21 December 2006

So confusedly...

Weed = biggest cash crop in USA. I don't not have a lot intelligent say to this subject on. I will say that pot takes the prize even though we pay people to stop people from making money off of it by stopping them from growing it. We also pay people to not make money off of corn and many other crops, but in that case by growing more of it.

13 December 2006

The worth of a dollar

I was talking to a Brazilian friend of mine the other day and we got on the subject of traveling abroad. I mentioned that living abroad in Brazil is fairly easy on my American wallet. My friend said, "Well, that's because the Dollar is worth twice as much as Brazil's dollar [the Real]." In the context, I took my friend to be stating that the Dollar is "worth twice as much in Brazil."

I think that statement betrays a misunderstanding of worth. To be fair, both the Dollar and the Real have a "1" written all over them. And when you exchange the Dollar in Brazil you receive about 2 Reals. The problem with this logic is that for the Dollar to be worth twice as much in Brazil, it must give you twice the purchasing power. The problem is that it does not! The reason is that you are purchasing different products.

For an internationally available product such as a song from iTunes, the cost difference in Brazil will exactly equal the exchange rate between Dollars and Reais. Regardless of your currency you can buy the same number of iTunes. But for local goods that are subject to different marginal production cost, transportation costs and regulation structures, you are buying a different product. The fact is that in some cases these different products are more or less expensive than similar products in the U.S. Fruits, for example, are much cheaper while electronics are much more expensive in Brazil. So why don't we import Fruit from Brazil. We do. The main price difference is the extra transportation and taxation costs of importing it (even so it still cheaper than trying to grow it in the U.S.).

10 December 2006

The results of an unstructured day...

These days it seems that everyone has a curriculum vita, whereas, I have only a sparse resume. What's up with that? I need to pack more activity into my waking hours. Today I did. Some of the results, however unproductive, can be seen here (a unicycling video).

Trade. Free.

I sell my laptop to my friend down the street. Nobody cares. I sell it to my friend in Brazil. Hell raised. Sense. Makes. None.

08 December 2006

The cost of one lecture: $40?

I remember as a first year college student, there seemed to be a craze about how much we were paying for each lecture. The math worked out something like...

Tuition: $3000.
Hours of Class per week: 15.
Number of weeks: 14.

Therefore, cost per hour of class: $3000/15/14 = $14. Out of state is more like $40-50/hour. Now there were very few classes I attended that I felt I would have paid $14/hour for, and maybe one or two I'd have paid $40 for. So do I feel my tuition was too high?

Not necessarily. There are tons of benefits to a college degree AS A WHOLE, that go beyond any knowledge gained from one class.

Getting recruited to higher paying jobs even though you spent a good portion of the last 4 years goofing off and partying... priceless.

07 December 2006

ih rock

This has been bothering me for some time... How do you pronounce Iraq? Listening to NPR today two speakers used the word, one pronounced it IH-RACK, and the other, IH-ROCK. Various other pronounciations I have heard are


From Wikipedia's Iraq entry you can hear what appears to be an authentic pronounciation. Although the sounds needed to say Iraq don't seem to be found in English, I would say it is somewhere between IH-ROCK and UH-ROCK, and nowhere near UH-RACK (or EYE-RACK for that matter).

05 December 2006

Blizzard Entertainment captures a soul

The screenshot below comes from the xfire.com gaming profile of someone I know well. Note the drop off after the two Blizzard games. Valve's Counter Strike also gets an (dis)honorable mention. This covers roughly a one year time period, therefore this individual spent roughly 20% of his/her waking hours playing the top three games.

For reference, I've racked up 120 hours on Counter Strike and 20 hours on Civ IV. 80% of these hours were recorded before I started working 6 months ago.

19 November 2006

Will you change the world for the better?

I created this quiz, The How Will You Change The World Test, in order to test one ability to change the world for the better. No empirical evidence was used in the creation of this test. Instead, I used my world view such that the test-taker results bin him/her into one of my eight categories of world citizens. I won't tell you what the bins are just yet; take the test!

Keeping in mind that I created the test, I scored as an "Average Citizen." Take that for what it is worth.

16 November 2006

Milton Friedman passes away

I heard it on the radio today on my way home from work. He was a champion for liberty. My hero has died, but his memory lives on.

01 November 2006

Donate organ or gain

A tragedy:
In the United States, less than one half of potential organs donors became actual organ donors.
We are talking about dead people here of course. Less than half of living people are willing to sign-up to donate their organs when they no longer need them. Alex Tabbarok asks, well then why not pay?! With over 80,000 people on the waiting list and about 10% of these dying per year, it'd be nice if we could convince people to check the organ donor box when they go to the DMV. One obstacle is the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) of 1984 which states
"It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation."
Ostensibly, this is to reduce the traffic in live human organs. To a lesser degree it aims to keep the rich from cornering the organ market. However, there are ways to avoid these undesirable outcomes. First, only allow payment for organs from dead people, with the funds going to the family, the estate, or some charity of the donor's choosing. Second, don't sell organs on the free market. Instead, use the current national registry system but allow the donors to be paid for their contribution!

In the absence of legal payment options, a group called the LifeSharers has banded together, promising to donate their organs upon death to other members of the group before opening up to the national registry. At first I didn't know what to think about LifeSharers. But then I read their FAQs and found this quote on their website...

...Dr. Friedman has spoken. Think about it, if you could join a club that gave you first dibs on organs, wouldn't you join. You never incur a cost to join because you fulfill you obligation upon death. No, I haven't joined yet, but I'm seriously considering it.

29 October 2006

Veil of Ignorance

The veil issue has been a HOT topic lately. The issue is driven by a lack of understanding, not only by westerners in terms of the meaning of the veil but of veil wearers as well. In this video a Muslim woman who refused to remove her veil in front of a male co-worker is interviewed. The newsman pulls no punches.

(Hat tip: TCS Daily)

A longer shortest political quiz

Last time I blogged on the World's Shortest Political Quiz, I came up squarely in the libertarian region of the map. However, I suspected there was inherent bias in the quiz for two reason. First, the quiz is associated with a libertarian website. And second, the site's statistics claim

Assuming a representative sample was taken of the population (doubtful!), you'd have to wonder why we have any conservatives in power. However, I have come across a revision of the questions that I believe remove some of the bias. On the graph below I've plotted my score using the original versus the revised wording (orange vs. red) with my current views. For fun, I also took the quiz while attempting to wear the political hat of Jeff from 5 years ago, again with original and revised wording (light vs. dark blue). I feel that I am more libertarian than many Americans, yet with the revised wording I come up as a borderline centrist. I consider myself 5 years ago to have been similar to the "average American" and I came up borderline statist! Ahhh!

18 October 2006

State of Confusion, Part III

Last year I wrote wondering how much it would cost to get a glamor shot of me made (See Part II here). It is safe to say that we are well into the backlash of the beauty magazine. The magazines have acknowledged this. Now even the advertisers are doing as much. In this video by Dove, we see a time lapse of a woman go from unkept to über-attractive with the help of some 0's and 1's. What is interesting to me is not how alien or unnatural it looks (the eyes are HUGE), but who thought of all those metrics such as the optimal neck length. Also, they did a pretty darn good number on that woman with JUST the make-up and hairstyling.

17 October 2006

Charity = Not so charitable?

Tim Harford strikes again. This time his victim is the holiest of holy; charity. Let's cut right to an excerpt

In fact, the closer you look at charitable giving, the less charitable it appears to be ... Using controlled trials to compare different methods of door-to-door fund-raising, professor List's team discovered that it was much more effective to raise funds by selling lottery tickets than it was to raise funds by asking for money. This hardly suggests a world populated by altruists seeking to do the maximum good with their charitable cash.

More effective still was simply to make sure that the fund-raisers were attractive white girls rather than a dowdier assortment of males and females representing all shapes, races, and sizes. This dramatically increased the average contribution, because many more men decided to give money. Altruism?

