And people say that no one talks like Ayn Rand villains!

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Bryan Caplan points to an eyebrow-furrowing 1-star review of an anti-Obama book he hasn’t read:

I guess the reviewer is serious, but you tell me:
There will always be skeptics and nonbelievers. In “The Obama Nation,” Dr. Corsi makes clear he is no believer and harbors suspicions about any messianic figure that appears out of nowhere and builds a fervent following. He warns that misplaced hope is naive and dangerous. He has doubts about any unifying movement that is galvanized by a cult of personality. He has doubts about connections, backgrounds, associations, hidden agendas, oblique messages, word origins, trust faith dreams peace hope change . . . Dr. Corsi certainly is full of doubt.

It’s understandable to show doubt in the face of forces we cannot comprehend. Even Jesus had a Doubting Thomas. Which makes me wonder how Dr. Corsi would respond if Jesus returned and decided to run for the U.S. Presidency? Surely Corsi would target even Him as “unfit” and radical.

So far Corsi sounds like a pillar of sanity. The 1-star review goes on:

Here is the truth: some truths are unknowable. Contrary to what Dr. Corsi exhorts, it’s simply not always black-and-white. There’s a gray area between veracity and faith, and human truths always have two sides. In this realm, Dr. Corsi and his “facts” and footnotes have no relevance. He is rendered tangential and his arguments immaterial.

And people say that no one talks like Ayn Rand villains! Lest you think I exaggerate, the 1-star review goes on:

Here is the truth: the basic ideas that are brought about by any visionary that have positive universal applications in our daily lives can never be destroyed. The words of change, the message of hope and the idea of redemption will endure. We should not be frightened, instead, we should embrace the opportunity to witness the rebirth of optimism.

Sometimes, you just have to put your foot on the water (Matthew 14:29-31) and if your faith is strong, you will not sink.

You could dismiss this review as the work of a demented mind, but that’s hardly fair — the spelling and grammar are well above average. You could dismiss it as the work of an agent provocateur, but that’s pretty paranoid. I’m left with the thought that some smart people think that if we just have faith in our leaders, we’ll witness miracles. Scary.

Yes, scary.

Why Don’t the Chinese Learn from Singapore?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Why Don’t the Chinese Learn from Singapore?, Bryan Caplan asks:

I can vaguely understand why Western democracies won’t deign to emulate Singapore’s miraculously cheap and effective health care system. But when the Chinese ignore Singapore and copy Western socialized medicine, I can only roll my eyes in disgust.
If I didn’t know anything else, I’d be tempted to see this as an atavistic “back to Mao” movement. But alas, it’s Western advisors who are to blame.
Admittedly, if the goal of the plan is to maintain the popularity of the Communst Party rather than deliver low-cost quality health care, the foreign advisors may have it right. After all their crimes against humanity, the Chinese Communists almost desperately need to “show that they care.”

Villains, Victims,and Heroes

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The media needs a narrative of villains, victims, and heroes, Arnold Kling notes:

That is why the dominant narrative has greedy executives and right-wing deregulators (villains), even though capital requirements were what drove securitization. That is why the dominant narrative has homeowners burdened by mortgages, when in fact more than 15 percent of mortgage loans in recent years were for non-owner-occupied homes. Moreover, even the owner-occupants were speculators, in the sense that they put almost nothing down. Trying to paint as a victim someone who put nothing down and got a big house to live in as a result is really stretching things. Finally, the media wants Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke to be heroes. In fact, they are increasing the discrepancy between concentrated power and dispersed knowledge.

He concludes that government-sponsored, upside-only capitalism is the only game in town for the foreseeable future.

A Passion for Physical Realms, Minute and Massive

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Physicist often show A Passion for Physical Realms, Minute and Massive — abstract and concrete:

At almost any physics workshop or conference there is likely to be a cluster of alpine adventurers whose passion for exploring the wilderness of abstractions also sends them off to ascend granite cliffs or scramble up fields of boulders at 14,000 feet.

