Ken Novak's Weblog
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Ken Novak's Weblog


daily link  Friday, December 31, 2004


Power and Population in Asia: Interesting review of trends and issues.  Here are some excerpts.  "Although all of Asia/Eurasia is set to age markedly over the 2000-2025 period, most of the region will nonetheless remain relatively youthful. In South and Central Asia, .. even the most “elderly” country (Sri Lanka in 2025) is projected to have a somewhat younger profile than did Europe in the year 2000, and in 2025 South and Central Asia together will have a population younger than the Europe of 1950. .. The part of Asia/Eurasia that stands to age most rapidly, and most profoundly, is Eastern Asia — and here we enter uncharted territory. Between 2000 and 2025, East Asia’s median age is projected to jump by nine years, to just under 40. By that metric, East Asia in 2025 will be “grayer” than Europe today, where median age in 2000 was under 38. Throughout East Asia, many populations will be more elderly than any yet known, and some will be aging at velocities not yet recorded in national populations...

the most extreme and extraordinary instance of population aging will be witnessed in Japan. By 2025, in unpd medium variant calculations, Japan will have a median age of just over 50 .. almost every ninth Japanese will be 80 or older.. [Despite problems with government finances, and] while the population stagnation and decline that will almost surely attend Japan’s particular aging process stand to reduce the overall pace of aggregate economic growth, aging need not thwart the continuing improvement of per capita income — and augmentation of economic capacities — for Japan ..

Between 2000 and 2025 China’s median age is set to rise very substantially: from about 30 to around 39. According to unpd projections for 2025, in fact, China’s median age will be higher than America’s. .. [There is a problem:] To put the matter bluntly, Japan became rich before it became old; China will do things the other way around. When Japan had the same proportion of population 65 and older as does China today (2000), its level of per capita output was three times higher than China’s is now. .. [Consider the] national pension system: Japan’s may be financially vulnerable, but China’s is nonexistent. Government or enterprise-based retirement programs cover only about one-sixth of the contemporary Chinese work force — and nearly all of the pieces in this haphazard patchwork are amazingly unsound in actuarial terms...

By 2025, there will be nearly 300 million members of China’s 60-plus population, but, at the same time, the cohorts rising into that pool will be the same people who accounted for China’s sub-replacement fertility patterns in the early 1990s and thereafter. Absent a functioning nationwide pension program, unforgiving arithmetic suggests there may be something approaching a one-to-one ratio emerging between elderly parents and the children obliged to support them. Even worse, from the perspective of a Confucian culture, a sizable fraction — perhaps nearly one-fourth — of these older Chinese will have no living son on whom to rely for sustenance. ..

Second, and no less important, there is no particular reason to expect that older people in China will be able to make the same sort of contributions to economic life as their counterparts in Japan. In low-income economies, the daily demands of ordinary work are more arduous than in rich countries.. According to official Chinese statistics, nearly half of the country’s current labor force toils in the fields, and another fifth is employed in mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction, or transport — occupations generally not favoring the frail. Even with continuing structural transformations, regular work in 2025 is sure to be much more strenuous in China than in Japan. Moreover, China’s older population may not be as hardy as peers from affluent societies — people likely to have been better fed, housed, and doctored than China’s elderly throughout the course of their lives...

[The result] will be a set of economic, social, and political constraints on Chinese development — and power augmentation — that have not as yet been fully appreciated in Beijing, much less overseas."

Other topics discussed include declines in health in Russia, AIDS in Russia and elsewhere, "son preference" in China and India, and comparisons to the US:  "By the unpd’s medium variant projections, the United States is envisioned to grow from 285 million in 2000 to 358 million in 2025. In absolute terms, this would be by far the greatest increase projected for any industrialized society; in relative terms, this projected 26 percent increment would almost exactly match the proportional growth of the Asia/Eurasia region as a whole. Under these trajectories, the United States would remain the world’s third most populous country in 2025 [with a higher growth rate than] or virtually any country in East Asia.. [The causes are immigration and] about 2.0 births per woman, as against about 1.5 in Western Europe, roughly 1.4 in Eastern Europe, and about 1.3 in Japan...

