Friday, November 28, 2008

I Memristor You

Big changes could be coming to your computer in the very near future. The change I am looking forward to the most is instant on computing. Imagine pushing a button and seconds later just like your TV or radio your computer is ready to use.

Earlier this year scientists at HP have demonstrated a workable switching memristor. First conceived by Leon Chua in a 1971, the theoretical memristor was an idea waiting for material sciences to catch up. He believed that a fourth device was required to provide conceptual symmetry with the resistor, inductor, and capacitor. The memristor is needed to complete the basic passive circuit elements as defined by a relation between two of the four fundamental circuit variables, namely voltage, current, charge and flux. The venerable resistor is such a passive element as it relates to voltage and current giving us V = R × I or I = V / R or R = V / I, known as the formulas of Ohm's Law. The once theoretical memristor fills this role in the capacitance/inductance/resistive triad.

What this means in practical terms for the continuation of Moore's law - that shrinking transistor sizes, and by extention computing power would double approximately every two years - is that far fewer switching memristors could replace many transistors on a given circuit thus increasing the speed and density of the circuit. Given that fact that memristors can "remember" their current state even when power is removed is really the key to their potential.

In theory memristors can be combined into devices called crossbar latches, which would replace many of the transistors in our future computers. With circuits taking up a much smaller area computers can be smaller and more powerful than ever. The exciting concept for everyday computer users is that memristors can also be fashioned into non-volatile solid-state memory, which would create far greater data density than on existing hard drive technology with access speeds similar to DRAM. This could spell the end of hard drives, the single biggest source of failure in current computer architecture. HP has reported that its version of the memristor is about one-tenth the speed of DRAM - for now...

Increasing computer performance has usually meant shrinking components so that more transistors can be packed onto a circuit. However, transistors can't get much smaller. Instead, this breakthrough will allow the removal of some transistors to be replaced by a smaller number of memristors. The only thing keeping Moore's Law afloat right now since CPU speeds have seemingly reached their limit is stacking multiple cores per CPU.

The next few years will be very important for memristor research. Right now, "the biggest impediment to getting memristors in the marketplace is having so few people who can actually design circuits using memristors," Stan Williams, a senior research fellow at HP says. Still, he boldly predicts that memristors will arrive in commercial circuits within three years.

We have already seen the power of miniturization - just look at the computing power of a cell phone. Can implantable computers for our brains be far behind with developments like these? I for one could use a little more non-volitile RAM upstairs - if you know what I mean. I aint getting any younger.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Shall We Dance... The Economic Limbo

How low can we go?

Having lived through the better part five decades now I have seen good economic times and I have seen bad economic times. In recent times we have been repeatedly told by the dominant media that the economy was bad even when it was quite good. When I would hear young people complain about the bad economy when unemployment was under 5%, interest rates were ridiculously low and the stock market was heading north I would remind them of the 1970's. Blank stares ensued. They had no idea what bad times were. This is all about to change.

Unemployment is on the rise, nearing 7%. Home prices continue to plummet. There are real fears that one or more of Detroit's Big Three could go bankrupt. What's worse is the people who should know have no idea what is happening.

Two years ago (about the time the Democrats assumed control of Congress strangely enough) the economy was very good by the numbers. This was right before gas prices at the pump began to skyrocket. Very few pundits on CNBC or at CNN Money or CBS MarketWatch were predicting what has happened.

Alarm bells have been wringing about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the looming subprime meltdown for years. With the media having marginalized every word that came from the present administration no one outside of a few Republicans in Congress took heed of the President's repeated warnings regarding Fannie and Freddie. Therein lies his failure in all of this. He allowed himself to be ignored and while he held the White House and the Republicans held both houses of Congress they didn't get it done. On this they were right, and yet they failed miserably.

President Bush acknowledged today that the financial crisis was caused by many factors including "government inaction and mistaken actions, outdated U.S. and global financial regulatory systems, and by the excessive risk-taking of financial institutions." The inaction I described above, the mistaken action was Clinton era policies regarding CRA legislation and loosening time honored lending and underwriting practices. The sharks on Wall Street buoyed by fresh blood entering the investment pool gobbled up the good and the bad... The bad was really bad.

The new subprime culture was a house of cards built on the faulty premise that housing and real estate values would increase forever. Once home values began to fall the landslide became an avalanche.

There is one bit of good economic news: The average price of gasoline is now less than $2 a gallon for the first time since March 2005, down 52% from the peak of $4.11 in July. Surely $147 per barrel was an aberration, especially the speed of the increase. I remember writing months ago when the pump price were merely $3 a gallon that there was nothing about these economic woes that $1.99 gas wouldn't cure. I am holding out hope that I was correct.

