Thoughtful Context on North Korea

A thoughtful and concise article in the LA Times lays out some interesting context surrounding North Korea’s recent executions, and why this start (or continuation) of a “youthful revolution” may very well lead to substantially more instability and uncertainty. A few excerpts:

“At 30, Kim Jong Un may well be the world’s youngest head of state. His brother, Kim Jong Chul, two years older, is best known as an avid Eric Clapton fan but is also said to keep an eye on the leader’s security.”

“‘He couldn’t be a boss with subordinates who are twice his age, who don’t understand him and don’t take him seriously.’

Kim’s tactics in some ways are reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao Tse-tung in 1966, in which youthful Red Guards terrorized their teachers and other authority figures.”

“‘Jang oversaw most of North Korea’s trade, maintaining the balance between various military-run companies that sell coal, iron ore and seafood in China and in turn import most of the country’s consumer goods.

‘In running North Korea Inc., he was very effective at making money for the regime. The question now is who is going to replace him,’ said John Park of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.”

 


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How Did Feathers Evolve (Flying Dinosaurs, This is a Good World)

A brief, but nicely done, video on the history of feather from Carl Zimmer on TED:

Which reminded me of this cartoon:
birds and dinosaurs How Did Feathers Evolve (Flying Dinosaurs, This is a Good World)


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Google Just Bought Some Scary Robots

From the NYT:

“Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans.”

But they’ll probably do less scary things with these guys then the Pentagon would have. Check them out below.

Bigdog:

Wildcat:

Petman:

Petman in Camo:


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File Extensions

file extensions File Extensions


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Joie de Vivre (JDV) in Businesweek

Max Jahn, what a guy. I used to be a part of the JDV club during my last year at Sloan, which mostly meant that I spent time with some great people and organized group homebrewing sessions. A nice shout out in Businessweek:

“In January 2011, 20 students at MIT Sloan School of Management traveled to Austria to learn about chocolate-making, the waltz, and proper etiquette for greeting a dance partner in the grand tradition of the Viennese ball. (The gentleman bows his head to the lady’s outstretched hand, but stops short of planting his lips.) Those aren’t skills most MBAs have on the top of their to-learn lists. Then again, Sloan’s Joie de Vivre club, which organized the trip, isn’t your typical student organization.

Max Jahn, a former Merrill Lynch (BAC) banker, started Joie de Vivre in 2010 after attending a classical music concert with fellow Sloan students during his second semester at the school….“I was listening to this beautiful music and I thought, I have classmates that are gifted in so many fields,” he says. “But when I meet them in a data models class or at a recruiting event, I don’t ever hear about their amazing talents.” 

The idea for the club, often called JDV to spare Sloan’s quants from attempting French accents, was to give students an opportunity to share extracurricular passions and interests. The group’s first meeting included a viola performance, a chocolate tasting, and a lecture on rare orchids given by a Sloan student who had cataloged the flowers for the Mexican government prior to entering business school. Other activities included a talent show and the trip to Jahn’s hometown of Vienna.”

Good times. More here.


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Regional Differences in Words for Things, Like Beer

Via Chartporn:

‘Beer’:
image2 Regional Differences in Words for Things, Like Beer

Not to be confused with ‘Bear’:
image4 Regional Differences in Words for Things, Like Beer

‘Tea’:
image3 Regional Differences in Words for Things, Like Beer

More here. I thought ‘Pineapple’ was interesting, as I hadn’t realized English and Spanish are the outiers.


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Learning to Code (Kind of)

Aside from playing around with visual basic over the years (I coded a configurable metronome in 1997 and a number of other simple windows-based apps), and learning just enough HTML and CSS to know which questions to Google to run a few websites, I can’t by any reasonable definition code. A colleague recently suggested that we take the One Month Rails class in our free time (of which I seem to have less and less), to learn some Ruby on Rails basics. It’s essentially a video and exercise online class.

