Science/Technology and Economics: Interesting posts from March 7 and 8 2012

Interesting. Second time I’m trying this, and I actually like it a bit better than checking web sites once a day. I check them once every two or three days, only click on the links that are interesting to me, and write up what is still interesting after reading it.

It does put me a day or two behind on the news, but I’m okay with that.

Anyway, interesting posts from the last couple days from The Register

Subtopic: Online Copyright Wars:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has accused Warner Brothers in a court filing of using an automated program to send out takedown notices because of suspected copyright violations, which violated the wording the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The EFF argues that running an automated computer program which only looks at file names before sending out a takedown notice, with no human review or intervention of any kind, is not exactly the good-faith belief required by the DMCA.  The EFF is also worried that if Warner is allowed to use this method, it will encourage copyright holders to spam even more takedown notices as a way to hassle websites they don’t like — and if they get called on it, “it wasn’t our fault, it was computer error!”

Wow. Talk about mission creep. The British Intellectual Property Office started with a consultation about copyrights, and that’s become a way to suggest all sorts of crazy things like eliminating all copyrights for educational material.

Britain’s best-loved storytellers turned their fire on the People’s Revolutionary Council of Newport yesterday – otherwise known as the Intellectual Property Office. The IPO wants to use the power of the state to rob authors of the right to see any royalties from sales into education.

Just like that. And no, this is not a joke. The government is currently hosting a consultation on measures thrown into the ‘Google Review’ – the study ordered by No 10 and nominally led by former newspaper editor Ian Hargreaves – but which was largely written by IPO bureaucrats. The consultation process has become a vehicle for all kinds of ideas which weren’t in the review, but which appear to be part of a mission to obliterate copyright where possible, or collectivise it where it can’t actually be obliterated.

Interview with Rob Levine — author of recent book Free Ride — about copyrights & digital data. He feels copyrights actually do need protecting, but many of the ways copyright holders are currently going about it is dumb & counterproductive due to backlash against overly-stringent measures.

“I wrote this paper that’s perhaps a little silly; it’s called Copyright in Three Dimensions. One dimension is how long it is – how long the copyright term lasts. One is how wide it is – what it covers. Does it cover a book in translation, a parody, and so on. And the third dimension is how deep it is, which is how seriously it’s enforced.

“To me, the ideal copyright to encourage creativity and innovation would be for it to be much shorter than it is now, to cover a little less than it does now, and with a little more flexibility, but it would really need to be enforced. Right now we have copyright that lasts almost forever, covers too much, and it’s not effective.

“Movies made in 1940 are not worth that much to Google. What they want is no enforcement of copyright. So you get a longer copyright that doesn’t work at all. The biggest problem is not that copyright lasts forever, but that it doesn’t work.

And other topics . . . 

Of 41 different Android system malware scanners tested, 2/3 could not detect 65% or more of the malware programs tested. 

Packages that detected more than 90 per cent of the Android malware thrown at them included Droid security software from Avast, Dr Web, F-Secure, Ikarus, Kaspersky, Zoner and Lookout.

Study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues there was a large asteroid that hit central Mexico about 12 900 years ago which caused much of the mega-fauna extinctions that are found in North America around that time. (Nothing in the story about whether there were similar megafauna extinctions in South America at that time, although I’ve read in other places that there were large sloths and other mammals in South America that are no longer there.) 12 900 years ago was also the start of the Younger Dryas, an unusual cold climactic period.

Two studies show British wind-power is horribly & unnecessarily expensive compared to how much energy it actually generates & how much carbon it actually prevents being released.

