Archive for September, 2009

New nuclear facility construction in Iran

September 30, 2009

In keeping with the safeguard agreement that the IAEA be informed before an enrichment facility comes online, Iran informed the IAEA on September 21 that it had a new nuclear facility under construction. By informing the IAEA, Iran fulfilled its obligations under the safeguards agreement. The IAEA will inspect the facility and monitor the nuclear material produced to make sure it is not diverted to a weapons program.

Despite these unequivocal facts, Obama announced on September 25 that Iran has been caught with a “secret nuclear facility” with which to produce a bomb that would threaten the world.

As much as I think that Bush mislead the american public into invading Iraq, what I read about the recent incident over a “secret nuclear plant” in Iran seems more balanced than what Paul Craig Roberts states above.

According to the NPR report, Obama claims that the disclosure by Iran came after the project was discovered already, which seems plausible.

Iran may not technically bound to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the new plant construction before it is completed, you have to admit this doesn’t inspire trust. But it is not a smoking gun either and doesn’t warrant all the media ruckus.

I know little about why Iran is in the cross-hair of a number of countries (with the US in the front row) and I assume there are legitimate reasons, but it is still hard to imagine what it must be like to live in such a country under international pressure and threats. Regardless, we should not demonize each others.

Finally, Roberts’ article above seems to pull a quote from the IAEA report from Sep 7 which doesn’t relate to the same context. In short, that report states that Iran is compliant but not especially cooperative, and has not yet agreed to the new protocol for disclosing new constructions before completion. But the quote states that the IAEA has passed on the information it has collected, which has nothing to do with Iran being transparent.

The Rise and Fall of the Dollar: 1800-2009

September 28, 2009

Sean Malone has created this wonderful graphic summary of the rise and fall of the US dollar from 1800 until now:


The FED has been inflating the dollar since its creation (1914). The effect since WWII is dramatic, as the dollar lost 90% of its value since during that time even as productivity improved.

Measuring the “discount factor”

September 26, 2009

Shane Frederick’s presentation looks at time preference and personal identity. In short people evaluate and compare future events and near events very differently.

The video shows two interesting graphs: the measure and uncertainty of the speed of light, in physics, over the course of the century, and the measure of the “discount factor”, in experimental economics.

Over time, the speed of light was measured with greater accuracy and experiments confirmed each other more. Not so for the discount factor which is a supposed constant in mainstream economics.


Also, he makes a vain attempt at predicting how people values different goods at different points in time. One study shows that people prefer increasing sequences compared to decreasing sequences, which may seem irrational or counter to a positive time preference (sooner is better). This is due to a psychological bias, people don’t like loosing what they have.

But it does not invalidate that people necessarily have positive time preference for identically serviceable goods.


Sneakey: duplicating keys from a photograph

September 26, 2009

Good resolution image + some image processing software = duplicated keys.

The Cold War Fraud

September 26, 2009

For fifty years after the end of World War II, the United States based much of its Cold War strategy on the principle that the Soviet Union thought nothing of nuclear annihilation. In order to counter the communist hordes from the east, the United States spent itself into insolvency building up its defense forces, both conventional and nuclear. American leaders spared no expense – in terms of taxpayer treasure or military conscripts’ blood – to counter the postwar communist threat. With 58,000 American lives wasted in Vietnam, thousands of troops stationed in Europe, Japan, and Korea for decades, and billions spent on nuclear weapons to scare the Soviet Union into tempering its imperialistic advance, how well did American leaders assess and respond to the Soviet Union’s threat? Not well at all, according to a study declassified by the National Security Archives on September 11, 2009. The newly issued assessment highlights just how bad American intelligence functioned over that time period despite the immense resources dedicated to its efforts.


(…) American officials “[erred] on the side of overestimating Soviet aggressiveness” and underestimated “the extent to which the Soviet leadership was deterred from using nuclear weapons.” Furthermore, the study claims that the American authorities’ ineptitude in judging Soviet military intentions “had the potential [to] mislead … U.S. decision makers in the event of an extreme crisis.” Unsurprisingly, the study confirms the role of the military industrial complex in perpetuating the decades-long state of panic. The text shows how “the defense industrial complex, not the Soviet high command, played a key role in driving the quantitative arms buildup” and thereby “led U.S. analysts to … exaggerate the aggressive intentions of the Soviets.”


