Saturday, June 19, 2010

Song of the Day: Halou - The Ratio of Freckles to Stars

Another great song from the world of independent music...

Dogbert is ... a beagle!

I knew it! I just read in Seven Years of Highly Defective People, by Scott Adams, that Dogbert is based on a real beagle. And you know how much I love beagles (Beagles Rock, May 23, 2010).

Wikipedia page, scroll down to the "Trivia" section:
"In Seven Years of Highly Defective People, Adams says that Dogbert was a combination of Lucy, a beagle owned by his family when he was a child, and the dark side of his own personality, which he describes as the part that 'wants to take over the world and make all the people [his] personal servants'."

I don't know why this makes me happy. But it does.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The old media are dying. They won't be missed.

Here is a great article about how the old media just don't understand about the web. It makes many very good points.

The initial anecdote in this story just about says it all. The NY Times forced an app that showed NY Times headlines (and directed traffic to the NY Times website) to be pulled from the Apple App store. There are so many things wrong in this sentence, I hardly know where to begin. Who is more clueless here? The NY Times for objecting to an app that drives traffic to its website? Or Apple for pulling such an app and demonstrating once again that they could not care less about their users?

The article goes on to make these five basic points, all of which I completely agree with:
1. People Never Wanted to Pay for the News
2. Paywalls Break the Web and Annoy Your Customers
3. The Web Needs New Solutions, Not Digital Replicas of Print
4. People Pirate Because They Get a Better Experience
5. Filesharing and Piracy Do Not Always Represent Lost Sales

As a simple follow-up to the third point, about doing more than simply providing digital replicas of the print edition, I continue to be amazed that online articles often don't post links relevant to the story being discussed. I mentioned this before in my Ice Cream and Immigration post. In that case, they didn't post a link to the law in question so readers could simply read it for themselves. Amazing.

Now, and in the future, we will get our news from multiple dispersed sources, not centralized sources. It will be critically important to understand the bias that these sources bring to their news stories. It will be important not only to get information but also to evaluate the quality of that information.

This is really something we should have been doing all along (and some of us have). But there are others who still blindly rely on old media. Thankfully, their numbers appear to be decreasing, based on decreasing newspaper circulation number, declining network news ratings, and so forth.

Typical old media outlets insult our intelligence by telling us that they have no bias, even when this is obviously not true. (Remember Dan Rather? Neither does anyone else.) Now that we have alternatives, they are paying the price for this arrogance. Amazingly, in the face of these changes they refuse to see the writing on the wall and make the necessary changes. Good riddance.

I would also build on the final main point in the article, that filesharing and piracy do not always result in lost sales. Back in the days of Napster (yes, I was around back then, and I used it!) I downloaded a fair amount of music. I did it to try out new artists. If I found an artist I liked, I bought their album. I bought more music when I used Napster than at any other time of my life, and it was because of Napster.

Are Unions Good for the Economy?

Here is an interesting poll that illustrates the disconnect between liberals and reality: Are unions good for the economy?

As I read the numbers, one thought occurred to me. The very first comment summed it up well: "To me, the most interesting stat here is that only 57% of union members/union families think that unions are good for the economy. Democrats [68%] and liberals [76%] are more likely to believe unions are good for the economy than union members themselves! I wonder what reasons the 43% of union members/union families who do not believe unions are good for the economy would give?"

I can answer that question. Because people who are union members see the abuses every day.

How would I know, you ask? Several direct ways (in addition to the many experiences of friends in the auto industry, when I lived in Detroit):

1. Because I was a member of a union for 4 years, Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 122 in Milwaukee. In my direct experience, this union's main function, the only way in which it materially impacted me, was to protect drunks from losing their jobs. The union fought to keep drunks on the job. These are people who couldn't do the work and as a result the rest of us had to carry their dead weight. We would have loved to see these drunks fired. The union worked AGAINST the vast majority its members. And we paid the union for this.

2. Later in life I also did a lot of work in Ford plants, primarily in the Detroit area. I had to work with union electricians as part of my job. Precious few were qualified and/or motivated to help me. In one plant in which I worked, the Ranger plant in St. Paul, Minnesota, there was only one electrician I really trusted. That's not an exaggeration. I had some work to get done and I couldn't get it done without working with this guy. When he alternated to night shift I actually changed my schedule to keep working with him. I worked night shift with him for a week or two, which was a pain in the ass, rather than work with the other (barely knowledgeable, but secure in their jobs) electricians.