Hughes’ study – Why is Wind power so expensive? An economic analysis – is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation today, and simply looks at the costs. The other study, by technical consulting group AF-Mercados, specifically looks at how to reduce CO2 in the cheapest manner – by incurring the least collateral economic damage. It’s called Powerful Targets: Exploring the relative cost of meeting decarbonisation and renewables targets in the British power sector. KPMG originally commissioned the study, but then got cold feet. Both come to similar conclusions: wind is astronomically expensive compared to other sources of energy – and consumers and businesses must pay a high price for the privilege of subsidising such an inefficient technology

Now that Steve Jobs has died Apple & Google might negotiate a truce on patents. Turns out Jobs was the obstacle to that, he wanted to destroy the competition utterly. But on the other hand Apple also decided that GPS photo data for pictures taken from iPhones would come from Apple’s servers, not Google Maps. So maybe they’re still at war after all.

One tiny little slip led the FBI to LulzSec member Sabu in real life. He then continued to work while the FBI watched what he did and gathered information on other Anonymous / LulzSec members.

“They caught him because just once, he logged onto IRC without going through Tor, revealing to the FBI his IP address,” Graham claims.

Sun releases largest flare in 5 years. Things should quiet down by Friday. Some interesting quotes from the article:

 By the way, the Maya are not extinct, they just abandoned their cities before the Spanish got there and melded into the jungle, and the 5,125-year Mayan Long Count calendar just hits reset on December 21, 2012. It’s a clock, not a detonator. So we do, in fact, have to learn to get along.

. . .

These flares and related coronal mass ejections are nowhere near as powerful as the March 9, 1989 flare, which energized a severe magnetic storm in Canada and knocked out the power grid. (The GOES system was not in use then for measuring geomagnetic storms.) And the mother of all modern geomagnetic storms, on September 1 and 2, 1859, was hot enough to shock telegraph operators directly and the aurora reached down into the tropics.

And as further news about the solar flare, the spin it had when it left the sun meant it didn’t hit the earth straight on, so there wasn’t as much effect as expected.

An Australian restaurant recycles liquid waste from the toilets into fertilizer for canola fields.

Wow. Talk about mission creep. The British Intellectual Property Office started with a consultation about copyrights, and that’s become a way to suggest all sorts of crazy things like eliminating all copyrights for educational material.

Britain’s best-loved storytellers turned their fire on the People’s Revolutionary Council of Newport yesterday – otherwise known as the Intellectual Property Office. The IPO wants to use the power of the state to rob authors of the right to see any royalties from sales into education.

Just like that. And no, this is not a joke. . . . The consultation process has become a vehicle for all kinds of ideas which weren’t in the review, but which appear to be part of a mission to obliterate copyright where possible, or collectivise it where it can’t actually be obliterated.

Anti-fraud technology has resulted in crooks going back to older techniques like impersonating a bank or the police in order to get someone account number and access codes. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier has been writing for years that the most pervasive security threats are the oldest — someone giving the wrong information to someone who wasn’t what they appeared to be.

Successsor to Stuxnet shows up, programmed in unknown (or at least currently unidentified) programming language. The computer anti-virus guys say they know what the machine code does, and they think the programming language used is object-oriented, but they’re at a loss otherwise. Long but fascinating article about Stuxnet at Wired.  

 And from the last couple days of ZeroHedge:

Some discussions about oil, oil prices, and the economy

Oil prices affect disposable income and economic growth.

There are “rules of thumb” we can apply for inflation, gasoline spending, and real income that are helpful for analytical purposes, although the actual impact on the economy is more
complex.

  • For every $1 rise in the price of oil, gasoline prices rise by about 2.5 cents at the pump.
  • Every penny rise at the gasoline pump adds slightly more than $1bn to the household sector gasoline bill (assuming no alteration in driving behavior).
  • Every $10 increase in the price of crude oil raises headline CPI inflation by 0.3-0.4 ppt.
  • Every $10 increase in the price of crude oil reduces real income growth by 0.3-0.4 ppt.

Oil prices are affected by the strength of the U.S. dollar as much as anything else. Direct link to YouTube video. “It’s like admitting you drank too much, then saying the hangover is not your fault.”

Another post on oil prices.  It varies across the U.S. more than the news is showing, based on where local refiners can get their crude.

