Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome Instapundit Readers

I got Instalanched. Thanks Glenn! For new readers poking around, welcome and I hope you enjoy your visit.

While the selfish part of me hopes you stick around, please do click through on the plea to President Obama not to decertify Madagascar from AGOA's preferential tariffs. The best way we help poor countries develop is through trade not aid while sanctions punish the people and not their leaders.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome to the Revolution Kid

The Corner via Instapundit:

"They Just Took My Money": That's what my 8-year-old son said about the sales tax on the ride home from Borders a few minutes ago. He had a $10 gift card from Christmas, bought a Clone Wars book for $7.99, looked at the receipt, and wondered why he still didn't have a full $2.01 on it.

This is how conservatives are made.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Making Air Travel More Fun Than it Already Is

I am hoping that these measures are temporary: TSA Security Directive SD-1544–09-06 (BoardingArea). On the other hand, maybe this will mean even fewer travelers through the US and cheaper flights?

Update - Megan McArdle via Instapundit: "I don't know what annoys me more: Janet Napolitano saying "the system worked" when what she means is "the system failed, but smart passengers proved that the system is unnecessary", or the moronic new rules the TSA is apparently putting into place in order to "prevent" future such occurances. The TSA's obsession with fighting the last war is so strong that I expect any day to see them building wooden forts at our nation's airports in order to keep the redcoats at bay."

Update #2 - The TSA bans snowglobes: "FINALLY! The TSA Bans The Right Thing. We're saved. No terrorist is going to ever blow up a plane with a snow globe again" (Business Insider)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

So maybe all Chinese people look the same after all...

Being rather poor at placing names and faces, I usually joke (if they're Caucasian) that all white people look alike given their difficulties in differentiating Chinese people.

We let go a new hire (still on probation) because while he had demonstrated the requisite technical skills, his English was atrocious despite having achieved a level higher than any of his other colleagues. Before he left, he admitted he had paid someone to sit for him - so much for photo ID. I asked around.

Apparently, according to colleagues, it's not uncommon students to trade exams and to "sit" for each other during the mandated exams - so I guess it's true. We all must look alike.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Next Generation Nuclear: safe, clean, can't be weaponized?

The idea of using Thorium instead of Uranium to generate nuclear energy is pretty exciting if it proves to be economical (Wired):

Named for the Norse god of thunder, thorium is a lustrous silvery-white metal. It’s only slightly radioactive; you could carry a lump of it in your pocket without harm. [...] It’s abundant — the US has at least 175,000 tons of the stuff — and doesn’t require costly processing. It is also extraordinarily efficient as a nuclear fuel. As it decays in a reactor core, its byproducts produce more neutrons per collision than conventional fuel. The more neutrons per collision, the more energy generated, the less total fuel consumed, and the less radioactive nastiness left behind.
To get a sense of the economics, a (theoretical) Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor could produce 1 GW for an annual cost of $10,000 compared to 50-60M for uranium because of the scarcity of the material. It produces less waste, and what waste it does leave behind can't be weaponized. And to get a sense of the abundance of this stuff: "If the US reactor fleet could be converted to LFTRs overnight, existing thorium reserves would power the US for a thousand years."

Predictably, it's a technology that seems to be getting a lot more interest in places like Russia and China. That would be a remarkable scenario... if China were to find energy independence in the next few decades with just the new technologies coming on stream - be they in alternatives, nuclear or even production and discovery of a massive abundance of natural gas as is being anticipated. More on Thorium here (

Saturday, December 19, 2009

For er, something different...

For those of us who have a somewhat warped and dark sense of humor - Jack Bauer interrogates Santa Claus (Amazon via Instapundit):

Friday, December 18, 2009

"President Obama: Please don’t harm one half million of the poorest people in Africa."

More here (Aid Watchers).

Update (December 31, 2009): Got Instapundited for the first time! Cool. Thanks for dropping by and I hope you enjoy your visit. Please check out the letter as republished at William Easterly's Aid Watchers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

PSA: Scientists prove dogs are better than cats

Anyone who has a dog realizes that there was never any question of this fact, but when evaluated against 11 different categories, scientists empirically conclude that dogs are better (in a score of 6 to 5) - noteworthy quote (NewScientist via Freakonomics):

Daily dog walks may be a chore, but they repay the effort, not just in terms of regular exercise, but also by providing immune-boosting opportunities for social contact with other dog walkers. That's why in a head-to-head contest of health benefits, it's dogs all the way
Anyway, just thought you should know.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Form of Stimulus They're Loathe to Try...

From Greg Mankiw who points out that "tax cuts might accomplish what spending hasn't" (NYTimes). To borrow the cynical words of Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit): "Nonstarter. No opportunity for graft."

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Can organic produce and natural shampoo turn you into a heartless jerk?"

"Yes", according to science (from the University of Toronto no less! And hey, how can you dispute the science?) via Instapundit, Slate:

Virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. In their study (described in a paper now in press at Psychological Science), subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.

Things that make you go hmmm....

Move along, nothing to see here. From USA Today via Instapundit: "Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted."


Latin for "unconquered" and named after a poem, Invictus is a great movie. Invictus is about the human struggles faced by Nelson Mandela while President and how he used the national rugby team and its success as a symbol to unite the nation.

Watching the movie got me curious about the poem that inspired Mandela through some of his darkest days. It's a remarkable poem of defiance, empowerment and struggle:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley
If you have several hours this weekend (it's a bit of a long movie) I'd highly recommend seeing Invictus. Whether by design or because of what came naturally, Mandela was a political genius in understanding how to communicate ideas and values through symbols. For those who aspire to be great leaders and for those who need just a bit of inspiration over the Christmas holidays, there's much to glean from this movie.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

When it Pays to Nickel and Dime Your Customers

Maybe it's because my primary business is a commodity type business - I've generally believed in trying to price to clients in a way that accurately allocate costs they incur to our business. It's not as easy as it should be as I'm always still fighting to ensure our business is simple enough to understand. Fighting to charge for the cost of credit/working capital for instance is often an uphill battle.

It goes back to clearly understanding where and how you build and generate value for your clients and charging accordingly for those goods and services.

Michael O'Leary from Ryanair may be my new hero. He makes a fantastic point that nickel and diming isn't meant to generate revenues it's meant to change behavior (WSJ):

We now have to be more inventive in the way we lower costs, which is why we're looking at things that seem revolutionary to other people.

Like, paying for checked-in bags: It wasn't about getting revenue. It was about persuading people to change their travel behavior—to travel with carry-on luggage only. But that's enabled us to move to 100% Web check-in. So we now don't need check-in desks. We don't need check-in staff. Passengers love it because they'll never again get stuck in a Ryanair check-in queue. That helps us significantly lower airport and handling costs.

Now we're looking at charging for toilets on board—not because we want revenue from toilet fees. We'd happily give the money away to some incontinent charity. What it means is, if by charging for toilets on board, more people would use the toilets in the terminals before or after flights, I could take out maybe two of the three toilets on board, add six extra seats and reduce fares across the aircraft by another three or four percent.

So, there's always new ways of lowering costs, but you have to come at it with some imagination and some passion.

Remarkably, despite the mother of all recessions, Ryanair is "on course to keep growing and post strong profits again this year".

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Making the US Healthcare System Work

A rather more elegant solution than this (CNN). More here ( [Sorry, still really bogged down with work... more blogging to come]