Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Philips hue Lighting System

The Philips hue is a lighting system which provides control of the brightness and color of your lighting through an iPad or iPhone.  With hue you can create various mood lighting themes, control & monitor lights remotely through your smart phone or tablet, set timers to help with routines (for example, lights turn red when you are about to be late for work), or have the lights gradually brighten as you wake up in the morning.

For $200 you get three bulbs and a controller. Additional bulbs will cost about $60.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The As If Principle

A short video from Richard Wiseman to promote his new book Rip It Up on the 'As If' principle or what is more commonly known through the phrase "Fake it till you make it"

Monday, October 29, 2012

High tech warfare: Boeing tests CHAMP missile

Militaries, like the rest of the world, have become ever more reliant upon computerized systems to carryout their goals.  It is no wonder then that there has been increased research into methods which could disrupt or destroy such systems.  Recently, Boeing and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) successfully tested such a weapon named CHAMP (Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project).

CHAMP is essentially a missile which, when fired over a target, can shoot bursts of microwaves which incapacitate or damage electronic systems.  It has a narrow targeting system which allows it to effect electronics within one building while leaving systems in nearby buildings unaffected.

Here is a video discussing the technology and demonstrating it's use.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The go anywhere vehicle:Scamander ATV

I'm not much of a car guy but this video of the amphibious Scamander ATV is impressive. The Scamander was the brainchild of Peter Wheeler, former owner of TVR automotive. Wheeler started the project in 2003 but sadly died in 2009 before it was finished. Fortunately his wife and a team of engineers were able to complete the project resulting in this amazing vehicle which is seemingly able to traverse difficult terrain as well as smoothly navigate across the water.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tax Loopholes

It seems to me that there has been an overuse of the word loophole lately.  In terms of taxation, a loophole is an unintentional ambiguity or omission in the law that allows people to reduce their taxes.  The key word here is unintentional.  If the government creates a tax deduction, it is intentionally expressing that it's citizens are allowed to take the deduction.  The same is true for the different tax rates that the government established for ordinary income, capital gains, section 1231 property, etc.

So basically what I'm getting at is that deductions for charitable donations, mortgage interest, state/local taxes paid, employee contributions to retirement accounts, accelerated depreciation, and the domestic production deduction are not tax loopholes.  The exclusion from taxable income of employer contributions to retirement accounts and exclusion of employer provided health insurance are not loopholes.  The lower rate on capital gains are not loopholes. These are all things I have seen in various articles referred to as loopholes.  By definition they are not.

Now I'm not saying that all of these things are sacred cows.  I'm only suggesting that we have an honest discussion about such things without all the psychological trickery.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sonja Hinrichsen's Snow Circles

Snow art created by San Francisco based artist Sonja Hinrichsen (and a number of volunteers) while visiting Rabbit Ear Pass, Colorado earlier this year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Brain Sensing Headband

Remember how the mouse dramatically changed the way we interacted with our computers?  Now the hip new interface is the touchscreen which can be found on our tablets, phones, music players, etc.  Makes you wonder what the next big innovation might be.

Well a company called InteraXon would like it to be a headband which would allow us to use our thoughts to control our computers.  Currently the company is trying to raise $150,000 on indiegogo for a sci-fi looking product called Muse.  There is not much information on exactly what you will be able to do with Muse, but it seems at this point they are promoting more the idea of using it as a self help tool (say to improve concentration, lower stress, etc.) as opposed to controlling gadgets.  I'm sure this is due to current limitations of such technology but I think it is probably only a matter of time before such devices will be fully developed and in widespread use.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies and Politicians: Joe Biden

I think I'm going to start a new line of posts about politicians who blatantly lie to promote their agendas, careers, etc.

I just read this ABC article regarding a statement Joe Biden made during the VP debate.  While discussing Medicare reform he referred to his role in the 1983 Social Security negotiations stating “Look, I was there when we did that with Social Security in 1983. I was one of eight people sitting in the room that included Tip O’Neill negotiating with President Reagan. We all got together and everybody said, as long as everybody’s in the deal, everybody’s in the deal, and everybody is making some sacrifice, we can find a way.”

