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Monday, January 27, 2014
Reading List: The Money Bubble
- Turk, James and John Rubino.
The Money Bubble.
Unknown: DollarCollapse Press, 2013.
It is famously difficult to perceive when you're living
through a financial bubble. Whenever a bubble is expanding,
regardless of its nature, people with a short time horizon,
particularly those riding the bubble without experience of
previous boom/bust cycles, not only assume it will continue
to expand forever, they will find no shortage of
financial gurus to assure them that what, to an outsider
appears a completely unsustainable aberration is, in fact,
“the new normal”.
It used to be that bubbles would occur only around once in
a human generation. This meant that those caught up in them
would be experiencing one for the first time and
discount the warnings of geezers who were fleeced the
last time around. But in our happening world the pace of things
accelerates, and in the last 20 years we have seen three
successive bubbles, each segueing directly into the next:
The last bubble is still underway, although the first cracks
in its expansion have begun to appear at this writing.
The authors argue that these serial bubbles are the consequence
of a grand underlying bubble which has been underway for decades:
the money bubble—the creation out of thin air of currency
by central banks, causing more and more money to chase whatever
assets happen to be in fashion at the moment, thus resulting in
bubble after bubble until the money bubble finally pops.
Although it can be psychologically difficult to diagnose a bubble
from the inside, if we step back to the abstract level of charts, it isn't
all that hard. Whenever you see an exponential curve climbing to
the sky, it's not only a safe bet but a sure thing that it won't
continue to do so forever. Now, it may go on much longer than you
might imagine: as
John Maynard Keynes
said, “Markets can
remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain
solvent”—but not forever. Let's look at a chart of
the M2 money stock (one of the measures of the supply of money
denominated in U.S. dollars) from 1959 through the end of 2013
(click the chart to see data updated through the present
You will rarely see a more perfect exponential growth curve than this:
if you re-plot it on a semi-log axis, the fit to a straight line is
Ever since the creation of the Federal Reserve System in the United
States in 1913, and especially since the link between the U.S.
dollar and gold was severed in 1971, all of the world's principal
trading currencies have been
fiat money: paper
or book-entry money without any intrinsic value, created by a government
who enforces its use through
laws. Since governments are the modern incarnation of the bands of
thieves and murderers who have afflicted humans ever since our
origin in Africa, it is to be expected that once such a band
obtains the power to create money which it can coerce its subjects
to use they will quickly abuse that power to loot their subjects
and enrich themselves, as least as long as they can keep the game
going. In the end, it is inevitable that people will wise up to the
scam, and that the paper money will be valuable only as scratchy
toilet paper. So it has been long before the advent of proper
In this book the authors recount the sorry history of paper money
and debt-fuelled bubbles and examine possible scenarios as the
present unsustainable system inevitably comes to an end. It
is very difficult to forecast what will happen: we appear to be
heading for what
Ludwig von Mises
called a “crack-up boom”. This is where, as he wrote, “the
masses wake up”, and things go all nonlinear. The preconditions
for this are already in place, but there is no way to know when
it will dawn upon a substantial fraction of the population that
their savings have been looted, their retirement deferred until
death, their children indentured to a lifetime of debt, and their
nation destined to become a stratified society with a small fraction
of super-wealthy in their gated communities and a mass of impoverished
people, disarmed, dumbed down by design, and kept in line by
control of their means to communicate, travel, and organise. It is
difficult to make predictions beyond that point, as many disruptive things
can happen as a society approaches it. This is not an
environment in which one can make investment decisions as one
would have in the heady days of the 1950s.
And yet, one must—at least people who have managed to save for their
retirement and to provide their children a hand up in this
increasingly difficult world. The authors, drawing upon historical
parallels in previous money and debt bubbles, suggest what asset
classes to avoid, which are most likely to ride out the coming
turbulence and, for the adventure-seeking with some money left over
to take a flyer, a number of speculations which may perform well as
the money bubble pops. Remember that in a financial smash-up almost
everybody loses: it is difficult in a time of chaos, when assets
previously thought risk-free or safe are fluctuating wildly, just
to preserve your purchasing power. In such times those who
lose the least are the relative winners, and are in the
best position when emerging from the hard times to acquire assets
at bargain basement prices which will be the foundation of their
family fortune as the financial system is reconstituted upon a foundation
of sound money.
This book focusses on the history of money and debt bubbles, the
invariants from those experiences which can guide us as the
present madness ends, and provides guidelines for making the
most (or avoiding the worst) of what is to come. If you're looking
for “Untold Riches from the Coming Collapse”,
this isn't your book. These are very conservative recommendations
about what to do and what to avoid, and a few suggestions for
speculations, but the focus is on preservation of one's hard-earned
capital through what promises to be a very turbulent era.
