Buffet’s Big Bet Update – Year 1

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 02009 by Austin Brown
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It took a while to get all the numbers crunched, but the first year’s results from the Long Bet with the highest prize are in.  Over a year ago Warren Buffet challenged the managers of several funds-of-funds to outperform the S&P 500 over a 10 year period.  A one million dollar charitable donation is on the line and so far Buffet’s opponents, Protege Partners, are doing less bad.  Carol Loomis, author of the original story on the contest, gives us the details:

Remember “Buffett’s Big Bet” (see fortune.com), in which the noted
investor and Ceo of Berkshire Hathaway maintained that an S&P 500 index
fund would outperform five funds-of-hedge-funds over 10 years? Well, the
results for the first lap, the ago-nizing year of 2008, are finally in,
and the funds-of-funds soundly whipped the index. Vanguard’s S&P 500
Admiral shares, the index fund “bought” by Buffett, were down 37.02%. on
the average, and net of all fees, costs, and expenses, the five
funds-of-funds backed by Buffett’s opponent, Protégé Partners llC, a new
York money-management firm, delivered –23.9%.

Considering that hedge funds can and do sell short, and that they are
not limited to investing in stocks, Protégé’s victory in a bear market
year like 2008 was not surprising to anyone involved in the bet. Ted
Seides, the Protégé partner who engineered the bet with Buffett, says
that until September of that year the five funds-of-funds were in fact
doing well enough that they still anticipated achieving the up year that
hedge fund seek to deliver, even in difficult markets. “But when markets
failed in the aftermath of the Lehman bankruptcy,” says Seides, “the
funds couldn’t avoid the storm.”

Which funds are these, you ask? The bet stipulates that their identities
would not be disclosed. Buffett, however, knows their names and has seen
their audited results. About his trailing position, he says, “I just
hope that Aesop was right when he envisioned the tortoise overtaking the

The reader will note that we said the results of the bet are “finally”
in, and therein lies a little story. originally, the thought was that an
update on the bet would be announced each year at Berkshire’s annual
meeting, held in late spring. But the five funds-of-funds did not have
audited financial statements at that time, which made Buffett unwilling
to announce results. only in late october, when the last of the five
funds finally delivered its audited figures to Protégé, were complete
results known. They were very close to what Protégé had earlier
estimated they would be, so it is likely that next year Buffett will
indeed announce 2009 “approximate” results at Berkshire’s meeting in the

The author of this article is both a friend of Buffett’s and the editor
of his chairman’s letter in the Berkshire Hathaway annual report.

Long Now Media Update

Posted on Thursday, November 19th, 02009 by Danielle Engelman
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There is new media available from our monthly series, the Seminars About Long-term Thinking. Stewart Brand’s summaries and audio downloads or podcasts of the talks are free to the public; Long Now members can view HD video of the Seminars and comment on them.

Read the summary of Sander van der Leeuw’s “The Archaeology of Innovation”

Bristlecone Pines Feeling Rushed

Posted on Tuesday, November 17th, 02009 by Austin Brown
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Global warming seems to be speeding up the growth of the longest living organisms we know of.  Bristlecone pines can live for almost 5,000 years and the information stored in the growth of their rings is a treasure trove of climate data.  Because their growth is a function of the weather, analyzing the size of the rings they develop each year can tell us what that period’s climate was like.

At an elevation of 12,000 feet, where almost no rain falls, temperature is the driving influence on tree growth, while lower down, rainfall is the strongest factor in tree growth, Salzer said in an interview.

Matthew Salzer,  Malcolm K. Hughes and a team of dendrochronologists from the University of Arizona have just published a paper in which they explain that the outermost rings of Bristlecones – the most recent ones – tend to be significantly larger than most of the earlier ones.  In the last 50 years, the trees have been growing faster than they did in the previous 3,700.

Salzer has done work on Mt. Washington for his studies and shared data with Long Now.  The information from the trees on the future Clock site has provided Long Now with a helpful understanding of the area’s climate dating back several thousand years.

The current study is an indication that climate change is affecting these trees and the delicate ecosystems that support them.  This high-altitude temperature change has significance for more than the Bristlecones and the local environment, however.  The mountains this phenomenon is documented in are an important source of snowmelt for much of California and Nevada:

Hughes said that increasing temperatures high in the mountains could have significant effects elsewhere. In many areas of the western U.S., mountains are a key source of water for farms and urban areas at lower elevations.

