31 October 2005

Do Economists care about the real world?

I've been burning through my pre-downloaded Radio Economics Podcasts over the past 24 because I've been without internet! The most recent one was on what Economists can learn from Biologists.

A common criticism of economists, certainly by Tyler Cowen, is that they don't read enough intellectual writting from other disciplines. The reason this is disconcerting to some is because economists tend to high-jack other disciplines. Over the past 15 to 20 years many economists have focused on traditionally more behavioral based topics, things that would usually be deemed the territory of Psychology or perhaps Sociology.

An economist, by my definition, is a fan of the economic way of thinking. Often we feel so confident in the power of this way of thinking, that we would like to extend it to fields outside our core competency. Experts in those fields may claim that we have nothing news to add.

The economist does not argue that by pooring over data and looking at incentive structure, she will discover a new biological process that changes our perspective on Nature vs. Nurture. Though the economist may try to argue that, given we don't know exactly how the process works, let's use collected data and logic involving incentives of individuals and see if we cannot develop a model that helps us understand behavior better. This is a theory. If the theory helps us predict behavior, then so much the better. However, if we test the theory in the real world and prove the theory wrong, that is also progress.

A common problem in economics is to develop a theory that makes sense without supporting it adequately with empirical analysis. It is a lot easier to preach from the soap box these theories that sound so logical without putting them to the test. I would love for my ideas to be supported by empirical analysis, but I am usually not in the position to attain the necessary data (either it doesn't exist or I don't have access to it). Whenever some one develops a theory about the way the world works, even if it makes sense, there is a need to test it in the REAL world. Are the results statistically significant? If so, are they really significant enough to change the way we behave? The value added by economics rests on these two questions.

A dream worth reading?

Typically I am not a big fan of listening to other peoples dream stories, unless they are a good story teller. The fact that it didn't really happen is one turn off. The other is that at the level of detail that it is being retold, usually in summary form, it doesn't lend itself to in depth psycho-analysis (as if that is what I wanted to do in the first place). What I would prefer to know is how a dream is currently affecting an individual. For instance, did they have a scary dream and need comfort. If so then the details become more interesting because the listener feels more involved, that is, that listening and perhaps commenting may help bring the comfort.

I just woke up from a nap in which I had an interesting (to me) dream. In spite of what I have just said, I was so excited to have remembered the elements of the dream I have decided to write them down FULL DISCLOSURE: This dream shortly followed the consumption of 17 peices of Laffy Taffy (To Mom: I flossed and brushed before I crashed)...

The following will apply when I get my internet access back: Click Here to Read my dream. I have place it on another site because I don't want to waste space for readers who, like me, wouldn't click on the link!

We, the group I remember including Me, Alex, Dave, and Alex's parents, are in Rio de Janeiro. Alex's parents are obviously visiting. We are in a van that his parents have rented but Alex is out running an errand. I am talking to Alex's parent about what they are going to do tonight. Originially they want to go to a show. I think they mention Genipabu, so I say that that is 3 hours by plane and obviously will not work for tonight.

At this point, as we are driving down the street, we spot Alex on the corner of the street. He hails us but Alex's dad refuses to stop for him until we come to a red light further up the street. Alex is forced to run us down but once he gets in he doesn't seem to have minded too much. It is now that I realize that his parents weren't talking about Genipabu but about some place on a hill marked by a Rock Head. In the dream this apparently was a location where concerts were frequently held and it was just a bit out of the city (In actuality this is a location where several other dreams of mine have taken place; it does not exist to my knowledge in the real world).

As we continue driving we pass a large conference building and decide to check it out. It appears to have a stained glass image of three figures, perhaps the Three Wise Men, and therefore I assume it has religious affiliation. As we enter the conference hall we discover that it is full of elderly people. The speaker is not noticably elderly but he is bald. As we sit down we transforms to consist of me, Alex, Dave, and Orlando (our Capstone Project Adivsor). The conference we are attending appears to be on Aviation Safety, the topic of Dave's capstone project.

