Friday, June 27, 2008

This is where it all leads to...

Produce Seller Forced to Dump Kiwi Fruit
Found to be 1 mm too small


A market trader has been banned from selling a batch of kiwi fruits because they are 1mm smaller than EU rules allow.

Inspectors told 53-year- old Tim Down he is forbidden even to give away the fruits, which are perfectly healthy.

The father of three will now have to bin the 5,000 kiwis, costing him £1,000 in lost sales.

Speaking yesterday from the stall in Bristol he has owned for 20 years, Mr Down said: 'It's total nonsense. I work hard enough to make a living without all these bureaucrats telling us what we can and can't sell.

More here from the Daily Mail.

(Seems to me he should appeal the ruling based on something to do with the carbon footprint...)

Now an economic warning from Barclays

We've seen the price of gold take off in the last 24 hours following the US Fed's decision to hold interest rates at current levels. They had little choice, and one should prepare for continued inflation. Now investment advice house Barclays has weighed in with a warning of their own:
Barclays Capital has advised clients to batten down the hatches for a worldwide financial storm, warning that the US Federal Reserve has allowed the inflation genie out of the bottle and let its credibility fall "below zero".

"We're in a nasty environment," said Tim Bond, the bank's chief equity strategist. "There is an inflation shock underway. This is going to be very negative for financial assets. We are going into tortoise mood and are retreating into our shell. Investors will do well if they can preserve their wealth."

Barclays Capital said in its closely-watched Global Outlook that US headline inflation would hit 5.5pc by August and the Fed will have to raise interest rates six times by the end of next year to prevent a wage-spiral. If it hesitates, the bond markets will take matters into their own hands. "This is the first test for central banks in 30 years and they have fluffed it. They have zero credibility, and the Fed is negative if that's possible. It has lost all credibility," said Mr Bond.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't try this at home

...unless home happens to be full of gymnasts and circus acts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blackberry Brickbreaker Addicts

Wow, this blog has had more traffic from people looking for Brickbreaker tips than anything other than information on Mercedes W123 coupes and sedans. Welcome.

You want to know how to get past Brickbreaker level 16, don't you? That is the least forgiving level in the whole game and the sadists that designed Brickbreaker put it before the halfway point of the 34 levels. How do you get past it?

You'll need some spare lives, and some luck. The top center brick at Level 16 always has some sort of bonus in it and you will find out right away what it is. As usual, avoid it if it is Flip, take the 50 points if it is Laser, take it if it is Wrap or Long, and celebrate if it is Gun or Multi. It's these last two that will make level 16 easier. In the case of Gun, use your three shots to clean out the silver bricks between you and the regular bricks. In the case of Multi, you may be able to complete this level without any drama at all. Just send the balls back up when they come down the sides.

If you didn't get Gun or Multi, your game does not have to end here, although chances are it will. If you have lots of lives, wait until the whole stack shifts down one, or at most two steps, then waste a life to get it to stop there. Repeat the sacrifice as soon as it starts to shift down again.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, as always. Note that there are a couple of other posts on the blog for Brickbreaker; look around, take your time, and stop by again soon.

Monday, June 23, 2008

ClimaTautology

ClimaTautology (n)
The practice of relating every extreme weather event to Climate Change, in order to create fear and/or secure funding.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Razor blades: Too good for their own good?

Razor blade makers face a dilemma. Their products need to be better than the competition but imperfect in terms of how long they last. Their textbook business strategy is to practically give away the handle and then sell replacement blades at high margins. Makers of printers for your home computer make all their profit selling replacement print cartridges, using the same approach.

No doubt you have seen the ads lately by Gillette and others telling us to throw our blades away when the blue strip turns white. Call me crazy or old-fashioned, but I have always thought that the time to ditch the blade was when it started to pull uncomfortably when I was using it. This happens faster with some brands than with others.

There was a time in the late 1970s when Wilkinson Sword made a little razor cartridge that kept its edge seemingly forever. I should have bought a caseload of them, because after about a year they disappeared from the market and were replaced by something less durable.

