Monday, June 14, 2010

NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships

Were on the television this weekend. The championships are actually 4 days of preliminary and final events, but Saturday's showing was a condensed bit of highlights the final day's events. It was exciting from start to finish. There were three dropped exchanges in the mens 4x100m relay (including favorite Texas A&M), the Oregon men finished a surprising 1-2-3 in the 1500m (it was a great pack and stretch run), and the Texas A&M 4x400m relay held off three attempts by Mississippi State to pass on the final curve to beat Florida by 2 to win the championship. If I find good videos of these events I will post them.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


A wonderful piece by The Atlantic's Mark Bowden on the Conficker worm and the current nature of personal computer security threats.

Yes, but does it attract cougars?

WSJ reports that many large cats at the New York City Zoo are attracted by Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Are Hybrids Good for the Environment?

In a post of the same name a writer asks whether hybrids are good for the environment.

More specifically, the writer wonders whether purchasing a new, highly fuel efficient car (such as a hybrid) has any benefit over purchasing a used, moderately fuel efficient car. The writer's argument is that the production cost of a new car (in ecological terms) is so large that it reduce any ecologic benefit gained by the reduced fuel economy.

It's a valid question, but the solution is probably not as simple as the writer suggests. There are a few reasonable objections or follow-up questions to the initial proposition, but what gets me thinking is this: if all ecologically conscious consumers purchase used cars, are they really hurting themselves?

Let's not omit an obvious fact: the used car market is predicted by the new car market. This is so obvious it sounds dumb, but if the ecologically conscious consumers consume the larger portion of used cars, it will be the ecologically unconscious who consume the larger portion of new cars.

Carmarkers, who respond primarily to market demand, will produce more new cars that are likewise ecologically unconscious (since nobody wanted the fuel efficient cars) and the ecologically conscious consumers will find that when their fuel friendly used cars expire, all cars, both used and new, will be less fuel friendly than ever before.

Or so it seems to me.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Texas Rangers

Have started the 2010 season well--off to a 20-15 start and currently in first place in the division.

One interesting statistic is that through 35 games the Rangers are 2nd in the American League in saves (12) and 2nd in blown saves (7), and in each category are 1 behind the AL leader. I'll take this as a sign that the starting pitching has been very good so far this season.

If you're finding you have nothing better to do

Then join the Pigou Club.

But first, you may wish to know what is the Pigou Club? Here is the original charter, err, manifesto.

VMWare's Paul Maritz on finding humility

Here, from Forbes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Malcolm Gladwell

in his own words

Certainly not all statements he makes here are true, but maybe a close-to-the-mark provocative statement is frequently more useful than a simple, true fact?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Deion Sanders, face and football

Seth Wickersham of ESPN writes about Deion Sanders' influence as a mentor on multiple levels of football, asking whether Deion has anything to gain (especially anything of illicit interest), which has always been a relevant question where Sanders is involved, but I am left wondering whether those he influences have anything to gain. I don't think I want him coaching my boys in football:

A boy fumbles. It's the fourth quarter of a game that Sanders' youth team leads 38-12. So far, it's been a good afternoon, with Deion cajoling his players, hugging them after big plays, giving them hope. But then Shedeur, Sanders' youngest son, coughs it up on a sweep. As the boy walks to the sideline, Sanders gets in his face. "I give you the ball, and you fumble?" he says. He crouches to make eye contact, then explodes backward in disgust. "Are you crying? You're crying!"

Sanders doesn't coach criers. Cry on the field, you cry in life, he believes. Shedeur tries to walk away, but his father grabs him and pulls off his helmet. Face the crowd, he insists, so everyone sees those wet cheeks. The boy is humiliated, his teammates are scared, and other parents nervously watch. Is this discipline and structure, in the form of tough love? Or is this a well-intentioned coach with poor methods?

Sanders looks at his son and shakes his head. "Go back to your mama."

The boy walks off, leaving everyone to wonder.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The marginal utility of sin

Garett Jones, macroeconomist at George Mason University, has an interesting Twitter feed (follow him @GarettJones) where he poses macroeconomic questions, which are frankly often difficult enough, within the 140-character limits of Twitter. This usually results in a sort of riddle and, like most riddles, thinking through his riddle is often more important than simply knowing the answer.

Yesterday he posted an interesting remark:
Some pundits are like preachers, telling the faithful to avoid all sin. Good advice as long as benefits of sin equal zero.

I don't know too much about pundits, but I know a few things about preachers and sin and I think this statement is fascinating. Indeed, I think it captures well what is so hard to grasp about religion and the religious faithful (or unfaithful), but to understand this it may be useful to step into economic theory.

I think Mr Jones' comments regarding sin are a matter of marginal utility. Marginal utility is simply the benefit (or loss) resulting from a change in production, but that definition may not make much sense on the surface. It's more important to understand what marginal utility tells us--whether we should produce more or less of a product.

