Thursday, May 29, 2008

The "Bottled Water" Dilemma and One Smart Kid

Back when we were living in Midtown Manhattan, I remember reading an interesting article in the NY Times about the popularity of bottled water. The article gave reasons for its popularity, but went on to discuss the unintended consequences of this craze, which namely was the stress all of the empty bottles were putting on landfills. The NY Times article was published in 2006 and I found it online here.

Recently, a kid from Canada, Daniel Burd, isolated a micro-organism that breaks down plastic. He's 16 years old, and this post is devoted to his efforts to solve a very important problem. Please click on the links below which go through his methods to isolate this promising bacteria. If his research proves feasible, we could potentially accelerate the breakdown of all that man-made plastic.

Link 1

Link 2

Oh Crap

Maybe I spoke too soon. Clearly the same engineers that worked on the logistics around the Phoenix lander to Mars were not the same engineers to work on the toilet in the International Space station. Part Discovery's mission critical payload was a pump for the broken toilet on the space station...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Simply Amazing

No, it's not one of those Magic Eye posters...

These are pictures of the Mars lander "Phoenix", descending upon the Martian surface. The first is an enlarged picture of the lander, while the second shows the scale of the crater the lander landed in.

Mars is approximately 50 - 250 million miles away from the Earth (the distance fluctuates because each planets' orbit does not make up perfect concentric circles).

Think about it. I'm the first to admit that I can barely drive to Delaware without getting lost, and most days, the cell phones we use barely get reception god forbid we walk through a tunnel. This thing flew millions of miles through space, landed succesfully on the surface of another planet, and radioed back pictures.

Simply amazing and 'effing awesome. Thank you NASA for making us all realize that the human race could potentially do anything or overcome any problems if we truly wanted to. The reality is that competing incentives and the lack of a superordinate goal makes it often feel otherwise on this blue marble.

Official Mission Site

Oil -- How is it Formed?

With all the talk these days about oil, I had to jog my memory regarding a simple question. How is oil formed? Calling oil a "fossil fuel" is a hint, but I've posted some links that explain the process of how oil is formed (in the Earth) and then the value chain that extracts, converts and distributes oil in its various final forms to you and I the consumer. It's important to understand the chain so that you can understand its price.

Link to "How is Oil Formed"

Link to One of the Sources in Above Link, "Where does my Gasoline come from?"

Supposedly margins on gas are razor thin, so while the oil companies make tons of dough, the small franchise owner that operates the gas stations have become more reliant upon changing their product mix offering.

Washington Post Link on Gas Station Margins

Link to How Franchisee is Getting Squeezed

Stimulus Check Dopes and the Bailout of the Consumer

So what did you with the check the government sent you as part of its bailout? Here's a great site that celebrates the fiscally responsible. Enjoy, the world is well on its way to owning this country.

Link to "How I Spent my Stimulus"

On a separate but related note, please check out the WSJ for its three part series on how Bear Stearns imploded. The government, in my humble opinion, should not get involved in bailing out irresponsible behavior. (BTW, the bailout of BSC and the consumer are one in the same, hence the separate but related note.) The moral hazard is that without the deterrence of negative consequences, we are destined to repeat our mistakes, ala the S&L crisis in the 80's and LTCM prior to this asset bubble. During the Cold War, Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, is what kept the U.S. and Russia from annihilating each other. (If Russia launched one missile at the US, the US would launch 1000 back at them, which deterred either superpower from making the first move because the end game would be mutual destruction.)

The bailout is like the parent that pays a kid's bills and then wonders why the kid continues to take risks, overspends, or fails to consider the adverse consequence of their actions. Sometimes you should let things implode. Fear is a great motivator for future responsible behavior. I';ve listed a couple of links to an article about a recent book called "A Nation of Wimps." It's about the impact of "over-parenting" on a child's development.

At the risk of sounding trite, here's a link to Tolman's famous psychology experiment. I'll give you the abridged version. 2 groups of rats; group 1 is fed regularly and all its needs were taken care of. Group 2, is fed randomly, and little attention is paid to them. After not feeding each group of rats so they were hungry, the researchers then put each group in identical mazes where the object was to find the food at the maze's center.

Guess which group went and found the food, and which group waited for the investigators to feed them?*

Sometimes rats can teach us a lot about learning and human behavior...

Link to Tolman's Famous Experiment

Link to "A Nation of Wimps"

Link to Psychology Today Article on Nation of Wimps

* For those who couldn't see the linkage, the rats that were fed randomly didn't wait for help but went out and found the food. The "well attended to" rats that were babied waited for someone to feed them, versus "going out and learning" how to feed themselves.

