26 December 2005

Too many choices: blogsphere style

If you know me or read my blog often you know I don't believe in too many choices. Just pick one already! But I couldn't help despairing, if only for a moment, over all the different blog sphere choices at my disposal. For instance, I have accounts here here here and here (won't even get into online dating sites... haha). That seems a bit excessive, in fact you may be thinking that I enjoy filling out all the registration forms for these sites. The actual reason for all my accounts as you are probably well aware is that in order to interact with users of a particular system you often have to have an account on the system. To add comments many blogs require you to login. To connect to friends on systems like facebook and myspace, you obviously need an account.

What is the weapon of choice to slay the beast of many choices... hyperlinks of course. Specifically, set up your bare bones account and then link it to your choice sites.

25 December 2005

Two blog posts on Christmas

Few things sadder than two blog posts on Christmas... Actually, I'm fine with it. I've had some time to catch up on some of my favorite blogs as well as get through a good chunk of my current reading interest, The Dancing Wu Li Masters. Not to mention watching some funny videos (vulgar) with my brother and cooking up a delicious pasta with linguiça white sauce!

As the saying goes, "there must be opposition in all things." Well, in the long run, experiencing a Christmas outside my family's normal tradition may only make my future desire to have the tradition that much stronger. And, God-willing, I'll have plenty more Christmas-es with which to test my theory!

Cohabitation: Morality versus Evolution

In my experience the debate over cohabitation before marriage is dominated by this general debate

Con: Cohabitation before marriage leads to a higher rate of divorce (... for such and such a reason). Divorce, generally, is negative. Therefore cohabitation should be avoided.
Pro: Marriage is a big commitment. Cohabitation gives you a clearer vision of whether it will work out or not. Maybe cohabitation leads to more divorce for some people, but I will take my chances.

David Friedman's new blog has an interesting new take on this conundrum. His basic premise is that evolutionarily we become more emotionally attached to people with whom we have physical relationships. As such we may settle for a less than ideal mate today because the benefit of the relationship now seems to outweigh the uncertain future benefits if you go back on the market (and potentially don't find an equally good option). Because we "severely discount future benefits" cohabitation will lead to less searching and therefore a lower probability of finding of the ideal mate.

This is the kind of stuff I like to read. Unconventional approaches that lead to surprising conclusions.

20 December 2005

State of Confusion, Part II

We have all heard girls and women complain that they are expected to look like the models and celebrities in magazines. In fact, it has become so common, that the only appropriate response to such complaints is for the guy to say, "Of course we know that all the pictures are airbrushed." Though I would surmise that not all know to what extent. Well here is an example of the evil magic (takes a minute to load). If you like that link, you'll probably enjoy this one too.

I'm less interested in why magazines do this and what its effects are on teeny-boppers than I am about finding out how much it would cost to have my mug done up style!

Thanks (as always) to MR for the tip. Yes, I freeload off them a lot for my entries... sue me, at least I am citing them.

State of Confusion

I read a review for Michael Crichton's most recent book, State of Fear, which pretty much wrote it off as NeoCon propoganda. Every since I've been wanting to read it. Finally, a few days ago I found time to block off for some "trash fiction" and I picked up the book to see just how bad it really was. (NOTE: I do not use the term trash fiction in a derogatory sense. It has it's purposes and I plan to write a trash novel one day!)

The basic plot of the book is that a rogue environmentalist group is trying to convince the world that global warming is a serious threat through the use of environmental terrorism. The protagonists start out as good intentioned if ill-informed environmental activists. Then a "real" scientist, named Kenner, comes along and tells them that all they think they know about global warming is wrong. A couple of his broad points are as follows

  • The globe isn't warming very much if at all.
  • Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by humans are, at most, very small contributors to this.
  • We cannot predict climate change, nor can we say that computer simulations that predict climate change are anything more than guesses.
Much of the books was devoted to the characters arguing between convential wisdom on global warming and the non-convential, yet "real" science that Kenner proposes. It is obvious that Kenner is just a mouthpiece for what Crichton believes himself as he flat out says in the Author's Note at the end of the book.

I didn't check any of the many references that Crichton lists through out the novel, nor do I know much about the topic in the first place. Just as the main characters did in the beginning of the book, I think pretty much everybody believes in global warming. Yet sitting down, immersed in the novel, I found some of the arguments persuasive.

So as a novel, I found it mildly entertaining. As propoganda, I found it mildy persuasive. As a new look at how people can be manipulated into believing things fiercely without having a clue what they are talking about, I found it to be a success!

If for nothing else it might be worth reading just to see if you know enough about global warming and the current science to knock down Crichton's arguments. Unfortunately, I am not, so I can only speak as a member of the "general readership" and say that it was an interesting book.

15 December 2005

Would you survive in Rio? The beta test of the test

What are your chances of survival?

Edit: Post your results in the comments section!

14 December 2005

Significant: The insignificance lessens.

My Brazilian apartmentmate and I are trying to figure out how to economize a bit next semester. Every one knows the electricity bill can be huge, especially in the winter. But really how much are you saving if you take a slightly colder shower, or turn off the heat and use an electric blanket?

