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Category: e:strip

09/16/08 11:33 - 60ºF - ID#45704

e:Jim's very simple guide to Finance!

In a very cool conversation we had a little while back, (e:Jim) explained, using easy analogies and simplified scenarios, the current big financial crisis in the US. It made things very clear and made a lot of sense to financially-disoriented me. Thus, I think posting it might make someone's day a bit easier!

Here's (e:Jim)'s Current Finance: 101 (Made Simple)

(e:Jim) linked this news:

My Question: So a very quick question -> Is this one line summary correct? The companies that give out money as credit to people suddenly buckled and imploded. They couldn't give out money or mortgages any more because people were not paying back and now the credit-giving companies are in debt themselves and the Government has stepped in to lend them money in return for their now-worthless shares (and stakes)? And the Government will probably extract the money they lent to these credit companies from taxes. The taxes would go up and people who have good credit would end up paying the higher taxes and not get any low-interest mortgages any more just because of irresponsible people who didn't pay their credit card bills and mortgages in the first place?

(Sidenote: Yeah, I know. That's not really a one-liner. Deal with it! If you want to learn, you gotta ask!)

(e:Jim)'s Answer: Yeah, two parts. One: basically they were set up to process huge inflows and outflows of cash, and once that dried up they ran out of steam to operate. Two: AIG owned a ton of financial securities that were two steps removed from actual mortgages, and were thought to be super safe, but the whole mortgage industry shifted underneath them and so these supposedly safe things are now worthless. So, the first things means they desperately need money to operate day to day, and two means that they are no longer in a position to borrow money because what they own is worthless.

My Question: Why not let them file for bankruptcy? Would that have affected anything?

(e:Jim)'s Answer: Well, not quite bankruptcy, it seems like it was illiquidity. They do have TONS of assets. But they need money, not assets to operate. They own lots of stuff, besides mortgages.
But consider it this way: If, every day, they need to take in $10 billion because they have to pay out $10 billion, but they own $100 billion worth of stuff, you'd think they'd be fine. But, if they stumble one day and don't have money, and they can't borrow money to pay what they have to that day, all of a sudden no one trusts them. So then, the next day it becomes 10 times hard to make the cash flow correctly. So they have lots of 'things' but they need cold hard cash, not things to operate. So the US is now taking 80% of AIG's 'things', in exchange for giving it virtually unlimited loans to operate with as cash day to day. The thought is, once people trust AIG now that the US is backing them, is that everything outside AIG will go back to normal. Yesterday, someone might think 'I don't want to trust them with my money' which led AIG to say 'I can't afford to give money to this person I owe it to', but tomorrow, with the gov't involved, we'll all go back to trusting AIG and things will be fine.

My Question: Is that a good thing, per se? I mean its better that the government own things... is it not? But come to think of it, its somewhat against a capitalistic tendency. In a strange way, this is a somewhat socialist outcome to justify a capitalistic venture eg. AIG

(e:Jim)'s Answer: I don't buy it. We're basically socializing the wrong parts of our economy and doing it in panic-mode instead of well considered. The other thing to consider is punishment or the technical term is "moral hazard". If the US bails out these companies after doing really risky things, it makes other companies feel OK doing it to. You really, in a free market, want to let companies that do risky things fail completely so that they become lessons to the surviving companies. So - we're halfway socializing Wallstreet, but not really punishing the greedy bastards, and totally neglecting industries that would function much smoother if socialized (like healthcare and the like). It's going to get worse, I think. Some big banks are still out there teetering. Washington Mutual is next to go, from what I gather.

My comment: HEY!!! Does Bush or any "government" insiders own big time stakes or "former" executive posts in AIG?? Like they do in oil companies?? That would make all of this 80% lending a total-anti-socialist sneaky capitalistic personal-selfish-gain thing to do!

(e:Jim)'s Answer: Not sure ;)

My comment: As you pointed out, they are being, (and rather uncharacteristically so) rather generous to this company after all.

(e:Jim)'s Answer: They sort of have to, it's a mess. I think they should've taken 100% is my beef. But AIG is a company that helps other companies do financial stuff. If AIG fails badly, it basically kicks all the banks when they're already down on the ground having heart attacks.The penultimate cause of all this was actually the mortgage/credit deregulation that allowed anyone to buy a house for no money down, and that's been going on for 7 years or so. It's going to take another equal sort of period to set things right.

