Whatever comes to mind, and then the interesting directions that thought will take you on the web.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I really enjoyed the character driven movie Sideways.

The main actors, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church seemed perfectly cast for their characters of the intense Miles and the happy go lucky Jack.

One feels that the actor playing the role is a similar person to the role in real life.

So I got to thinking - what would the film be like if each actor took on the other role?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Diesel or Hybrid - which is more efficient?

I was in a discussion with a friend about buying a diesel or a hybrid - which is more efficient?

Well, the new generation of Turbo Diesels achieve better miles per gallon than comparable gasoline engines. Take a look at the Volkswagen Jetta: the TDI gets 41mpg highway, versus the gasoline model that gets 30mpg highway.

But is miles per gallon a good metric? I don't think so, as it is ignoring the energy content of the fuel. As a mindgame, suppose somebody concentrated gasoline such that it had half the volume, but the same energy content. The gasoline car would double it miles per gallon, but clearly we can't say that it is more efficient.

I would define efficiency as to what extent the amount of useful energy output from the fuel has been maximized.

It turns out that diesel contains about 9% more energy than gasoline by volume, so that contributes some to the increased miles per gallon. The other contributor to increased efficiency is that the diesel cycle is inherently more efficient than the gasoline cycle, due to higher compression ratios, and higher temperatures. Check out energy contents of fuels.

So, the TDI is more efficient in the use of resources than the gasoline, but not by as much as the raw mpg numbers indicate.

The hybrid has the advantage of capturing and storing energy that would otherwise be wasted. Both gasoline and diesel engines are wasting energy while stopped at traffic lights, braking, stop and go traffic. The hybrid is storing this energy.

Perhaps a diesel hybrid is the way to go.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Taxonomies are what Humans created to find information because they didn't have Google

I don't understand why any information today needs to be organized into a taxonomy, when that information would be better organized as flattened records accessed via search.

Take some real world examples:

I want to examine the services running on my Windows XP machine. I can never remember if I use:
Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools
Start -> Programs -> Adminstrative Tools
is it on the Control Panel?

You get my point. There's no logical way for me as a user to understand the Taxonomy that resulted in Microsoft putting the Services in Administrative Tools.

Windows 7 and Apple now have very good search mechanisms on the Desktop. Spotlight on the Mac is my primary navigation mechanism. I never try to find a file or a program by navigating through a hierarchy. You can generally always find it by typing in a few characters, and letting search do the rest.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Early in January 2008, a neighbor told me about a site called Prosper.com.

The premise of the site is to facilitate person to person lending and borrowing.

A borrower would post their loan requirement, (amount and maximum interest rate), details of why they wanted to borrow money, and why they could be trusted to repay the loan. Prosper would add information on the borrower's position - eg credit grade, number of credit requests, home owner, debt to income ratio, etc.

Lenders would then bid a certain amount, and the minimum interest rate they would accept. Prosper.com acted as the middle man - dealing with the Note contract, collecting and distributing the money.

From everybody's perspective, seems like a good deal.
  • Borrowers, many of whom were trying to pay off usurious credit card balances got lower rates than they could get from banks
  • Lenders got higher rates than they were used to (at the cost of greater risk
So - great on paper, but a year and a half later, here's what has happened:

  • Prosper has had to stop accepting new borrowers and loan requests.
  • My personal experience has been to witness first hand the ability for people to borrow money, probably with no intention of ever paying it off.

    Of the 45 loans that I have made, 13 have been charged off (2 in bankruptcy)

    Looking back on some of these loans, take loan "Expanding my Growing Business". The borrower got $20,000. My share was $181.92. The Credit Grade was AA! The person ended up making 2 payments, and the loan has been "charged off in collections" since Mar 28, 2008
It got me thinking that the good payers are spending a lot of money subsidizing the bad payers.

Monday, June 29, 2009

LED Lamps

This weekend, I bought the first of what I hope is many LED light bulbs for my house.

It's got the standard screw fitting, no mercury (unlike CFL), lasts a long time, and uses 1.5 Watts of power to have equivalent light output to a 40 Watts incandescent bulb. It also runs cooler.

Downsides are the $9.99 price, and incompatibility with dimmers.

I look forward to developments in this area.

Statistics I found were that 8.8% of household electricity consumption in the US is for lighting. Decreasing that by 95% will make a big dent in overall electricity consumption.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Preaching to the Choir

Somebody used the phrase "Preaching to the Choir"

I know that it means somebody arguing a point to a group that already agrees with the point.