Two main forces are driving fuel prices upward in the United States: high global oil prices and the state of the US oil transportation and refining industry.

. . .

The US is divided into five oil districts, which were originally designed to ensure energy security during World War II. Things have certainly evolved since then, but the districts remain less connected than you might think. Crude oil cannot necessarily flow from one side of the country to the other or from one producing region to another refining area. The system’s disconnectedness means that refiners in different regions are forced to pay whatever the price may be for the crude oil they can access – and those prices differ significantly.

And some interesting posts from ZeroHedge about other stuff: 

Some really horrifying graphs about the cost of college, and whether or not college is worth the cost right now. Original post from Charles Hugh Smith’s Of Two Minds article “Our “Let’s Pretend Economy”: Let’s Pretend Student Loans Are About Education“, and ZeroHedge copy is linked here. The student loan bubble is one that Charles Hugh Smith & ZeroHedge have been talking about for over a year now. Back around 2007 and 2008, I talked a young friend of mine out of going to college right after high school, and odd as it sounds, I’m glad I did.

Since about 30% of the workforce has a college degree now, the “edge” provided by a diploma has dulled considerably.

. . .

Student loans enable young people to “stay in school” or “go back to school”. Waiting for the economy to pick up may or may not be a good strategy, but piling up debt to do so is a horrendously bad strategy–yet it is the one we enable and encourage.

More discussion of how out-of-touch economics is with the real world. This is another recurring discussion on ZeroHedge, that many modern economists try to model human behavior with equations and call that “economics” when human nature is not that easily described or predicted.

It was Nobel laureate William Sharpe, for example, who devised the capital asset pricing model in the 1970s in an attempt to establish the sort of risks that can be reduced by diversification.

But the CAPM (as it became known) also contains a number of assumptions about financial markets that can variously be described as either quaint or ridiculous, including:

  • Financial markets are perfectly competitive
  • Tax does not exist; nor do transaction costs
  • All investors have the same time horizon
  • All investors have the same expectations of returns and volatility
  • All investors can borrow and lend at one risk-free rate
  • Investors can go short any asset and hold any asset fractionally

Clearly the natural world we actually inhabit simply does not behave according to the sort of models that economists use.

In “The Origin of Wealth,” Eric Beinhocker makes a convincing case that the rot set in to field of economics when serial French loser Leon Walras, having failed as engineer, novelist, journalist and banker, set his mind to this exciting new discipline. Beinhocker writes:

“Prior to Walras, economics was not a mathematical field. Walras and his compatriots were convinced that if the equations of differential calculus could capture the motions of planets and atoms in the universe, these same mathematical techniques could also capture the motion of human minds in the economy.”

Interview with climatologist Judith Curry on the IPCC.

Judith was a one time supporter of the IPCC until she started to find herself disagreeing with certain policies and methods of the organization. She feared the combination of groupthink and political advocacy, combined with an ingrained “noble cause syndrome” stifled scientific debate, slowed down scientific progress, and corrupted the assessment process.

United States deficit at an all-time high for February 2012.

Today, we learn that in February the US will report its largest budget deficit in history. . . forcing the US to borrow 54 cents for every dollar it spends (not the often cited 42 cent number which does not take into account tax refunds . . .

And as far as Europe goes . . . meh. There was a ton of posts, I’m only going to put two here. Summary of the rest is that it’s still a mess and it’s likely Greece will be re-defaulting in another three or four years. The only strong economy in Europe is Germany, which is a mercantilist economy that depends on exports.

Greek “Fresh Start” Bonds Face Immediate 80% Loss, 98% Probability Of Redefault

Reuters Reports That Hedge Funds Have Found Greek Default Trigger Loophole

Also numerous posts on ZeroHedge about the Middle East, especially Syria & Iran. From week to week it varies who is being belligerent and who is is trying diplomacy. I like ZeroHedge, but it does tend to be a bit of a tin-foil-hat place at times.

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