Ken Novak's Weblog
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Ken Novak's Weblog


daily link  Friday, October 17, 2003


China exploring ethanol: "Like many other agriculture giants such as Brazil, the United States, and India, the northeast province is using its huge farm surplus to make organic fuel that cuts pollution, and reduces dependency on petroleum imports at the same time.  Industry sources say, China, which is the world's fastest growing car and energy market, could extend the use of ethanol gasoline throughout the country by 2005 if initial exploratory steps are successful.. Turning grains into fuel also happens to allow the government to continue to subsidize agriculture outside its obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO), avoiding more social unrest from farmers who are now exposed to global competition."  China subsidizes rural areas through corn production subsidies, and WTO rules prohibit subsidized exports, so a 20m ton corn mountain has already built up.

  11:19:27 PM  permalink  


VSAT services finding new customers: 2002 summary of changes in satellite IP markets:

  • 90% of new customers request IP support
  • "By supporting IP and standardizing certain parts of the technology, [service providers] can deploy two-way VSAT networks with [customer-premises equipment] that costs $500 to $600," Baugh says. He says this would be the floor of the market with users paying about $70 to $200 per month, per site for service for perhaps 128K bit/sec worth of bandwidth.
  • Gilat's Spacenet Connexstar costs $119 per month for 128K bit/sec upstream and 500K bit/sec downstream with a one-time equipment cost of $1,000.
  • Hughes is the leading provider of VSAT services in North America with Directway. Starband and Tacyon also sell VSAT Internet access services to individual users. These offerings [appeal to new customers "such as real estate agencies and veterinarian offices"
  • In the past, most VSAT service providers were interested only in deployments that reached thousands of sites, but there has been a change of philosophy within many providers. Traditional VSAT networks are built based on the amount of bandwidth a company needs and the number of sites that will share that bandwidth.  Classic app: reduce the time credit for card authorization, eg "from 15 sec down to 3 sec... A group of 500 stores could share a 128K bit/sec satellite channel and not experience any delays because of the small amount of traffic that's being sent over the network, even though it's regularly used."  Price: for 4000 stations, perhaps $60/mo/station, for hundreds of sites, perhaps $100/mo/station.
  9:35:28 AM  permalink  

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell At U.S.-Arab Economic Forum: Sounds like Powell reads Friedman:  "It is no exaggeration to say that without a transformation of the Middle East, the region will remain a source of violence and terrorism fueled by poverty, by alienation, and by despair. "  7:05:35 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Al-Qaida may try major attack on U.S. forces in Iraq: IISS annual review says Bush administration overconfident about "war on terror".  Echoing earlier estimates from MI5 and MI6, it says Al Qaida is weaker on the offense but stronger on the defense as a result of recent events.  Other key bits:

"The review expressed concern over the threat posed by about 120 large, poorly guarded ammunition dumps left in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's downfall, warning that terrorists may find them a source of weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles. The dumps have not been destroyed because of the search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. ''The coalition was unprepared for the scale of the problem, and had no way of securing the quantity of ammunition and weapons storage sites,'' it said."

"Attempts by al-Qaida to penetrate Hamas have so far failed, mainly because Hamas's objectives are basically local. But "Hamas/al-Qaida links could materialise if Hamas became desperate and politically marginalised", says the report. "

  10:58:11 PM  permalink  

Business Maps The Way Wind Blows: Truewind is an "Albany-based partnership that makes wind maps for companies seeking the best spots to erect electricity-generating wind turbines. Such maps can be crucial for determining how much electricity and how many dollars turbines will produce.  TrueWind hit on the idea of using parallel computing that is, solving a problem with the simultaneous use of multiple computers to crunch a crushing load of meteorological data to figure out wind patterns.

TrueWind considers all sorts of historical atmospheric data on a given area, from temperature to moisture levels to more generalized wind measurements. Year-round data is randomly sampled over a 15-year period through a process Bailey likens to polling. Contours of the land are represented by topographical maps. Satellite images provide important details about land cover such as whether a piece of land is covered by trees or crops.  "We let the model then say, 'Given these larger conditions, what must be happening on the small scale based on what we know about physics and the topography and the surface characteristics?'" said physicist Michael Brower.

TrueWind's computer model is designed to give a high resolution picture down to about two-thirds of a mile in their large area MesoMaps and around 330 feet for "micrositing" maps of smaller areas. 

The data much of it culled from such federal agencies as the National Weather Service is fed into more than 100 parallel computer processors. But even with that sort of firepower, it can take weeks to produce a map.  Thresher calls TrueWind the leader among wind mappers in the United States, but noted there are other dominant players in Europe.