"Shouldn't I just give up all my studies and go feed starving kids in Africa?" This is a variation of a question I often asked myself in high school/college. But I always came around to thinking that a desire to physically and directly do something meaningful and unselfish does not equate with a doing the most good possible, i.e., altruism. As a penniless college student I could only offer as my service the sweat of my brow, for example, painting pottery for old folks, shovelling mulch, or making sandwiches. In fact, just a few years later, as a recent college grad, the money I make per unit time could produce a much higher yield of these services than I could produce by spending that time unit doing the physical labor myself. And according to the theory of comparative advantage, I'm not admitting that I can't make a decent sandwich.

But what about becoming a doctor? Surely, if I invest my efforts in learning heart surgery I could save many more lives than as an engineer. Well only if I was good at heart surgery and I didn't faint at the operating table and if I learned the trade in a reasonable amount of time/at a reasonable cost. Again comparative advantage says that although I could be a doctor, the world is better off if I don't become one.

So, in fact, what an altruist would do is find that service which she can provide that is most valuable to others and provide as much of it as possible. Whether providing another unit of service directly saves lives/reduces misery or if the money received can be used for that cause should not be seen differently. But to many it is. That's a shame.

10 October 2006

One small step for computer scientist

Growing up and hearing replays of Neil Armstrong's first words from the moon,

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

I was always kind of confused... like, wait, that doesn't make sense does it? It wasn't until a year or two ago when I read a book that specifically mentioned the utterance that my suspicions were authoritatively confirmed. Man is another word for Mankind. Armstrong was either an idiot or he slipped up. I was inclined to believe that it was a combination of a slip up and the fact that Armstrong swallows his A's.

Not so, according to computer scientist Peter Ford. Ford claims the recording has a digital signature of the 'a' as in "one small step for a man..." Listen to it again. Even if you really want to hear it, I doubt you'll be able too. There just isn't that much time between 'for' and 'man'.

07 October 2006

Juggling Two-upmanship

If you haven't seen Chris Bliss's juggling performance to Lennon and McCartney, you are probably the only one. In fact, you may also have seen Jason Garfield's parody. But what I didn't realize when I first watched Garfield, is that he is a World Juggling Federation champion (and yes, ESPN does cover it). Garfield also has a pretty funny stand-up. I think it is a fair approximation to say I am to Bliss what Bliss is to Garfield. I think I would be darn pleased if Bliss parodied my juggling performances. All I'm saying is don't feel too bad for Bliss. Garfield felt left out of the limelight and decided he needed to one-up (well, more like two-up) Bliss. It's akin to a high school basketball player doing a innovative slam dunk to music at a midnight madness event and then having Kobe Bryant play the same music and show that he can do the same dunk from twice as far away, blind-folded and whatever else. It is a kind of honor.

06 October 2006

Save the Crack Babies!!!

Politicians are smart when it come to advertising their positions. Bush stifles discussion on the war in Iraq by claiming that detractor's want to "cut and run." In the War on Drugs, which has been going on for 30 years(!), politicians are just as clever; just conjure up the image of a crack baby crying for food on a cold floor in the ghetto. Surely any moral person would spend over $40 billion to save the crack baby.

Here is your next fix of Friedman.

Milton declares "the prohibition of drugs is the most immoral program that the United States has ever engaged in." I love that when I watch these videos now I can predict the arguments Milton will use even before he gets the opportunity to respond. One of my favorite parts is when his opponent is asked whether he would prefer more funding for enforcement or treatment. His respone: both. I laughed.

Addendum: Here is an older video with a younger Friedman on the same topic.

04 October 2006

Is Fundamentalism biological?

I was reading over my sister's spelling word sentences the other day. Most of her sentences were quite simple, "I'm in the third grade." Then I read

"I'm saved from the fier."

I said, "Hey, you spelled fire wrong... it's f-i-r-e." A second later the meaning of the sentence hit me and I started cracking up. "Did you mean 'I was saved from the fire'?"

Unwitting testimony?

Joe Sharkey noted the altitude of the corporate jet he was riding, 37,000 ft., just moments before it struck a Gol airlines, Boeing 737. The pilots of the corporate jet landed the badly damamged aircraft at a nearby military base, everyone aboard safe, though understandably shaken. All 155 people on board the 737 died. Whose fault was the crash?

The 737, flying from Manaus to Rio de Janeiro, was on a south easterly heading. East flights fly at odd thousand altitudes (e.g. 37,000 ft). The corporate jet was flying to the Manaus from Sao Jose dos Campos, a north westerly heading and therefore should have been at an even thousand altitude (in fact it was cleared to 36,000 ft). According to the Sharkey's article in the New York Times, the jet was at 37,000 ft right before the crash. The pilots should never have stayed at this altitude in straight and level flight. I wonder if the journalist unwittingly provided testimony against the pilots he called "heros."

29 September 2006

I'd have travelled farther with a greater amount of gasoline if not for the incident

I love the usage notes on Dictionary.com. Previously, I posted on minimal. Although it is missing minimal, this site has tons of other interesting common english usage errors.

27 September 2006

In this line of work, "Shortcuts" are "Pivotal"

My official title is Simulation Modelling Engineer, but I think I'm going to start telling people I am an air traffic consultant. And as with nearly all consultants, my best friend is the spreadsheet. My poison is Excel, but any old spreadsheet will do. Oh, that is, if it has pivot tables. I think of it sort of as a lite database where you pick all the attributes you want to look at and you string together queries using pull-down menus.

So, here's to you pivot tables. I think you might deserve one of those Budweiser commercials. But if not, rest assured you have increase my productivity greatly.

In fact, right now I'm on a little productivity enhancement mission. I printed out the Excel shortcut list and have dedicated myself to learning them as I go about my spreadsheeting.

In fact there are no shortage of Excel tips and tricks services to help you boost your productivity using what can otherwise be a somewhat frustrating tool (see here and Mr. Excel's Podcast here).

An economic theory of clubs

And yes, I am actually referring to James Buchanan's seminal work which among other things describes the optimal size of a club. His response could very well have been

Weight: 7.5 ounces (213 g)
Length: 20.25 Inch (514 mm)
Diameter: 3.25 Inch (83 mm)

And now you see that I am also talking about juggling clubs. More precisely a club of club jugglers. How valuable is an e-mail account if you're the only one with one? Like e-mail accounts, where if your friends, family, co-workers, etc., have them, then having one yourself become more valuable, having people around that can juggle, makes juggling skills more valuable. The more people in the network, the more people with whom you can interact using that medium.

Now in a club there is an upper limit on the number of people, beyond which additional members are a burden on the club. For example, in a secret club that upper limit is lower because additional members bring additional risk of spilling the beans. However, when it is a juggling club, and so far there is only one member, you really don't worry about upper limits much. Now, I'm no longer as blindly optimistic as my high school class believed back in 2002, but it costs me very little to advertise via this medium, and if I get just one member, it would be worth it! Gosh, I sound like such a spammer.

Basically, I'm looking for people interested in juggling, including learning to juggle. If you need convincing, here is a rather unconvincing list of reasons you should pick up the balls and give them a whirl:

1. Juggling is great exercise... if you do it while you are running.
2. Juggling brings people together... if you count throwing stuff at people bringing them together.
3. Juggling sharpens the mind... especially if you juggle knives before you're ready.
4. Juggling makes people fear and respect you... clowns juggle, case in point.
5. Juggling relieves depression... (if you don't think about the fact that you can never win; you can alway add one more ball.)

15 September 2006

Great TV

Everybody, including me, has their shows that they love to watch on TV. 24, Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Good Eats (haha, yes!), etc. etc. But if you are willing to sit through an hour or 45 minutes for one of those shows, I implore you, I implore you, please sit through just 30 minutes with Milton Friedman if you have not yet done so. If you do and are not impressed, I cannot imagine why you read this blog. If you do and are impressed you will have gained a better understanding of what motivates me to write this blog.

12 September 2006

Why haven't we been attacked again yet?