Between 2000 and 2025, in these unpd projections, median age in the United States would rise by just two years (from 35.6 to 37.6). By 2025, the U.S. population would be more youthful, and aging more slowly, than that of China or any of today’s “tigers.” .. For the time being, however, it would appear that demographic trends may, in some limited but tangible measure, contribute to the calculus of American strategic preeminence in the Asia Pacific region, and indeed around the world."

  12:01:03 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, December 27, 2004


When Islam Breaks Down by Theodore Dalrymple: Essay on the status and future of Islam from a British prison doctor.   2:38:12 PM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, December 26, 2004


Start-Up Firm Launches Open Source Object Database: "db4objects is a commercial, VC and privately funded company with European roots and now based in based in San Mateo, Calif. The free GPL-version is available for download for Java, .NET and Mono.

There is also a commercial license for ISVs and services firms looking to resell db4obejcts. The db4obejcts database software, dubbed db4o, is already in use by Hertz, BMW's Car IT unit, and Spain's AVE (the high-speed train unit), company execs said.

The firm calls db4o is the first native object database for both Java and .NET, sporting an architecture that gives developers the "simplest and easiest way to directly store objects," according to db4objects' CEO Christof Wittig. Implementation is also designed to be simple, allowing devs to have db4o code up and running in under five minutes, Wittig added. "  9:10:26 PM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, December 24, 2004


China Invests Heavily In Sudan's Oil Industry: History of China's involvement in another oppressive regime, for oil.  "Sudan is China's largest overseas oil project. China is Sudan's largest supplier of arms, according to a former Sudan government minister. Chinese-made tanks, fighter planes, bombers, helicopters, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades have intensified Sudan's two-decade-old north-south civil war. A cease-fire is in effect and a peace agreement is expected to be signed by year-end. But the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region rages on, as government-backed Arab militias push African tribes off their land.

China in October signed a $70 billion oil deal with Iran, and the evolving ties between those two countries could complicate U.S. efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically or pressure it to give up its ambitions for nuclear weapons. China is also pursuing oil in Angola.

In the case of Sudan, Africa's largest country, China is in a lucrative partnership that delivers billions of dollars in investment, oil revenue and weapons -- as well as diplomatic protection -- to a government accused by the United States of genocide in Darfur and cited by human rights groups for systematically massacring civilians and chasing them off ancestral lands to clear oil-producing areas. .. China National Petroleum Corp. owns 40 percent -- the largest single share -- of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co., a consortium that dominates Sudan's oil fields in partnership with the national energy company and firms from Malaysia and India.  ..

"Oil from Sudan makes up one-tenth of all of China's imported oil," said Zhu Weilie, director of Middle East and North African Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, who has links with the Foreign Affairs Ministry. "If we lose this source, how can we find another market to replace it? China has to balance its interests." .. From its seat on the United Nations Security Council, China has been Sudan's chief diplomatic ally..

The pressure to find new sources of oil has grown as China has swelled into the world's second-largest consumer and as production at the largest of its domestic fields is declining. According to government statistics, China's imports have grown from about 6 percent of its oil needs a decade ago to roughly one-third today and are forecast to rise to rise to 60 percent by 2020. .."

  12:22:43 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, December 22, 2004


The Broadband Daily: BPL Hype:  A summary of skepticism about Broadband over Power Lines.  Links to stories saying that it generates high levels of radio noise that disrupt other spectrum users; it has been tried by many utilities but only one is going commercial with it; and that industry engineers think it won't scale.   8:54:55 AM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, December 19, 2004


Sunlight into  Hydrogen:  "Hydrogen Solar of Guilford, England, and Altair Nanotechnologies are building a hydrogen-generation system that captures sunlight and uses the energy to break water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. .. Hydrogen Solar CEO David Auty said his company's Tandem Cell technology uses two solar cells that together capture sunlight from every part of the ultraviolet spectrum. The interaction of photons with a semiconductor material causes a photoelectrochemical reaction that excites electrons and causes water molecules to break up into hydrogen and oxygen, according to Auty. Auty said Tandem Cells are coated with a layer containing metal oxide particles that are less than 30 nanometers thick and can convert sunlight energy into hydrogen with 8 percent efficiency. .. In October, the Department of Energy awarded (.pdf) $10 million in research grants to four groups also working on producing hydrogen from sunlight -- GE Global Research, the University of California at Santa Barbara, MVSystems and Midwest Optoelectronics. "  10:14:29 AM  permalink  

VMware Upgrade Release:  Mostly SAN interface and SDK improvements.  Also pricing update: "VMware ESX Server 2.5 and VMware VirtualCenter 1.2 are available today. Pricing for ESX Server starts at $3,750 for a 2 CPU machine; pricing for VirtualCenter starts at $5,000. ESX Server and VirtualCenter are available from Dell, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, HP, IBM, NEC and the VMware VIP network."  12:41:50 AM  permalink  

Presentation Tips for People running Virtual PC or VMWare: Good tips for tech demos, even if you aren't running VMs.