But Wilkinson still makes disposable twin blade razors that seem to shave for months. I bought a pack in England last fall and am on about the third razor. (I shave first with an electric razor and use the blade to finish the job, in the shower). In contrast, none of the fancy new Lubricated Venetian Blinds last anywhere near that long. BUT!! they still seem to last longer than the makers intended, and we are now having to put up with ads telling us to throw the darn thing out for our own good.

How prone to suggestion are we? Will you throw out a good blade because the strip has turned colour? Will you keep a bad one because the strip is still blue? Me, I will keep an eye out for another pack of Wilkinson disposables next time I am across the pond.

Friday, June 20, 2008

How can these words be antonyms?

Ireful: Angry
Irenic: Peaceful, favoring conciliation

What a great language...
(I admit to knowing that Irene is from the Greek word for Peace and that Ire probably has Latin roots instead. But it's still a great language)

Will someone ever ask "Why?"!

We have heard the Liberal "Green Shift" plan.
We have seen the BC Government's carbon tax.
Pundits are debating the details of revenue neutrality, transfers of wealth, and effect on consumer behaviour.

Will someone please ask the question "What impact will this new tax have on global temperatures?"

The most honest response to this basic question would sound very much like crickets chirping. But you will hear reassuringly sweet words instead. "We must do our part" will be the theme. Our part of what?

At the end of the day, bureaucracies will grow, new tax revenues will slosh around the system and splash into new areas that could not possibly survive without the public teat, and not one lick of difference will be made to the actual climate of the planet, nor to the quality of the air that we breathe.

Cui bono? Not you, not me, and definitely not the environment.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ClimaTautologists

Climate is always changing, and weather events always occur. To say that a given weather event is consistent with climate change is true and also meaningless. The term in logic is Tautology:
a. a compound propositional form all of whose instances are true, as “A or not A.”
b. an instance of such a form, as “This candidate will win or will not win.”
Climatologists who associate a weather event with climate change are properly known as "climaTautologists".

You read it here first!

Trends continue until they are reversed

(Courtesy of GoldMoney Market Commentary)

What I appreciate about charting and technical analysis is that it shows what is real, the results of the daily balance between buyers and sellers, greed and fear. Explanations and projections are subjective at best, but the footprints left at the end of every day are unarguable: this is where the market has trod.

Royal Bank of Scotland: Brace for the coming crash

THE ROYAL BANK of Scotland has advised clients to brace for a full-fledged crash in global stock and credit markets over the next three months as inflation paralyses the major central banks, also according to The Telegraph.

"A very nasty period is soon to be upon us - be prepared," said Bob Janjuah, the bank's credit strategist.

A report by the bank's research team warns that the S&P 500 index of Wall Street equities is likely to fall by more than 300 points to around 1050 by September as "all the chickens come home to roost" from the excesses of the global boom, with contagion spreading across Europe and emerging markets.

Such a slide on world bourses would amount to one of the worst bear markets over the last century.

h/t to IFAonline.co.uk

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Peak gas? Not yet in the Lower 48

Just last year, U.S. natural gas production appeared to be maxed out. For nine years, production levels had been stagnant. The only variation in that flat line was the occasional divot caused by a hurricane shutting down producers around the Gulf of Mexico. Decline rates on conventional natural gas wells were actually getting worse, and there was a certain glum agreement that U.S natural gas production would soon mimic the decline of U.S. oil production, irreversibly sliding down the depressing side of Hubbert’s bell curve.

But advanced drilling techniques – specifically horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – have allowed formerly inaccessible deposits of unconventional gas to be exploited. Coalbed methane production (natural gas found in coal seams) is on the rise, and now shale gas production has seen a big uptick.

Unconventional gas now accounts for more than half of natural gas production in the Lower 48.

The most famous unconventional gas basin is the Barnett Shale in Texas, which now produces over three billion cubic feet per day, a big contributor to the surge in Texan gas production, which in turn has increased domestic production noticeably for the first time in ten years.
(courtesy of Casey's Charts).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blackberry's brickbreaker...

...is addictive. If you have played it casually you will find the levels of difficulty increasing as you progress through to level 16. If you can get past level 16 it gets easier, to the point where the player becomes almost a spectator as level 34 approaches. Once you beat level 34 the game resumes at level 1 but the accumulated score carries over, as do the all-important accumulated extra lives.

