Linklist: April 18, 2012

Jacoba Urist @ The Atlantic No Taxes, No Travel: Why the IRS Wants the Right to Seize Your Passport:

“It all started last fall, when Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (or “MAP-21” as it’s now called), to reauthorize funds for federal highway and transportation programs. While that doesn’t sound like anything having to do with your taxes, the bill includes a little-noticed section that allows the State Department to “deny, revoke or limit” passport rights for any taxpayers with “serious delinquencies.”
Here’s how it would work. If someone owed more than $50,000 in back taxes, the IRS would be able to send their name over to the passport office for suspension, provided that the IRS already either filed a public lien or a assessed a levy for the outstanding balance. The bill does provide a few exceptions though. For example, if a person has set up a payment plan (that they’re paying in a timely manner), is legitimately disputing the debt, or has an emergency situation or humanitarian reason and must travel internationally, they may be able to leave for a limited time despite their unpaid taxes.”

Stephen Levy @ Wired: Going With the Flow: Google’s Secret Switch to the Next Wave of Networking:

“If any company has potential to change the networking game, it is Google. The company has essentially two huge networks: the one that connects users to Google services (Search, Gmail, YouTube, etc.) and another that connects Google data centers to each other. It makes sense to bifurcate the information that way because the data flow in each case has different characteristics and demand. The user network has a smooth flow, generally adopting a diurnal pattern as users in a geographic region work and sleep. The performance of the user network also has higher standards, as users will get impatient (or leave!) if services are slow. In the user-facing network you also need every packet to arrive intact — customers would be pretty unhappy if a key sentence in a document or e-mail was dropped.
The internal backbone, in contrast, has wild swings in demand — it is “bursty” rather than steady. Google is in control of scheduling internal traffic, but it faces difficulties in traffic engineering. Often Google has to move many petabytes of data (indexes of the entire web, millions of backup copies of user Gmail) from one place to another. When Google updates or creates a new service, it wants it available worldwide in a timely fashion — and it wants to be able to predict accurately how quickly the process will take.
“There’s a lot of data center to data center traffic that has different business priorities,” says Stephen Stuart, a Google distinguished engineer who specializes in infrastructure. “Figuring out the right thing to move out of the way so that more important traffic could go through was a challenge.”
But Google found an answer in OpenFlow, an open source system jointly devised by scientists at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. Adopting an approach known as Software Defined Networking (SDN), OpenFlow gives network operators a dramatically increased level of control by separating the two functions of networking equipment: packet switching and management. OpenFlow moves the control functions to servers, allowing for more complexity, efficiency and flexibility.”

Reuben Collins @ Streets.mn The Problem of Hiawatha Avenue

A solution to the European economic problem.

I keep reading about the woes of Europe. Tyler Cowen for instance says in: Is the end near?: “The motto “no monetary union without a fiscal union” isn’t wrong, but more to the point is “no fiscal union without a common electorate.”
The problem is supposedly sticky wages, and the solution for sticky wages is apparently destroying the monetary system. Clearly there is a simpler solution. Money is just a measure of value. Similarly, the hour is just a measure of time, the meter is a measure of length, and so on. Instead of changing their monetary system, Greece and Italy should just revalue their units of measure, keep the Euro, and drop out of the metric system. The Greek Hour could be made longer, so that Greek workers would be more productive for an “8-hour” day. And if they didn’t want to work on the time scale of “the new hour”, they could worker fewer new-hours and just as much real-time as old-hours, but be paid for fewer hours of work. But see, their Euro-denominated wages on an “hourly-basis” would not be cut, everyone can save face, and the Euro preserved. We do something similar every year for daylight savings time.
For solving the problem in Europe, I will be accepting my Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel next fall, see you somewhere in Scandinavia.

On China’s Infrastructure Investment

It is often said as a truism, “if you build it, they will come”, but supply does not always create its own demand. Some links via David King
Plenty of new airports but few passengers in China (LA Times)
The Empty CIty of Ordos (Time)
This is more reason to discount the arguments that just because China is spending a gazillion yuan for high speed rail or highways, the US should, (there are many other reasons they are fallacious comparisons, not the least of which is the stage of development and return on investment, the US network is mature, China’s is not).

A pedestrian asserts his rights

tienanmentank-395

UK Government plans travel database

From BBC Government plans travel database. The UK will be tracking everyone entering and leaving. My first thought was “cool, can we get access to the data”, though of course “privacy concerns” will ensure only the security apparatus will have the data.

Europe v. Pirates

From Times of London: Europe to send warships to defeat Somali pirates

Sarkozy v. The Pirates

From Bruce Sterling: Sarkozy versus the pirates
: “France will not allow crime to pay” President Nicolas Sarkozy

Can better highways save Afghanistan?

From The Atlantic, an interesting article by Philip Smucker: Asphalt Dreams about the correlation between development highways and stability in Afghanistan. The article reminds that highways are not just for moving troops quickly to deploy elsewhere, but also to help settle the places they run through. While that may not have been foremost on the mind of proponents of The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, (even though it has Defense in its name) it certainly has been important throughout history.

Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy

I have drafted a Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy.
The memo outlines ten visions, which are summarized here, for fuller discussion, see the full memo:

  1. Within eight years more cars sold in the United States will be powered primarily by electricity and bio-fuels than by fossil fuels. All buses and passenger trains will use electricity or bio-fuels.
  2. Within eight years Americans will be able to ride autonomous smart cars that drive themselves in mixed traffic.
  3. Within a year, an independent federally-funded Bridge Inspection Service will begin to inspect and publicly report on the quality of all bridges on the National Highway System.
  4. After thorough evaluation, within eight years, bridges and pavements on the US Interstate Highway System will be upgraded to handle trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds, increasing the efficiency of the trucking industry and by reducing the number of vehicle trips, increasing safety for other road users. These improvements will be paid for by the trucking industry, which directly benefits from the improved system. In heavily traveled corridors, a system of truck-only toll lanes will be constructed.
  5. Within eight years American travelers can choose to travel congestion-free by car or bus through America’s largest metropolitan areas.
  6. Within four years American travelers will enter airports and transit, and train stations and cross borders, passing both security and immigration controls without delay while ensuring security.
  7. Within eight years a new source of transportation revenue based on time and place of use will be deployed, replacing the federal and state gas tax. This funding will support highway and transit networks.
  8. Returning to the vision of Democratic President Andrew Jackson, items in federal transportation legislation that do not serve a national purpose will be vetoed.
  9. Extending the bipartisan efforts of transportation deregulation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, within four years, highway and transit services and infrastructure will begin to be competitively provided by independent (public, private, or non-profit) organizations under appropriate local or federal oversight. Infrastructure will be provided under a public utility model, ensuring quality of service in exchange for earning a rate of return.
  10. Within one year, the United States federal government will establish separate capital and operating budgets. This will be coupled with a federal program to guarantee loans and bonds for highway and transit infrastructure projects.

Full memo after the jump

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