To put this in concrete terms, if you are buying an LCD TV (a purchase of $1,000 to $2,000 for most people) then you will do some research. You may spend 5 or 6 hours online or in showrooms or watching friends' TVs to get an idea what you need or want to purchase. Then you may spend another 1 or 2 hours driving to different shops to find the best price. Then you may spend another 1 or 2 hours online trying to save another $10 or $20 off the price. But at some point you will quit researching because even if you save another $1, you've decided it just isn't worth your time.

That's marginal utility. You're making a decision regarding production (TV research) based on the marginal utility (+$20/hour decreasing to +$1/hour in my example.) When marginal utility = $0, you know to stop production (or stop wasting your time); that's how it works, more or less.

So what has this got to do with religion and sin?
Some pundits are like preachers, telling the faithful to avoid all sin. Good advice as long as benefits of sin equal zero.
What are the benefits of sin? Well, to the consumer (or the faithful, in this case), there is a calculation of marginal utility (marginal cost of being faithful?) whereby the faithful consumer decides whether the production of abstinence or the production of indulgence produces more utility. If abstinence results in +$0 utility and sin results in +$5 utility, choose sin (you've had your fair share of avoiding sin, since utility is $0, so go ahead and grab some more sin, which seems to still profit you.)

I think that's a fair model for the way most of the faithful (or unfaithful) consumers of religion think. Certainly, if any of the faithful consider avoidance of sin to always produce a benefit of +$0, these may think of the production of sin as their primary concern until it has +$0 utility. At that point should they consider avoidance of sin to be worthwhile.

Of course, thinking this way seems to neglect the benefits (utility) of avoiding sin and I think any good preacher should tell you there are many. But I guess that's a difference between the role of the economist and preacher. The economist tweets to describe what the model is (positive economics, what's actually happening) while the preacher tweets to tell you what the model should be (normative economics, what should be happening.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

As I get older, for some reason I find news reporting more fascinating

It's not the news I like, however, as the news bores me as much as ever. It's the reporting that fascinates me. For example, take this recent story: Chile quake may have tipped Earth's axis.

Below the header is that this change in the Earth's Axis may have shortened the length of the day. Interest, to say the least, this seems. This is how the story starts:

(CNN) -- The massive earthquake that struck Chile on Saturday may have shifted Earth's axis and created shorter days, scientists at NASA say.

and this is the second sentence (which I've abruptly ended, for your sake):

The change is negligible, but permanent

Roughly 275 words follow, but why? If this change is truly negligible, which is to say so small or unimportant as to be not worth considering or insignificant then can't we just stop at that sentence? Or not write the story at all?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Are some losses gains?

Probably so, but probably not when Mississippi votes to take a bath and sell the State-owned executive jet used to transport Governor Haley Barbour. I'm not necessarily in favor of state executives having executive jet transport, but does it seem a little short-sighted to take a $800,000 loss selling a jet when you only owe $400,000 on it?

With the current jet market, I'm not convinced this would sell for even $2.5m. Consider this: if Mississippi can sell now to gain $2m or keep it five more years and sell for $4m, which is a better choice? (Obviously this is a conjecture and neither alternative is guaranteed; also, I'm not necessarily against private transport for state executives either, and it seems to make sense for Mississippi recently.)

On the eBook industry, Kindle and iPad

An interesting review by Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post, with much of the focus appropriately on the Kindle's initiation and adaptation in this industry, but at least one comment makes me scratch my head:

Although Bezos & Co. were not pleased by the weekend's developments, they were hardly surprised. Amazon had already anticipated Apple's entry into the market by inviting software companies to begin developing applications for the Kindle that would allow it to compete directly with the more multifunctional iPad, particularly in the area of video games.

I'm no Kindle expert, but I've used one or two and wonder how, exactly, does Jeff Bezos expect Kindle users to play video games on the Kindle and which games exactly are we talking about?

Monday, February 01, 2010

On the iPad and mothers

Not that all mothers are "inferior" users, but users like the writer's mother put a face on the many, many users who may find the iPad an enlightening interface.

Thoughts on the iPad "no flash" dilemma.

I agree, it's not such a dilemma after all

The reality is this: users determine the market in all markets except those in which there is only one producer. Adobe is not a sole producer. If users choose the iPad, Adobe will adapt or be replaced by another producer.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tony Kornheiser on grandchildren: "I don't think I'm going to be the great grandfather that other people have become."

My feeling is: just give 'em (the grandchildren) some money and let them do what they want to do. 'Cause if I'm still active enough to do what I want to do, why would I want to do it with them?

A New York Times review of the iPad

Until I saw the demo, I wondered why you'd want an iPad instead of a laptop. After all, the price is about the same...
Now, though, it looks like Apple really has created something new. Criticisms of "Like a laptop" and "a big iPod Touch" don't really do justice to the possibilities.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Our present economy, explained in a way that most of us can understand

That is if you don't find rap any more confusing than economic theory. Hayek and Keynes kinda make the whole East-Coast/West-Coast rap thing seem pretty trivial.