TrueWind does about $1.5 million annually in sales, Bailey said. .. Bailey estimates that 80 percent of TrueWind's business is in mapping and the rest in the related field of wind forecasting. TrueWind is starting a contract with the California Independent System Operator for hourly forecasts of the wind projects in that state.  TrueWind has mapped out 30 states so far, as well as Brazil, Sri Lanka and other countries under a contract with the United Nations.  "We want to map the world in the next two to three years," Bailey said. "  Example: Utah has potential to generate wind power to meet state's electricity needs

  10:06:39 AM  permalink  

V O X I V A: Company builds integrated telephone/internet solutions for data gathering and dissemination.  Initial applications in developing country health care, including in Iraq..  "In an age defined by SARS, BioTerror, and growing Healthcare costs, Voxiva is pioneering phone/internet technology approaches that radically improve information access, data collection, communication, data analysis, and response in global health and safety."  9:05:58 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, October 14, 2003


offlineimap: "OfflineIMAP is a tool to simplify your e-mail reading. With OfflineIMAP, you can read the same mailbox from mul- tiple computers. You get a current copy of your messages on each computer, and changes you make one place will be visible on all other systems."  I have read that it is a good tool for synchronizing with IMAP server-to-server, or as a platform for agents.  6:57:29 PM  permalink  

New Catalyst For Renewable Hydrogen: Significant improvement in biomass conversion using cheaper materials at lower temperatures in simpler liquid process:  "Scientists have developed a hydrogen-making catalyst that uses cheaper materials and yields fewer contaminants than do current processes, while extracting the element from common renewable plant sources. Further, the new catalyst lies at the heart of a chemical process the authors say is a significant advance in producing alternate fuels from domestic sources.

In the June 27 issue of the journal Science, James Dumesic, John Shabaker and George Huber, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, report developing the catalyst from nickel, tin and aluminum and using it in a process called aqueous-phase reforming (APR), which converts plant byproducts to hydrogen. The process performs as well as current methods that use precious metals such as platinum, yet runs at lower temperatures and is much cleaner."  Photos at NSF site. They say it can be productive at small scale.  Virent Energy Systems has been formed to commercialize the technology.  This Conference Paper has some technical details and contact info. PDF papers provide more technical details.

  9:48:31 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, October 13, 2003


Buzz2Talk: "Buzz2Talk is a Push to Talk demo application for use with services such as FreeWorld Dial up. "  Works on a GPRS-enabled Symbian device*."  11:51:37 AM  permalink  

Strategy on Pyongyang is wrong, Bush told:  "Charles (Jack) Pritchard, the former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, who.. embarrassed the Bush Administration by resigning on the eve of the six-way talks on the Korean crisis in Beijing in late August, .. [said] that unless its approach to negotiations is rethought, any prospect of success is "very grim". .. "We've got to get serious about this, rather than drive-by meetings that occur where we roll down the window and wave to the North Koreans and move on," Mr Pritchard said.

During the Washington forum on North Korea, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, played down any prospect of a US military strike on the North if talks fail. The US military would not support a "surgical" strike on Pyongyang's nuclear facilities because it did not have the forces for a counter-attack if the North responded militarily, he said.  "Seventy-three per cent of all American manoeuvre battalions are now deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan," he said. The US military would be "violently opposed" to any military action on the peninsula."

  11:40:43 AM  permalink  

Foreign policy sources: nice list of links with annotations.  11:36:22 AM  permalink  

As The Blogs Churn:  A summary of stats about blogs.  About 4m have been created, with 25% abandoned within a day, and about 40% updated in the last 30 days.  Surveys seem to run between 900k and 1.6m active blogs (as of Oct 2003).   An ongoing census with factoids finds about equal male and female bloggers, English still the dominant language, etc.  11:23:44 AM  permalink  

ZoneEdit.com provides a growing list of domain management services:

  • round-robin DNS resolution for server load-balancing
  • failover monitoring, automatically supplying backup IP or URLs when servers fail
  • dynamic DNS, for servers running with DHCP addresses
  • free test DNS page
  • URL redirection, including "cloaking" the destination URL in a frameset
  • mail relay, including aliases, duplication of mail, and wildcard redirection
  • backup MX spooling
  • rebranded zoneedit for resale
  • API for program control of services
  11:06:24 AM  permalink  

Incompentent diplomacy:  From a Council on Foreign Relations talk in March 2003, Jean David Lavitte, the French ambassador in Washington and President Jacques Chirac's former national security adviser at the Elysee Palace, interviewed by Richard Holbrooke:

"JDL: One word about the second resolution in the Security Council. I think I can say it now on the record, you have to know that weeks before it was tabled, I went to the State Department and to the White House to say, don't do it. First, because you'll split the Council and second, because you don't need it. Let's agree to disagree between gentlemen, as we did on Kosovo, before the war in Kosovo ...