3. Also while in Michigan, I played hockey with a guy who was retired from GM on disability. Think about that sentence for a while. Hockey is a physical sport! Now, I don't doubt that there was some reason for this. But I am saying that he was not "disabled" in a serious sense. To give him disability retirement (with pay, benefits, etc.) shows that unions go too far.

Unions are NOT good for the economy.

World Cup Musings, Part 2 - Vuvuzela Time!

Click here for Vuvuzela Time. "View any website like you're at the South Africa World Cup!" Or so I'm told. Not sure why anyone would want that. Hopefully South Africa will be eliminated soon and there will be more fans of the remaining teams in the stands and less South African fans.

In another story, reporter Sara Carbonero is being blamed, at least partly, for heavily-favored Spain's loss to Switzerland. She is the girlfriend of Spanish goaltender. She is also apparently something of a distraction. You judge for yourself.

As usual, XKCD has a great take on the subject of "tooting your own horn."

July 12, 2010
P.S. Looks like Sara Carbonero isn't such bad luck after all!,255232

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Quote of the Day: Avoid Stifling Bureaucracy

Most of our managers, however, use the independence we grant them magnificently, rewarding our confidence by maintaining an owner-oriented attitude that is invaluable and too seldom found in huge organizations. We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly – or not at all – because of a stifling bureaucracy. - Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway 2009 Annual Report

Since I hadn't posted a quote of the day in a while I felt one was overdue. This is a lesson that many large companies would be wise to remember.

Watch out, 2011 is coming

Economic trends to watch as 2011 approaches:

1. Death tax
The "Death Tax," which gradually dropped from 55% in 2001 down to 0% this year, is scheduled to jump back up to 55% in 2011 (summary from the Tax Foundation). How many people will "choose" to die this year to avoid the increase in the death tax?

Believe it or not, there is some evidence to support this possibility. See this University of Michigan study (from the university website and from a published journal).

And of course, the Left blames this on Republicans, completely ignoring the fact that this provision (making these cuts temporary) was necessary to pass the tax reductions at all:

Anyway, not much to discuss here. You won't be surprised to know that I am in favor of repealing the Death Tax altogether. I'm genuinely curious to see if people's behavior (if more people die sooner) is significantly affected by this.

2. Tax increases
More importantly, the George Bush tax cuts (2001 and 2003) are expiring at the end of this year. This means that we will see an effective tax increase on January 1, 2011. How will this affect the economy? Or is it already affecting the economy?

The Heritage Foundation summarizes it well: "Because of opposition to these measures from some in Congress, they were implemented as temporary tax cuts, all of which will expire by January 1, 2011. The uncertainty of their future has an effect on present-day spending by businesses and individuals, who know that they may have to pay higher taxes in the future." It is possible that companies are pulling profits into 2010, at the expense of 2011 earnings. This means that the "recovery" we are now seeing may be completely artificial.

Economist Arthur Laffer has written an alarming article about this:
Tax Hikes and the 2011 Economic Collapse

Some key quotes:

"It shouldn't surprise anyone that the nine states without an income tax are growing far faster and attracting more people than are the nine states with the highest income tax rates. People and businesses change the location of income based on incentives."

"...if the government taxes people who work and pays people not to work, fewer people will work. Incentives matter."

"Just remember what happened to auto sales when the cash for clunkers program ended. Or how about new housing sales when the $8,000 tax credit ended? It isn't rocket surgery, as the Ivy League professor said."

"Now, if people know tax rates will be higher next year than they are this year, what will those people do this year? They will shift production and income out of next year into this year to the extent possible. As a result, income this year has already been inflated above where it otherwise should be and next year, 2011, income will be lower than it otherwise should be."

"The economy will collapse in 2011. ... The result will be a crash in tax receipts once the surge is past. If you thought deficits and unemployment have been bad lately, you ain't seen nothing yet."

Remember, our friends on the Left do not understand economics. They probably still think that as the "recovery" continues, combined with the increase in tax rates, they will be rolling in dough. They think that they can keep spending recklessly. Not so. Tax revenues will plummet and we will be in even bigger trouble than we are now. I hope this projection is not true, but I fear that it is.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's okay, Dora. Let him Swype!

No more "Swiper, no swiping" for us! Actually, make that Swyping!

Have you seen Swype yet? Do you know what it is? Well, if you have one of those fancy new "smart phones" with a big screen but no physical keyboard, well, this is for you. It allows you to "type" much faster than the crummy default software keyboards that come with the phones.