“Climbing and physics both bring an intimacy with nature,” said Dr. Steven B. Giddings, a physicist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who studies the peculiarities of black holes. “In physics this comes through unraveling the deepest secrets of how nature works, and in climbing by facing the unfolding challenges of an ascent through unknown territory.”
“When I was a student in Cambridge, about half the University Mountaineering Club was either mathematicians or physicists,” said Dr. John Cardy, a theoretical physicist at Oxford who recently joined a trek in the Himalayas. “In the present local club of which I am part, there is still a preponderance of people with a training in physics.”
“One of the difficulties of theoretical physics is the intangibility of the subject,” Dr. Giddings said. “In climbing, the challenges are tangible to the point that small decisions can dictate your survival.”
Over the years physicists have given their names not only to the phenomena of physics but also to routes up obstacles of rock. Theorists at CERN, the leading European particle physics laboratory, refer to the Sacherer frequency and the Sacherer method for computing something called “bunched-beam instabilities” in a particle accelerator. And climbers in Yosemite tackle the Sacherer Cracker, part of a route up the treacherous El Capitan. All these landmarks were named for Dr. Frank J. Sacherer, a theoretical physicist at CERN, who was a world-class expert on the behavior of particle accelerators.

Climbers in the Shawangunk Mountains north of New York City might find themselves trying to negotiate Shockley’s Ceiling, named for Dr. William B. Shockley, the Bell Laboratories researcher who shared a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956 for the development of the transistor. Another enthusiastic Shawangunk climber, also at the laboratories, was Dr. Lester Germer, who collaborated with Dr. Clinton J. Davisson in 1927 to show that electrons can act like waves, as quantum theory predicted.

In his memoir “Mountain Passages,” Dr. Jeremy Bernstein, a physicist, remembered a close call when he was negotiating the Cosmic Spur, a challenging route up the south face of the Aiguille du Midi in the French Alps. It is named in honor of an old laboratory where, earlier in the century, experimenters — some of the first physicist-mountaineers — snatched cosmic rays falling from the sky to study the nature of particles.

With the help of his guide, Dr. Bernstein avoided a fall. But some physicists have lost their lives in the mountains. Dr. Sacherer and a young theorist, Dr. Joseph H. Weis, died in 1978 when a storm struck while they were descending a hanging ice field called the Shroud on the Grandes Jorasses near Chamonix.

In 1988 the Rockefeller University theorist Dr. Heinz R. Pagels fell to his death while hiking down 14,000- foot Pyramid Peak, near Aspen. Dr. David N. Schramm, a cosmologist/ physicist whose climbing exploits earned him the nickname Schrambo, did not die on a mountain; he was killed when the Cessna he was flying to Aspen in 1997 crashed into a Colorado wheat field. But he had survived close calls in treacherous ascents on four continents.

History of Mathematical Notation

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Stephen Wolfram, creator of Mathmatica, discusses the History of Mathematical Notation and shares some interesting factoids:

