Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Friday 14 May 2010

NPR reports that a new analysis of the BP oil spill puts the gusher at 2.3 to 11.7 megaliters per day, rather than BP's original estimate of 590 kL. They've also got video.

Also, there's a good reason why dead fish aren't washing up on shore yet. We've already killed them all, thanks to oxygen deprivation caused by Mississippi River runoff. The oil spill just gilds the lily, really.

Friday 14 May 2010 10:06:38 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Waaaaay back in ancient history, I actually reported a Nigerian scammer to the FBI. This was, oh, 1997 or so, maybe 1998. The FBI already had a cybercrimes unit in San Francisco, and I had a half-hour conversation with one of the agents there about a bizarre email I'd received from a Nigerian IP address. We actually did some IP tracing and header analysis on the email to determine its origin. Yes, the scam was that new.

Who was it that said, the more things change, the more they stay the same? Right:

OFFICER IN-CHARGE:
NAME: Mr. Robert Stephen Sien @
FBI UK Internet Fraud Watch/Alert
Phone: +44 792 457 7408

We are writing in response to our track light monitoring device which we received today in our office about your transactions.

The Federal Bureau Of Investigation (FBI) Washington DC, in conjunction with the Scotland Yard, Has screened through our various Monitoring Networks also our German counterpart the anti fraud unit reported that your identity/information was used to dupe a German Business man to the tune of $5 Million USD by some Africa/Nigerian Fraudsters.

After all the series of investigations conducted here in our office we tracked your record and we found out that you have never had any fraudulent case that may jeopardize your image and personality.

We have concluded our investigation and you have been approved to be compensated from the total amount recovered for scam victims compensation. So all you need to do right now in other to receive your compensation and clear your name from the list of these Con Men which has already been forwarded to our office is to secure the CLEAN BILL CERTIFICATE immediately.

This Certificate will clear your name from the scam list which will enable you receive the sum of $500,000.00 Usd compensation fund.

You are required to contact Robert S. Sien by email: rssien@aol.com with your full name and contact details for easy communication also to guild you on how to secure the CLEAN BILL CERTIFICATE and claim your money.

THANKS FOR YOUR CO-OPERATION.

Robert Stephen Sien.
FBI SPECIAL AGENT

You know what tipped me off? What made me certain this was a 419 scammer? Because, you can see, it's quite well crafted, no loose ends, nothing to arouse suspicion.

What tipped me off was this:

When real FBI agents refer to their employer, they never capitalize "of".

It's obvious when you look at it.

Thursday 13 May 2010 21:32:17 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Security#

So, with a project running somewhere around 105%, an old and patient client that predates my current employment waiting for some updates, Global Financial Management requiring that I figure out the combined beta of two companies about to merge, Foundations of Strategy expecting a transaction cost analysis Saturday morning, and an overwhelming anticipation of seeing Diane and Parker tomorrow after almost two weeks, I find myself completely out of creativity. Heaven bless my winter office (probably, now that the pizzeria around the corner has left, simply "my remote office").

Fortunately, other people on the Intertubes have plenty of it. Creativity, I mean. Here is a quorum, mostly pinched from Sullivan:

  • The Washington Post has a list of twelve things to toss out this spring, as written by Elizabeth Warren, Karl Rove, and Onion editor Joe Randazzo. (The last is an indictment of Internet memes.) There's also a bit on virginity.
  • Writer Andrea Donderi posits a dichotomy between Asker and Guesser cultures. In Cultures, Civilization, and Leadership (one of the CCMBA's core classes) we'd look at this in terms of ICE profiles, which I would explain if I could find the link. (See above re: being overloaded.) This comes via The Guardian, who have the distinction this week of having endorsed for prime minister the guy who became deputy PM. By the way, this kind of embarassment (two guys running against each other only to have to work together as #1 and #2) hasn't happened in the US since 1800. But that's not important right now.
  • While on the subject, it's a little daunting that we haven't had our midterms yet and I've made no progress on the video, but there are only 50 days until our next residency starts. (See above re: being really overloaded.)
  • Finally, Sam Harris has a new demolition of the Catholic Church Good line near the top: "This scandal was one of the most spectacular 'own goals' in the history of religion, and there seems to be no need to deride faith at its most vulnerable and self-abased." (I would explain that my views are probably more moderate than Harris's, and yet I enjoy his writing, but see above re: being really monster raving loony overloaded.)