RH: And never went to the Security Council.

JDL: Yes.

RH: And pulled it off.

Holbrooke elaborated in an April 2003 interview:  "In order to protect the U.N. system, we bypassed it in the [case of the] Balkans. Jean-David Levitte .. said at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting in Washington three weeks ago, at which I was the moderator, that he had gone to the White House, on instructions, and told the NSC [National Security Council] at a high level that the French did not think we should seek a second resolution and we should bypass them--in other words, precisely what we did in Kosovo."

  3:56:29 AM  permalink  

Holbrooke had it right: From a 10 Feb 2003 interview: "I'm not here to defend the administration, I think their handling the U.S. alliance relations from Korea to Europe has been flawed from the beginning of the conceptual level. .. The United States does not need a second resolution. My personal recommendation to them would be not to seek a second resolution, because 1441 and the previous resolutions going back to 1991 are all they need. And they're going to get caught up at the U.N. in a very messy debate with the French and the Russians over wording.   .. I would also add one last critical point. In Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in December of 1998 with Operation Desert Fox in Iraq, the Clinton administration used air power without any new Security Council resolution for Iraq and none at all in Kosovo and Bosnia, and we did that because we knew we couldn't get it through the Security Council. .." 

Then a Washington Post Op-Ed Feb 23: "That Saddam Hussein is the most dangerous leader in the world today should hardly be in doubt after his behavior over the past 30 years. Left in power, he would undoubtedly find ways over time to rebuild his arsenal of mass destruction. The failure to finish him off in 1991 was one of the most significant errors in modern American history, no matter what the rationale offered for limiting Desert Storm to the liberation of Kuwait. .. The second resolution may be achievable, but only if Hans Blix issues far more negative reports than he has so far. This is certainly possible (especially if Hussein is stupid) but the United States should never put itself in a position where a vital national interest is decided by an international civil servant or another sovereign government. ..

In a roughly similar situation, in 1999, the Clinton administration and our NATO allies decided to bomb Serbia (for 77 days) without even seeking U.N. approval, after it became clear that Russia would veto any proposal. This contrast with the supposedly muscular Bush administration is especially odd when one considers that Saddam Hussein is far worse than Slobodan Milosevic, and that Iraq has left a long trail of violated Security Council resolutions, while there were none on Kosovo. ..

[This does not] bode well for the all-important post-Hussein phase, in which Washington's recently revealed plans for U.S. military control of Iraq can only spark fears that the United States will ultimately be trapped in what Winston Churchill, after the death of several British officers in Iraq in 1920, called "these thankless deserts."

  3:38:33 AM  permalink  

The Day After the Day After: Winning the Peace in Post-Saddam Iraq: I'm blogging a few people who got it right before the invasion.  Here's Lieberman in Oct 2002: "We have to face the fact that the best-case military scenario — the rapid collapse of the Iraqi military and the swift capture or elimination of Saddam — would also present the most challenging security scenario. .. U.S. forces must be ready immediately to shift gears to post-conflict operations — helping to restore order and handling humanitarian emergencies. Despite its tremendous training and talent, our military needs more specialized teams to take on this crucial job.  Like the military campaign itself, stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq and helping the Iraqi people are more likely to be achieved if the United States is part of an international coalition, especially one that includes Muslim and Arab nations. "   2:05:40 AM  permalink  

Monkeys Control Robotic Arm With Brain Implants: The details are fascinating (emphases mine):  "Scientists in North Carolina have built a brain implant that lets monkeys control a robotic arm with their thoughts, marking the first time that mental intentions have been harnessed to move a mechanical object.   The new work is the first in which any animal has learned to use its brain to move a robotic device in all directions in space and to perform a mixture of interrelated movements -- such as reaching toward an object, grasping it and adjusting the grip strength depending on how heavy the object is. ..

The device relies on tiny electrodes, each one resembling a wire thinner than a human hair. After removing patches of skull from two monkeys to expose the outer surface of their brains, Nicolelis and his colleagues stuck 96 of those tiny wires about a millimeter deep in one monkey's brain and 320 of them in the other animal's brain.