“If the snow melts earlier, the mountains won’t be able to hold onto water for as long,” Hughes said. “They won’t be as effective as water towers for us.”

Rosetta’s Final Flyby

Posted on Sunday, November 15th, 02009 by Austin Brown
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The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe made its final flyby of the Earth on Friday in order to fling itself off towards its target: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Launched in 02004, Rosetta has made several planetary flybys in order to gain the velocity necessary to approach and eventually orbit the comet so that a small landing craft can touchdown upon and sample some of the comet’s material.  Scientists hope that a better understanding of the make-up of a comet will be like a key that will unlock many secrets about the formation of the planets and the development of our solar system.

Included on the craft is one of the early Rosetta Disks produced by Long Now.  The highly durable, format-independent linguistic archive will survive as long as the craft continues to orbit Comet 67P.  Unlike the Voyager Disks, this terrestrial artifact will remain in our solar system orbiting the comet, which is orbiting the Sun and will continue to do so until it runs into something (which could be quite a while).

You can see lots of great photos and amazing animations on the Rosetta blog, run by the ESA.  In addition, there was a lovely little piece in the Guardian highlighting the mission’s long-term nature:

The scientific pay-off from Rosetta could be huge. But contemplate the generosity of vision that made the mission possible. Some of those who lobbied for Rosetta will have died by the time the first results are delivered. Some young scientists who will build their careers on the data from Rosetta were not born when the mission was conceived. If, as Harold Wilson famously observed, a week is a long time in politics, Rosetta is a reminder that we can also think on a celestial timescale.

Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina at Stanford Next Month

Posted on Thursday, November 12th, 02009 by Austin Brown
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Officially inaugurated in 02002, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is an attempt by Egypt and the city of Alexandria to recreate, in spirit if not content, the original Library of Alexandria.  The Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt created what was at the time, the worlds largest library in the third century BC in the Egyptian city of Alexandria.  Though historical accounts disagree as to how, why and when, this massive repository of centuries of scholastic work was burned down and lost to the ages.

Long Now Board Member Michael Keller sent in notice of his event coming up at Stanford University on December 2nd in which Dr. Ismail Serageldin will be discussing his work as the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and his hopes for better dialogue between the West and the Muslim world:

Stanford University Libraries is pleased to present two lectures by Dr. Ismail Serageldin.

At 2:00 pm: The New Library of Alexandria: A Beacon of Knowledge

At 4:30 pm: For a Better Dialog Between the West and Muslims

Refreshments will be provided after the second lecture.

The lectures are being held in the Dinkelspiel Auditorium.  Call 650-736-9538 or email sonialee@stanford.edu for details/reservations.

Of Note: The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has a complete copy and physical backup of the Internet Archive.

10,000 genome library proposed

Posted on Tuesday, November 10th, 02009 by Austin Brown
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The Genome 10k Project is currently just getting started, but if 65 scientists get their way, the University of California Santa Cruz could eventually house an extensive database of vertebrate genetic evolution.  The plan is to build an archive of the entire genomes of 10,000 vertebrates.  A library of this sort would assist in answering many questions within evolutionary biology and would allow for the construction of a highly detailed natural history of vertebrate evolution.  Genome sequencing is still a costly process, but is quickly becoming more affordable as computing power grows.  The project’s leaders say that once a genome can be sequenced for $3,000 dollars, they’ll be “good to go.”

From their site:

The Genome 10K project aims to assemble a genomic zoo—a collection of DNA sequences representing the genomes of 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus. The trajectory of cost reduction in DNA sequencing suggests that this project will be feasible within a few years. Capturing the genetic diversity of vertebrate species would create an unprecedented resource for the life sciences and for worldwide conservation efforts.

The growing Genome 10K Community of Scientists (G10KCOS), made up of leading scientists representing major zoos, museums, research centers, and universities around the world, is dedicated to coordinating efforts in tissue specimen collection that will lay the groundwork for a large-scale sequencing and analysis project.

The plan is to add this new vast collection to UC Santa Cruz’s existing Genome Browser, a publicly accessible archive of 45 genomes and to enhance The Encyclopedia of Life, a wiki with pages for each known species.  (Long Now’s All Species Inventory was spun off and folded into the EoL.)