The sudden shock of $150 a barrel oil has created a bubble that needs to move through the economy. Manufacturers that require petroleum in their operations and of course the transportation industry have been slammed. We have been slammed right along with them. When prices increase exponentially behaviors change. People stop buying things and companies stop hiring. One of the things people stop buying is large gas guzzling cars. With the American auto industry already on life support $4 a gallon gas was like the doctor pulling the plug.

Is it really all that mysterious what is going on? If you think about your own life and assess what your biggest expenses are outside of taxes (which is the biggest expense of all) it is housing and transportation... These are the things our economy revolves around. Both have been subject to a massive shock.

As a colleague of mine pointed out today the bubble caused by the oil shock has to work its way through the system. People and businesses are scared. But the psychological impact of that sign at the local gas station is immense. More than one person has said to me that it seems surreal to see the price so low just weeks after it was in the upper $3 range. What should be welcoming and comforting is disquieting instead. If, and that's a big IF, gas prices at the pump stabilize somewhere near $1.99 a gallon I believe the economy will make the turn.

Real estate has never been worth zero and it can't keep falling forever. We have to be near the bottom... Right?


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The General's E.D. problem

In a previous post on the disposition of General Motors and a possible "bailout" I cited the fact that GM has legacy costs that have an effect on the bottom line, things the foreign competition just doesn't have to deal with.

Well, I read today that GM is the world's largest private purchaser of Viagra. No, you read it right. Is it any wonder why the cost of a Chevy is inflated. My God, I truly hope the next time I go to put my GM car into gear the stick shift lever doesn't go limp on me - how embarrassing!

Yes, Virgina, Viagra is written right into the union contract. During the last round of renegotiation's with the UAW regarding the co-pay GM was able to get it up to $18.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Suicide is Painless: Part II RIP GM

First off I just don't buy it when people say that Detroit and GM make crappy cars. I will concede that Toyota and Honda are a cut above in many respects, but that does not equate to GM builds shitty vehicles. I hear people say that Detroit offers nothing but huge SUV's - yes, they produce the ridiculous Hummer - but Toyota and Nissan and some of the German makers are marketing huge SUV's too, as well as cars with 400-500 horse power engines and no one gripes about them. When GM Ford and Chrysler decided years ago to cede the small car market to Japan instead of creating decent, efficient cars - even at a loss - they set into motion the world they live with today. It was a huge mistake.

Detroit has problems, this is true. They also have overhead and mandates that the foreign competition just doesn't have to deal with. When they poured all their efforts into SUV's and luxury add-ons instead of innovations in economomizing and developing hybrid-type options it was another major mistake. But they also had to be able to support the outrageous UAW and other legacies of a bygone era and large profitable vehicles were the only path they could follow.

Bottomline: The whole thing is unsustainable in today's reality. So, now what?

Bailout or Bankruptcy?

A bailout will either lead to a nationalized industry because the bailouts will never end or a total collapse when they do. Any government money will come with demands that the management of these companies be sacrificed - and replaced with whom? Government bureaucrats? Such a nationalized industry will not be efficient and will surely not be able to truly compete on the quality front with the imports. In the end it will fail anyway.

Bankruptcy MAY be the best option. Chapter 11 filing would give the company breathing room. The government can jump in to cushion the blow to the workforce as things get sorted out. In the end GM and the others will be smaller, more efficient - and better - companies.

Michael Levine makes an excellent case for bankruptcy in his Wall Street Journal piece today.

According to Levine: unless we are willing to support GM as it is indefinitely, the downsizing and asset-shedding will have to come anyway. Even if it builds cars as attractive and environmentally responsible as those Honda and Toyota will be building, they won't be able to carry the weight of GM's past.

Therein lies the key, a modern manufacturing company in this era in America has got to shed its past.

Levine sums it up with the plain truth: GM as it is cannot survive without long-term government life support. If it gets that support, it can't change enough and won't change fast enough. Contrary to Mr. Wagoner's brave declaration, bankruptcy is an option. In fact, it's the only option that merits public support and actually has a chance at succeeding.

Both Ford and GM say they are on the cusp of success with the measures they have taken in the last few years. The UAW has made concessions too. But this problem is decades old now. The Japanese, Koreans and even the Germans have somehow delivered good vehicles in the context of a good business model - why has it taken the American companies so long? Now in the midst a global economic meltdown the Big Three are not healthy enough to stand on their own.

