Douwe Osinga's Blog: May 2003

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Euro revival

So the Euro rebounded and the economists all around the world scramble to come up with reasons to explain the behaviour, reasons that are not to incompatible with the reasons they used to explain the rise of the dollar. I guess that is what economists do.

I came up with another reason, one I haven't really read about anywhere else, so I thought, why not post it. Black money. Have a look at the grap below:

The most obvious thing to note is that the Euro went lower and lower until the end of 2000, when it started to go up again. This is the point when the physicial Euro was introduced. Before 2001 the Euro was only a calculation unit.

So people don't trust virtual currencies and that's why they all bought dollars? Hardly. I think it is more like this. All around the planet people have huge amounts of cash dollars and other currencies as their savings, because they don't really trust the economic stearmanship of their leaders. When it was announced that all Deutchmarks, French Francs and the smaller currencies would go and be replaced by something else, these people naturally changed their holdings into Dollars. Now that they can acutally touch the Euro, they're switching back.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Google Answers online

I just put google answers online. This little script uses google to answer historical questions, ie you give it a search term and it returns when something happened. Works only for the last 200 years, unfortunately.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Gas heaters with more than 100% efficiency

Of course this is nothing new, but today was the first day I heard about it. Gas heating with an efficiency of more then 100%. It seems improbable. You burn the gas, make heat and without miss, some of this heat escapes to the outside world. The heat you keep is always less then 100% and the best gas heaters are indeed around 90% efficient.

But you can beat this. Imagine a refrigerator with the door removed and the gap to the outside of the house. All the energy that the fridge needs is converted into warmth and kept inside the house. But the machine also produces coldness, which is blown outside. Since you cannot make something colder, without making something else hotter, the house should be warming up. Ergo, the house is getting warmer then the solely the energy used for the refrigerator.

This works because although energy is energy and you cannot create or lose it, some energy is of higher quality than others. You cannot collect small differences of temperatures and put them together to create a big difference of temperature, without sacrificing some higher quality energy in the process. But gas represents high quality energy and you can use this high quality energy to do just that: use a warmth pump to collect small differences in temperature to make the temperature of the house nicer.

The interesting thing is that somebody, Co van Liere, succeeded in converting this idea into an actually working machine. Gas is used to make a bit of warmth and some electricity. The electricity is used for the warmth pump. Theoretically this could make a gas heater over four times as efficient. Currently a 100% increase of efficiency is possible. Clever.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

The cost of patents

A lot of people who think they have good ideas from time to time, decide that getting a patent costs too much money. From 10.000 USD who can call yourself a certified inventor. Of course this is rather more then I am willing to spend on a good idea I have in a pub. Are patents to expensive? How much should they cost?

It seems that patents are very expensive for a private Edison and rather cheap for the big companies. But if you think about it, is is not so unreasonable. Patents are there to protect inventors against copying and to allow them to create a viable business from there ideas. Patents should not protect guys in a pub with a weird idea that are never going to to anything else with it except for when a big company comes up with the same thing. That wouldn't make any sense macro-economically speaking. So if you have this great idea, it should only be protected when you also want to make an economic success out of the idea, ie build a company around it. In that case 10.000. is not so outrageous. If you're not going to invest 10K in your company, your not serious.

What about giving patents cheaper to private persons then to companies? Wouldn't that protect the little guy and extract some more from the big companies that can afford it? Actually no. Patents for private persons who do not have plans to build a company around the patent, don't deserve patent protection, so you might as well give patents only to companies. It would make more sense to create a special kind of company with a patent as asset. Founding such a company would be the same thing as applying for a patent. If granted, the inventor could then start selling shares in the idea, because the shares in the idea are the same as the shares in the company.

Friday, May 2, 2003

Cruelty to animals

Bird flue rages through my home country, the Netherlands. We have a history of efficient farming, but lately one cannot but wonder if something has gone wrong. This is the fourth major animal dissease striking in a couple of years (after swine fever, cow maddness and foot-and-mouth disease). What is wrong with the industry.

