Wednesday, April 30, 2008

FINANCEHYPE: Shadow Government Statistics

Note: This article applies mostly to those living in the USA, at least until its brand of capitalism is (forcibly) exported to your neighborhood. Gas prices in the picture to the right are as at 2008-04-20 in San Francisco, CA.

Wondering why your wallet has been getting easier to fold up lately? Have you noticed that every time you go to the grocery store or the gas station, you're getting less for more? You're not the only one - and yes, you are getting screwed! The case could even be made that you're being lied to.

While the average American consumer suffers through ongoing price increases (milk, eggs, bread, rice, gasoline, etc.), the government's official line has been that the country is only experiencing moderate inflation. The presidential candidates continue to pander to the voting bloc du jour - drinking beer & whiskey, going bowling, proposing meaningless gas tax "breaks", and anything else that can create photo ops and sound bites to grab (i.e. divert) people's attention instead of seriously discussing the economy. This sort of behavior crosses ideological lines and party affiliations, so don't be fooled. It's apparently been the same for years.

However, John Williams has been keeping it real for the past 25 years or so, when he first realized that the government was using fuzzy math when calculating economic statistics. Here's an excerpt from his site, Shadow Government Statistics, explaining the information he's providing and why he's providing it:
Have you ever wondered why the CPI, GDP and employment numbers run counter to your personal and business experiences? The problem lies in biased and often-manipulated government reporting.

We offer an exposé of the problems within the reporting system, and an assessment of underlying economic reality. Despite minor changes to the system, government reporting has deteriorated sharply in the last decade or so.

There is good reason for the gap between common perceptions and government reporting: government data are biased in politically correct directions and increasingly have diverged from common experience and reality since the mid-1980s. Inflation and unemployment reports are understated, while employment and other economic data are overstated, deliberately.
So, to summarize, since the politicians couldn't make the numbers look good, they redefined them instead. Here's the CPI (consumer price inflation) chart, which may well track with your experience at the grocery store:

As you can see, the official story shouldn't really be believed (and that's putting it politely). The thick blue line shows what the CPI metric would be if calculated the same way that it was in 1980. The red line shows what they've actually been reporting over the same time period. One of these numbers has to be false... and no prizes for guessing which one.

Keep all of this in mind the next time you're paying the weekly vig at the gas station and you hear the talking heads on the radio telling you that it ain't really that bad. After all, who are you going to believe - them, or your lying eyes?

John Williams appears on CNN:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

PANICHYPE: Stuck In An Elevator For 41 Hours

I guess this video has been out there for awhile but I just ran across it. Pretty powerful stuff. The version on New Yorker's website has awesome music but this version has music by Flo Rida and, in my opinion, it really fits the video.

The story is about Nicholas White who had gone out for a smoke break and on his way back became stuck in elevator #30 in New York City’s McGraw-Hill building for 2 days!

Don't know about you but, I'd job and smoking. No way I would get in that elevator again.

ANIMALHYPE: Killer Killer Whales

Ever been to SeaWorld? Ever seen the (terrible) movie Free Willy? The Orca, or Killer Whale, as it's commonly known, is no harmless little fish. Here's a video from the people at Punta Norte Orca Research in Argentina that shows an Orca risking death by beaching itself in order to get its teeth into a baby seal (note that you may have to reload this page to see it again).

Reuters has more (2008-04-17):
PLAYA PUNTA NORTE, Argentina - A six-ton orca, or killer whale, torpedoes toward the beach, its dorsal fin cutting the Patagonian sea. It launches itself onto the sand in an explosion of water and foam. Before the waters die down, the orca is shaking its immense head from side to side with a sea lion pup clamped between his jaws.

Then the orca wriggles into position to catch a wave to carry it back out to sea. This is a rare occurrence, in which a whale seems to defy its instincts by coming onto land, risking death if it becomes stranded on the inhospitable beach.

Only seven orcas in the world are known to hunt this way, all of them members of a pod that patrols the coast of Patagonia's Valdes Peninsula at this time of year. It happens almost exclusively in March and April -- early autumn in the southern hemisphere -- when baby sea lions are learning to swim.

One of the favorite hunting spots is at Playa Punta Norte, the northern tip of the peninsula, where a deep channel leads up to the sand, passing between two rocky areas where sea lions breed. The sea lion pups learn to swim by crossing the channel between the rocks. Once they can swim well, they are too fast and agile for the orca. But the youngest ones, who stay on the sand at water's edge, are perfect prey.

The orcas can beach themselves several times a day, but this hunting method is risky. Whales can die if they remain out of water, so they have to time the waves and judge distances carefully. They use sonar -- orcas are members of the dolphin family -- to hunt, and only beach themselves in high tide, on steep and pebbly beaches that help them roll back.