I like the idea. I don’t have any far fetched illusions that I’ll become a competent coder in the near future (or likely ever). But as coding becomes increasingly important in the tech space, or maybe just increasingly glorified (probably both), I think it will be helpful and interesting to know more about how products are built. I’m not trying to build a car, but I’d like to learn how to change my oil (while I think that analogy works well, I’m not good at changing real oil, really not good).

The One Month Rails tagline: “Stop waiting for that perfect technical co-founder.” And the pitch from the website:
Rails Learning to Code (Kind of)It’s $99, and I have a 25% off coupon code for anyone who wants to join us. I’ll follow up with some posts on how it goes, and will hopefully share whatever it is I end up building.


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Iceland’s First Armed Police Incident

I saw this this morning. While it’s unfortunate, the fact that Icelandic police have never used lethal force in any operation until yesterday says a lot about the country. From the BBC:

Icelandic police have shot dead a man who was firing a shotgun in his apartment in the early hours of Monday.

It is the first time someone has been killed in an armed police operation in Iceland, officials say.

Tear gas canisters were fired through the windows in an attempt to subdue the 59-year-old, who lived in the east of the capital, Reykjavik.

When this failed he was shot after firing at police entering the building. Between 15 and 20 officers took part…

The incident was “without precedent” in Iceland, he said.

The apartment block was evacuated as neighbours were considered to be in danger.

Iceland, with a population of 322,000, has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and shooting incidents are unusual.

More from NPR here.


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Sustainable Approaches to Reducing Food Waste (Continued)

The following is a guest post from my good friend and former research colleague Paul Artiuch. Paul and I previously conducted a research study focused on market-oriented approaches to reducing agricultural food waste in India. Paul has since conducted some comparative research in the US, which he describes below. Our original research, including our report and the associated blog posts, can be found here as well as on the MIT Public Service Center website.

Over a year ago, my colleague Sam and I researched and documented breakdowns in Indian agricultural supply chains in order to provide insight into a problem which costs India around 40% of its annual output.  Since then, we’ve been in contact with entrepreneurs, researchers and the media who are looking for ways to tackle this problem.  We have also continued to study this issue globally, albeit in our spare time, and wanted to provide a brief update contrasting the Indian and U.S. systems.

The issue of food waste isn’t unique to India, or even to developing countries, but rather a global problem which needs urgent solutions.  Even in America, nearly half of all purchased food is thrown out, wasting roughly $165 billion per year.  But the nature of the problem in America is different than that of many developing nations – Indian waste occurs upstream of retail markets while in the U.S. most of the food is thrown out by consumers.  In fact, the upstream food supply chains in developed nations such as the U.S. are remarkably efficient.

I had a chance to see this first hand, as part of my work with the Commodities and Energy team at Thomson Reuters, during a visit to a large U.S. agricultural Coop.  The operation provided a contrast to what Sam and I saw during out trip through the agricultural belt in Northern India.

Last week I spent a few hours driving around Elburn Coop’s facilities with my host Mike who manages one of the Coop’s locations.  Elburn serves, and is owned by, a few thousand mostly corn, soybean and wheat farmers in northern Illinois.  Each year Elburn handles roughly 40 million bushels, which is about 1 million metric tons of grain.  (In 2012, U.S. production was 479 million tons while India harvested 231 million.)  The Coop does much more than buy and store grain for farmers.  It also sells seed, fertilizer and fuel, provides credit as well as transportation and has a fleet of high tech agricultural machinery.  It’s basically a one stop shop for farmers.

Mike told me about the Coop’s operations and gave me a tour of the facilities and surrounding countryside.  Thinking back to our research in India, a number of differences were apparent:

-The size of the operation, both the storage facilities as well as the farms.  Mike’s site can securely store 6 million bushels of grain and the average size of a farm in the area ranges from 1000 to 1500 acres.  Even the largest storage depots we saw in India were one tenth that size and an average farmer works only a few acres.