In the Kindle edition the index cites page
numbers from the print edition which are useless since the Kindle
edition does not include page numbers.
- The Internet/NASDAQ bubble
- The real estate bubble
- The bond market bubble
Friday, January 24, 2014
Magnetic iPhone 5s
Here is a party trick / bar bet / nerdly entertainment for folks who have an iPhone 5s
(I don't know if it works for other models; it does not work with an iPhone 4). Ask “Do you know about the app that turns your iPhone into a magnet?” When people express doubt, fire up some application (the compass makes for great patter), do some mumbo-jumbo on the screen, then put a paper clip on the table, place the bottom right corner of the back of the phone (as viewed from the front) over the paper clip, and the phone will pick it up. You can also hold the phone vertically as shown above and stick the paper clip to the corner of the phone's back.
Of course, this works regardless of what app you're running, whether the phone is on or off, and when the phone is both off and on the charger. But you can have more fun if you don't give this away at the start.
I have no idea why the iPhone 5s is magnetic in that corner. The magnetism is weak and diffuse enough it's probably not a risk to magnetic stripes on credit cards, but I'll keep my iPhone away from them just in case.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Reading List: Roosevelt's Road To Russia
- Crocker, George N.
Roosevelt's Road To Russia.
Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing,  2010.
Before Barack Obama, there was Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Unless you lived through the era, imbibed its history from
parents or grandparents, or have read dissenting works which
have survived rounds of deaccessions by libraries, it is hard
to grasp just how visceral the animus was against Roosevelt
by traditional, constitutional, and free-market conservatives.
Roosevelt seized control of the economy, extended the tentacles
of the state into all kinds of relations between individuals,
subdued the judiciary and bent it to his will, manipulated a
largely supine media which, with a few exceptions, became his
cheering section, and created programs which made large sectors
of the population directly dependent upon the federal government
and thus a reliable constituency for expanding its power.
He had the audacity to stand for re-election an unprecedented
three times, and each time the American people gave him the nod.
But, as many old-timers, even those who were opponents of
Roosevelt at the time and appalled by what the centralised
super-state he set into motion has become, grudgingly say,
“He won the war.” Well, yes, by the time he died
in office on April 12, 1945, Germany was close to defeat;
Japan was encircled, cut off from the resources needed to
continue the war, and being devastated by attacks from the air;
the war was sure to be won by the Allies. But how did the
U.S. find itself in the war in the first place, how did
Roosevelt's policies during the war affect its conduct, and
what consequences did they have for the post-war world?
These are the questions explored in this book, which I suppose
contemporary readers would term a “paleoconservative”
revisionist account of the epoch, published just 14 years after
the end of the war. The work is mainly an account of Roosevelt's
personal diplomacy during meetings with Churchill or in the
Big Three conferences with Churchill and Stalin. The picture
of Roosevelt which emerges is remarkably consistent with what
Churchill expressed in deepest confidence to those closest
to him which I summarised in my review of
The Last Lion, Vol. 3 (January 2013)
as “a lightweight, ill-informed and not particularly
engaged in military affairs and blind to the geopolitical
consequences of the Red Army's occupying eastern and central
Europe at war's end.” The events chronicled here and
Roosevelt's part in them is also very much the same as
Freedom Betrayed (June 2012),
which former president Herbert Hoover worked on from shortly
after Pearl Harbor until his death in 1964, but which was not
published until 2011.
While Churchill was constrained in what he could say by the
necessity of maintaining Britain's alliance with the U.S., and
Hoover adopts a more scholarly tone, the present volume voices
the outrage over Roosevelt's strutting on the international
stage, thinking “personal diplomacy”
could “bring around ‘Uncle Joe’ ”,
condemning huge numbers of military personnel and civilians on
both the Allied and Axis sides to death by blurting out
“unconditional surrender” without any consultation
with his staff or Allies, approving the genocidal
to de-industrialise defeated Germany, and, discarding the
high principles of his own
delivering millions of Europeans into communist tyranny and
condoning one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing in
What is remarkable is how difficult it is to come across an
account of this period which evokes the author's passion,
shared with many of his time, of how the bumblings of a
naïve, incompetent, and narcissistic chief executive
had led directly to so much avoidable tragedy on a global
scale. Apart from Hoover's book, finally published more than
half a century after this account, there are few works accessible
to the general reader which present the view that the tragic outcome
of World War II was in large part preventable, and that Roosevelt
and his advisers were responsible, in large part, for what
Perhaps there are parallels in this account of wickedness
triumphing through cluelessness for our present era.
This edition is a facsimile reprint of the original edition
published by Henry Regnery Company in 1959.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Reading List: Microlaunchers
- Pooley, Charles and Ed LeBouthillier.
