Sunday, April 26, 2009

Augmented reality

Earbuds can pipe audio directly from a portable player to the ear. But did you ever imagine that eyeglasses or contact lenses could deliver digital images directly from a smartphone to the retina?

Several companies are developing prototypes for digital devices that look like stylish eyewear but may one day offer such capabilities to consumers. The glasses are called heads-up displays because the wearer can always look through them and see the real world — like the sidewalk just ahead — but can also see, on an overlay image, virtual information like an electronic map or an arrow showing the correct way to a destination. The glasses may also help the wearer remember the name of a long-lost friend she sees on the street. ...

Contact lenses are also being developed for mobile displays. Babak A. Parviz, an associate professor of electrical engineering, with his team at the University of Washington in Seattle, has created a biocompatible contact lens that has miniaturized electronics and optoelectronics integrated into the lens.
--Anne Eisenberg, NYT, on seeing the world like a Terminator does

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese -- I understand it's a rather difficult language -- do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here? ... Can't you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that's easier for Americans to deal with?
--Texas state representative Betty Brown on Asian-American voters who are somehow not quite American

The Indian perspective:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Shooting fish in a barrel

If the pirates' heads were fully exposed, it would have been an easy shot. A sniper rifle is accurate to within a "minute of angle," provided the shooter can keep his or her target in the crosshairs. That means that a good marksman can reliably hit a 1-inch target at 300 feet and reliably kill someone at 3,000 feet. The bobbing of the lifeboat would have been a factor, but snipers regularly shoot at moving targets from moving vehicles. (Advanced Navy SEAL training includes target practice from helicopters.)
--Brian Palmer, Slate, on the benefits of being a citizen of a global hegemon

The Red Sox should recruit samurai

Friday, April 10, 2009

Collateral is king

Over 400 years ago Shakespeare explained that to take out a loan one had to negotiate both the interest rate and the collateral level. It is clear which of the two Shakespeare thought was the more important. Who can remember the interest rate Shylock charged Antonio? But everybody remembers the pound of flesh that Shylock and Antonio agreed on as collateral. The upshot of the play, moreover, is that the regulatory authority (the court) decides that the collateral level Shylock and Antonio agreed upon was socially suboptimal, and the court decrees a different collateral level. The Fed too should sometimes decree different collateral levels.
--John Geanakpolos, "The Leverage Cycle," on the importance of collateral

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The case for Israel bombing Iran

From the standpoint of international relations theory, the scariest thing about recent Israeli rhetoric is that an attack on Iran lines up quite well with Israel's rational interests as a superpower client. ...

The key fact of the American-Israeli alliance that most commentators seem eager to elide is that Israel is America's leading ally in the Middle East because it is the most powerful country in the Middle East. ...

Israel earned its role as an American client with a series of audacious military victories won by a tiny embattled country with a shoestring budget and its back against the sea: the capture of the Suez Canal from Nasser in 1956, the audacious victory in 1967, and the development of a nuclear bomb. ...

The United States has been able to hold up its leverage over Israel as both a carrot and a stick to the Arab world. Do what we want, and we will force the Israelis to behave. ... A corollary of this basic point is that the weaker and more dependent Israel becomes, the more Israeli interests and American interests are likely to diverge. ...

An attack on Iran might be risky in dozens of ways, but it would certainly do wonders for restoring Israel's capacity for game-changing military action. The idea that Iran can meaningfully retaliate against Israel through conventional means is more myth than fact. Even without using nuclear weapons, Israel has the capacity to flatten the Iranian economy by bombing a few strategic oil refineries, making a meaningful Iranian counterstroke much less likely than it first appears. ...

The idea of a mass public outcry against Israel in the Muslim world is probably also a fiction—given the public backing of the Gulf states and Egypt for Israel's wars against Hezbollah and Hamas. As the only army in the region able to take on Iran and its clients, Israel has effectively become the hired army of the Sunni Arab states tasked by Washington with the job of protecting America's favorite Middle Eastern tipple—oil. ...

Bombing Iran's nuclear facilities is the surest way for Israel to restore the image of strength and unpredictability that made it valuable to the United States after 1967 while also eliminating Iran as a viable partner for America's favor. The fact that this approach may be the international-relations equivalent of keeping your boyfriend by shooting the other cute girl he likes in the head is an indicator of the difference between high-school romance and alliances between states—and hardly an argument for why it won't work. ...

The only real downside for Israel of an attack on Iran is Washington's likely response to the anger of the Arab street and the European street... The price of an Israeli attack on Iran is therefore clear to anyone who reads Al Ahram or the Guardian: a Palestinian state. It seems fair to say that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak see the establishment of some kind of Palestinian state as inevitable and also as posing real security risks to Israel.

Yet, in a perverse way, the idea that the price of an attack on Iran will be the establishment of a Palestinian state makes the logic of such an attack even clearer. ... A Palestinian state born as the result of Israeli weakness is a much greater danger to Israel than a state born out of Israeli strength. ...

But who can really argue with the idea of trading the Iranian nuclear bomb for a Palestinian state? Saudi Arabia would be happy. Egypt would be happy. Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates would be happy. Jordan would be happy. Iraq would be happy. Two-thirds of the Lebanese would be happy. The Palestinians would go about building their state, and Israel would buy itself another 40 years as the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East. Iran would not be happy.

But who said peace won't have a price?
--David Samuels, Slate, on the realpolitik of Israel vs. Iran

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

$10 a month

[Wei] Huang, 20, one of 12 high school seniors named New York Times Scholars this year, immigrated to New York from China with her parents in 2007. But when her parents found the transition to American life too hard and returned to China last year, she decided to stay here alone, entranced by the city’s streetscapes and the thought of attending college here one day.

She found a job at a florist paying $560 a month, and a house to share in Ridgewood, Queens, for $550. That leaves $10 a month, which she spends carefully on large bags of rice, chicken leg quarters at 49 cents a pound, and whatever vegetables are cheapest. Throw in the two free meals a day at school, a student MetroCard and the unexpected kind act — her English teacher, for instance, gave her $100 — and she manages to get by.

Ms. Huang’s determination to excel academically despite tough financial circumstances won her a spot among this year’s scholars.

Each scholar will receive $30,000 in aid for college, a laptop computer and a summer job at The Times, as well as access to a network of counselors and alumni who can provide advice and support in the years ahead.
--Sharon Otterman, NYT, on adversity overcome

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The best iPhone app of all

The killer app the iPhone really needs: a program where you punch in 10 digits and then you talk to other people--without dropping calls or saying "call failed".

Most unlikely hire

The White House has hired actor Kal Penn [star of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle] as a liaison between President Barack Obama's administration and Asian constituents.
--Associated Press on Kumar Goes to White House

Monday, April 6, 2009

We believe in our interview method

As part of [D.E.] Shaw’s rigorous screening process — the firm accepts perhaps one out of every 500 applicants — [Larry] Summers was asked to solve math puzzles. He passed, and the job was his.
--Louise Story, NYT, on how tenure at Harvard, a Bates Clark medal, etc. isn't enough to escape D.E. Shaw's brainteasers