Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who's Missing a Planet?

We are, apparently. And not a rocky one, like the asteroid belt might have been formed from. THIS missing planet was supposedly a Gas Giant:

Did our solar system once harbor an extra planet?
A computer simulation has shown that our solar system couldn't have formed without an extra planet. But if that theory is true, what happened to it?

A new study based on computer simulations has demonstrated that our solar system might be missing a planet. In fact, without an extra planet, it seems unlikely that our solar system could have formed at all, reports PhysOrg.com.

The startling discovery suggests that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were not the only gas giant planets around during the formation of our solar system. There had to be a fifth gas giant, similar to Uranus and Neptune, orbiting some 15 times further from the sun than our planet Earth.

David Nesvorny from Colorado’s Southwest Research Institute reached the conclusion after performing around 6,000 computer simulations about the formation of the solar system, nearly all of which required the extra planet to work. Almost all of the simulations that factored in only the planets we know of in our solar system showed the four gas giants violently destroying one another. In the few simulations in which they survived, several of the rocky planets, such as Earth, were destroyed instead.

After adding the mysterious fifth planet, Nesvorny was able to greatly improve the odds of our solar system forming as we currently know it.

So the question remains: if our solar system is missing a planet, what happened to it?

The computer simulations also explain the fifth planet's fate. [...]

Read the whole thing to find out.

Interesting. Theoretical, but interesting.

Is the EU financial crisis more important than ours because it's possible financial collapse is more imminent?

Or is it?

Why Europe Won’t Implode
The global financial system is currently being roiled by one thing and one thing only: the fate of Europe. This past weekend, high-level meetings of both the International Monetary Fund and the G20 nations took place in Washington, and the predominant focus was on Europe and whether the nations of the European Union and the euro zone would be able to stave off what increasingly appears to be a make-or-break crisis over banks, the sovereign debt of Greece, and the stability of the international financial system.


Contrary to what many are now predicting, Europe—reeling though it is—will not implode.

The fear is that the European Union as constituted doesn’t have the ability to move quickly enough. It isn’t the size of Greek debt per se, but the fear that the hundreds of billions of dollars potentially exposed will so undermine European banks that the whole system—and that means the entire global banking system—might be imperiled. With so many actions dependent on each of the legislative branches of the 17 euro-zone countries, there is a viable concern that real-world events will move far more rapidly than the political institutions can respond. A Greek default on debts would then trigger various runs on French and German banks, which would then lead to massive selling of any liquid assets anywhere—and stocks above all—which would then cascade around the globe in a fashion not unlike what happened after Lehman Brothers collapsed three years ago this month.


The widely shared belief is that the United States is either in or on the verge of a recession; that China is slowing precipitously based on weakening exports, imploding urban real-estate bubbles and slack consumer demand; and that Europe is on the verge of an unraveling as historic as the forces that brought it together 20 years ago when the European Union was formed.

So the question is, will Europe implode? Contrary to the widespread assumption, I think not.

It isn’t just that Angela Merkel, Germany’s answer to Margaret Thatcher, has drawn what for her is an unequivocal line that Greece will not leave the European Union or the euro zone. It’s that slowly, sloppily, the governments of Europe are awakening to the realization that since they have tethered their collective economic fate to each other, the costs of unraveling are so immense as to be untenable. No government feels comfortable demanding more funds to bail out Greece or shore up banks or create a backstop for the tenuous finances of Italy. But each government understands at some animalistic level that no electorate will celebrate the consequences of doing too little. Even those supposedly dour, disapproving burghers of Düsseldorf who are tired of bailing out what they see as profligate Greeks would blanch at the market consequences of the end of the euro. Germany doesn’t just pay to maintain that union; it benefits mightily as well.

There is no way to prove that the officials of the EU will access their better angels at the last moment (however auspiciously named the German chancellor is). But this crisis is shaping up as the European version of the American debt-ceiling debate: messy, disheartening, but when pushed to stare at the alternatives, deeply clarifying. [...]

This article makes some good arguments as to why the EU will try to hang in there and make it work; they have invested too much in it. They won't let the EU unravel, because the consequences of that aren't likely any better than what they are facing now.

But the article does not convince me that they can avoid financial implosion. Sure, they are motivated to stop it. Yes, they would not just "let" it happen. But the question is, do they have the power to STOP it from happening?

Clearly, they are going to try. And clearly, whatever happens, the effects will be felt globally, in our Brave New World. Lets hope it's Brave enough.

Also see:

Merkel risks rebellion on euro rescue fund


Advice for America from a Mexican Tycoon

Carlos Slim Fixes the Economy
Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Helú—whose family fortune of about $74 billion makes him the world’s richest human (well ahead of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on the Forbes list of billionaires—plays against type.


How do we fix this recession?

“With the same things that were done in 2000 and 2001, when it was temporarily solved with big expenditures and very aggressive monetary and fiscal policy,” he tells me. “Aside from lowering taxes, we should be directing more money to the real economy, not to the financial economy. The volatility of the markets is so great that more is won or lost in a single day than in five years of accumulated interest. And that’s not a good thing.”

I ask if he agrees with President Obama’s so-called Buffett rule, which would mandate that rich people like Warren Buffett—who benefits from a 15 percent tax rate because his money comes from capital gains—pay at least the same rate as their secretaries.

“I don’t know what Warren Buffett pays,” Slim says, “but I think that the fiscal policy should be fair. You don’t need to raise taxes on rich people, because they create capitalization and investment. But you need to tax speculation—meaning capital gains. Why should it be just 15 percent? Salaried people pay 35 percent. Why shouldn’t that be paid on capital gains?”

Anything else?

“The welfare policies that you are following—you and Europe—are unsustainable,” Slim argues. “You cannot have people retiring at 60 years old, and you cannot provide universal health care the way you do. That’s crazy. The focus should be the support of small- and middle-size business. That is where the employment is. And there should be investment in the real economy. Infrastructure is an example. And the best way to do that is with the private sector. It’s more efficient.”

I ask what should be done about the terrible violence surrounding the illegal Mexican drug trade, with grisly murders in the tens of thousands.

“It’s a problem coming from the United States,” Slim says.

Because of the demand?

“Because of everything. You stay with the money and the drugs. We stay with the weapons and the violence. And you’re selling the weapons to the consumers in Mexico. And the retail price [of the drugs] is, I don’t know how much bigger, let’s say 10 times in the U.S. what it is in Mexico. And that means the demand is here and the money is here. It’s like what used to happen during Prohibition in Chicago. You had a lot of violence there.”

What’s the solution?

“Follow the money.”

Would it help to legalize the drugs and, as with Prohibition, eliminate the incentive for crime?

“It doesn’t ‘help,’ ” Slim says. “It finishes.” [...]

Interesting. The article has a photo.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Space Weather: Aurora as seen from Space

Recent solar weather has been stimulating Aurora's on earth. This video from the International Space Station shows us the view from above the earth's atmosphere:

Amazing... and stunningly beautiful.

