Al writes "Technology Review discusses what a US carbon trading scheme could learn from the flawed European experience. Advocates of carbon-trading schemes like to point to Europe's cap-and-trade program as a model worthy of emulation, but the reality has been less than perfect. A glut of pollution credits, distributed without cost during both the first, transitional phase of the program and the current working phase, drove down the value of the EUAs. As a result, Europe's carbon dioxide emissions remain priced well below 20 euros per ton. With the price of pollution so low, economists say, industries that generate and consume energy have no incentives to change their habits; it is still cheaper to use fossil fuels than to switch to technologies that pollute less. Establishing a carbon price in the US system now, and tightening the system later, could send a dangerously wrong signal to financial markets looking to invest in new energy technologies."
thefickler writes "Shell has decided to end its investment in wind, solar and hydro projects because the company does not believe they are financially sound investments. Instead Shell is going to focus on carbon sequestration technologies and biofuels. Not surprisingly, and perhaps unfairly, bloggers have been quick to savage the company: 'Between Shell's decisions to stop its clean energy investments and to increase its debt load to pay for dividends, the company is solidifying an image of corporate greed over corporate responsibility.' Is Shell short sighted, or is it just a company trying to make its way in an uncertain world?"
Techdirt points out an interesting query in Slate asking why book publishers appear to be making the same mistake that record labels did with the iTunes service with DRM, and single-vendor lock-in. "Back in 2005, we noted that Apple's dominance over the online music space, which upset the record labels tremendously, was actually the record labels' own fault for demanding DRM. That single demand created massive lock-in and network effects that allowed Apple to completely dominate the market. If the record labels had, instead, pushed for an open solution, then anyone else could have built stores/players to work as well, and it could have minimized Apple's ability to control the market. Yes, everyone is now opening up (including Apple), but it took a long time, and Apple had already established its dominant position. So why are book publishers doing the same thing?"
wmoyes writes "Back in September I ran into a Best Buy store to buy a Samsung BD-P2550 Blu-ray player. I didn't give the clerk my name, telephone number, or address, just my debit card. The player has sat happily in my living room without ever being networked or registered. Today I was shocked to find a package waiting for me at home from Best Buy — inside was a firmware update CD for the player. I used to think Windows Update was scary, but Samsung's update service tracked me to my house using the mag stripe from my bank card. Has this happened to any other Blu-ray owners?" Or is there a simpler explanation?
itif writes "This report takes a look at how many jobs you get if you invest $10 billion each in three different IT infrastructure projects — broadband, health IT and the smart grid. It argues that if you are going to be spending billions on a stimulus package, investing in 'digital infrastructure' creates more jobs than physical infrastructure (e.g. roads and bridges) in the short-term, and you get a whole host of other benefits in the long-term."
A few weeks back we discussed the perspective that the economic meltdown could be viewed as a global computer crash. In the NYTimes magazine, Joe Nocera writes in much more depth about one aspect of the over-reliance on computer models in the ongoing unpleasantness: the use of a single number to assess risk. Reader theodp writes: "Relying on Value at Risk (VaR) and other mathematical models to manage risk was a no-brainer for the Wall Street crowd, at least until it became obvious that the risks taken by the largest banks and investment firms were so excessive and foolhardy that they threatened to bring down the financial system itself. Nocera explores the age-old debate between those who assert that the best decisions are based on quantification and numbers, and those who base their decisions on more subjective degrees of belief about the uncertain future. Reliance on models created a 'false sense of security among senior managers and watchdogs,' argues Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who likens VaR to 'an air bag that works all the time, except when you have a car accident.'"
Wired is running an article raising the question of how a US economic stimulus plan could best help broadband adoption and the internet in general. We discussed President-elect Obama's statements about his plan, which would include investments in such areas, but Wired asks how we can avoid the equivalent of the New Deal's "ditches to nowhere" without more data about where the money would actually make a difference. Quoting: "... the problem is that no one knows the best way to make the internet more resilient, accessible and secure, since there's no just no public data. The ISP and backbone internet providers don't tell anyone anything. For instance, the government doesn't know how many people actually have broadband or what they pay for it. ... In September, the FCC found that its data collection on internet broadband was incomplete and thus ruled that AT&T, Qwest and Verizon could stop filing some reports — because the requirements did not extend to cable companies, too."
Anti-Globalism passes along a review in Ars of some recent speculation on the role of interconnected computer models in the global economic crash. "If Ritholtz, Taleb, Mandelbrot, and the rest of the computer modeling and financial engineering naysayers are correct about the big picture, then we really are arguably in the midst a bona fide computer crash. Not an individual computer crash, of course, but a computer crash in the sense of Sun Microsystems' erstwhile marketing slogan, 'the network is the computer.' That is, we have all of these machines in different sectors of the economy, and we've networked all of them together either directly (via an actual network) or indirectly (by using the collective 'output' of machines in one sector as input for the machines in another sector), and like any other computer system the whole thing hums along nicely... up until the point when it doesn't."
Ernest Hemingway's micro-story, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn," is one of my favorite examples of how less is sometimes more. Sometimes a few sentences say it all; you don't always need a hundred pages to convey an idea. Most of the mail I get is brief and to the point. Others are just brief. To be honest, I appreciate the short, crazy email more than the long rants, and they can be just as funny. Read below for this week's mail snippets.
marshotel writes "NASA astronauts will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost. NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power, and they are taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system."
palegray.net writes "Nature is reporting on new findings that prions jump species barriers. Believed to be responsible for ailments such as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease and 'mad cow' disease, prions are thought to disrupt biological processes by causing normal proteins to fold abnormally. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston have observed infectious prions from hamsters causing abnormal protein development in mice, along with a range of other observations on prion actions in test tube environments. From the article: '... they also found that when a prion jumps species, it produces a new kind of prion. "This is very worrisome," says Claudio Soto, who led the research, published in Cell. "The universe of possible prions could be much larger than we thought."' Sounds like another good reason to donate your spare CPU cycles to projects like Folding@home."
purplehayes writes "A hacker broke into a Homeland Security Department telephone system over the weekend and racked up about $12,000 in calls to the Middle East and Asia. The hacker made more than 400 calls on a Federal Emergency Management Agency voicemail system in Emmitsburg, Md., on Saturday and Sunday, according to FEMA spokesman Tom Olshanski."
An anonymous reader notes that Hotmail's full version doesn't work with Firefox 3. Users get the following message when they try to log in: You are temporarily on the classic version of Windows Live Hotmail due to an error encountered during login. Before trying again, please clear your cache and cookies. (Clearing cache and cookies doesn't fix it.) At least 8 other bug reports have been duped to this one. The fault apparently lies with the Hotmail site, not Mozilla — maintainer Dave Garrett assigned the bug to Tech Evangelism, explaining: "I'll... move this over to TE, as my guess is this [is] the site's fault (just bad user agent sniffing?)."
cayenne8 sends us to Newteevee.com for a blog posting reporting from the Digital Living Room conference earlier this week. Gerard Kunkel, Comcast's senior VP of user experience, stated that the cable company is experimenting with different camera technologies built into its devices so it can know who's in your living room. Cameras in the set-top boxes, while apparently not using facial recognition software, can still somehow figure out who is in the room, and customize user preferences for cable (favorite channels, etc.). While this sounds 'handy,' it also sounds a bit like the TV sets in 1984. I am sure, of course, that Comcast wouldn't tap into this for any reason, nor let the authorities tap into this to watch inside your home in real time without a warrant or anything."