Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fun with numbers

A lot has been said around the NFL this year about the great season being had by the New England Patriots and the absolutely abominable season of the Miami Dolphins. Many wondered would we see the improbable: a team finishing 16-0 and another at 0-16 team in the same season. More reasonably, people have wondered what is more likely: whether the Patriots will win all sixteen or Miami will lose all sixteen. All interesting scenarios aside, what interests me most is how likely is it that a team could win or lose all of the games they play in one season. Some would have you believe that in competition as balanced as the NFL, it is sometimes luck that keeps a team from regression towards the mean. I can't say I disagree with that entirely.

If we assume that the Patriots are the best team in the NFL by a considerable margin (let's say the probability of them winning any single matchup is 95%, an unreasonably high number) then it still isn't very likely for them to proceed undefeated. With a 95% chance of winning each of sixteen games, this team still only has a 44% probability of winning all sixteen games. Likewise, if the Dolphins are that inferior to every team (or at least every team on the schedule) then they likewise have only a 44% chance of losing every game.

But consider that if a very good team that has a 3/4 chance of winning any single game (and randomness aside should have a very good 12-4 record) has only 1% chance of going undefeated (do the math, and that's assuming that this 12-win team isn't really a lucky 9-win team) and that should awaken us the awe of an undefeated season. If that doesn't amaze you, consider that when you bump the probability back up to 90% for each game, the likelihood of that team winning all 16 is under 20%.

And that's not taking into account home-field advantage and the equalizing effect of weather. It might be most reasonable to see a 16-game schedule as strata of opponents. I don't know how to divide teams as such but if the opponents were tiered into 4 categories of 4 each, with the Patriots' likelihood of winning at 95%, 90%, 85%, and 75%, the chance of winning out on that schedule is now less than 9%.

So as the Patriots push forward towards 16 wins we may do well to appreciate that the Patriots are quite good, as is any team that wins so many games, and also that if the Dolphins defeat them this weekend (which is a quite unlikely scenario) then maybe we should remember... that it isn't too unlikely.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's been going on

It's been a busy week. I'll get back to the story later, but first an observation from work, then two things overheard at different clients. It seems reasonable that the acumen of an accountant is inversely proportional to that accountant's personality.

But that may be a stretch. For sure, I know I heard these things while at work:

That lady must be an underwriter or something, she had no personality

Those boys down in Leesville think wrasslin's real and space program's fake

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Washer, Part I

This story won't be as funny as any written by Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David, though in many ways our travails seem similar to watching their shows. And the saga is not over, though it may be soon, but since it has begun, let me also:

About a week ago our washer broke. While working I got a call from the lady that washer was making whirr-whirr-whirr noises when it should have been making the swushy-swish-swushy noises and that the lights were flickering. She didn't know what to do, and neither did I, but as any good husband I know that the answer was just leave it alone, don't worry about it and I'll take care of it when I get home.

So I get home and I turn on the washer and it's making a host of clicking and whizzing noises and lights are flashing everywhere. Well, not actually. But the agitator is not cycling (and it's in the agitator cycle, I know my laundry!), the machine sounds like a car starter is dying, and the lights seem to be surging with each set of clicks and whizzes. (From now on I'll switch back to calling it whirrs, since whizzes are something I'll teach my son when he's older.)

So I stare at the agitator, myself not yet agitated and the clothes wet and motionless, while the clicks and whirrs begin to slow and eventually stop. I turn the knob to the spin cycle and the load continues. I don't know if those clothes were truly clean, but nobody complained vocally. At least not to us. But at least I know that the washer isn't entirely broken. Only some part whose price is probably inversely proportional to it's size and weight (and I expect it to be small and plastic) has malfunctioned or died. And why shouldn't it? The washer has seen eight good years!

That night, as we're eating dinner with family, perusing the paper adverts, we see that washer/dryer pairs are being sold over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday (by the way, I'm entirely disappointed that Black Friday is now a holiday and that it's named such) for a more than reasonable discount. Furthermore, we realize that a suitable replacement for our washer is not an insurmountable cost. Indeed, probably around $300. And we got scrilla rolled up in our pillowcases, so we know we can float $300 for a new washer.

Well, the last part isn't true, but the next morning I did have a wonderful conversation with the lady who answered the phone at a local appliance repair shop. It would be a week before a house visit could be made to determine the cause of the problem. That would cost $60. If I brought the device in the the shop (I really didn't desire lugging the washer) it would be cheaper, but the shop guy is also the house call guy and although he could look at the appliance during nights or weekends, she didn't expect it would be seen any sooner. But she was entirely helpful and pleasant, the latter often going for more in my book. And helped me decide that after the likely $180 labor cost, cost of ordering the part, and cost of waiting a few weeks for the ordered part to come in added up to what was likely to be the price of a new machine (at this point I had given up any desire to repair the device myself, expecting the damaged part to be extremely small, plastic, and expensive), the washer would probably still have some other part break in the near future.

So that seemed to take away option 1. Repair is out. In come options 2, 3, and 4. What do we do? Do we buy a like model, around $330? Do we opt for the advanced, high-effeciency, front-loading model that costs around $660 but expects to use 1/3 the energy and 1/2 to 1/3 the water? Or do we tackle Best-Buy's lure and grab the front-loading combo at $990, this weekend only, four-day sale, buy now or you'll be sorry later, you'd better not pass this up deal and chunk out our working but now-unloved matchless dryer? Obviously option 4 has a lot of that propagandizing appeal to it.

So what do we do? How do we decide? Who do we ask for advice? Should we listen to them? (Being honest, sometimes I ask for, but do not take, advice).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Don't rain on my parade

I like the Chinese strategy of solving problems, though I'm not sure I find these to be real problems.

Have you seen Amazon's new Kindle?

Uggh. That's all I can say for now. Illuminating, arousing, and starting an e-reading revolution? No, just a splendid example of great concept turned into poor product, that's what the kindle is. Maybe I'll have the stamina to comment further later. For now, I'm simply disgusted.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

And people seem to think A-Rod is a moron

well, Alex is apparently smart enough to pick the right friends and advisors. When it comes down to what to do with your money, I think I'd follow any personal advice Warren Buffett gives.

Using Mankiw's principle #4 (people aren't that stupid), New York schools begin to provide incentives for achievement

and I think it's a reasonable idea. Consider the tradeoffs: get what you already have (poor, underachieving students) or risk very little (what really is the cost of 15,000 cellphones and the minutes given as a reward?) The only real risk I can see is the liability involved in giving phones to these kids. And while I don't think it will have overwhelming success (I'm really more interested to see what it will do) I don't think it will be ineffective either. And really, what is the cost? Think about this objection and you tell me whether this fellow has watched the video below:

“You engage in learning because it develops you for future activities, because you are investing in yourself for a future reward,” she said. “What this is doing is instead creating an immediate tangible reward that will obscure that.”