The BDM report unhinges one of the basic principles underlying the historiography of the Cold War – the idea that only “mutually assured destruction” prevented nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Contrary to what our government and all its vendors wanted us to believe during the Cold War, evidence has now surfaced that the Soviet leaders feared dying in a nuclear conflagration, just as much as Americans did.


The U.S. federal government today seems to exist purely for its own aggrandizement. (…) And for fifty years, our “intelligence” authorities pursued leads that now appear to have been more the products of their fertile imaginations than anything based on information gleaned in the course of their work. No crisis goes to waste in our current regime. 

Evgeny Morozov: How the Net aids dictatorships

September 25, 2009

Examples of how dictatorships and governments embrace the web and use it for their own means, from fake bloggers and spinning real ones. Also talks about the unrealistic ideal that internet magically creates change and helps overthrow tyranny.

Jonathan Zittrain: The Web as random acts of kindness

September 25, 2009

Great talk about the decentralized nature of the internet and the common reliance on non-monetary incentives (network admins, bloggers, wikipedians). Many successful projects (wikipedia, couch surfing) can initially seem absurd and doomed to fail.
And yet it floats.

Thanks to blurry crowd of technical bloggers whose posts help me day in and day out. Special thanks to Tim Berners-Lee and the internet pioneers before him.

An inventory of the invisible

September 19, 2009

Witty presentation about physics and metaphysics.

How we think about other people’s thoughts

September 18, 2009

RTPJ is a special brain region that helps us think about other people’s thoughts.
It is late developing. It develops thru childhood and adolescence.
Pirate experiment with sandwich.
The pirate makes an honest mistake, but a 3 year old cannot see that. He should not be punished, but a 5 year old cannot see that. A 7 year old understands that the pirate didn’t mean to take the wrong sandwich and should not be punished.

RTPJ helps us judge the role of someone else, because we account of their state of mind as we perceive it. Sugar/poison experiment and using magnetic pulse to interfere with our judgment.

Funny Greenspan quote: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”

You gotta love cute neuroscientists 😉

Feynman on probability and uncertainty

September 13, 2009

Watch the presentation (thanks Bill).

Feynman gives a captivating talk using the double slit experiment which shows that electrons and photons have both lump behaviors (like bullets) and interference (like waves), and that observation can destroy the interference behavior. Quantum physics is not analogous to anything we know from our daily experience.


Observation messes up interference:

The probability of any event in an ideal experiment (that just means when everything is specified as well as it can be), the probability of an event is the square of something, which is called the probability amplitude. And when an event can occur in several alternative ways, the probabilty amplitude ‘A’ is the the sum of the of the A’s for each of the various alternatives. And finally, if an experiment is performed which is capable of determining which alternative is taken, the probability of the event is is the sum of the probabilities for each alternative – that is, you lose the interference.

The probability amplitude is an complex number whose absolute value squared represents a probability (real positive numbers).


Limits of predictability:

The uncertainty of quantum physics is a feature of the fundamental law. It is not due to our lack of detailed knowledge that we cannot make a prediction. We know that there is no hidden variable or machinery for us to discover and understand.

Someone said it this way: “nature herself doesn’t know which way the electron is going to go”.


How does science work in presence of the unknowable?

A philosopher once said (a pompous one): “it is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results”.

Well, they don’t. (…)

They don’t, and yet the science goes on in spite of him.

What is necessary for the very existence of science is just the ability to experiment, the honesty in reporting results (…) and finally, an important thing, is the intelligence to interpret the results. But the important point about this intelligence is: that it must not – it should not – be sure ahead of time about what must be. (…)

I don’t mean absolute prejudice, just bias. But not strict bias, not complete prejudice.

As long as you’re biased, it doesn’t make any difference because if the fact is true, there will be a perpetual accumulation of experiments to perpetually annoy you, until they cannot be disregarded any longer.