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Archive for October 2007

Economics of clones

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Livestock cloning operations in the heartland! 🙂

Note even genetically enhanced male progeny display larger variance than female progeny. I guess this is just because they lack a second X chromosome.

WIRED: …Like it or not, guys like Don Coover have already turned meat-eaters into a test market for the safety of cloned meat. “It’s inevitable that there are large numbers of clone progeny in the food supply,” says Blake Russell, vice president of sales and business development at ViaGen, another cloning company. “The likelihood that anyone could credibly say ‘Our animals are not descended from clones’ is zero.”

The reason cloning makes economic sense isn’t that ranchers will sell the actual clones for food. The idea is to sell their offspring. Artificial insemination and semen- shipping have made breeding for optimum genetics a highly profitable business. The owner of a champion bull can charge top dollar for its breeding services or its descendants. Eventually, of course, that animal will get too old to reproduce. But if you clone it, you can keep that revenue stream open. Clones can be bred just like their progenitors, spreading those popular qualities further into the gene pool. “Part of the value of cloning is that you’re buying something with unique genetic potential. It’s almost like brand identity,” says John Lawrence, an extension livestock economist at Iowa State University. “In many regards it’s less risky, because you can say you have a proven animal.”

Today, it costs about $1,500 to raise a naturally conceived dairy heifer from conception to breeding age; it costs roughly $17,000 to clone a cow. The figures are about $200 versus $4,000 for hogs. (The price drops if you make multiple copies.) But with natural or assisted reproduction, roughly 5 to 10 percent of all females and 50 percent of all males bred for better genetics don’t inherit their parents’ best qualities and must be sold at a loss, as “salvage” animals. Cloning, on the other hand, almost guarantees the high- fidelity replication of desirable traits. So the clone of a champion bull has higher downstream breeding potential than, say, that bull’s brother. If the original bull was a good breeder, then the clone’s semen sells for more and its offspring are worth more. For hogs, the numbers add up fast: Through artificial insemination, one boar can impregnate 400 sows a year, yielding about 4,000 piglets. But if that boar was cloned from a proven superior male, its progeny will be worth about $6 more per piglet in “improved feed conversion, growth rate, survivability, and meat quality,” says Russell of ViaGen. “So a $3,000 investment in cloning can create $24,000 in added value per year.”

Written by infoproc

October 31, 2007 at 8:19 pm

Posted in biotech, cloning

Small (anthropic?) world

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My former PhD advisor gives an interdisciplinary lunch talk at the Berkeley faculty club and gets immediately blogged by Brad Delong!

More on the anthropic principle from this blog. Call me a skeptic 😉

Lawrence Hall

Lawrence Hall is the name of a building (the Lawrence Hall of Science) and a professor (Lawrence Hall of Physics). The second came to the Berkeley Monday Faculty Lunch Forum to argue that there is empirical content to the Anthropic Cosmological Principle.

What is this principle? Put it this way. Suppose somebody asks you why the universe is pervaded by an 80-20 nitrogen-oxygen gas mixture, or why it is 300K outside. The answer is that the universe isn’t like that but that where you are is like that because if you wet surrounded by chlorine gas or in a place where it is 400K you–and all life like you–would be dead. Our confidence in these “anthropic” explanations is strong because we can point to places we know of that lack the 80-20 atmosphere–the asteroid belt–and places where it is not a shirtsleeve 300K–Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Can this anthropic principle be applied to more fundamental issues? Can we say that the mass of the d quark is what it is because if it were 20% lower than the neutron would be absolutely stable and there would be no stars? We cannot see any places in the multiverse where the mass of the down quark is lower, but our predecessors did not know about the asteroid belt and other places lacking an 80-20 atmosphere, and the anthropic explanation for why there is oxygen around for us to breathe was just as valid then for them as it is for us. Is it doing science to use this anthropic principle–or is it just meaningless and tautological? After all, pretty much everything in the universe has to be the way that it is for there to be a physicist with the same name as a building talking in the Seaborg Room of the Berkeley Faculty Club Monday at lunchtime–start with Lawrence Hall as your premise, and you have “explained” everything, in some sense.