WATCH: An unusual view of the Aurora Australis, from space
[...] This weird, gripping shot of earth was recorded on Sept. 17, 2011, as a solar storm battered the atmosphere with ionizing particles. Waves of Ecto-Cooler-green luminescence shimmer over the surface of the planet like an iridescent oil slick. The video was shot while the Space Station passed south of Madagascar to north of Australia over the Indian Ocean, thus these lights are known as the Aurora Australis.

The sun has been frantically blatting with these plasma outbursts over the past 36 hours, an indication that it is ascending toward the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. Yesterday, the star unleashed one of the largest class of flares, an X-1, with a corresponding strong radio blackout. Here's what that looked like. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction agency is advising heavenly forecasters that more solar ejections could be in the forecast from the cursed Region 1302: [...]

Read the whole thing. With embedded links.

Racism VS Equal Treatment at UC Berkeley

That's the point of the "racist" bake sale:

Pay-by-race bake sale at UC Berkeley still on, student Republican group says
(CNN) -- It's meant to be racist, and it's meant to be discriminatory.

And the controversial "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" hosted by the Berkeley College Republicans is still on, the club's president said, despite "grossly misguided comments" and threats aimed at supporters of the University of California, Berkeley, student group.

During the sale, scheduled for Tuesday, baked goods will be sold to white men for $2, Asian men for $1.50, Latino men for $1, black men for 75 cents and Native American men for 25 cents. All women will get 25 cents off those prices.

The bake sale is meant to draw attention to pending legislation that would allow California universities to consider race, gender, ethnicity and national origin during the admissions process.

Student defends 'race' bake sale Bake sale prices based on race
"We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point," BCR President Shawn Lewis wrote in response to upheaval over the bake sale. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender."

Similar events have been held at other colleges across the country, generally organized by college Republican groups. In some cases -- such as at Berkeley -- the plan sparked controversy and protests.


But the bake sale is intended to be a direct, "physical counterpoint" to an ASUC-sponsored phone bank -- also scheduled for Tuesday -- during which students will be encouraged to call Gov. Jerry Brown's office to support the legislation, Lewis said. The ASUC has endorsed the legislation, SB 185.


Loomba, the student government president, said she is concerned about students potentially feeling ostracized due to the bake sale.

"I have heard that from numerous students who have said this makes students feel unwelcome on campus," she said. "For that reason alone, we should think about what events we have on campus."

Loomba described the situation as a "campus climate issue."

"UC Berkeley stands for a place where everyone -- regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation -- should feel inclusive," she said. "I think they should be able to express their opinion, but keep that value in mind." [...]

If Loomba means what she said, then shouldn't the University be treating all the students the same regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation? Duh?

I guess some people are just "more equal" than others. Too ironic!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Doris Day's New Album: "My Heart"

New, as in newly released recordings. Some songs that I've never heard her sing before, and some I've never heard before at all. I placed a pre-order on Amazon.com, and it shipped on the release date. It arrived recently:

My Heart
2011 album from the veteran entertainer. This is Doris' first studio album of new material in 17 years; a dozen songs of a timeless quality, with nine brand-new recordings produced by top UK record producer Ted Carfrae from sessions originally produced by Day's late son, Terry Melcher plus a trio of Day classics.

Doris Day has been fully involved with the musical selections for this special release. Her son Terry Melcher--who was known as a songwriter and producer for folk-rock pioneers The Byrds and other artists--co-wrote four of the new songs with Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston: the emotional title track "My Heart," the romantic "The Way I Dreamed It," the haunting "Happy Endings" sung by Melcher with a newly recorded spoken-word introduction by Day for her fans and the single release "Heaven Tonight."

Also on the set list are three classic rock-era favorites: Joe Cocker's ballad "You Are So Beautiful", the Lovin Spoonful's joyful 1966 hit "Daydream" and The Beach Boys' nostalgic "Disney Girls," the latter written by Bruce Johnston, who co-produced three of the recordings on the album. Sony.

We played it the first time, during dinner. At first, I was kind of shocked; the songs at the beginning were done in the modern pop-music style; not what I'm used to hearing Doris sing. But the styles changed as the album progressed, with some real surprises and treats. She dedicated one song, "My Buddy" to her son Terry, who died of complications of melanoma in 2004.

She explained (on the disc!) how he had been her "buddy" in so many ways, and how he had been a singer in his own right. She then introduced the next song, sung by Terry, called "Happy Endings".

There wasn't a dry eye at the dinner table; it was very moving.

All things considered, it's a great and varied collection, demonstrating her range of styles. A few of the songs alone were worth the price of the album.

After hearing Terry sing, I became curious about his work and his life, so I did some searching on Google.

Terry's Wiki Page had quite a bit of information. But I also found another page on a blog, written about him by someone who knew him. It had some interesting comments, and a picture of him from a record sleeve:

Terry Melcher Remembered
It was in the early 1960s when I found myself sitting at a baby grand piano in a beautiful but unfamiliar home in Beverly Hills going over some new songs I'd written. I recall being nervous as I played because I couldn't help but realize somewhere nearby was Doris Day, one of the most popular entertainers in the country at the time. Just like a million other guys, I had a crush on the lady and was fearful that at any moment she might choose to speak to me.

Actually, the reason I was there was not because of Doris Day, but because of her young son, Terry Melcher, whom I'd met a few days before. I had recently been discharged from serving a two year stint in the Army and was trying to get back in the music business when a mutual friend introduced us. Terry seemed impressed by the fact that, during the late 1950's, I had been lucky enough to have some success as a songwriter, having my songs recorded by popular stars of the time such as Russell Arms, Jimmy Darren, Ritchie Valens, Yvonne De Carlo, and Gail Robbins, among others.

Because of my past success and our mutual interest in the music business, Terry and I hit it off almost immediately. He was good looking, rather tall with light skin and looked like a typical Southern California surfer. He also struck me as being very mature for his 18 years and, although I was about seven years older, we seemed to enjoy a compatible sense of humor as well as our passion for music. After we chatted for a while about the popular songs of the day, he asked me if I'd come over to his house so we could practice singing some of my songs and hang out together. I was happy to accept his invitation.

A few days later we were in Terry's den, sitting at his piano and going over some of my material. It didn't take me long to recognize he had a very good ear for music. He would easily harmonize to my singing and seemed to have near perfect pitch. Up to that time we were just fooling around but then I asked him if he ever thought about recording as a vocalist. He seemed to be excited at the suggestion and, after a moments pause, he said he liked the idea of performing on a record. He immediately added he'd be glad to finance it and, since he knew I had already done some independent record producing, asked if I would handle the production.