  • The first representations for numbers that we recognize are notches in bones made 25,000 years ago, which worked in unary: to represent 7, you made 7 notches, and so on.
  • More than 5000 years ago, the Babylonians — and probably the Sumerians before them — had the idea of positional notation for numbers, but they used base 60 — not base 10 — which is presumably where our hours, minutes, seconds scheme comes from. But they had the idea of using the same digits to represent multiples of different powers of 60.
  • Neither the Babylonians nor the Egyptians had the idea to use characters for digits though: not to make up a 7 digit with 7 of something, and so on.
  • The Greeks — perhaps following the Phoenicians — did have this idea, though, but their version of the idea was to label the sequence of numbers by the sequence of letters in their alphabet. So alpha was 1, beta was 2, and so on. But this creates a serious versioning problem: even if you decide to drop letters from your alphabet, you have to leave them in your numbers, or else all your previously-written numbers get messed up. So that means that there are various obsolete Greek letters left in their number system: like koppa for 90 and sampi for 900.
  • In Roman numerals, the length of the representation of a number increases fractally with the size of the number.
  • There was a serious conceptual problem with letters as numbers: it made it difficult to invent the concept of symbolic variables, because any letter one might use for a symbolic variable could be confused with a piece of the number.
  • There are a few hints of Hindu-Arabic notation in the mid-first-millennium AD, but it didn’t get really set up until about 1000 AD, and it didn’t really come to the West until Fibonacci wrote his book about calculating around 1200 AD.
  • The idea of breaking digits up into groups of three to make big numbers more readable is already in Fibonacci’s book from 1202, though he suggested using overparens on top of the numbers, not commas in the middle.
  • Algebraic variables didn’t get started until Vieta at the very end of the 1500s, and they weren’t common until way into the 1600s. So that means people like Copernicus didn’t have them. Nor for the most part did Kepler.
  • Even though math notation hadn’t gotten going very well by their time, the kind of symbolic notation used in alchemy, astrology, and music pretty much had been developed. So, for example, Kepler ended up using what looks like modern musical notation to explain his “music of the spheres” for ratios of planetary orbits in the early 1600s.
  • Starting with Vieta and friends, letters routinely got used for algebraic variables. Usually, by the way, he used vowels for unknowns, and consonants for knowns.
  • Vieta wrote out polynomials in a symbolic algebra scheme he called zetetics, using words for the operations, partly so the operations wouldn’t be confused with the variables.
  • The Babylonians didn’t usually use operation symbols: for addition they juxtaposed things, and they tended to put things into tables so they didn’t have to write out operations.
  • The Egyptians did have some notation for operations — they used a pair of legs walking forwards for plus, and walking backwards for minus.
  • The modern + sign — which was probably a shorthand for the Latin et for and — doesn’t seem to have arisen until the end of the 1400s.
  • In the early to mid-1600s there was kind of revolution in math notation, and things very quickly started looking quite modern. Square root signs got invented: previously Rx — the symbol we use now for medical prescriptions — was what was usually used.
  • A fellow called William Oughtred, who taught Christopher Wren, invented the cross for multiplication.
  • Newton invented the idea that you can write negative powers of things instead of one over things and so on.
  • Leibniz had been using omn., presumably standing for omnium, for integrals, but in 1675 he created the modern integral sign, the elongated S or ?. Then on Thursday November 11 of the same year, he wrote down the d for derivative. Actually, he said he didn’t think it was a terribly good notation, and he hoped he could think of a better one soon. But as we all know, that didn’t happen.
  • Euler, in the 1700s, was the first serious user of Greek as well as Roman letters for variables.
  • Euler popularized the letter ? (pi) for the famous constant — a notation that had originally been suggested by a character called William Jones, who thought of it as a shorthand for perimeter.

Who’s on Line? Even the Referees Don’t Know

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Who’s on line? Even the referees don’t know, when Piedmont High School plays its A-11 offense — which it considers the logical and inevitable next step in a game that is becoming faster and more spread out at all levels, but which other teams consider a gimmick that cleverly but unfairly takes advantage of a loophole in the rules:

By placing one of the quarterbacks at least seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, and no one under center to receive the snap, the A-11 qualifies as a scrimmage kick formation — the alignments used for punts and extra points. Thus interior linemen are granted an exception from having to wear jersey numbers 50 through 79. (The exception was intended to allow a team’s deep snapper not to have to switch to a lineman’s jersey if he was a back or an end.) Any player wearing jersey numbers 1 through 49 and 80 through 99 is potentially eligible to receive a pass.

Piedmont’s basic A-11 formation calls for a center flanked by two guards, who are essentially tight ends. Two quarterbacks, or a quarterback and a running back, line up behind the center, with three receivers split to each side.

Under football rules, seven players must begin each play on the line of scrimmage and only five are permitted to run downfield to receive a pass — the two players at the end of the line and three situated behind the line. The difficult task for a team defending against the A-11 is to quickly and accurately figure out who those five eligible receivers are.