Why do I post this now? Because after being closed for a while, they have re-opened the Beta. I've had it for a few months and love it. No personal gain for me, I'm just a satisfied user and thought I'd pass this along.

Story here:

Here's a video showing how Swype works:

Find out more about Swype here:

To join the Swype Beta for Android, go here:

Biological Explanation for the "Need for Speed"? (Gross)

Subtitle 1: The Motorcycle Bug!
Subtitle 2: You really don't want a cat, do you?

Guided by Parasites: Toxoplasma Modified Humans
(Be sure to play the videos on this site.)

Here is an interesting little organism, Toxoplasma (Toxoplasma gondii) [Toxo], that reproduces in the digestive tract of cats. Toxo leaves the cat via cat feces, which then get eaten by rodents. At this point it needs to get back in the cat. Toxo modifies rodent behavior by generating cysts in the brains of rats, near the fear center, so that they are no longer afraid of cats, but are actually attracted to them (and thus more likely to be eaten by cats).

"Somehow, this damn parasite knows how to make cat urine smell sexually arousing to rodents, and they go and check it out. Totally amazing." – Dr. Sapolsky

So where am I going with this? What does sexually arousing cat piss have to do with me? Here's the kicker: It appears to affect humans, too! A human infected with Toxo may also exhibit impulsive behavior, their fear centers having been modified by the Toxo.

Getting closer to home (for me, an motorcycle rider), according to the article: "In a very specific example, Dr. Sapolsky goes on to state the specifically motorcyclists have a high probability of being infected with Toxo." According to Dr. Sapolsky, "...if you ever get organs from a motorcycle accident death, check the organs for Toxo. I don’t know why, but you find a lot of Toxo."

So there you have it, the "motorcycle bug"! Some people really do have it!

Visualizing crime in San Francisco

This is a very cool way to visualize crime. Check out this story:

If San Francisco Crime were Elevation

Fascinating how some stuff is spread out and other stuff only happens in certain specific places.

This reminds me of when I lived in Minnesota. I would read the local paper and see all the crime statistics from the previous week. Turns out that in my town, almost all of the drug deals and prostitution happened in one place, at a few select hotels near the intersection of Hwy 36 and I-35W (you may remember it from the bridge collapse a few years ago).

Okay, nothing earth-shattering there. But here's the fascinating part: 90+% of the people involved were from out of town, more than half from out of state! I always wondered HOW DID THEY KNOW TO ALWAYS COME TO THOSE PARTICULAR HOTELS? This is going back a few years, before the internet was as ubiquitous as it is now. And yet all these scumbags from out of state knew EXACTLY where to go. Amazing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Economics is important. One party doesn't get it.

This is a fascinating article that backs up my personal observations over the course of my life. Wishful thinking (good intentions and all that) does not equal results in the real world.

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
Self-identified liberals and Democrats do badly on questions of basic economics.
By Daniel B. Klein

Here is a link to the study (download the PDF file):

Do economists generally agree on these eight points?
  1. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable. - True
  2. Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services. - True
  3. Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago. - True
  4. Rent control leads to housing shortages. - True
  5. A company with the largest market share is a monopoly. - False
  6. Third-world workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited. - False
  7. Free trade leads to unemployment. - False
  8. Minimum wage laws raise unemployment. - True

On some questions (are overseas workers being exploited) liberals might debate what the "right" answer is. But even on the non-partisan issues, the basic stuff, liberals got it wrong. "In particular, the questions about mandatory licensing, the standard of living, the definition of monopoly, and free trade do not specifically challenge leftist sensibilities."

Scary stuff. And these are the people trying to lead us out of (into?) this economic crisis.

I should also add that even the highest scoring groups got an average of 1.3 questions out of 8 wrong. Even the the highest scoring groups show too much ignorance.

On the other hand, there are plenty of apologists for the results of this survey.

One dissenter says that these questions do not assess economic knowledge but "agreement with the neoclassical model."

He also suggests that some questions are really a matter of values one holds rather than economic facts. For example, "Klein treats anybody who thinks a Third World worker for an overseas American firm is being exploited as ignorant of economics, when this is obviously a questions of values rather than knowledge."

Finally, he makes the point that empirical evidence does not match the theory behind the "correct" answer. In particular: "The minimum wage question is even worse. It counts anybody who doubts that minimum wage laws always raise unemployment as ignorant, when in fact empirical evidence suggests that in practice the link may be nonexistent."

The really sad part on that link is all the misinformed comments that follow the article. Very sad to read.