Basically, the banks found a way to take ways of making money, and repackaging them into other ways of making money, and selling those other ways to other people. So you'd sell John a mortgage, then sell Sally something that says she's buying the risk on John's mortgage, and then sell Fred the right to the risk of Sally not paying for John's defaulted mortgage in case John defaulted (seriously). And then everyone let John buy a house for nothing, and were shocked when he couldn't pay his mortgage. And once enough people at the base can't pay their mortgages it just destroys the whole chain of made-up financial stuff that's built on top of it.

My Comment: Wow. That's crazy! So people knew what they were getting themselves into - Or Sally and Fred knew that they were indirectly dependent on some stranger John? Was this explicitly understood?

(e:Jim)'s Answer: Yes, the banker says. "Hey Sally, mortgages are pretty safe! we could always just reposses the house! So, if you want to make $100 a week, why don't you say you'll pay for these mortgages should everything go south? I mean, that's never going to happen!" and so Sally signs up, thinking it's a good way to make money.

Only in this case, it's not someone named Sally - these sorts of things were sold to companies and pensions, not any particular person. And they weren't sold in individual mortgages, but instead, thousands of mortgages would be packed up together, and the risk on the whole lot of mortgages sold. If you put your money in a bank, you could get 3% interest, but if you put your money in escrow (essentially, sort of) to guarantee these mortgages, you could make 6%, BUT if things go wrong you lose your deposit. (making up numbers a bit here to illustrate) Sort of like that.

In my post ((e:Jim,45689)) that's what I was talking about: 'derivatives', basicallly they're things you can buy or sell based on things that can be bought and sold. So, instead of buying gold today, I can buy the right to buy gold 6 months from today at a specific price. Or, various layers and combinations of contracts. It gets really crazy.

This kind of financial stuff can be very useful and essential - don't get me wrong. It's when you put up like 8 layers of add'l stuff on top of it that it gets dicey. So, being able to buy a contract to buy gold in the future? Perfectly useful. Some of the other stuff is just operating on faith and in herds.

My comment: Humanity has all these pithy sayings and proverbs but the minute a situation or question gets twisted around a bit, we walk right in and make the same mistakes over and over and build castles all over the clouds and count chickens before they hatch all the time

(One more sidenote: Oh and I forgot to say this but thought about this later: Talk about chasing all the birds in the bushes and ignoring the ones in hand.)

Moral of the conversation No.1: It's always better to hang out at (e:strip) and chat than hang out at other websites or not hang out at all.

Moral of the conversation No.2: (e:Jim) always has **the scoop** on things. If things are not making sense, he is **the go-to-bloke**!

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Category: dance

09/07/08 03:27 - 62ºF - ID#45601

Now, you can dance like a scientologist!

Anatomically and pop-textually dissected for greater comprehension:

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Permalink: Now_you_can_dance_like_a_scientologist_.html
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Location: Buffalo, NY

Category: goals

09/03/08 06:29 - 80ºF - ID#45551

Couldn't heft five gallons of water!!

I am on a chain-tea-addiction. To concentrate on my thesis, I find it essential to constantly chug some sort of tea or the other. I guess I could kick the habit if I wanted to but I love tea so much, it is somewhat difficult. So now that you have an idea about the extent and scope of my tea-addiction, here's what happened.

Today morning, I drank up the last dregs of my second cuppa. To go on with the paper I was reviewing, I simply HAD TO get another cup and went to the water cooler for a refill of hot water. It was empty. As an official addict, desperation overtook annoyance and I carried a five-gallon tank of water from the storage room to the cooler. But I couldn't heft it on to the cooler! A lady I know from another division came strolling by and, in one fluid motion, hefted the five-gallon tank on to the cooler base, around four feet off the ground. I got my tea. But I am so annoyed that I let a five-gallon tank defeat me.