Jimmy Carter...Whoops

Jimmy Carter just made the mideast peace process a bit more difficult for the peace envoy, Tony Blair. What's stunning about his comments is that while most don't find this as a surprise, it's never been acknowledged publicly by any high ranking official. What's most interesting though is that none of the major media outlets picked this up online, or if they did, it's buried behind the American Idol stories.

Link to Jimmy's Comments

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Worth a Look

This video was posted on CNN, and it's worth a look. If you can be open minded and think about what this guys is saying, he's actually got some valid points. The bottom line is that this video gives hope about people in general. If a dog and a cat and a rat can get along, why not us?

In this guy's words, "animals are simple...people are complicated."

Well said.

Link to Video

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Philly Drought

There was a great article on about how tough it's been to be a Philly fan, listing the top 100 "heartbreaks" during the past 100 seasons. SI actually ranked the Eagles loss in the 2003 NFC championship game as the #1 Philly heartbreak. I can still remember 610-WIP talking about the Super Bowl like it was a done deal going into the Tampa Bay game. Mike Miscanelli was the only voice of reason at the time, and to this day, I can remember that game...just like the soft side goal Vanbiesbrouck left in when the Flyers failed to close out the NJ Devils. And of course we all remember where we were when the Wild Thing served up the home run to Joe Carter in 1993. I was watching with my fraternity brothers and we all knew it was coming. When JC hit the bomb, all i remember were the beer bottles and the chips hitting our TV, it was brutal.

Enjoy, it's all true. In the words of Ricky Watters, "FOR WHO, FOR WHAT??"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Graphology -- Continued

Yahoo listed this story on its entry page this morning. While I have blogged about this before here, this story is interesting because they look at the handwriting of the three presidential candidates.

At first glance, you could argue that Clinton's signature suggests that she is very controlled, pays attention to detail, and has a somewhat high self-esteem given the upswing at the end of her signature. The controlling nature is suggested by the very clear, un-rushed signature, as if she is thinking about the way she is perceived or looks, or thinking about everything she says and how it will be interpreted.

John McCain's signature suggests a very authoritative nature, with the sharp strokes. The little "c" is interesting because if you try and do this signature, you have to pause to make this letter before continuing on. It suggests a tendency to be decisive first but that later, he may contemplate his actions only after he has begun to set them in motion. The down-swing in his signature suggests that he may waver with his esteem, but that could be said with all of us.

Finally, BO's signature is extremely interesting. Graphology suggests that people who sign their name illegibly may have an air of arrogance, or are extremely evasive or secretive. Signing your name to the point where it is highly illegible suggests a subconscious exertion of power, because people must decipher what it is you've penned. It's subtle. Obama's illegible signature also suggests a protective or private nature, in that, i'm hard to understand, or I don't have to explain to you what I'm about because I know what I'm about and that's what matters. Self-confidence bordering on arrogance, etc. Finally, the "leftward" tilt that evolves "rightward" suggests that BO may have protective/private tendencies when asked to open up to others, but maybe wants to open up despite this.

Multiple samples from these folks where you don't know who the sample is from ("a blinded study") would be more telling than one data point. But it is interesting.

Link to Yahoo Story

Some other signatures:

Tiger Woods

Alan Greenspan

Michael Jordan

Mystery Handwriting Sample

Monday, May 12, 2008

Latest Presidential Futures Contracts on InTrade

I've posted "price charts" for the 2008 Presidential election.

Clinton's Futures Contract (Price Support Gone, "Demand Soft")

Obama's Futures Contract (Price Increase, Demand "Heavy")

McCain's Futures Contract (Price Decline, Demand "Falling")

Katie Cakes

"help me're the only one that can help..."

Video of Katie's New Trick


It should be noted that while Katie looks bored with this, it's more arrogance. She's grown tired of this trick. She actually has another trick I taught her where she picks which hand the peanut is in and uses both paws to show me what she wants. It's awesome.

God I love our doggie.

Hill and Bill

There is a great op-ed piece in the WSJ about Hillary Clinton. Please realize that the WSJ is a fairly conservative publication, but this is a good read to remind folks that if you can look past the gender arguments that folks argue for and against Hillary, we should all be reminded that this is not an altruistic politician out to help this country. It seems now that even her Party has assessed her cost/benefit ratio as unfavorable.

I still think her strategy is to stick it out since OB seems to be a headline away from alienating the general populous. Stranger things have happened, but most must agree, we may just be picking the person who pisses us off the least.

Link to WSJ Op-Ed Piece on the Clintons

Google Killer?

The utility of Google's technology has been proven again and again. Basically a giant data warehouse, Google's competitive edge is its ability to associate all of the searches people do and specifically target these results for someone who then uses Google. It's a marketers dream, and as such, Google has successfully monetized this technology to generate ad revenue to target adds to the searches people do.