First let's assume a 10 cent per kilowatt hour rate. Now we need a tasty example. How about heating up some pão (bread) for café de manhã (light morning breakfast). I am using Portuguese because I'm using my appliances here in Brazil as an example. As I see it there are four methods of heating up my pão.

The Oven. We have a tiny one, but for all the heat it loses making the handle untouchable, I'm going to assume it is pretty inefficient. I'll assume 1 kW/hr. Time to cook: 15 minutes. Total cost: 2.5 cents

The Microwave. I would cook on high power so, 1.4 kW/hr. Time to cook: 30 seconds. Total cost: 0.12 cents

The Light Bulb. Standard 60W bulb gives .06 kW/hr. Time to cook: 30 minutes. Total cost: 0.3 cents

The Rio Sun. According to a solar car site, about 1 kW/hr on a square meter on a sunny day with the sun directly overhead... but that is a mute point since it is free.

I've order the above by the quality of preparation each cooking method gives me. Over the course of my stay here in Rio, had I used the microwave every morning instead of the oven, I would have saved $4.28 (180 days * [oven tc - microwave tc]). My time here has no value, therefore the oven is the winner!

Edit (12/16): Yeah, so my oven is gas... I guess I'll need to revise my calculations.

09 December 2005

The final analysis

During finals season, I always seem to suddenly become very busy with non-studying related activities. First year it was Settlers of Catan, second year was Age of Mythology with Wu, third year was Invisible Heart and a crazy Role playing game Chris made up, and forth year I'm going on a weekend retreat and then to the beach. But with me gone, and with no blog updates, you'll be ever more productive. Stop reading now and come back in a week.

Now for all of you still with me, you naughty kids, here is my short list of worthy diversions to keep your mind off all those heady matters like Econometrics, Microbiology, and Computer Architecture...

Sudoku - If you haven't already been sucked into this one, you should probably wait until after finals
Face Transform - Click here for Jeff of all Times and Nations
Hive Intelligence - A neat idea

06 December 2005

Corruption on the roads... Mob vs. Gov't

The bus ride home from Fundão takes about 1 hour. Taking a van takes more like 40 minutes (beacause it skips a bunch of stops in Centro and goes straight to Zona Sul). When I first arrived, I thought this was a wonderful solution for people who wanted a straighter shot home after a long days work, or not, as the case may be.

Anyway, I got to thinking about how they determined which van drivers take the route from Fundão to Zona Sul. Apparently the vans are somewhat illegal, or at the very least the government doesn't regulate them. So what keeps all the van drivers from taking the best routes and leaving others alone. At first I thought it was that the drivers would move around a lot, always looking for the best route. If a route goes dry, they could just switch to a better one that fewer other drivers are running on a particular day.

But after seeing the same drivers, more or less, doing the same routes day after day, I started to wonder what could be reducing their mobility to other routes. Believe it or not, it may be the mob. It seems that if the government doesn't restrict entry (through licensing) and it doesn't protect a van drivers' right to drive around willing customers then that leaves room for somebody else steps in. In this case, it is the mob.

For a fee, the mob allows bus drivers to take a certain route (if you don't pay, I don't know what happens, but it probably ends with you without your van/life). They do this by selling stickers that the drivers place up in the front wind shield to show which route they are running. I think they rent them on daily or weekly basis. This restricts entry to those drivers that feel they can make a profit after costs (van maintain, gas, doorman, mob fee, personal alternatives, etc). First glance says that means you only get the most efficient drivers to run the routes with expensive stickers. However, it is also prone to corruption, because if you know the mob you can probably get a discounted sticker, so maybe you end up with drivers with mob connections.

A lot of this is speculation based on my poor understanding of van drivers speaking in Portuguese, but its still pretty interesting.

04 December 2005

The upper limit, perhaps n does not approach infinity

I have always been torn on my feelings about skyscrapers. On the one hand, the design genious and grandour says something amazing about human ingenuity. On the other, they also hold an air of human cockiness and inefficiency. But they continue to rise to new heights as we develop new technologies (faster elevators, lighter/stronger building materials) and feed the desire to stand above the competition. So eventually all building will be skyscrapers, right?

Well, according to this geologist, your high-tech, earthquake resistant skyscraper, may cause my low-tech 1950's apartment building to tumble to the ground. If this is proven to be the case, shall we call on government to enact regulation to nullify this negative eternality?

First glance tells me yes, we should. Building a new tall tall building is different from introducing a new technology. Whereas the new technology may throw some people out of work, it does so by increasing the efficiency of the production process. In a competitive market, this efficiency is passed along to the consumers in the form of lower prices and better selection of products. In the short run, what for a few workers feels like a negative eternality, is more often than not outweight by the positive benefits. However, with the skyscrapers, if they do cause earthquakes, the negative external effects would probably outweigh the benefits, right? Potentially causing billions of dollars in damage and taking lives...

Second glance is not so sure. It really all depends on the increase in the probabilty of earthquake caused by the skyscrapers. The problem is, even if the increase is really small, if an earthquake occurs, blame will likely be placed on the skyscrapers. However, if the increase is sufficiently small, then regulating the size of skyscrapers could cause more harm than good.