As a GM owner and booster I really want this company to survive because I believe America simply has to build cars - it is a vital part of who we are. As GM goes so goes America.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Suicide is Painless: RIP GOP

The Grand Old Party is Dead

Randall Hoven over at The American Thinker site lays out an impassioned case for calling the "Time of Death" for the Republican Party. It's hard to argue with any of it. He lays the cause of death squarely at the feet of President Bush - - like I said it's hard to argue...

I won't go into it since Mr. Hoven has done a good job of it himself, but here is the gist of it:

Republicans had branded themselves as the Party of low taxes, responsible spending and limited government. Virtually everything President Bush has done since his tax cuts in 2001 has been the exact opposite.

* Prescription coverage for Medicare and Medicaid, the largest expansion of entitlements since LBJ.
* No Child Left Behind, sponsored by Ted Kennedy and leading to even more Federal intrusion into education and doubling federal spending on education.
* Increased steel and lumber tariffs.
* Ending the Freedom to Farm effort and expanded ethanol subsidies.
* Increases in the minimum wage, the first in 10 years.

* Increasing spending from about 18.4% of GDP to 20% and more, and turning surpluses into deficits.
* Campaign Finance Reform.
* And almost forgot, our President had the Justice Dept. file an amicus brief to weaken the 2nd Amendment in the Heller case.

How long can you go on speechifying about the free market or limited government when this is your track record?

He's right. Where to now for those still believe in it?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I read that Barack Obama quit ingesting any media reports as the campaign progressed. He stopped watching cable TV news, quit reading the blogs, the New York Times and eventually all media toward the end. Instead he relied on staff to flag important articles and developments.

Well, I seem to remember the cackling buffoons on CNN, MSNBC and your Michael Moores and Bill Mahers of the world castigating President Bush for the same thing - calling him incurious and too stubborn to listen to differing opinions.

Well, I understand that Obama needed to protect himself from the slings and arrows that could make anyone question their beliefs, whether up was down or left was right. But, I'm sorry, Barack Obama received a mere fraction of the enemy fire that Bush did (from day one). So why can't we just accept that Bush was protecting himself too?

It turns out Bush is one of the best read Presidents we've ever had. He especially sought out history books. Many authors reported being tickled to see Bush climb down from Air Force One or the helicopter on the White House lawn with their book in his hand.

I'm not trying to cheer lead for Bush - but I will point out double standards when I see them.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

A New Painting

A good friend of mine returned from her mountain hiking adventure with a series of photos that really caught my eye. This is Lyman Lake in the shadow of Dirty Face Peak. It will be our little secret that Dirty Face Peak is the mountain you don't see on the right...

"Lyman Lake At Dirty Face Peak"
18 X 24 (acrylic)

This painting was based on a series of photos by Jen Oberg. I was very happy with the way it turned out. It will soon adorn a wall in her house.

Be sure to visit my online art gallery when you have the time...


Friday, November 07, 2008

A Decent Man, not the devil

Yesterday I saw George W. Bush implore his staff and those working in his administration to assist Barack Obama in a seamless transition. Despite the picture painted of him by Hollywood and the entertainment industry he is not the devil. Bush, like his father before him, is a decent man. Neither were particularly good Presidents in total. In my lifetime there has been perhaps one man who was a good President but even that's debatable... I speak of Reagan, but he had his foibles as well.

Yesterday I also saw a headline in my local paper on the editorial page that said "Now it's Time To Work Together". I just sighed. What about the last eight years? Wasn't that the time to work together? Could the Iraq war, the aftermath of Katrina and a host of other situations have been more successful if the media, the Democrats and the American people "worked together" instead of knee-jerking everything against the President? We will never know. Just declaring Bush a divisive figure in American politics on every newscast does not make it so.

I have my problems with Bush and have chronicled them in this blog. But he, like all Presidents, has a thankless job and Mr. Obama will find out soon enough that it's lonely at the top.

Michael Gerson has an interesting piece at that looks at the decency and humanity of President Bush. I leave you with the final few paragraphs:

Many conservatives view Medicare, education reform and foreign assistance as heresies. Many liberals refuse to concede Bush's humanity, much less his achievements.

But that humanity is precisely what I will remember. I have seen President Bush show more loyalty than he has been given, more generosity than he has received. I have seen his buoyancy under the weight of malice and his forgiveness of faithless friends. Again and again, I have seen the natural tug of his pride swiftly overcome by a deeper decency -- a decency that is privately engaging and publicly consequential.

