29 January, 2011

So much going on lately

Lots of interesting things happening.. Davos, Tunisia, Egypt...

In the name of testing the ways to post pics, I am posting this pic, which was taken by an anonymous Egyptian today:

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

It works! Kissing a riot cop... very subversive! I'll have to remember that technique ;)

25 January, 2011

Berlusca goes nuts insulting Gad Lerner

Go Go Gad Lerner!!! Ya gotta love anybody who Berlusconi calls up to insult personally like this.

Berlusca just came off looking like a kook. WTF, doesn't he have other more pressing things to deal with??? Like leading the country??? This proves that he can no longer take the office of PdC seriously, if he ever did. If Italy doesn't impeach him or whatever now...

This video had to get posted on my blog, even though I don't usually post stuff about Italian politics here -- it's too depressing, and lately verges on disbelief. It would be quite entertaining, if I hadn't lived in Italy and didn't feel so sorry for all my Italian friends who have this complete jerkoff running their country.

22 January, 2011

World Clock App

This is a great app my friend Brian posted on FB. You can see the number of people being born per continent (Africa is missing though), the number of CO2 emissions, and lots of other pertinent statistics.

The scariest one is the estimated 14.44"C rise in global temperature: yes, you read it right, 14 degrees celsius. 14. That is enormous.

I also watched a movie/documentary called The Age of Stupid yesterday. I really hope that it doesn't come true. I think everyone should watch it right now though. We need to do so much for our planet, and we're simply not. I hope it doesn't come true, but I think it already is.

17 January, 2011

Not only is WikiLeaks not dead -- It has quickly grown new teeth!

Despite many attempts to muzzle it, WikiLeaks' and Assange's recent media attention has instead given it sharper teeth. And Rudolf Elmer has a pair of cojones that I am invidious of.

"Rudolf Elmer once headed the office of Julius Baer in the Cayman Islands until he was fired by the bank in 2002. He is scheduled to go on trial in Switzerland on Wednesday for breaching bank secrecy."

Best of luck to you, Mr Elmer.

I am so pleased that WikiLeaks is fighting back, and appears to be successful at it thus far. Being the topic of so much debate and worldwide media attention is allowing it perhaps to mature as an organisation. Far from being a gigantic tattletale that went too far when it exposed people participating in the "necessary evils" of worldwide diplomacy and business, it is growing into a vital source of alternative information that should be disclosed to an otherwise ignorant public. Clearly, people want to know these things.

And though public outcry mightn't be as loud as some people hope it to me (or perhaps should be), this type of news needs an outlet, and the bigger the mouthpiece this outlet has, the better. People might not freak out about the news stemming from WikiLeaks, but they will definitely take it into consideration when they make their choices in life. Offshore financial abuses are far too widely tolerated in the rich world -- I myself included.

16 January, 2011

Micronutrients FTW!

Subtitled "Nobel laureates have figured out the eight investments that will help the planet most. No. 1: micronutrients."

Their impact on a growing, human body is anything but micro. But the point of the article is much bigger, and one close to my heart: how to make the money people give to charities actually help other people as effectively as possible.

"But there is a larger point here: Billions of dollars are given and spent on aid and development by individuals and companies each year. Despite this generosity, we simply do not allocate enough resources to solve all of the world's biggest problems. In a world fraught with competing claims on human solidarity, we have a moral obligation to direct additional resources to where they can achieve the most good. And that is as true of our own small-scale charitable donations as it is of governments' or philanthropists' aid budgets."

I've been helping a friend edit his dissertation and the other documents he's been writing up whilst living in Nairobi and studying the sociological problems in Korogochu; and though not the point of his studies, it is clear that there is a lot of money wasting going on in NGOs.

So, consider that NGOs are like regular, product-selling corporations (what they sell is the good feeling that you get about yourself when you've done something "altruistic"), how can we get some sort of a product guarantee? We can't always; but we can do our homework and find out who is best addressing our cause of choice.

I hope that the NGO market continues to develop along these lines -- i.e. effective spending -- more in the future, and that consumers learn that it isn't really realistic to expect problems to go away by throwing money at them. It's not enough to write a cheque, pat yourself on the back, and walk away.

Quadrotor teams: I want one for Christmas!!!

Which comes first, the toy or the tool?

This potential engineering tool looks a lot like the mini helicopter my brother bought around Christmas. This made me think about how one of our greatest characteristics as humans -- how we love to play and have fun. I wonder how many toys were developed from engineering "discoveries", and how many useful engineering mechanisms were developed from toys?

11 January, 2011

FP's Unconventional Wisdom essays

Soooo glad I discovered this mag! Loving it right now, even though its political orientation appears opaque to me. I am entertaining the possibility that it might not have one, which makes it even more interesting to me.

