Archive for October, 2010

Corporate bustouts have been around a long time

October 21, 2010

Looting – Akerlof, Romer

tags: banking akerlof looting bankruptcy economic underworld

Sure, some of the details have changed, and managers with an ownership stake have gotten in on the deal as well, but they really do lay it all out. If you can get the government to guarantee your debts (or a government-sanctioned rating agency to give them a AAA rating) sometimes/often running a business into the ground is way more profitable than doing things honestly — even more profitable than just running crazy risks in hope of making them pay off. The math is simple and fairly irrefutable, and the cases are nicely done.

I also hadn’t known (shows how uninformed I am) how fraudulent S&Ls and junk bonds tied together. Without which there wouldn’t have been much of the merger madness that destroyed corporate governance.

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Oldest tab dump ever

October 18, 2010

This is what happens when firefox doesn’t crash often enough.

IEEE Spectrum: Robots With Knives: A Study of Soft-Tissue Injury in Robotics

The researchers acknowledge that there are huge reservations about equipping robots with sharp tools in human environments.

‘Underwater kite’ aims to turn energy tide – CNN.com

The technology comprises of a turbine attached to a wing and rudder which is tethered to the ocean floor by 100 meters of cable.

Anchoring “Deep Green” and steering the tethered “kite” enables the turbine to capture energy from the tidal currents at ten times the speed of the actual stream velocity, say Minesto.

But now Gijs Kuenen at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and colleagues are developing a technique that cuts out the energy-consuming processes. The key is a recently discovered type of bacteria that can munch ammonia without oxygen. So-called anammox bacteria short-cut the nitrogen cycle by converting ammonium directly into nitrogen gas.

One by-product of this process is methane, which Kuenen proposes to harvest and use as fuel. The team calculates that, far from consuming energy, the process could generate 24 watt-hours per person per day. “This is about trying to make waste water treatment plants completely sustainable, in the sense that they could even produce energy, which is not the case in present treatment facilities,” says Kuenen.

Technology Review: Blogs: arXiv blog: Microbial Life Found in Hydrocarbon Lake

Pitch lake, they say, is teaming with microbial life. They say that, on average, each gram of goo in the lake contains some 10^7 living cells.

These bugs are unlike anything we normally see on Earth. Analysis of gene sequences from these creatures show that they are single celled organisms such as archea and bacteria. They thrive in an oxygen-free environment with very little water, eating hydrocarbons and respiring with metals.

This may be the first time life has cropped up in hydrocarbon lakes on Earth’s surface but these kinds of creepy crawlies have previously reared their heads in hydrocarbon samples from subsea oil wells. Which is another reason they are of interest. Just how microbial organisms can degrade and process of oil reservoirs is poorly understood. A better understanding could lead to a number of advances in techniques for things like microbial remediation.

But the most exciting implication of this discovery is for the possibility of life on Titan. There is a growing sense that Titan may have all the ingredients for life: thermodynamic disequilibrium, abundant carbon-containing molecules and a fluid environment.

Wi-Fi key-cracking kits sold in China mean free Internet

The main piece of the kits, an adapter with a six-inch antenna that plugs into a USB port, comes with a CD-ROM to install its driver and a separate live CD-ROM that boots up an operating system called BackTrack. In BackTrack, the user can run applications that try to obtain keys for two protocols used to secure Wi-Fi networks, WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access). After a successful attack by the applications, called Spoonwep and Spoonwpa, a user can restart Windows and use the revealed key to access its Wi-Fi network.

Can’t trust anything any more

October 11, 2010

Grocery terminals slurped payment card data • The Register

The tampered terminals were in use from June 1 to August 31 in an undisclosed number of stores, the company disclosed in a press release (PDF) that appeared on a Friday, a favorite day of the week for releasing bad news. As many as 1,000 Aldi shoppers in Illinois and Indianapolis have already reported fraudulent charges, according to Computer World.

The breach is noteworthy for the breadth of the affected geography, which spanned from New York state to Georgia to as far west as Illinois. Presumably, those responsible would have had to travel to each store to physically plant the hardware used to siphon personal identification numbers, card numbers and names.

Unless, of course, they have an insider working in the distribution chain for POS terminals. In which case we might expect to hear of a lot of other retailers making similar discoveries. Whee. Maybe it’s time to go back to cash.

Old but still good

October 11, 2010

Injectable Glowing Beads In Bloodstream Can Indicate Glucose Levels

— an implantable, fluorescent blood-sugar monitor. It involves small hydrogel beads that vary the intensity of emitted light depending on glucose concentration. They’re called Life Beans.

The system, developed at the University of Tokyo, could lead to implantable blood-glucose monitors, which could enable 24-7 monitoring of a diabetic’s blood sugar without having to prick the skin or use an attachable pump.

“Beans” stands for Bioelectrical Mechanical Autonomous Nano Systems.”

Researchers tested it in the ears of a mouse, and watched as the ear fluoresced at different intensities depending on the mouse’s blood sugar.

Anything that can get rid of fingersticks.

A seller’s market for nothing

October 8, 2010

The local daily fishwrap has decided to put its stories behind a paywall. I can now cough up $150+ a year for coverage of the city council’s decision on whether or not to buy a downtown parking lot to reroute a street that’s been taken over by the state, local car crashes, domestic violence arrests and burglaries, the neighboring town’s budget squabbles, plus a whole pile of cut-and-paste from AP and other national wires.

Or not.  That’s more than I would pay for a personal subscription to various learned journals, to the WSJ, even to the unlamented New York Times Select. So what the hell? On an average weekday, I click on maybe three or four stories. Are they worth 25 cents each to me, day in, day out?

From the newspaper’s point of view I can see it — pretty clearly no one except the crazy commenters is reading the web version, so it’s not supported by ad revenue. (I have no idea how few people are reading the print version, but it’s not a big town in the first place.) So they might as well price high and milk the diehards they have.

And for me: other than going down to city council meetings hanging around city hall, dropping by the police department every day, there is No. Effing. Other. Way. I can find out what’s going on in my town. So I pretty much get to pay a huge premium over the going rate for text I want to read, or choose to be uninformed. I’m not even sure if there is anywhere you can just walk in and but a copy.