Lawrence Hall thinks that there is empirical content, and his argument goes like this…

Written by infoproc

October 30, 2007 at 12:53 pm

The one sided clash of civilizations

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This NYTimes article describes the creation of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a $12.5B endowment from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The prospects for creating a world class university there seem dim, even with significant financial resources — would you leave your position in, e.g., Boston, for one at KAUST? Similar undertakings, such as KAIST in Korea, can depend on a deep pool of expatriate (Korean emigrants abroad) and local talent.

The article reveals how limited is the threat from “islamo-facism” and how one sided this particular clash of civilizations.

NYTimes: …For the new institution, the king has cut his own education ministry out the loop, hiring the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco to build the campus, create its curriculum and attract foreigners.

Supporters of what is to be called the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or Kaust, wonder whether the king is simply building another gated island to be dominated by foreigners, like the compounds for oil industry workers that have existed here for decades, or creating an institution that will have a real impact on Saudi society and the rest of the Arab world.

“There are two Saudi Arabias,” said Jamal Khashoggi, the editor of Al Watan, a newspaper. “The question is which Saudi Arabia will take over.”

The king has broken taboos, declaring that the Arabs have fallen critically behind much of the modern world in intellectual achievement and that his country depends too much on oil and not enough on creating wealth through innovation.

“There is a deep knowledge gap separating the Arab and Islamic nations from the process and progress of contemporary global civilization,” said Abdallah S. Jumah, the chief executive of Saudi Aramco. “We are no longer keeping pace with the advances of our era.”

Written by infoproc

October 26, 2007 at 3:06 pm

Artificial life

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From Slashdot. I don’t know if there is AI (machine intelligence) involved, but it would be easy to set up that way…

At Foo Camp I took a poll of some leading security researchers and the majority thought that the probability of a major Internet failure (e.g., 100M people without access for several days) due to botnets or worms was close to 100 percent over the next few years.

Storm Worm Strikes Back at Security Pros

Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Wednesday October 24, @01:25PM
from the skynet-worm dept.

alphadogg writes “The Storm worm, which some say is the world’s biggest botnet despite waning in recent months, is now fighting back against security researchers that seek to destroy it and has them running scared, conference attendees in NYC heard this week. The worm can figure out which users are trying to probe its command-and-control servers, and it retaliates by launching DDoS attacks against them, shutting down their Internet access for days, says an IBM architect.”

Written by infoproc

October 24, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Posted in ai, security

Masters of the Universe

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The Times reports on a recent dinner hosted by Institutional Investor.

NYTimes: Not since Michael Milken’s Predators’ Ball in the 1980’s have so many of Wall Street’s bold-faced names dared to mingle together. Until last night.

Institutional Investor, the first trade magazine to cover Wall Street, celebrated its 40th birthday Monday by throwing itself a party at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Masters of the Universe from around the nation and the world flew in for the event. There was Henry Kravis, seated next to Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank. Across the way was Mr. Milken himself, whom Mr. Kravis praised in a brief speech for helping to create the modern private equity industry.

Mr. Milken didn’t make a speech to the crowd, but he circulated among them and seemed to take pleasure at being surrounded by so many of what he referred to DealBook as his “disciples.”

Also on hand was James D. Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank. John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, mingled during the cocktail hour with other luminaries such as John Whitehead, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs, credited with creating the securities firm’s vaunted culture.

John Thornton, the former president of Goldman Sachs, who now splits his time between New York and Beijing, also attended, as did Joseph L. Rice III, co-founder of the private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.

James Simons, founder of Renaissance Technologies, one of the most successful “quant” hedge funds in history, mixed with younger hedge fund managers such as William Ackman, the activist investor, and David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when Mr. Kravis jokingly apologized to his peers in the audience for charging his investors 20 percent of profits in 1976, which became a benchmark for private equity and hedge funds. He said that, at the time, there was no going rate, so he and his partners decided 20 percent was fair. In retrospect, he said with a laugh, “You could have gotten 25 percent.”