The next day I hired my friend Jack Nitzsche as my arranger and asked him to call my favorite studio musicians to play the background, including Hal Blain, Leon Russell, Carol Kaye, and Glen Campbell. I then booked a three hour session with Stan Ross at Gold Star recording studios where I produced almost all my records. It was just that easy. Terry and I had selected a song of mine to record entitled "That's All I Want". It was an upbeat rock tune that had a powerful built-in arrangement for a back-up vocal group. Jack also liked the song and did a great horn arrangement that added immensely to the final result. The basic sound track started out with a strong combination of horns and voices and then settled into a driving drumbeat. As I recall, Jack's wife Gracia was one of the female background singers as well as Darlene Love and a couple of other friends. There just seemed to be so much talent around in those days. [...]

Terry gets a copy of the record and brings it home to his parents, and... well, read the whole thing; it's a charming story. A real treat for anyone who's interested in the old days of the music biz.

UPDATE: I've been reading more about the My Heart album and it's release. Many of the songs were recorded around 1985, to be used in Doris' cable TV talk show, Doris Day’s Best Friends on CBN. The show only had 26 episodes, but there was a wealth of music recorded for it.

And the good news is, it looks like there are even more original recordings that could be released in the future. Goody!

Also See:

Rock legend Bruce Johnston recalls his buddy Terry Melcher & working on songs from Doris Day’s latest album “My Heart”

Doris Day Opens The Vaults For “My Heart” and There’s Plenty For Beach Boys Fans

Will "Windows 8" save the PC? & Microsoft?

Sounds like they are banking on it:

Can Windows 8 save the PC from extinction?
ANAHEIM, Calif. (CNNMoney) -- There's no question that Microsoft got the message: Mobile devices and tablets are the future of computing. Here's the next quandary: Is Windows 8 enough to salvage the PC, or is it too late?

Love it or hate it, Microsoft made a bold bet with its radically redesigned, re-engineered Windows 8. It rejected Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) chairman Steve Jobs' declaration in March that the post-PC era has begun.

Rather than simply putting its Windows Phone software on a tablet to try to compete with the iPad, a battle all other rivals are currently losing, Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) gambled that people want more out of their tablet experience. It believes that buyers -- including home users, not just office workers -- are still clamoring for storage, processing power, and robust content creation tools.

Yet consumers have been voting "no" with their pocketbooks. PC sales growth has tumbled in the United States and have even come to a screeching halt globally. The unstable economy has contributed significantly to that, but the iPad has also chomped away at the PC. When Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) decided to exit the PC business, CEO Leo Apotheker cited as a prime reason that "the tablet effect is real."

With Windows 8, Microsoft is in a sense betting the house on form factor. The company believes that when people buy an iPad, what they really want is a PC on the go that's just not available to them yet.

"It looks like Microsoft is finally on the right track, writing the evolution of the Windows PC on its own terms," said Al Hilwa, analyst with IDC.

Time is not on Microsoft's side. It's still very early on in the Windows 8 development cycle, with the developer preview just launched on Tuesday. Microsoft wouldn't say when Windows 8 will be ready for a test release, never mind general availability. Meanwhile, the iPad is already five months into its second-generation device.


"I don't think Windows 8 can save the PC market," said Zeus Kerravala, analyst at Yankee Group. "The simplicity and portability of a tablet makes them ideal for what most people want to do with computers."

Still, others say that the PC, though fading, is far from dead. IPads are great complimentary devices, but the PC is the only serious content creation device on the market. With Windows 8 could be the missing bridge between the desktop and mobile worlds. [...]

We shall see. Read the whole thing for embedded links, and a brief demo video of Windows 8. It's supposed to provide full PC functionality, but with a user interface providing a "tablet-like experience", optimized for use with a touch screen, but also with an option to use a more traditional desktop with a mouse. Apparently, the user interface looks a lot like the user interface on Microsoft's Smart Phone.

I think the PC market will continue, but it will be smaller than before, because tablets and other internet devices will satisfy the needs of many people, who just don't want or need a full size PC. Microsoft may get a part of the device market, but may not be able to establish a monopoly there, like they have in the PC market. Time will tell.

Also see:

Windows 8 at BUILD, IE10, Financial Analyst Briefing Marked Microsoft's Week

Windows 8 aims for tablets and more

Windows 8 and your office furniture


Thursday, September 15, 2011

No photoshop here; the real Joe Biden at work

Biden Dorks Out
Vice President Joe Biden appears to temporarily lose his mind during President Obama's jobs speech on 9-8-11. This is not an altered photo. Absolutely no Photoshop tricks. Evidently the vice president had a bad case of dry mouth and was using his tongue to try and lubricate his lips. It only lasted a couple of seconds, but thanks to my DVR, I was able to freeze-frame the image for a photo.

Isn't technology wonderful.

(HT: The Blind Man In The White House)

"... as teenage girls Gen Y gave more blow jobs than any generation before."

Actually, there is more to it than that:

What Gen Yers don't know about themselves
[...] I fantasized about this moment for years: the moment when I’d write the post titled, 10 Things I Hate about Generation Y.

But it’s hard to hate people you hang out with all the time, and the truth is, I’ve spent the last ten years being a Gen Xer surrounded by Gen Yers.


Sometimes, I think Gen Y is lame and she won’t admit to it.

But, I find, as I think about all the things I hate about Gen Y, that it’s hard to hate something you know so much about. And in fact, I have become a way better person myself from studying Gen Y. I have noticed that my worst traits are the aspects of myself I least understand. And that is true of Gen Y, too.


Gen Y is simply demanding what their parents told them they should expect from the world: Work that matters and work that complements a life that matters. Those revolutionary expectations come from the Boomer parents. Gen Y is just doing what they are told.

I couldn’t help thinking this same thing when I read this New York Times article about the trend that as teenage girls Gen Y gave more blow jobs than any generation before. When Baby Boomer women had more sex than any generation in the past, it was a feminist revolution, changing the whole fabric of society. But when Gen Y teens talk about why they give more blow jobs, it’s different, but simple: they do it because [...]

Read the whole thing. The author makes 5 interesting observations about Gen Y, with lots of embedded links.

Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul?

American Dollars to prop up the Euro:

Central Banks Act in Concert to Ease Fears on Europe Debt
FRANKFURT — Worried that Europe’s debt impasse posed a growing threat to the global financial system, the world’s major central banks moved Thursday to assure that European banks would not run short of cash as troubled nations like Greece and Italy sought to stabilize their economies.

The central banks, in a coordinated action intended to restore market confidence, agreed to pump United States dollars into the European banking system in the first such show of force in more than a year. Some banks have found it hard to borrow dollars as American lenders grew nervous about their financial condition.

Thursday’s action, coming almost exactly three years after the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers, lifted global stock markets, sharply increasing the value of shares in banks heavily exposed to debt from Greece and the other struggling members of the euro zone. The euro, which had been falling in recent days, rebounded.

The central bank action came as European finance ministers and other policy makers were gathering in Wroclaw, Poland, for meetings on Friday and Saturday. The United States Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, who was scheduled to attend, was expected to urge European officials to act more aggressively to contain the sovereign debt crisis, which has already begun to undercut growth in Europe.

While the move will relieve some pressure on troubled banks, it does not address the underlying problems that made it difficult for the banks to borrow dollars on their own.