  12:34:53 AM  permalink  

Screen shot

ZoomIn for Windows: "ZoomIn is a screen magnification program allowing you to view any area of your screen under magnification. ZoomIn allows you to control the amount of zoom, view a pixels location and color, and save it as a bitmap.  Use ZoomIn is a very simple program to use. Place your mouse over the main window and click and hold the mouse button then drag the "zoom" window over the area of the screen to enlarge. "

  12:29:57 AM  permalink  

Inside VMWare Workstation 5.0 Beta: Short report with good screenshots of key VMware 5.0 features:

  • snapshot manager, for more than one snapshot per VM
  • V2V function, to convert images from MS Virtual PC 2004
  • movie maker, to make file (.avi format) of a VM session
  • an improved command line interface for simple scripting

Performance of graphics appears improved.  Support for special USB devices (eg, webcams) is reported.  Update:  Beta program is now public, with many screenshots.

  12:21:52 AM  permalink  

BCFacts.org - The BC Government's Environmental Record: Interesting model of environmental information service for a single state (in this case provincial) government.  Outbound syndication spreads the newsfeeds to partner sites, and inbound syndication supplies info from partners and volunteers.  12:12:39 AM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, December 18, 2004


NationMaster.com: Nifty statistics and mapping site for international comparisons (eg, total crimes per capita, or CO2 emissions per $ GDP).  8:42:25 AM  permalink  

Poll shows U.S. views on Muslim-Americans: A Cornell survey of Americans "found 44 percent favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. Forty-eight percent said liberties should not be restricted in any way.  The survey showed that 27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government. Twenty-two percent favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29 percent thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising. ..
 
The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims’ civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.

Researchers also found that respondents who paid more attention to television news were more likely to fear terrorist attacks and support limiting the rights of Muslim-Americans."

  7:51:48 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, December 17, 2004


Dickey: Iraq, the training ground:  "Iraq is now just the kind of place Al Qaeda needs to harden its recruits for terrorist actions around the world, just as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kashmir, the Philippines and Chechnya have done before. “The blowback for this war has to be enormous,” says [Bruce Hoffman, author of the 1998 book “Inside Terrorism”]."  11:26:32 PM  permalink  

Magnolia 2.0 Upgrades Open J2EE Content Management: "Swiss-based Obinary has released Magnolia 2.0, the first upgrade to its Open Content Management project. .. Magnolia 2.0 is also the first CMS to support the Java Content Repository API (JSR-170). Magnolia 2.0 is available for free download from http://www.magnolia.info/ and can be tested online at http://www.magnolia.info/demo. Companies like Siemens Enterprise and numerous customers from the pharmaceutical industries are already using Magnolia today, the group said...

Magnolia 2.0 uses the open-source licensed JSR-170-implementation "Jackrabbit" as a content repository. Magnolia 2.0 was primarily developed by engineers and devs at Obinary, a software and consulting firm located in Basel/Switzerland that also offers commercial support, hosting, training and implementation services for Magnolia. " An advantage of the open JSR-170 is that it prevents "lock in" to a content management system by storing the content in a vendor-neutral store.

  8:36:01 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, December 16, 2004


Senegal: Digital video over DSL trial.  Tivo-like functions, starting with 200 users in 2005.  3:18:29 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, December 15, 2004


LogMeIn - Remote Access Software and Remote Control Software:  A new competitor to www.gotomypc.com.  Free version for simple remote control, $13/mo with file transfer and synchronization, free admin tools.  9:22:12 AM  permalink  

Finding a Product Idea for Your Micro-ISV: Part of a series on the "micro-ISV" -- ie, one-person software vendor.  A few nice ideas:

  • Discover add-ons to existing products by trolling product-specific Internet sites and looking for complaints.  "The sheer volume of whining on the Internet usually makes it easy to quickly fill your candidate list with add-on product ideas"
  • Choose your competition. "If you can't find any competitors at all, be afraid. This is usually a very bad sign. It means that your product might not actually have any market at all."
  • How to avoid having to hire a sales guy.  Also: "It's important to realize that this sales guy issue affects your pricing decisions as well. Corporate buyers have limits. If you exceed these limits, they need lots of approvals from their superiors, which means you need a sales guy to hold their hand throughout the process. Avoid these limits (and the sales guy) by keeping your product price under $1,000, preferably under $500."
  9:00:52 AM  permalink  

torrentocracy - about prodigem: "Prodigem is a content hosting service. It uses Bit Torrent peer to peer (p2p) filesharing to enable you to distribute extraordinarily large media files at an extraordinarily low cost. In fact, the service is currently free (but probably will not be forever). Prodigem is currently in a limited testers phase and will be opened to wider availability shortly. In the meantime, you can download content and see what's available from the Prodigem Torrent Tracker.
 
What is revolutionary here is that Prodigem completely automates the entire process of setting up bit torrent sessions for the distribution of your content. You simply upload your content via the web and with the click of a few buttons, the Prodigem servers are hosting and seeding your torrent for your content."  8:47:18 AM  permalink  

medgadget: Great new site for advances in medical devices.  Many use wireless links to collect patient data, like the PillCam, and a shirt that collects ECG data and transmits it via a cell phone.  8:29:15 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, December 13, 2004


Foreign Affairs - Did North Korea Cheat? - Selig S. Harrison:  Looks like another fine mess from Bush & Co. "Jonathan Pollack, chairman of the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College in the summer of 2003 .. suggests that Kelly's charges were not justified by U.S. intelligence. Pointing to a CIA report submitted to Congress in November 2002, Pollack wrote that "the imprecision in the CIA analysis underscored the difficulties of estimating the extant capabilities and ultimate purposes of the North's enrichment program" and left it unclear "how complete and compelling the intelligence data may have been." According to Pollack, the CIA report indicated that North Korea had no operational enrichment facility to declare. ... The intelligence community believed that North Korea still [would have] confronted daunting obstacles had it decided to build an enriched uranium weapon, or even to acquire the production capabilities that might ultimately permit such an option. Most officials recognized that the path to a meaningful enrichment capability remained a distant and very uncertain possibility.

Despite its limited knowledge about the uranium program, the U.S. government "opted to exploit the intelligence for political purposes." The uranium issue "furnished powerful ammunition to render the Agreed Framework a dead letter"--something enormously appealing to hawks in the administration, who had opposed Clinton-era diplomacy toward North Korea as much too soft."  It also was timed to influence South Korean and Japanese policy, which was warming to North Korea at the time.

"An examination of the November 2002 CIA report that set forth the basis for Kelly's confrontation confirms these charges of imprecision. Although the document alludes to "clear evidence" that North Korea had "recently" begun constructing a centrifuge facility (centrifuges are machines used to enrich uranium), the CIA did not explain the nature of this evidence beyond mentioning, in general terms, that Pyongyang had acquired "centrifuge-related materials in large quantities." No specific evidence was presented to support the report's conclusion that North Korea was "constructing a plant that could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two or more weapons per year when fully operational, which could be as soon as mid-decade." ..

since the report came out, no evidence to support it has been supplied to South Korea or Japan--or to China and Russia, the other countries participating in the ongoing six-party negotiations. (This assessment is based on off-the-record conversations with past and present government officials in these countries, including officials in South Korea and Japan who participated in the intelligence exchanges with the CIA that preceded the Kelly visit.) China alone has gone public on the issue. Deputy Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong told a New York Times reporter on June 7, 2004, "So far, the United States has not presented convincing evidence of the uranium program. We don't know whether it exists." ..

By scuttling the 1994 agreement on the basis of uncertain data that it presented with absolute certitude, and by insisting that North Korea "confess" to the existence of a uranium program before new negotiations on denuclearization can begin, the Bush administration has blocked action on the one present threat that North Korea is known to pose: the threat represented by its reprocessed plutonium, which could be used for nuclear weapons or transferred to third parties.