In my first year of school, I couldn't lift huge 15 kg watermelons. I got over this watermelon-lifting deficiency in my second year by hefting and eating an obscene number of watermelons. You might question my decision to eat all the watermelons I hefted but in my defence, I have to point out that you can't aimlessly heft watermelons all day around stores. They might kick you out or call the police, if you don't also buy them. Once you buy them, you cannot, in good conscience, let the watermelons rot, can you? Anyway the upshot of the whole thing is that the watermelon plan worked out. I don't blink an eye before grabbing even the most monstrous of watermelons nowadays.

I think the success of the watermelon plan indicates that I should perhaps start a water tank hefting plan and heft as many 5-gallon tanks as I possibly can. I reckon that my department gets through around 15 gallons (3 tanks) everyday. Just as the last drops of water are swirling down the tank and some desperate tea addict is making a sortie into the tank storage room, I need to be at hand to try out my hefting prowess and grab all the goodness of the five-gallon action at the right time.

Simple as this may sound I also foresee several logistic issues associated with the five-gallon plan. How will I know when a tank finishes? How will I make sure that I am right there to get the tank hefting practice and prevent people from doing it themselves? I know for sure that the lady who did it today will just as easily do it tomorrow. There would be no stopping her types. But I am willing to compromise and target the weak ones. If evolution worked in Galapagos island, I am sure it has a fair shot at success in Carlton Hall.

One of the options that might just solve the "how will I know" and the "right time" hurdles would be to scrawl my phone number right under the "for department use only" tag on the wall behind the cooler. I suppose the weak targets would also need an additional threatening note packed with dire consequences if they didn't call the number and attempted to replace the tank themselves.

Yeah, I think I have the five-gallon tank situation under control now. Thanks for listening. :)
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Category: e:strip

08/31/08 01:16 - 77ºF - ID#45523

Happy Birthday, Mike! Did you know...

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Location: Buffalo, NY

Category: carbon neutral

08/28/08 05:00 - 59ºF - ID#45487

Acrylic Sheets Disposal?

Can anyone tell me where people might get rid of around 70 pounds of Acrylic Sheet that was formerly used for covering a greenhouse?

Someone in my department is re-roofing his greenhouse and would like to get rid of the old roofing responsibly - ideas anyone?

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Category: science

08/28/08 02:45 - 66ºF - ID#45480

Remarkable Regenerative Research

It's a glorious day for regenerative medicine today. Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Harvard) reported in Nature that they have managed to convert adult enzyme-producing pancreatic cells into insulin-producing beta cells in living mice.

Here's the direct abstract:

One goal of regenerative medicine is to instructively convert adult cells into other cell types for tissue repair and regeneration. Although isolated examples of adult cell reprogramming are known, there is no general understanding of how to turn one cell type into another in a controlled manner. Here, using a strategy of re-expressing key developmental regulators in vivo, we identify a specific combination of three transcription factors (Ngn3 (also known as Neurog3) Pdx1 and Mafa) that reprograms differentiated pancreatic exocrine cells in adult mice into cells that closely resemble beta-cells. The induced beta-cells are indistinguishable from endogenous islet beta-cells in size, shape and ultrastructure. They express genes essential for beta-cell function and can ameliorate hyperglycaemia by remodelling local vasculature and secreting insulin. This study provides an example of cellular reprogramming using defined factors in an adult organ and suggests a general paradigm for directing cell reprogramming without reversion to a pluripotent stem cell state.

It's an amazing and important breakthrough because the prevalent idea in medical research is that:
a) Cells go from an undifferentiated embryonic state to a highly differentiated specialized state.
b) Once the cells commit to a specialized state, they cannot de-differentiate or revert back into an embryonic state anymore.
c) Highly specialized cells are thus imprisoned in their narrow specialized roles and cannot convert into other specialized cells

This was the basic reason why we thought that we needed exclusively stem cells or embryonic cells from fetuses to carry out research into generating specialized cells of our choice. We believed that only embryonic cells had the potency to transform into other cells. The Harvard scientists converted a regular pancreatic exocrine cell that usually secretes digestive pancreatic enzymes to an endocrine pancreatic cell that secretes insulin! This topples the whole belief-cart that only embryonic cells can do this.