The European Central Bank said it would allow banks to borrow dollars for up to three months, instead of just for one week as before, giving them breathing room for the rest of the year. The E.C.B. said it was acting in cooperation with the Federal Reserve of the United States, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank.

In recent days some European banks have faced difficulties in borrowing dollars, whether from other banks or from money market funds in the United States. There was fear that if they could not borrow dollars, they would be forced to cut off loans to American companies or sell dollar-denominated assets, perhaps forcing prices down in already unsteady markets.

The move was possible under deals between the central banks that were already in existence, and the Fed saw no need to make an announcement on Thursday.

While there now is more certainty that banks will have access to funds, deeper issues remain unresolved, including whether they have enough capital to withstand a possible default by Greece on its government debt.

An official forecast warned Thursday that growth in Europe would come “to a virtual standstill” toward the end of the year. It predicted, though, that Europe would just barely avoid a double-dip recession.


Analysts said they expected Mr. Geithner to press European ministers in Wroclaw to increase the resources available to their bailout fund for the euro zone countries. But even the expansion of the fund to 440 billion euros ($611 billion), agreed to in July, has yet to be ratified. There is some worry that countries guaranteeing the bailout fund might themselves face doubts about their own credit. [...]

Gee, ya think?

Worried about losing your high credit rating? Just borrow from somebody whose already lost theirs.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Watson" the game-playing talking super computer is getting a job at your doctors office

But he won't replace your doctor. At least not right away:

IBM's 'Jeopardy' computer lands health care job
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- IBM's Watson computer thrilled "Jeopardy" audiences in February by vanquishing two human champs in a three-day match. It's an impressive resume, and now Watson has landed a plum job.

IBM is partnering with WellPoint, a large health insurance plan provider with around 34 million subscribers, to bring Watson technology to the health care sector, the companies said Monday.


The goal is for Watson to help medical professionals diagnose and sort out treatment options for complicated health issues. Think of the system as an electronic Dr. House.

"Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient's medical care -- symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies," Dr. Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint's (WLP, Fortune 500) chief medical officer, said in a prepared statement.

"Then, imagine using Watson analytic capabilities to consider all of the prior cases, the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge in the medical literature and clinical best practices to help a physician advance a diagnosis and guide a course of treatment," he added.

WellPoint plans to begin deploying Watson technology in small clinical pilot tests in early 2012.


IBM said early on that health care is a field where it anticipated commercialization opportunities for Watson. Other markets IBM is eying include online self-service help desks, tourist information centers and customer hotlines. [...]

So it's going to be used as a tool, like an interactive voice-activated database. The clinical pilot tests should be interesting. If it doesn't work out, perhaps Watson can get a job as a Radio DJ. "Denise" had better watch out!

I've posted about Watson previously:

      "Watson" won. But did it really?

The Sounds of the Sun; What can they tell us?

Perhaps quite a bit:

Listening to the sun may improve space weather forecasts
Scientists at Stanford University find they can predict sunspots up to two days before they appear, which could help better foretell solar flares.

August 20, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times

Sunspots, those dark regions on the surface of the sun whose high magnetic activity has ripple effects for Earthlings, seem to emerge and fade without warning. But now, by listening to the sounds the sun makes, scientists have managed to predict when a sunspot will appear up to two days beforehand.


A team of Stanford University researchers tracked sound-generated activity at different points on the sun's surface and found that sound waves that would normally take an hour to cross from one point to the next traveled 12 to 16 seconds faster when a sun spot was emerging — a surprise, since the researchers expected to see perhaps only one second or so shaved off.

By monitoring sound waves about 37,000 miles below the solar surface, the physicists said, they can predict the emergence of a sunspot one to two days before it appears, depending on how large it is.

"It's very exciting that we can detect them before they become visible," said lead author Stathis Ilonidis, a graduate student studying solar physics at Stanford University. But he added that more data would be needed to show that their results hadn't turned up false positives.

The findings could prove useful to scientists looking to tie sunspots to the space weather events generated days later. Because areas of high magnetic activity are closely linked to dangerous solar activity — from flares to violent coronal mass ejections — being able to understand that magnetic activity may help predict oncoming solar storms and allow people to prepare for them, rather like putting up storm windows in response to a hurricane warning. [...]

Interesting. Thanks to new technologies, we are rapidly finding out a lot more about the sun than we ever knew before. But of course, the more we find out, the more questions we have, too.

I wonder how much we will find out by 2013, when the predicted solar maximum peaks? And it looks like there will be plenty of activity in the meantime too:

More Mammoth Solar Flares Expected From 'Old Faithful' Sunspot, Scientists Say
An active region of the sun that blasted out powerful solar storms four days in a row last week likely isn't done yet, scientists say.

Officially, the flare-spouting region is called sunspot 1283. But space weather experts have dubbed it "Old Faithful," after the famous geyser in the United States' Yellowstone National Park that goes off like clockwork. And the solar Old Faithful should erupt again before it dissipates, researchers said.


From Sept. 5-8, sunspot 1283 produced four big flares and three CMEs. Two of the flares were X-class events and two were M-class flares. (Strong solar flares are classified according to a three-tiered system: X-class are the most powerful, M-class are of medium strength and C-class are the weakest.)

While the rapid motion previously observed in sunspot 1283 seems to have died down a bit, Young said, the sunspot looks poised to erupt again sometime soon.

"There's a good probability that we're still going to see at least another M-class flare, possibly another X-class flare," Young told SPACE.com.

It's not uncommon for sunspots to pop off a number of powerful flares in quick succession the way 1283 has done, he added. That seems to be the natural order of things.

"When you see one big flare, your chances of seeing another one are pretty good," Young said. [...]

Well it looks like there will be lots more "chances" over the next couple of years.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

THE PRAYER CYCLE... a eulogy for the 20th century ...a prayer for the 21st...

On Sundays, the Music from the Hearts of Space website lets listeners hear the featured weekly program for free. This week, they are repeating a program, a Choral Symphony, that has been selected to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9-11.

PGM NOTE : remembering 9/11 with 'The Prayer Cycle'

INTRO : This week we mark the 10th anniversary of the historic attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. Memory of traumatic events changes over time; while others will be recounting the facts and events of that day...we will recall some of the feelings it provoked by repeating a special program from the following week. Even after 10 years, the wound remains tender, the fear it created remains present, and the hope for a better world remains a vision and a prayer.

It was an epoch-defining event that temporarily rendered everything else insignificant. Even our ordinary diet of violent media had not prepared us to comprehend the implacable hatred and disregard for life/ of this phantom enemy. Perhaps no single act in American history has raised more questions, more emotions, more tears.

In the weeks following the attacks, as we arose from our pain and began to move forward, we remained poised on the edge of catharsis — and it is in that spirit that we bring you a program called TERROR AND HOPE.

If spring is the season of hope, then it is fitting that in the spring of 1999, in advance of the Millenium, Sony Classical released a choral symphony by New York composer JONATHAN ELIAS, titled THE PRAYER CYCLE. As we did in 1999, this week we devote the entirety of Hearts of Space to this extraordinary music. But this week, it will sound different, feel different, and will have a different meaning.