Orcas are highly social and long-lived: females can live up to 80 years and males almost 60. But the pods grow slowly because orcas take at least 15 years to mature, the females have calves only every five years or so, and many of the calves die young.

"It's a culture at risk," Roberto Bubas, a ranger with 15 years of experience observing orcas in Patagonia, said of the hunting method, noting that of the seven, only five are teaching the technique to younger members of the pod. Mel, the 30-foot (9-meter) male who caught the baby sea lion on the beach was shadowed by a smaller apprentice, who shared the spoils of the hunt and followed the big expert up near the sand, but did not dare to beach itself.

The orcas, sea lions and penguins attracted 340,000 tourists to the Valdes Peninsula last year, when 36 cruise ships made stops nearby, three times as many as in 2002.
Makes you think twice about how sweet and cuddly Shamu is!

In fact, Orcas have attacked (and occasionally killed) great white sharks before. Here's a video of one such orca-great white encounter:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

OILHYPE: The Future of Dubai

So, have gas prices gotten to you yet?  It seems that day by day we are feeling the effects of rising prices at the pumps.  My grocery bill has gone up by about $40.00 a week and I am buying LESS!! Luckily, last year we saw the writing on the wall.  We traded in our older, gas hogs and bought brand new, ultra low emission, 35+ mpg Hondas.  I quit my job, so no more commute.  My husband telecommutes 3 days a week.  We still pay too much for gas but, man, it could have been so much worse.

Anyway, I was thinking about where all that money we pay for oil is really going.  Are the big oil company executives living in mansions and driving Ferraris?  If they are, the National Enquirer isn't getting any pictures.

Check this out:

Well that explains it! Somehow, it makes me want to go out and buy solar panels. I think they give really good rebates here in Colorado.

DEVICEHYPE: The Jet-Powered Beer Cooler

This is something that was published many years ago, but it's still well worth a read.

Imagine creating your own jet engine out of spare car parts. Impressive enough, but what would one do with such a device?

Well, as the author explains, one can use it to cool beer quickly. Think of a microwave in reverse (that analogy works only in the sense of how fast it works, not how it accomplishes the goal). Why is this so? Well, a jet engine uses a lot of fuel - propane in this case. Using a lot of fuel out of a propane tank in a short period of time will cool the tank rapidly, due to the ideal gas law (PV = nRT). Basically, if you decrease the volume of a gas (V) while maintaining the same pressure (P), the temperature (T) of the remaining gas has to drop (n and R are constants).

For a science lesson, follow the Wikipedia links above. For a great diversion, read all about the Jet-Powered Beer Cooler.
In New Zealand there are two things that are the essence of being a 'good Kiwi bloke'. These are of course playing rugby and having a shed.

Not being built for playing rugby I have had to go with the shed. I may not know a rugby hoop from a cricket stick but I know my shed like the head of my hammer. A shed is a place where a kiwi bloke spends much of his time alone surrounded by his tools, current and past half finished projects and the collection of parts and material usually referred to by others (typically wives/girlfriends) as 'that pile of junk'.


Unfortunately [a] small quantity of ice would not keep multiple beers cold during the course of a day in the shed. And no, you cannot, not under any circumstances, put ice into the beer. No!

It was obvious I had to come up with a better solution to the problem.

I knew from some long forgotten physics lecture that when a liquid expands into a gas it will draw heat from its surroundings. And I happened to have a source of a suitable liquid right in my shed in the form of a LPG cylinder (liquid petroleum gas). Obviously it would not do to evaporate vast quantities of a flammable gas into the closed confines of my garage. That would probably be dangerous. What I needed was a way to remove the dangerous gas. The solution was obvious. The gas is flammable so why not burn it. Burning the gas with a normal burner would not use up the gas fast enough to give me any serious cooling. What I needed was a way to use up a lot of fuel very, very quickly.

What I needed was a jet engine!
Gotta love those Kiwis!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


This is not a "gay" thing. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, just... this is not gay. It's just "the mother of all sports." From the dawn of civilization to a grassy field in Turkey some day soon, I give you Kirkpinar:

During the 636th annual Kırkpınar of Edirne, Agha (mc) Hüseyin Sahin agreed with Veyis Güngör (chairman of Türkevi Amsterdam) and Mohamed el-Fers (MokumTV Amsterdam) that they would unite their forces to promote historical oilwrestling in Europe and the world. Three days El-Fers filmed almost every match. On the September 4th 1996 MokumTV started a weekly program on the A1 Amsterdam channel. It proved to be the start of fast growing respect in Europe for this unique and highly esthetic ´mother of all sports´.

