Should the United States Government be Permitted to Play the Role of a Venture Capitalist?

  

The United States government has made some very risky investments in areas such as green energy and electric vehicles.  As time as shown, the government’s ability to pick winners and losers has cost the United States taxpayers billions of dollars.

Green Energy, also known as renewable or sustainable energy, is energy that comes from resources which are continually replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.  According to Wikipedia, About 16% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable sources, with 10% of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, and 3.4% from hydroelectricity.

 

These investments have instead provided a string of bankruptcies: Solyndra ($528 million in federal loans), Abound Solar ($400 million), A123 Systems ($279 million) and Fisker Automotive ($529 million), to name the most prominent examples.

Let’s begin with Solyndra, originally founded by Chris Gronet as Gronet Technologies in May of 2005.  The Company changed its name eight (8) months later to Solyndra and quietly began developing a solar module consisting of one glass tube nested inside of another.  Wrapped around the inner tube were 150 solar cells made from copper, indium, gallium and diselenide, rather than silicon.

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Applying for a Mortgage? Better Check Your Credit Report for Errors!

 

Are you getting ready to apply for a mortgage?  Have you obtained a recent copy of your credit report to check for inaccuracies?  If not, you might be surprised by what you find.

A February 2013 study from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that:

  • five percent of consumers had errors on one of their three major credit reports that could lead to them paying more for products such as auto loans and insurance.
  • one in five consumers had an error on at least one of their three credit reports.

So what exactly is a credit report and how does it differ from my credit score?  A credit report is a person’s documented debtor history. It includes every credit card, student loan, charge card, mortgage or auto loan or lease for which you’ve ever been named as a signer or co-signer. Details include starting amounts owed and current balances; monthly payment history for individual accounts; including any record of delinquency. Credit reports also include information regarding known places of residence and employment; judgments and tax liens assessed by courts; and any public record of bankruptcy.

A credit score is a numerical expression based on a statistical analysis of a person’s credit files, to represent the creditworthiness of that person. A credit score is primarily based on credit report information obtained from credit bureaus.  For purposes of a mortgage application, the three credit scores used by mortgage lenders are the Equifax Beacon; the TransUnion Empirca; and, the Experian FICO.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), All consumers are entitled to one free disclosure (i.e. credit report) every 12 months upon request from each nationwide credit bureau and from nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies. Consumers who have had their application for credit, insurance or employment denied because of “poor credit” may apply for additional free credit reports.

certain persons may request a free credit report anytime, with no limit. This includes unemployed persons; persons looking for work within the next 60 days; and, individuals receiving government welfare assistance.

For further information, please either visit www.ftc.gov/credit or review A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

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More Than 25,000 Americans Want the Death Star Built

 

A Petition entitled Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016 that may have begun as a “lark” by John D of Longmont, CO on November 14, 2012 on Thursday reached the required 25,000-plus signature threshold necessary for the United States Government to provide a formal response.  The petition states:

Those who sign here petition the United States government to secure funding and resources, and begin construction on a Death Star by 2016.

By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.

The petition demands that the Obamma Administration build a Death Star much like the one that was featured in the 1977 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

What is even more fascinating than reaching the required threshold so quickly is the attention that is being demonstrated around the globe.  I am writing this article from Eastern Europe.  More specifically, Balti in the Republic of Moldova.  The petition was brought to my attention by several Java programmers working inside of the Alec Russo University. Apparently many of the students in the University are familiar with this petition so I can only assume that the Internet is spreading the news like wildfire.

In case you are wondering what the project would cost, a February 21, 2012 Forbes article written by Carol Pinchefsky entitled: How Much Would It Cost to Build the Death Star from Star Wars? had the following to say:

Even if you can imagine quite a bit, Centives, the economics blog of students of Lehigh University, says it would cost “$852,000,000,000,000,000. Or roughly 13,000 times the world’s GDP” to build the Death Star…and that’s just the cost of steel production.

 If only our government could be as organized and work as quickly as the construction in the video below:

 

The $400 Billion Government Defense Contract – Lockheed F-35

In a recent Reuter’s article written by Andrea Shalal-Esa entitled:  Pentagon, Lockheed “getting close” on next F-35 contract: Kendall, provides some interesting insights into the world of government defense contracts.  Moreover, the article also sheds some light on the recent tensions between the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin Corporation, the manufacturer of the F-35.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat and single engine multipurpose fighters.  The plane has been designed to perform ground attack, reconnaissance and air defense with stealth capabilities.  There are three primary models of the aircraft:

  • F-35A – A conventional takeoff and landing model that descended from the X-35 (the product of the Joint Strike Fighter Program)
  • F-35B – A short take off and vertical model
  • F-35C – A carrier based version of the aircraft

 History

In October 2001, when the U.S. Defense Department awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to develop the Joint Strike Fighter, it looked like the deal of the century for the company and its customer. In the largest defense procurement in history, Lockheed would produce three variants of one stealthy design to replace the mixed and aging fleets of three U.S. services, saving money and time.