Do you think these kids see development for future activities as their reward? Do you think many of these kids view long-term goals as tangible? It may be that creating a system of performance and reward for these kids will help establish the idea that long-term performance yields long-term reward. That would be a great accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New news is no news

Eliot Spitzer is giving up on his quest to grant driving privileges to illegal aliens, but he says he's not giving up.

Learn below in five minutes that everything you learned in a full semester is both true and worthless: or a deconstructionist view of economics:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Men still from Mars, women still from Venus

But apparently they engage in free trade. And I always assumed economists in bars were just there having a drink.

Unrelated: this piece makes me long to visit Buffalo and see her people. But not in winter, and I don't really want to stay long.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Murphy and his friends

must be frustrated to know so much yet know so little. What good is it really to know that the worst is inevitable but not be able to stop it? Or what use is history if, as Hegel states, man learns from history that man learns nothing from history? Well, I can't answer that question, but I'm pretty sure that you can learn a lot by reading The Smithsonian. And if paying for, or even reading that much magazine, is unappealing to you then I'm still quite certain that you'll enjoy this short piece about the laws of human culture. (Though Heisenberg himself might disagree....)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Some things just don't make sense

A road I often drive turns from a busy street to a neighborhood street after crossing one of the major roads in our city. After crossing this intersection the two lanes reduce to one lane. To aid that reduction, yellow stripes are painted through the right lane identifying it as non-drivable. Shortly thereafter the road officially moves from two lanes to one, but this time the left lane is removed through signage that indicates the left lane merges into the right. To successfully, rather legally navigate this road you must enter by the left lane and shortly thereafter transfer to the right lane (which should be empty since it was previously non-drivable) before the left lane vanishes.

Now I know that these markings are intended to give order to the flow of traffic and inform drivers of a condition (lane reduction) for safety. But that intent doesn't make sense of the poor application. Another senseless situation that has been sticking out in my mind as is this effort spearheaded by the governor of New York to grant driver's licenses to illegal aliens. (here, here, here). This discussion was a topic at the debate last week and is sure to be a topic for months to come. The discussion will remain as a political power struggle, but as a rational choice for public policy there seems to be little to discuss. The benefits of issuing a driver's license to illegal aliens seem to include proper identification and the assumption that traffic accidents will be reduced, however neither of these arguments float.

Proper identification for illegal aliens is a benefit to all people and state issued identification cards are the most reasonable method to ensure this process. Of course, each state issues identification cards without driving privileges already. Maybe the debate should center more around identification privileges and not around driving privileges?

But that's the push by NY governor Eliot Spitzer, who argues that unlicensed drivers account for a large number of traffic accidents and that granting driving privileges to unlicensed illegal aliens will reduce the number of traffic accidents. How much more simple could the solution be? Or is this not really a solution and merely a fruitless lane shift?

Let's start this discussion from the front end. Why aren't these illegal aliens pursuing legal residence? As legal aliens these men and women are privilege to such. Certainly there is much nationalistic opposition to all immigrants, but there is little loss and great gain for illegal aliens to enter the legal residence and naturalization processes. I should assume that these immigrants are either uninterested because there is no need (or accountability) to validate their residence status or because there are political blocks to that end. In either case it makes no sense to give illegal aliens partial privileges for residence.

Are these aliens licensed to driver in their home nations? Can they not use these licenses to drive in America? Maybe they should be able to do such, just as any visitor may do on vacation.

Do driver's licenses make drivers safer? The formal training and testing that accompanies a driver's license should make an illegal alien a safer driver, but what about those who fail the driving test? Will they stop driving? Safer driving is the implicit effect of Spitzer's plan, but is there any data to support this idea? The only situation I can see where this works is if unlicensed illegal alien drivers are causing traffic accidents because they are evading pursuit. Granting a license to these drivers would help create fewer situations where risky or reckless driving seems beneficial to them.

So what is an appropriate thing to do? Can granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens make the roads safer? It may be that such a privilege will create a sense of ownership or care for driving safety that may not be present in some of these drivers. That would be a safety benefit, but that benefit would be greater if these drivers were legal in car and home. In any case, it seems that Spitzer's plan is avoiding the problem to create the solution. Much like switching from the left to right lane on a single-lane road we seem to be on the same path as we were when we started, we just jiggled our feet a little. I don't see this driver's license hokey-pokey providing any real benefits to any American citizen, natural, alien, or illegal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Is there a pot of gold at the end of In Rainbows?

See, that's the sort of tripe you get for free. Were you actually paying to read piece of journalism you'd get real writing. So what are people paying for real music when they have the choice to pay whatever they wish? Apparently, close to normal price.

Although the idea is that you can decide what you want to pay, most people are deciding on a normal retail price with very few trying to buy it for a penny.

I should remind you that reportely a band receives $1-2 per album sold, so Radiohead has made at probably five times normal revenue on albums sold (minus costs, which can't be over 50%). As for a musical review of the new Radiohead album, I don't have that yet. But I do like it very much. And I think you would. Several people who have listened to my album have liked it quite a bit, so you should give it a try. The most it should cost you is 45p, plus whatever your credit card may charge to convert pence to pennies. And you don't have to feel wrong about paying no more than that. If Radiohead had wanted you to pay more then they would have set a price floor. So why have so many people paid a "fair" price for a nigh-free album? Hmmm... well, maybe most Radiohead listeners are doves. But more on doves later. For now, two telling quotes from my favorite Radiohead fan (since my second favorite fan can't yet decide if he likes the band):

Why pay four pounds when you can get the album for free? and also she was thinking [I] should have paid more for In Rainbows after listening.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Will U.S. Air Travel Look Like in Ten Years?

A Freakonomics Quorum, and a great read. Interestingly (maybe more so to me since I know a little more about flying than the average air traveler) few of these experts share similar opinions on the future or solution of air travel.

Nerds, get out your towels

and wipe up your drool. Now get online and check out this great census tool.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

If you've read this far...

I don't know exactly what that's supposed to mean. But I suppose if you've read this far you have some affection either for reading or getting. Since there's usually nothing to get from what I write, I expect that you've read this far because you simply enjoy reading. Or you've been tricked. But if you've been tricked, you'll probably feel compelled to read the next few sentences. And if you love reading, or if you're like me and you like reading and want your children to love reading, then you'll like this New York Times article on parenting Mission: Making a Love of Reading Happen. It's a good read.

[More on reading and thinking from the Desiring God blog]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How come the world is multivariate when you can only make one choice at a time?

That's not really the question at hand, but it might as well be. The very smart Justin Taylor has written an interesting piece in response to my friend who made the popular statement that he will not vote for Rudy Giuliani should he win the Republican Party Presidential nomination. (My friend is also very smart and, by the way, referred to me as a venerated authority on college sports.) This idea stems in part from Minneapolis pastor John Piper (he is undeniably venerated, and an authority on many issues) and his stance on what he calls one-issue politics.