This is a good article, which proposes several reason why we haven't endured another terrorist attack on US soil. And none are the standard ones offered up by the government. Here are a couple good excerpts

Instead, Americans are told -- often by the same people who had once predicted imminent attacks -- that the absence of international terrorist strikes in the United States is owed to the protective measures so hastily and expensively put in place after 9/11. But there is a problem with this argument. True, there have been no terrorist incidents in the United States in the last five years. But nor were there any in the five years before the 9/11 attacks, at a time when the United States was doing much less to protect itself. It would take only one or two guys with a gun or an explosive to terrorize vast numbers of people, as the sniper attacks around Washington, D.C., demonstrated in 2002.


It may well have become more difficult for terrorists to get into the country, but, as thousands demonstrate each day, it is far from impossible. Immigration procedures have been substantially tightened (at considerable cost), and suspicious U.S. border guards have turned away a few likely bad apples. But visitors and immigrants continue to flood the country. There are over 300 million legal entries by foreigners each year, and illegal crossings number between 1,000 and 4,000 a day -- to say nothing of the generous quantities of forbidden substances that the government has been unable to intercept or even detect despite decades of a strenuous and well-funded "war on drugs."


It is also sometimes suggested that the terrorists are now too busy killing Americans and others in Iraq to devote the time, manpower, or energy necessary to pull off similar deeds in the United States. But terrorists with al Qaeda sympathies or sensibilities have managed to carry out attacks in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the past three years; not every single potential bomb thrower has joined the fray in Iraq.

They aren't jihadists, they are mujahidin

Stop calling the terrorists "jihadists." Doing so inadvertently lends legitamacy to their cause in the eyes of the arab speaking world. This is an interesting primer on common terms used by the media and the adminstration that are not helping our "war on terror." I found it here, an interesting article about our pessimism with respect to beating the terrorists. It offers insight into why we have reason to be more optimistic. An no, it is not because things are going well in Iraq or Afganistan (see any major new source).

The 10th dementia

I don't remember specifically when I first gained a good conception of what 3 dimensions meant, but I think soon thereafter I must have wondered how to make a fourth dimension. But how frustrating! No matter where I drew an additional line, it was already covered in the 3 dimensional space. How could I escape this prision! Well it turns out that even as I screamed this in my head I had escaped. I had travelled along the forth dimension as I sat thinking how to draw a line in the fourth dimension. Sooner or later I came to understand time as the fourth dimension. I had a vague idea that higher dimensions related to lower ones in much the same way, however I could not tell you how many dimensions exist or what any above the fourth were.

Enter this great flash animation. It goes a little quickly but if you can wrap your head around it, it is really cool to think about. Just think of the higher dimensions as the ability to fold the lower dimensions. Now I know why there can't be more than 10 dimensions!

Hat tip to AT at MR

07 September 2006

Facebook News Feeds

To the general audience who does not participate in the facebook phenomenon, sorry, there is too much back story to fill you in. For everyone else, you are obviously aware of the new facebook feature and the uproar which surrounds it. Here is a sample I just pulled from my feed
XXXX YYYY is no longer in a relationship. 9:23 pm
WWWW ZZZZ just posted a picture to a group. Utah Conservatives. 9:16 pm
The majority of the complaints claim the feature has made facebook more stalker-esque. If fact dozens of new facebook groups have popped up overnight begging Mark Zuckerberg to remove the feature or at least allow users to disable it if they'd like. With the news feed it is now much easier to see what your "friends" are doing. The problem is that many of your "friends" are not really your friends. Some are casual acquantinces or casual acquantinces of your friends which may only be acquantices. It is generally considered bad manners to reject a friend request unless you really dislike or do not at all know the person -- "what, they are not good enough to be your friend."

In my opinion facebook's popularity is derived partly from people's voyeristic desire to see what others are upto, including people they know only through a picture and an "about me" section. The cost of digging through everyones profile and pictures to get the "goods" on that person were relatively high. Now all the information is summarized for you whenever you log in. This has drammatically changed the rules of the game. When friends can be anybody, you have to watch your back a little better. Judging from the backlash in the community, people will generally post less personal information and pictures. And, if Zuckerberg doesn't address the demands soon, some people may soon find themselves with fewer "friends." This is probably a good thing.

04 September 2006

And what about before THAAAAAT!?

I remember in eighth grade I gave my physical science teacher a hard time during the lesson on the size of the universe. I asked something like, "yeah but what is right beyond the edge of the universe?" She may not have been able to answer definitively because the answer depends on the theory of the universe that you ascribe to. While there may not be 100% consensus on this issue, I think most would agree that it is "knowable." I think.

What I don't think is knowable is the origin of matter, energy, etc. I'm not talking about the origin of the universe or the Earth or that. You might point to God or the Big Bang or another popular theory. But regardless of which theory you ascribe to you have to ask, what was the initial condition. And if you ascribe to that initial condition, what came BEFORE it? You might say that time did not exist before the universe and therefore neither did cause and effect. You might further point to quantum physics as some loop hole that can allow for the universe to come from nothing, caused by nothing. You may point to string theory, and other theories that nobody really understands.

But I find those "explanations" pretty lame. Maybe because I am not intelligent or initiated enough to understand them. Or maybe because they don't satisfy my 3/4ish-D understanding (meaning that even if super-intelligent entities explained it to me, I would not comprehend them). But I think I find them lame because the answer isn't knowable. I personally don't find the question very essential to daily life, because I don't think we'll be getting it any time soon (read: ever).

Crocodile Hunter dies

When he first gained fame, I enjoyed watching Steve Irwin's adventures --chasing poisonous snakes, komodo dragons, but most memorably, jumping into dark murky water to wrestle crocodiles into submission. In fact, I am amazed the ol' croc hunter lived as long as he did. He was obviously in a very risky business. I probably wouldn't have lasted through one week of the show, but Irwin was a pro. Pros are supposed to be invincible, especially when they are taking on the risk voluntarily to make a TV program. But since there are so few of these guys, even in a risky business, with a high death rate, you don't hear of them dying ever day.

His last words on film were probably, "Crikey, that ray jumped up an' nicked me. Oh, he got me good." Irwin, rest in peace.

31 August 2006

Nice pic... correction, nice pixels

I was looking for a picture to put up as my laptop background. I found this Cessna 172 Skyhawk. It's a beautiful picture. Look closer. I've had it for two days and I just realized that it is a computer graphic. Granted I picked it from a google thumb nail photo and never looked at it closely until now... wow.

30 August 2006

Washington D.C. vs. Rio de Janeiro: Metro Style, Part I

Rio de Janeiro has a very modern metro system, newer and nicer than the D.C. Metro. However, my concern here is with ticket price. The price structure of the Rio Metrô is very simple, basically $1 and change for a one way ticket to any station. This is quite different from D.C. Metro which has a price based on distance and time of the ride.

Like the D.C. Metro system, the Rio Metrô system is run and subsidized by the government. However, to the extent that passengers are paying the operating costs of the train through their ticket purchase, in the Rio system the passengers taking short trips are subsidizing those taking longer trips, which pressumably cost more to complete. This is somewhat unfortunate, because the last stop in rio is Copacabana, a relatively affluent area in Rio. The wealthy here often work in Centro, a long trip, yet they pay the same amount as the poorer passengers that live closer to Centro.

Of course, that is an over-simplification. Some very poor people who live way north of Centro come in to Copacabana to work the beach (although many come from Rocinha and local Favelas). These workers are getting a relatively cheap fare. However, when you are making $1 an hour or so, paying $2 a day on trasportation is a huge cut of your pay, again this is why many of the workers don't travel long distances unless they have a better paying job.

So why not just make the metro free? Two reasons I can think of

1. It will be over-used and probably overwhelming by the poor. Those who contribute a lot to the economy (e.g., the workers going to Centro) will be less inclined to ride the crowded metro system.

2. Unstainable. Brazil's economy is growing but transportation is not the biggest problem. Therefore allocating more money to an expensive project that only benefits a relative few is a BAD idea. Additionally, the citizenry will demand that bus transportion be free. Costly, and will hurt taxi drivers and private (illegal?) bus services.