The administration's underlying mistake-in the case of the North Korean uranium mystery, as in Iraq-has been treating a worst-case scenario as revealed truth. In October 2004, when Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, was challenged to justify her government's mistaken assessment about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, she explained that "a policymaker cannot afford to be wrong on the short side, underestimating the ability of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein." Similarly, General James Clapper, who was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, has said that "personally as opposed to institutionally, I was skeptical that they ever had a bomb. We didn't have smoking gun evidence either way. But you build a case for a range of possibilities. In a case like North Korea, you have to apply the most conservative approach, the worst-case scenario." The 1994 U.S. estimate (by the CIA and the DIA) that North Korea had "one or two" nuclear weapons at that time remains unchanged-although it has yet to be proved or disproved."

  12:24:21 PM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, December 11, 2004


Why this brain flies on rat cunning: "a [rat's] brain nurtured in a Petri dish learns to pilot a fighter plane as scientists develop a new breed of "living" computer..  The "brain", grown from 25,000 neural cells extracted from a single rat embryo, has been taught to fly an F-22 jet simulator by scientists at the University of Florida.  They hope their research into neural computation will help them develop sophisticated hybrid computers, with a thinking biological component. ..

The brain-in-a-dish is the idea of Thomas DeMarse, 37, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida. His work has been praised as a significant insight into the brain by leading US academics and scientific journals. The 25,000 neurons were suspended in a specialised liquid to keep them alive and then laid across a grid of 60 electrodes in a small glass dish. ..

In the most striking experiment, the brain was linked to the jet simulator. Manipulated by the electrodes and a desktop computer, it was taught to control the flight path, even in mock hurricane-strength winds. "When we first hooked them up, the plane 'crashed' all the time," Dr DeMarse said. "But over time, the neural network slowly adapts as the brain learns to control the pitch and roll of the aircraft. After a while, it produces a nice straight and level trajectory."

Previously, scientists have been able to monitor the activity of only a few neurons at a time, but Dr DeMarse and his team can study how thousands of cells conduct calculations together. But it is still a long way from a human brain.  "The goal is to study how cortical networks perform their neural computations. The implications are extremely important," Dr DeMarse said"

  12:58:55 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Cap Harnesses Human Thought to Move PC Cursor: Study published in the Proceedings of the NAS:  "Scientists have developed a non-invasive brain-computer interface that enables a person to move a cursor across a computer screen just by thinking about it. .. Before the new finding, many researchers previously assumed that only invasive brain-computer interfaces, in which electrodes are surgically implanted into the brain, could control complex movements. ..

Of the four people who participated in the study, two had severe physical disabilities. The subjects wore the electrode caps, which analyzed electroencephalographic (EEG) activity (brain waves) recorded from their scalp. The electrodes, small metal disks about a quarter of an inch (three-fifths of a centimeter) wide, were placed over the sensory motor part of the brain.

At first, participants learned to use their thoughts to direct a cursor on a computer screen by imagining specific actions, from running to shooting baskets. As they became more comfortable with the technology, the subjects began to rely less on such imagery to direct the cursor. Eventually, the participants couldn't tell what they were thinking about to move the cursor; they simply moved it. ..

Each session lasted 24 minutes. It took participants two to three sessions to begin to acquire control of the cursor movement. After ten sessions, participants were able to hit the target on a computer screen about 80 percent of the time.

The two study participants with spinal cord injuries performed better than the uninjured participants, possibly reflecting greater motivation or injury-associated brain changes. ..

"The computer automatically adapts to the person using the system," Wolpaw said. "It is an interaction between two adaptive controllers—the system and the person using it." Wolpaw predicts future improvements of the non-invasive brain-computer interface will focus on three-dimensional movement. In the future, users may be able to operate a robotic arm that could pick things up, or they may be able to control a neural prosthesis in which electrodes implanted in a paralyzed limb may be stimulated to get the muscles to move."

  12:25:25 PM  permalink  

Even the Economist has it on their cover:  "How long can [the dollar] remain the world's most important reserve currency? ..

the privilege of being able to print the world's reserve currency, a privilege which is now at risk, allows America to borrow cheaply, and thus to spend much more than it earns, on far better terms than are available to others. Imagine you could write cheques that were accepted as payment but never cashed. That is what it amounts to. If you had been granted that ability, you might take care to hang on to it. America is taking no such care, and may come to regret it. ..