In short, Justin Taylor argues that by making the right choice you could be making the wrong choice. In length, that argument entails discussing that the evils and goods in this world are not always balanced and that not all decisions are, nor should be, easy to make. But read less from me and more from Justin Taylor. And more from Denny Burk. And more from John Piper.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Black socks

Have become a staple of my fashion diet and an eyesore to my wife. She complains about them all the time since I seldom exchange them for whites whenever I remove the shoes that hide them. And since I wear black socks most days, I wear black socks most evenings.

I thought she would just get used to it, but this has not seemed to occur. So now I think I will try a little bandwagon persuasion to see if she will continue to detest my black socks.

Black seems to be the sock of choice at many esteemed institutions for special occasions or a Saturday afternoon outing. Auburn, Washington State, Michigan, Arizona State, Georgia and Alabama, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Fresno State, Cincinnatti, Texas, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Rutgers, and Stanford don't seem the least bit shamed wearing black socks with multicolored garb. How can so many smart people be so wrong?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Radiohead have made a new record

If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business

It's rather interesting news (Time, NPR). While there has been much debate amongst nerds about whether the changing music industry is better or worse or unchanged (and debate about the debate, since that's what nerds do--that and throw around words like Pareto efficient) there has been no debate that the music industry is different today than it was ten years ago.

And in ten years it may be drastically different again if large enough bands like Radiohead (who have the best band name ever) continue to produce albums without the help of record labels. Prince has given records away and Trent Reznor has asked you to "steal his music" (though in fairness, it isn't actually stealing). Now Radiohead has taken a step further in asking you to name your own price when downloading their new album. The economics nerds will certainly go crazy over that. And certainly will the Radiohead nerds.

Take a look at the site yourself (and download what promises to be another excellent album, if you wish) or at least take a glimpse at the images below.

Feel free to tip and is honesty the best policy?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

If you aren't using

Google Reader to sort through your blog subscriptions, you're missing out. Aside from the ease of use and functional utility everyone expects from Google, who wouldn't want graphs like these?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

geek, extraordinaire

That should be my title, if you're ever looking for one. That's what my wife tells me, and I believe it well enough, but reading what Apple has in store makes it seem all the more clear. Not so much because of what Apple has in store, but moreso because I'm excited.

This should probably be an embarrassing thing to admit, but I'm excited about the new version of Mac OS coming next month. Now that you can't find the current version (10.4.x) for sale at the Apple store it seems apparent that 10.5 is coming very soon.

A few days ago Jen and I looked at a preview video of iWork, Apple's productivity suite. It's very cool and makes Microsoft's Office 2007 improvements look like cheap frosting on dry, crumbly cake. And at $80 for the suite it makes the Office pricetag seem even more outrageous.

And then there's VMware Fusion, which I'm very excited to try out. If you know anything about computers then you know that Mac and Windows are very different. If you know a little more about computers, then you also know that for a few years now you've been able to run Windows on new Mac computers. If you're slightly more clever (and willing to do more work) then you may be successful getting Mac to run on a native Windows machine. All that means that if you're a low-tech geek then you can do anything on a Mac and if you're a high-tech geek then you can have fun with Mac on anything. But with VMware's Fusion you can do anything on any Mac, any time and anywhere. And that's very, very cool.

This is the first time I've ever gotten excited about software, or at least the first time I'll admit such. I've been excited about music releases, new books for class, video games (sometimes), and movies but this is a first. I guess that makes me a geek, extraordinare.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is it worth moving your car to a new parking meter to save a quarter?

I wondered this today as I visited a client in downtown for what was supposedly a short visit. Not wanting to dump too many quarters in the meter, I fed the pole sparingly and needed to run down twice to re-up my ante.

Each time the adjacent meter had some time left on it and my meter had expired. And it was no small amount of time either--25 and 45 minutes--so I did what I decided any rational person would do. I moved my vehicle to that meter and supplemented with an appropriate amount of change.

Then I wondered if it was worth it to start my vehicle and move it to the new meter position. Is it possible that I would spend more in gas starting and moving the car than I would save by pumping coins into the meter? Assuming that I had not actually been paying the wrong meter, saving 25 minutes saves about $0.25, or about 1/11th a gallon of gas. That's 0.091 gallons in savings, but it seems entirely likely that starting the engine costs the same or more.

This question is more circumstantial than it appears, given that vehicles with larger engines use more gas at startup. Drivers of these cars are usually also less concerned with the fuel cost of operating the vehicle (or else they would buy a vehicle with a smaller, less powerful and more fuel efficient engine), in part because the total cost of the vehicle is higher. Contrarily, drivers of vehicles that consume less fuel also pay less for the vehicle they drive, so it seems that whether you should move your car to save $0.25 or $0.50 depends as much on the type of driver you are as it does the cost of the fuel used to make the positional change.

Of course I'm unable to find any real idea how much it costs me to start my car and back it up 12 feet. I'm sure it's under $0.25 since each mile driven has cost me $0.18 so far. That's in the Honda V6 engine of my vehicle.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Can the BCS be fixed?

This question of course will be asked, and answered, every year until the BCS is actually fixed, or some new acronym assumes top rank in the bureaucracy of college football, but since I haven't written any run-on sentences (much less actual blog posts) in some time I feel that I should make some public comment.

Paragraph two should begin the reasons for a BCS change. The reasons are manifold but the most obvious are the lack of clarity in the crowning a national champion and the fact that every other NCAA sport uses a tournament or olympic-style championship system (including the other NCAA football divisions, which I've blahgged about here.)

So can the BCS be fixed? Probably only when pride and money move over, which will not be soon, or when we have a legitimate contender left out of the championship game enough times to create an irreversible stir. Remember that this happened in 2003 when USC won a share of the national title despite not playing in the championship game and 2004 when Auburn was undefeated but without the chance of playing for the title when USC played Oklahoma (both undefeated, as was Urban Meyer's Utah and now-fan favorite Boise State). And it's possible, though unlikely, that four heavyweights (USC, LSU, Oklahoma, and West Virginia) could finish this season undefeated. That would be enough of a stir, I think, to cause an immediate BCS amendment (for 2008). But what we need is a permanent fix.

A common suggestion is a simple four-team playoff. This would solve most of the problems and add a few new bowls (and bowl revenue), but this really only delays more anger and conflict. It would have seemed to work last year, pitting favorites Ohio State, Florida, LSU, and Michigan against each other, but simple reflection shows this to be a false solution. Remember that these teams had already faced each other previously in the year (Ohio State and Michigan in the final game of the year) and that LSU only gained its rank because Arkansas lost in the SEC championship game. An Arkansas win would have kicked Florida out (last year's national champions) and would have likely re-matched Ohio State and Michigan. Both of these teams lost bowls. Michigan lost handily to USC, which was ranked 5 in the BCS and clearly one of the elite. So the headache continues, but don't forget that this BCS solution would last year have only pitted teams from two BCS conferences in the championship. The other three conferences would have none of that.