After a short while sitting in the audience, I notice an employee of my former workplace, INPUT. I identify him as James Reason, though in reality I believe his name is James Something-Else. He is sitting with two similar looking people that turn out to be his brothers. He notices me talking about him to Dave and Alex and he calls me over (in a voice too loud for having a conference going on). I come over and he ushers me out a side door. Immediately upon stepping out I recognize that I have just stepped into an INPUT office. Apparently after I left working there (in January 2006) they decided to open an office in Rio de Janeiro. Scanning over room, there were a few familiar faces from INPUT, but mostly new people. Most greeted me by name, even though I had not been introduced. I went around greeting people and then James brought me over to a corner where about 10 people were working. One of the ten was Steve Chandler, a gentleman I know from church. His face was noticably red and he seemed to be worried that James was going to tell me business secrets. James assured him that I was harmless but Steve wouldn't back down. So James took me aside and told me that in short we should concentrate our project on the "Computer Architecture and Networking aspect." I mentioned that I wasn't actually working on the Aviation Project but was only attending the Conference as a visitor. I then mentioned that the concentration of our project was helicopter maintanence (i.e., his advice seemed invalid.).

As the conversation ended I went into another room to visit briefly with other employees I might remember. One older lady with a name plate stating she was Rael seemed to remember me. There was another nameplate on her desk that read MÃE, or "Mom" in Portuguese. I figured it was an endearing nick-name picked by the staff. To me she was Sally Bitner, a former manager of mine at a law firm I worked at in the summer of 2001. I asked her how INPUT came to have an office in Rio de Janeiro. She said they had a vote and it was either Idaho or Rio, and so naturally Rio was chosen.

As I walked out of the room she instructed me to pick up some candy from a basket located near the door. She instructed me to take one of the yellow cellophane bags containing an Easter egg and assorted candy in it. I took he bag and proceeded to dump out the egg and the other candy and stuff the bag full of Laughy Taffys and three bags of peanut M&Ms. I started to walk out and back into the conference room when I was asked if I wanted a baked potato. I looked up and behold, a work table had been cleared off and a makeshift aluminum fire pit was a blaze on top, with a foil wrapped potato in its midst. Initially I accepted the offer but decided it would take too long to cook and so I declined and said "Tchau" to everyone. As I re-entered the conference room the speaker was still going.

Upon seeing me, Dave and Alex jumped over the back of their seats and into an empty row where we proceeded to dig into the candy bag.

Where is the door

I got to talking to Colleen today about the relative merits of the exit door placement on the city buses.

There are essentially two locations for the exit door on the standard city bus. The first is near the back of the bus, right behind the back axle. The second is near the front/middle of the bus a few steps past the turnstile and cobrador.

Front Pro's

Easier to see who is getting on, and if everyone is off.
Sometimes the bus driver starts to pull away or close the doors before everyone has exited... The call for the driver to "Pare" or stop is easier to hear. Also most robbers get on through the back door.

Front Con's

Fewer front/middle seats. I happen to enjoy sitting forward of the back axle. The ride in general is more comfortable, perhaps it is less bouncy, there is better air flow... When the door is in the front, there can be no seats there. The seats that would have been there are instead located behind the back axle. So you are more likely to get a seat in the back.

Exit near the turnstile where people are getting on... potential human traffic jam.
This can create a two way flow. First flow toward the back of the bus when getting on and second toward the front when getting off.

If you trip out the door and the driver pulls away you could get run over by the back tires.

The Back's Pro and Cons are simply the contrary of the Front's.

29 October 2005

How to stop eating Laffy Taffy

Part of addictive behavior may be explained by allowing chemicals to overcome will that is linked to rememberance. Keeping the memory of why you want to stop something on hand while battling the chemical dependency can be really rough. One way I'm going to try to overcome my chemical dependency on Wonka's Laffy Taffy, the best candy in the world, is keeping in mind just how much of this deadly goo I am consuming. Another incentive is the realization that while in Brazil, having been shipped from the US, this is the most expensive candy I've ever eaten.

