A mind is a terrible thing to waste…

…especially on a fake president who is also missing honesty, intelligence, respect for human rights, an understanding of basic economics and fairness. Who is followed around by a loyal fan club of voters whose basic political precepts have been formed by so-called reality TV.

Bill Gates is not impressed. Neither was the majority of voters in our last presidential election. Shows you what gerrymandering can accomplish.

Bill Gates best trade since retiring has been shorting Ballmer!

After giving away $28 billion, Bill Gates is no longer the third-richest man in the world. He’s the second-richest.

You read that right. Despite his considerable, praiseworthy charity work, the Microsoft cofounder is getting wealthier. In 2012, he wound up $7 billion ahead with a net worth of $63.4 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index…

Bill Gates has been aggressively selling down his Microsoft position for over a decade. Early on, this looked like a smart idea just on the basic tenets of diversification alone. But when he didn’t stop at 50% of his net worth, and went all the way down to the point where Microsoft was only a piddling 20% of his net worth, you could argue that this was more than just diversification.

Somewhere along the line, this massive and ongoing liquidation became a short-sale of his old friend (and current Microsoft CEO) Steve Ballmer. And it looks to have been a smart “trade”.

What triggered it? Was it the borderline breakeven profitability of the XBox after so many years of investment? How about the flaming wreckage of Microsoft’s internet properties and search game? Maybe it was the launch of the Zune ecosystem that wasn’t? Or perhaps he decided to sell more aggressively the day when Ballmer mocked the iPhone and mentioned that his kids were forbidden to own one.

Maybe it was just the cumulative effect of these embarrassments or missed opportunities – one after another. Either way, Gates’s sales have gone far beyond any kind of diversification that we’ve seen with the Google whiz kids or Larry Ellison over at Oracle. While the billionaire has remained almost completely silent on Microsoft’s loss of luster and standing, his trading activities have spoken volumes…

Joshua Brown ends his piece with an admonition to diversify. The body of the article says a lot more.

Steve Ballmer hasn’t a clue!

Another Bill Gates prizewinner — solar toilets to improve sanitation

Reinvent the Toilet
Click on the graphic to see it all

Bill Gates is, in a manner of speaking, flushing his money down the toilet…His charitable organisation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is looking for future loos that can improve sanitation around the world.

At the Reinvent the Toilet fair, hosted at its Seattle campus this week, designs included a lavatory that used microwave energy to turn poo into electricity…Another turned excrement into charcoal, while a third used urine for flushing.

In total 28 designs were shown off at the fair and the winner was a team from the California Institute of Technology…Led by Prof Michael Hoffman, the toilet they designed was solar-powered and generated hydrogen gas and electricity. They won a $100,000 prize.

The project challenged inventors to come up with a toilet that operated without running water, electricity or a septic system. It needed to operate at a cost of no more than five cents (3p) a day and would ideally capture energy or other resources…

Traditional flush toilets waste tons of drinking water and are often impractical in many areas of the developing world.

The UN estimates that disease caused by unsafe sanitation is responsible for half of the hospitalisations in the developing world. About 1.5 million children die each year from diarrhoeal disease…

Bravo! Chalk up another positive step by the Gates Foundation. Imagine how many important tasks like this would move towards reality, functional aid to the poor of the world – as an alternative to the devotion to death and destruction so well-funded in the United States, UK, Russia and in other “modern” nations?

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos helps to defend same-sex marriage law

The founder of Amazon.com and his wife are donating $2.5 million to defend a gay marriage law passed in the US state of Washington.

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are the latest wealthy backers, joining Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and co-founder Bill Gates, who each gave $100,000.

Washington is one of four states facing a November referendum on gay marriage…The law, due to come into effect on 7 June, was put on hold after a petition to vote on Referendum 74 succeeded.

Opponents gathered more than 240,000 signatures in a bid to overturn the law signed in February by Governor Chris Gregoire…

A campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage called the Bezos donation a “game-changer” in their fight to keep the law in place.

They understand what’s at stake for Washington families and what’s at stake for the country,” Zach Silk told the Associated Press.

“We’re at a tipping point, and they really understand this is an historic moment, and they want to be on the right side of history and want to make history.”

The law is opposed by a range of homophobes – extending from Evangelical so-called Christians to political conservatives – inevitably Republican. Younger folks may not know this; but, there have been a few notable Republicans in the past who supported civil rights legislation. Among them a guy named George Romney. Mitten’s daddy.

