Minnesota’s Robotics Cluster Profiled in the Robotics Business Review

Earlier this week the Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) was included in a feature article by Dan Kara in the Robotics Business Review, titled “Markets, Clusters and Robotics in the Land of Prince” (the article is behind a pay wall).

The article provides a great overview of the existing robotics clusters around the world.
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Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) Commissions Economic Impact Study of Minnesota’s Growing Robotics Industry

The Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) announced today that it has commissioned an Economic Impact Study of the current economic value of Minnesota’s robotics industry and the potential increase in that value if a robotics research and development cluster such as the Global Robotics Innovation Park were created.

The Study will be conducted by Mark Misukanis, Ph.D., a senior consultant at New Pharos Consulting who formerly served as the Director of Finance and Research at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and as the former Chief Budget Officer at the Office of Fiscal Policy and Analysis in the Minnesota Senate.

A diverse Steering Committee that includes the following leaders from higher education, business and economic development will direct the study and utilize its findings to propose a long-term vision for the State’s robotics industry:
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From DealBook: Tech-Wary Buffett Shies Away From Facebook

Warren Buffett

While investors are salivating over the Web’s hottest start-ups, Warren E. Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, long reticent of technology companies, has no plans to take the plunge into the social networking space.

“It’s not my game,” he said in an interview with DealBook at the Allen & Company conference here. “The world is changing, and I’m lagging behind.”

Mr. Buffett said he was not exactly sure what to make of the multibillion-dollar valuations of Facebook, Groupon, Zynga, LinkedIn and the like.

“A few of them will be worth enormous amounts,” he said. But “I don’t know which ones.”


10 Steps to Risk-Proofing our Economy


Nassim Taleb’s Financial Times op-ed recommends 10 fixes to our economy

Last week in the Financial Times, Nassim Taleb published an op-ed entitled, “Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world.” In it, Taleb lays out a number of major economic reforms we could make to limit the likelihood of catastrophic risk in the future (expanded upon in the full FT article):

  • 1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small.
  • 2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains.
  • 3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus.
  • 4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks.
  • 5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity.
  • 6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning.
  • 7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence.”
  • 8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains.
  • 9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement.
  • 10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs.

I have mentioned Taleb’s recommendations on rethinking on the economy before. He’s not always right, but he’s certainly worth understanding. In this case, his 10 principles are unlikely to be implemented, but maybe policy makers should give them some consideration.

Taleb is the author of the tremendously interesting (though somewhat disjointed) books “Fooled by Randomness” and “The Black Swan” and is also the subject of a great essay by Malcolm Gladwell. Check him out.

Important Self-Defense Lessons for the Women in Your Life

not_me_bookMy good friend, Al Horner, was profiled in Kare 11’s television news on Monday night. Al is a former Navy SEAL, a self-defense instructor, and recently authored the book “Not Me“.

With the release of the book, some of the TV station’s female anchors took his self-defense training. Take a few minutes and watch the Kare11 Extra segment here.

After watching the video, please learn more about Al’s book “Not Me” and his self-defense courses. My wife took the course a couple of weeks ago and is now recruiting friends to host another class.

Purchase “Not Me” by Al Horner from Amazon.com

How Close Are We to an Economic Depression?

economic depression

Are we on the verge of a Second Great Depression?

There has been a lot of whispering lately that our current economic crisis may be leading to another Great Depression.

On Tuesday, the ultra-liberal Nation magazine proposed that we might already be in the midst of the Second Great Depression.

Though there is no universally-agreed-upon definition of the term “depression”, an op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal proposed one common definition: a 10% decline in per capita GDP.

If we take the definition of “10% decline in per capita GDP” as our working definition, how close are we to this kind of economic depression?

For the sake of this analysis, we’ll equate real GDP with per capita GDP, since month-to-month national population changes are trivial. For the curious, the US Census does publish that data.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported:

“A Depression doesn’t have to be Great — bread lines, rampant unemployment, a wipeout in the stock market. The economy can sink into a milder depression, the kind spelled with a lowercase ‘d.’

“And it may be happening now.

“The trouble is, unlike recessions, which are easy to define, there are no firm rules for what makes a depression. Everyone at least seems to agree there hasn’t been one since the epic hardship of the 1930s.

“But with each new hard-times headline, most recently an alarming economic contraction of 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter, it seems more likely that the next depression is on its way.”

Government (and press) are inflating data to hype the economic crisis

Here’s the problem: the 6.2% decline that the AP cites doesn’t really exist. That piece of data comes from a Bureau of Economic Analysis report from last Friday that announced a 1.6% quarterly GDP decline estimate — with an annualized rate of 6.2%.

For those with quick brains: 1.6 x 4 = 6.4, not 6.2, the discrepancy is likely due to the rounding of both numbers for simplicity.