A small pile of said goo consumed while listening to a Radio Economics podcast interview of Tim Harford. Look out for his The Undercover Economist, coming to stores in November!

Size matters, but that's not all

I am considering moving in with 3 to 5 Brazilians next semester. If all 5 and I decide to live in a 4 bedroom house, that means 4 people will be sharing 2 rooms and 2 people will have their own. Let us say all the rooms are of equal size. How do you split up the costs?

A simple answer may be to have each room cost 1/4 of the rent. In this scheme, a room splitter pays 1/8 of the rent, while a single pays 1/4. (For a $1500 house this is $187.50 for a splitter and $375 for a single).

But a house is not only rooms. There is the kitchen, living room, bathrooms, storage space, lawn, etc. So the question is, how much is all that stuff worth? If we decide that 50% of the value of the house is in the rooms, then the rest is valued at 50% of the total rent. Example:

We go in on a $1500/month house. Let us give value of rooms to value of rest of house a 50/50 ratio. Now each inhabitant pays ($1500*50%)/6 people = $125, solely to live in the house. But of course you want to live in a room right!? Well the marginal (or extra) value of adding a room is ($1500*50%)/4 rooms = $187.50 per room. Under this scheme a room splitter pays $218 and a non-splitter pays $312.50.

The driving metric is the ratio of the value of the rooms to the value of the rest of the house! A room splitter argues that the rooms are very valueable and should not have to pay much for just living in the house. Whereas a single roomer, which I will be, argues that rooms aren't that important and it is really the whole house that we are splitting.

Perhaps it seems interesting that the people deciding to have a roommate think (or at least say!) that room space is so important, while those having their own room think that room space doesn't matter so much; they should switch! The falacy here is that all room space is equally important. If I have a big room to myself and you take away one square foot, I might not even notice. Do the same thing in a small room I am sharing with some one else and I will surely notice! I value the square foot much more when I have only a few to start.

28 October 2005

If you haven't seen it before, it is news to you

I found these pictures of the 1939-1943 era fascinating because they are are in color! I feel like a lot of the black and white pictures and filmes I see come from a different era. Surely they are from a different era but seeing them in color gives them so much more immediacy.

Thanks to Micheal at 2blowhards.com for the tip.

26 October 2005

Mind control: It begins

This technology is still rudimentary and only affects balance by using electricity to mess with your sensitive inner ear, but the implications of a remote application are quite interesting. Let us hope we work out world peace (and brotherly love and all that) before the deriviatives of this technology get too advanced.

25 October 2005

Is speeding worth it?

A good start is to ask, "is speeding worth what?" Possible negative consequences include the risk of a speeding ticket or the increased risk of incurring an accident fatality (notice I'm not saying risk of an accident). With the exception of adrenaline junkies, the major benefit appears to be in time saved in transit. Let's look at an example,

Driving from UVA in Charlottesville to my house in NoVA is about 100 miles. Assume that this is all traffic free highway (no stop lights, train-crossings, etc) so that average speed is equal to instantaneous speed. At the speed suggested by the modal sign, 55 mph, the trip takes 1 hr 49 min. At this speed there is essentially no risk of being pulled over on Rt. 29, the longest stretch of road on the route.

Now let's make the same trip at a speed of 72 mph. The trip now takes 1 hr 23 min. This a savings of 26 minutes. My friend Ben was pulled over on Rt. 29 for going 72 mph. I'm not sure I want to get into a deep cost-benefit analysis augmented by some abitrary statistical hit-rate distribution. Instead, realize that most journeys, even those involving highway travel, are much shorter than 100 miles. And so the time shavings will typically be much reduced. Surely all these minutes add up, perhaps even to a full day over the course of a year, but can two minutes here and three minutes there be put to good utilization if taken seperately... maybe now would be a good time to take up speed meditation.