Shannon has brought my last drink and my check, my teammate KW is busy compiling all of our notes for Strategy, and Parker, I expect, is getting a relaxing belly-scratch from Diane 1,000 km away. I think we're all OK with this, but Parker has the best deal.

Also, for those of you watching in real time, yes: I posted this blasted entry five times in quick succession, because I kept finding typos. This should come as great news to the people currently engaged in Scrabble games with me on Facebook.

Thursday 13 May 2010 21:13:26 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Parker | US | World | Religion#
Thursday 13 May 2010

I came across this at lunchtime: a Canadian analysis of how the Conservative-Liberal coalition in the UK will simultaneously introduce fixed, five-year parliamentary terms and at the same time prevent the government from calling an early election. (Why Canadian? Because Canada has a fixed-term parliament, but, as Stephen Harper demonstrated in 2006, it isn't a fixed term if the ruling party doesn't want it to be.) The whole column is a bit wonkish, but it describes something approaching an intersection of game theory and UK constitutional law:

[I]f you look at the text of the Conservative-Lib Dem accord, it...says 55% would be required for “dissolution,” that is for dissolving the House and calling an election. This is a crucial difference [with a vote of no confidence]. Significantly, too, the provision comes at the tag end of the paragraph establishing a fixed five-year term of government. Because it’s the guarantee of it.

What it means is that if the government were defeated in the House — by the usual 50% margin — Prime Minister Cameron could not simply go the Queen and ask for dissolution. He would have to get a vote of 55% of the House to permit him to do so. So he could not wriggle out of the coalition, or the commitment to a five-year term, by engineering his own defeat (still less do what Stephen Harper did, and call a snap election, without even the fig-leaf of defeat to justify the breach).

A note about velocity: I'm posting less lately because I'm on a pretty intense project at work, and because this term's Duke workload is actually larger than first term. I'll explain what that means when I have a spare moment.

Thursday 13 May 2010 15:22:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Tuesday 11 May 2010

Gordon Brown has tendered his resignation to the Queen. At this writing, David Cameron has an audience with Her Majesty, who is expected to ask him to form a government.

It'll be a Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition. Very, very interesting. Sullivan has good commentary on why.

Update: Prime Minister David Cameron takes power:

Tuesday 11 May 2010 14:29:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World#
Sunday 9 May 2010

Going over some photos from Shanghai, I found a few examples of the well-known Chinese allergy to validating English translations with people who actually speak English. Some examples:

(Full size and more photos after the jump.)

Sunday 9 May 2010 14:22:51 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography#

Via NPR, fifty years ago today the FDA announced it would formally approve Enovid for contraceptive use:

As long as people have been making little people, they've wanted to know how not to. The ancient Egyptians mixed a paste out of crocodile dung and formed it into a pessary, or vaginal insert. Aristotle proposed cedar oil and frankincense oil as spermicides; Casanova wrote of using half a lemon as a cervical cap. The condom is often credited to one Dr. Condom in the mid-1700s, who was said to have invented a sheath made out of sheep intestines for England's King Charles II to help limit the number of bastards he sired, though such devices had actually been around for centuries.

"The Pill was not at all what separated reproduction and sex among married people," argues Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who calls that "among the biggest misconceptions" about sexual behavior and the Pill. Long before its introduction, women already knew how to avoid pregnancy, however imperfectly. The typical white American woman in 1800 gave birth seven times; by 1900 the average was down to 3.5.

... The genius came in the form of a brash researcher named Gregory Pincus, whom [Margaret] Sanger met at a dinner party in 1951.... Pincus had been a promising assistant professor of physiology at Harvard in the 1930s, when, at the age of 31, he succeeded in creating a rabbit embryo in a petri dish — the precursor to in vitro fertilization. It was lauded as a brilliant scientific breakthrough — until a 1937 profile in Collier's magazine suggested he was creating a world of Amazons in which men would be unnecessary. Harvard denied him tenure, and Pincus went off to form his own research lab.