More on how D.C. metro pricing is better... in Part II

29 August 2006

If you don't wear 'em, you won't get it.

Have you ever walked into a meeting and noticed that all the participants were wearing glasses? Is there any difference between these meetings and others? With the wide spread use of contact lenses and laser vision correction this is becoming an increasingly rare event, but there are still many who choose to (or must) wear the old headgear. I doubt if 10,000 years ago half of these people, perhaps especially the men, would have had a chance to survive in a hunting society. Perhaps that is why people with glasses are considered nerdier than average; they have more reason than average to respect the technology that would have allowed their ancient doppleganger ancestors to survive, and by extension technology which helps them get by today in the business world.

28 August 2006

Above the Influence

Above the Influence has recently aired another ad in its sometimes cheesy, couch-sitting-obsessed campaign to give teens confidence to reject marijuana by making it appear to be uncool. This new installment is aptly called "Pete's couch." However, unlike previous ads, which myoptically bash marijuana smoking, this at least considers an alternative view. Sure, in the end, the protagonist rejects marijuana and its users' couch sitting tendencies, but he also mentions an often unsaid benefit. I'll let you watch the video and find out what it is.

24 August 2006

Have a Looksie...

To my mind looksie has been a bona-fide slang term for "look" for many years. Until today when I actually saw it in print here, and then checked the authority. It is "look-see," which isn't quite the cutesie word that, well, "cutesie" is. Add that to the list of things I learned way too late in life.

18 August 2006

Laughing at yourself

Okay, I know it is faux pas to laugh at your own jokes. But is it okay if you read something you wrote a while back and laugh because you forgot you had written it? I guess that is a case of laughing at yourself, which is often endearing. Oh, and blogging is for narcists. But what is blogging about previously written blogs by yourself? Meta-narcisism?

So this is the sentence:

I will also adulterate my address with annoying and akward alliteration and allusions about American Army traitor, Benedict Arnold (to actually accomplish this achievement deserves an awesome accolade awarded the author).

Jeff Shepley gets the big search engines to work for you, Yahoo!

I recently posted a blog that had, in the same sentence, "google" and "jeff shepley." Now, if you google (oops, I mean if you use Google to search) "jeff shepley," that post is the first hit. I don't know if Yahoo! crawls blogger, but I'm going to test it out.

Yahoo! Jeff Shepley.
Jeff Shepley loves Yahoo!, it is the greatest (way better than Google).
Hail Yahoo! please, Mr. Jeff Shepley.

I'm trying to beat out Shepley E-x-c-a-v-a-t-i-n-g L-t-d. Which is the current Yahoo! result for either Jeff Shepley or "Jeff Shepley"


17 August 2006

The hiccup cure I "invented"

I've passed this cure along to friends and family alike for quite some time. I'd say I came up with it about 5 or 6 years ago. Anyway, it was one of those things where no one told you about it and not a whole lot of people know it, so you begin to think to yourself that you invented it.

Perhaps it is one of those things that get invented many times over but don't have a lot of "staying power" and so they must be reinvented throughout time and across localities.

Anyway, in case I did actually invent this (doubtful), I thought I'd get my claim down in writting. Without further ado, my hiccup cure:

Breathe in deep. As deep as you can. Now try and suck in a little more air. Hold it until such time as you would have hiccuped. You should now be able to breathe out and be without hiccups.

The premise behind the cure is that hiccups involve the regular and involuntary contraction of the diaphram. By fully contracting the diaphram, you have sufficiently disrupted the regularity of the impulse that whatever finicky force gave you the hiccups in the first place has dissipated. I'll admit this is borderline on black magic/old wives tale medicine, but it works pretty well.

14 August 2006

Only 22, and so much death

I was reminiscing with some friends yesterday and learn that an old school mate was killed a few years ago (was the first I'd heard of it). It was kind of scary to think about the young people around me who have been party to violent, life-ending incidents

A young man who punched me in middle school was killed in a gang shooting a few years ago.

A young man I got a couple rides in college from committed suicide.

A young man I played with in elementary schooled shot and killed his parents .

Though I, luckily, have not been directly involved in any of these incidents, looking back it came as a shock to me that I could cite three examples, off-hand. And here I am, living what must be a rather safe life compared to the global average. It is really disheartening to think that much of humanity must deal with violence as a more commonplace occurance.

13 August 2006

Free to choose

I'm not sure many in my readership actually have much down time. However, I would suggest that you "make" time to view at least some of these videos. If I had been the video editor I would have flashed up text over the guests' faces reading "PWNED" whenever Milton Friedman responded to their objections.

08 August 2006

Guess your way to becoming a pilot???

How should the flight controls be held while taxiing a tailwheel airplane with left quartering tailwind?

A. Left aileron up, elevator neutral.
B. Left aileron down, elevator neutral.
C. Left aileron down, elvator down.

-From the FAA private pilot written test question database

In order to become a private pilot one step is to pass the FAA written test. The test claims to test essential knowledge an airman needs to conduct safe flight operations.

When I heard that the test was multiple choice I immediately thought of those old AP exams with 5 possible responses where they subtracted 1/4 point for wrong answers. The FAA test has only 3 choices per question. If it followed the AP style it would subtract something like 1/2 point for each incorrect response.

To pass the FAA test requires 70% correct responses. Assuming 100 questions, let's say you KNOW the answer to 58 questions and guess on the 42 remaining questions. If you get 1/3 of those right and 2/3 wrong you have a raw score of 70 and would be on your to getting your wings. AP style, your 7o raw score would end up being... 58, i.e., the number you KNEW and you'd fail. In fact, under the AP method, answering 79 questions correctly and missing 21 questions would result in failure, because you only knew 69 of the questions.

Of course you could get lucky and get more of your guesses right (say by eliminating a few obviously wronge choices). Is it worth getting lucky on the test only to be unlucky while taxiing your $150,000 Diamond DA20-C1 with a strong left quarting wind?

Check the comments for both answers.

07 August 2006

Content Warning: Lacking

When I started this blog, I had tons of ideas stored up that I wanted to get down. Sure, I would use current events to exemplify those ideas, but my point is that I was not simply recycling others' ideas -- at least without adding what I felt was a fresh insight.

However, it seems of late that I'm suffering from a bit of punditry-block, i.e., my posts largely link to other posts and then simply add something as substantive as "I liked this link." I do apologize for becoming a link portal of sorts. As I am working full-time, I find myself without time to read as many interesting books and such as when I was unemployed.

However, I am involved in some interesting stuff and have not given up on blogging yet! So, take heart, though the tap has run dry, be prepared for a trickle of thick brew every once in a while!

06 August 2006

6 year old criticizes ATF in picture. They frame it.

The winning submission to the Alcohol, Tabacco, and Firearms employee's kid drawing contest. Got to love 6 year-olds.

Pictured above is a winning entry drawn by a 6-year-old. Ostensibly a drawing of an
ATF agent investigating a church arson, the image, especially the ambiguous child-like figure on the left side, eerily calls to mind the ATF’s central role in the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas. That confrontation—which started with a bungled ATF raid and ended with a firestorm—was the deadliest law enforcement operation in U.S. history. When it was over, 86 people (including nearly two dozen children) were dead. [reason magazine]

03 August 2006

The value of a $20 Starbucks card...

A $20 Starbucks stored value card is clearly worth less than a $20 bill. Why do people buy stored value cards at face value?

This question was posed by Aplia Econ blog. Below is my response,
This is not clear. The value card can do loads of things a twenty dollar bill cannot (and this is why people buy them).

1. It can be used over and over (well maybe twice at Starbucks) and you never get hard to handle change in return.

2. You can give it as a gift and therefrom exert some control over the recepient's purchasing patterns. The would work for a parent who derives value from seeing her child spend the money well (like on caffiene as opposed to illegal drugs). That is, unless the recipient could sell it for less than $20. However, the drugs which could be purchased for less than $20 are obviously less than those which can be bought for $20. However, if addicted, the child may resort to other, undesirable means of obtaining said drugs.