Side note: I don't think there is an authoritative source on this but it seems a fairly common assumption that 10 mph over the speed limit is rather safe (in terms of ticket avoidance) when on major highways. Of course this depends on the time of day, flow of traffic, etc. Think about how you determine your travel speed...

22 October 2005

Slay the lamb to protect the beast again

Saddness ensues. Phone companies want to put an end to my wonderful Skype experience. So far I've made several hours of SkypeOut calls (calls from my computer to a land line or cellphone) and have only spent about US$6. Compare that to the more standard 17 cents a minute calling card and I've already saved $30 or so. Try to make a call without a service plan and you could be paying over $1 a minute. Not to mention the untold hours of the completely free Skype-Skype user calls. Established phone companies have hated companies like Skype and Vonage since their inceptions, but now they have a way to get even.

New technology created by Narus Inc, allows phone companies to indentify digital communication packets (from broadband phone calls) and block them. In serveral countries this is already being employed. Although U.S. companies must comply with their common carrier status and thus cannot block the calls outright, apparently that doesn't mean they can't make the calling experience miserable for us through staticky connections and transmission delays.

My only hope is that as a result of Big Phone's oppressiveness more people jump on the broadband bandwagon. Of course I'd be doing the same thing as the phone companies if I were them ("These new services are using our existing lines and then have the nerve to undercut our prices!"). However for the sake of humanity, let's innovate and be competitive rather than just try to protect our outdated investments.

Slay the lamb to protect the beast

There is not nearly enough outrage at the slaughter of 100,000,000 sharks per year! I've never had fin soup but I also don't eat baby seal burgers. In general the chicken isn't as good here in Brazil so I eat lots of cows (this to the horror of my sister who claims chickens have a reason to die, namely they are delicious, while cows do not, namely they are cuter and not so tasty to her. She has been saying it since she was 7 years old.) I've come up with the following rather incomplete spectrum of human perspective on eating edible material (those of us without pica)

  • Vegetables - Line 'em up and knock 'em down
  • Sharks - Kill for fun, kill for "beach safety," kill for sport, kill for food, kill kill kill!
  • Chickens - Grow them without claws or beaks, put them in tiny cages and then kill them. (actually an urban legend but if you don't click my links then you might just believe it)
  • Cows - A little more forgiving. In fact, open range meat is becoming more popular. Let them live a decent life and then slaughter them.
  • Baby seals - Okay so no one really eats them... but why not? They might taste good.
The very general trend is that the more mammilian and more pet-like the animal, the more guilt we feel from filleting it up. Amongst mammals, guilt also increases with the likelihood that the animal would be found in the zoo. Unfortunately, sharks are the only thing on the list (that we eat) that we don't grow in captivity. So we are pretty much cleaning up the ocean of one of its top level predators... I hope that doesn't screw everything up or you can say good-bye to the surf-and-turf dinner!

Want to see how the odds of shark death stack up to other causes of death (in Australia of all places!). Click here and note that drowning death in the ocean is several hundred times more likely than being killed by a shark.

21 October 2005

The digital laughing problem revisited

First read my previous entry on the subject. Then you will realize how sad the following situation really is:

I accidently typed "hahaha" just a few minutes ago, though I did so without really laughing out loud. I immediately felt bad and chuckled a little bit out of obligation so as not to deviate from the meaning I had ascribed to the characters in my previous blog entry.

A dear friend has mentioned that I've left out the so-called evil laugh, denoted by, "muahaha." In my defense I think I have only ever seen her use this digital laugh, though I will admit that now I've started to use it on occasion.

Another good comment from Alex was that things we might typically laugh at in a genuine social gathering elicits little or no laughter during an IM conversation. This point being entirely separate from the polite or fake laugh in that you would genuinely laugh in the face-to-face situation but have little desire to do so online. Perhaps this accents the social role of laughing (and smiling for that matter).

