:53 AM

Thursday, January 17, 2008  

You may have learned in school that Henry Ford invented the assembly line. Tom Peters was in Venice over Christmas, and discovered that--beginning in the early 1500s--the Arsenale di Venezia used production-line techniques to build galleys. More on the Arsenale here.

Even if you're not interested in the early history of mass production, you should follow the link to Tom's site for his exquisite picture of Venice at sunset.

The story about the Arsenale reminded me of something I'd read about another early example of mass production, also for naval purposes. By the late 1700s, a large sailing warship (ship of the line) employed about one thousand pulley blocks, and making them (out of wood) was consuming large amounts of labor. In 1802, Marc Isambard Brunel proposed to the Admiralty a method for making these blocks using automated machinery, and by 1805, the Portsmouth Block Mills were in operation. There's a very nice description of these cunning machines at this site, which is maintained by the British National Museum of Science and Industry. Click on the picture of the pulley block to start the interactive presentation.

8:08 PM

Tuesday, January 15, 2008  

...with a feeling that all is not well with the ship.

Go to Neptunus Lex and scroll down to the post titled "Scandal."

7:53 PM


(I originally posted this in 2004–it also seems appropriate for the current political season)

When you talk to a dog, you don’t have to worry a lot about using syllogisms, complete sentences, good analogies, or crisply-argued chains of logic. What he’s looking for is keywords…particular words and short phrases…like “nice doggie” or “here” or, especially, “dinner.”

It strikes me that, increasingly, the way in which politicians address the American people is very similar. It’s enough to say the words that are supposed to elicit the conditioned responses…”jobs” or “health care” or “education.” There is increasingly litle effort to specifcy exactly what cause-and-effect relationship will cause these good things to come to pass, and why one approach might be better than alternative approaches. This behavior is most noticeable among Democrats, but is by no means totally absent among Republicans.

(cross-posted at Chicago Boyz)

7:47 PM

Monday, January 14, 2008  

Item 1: An Italian soccer team has adopted a logo based on that of Hezbollah. From the Washington Times:

Conservative critics said the action fits in with the center-left Italian government's policy of encouraging Middle Eastern radicals. They recalled the criticism faced by another team that tried to include the cross in its logo.

"Hezbollah is a war machine, but until now, we thought it was confined to Lebanon," the Milan daily Il Giornale said. "Wrong, now the Shi'ite guerrillas have made converts ... in a soccer club of Sardinia."

The newspaper reported that the Carioca amateur league team's decision to use the logo of the "Party of God" — an assault rifle in a green clenched fist — became public knowledge after Hezbollah's television station, Al Manar, praised the players in a dispatch picked up by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute.

The team has changed its name frequently in its 15 years of existence on the rugged Italian island. This season it called itself "Zassbollah," a combination of Hezbollah and the family name of the team's captain, Luigi Zasso.

"In this way, we will be more frightening to our adversaries who will understand how we are ready to fight as you have against Israel," Il Giornale quoted team player Davide Volponi as telling Al Manar.


Some pundits noted that the center-left government of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has pursued a policy of dialogue with groups such as Hezbollah and Palestinian militants of Hamas. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema caused a furor in 2006 when he said efforts to bring the two movements into the political fold should be encouraged.

"Hamas and Hezbollah are not al Qaeda," Mr. D'Alema told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "Besides their well-known responsibilities for terrorist actions, they have a political side; they are engaged in assistance.

"Assistance"...right. I wonder if Mr D'Alema knows that the Nazi party operated an extensive "assistance" program, known as the winterhilfe. Would this make it OK, in D'Alema's view, to wear swastikas on soccer uniforms?

Many entertainers and academics have been romanticizing terrorism--especially Palestinian terrorism--for quite some time now, and this has contributed significantly to the growth of the global terrorist threat.

Item 2: The Newsweek-Washington Post web site published this article, which to me seems to clearly be openly anti-Semitic. And I'm not very impressed with this "apology."

