Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Lesson in Obsolescence

The problems that are plaguing Research in Motion (see: Battered Blackberry Maker) have got me thinking about obsolescence.  Why do some products die quickly while others seem to prosper with facility?  Often the answers are not obvious.  For instance, the rapid growth of the iPhone and iPad technology can be attributed to the sexy new user interface ... using touch-screen swipes to quickly get things done.  However, this may not be the primary reason.  I had another thought tonight that I would like to pass on ... and I hope my lack of user experience on this new i-interface doesn't make me look foolish.

The classic Microsoft/PC interface which still dominates the Internet world has an Achilles heel.  That is the requirement that users constantly perform utility clean-up operations to maintain the integrity and speed of their systems -- antivirus scans and updates; registry clean-up operations; defragging of hard-discs; and purging of file clutter (temporary Internet files, shortcuts, cookies, usage-history, etc.).  One need only see the repeated TV-commercials for companies that offer these services to realize what a pain this overhead has become.  And I repeatedly run into people whose PCs have become doorstops because they haven't realized that they must perform such nagging periodic maintenance.

Now, I don't believe that this same syndrome is suffered by iPhone and iPad users (Droids too?).  If in fact this is the case, then Microsoft need quickly emulate the genius of Steve Jobs in revamping their operating system and user interface ... or in a few short years they might well walk the same plank that Research in Motion seems to be currently trodding.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to do a Registry clean-up.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rash Prediction

Before Thanksgiving of this year, the price for a share of the Facebook (FB) stock will have fallen below $10 (IPO price was $38/share).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Skids the Oil

The price of oil has plummeted from a high of $110 per barrel in February to a current low of around $91 ... just as the summer driving season is getting under way.  Strange!  But why?  Is it those greedy speculators again?  Has Obama opened up drilling in the Gulf of Mexico ... or released oil from our Strategic Oil Reserve?  No. 

There is a simple, straight-forward reason for this drop in the oil price (and gold too, you gold bugs).  The Euro has weakened considerably ... from a $1.47 high last summer to a current low of $1.26 ... and, me thinks, it is going quite a bit lower.  And, since most commodities are traded in dollars, not Euros, the United States backdoor benefits from all the foot dragging, indecision and political turmoil that is occurring in that Rube-Goldberg of a creation called the EuroZone. (But pity the poor driver in Greece.)

Or this oil-price skid could reverse itself overnight if Iran becomes super unsettled.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Audacity of Hope

The Barry recently said that "The question is not whether things will get better; they always do." (See: Live Statement).  I hate to burst your bubble Mr. President but hope is never a substitute for good planning and coordinated actions.  I suspect that those people who plan for their retirement by buying lottery tickets will swallow such claptrap, but this is not the kind of wispy, Pollyannaish rhetoric that should be being uttered by the President of the United States.

Mr. Obama, if you think things will get better by themselves, I suggest that you talk to anyone on the streets of Athens, or Madrid, or Darfur, or even Detroit for that matter. (I will treat my expected longer-term ramifications of the President's auto bailout in a subsequent blog posting.)  I realize that you like to "lead from behind," but, to me, this suggests that you have your head somewhat proximate to your gluteus maximus ... and you view of the road ahead is somewhat brindle-colored.

And, as for your current run to secure four more years of yuks and soirees at your Pennsylvania Ave. palace, you have chosen the motto, "Forward", an auspicious yelp from a leader who doesn't really like to lead.  This somehow congers up to me the image of a piper urging his following lemmings to brave the freezing waters of the North Sea in the "hope" they might reach Greenland.

Juxtaposition XXXIV


Friday, May 11, 2012

JPMorgan ...

lost something over $2 billion in proprietary trading during the last quarter (see: CNBC Story).  There is considerable worry that, if this white-shoe company can screw up so badly, what does it mean for the rest of the not-so-noble financial industry?  Stay tuned ...

But then it is a damn good thing that the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed last year (with Elizabeth Warren's blessing) to keep such possible shocks to our banking system from happening again.  I guess we deserve what we are now getting if we are foolish enough to allow those, who were a primary cause of our last financial debacle, to craft laws to remedy things.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The National Sideshow

It is, to me, blatantly clear that the Obama administration is doing everything within its bully-pulpit power to distract the American public from the important issues of the upcoming election (the poor economy, high real unemployment, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Obamacare, etc.).  Now The Barry is on the sideshow stage with his straw hat, a megaphone and a bamboo cane ... barking out enticements to the secondary acts to keep us from noticing that the big-top tent has collapsed.

The performances he has been huckstering are:

Mitt Romney, the Dog Boy -- see how he puts himself on the roof of his station wagon

Faster-than-the-Eye Joe Biden -- see him catch the barker's gay-marriage bullet in his teeth

The Georgetown Teaser, Sandra Fluke -- watch free birth-control in action

Ann Romney, the Dilettante -- on a couch, the only woman who has never worked a day in her life

Hedgefunder, Warren Buffet -- the cuddly, fuzzy, lovable tax-avoider

Fundraiser Extraordinaire, George Clooney -- marvel at him spitting nickels and pooping thousand-dollar bills

George Zimmerman, sharpshooter -- gasp as he plugs the barker's make-believe son

The Archtypal Student -- watch him be bled dry by higher student loan rates

A Wall-Street Occupier -- see him smoke dope, deficate on a cop car and rape a co-ed

And the main stream media will have all the attendees believe that this sideshow is the only thing going ... "Ladies and Gentlemen, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Monday, May 07, 2012

A Pedagogical Prediction

Every so often imbalances occur in a society that get so far out of whack that a simple idea can cause a dramatic snap-back ... that usually takes most inside-the-box thinkers by surprise.  I think we are coming up on such a boomerang in our educational system ... much like what we recently had in our housing market.  Current tuitions at higher-educational institutions are unsustainable ... as are the levels of student-loan debt that our younger generation is burdened with ... about one trillion dollars ... more than the nation's total of credit-card debt.  (I think that the Occupy Wall Street movement has had this spectre as one of the only visible pillars of protests.)