Another dissenter basically says that the study was bad "because the questions are ambiguous, substanceless, or confusing." He doesn't back up that opinion, however. This is just a puff opinion piece.

As with the previous link, the saddest part is reading the comments after the article. Amazing how many people apparently don't live in the real world, or actually watch the effects of policy decisions.

So do economists agree on anything? Is an exercise like this completely futile? Here are a couple more links:
Whaples, Robert (2006) "Do Economists Agree on Anything? Yes!," The Economists' Voice: Vol. 3 : Iss. 9, Article 1.
Some major points of agreement (85+%) indicated that:
  • "...the gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged."
  • "Economists overwhelmingly favor free trade--apparently, the freer the better."
  • "...the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade."
  • "Even more (90.3%) disagree with the suggestion that the U.S. should restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries."
  • "Economists are very wary of subsidies. Substantial majorities favor eliminating agricultural subsidies (85.2%) and subsidies to professional sports franchises (85.2%)."

Here is another link:
10 Things Economists Believe
  • Rent control limits quantity/quality of housing - 93%
  • Tariffs and quotas reduce economic welfare - 93%
  • The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. - 90%
  • Floating exchange rates are effective international monetary policy - 90%
  • The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies - 85%
  • The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged - 85%
  • Large federal deficits adversely affect the economy - 83%
  • Welfare should be administered as a negative income tax - 79%
  • A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers - 79%
  • Taxes and permits are a better way to control pollution than pollution ceilings - 78%

World Cup Musings, Part 1

Australia: What's the deal with the uniforms? Why are the colors on their flag red, white, and blue but so often when I see their uniforms they are green and yellow. In this world cup they wore nice two-tone blue with yellow jerseys as they were getting their asses handed to them by Germany. Maybe time to go back to the green and yellow. And do they have the worst national anthem in the world? It might be the most boring, bland anthem I've ever heard.

What about the Netherlands? So close but so far. I mean, they love soccer and they love skating. And they are very good at both. If you put the two together I'll bet they could play some great hockey. Shame they don't...

What's the deal with those horns everyone is blowing during the game? On TV it sounds like an angry swarm of bees attacking for the whole game!

For those of you who don't understand soccer (including me!), here is a summary of some basic strategies you'll see the teams using:

Here is a page with some World Cup Simulated Odds, if you want to see who is expected to do well:
As usual, Brazil is looking good. ;)
By the way, I call this Part 1, but there's no guarantee I'll watch another game. ;)

Cars as Fashion Statements

Consider this a follow-up to my Musings on fuel mileage post a few days ago. I ran across this article, which discusses some cars that are purchased for ... let's just say, narcissistic reasons. I strongly agree with article.

Here is the part that interests me most at the moment:
"And of course this phenomenon extends to the new 'green' world of hybrids. ... There is also a definite subset that buys a hybrid in large part because they want to be seen as the type that drives a hybrid, regardless of whether or not they even recycle at home."

Look, I don't a problem with people buying whatever they want. Lord knows that I don't need multiple motorcycles. If you want to buy a truck because you just like trucks, just buy it. Say you bought it because you like trucks, but don't give me a song and dance that you need it. Likewise, don't tell me you're saving the world because you bought a hybrid. One of my 40 mpg motorcycles has kicked ass for 16 years and my 33 mpg car has lasted 15 years so far (I just replaced the radio, so it should be good for another 15 years, knock on wood). Good luck with the batteries in your hybrid lasting that long. Remember, there are environmental costs to building these vehicles, particularly their batteries...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Address the root cause of illegal immigration

There are those who say we need to we need to beef up border security. I can see where they are coming from. But let me ask you this: When has a fence or a wall ever worked? Great Wall? Berlin Wall? What about 90 miles of shark-infested water? When there is enough incentive for people to cross a line, they will. Regardless of the difficulty. We need to address the root causes on this issue, not talk about band-aids.

Here is a summary of the immigration issue, a quick overview that I happen to agree with:

"The overriding impact of immigrants is to strengthen and enrich American culture, increase the total output of the economy, and raise the standard of living of American citizens. Immigrants are advantageous to the United States for several reasons: (1) Since they are willing to take a chance in a new land, they are self-selected on the basis on motivation, risk taking, work ethic, and other attributes beneficial to a nation. (2) They tend to come to the United States during their prime working years (the average age is 28), and they contribute to the workforce and make huge net contributions to old-age entitlement programs, primarily Social Security. (3) Immigrants tend to fill niches in the labor market where demand is highest relative to supply, complementing rather than directly competing with American workers. (4) Many immigrants arrive with extremely high skill levels, and virtually all, regardless of skill level, bring a strong desire to work. (5) Their children tend to reach high levels of achievement in American schools and in society at large."

