Dubai: Past and Future

In 1973, Robin Moore wrote a book called “Dubai,” which is now out of print and even banned in that country.  At the time, Dubai looked something like this:


(The pic is actually from 1990 but it’s close enough)

In 2007 Ben Mezrich wrote a book called Rigged, where the main character travels to Dubai.  Dubai looks like this now:

Surprisingly, only 6% of their GDP comes from oil wealth.  The rest comes from Trade, Real Estate, and Tourism.  Questions:

1.) Is it sustainable?

2.) Will the real estate boom continue?

3.) How will Peak Oil affect them? (most of their current trade has to do with that commodity)

4.) If you don’t believe in Peak Oil, how will alternate energy sources affect them?

5.) Should they build a solar cell farm in the desert?

6.) How will climate change affect them?

7.) How will US actions affect them – whether we pull out of Iraq or invade Iran?

8.) Seems to me it is in their interest to encourage moderate Arabs – developing the Arab nations will increase trade opportunities that have nothing to do with Oil.

Dubai is indeed an economic miracle and very tolerant of westerners.  But it seems to me that they have some hard questions and choices to face over the next ten years if they want to sustain their success.


3-D Printing and the Long Tail

I recently finished reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.  I was familiar with the concept already, being an avid blog reader, but the book fleshed out a few more concepts for me.


The basic idea of the long tail refers to a graph showing fewer products selling in large quantities versus many more products that sell in low quantities (Source).  Here’s picture of the graph:


It really shows how the world is simultaneously homogenizing and splitting into niches.  Hits will always be with us, of course, but also less well-known stuff.  Rankings help people to weed out the good from the bad and also find things they never would have found on their own.  For me, mostly, that’s been blogs, but it also has applied to books.


One of Anderson’s points is that as the cost of storage goes down the value of the long tail goes up.  Digital storage costs almost nothing, and that’s why downloading music results in better profits for the seller than if they have to send out a CD with a jewel case.  Still, you need to have a variety of ways, so some customers may prefer the seller do the burning for them, while others just want to download the stuff themselves and make their own CDs or put the music on their iPod.


One of the things I love about the blog world is that it results in synthesis.  I had just read a post by Neville Medhora about 3-D Printing and desktop manufacturing, where you can actually print out a product on your desk and I realized that’s the ultimate long tail.  Of course, then I got to the end of Anderson’s book and he points that out himself!


I want to take a look at a couple of things, though.


1.)        The long tail will be storing the manufacturing files (CAD, etc) digitally and making them

available for download.


2.)        Multiple designers can upload multiple designs for the same object.


3.)        Recommendations and reviews will help people to find the best designs.


4.)        If you don’t want to print it yourself, you can get the seller to do it and send it to you. (Multiple types of distribution)


4.)        People will find products they never even thought about


5.)        Designers will have a chance to show their work to anyone – this lowers the barriers to



6.)        Cost to store the digital files?  Low!  This is high profit for whoever stores the designs.


The problem of course is making the desktop manufacturing device affordable.  And getting it to the point where it can do more than print out a big piece of plastic.  It’s coming though, and it should be interesting to see how it all plays out!




Goals, Strategy and Rules for Renegades

Tim Ferris did a post that inspired me to buy Rules for Renegades by Christine Comaford-Lynch.

I’ve been going through a paradigm shift lately.  Hate to use such a clichéd term, but there it is.  All my reading, all my thinking, it’s all hammering home the same lesson:  I have to create the life I want.  No one is going to give it to me, and it’s not out there already waiting for me to find it.  It doesn’t exist yet, and it’s up to me to make it happen.


Some telling things:  What is my ideal lifestyle?  If I had all the money I ever needed in the bank, what would I do day to day?  I do not have answers to those questions right now.  And that is a serious freaking problem.


I’m pondering becoming a futurist, getting a degree in Strategic Foresight. 


From Christine Comaford-Lynch’s book, a couple of things:


1.)  Supreme Confidence, gigantic, absolute, quiet confidence has to come from within and it cannot be validated by others because it’s there no matter what others think.  How many times do I have to learn this lesson?


2.)  She talks about business plans.  So often, she says, people have this plan:


            a) Develop widget

            b) ?

            c) Make millions


     Where b is undefined but basically tells how you are going to pull this off and get from A to C.

     For me, in the past, it’s been like this:


            a) Get degree

            b) ?

            c) Go to Mars, become successful in business, become a pastor, or I dare say, a futurist.


Well, what’s B?  It was never defined.  And that’s why I’ve been in a series of jobs I don’t care about, why I’ve never gotten to do the things I want to do.  My plans are never complete.  I get a harebrained idea, launch into it with a big cool goal and never figure out what goes in between.  It’s like playing chess and moving your first pawn to D4 and ignoring the rest of the moves to checkmate.  Usually, you’re the one that gets checkmated as you react tactically to the other players moves.