America's challenge is not just to reduce its current-account deficit to a level which foreigners are happy to finance by buying more dollar assets, but also to persuade existing foreign creditors to hang on to their vast stock of dollar assets, estimated at almost $11 trillion. A fall in the dollar sufficient to close the current-account deficit might destroy its safe-haven status. If the dollar falls by another 30%, as some predict, it would amount to the biggest default in history: not a conventional default on debt service, but default by stealth, wiping trillions off the value of foreigners' dollar assets.

The dollar's loss of reserve-currency status would lead America's creditors to start cashing those cheques—and what an awful lot of cheques there are to cash. As that process gathered pace, the dollar could tumble further and further. American bond yields (long-term interest rates) would soar, quite likely causing a deep recession. Americans who favour a weak dollar should be careful what they wish for. Cutting the budget deficit looks cheap at the price."  Background online.

  8:35:09 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, December 06, 2004


Bio interfaces to games: Wow. "Biofeedback has been around for a while... it was inevitable that it be married to video games. Another example of video games are getting more physical..."  The promo clip for The Wild Divine is trippy new age, with endorsements by Deepak Chopra.  More comments online, including links to games for correcting dsylexia and ADD.  4:09:17 PM  permalink  


daily link  Sunday, December 05, 2004


NYT Magazine: The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Persuaders:  Fascinating long article on how marketing has started to infiltrate word-of-mouth communication, with substantial discussion of what motivates the "agents" that carry the messages.  Makes me wonder about recent intense polictical campaigns (Dean, born-agains), and blogging, how this might apply to politics in general.  (My apologies for the length of the excerpts here, but there were many points I wanted to preserve).

"This idea -- the commercialization of chitchat -- resembles a scenario from a paranoid science-fiction novel about a future in which corporations have become so powerful that they can bribe whole armies of flunkies to infiltrate the family barbecue. ..

[BzzAgent] agents have essentially volunteered to create ''buzz'' about Al Fresco sausage and dozens of other products, from books to shoes to beer to perfume. BzzAgent currently has more than 60,000 volunteer agents in its network. Tremor, a word-of-mouth operation that is a division of Procter & Gamble has an astonishing 240,000 volunteer teenagers spreading the word about everything from toothbrushes to TV shows. A spinoff, Tremor Moms, is in the works. ..

[BzzAgent had a rewards points system.  But the agents did't use them much.  They said] that there was nothing wrong with the rewards; it was just that the rewards weren't really the point. Even now, only about a quarter of the agents collect rewards, and hardly any take all they have earned. .. What Balter said he learned from his agents is that lots of people like to tell others what they are reading and what restaurant they've discovered and what gizmo they just bought. In his view, BzzAgent is simply harnessing, channeling and organizing that consumer enthusiasm. ..

Most teenagers have 25 or 30 names on their instant-messaging ''buddy list,'' whereas a Tremor member might have 150. Tremor recruits volunteers mostly through online advertisements and accepts only 10 or 15 percent of those who apply. The important thing, Knox said, is they are the right kind of kids -- the connected, influential trend-spreading kind. ..

[Agent] Onyenucheya gets free stuff from Tremor, and sometimes even a small check for taking surveys and participating in focus groups. .. This past July, she was invited to an advance viewing of two television shows, ''Lost'' and ''Complete Savages,'' at the Millennium screening room in downtown Manhattan. There were about 70 teenagers there, and pizza and sodas for everybody. Onyenucheya particularly loved ''Lost.'' ''When I came home,'' she said, ''I immediately told my five closest friends, like: 'Oh, my God, you just missed the greatest shows. I got to go down to the Millennium and saw a show called 'Lost' and it was so good, and we have to watch it when it comes out.' And I felt like I had the upper hand. Like, 'You don't know what I know.' '' ..

[By contrast, BzzAgent] agents are not screened. They are not chosen. They simply sign up. They are all kinds of people .. Maybe it's altruism, maybe it's a power trip, but influencing other people feels good. .. Word-of-mouth marketing leverages not simply the power of the trendsetter but also, as Balter puts it, ''the power of wanting to be a trendsetter.'' ..

One reward Bollaert did collect from BzzAgent was, of all things, the William Gibson novel ''Pattern Recognition'' -- an actual paranoid science-fiction novel about a future in which corporations have become so powerful they can bribe flunkies to infiltrate your life and talk up products..