The null hypothesis (or second null, I suppose) is the 64-team tournament bracket, but this is obviously too large since only 120 teams play I-A football. A 32-team bracket may work, but this would be 5 games more to win the championship--an impossibly difficult task. In any case, certain teams would require an off week as a benefit of the top-ranking and incentive to make the season interesting but even a 24-team playoff with 8 teams taking a free week leaves 5 weeks of playoffs.

If four is too few teams and thirty-two is too many then we're left with eight to sixteen teams to play for the national championship. Since it seems reasonable that some teams deserve a free week in addition to their top seed we're left at twelve teams, four weeks, eleven games, and one champion. But not all problems are yet solved.

This reduces the number of bowl games drastically (from 27, I think, to now 11) and decreases revenue substantially for teams until drastic restructuring occurs. Since schools use bowl money to fund football it only makes sense that television revenue from the playoff tournament is divided among the conferences represented in each game, each participant taking an equal share of the games value. This works well since the winning team then contributes more money in the next matchup. Conferences then could (should) distribute this money across all teams with bonuses to the teams that played in the tournament.

Certainly this format leaves out smaller teams and smaller conferences, which are unlikely to have a presence in the tournament most years. It may be possible to create a format that guarantees each conference's champion a tournament birth as a play-in should they not meet the requirements for tournament selection, but with 11 conferences that would mean as many as 6 play-in teams in some years and that would be a tricky system. In that case, a 5-week 24-team playoff seems most desirable.

In any case, the season must be shortened so that conference championships occur earlier. With a maximum of ten regular season games, 4 weeks of playoffs would not be any more games than most bowl teams play presently. Even with 10 games +/- a conference championship the twelve team playoff tournament seems both a feasible and reasonable alternative to our current system.

So why hasn't Myles Brand thought of this? Actually I'm sure Myles Brand has considered this and many other alternative formats. The real question we want answered is why hasn't he taken the necessary action? Is it money or power? He's the head of the NCAA. No journalist, team, or conference has power over him because they are members of his organization. He can, if he wishes, simply enact whatever is necessary to crown an appropriate champion for Division I-A college football.

So maybe instead of talking about how we think the college football champion should be decided, petition me to the NCAA as a replacement to Myles. I promise I would use that power for good and a more clear picture of which team is really the best in college football.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Because real life is always better than stuff you can make up

A Gamestop manager decided to creative an incentive for good grades by not allowing kids with bad grades to purchase games. Apparently this was not in line with the corporate policy of making as much money as possible.

But what's so wrong with video games? Well, apparently playing games for three days straight is not good for your health.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jokes for nerds

Here are two adaptations of common jokes which I'm sure you won't enjoy (at least, not as much as I do.) If you're not offended by the jokes, get a little nerdier by reading Greg Mankiw's editorial on an international carbon tax. (And if you're particularly nerdy, see if you can pick out the sentence in his article that carries the same implied theory as the first joke.)

Joke #1: Two economists are walking down the sidewalk when one spots a twenty-dollar bill and stops to bend over and pick it up. His friend wisely slaps his hand and says, "If that were a real twenty-dollar bill, someone would have already picked it up."

Joke #2: A few statisticians are in a bar prospecting their odds at dates for the weekend when Bill Gates walks in. One of the statisticians becomes very excited and exclaims, "Hooray! On average, we all just got richer!"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A post on chance, on the off chance that it will make Myles mad

Now how likely is that? I gave Myles a hard time about Greg Maddux's apparent tough luck after he suggested that a recent stretch of well-pitched but seldom-won games is a rather common event for Maddux and quite uncommon for every other pitcher. I thought that having such a stretch (in which Maddux threw 20 strikeouts, 2 walks, 1 win, 2 losses, and 3 no-decisions with a 2.57 ERA) should not at all be uncommon in any pitcher as great (or lucky) as Maddux who has been able to endure such a tenure in the major leagues.

Steven Dubner recently wrote about the Texas Rangers scoring 30 runs in one game and how unusual he thought it was that in setting the Major League record for runs scored the Rangers actually scored in only 4 of 9 innings. That means that in the course of one game this team failed to score in more than half of all attempts (5 of 9) yet still scored the most runs ever in a 9 inning game. How odd is that?

Well, maybe not so odd after all. What is more unusual, he suggests, is our ability to predict randomness. On a similar topic Steven Levitt muses that for the Kansas City Royals to tie a record losing streak is actually not that noteworthy. Though a worthwhile read I'll summarize it for you: we expect too much uniformity out of randomness. That's why we expect the Royals, who we don't expect to win very many games, to win at least one out of four. It doesn't matter that they'll end up averaging one out of four for the year--we expect one out of every four. Furthermore we like to think that when they've lost 15 or so consecutive games that this is not a normal behavior but an unusual circumstance.

Likewise we expect that when the Rangers post thirty runs in nine innings they would do such in a "more orderly" manner. We just don't tend to like random events and feel much more comfortable with uniformity. If the Royals should win one out of every four games but haven't won in twelve contests, then they're due to win the next four. Although we expect Greg Maddux to lose well-pitched contests from time to time, we don't expect a string of such contests to happen so close together.

Levitt suggests this: predict the results of 25 coin flips, then flip a coin 25 times. Compare your prediction versus the actual results and see how comfortable you feel about randomness. Maybe then you'll have a little less surprise, though no less empathy, for Greg's tough luck. Or maybe not.

Something worth checking out

Reading the freakonomics blog always seems to turn up something interesting (much like reading their book), but indexed is one of the better sites I've seen in a long time. Who can turn away from such an appropriate use of Venn diagrams?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In weird news

If you can't control the world around you, you may still legislate the world you cannot control. China now intends to make it illegal for monks to reincarnate in Tibet.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Christianity in the American church has died

Maybe you knew this already. Contemporary culture rejects many ideas of the past. That Jesus is the focal point of the church is (as it has been becoming) one of those ideas.

Probably you've seen the signs that the American church--which is to say the corporate church-going desire of many Americans--has strayed from Jesus as the Christ and toward many other principles and ideas. A few days ago this realization came to fullness as I read the mail. That day I was urged to attend the life journey church, which meets at local theatres. Having been around audience-driven churches (like this) before, nothing initially caught my eye. As I continued to read the flyer several important ideas stuck out. Read them with me:

Think church is boring and outdated? Yikes... so did we.

We're Different... "I laughed, I cried, milk came out my nose!"

83% more fun than anything else you will do on Sunday

The first is that church is merely entertainment. Or at least the appeal here is nothing more than entertainment. Probably this church and all church-goers will tell you that it is much more, but very little on this advert displays motivation for attendance that is not based on entertainment.

We gladly serve complimentary [starbucks]

Not that I'm against Starbucks coffee... but complimentary generally means that it compliments--or is in addition to--something else. The message of that statement is comfort, ease, and pleasure... which may indeed compliment entertainment, but also does little to dispel the notion that entertainment is the focus when churchgoers convene. And for what do churchgoers convene?