The pace of play picks up the second time through, but the rest of the game remains the same. Not all bounces off the paddle, nor off the walls, are 'true' bounces, which can mess a person up. I can not tell you what happens the third time through, not having got that far.


I am susceptible to addictive games like this one. I rationalize playing it by reminding myself that I don't smoke any more so I don't take smoke breaks, and that one needs to engage in a different kind of thinking from time to time to improve one's overall thinking. But then again, I can rationalize pretty much anything.

This Blackberry Brickbreaker Website has good tips and only one error (which is caught and corrected in the comments). And this other Blackberry forum is worth reading for the comments after someone asked how to cheat.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How to kill time at the airport

(If you happen to be a Brazilian soccer player)

The top ten solutions to the world's biggest problems

Sadly, AGW is nowhere near the top ten...

Courtesy of Reason Magazine

Copenhagen, May 30—Where in the world can we do the most good? Supplying the micronutrients vitamin A and zinc to 80 percent of the 140 million children who lack them in developing countries is ranked as the highest priority by the expert panel at the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Conference. The cost is $60 million per year, yielding benefits in health and cognitive development of over $1 billion.

Eight leading economists, including five Nobelists, were asked to prioritize 30 different proposed solutions to ten of the world's biggest problems. The proposed solutions were developed by more than 50 specialist scholars over the past two years and were presented as reports to the panel over the past week. Since we live in a world of scarce resources, not all good projects can be funded. So the experts were constrained in their decision making by allocating a budget of an "extra" $75 billion among the solutions over four years.

Number 2 on the list of Copenhagen Consensus 2008 priorities is to widen free trade by means of the Doha Development Agenda. The benefits from trade are enormous. Success at Doha trade negotiations could boost global income by $3 trillion per year, of which $2.5 trillion would go to the developing countries. At the Copenhagen Consensus Center press conference, University of Chicago economist Nancy Stokey explained, "Trade reform is not just for the long run, it would make people in developing countries better off right now. There are large benefits in the short run and the long run benefits are enormous."

Nobelist and University of California, Santa Barbara economist Finn Kydland noted that unless the economies of developing countries grow, they will still be mired in the same problems of poverty ten years from now as they are today. "By reducing trade barriers, income per capita will grow, enabling more people in developing countries to take care of some of these problems for themselves."

The remaining top ten priorities addressed problems of malnutrition, disease control, and the education of women. For example, the number three Copenhagen Consensus priority is fortifying foods with iron and iodized salt. Two billion people do not have enough iron in their diets which results in energy sapping anemia and cognitive deficits in children and adults. Lack of iodine stunts both physical and intellectual growth. More than 30 percent of developing country households do not consume iodized salt. Correcting these mirconutrient deficits would cost $286 million per year. The other seven of the top ten solutions include expanded immunization coverage of children; biofortification; deworming; lowering the price of schooling; increasing girls' schooling; community-based nutrition promotion; and support for women's reproductive roles.

Take solution number seven, lowering the price of schooling. Nobelist and Chapman University economist Vernon Smith emphasized that this solution is not about lowering the cost of schooling, but reducing the price faced by poor parents who have to choose between sending their kids to school and having them work to supply household income. Ways to reduce the price is to supply vouchers or channel more public funds to schools. When Uganda cut school fees by $16 per year (60 percent), enrollment nearly doubled, with most of the increase in enrollment being girls. Smith pointed out that research shows that educating girls increases average productivity more than does educating boys. The cost for this proposed solution is $5.4 billion per year.

So what proposed solutions are at the bottom of the list? At number 30, the lowest priority is a proposal to mitigate man-made global warming by cutting the emissions of greenhouse gases. This ranking caused some consternation among the European journalists at the press conference. Nobelist and University of Maryland economist Thomas Schelling noted that part of the reason for the low ranking is that spending $75 billion on cutting greenhouses gases would achieve almost nothing. In fact, the climate change analysis presented to the panel found that spending $800 billion until 2100 would yield just $685 billion in climate change benefits.

Noting that he has been concerned about climate change for 30 years, Schelling argued that tacking climate change will take public policy responses such as carbon taxes to address the issue. Schelling added, "The best defense against climate change in the developing countries is going to be their own development." He explained that funding education to create a literate labor force boosts the productivity of a country enabling economic growth. Economic growth produces wealth that helps people address and adapt to the problems caused by climate change. Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, pointed out that funding research and development of low-carbon energy technologies is ranked at a respectable number 14 out of the 30 solutions considered.