Seattle: CreateSpace, 2013.
Many fields of engineering are subject to scaling laws: as you make
something bigger or smaller various trade-offs occur, and the properties
of materials, cost, or other design constraints set limits on the
largest and smallest practical designs. Rockets for launching payloads
into Earth orbit and beyond tend to scale well as you increase their
size. Because of the
the volume of propellant a tank holds increases as the cube of the
size while the weight of the tank goes as the square (actually a bit
faster since a larger tank will require more robust walls, but for a
rough approximation calling it the square will do). Viable rockets
can get very big indeed: the
although never built, is considered a workable design. With a length of
150 metres and 23 metres in diameter, it would have more than ten times the
first stage thrust of a Saturn V and place 550 metric tons into low Earth
What about the other end of the scale? How small could a space
launcher be, what technologies might be used in it, and what
would it cost? Would it be possible to scale a launcher down so
that small groups of individuals, from hobbyists to college class
projects, could launch their own spacecraft? These are the questions
explored in this fascinating and technically thorough book. Little
practical work has been done to explore these questions. The smallest
launcher to place a satellite in orbit was the Japanese
with a mass of 9400 kg and length of 16.5 metres. The U.S.
rocket had a mass of 10,050 kg and length of 23 metres. These are,
though small compared to the workhorse launchers of today, still
big, heavy machines, far beyond the capabilities of small groups of
people, and sufficiently dangerous if something goes wrong that they
require launch sites in unpopulated regions.
The scale of launchers has traditionally been driven by the mass
of the payload they carry to space. Early launchers carried satellites
with crude 1950s electronics, while many of their successors were
derived from ballistic missiles sized to deliver heavy nuclear warheads.
demonstrated that useful work can be done by spacecraft with
a volume of one litre and mass of 1.33 kg or less, and the
project holds out the hope of functional spacecraft comparable
in weight to a mobile telephone. While to date these small satellites
have flown as piggy-back payloads on other launches, the availability
of dedicated launchers sized for them would increase the number of
launch opportunities and provide access to trajectories unavailable
in piggy-back opportunities.
Just because launchers have tended to grow over time doesn't mean
that's the only way to go. In the 1950s and '60s many people
expected computers to continue their trend of getting bigger and
bigger to the point where there were a limited number of
“computer utilities” with vast machines which
customers accessed over the telecommunication network. But then came
the minicomputer and microcomputer revolutions and today the
computing power in personal computers and mobile devices dwarfs that
of all supercomputers combined. What would it take technologically
to spark a similar revolution in space launchers?
With the smallest successful launchers to date having a mass of around
10 tonnes, the authors choose two weight budgets: 1000 kg on the
high end and 100 kg as the low. They divide these budgets
into allocations for payload, tankage, engines, fuel, etc. based
upon the experience of existing sounding rockets, then explore what
technologies exist which might enable such a vehicle to achieve
orbital or escape velocity. The 100 kg launcher is a huge technological
leap from anything with which we have experience and probably could be
built, if at all, only after having gained experience from earlier
generations of light launchers. But then the current state of the art
in microchip fabrication would have seemed like science fiction to
researchers in the early days of integrated circuits and it took
decades of experience and generation after generation of chips and
many technological innovations to arrive where we are today. Consequently,
most of the book focuses on a three stage launcher with the 1000 kg mass
budget, capable of placing a payload of between 150 and 200 grams on
an Earth escape trajectory.
The book does not spare the rigour. The reader is introduced to the
formulæ for aerodynamic drag, the
atmosphere, optimisation of mixture ratios, combustion chamber
pressure and size, nozzle expansion ratios, and a multitude of
other details which make the difference between success and failure.
Scaling to the size envisioned here without expensive and exotic
materials and technologies requires out of the box thinking, and
there is plenty on display here, including using beverage cans for
upper stage propellant tanks.
A 1000 kg space launcher appears to be entirely feasible. The
question is whether it can be done without the budget of hundreds
of millions of dollars and years of development it would certainly
take were the problem assigned to an aerospace prime contractor.
The authors hold out the hope that it can be done, and observe that
hobbyists and small groups can begin working independently on components:
engines, tank systems, guidance and navigation, and so on, and then
share their work precisely as open source software developers do so
This is a field where prizes may work very well to encourage
development of the required technologies. A philanthropist
might offer, say, a prize of a million dollars for launching a
150 gram communicating payload onto an Earth escape trajectory,
and a series of smaller prizes for engines which met the
requirements for the various stages, flight-weight tankage and
stage structures, etc. That way teams with expertise in various
areas could work toward the individual prizes without having to
take on the all-up integration required for the complete vehicle.