Before the G-8 summit in 2005, the White House senior staff overwhelmingly opposed a new initiative to fight malaria in Africa for reasons of cost and ideology -- a measure designed to save hundreds of thousands of lives, mainly of children under 5. In the crucial policy meeting, one person supported it: the president of the United States, shutting off debate with a moral certitude that others have criticized. I saw how this moral framework led him to an immediate identification with the dying African child, the Chinese dissident, the Sudanese former slave, the Burmese women's advocate. It is one reason I will never be cynical about government -- or about President Bush.

For some, this image of Bush is so detached from their own conception that it must be rejected. That is, perhaps, understandable. But it means little to me. Because I have seen the decency of George W. Bush.

Good luck Mr. President in your civilian life - I am confident that as Iraq progresses into a successful nation your legacy will progress too.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Dude, Where's My Politics?

I have been a political junkie since I was seven years old. It was 1968 and the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party was none other than Hubert Humphrey. I was a huge Humphrey guy right from the start. You see Humphrey was from my home state - and that was good enough for me.

I followed the election closer than a seven year old should and was quite devastated when he lost to Richard Nixon. We hated Nixon. Humphrey, Humphrey he's our man, Nixon belongs in the garbage can. Yeah, that was the mantra back then and as it turns out we were right. Just think how different history would be if Humphrey had won.

For one thing there would have been no McGovern and the Democratic party might not be the socialist organization it has come to be today. Humphrey was the happy warrior, he was for social justice, real social justice not "just" socialism. He was an ardent anti-communist and a pro-growth capitalist. He was what the Democratic party used to be before LBJ and George McGovern destroyed it.

Sure I continued to follow Democrats and root for them over the pro business Republicans because Democrats were for the "little guy" and Republicans were for big business. At least this is what I heard constantly from both my union democrat parents.

By the time I could vote I was already beginning to sour on the Democrats (and I couldn't vote Republican, that would've been a sin). I voted for Anderson in 1980. I know, I know I was 18 - what the heck did I know.

In 1984 I could not vote against Reagan - after all the country had already made the turn and everything was looking up after the mess Carter had left. But my conversion was not completed yet. I did not like George Bush 41 for whatever reason and this Bill Clinton guy was new kind of Democrat, not like the fools that had taken over the party. Or so I thought.

Well 92 was the last time I ever voted for a tax raising Democrat at the national level (including my Senators).

In the early 90's I was starting to earn decent money and was raising a family. The first thing that Clinton did was raise my taxes. My quarterly bonus at work was a cool $1000 and I would net $750 or so. I had come to rely on that money and worked hard to make my bonus every quarter. Well after Clinton's tax hike my net was $530. My $1000 was cut in half because Clinton taxed bonuses differently than wages. What a slap in the face!

I am not an anarchist, I do believe in paying taxes. But, my friends, no one can justify confiscating nearly 50% of my money. Particularly when we all know the government is wasteful and inefficient from the get go. When all is boiled down taxes is the issue I vote on primarily.

I continued to love politics and the political season, even in the off years, it was my favorite time of year. George W. Bush was a no brainer ( no pun intended) for me. He said he would (and he DID) lower my taxes. But little did I know that was the beginning of the end.

The 2000 election was so bitter, but I thought it was merely a speed bump, an anomaly, and things would return to the normal rancorous, good-natured mud slinging. But 2002 and then 2004 were so nasty that I really thought it could get no worse. But 2006 was so bad and the nasty piling on of G.W. Bush was unrelentingly awful - if even a tenth of the things they said about him were true then Hitler and Stalin would have to move over from their lowly places in hell to make room for Bush. But Bush is and was a good man, a terrible politician, and and awful communicator but he is not the devil.

Come "You Decide 2008" and I hate politics. I hate it. The media is so partisan and complicit with ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, NYT, WaPo, MSNBC and, well etc, etc for the Democrats and Fox News and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal for the Rebublicans. No one even tells half truths anymore.

I refuse to watch it on the TV anymore. Obama and Biden are so flipping smug they make me want to puke and McCain and Palin sound like imbeciles half the time. They try to keep up with the Democrats when the deck is tilted so far to the left the cash contributions are falling off the table.

Honestly, Republicans are just not inspiring at all. They had the better part of a decade to earn the respect of the electorate and they blew it by selling out to special interests and feathering their own nests. Instead of standing up to the socialists they buckled at every opportunity (including and especially John McCain).

Come tomorrow I'll get up and go to polling place with all the enthusiasm I would muster for getting a planter's wart removed. I am so sad.

All I can say is - dude, where's my politics?