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Government Run as a Business: The Offsite

I'm a businessman; call me "TE". The search committee picked me to run the US government as a business. It's my first day on the job.

Of course we're going to start with an offsite to get the strategy right. Turns out we've got this place called Camp David with skeet shooting and plenty of conference rooms.

"Growth is what's most important to any business," say I. "I hear we're withdrawing from the Afghani market. What's that all about?"

"They're not a good market for government, sir. In fact, you might say they're ungovernable."

"OK," I say, "That initiative was undertaken by one of my predecessors. We don't have to throw good money after bad. But where can we expand? What about Canada? They're very governable. Work up a plan for me. Maybe Europe, too; see if we can underprice that outfit in Brussels. Squeeze 'em with some protective tariffs.

"Now what about selling more products to existing customers? The move into health care is good; lots of money and good margins there. Is it true they have to buy our product or they get fined?"

"Yes, sir," says a woman proudly. "Not exactly yet but soon."

"Good; keep on top of that. What about housing?" I ask. "What can we do in that market?"

"Well, sir, we have a housing finance arm; they're not doing very well. But we're bailing them out."

"Let 'em go. I assume they're firewalled and won't take us down in a bankruptcy. But what about actually building housing?"

"We do that for people who can't afford housing, sir."

"That's a lousy market," I point out; "we should be building houses for the rich. Go where the money is. Which reminds me, what about banking?"

"That's in the private sector, sir; we've been bailing them out, too."

"So we've got 'em where we want 'em, right? Call the loans. Acquire them in bankruptcy; good way to consolidate competitors."

"But the Fed won't like that, sir."

"Have that Bernanke guy in my office tomorrow morning. What about food? Can't we go into the food market? Let's do organic; people pay a lot for that."

"There are no clear standards for what gets labeled organic, sir."

"We should set the standards. If we make it, it's organic. Let's make a rule the competitors can't claim their stuff is organic. Or will we get sued?"

"We have sovereign immunity, sir."

"What's that?" I ask.

"We can only be sued if we agree to be sued."

I'm really going to like this job. Best business I've ever run. Lots of room for growth. Very little competition but we gotta look out for those Chinese.


So, my fellow fiscal conservatives, do we really want a government that's "run like a business"? Do we want a government always looking for opportunities for grow? In fact the problem may be that our government is too much like a business in its drive to expand its reach. I think we want a government which does only those jobs businesses can't, shouldn't, or won't do.

Tweet the Pig

In 760 AD or thereabouts the fortress city in southern France now known as Carcassonne was under siege by the Franks. Food and water were running low; the Franks were expecting surrender any day. The Saracen lord of the place was dead; but his widow, Dame Carcas, had an idea. She convinced everyone to feed all of their remaining grain to a pig she donated. The people starved but the pig grew fat. She had it thrown off the tower. "'S'Wounds," said the commander of the Franks; "if they can waste a pig like this, they're eating better than we are. We're outta here; try someplace easier." Dame Carcas had the city bells rung all day in triumph, and the city was renamed for the sounds: Carcas sonne or Carcas rings. May also be where the saying about flying pigs came from.

Imagine the civic trust that went into that exercise. Suppose that it was us – the US – in that city and there was a similar proposal about feeding the remaining grain to a sacrificial pig.

The rich object that it is an unfair tax since they own most of the grain. They threaten to leave the city.

Advocates for the poor object that the poor have too little grain already.

Congress demands an investigation of the speculators believed to have caused high grain prices. Then they declare a siege recess.

President Obama cautions against unilateral fattening and urges a strong statement from the UN – or he might send the Seals. Depends on the day.

Republican candidates take polls.

But suppose by some miracle the grain is gathered and the swine duly stuffed. Then we still have a problem:

PETA doesn't want the pig tossed.

The investment bankers say they will leave the city if they are not allowed to eat the pig themselves.

Congress comes back from recess and wants to dismember the pig and distribute it inside the city as pork.

And, if the fatted pig is thrown:

Some twit might tweet that he is starving and give away the whole game.

So, we need a more modern idea:

We use Meetup to arrange an actual meeting in the city square.

We agree to send each other Facebook invites for fabulous feasts and friend the besiegers to be sure they know what's going down. We like all the foodstuffs in town. It's called tweeting the pig.

But, more important, we need to learn to trust each other again – and be worthy of the trust.

If US Air Were a Bank...

The crew would've bailed out and gotten a bonus.

Save Titan!

From a NASA press release:

NASA Confirms Liquid Lake on Saturn Moon

"PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA scientists have concluded that at least one of the large lakes observed on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, and have positively identified the presence of ethane…

""Detection of liquid ethane confirms a long-held idea that lakes and seas filled with methane and ethane exist on Titan," said Larry Soderblom, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey…"

Methane and ethane happen to be the main ingredients of natural gas.