I think regenerative research officially enters a new era with this cool little cellular role-reversal trick. How these scientists did it is even more fascinating. A mere THREE regulatory genes were transported into the pancreas using small vector viruses. These viruses preferentially infected the EXOCRINE cells of the pancreas and not the endocrine cells (that are found inside "islets" of the pancreas). Within ONE MONTH, the infected exocrine cells transformed into the endocrine insulin-secreting cells and they have continued to be endocrine insulin secreting cells for a complete NINE MONTHS now!


You can see the transformation in the photograph of the pancreatic tissue slice above. The red round spot is one islet (of langerhans) in the pancreas. This contains the endocrine insulin secreting cells. Within a month the same area changes to show that insulin-secreting cells have sprung up OUTSIDE the islet! One adult cell turns into another totally different adult cell!

As a simplified analogy, what they have managed to do is the cellular equivalent of turning a car (exocrine pancreatic cell) into a space-shuttle (endocrine islet cells) by just sending in three astronauts (vector-viruses) into the car to pull three levers (genes).

A couple years back, some Japanese scientists converted adult mice skin cells into stem cells but to reconvert them back into some other adult cell would have required a lot more manipulation. Considering the analogy above, it would be like converting the car into scrap metal first and then thinking about how to convert the scrap metal into the space shuttle. Do-able but yet, a step too many. This past experiment by the Japanese generated keys ideas for the Harvard group:

a) Relatively small number of genes could do the trick.
b) If the parent cell and the target cell shared a lot of common genes then maybe, just maybe the parent cell would directly convert into the target cell (and it did!).

They carefully sorted and drilled down through more than a thousand genes to finally arrive at three (Ngn3, Pdx1, and Mafa) transcription associated genes to do the transforming job.

And remember all this was done in LIVE MICE! So what happened to the mice? Some of these mice were diabetic and the additional surge of insulin from the converted cells *reduced the blood glucose levels* in these mice! Even better news was that the converted cells have stuck around for NINE months now. Nine months of blood-glucose control WITHOUT insulin injections or any other medication.

Though this research was carried out in mice, it is quite possible that it might be possible in humans as well. Some problems that the researchers are careful to point out are:

--> A vector virus was used to carry the genes inside the pancreas. What could we possibly use in humans? We cannot use a vector virus because its a LIVING organism that can potentially transform into something else infectious! The risk is just not worth it.

--> Can we use other unrelated cells to the same effect? In other words, if we need to build, say, a heart, would we need heart cells to start with or could we do with skin cells? Could these insulin-secreting cells have been generated from some other cells - other than closely related exocrine-enzyme-secreting pancreatic cells?

Till these questions are answered, we will need stem cells, embryonic cells and research using these cells (BACK OFF. GEORGE IDIOT BUSH!). We cannot just toss them in the trash. This new approach of converting one adult cell to another is very much an unknown angel. But what an awesome angel!! Their potential is mind-boggling! :)
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Permalink: Remarkable_Regenerative_Research.html
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Category: i-tech

08/24/08 11:18 - 71ºF - ID#45444

The OpenID Future Webscape

I decided to take a break and set up my OpenID* today. I chose as my OpenID delegate. I was somewhat surprised by the extremely elaborate and somewhat outlandish hoops of security they made me jump through, to register an OpenID. It was fun in a bizarre way.

First, they throw the standard registration questions at you.

After you answer those, they take you to a panel of 12 image concepts called the ImageShield*, that looks like this:


You select three image concepts that serve as your "secret question". In future logins, the site would present the imageshield and to login successfully, you would need to spot and type in the codes that appear on your previously chosen image concepts. The images and codes change, but the concept of the image stays the same. For eg. the imageshield will always have a picture of a bird or birds associated with the concept of a "bird" and a picture of some automobile associated with the concept of a "car" etc.

I think the idea of an OpenID is, in itself, an interesting experiment in online security. The imageshield at vidoop makes it seem even more futuristic. Someday, we will all be Neos and Trinitys of the online world and our password to virtual space will be a unique personal combination of the white rabbit, our own demons and perhaps a dilated concept of time.


