Thursday Aug 06, 2009

CA$H for Wintel Clunkers and Common $ense

Classic Clunker with Cedarburg, WI county fair light reflections.

According to a CNN money article on the Cash for Clunkers program:
  • The trade-in vehicle has to get a combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon or less.
  • The average fuel economy of new vehicles being purchased under Cash for Clunkers is 25.4 mpg
  • The average fuel economy increase from the old vehicle to the new is about 61%.
For this 61% fuel economy improvement in a relative small percentage of the U.S. car fleet, $1 Billion has been spent and another $2 Billion may soon be wasted. There are a number of problems with this program.
  • U.S. fuel economy peaked in the late 1980s and vehicles exceeding 25 mpg have existed since AMC's 1959 Rambler, so only those who deliberatly chose the lowest mpg vehicles can avail of the program.
  • Those who chose economy cars and other respectably efficient vehicles (Civics, Festivas...) are punished to subsidize those who chose inefficient vehicles (Hummers, Vipers...), in effect it is a regressive tax!
  • The real mpg/person savings can be negative, for example when an 18mpg 8 passenger vehicle is replaced with a 25.4 mpg 4 passenger vehicle.
  • The program also ignores the fact that it takes energy to crush an old but serviceable car and replace it with a newly built car.

If the Cash For Clunkers program had instead been directed to encourage companies and individuals to junk their Wintel PCs and replace them with Sun Ray thin clients, there is a potential for a 97.5% decrease in energy consumption. So why isn't there a Cash for Clunkers program for desktop personal computers?

Thursday Oct 30, 2008

$800 Billion burning a hole in your pocket? Spending ideas


Against the better judgment of hundreds of economists as well as the vast majority of the voting public (those annoying constituents), Congress approved Henry Paulson's bailout plan. Now Paulson's appointed "bailout czar", Neel Kashkari has $800 billion tax dollars burning a hole in his pocket and he is trying to figure out how to spend it. My wife was a loan officer and defacto credit counselor way back in the late 1900s when most banks and credit unions still carefully considered credit ratings, debt/income and debt/asset ratios. She often helped people understand how to prioritize their spending. Sometimes little changes such as forgoing the daily cappuccino were enough to lift people out of debt and improve their credit rating. Our bailout czar's job is slightly different. In order to efficiently bail out failing financial institutions, he must invest taxpayer's money on assets that no one in their right mind would buy with their own hard-earned money. I personally don't think this is a good plan. At best it is a temporary patch to a deflating asset bubble. If the bailout czar really wishes to use tax money to improve long term American economic growth and competitiveness, he should consider the following options for spending 800 billion dollars:

  • Bailout Chrysler 800 times (in 1979 dollars). This cash flow diagram indicates that, not so long ago, Detroit fueled a huge portion of the U.S. economy.
  • Repeat the Apollo moon lander program (including R&D from 1961-1969) 32 times (8 times in 2008 dollars).
  • Install photovoltaic solar roofs on 32 million homes (1/5th of all homes in the U.S.)
  • Pay full (unadjusted) tuition for their first year of Yale for 70% of 18-25 year old Americans. (Quoted tuition is for Yale medical school, but Yale has other specialties which could prepare students to become business leaders, presidents, senators, economists...)
  • Fund the National Cancer Institute for 165 years.
  • Provide microcredit loans for the world's $1 billion working poor.
  • Fund UNICEF for 266 years.
  • Buy every possible ticket combination in the Florida Lotto for 57142 weeks, which means Paulson could hold a winning Florida lottery ticket every week for 1098 years.
  • SETI. Wisconsin's former Senator and spendthrift William Proxmire once awarded his famous "Golden Fleece Award" to project SETI. Paulson's bailout money could fund project SETI for 160,000 years.

I'm confident that any of the items on my shopping list would give U.S. taxpayers more bang for their buck than the current plan to reinflate the property bubble, an asset bubble which caused a massive misallocation of financial and intellectual resources and actually works against U.S. global competitiveness.

Incidentally, $800 billion is a lot of money, but it isn't an infinite amount. Unfortunately it isn't enough for the following:

  • $800 billion won't buy enough Starbucks cappuccino to fill Lake Erie, the smallest great lake. However, if you combine all of the recent Fed and treasury bailouts, you could buy enough instant coffee to flavor the Great Salt Lake. You could also buy enough cheap off-brand root beer or Kool-Aid to fill Lake Okeechobee. Wouldn't this be a nice modern variation on the Boston tea party?
  • $800 billion could easily fulfill Herbert Hoover's promise of "a chicken in every pot" (in fact everyone's pot could contain 666 $4 chickens), but to put "a car in every garage" as he also promised, you'd want slightly more money unless we're willing to settle for a used or economy car in every garage.
  • $800 billion would fill a bag with about 80 billion decent ACE hardware hammers but apparently only 1.3 Billion military grade hammers.
  • If you sent $800 billion to the International Star Registry, they would only name 22 Billion stars after a loved one in their "official" book. But the Milky Way galaxy contains at least 200 billion stars and there are billions of other galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of nameless stars. So at best, only about one in every 10 stars in our galaxy could be named "Henry Paulson".