JONATHAN ELIAS began writing THE PRAYER CYCLE in the period immediately before the birth of his first child. "I was excited by the possibilities for my child," he says, "but I also felt anxiety and sadness about the world she was about to enter. With all the wondrous advances of mankind, it was painful to acknowledge the other defining characteristic of the 20th century, which is more calculated and cold-blooded than any other period of recorded history. Is man's inhumanity to man as common in our nature as other forms of survival? With these thoughts and concerns, I began to write 'The Prayer Cycle.'"

The effect of this brilliant multi-cultural, multi-language production is extraordinarily powerful and appropriate. "Prayer," says composer Elias, "is what we turn to when the only thing we have left...is hope."

JONATHAN ELIAS' THE PRAYER CYCLE... a eulogy for the 20th century ...a prayer for the 21st... and a plea for a world where we have no choice but to get along — because anything else is unthinkable. TERROR AND HOPE...on this edition...of Hearts of Space.

It's described in further detail at Amazon.com:

The Prayer Cycle
Editorial Reviews

It is with primitive urgency and lustrous clarity rising like flickering embers from a fire that Jonathan Elias's ambitious Prayer Cycle is given voice. Woven together like knotty wool, silk, and fine strands of silvery water, the disparate yet complementary voices of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Alanis Morissette, Yungchen Lhamo, Ofra Haza, the American Boychoir, Salif Keita, and others intertwine in multiple languages with the superb English Chamber Orchestra and Chorus. Prayers of supplication, gratitude, and longing build in layers, one on top of and 'twixt and 'tween the other, as movements titled "Mercy," "Grace," "Innocence," "Compassion," and the like. Remarkably, Elias's Prayer Cycle eloquently captures the ecstasy, pain, grief, and sublime beauty of humanity--as he simply and poignantly writes in his liner notes, "The world we live in is both joyous and cruel." --Paige La Grone

Then there is this, from one of the Amazon.com customer reviews:

"If this does not move you, then you have no soul."
I first heard this as part of a radio program on the local NPR station, and was shamed into silence. The diversity of collaborators in this work (including US folk-rocker James Taylor, Yemenite singer Ofra Haza, Canadian rocker Alanis Morissette, the late Musrat Fateh Ali Khan [one of his last performances], the American Boychoir w/Devin Provenzano, the English Chamber Orch. & Chorus) shows the great number of fields that composer Jonathan Elias was drawing from.

The song "Hope" will lift your spirit, while James Taylor's melancholy vocals on "Grace" will move you to tears (At first, I thought he would be horribly out of place, but his voice fits the work perfectly!). The lyrics run all over the map in language. There are lyrics in Urdu, Mali, Latin, English, French, Italian, Hungarian, Dwala, Tibetan, German, Spanish and Hebrew, but they are listed in English in the CD booklet. I gather this is Elias' way of uniting the world. The lyrics are prayers, laments and pleas for forgiveness. The themes are loneliness, war and regret.

The style of music is definately classical, but does not limit itself to European roots. There are distinct influences from Africa, the Orient, and even various tribal nuances. For someone who was raised on European Classical music, it may be a shock to the system, but it works, and it is wonderful!

I forsee this recording to be one of the hand-picked few that future generations will draw upon for inspiration. As we as a people on this planet become closer, our world seems to become smaller. Our hopes, dreams, and cultures begin to overlap. This recording is proof that, when skillfully co-ordinated they can create incredible harmony.

Highly, highly reccomended.

I love Choral music. This reminded me of Carmina Burana, which was also a multi-language choral work in the classical style, though I think Prayer Cycle goes further, by blending in non-classical styles as well. It reminds me of some of the "World Fusion Music" I've heard, which is a growing music genre.

Perhaps this is a glimpse of what is going to be the future of classical music in our Brave New World? Only time will tell.

The song list for Prayer Cycle on Amazon looks slightly different than the one on the Hearts of Space website. There may be different versions. The one at Hearts of Space is available to hear in full for free, but today only.


My most popular blog post is on a most unpopular topic

At least it's unpopular with me. It's the blog post I did in 2007, about 9-11, and the circumstances of the people who jumped or fell to their deaths:

The 9-11 jumpers; they didn't "jump"

It's not a nice topic by any means; it was painful to write about. Yet it receives more hits in Google searches than any other post on my blog. And each year around September 11th, the hits skyrocket. I think this year, it will be the highest ever:

Source: My Site Meter

People leave comments on the post. Some of them are incredibly vile, cheap and disgusting. Others push political agendas and conspiracy theories.

There are other places to post that stuff. The topic of the jumper post is the jumpers/fallers. I try to keep it on that topic, and delete anything else.

I sometimes think I'd like to turn comments off for that post. Perhaps I will one day. But some people seem to use the comments to help them deal with something, so maybe that's a good thing. And they aren't all bad.

Someone left this comment today:
Thank you. I want to understand the world around me before I choose my own conclusions. I do not want to be pushed around, I'm tired of it. Thank you for your honesty, for your courage with difficult material, and for the respect you have shown all of us who have read this article. [...]

That IS what I was trying for, so I'm glad some people understand that. I was not trying to tell people what to think, but rather to just try to provide a complete picture of the variables many of the jumpers/fallers may have faced (and the lack of acceptable choices available to them).

And I will quite freely admit that it's possible some people jumped out of despair. But there are many variations on the human theme; each person was unique, and we just can't know what was going through all their minds, or the details of what each one faced. Yet, I think it's likely that NONE of them would have jumped or fallen that day, if the planes did not hit the towers. They were forced into impossible circumstances that are painful to even imagine.

The above commenter ended his comment with:
[...] Again, thank you. This thoughtfulness, honesty, and respect for others is the only path back to national greatness. [...]

Those qualities, given and received, are much needed. I hope we will all strive for them, because it will help. It's impossible for us all to agree on everything, nor do we need to, but we do need to stand on common ground and be united on those things we can be united on.

From 9-11, to a Farm. Life, Death, and what is important to us.

I was living in San Francisco when 9-11 happened; I'd lived there for many years. I'd always preferred rural life to urban life, but I needed to work, and cities offered more job opportunities.

By 2001 I was a business owner. But as the economy soured, our business suffered, and we sold up and moved out. To a rural area, where we have a business in town and a small farm at home. I always figured we were heading to a place like this eventually. But 9-11, and it's effect on the economy and our business, made us decide to make the transition sooner rather than later.

While surfing the net, I came across one woman's 9-ll story. She worked near the towers. She got caught in the dust cloud when the first tower collapsed. She's a writer, and reading her story makes you feel like you were there:

First-hand account of 9/11
At the Wall St. train stop people were covered with papers. A plane crash. That's what everyone said. Then a boom. Everyone ran. I ran to my office and called my brother in the Midwest.