If you gave up on church a long time ago, this invitation is for you

The Life Journey Church... The perfect place for imperfect people.

What to expect at [t]he... [c]hurch: People taking God seriously

Though it makes little sense in light of the former two sentences, the last statement is the only one on the advert that ostensibly mentions anything religious. Other statements may be intended to produce religious or moral sentiment, but what really is this--and what really is this church doing?

As best I can tell this is the modern American church. And if a group of morally-motivated people who have no connection other than their general disconnect with the religious affections are meeting together to seriously take on God (who has not yet been defined) in a manner which is entertainment-motivated, then Jesus has indeed left the building and the lordship of the Christ has little bearing on modern life.

How unfortunate, since these are the sort of men and women whom Jesus readily sought to pull out of the doldrums of life. Hopefully something they see at this church will help them again entertain the thought that Jesus still seeks them for that purpose.

But that may be hard to remember when he is no longer the purpose of convention.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Thank you, Coach

This year one of Waco's greatest coaches retires. Next year one of Waco's greatest will be missed. But not by us. Yesterday we, who were a ragamuffin and ragaknot collection of former runners of this coach, celebrated in a small and large way the great career of Bill Farmer, Midway High School track and cross country coach. And what a great experience it was for me, and for all of us.

Bill Farmer coached cross country beginning in 1981 and has coached the sport, in some form or fashion, for the past 27 years. Now the head track and cross country coach for the girls teams, coach will retire after one more year having brought his team to the state championship meet 11 times in 28 years. Though his team never won the title he did have teams finish 2nd, 3rd (twice), and 4th, and had seven men finish top ten at the state meet. Though remarkable, we thought this was the least of what he did. Certainly he would agree.

This morning, as I was being exhorted by Paul to open my heart wide I could not help but reflect on this man. His steady demeanor was marked by an unflinching care and deep love for his runners. A runner's promise on the track had little bearing upon how coach treated us. His slowest runner and fastest harrier were to him teammates worthy of equal attention. Likewise, his most difficult and most disciplined athletes were to him both kids in need of equal love. He displayed a gentle and balanced spirit, save the time he exploded at a runner's parents and dates as the runner sobbed on the course at the district meet. His affections toward us neither waned nor needed any ignition.

This man we loved back because he taught us much ourselves and life and yesterday I was honored to be among the 47 former kids of his who were able to celebrate his career. In that crowd were significant accomplishments including state champions (individual cross country and track), All-Americans, bank Vice Presidents, partners in law firms, etc., but none of these meant anything to us. None of the men present flaunted their accomplishments and none of the less accomplished runners looked with awe at the men grown out of the pictures hanging by the locker room door beside each of the school records. (Previously, every one of us had stared with awe at the scrawny likes of Todd Copeland and Paul Stoneham.) We had a single bond and a single purpose. Yesterday we were united together as 47 men honoring our coach just as much as any of us were united in purpose any of the crisp mornings of the district meet*.

Many events, good and bad, I have forgotten already in life. Some are remembered after a friend calls and tells the story he can't believe you forgot. Some are remembered looking among old photographs and the various lore of past days. And some are not forgotten. Coach has not been forgotten--not by us, his harriers. Not by us, his kids. He said what he needed, which was sometimes nothing at all, but we always understood what he taught. In the biographical book prepared for the celebration we had opportunity to remark about our experiences and what coach meant to us. Some who had run in college remarked that he was the best coach they'd ever had. I remarked that he taught me how who you are means more to your team's success than how fast you are. In the end we all ended up saying the same thing. I guess we just paid attention to what coach said. And we remembered. And we will not forget. Thank you, coach, for running us hard, coaching us well, and teaching us how to live.

[*I've had much to reflect in these two days and of the thoughts I've had is that the realized unity of the church of Christ must be a great event, if the realized unity of our group is any true harbinger. Being that the good on this earth is of the favor of God and usually little more than the shadow of his righteousness, the culmination of humanity into the fullness of the age to come will be some experience beyond any possible description, and one which may possibly take an eternity to experience in its entirety.]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What you can learn for $0.21

I stopped to buy gas at the Valero (which I always think is supposed to be Vaquero) and also picked up a drink before making my next stop for work yesterday. I, probably like you, usually pick up a 20 oz drink because it's easy and normal. When I tried to buy a 20 oz Dr Pepper for $1.29, the girl at the counter offered a 1-liter (33 oz) for $1.11. Knowing I didn't need that much I decided that I would get a 12 oz can, but then the counter-girl countered that after tax that can is $1 (or at least very close) and I relented and paid $1.21 for 33 oz of Dr Pepper. For those of you scoring at home, I essentially paid $1 for the first 12 oz and $0.01 each for the remaining 21 oz.

Here's what I think I learned for $0.21 that I probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise. The company (I'll be generic since I don't know which company is most instrumental in determining the price) is more concerned that you buy a unit of product (I'll be generic here too, since most soft drinks are priced this way) than how much product is in that unit. Likewise, you and I are more concerned with consuming a unit of product on the scale of our desire more than matching up individual preferences to fit the scale of our budget. We, and the company knows this, will make decisions to purchase more because of ease and habit (plastic, screw-top is better than aluminum can, and who really needs 33 oz?) than small fluctuations in price. In specific terms, this product has some level of inelasticity, since price (along a small scale) has little to do with our decision to purchase the product.

Also, and maybe more importantly, the product is in some manner of speaking worthless. The first 12 oz I bought cost $.083 each, but the remaining 21 oz cost only $0.01 each. How much we buy doesn't matter, so long as we buy. This also means that how much we buy doesn't affect the cost in any appreciable way. It seems to me then, that the cost of producing this product is all in marketing and delivering this product and not in the product itself.

Did I gladly buy nothing yesterday?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Art and the Gospel

I've got theories on everything. Most of them I keep inside, knowing that the sane don't care to know them and the others won't listen anyway. Many of these theories are built around disciplines about which I don't really know a lot. I guess this is related to my desire to be an economist, which is essentially a job that employs you to think about other peoples jobs and ideas. And I very seldom speak in such a public manner about the gospel, mostly because I'm quite afraid to speak untruth, but I think we can learn a few things about the gospel by learning a few things about art.

A few weeks ago my wife, son, and aunt-in-law (and I) went to the Dallas Museum of Art. This is a fun event and though I know little about art I'm neither profoundly emotionally discomforted nor extensively frustrated by my lack of interpretation when observing art. In most cases, I just like it.

But that's not to say it is easy to view art. After just a few hours viewing American, European, and contemporary art, rushing past the African and Asian exhibits, I've got an overwhelming headache that is simply attributed to over-stimulation from all the exhibits. This, and the time constraint that is attached to any out-of-town event, is really the reason I rush past the African and Asian exhibits. I don't have any energy left to contemplate them and these exhibits deserve the most thought.

What is always interesting to me is observing my rational and natural response to such exhibits. I counter thoughts of isn't this quite primitive with the understanding that all art is a cultural representation and my misunderstanding of these "primitive" pieces is really my great misunderstanding of the cultures they represent.