20 October 2005

Things I would have bet against: Printer Codes

I am actually still in disbelief over this news. Appearently, the Secret Service asked printer manufacturers to add hidden dots to printed sheets to make conterfeiting easier to detect. The dots, which show up under special light and a magnifying glass, encode information about the printer and the date of the printing.

"Hahah," you imagine the printer manufacturers saying. "Unless you make it a law, there is no way we'd do this with out alerting our customers."

Think again. Many of the major manufacturers (e.g. HP, Xerox, Canon) have been doing it clandestinely for years.

When I hear stuff like this I just have to ask who was the executive that was confronted with this proposal and said, "You know what, this is a great idea. Let's do it." (By the way I say this all the time when I see bad TV commercials). This is just another case where people dessecrate property and privacy rights for the slightest perceived benefit.

Addendum: Some good pictures and decoding.

19 October 2005

Let Fandangos be

Thank goodness for consumer advocate legislation! Yesterday I bought a package of Fandangos, the semi-delicious cheese flavored corn chip. I don't know what I would have done if the package hadn't told me that the 66 g bag had been recently reduced from 73 g or by 9.6%! In fact I can tell you the history of Fandangos package reduction for the past 5 years

2000 - 100 g
2001 - 84 g
2004 - 73 g
2005 - 66 g

Now there is no way those guys at Elma Chips are going to trick me into unknowingly paying the same amount for a smaller bag!

The larger question is whether this is good legislation or not. I would personally error on the side of less legislation. Perhaps an upstart chip company needs to experiment with different package sizing in order to find the most profitable size. If consumers see the size constantly changing, they may defer to an established brand (supporting a monopoly and raising prices). Then again, maybe all the companies really are trying to gouge the masses of poor illiterate addicted Fandangos eaters (in which case this legislation would be worthless).

The digital laughing problem

A typical instant messaging (IM) conversation

IMcrazy4IM: And then I got bopped on the head like little Bunny Fufu.
GirlzRule4884: lol, at least you didn't get turned into a Goon!
IMcrazy4IM: Haha luckily I still have 2 more chances...
GirlzRule4884: Hahaha, leave those field mice alone!

Social communication typically contains plenty of humor and lightheartedness. In fact, people's ability to make us laugh is usually a very endearing quality. Often the degree of laughter serves as feedback to the speaker of the demand for further joking (there is nothing worse than a speaking who has a large supply of low demand jokes!).

The IM world imposes a digital shroud between two participants, for instance by converting vocal and sub-vocal laughing into alphanumeric characters (e.g. "haha x 1000") . Through my years of experience in this mode of communication I've noticed the following

  • Haha is the most commonly used. It rarely means that person is actually laughing, instead, a mental laugh or a slight smile usually accompanies this reponse.
  • LOL is a relatively close second. Literally short for "laughing out loud," this is probably only true in slightly more cases than haha.
  • Haha and LOL are often used interchangeably to add variety to the conversation.
  • Usually when some one is really laughing out loud, they will deviate from these two common responses by either adding more ha to create a longer chain, and/or by typing in words the fact that one is truly laughing (e.g., hahahahaha. I can't stop laughing!).
So while standardization and translation of the laughing inputs may help lower the shroud blocking the feedback loop, this is probably not in high demand by IM users. For one, IM often creates funny situations because of this barrier. Also it is a lot easier to be polite by laughing over IM than trying to laugh in real life (where it may be obvious that your laugh is fake).

18 October 2005

I may be dumb but I have a decent reason: Toothpaste

My last installment by the same title was on the "one, zero" power switch. This one is about toothpaste. You've seen it before - the little label that reads

For best results, squeeze from the bottom and flatten as you use the product.

I have never heeded this information for an entire tube of toothpaste. Invariably, I will be brushing late at night and, too tired to think, I just squeeze from where ever my hand happens to pick up the tube. My question is for what "best results." Although I've had some doubts, I have generally assumed the purpose of this message is to help cheapskates get every bit of paste out of the tube. Though if this is the only result derived from this practice, I think I will save my effort and possibly buy one extra tube of toothpaste over the span of my lifetime.