Prior to each Piedmont play, only the center initially goes to the line of scrimmage. The two “guards” and the split receivers each stand one and a half yards off the line. Then, just before the ball is snapped, Piedmont shifts into formation for the signaled play. With this simple movement, the possibilities for eligible receivers become dizzying.

At higher levels, the rules are too strict for the A-11:

N.F.L. rules governing jersey numbering are more limiting than high school rules, and coaches fear leaving their million-dollar quarterbacks unprotected by a standard offensive line. College rules permit the scrimmage kick formation only when it is obvious that a kick may be attempted.

This is all reminiscent of Coach Leach’s work at Texas Tech, which I’ve commented on before.

Indie Films Hit the Web

Monday, October 20th, 2008

A glut of movies is jockeying for theater screens, and the once-bullish market for “indie” movies has lost some of its core buyers, so now indie films are hitting the web and trying to figure out how to make a buck:

Offering art online rarely earns a creator much up front, but it boosts the odds of broad exposure. With no need for old-fashioned film prints, going on the Web is cheap and quick. And directors can get instant feedback from online viewers.

Mr. Wang’s “Princess” was made with the $200,000 the director had left over after delivering his traditionally released film “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,” under budget.
On YouTube, which is offering “Princess” on its new Screening Room channel for professional short films and features, the movie will generate revenue from ads on the site. But Mr. Wang says the bigger payoff comes in viewership. Last week, before “Princess” was available, the trailer had been viewed more than 80,000 times. In theaters, the same trailer would have been seen some 5,000 times, the director estimates.
Director David Modigliani spent roughly three years making the documentary “Crawford,” a portrait of the people living in the adopted Texas hometown of President George W. Bush. The movie was first screened for the public last spring at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. But as “Crawford” went on to get accepted into more than 30 other festivals, no solid offers came in that would land it in theaters or on television.

In late August, the director struck a deal that made “Crawford” the first film to make its debut on A joint venture of NBC and News Corp. (which owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal), the seven-month-old Hulu primarily streams familiar TV shows and movies, such as “Saturday Night Live” and “Men In Black,” and offers tools that let viewers post these videos directly on their own blogs, Facebook pages and other sites. Since going up on the site 10 days ago, “Crawford” has been the top movie and one of the most-discussed videos on the site, says Hulu, which doesn’t release the number of views its videos generate.
His agreement with Hulu was brokered by B-Side, an Austin company that runs the Web sites of some 200 film festivals. Using email addresses and other data gathered from festival goers, B-Side organizes screening events around the country where movies are shown for free as a way to drive DVD sales. Now, with films like “Crawford,” B-Side is applying that strategy to the Web.

Hulu didn’t pay anything up front for “Crawford.” Instead, the company shares revenue generated by the six advertisements that run at various points during the 74-minute film. Neither Hulu or B-Side will say how much that amounts to, but B-Side only expects it to cover the company’s initial expenses on the film — a few thousand dollars. At a time when interest in politics is running high, B-Side is banking on a return from selling “Crawford” on DVD, offered online for $19.99. The director has no investors to pay back. He used his credit card and used tax-deductible contributions made through the Austin Film Society for the movie’s $100,000 budget.

Back-end revenue sources have long been key to recouping the high costs of producing and promoting films for theaters; in 2007, the specialty divisions of major studios spent an average of $26 million to market a film, up from $18 million the year before, according to the MPAA. By contrast, movies using the emerging online-only model don’t have to recoup on that kind of marketing push — but it’s still unclear how they’ll fare without it.

Fighting Terrorists with a Laundromat

Monday, October 20th, 2008

During “the troubles” with Ireland, the British developed a way of fighting terrorists with a laundromat:

The plan was simple: Build a laundry and staff it with locals and a few of their own. The laundry would then send out “color coded” special discount tickets, to the effect of “get two loads for the price of one,” etc. The color coding was matched to specific streets and thus when someone brought in their laundry, it was easy to determine the general location from which a city map was coded.