Then came the training, with the monkeys first learning to move the robot arm with a joystick. The arm was kept in a separate room -- "If you put a 50-kilogram robot in front of them, they get very nervous," Nicolelis said -- but the monkeys could track their progress by watching a schematic representation of the arm and its motions on a video screen.  The monkeys quickly learned how to use the joystick to make the arm reach and grasp for objects, and how to adjust their grip on the joystick to vary the robotic hand's grip strength. They could see on the monitor when they missed their target or dropped it for having too light a grip, and they were rewarded with sips of juice when they performed their tasks successfully.

While the monkeys trained, a computer tracked the patterns of bioelectrical activity in the animals' brains. The computer figured out that certain patterns amounted to a command to "reach." Others, it became clear, meant "grasp." Gradually, the computer learned to "read" the monkeys' minds.

Then the researchers did something radical: They unplugged the joystick so the robotic arm's movements depended completely on a monkey's brain activity. In effect, the computer that had been studying the animal's neural firing patterns was now serving as an interpreter, decoding the brain signals according to what it had learned from the joystick games and then sending the appropriate instructions to the mechanical arm.

At first, Nicolelis said, the monkey kept moving the joystick, not realizing that her own brain was now solely in charge of the arm's movements. Then, he said, an amazing thing happened.  "We're looking, and she stops moving her arm," he said, "but the cursor keeps playing the game and the robot arm is moving around."  The animal was controlling the robot with its thoughts.

"We couldn't speak. It was dead silence," Nicolelis said. "No one wanted to verbalize what was happening. And she continued to do that for almost an hour." 

At first, the animals' performance declined compared to the sessions on the joystick. But after just a day or so, the control was so smooth it seemed the animals had accepted the mechanical arm as their own.  "It's quite plausible that the perception is you're extended into the robot arm, or the arm is an extension of you," agreed the University of Washington's Fetz, a pioneer in the field of brain-controlled devices. 

"Once you have an output signal out of the brain that you can interpret, the possibilities of what you can do with those signals are immense," said Donoghue, who recently co-founded a company, Cyberkinetics Inc. of Foxboro, Mass., to capitalize on the technology. ..

Asked if the monkeys seemed to mind the experiments, Nicolelis answered with an emphatic "No."  "If anything, they're enjoying themselves playing these games. It enriches their lives," he said. "You don't have to do anything to get these guys into their chair. They go right there. That's play time."

  1:44:10 AM  permalink  

Iraq poll results: "Iraq is a much more secular country than people realize. Forty-two percent of the people we asked had not been to mosque at all in the previous month, so the idea that this is going to become a mullah-driven country, like Iran, I think is quite unlikely. And in fact interestingly, the Shiâ'a, who are of course the co-religionists with the Iranians, were even less attracted to a religious government than the rest of the population"  1:29:30 AM  permalink  

Germany and Japan: What the US should avoid in Iraq: "it will do no good to use the post-1945 US occupations of Japan and Germany as inspiration. By invoking those earlier episodes, the Bush administration betrays a degree of wishful thinking, even ignorance, that bodes ill for Iraq. Indeed, perhaps the best reason to study those experiences is to learn what not to do. ..

US reformers encountered torpor, resentment and resistance as they tried to re-educate and reform their former enemies and bring war criminals to trial.
General Lucius Clay, who presided over the US occupation zone in Germany, called de-Nazification his “biggest mistake,” a “hopelessly ambiguous procedure” creating “a pathetic ‘community of fate’ between small and big Nazis” and elicited popular hostility. Wholesale dismissals of former officials, similar to US civil administrator Paul Bremer’s firing of 30,000 Iraqi civil servants with Baath links, were seen as arbitrary acts that made Germany and Japan more difficult to govern. Likewise, war crimes trials let high-ranking officers and former officials pose as “patriotic martyrs.”

Hardly had the occupations ended in Japan and Germany that many war criminals were set free, democratic reforms abandoned and quiet retribution meted out to many who had welcomed the occupiers."

  1:10:36 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, October 12, 2003


Novak Leak Column Has Familiar Sound: "In July 2001, Novak revealed that newly accused spy Robert P. Hanssen was his primary source for a column a few years earlier about an FBI agent who resigned after refusing a demand from Attorney General Janet Reno for names of secret sources in China. He wrote: "Disclosing confidential sources is unthinkable for a reporter seeking to probe behind the scenes in official Washington, but the circumstances here are obviously extraordinary."  11:56:28 PM  permalink  

Searching the BlogSphere: "Trusted Blog Search Tool:  A search box that lets readers search the web, your site, or blogs you read."  4:59:25 PM  permalink  

Perl scripts and java scripts: Free and for-sale form processors, search scripts, Bulk email software and mass mailer, email software, Attachment mailer, shopping cart software, Web statistics software, for any web site with a cgi-bin".  4:58:01 PM  permalink  

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