This wasn't the first time he made the implication that he was a key player in the negotiations.  On Meet the Press in April of 2007 he said he was “one of five people — I was the junior guy — in the meeting with Bob Dole and George Mitchell when we put Social Security on the right path for 60 years.”

But according to the ABC article, Biden was not a key player in the Social Security reform.  "Those close to the Social Security reform process say that the chief negotiations were made between then-Sens. Bob Dole, R-Kansas, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., through the National Commission on Social Security Reform, which worked throughout 1982 on recommendations to help guarantee the solvency of the program, and conducted final negotiations in January 1983. The commission kept President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, D-Mass., in the loop throughout the process.  President Reagan signed their work into law in April 1983. There were 15 members of the commission, including Dole, Moynihan, and two other senators; Biden was not one of them. Nor was he at the signing ceremony."1

This really shouldn't be of any surprise considering Joe's vast history with stretching the truth.  For instance, during his 1988 presidential campaign, while responding to a question asked about his grades in law school he responded that he had "went to law school on a full academic scholarship - the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship" that he "ended up in the top half of my class" and "graduated with three degrees from undergraduate school".  In actuality he had received a half scholarship to law school based on financial need with some assistance based upon academics, had graduated in the bottom 10% of his class and had not three but one undergrad degree with a double major in history and political science.2

1. Jake Tapper. "In VP Debate, Biden Seemed to Overstate His Role in Social Security Reform" abc News 16 October 2012

2. Joe Biden. Wikipedia. accessed 10/19/2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Distribution of Wealth

A friend of mine posted this picture on his Facebook showing the distribution of wealth in the United States.

The part of the graph I want to focus on is the actual distribution of wealth.  I have seen many such graphs in the past mostly from progressive authors promoting the idea that government needs to do something to equalize wealth.  The framing of such articles seem to often imply that wealth distribution in the United States is completely out of step with the rest of the world and that we need to be more like Europe which would serve to equalize things.  With this in mind, I started wondering just how wealth was distributed in other parts of the world.  Finding this information was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I did finally come across this 2008 paper which provides the wealth distribution for a number of different (mostly European) countries.  Here is the most useful table from the report.

Note: This information pertains to wealth distribution, not income distribution.  Second, I really hate the word distribution when discussing such things since it can leave the a reader who is unfamiliar with economics with the idea that wealth is 'distributed'.  Keep in mind that the word distribution here is being used as it would be when discussing statistics.  

I don't much care for how the information is presented so here are some pie charts for various countries listed in the above table (I'm better at working with pie charts than bar graphs so this is what you get).

Here is the wealth distribution from the first bar graph presented as a pie chart for comparison purposes.

Obviously the data is somewhat dated but as I said above, it was the best information I could find.  If anyone knows of another source please leave a comment with a link.

Based on the above information, it doesn't look as if the United States is all that different than other parts of the world.  Obviously the U.S. is at the higher end of the spectrum with the top 20% having 84% of the wealth but in other parts of the world the rich command a somewhat similar share of wealth.  This is not all that surprising to me as it seems to follow the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule).

What is somewhat surprising is Denmark.  For some reason there bottom 40% seem to have negative wealth (especially the bottom 20% with -17.3%).  This is very interesting since I have always been under that impression that Denmark has a massive welfare system.  It is certainly worth further investigation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Starry Night made from Dominos

I'm amazed at the level of commitment and focus some people can direct toward ephemeral projects.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Batman Uses Apple Maps

Apple has been taking a beating over replacing Google Maps with it's own patch work version called Apple Maps.  It seems even the Dark Knight has been thrown off his game by his reliance on the program.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Giant Spiders Overtake Seattle Center Armory

Something to get you into the Halloween spirit.  Artist Marlin Peterson received a grant to paint a giant mural somewhere in the city of Seattle.  He chose to paint two giant daddy long legs, which when viewed from above at the nearby space needle, look very realistic.  What a great illusion!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brain Teaser 13: Two Coins

Imagine that I toss two coins and I tell you at least one of them comes up heads. What is the probability that the other one is also a head?