Really, this is what causes my headache in the galleries I can attend. I'm constantly, though subconsciously, trying to interpret these pieces in light of the cultural context (which I know a little better) but this rapid interpretation and appreciation (for which 30 seconds is too short and 2 minutes is too much for my brain to handle) is really more than I can process. If I can't really appreciate art from the cultures I best know (because I really don't have a great understanding of cultural history) then how can I really appreciate art from cultures I don't understand?

I've never seen the Jesus video, so I don't plan to make any sweeping statements about that evangelistic effort, but I know that many people who support this effort and many efforts similar and dissimilar because they believe that Jesus transcends culture and therefore art about Jesus transcends culture. The first statement I believe is absolutely true, but the second statement I believe is absolutely false and... may essentially void some forms of the first statement.

Art, being a profound visual representation of culture and idea makes a great medium for the movement of ideas where speech and experience fail. But it seems to me that if I am ill-prepared to understand the historical and modern art of a people from across the world (or even across the street) then I am ill-prepared to create art to distribute to that people as a representation of the idea of Christ.

Even as that last sentence reminds me of my failure, I am reminded that an image of Christ, which may be portrayed adequately through such a medium, is not the fullness of Christ any more than the sixty-six books of the canon are the fullness of Christ. If these stories are no more than a shadow of the nature of Christ (within which the fullness may be reflected but not stagnantly depicted) then our best-guided efforts at evangelism must be understood to be at best a reflection of that shadow.

If this rambling has become too long, let me end with this. A friend at school in Minneapolis tells me of debates he has had with like-hearted (but obviously different-minded) men about whether the gospel can be represented in art--specifically in an untranslated or wordless video. In some manner this is brave, yet not brave enough, and I am not sure that this evangelism will persist when the breeze of the culture that brought it has passed.

Often I have listened or read of evangelistic efforts and wondered how many people became worshipers of Jesus, the Christ, and how many became worshipers of the culture that brought this idea that was presented. The evangelism of the gospel of Christ is no small matter (and one about which I hope that these open-ended thoughts are not confused with condemnation), but I suppose that a little more staring and contemplating of "primitive" art would do me good. And maybe my ability to reflect the gospel as well.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What to do if your 4th generation iPod gives you a sad face

If you've already followed the sad-face instructions at Apple support, then maybe you should just shake it. Really, it worked for me.

[This may not work for video, photo, shuffle, and the earliest iPods]

Is 10mpg always 10mpg?

Or to put it a different way, is the difference between 20 and 30 mpg the same as the difference between 30 and 40 mpg? Well, the difference is 10mpg, right? Maybe not. Let me paraphrase a Car Talk Puzzler to explain.

Buff Barry drives a rather big truck that gets roughly 8 mpg while his wife, Gentle Gina drives a Prius that gets near 50 mpg. Gina is interested in a new Smart car which gets almost 100 mpg* but Barry spoke to his mechanic who said that she doesn't need a new car and for a few hundred dollars he could adjust the timing and probably get Barry's fuel economy to increase to 10 mpg. Which should they choose?

[It should be noted that Smart makes electric cars, and is only used here because I couldn't think of a better car. Also, unless Barry's mechanic listens to car talk or is Matt Damon, it's unlikely he would really know the answer to this problem.]

The answer is that improving gas mileage from 8 to 10 is far better than switching from 50 to 100. This doesn't seem so, because we look at the values 2mpg and 50mpg and conclude that saving 50mpg is 25 times better than saving 2mpg. Think of it from this perspective: knowing that the average American drives 12,000 miles per year. If Gina drives that far in her Prius then she buys 240 gallons of gas. If she gets a new car then she gases up half as much and only buy 120 gallons of gas. Barry, on the other hand, is always at the pump. Getting only 8mpg, he buys 1,500 gallons to drive 12,000 miles. If his mechanic could increase his fuel economy by 2mpg (to 10) then he'd only purchase 1,200 gallons per year, saving him 300 gallons of gas.

So there it is. Increasing 2mpg for Barry saves him almost three times as much gas as if Gina increased her fuel economy by 50mpg. Interesting, but what does that really mean? That maybe the numbers are more important where we are least concerned. Tom and Ray give the Accord Hybrid a poor review because its fuel economy is much worse than the Camry and Altima Hybrids, specifically in the city. And while 7mpg is no small matter (average fuel economy is 27mpg for the Accord and 34 for the other two, 91 gallons per 12,000 miles driven), other comparisons may be lacking. Comparing four common trucks shows that apparently small differences in mpg are... well larger than they appear. The Lincoln Mark LT (Ford's luxury truck), Chevy's Silverado, the Honda Ridgeline AWD, and the GMC Sierra Hybrid average 14, 15, 17, and 17 mpg respectively. These small differences amount to 857, 800, and 706 gallons per 12,000 miles. Here 3 mpg difference in these trucks amounts to nearly double the 7 mpg difference in the hybrid cars.

So when is 10mpg 10mpg and when is it not? I don't know, but while trying to figure it out, read the government's suggestions on saving fuel.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Happy July 5th!

It doesn't look like Tim got a mug

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

For whom the toll tolls

Here is a great read from the NY Times about electronic toll monitoring and what effect that has on drivers, known or unknown.

[Sure, but the NY Times is a pinko paper, some of you might object. Well, I found this article through Greg Mankiw, and he's no pinko, so don't be worried that your voting habits will change from reading just this article.]

Now who can read that and not want to go study public policy?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

When it comes to impulsiveness, I'm a zero

I never have been one to make quick decisions. Much to the concern of my dinnermates, I chew my food endlessly before deciding I'm ready for the next bite. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I chew my thoughts tirelessly before responding in conversation. I never make rash decisions--though this confused my wife for quite some time as she observed certain actions that seemed unprompted. I'd never consulted her but instead had thought that scenario out ahead of time and already concluded what I would likely do.

But despite my specific reasons for being slow in decision-making, in the end I really just don't like quick decisions. My mental discomfort quickly moves to emotional and physical discomfort and I ultimately rationalize that impulsive or rash decisions shouldn't be made--at all.

But that really isn't important. That's just a preview for why I'm thinking about my next vehicle--one which I don't expect to pursue for at least six months--and one in which I want to enlist your help.

We realized last December that I need, or at least desire, a vehicle that carries more than two people, now that we have three. I suppose we could get by with my truck in a manner like those mind-twisting math problems involving rafts, rivers, monkeys, and bananas, all needing to cross (except the river, which is stationary in an odd sort-of-way), but in the end I want a vehicle that is sufficient for myself and my family. [Divert here for some monkey-math]

And I want to know what you think I should and what I will end up purchasing. At least this will make the car discover experience interesting, being that I've already got a frontrunner (which will remain nameless).

To help you a little, I currently drive a Toyota Tacoma (not unlike this) and Tigger and Swift both agreed that my next vehicle should and will be the Honda Accord.