Mr Bezos, 48, is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 15th wealthiest person in the US, with a personal fortune of $18.4 billion…

A group of pro-Republican hedge fund managers have also given money to the campaigns supporting same-sex laws in the four states that are to vote in November…Among them are Dan Loeb, a major shareholder of Yahoo; and Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management and a notable Republican Party donor. They are reported to have supported Freedom to Marry, a group in favour of legalising same-sex marriage…

They are also said to have contributed to American Unity, a political committee founded by Mr Singer, that gives financial backing to Republicans running for Congress who support same-sex marriage.

No one should be surprised that a conservative billionaire who made his money investing in progressive technology also supports modern civil rights. The same holds true for a segment of the investing community. After all, political progress also supports a profitable economy – regardless of what Republican officialdumb and the Kool Aid Party would lead you to believe.

Bill Gates’ firm Terrapower discuss nuclear reactor plan in China

China is set to start work on a novel design for a nuclear reactor with the help of a firm founded by Bill Gates.

Terrapower, founded and funded by the Microsoft chairman, is collaborating with Chinese scientists on the fourth generation (4G) reactor. Research into the 4G reactor over the next five years could top $1 billion, said Mr Gates. Developing such a reactor could take a long time because none have been built or tested yet.

“The idea is to be very low cost, very safe and generate very little waste,” said Mr Gates during a talk at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology during which he confirmed the tie-up with Terrapower…

Based in Washington state, Terrapower is working on a design for what is known as a travelling wave reactor. This uses depleted uranium as its power source and is believed to produce less nuclear waste than other designs.

All these new designs are going to be incredibly safe,” Mr Gates said. “They require no human action to remain safe at all times…”

I’ve supported nuclear power generation since I first worked in the field before most of my readers were born. Cripes, I never thought I’d get old enough to be able to say that. 🙂

Anyway, in recent years I have gradually begun to shift my alliance to large-scale solar power projects because I feel the ultimate cost of producing electrical power is now less for solar technology than nuclear power. The environmental problems associated with the latter methodology are problems of politics, corruption and laziness prompted by greed. Problems faced by all large-scale endeavors in the modern era.

If Gates’ company can beat the costs of competing with large and small-scale projects from advanced firms like Toshiba and Areva – well, then, more power to him.

5 years of Gates Foundation health grants

Five years ago, Bill Gates made an extraordinary offer: he invited the world’s scientists to submit ideas for tackling the biggest problems in global health, including the lack of vaccines for AIDS and malaria, the fact that most vaccines must be kept refrigerated and be delivered by needles, the fact that many tropical crops like cassavas and bananas had little nutrition, and so on.

No idea was too radical, he said, and what he called the Grand Challenges in Global Health would pursue paths that the National Institutes of Health and other grant makers could not.

About 1,600 proposals came in, and the top 43 were so promising that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made $450 million in five-year grants — more than double what he originally planned to give.

Now the five years are up, and the foundation recently brought all the scientists to Seattle to assess the results and decide who will get further funding.

In an interview, Mr. Gates sounded somewhat chastened, saying several times, “We were naïve when we began…”

He underestimated, he said, how long it takes to get a new product from the lab to clinical trials to low-cost manufacturing to acceptance in third-world countries…

That little won’t buy a breakthrough, but it lets scientists “moonlight” by adding new goals to their existing grants, which saves the foundation a lot of winnowing. “And,” he added, “a scientist in a developing country can do a lot with $100,000.”

Over all, he said: “On drawing attention to ways that lives might be saved through scientific advances, I’d give us an A.

“But I thought some would be saving lives by now, and it’ll be more like in 10 years from now.”

RTFA. A case study – series of studies – in developing philanthropy. Above all else, give the Gates’ credit for their commitment and dedication. It ain’t even easy to try to give money away to help people.

Gates, Buffett say China charity meeting a success

The mansion where the private banquet was held

After a night of wining and dining 50 of China’s richest people in the name of promoting philanthropy, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates told a horde of journalists on Thursday that the biggest difference between eating with Chinese tycoons and Western ones was the food.

Thus ended the two billionaires’ mission to promote charity in China, a journey that provoked weeks of breathless speculation here about whether this nation’s much-resented class of superrich was too miserly to measure up to Western philanthropic standards.

At a news conference, Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates said the answer was an emphatic “no.”