As the New York Times graph (above) demonstrates, the only actual decline in GDP, so far, has been the 1.6% of last quarter. Any annualized extrapolation beyond the current quarter’s data, is pure conjecture. This curve could turn up or down, we don’t yet know.

This is all to say that the government announcement, and the AP report on it, are hyping the data to indicate GDP declines four times worse than they actually are.

I’m perfectly willing to concede that the data for 2009 could be as bad as (or worse than) a 6.2% decline in the American economy, but let’s wait for the data. Hype and fear aren’t going to help anything.

Forget Iraq: Prepare for a “Space War”?

space war

Does Recent Satellite Collision Foreshadow Future Space Destruction?

You probably heard about the satellite collision two weeks ago, when a US communications and defense satellite was struck by a defunct Russian satellite.

The collision involved an amazing amount of force (two 700lb. objects, traveling towards each other at over 13,000 mph, apparently creates the impact energy of 5 tons of TNT)! The impact also created a huge cloud of shattered-satellite space debris about 500 miles large that could circle the Earth for the next 10,000 years.

This giant cloud of collision debris now, itself, may be putting other satellites and space flights at risk, as even a pebble of debris, cruising faster than a rifle bullet, can destroy anything in its path. For instance, shielding on the International Space Station is only designed to protect the station from debris less than 1 cm in diameter.

Before that massive debris cloud was created this month, there were already over half a million pieces of space debris over 1 cm in size in the Earth’s orbit (as illustrated below).

Though some effort has gone in to developing space equipment to mitigate the creation of space debris, there are few economical techniques for dealing with the huge amounts of small debris already surrounding the planet.

Considering that our televisions, internet, cell phones, defense systems, and other technological infrastructures rely in whole or part on orbiting satellites, it’s easy to see that the destructive power of these debris clouds could easily disrupt our lives in serious (maybe even crippling) ways.

Could Satellite and Space Debris Battles Be the Future of Warfare?

If these debris clouds can spell accidental near-doom for our technology infrastructure, what could happen if we had to worry about the creation of space debris deliberately designed to attack our satellites?

On Saturday, a Wall Street Journal op-ed raised concerns about the recent successful launch of Iran’s first satellite. Though the Iranian Safir rocket and satellite were rudimentary by U.S. standards, they spell a future in space for more and more countries — including more and more who disagree with each other.

The op-ed’s author, an Israeli defense official, argued:

“The Safir demonstrates a fair amount of sophistication for an initial launcher. The question remains whether this sophistication is indigenous and what features, if any, have been imported from abroad. Some of the Safir’s features bear the telltale signs of previous space launching experience, implying outside help. Such help could come from any country that possesses Soviet-era missile and space technology. Yet the Safir is far more advanced than North Korea’s space launcher. This fact — and the magnitude of the entire Iranian space enterprise — indicates that much of the success is homegrown.”

The “Star Wars”/SDI space-based weapons proposals of the 1980s have not yet reappeared, but we may be closer than we realize.

As Foreign Policy magazine notes:

“No one, including the United States, is likely to have actual weapons in space in the foreseeable future. Space control does not require such weapons. Ground-based, sea-based, and even air-based antisatellite weapons (ASATs) can do the trick. The United States has long been working on a variety of highly sophisticated ASAT programs — indeed, the infrastructure for missile defense is the sort of infrastructure needed for ASAT systems.

“When a country builds ever greater military capabilities, potential rivals react. China, in particular, is wary of the coercive possibilities of U.S. military power. The Middle Kingdom says it wants a space treaty, but in January 2007, it tested its own somewhat primitive ASAT — a kinetic-kill device that roughly replicated a test the United States carried out in 1985.

“Is a space-related arms race under way? Yes. But there is still time to ratchet it down, and the Obama administration has signaled that it might do so. That will be difficult, though. Exceptionalism is a major driver of foreign policy, and influential people and hard-line think tanks are comfortable with the idea that full-spectrum dominance in all things military is America’s right.”

That ratcheting-down may be even more difficult if Iran and Israel are two of the nations in this space-arms race together.

Foreign Policy continues with the nightmare “space war” scenario:

“The United States continues to work on its ‘defensive’ ASAT systems. China and Russia do the same to counter U.S. capabilities. India and Japan put together their own individual systems. Ditto for Pakistan, if it survives as a coherent country. Israel follows suit, as does Iran.

“In a time of high tension, someone preemptively smashes spy satellites in low-earth orbits, creating tens of thousands of metal chunks and shards. Debris-tracking systems are overwhelmed, and low-earth orbits become so cluttered with metal that new satellites cannot be safely launched. Satellites already in orbit die of old age or are killed by debris strikes.

“The global economy, which is greatly dependent on a variety of assets in space, collapses. The countries of the world head back to a 1950s-style way of life, but there are billions more people on the planet than in the 50s. That’s a recipe for malnutrition, starvation, and wars for resources.”

