~ Archive for June 20, 2003 ~

Favorite island in the South Pacific? Place to stop in Europe?

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Let’s see whether the blog works in reverse…


At the end of July I must give a talk in Sydney, Australia.  The plan is to fly west around the world.  It would be possible to stop somewhere in the South Pacific, perhaps most easily in Fiji.  On the way back I am planning to stop in Western Australia and then St. Petersburg, Russia.


The questions:


1) best place to stop in the South Pacific for a few days?  Is there a great place to sit in a hotel and snorkel from the beach in Fiji?


2) interesting place to stop in mid-August between Perth, Australia and Russia?


Constraints:  (a) I have an Israeli stamp in my U.S. passport from my recent trip to Tel Aviv and therefore would be denied entry to almost any Muslim country; (b) I want to take reasonably direct flights (and therefore Africa seems to be out of the question; you can’t get there except by connecting through Europe or Dubai (which might be a problem with that Israeli passport stamp)).


Please put your suggestions in the comments or email if you prefer.


Thanks!

Why the stock market keeps going up

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Americans are out of work.  Factory orders are sluggish.  The economic news is grim yet the U.S. stock market keeps going up.  Can this be consistent?  Sure!  It is possible to believe simultaneously that the American people are getting poorer and that the largest American corporations are going to get ever richer.  How could this happen?  Group A and Group B can get richer if they work together to grow the pie.  Alternatively, Group B can get richer by transferring wealth from Group A.


We’ve discussed this already in this blog in the context of airline CEOs who managed to take $billions in taxpayer money and transfer quite a bit of it into their personal checking accounts as salaries, bonuses, guaranteed pensions, etc.  But there are more subtle ways in which corporations can acquire property formerly held by the public.


For example, movie studios (notably Disney) and other corporate copyright holders recently purchased a federal law that extended copyright out to 100 years (the Founders had it at 14; it was 75 years until recently).  There was no way for them to argue that this law would provide an incentive to authors because it applied to works that were created in the 1920s, i.e., whose authors had been dead for half a century or more.  The effect of this law was to transfer public average-Joe property (public-domain works) into the hands of large corporations, i.e., the companies whose shares are going up.


Disney figures in another corporate property transfer.  Ever since the dawn of aviation it has been held that airspace belongs to the public and is to be regulated for the benefit of all by the FAA.  This is what, for example, prevents the owner of a farm in Missouri from demanding that Delta Airlines pay him a tax every time they fly over his farm.  In May of this year that changed for the first time.  Disney essentially now owns the airspace over Disneyworld and Disneyland and they can exclude anyone from overflying.  They’d been trying for years to exclude planes towing advertising banners but Sept. 11th gave them a security rationale (though neither the TSA or the FAA felt there was a security risk or wanted to transfer the airspace into private hands).  Background story: http://www.aero-news.net/news/sport.cfm?ContentBlockID=9601


Let’s hope the comments section will fill up with other examples of this trend.  But the bottom line is that the time seems ripe to invest in the S&P 500.  Look around you at stuff that you believe to be public property.  Very likely it will soon be given away to America’s largest corporations and consequently their stock will go up even if they don’t innovate.

Car/Kennel

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Conventional wisdom says “never leave a dog in a car” because he’ll die from the heat.  A modern car, however, has nearly all of the makings of a perfect kennel:  (1) two energy sources:  battery and gas tank/engine, (2) fans that can bring in fresh air, (3) interior temperature sensors (cars where you set “72 degrees” on the dashboard), (4) power windows, (5) clear windows that are coated with high-tech materials that reject IR and UV light.  Plus the car is a familiar place for the dog and most dogs seem to prefer being in their normal car to being tied up somewhere unfamiliar.  With 100 lines of computer programming a car could do the following:


1) blow air in or, ideally, out of the car when the temperature rose above 70 degrees


2) roll down the windows a bit


3) turn the engine on and start the air conditioner, notifying the owner that it was getting a bit roasty out there for Fido [doing this mass-market would require a working wireless Internet infrastructure in the United States, something that has been discussed here earlier but is apparently not a high priority for our politicians]


4) if the gas tank were getting low, roll down all the windows and shut off the engine, notifying the owner that the dog was at risk of escape or theft


The system could be made a bit better if the car had, in addition to the windows, a slideable stainless steel or Kevlar mesh that could roll up and down.  Then the dog and the car could be secure with all the windows up.


Because car makers don’t open their computer systems to programming (I never thought I’d say this but I wish that cars ran Windows XP so that I could add the above features myself in Visual Basic), it isn’t possible to build this right now very easily.  However, I think I have a solution.


Suppose that you don’t really use the back seat of your car.  You can install a stainless steel wire mesh on the inside of the back windows, essentially stapled to the door frame.  Attached to the inside of the mesh on one side put a 12V exhaust blower fan.  You can now roll down the rear windows, put a sunshade across the windshield, and the temperature inside the car should not exceed the temperature outside.  Maybe add a provision for a temporary fine-mesh screen for summer evenings so that mosquitos don’t get into the car.


One issue with the car/kennel idea is that the motor might run the battery down.  However the only time you’d want to use the fan is in the summer when the battery power is at its peak and the power required to start the engine is at its lowest.  You wouldn’t be leaving the dog for more than an hour or two so even the most powerful fans wouldn’t exhaust the battery.


I’m planning to do this with my next car.  I like minivans because it is easy to keep a bicycle in the car (I have trouble walking so like to have a bike available at all times).  There are some new minivans available that have middle windows that roll down, e.g., Toyota Sienna 2004.  Before I trade in my 5-year-old minivan I am hoping that someone will introduce a gas/electric hybrid minivan but if it doesn’t happen by February 2004 I’ll buy a new Sienna and start stapling.


Better ideas anyone?

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