While the laundry was indeed being washed, pressed and dry cleaned, it had one additional cycle — every garment, sheet, glove, pair of pants, was first sent through an analyzer, located in the basement, that checked for bomb-making residue. The analyzer was disguised as just another piece of the laundry equipment; good OPSEC [operational security]. Within a few weeks, multiple positives had shown up, indicating the ingredients of bomb residue, and intelligence had determined which areas of the city were involved. To narrow their target list, [the laundry] simply sent out more specific coupons [numbered] to all houses in the area, and before long they had good addresses. After confirming addresses, authorities with the SAS teams swooped down on the multiple homes and arrested multiple personnel and confiscated numerous assembled bombs, weapons and ingredients. During the entire operation, no one was injured or killed.

What Independent Voters Want

Monday, October 20th, 2008

John Avlon, author of Independent Nation: How Centrism Can Change American Politics, says that What Independent Voters Want is independence from special interests guided by a common-sense balance of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism — which sounds like not-so-strident libertarianism:

Back in 1954, only 22% of voters identified themselves as independents, according to the American National Election Survey. Fifty years later the number was nearly double. Now, two out of five Americans can’t name anything they like about the Democrats, and 50% say the same about Republicans.
Professional partisans in Washington try to ignore this shift, perpetuating the myth that the independent movement is a chaotic grab bag. In fact, the movement has a coherent set of underlying beliefs: Independents tend to be fiscally conservative, socially progressive and strong on national security. They believe in putting patriotism over partisanship and the national interest over special interests.

One year ago, while Republicans named terrorism as their No. 1 issue and Democrats pointed to health care, independents were already feeling the squeeze of the economy. They want a return to fiscal responsibility.

A 2007 study of independents by the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation showed they are not swayed by social-conservative issues. Independents were more likely than either Republicans or Democrats to agree that abortion should be legal in most (but not all) cases, and that same-sex couples should be allowed to legally form civil unions, but not to marry.

The top targets of independents’ anger are illustrative — hypocritical politicians, pork-barrel projects and a lack of bipartisan solutions in Washington, according to a 2008 national survey of independents by TargetPoint Consulting. Then there’s the Bush administration. Independents believe the current president is the worst in recent history, but there is one area of policy overlap: 66% of independent voters believe that the U.S. has an obligation to establish security in Iraq before withdrawing.

India to Launch Its First Unmanned Moon Mission

Monday, October 20th, 2008

India is about to launch its first (unmanned) moon mission:

The launch will put India into an Asian space race, which last year saw Japan and China launch lunar orbiters. Sites in those countries are regularly used for launching commercial satellites.

The Chandrayaan-1 mission is the Indian Space and Research Organization’s first attempt to propel a spacecraft beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, although India has been launching suborbital satellites since 1975. About 1,000 scientists and engineers have worked on the lunar project for four years.

The $80 million two-year mission — during which the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft is expected to orbit about 60 miles from the lunar surface — will conduct a series of experiments on the moon’s mineral, geological and chemical characteristics, as well as searching for evidence of water on the lunar surface.

Why exactly is India spending $80 million on a lunar orbiter? That’s not so clear:

The lunar mission is strongly supported by India’s Congress-led government and even the country’s nationalistic leftist party leaders. “Opposing the mission would be demoralizing for our scientific community,” says Atul Kumar Anjaan, national secretary of the Communist Party of India. “Such projects are a national pride and involve years of innovation.”

A ‘Dose of Nature’ for Attention Problems

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Researchers recommend A ‘Dose of Nature’ for Attention Problems:

A small study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at how the environment influenced a child’s concentration skills. The researchers evaluated 17 children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, who all took part in three 20-minute walks in a park, a residential neighborhood and a downtown area.