A loyal opinion leader -- someone who was seen by her social network as an expert on restaurants and who was also a Rock Bottom fan -- was pretty effective; if that restaurant expert was ambivalent about Rock Bottom, she was of little use. In contrast, it didn't really matter if the nonloyal agents knew much about restaurants. What mattered was that they told a lot of people (and presumably that they were enthusiastic). The implication is that it doesn't matter if you know what you're talking about, as long as you are willing to talk a lot. ..

In the past, [Prof.] Schwartz notes, the challenge for the consumer was navigating a world of faulty, shoddy or unsafe products. That's not much of an issue anymore. Now, Schwartz told me, Consumer Reports might test 40 stoves, find that 38 of them are pretty good The ''Pretty Good'' Problem complicates our lives as consumers and makes it increasingly difficult for one of those 38 stoves to stand out. But it gives BzzAgent plenty of work...

economists [studies have] concluded that once something has been given to us, we value it more. .. Other studies have shown that we like things more simply by virtue of repeated or prolonged exposure to them. .. [This] might help explain why BzzAgents and other word-of-mouth volunteers get excited about whatever they are asked to push.  Add to all of this the idea that they have been granted status as ''agents'' in an ''elite group'' that most of the world doesn't even know about, and have received a free sample of a brand-new product from a source that they trust, and they are almost certain to expend some kind of effort, unless the product is truly awful. [They] tend to see themselves as not being involved in marketing at all. Almost all of the BzzAgents I interviewed made this point. ..

Crucial to the BzzAgent system is the small team of young people in Boston who read and answer every single Bzz report.  They offer encouragement, tips on how to improve word-of-mouth strategies. Every report is rated and every agent ranked according to a complicated formula ..

[One agent said] ''For me, it's being part of something big. I think it's such a big thing that's going to shape marketing. To actually be one of the people involved in shaping that is, to me, big.'' That made sense to me too. After all, there is one thing that is even more powerful than the upper hand, more seductive than persuading: believing."

  11:43:40 PM  permalink  

Get ${Stuff} Done with Groovy: "I've been using and very much enjoying Groovy, a scripting language for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). It's a great scripting language, and it provides you with access to all of the class libraries available for Java. In other words, you get all the benefits of Java without having to write so much bloody code all the time. "  A jumping off point for the language.  An example:  using Groovy and Bloglines Web Services to make a 3-pane well-featured news reader in 150 lines of code.  9:38:02 PM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, December 04, 2004


Friedman: Fly Me to the Moon: "When did the Soviet Union collapse? When did reform take off in Iran? When did the Oslo peace process begin? When did economic reform become a hot topic in the Arab world? In the late 1980's and early 1990's. And what was also happening then? Oil prices were collapsing.

In November 1985, oil was $30 a barrel, recalled the noted oil economist Philip Verleger. By July of 1986, oil had fallen to $10 a barrel, and it did not climb back to $20 until April 1989. "Everyone thinks Ronald Reagan brought down the Soviets," said Mr. Verleger. "That is wrong. It was the collapse of their oil rents." It's no accident that the 1990's was the decade of falling oil prices and falling walls."

  9:14:29 PM  permalink  

U.S. Health Chief, Stepping Down, Issues Warning: "Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, announced Friday that he was resigning, and he expressed grave concern about the threat of a global flu epidemic and the possibility of a terrorist attack on the nation's food supply.

"For the life of me," he said, "I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do." ..
Although the government has increased inspections of imported food, Mr. Thompson said he worried "every single night" about threats to the food supply.

"We are importing a lot of food from the Middle East and it would be easy to tamper with that," he said. He called for better technologies to detect contamination. ..

Mr. Thompson, freed from the constraints of administration policy, gave candid, unexpected answers to questions posed to him at a news conference at his department. He said he wished Congress had given him the power to negotiate with drug manufacturers to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries. ..

Asked what worried him most, Mr. Thompson cited the threat of a human flu pandemic caused by mutations in a strain of avian influenza virus, known popularly as bird flu. "This is a really huge bomb that could adversely impact on the health care of the world," killing 30 million to 70 million people, he said."

  8:54:58 PM  permalink  

How to make a jihadist: Good UPI coverage of a recent conference.  "Many al-Qaida terrorists study abroad in Europe and the United States. They join the network to identify with a group and to feel at home in an unfamiliar place. They are not fighting because they are poor, but they are fighting for the poor people in their homes.  "They are their poor brothers and sisters who they empathize with," Sageman said Wednesday at a daylong symposium put together by the New America Foundation. 
     