Now the rest of the story from Nerdville's future-detection apparatus:

Speaker Pelosi calls the House of Representatives into emergency session to vote on a bill banning "any form of hydrocarbon extraction from any moon of a ringed planet."

"The unknowns are too great;" she says. "The risks are just too high; oil companies might have even larger profits. Conservation will be discouraged. This is another cruel distraction stage managed by the failed GeorgeBush administration."

President Bush denounces Democrats in Congress for blocking America's energy independence. "The price of oil has already begun to fall in anticipation of Ticantic (sic) supplies. Americans will know who to blame at the pump."

Senate Majority Leader Reid says that he believes the Senate is willing to go even further than the House. "No further exploration of extraterrestrial sources should be allowed. We must know who authorized the use of NASA for prospecting."

John McCain promises voters that the Cassini spaceship will NOT be withdrawn from the vicinity of Saturn until its mission has been accomplished. Moreover, he says, as President he will assure that methane or ethane or whatever from Titan will be delivered to Americans at the pump free of any highway tax.

The Democratic National Committee says "this has Dick Cheney's oily fingerprints all over it. Look for Halliburton to get an enormous contract."

Ethanol producers demand that any imported Titanic ethane be rebranded and subject to a $5.00/gallon tariff.

Barack Obama points out that the Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. "As a guy with a funny name," he says, "I will be willing to enter talks with the Grand Titan with no preconditions."

Al Gore points to a more ominous part of the NASA release: "The observations also suggest the lake is evaporating. It is ringed by a dark beach, where the black lake merges with the bright shoreline."

"This is a very inconvenient truth," says Gore. "There is a growing consensus that the results of our profligate ways are not restricted to our own planet."

Ban dihydrogen monoxide

If you can't see the video, follow this link.

On the other hand, some people pay more per gallon for the stuff than they do for gasoline.

Great Time to be a Nerd


My friend Jeff Pulver was just telling me that it’s a great time be a nerd. Right on cue I walked past the poster above which I think advertises a new TV show.

On the same theme, Mary asked the other day what all us nerds would’ve done for a living if there weren’t computers or other electronic devices for us to play with. It’s a very frightening thought. I thought I’d be a writer like my father but met my first computer, an IBM 7090 mainframe, in the computer lab at college when I was nineteen (1962) and found this was a much better way to make a living. Didn’t get around to writing fiction again until a couple of years ago when I wrote hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble – not surprisingly, nerd Dom Montain is a major character of that book.

So what would we have done? Took some thought. Not many of would have been gymnasts, super warriors, craftsman (takes fine motor skills), or very good farmers.

We would’ve counted, added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. Before there were computers, there were lots of numbers that had to be crunched by hand. When you go over the George Washington Bridge or ascend the Empire State Building, remember that the only mathematical tools for all the engineering calculations were adding machines and slide rules (easy to use for a nerd); presumably the calculations were done at least twice.

All the accounts of everything had to be done by hand. All monthly statements manually totaled (at best on an adding machine).

So we would’ve been accountants or engineers or employed by such.

It’s much more fun to teach computers to do all that work (what programming is all about); we never have to do the same thing twice – at least until we reimplement it for a new computer or operating system. And we get great toys to play with.

Jeff’s right.

Cause for Global Warming Discovered

The graphs below from an article by Natural Resources Canada show the movement of the magnetic North Pole. As the article says “The change in velocity of the North Magnetic Pole since the early 1970s has been remarkable – 9 km/yr to 41 km/yr.”


And this graph from the report of the Nobel-sharing International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows an accelerated increase in global warming during exactly the same period (left scale is difference from the 1961-1990 average).


Unfortunately the IPCC was distracted by the coincident rise in certain atmospheric gasses and so missed the true cause of global warming. The Director of Natural Resources Canada is precluded from running for President of the US because he wasn’t born here.

OK. This is all junk science. I admit it. Neither Natural Resources Canada nor anyone else I know of has claimed a link between this accelerated movement of the magnetic pole and global temperatures. We could invent a mechanism for cause and effect, however: the location of the magnetic pole affects the shape and poles of the earth’s magnetic field (obviously) which has an effect on incoming cosmic radiation which has an effect on cloud formation which has an effect on reflectivity which has an effect on temperature. It’s a little harder to do the opposite and imagine how warming caused the pole to move but I’m sure some smart reader’ll do that.

All this is just meant as a warning against taking apparent correlations too seriously.

John R. Christy, Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama at Huntsville and a participant in the IPCC (he calculates that he is .0001 of a Nobel Laureate) writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

“I'm sure the majority (but not all) of my IPCC colleagues cringe when I say this, but I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming we see. Rather, I see a reliance on climate models (useful but never "proof") and the coincidence that changes in carbon dioxide and global temperatures have loose similarity over time.