Tyler Cowen's reaction to the iPad

My theory is that Apple wants to capture a chunk of the revenue in this nation's enormous textbook market -- high school, college, whatever. Why lug all those books around? The superior Apple graphics, colors, and fonts will support all of the textbook features which Kindle botches and destroys. Apple takes a chunk of the market revenue, of course, plus they sell the iPads and some AT&T contracts. There are lots of schoolkids in the world.

and later

The story here is one of new markets, not cannibalization or even competition.

Read the full content at Marginal Revolution.

On the iPad, a reaction by The New Republic

A reaction by The New Republic, shared via NPR, written by Nicholas Carr:

The PC era ended yesterday morning at ten o'clock Pacific time, when Steve Jobs stepped onto a San Francisco stage to unveil the iPad, Apple's version of a tablet computer. Tablets have been kicking around for a decade, but consumers have always shunned them. And for good reason: They've been nerdy-looking smudge-magnets, limited by their cumbersome shape and their lack of a keyboard. Tablets were a solution to a problem no one had...

Read the entire text here

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Arby's and the iPad

Today I grabbed lunch from Arby's. Not healthy food, for sure, but food I like in certain circumstances. They have a unique product in their roast beef sandwich and although the market share of roast beef sandwiches is probably a small portion of fast food sales, I imagine the typical Arby's consumer is fairly faithful. What I realized, however, is that I don't purchase the sandwich when I choose Arby's. I purchase the sauces.

I don't suppose that the Horsey Sauce and Arby's Sauce are exceptionally remarkable--one is a mayonnaise-horseradish blend and the other a mild barbecue sauce--but I certainly would not choose the Arby's product without them. Maybe that choice seems a bit superficial, but I think that's an interesting circumstance and I imagine we make choices like this on a surprisingly regular basis. I was thinking through this and tried to consider which products I may have purchased for similar reasons and I come with two similar examples that appear to be opposite: the iPod and the iPhone.

The iPod is certainly one of the most successful consumer electronic devices of the past 20 years, but I'm not sure anyone buys the iPod because they're wowed by a superior product. Certainly, there are some great advantages to the iPod as a piece of hardware, but it seems that we buy the iPod because it functions with iTunes. Ironically, iTunes is free. iTunes is also rather simple and doesn't appear at face value to be worth purchasing an expensive piece of hardware to coordinate your music and video, but turn that question around and answer for yourself: would you buy an iPod if it would not work with iTunes? Certainly there are competitor products that (without iTunes) are superior or at least equally viable.

The iPhone is probably the most successful electronic device ever (or I expect it will become such), however it seems to have achieved success in the opposite manner. It seems that the device drives the complimentary products. Some of the functions and applications of the iPhone make it an entirely desirable device, but I don't think I would ever buy an iPhone simply because I can download games or use the address book in a certain manner. I may choose to buy an iPhone over another smartphone because of an option like these, but I'm not jumping from a standard mobile device to the iPhone for this reason. Then again, the iPhone stands out in part because you must buy the device to get the complimentary software. Maybe this distinction is not as great as it may seem; maybe I'm imagining it all.

Now to the iPad, which Apple has today released. The discussion in the coming weeks will be whether anything comes from this product as a "third device" or whether it flops as many electronic devices certainly have. What exactly will the iPad do? Why should I want to purchase an iPad?

Well, Apple has unveiled this product and what do we think? From the New York Times live blogging of the event:

You get the feeling that the iPad is creating and killing categories at the same time. It is a remarkably ambitious project in terms of all the things — photos, games, video and e-mail — that it is attempting to grab market share in.

One of the weird things about the presentation is how it is really all about the software. The gadget itself is transparent, a window into software. There is really only a single mechanical button on the device, the “on” button. The rest is all fingers interacting directly with software.

This makes sense for Apple. We don't need another electronic device. The iPad will fail if it's an electronic device only. We don't need a new end product. We've got enough expensive crap already and we don't need any more expensive crap. What we need is a new medium. We need something to replace newsprint. We need to know that what we do and how we do it are insufficient. We need to be shown how insufficient our methods have become and we need to be shown how satisfactory are the new methods this product allows. We need to want what we've forgotten to want. If the iPad shows us that, it will be revolutionary and entirely successful.

Want to read your books in a better way? A better way than the Kindle? Apple has called out Amazon to a duel, and this will be interesting, but that's not the only purpose for the iPad. I don't think it can stand on that foot only. Will it be a new gaming platform? Will Nintendo (DS) and Sony (PSP) be called to the duel? Can you dock this in your car and navigate to your destination? Will Garmin be called to the duel?

But Apple isn't simply dueling with the iPad. Apple is also partnering. What will be the future of print media? We won't likely see newsprint editions of the New York Times in 10 years. We also won't see it on Amazon's Kindle. Will we all be reading our newspapers on iPads and similar devices in 2020? Maybe.

I'll watch and see what happens and see if any of the options have that certain flavor that tells me there is no other way to satisfy my desire. Horsey Sauce anyone?