Yosri Fouda, lead investigative reporter for Al Jazeera television network and author of "Masterminds of Terror," believe these highly educated men are a danger to society due to their lack of knowledge of Islam. "The highly educated know nothing about Islam," Fouda said. "That's what makes them so vulnerable. And in times of uncertainty, people become more extreme." 
     
Sageman agreed.  "These guys are the best and brightest in society, they speak three, four or five languages and they're computer savvy," Sageman said. "They go abroad to study, they become homesick. Expatriates look for people like themselves and where do they find them? Mosques."  When they meet people like them, they form friendships and make cliques; these men are desperate to be a part of a group, no matter the price, Sageman said. 
     
Sageman found that 68 percent of men who joined jihad -- holy war -- had close friends in jihad, or joined with friends. Twenty percent joined because they had fathers, brothers or cousins in jihad. Seventy percent went to jihad while living outside of their country. "  10:00:10 AM  permalink  


daily link  Friday, December 03, 2004


Fox creams CNN: "November was a very good month for Fox News Channel -- the channel's highest-rated month since the Iraq war in 2003.  Fox News Channel [had] the top 11 shows in cable news, according to data released Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research. That's the first time it's ever happened in the News Corp.-owned network's eight-year history. .. "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News Channel was the top show with an average 3 million viewers.  Fox News Channel's primetime average was 2.1 million viewers, an increase of 70% compared to the same month a year ago. CNN averaged 982,000 viewers, up 15% and MSNBC was up 53% to 442,000 viewers.  ..  Fox News Channel averaged 1.2 million viewers in total [daytime shows], compared to CNN's 572,000 viewers. "  8:19:56 AM  permalink  

Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens: Faith-based education.  "Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy," a congressional staff analysis has found.

Those and other assertions are examples of the "false, misleading, or distorted information" in the programs' teaching materials, said the analysis, released yesterday.. Several million children ages 9 to 18 have participated in the
more than 100 federal abstinence programs since the efforts began in 1999 ..

The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins. ..  Among the misconceptions cited :

  • A 43-day-old fetus is a "thinking person."
  • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.
  • Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.
  • One curriculum, called "Me, My World, My Future," teaches that women who have an abortion "are more prone to suicide" and that as many as 10 percent of them become sterile. This contradicts the 2001 edition of a standard obstetrics textbook that says fertility is not affected by elective abortion"
  8:11:30 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, December 01, 2004


ArmsControlWonk.com: Ledeen's Iran Falsehoods: Useful info on the current state of Iran's nuclear inspections.  Other interesting items on this blog.  11:13:56 PM  permalink  

A Mobile Semantic Web:  CMU's testbed for mobile apps built on the Semantic Web.  "MyCampus consists of several task-specific agents that automatically capture contextual information. Each MyCampus user has a database, called a "Semantic eWallet," which is a repository for users' personal information, such as class schedules, list of friends and classmates, and lifestyle and event preferences. Location data is generated using Pango's WiFi access-point triangulation. All the data is marked with Semantic metadata so that MyCampus agents can make use of it. User's can set access privileges to allow certain people to know where they are at any given moment, or what their schedule for the upcoming week is.

One of the most popular applications is the “restaurant concierge” agent, which recommends places based on a user's dining tastes, schedule, location, and weather conditions. If there's a storm brewing, the concierge will recommend a place that doesn't require stepping outside, and if the user has a study group meeting in 30 minutes, it'll suggest a fast food joint within a block or two.

Recently, a group of students at CMU developed an application for MyCampus called InfoBridge, which lets users post and read "virtual posters" about upcoming events. For example, say a user has indicated that she likes track and field events. She’ll be notified about events as soon as another person makes a virtual poster about it, unless she’s sitting in class. If that’s the case, she won’t be notified until class is over. If she wants to attend the event, she clicks on a link and, because the data has been tagged with Semantic Web metadata, it’ll be added it to her calendar. If there’s a scheduling conflict, it’ll notify her and present her with options. All this data exchange is done with agents -- no human screen scraping."  Seems potentially useful for GIS info in remote data-gathering projects also, to notify and sync info that's relevant by location or type.  8:02:47 AM  permalink  

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