I would especially like to hear BK's opinion, since I count his opinion on cars near equal to a grandmother's opinion on cookies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

If you've never wanted to own a Honda

--which I understand is not a goal most people set for themselves upon graduation--then maybe this will change your mind.

And if not, then you're a dolt.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I know you all are waiting to hear what I've been thinking about, so here are some musings I've had.

I heard a girl on the radio today reading websites and incorrectly using the word backslash when she meant forwardslash, or just slash. Normally I don't care about this, mostly because I'm as confused about the whole back/forward slash identity, but I knew this was incorrect because you just never hear the word backslash in a sentence describing a website. Looking up the definition, a backslash is "\", which is never used for a website, but this satisfies me little. Why is it that \ moves backwards when / also clearly moves backwards? Certainly, written by pen the / is a forwardslash and the \ is... well another forwardslash, just started from the top. Maybe the forward/back slash connotation is due to starting the cipher at the writing floor, since all written characters start and come back to the bottom of the line on the page. In that case \ would be a proper backslash. Then again, English starts several characters from the top and never moves backwards (or right-to-left) when written.

So then, what to make of all this? Let's just call them upslash and downslash since clearly one goes up (/) and one goes down (\)... but only when thought of from left to right. Hmmm, is there no clear end to this dilemma?

On the radio earlier I heard an advert for XM Radio 24-hour coverage of the forthcoming 2008 Presidential election. I'm definitely a fan of XM, but I am hardly a fan of 24 hour news. In fact I think 24-hour news is hideous (or terrible beyond words, as Tony Kornheiser would say) for its effect in American society. Twenty-four hour news has aided the demise of newspapers and, ultimately, intellectual thought in modern American culture. The internet gets much of the blame for the downfall of print media but the fall began much earlier. Who wants to read a story and be forced to form an opinion about culture and society on your own when the only choice you really have to make is which news product you would like to consume for your daily dose of prefabricated opinion?

Obviously we don't watch much tele in our household. But 24-hour coverage of the upcoming election got me thinking about past presidents and elections in my voting lifetime. I've made three choices and two in hindsight can be seen as the absolutely wrong choice. While Kerry v Bush still seems to be a losing battle either way, it is now obvious that my choice of Bush over Gore and Clinton over Dole were absolutely bad. Not that I care about making bad choices, but what scares me is the lack of useful information in making such an important selection. Voter misinformation is what the game is all about and I don't see how 24-hour dedicated news helps at all. Hearing the XM advert made me wonder if anyone besides Obama and McCain are trustworthy for running this country, running a business, or kissing my baby. I don't know, and I don't know that I'll get the necessary information to make this decision until spring 2010.

Misinformation--really market ignorance--is a remarkable phenomenon. I often think I'd like to go back to school soon and maybe I'd be interested in writing a very long article on the topic of market ignorance in public education.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Eight impressions about me

thanks to Rafe for these:

1. Micah is very unlikely to ever change his hairstyle or any other personal routine.

2. When Micah says, “I don’t know.”--he really means: “I know, but you probably don’t.”

3. Micah is fascinated with the fine details of a hobby, vice, or situation.

4. Micah will wear the same size jeans until his death.

5. Micah almost always has an opinion but probably won’t share it in a group social setting.

6. Micah has a mysterious, recurring ink blot over his lip.

7. Micah doesn’t eat or drink fast.

8. Micah quite often smirks and chuckles when he looks at you. Don’t take it to be demeaning. If you had those bizarre and random thoughts popping into your head--you’d be smirking too.

Another update in the Microsoft-Google Ware War

Is Apple the only winner? An interesting Forbes read. Probably Google will end up the winner between the giants, but I'm always happy to see Apple do well. It'll be interesting to see what Apple's "Leopard" operating system can do with the apparent failure of Windows Vista.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Eight things you should hate about me

I don't know all the rules because I haven't read all the rules (1), but I'll make a reasonable conjecture at the rules and follow them by the seat of my pants, though I care little about the rules (2). And I'm not asking eight others to do the same (3).

My favorite number is 26 (4). I've got several reasons for that, but most notably there are 26 miles in a marathon (5) which I've run twice (6), that 26 is the only number between a square and cube (7), and that I was married on the 26th (8).

I don't know that these facts are random, but I appreciate randomness even though it isn't always random. My personality can be described as INTJ (9) and I often see (or think I see) patterns to apparent randomness. Though I have little concern for them presently, I'm sure that for the previously stated reason I will someday be fascinated by fractals (10).

My favourite band are Radiohead (11). Though their albums traverse my youth I rarely listened to them until 2003 when they supplanted my previous favorites The Beastie Boys (12), who we saw in concert in 2004 (13). I made a Beastie Boy shirt (see below, 14) for my son (15).

I'm reading an excellent book called Flight of Passage (16) that was given to me by my boss who was also a student of mine (17). I am a pilot and flight instructor (18), specifically CP-ASEL/AMEL-IA and CFI-ASEL-IA. I like flying quite a bit and would love to someday own a BE-17 (19).

While writing this I ordered a pizza online (20), which I often do, but just this year began online banking (21). My first attempt resulted in late payments to several important accounts (22), probably all my fault despite the fact that my current job is sometimes described as "technology advocate" or "consulting engineer" (23). I'm slightly resistant to change of most sorts and usually let my friend Tigger test out new technology and give me the rundown (24).

Of my favorite sports is hockey (25) and my favorite player's jersey is 26.

The image used to create the t-shirt below isn't entirely original, but at least I'm not selling it to anybody. Cheers.

[A footnote that may be interesting: regarding random fact 9 it may be said of my personality that paradoxes, antinomies, and other contradictory phenomena aptly express these intuitors' amusement at those whom they feel may be taking a particular view of reality too seriously. 9 and 10, I think, make more sense in light of that statement and my unofficial worldview tagline: life is too serious to be taken seriously.]

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wow, this guy sure seems to be in trouble

Maybe you've heard of David and Goliath tee-shirts. At least you've probably seen one of their more popular designs, boys are stupid, throw rocks at them.

Well, just maybe you have seen some of his work before... even before it became his work. Yes, it seems that "post-pop artist" Todd Goldman (who also paints the images on his tees) may, just may have produced and sold images that were... let's think of a delicate way to explain this... already created by another artist. Yes, indeedy, and you thought plagiarism was limited to graduate school dissertations. You should read the entire list by Mike Tyndall, it's quite interesting. Very interesting.

And maybe you should buy a David and Goliath tee--it's kinda like lotto for the socially hip. You just don't know which artist your money will end up supporting.

Monday, April 23, 2007

George W Bush has ruined my grammar

Or at least my diction. I can no longer use the words misunderstand and misrepresent with confidence. And forget about the word nuclear. Thanks, George, for ruining what all those salad-eating men with birkenstocks and black socks tried to teach me as an undergrad.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Noel rarely shows interest in the cats

though it would be wrong to suggest that he is not aware of them.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Google's newest devilry in the war for electronic money

Google, always trying to change the way you think about the things you don't think about, unveiled two powerful new-old tools last week. [At least I noticed them last week.] Check out these potentially landscape-changing twists to the old maps and search features and see if you don't think these are big ripples in a still-small epond. And I hope you don't sell real estate or you might get wet.