The room burst out laughing.

Then Mr. Simons of Renaissance took the stage. He famously takes more than 40 percent of all profits from his fund investors. “We blissfully ignored” the benchmark Mr. Kravis created, he said.

Mr. Simons also explained how the summer’s credit crunch caused his fund briefly to lose 8.7 percent in only a few days ––”a remarkable amount of money,” he said nonchalantly — though it later rebounded. At the time, he wrote a note to his investors about the losses, observing with a laugh that it took a couple of “gin and tonics to get that letter out.”

He went on to jokingly taunt Mr. Kravis into buying his firm. “If he wants to buy my company for $30 billion, I’m going to make it damn easy for him,” Mr. Simons said.

From the comments:

This convention was made up of people who sacrificed their personal lives to use their extreme intellects and incredible work ethics to strive to be the best in their fields. This is exactly what America was built on and should be what keeps us going forward. We as a country should reward winners, but instead we encourage mediocrity with the whole “everyone is a winner, everyone is great” mentality. Congratulations to those invited to this great event and if you really don’t like it then work harder to change the system, but that does mean actually working which you may not be inclined to do.
— Posted by Eric

Why are people assuming these people make money by plundering society? Jim Simons makes money as fairly and squarely as anyone in the world. Anyone can do what he does…if they come up with the magic formula. There’s nothing unfair about that, and it does society a world of good. The huge creation of wealth around the world is largely due to capital being deployed to its most productive use. What are masters of the universe but the “central planners” of the free market — the better the job they do, the more money they make, and the richer we all become.
— Posted by James

Written by infoproc

October 23, 2007 at 8:06 pm

Fraud and the subprime mess

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Via Calculated Risk, this Moody’s data suggests that outright fraud is one of the main causes of high default rates on recent subprime mortgages.

Subprime Mortgage Market Update: September 2007:

The data show that, as we have noted in previous communications, loan performance for the 2006 subprime vintage seems to be driven primarily by the proportions of stated documentation loans and high CLTV loans backing the transactions as well as the proportion of loans that combine (or “layer”) these risk characteristics. (Stated documentation loans are those loans for which the borrower’s income and assets are not verified by documentation during the loan approval process and therefore are more likely to be overstated.) Interestingly, FICO scores and LTV ratios do not vary significantly between the strongest and weakest performing transactions and on average transaction performance does not appear to have been influenced by these characteristics.

Written by infoproc

October 22, 2007 at 5:04 pm

Posted in cdo, credit crunch, subprime

Brain drain: from the Punjab to the bayou

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Congratulations to Bobby (Piyush) Jindal, govenor-elect of Louisiana. Does this photo remind you of Bobby Kennedy?

NYTimes: A Son of Immigrants Rises in a Southern State

Piyush Jindal was born on June 10, 1971, in Baton Rouge to Hindu parents who had come to the United States six months before so his mother could pursue a graduate degree in nuclear physics at Louisiana State University. His father was an engineer from the Punjab region of India, the only one of nine siblings to attend high school. The younger Jindal, growing up in Baton Rouge, was not expected to come home from school with anything less than 100 on tests. Public high school in Baton Rouge was followed by Brown, where Mr. Jindal was Phi Beta Kappa, and a conversion to Roman Catholicism that Mr. Jindal has described in transformative terms. “I draw my definition of integrity from my Christian faith,” Mr. Jindal said during the campaign. “In my faith, you give 100 percent of yourself to God.”

“But we live in a pluralistic state,” he was careful to add.

After Oxford, a well-paid stint at the Washington consultants McKinsey and Company was followed by an interview for the job of secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals with the newly elected Republican governor of Louisiana, Mike Foster, in 1995. Mr. Jindal was 24; it was the biggest department in state government, and it was in serious financial trouble. He got the job despite Mr. Foster’s initial skepticism, made cuts and restored the department to financial stability; Louisiana still has one of the highest percentages of uninsured, however.

Written by infoproc

October 22, 2007 at 3:47 pm