Just remember, though: every sperm is sacred.

Sunday 9 May 2010 09:37:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Saturday 8 May 2010

Three-term U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) has lost his party's nomination for a fourth term:

Bennett becomes the first Utah senator to fail to get his party's nomination since Democrats tossed out Sen. William King in 1940 over King's opposition to the New Deal.

When the results were announced, there was a huge ovation with shouts and yells of "He's gone! He's gone!" Delegates leapt to their feet, and embraced and waved "Do Not Tread On Me" flags.

What a way to win the battle and lose the war. Bennett won re-election in 2004 with 69% of the vote, and looked all but certain to win in November this year. The remaining primary candidates, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater, are both new to politics and both exactly the kind of right-wing ideologues the Republican party seems to want these days. Utah will probably send one of them to the Senate, too, which will make the hundreds of thousands of Utah residents who aren't insane want to emigrate.

You have to love the 17th Amendment. You really do.

Saturday 8 May 2010 17:11:23 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

Before going to Shanghai, I picked up James Fallows's Postcards from Tomorrow Square, a collection of his essays from living there 2006-2009. (Yes, he lived in the building that houses the hotel where our CCMBA cohort stayed.)

First, I'd like to call attention to page 76:

The easier America makes it for talented foreigners to work and study there, the richer, more powerful, and more respected America will be. America's ability to absorb the world's talent is the crucial advantage no other culture can match—as long as America doesn't forfeit this advantage with visa rules written mainly out of fear.

Second, the book should be required of CCMBA students visiting Shanghai to complement Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy, which we had to read for our Global Markets and Institutions (GMI) class. In the essay "China Makes, the World Takes" (available at The Atlantic.com in shorter form), Fallows looks at the Chinese side of Livoli's traveling t-shirt. Computer accessories, for instance:

The other facility that intrigued me, one of Liam Casey’s in Shenzhen, handled online orders for a different well-known American company. I was there around dawn, which was crunch time. Because of the 12-hour time difference from the U.S. East Coast, orders Americans place in the late afternoon arrive in China in the dead of night. As I watched, a customer in Palatine, Illinois, perhaps shopping from his office, clicked on the American company’s Web site to order two $25 accessories. A few seconds later, the order appeared on the screen 12,500 km away in Shenzhen. It automatically generated a packing and address slip and several bar-code labels. One young woman put the address label on a brown cardboard shipping box and the packing slip inside. The box moved down a conveyer belt to another woman working a “pick to light” system: She stood in front of a kind of cupboard with a separate open-fronted bin for each item customers might order from the Web site; a light turned on over each bin holding a part specified in the latest order. She picked the item out of that bin, ran it past a scanner that checked its number (and signaled the light to go off), and put it in the box. More check-weighing and rescanning followed, and when the box was sealed, young men added it to a shipping pallet.

By the time the night shift was ready to leave—8 a.m. China time, 7 p.m. in Palatine, 8 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast—the volume of orders from America was tapering off. More important, the FedEx pickup time was drawing near. At 9 a.m. couriers would arrive and rush the pallets to the Hong Kong airport. The FedEx flight to Anchorage would leave by 6 p.m., and when it got there, the goods on this company’s pallets would be combined with other Chinese exports and re-sorted for destinations in America. Forty-eight hours after the man in Palatine clicked “Buy it now!” on his computer, the item showed up at his door. Its return address was a company warehouse in the United States; a small Made in China label was on the bottom of the box.

Finally, a bleg: what book or books do you think, dear reader, should be required reading for visitors to your city? For example, I'd say Nelson Algren's prose-poem City on the Make and Mike Royko's Boss for Chicago. Thoughts?