    Billions and Billions of stars

Wednesday Sep 24, 2008

Is Wall Street welfare a good idea?

While discussing the U.S. government's relatively harmless economic meddling (Cheese subsidies) during the Reagan/GHW Bush years, a friend suggested that the government should buy computer chips and bury them in order to prop up the falling domestic chip market. Since then, inexpensive imported chips led to the personal PC market, the cell phone market, the video game market, the associated software markets and the internet economy. None of this might have happened if the government had imposed tariffs or burned chips in order to prop up that part of the economy. A few years later, this Bush administration tried and failed to meddle with WTO-defying steel tariffs which theoretically might have saved a handful of steelworker jobs while irritating the US's staunchest allies and endangering hundreds of thousands of domestic auto industry jobs.

[Read More]

Friday Feb 08, 2008

Laptop data confiscated at U.S. border - another reason for Sun Ray

Slashdot highlighted this Washington Post article on Confiscation and copying of all electronic data at U.S. borders. From the article:

She said the federal agent copied her log-on and password, and asked her to show him a recent document and how she gains access to Microsoft Word. She was asked to pull up her e-mail but could not because of lack of Internet access. With ACTE's help, she pressed for relief. More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation.


As chaotic and lawless as the early internet is, we've come to a time when it is already a safer place for your data than your briefcase or laptop. Of course, if you like the weight and coolness of a laptop to remind you that you are traveling for business, but don't want to risk your corporate data falling into the wrong hands, the Sun Ray 2N or Naturetech's Sun Ray compatible laptop are ideal for you. I'd like to see the look on the face of the customs guy when he asks to copy all of your laptop data and you tell him, "Data? There is no data here."

[Read More]

Monday Nov 05, 2007

Six-sigma Identity?

After all of the trouble we went to thinking of a name for our new baby, we ended up picking a name that didn't make the top 1000 in the U.S. but is common enough in certain parts of the world. I'll have to admit I was disappointed today when the health service sent an immunization reminder regarding our son, Nina??! who had a completely different name and birthday than the one my wife and I remember. [Read More]

Friday Jan 19, 2007

101 years in prison for SPAM SCAM!

Some U.S. technology laws seem to be nothing but a hodge podge of cryptic draconian code, seemingly written by technophobes and all too often, designed to favor Goliath over David. But every now and then they get the right person. Now if only I can convince those who send genuine, important financial and other time-critical email to fill in the From: address with a valid email address which is read by a real person (to catch vacation messages and filter bounces) and fill in the To: and CC: address with something other than "undisclosed recipients:," Even if you don't fall for SPAM, hyperactive SPAM filters can keep you from getting your genuine email. Missing an important email can be VERY costly! Ad-hoc SPAM filters will never work as well as true verifiable sender and target identities. And no, I'm not talking about some proprietary Microsoft identity scheme! I certainly hope this guilty California SPAMer doesn't have email access from prison.

Thursday Nov 03, 2005

Democrats kill online freedom of speech act

For those of you who blog from within the U.S., congressional democrats (traditional allies of 'real journalists') just voted against a bill which would have given bloggers protection from free speech limitations inherent in campaign finance laws.

And that's all I have to say about that. -- Forest Gump

Paid for by _______ approved by _________ read by ________

\*If reader is within U.S. borders, please fill in blanks and submit in triplicate to FEC.

Wednesday Jul 06, 2005

Celebrating freedom

We celebrated the U.S. July 4th independence day with BBQ'd bratwurst, hot dogs burgers and (still not free) beer. Here is some other freedom news this week:

Today the European Union parliment voted to free itself from a bad software patent law. The FFII, Sun and RedHat lobbied for this outcome and it's a clear victory for the open source software movement. I hope U.S. patent law is reformed to approach the spirit of idea exchange as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson and slow the exodus of jobs, innovation and money from the U.S. software industry. I wonder if this scruffy group of computer hackers would have made it big if the threat of hundreds of obvious but expensive to challenge patents had been hanging over their heads in 1978.

