The Moon, via big balloon.

As a small child, I read quite a few books. Some of them were from the childhood of either parent – the Bobsey twins, the five little Peppers, Johnny Tremain, and Tarzan. One I remember in particular was called Flight to the Mushroom Planet. In this book, two boys build a rocket in their back yard with the help of a little old alien man, and blast with him beyond the moon to his home planet. Fanciful as the pseudo-science of this book might seem (where the weight of gravity can be much more easily overcome by kids, since they are lighter, and a rocket can be built from junk and spare parts), it does have some realistic basis. That’s why Google is starting a race to see what private group can get to the moon first, without putting kids lives at stake.

The idea is something like this – we all love space. It’s the frontier we haven’t conquered. And if people put out big bucks to get their ashes launched out into the ether, just think what they will pay to have remains interred on the Moon. There are a variety of more long-term commercial uses of such transport, as well as more long-term opportunities to tap the natural resources available there. And by encouraging this kind of private development, Google gets a bunch of good press as well as expanding its finance base. The more people live, work, and think about the further reaches of the galaxy, the more basic content there is driving traffic all over the web.

Personally I am highly attracted to the idea of ‘garage band’ groups coming together to build these Moon traveler prototypes. it makes me want to go home and start building something in my own garage. Of course, I would have to learn quite a bit more about the way things work to build a successful prototype. What’s the best wavelength for broadcasting video from the Moon, for instance? What are the best materials to withstand the extreme temperatures of space and re-entry without corruption? What sort of recording equipment is even able to withstand such extremes and still deliver a quality picture? But when Google admits that the costs will be prohibitive, I say balderdash. I’ve got it all worked out – I’ll carry the whole thing via balloon.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – don’t balloons explode in space? Yes, they do. I checked – here’s a nice little video to illustrate:

However, I am not deterred. I just have to find the right totally inexpensive material that will retain its elasticity under extreme pressure. I’m thinking of something like Mythbusters lead balloon, but that would be way too fragile. Even though it’s really cool:

No, what I really need is something like bubble gum. But less tacky when cold? Corn starch? The possibilities are endless. Hey, if two little boys can get all the way to a mushroom planet, a turn of the century science nut can get around the world in 80 days, and a lead balloon can fly (even outside of fiction), then I can certainly win the race to the Moon. I’m smart. I’ve got the passion. What force is strong enough to stop me, other than gravity?

Duck and Swimmer.

It is estimated that the North Atlantic shipping speed reductions proposed by US government scientists to protect right whales could cost over a million dollars.  While this is a hefty chunk of change, it is a relatively small percentage of the overall North Atlantic shipping industry’s profits (about $340 billion).  Still, the evidence that a reduction in speed will reduce whale deaths and increase the right whale population is strong.  So the only real question before the Office of Management and Budget should be whether this chunk will negatively impact shipping more than it will positively impact the most endangered of all whale species.

It’s a complex question, which may be why the proposal has languished with the OMB for so long.  Since the shipping industry is wide and diverse, are there companies that are going to be so negatively impacted as to go under due to this new speed rule?  Will shippers in a local area be unable to compete, due to a lower speed rule in places where more widespread shippers can make up the cost easily?  How will transatlantic shipping be affected, and will we be able to continue to compete in the international shipping market?

However, despite the plausible validity of checking all sides of the story before issuing a rule, shipper’s claims that less whales would be injured if shipping boats go faster seems to treat whales like randomly floating masses.  True, a faster boat will spend less time in a certain area of the water, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate less collisions.  Whales are perceptive.  When they see a giant thing bearing down on them slowly from the surface, they are not going to bonk into it headfirst, curious though they may be.  And any child can tell you it’s easier to doge a ball that’s thrown gently than one speeding with force.

Hopefully this is a conclusion the OMB will be able to realize soon.

Publisher’s Clearinghouse icon? FORECLOSED.

The stock market crash of ’29 was a social leveler specifically because the richies got poorer, too.  Now with the whole subprime slam-bang, we could be seeing the same kind of re-leveling.  Case in point: Ed McMahon, ‘best known as Johnny Carson’s sidekick on “The Tonight Show”‘ but that us young kids know only from his ads for Publisher’s Clearinghouse, is 644 thou in arrears for his Beverly Hills home.  Of course, he’s trying to sell the house and this isn’t really a market for selling, but still.  If old rich guy is belly-up, that doesn’t bode well for those with smaller incomes.

I am a moral person.  I’m also a person who’s worked in a bank and knows just how far she could get snatching a check worth more than I may ever make.  Still, I wonder if Ed, in his little van with balloons and his giant cardboard checks, was ever tempted to just drive away?

Hedging

In English parlance, ‘hedging’ typically refers to statements made to qualify or modify a more extreme position or opinion. Hedging in the financial or investment sense is pretty much the same thing (i.e., covering your butt) but the way in which it occurs is what’s confusing.

So I’ll go over the simple part first. So, you want to invest. Maybe it’s in a stock, or even in a group of stocks, that you think will rise in price. Pretty simple, right? But, what if the market does poorly? What if there’s a universal market crash? How do you protect that investment? The answer is a hedge. A hedge is an investment you make as a protection against risk. Wikipedia has a really good example of how the actual investment might look and perform over a few days, so I won’t bother to re-describe that here. What I will mention is a bit about how the complexity of a hedge works.

A hedge is typically a ‘shorting’ of a stock, meaning a contract for the rights to stock shares in the short term. It could be a swap, an option, or a future, or some other kind of right, but it is often not the actual physical exchange of stocks. Let’s look at an example. You think F industry, of which B stock is a part, is going to do poorly. Or you just think B stock is going to do not-so-well. You would take a short position of this stock, borrowing the stock and selling it at its current market price. Then, at a predetermined or optional future date, you buy the shares back, hopefully at a lower price, and return them to the lender. If the shares of stock actually fell in value, you’ve made a profit.

The question then comes up as to what the lender of the short has gained. Probably there was some sort of money exchanged for the rights to the stock for that period of time, either a percentage or some other exchange. I’m not sure exactly how that technically works yet. Also, I’m not sure I need to. Right now I’m going to go ‘hedge my bets’ that I don’t need to know.