Saturday 8 May 2010 13:56:10 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | Geography | US#
Friday 7 May 2010

We all scratched our heads today as the Dow plunged almost 1,000 points in 15 minutes...then rebounded. Still no explanation:

Traders and Washington policy makers struggled to keep up as the Dow Jones industrial average fell 1,000 points shortly after 2:30 p.m. and then mostly rebounded in a matter of minutes. For a moment, the sell-off seemed to overwhelm computer and human systems alike, and some traders began referring grimly to the day as “Black Thursday.”

But in the end, Thursday was not as black as it had seemed. After briefly sinking below 10,000, the Dow ended down 347.80, or 3.2 percent, at 10,520.32. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index dropped 37.75 points, or 3.24 percent, to close at 1,128.15, and the Nasdaq was down 82.65 points, or 3.44 percent, at 2,319.64.

But up and down Wall Street, and across the nation, many investors were dumbstruck. Experts groped for explanations as blue-chip stocks like Procter & Gamble, Philip Morris and Accenture plunged. At one point, Accenture[1] fell more than 99 percent to a penny. P.&G. plunged to $39.37 from more than $60 within minutes.

More:

The height of panic on Thursday was reached shortly after lunchtime in the United States. First some currencies began to fall rapidly, with the euro suffering especially against the Japanese yen.

That could have been an indication that some large traders were unwinding positions. It has been popular to borrow yen at low interest rates and then use the money to speculate in higher yielding assets denominated in other currencies. Anyone unwinding such a trade would buy yen to repay the loan.

Then there's the U.K. election, which didn't go as planned for the Liberal Democrats:

The swing so far from Labour to Conservatives with 250 results in the bag is a little lower than before, at 5.6%. The Tories' share of the popular vote is 34.9%, Labour is on 28.3% and the LibDems on 21%. Compare that with the average of nine main pollsters' final predictions before the elections: 35.6% for the Tories, 27.6% for Labour and 27.4% for the Liberal Democrats. The Tories a little down, Labour a little up and Lib Dems bafflingly down. Still more than half of all seats to go, though.

That was about an hour ago. It's dawn in London right now, and no one knows who'll be in Number 10 at dusk. If no party has an outright majority in Parliament at the end of voting, Gordon Brown will have the right to form another government—but you can bet the UK will have elections again in a few months. This is the most exciting UK election since 1974.

[1] Disclosure: Accenture owns most of Avanade, my employer.

Thursday 6 May 2010 23:23:50 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | World | Business#
Thursday 6 May 2010

Bruce Schneier gives three main reasons:

One, terrorist attacks are harder to pull off than popular imagination -- and the movies -- lead everyone to believe. Two, there are far fewer terrorists than the political rhetoric of the past eight years leads everyone to believe. And three, random minor terrorist attacks don't serve Islamic terrorists' interests right now.

... So, to sum up: If you're just a loner wannabe who wants to go out with a bang, terrorism is easy. You're more likely to get caught if you take a long time to plan or involve a bunch of people, but you might succeed. If you're a representative of al-Qaida trying to make a statement in the U.S., it's much harder. You just don't have the people, and you're probably going to slip up and get caught.

Thursday 6 May 2010 07:36:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Security#
Tuesday 4 May 2010

Via one of my classmates, an graphic depiction of the differences between Germany and China by graphic designer Yang Liu. For example, the evolution of transport over the last 40 years:

Tuesday 4 May 2010 10:20:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Duke | World#

Apparently United danced with USAirways just to make Continental jealous. It worked:

"What happened here is very simple," Continental President and Chief Executive Jeff Smisek told analysts and reporters on a Monday conference call. "I found out through the news media that Glenn [Tilton, CEO of United] was looking at a potential other combination. I recognized that United is the best possible partner for Continental...I didn't want him to marry the ugly girl. I wanted him to marry the pretty one, and I'm much prettier."

... Executives added on Monday that they expect US Airways to continue being a "valued partner" in the Star Alliance.

Of course, major business combinations like this one happen because of cold, hard finacial logic, not because of petty gossip. But does anyone really think American hasn't started passing USAirways notes in study hall?

Tuesday 4 May 2010 09:11:25 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
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David Braverman and Parker
David Braverman is a software developer in Chicago, and the creator of Weather Now. Parker is the most adorable dog on the planet, 80% of the time.
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