Gman has a proposal regarding the future of JDS and JDS on OpenSolaris. (OpenSolaris is free as in Beer and free as in Thomas Jefferson's open letter to the king.)

Some noise is drifting across from Edinburgh having do with the Kyoto agreement. I was unsuccessful in convincing unions and politicians in my home town that coal power plants are out of vogue. But I can demonstrate one way to save a few pounds of CO2. Upgrade those bulky desktop P.C.s and CRT monitors to Sun Ray 170s! Here is an illustration of how I migrated desktop applications from my old Sun Ray client to the new one: how to migrate desktop applications to a modern efficient ultra-thin client.

Wednesday Apr 13, 2005

Side effects of weird taxes

no windows hereIt would be interesting to collect all of the examples of strange behavior which can be traced to weird tax laws. King William III's window tax caused windows in the U.K. and Ireland to be bricked over. Home width taxes caused some impossibly tall and thin houses to be built in the Netherlands and New England. Egyptian buildings were taxed only when complete and so... they were never quite finished. Ireland's high tax on existing homes encouraged new home construction. It wouldn't surprise me if there were tax subsidies to encourage the use of monopolist operating systems. Wouldn't it be great to have a more level playing field?

Once every generation or two, someone notices some undesirable side effects caused by these strange taxes, and the tax code is changed. For example, the $100,000 U.S. business tax deduction for SUVs was recently reduced to $25,000. I wonder if it will ever be reduced to 0?

Sunday Nov 07, 2004

Offshoring one's self for the wrong reason

This U.S. election map by county is interesting, but most of my friends and family are neither blue nor red, they embrace a blend of the best democrat and republican ideas along with ideas expressed by neither party. The political duopoly squeezes 300 million diverse ideas into a binary bottleneck.

The divisiveness of this bottleneck was so intense during the campaign that blue-leaning and red-leaning friends have said that if the wrong candidate were elected, they might leave the country. I only hoped they were joking. Don't get me wrong, there are excellent reasons why I would encourage anyone to travel or live abroad. Emigration for necessity, security, economics, a better life, more freedom, a better work-family balance, to follow an outsourced job... all make perfect sense. But these reasons alone can't account for the 7 million U.S. citizens living abroad. Most would have more wealth, security and freedom if they remained in the U.S. One friend who was considering emigration expressed concern that the U.S. President might try to remove a civil right. I reminded her that this particular right has never existed over here. The yanks still get a few basics right. The government in power doesn't decide whether or when to hold an election, it doesn't own the primary media news sources, nor any of the major newspapers. People can say or print nearly anything, true or false about elected officials without fear of lawsuits or other punishment. Children are born full citizens regardless of their parentage or ethnicity. The government doesn't decide which religious symbols are acceptable attire, and where. Citizens can leave the country for medical or other reasons.

My suggestion for anyone considering leaving the U.S. is to thoroughly investigate the laws, culture, lifestyle and weather of the nation you are considering. You might learn that you didn't appreciate how good you have it. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, isn't it? And as Tim Bray notes, the weather in most of Canada sucks. Ditto for Ireland.

So what is my favorite reason for living abroad? A 19th century American author expressed it this way:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime”
-- Mark Twain.

Friday Nov 05, 2004

2000 U.S. election from Ireland

I found a message from almost exactly four years ago when I was interviewing for work in Ireland.

Tuesday Oct 26, 2004

User interface design for elections

According to an AP article published at, a ballot designed to be used inside of a voting machine was sent out as an absentee ballot. The arrows were added later and then instructions were added indicating that the arrows were to be ignored! These ballots randomized the order of the candidates (a good thing) so the one at electoral was just one example of which appeared to favor Kerry. This was in Cuyahoga county Ohio, another so-called "swing state." Each municipality has its own way of counting votes and each state can independently decide how its electoral college votes are allocated. Some Florida municipalities are using electronic voting this time, but I am skeptical that those unable to design a clear paper ballot will be able to evaluate the security, accuracy and usability of computer based designs.
Evoting software should definitely be open source. Ideally everything from chip design to firmware to the compiler should also be open to public scrutiny. But while it's probably obvious to most voters that the above paper ballot is poorly designed, it would be much more difficult to determine whether a computer based solution is flawed. In any case, a physical record of the vote should also be available. Optical cryptography solutions are interesting, but a simple printed name that would be deposited in a locked box would probably be the most cost effective tamper resistant and bribe resistant solution.
Ireland decided against electronic voting in its most recent election. This document points to some interesting test results of one e-voting implementation. Rounding error actually changed the makeup of German parliment after the 1992 German election. Might this be a good application for Sun interval math?



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