Rick Prelinger Ticket Info

Posted on Thursday, November 5th, 02009 by Danielle Engelman
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking

presents Rick Prelinger’s “Lost Landscapes of San Francisco 4”

Friday December 4, 02009 at 7:30 pm at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today!

or you can purchase tickets for $10 each.

About this Seminar:

Rick Prelinger, a guerrilla archivist who collects the uncollected and makes it accessible, presents the fourth of his annual Lost Landscapes of San Francisco screenings. You’ll see an eclectic montage of rediscovered and rarely-seen film clips showing life, landscapes, labor and leisure in a vanished San Francisco as captured by amateurs, newsreel cameramen and industrial filmmakers.

How we remember and record the past reveals much about how we address the future. Prelinger will preface the screening with a brief talk on how historical memory is shifting away from mass culture towards individual expression, and what consequences will arise from the emerging massive matrix of personal records.

Join us for a reception with no-host bar following the Seminar in the main Lobby of the Herbst Theater.

Twitter – up to the minute info on tickets and events
Long Now Blog – daily updates on events and ideas
Facebook – stay in touch through our fan page
Long Now Meetups – join one or start your own

Our daily bread

Posted on Tuesday, November 3rd, 02009 by Kirk Citron
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The Long News: stories that might still matter fifty, or a hundred, or ten thousand years from now.

There may be more than nine billion humans by 2050, which begs the question: how will they all get fed? Particularly when you consider that we’re having trouble feeding the six billion who are already here.

Some recent news stories about food:

1. The scope of the problem:
1.02 billion people hungry: one sixth of humanity undernourished, more than ever before
Climate change is worsening food insecurity, experts say

2. Food instability breeds other kinds of instability:
Refugees protest food disruption in Uganda
Fight against hunger key to security: Clinton

3. It’s not just the developing world that’s at risk:
Britain will starve without GM crops, says major report
US crop yields could wilt in heat
Methane’s impact on global warming far higher than previously thought

4. Can farmers save us?
Prairie pioneer seeks to reinvent the way we farm (thanks to Shane Runquist for the pointer)
Bill Gates bets a billion on ag research

5. We truly are what we eat:
Rats on a junk food diet behave like drug addicts
Mediterranean diet associated with reduced risk of depression

We invite you to submit Long News story suggestions here.

The Lava Project

Posted on Saturday, October 31st, 02009 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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“Long Shorts” – short films that exemplify long-term thinking.  Please submit yours in the comments section…

Audience members at Arthur Ganson’s Seminar on September 14, 02009 were among the first viewers of The Lava Project Documentary, which premiered in our new Long Shorts series – short videos that explore, explain, or exemplify long-term thinking and responsibility.

The Lava Project Documentary was created by White Elephant DesignLab, a group of designers who explore natural phenomena and experiment with various materials and their external influences. Earlier this year, the group created a piece at the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii that was inspired by our promotion of long-term thinking through use of the five-digit date. Using a “02009” stamp made of hardwood and aluminum, they imprinted the congealing surface crust of Pāhoehoe lava in order to equip the emerging lithosphere with its date of origin.

“We developed the idea of using this symbol only when we had already arrived on the island,” says Tobias Kestel of the design team. “We thought it was just the right symbol to use in this context of volcanic activity. Processes of new land being formed by lava flows have been going on for billions of years on the planet, which provided the perfect ground for embossing your symbol of long-term thinking.

“We are aware,” Kestel adds, “that some people might still argue that we actually did alter the environment there. At the same time, the symbolic value and the message and discussions our action will provoke can be and will be of relevance, even if only a few people will start to think differently after having seen the results and having learned about your project, as we will always promote our project together with the reference to The Long Now Foundation.”

For additional photos and information about The Lava Project Documentary, visit the White Elephant DesignLab website.

Long Now Media Update

Posted on Monday, October 26th, 02009 by Danielle Engelman
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments


There is new media available from our monthly series, the Seminars About Long-term Thinking. Stewart Brand’s summaries and audio downloads or podcasts of the talks are free to the public; Long Now members can view HD video of the Seminars and comment on them.

Watch the video of  Stewart Brand’s “Rethinking Green”