After each walk, the children were given a standard test called Digit Span Backwards, in which a series of numbers are said aloud and the child recites them backwards. The test is a useful measure of attention and concentration because practice doesn’t improve the score. The order of the walks varied for all the children, and the tester wasn’t aware of which walk the child had just taken.

The study, published in the August issue of The Journal of Attention Disorders, found that children were able to focus better after the “green” walks compared to walks in other settings.

The Cloward-Piven Strategy of Orchestrated Crisis

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

James Simpson explains the Cloward-Piven Strategy of Orchestrated Crisis:

I submit to you they [the Democrats] understand the consequences [of failed policies]. For many it is simply a practical matter of eliciting votes from a targeted constituency at taxpayer expense; we lose a little, they gain a lot, and the politician keeps his job. But for others, the goal is more malevolent — the failure is deliberate. Don’t laugh. This method not only has its proponents, it has a name: the Cloward-Piven Strategy. It describes their agenda, tactics, and long-term strategy.

The Strategy was first elucidated in the May 2, 1966 issue of The Nation magazine by a pair of radical socialist Columbia University professors, Richard Andrew Cloward and Frances Fox Piven. David Horowitz summarizes it as:

The strategy of forcing political change through orchestrated crisis. The “Cloward-Piven Strategy” seeks to hasten the fall of capitalism by overloading the government bureaucracy with a flood of impossible demands, thus pushing society into crisis and economic collapse.

Cloward and Piven were inspired by radical organizer [and Hillary Clinton mentor] Saul Alinsky:

“Make the enemy live up to their (sic) own book of rules,” Alinsky wrote in his 1989 book Rules for Radicals. When pressed to honor every word of every law and statute, every Judeo-Christian moral tenet, and every implicit promise of the liberal social contract, human agencies inevitably fall short. The system’s failure to “live up” to its rule book can then be used to discredit it altogether, and to replace the capitalist “rule book” with a socialist one. (Courtesy Discover the

Newsmax rounds out the picture:

Their strategy to create political, financial, and social chaos that would result in revolution blended Alinsky concepts with their more aggressive efforts at bringing about a change in U.S. government. To achieve their revolutionary change, Cloward and Piven sought to use a cadre of aggressive organizers assisted by friendly news media to force a re-distribution of the nation’s wealth.

In their Nation article, Cloward and Piven were specific about the kind of “crisis” they were trying to create:

By crisis, we mean a publicly visible disruption in some institutional sphere. Crisis can occur spontaneously (e.g., riots) or as the intended result of tactics of demonstration and protest which either generate institutional disruption or bring unrecognized disruption to public attention.

No matter where the strategy is implemented, it shares the following features:

  1. The offensive organizes previously unorganized groups eligible for government benefits but not currently receiving all they can.
  2. The offensive seeks to identify new beneficiaries and/or create new benefits.
  3. The overarching aim is always to impose new stresses on target systems, with the ultimate goal of forcing their collapse.

Capitalizing on the racial unrest of the 1960s, Cloward and Piven saw the welfare system as their first target. They enlisted radical black activist George Wiley, who created the National Welfare Reform Organization (NWRO) to implement the strategy. Wiley hired militant foot soldiers to storm welfare offices around the country, violently demanding their “rights.” According to a City Journal article by Sol Stern, welfare rolls increased from 4.3 million to 10.8 million by the mid-1970s as a result, and in New York City, where the strategy had been particularly successful, “one person was on the welfare rolls… for every two working in the city’s private economy.”

According to another City Journal article titled “Compassion Gone Mad“:

The movement’s impact on New York City was jolting: welfare caseloads, already climbing 12 percent a year in the early sixties, rose by 50 percent during Lindsay’s first two years; spending doubled… The city had 150,000 welfare cases in 1960; a decade later it had 1.5 million.

The vast expansion of welfare in New York City that came of the NWRO’s Cloward-Piven tactics sent the city into bankruptcy in 1975. Rudy Giuliani cited Cloward and Piven by name as being responsible for “an effort at economic sabotage.” He also credited Cloward-Piven with changing the cultural attitude toward welfare from that of a temporary expedient to a lifetime entitlement, an attitude which in-and-of-itself has caused perhaps the greatest damage of all.