Is any of this likely to happen? Probably not. Is it something we should probably be spending some time and energy to get a handle on? I’d say so. Part of the solution is just normal foreign relations and diplomacy to develop agreements about space usage. Part of it is putting resources into figuring out how to clear the Earth’s orbit of all this garbage. Maybe we should cross our fingers a little too — just think if the US-Russian satellite collision of this month had occurred 40 years ago, would anyone have believed it was accidental then?

Will Banks Be Nationalized This Weekend?

bank nationalization

Calls for Bank Nationalization Are Increasing

This week both Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan indicated that some form of federal bank takeover may be necessary in the near future.

I wrote a few weeks ago that nationalization may be one important way to create accountability and stability in our financial system.

Others have suggested that nationalization has been the Obama Administration’s plan all along — which might indicate why their announced bank bailout plans have sounded confused.

I have no special knowledge as to whether or not this is the correct solution to our massive bank insolvencies, but lots of people seem to think it might be.

If Banks Are Nationalized, Will It Happen Soon?

If nationalization might be in the cards, when can we expect it to happen?

The trick is that if banks are nationalized, their stocks will become worthless.  That means any announcements of a nationalization plan would send those stocks plummeting.  This is one reason why many observers think the Administration might keep a nationalization plan under wraps until it is ready to be implemented.

Adam Davidson of NPR further indicates that a nationalization plan would likely be announced on a Sunday:

“This is why so much of the big government moves happen on a Sunday afternoon. They wait until the markets in NY close on Friday, then they pounce. They spend a sleepless weekend–when global markets are closed–putting everything together and then announce it on Sunday afternoon, NY time, before Tokyo’s stock market opens.

“If the economists who tell us that nationalization is inevitable are right, then we’ll probably see things happen just like that. We’ll get breathless, hurried rumors on a Friday evening followed by a Saturday of confusing, contradictory leaks and a Sunday news conference announcing that the U.S. government now owns and operates several of the world’s largest banks.”

Part of this prediction could already be happening as traders today apparently worried about an impending nationalization and sold many financial stocks.

Economist Nouriel Roubini, on the other hand, thinks Obama plans  to wait a few months before  nationalization:

“The savvy Geithner, this theory goes, has determined that seizing Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC) now would trigger a run on the bank at JP Morgan (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC)–thus forcing the immediate seizure of those giants, too. JPM and WFC are also insolvent, so this wouldn’t be irrational, but Geithner and his bosses might get blamed for destroying them.

“In 6-12 months, meanwhile, the market will gradually have realized that JPM and WFC are insolvent, so nationalization will no longer be a startling alternative (and Obama and Geithner won’t get blamed).”

My guess is that the odds of nationalization are probably very slim and that it would probably happen in weeks, not days, from now. But if it does happen this Sunday, I guess I can say I told you so.

Why Don’t We Hold “Experts” Accountable?


When Media “Experts” Assist in Ruining Our Economy, Why Aren’t They Fired?

Yesterday I wrote about a depressing appearance by Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb on CNBC, where the show’s hosts were demonstrably incapable of engaging in a serious discussion about the structural problems in our economy. A few days ago, I also wrote about how one of the problems with our current economic crisis is that we aren’t making a point of holding financial leaders accountable for harming our economy.

I can understand that it’s politically and logistically difficult to fire all of the regulatory and financial industry leaders who played a part in getting us into this situation. What I have a harder time understanding is the 24-news stations (CNN, Fox News and, most notably, CNBC) who for years have held out financial “experts” to predict for us which stocks were “buys” and which were “sells”. Of course, none of these “experts” have any particular prescience (because nobody does) and all of them have had their specific predictions fail more often than not. Most importantly, these so-called “experts” didn’t see our crisis coming, didn’t prepare anyone for it, and yet are still on TV, pretending to predict hot and cold stocks for us. Why do these worthless “experts” still have jobs?

Can We At Least Agree to Boycott the “Experts”?

A number of financial bloggers recently participated in International Boycott CNBC Day, heeding the call:

“We are boycotting CNBC because of what we perceive as a gross lack of accountability and editorial judgment.

“We are boycotting CNBC because they produce shows with personalities who take zero responsibility for stock picks and markets calls which misinform viewers and distort the severity of the economic crisis.

“We are boycotting CNBC because they trot out so called expert guests who have cost investors millions without warning viewers and allow these guests to pump themselves up without demanding the disclosure of performance.

“We are boycotting CNBC because we want to send a message that such asshat behavior is unacceptable to us, their viewers.”

Now, I’m sad to admit that I didn’t learn about International Boycott CNBC Day until it was too late (the boycott was on February 3). Then again, it would be hard for me to “boycott” something I’ve never voluntarily watched [I do regularly watch it, involuntarily, as it is the station of choice in my gym lockerroom].

The saddest part is that not only are most people not dismissing these clowns, CNBC’s ratings are actually UP since the financial crisis started.