I wanted to be closer. At the corner of Church and Broadway, I angled my way through a large, packed crowd to get the best view. We talked about people jumping. The police stood behind the yellow tape. Minutes later, there was a boom. I thought it was a bomb, so I crouched, but people ran, so I ran. I couldn't see anything. I don't know how far I ran. Couldn't see where I was running. Didn't know if I was in a street or next to a building. Didn't know what street I was on. No one could talk because the dust filled our throats. After about ten steps I tripped over a pile of people and then people tripped on me.

I laid there. The only sound was the falling of dust and debris. No one moved under me. The weight of people on top of me got heavier. I couldn't breathe. I knew we were all going to die in that pile. I pulled myself out of the pile. My slip-ons slipped off. I stood up and saw nothing. Not even an inch in front of me. I put my hands out and felt for something. [...]

She ends up drinking out of a ... well, read the whole thing.

She writes for a living. She has a blog, and she's written about how the experience has affected her, shaped her life, even 10 years later:

Surviving 9/11: Ten years later

She also lives on a farm now. I can't say there are a lot of other similarities between my life and hers. But she does have some keen insights, and I do know, like her, that, when you think you are going to die in the next moment, your priorities suddenly become very clear. And when you survive, instead of die, if you have any sort of depth to you, those revealed priorities stay with you the rest of your life.

And I have to say, poking around her blog, I've really enjoyed reading some of her rants, observations, and advice:

What to do in college right now

Bad career advice: Do what you love

Motivation Tips from the Bath

Best alternative to grad school

Voices of the defenders of grad school. And me crushing them.

Overcome the willpower myth

Figuring out where you fit

She isn't politically correct, and her posts are full of interesting embedded links.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Corriander, our beloved Chug, is no more

She was a Chihuahua - Pug mix, so we called her a "Chug". She was 16 years old, which is something like 115 in dog years. She died one week ago tonight.

It was my ham radio night, when our radio net meets on the air. I always feed the dogs a little later on those nights. The net had ended, and I had prepared her food and was bringing it to her when I heard her yelping rapidly, in a panic. She was on her bed, with her head hanging over the edge, like she was trying to get up.

I put the food down and rushed to her, just in time to hold her while she died.

I think it was her heart. It didn't last long. I held her and stroked her and rubbed her ears and spoke the usual words of comfort to her, as the life left her body.

It was sad. And it sounds kinda awful, but it wasn't really. She died at home, in the hands of someone who loved her. And it was quick.

She was completely deaf, and almost completely blind. She slept most of the time.

Last year, she started to lose her mind, like a kind of doggie alzheimers. The vet put her on some prescription dog kibble, called "b/d" (for "brain diet"). It worked; she came back to us, mentally. But she continued to slow down physically.

I had to walk her on the leash, or she wouldn't walk with us. Toward the end, I carried her a lot. On that last day, I could not find her leash, so I had carried her most of the way through our walk in the woods.

At night she would poop and pee on newspapers I left out for her, because she couldn't manage the stairs anymore, or even the dog door. Lately she had stared to become careless about going on the paper; I was dreading having to take her to the vet to be put down, putting it off as long as I could. Now that won't be necessary.

I had hoped she would die quietly in her sleep. But perhaps she needed me to be there at the end. Anyway, that's how it played out. I was there.

Our other two dogs were there, watching. They understood.

She had a good long life. We had some fun times. I posted once years back about how she survived cancer, using natural treatments. She continued to enjoy life, even as she aged. As she slowed down, we made it easier for her.

We buried her in the garden, next to Saffron, our Boarder Collie - Aussie Shepard mix, whom she was very attached to. I planted blue daisies on top of her grave, so that when I say "Corrie's pushing up daisies now", it will be more than just a figure of speech.

Good bye, Corrie. You will always be my favorite Chug.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

"The psychological pain will be much greater than the Great Depression, even though the physical conditions will be much better."

That's a quote from an author selling a book about the coming burst of the "dollar bubble", and what changes it will bring to life in the USA.

I've posted previously about dangers to US currency, about various scenarios such as a complete collapse of our currency similar to (or even worse than) the hyper inflation of 1920's Germany.

But what if, the actual consequences were not as bad as any of those? Or even as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s? Authors of a new book make a similar claim, but they also say it's going to SEEM worse to us, because we've gotten so used to easy money and credit for so long.

Their book is called "Aftershock":

Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown
From the Inside Flap
From the authors who accurately predicted the domino fall of the conjoined real estate, stock, and private debt bubbles that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, now comes the definitive look at what is still ahead in 2012 and beyond—and what investors can do right now to protect themselves.

Based on the authors' unmatched track record of precise predictions in the two landmark books America's Bubble Economy and Aftershock, this Second Edition of Aftershock updates the original book by more than 35 percent with fresh analysis of the latest economic developments, plus offers new in-depth advice for how readers can prepare now for protection and profits in the next global money meltdown.

The second edition of Aftershock shows readers:

Why the latest actions by the U.S. Federal Reserve will eventually damage the dollar and hurt investors worldwide

How future rising inflation and interest rates will harm your specific investments, and what to do about it

The future fall of China's bubble economy, as well as current and future problems with European debt

Detailed investment advice about real estate, retirement, annuities, life insurance, and much more

What's next for stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities, and other assets

How to buy and own gold and silver before, during, and after the coming Aftershock

O.K. fine, another one of THOSE books. They all seem to say "buy gold", which is fine if you got plenty of spare cash lying around. Sorry, none of mine is spare or lying around, it's all working. Then they usually offer advice about managing your stock portfolio, your 401K, and other things I don't even have.

I haven't read this book, so I don't know if it's like that. I don't even know if I would buy it. So why am I writing about it?

Because, the authors claim that their publishers made them delete a chapter from the book, that talks about what life is going to be like in the USA after the currency bubble bursts, on the grounds that it was "too grim".

Well, that did make me curious. And it turns out, they have made that 20 page chapter available as a free download on their Amazon page:

More to Explore: Bonus Chapter
Read a bonus chapter (PDF)--available exclusively on Amazon.com--which details the authors' predictions and recommendations for a post-dollar-bubble world.

Now of course I know this is a promotional device for selling the book. Duh. But that doesn't mean that some of the ideas expressed aren't interesting. Lets have a look at a few excerpts and see:

[...] When the dollar bubble collapses, the huge government debt bubble will fall, too. That means the falling value of the dollar will have caused enough foreign investors to become concerned enough about the value of their dollar-denominated investments that they will no longer be willing to buy U.S. government bonds at a reasonable price. This means the government will not be able to refinance its debt (just like a company that loses the faith of its creditors) and instead the government will have to resort to inflation, tax increases, and budget cuts to deal with the situation (see Chapter 3).

Like a family without their credit cards, the U.S. government will be forced to live within the constraints of its actual income, which at this point will be a rapidly declining tax base, much like what California is now facing, but far worse because the U.S. government became very comfortable receiving so much income from deficit financing. Inflation would normally be an additional tool for the government to raise money, but inflation can only be raised so far without destroying a modern industrial economy, such as that in the United States. The amount of inflation the government can feasibly run was discussed in Chapter 3 (about 50 to 100 percent).