3. You can break into doors with the card, not the cash.

My money is on number 1.

31 July 2006

Using the minimal words possible

I've seen several strange uses of minimal recently and so I went to the experts to clear up the issue -- only to find that experts disagree on the usage:

Usage Note: Minimal and minimize come from the Latin adjective minimus, “least, smallest,” and people therefore use minimal to refer to the smallest possible amount, as in The amplifier reduces distortion to the minimal level that can be obtained with present technologies. In recent years, however, people have begun to use minimal more loosely to refer to a small amount, as in If you would just put in a minimal amount of time on your homework, I am sure your grades would improve. Language critics have objected to this usage, but it is fairly common. In an earlier survey, the Usage Panel was asked what minimal meant in the sentence Alcohol has a particularly unpleasant effect on me when I have a minimal amount of food in my stomach. Under the strict interpretation of minimal, this sentence should mean only “Alcohol has an unpleasant effect when I have eaten nothing.” If the looser interpretation is allowed, however, the sentence can also mean “... when I have eaten a bit.” Twenty-nine percent of the Panel held to the strict interpretation (that is, “eaten nothing”); 34 percent said that it could have only the looser meaning (that is, “eaten a bit”); and 37 percent said that it could have either meaning. Thus, 71 percent allowed the looser sense of minimal, so it should be considered acceptable, at least in nontechnical use. ·The verb minimize has undergone a similar extension of meaning. In its strict sense it means “to reduce to the smallest possible level,” but quite often the context requires us to interpret what the smallest possible level might be. Thus when a manager announces that The company wants to minimize the risk of accidents to line workers, we naturally think that the company plans to reduce the risk to the smallest level after considerations of efficiency and cost are taken into account, not that risks are to be reduced to the lowest level regardless of disruptions and cost. People also use minimize more loosely to mean “to make appear to be of little importance; play down,” as in The President tried to minimize the problems posed by the nation's trade imbalance. This sense is well established.

24 July 2006

Are life blogs boring?

My answer is a reserved "yes." The one life blog that almost sucked me away was Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey's blog. If you start reading it you'll get kind of sucked into her life. Then she has this little chat server thing. I talked to her online. I think my short-lived fascination was how she could be DOING so much stuff AND writing about it too (laptop with wifi helps here).

Then of course there is my newly ressurrected life blog, which I would suggest only to those who are considering their options and poking themselves with a pencil comes out on top. The problem is that normal stuff about peoples lives is kind of boring, because we all share it. And the stuff that is exciting is usually exaggerated for effect. However, if the story-teller is convincing, we really enjoy the exciting and unusual stuff.

These good story tellers are called comedians. Yes, there are the inspirational speakers too, but its kind of taboo to say that those guys are lying or exaggerating. Comedians, on the otherhand, are allowed to lie --because we want to be entertained when we listen to them.

Shouldn't inspirational speakers be allowed to lie too? There is that famous case with Oprah and James Frey, but really that is only bad because he got caught, right? If you neglect the lier's intentions and just look at the effects, some lies appear to help people. Other lies, told with the best intentions, hurt people. The same can be said for the truth.

Some films are considered inspirational. My favorite is Forest Gump. Obviously that is a film filled with exaggerations, but it's okay because we know its fiction. But it'd be wrong if everybody thought Forest Gump was a real guy.

The interesting part is that Forest Gump may be more real than many of the heros we traditionally celebrate. The packaging is crucial.

23 July 2006

Log-in not required

Google, "Jeff Shepley" or "Jeffrey Shepley." You'll find that I ran track in high school, am a world class chef, and was a very religious fighter pilot in WWII. If I'm lucky, you may find a link to this blog.

Note that Google is a verb, and a potentially dangerous one. With the poliferation of easily searchable internet services --myspace.com, facebook.com, instant messaging, youtube.com, e-mail -- you can take your privacy into your own hands. But for some, the implications of such power appears to be lost. Stories abound of kids getting kicked out of college/work, not picked for college/a job, due to this or that embarrassing or inappropriate photo posted on the web.

One might become complacent, especially when services allow you to define who can see your page. Somehow I doubt, however, that limiting your facebook photos to "friends only" thwarts government background check-ers. Indeed, as the article linked to above quotes, some people could care less; "people would rather be embarrassed publicly than ignored privately."

E-mail can be little better. I read an article today about suggestions, sent by soldiers via e-mail, on the effectiveness of various physical coersion techniques on extracting information from Iraqi detainees, i.e., torture. Something tells me that those individuals did not expect to see their suggestions in print.

Certainly posting information or photos on-line is different than posting your credit card number for all to see, however, monetarily, the effects could be far more severe. At least with the credit card there is a charge limit and the ability to retrieve unauthorized funds spent. Unless we find one of those mind-erasing sticks from Men in Black, the same cannot be said for a reputation

04 July 2006

What is love?

Has someone ever asked you why you love them? You can give a safe answer or, if you are brave, perhaps this one

That love is reverence, and worship, and glory, and the upward glance. Not a bandage for dirty sores... Those who speak of love most promiscuously are the ones who've never felt it. They make some sort of feeble stew out of sympathy, compassion, contempt and general indifference, and they call it love. Once you've felt what it menas to love ...--the total passion for the total height--you're incapable of anything less.

That from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand page 445. Though that is in the old edition I got from the used bookstore.

03 July 2006

Interesting Sentence

And in communities where large fractions of the young male population are
incarcerated—thanks in large part to a war on drugs that disproportionately
targets young African-American males—the remaining men face a buyer’s market of “surplus” women, making the temptations of infidelity strong.

From Julian Sanchez essay on Marital Mythology. His argues that the "marriage crisis" is not as big of a crisis as some suggest.

21 June 2006

Quirky Work Happenings

As you may know I started my new job on Monday. Perhaps it is just the life event I need to revitalize my blogging... maybe.

My first quirky work happening comes from my first meeting at the company. There were 5 of us in a little conference room. The table was squeeky. I did not understand what was being talked about in the meeting so I thought about how to de-squeeky the table. Perhaps this would be my most valuable contribution to the meeting. I discovered that it was loose laterally and that if I leaned against it with signficant pressure the squeeking would stop. I did so for the rest of the meeting. I am a Multi-Discipline Systems Engineer.

The second quirky thing is more of an idea. Bathroom breaks are acceptable during work hours as are the occasional trip to the vending machine. Well let's say you walk to the vending machine, buy some skittles for 75 cents and return to your office (All this while your computer was rebooting and there was nothing else to work on of course but certainly you aren't expected to clock out!). Well, the whole operation, if skillfully executed probably takes 3 minutes, perhaps 4 minutes. If you make $25/hr, for the sake of this example, in 4 minutes you earn $1.67. Maybe you should buy two packs of skittles (one for me) and take home 17 cents for your efforts and generosity.

14 June 2006

Pareto Optimality: Elementary Style

I "volunteered" at the local elementary school field day earlier today. I was running the football kick station. Bless their souls, but when it comes to kicking a football from a tee, the k-2 graders were all over the place.

There were two tees and each kid kicked with a partner to see who could kick the farthest (although competition was discouraged). My job was essentially to pick up the balls which were usually kicked in nearly opposite directions. After about an hour, I tired, so I changed the rules.

First, I had each of the two kids kick the balls as far as they could. Afterwards I devised a race in which the kid would be required to retrieve his partner's ball and return it to the tee (for the next kickers).

In this way, I reduced my workload to simply reciting instruction (I had already gotten my workout chasing balls), I increased the activity of the littl'uns (which is the point of the field day), and the kids enjoyed the new version more than the previous.

07 June 2006

Life Expectancy: Don't count on it

Life expectancy (LE) numbers have always confused me. My eyes glazed over at this description for calculating it. The term life expectancy is thrown out all over the place. The way I (naively) looked at it was it was the lower bound on my life if I didn't do anything stupid to get myself killed. So when some one tells me that male LE in the US is 77.5 years, I say to myself, "Great, I'll live at least 77 years!"