Eleven years later and the program has been plagued by cost over runs and technology problems.  On October 26, 2012, the Pentagon announced that it was withholding $46.5 million from Lockheed Martin Corp because of continued flaws with a business system used to track costs and schedules for the F-35 fighter.

The F-35 has been criticized by Pentagon officials and lawmakers for test-performance failings, delays and its ballooning cost. At an estimated $395.7 billion for eventual production of 2,443 planes, the cost is up 70 percent, adjusted for inflation, from the $233 billion projected when Lockheed Martin won the program from Boeing Co. in late 2001.

What’s even more shocking is that maintenance costs for the aircraft are estimated to be $1.1 trillion over the next 50 years. The F-35 program has been restructured three times in recent years, in part to try to cut costs. Earlier this year the Pentagon said “no more money” would be put toward cost overruns and the military would buy fewer planes if costs rose.

The Defense Department is also bracing for sequestration, a process that would cut the military’s budget by $50 billion a year over a decade, on top of more than $50 billion in annual cuts already on the books.

The aircraft employs advanced technology and weapons systems which are controlled by technology. 9.4 million lines of code are required to manage the aircraft.

A helmet is being developed by Vision Systems International (VSI), a joint venture between Israel’s Elbit Imaging and Rockwell Collins succeeds, it will be the most advanced ever built. It is supposed to let pilots see data from all the plane’s sensors, effectively allowing the pilot to look right through the floor of the plane and all around it. But the project has run into problems with night vision, delays in displaying data, jitter under certain conditions, and more recently, a green glow at the visor’s edges and problems with alignment.

Lockheed and the Defense Department are nearing agreement on a long-delayed contract for a fifth batch of F-35 fighter jets, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer told Reuters on Wednesday. “I think we’re getting close,” Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall told Reuters after a speech to an investor conference hosted by Credit Suisse. Kendall said he had “a very positive meeting” on Tuesday with Lockheed President Marillyn Hewson about a range of issues, including the $396 billion F-35 program, the Pentagon’s largest weapons program.

Are Intellectual Property Laws Ready for 3D Printing?

In September the Brooklyn, N.Y. firm Makerbot started selling the $2,200 Replicator 2, its latest and most polished 3-D printer.  The machine is a very sleek piece of machinery that extrudes ultrafine strands of heated plastic in layers to turn software models into detailed, solid objects. The above product release video features Makerbot founder Bre Pettis and is worth watching.  Mr. Pettis provides an overview on all of the enhancements that have been incorporated into the Replicator 2 and his closing words provide the basis for our blog posting:

“We can’t wait to see what you make with it”!

A recent Forbes article written by Andy Greenberg entitled:  Inside Thingiverse, The Radically Open Website Powering The 3D Printing Movement provides some further insight into the possibilities.

Anyone who buys a Makerbot can immediately download and print any of Thingiverse’s 25,000 designs. Those with the software skills to create new designs and upload them to the site are rewarded with hacker fame and remixes from others in the digital DIY community. And every new blueprint on the site boosts the utility of the machines sold so far.

Pettis says that openness has been part of the site’s philosophy since 2008–a year before Makerbot was even founded–when he and fellow Thingiverse creator Zach Smith built the site in an hour one Saturday afternoon. “We keep it open because it feels right,” says Pettis. “There’s no downside to sharing it. All the competitors are going to make stuff and share on Thingiverse, too, and that just benefits our community.”

But Pettis’ and Thingiverse’s dream of pure openness may be just that. A quick browse through the site turns up plenty of potentially trademarked or copyrighted designs, like an Iron Man helmet or figurines from Star Wars and the videogame Doom. The site has already had to remove several designs after receiving takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. And the first rumblings of a rights-management system for controlling the sharing of physical things are appearing: The IP-hoarding firm Intellectual Ventures received a patent in October for a 3-D printer feature that blocks the creation of verboten objects.

Thingiverse has yet to face an intellectual property lawsuit over the infringing content its users upload, like the $1 billion tort that Viacom threw at Google’s YouTube service in 2007. The lawsuit, which is still ongoing, has cost Google millions in legal bills and pushed it to adopt its own proactive copyright protections. The intellectual property laws around software designs for physical things have yet to be hammered out, but Makerbot remains determined to avoid censoring content unless it’s absolutely required to. “For now, it’s an exciting time,” says Pettis. “Things aren’t ruled by copyright.”

