Monday, April 30, 2007

The Skeptical Optimist:

Profit: Our “thank-you” to effective businesses:
"I wonder why so many people think “profit” is a dirty word? I'm sure politics has a lot to do with it, but in any case, I think of profit as a tip I gladly hand over to the businesses who have learned how to supply what I want at a price I can afford. It’s my way of saying to those businesses, “Thank you for supplying a product of this quality at this price; you're offering me a better value than your competitors are. I’m voting with my dollars, and this time your product is the winner.”"
Yeah this is an interesting thing ... up untill ten or fifteen years ago I sort of felt that way ... that if a company was making a profit then that was somehow my loss. Thus I was constantly irked that people were "ripping me off" by profiting from my purchases of goods or services. Fast forward to today - I don't know why I felt that way ... I guess it was an attitude picked up from family or friends or media. But as the skeptical optimist points out, its a ridiculous way of thinking about purchases -- mainly because we really do live in a world of constrained resource ... scarcity. And when I finally buy something, its because I feel like the whatever-it-is is more valuable to me than the money; otherwise I wouldn't buy, it natch. So this automatically means that I feel like the product or service is improving my life more than simply having that money would -- good for me and good for them ... the essence of why trading, in general, is wonderful.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Women's Pay: Lagging From the Start | TIME

Women's Pay: Lagging From the Start | TIME:
"Part of the gap may be explained by the number of hours women work compared with men. But after controlling for all the factors known to affect wages — including occupation and parenthood — the study found that college-educated women still earn about 5% less than college-educated men one year after graduation. This gap, the study's authors go on to say, 'remains unexplained and may be attributed to discrimination."
The explanation is simple: men are slightly more likely to lie when surveyed. Men feel like their salary is more of a crucial indicator of how successful they are in life, and they are thus a liiittle bit more likely to exaggerate their salary -- even on an anonymous survey.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Let's be realistic about reality

"But you can't do that at Virginia Tech. Instead, the administration has created a 'Gun-Free School Zone.' Or, to be more accurate, they've created a sign that says 'Gun-Free School Zone.' And, like a loopy medieval sultan, they thought that simply declaring it to be so would make it so. The 'gun-free zone' turned out to be a fraud -- not just because there were at least two guns on the campus last Monday, but in the more important sense that the college was promoting to its students a profoundly deluded view of the world."
Exactly. Read the whole thing.
People should remember that limiting gun rights in just one instance of a broader, and more abstract, policy objective: centralizing power in the hands of the few. A society in which everyone is armed is a society of ultimate power decentralization -- it is at its most basic level, immune to tyranny and oppression. Decentralized power leads inexorably to personal freedoms and democracy; its hard to take these things away from a population who has the power to resist. Things like genocide and ethnic cleansing have never been perpetrated on armed populations, how could they be?

In a country that has banned guns for its citizens, there will never-the-less be many guns. The police, the army, and other government agents will have them all. Atrocities will still happen. Madmen will still murder the innocent. When the madman is a regular ole citizen, the murders will be done with home-made bombs, poison, knives, high-velocity cars and trucks, axes, chainsaws, swords, baseball bats, etc.
And when the madman is a government agent or government leader the murders will still be done with guns, but perpetrated on a populace whose ability to defend themselves has been systematically disabled.

So what do we want, as a nation: power centralized and concentrated in the hands of the few or decentralized and extended into the hands of every citizen?


Right meets left in the rhetoric of 'post-scarcity' - Apr. 19, 2007:
"Strains of such techno-utopianism have filtered into the Silicon Valley mindset (even if few executives there work ten-hour weeks). Lately, post-scarcity arguments have been evoked to oppose the more odious aspects of copyright protection. The implication is that if cultural goods have become more or less free to distribute, then legal prohibitions against unauthorized copying no longer make sense."
Thanks to Corey for sending me this article. Its an interesting take on some peeps' excessive optimism in light of the digital revolution. The author makes a good point: the miraculous economies of scale and the near-costless distribution and (sometimes) creation of content in the digital world doesn't mean that scarcity in the real world is about to end. Yet if I look in my crystal ball, I do see the power and reach of the digital (and its associated technoutopian economics) expanding into more and more aspects of our lives.

When you get beyond basic needs (food, shelter, transportation), much of what is left in our daily activities can be put online or enhanced digitally: entertainment, communication, socializing, even fitness (can you say Dance dance revolution or Wii-sports), religion (yes I look forward to the day when we "attend" church services online, by vid-cast, blog, IM, vid-conferencing etc.), fashion (is that a new outfit that your avatar is wearing -- its simply stunning!), and of course the arts. In all of these things we'll see the collective content-creation (ala wikipedia or open-source software), free distribution, free storage; truly a world where "scarcity" is a thing of the past. When was the last time you paid money for a web browser? for banking software? for an email program? for a media player program? for a search tool? dare-i-say for a song?

I predict that in 20-30-50 years much more of our lives will occur on-line, and most of that portion of our life will be governed by a "post-scarcity" economy where pretty much everything is free (though there will be new forms of currency such as the value of getting someones attention or focus -- ads -- and the value of reputation ... sort of an updated version of Rome's old notion of dignitas and autoritas.) Of course we'll still need to live in homes or appartments and we'll still need transportation to get places and we'll definately need the floor-to-ceiling ultra-HD thin-film monitors in every room and the ceiling-mounted 12.1 surround sound systems, and the artificial intelligence major-domo that runs the house -- oops that's not a physical thing. My point is that we'll still need real stuff, that will cost real money, but that "stuff" will take up a smaller and smaller share of our lives.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Arm the Professors?