-The enormous investment in capital equipment.  A grain storage silo which can hold 750,000 bushels costs $1.3 million.  Mike had several of these at his site.  The machinery – planters, fertilizer spreaders, sprayers – typically cost a few hundred thousand dollars each.  Outside of a few exceptions closer to the major cities we saw very little advanced machinery or large scale storage in India.

-The public infrastructure, including roads, ports and railways.  The U.S. has the most roadways, railways and airports out of any nation in the world.  It also has well developed waterway and port infrastructure.  This helps get goods to market, or export, quickly and efficiently.  While India has a surprisingly well developed road network (#2 in the world) the quality is often poor.  Similarly, the rail network is fairly extensive but highly overcrowded, making overland transportation time consuming, unpredictable and expensive.

-Commonly available financial tools to manage risk.  Mike mentioned that by law, his Coop had to hedge 100% of their grain in order to eliminate the risk from price fluctuations.  Similarly, the Coop’s farmers have access to derivative products such as options and futures through a network of brokers.  Mike mentioned that most farmers would take advantage of these tools in some way.  While in India, crop insurance is commonly available, we did not come across the use of any derivatives that help smooth out incomes, especially at the farmer level.

-Availability and reliability of information.  The Coop office had a direct feed of the latest commodity prices from the financial exchanges on a wall mounted flat screen.  Everyone in the office had access to at least basic price quotes, government production figures, weather forecasts and agricultural news at their fingertips.  Same goes for farmers who use a range of mobile and desktop devices to access data that helps them make critical decisions on where and when to sell their crops.  This perhaps is the most stark difference from India where many farmers have no way to assess prices outside of visiting the local mandi (market) and there is little reliable news or fundamental data.

Some of these gaps will be narrowed as India develops its infrastructure as well as financial markets and continues to expand rural access to information through mobile networks.  However, a few key differences will persist and will need to be incorporated into the modernizing Indian food supply system.  These include:

-The necessity of the agricultural system to not only provide food but also employment for hundreds of millions of people.  The U.S. system employs a fraction of the labor of the Indian one.  Mike, for instance, has 23 full time employees at his site who look after the storage infrastructure and machinery for the 6 million bushel facility.  Some employment for rural Indians will be created through investment in infrastructure or with the expansion of the rural financial system.  However, many will still need to find jobs in the millions of small farms that dot the Indian countryside.

-The necessity for food prices to remain low enough to be affordable to the ~68% of the Indian population living on less than $2 a day.  This results in the involvement of the government in everything from farm subsidies to price controls and food distribution programs.  These programs will likely need to continue.  However, with prices of staples costing 2/3 less in India than in the U.S. , the economic viability of capital investments, whether for yield improvement or waste prevention, is hard to achieve.

There are a few elements of the U.S. system that, with time, will likely emerge in India – access to information and public infrastructure are two of these.  However, ultimately the country will have to create its own model for a food supply system that limits waste, provides employment and keeps food prices low.  We will continue to study this issue.

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Wimberley Texas

The day after Thanksgiving, I went out to Wimberley with my girlfriend’s family, which is a small town about half an hour outside of Austin. I didn’t know what to expect, and was very pleasantly surprised. We started the day the Blue Hole regional park, a nice area with some hiking trails where we successfully found a geocache by a creek. This was one of the toughest ones I’ve done — and I can’t take credit for finding it (I’m not so sure I would have):

20131130 121553 Wimberley Texas

We then went to the square, which is filled with lots of artsy stores selling many locally made “things”. I say “things” because while there were plenty of more normal crafty items such as food, pottery, candles, and clothing, there were also some more unusual items which made for a pretty unique local culture. Here are a few highlights:

20131130 121619 Wimberley Texas

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20131130 121917 Wimberley Texas

20131130 121940 Wimberley Texas

20131130 121959 Wimberley Texas

20131130 122010 Wimberley Texas

Afterwards, we drove down the street to the Middleton Brewery, where we all got pints of locally made beer. They don’t post much on their site, but I would first recommend the cream ale:

20131130 122026 Wimberley Texas

With the Belgian coming in a close second:

20131130 122038 Wimberley Texas


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