“There are some of us who remain so humbled by the task of measuring and understanding the extraordinarily complex climate system that we are skeptical of our ability to know what it is doing and why. As we build climate data sets from scratch and look into the guts of the climate system, however, we don't find the alarmist theory matching observations….

“It is my turn to cringe when I hear overstated-confidence from those who describe the projected evolution of global weather patterns over the next 100 years, especially when I consider how difficult it is to accurately predict that system's behavior over the next five days.

“Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals (such as scientists) and the tools available to us. As my high-school physics teacher admonished us in those we-shall-conquer-the-world-with-a-slide-rule days, "Begin all of your scientific pronouncements with 'At our present level of ignorance, we think we know . . .'"”

He’s not saying (and I’m not saying) that anthropogenic activity is NOT causing global warming. He is saying we have less than proof and I’m saying we’ve got to stay skeptical even as we take some obvious actions like reducing our dependence on fossil fuels that we’re running short of anyway. The Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth was deserved since it’s an effective and dramatic polemic; a Nobel Prize for shoddy science seems an inducement to substituting rhetoric for thought in making crucial resource allocation decisions.

Fast Forwarding Reality

From an article in today’s New York Times:  “..more viewers [than in the past] are watching shows delayed rather than live, using TiVo and other DVRs. Research indicates those viewers are more likely to fast-forward through spots than those who watch live TV.”

Gee, that’s sort of strange.  I’d much rather fast-forward live TV than my DVR.  Fast-forwarding live TV gets you to the future.  You can fast-forward Bloomberg, for example, and know what stock prices are gonna be an hour from now.  Fast-forward ESPN to the end of the race and then call your bookie.

Lobbyists and PACs can fast-forward to November, 2008 and target their contributions only to the winners-to-be.  We can fast-forward CNN and find out what milestones the Iraqi government will meet.  We can find out which movies to see by fast-forwarding to next year’s Oscars.  We could also fast-forward some reality shows but we’d see the same stupid things then that we see now.  Same problem with fast-forwarding The Donald and most celebrities.

Back in the present, it’s pretty clear that pre-recorded programs are worth more than live ones most of the time because you can watch when you want and because you CAN fast-forward past the commercials and dull spots (full disclosure: I don’t always watch when the bad guys have the ball or are at bat.  I skip all celebrity news.).

So let’s fast-forward the technology news into the future.  Streaming (real time) video is a solution looking for a problem.  What we really want to do is download stuff fast and then view it at our own pace.  The interesting thing is that a straight forward evolution of today’s Internet gets us to faster and faster downloads while streaming is problematical. Expensive technologies like Verizon’s FiOS are designed to support the streaming we don’t really want.  Hmmm….

Related posts:

Who Needs Streaming Video?

Television and the Internet

Will the UN Save the World from Asteroids?

Reuters story on CNN: “An asteroid may come uncomfortably close to Earth in 2036 and the United Nations should assume responsibility for a space mission to deflect it, a group of astronauts, engineers and scientists said on Saturday.”

In this exclusive post, Fractals of Change takes you into the future by pre-viewing newscasts from CNN (technology is under NDA and can’t be revealed). 

It’s 2010.  The UN has accepted this immense responsibility (along with increased funding).  Much sooner than expected, the challenge has arrived.  A comet alters the course of a Mount Everest size asteroid; there is a 88.7% that it will strike the earth in 399 days according to certain scientists.  Others, of course, dispute this number. 

An audit reveals that the son-in-law of the Secretary General has misspent most of the funds allocated for the UN anti-asteroid rocket program.  His defenders point out that no threat was expected before 2036 by which time his “alternative investments” would have paid off and the funds would have been replaced with interest.  It’s unfair to condemn him for the precipitous timing of this threat, they say.

Iran currently holds the rotating chairmanship of UNAACA (United Nations Asteroid Avoidance Coordination Assembly).  The chairman regrets to say that the committee will not be able to meet until the current sanctions imposed on Iran for above ground nuclear weapon testing are lifted.

299 days left.

In a rare display of unanimity, the Security Council, over the objections of the General Assembly, takes authority over this matter and begins debate.  However, the council does not remain unanimous for long.

The US and Britain have proposed using a small nuclear explosion to alter the path of the asteroid.  The US even volunteers to supply one of its own rockets – which will, of course, fly a UN flag.  A small but persistent group of anti-nuclear activists monopolize the TV cameras outside the UN.

“Can this evidence, mostly generated in the US, be trusted?” asks the Chinese ambassador.  “Is this asteroid really a weapon of mass destruction… or an excuse for precipitous unilateral orbit change?”

