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.