So let’s get back to Pattis’s final quote in the product video: “We can’t wait to see what you make with it”!  Despite a clause in Thingiverse’s terms of use that bans uploading any design that “contributes to the creation of weapons, illegal materials, or is otherwise objectionable,” the site hosts a slew of blueprints for edgy objects that toe that line or cross it: secret keys to high-security handcuffs, realistic toy guns or, scarier still, restricted gun components that can be combined with mail-order parts to create a working AR-15 semi-automatic weapon. One group calling itself Defense Distributed hopes to create a file for a gun capable of shooting a .22 caliber bullet and may upload its final design to Thingiverse.

Pettis has treated the appearance of those objects on the site as inevitable–almost out of his control. “The cat is out of the bag,” Pettis wrote in a blog post to the Thingiverse community last year, addressing the presence of weapon components on the site. “And that cat can be armed with guns made with printed parts.”

For further information, please refer to the Forbes article and watch the video below:

We find this a fascinating area and one that deserves a follow up article. Stay tuned!

Global Warming & the Impact on New York City

 

The most recent estimates for total losses and damages from Superstorm Sandy will end up causing about $20 billion in property damages and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business, according to IHS Global Insight, a forecasting firm. More than thirty percent of these losses will be realized by New York City. Mayor Bloomberg has recently raised the issue of recent abnormal weather in the Northeast, and particularly New York City, being a glimpse into the future of what will come as a result of Global Warming.

Let’s just consider for the moment that the Mayor could be right.  Can you imagine the number of insurance claims submitted by policy holders; denials of many claims by insurance companies concerned about their financial performance and the massive number of lawsuits that could result from this activity?

While we are not trying to suggest that the sky is falling, the following video posted on YouTube by the Wall Street Journal foretells that recent catastrophic weather related events may only be the beginning of much worse things to come in the future.  Assuming that there is actually a correlation between global warming caused by our abuse of the environment and changes in weather patterns, the recent storm should serve as a wake up call for environmental responsibility.

Access to Family Member’s Facebook Account after They Pass Away

What exactly happens when a holder of Facebook account dies and the people who knew him or her well, such as family members, want to get access to their account?

According to a recently posted broadcast at Lawyers.com the host Matt Plessner interviews Editor in Chief Larry Bodine whether it is possible to gain access to a family member’s Facebook, Twitter or Flickr account after the person died.

Currently there are 1 billion Facebook accounts, 100 million Twitter accounts and 200 million LinkedIn accounts. And the people who have lost a member of their family are surprised when no access will be given as they contact a social media company!?

EU watchdogs have admitted Google must revise its privacy policy.

EU watchdogs’ decision in March is to consolidate 60 privacy policies into one agreement. It allows to combine the data from all their products, such as YouTube, Google+ and smart phone system Android.

CNIL (French data privacy regulator), which led to the inquiry, said that Google had “months” to make changes. Google has been told to give the information about what data is being collected, for what purpose and also to give users more control over how the information is combined.

Therefore, if there is no action taken, CNIL would have to appeal to court. However, Google said it needed more time to figure out the details. Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel, said that they have received a report. Thus, Google has been accused of providing “incomplete” details. All of that raises concerns about data protection.

CNIL investigation

CNIL carried out the investigation. 27 members of the European Union agreed on that, but Greece, Romania and Lithuania have not yet signed up. By the way, non-EU states Croatia and Liechtenstein have participated.

After revising Google’s policy in details, it was discovered that Google has failed to place any limit on the “scope of collection and the potential uses of the personal data”. That means, there was no distinсtion between search engine queries, typed-in credit card numbers or telephone communications.

The following changes were proposed by EU data protection laws:

  • Reinforcing users’ consent. It suggests allowing its members to choose how data was combined by asking them to click on dedicated buttons.
  • Google should offer a centralised opt-out tool allowing users to decide which services provide data about them.
  • Google should adapt its tools in order to limit data use to authorised purposes. It should be able to use a person’s collated data to improve security.

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, the CNIL’s president, said the company had “three or four months” to make the revisions.

‘Essential step’

UK campaign group Big Brother Watch welcomed the news. “It’s absolutely right that European regulators focus on ensuring people know what data is being collected and how it is being used,” said the organisation’s director, Nick Pickles.

“Unless people are aware just how much of their behaviour is being monitored and recorded it is impossible to make an informed choice about using services”.

There is a new unified search tool of Google that works across several of its products. Gmail, Google Calendar and Drive cloud storage services are now in a trial version for users.

For more information, please visit the link: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-19959306