Except that is not what it means at all. The LE of a man born in 1900 was 47 years. Yet people born in 1900 that lived to 65 could expect to live 15 more year, or to the age of 80. Umm, so is it 47 or 80? Well, at 65 you've already gotten through a bunch of stuff that kills lesser men (chicken pox, military service, dueling for a woman). So obviously it is a conditional probability.

So if I live to 77, can I then expect to live until 90? Thinking about it in the conditional sheds new insight on how long you will live. If you are pretty sure you can get to 77, then be sure you have a large retirement fund because you could be kicking for a lot longer.

What got me thinking about LE is all the old people in the history books. Many of the people in the history books die relatively old compared to the 47 years figure. If we looked at a distribution of the age of death in 1790 for instance, I think we'd see a large portion in the early forties with a long, thin tail out to about 75 years of age.

31 May 2006

Living Wage, 2nd Draft response

This is a much higher quality than draft one, due mostly to the immensely insightful and lucid input of my blogging collegue, Juan Carlos. The original post is here.

Please read it if you have interest in the Living Wage or minimum wage debate. Offer your input.

28 May 2006

Brain Food

Tyler Cowen, one of my favorite bloggers (find him at Marginal Revolution) also has the most comprehensive dining guide for the D.C. area that I have seen. Check it out if you're looking for a culinary adventure.

If it wasn't for those darn kids!

Kids in school have started using high frequency ring tones that adults cannot hear. See if you can hear them here. I could hear the mosquito but not that kHz tone.

A new way to tell if kids are underage...? How about giving one set of differing instructions in the high tone and see who heeds them.

26 May 2006

Blogger's Block: Revert to Reading

When your ideas run dry, use other people's ideas. Over the past two weeks, I've read several books (or parts thereof, including comic books) as well as started writing my first novel. Here is the round-up:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns -- Batman comes out of a 10 year retirement to save Gotham City. A refreshing new look at Batman, though the 13-year old girl as Robin is a little weird, as is the fight between Batman and Superman, though the context of the fight is interesting.

Atlas Shrugged -- Possibly the best book I have ever read. It is a stirring call for freedom and reason. Masterfully written, but incredibly long (1000+ pages).

V for Vendetta -- I read this because I saw the movie. I'm kind of obsessed with the whole communist/facist regime take-over story. Interesting, though I need to read it again to understand some of the interplay. A few of the characters look alike.

Anthem -- Another Ayn Rand title though this one is incredibly short at just 120 pages. Essentially a short version of an extreme version of 1984. I enjoyed it, only took a couple hours to read.

The Gunslinger, The Dark Tower 1 -- The only Steven King book I've read, at the suggestion of a friend. To be honest, I haven't finished it and if I hadn't bought it I would not bother. It's a future western mixed in with some dark magic.

Silent to the Bone -- Young adult fiction. I'll explain. My mom bought it for my sister but I was bored and decided to read it. Basically a kid witnesses his sister nearly die and he stops talking, to anybody. We find out he is ashamed of something that happened between him and his sicko au pair. The hints of pedophilia that run through the book made me a little uneasy and may be too mature for younger readers, but as a young teen reader exposure to its existence may have merit.

Lies my Teacher Told Me -- A look at how American History Textbooks white-wash history so as not to offend white students. Basically the author took a survey of 12 high school history textbooks and evaluated how they addressed controversial events and figures. It paints a more realistic picture of early american leaders and policy. All these type of books have some hidden agenda, so I don't give this one 100% credibility, but it introduces another interesting perspective on American History.

12 May 2006

Planes landing

At my job, I might deal with stuff like this.

11 May 2006

Tax stuff I didn't realize.

I didn't realize it was balanced like this,

I thought the bottom 50% income earners paid more tax percentage. The bottom 50% cut-off is $29k.

This is also interesting,

I didn't know about the creation of the 10% bracket for under $7k earnings or the 2% reduction in earnings from $30-75k. I did hear about the tax cuts for the rich.

Final Paper of Greatness

I just submitted my last undergraduate paper. The essay question was,

To what extent are engineers responsible for the misuse of their innovations?

Here is my first paragraph:

Finding a Cozy Level of Causality in Engineering

Objective responsibility does not exist. Responsibility is a system of principles and judgments held by an individual or shared by a society, pertaining to whether actions are right or wrong. This system is applied to an objective measure, that is, the degree to which an individual’s actions cause another to occur, which I refer to as the degree of causation. The degree of causation sufficient to hold an individual responsible for an outcome differs among individuals or groups of like-minded individuals, rendering responsibility to the realm of subjectivity. So it does not make sense to speak of an engineer’s responsibility for the misuse of her innovations, only her degree of causation in a given misuse. Therefore, engineers are not at all responsible for the misuse of their innovations. Even so, engineers will attempt to find a comfortable degree of causation according to their individual preferences and pressures exerted by societies in which they interact. Furthermore, engineers will find it advantageous to understand the threshold degree of causation that other individuals and societies define as responsibility.

Update: To coincide with my submission, there is this (hat tip boing boing),

A farmer in Middlesex builds and exports gallows to African dictatorships, where they are used to execute dissidents and others who've been railroaded through corrupt judicial systems. He's been condemned by Amnesty International, but insists that "business is business," and some people deserve the death penalty. His business will be outlawed by a new EC regulation in July.
Shall my paper hang from the gallows?

Buy American-- Buy Honda.

The Big Three "US" car manufacturers have long appealed to an American's desire to keep America strong by buying american. News flash .,
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration... show only 65% of the content of a Ford Mustang comes from the U.S. or Canada. Ford Motor Co. buys the rest of the Mustang's parts abroad. By contrast, the Sienna, sold by Japan's Toyota Motor Corp., is assembled in Indiana with 90% local components.
My Honda is made with 70% U.S./Canadian Parts, the engine was made in the U.S.A. and the final Assembly point was in East Liberty, Ohio. The Big Three claim that they employ more Americans though,
"What's better for the American economy?" Mr. Doyle asks. A GM car "built in Mexico with 147,000 jobs back here in America or a Honda built in Alabama with 4,000 or 5,000 jobs in America?"
A comment on the CafeHayek blog post puts it well
In that spirit, I'm going to open a hot dog stand and hire 500 people to work it. I'll be the most American company in the country. I'll be creating 500 American jobs!

Will someone tell Lou Dobbs I'm available to be on his show anytime he needs a true American hero?

Oprah is rich and likes it. *gasp*

Why work to get rich if you don't enjoy what the money can buy? Well Oprah enjoys it,

"I have lots of things, like all these Manolo Blahniks. I have all that and I think it's great. I'm not one of those people like, 'Well, we must renounce ourselves.' No, I have a closet full of shoes and it's a good thing. I was coming back from Africa on one of my trips. I had taken one of my wealthy friends with me. She said, 'Don't you just feel guilty? Don't you just feel terrible?' I said, 'No, I don't. I do not know how me being destitute is going to help them.' Then I said when we got home, 'I'm going home to sleep on my Pratesi sheets right now and I'll feel good about it.' "
and yes the link is from www.thesuperficial.com

08 May 2006

The Living Wage: Part Ten point Seven Two

I read the UVa Livinig Wage Campaign's document on Living Wage Economics. It has all the pretenses of being about economics

This is for the ECON folks out there who doubt the living wage, in language they can understand: a refresher course of ECON 201, to go beyond elementary supply and demand.
I thought, "wow, this is written for me!" Unfortunately, as I read, I discovered it was not for me nor was it for any other ECON folks as I define them. I was most pleasantly surprised to find the document was authored by some one I know!

Again, unfortunately, I get into these discussions when I am busy with other work, but I will have a post up soon where I discuss these Economic arguments point by point to see if I can lend some insight and perhaps give another perspective. Of course nothing I write is a personal affront to the author, who I actually respect a lot, and though I don't think I actually had to write that, just thought I would to avoid misunderstandings.