However, if somehow squeezing from the bottom and flattening promotes the optimal mixing of the paste substance as it is ejected from the nozzle, then perhaps I should heed the advice. Then if I ever sue Crest for all my cavities they can't use as their defense, "Well Your Honor, he just didn't flatten as he used the product. It said it right on the tube."

17 October 2005

More on grading/economics

Effort grades are inefficient. Instead of seeing how much time you can get your students to put into a homework assignment, state explicitly what is expected for each grade and then let them decide the level of effort they desire to exert to achieve a given grade. Although it may seems to a professor that Stochastic Decision Modeling is the most important subject ever, remember that the student is taking many courses as well as being involved in dozens of other activities.

As an example, let us say we have two student operating under two grading systems, one based on inputs and the other on outputs. Grading based on inputs cancels out some benefits for efficient students. Certain math classes where many similar, repetitive problems are required for homework is an example. The student that is good at math can probably learn the concepts necessary long before the assignment is completed; the rest of the time spent is wasted. On the other hand the weaker student may need extra practice to master the concepts; the effort required by the assignment is no more than an estimate of the effort required to master the concepts - it may not suit any one individual student.

On the other hand, grading based on output allows the more efficient student to achieve the same level of performance while saving time for other activities. In essence, she is rewarded in both a desirable grade and free time. At the same time, in terms of efficiently achieving performance, the weaker student is no worse off; he must still potentially complete the assignment and do more. In addition to all this is the fact that many students learn in different ways, and usually each individual knows which ways are best; again, the assignment is only an estimate of the best way to master the material - it may not suit any one individual student. So output grading is a pareto improvement over the input grading system.

16 October 2005

A short, unsystematic treatise on grades

Matt Olsen posts an interesting question on grading, specifically with regards to school grading. What is a useful grading system? Notice I do not say fair, though I am of the opinion that these adjetives by definition describe the same system.

The primary goal of a grading system should be to give information on performance. As such, I am in favor of systems that are based exclusively on output rather than inputs (i.e., based on performance demonstrated rather than efforts exerted).

Let me say at this point that I have yet to see a perfectly implemented grading system (one that provides perfect information on performance) and indeed, I have seen some rather terrible systems. The lack of perfection stems from the inefficiency in evaluating performance. As humans we can only process so much information intelligibly and therefore generally sacrifice information on specific performance by aggregating grades (e.g., one grade for an entire test, one final grade for a class, one cumulative GPA, etc). To the extent grade users can glean enough information from these aggregated metrics, this is not such a grave problem.

One question often asked is whether to use an absolute grade scale or a "curve" scale. This depends on what information is most useful to the grade's user. Mastery of clearly defined material, if standardized appropriately, is best supported by an absolute grade. Using the curved scale, I may get an A+ in Thermodynamics without mastery granted everyone else does worse. The curved scale comes into play to eliminate variablilty caused by a particular class (e.g., bad professor, lots of snow days, etc).

13 October 2005

The best deal of my life

I just received a $20 service for 40 cents. The catch... it was a set-up, a scam. I felt somebody coming up behind me fast -- my first thought -- I'm going to get robbed. So I turned around and the guy steered off and started jumping around like we was crazy. Okay, fair enough, another crazy guy in Rio, nothing new. I cross the street and get to the beach where I am confronted by another guy with a shoe shining kit. He is asking me if I want my shoes shined. No, you idiot I am wearing sandals! Then he points to my foot which is now covered a lovely pile of fresh dog poop.

How did dog crap get on top of my foot? It is not as though I went around sticking my foot under squating dogs. So obviously the guy that came up behind me threw it on my foot so that the guy on the beach could get some business (creating your own demand!).