However, just like Jack Nickalaus replaced Arnold Palmer, there is an up and coming young golfer who will one day break Tiger's records (no it's not Michelle Wie.) There is a search engine getting a lot of hype in the technosphere out there called "Powerset." Its supposed advantage over Google is that allows you to enter phrases that have meaning vs. Google's keyword search...In other words, instead of searching for "Tiger Woods great golfer" and getting things about Tiger Woods, tigers, deciduous forests, and Ben Hogan, Powerset understands the phrase as one continuous entity, and then targets the search results approrpiately. As a side note, you can do this in Google, but it's manually intensive, in that you have to type in wildcards like "Tiger Woods a great golfer" but even then, the exact phrase has to be in the search, thus limiting your search results. The bottom line is that Powerset seeks to understand your search as language, not words. It's the evolutionary equivalent step to integrating the computer/human interaction seamlessly.

If you are still failing to see the connection as to why this technology could be so ground breaking, think about artificial intelligence. At Bucknell, I read papers on AI back in my cognitive psychology classes, which is the study of how our brains understand the world around us. Most of us think about robots when thinking about artificial intelligence (and some think about the WMDs that were supposedly in Iraq...or Allen Iverson, we talking about 'practice...Not a game....we talking about practice...!) Artificial intelligence is something we all know what it is or looks like, but it is unbelievably difficult to put into practice. Well this could be the first step.

I'm still on the fence, but click on the links below or watch the short video to be your own judge. It's coming, robots that understand relational tasks and computers who can recognize emotion based upon what we say and do. It's fascinating stuff.

Link to Official Site

Powerset Demo Video from officialpowerset on Vimeo

Dream Big

In my traditional Monday morning reading, I checked out Peter King's blog on as I always do. You could say his blog is a bit of the inspiration behind my feeble attempts at this site. Nonetheless, he has a pretty good scoop on the NFL, and his column is priceless come fantasy football season.

Erin and I are headed up to see Erin's sister Meghan graduate at PSU this weekend. PSU holds a special place in our hearts since this is where we met in B-school. At the time, we both wanted to go to better business schools, but we both didn't want to take on the additional debt of $100K. (There's something about spending money to make the equivalent or less that goes against the laws we've studied as finance professionals.) When I look back at some of the truly best moments in our life together, we realize how that decision was the most important one in our lives, for all the reasons we certainly didn't know at the time.

Getting back to Peter King's column, in today's addition, he cites Mike Tomlin, and the speech he recently gave to graduates at Virginia Military Institute and William and Mary, his Alma mater. Mike Tomlin is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He replaced the legendary Bill Cowher, and follows in a long line of coaching greats there in Pittsburgh like Chuck Knoll.

However, what I find inspirational about Mike is not that he's one of the few African-American head coaches in a predominately white club, but that he comes from such a humble background. Tomlin is a guy who's toiled and paid his dues, and never worried about how much he was going to make but that he believed in his dream and the sacrifices he made to get there. All of that hard work has landed him in one of the most lucrative positions in football. His commencement speeches, given without notes Peter King points out, should be mandatory reading for all, graduates and the like. Life is hard, and takes a lot of work to be successful as so often is measured by those around you. Lots bitch about the money they don't have, or give up and live off their parents, but the truly successful and happy people take all that energy and make something out of their lives. There was a great line in the Sopranos. Tony Soprano, in a weak moment, asks his poor Russian immigrant cleaning lady why he's so miserable and why she's always so happy. And she replies matter-of-factly, "it's because you Americans wake up expecting to be rich."

I had never heard of Mike Tomlin before his appointment as head coach last year. He's an inspiration that hard work, dreaming and patience are the forces behind realized dreams. I put him up there with one of my true inspirations, my mom, who basically raised four of us by herself. Mike is almost as tough as she is.

Peter King's Column on Tomlin is here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

And the Ass of the Week is....?

These days, there are almost too many choices, but after careful consideration, I believe this week's award goes to Roger Clemens. Roger has spent a lot of time in the news recently, and none of it has been very flattering. While it isn't really a surprise, what is at stake is Roger's character and reputation as he continues to fight the accusations about steroid use. Somewhere, Brian McNamee's lawyer is drinking a celebratory beer while Roger's counsel is probably in a bar doing tequila shooters as his case just got harder to defend.

If the prosecution wants to prove Roger's alledged use via "roid rage", I would find Mike Piazza and ask him to take the witness stand. Maybe he can hopefully recall being 1) beaned in the head by RC and 2) have RC throw the broken bat back to Mike instead of grabbing the slow rolling grounder as Mike ran to first base in the playoffs back in 2000 fall classic.

Innocent until proven guilty, they say, but this cannot bode well for team Clemens.

Link to Clemens Latest PR Nightmare