These essays are fantastic, happy reading!

FP's take on food supply shortages

"In the United States, which harvested 416 million tons of grain in 2009, 119 million tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars. That's enough to feed 350 million people for a year. The massive U.S. investment in ethanol distilleries sets the stage for direct competition between cars and people for the world grain harvest."

Ethanol never seemed like a particularly good idea to me. If Obama ever manages to dig his country out of its economic hole, I hope he has the wherewithal to crush the ethanol bills and laws that were instated under Bush Junior. Right after he stopps fracking.

09 January, 2011

Bob Farrell's investing rules

Wall Street “gurus” come and go, but in the case of Bob Farrell legendary status was achieved. He spent several decades as chief stock market analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co. and had a front-row seat at the go-go markets of the late 1960s, mid-1980s and late 1990s, the brutal bear market of 1973-74, and October 1987 crash. Thanks to Plexus for publishing his investment "10 commandments".

1. Markets tend to return to the mean over time
When stocks go too far in one direction, they come back. Euphoria and pessimism can cloud people’s heads. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and lose perspective.

2. Excesses in one direction will lead to an excess in the opposite direction
Think of the market baseline as attached to a rubber string. Any action too far in one direction not only brings you back to the baseline, but leads to an overshoot in the opposite direction.

3. There are no new eras – excesses are never permanent
Whatever the latest hot sector is, it eventually overheats, mean reverts, and then overshoots. Look at how far the emerging markets and BRIC nations ran over the past six years, only to get cut in half.

As the fever builds, a chorus of “this time it’s different” will be heard, even if those exact words are never used. And of course, it – human nature – is never different.

4. Exponential rapidly rising or falling markets usually go further than you think, but they do not correct by going sideways
Regardless of how hot a sector is, don’t expect a plateau to work off the excesses. Profits are locked in by selling, and that invariably leads to a significant correction eventually.

5. The public buys the most at the top and the least at the bottom
That’s why contrarian-minded investors can make good money if they follow the sentiment indicators and have good timing. Watch Investors Intelligence (measuring the mood of more than 100 investment newsletter writers) and the American Association of Individual Investors Survey.

6. Fear and greed are stronger than long-term resolve
Investors can be their own worst enemy, particularly when emotions take hold. Gains “make us exuberant; they enhance well-being and promote optimism”, says Santa Clara University finance professor Meir Statman. His studies of investor behavior show that “Losses bring sadness, disgust, fear, regret. Fear increases the sense of risk and some react by shunning stocks.”

7. Markets are strongest when they are broad and weakest when they narrow to a handful of blue-chip names
This is why breadth and volume are so important. Think of it as strength in numbers. Broad momentum is hard to stop, Farrell observes. Watch for when momentum channels into a small number of stocks.

8. Bear markets have three stages – sharp down, reflexive rebound and a drawn-out fundamental downtrend
I would suggest that as of August 2008, we are on our third reflexive rebound – the January rate cuts, the Bear Stearns low in March, and now the Fannie/Freddie rescue lows of July.

We have yet to see the long-drawn-out fundamental portion of the bear market.

9. When all the experts and forecasts agree – something else is going to happen
As Stovall, the S&P investment strategist, puts it: “If everybody’s optimistic, who is left to buy? If everybody’s pessimistic, who’s left to sell?”

Going against the herd as Farrell repeatedly suggests can be very profitable, especially for patient buyers who raise cash from frothy markets and reinvest it when sentiment is darkest.

10. Bull markets are more fun than bear markets
Especially if you are long only or mandated to be fully invested. Those with more flexible charters might squeak out a smile or two here and there.

Rule no. 11 could be "most people just wanna have fun" or something of that ilk.

More on the Prisoner's Dilemma

So, I read up more on the Prisoner's Dilemma, which I think can be expanded to use as a metaphor for what is happening to our world right now in terms of uses of resources.

People are generally self-interested, and in a world with limited resources (somewhat like a prison), it's natural that a lot of people are going to use as many resources as possible (which in the PD could be analogous to pleading guilty). This can't be compared to the classic version of the PD, in which neither prisoner knows how the other has pleaded, because people tend to advertise their uses of resources somewhat; having a big house, big cars, wearing jewellry and fancy clothes, etc.

There are many who don't use as many resources, because they don't have the opportunity to -- they have little money to buy their use. But there are many who do have the opportunity, and despite this use self-restraint. They use as many resources as they can , because they know that this w

Awww... just found that a congresswoman from Arizona was shot in the head yesterday. Don't feel like writing anymore, but will get back to this later.

08 January, 2011

It's tough being a good person in a bad ol' world

And I finally found the reason why: the prinsoner's dilemma. It pays (somewhat) to be bad, the devil you know, etc. etc.