The US replies that it is not able to reveal all of its sources without compromising national security but that it is absolutely certain of its data.  PowerPoint slides showing the trajectory of the asteroid are presented by the Secretary of State.

There is general agreement among scientists that, due to the shape of the solar system, any impact is likely to be near the equator.  There is no agreement on how the higher latitudes will be affected.  Some feel that the resulting dust cloud will reverse global warming.  There is significant support for the asteroid in low-lying countries far from the tropics.

199 days left.

Venezuela, currently one of the temporary members of The Security Council and expected to support action since it is in the impact zone, surprises observers by condemning this “Yankee plot to destabilize the regime of Grand Emperor Chavez.”

Questions are asked in the US Congress.  Liberal members ask “do we have a sufficient plan for dealing with the aftermath of an incursion into the asteroid belt?”  Conservatives want to know “how can any expenditure be justified when scientists are not unanimous and there is still a significant chance – even according to those who support the asteroid-collision theory – that the asteroid will miss the earth?”

France warns the United States and Britain against any unilateral action against the asteroid.  After all, both countries have signed a convention promising not to be the first to launch nuclear weapons from space.  France understands the urgency but is sure that no situation is so serious that it can’t be dealt with through diplomacy and discussion.  It is also time, says France, to consider whether the sanctions on Iran might be a little too severe.  At least cognac exports to that county should be allowed on humanitarian grounds.

99 days left.  Texas, it turns out, is the most likely point of impact.

A CNN poll shows that most people in San Francisco feel that it would be better to evacuate Texas than use a nuclear weapon against the asteroid.  The California legislature establishes a quota system for Texans attempting to enter California “for health and environmental reasons.”

The President, a dark horse blogger candidate from Rhode Island who catapulted into fame on the eve of the Democratic primaries by promising URU - Unilateral  Rejection of Unilateralism, reaffirms her campaign pledge but says that the US may suspend its financial support of the UN anti-asteroid program if action is not taken “soon”.  She is roundly flamed by some of her best blogger friends for threatening the world body in this way.

49 days left.

OPEC announces that, for the sake of the world, it is doubling oil prices and cutting production to “compensate” for the likely loss of Texas oil capacity.

Russia joins OPEC and immediately assumes the presidency.  China incorporates the “breakaway province of Nigeria” as a precaution.

9 days left.

Unfortunately, we can’t see any further into the future because, at this point, our pre-viewed CNN broadcasts become all celebrities all of the time.  We don’t know whether the lack of significant news going forward signifies the end of intelligent life on earth, a format change by CNN, or both.

Valentine’s Day Warning

Like any married couple or management team with offices across the hall from each other, Mary and I communicate mainly by email. However, we met physically at the coffee machine the other day.

“Didja get the links I sent you?” I ask conversationally.

“You didn’t send me any links,” she says.

“I most certainly did.  Coupla sites that I know you’ll be interested in. Do all sorts of good stuff that the charities you work with may want to take advantage of.”

“I didn’t get any links from you today. When did you send them? Are you sure you sent them?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” This is getting ugly now. “You probably deleted them accidentally.”

“You can look in my deleted mail if you want.”

I look.  They’re not there.  I accuse her of misfiling them. She challenges me to search her mail. I know how to make Outlook do that so I do.  Meanwhile I look in the Junk E-Mail folder that Outlook maintains.  Lots of stuff from me – aha – but nothing more recent than the last two weeks.

“I never look in there,” she says.  Quietly, I make sure Outlook will never Junk me again on her machine.  The Search Folder I set up on her machine has now been fully populated.  Still no sign of the missing emails.  I recheck my machine; they’re in the Sent Folder where they belong.  Hmmm….

“Why don’t you just resend them if you have them,” she says.

“That’s not the point,” I say.  As soon as the phone rings and I get on a conference call, my mind wanders and I realize where my mail is:  Postini has it!  Mail consisting mainly of links – even if it’s from me – looks suspicious to this generally very efficient and intelligent spam filter that our email provider runs. She logs into Postini and I make sure it’ll never reject me again on her behalf.

Now how many romances are gonna die this Valentine’s Day because e-cupid’s arrows are ensnared in a spam trap? Any lusty or suggestive remarks are almost certainly gonna spring the snare. Don’t let it happen to you.

Now on Kindle!

hackoff.com: An historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble

CEO Tom Evslin's insider account of the Internet bubble and its aftermath. "This novel is a surveillance video of the seeds of the current economic collapse."

The Interpreter's Tale

Hacker Dom Montain is in Barcelona in Evslin's Kindle-edition long short story. Why? and why are the pickpockets stealing mobile phones?

Need A Kindle?

Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading Device

Not quite as good as a real book IMHO but a lot lighter than a trip worth of books. Also better than a cell phone for mobile web access - and that's free!

Recent Reads - Click title to order from Amazon


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