In other words, strategy counts.  Where are you going, and how are you going to get there?  This doesn’t mean having a rigid plan.  Instead, you need to have options.  If this doesn’t work, what will you do?  If you end up here, how will you get to there?  Once you get the degree, then what?  What options do you have?  How will you act on those options?  More importantly, are you sure that those options will give you the lifestyle you want?  Is it possible that starting this path will lead you to something else you haven’t thought of, good or bad?


A lot to think about.  But key and critical to making the right decision for a change.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Christian and I believe in praying about it.  But two things:  First, God gave us a brain so we could use it, and with that brain came free will.  We can choose, whether it’s a good choice or poor choice, He lets us make it.  He’ll work out His plans no matter what we do.  Second, my track record on praying before has not worked that way – usually it’s after I make the decision and commit that I have an idea that I did the right or wrong thing.


Like I said, a lot to think about.



You’re filming a movie at Monroeville Starbucks???

Rant follows…

Back in June, Ryan Holiday did a post on people who make too much noise at coffeeshops.  Boy, could I identify!  I’ve come to love going to Starbucks (there are no independents within five miles of me, maybe even ten!) and often I take a book, or sit there and write while drinking a venti (that’s a large, in real-people speak).

What’s hard is when someone comes in a talks at a LOUD volume.  It IS apublic space, yes, and there’s no law against it, but you’d think common courtesy would prevail.  Of course it doesn’t.

So, without further ado, let me present:

The crew who filmed a MOVIE at Starbucks!  And piled their stuff all around me, and talked at an excessively LOUD volume!  I snapped pictures and they looked at me funny.  Welcome to the wired age – where you get to have your ignorant likeness plastered all over the World Wide Web so EVERYONE can see how discourteous you are!

They were IUP students and trying to do a comedy skit.

(and yes, I’m well aware of how ignorant and discourteous I am for doing this!)

  The camera setup

  The actresses playing teachers discussing standardized tests..

  This guy was apparently supposed to be Larry King

  Camera dude

They were emphatically. NOT. funny.

Rant over.

Open Source Warfare, Urban Takedowns, and Pittsburgh

Ryan Clark Holiday recently did a post on 4th Generation Warfare on the Internet(link), which lead me to a post on Global Guerillas that talked about Urban Takedowns in India, as well as this IEEE Spectrum article.

Back in the eighties a friend of mine read a book (the title and author are lost to memory) about a guy who did guerilla warfare against New York City.  One of the exploits was poisoning the reservoirs.  Around the same time, the Tommy Lee Jones movie “The Park is Mine” came out where one man was able to defend Central Park against a host of law enforcement types long enough to make a statement.  I often wondered at the time when it would really happen here.

Big shows by terrorists like the WTC or Oklahoma City get a lot of attention but fade pretty quickly.  Even the effects of the WTC, which is now six years in the past, are fading.  People are pretty much back to business as usual.  Global Guerillas makes the case that:

  • Singular terrorist events (black swans), like 9/11, do not impact city viability.  The costs of a singular event dissipate quickly.  In contrast, frequent attacks (even small ones) on a specific city can create a terrorism tax of a level necessary to shift equilibiriums.
  • In the labor pooling model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 7% will cause a city to collapse to a lower equilibrium.  Labor pooling equilibrium reflects the benefits of aggregating workers in a single location.  Workers get higher wages and more choices.  Firms get stable wages (no one firm can deplete the market) and more candidates.
  • In the core-periphery model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 6.3% will push a city to a lower equilibrium.  The core-periphery model is based on transportation costs.  Firms generate transportation savings by concentrating in a single location next to suppliers and customers.  Customers and workers glean the benefit of lower transportation costs by locating near jobs and goods.

Back in the day there was a novel by Thomas Harris and a movie called Black Sunday, where a guy attempted to crash the Goodyear Blimp into the Super Bowl where the Steelers where playing.  I write stories and one idea I fooled around with was a terrorist cell operating in Pittsburgh.  Consider the possibilities:



          The airport


          Reservoirs and water towers

          Cyber attacks on stoplights and such

Route 376, the Parkway, is the major route in and out of the city on the east side.  It has a bottleneck at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels.  Let’s say at about 5 AM, an active terrorist cell brings two trucks laden with explosives from opposite sides of the tunnel.  They coordinate their attacks using throwaway cell phones.  They park the trucks, jump out and get into (stolen?) cars following the trucks, and once clear of the tunnels use the phones to detonate the bombs.  That artery is now closed and many thousands of people are re-routed through suburban arteries with stops signs and lights.

The next day the same terrorists drop the Fort Pitt Bridge, a major artery out of the city to the west, into the Monongahela River.  Note that many terrorists are engineers, so this isn’t too far out of the realm of possibility, especially if they do it at night.