Update: Here is a draft that I penned up. It could use plenty of work, especially from you Econ junkies out there. Oh and I know about halfway through I lose my composure, but I'll try to clean that up, it happens when it gets late. You can email me with corrections or suggestions. I'm not trying to make it solely my reply, I just want it to be good.

Why 10%

In a comment on the Aplia Econ Blog on Hybrid Cars, I questioned the efficacy of using the 10% annualized rate for measuring the performance of personal investments. Chris Buzzard gives an informative answer...

Very good question! Whenever you conduct financial analysis it is important to question whether you are using the right model and assumptions. You’re right, 10% seems to be the default annual return in finance textbooks and theoretical examples. Oddly enough, professors many years ago argued that was unreasonably high, then during the 90s many professors argued that it was too low. I guess your opinion depends on the context of your situation. So, let’s examine this assumption a little.
Read more, here.

07 May 2006

New Blog: The Game of Life

I'd like to welcome Juan Carlos, candidate Ph.D. student in Economics at UVa, to the Blogosphere at The Game of Life. I take a great pride in any small part I had in bringing him on-line.

From JC,

Everyone is a player in the game of real life. Let's analyze some specific aspects of this game.
His first real post gives some interesting insight on the hidden costs of the living wage. (My previous post on the topic is here.)

World's Shortest Political Quiz

I throw this up every once in a while because it is quick and fun. I'd like to plot my progress on this spectrum over time. I think that since I have last taken it, about 1.5 years ago, I have moved two squares up and one left... It may help that I am currently reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. If you think you may be Libertarian, take this quiz to get a more precise result.

02 May 2006

Shorter, more important post

I know my last post was daunting, sorry.

Bryan Caplan says the Communists are comparable to Nazis. I tend to agree. Also his Museum of Communism is an enlightening way to spend an hour.

The basic premise is the Communists (Lenin, Stalin, and Mao) killed millions and million more than Hitler. We don't talk bad about Commies as much though because they had "good intentions." Caplan argues
In short, both ideologies began with the creepy demand that human beings stop being the diverse, self-interested animals that we are, and eagerly jumped to the conclusion that a bloodbath was in order.
This is why I just have to shake my head at people who wear Che or Lenin shirts. They prop them up as revolutionaries, ignorant (or worse, not) to their brutal tactics. Another astute observation,
Perhaps the parallel is hard to see precisely because, even in the West, anti-capitalist propaganda has successfully dehumanized the bourgeoisie, landlords, money-lenders, and “the rich.” So when we hear Communists chant “Death to the bourgeoisie,” we don’t feel the same way we do when we hear Nazis chant “Death to the Jews.”

27 April 2006

Choosing Resource Consumption Consistent with the Purpose of Life

(My Team Ethics Essay with Ji Hee Song)

If we adhere to the natural ethic, or the use of methods, systems and materials that sustain the purpose of life, to which consumption strategy can we rightly adhere?

This essay assumes that the purpose of life in nature is to carry genetic material through time. Actions motivated by this purpose are defined as natural. Therefore, in many regards, human action is natural; it tends toward the security of the physical body and the (at least short-term) propagation –through reproduction– of human genetic material. However, not all human action is natural as defined here. Humans, in comparison to other organisms, have incredible command over their will. This command can lead to extreme reduction in present consumption that reduces the present generation’s ability to reproduce and care for its young. On the other hand, technology has allowed humans to increase their command of the environment. This command can lead to over-consumption of natural resources to the extent that future generations cannot adequately provide for themselves. Because strategies which exercise these commands to their extremes disregard the purpose of life, they are unnatural. Yet, even between these two extremes lay unnatural strategies. If we adhere to the natural ethic, we must discover and follow a sustainable consumption strategy.

Strict preservation denotes “human actions which reserve, protect, or safeguard the natural environment from natural disturbance” [Italics added] [1]. Natural in this definition is misapplied because strict preservation rejects the human role in nature. Because strict preservation subtracts human needs from the natural environment it compares the damages humans inflict on the environment to an insignificant benefit. This will always lead the preservationist to call for a reduction in human consumption. However, humans must consume resources from the environment to fulfill the purpose of life.

A major component in this fulfillment is energy consumption, whether to enhance food transportation and production, increase defense against nature and enemies, increase productivity and hence ability to purchase food, etc. Sources include fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas), renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal), as well as nuclear and hydrogen. If strict preservationists opt for any unnatural energy production, they will opt for renewable energy sources because they place the least load on the natural environment. They neglect or discount too heavily the cost that total conversion to these sources will require. This high cost is evidenced the low current usage of renewable resources (about 6% versus about 86% for fossil fuels in 2004) [2]. Strict reliance on these sources as a blanket solution is unnatural because it does not simultaneously leave many humans sufficient wealth to adequately address other aspects of life essential fulfilling the purpose of life (e.g., housing, transportation, medication, and productivity enhancing technologies).

An extreme consumption strategy is equally unnatural. It promotes the use of available resources to meet human needs and wants. Extreme consumption excludes future generations’ needs when calculating total social benefit which leads them to compare the benefits humans gain from resources to an insignificant cost (present costs of consumption). Therefore, as long as it is economically viable, the consumption strategy will call for an increase in human resource utilization. However, to fulfill the purpose of life, humans must ensure the availability of resources for future generations.

Extreme consumption, while improving human’s ability to reproduce and care for their young, leads to both a higher future population and reduced resource supply to sustain it. For example, extreme energy consumption and its related processes (fossil fuel extraction and combustion for the production of energy) reduce energy resource supplies and pollute other non-energy resources. Reducing the availability of these resources such that future generations cannot fulfill their needs is contrary to the purpose of life, violating the natural ethic.

The natural ethic requires a strategy with both preservation and consumption elements, yet at neither extreme. Sustainability is defined as "improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems” [3]. The obvious question is: where on the spectrum does sustainable consumption lie? Without perfect information about nature, we cannot pinpoint the most sustainable consumption level. However, we can begin to define unsustainable regions of the spectrum.

By definition, genetic extinction occurs when the human population reaches zero. However, risks to genetic material begin whenever the population decreases significantly. One risk is maintaining allele levels (genetic diversity) from generation to generation. As the purpose of life is to carry genetic material, it is desirable to avoid reductions in genetic diversity which may reduce adaptability to changing conditions [4]. This would suggest that sustainable consumption excludes any strategy along the spectrum that does not maintain a human population sufficient to ensure reasonable genetic diversity.

To narrow the range of strategies, we define reasonable genetic diversity as that level of diversity great enough to adapt to catastrophes that are likely to arise in the course of time relevant to the human species, perhaps 2 million years. We do not assume to know the exact severity of these catastrophes. However, their existence implies a threshold value, δ, such that sustainable genetic diversity must be at least δ above the reasonable genetic diversity level (figure 1). If not, a natural disturbance could bring the population to a level that would lead to genetic extinction in the long term. Therefore this region of the figure is labeled “unsustainable strategy” and δ is called the “safety margin.”

Figure 1. Genetic diversity versus consumption level (authors).

A likely objection is to assert that the natural ethic requires the maximization of genetic diversity and hence the likelihood of the material’s survival. In other words, only one strategy is in accordance with the natural ethic. While technically valid, figure 1 is misleading in that we do not know the exact functional relation between genetic diversity and consumption level (i.e., we do not know the shape of the curve). This uncertainty does not affect the required level of genetic diversity but it does reduce our ability to choose a precise consumption level.

As we further explore nature and the relationship between genetic diversity and consumption over a long period, we will reduce this ambiguity. The natural ethic requires genetically non-essential resources be diverted to this endeavor as it will allow for the optimization of resource utilization. Translated into practical terms, those most able (e.g., the rich, the intelligent, etc.) should reduce non-essential consumption (if it exists) to pursue this end, while those whose present needs remain unmet should increase consumption until these needs are met. A practical public policy in accordance with the natural ethic is to tax the rich’s surplus to support research into genetic diversity while concurrently reducing penalties on the poor for increasing utilization of resources that improve their ability to fulfill their purpose of life (including, if necessary, non-renewable, polluting resources).