As I had poop on my foot I allowed the guy on the beach to clean it up. My theory was confirmed when the guy that threw the poop, not suspecting that I knew he did it, as well as a couple other shoe shiners came up to watch my shoe shiner clean up my foot and shoe.

After all was cleaned up, I pulled out 80 centavos (40 cents) and said that was all I had. The now rather irritated shiner said, "that's not going to pay for anything. I just cleaned *explicit* off your foot" (in portuguese). He then pointed to a marking on his shoe shining kit, which had been conveniently hidden from view, that set the service at R$50 (US$20). I almost laughed. I could get some people here to eat dog poop for R$50 (only a slight exaggeration). And besides I knew I had been set-up. I don't know if the law is on my side or his, but I placed down my 80 centavos and took a hike.

So if I disappear over the next few days, blame it on a band of three shoe shiners working the intersection of Santa Clara and Avenue Altantica at about 10:45am on the 13th of October, 2005.

Addendum: I told my friend Dudu, the famous samba artist, judge in training, kiosk owner, and English student about this incident and he gave me kudoos for not paying up ("They're robbers"). Anyway I am sitting at his kiosk talking to this married couple from L.A. when the shoe shiner passes by again. Dudu asks if that is him and I'm like, yup that's him. Dudu then chases the guy down and has a few word with him. The shoe shiner turns to me, rather sheepishly, and gives the thumbs up, signifying perhaps, that I am relieved of my outstanding debt (R$49.20).

09 October 2005

Jeff's dancing guide for a brazilian family birthday party

  1. Don't wear sandals!
  2. Bring an extra pair of dancing legs (bring two more if it is a samba party)
  3. Watch out for large women in heels (they may kick you in the stomach), and 80+ year old women with facial hair (they love to freak dance and kiss)
  4. If you are a gringo that likes to dance, be ready to be the life of the party!
  5. Don't try to dance with the cute girl in the corner... she has a big black boyfriend. But don't worry if you do, because he is chill as long as your intentions are pure.
  6. Be ready to answer some pretty direct questions about your intentions.
  7. Learn basic steps to Samba, Forró, Hip-Hop, Disco, and Swing (!)
  8. Be ready to show what you got at anytime in front of everybody; you will be asked to show your stuff.

08 October 2005

Inefficient currency distributions

Alex has a great post on the reluctance of Brazilian merchant to change large bills. Today I got to see just how far a vendor is willing to go to hold onto those extra small bills. As I picked up my laundary from Speed Queen the total came to R$22. Ready to hold my ground, I pulled out my R$50 bill and gave it to the attendent. As expected, I was asked whether I had a R$2 bill so that I would be paying with a 50 and 2 and recieving a 20 and 10. [i.e., (50+2)-(20+10)=22].

Here is where the battle begins, because I want the small bills too. I say I have no R$2 bills, but concede that I do have a R$1 bill, noting that unfortunately that won't help in the current situation. To my surprise however, the attendant took the R$1 bill, and still gave me a 20 and 10 in return. So I ended up paying (50+2)-(20+10)=21, saving ONE REAL!!! Wahooo.

To the Brazilian government: Print more smaller bills and take up some of the bigger ones. It appears people are more willing to deal with the extra hassle of storing and counting a larger number of bills than the (in-)convenience of the larger denominations.

Interesting geographical facts about Brasil

  • All of Brasil lies east of Washington, D.C.
  • The distance from Natal to London is the same as from Miami (about 4450 miles / 7160 km)

Picture of Colleen, John, me and Alex on the eastern most tip of Brasil (just outside of Natal), closest to Africa. Note: Farol means lighthouse (not shown)

07 October 2005

I may be dumb but I have a decent reason

I have always had trouble figuring out the switch below (is O for on and I for off or the other way around):

The problem, which may have always been obvious to you, is that the symbols are not letters but numbers (i.e., the binary numbers 0 and 1). In binary, 0 is off and 1 is on, which I have known for a very long time. I suggest the following improvement to the interface of these type of switches:

Or better yet,