The Volokh Conspiracy - -:
"I've also heard some arguments that suggest universities are different because they are places for reasoning, not violence: They should be gun-free zones (except of course for university police officers and security guards, who for some reason don't count) because that's needed to create the proper climate of peaceful inquiry. But the sad fact is that you can't make a university into a gun-free zone. Mad killers can bring guns, and use them, regardless of what policies you announce. The question is whether they will be able to use them against a disarmed population, or against a partly armed population. Allowing people the tools to defend themselves against the mad killers does not, it seems to me, worsen the climate."
Exactly what I've been telling anyone who will listen since I first started hearing the typical anti-gun drivel on TV last night arising from masacre at VT.

OpinionJournal - Featured Article

OpinionJournal - Featured Article:
"It's that time again, and I was thinking of the old joke about paying your taxes with a smile. The punch line is that the IRS doesn't accept smiles. They want your money.

So it's not that funny, but there is reason to smile this tax season. The results of the experiment that began when Congress passed a series of tax-rate cuts in 2001 and 2003 are in. Supporters of those cuts said they would stimulate the economy. Opponents predicted ever-increasing budget deficits and national bankruptcy unless tax rates were increased, especially on the wealthy.

In fact, Treasury statistics show that tax revenues have soared and the budget deficit has been shrinking faster than even the optimists projected. Since the first tax cuts were passed, when I was in the Senate, the budget deficit has been cut in half.

Remarkably, this has happened despite the financial trauma of 9/11 and the cost of the War on Terror. The deficit, compared to the entire economy, is well below the average for the last 35 years and, at this rate, the budget will be in surplus by 2010."
Fred Thompson has my vote for president if he enters the race. For the uninitiated, Thompson is the actor that plays a senior DA on Law and Order, and played the captain of the aircraft carrier in "Hunt for Red October". He's the former senator from Tennessee.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Politics, Decision Theory and Contradictory Complaints

Arnold Kling - TCS Daily:
"The moral of the story is that when people must make decisions without perfect information, they will make mistakes. The fact that decisions turn out wrong does not by itself condemn the decision-making process. The fact that doctors sometimes under-treat and sometimes over-treat does not prove that for-profit medicine is worse than socialized medicine. The fact that some terrorists elude detection and some people get put on terrorist watch lists by mistake does not prove that watch lists have no value. The fact that some potentially good mortgage borrowers get turned down and other borrowers go into default does not prove that regulators could do a better job of making mortgage lending decisions.

To make improvements in these areas requires more sophisticated analysis...

The best improvements come from introducing better information into the decision-making process."

This article should be required reading for pretty much everyone. Kling has presented some foundational decision theory in a very approachable way; and he accurately notes that uncertainty always leads to uncomfortable trade-offs ... leading inexorably to questions of costs, benefits, and risks.

Virginia Tech: don't blame video games you morons.

Limbaugh: Games Aren't To Blame. Via Kotaku

If you start blaming the video games, you may as well demand video game control because it's the same thing when you start trying to blame guns for this. You have here a sick individual, an evil individual who committed a random act. But if you want to start blaming the video games, this guy was this or that, weeeeell, then you've gotta maybe talk about banning them because that's the same tack that's taken with guns

Limbaugh is right.  People who are already on a Jihad against video games will try to make this about video games (if he's even a gamer, but honestly what 20 year old young guy isn't?) and the anti-gun peeps will try to make this about guns. 

The obvious truth is that the problem isn't games or guns:  hundreds of millions of people play violent games and own guns -- how many of them become mass murderers?  There's just not any evidence of causation here.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Better Gmail (Firefox extension)

"Gmail's good, but it could be better. We've featured several Greasemonkey scripts that enhance Gmail in lots of different ways - like adding saved searches, attachment icons, label colors, keyboard macros, a filter assistant and right-click conversation previews. But not everyone wants to install Greasemonkey and hunt down all those scripts.

To save you the time, I've compiled the best Greasemonkey scripts for Gmail into one handy Firefox extension, called Better Gmail. After the jump, put your Gmail on steroids with Better Gmail."

Sounds good.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Make your Google Calendar your wallpaper

"The only bummer is that you're limited to viewing only one calendar on your desktop, versus seeing them all at once..."

Nice tip.

Penn & Teller: Fallacy of Gun Control (video)

Washington Ceasefire

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Rebel with a Cause: The Optimistic Scientist

TCS Daily:
"Freeman Dyson: I am always happy to be in the minority. Concerning the climate models, I know enough of the details to be sure that they are unreliable. They are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behavior in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere."
World-renowned physicist, professor at Princeton, member of the National Academy of Science and the London Royal Society on Global Warming.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rosie O'donnell opens her mouth and removes all doubt ...

KnoxNews | No Silence Here:
"Last week on the morning talk show 'The View' Rosie O'Donnell advocated for the conspiracy view of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, saying “I do believe that it’s the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel.'

Preston Taylor Holmes notes that, in fact, fire is pretty much what's always been used to melt steel.

Which leads to this week's poll question.

How do you suppose Rosie O'Donnell thinks steel is melted?"
What a total idiot.