This is a well-researched and hopeful look at a technological
direction few have thought about. The book is well written and
includes all of the equations and data an aspiring rocket engineer
will need to get started. The text is marred by a number of
typographical errors (I counted two dozen) but only one trivial
factual error. Although other references are mentioned in the
text, a bibliography of works for those interested in exploring
further would be a valuable addition. There is no index.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle updated, EPUB releases begin
Now that all 25 of the public domain Tom Swift novels have been posted in the Tom Swift and His Pocket Library
collection, I am returning to the earlier novels, which I began to post in 2005, upgrading them to use the more modern typography of those I've done in the last few years. The first to be upgraded is the first novel in the series, Tom Swift and His Motor-Cycle
. A number of typographical errors which slipped through the original production process have been corrected, and Unicode text entities are used for special characters such as single and double quotes and dashes.
Concurrent with the posting of this updated edition, I have added EPUB
editions of sixteen of the Tom Swift novels. EPUB documents may be read with a wide variety of reading devices and applications, including Apple's iBooks and the Barnes & Noble Nook. I will post EPUBs of the remaining nine novels as I revise and update them.
The EPUB editions are created automatically from XHTML Web documents by a special purpose utility. (It is only useful for books in the format of these novels; I am therefore not posting the source code as it wouldn't be useful for other documents.) It is possible to automatically convert EPUB format to the .mobi
format used by the Amazon Kindle, but when I convert these documents (with three different tools, none of which reports an error in conversion), the table of contents does not appear, at least on the Kindle application for the iPad. (Oddly, the table of contents displays just fine when the .mobi file is opened in the Calibre
desktop reader application.) I am deferring posting .mobi editions of these books until this mystery is resolved.
Friday, January 3, 2014
Reading List: Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
- Faulks, Sebastian.
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.
London: Hutchinson, 2013.
As a fan of P. G. Wodehouse
ever since I started reading his work in the 1970s, and having read every
story, it was with some trepidation that I picked up this novel,
the first Jeeves and Wooster story since
Aren't Gentlemen, published in 1974, a year before Wodehouse's
death. This book, published with the permission of the Wodehouse estate,
is described by the author as a tribute to P. G. Wodehouse which he hopes
will encourage readers to discover the work of the master.
The author notes that, while remaining true to the characters of Jeeves
and Wooster and the ambience of the stories, he did not attempt to mimic
Wodehouse's style. Notwithstanding, to this reader, the result is so close
to that of Wodehouse that if you dropped it into a Wodehouse collection
unlabelled, I suspect few readers would find anything discordant.
Faulks's Jeeves seems to use more jaw-breaking words than I recall
Wodehouse's, but that's about it. Apart from Jeeves and Wooster, none of the
regular characters who populate Wodehouse's stories appear on stage here.
We hear of members of the
Drones, the terrifying
Aunt Agatha, and
others, and mentions of previous episodes involving them, but all of the
other dramatis personæ are new.
On holiday in the south of France, Bertie Wooster makes the acquaintance
of Georgiana Meadowes, a copy editor for a London publisher having escaped
the metropolis to finish marking up a manuscript. Bertie is immediately
smitten, being impressed by Georgiana's beauty, brains, and wit, albeit
less so with her driving (“To say she drove in the French fashion would
be to cast a slur on those fine people.”). Upon his return to London,
Bertie soon reads that Georgiana has become engaged to a travel writer she
mentioned her family urging her to marry. Meanwhile, one of Bertie's
best friends, “Woody” Beeching, confides his own problem with
the fairer sex. His fiancée has broken off the engagement because
her parents, the Hackwoods, need their daughter to marry into wealth to save
the family seat, at risk of being sold. Before long, Bertie discovers that
the matrimonial plans of Georgiana and Woody are linked in a subtle but
inflexible way, and that a delicate hand, acting with nuance, will be
needed to assure all ends well.
Evidently, a job crying out for the attention of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster!
Into the fray Jeeves and Wooster go, and before long a quintessentially
Wodehousean series of impostures, misadventures, misdirections, eccentric
characters, disasters at the dinner table, and carefully crafted stratagems
gone horribly awry ensue. If you are not acquainted with that
which the English, not being a very spiritual people, invented to
give them some idea of eternity
(G. B. Shaw), you may want to review the rules before reading chapter 7.
Doubtless some Wodehouse fans will consider any author's bringing Jeeves
and Wooster back to life a sacrilege, but this fan simply relished the
opportunity to meet them again in a new adventure which is entirely
consistent with the Wodehouse canon and characters. I would have been
dismayed had this been a parody or some “transgressive” despoilation
of the innocent world these characters inhabit. Instead we have a
thoroughly enjoyable romp in which the prodigious brain of Jeeves once
again saves the day.
The U.K. edition is linked above.
U.S. and worldwide Kindle editions