I very much agree with item #1 in the above list. I cringe when people say we need to keep all immigrants out, or that anyone who comes illegally is by default bad. I don't agree with that. I am honest enough to admit that if I were in their shoes, I would likely do the same thing--come to the U.S. any way I could. Granted, I would try to get an education and do things the "right" way. But if that didn't work out...

I did some work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center a few years back. Actually, it was in late 2001, I think. I remember that because while we were there (in the basement, with all the electrical switchgear and generators) we were told that they found anthrax in the mail room. Yikes! It turned out that the anthrax was actually found in the mail room of the nearby Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, but it was somewhat scary nonetheless.

Anyway, back to the story. The gentleman who we were working for in the Facilities department at WRAMC was a Vietnamese immigrant. He had lived through some horrific things in his home country. But he made it to the U.S. and built a better life for himself and for his family. He told us that his next job, to which he was going to transition soon, was to work on the new White House visitor's center. I don't remember the details but I do strongly remember his pride when he told us about this, and that someday he would take his grandchildren to visit the White House and tell them that their grandfather had a small part in building part of it.

Which made me feel proud. I felt proud of my country, that it inspired this in an immigrant to our nation. These are people we should WANT to come to our country, for all the right reasons. People who appreciate what America is all about, more than many native born Americans, I am sad to say.

With all that in mind, I turn to the feature article of this post.

The Realities Behind the Immigration Debate, by Jeffrey A. Miron

Mr. Miron agrees with me that band-aids involving stricter border controls will not solve the issue: "Arizona's new immigration policy, which requires aliens to carry immigration papers and directs the police to detain 'suspected aliens,' has re-ignited debates over how to reduce illegal immigration. Most of this debate involves wishful thinking: the claim that stricter border controls or Arizona-like measures can make a real difference. The reality is that only four policies can significantly reduce illegal immigration."

What are those policies?
1. Increase legal immigration.
2. Expand free trade.
3. De-escalate the war on drugs.
4. Scale back the U.S. welfare state.

If I were to try to quote key elements of the article I would end up quoting almost the whole thing. I happen to agree most strongly with items #1 and #4 in the above list. We want energetic, motivated people to come here. And we don't want people to come for the wrong reasons.

Remember, stricter enforcement is bound to fail. According to Miron: "These measures [increased border enforcement, stiffer punishments for employers who hire illegals, or aggressive arrest policies] are ineffective because they do not change the fact that wages in the U.S. are attractive compared to wages in poor countries. And, for centuries, immigrants have endured amazing hardships to seek higher income or a better life in America. Longer or higher fences will not change that."

"Ramped up enforcement is a feel-good gimmick that allows politicians to claim they have done something about illegal immigration, even though they know the reality is different."

P.S. This is a post I felt I needed to write. Unlike slimy, spineless politicians I don't believe I can just knock other people and other ideas down without having something I am FOR. Witness the "Bush is bad" crowd with no other message, even now. Another example: What happened to closing Guantanamo? Pretty easy to say that from the sideline but they see the reality now, I think--it's not closed! They criticized but don't have any solutions of their own.

Anyway, I comment on immigration on my blog from time to time and I always feel as though I have to give a disclaimer, that I'm not blindly anti-immigration even though I come across that way sometimes. So this is what I believe, what I'm for.

Shell Game

You can't even make this stuff up. Unbelievable.

From the New York Times:

"And, in classic budgetary sleight-of-hand, they will borrow the money to make the payments to the pension fund — from the same pension fund."

We need less of that and more of THIS:

Investing, Dilbert-style

This cynical article gives investing tips and discusses a hot issue of the day. It is also hilarious, as is practically anything Scott Adams writes.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A voice of reason: Paul Ryan

It is just wrong that more people don't know who Paul Ryan is, which is sad on many levels (if you haven't heard of him you cannot honestly say that you are taking action to keep yourself informed on important issues of the day). Let me introduce you if you are among that unfortunate group that does not know who he is:

There is a lot of misinformation about social security, healthcare, and related issues. Really, a lack of common sense economic knowledge in general. There is also a misconception that only the left has provided "solutions" to these problems. Not only do the left's "solutions" not work (thus contradicting the meaning of the word) but conservatives have proposed solutions. Explore the site linked above and see what you think.