The educational process in our country (and around the world) is shockingly unproductive.  One professor ... or assistant professor ... or teaching assistant teaches a class of 10 to 100 students the fundamentals of a science ... or a language ... or a humanity ... or finance ... or a hyphenated feel-good course for an outlandish fee.  This atmospheric price is mandated by a bloated administration and the heavy hand of government  which pours money at this process with few performance or productivity requirements.  The rationale for this horse-and-buggy approach is that the interchange of ideas requires such intimacy.  The problem with this is that  higher-educational pedagogy is less and less a give-and-take and now much more a "give" only.

A few generations ago the entertainment industry went through such a cataclysmic transformation.  One did not need to attend a Frank Sinatra concert to hear him sing or attend a play to appreciate actors emoting ... records and movies created an enormous transference of services into products ... i.e., "productivity." So far the educational process has resisted such a revolution ... possibly because it sees the dire implications ... loss of sinecures and ivy covered walls. 

But enabling technologies are continuing apace and communications advances such as Skype that allow the two-way networking among many participants ... and software/hardware advances such as Google that permit a world of knowledge at one's fingertips ... will eventually allow universities to take two or three of their best professors from each discipline and offer them to their multitudes with little or no loss of the educational experience.  (I still recall, years ago, a physics professor from Cal Tech who did a bang-up job along these same lines on Public Television.) This would also open up opportunities for decentralized learning and dramatic tuition cost reductions.  Won't that be a kick?

In my current tutoring gig, I have had some dealings with "teaching" programs.  And, unfortunately they are generally of quite poor quality ... taking little advantage of the technological opportunities.  This may be because few administrators have a computer background to understand how good things could be ... and techies know little about teaching.  (Many years ago, I also saw a physics-teaching program on a Macintosh computer that is my idea of how real progress along these lines could be made.)  Anyhow, the confluence of broad-band communications improvements, computer hardware advances, and truly-innovative software will most certainly unlock educational innovation to the point where productivity gains of gigantic proportions will transform this archaic industry.

Any educational institute (or K-12 school) that doesn't see this coming train wreck  in the not-too-distant future ... and factor it into its planning will likely be rudely surprised ... and pity our poor younger generation who must still pay off the loans on their horse-and -buggy educations.

Addendum:  My more-learned wife pointed me this morning to a David Brooks' op-ed in last week NY Times on this same subject, The Campus Tsunami, and a series of related letters to the editor in this morning's newspaper.  The only thing that Mr. Brooks does not focus on is the potential for a Skype-like back and forth during this on-line educational experience.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


Alex McNear
David Maraniss writes in next month’s Vanity Fair (see: Powerline Piece) about some of Obama's girlfriends.  One, Alex McNear, kept some of Obama's love letters (see: Daily Mail Article).  So, now we have some apparently true-to-life Obama quotes from which we can better measure the man ... independent of writings of questionable-authorship in his two books.  Back then Barack wrote to Alex:
I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements—Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter—life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?
I, not being an expert in Eliot (or Münzer either), feel that Obama needs some expert pedagogical criticism of what, to me, sounds like sexual sophistry.  So see: New York Magazine Critique for more educated gradings of this billet-doux.

Then doesn't this also remind also you of Bill Clinton's oft-repeated pedantic dalliance-dances with his intended conquests using Whitman's Leaves of Grass?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


"Trust me, the President has a big stick. Trust me." quoteth Vice President Joseph Biden (see National Journal Clip)

Such base utterings coming from the Vice President of our once great nation seem almost unimaginable ... yet it has happened.  Has our country sunken so low that such snarky innuendos can be thought of as gaining any political foothold among voters?  Sadly, apparently so.  These things do not occur by accident.  They are not "slips of the tongue." Polling and focus groups have told Obama's green-eyeshade consultants that such phallic imagery will cause a certain defined segment of voters to feel a tingle go up their leg as they step into the voting booth this November.  And so, another decorum is abandoned.

We, as a people, have been so conditioned by a fire-hose media onslaught of sexual references and half-references to the point where a negative has become, for all too many, a positive.  Our popular culture is awash with such imagery:  "Desperate Housewives," Mr. Big in "Sex in the City," Abercrombie and Fitch's pornographic ads ... and on and on.  Even Al Gore's handlers, twelve years ago,  felt it appropriate to have his Rolling Stone magazine cover picture Photo-Shopped to augment his "package."  How low we have sunken ...

For those of you who have studied what happened to the Roman culture in its waning days, does this all seem so familiar?  Try imagining Caligula's visage superimposed into the National Journal clip referenced above.