One thing that isn't right about it, is that diseases like this are treated like disasters, that is the governemnt pays for the costs. If it happened once every century, I could see that and it would be ok to compensate the farmers. But now? If something like this happens every couple of years, then it is part of the way agriculture works nowadays. If the governemnt keeps cleaning up after the farmers, there is no real reason for the farmers to do something about the real reasons of the diseases. Better have some farmers go broke then kill a few million animals every year extra.

Muslim fanaticism

Lately I have been wondering about moslim fanaticism. When you think about it, they aren't really that fanatic. You hear about the thousands of suicide attackers that voluntarily went to Iraq. But there were only two cases of suicide attacks and they might have been not so voluntary after all. It is not that much for a really fanatic religion.

I'll admit that the 9/11 attack was pretty spectacular, but the number of attacks on the US are rather limited. If you compare the fanaticism on display by muslims with what the Nazi's or the Japanese did in World War II, the muslims seem rather soft. Back then they didn't have precision bombing, but the Axis armies got a lot of bombs on them and kept fighting, even when it was completely clear that they didn't stand a chance. Both in Iraq and Afghanistan they so called fanatics ran after a few weeks of bombing. The Serves in Kosovo were a lot harder to beat.

Sure, the muslim fanatics talk big about the Great Satan and how they are going to drive Israel into the ocean, but there is not a lot of action going on. If there was, they would have overthrown more then just the Persian Shah.

Real Politik

The whole Iraq thing showed once again that foreign policy is nothing more then real politik. Morals and ethics is nothing more then dressing up of power play. Right is might. Is this a sad affair? Sure, a world wide democratic system would be better, but let's not confuse the current UN one country one vote system with democracy on a global scale. Countries are not people. A majority of countries doesn't mean much. If the countries themselves aren't democracies, then such a majority doesn't mean anything.

Where does this leave the UN? Well, the General Assembly doesn't mean much, so maybe we should get rid of it. The security council is a different story. Real Politik doesn't mean that you can't have a security council; it just means that the weight of the votes of each country in the security council should be proportional to the power of that country. If that in turn means that the US should have majority of votes, well, then the Security Council is obsolete; the US can do whatever they want. But if that is the case, there is really nothing much one can do.

In other words, if Europe really had wanted to stop the US in Iraq, then why didn't they have the power to do so. If you don't want to spend the money on getting the power, you're not really interested in these things. The total spending power of the EU governments is a lot more then that of the US government. The security council is a platform for powerful nations, that is the idea. If the nations in question refuse to be powerful, they loose their relevance for the platform.

The war is over

So, the war is sort of over, or has it just begun? You seem to hear more of the Syria-is-next theory lately. Let's try and hold in the Bush-bashing for a bit here and assume that indeed the Americans are riding out to spread the good gospel of democracy. What should be next? Syria is probably not very high on the list.

The number one spot on the evil list is pretty secure. North Korea. No other country is as much a thread for its neighbors, the world at large and its own population. The problem of course is that they probably do have nukes and Seoul is pretty close by. The world economy wouldn't survive such a conflict.

If the war mongers in Washington would like to please the lefties for once, then they could do worse then attack Myanmar, a country high on the list of evil regimes for your average protester. Attacking it would of course bring back pictures of Viet Nam, with the same kind of jungle and difficult fighting conditions.

Africa offers numerous options for the changing of nasty regimes. Congo springs to mind of course with a good two million dead over the last few years. Sudan decided to abolish slavery for like the tenth time, so that can't be good. And then there are the truly failed states of West Africa. Civil war started in Liberia, then spread to Sierra Leone, caught on in Guinea and now the old success story of Cote d'Ivoire is threatened. Send in the marines indeed. And we'll always have Somalia.

The bottom line of course is that regime changing is not really about spreading democracy where it is most needed. It is a complex mixture of economic and military arguments. The well being of the planet is a small part in that. And even if it was about democracy, do we really trust one country to decide what is democratic and what isn't? That wouldn't be very democratic.