That means the government will not be able to create any big stimulus packages or tax cuts or anything of the sort. It will have to cut, cut, cut spending so it can live on its income. Some may see this as a refreshing change—a government that lives within its means. But it will not feel very refreshing. Many things we take for granted, like large pensions, will have to be curtailed. We have gotten very comfortable with a government that always has money and never has to worry about running out; a government that never has to raise taxes to fund wars or stimulus packages; a government with unlimited credit. That’s over.

Even during the Great Depression the government’s finances were rock solid and it could certainly borrow money, if needed. But, in the post-dollar-bubble world, the government will be like the rest of us, only worse. It will have its credit cards cut off and a much lower income while still having a massive debt that it can’t possibly make payments on or even pay interest on, and eventually it won’t make principal or interest payments. So, it will have to live within its means.


Key cuts will hit both the "guns and butter" of the government budget. Cuts in military spending will be much larger than contemplated today and will focus disproportionately on the Navy and Air Force.

On the "butter" side, the most important cut will be to make Social Security means tested, making Social Security essentially a welfare program. For those who have little or no income or assets, Social Security will definitely be there to help. However, for those who have income or assets, forget it.

In addition, Medicare (medical care for older people) reimbursements to doctors and hospitals will be reduced. Since huge numbers of unemployed people and retirees with no more retirement money will qualify for Medicaid (medical care for poor people), Medicaid will explode in size so reimbursements to doctors and hospitals will have to be cut from their already abysmally low levels, and there will be tougher rules on what gets reimbursed. A large percentage of doctors today won’t even accept Medicaid payments because the reimbursements are too low. But Medicaid will grow to be so important that doctors won’t have any choice but to accept its payments. Essentially, in a post-dollar-bubble world, Medicaid will become our national health care program.

High inflation will do much of the dirty work in cutting budgets. Remember, when inflation is high, budget cuts are accomplished simply by not raising budgets to match inflation. So, inflation will be blamed for much of the government budget cutting. [...]

It goes on to describe huge "progressive" tax increases, why they are unavoidable, how they will play out, etc. All important and interesting but too much for me to excerpt here.

There is lots more, but I'm going to skip to a few highlights:

[...] The high unemployment and high bankruptcy rates of the post-dollar-bubble economy, combined with a greatly pared down government will, for a while, create an unusual set of economic conditions. For example, in such a chaotic economic situation, there will be little incentive for people to pay their mortgages or other debts. Many of their creditors will be insolvent and there will be no significant market for selling the properties. Much of the management of these debts will be handed over to an overwhelmed government with little interest in foreclosure. Even if it did foreclose, who would it possibly sell the properties to? And there will be no serious financing available for buyers at that point, anyway. Certainly, the government won’t be able to provide financing.

A good decision for many people will be to simply stop paying their debts. Even rent may not be worth paying as evictions could become increasingly politically difficult for elected sheriffs to carry out. Plus, it will be difficult for landlords to find good tenants to replace the bad ones. Debt repayment will become a bit lawless during this period.

Businesses will follow a similar path as individuals. They will stop paying mortgages and other debts and even limit the rent they pay to what is needed to fund basic utilities and maintenance. They won’t be making much money and if they have to pay rent above basic costs, in many cases, they will go under—something the landlord doesn’t want to see either since there are no good tenants to replace them.

As a result of all this, squatters will be increasingly common for business, and even more common for individuals since it will be politically difficult, and of little economic advantage, to throw tenants out. Local governments will have very tight budgets and won’t have the resources to spend on throwing people (and voters) out of their homes so that the landlord can have a vacant property with no prospects of rental. This situation will not last forever, but in the meantime, people will take advantage of it.


Pension fund investments in stocks, bonds and real estate will plunge in value. Government contributions to pension funds will also plunge along with falling tax receipts. Government unions may protest, but the reality will be a lack of tax revenue and there will be little ability or interest in raising taxes to fund payments to employees who aren’t working while governments have to massively cut the number of employees who are working.

Yes, there may be lots of legal challenges, but in the end, the bottom line will be the bottom line. Also, since inflation will be high, the easy way to cut pensions will simply be to raise them less than inflation. If pensions are not inflation adjusted, they are easy to eliminate. If they are inflation adjusted, expect the laws to be changed so that they are no longer inflation adjusted.

Yes, there will be court fights, but the money simply won’t be there anymore. Even federal pensions will go the way of state and local pensions. So, clearly there will be will be no federal government bailouts of state and local pensions.


FDIC insured savings accounts are a bit different. There will likely be some sort of needs based payment for small insured accounts. Clearly, there won’t be full payment, but the government may be able to pay with inflated dollars some portion of FDIC insured savings when banks fail. Since so many banks will be failing, the government can’t possibly pay accounts that are above the insured level, but it could pay some amount of money on accounts under the maximum level of insurance, currently $250,000.

The government will also be able to maintain a payments mechanism so that there will be no problem conducting transactional banking business, such as writing checks or using debit cards. The government will also be able to support banks in making asset- based loans on items such as inventory and receivables. However, the government won’t be able to support banks to make mortgage loans, non-asset based business loans, commercial real estate loans, loans to buy businesses, credit card loans, etc.


No New “New Deal”

While some people now say they are worried about drifting toward socialism or "sharing the wealth," in fact there won’t be much wealth to share. Instead of the rich funding the poor, the middle class will shoulder most of that burden by paying very high taxes to fund nearly all of the enormous number of people on welfare. Instead of shared wealth we will have "shared poverty".

With the government essentially in default on its loans, it will have no way to raise money for its welfare programs, other than through taxes. And since there will be so few wealthy people left to tax, that leaves only the middle class and the much smaller upper-middle class to carry the load. Still, working and paying very high taxes, perhaps as high as 50 percent, will be better than not working at all.


The most important difference in the post-dollar bubble world from the pre-dollar bubble world won’t be lower stock or real estate prices, but interestingly, jobs. On a day-to-day level, the lack of jobs will be what affects people the most. Many people lucky enough to have jobs will move down the ladder, not up. For example, a former senior accountant at an accounting firm might have to take a job as a bookkeeper or very junior accountant at a business, and at much lower pay, rather than at an accounting firm Employees will work longer hours for less pay and in less appealing conditions. Benefits will be gone or reduced and competition for jobs will be fierce. Just about everyone will know they could be easily replaced.

However, it won’t be anything like the Great Depression of 1929 because of two important differences:

1. The nation will be much wealthier, so few will suffer like they did in the Great Depression.

2. Paradoxically, because we are much wealthier, unemployment will be much higher, likely in the 40- to 60-percent range, when counting the discouraged unemployed.

Unemployment can be much higher when the nation is wealthier because people don’t have to have jobs. Unemployed people can live with parents, children, relatives, or friends. Plus, there will be a solid safety net of welfare from the government, although people who are used to today’s prosperity will consider the net abysmally low.