Over the coming days, they put anthrax in several reservoirs and water towers, launch a Stinger at aircraft taking off from the airport, and use cyber attacks to play with traffic signals causing accidents and snarling up traffic even worse.  Perhaps a few smaller bombs at shopping malls.

And then they quietly evac out of the country over the open Canadian border.

They’ve gotten major media attention, every attack is posted to Youtube, and now several other cells mount attacks in other cities, using the lessons learned from this first group.

And suddenly, it isn’t so safe here in the US anymore.  And no nukes were required.

So how do we defend against something like this, without declaring martial law?  That’s complicated, I think.

First, better protection at the borders.  We have over 12 million illegals here in the United States.  Who’s to say if some of them are not here for a better life?  How do we protect those borders?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of well-trained, experienced soldiers getting shot at in Iraq….

Regular patrols and electronic surveillance of public infrastructure targets like reservoirs, water towers, tunnels and bridges.  One question is who would handle this?

          Police – obviously, this would require a lot more manpower as well as being expensive.  The police are not really meant to be used for this sort of application anyway.

          Army or the like

          Mercenaries like Blackwater.  If this option were used there would need to be strict Rules of Engagement to avoid shooting of innocent civilians, as has happened in Iraq.

Jammers around public infrastructure – this would inconvenience people with cell phones, and would only be supplemental.  After all, a timer can be used to detonate explosives, requiring no radio signal.  But it might be helpful anyway.

There are ways around each of these, of course, and I’m sure there are many other solutions I haven’t noted.  There are no easy answers, but in the Flat World this sort of thing is a danger that we’ll eventually have to grapple with.



Setting Goals for 2008

Today I have put together my tentative list of 2008 goals, plus some 2 – 3 year, 5 year, and lifetime goals.  The list is of course subject to change, especially as I’m still a month and a half away from 2008.


This year I accomplished very few of my goals.  One major goal was finding a new job, which ironically did not appear on the list of goals that I published on my blog.  Worse, I didn’t even finish the list of books I said I was going to read (although I am on track for 52 books this year, and 8 of 16 of my original list).  This tells me that the self-help story about at least writing them down and they’ll end up getting done even if you never look at it again is a crock, just like the fabled Harvard study they always quote but that has been proven to have never happened.


Not to say I don’t believe in goals, though.  I never used them before, and I think that is part of the problem.  Using goal setting is a new habit for me, and how to set achievable, measurable (SMART) goals is a skill, like anything else.  Here are some thoughts.


First, some of my goals were habits, not goals.  For example, reading the Bible every day.  I was hit or miss on this one.  As a goal, I saw it as reading the Bible for 365 days and if I didn’t, I’d failed.  However, as a habit, I could have focused on it for 30 days until it was a routine, and if I missed a day here or there it was okay.  Same with many of my other goals.  So next year I’m going to try to differentiate between goals and habits.  Thank you, Zen Habits, for pointing out the difference!


Second, another thing I noticed is that my goals were often at the tactical level.  That is to say, they were short term, and I didn’t really see them as leading to anything long term.  No strategy.  It’s great to have a goal, but why do I have that goal?  What do I hope to get out of achieving it?  This could also be called motivation.


Third, I didn’t plan my goals into my days and weeks.  I set no next actions ala “Getting Things Done.”  It’s hard to achieve a goal if you have no plans for doing that.


Fourth, I had no regular reviews of my progress.  Every now and then I’d look and see, oops, haven’t done that or that or that…but that was about it.  Now I find myself a month and a half from the end of the year and realizing that I have little time left to accomplish a whole slew of goals.


Which brings me to the final point; namely, I think I had too many goals.  It was hard to focus on each one because there were so many others.  So, next year, I hope to cut down on the number and focus on doing a few things well.


For the rest of 2007, I have just two goals:


Open Roth IRA

Start 401K


I also have three habits:


Gym at least 4 times a week (October habit) – so far, I’ve done this.

Track spending (November habit)

Read Bible daily (December habit)


Each habit I’ll focus on for thirty days and then hopefully it will be automatic for me to do them.  I think habits can lead to goals, but aren’t really goals in themselves, except for the setting of said habits.


As for 2008, I have some as detailed below:


          Reduce my spending (via tracking my spending)

          Give to church (regularly), symphony, college

          Buy a house

          Establish a will



          Make at least one new friend

          Have at least one dinner party



          Finally do married Bible study



          Get weight down to 170 (via gym habit and diet habit)

          Bench 200 pounds at least 5 times (Same)



          Practice kindness

          Play games once a week (through spending time habit)



          Vacation to Glen Eyrie with my wife

          Maybe do 30 Day Challenge

          Blog twice a week

          Explore finding my passion


Habits to set and maintain:

          Track my spending (From November)

          Read Bible daily (From December)

          Better diet (January)

          Use cash more often (February)

          Spend more quality time with family (March)

          Family devotions (May)

          No complaining! Have a positive attitude! (Ongoing)