1 Ministry of Forestry, British Columbia. Glossary, 2001. Accessed April 25, 2005.

2 Energy Information Administration. U. S. Energy Consumption by Energy Source, August, 2005. Accessed April 25, 2005. <http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/solar.renewables/page/trends/table1.html>

3 H. Odum. Energy in Ecosystems. Environmental Monographs and Symposia. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1986; C. Cleveland. Natural Resource Scarcity and Economic Growth Revisited: Economic and Biophysical Perspectives. Ecological Economics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, 289; J. Gever et al. Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades. Cambridge, Mass.: Harper & Row, 1986; and R. Ayres and K. Martinas. Waste Potential Energy: The Ultimate Ecotoxic. Economic Applications. 43, no. 2, 1995.

4 Pearman, P.B. & Garner, T.W.J. Susceptibility of Italian agile frog populations to an emerging strain of Ranavirus parallels population genetic diversity. Ecology Letters. Vol. 8, no. 4, April 2005.

24 April 2006

Oil price conspiracy

Finding myself a new car owner would presumably lead me to flip the proverbial bird at oil companies. I mean Exxon stole $36 billion from our pockets last year, a U.S. record! The evil oil executives must be awfully proud of themselves for getting away with highway robbery (pun intended).

So what do you make of this

If we simply divide Exxon Mobil's net income by sales, we discover that the company reported a 10.7% profit margin in the quarter. That's probably a bit above the U.S. industrial average, but it is hardly remarkable.

For instance, the nation's moist prominent critic of "oil profiteering" - Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly — works for a company (News Corp.) that reported a 10.2% profit in the fourth quarter.

If you're after big earners, check out Yahoo (a 45.5% profit margin), Citigroup (33.4%), Intel (24%) or Apple (22.7%).

Read the rest here (by Peter Van Doren and Jerry Taylor) before you say, "but what about..." That said, I would love lower gas prices. That requires either lower crude oil prices or lower refining costs. If Exxon wants to continue to earn profit past the next 5-10 years, they'll use their profits today to expand refining and exploration. Otherwise, everybody will be driving hybrids and Exxon won't make much at all. The thing is, they will do this, if the government doesn't take these profits. Like the authors say, "If consumers were better served by lower corporate earnings, we'd all be visiting Zimbabwe for economic advice."

23 April 2006

Imperfection information: new car-style

From the car salesman's perspective, you want to let the customer know about all relevant features available on the car. Relevant means features that increase the customer's demand and hence offer price. Whereas a mother may care a lot about safety features, a teenager about horse-power, etc., it is hard to know exactly what each customer cares about. Sure the salesman asks questions to tease out this information. Well some features are bound to get overlooked.

From a customer's perspective discovering these features after purchase is a nice "bonus." I ascribe non-zero value to these features, yet did not calculate them into my offer price and so I essentially didn't pay for them. Two that I discovered today deal with the audio system. I'm sure they are both "old" technologies, but as they are new to me, I'm pretty excited.

First, is Auto-Scan. This feature scans the FM/AM band and temporarily stores the strongest stations as your presets. Great in unfamiliar areas, such as that no-where land between Charlottesville and Fairfax... though it is shrinking. The second is MP3 compatibility. An standard audio CD can hold about 18-25 songs, I think. Well when stored in MP3 format you can use the entire capacity of the CD, some 700 MB. At 4MB a pop, that is 175 songs on ONE CD. And you can organize it into folders so you can easily switch among different genres, artists, albums, or however you organize your music, without switching CDs all the time.

Is the minimum wage really $5.15?

If we raise the minimum wage to a "living wage," or about $11/hr here in Charlottesville, we have to worry that some employers will not be willing to pay that much and simply fire some staff and cut back production. But as Don Boudreaux notes, money isn't everything,

A worker's job quality surely matters to him. How many breaks is he allowed to take while at work? How readily does his employer forgive him for innocent mistakes? How willing is his employer to allow him to take a day off to sit with his sick child? How comfortable and safe is the workplace? These and countless other "non-price" features of a job are vitally important even though they don't show up in the wage figure.

If employers respond to this hike in the minimum wage not by hiring fewer low-skilled workers but instead by working their low-skilled workers harder, the quality of low-skilled jobs falls. Of course, these workers are now being paid a higher wage. But only those who focus exclusively on wages will conclude that this increase in the minimum wage definitely makes workers better off.

Many argue that empirical analysis show no significant increase in unemployment due to minimum wage laws. Is there any analysis of work quality? This would be pretty important, especially with respect to the current push by some UVa students to increase the wage earned by UVa employees, who will probably keep their jobs (at least initially) even after a wage hike.

21 April 2006

My split second inspiration to become a DJ

My first mixed song
Ya know y'all when you be readin a blog
And wanta spit ya thoughts at dat dawg

Ya know ya gotta tap out some crazy keys
Ta be shure you legit, not some skeeze

Ya know it be random, zeros and ones at play
Well it idn't as I found out today

And it don't need no fixin
Because it inspired anutmxn!

The Rix-inator Returns

I'm getting excited about the new spat of posts by Alex Rixey at Look Both Ways. Take the Loofah challenge.

20 April 2006

Reading Faster

I'm pretty sure everybody that I think is smart also reads faster than I do. If forced to conjecture, I'd claim causation on the side of smarts. This is how I rationalize not taking speed reading courses. Being able to process information faster allows one to read faster. Sure I can look at the words faster, but the concepts don't congeal at that speed. Nor, as some claim, do they congeal afterwards as if the information that I "read" was still at hand.

That hasn't stopped me from, at times, attempting to read faster. And it has served a purpose; to quickly gain a general understanding of a piece of writing. It has never substituted for my normal pace.

19 April 2006

Too many M & M arguments

That's M for Motivation, as opposed to consequences. Arnold Kling distiguishes between the two is a critique of some Paul Krugman articles. Basically,

A hypothetical example of a Type C argument would be, "Well, Arnold, studies actually show that the minimum wage does not cost jobs. If you read the work of Krueger and Card, you would see that the minimum wage probably reduces poverty."

A hypothetical example of a Type M argument would be, "People who want to get rid of the minimum wage are just trying to help the corporate plutocrats."
Environmentalists also love Type M arguments.

Why Landsburg is not an Environmentalist

I've enjoyed few pieces as much as Steven Landsburg's on the religion of Environmentalism. After reading it, I am persuaded to agree that Environmentalism is a very bad thing. I insert an explanation here because we have been so indoctrinated with Environmentalism, that merely disagreeing with it is considered morally reprehensible. Yet it is equating Environmentalism with morality which Landsburg finds so disagreeable. I would excerpt here but I just can't bear to break quotes out of context. Also, please don't comment on this post unless you read the article; then please post whatever you want.

18 April 2006

More energy obsessions.

I've been slightly obsessed with this energy thing lately. A previous post questions the effects our waste has on future generations. This is the classic negative externality. We benefit from energy production and we pay for that benefit, yet we do not pay for the negative effects that will accrue on future generations, and thus we produce more than the socially optimal level of pollution/fuel depletion. (note: perhaps socially optimal excludes future generations, but that doesn't seem socially responsible!)

There is another way to look at this. Perhaps the benefits of our energy production is not entirely consumed by us. A toy factory that will employ future generations is only economical to build today because of affordable energy. The toy makers increase the demand for energy and elicit more supply. Producing this supply causes pollution. It also allows the toy makers to operate, creating jobs not only today but the possibility of jobs for future toy makers.

So the next generation incurs some costs, (additional pollution, viewing a huge factory where there once was a beautiful meadow, etc.) and is not paid any compensation for such. Yet they also gain benefits, the availability of additional employment opportunities for toy makers. That is a positive externality; toy makers are paid nothing for providing this benefit.

Perhaps it can be said that future generation pay for these positive benefits by enduring the negative ones. The problem is that they choose neither which benefits they receive nor the costs they incur. To me this is a suboptimal outcome. Hence the delema: how much energy should we produce, using which methods, and to what extent must we allocate money/effort to mitigate pollution thusly caused?