Cloward and Piven looked at this strategy as a gold mine of opportunity. Within the newly organized groups, each offensive would find an ample pool of foot soldier recruits willing to advance its radical agenda at little or no pay, and expand its base of reliable voters, legal or otherwise. The radicals’ threatening tactics also would accrue an intimidating reputation, providing a wealth of opportunities for extorting monetary and other concessions from the target organizations. In the meantime, successful offensives would create an ever increasing drag on society. As they gleefully observed:

Moreover, this kind of mass influence is cumulative because benefits are continuous. Once eligibility for basic food and rent grants is established, the drain on local resources persists indefinitely.

The next time you drive through one of the many blighted neighborhoods in our cities, or read of the astronomical crime, drug addiction, and out-of-wedlock birth rates, or consider the failed schools, strapped police and fire resources of every major city, remember Cloward and Piven’s thrill that “…the drain on local resources persists indefinitely.”

Liquid Comics Banks on Indian Epic With Ramayan 3392 AD Film

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Apparently Virgin Comics has died and come back as Liquid Comics, and it is now banking its future on a Ramayan 3392 AD Film, based on its sci-fi treatment of the Indian epic:

Liquid has teamed up with Mandalay Pictures and 300 producer Mark Canton for the film, which has a planned release date of 2011.

Buy American. I Am.

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Buy American. I Am. Why does Warren Buffett say this?

A little history here: During the Depression, the Dow hit its low, 41, on July 8, 1932. Economic conditions, though, kept deteriorating until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933. By that time, the market had already advanced 30 percent. Or think back to the early days of World War II, when things were going badly for the United States in Europe and the Pacific. The market hit bottom in April 1942, well before Allied fortunes turned. Again, in the early 1980s, the time to buy stocks was when inflation raged and the economy was in the tank. In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.

Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.

Making transistors on paper

Friday, October 17th, 2008

Researchers are now making transistors on paper, rather than silicon, The Economist reports:

The silicon in a transistor has two separate roles. One, when it is doped with small amounts of other elements, is as a semiconductor. This is a material that permits the limited movement either of electrons (which are negatively charged) or of positively charged “holes” in the crystal lattice where an electron ought to be. Silicon’s other role, when it is pure, is as a dielectric—a material that can be penetrated by an electric field, but not an electric current. It is silicon’s role as a dielectric that Dr Fortunato and Dr Martins propose to replace.

The two researchers built their transistors by coating both sides of a sheet of paper with semiconductors made of oxides of zinc, gallium and indium, rather than silicon. They then deposited aluminium onto the coated paper to connect the resulting components together. One side of the paper carried the control currents while the other carried the output currents. The paper thus acted as the dielectric between the components of each transistor, as well as being the substrate for the circuit, in the same way that the base of a silicon chip acts both as substrate and as dielectric.

This approach lets the transistors be both flexible and cheap to produce. They can be made at room temperature, unlike a silicon chip, and paper is a lot less pricey than electronics-grade silicon. They also seem reliable. Dr Fortunato and Dr Martins tested their prototypes for two months without detecting any fall in performance.

Paper transistors, and circuits based on them, are not, it must be said, going to replace silicon chips as the microprocessors in computers any time soon—if only because they are nowhere near as miniaturised. But the two researchers have already used them to make a simple, disposable memory circuit, which they will describe in a forthcoming issue of Applied Physics Letters. Such paper-based “chips” would be much cheaper than the cheapest chips available today, and could be used in radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags on such things as packets of food on supermarket shelves—the cost of RFID chips is one of the factors preventing their widespread adoption. Baggage tags, banknotes with electronics embedded for security and even postage stamps that can be read by smart franking machines are other possible uses. Electronics may even come to rely on paper, rather than eliminating it.