But why? It seems that there's no reason a choir is in agreement with the preacher. Maybe a bunch of them are there because they like singing, or the social aspects of the church.

It seems that it would be better used to mean arguing a point to somebody who has no choice in listening to it, and can't escape.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fastrak Website problems

I received as snail mail letter from Fastrak to say that my credit card was expiring, and that I needed to update the credit card expiration date.

So I logged into Fastrak, changed the expiration date, and hit Save.

I got an error.

Using my powers of intuition, I figured that Fastrak was verifying the credit csard number "************6731", and reporting that this was invalid.

I entered the full credit card number, and my changed expiration date was now accepted.

Pretty lame.

Here's how the process should work. Fastrak sends me an email stating that my credit card expiration date has expired. I reply to the message with my new expiration date - "03/12". Of course, there may be some credit card company rules that forbid this kind of freindly user interface.

AT&T Signin frustration

My credit card has expired, so needed to sign in to my AT&T account to change the expiration.

Problem was, I couldn't remember my account name, or password. Through a process that worked fairly well, was able to get a temporary password, and then get my account name.

So, then logged in. Because I had a temporary password, I was prompted to change it. Nothing unusual in that. However, here's the screen I got after pressing the Continue button.

The little red bar was some kind of error message. But what was the error?

I took a look at the page source to see if that could give me a hint. No!

Could it be related to password complexity? I tried again with my super complex password - upper case, lower case *and* numbers. That didn't help!

I am really frustrated with this.

UPDATE 5/16/09
I'm using Firefox browser on Mac. On a hunch, I tried Safari, and was able to change my password!

Unfortunately, I got to this stage:

Will I ever be able to change my credit card expiration date?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AIG Bonuses

One thing. The claim is that AIG is contractually bound to pay these bonuses.

Had AIG filed bankruptcy, rather than being bailed out by the taxpayers, where would the bonus claims have stacked up compared with AIG's other liabilities?

Here's a post that discusses this.

Monday, March 16, 2009

AIG Bonuses

The bizarre thing about salesmen at AIG is that it's really easy to sell something if it is priced too low.

For example, an AIG salesman sells a Credit Default Swap to Goldman Sachs.  AIG is valuing that CDS assuming the underlying instrument will not default.  Goldman Sachs buys it because they have valued it more correctly (their model assumes that there is a risk of default??).

Bottom line, if you sell something at too low a price, customers are going to pull a truck to your door to buy it.

If I was a salesman selling Gold, and I was able to sell at $600/oz, I would have no problem selling a massive amount, and making a great commission.  (Note: I'm not responsible for procuring the gold, my role is just to sell it, and make a commission on the amount sold).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Favorite Scene from the movie "Swingers"

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I love this scene from the 1996 movie Swingers. I often use it as an example of digging a hole for oneself. When Trent is asked what he does, he replies "I'm a Producer", the girls say "Cool", and that's the end of that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Adults Wanted

This post contains some of the ideas that I believe in, and is very articulately written.

We anticipated the Fed would inflate beyond all precedent in an attempt to stabilize nominal asset prices and make creditors “whole,” yet we have been unable to hide our outrage as this policy has now begun to accelerate. Our view is this: we intend to knock it out of the park owning investments highly correlated to monetary inflation and we intend to keep expressing this strategy’s cynical rationale loudly and publicly to anyone who will listen in an attempt to expose the fraudulent, unsustainable monetary system from which we intend to profit.
It's interesting that there's a lot of talk of deflation in the media (almost as a way of distracting people from discussing inflation). I agree with these guys that inflation has to kick in. "investments highly correlated to monetary inflation" - Gold. Also, real estate funded with a 30 year fixed mortgage (at remarkably low rates right now) - liability stays constant, and asset appreciates with inflation, meaning equity increases.
Perception is indeed reality (at least in the short term). We’ve been conditioned to think that the wrong stuff is reality. Go to your window and look outside. Do you see the same buildings as yesterday? What about the supermarket – same groceries? And the gas station – same gas?
The real assets within US borders are unchanged. There are the same houses, factories, machines, airplanes, offices, land, gold, roads, cars, commodities. The question is to decide how that is distributed among people.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kate Winslet wins best actress Oscar for The Reader

I was reminded of Kate Winslet's performance in the awesome Ricky Gervais's Extras:

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Saturday, February 07, 2009


I was checking my email on Saturday night, and got the following message from PG&E, sent at 8:04PM

Dear Valued Customer,

A new energy statement for your PG&E account .... is now available to view online. You can also pay your bill online, or print a copy of your statement.