Identity thefts would either be a thing of the past or identity thieves would have caught up to the technology and have succeeded in scanning minds of passers-by to mine information about their guarded mindscapes. For now, OpenIDs are just a weirdly cool way of shouting out your virtual name from digital rooftops to a pixelated universe.
The De-Jargon/De-Geek Zone
(formerly known as the footnote):

  • What is OpenID: OpenID is a shared identity service, which allows Internet users to log on to many different web sites using a single digital identity, eliminating the need for a different user name and password for each site. OpenID is a decentralized, free and open standard that lets users control the amount of personal information they provide.

More information here:
a) What is OpenID:
b) Wiki for OpenID:
c) *ImageShield:
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Category: eating in

08/23/08 08:08 - 84ºF - ID#45425

Lunch Picture Post

I forgot to take my camera to the Elmwood Festival but did photograph my lunch! :)

1. Appetizer: (A tiny portion of ) a HUMONGOUS pack of the most scrumptious Kettle corn - its almost as tall as I am! (The rest has been put away out of sight for the rest of the week).


2. Main Course: Most DELICIOUS Ciabatta Bread Veggie Medley Cheese Sandwich (Ciabatta bread from Lexington - I know. I know. I boycotted the place but I went in today and gave into temptation. They were just rolling this off the oven!)


3. Dessert: A Granny Smith all the way from New Zealand. Talk about a Godzilla like carbon footprint! :(


4. Contemplation: A steaming cuppa Mango tea with milk.
(Not pictured. I drank it up before I realized I hadn't photographed it! This is a view out my flat window, instead.)


Have an awesome evenin'!

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Permalink: Lunch_Picture_Post.html
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Location: Buffalo, NY

Category: opinion

08/22/08 07:07 - 87ºF - ID#45414

Some questions for everyone.

I have to admit that I am confused. I have been confused since Clinton got impeached.

If your neighbour is quiet and non-intrusive, you don't care if he is cheating on his wife and doing "injustice" to his kids. You mind your own business. If your politician is doing his job, why should you not give him the same respect and non-censure? You could argue that his affairs might be used to blackmail him but of what use would a blackmail be if the public didn't care? What if we only cared about our politicians performing their jobs? Don't you think enough damage has been done not only to this country but millions abroad, by impeaching a relatively nice non-warring president over his personal affairs?

Even if your politician is not doing his job, is there any reason to dig up dirt on his personal life and mix it in with his performance on his job? Does your boss add a line on your annual performance report about your sexual partners and your affairs? Does your boss even care about your affairs if you do your job (or don't do your job)?

You could make a valid bitter case and complain if an extra-marital affair of any politician affected his performance of his job. Last I checked, politicians are not generally elected because they are a moral example. I don't see why affairs should even make it into any news source other than lurid tabloids that exist for such details. How is being a "moral (or even mortal) messenger" any different than being the paparazzi that hounded Diana to her death?
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Permalink: Some_questions_for_everyone_.html
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Location: Buffalo, NY

Category: science

08/22/08 07:37 - 66ºF - ID#45407

What if we were all little people? - II

... asked Dr. Fing in (e:fing,45357). This little research snippet in today's issue of Science answers your question, at least partially:

Big leg bones from the Indonesian island of Flores show that the meter-high "hobbit" people (Homo floresiensis) who once lived there shared the island with enormous flesh-eating storks, researchers say.


Hanneke Meijer of the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, the Netherlands, and Rokus Awe Due of the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta found the bones in Liang Bua cave in the same layers as the hobbits--dated to at least 18,000 years ago. They identified them as a new species of extinct giant marabou. The scientists say the 1.8-meter-tall bird was a carnivore and top predator on the island; whether hobbits were among its fare is open to speculation. They reported on the find this week at the meeting of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution in Sydney, Australia.

So (e:carolinian)'s guess is probably more closer to truth than we'll ever know! The little people did exist at one point. Their extinction points to the fact that they were probably not very evolutionarily stable. Yeah, we were biologically fated to have kitchens with 9 - 10 foot (or higher) ceilings and similarly scaled counters and appliances.

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New Site Wide Comments

mike said to grandma
I'm so glad you made it safely!...

mike said to grandma
I'm so glad you made it safely!...

joe said to grandma
OMG welcome!...

joe said to mike
New years resolution to top (e:strip)?...