“I was amazed last night, really, at how similar the questions and discussions and all that was to the dinners we had in the U.S.,” said Mr. Buffett, who had wisecracked about the food. “The same motivations tend to exist. The mechanism for manifesting those motivations may differ from country to country…”

On Thursday, the two men pronounced the dinner an unqualified success, saying that two-thirds of those who were invited had shown up, and that more than half of those at the dinner had offered their own ideas on how Chinese philanthropy should work…

China is widely reported to be second only to the United States in the number of dollar billionaires. Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett said the nation was unique in that its wealthy class had arisen almost wholly in the past 30 years, so philanthropic practices that are entrenched among European and American dynasties are new here, and open to change.

What you have is a first generation of fortune,” Mr. Gates said, “and it’s natural that they’re thinking through, in this society in particular, ‘What do you do?’ ”

But Mr. Gates suggested that their philanthropic globetrotting was not yet over. “We may do an event in India,” he said.

I’ve worked on a number of homes for the nouveau riche who ended up choosing Santa Fe either as their primary residence or just a holiday home. Cripes, I worked on a “vacation cottage” that was 24,000 square feet in size.

But, even the folks who owned that last example were involved with charity from the local scale to global. As I’ve noted before, most folks I’ve worked with who made their own fortunes were not stingy. The greedy grasping types usually were trustfunders, those who inherited their wealth.

I think a fair number of folks who earned their own way remember where they come from.

Ed Roberts, creator of Altair 8800, dies

Ed Roberts, whose early Altair 8800 computer helped inspire Bill Gates and Paul Allen to start Microsoft, died Thursday. He was 68.

Though Roberts’ name is less well known than some other computing pioneers, the Altair is widely credited as the first personal computer and for helping inspire the modern computer industry. Roberts established Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), which introduced the Altair in 1975. An article on the Altair in the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics caught the eye of a young Allen, who showed the story to Gates.

Gates and Allen quickly reached out to Roberts, looking to create software for the Altair. Landing a meeting, the pair headed to Albuquerque, N.M., where Roberts’ company was located. The two went on to set up Microsoft, which had its first offices in Albuquerque.

Though his impact on the industry was long lasting, Roberts left computing in the 1970s, selling MITS, going to medical school, and then setting up a medical practice in Georgia.

Allen said that Roberts was a mentor, and not just on the computing side.

“Ed was the first entrepreneur Bill and I spent time around, and we learned a lot about business from him,” Allen said in an e-mail…

Ed was willing to take a chance on us–two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace–and we have always been grateful to him,” Gates and Allen said. “The day our first untested software worked on his Altair was the start of a lot of great things. We will always have many fond memories of working with Ed in Albuquerque, in the MITS office right on Route 66–where so many exciting things happened that none of us could have imagined back then.”

Newcomers to New Mexico always wonder why Albuquerque newscasts always report on Microsoft as a “local” stock. Ed Roberts gets the credit – along with an ongoing commitment to computational analysis within so much of the geek community here.

Bill Gates says anti-science ideology threatens fight against hunger

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The fight to end hunger is being hurt by environmentalists who insist that genetically modified crops cannot be used in Africa, says Bill Gates.

Gates said GMO crops, fertilizer and chemicals are important tools — although not the only tools — to help small farms in Africa boost production.

“This global effort to help small farmers is endangered by an ideological wedge that threatens to split the movement in two,” Gates said in his first address on agriculture made during the annual World Food Prize forum.

“Some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment,” Gates said. “They have tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology into sub-Saharan Africa without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in recent years has turned its focus to helping poor, small-holder farmers grow and sell more crops as a way to reduce hunger and poverty…

“The next Green Revolution has to be greener than the first,” Gates said. “It must be guided by small-holder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and the environment.”

The Gates Foundation is working with research partners on drought-tolerant maize using both conventional crop-breeding techniques and biotechnology, Gates said, noting he hopes seeds will be available in two or three years.

The impact of those new varieties could help convince skeptics of the benefits of biotechnology, he said.

The technologies will be licensed royalty free to seed distributors so that the new seeds can be sold to African farmers without extra charge,” Gates said.

He’s right, you know.

I’ll take science over religion – or skeptics whose religion is fear of science – any day. I’ve been an activist for science-based ecology for about 40 years, now. The kind of farming and animal husbandry my family has practiced for centuries has always been natural – which also means frugal 🙂 – and absolutely willing to learn from sound science.