Thursday, August 31, 2006

Compact Fluorescents

Here's an interesting article I grabbed off Instapundit.
Compact fluorescents are something else again. In a fluorescent bulb, the glass tube is filled with gas and a tiny dot of mercury. Electricity leaps off electrodes on either end of the tube and excites the mercury molecules, which have a special property: When so excited, they emit ultraviolet light. That invisible UV light strikes the bulb's phosphor coating, which itself gets excited and emits visible light, which shines out through the tube. Heat is much less of a factor--CFLs run at about 100 degrees.
Normal lightbulbs convert electricity to heat, which is then converted to light energy through the tungsten filament. Needless to say, the energy conversion rate from electricity to light is pretty low.

I might just start hunting around for some spirals to put at home.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Olympiads up the Wazoo

The CBT Martial Olympiad, a severe test of tactical skill, is currently in debate by the various Powers That Be. If it does get approved, it'll take place in late October and November. I'll be a bit busy during this period, because I'm also in charge of the school's Chemistry Olympiad program, and the national selection round will take place in mid-November.

Sheesh. I kinda think I'm the only guy in the world with this kinda combination. It's nuts. The only way it could get nuttier is if I had joined up with Nelson Kwei's Victoria Chorale(haha, as if they'll ever accept me...) and participated in the Choir Olympics in June(they call it the Choir Games after the IOC got miffed).


Friday, August 18, 2006

Vengeance Gambit!!!

Singapore Battletech players, please report in the comments section! Vengeance Gambit is ready to rock and roll!

The Wobbly Guy

Edit: I've set up a group blog for all Singapore BTech Fans at

Please report there.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Turning of History

Several months ago, I was looking into a role-playing guide which described ways in which gamemasters could create plausible and exciting scenarios for their players, or more specifically, alternate-history gameplaying. One of the more interesting side-blurbs described the Saeculum Theory which asserted that history occurred in cycles, and each cycle lasts about 80-100 years.

Each cycle consists of four stages: a High, an Awakening, an Unraveling, and a Crisis. The people in each stage also consists of four types of people: prophets, nomads, heroes, and artists at various stages of their lives: as children, young adults, mature adults, and elderly.

Looking at the events going on now, and the events of the past 30 years, I think it's safe to say the US, and by extension the world, by dint of the economic / cultural / social influence of the US, that modern human civilization is currently in the midst of an Unraveling. While it might be true that China and India are on the rise, their collective influence on world events is still limited.

Which means the Crisis is soon to hit, and in the next 20 years. So what's a Crisis? Think US Civil War, World War 2. That's how big and bad a Crisis is going to be. And there's very little doubt in my mind that the Crisis will probably involve Islam fanaticism and secular democracy as opposing factions. And when the dust settles, a new social order, and a different social contract between the people and the State, will emerge.

Here's the link to the people who thought up this theory.

Like all theories, it probably has its flaws, but on the whole, it does seem remarkably sturdy, and the next two decades will give me plenty of opportunity to study its validity. It is also a vindication of my belief that while individuals are wholly unpredictable, societies are not.

When I was learning statistical thermodynamics, one thing I took away from the module(other than my B grade for the exams) was that while the quantum behaviour of one molecule was unpredictable, when considering a large number of them, it becomes possible to make accurate predictions of their behaviour, in terms of energy, pressure, etc.

Similarly, the bigger the population in study, the more accurate predictions could be. This is why economic theories, more or less, work; they don't deal with the individual, they deal with entire economies. Merging the Saeculum theory, statistical mathematics, and modern economics may well result in Asimov's famous psychohistory.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Government without Tax?

The libertarian ideal is to have a limited government, constrained by legislation and low taxes, responsible only for law and order, defense, and some essential public services. For libertarians, and especially the more... uhm, extreme ones, the best tax rate is no tax at all! However, the need for governments to operate the aforementioned services makes it impossible to abolish taxes.

Or is it?

The Singapore government, since the founding of the country, has emphasized prudent spending, and the payoff was often in the form of government budget surpluses. These budget surpluses are handled by specific government agencies(MAS, GIC), and used for investment to generate additional income, which may be included in the government's budget as Net Investment Income, or NII for short. 50% of the NII for one financial year may be used as operating revenue for the government, while the other 50% is protected as part of the reserves.

Right now, the size of Singapore's accumulated surplus is about USD 128 billion. According to certain sources, the NII earned from investing that reserve is often about USD 2-3 billion annually, which means that the total income from the reserves is probably at least USD 4 billion, representing a 3% return on investment. Keep these figures in mind.$file/6_Dr%20Tan%20Khee%20Giap2006%20Budget%20analysis%20280206.pdf

As a point of comparison, Singapore's GDP in 2005 is about USD 115 billion, and government expenditure in the fiscal year 2005/2006 is about 16% of that, or USD 18.5 billion.

So where am I going with this data? The idea is to cut taxes down to zero, while enabling the Singapore government to function normally. Which means that the government's entire operating revenue would have to come from the NII, which means the NII must be about 20 billion. Applying first the 50% rule, and then the 3% investment return, this means that the reserves must be a ridiculous USD 1333 billion, which even China does not have. If we ignore the 50% NII rule, to generate goverment operating revenues by NII alone would require a reserve base of about USD 650 billion.

The government took 30-40 years to accumulate that USD 128 billion. To get from there to USD 650 billion? Impossible.

But there's still some hope. My 3% return estimate could be too conservative. In fact, a recent piece of news suggests that the return rate over the past 20 years was actually 9.5% in USD! Good work, LHL!

If we take a slightly lower figure of 8% return, without any protected sum, the entire return on investment could be used to operate the government, and this would require only USD 250 billion in reserves. After that, any taxes remaining, for example on gambling and motor vehicles, may be used to increase the size of the reserves, or used to further the government's social agendas(gee, I make it sound so sinister). After all, I always felt these were meant more for social purposes than for any actual financial budgeting.

So how about it? Another 30 years of such fiscal conservatism, and perhaps we might not have to pay any income tax at all!