Use Google Maps to make your maps and share them with others.

Use Google Search to find houses and help break the monopolistic trust of the MLS and Real Estate industry.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I'll send it along with love from me to you

Jen is writing now about her grandmother and how she loves to send care packages with Jen at every visit. I have a great affection for Esther and these care packages partly because I've never received one, but mostly because I know how much effort she invests into each package (I should say that I have received them from Esther, but my family never gave any, so there...)

And then there are the packages themselves. Everyone has received a weird gift, a thoughtful gift, a mundane gift. But when you receive a gift that is all at once weird, thoughtful and mundane--and when you receive such on a frequent basis--that's literally remarkable.

But I wouldn't do any good trying to describe the sort of thing Jen brings home. I won't try. What I'll do, however, is show you what Jen has brought home and ask you to describe, in your words, what these pictures say to you.

With love, this post, from me (Malcolm) to you:

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Well, ain't that a sight

And a wonderful new way to see the Grand Canyon. What you see above is a glass-walled, glass-floored, skywalk that cost $30 million and has been described a truly spiritual event. Opening earlier this week, the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the Hualapai Indian Reservation is a horsehoe-shaped walkway protruding seventy feet out into nothingness, at rest 4000 feet above the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.

This is magnificent marriage between natural and engineered wonder, and is certainly something to behold. Amazed as I am, I'm don't really know what to think about it all. I lean towards thinking that it gives the viewer an experience unlike any other in the world (which is true). Certainly the Washington Monument, Gateway over St Louis, and Eiffel Tower provide such an experience. These also evoke great pride as public art that embodies the character of a region. I hope the Grand Canyon Skyway in time may prove to be such an experience.

At the present time, however, there is much concern over the skyway and its construction at what is undoubtedly America's most treasured park. Many consider the skyway tantamount to defacing this national treasure. The Hualapai, who possess this portion of the national park as part of their reservation, say that it will enhance the visitor's experience in a positive way. I would like to agree, but these comments lead me to think other thoughts:

Tribal officials say the development, which may eventually include hotels, restaurants and a golf course, is the best way to address the social ills of a small reservation, where the 2,000 residents struggle with a 50% unemployment rate and widespread alcoholism and poverty.

When I visit a zoo I have mixed feelings of amazement at the animals I see and great discontent that these animals, especially the majestic predatory cats, are bottled up in concrete and steel gates. I'm worried that I'll view the skywalk with similar remorse if I see it up close and personal.

Jen says I'm worried you'll crap your pants if you see the skywalk up close and personal. That may be.

Friday, March 30, 2007

This is Re-Stinking-Diculous

I keep hearing adverts on the xm radio for this product, which claims to be for entertainment purposes only, though I don't think that's true. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Certainly I can think of better ways to waste $24.95. Well, even if it's not a better way, it isn't any worse. Probably the office workers using this "service" are the same people who purchased papers for English class. Here is one for free.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My four favorite places in the United States

This is not a comprehensive list (in that I have not been everywhere in the US), but these four places are beyond excellent and I recommend them highly. Thank you, Jen for remembering the Spruce Goose and our late night visit to the very large windows of a museum.

1. Redwood National Park

2. Maine

3. Grand Canyon National Park

4. Boston, Matt

There is a lot of North America left to visit, including Charleston and Montreal, but these four places I must someday see: Christchurch, Helsinki, London, Munich. Maybe Jen will take me to these places.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What is written on the bathroom walls

should usually not be read, but sometimes you must take notice. Like when the light switch plate reads turn on if needs beside the vent switch. (Certainly funnier if it were marked such beside the light switch itself, but still funny if not a little too suggestive.) This little bit of humor was compounded remarkably with the Employees must wash and dry their hands before returning to work placard on the door. And the irony was too great for me to contain when I noticed the Dial Complete foam soap claimed both Hospital Strength and Milder Than Ever!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I too have trouble counting to five

It would be a great mistake to pretend that I know anything to say about art, except that i like Edward Hopper and even then that I no have no memory of which Hopper it is I have actually seen (though Catherine rejected seeing it for free, I remember), but I hope you'll enjoy this short list of my five or six favorite aviation photographs (it'll be the only top five list I'll be posting today).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Carl Jung for fun, or when bored

Not really sure what that means above, but I'm sure a good psychiatrist could help me. Do you know any? In the meantime (by which I mean, during the rest of my life until someone figures out what's wrong with me) I very much like Jung's personality typology, especially the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. (I also really like the word especially.)

Though someone with more specific vocabulary can correct me, the purpose MBTI is to indicate which Jungian personality (or psychological) preferences are dominant, auxiliary, etc, in how you perceive and interact with the world. Though the words and definitions can be a little confusing, the test describes your personality as one of 16 distinct types based on how you interact among the psychological functions. Cherish was much relieved to find out that being ESFJ (extoverted-sensing-feeling-judging) meant less that she judged others by what she sensed and felt and more that her personality was very similar to Monica's.

Of course, this is all important to me because I'm an INTJ, which means that I'm less interested in you than both Cherish and my INFP wife because really I'm interested in patterns. And I probably could have told you that, but well... many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense.

Probably the strongest INTJ assets in the interpersonal area
[by which the writer means, the only] are their intuitive abilities and their willingness to "work at" a relationship. Although as Ts they do not always have the kind of natural empathy that many Fs do, the Intuitive function can often act as a good substitute by synthesizing the probable meanings behind such things as tone of voice, turn of phrase, and facial expression. This ability can then be honed and directed by consistent, repeated efforts to understand and support those they care about, and those relationships which ultimately do become established with an INTJ tend to be characterized by their robustness, stability, and good communications.

So does that mean that if I don't really care much for you, at least I try hard? I don't know. One thing I was interested to learn was that Jen's personality (INFP) plays the advisor role to my personality, and vice versa (each having an area of insight that the other lacks). Probably we already knew that, but it was interesting to read (for me at least. Jen, who is concerned with the real world and the people therein might care less.)

Certainly there are flaws and shortcomings to such a psychological approach. One is that there are more than 16 personalities in the world, though the combinations of personal preference you exhibit will likely fit you pretty well. Another is that you express different parts of your personality at different times and in different circumstances. I think that you might contain all parts of personality but the others are underdeveloped or latent (but those may be Freud's words and not Jungs, and Freud and Jung were not friends--something to do with Freud's mother, I think?)

I don't know. Anyway, take this quick test and see how you fit (or tell me what is your type if you already know). Then see what your personality type means, and see what that means to you. Then tell me, so I can put you on my friend grid. (I don't really have a friend grid, at least not physically. Mentally and emotionally, maybe.)