PG&E energy statement (e-Bills) information

Amount Due: $0.00
Bill Date:February 4, 2009

To view or pay this bill, login to My Account at:

You will need to enter your user name and password.

Click below to view the most recent bill inserts including any legal and mandated notices.

I went to the referenced site to check my bill, and on attempting to login:

pge home

System Outage

Due to planned maintenance, My Account will be temporarily unavailable on Saturday, February 7, 2009, from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. We appreciate your patience and we apologize for the inconvenience.

Need assistance? E-mail us at Authentication@pge.com. > Disclosure > Privacy
Copyright © 2009 by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. All rights reserved.

This is so lame. Why couldn't they wait until the after scheduled outage before sending the email?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Are we going to see Inflation or Deflation?

Here is an extraordinary graph from the St Louis Fed.

It shows the monetary base more or less increasing exponentially from 1918 to 2008, then taking off vertically.

How can this not be inflationary?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

US Airways 1549

From flightaware.com, the tracklog of US Airways 1549.  

TimePositionGround speedAltitudeFacility
Eastern TZLatitudeLongitudektsFeetLocation/Type
03:26PM40.80-73.871511800 level New York TRACON
03:27PM40.83-73.871742800 climbing New York TRACON
03:27PM40.86-73.881943200 climbing New York Center
03:28PM40.88-73.902022000 descending New York TRACON
03:28PM40.86-73.932151600 descending New York Center
03:29PM40.83-73.951941200 descending New York TRACON
03:29PM40.82-73.971911300 climbing New York Center
03:30PM40.78-74.00189400 descending New York TRACON
03:31PM40.75-74.02153300 descending New York TRACON

The 03:31PM Location seems a little south of where the NY Times has the location of the crash.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The World's Most Complicated Alarm Clock

I once stayed at a hotel in Pittsburgh. I needed to be up early the next day, so decided to set the alarm on the clock radio in the room, in addition to using the wake up call.

The clock was branded "Philips Magnavox".

Whatever I tried, I could not work out how to set the alarm. Being very persistent, and contemplating a fairly amusing blog post, I decided to search for the clock's instruction manual on the web.

I found it on the Philips website.

So, what was the trick to get the alarm to work?

Well, the clock has a feature called "Weekend Sleeper" (stops the alarm on the weekend). In order for that feature to work, the clock must know the day of the week. So, needed to set the day of the week, and then the alarm could be set.

This is an example of a non-intuitive user interface. There was no way I could work out how to perform a fairly simple task without reading the friendly manual.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


With the Madoff Fraud and now the Satyam Fraud, I am reminded of the following passage from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

They look upon fraud as a greater crime than theft, and therefore seldom fail to punish it with death; for they alledge, that care and vigilante, with a very common understanding, may preserve a man's goods from thieves; but honesty hat no fence against superior cunning: and since it is necessary that there should be a perpetual intercourse of buying and selling, and dealing upon credit; where fraud is permitted or connived at, or hath no Law to punish it, the honest dealer is always undone and the knave gets the advantage.
So true.

Would Bernie and Ramalinga have committed their frauds if their lives were on the line?

 This is the second time I have quoted from Gulliver's Travels in this blog. I will have to read again to find some other wisdom.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Geographic Features

Have you ever been traveling, and seen a building, landmark or other feature, and asked yourself - "what is that"?

I did, and envisioned a website that allowed a person to trace out that feature on top of Google Maps, and allow the Community to identify what it is.

Well, I was just talking to a colleague about Mumbai, and he proceeded to access WikiMapia to show various features of that city.

Turns out that wikimapia is fairly close to what I imagined. Google Maps, with the ability for the Community to mark geographic features. I think that a feature of the site called "identif this feature" would be useful. That way, a user could trace out something that they wanted to be identified, and another user could then do the identification.

Interesting Perspective

"Why is Lightning McQueen a Disney Movie?" my son asked (referring to the movie Cars)

"Because that's the company that made it" my wife replied.

"But it's not scary" he responded. Interesting perspective. He associates Disney with scary.