Item 3: Ms Magazine refused to run this ad featuring 3 prominent Israeli women. More here and here. The magazine's justification for its actions can be found here.

8:45 AM

Sunday, January 13, 2008  

According to this Forbes article, higher-education institutions over the last 10 years spent about 600 million dollars on lobbying...more than was spent by either the real estate industry or the oil and gas industry.

(via Marginalizing Morons)

1:50 PM

Friday, January 11, 2008  

Intriguing developments in India and China--see my post at Chicago Boyz.

4:02 PM

Thursday, January 10, 2008  

Addicted to sneering, a post about the left's desperate push for moral equivalence, is at Breath of the Beast.

8:18 AM

Wednesday, January 09, 2008  

There's a guest essay on energy independence, written by Stephan Du Val, at Robert Rapier's energy blog. Stephen's approach, which is consistent with that recommended by Dr Robert Zubrin in his recent book, is focused on methanol and nuclear power. There is a lot of commentary, much of it by some pretty knowledgeable people.

Ralph Peters does not approve of the way the Strait of Hormuz incident was handled: he belives that the U.S. Navy ships should have opened fire and sunk the Iranian gunboats. Naval aviator Neptunus Lex, on the other hand, believes that the Navy commander on the scene did the right thing. There's an extensive discussion at Lex's place, with much commentary from people with naval experience. While you're there, be sure to check out this political dog picture.

6:48 PM


A delegation of Columbia University professors plans to go to Iran and apologize to Ahmadinejad.

(via Robert Avrech)

6:14 AM

Sunday, January 06, 2008  

Actual university professors are submitting the most ridiculous sentences they can find in actual student papers.

If you are by any chance a professor, you can play, too.

7:55 PM


On Tuesday, I posted the first batch of my selected posts from 2007. The remaining categories are now up here.

3:43 PM

Saturday, January 05, 2008  

Rich Karlgaard suggests that the Iowa primary results were, to a significant extent, a matter of rhetorical style.

(Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz)

1:06 PM

Thursday, January 03, 2008  

Hamilton Sundstrand, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, has formed a joint venture with US Renewables Group. The purpose of the joint venture, called SolarReserve, is to commercialize the solar-thermal technology developed by Rocketdyne, a unit of H-S.

Here's how it works. An array of mirrors is used to continuously focus the sun on a central tower, yielding temperatures of somewhere around 1000 degree Farenheit. The heat is stored in molten salt, and, as power is demanded, the salt circulates through a heat exchanger and boils water, yielding steam which then spins a turbine in the ordinary way. According to the WSJ link here, the salt loses only about 1% of its heat each day, making it feasible to store solar energy for fairly long periods of time.

Solar thermal is by no means a new idea--indeed, there are significant solar-thermal development already underway, in Spain for one place. Apparently, though, UTX and US Renewables believe they have something special:

The unique component of the HS Rocketdyne power tower is the central receiver. This high heat flux hardware represents a unique combination of liquid rocket engine heat transfer technology and molten salt handling expertise.

The revenue goals don't strike me as very aggressive: $1 billion over the next decade, even though the technology is expected be be available within the next 3-4 years.

Solar-thermal makes a lot of sense to me, and seems like an elegant solution to the problem of energy storage. If the molten salt really only loses 1% of the heat per day, this is pretty significant. A megawatt which is available on demand is worth far more money than a megawatt which is available whenever the sun chooses to come out from behind a cloud.

I expect that we are entering a period in which multiple electricity-generating solutions will coexist and compete--nuclear, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, and wind, as well as natural gas, coal, and hydro--and it is too early to say what the long-term winners will be.

More on solar-thermal here.

Disclosure: I'm a United Technologies shareholder.

2:00 PM

Wednesday, January 02, 2008  

I've been going through my 2007 posts to select the best ones for a year-end summary. Here is the first batch, encompassing the categories Education, Management/Leadership/Business, and Markets/International Trade. I'll try to get to the other categories within the next few days.

Thanks for reading.

1:45 PM

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