Hmmm... OK, maybe it's kinda gay, but y'know, that's not really the point -- I mean the ancient Greeks were kinda gay, let's face it, and they invented a bunch of crap, like, y'know, uhh... democracy, and geometry, and plays, and stuff... so there's nothing wrong with "gay", it's just -- that's not what this is. This is one of the great sporting spectacles in the world. Fit for days of sitting around drinking raki and smoking from a nargile while you root on your favorite (probably that cute boy, with the pecs). Like they say (with near-perfect coherence), at

"Kirkpinar Oil Wresting", which has been bounded with a tradition of almost 650 years, hosts persevering contests for a week, with the active participation of media, folk-dance groups, millions of spectators, artists and statesmen both from Turkey and all over the world, and with a varying array of activities every year.
The enthusiasm, which is brought to life by headwrestling [Headwrestling?!? Ed.] and other forms of wrestling contests, as well as the performances of the "Janissary Band" and local and foreign folk-dance groups throughout the contests, turns "Kirkpinar Oil Wresting" into a traditional festival.

If you think this is "gay", you get out there with these maniacs. You'll get your ass waxed! Uhh... and not in a "gay" way, either!

Er Meydanı Serik Pehlivanlar diyarı II.serik Güreşleri 2
Wikipedia and the history of Oil-Wrestling

SPORTSHYPE: The Old Ba' Game

If you're a man living in Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands (in the far north of Scotland, surrounded by ocean, where anything less than a 100-mph wind is considered a light breeze), what do you do on Christmas Day?

You play Ba'. You don't whine about how you might get hurt. You don't worry about the highly likely result of twisted fingers, black eyes, broken noses, and torn clothes - you MAN UP and join your side in the game that's been going on every year for hundreds of years. Either Uppie or Doonie, you'll participate... oh yes, you will.

The Washington Post has a fantastically well-written article on this sporting tradition, along with a whole lot of pictures to go with it. A montage is presented below (click the image to see a bigger version).

Here's a short excerpt from the article:
William Thomson's family had played this sport for centuries, so he understood that he needed to choose between two strategies for the annual Christmas day ba' game.

The scrawny 17-year-old could fight for the ball in the center of the riotous scrum, where more than 300 men would function as a human juicer, turning his face red, then purple. He would be scratched, punched, kneed and bitten. His ribs might break. He could pass out unconscious.

Or, Thomson could follow convention for players his size and stay near the edge of the scrum, pushing the pile. This would work well unless the ball popped out and the mob changed direction. Cars, gravestones, houses, strollers, hotel lobbies -- all had been kicked, shoved or trampled in pursuit of the ball during previous games. Anticipating such a stampede, business and homeowners in town had nailed wooden planks across their doors and windows. "If you're on the edge of the scrum and it turns on you," one veteran player said, "then you might as well be dead."

This, Thomson decided, was his safest option.


"You know, da'," [Sean Smith] said, "still not quite sure I'm playing this year."

"Hell you're not!" Kevin said, punching his brother in the shoulder. "What, you scared? Come on!"

"Naw, I'm too small," Sean said. "I could get killed in there."

"Ahh, it's not about size, never has been," [Ian] Smith said. "If I taught you boys one thing about the ba', it's that nothing matters but heart and effort. Don't make a damn difference if you're seven foot tall or four foot. You're a Smith, so you'll play. And you'll play Doonie."
Link to the article: Tradition | Why We Compete | The Old Ba' Game

And here's the complete photo gallery by the Post.

For more on this sporting tradition, check out

2008 Ba', Orkney

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

SCIENCEHYPE: Spiders on Drugs

You may have heard of these experiments, performed in the 60s, which involved dosing spiders with various drugs and observing the effects on web-building. The results are truly surprising:

Spiders on Drugs

LUXURYHYPE: Blancpain CGI Action Video

If you've ever wondered what makes a real watch tick, then this article is for you. Watches labeled "automatic" are not powered by batteries, but rather by the traditional method of springs, gears, jewels, ratchets, and the like. The easy way to tell if a watch is an automatic model is to look at the second hand - if it ticks from one second to the next, it's a battery-powered quartz model. If it sweeps, it's an automatic. However, beware of the many knock-off and outright counterfeit products out there, which may exhibit different behaviors than expected.

First, check out a video of the movement (interior, or guts, if you will) of one of Blancpain's models. It's very well done, and the music is surprisingly un-annoying.

Blancpain also has a model with the Equation Marchante complication that's worth reading about if you have any kind of appreciation for astronomy. If that doesn't amaze you, have a look at the article on Europastar called "The Frenzy of the Third Dimension".

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and be forewarned: many people have taken a look at this world and fallen completely into it.