In the Depression, if there were a job paying pennies for picking oranges (as in The Grapes of Wrath) you’d take it because you had to. In our much wealthier society, the people who do have jobs will be much better paid and will help support friends and relatives who are unemployed.


With unemployment in the 40- to 60 percent range, GDP will also drop by a similar amount, but again, even with a 50 percent drop, that would still be a $7 trillion economy in today’s dollars. That’s still pretty big bucks. However, it won’t feel like big bucks. And that is another big difference between the post-dollar-bubble world and the Great Depression: The psychological pain will be much greater for us today.


As mentioned earlier, This is because expectations were so very high prior to the Bubblequake; much higher than before the Great Depression. Real estate had gone up phenomenally, stock values had gone up phenomenally, and money was easy, not only in the United States but overseas, as well. It seemed like a new billionaire was born every minute. [...]

There is lots, lots more. How small businesses, student loans, education, banks etc. are going to be affected. And of course a pitch to read the whole book.

I'm not saying I think it's all true; but I can see the logic of many of the arguments. Anyway it's food for thought, in the interesting times we live in. Read the whole thing and see what you think.

Whether or not it's a glimpse of the Brave New World ahead of us, remains to be seen. At any rate, we shall see.

Good Lessons from the "Photo-Chemical Age"

I recently did a post about Super 8 film making in the 1970's when I was a kid. I've seen many stories on the internet about other people who did so too.

The following story I found amusing, and close to my own experience. The author goes into detail about how different film making was back then, in the "Photo-Chemical Age", and the valuable lessons it taught us budding film makers:

Blood, Sweat and Latex: An Ode to Super 8mm Film
[...] Growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s was a challenging time for burgeoning filmmakers. There were no consumer video cameras, no computers with editing software, and certainly no digital cameras. I recently heard someone describe this as the “Photo-Chemical Age” in an attempt to make it sound horrible and archaic. After all, now we can shoot, edit, and post our films more easily than sitting through 80% of what Hollywood has to offer these days.

Well, it was the opposite back then. Motion Pictures were fantastic, and the theater experience was a tremendous joy, but making your own movies required a level of commitment that certainly would discourage anyone with a mild interest. Equipment wasn’t cheap and it had its limitations as well. Call it what you will, but the Photo-Chemical Age was glorious as well as frustrating.


It was the mid-1970s when I asked for my first Super 8mm* camera. I had looked through that Christmas’ Sears Wishbook and had found, what I thought, was the slickest movie camera that my father would creak open his wallet and purchase for me. Instantly, I had delusions of shooting King Kong in my garage. Really? How hard could it be?

Christmas arrived and I recall holding my first Super 8mm in my hand. This was it. I was now a filmmaker without ever shooting a frame of film. However, I was determined.

I began by building my first miniature set for my dinosaur epic. Taking brown paper garbage bags, cutting them up, turning them inside out, I fashioned a cliff-side wall for my backdrop rather than painting a cyclorama. I found appropriate plants and sticks to fashion miniature trees and flora. I even made vines out of painted cotton string.

Grabbing my camera, I looked through the eyepiece and found myself staring into a fantastic primordial world! Pulling the trigger back, I heard the motor kick in, the film begin moving in the cartridge and just like that, I was then, REALLY a filmmaker!

I grabbed one of my Prehistoric Scenes dinosaurs, pulled its head off and puppeteered it in front of the camera. Genius! I grabbed my Space: 1999 Eagle model kit off of my bedroom shelf, tied black threads to the framework and lowered it into the jungle. Oh, man! This was going to be SWEET! Dinosaurs! Space ships! I had made my first epic.

Finally, I heard the film stop in the cartridge and shooting was officially wrapped on my first effort. What I had done would be the envy of everyone I knew.

Then, came a series of hard lessons in Super 8 filmmaking.

When we were young and shooting Super 8 film with joyous abandon, the first thing most of us learned was this: After you shoot, you had to bring your exposed film to a Drug Store to have it developed and, at least in New Orleans, this processing could take up to 3 weeks!


When I got my first film reel back from the drug store, I remember opening the little plastic case it was in and spooling the leader on the ground, I held it up to the sun to see if anything turned out. HOLY COW! I could see green! It must be the jungle! I loaded the film into my projector and the real “film school” began.

1. It was out of focus. I didn’t realize that my camera had a “fixed focus” lens, which meant that if you shot anything from infinity to 3 feet from the film gate, it would probably be in focus.

2. It wasn’t lined up correctly. I didn’t realize that film cameras came in two models: Reflex and Parallax. Reflex cameras essentially were “view through the lens” where Parallax had view-finders (or “range finders”) that were independent of the main camera lens. I had a Parallax camera.

3. The exposure wasn’t correct. Most of these basic Super 8 cameras were automatic exposure meaning that it would be taking constant light readings through a little sensor and adjust the aperture constantly causing dark and light extremes throughout the shot.

So much for my big Sci-Fi effort. Not having much to go on, I went to the library and checked out as many books on Home Film Production that I could.


Now, for a bit of honesty: I rarely saw a Super 8 film that looked any good. Because the film was so small, it tended to be grainy. There were a couple of people that managed to get some good results, but I wouldn’t meet them until college. But what was so good about the format is that it forced you to think and plan.

You couldn’t just turn your camera on (or pick an app on your iPhone) and start shooting. You had to take your time, check your exposure, check your focus, make sure your eyepiece was closed (or your eye was against it), and then rehearse. Film cartridges were only 3 minutes and could run up to $7. Wasting film was not an option. In short, it TAUGHT you how to make movies through hard knocks. [...]

He mentioned the Space: 1999 model spaceship. I had one of those, and filmed it too. I also made backdrops and sets and experimented with stop-motion animation... and made all the same mistakes, but also learned the same lessons.

In the full article he mentions Super-8-filmaker magazine (with an embedded link), and the "Craven Backwinder", which was used to back-wind the film for double exposures, allowing you to do amazing special effects. I know because I had one, and used it to full advantage. I had great fun experimenting with it. I was also an avid reader of Super-8-Filmaker magazine.

Read the whole thing. It's a great remembrance of the joys and the agonies of the those pre-digital, Photo-Chemical days. When movie-making was challenging, and film was film!

Also see:

Super 8 filmmakers of the '70's. I was one!

Super 8 Film and High Definition Video

"Super 8" is Great


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Technological Dinosaurs

VMWare Chief To Microsoft: Who's The Dinosaur?
[...] What we’re seeing in the cloud era is not just hundreds of millions but billions of new users and devices now coming into play. Three years ago over 95 percent of the devices connected to the Internet were personal computers. Three years from now that number will probably be less than 20 percent. More than 80 percent of the devices connected to the Internet will not be Windows-based personal computers. [...]

Read the whole thing, for context and embedded links.

A glitch in the sidebar

There was something wrong with the blog the past two days. The page would load, then be re-directed to another site when the blogroll code in the sidebar would try to load. I've deleted the code, so the blog should load normally now.