Also low on the list of priorities are proposals to reduce outdoor air pollution in developing country cities by installing technologies to cut the emissions of particulates from diesel vehicles. Other low ranked solutions included a tobacco tax, improved stoves to reduce indoor air pollution, and extending microfinance. These are not bad proposals, but other proposals were judged to provide more bang for the 75 billion bucks available in the exercise.

The experts chose not to bother ranking any of the proposed solutions to the challenge of transnational terrorism. This is not surprising. Even the scholar (funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security) who did the benefit cost analysis for the Copenhagen Consensus project found that we get just nine cents of value for every dollar spent trying to stop terrorists. Interestingly, the number 1 priority identified by the experts in the 2004 Copenhagen Consensus was combating HIV/AIDS. That dropped to number 19 in the 2008 ranking.

How does the ranking of solutions by the participants in the Youth Forum compare to the experts' ranking? Youth Forum participants also ranked supplying vitamin A and zinc to poor children in developing countries as their number 1 priority. In general, the Youth Forum placed a stronger emphasis on solutions aimed at preventing disease and malnutrition. Here's the list of the Youth Forum's top ten in order, followed by a number in brackets indicating the experts' ranking of the same solution: vitamin A and zinc supplements [1]; malaria prevention [12]; borehole wells [16]; immunization [4]; health and nutrition programs [not ranked separately by experts]; community-based nutrition promotion [9]; iron and iodine fortification [3]; tuberculosis treatment [13]; total sanitation campaign [20]; HIV combination prevention strategies [19].

The biggest difference between the two rankings is that Youth Forum gave the Doha trade negotiations a low priority. Speaking with several participants revealed that trade ended up near the bottom because the youths were concentrating on how to allocate the $75 billion budget. Trade was considered by many to be an issue of "political will" which did not fit into any budgetary category. Interestingly, the experts basically agree with that perception because they deduct no costs from the $75 billion budget when allocating expenditures among their top priorities.

The Copenhagen Consensus process is certainly not perfect. However, its use of benefit cost analysis helps concentrate the attention of policymakers, charitable foundations, and members of the public on the relative urgency and costs of the world's big problems. As the final press release quotes economist Finn Kydland, "It's hard to see how one could do any better in terms of coming up with a well-founded list of where to start for the purpose of the betterment of the dire conditions in much of the rest of the world."

The complete ranking of the 30 proposed solutions to ten of the world's greatest challenges by the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Conference is available here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cascade of Bank & Debt-Insurer Failures?

Why worry about trivial future problems like half a degree of potential warming over the next century (but none in the next decade!), when you can worry about the possible failure of 76 banks officially labeled as "Troubled" by the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation?

Why worry about whether a cap and trade carbon system is better than a carbon tax system, when the major bond insurers AMBAC and MBIA, have just been downgraded by Standard & Poors, while Lehman Brothers teeters on the Bear Stearns brink, and the Union Bank of Switzerland (SWITZERLAND fer cryin' out loud) is about to fail.

Of course, your main stream media sources may not have reported these tremors in their usual forthright fashion. But you can read more at Jim Willie's site and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bee deaths would worry me more

...than global warming. Bees are needed for pollination; pollination is needed for food.

Here is a year-old report suggesting it is tied to electromagnetic radiation. Think of cell phone proliferation.

And here is something more recent showing that the problem has not abated.

The cause remains unclear. The solution, obviously, should deal with the cause, so the solution is no clearer than the cause.

"It's getting worse"

Sprott Asset Management has an exceptional reputation as a clear-eyed observer and interpreter of the investment markets.

So when Eric Sprott and Sasha Solunac issue a report with the following messages, it is worth taking seriously:
  • JP Morgan has tripled its loss provisions for prime mortgages (not sub-prime, but prime!)
  • Headlines in the business press are faking investors out
  • There is no precedent since the Great Depression for the credit bubble that is now imploding
  • The problems spawned by the credit bubble cannot be solved by government decree or central bank largesse
  • Enormous losses have yet to be recognized and financial institutions may fail.
Read their May 2008 report here.