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Journal: Economics in Brief (Internet Flotsam)

Journal by lgw

Here's some internet flotsam attributed to a graduation speech by Thomas Sargent (without digging into whether this speech really happened: the content is interesting).

Economics is organized common sense. Here is a short list of valuable lessons that our beautiful subject teaches.

1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.

2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs.

3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts,
and their preferences than you do.

4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That
is why social safety nets don't always end up working as intended.

5. There are tradeoffs between equality and efficiency.

6. In an equilibrium of a game or an economy, people are satisfied with their
choices. That is why it is difficult for well meaning outsiders to change
things for better or worse.

7. In the future, you too will respond to incentives. That is why there are
some promises that you'd like to make but can't. No one will believe those
promises because they know that later it will not be in your interest to
deliver. The lesson here is this: before you make a promise, think about
whether you will want to keep it if and when your circumstances change.
This is how you earn a reputation.

8. Governments and voters respond to incentives too. That is why governments sometimes default on loans and other promises that they have made.

9. It is feasible for one generation to shift costs to subsequent ones. That is
what national government debts and the U.S. social security system do
(but not the social security system of Singapore).

10. When a government spends, its citizens eventually pay, either today or
tomorrow, either through explicit taxes or implicit ones like inflation.

11. Most people want other people to pay for public goods and government
transfers (especially transfers to themselves).

12. Because market prices aggregate traders' information, it is difficult to forecast stock prices and interest rates and exchange rates.

Businesses

Journal: Rhode Island's "Kingdoms of Amular" 5

Journal by eldavojohn
There's some ugly drama surrounding the collapse of 38 Studios. That has caused baseball's Curt Schilling to walk away from video games and publicly state that it will end up costing him his fortune. Everyone is in a very bad position right now. 38 Studio's top creditor is the state of Rhode Island. Aside from some stranger assets, there is a partially finished MMO called Project Copernicus as well as the source code and artwork for Kingdoms of Amular. So why doesn't Rhode Island seize this source code and artwork? They could auction it or, better yet, give it to the people who paid for it.

Now we all know this isn't going to happen. The source code will be shelved and it is unlikely it ever contribute to society ever again. The people who coded it have been fired and have moved on to the next thing in their lives while the bankruptcy proceedings play out in the news. But if I fail to repay a loan on a car, repossession services come to take the car. If a studio gets $75 million from a state to make a video game, where are the state's repo men to reclaim the video game?

The current situation is unavoidably bad for everyone involved. Schilling is blaming the governor, developers are moving for the second time in two years, gamers are missing out on the sequel to Amular and money is missing everywhere. But most notably each resident of Rhode Island has paid $75 to the video game industry and will likely never see it returned to their pockets. A coworker who thoroughly enjoys the game said that it's RI's fault for investing in such a fickle and risky industry. Maybe he's right? But the game is reasonably entertaining.

So what could a state do with source code and artwork? The obvious thought would be to auction it off and recoup losses. But what company wants to buy up those assets for more than a pittance compared to the loan? The game didn't sell as well as they thought it would, your developers would have to learn thousands of lines of new code, the artists that could expand the art in the same style are thrown to the wind and there's already a polished title out there. To me, the obvious solution would be to instead package Amular and Copernicus (at least the PC versions) as learning software for high schools and universities in RI. Art students could work on reskinning it, developers could work on just getting it built and Rhode Island would at least be able to show its residents something for which they had paid.

Furthermore if RI really wanted to recoup its losses, they could likely make several million back with a Kickstarter project to open source everything from 38 Studios. The only people who might not like this idea are those in the games industry who claim the MMO and RPG markets are already thoroughly saturated. Perhaps the current publisher and those with distribution contracts of Amular would object. But those executives have already taken the citizens of RI and Curt Schilling for a ride so why should RI care? The only downside would be a massive influx of Amular clones on the PSN, XBLA and PC fronts. But this is an opportunity for gamers, Rhode Islanders and open source in general to expand and set precedence that when a company folds all that hard work and late nights with Mountain Dew and pizza should not be wasted and shelved.

You can tell me that this will never happen -- not with Amular, Copernicus or any of the thousands of titles from failed development studios -- because you're right. It hasn't ever happened and it most likely will not. But Rhode Islanders paid for these titles and the repo men should arrive and bring that back for Rhode Island to decide what to do with it. At least those that have paid for it should be able to decide if what their hard earned money paid for should sit collecting dust or live in immortality.
User Journal

Journal: Geothermal vs Solar Power 1

Journal by lgw

Here are the basic numbers on aailable geothermal vs solar power (since this has come up in discussion more than once).

The surface area of the Earth is about 5.1 x 10^14 m^2. The cross sectional area is about 1.3 x 10^14 m^2 (one quarter of the surface area, of course).

Per this paper found as a cite on wikipedia, the total heat flow out from the Earth's interior is 4.42 x 10^13 W, or 0.0867 W/m^2. Of course, the available power is much less because it's only the subsurface-surface temperature difference that's available.

Total solar irradience is 1361 W/m^2 by NASA's latest estimate (so about 1.7 x 10^17 W across the entire cross section), or about 1000 W/m^2 on the surface at noon on a cloudless day. Averaged over the day-night cycle (surface area vs cross-section, so 250 W/m^2), and taking clouds into account that's about 180 W/m^2 (I can't find a solid source on that yet, but it looks close).

So, total solar power flow is about 4000 times as large as total geothermal flow. I'm not quite sure how to estimate the (ideal) available power as a percentage of the total geothermal power flow, but if we use a WAG of 50%, then the available power from solar is also about 4000 times per square meter more than geothermal - significantly more if we average solar power only across populated latitudes.

Education

Journal: Phygg: Reader Voted Prepublication Academic Papers

Journal by eldavojohn

There's a new site called Phygg.com that is a cross between the arxiv physics feed and Digg.com in that you can read papers up for prepublication and then vote them up or down. I think this poses an interesting new step in peer review and academic journals in that it gives the public a chance to participate in reading and voting on papers. From there, the journals can separate the wheat from the chaff. While it's not exactly innovative (digg + arxiv = phygg), it'll be interesting to see if people take to it and how good the general public will be at reading lengthy physics papers. MIT's Tech Review has a short blog on the launching.

Republicans

Journal: Critics of Tea Party Movement Miss the Big Picture 8

Journal by Shakrai

Many commentators seem to believe that the Tea Party represents a net minus for the GOP because of the split between them and the existing establishment. This criticism seems oddly familiar to me. Many people predicted that the drawn out fight between Hillary and Obama would be the death of the Democrats in 2008. As it turned out, that extended fight kept them in the news for months and built up the ground networks that helped Obama carry the day in states that normally be out of reach for a Democrat. Take Indiana, where Obama carried the state by ~28k votes. Does that happen without the ground operation built for the primary and the name recognition/publicity gained from it? Impossible to say, but I think it's clear that the intra-party squabbling was a net positive for the Democrats in the end.

It seems likely to me that the Tea Party will have the same impact on the GOP. They may well prove to be a net minus in selected races (Delaware) but the enthusiasm they've generated and the new people they've brought into the political process will more than balance that out come November.

User Journal

Journal: Here comes the tidal wave..... 1

Journal by Shakrai

Worked the NYS primary election today. We had higher turnout for this mid-term primary than I've ever seen -- more than we did for the Presidential Primary in 2008. I'm only one poll worker in a single district but I've never seen this kind of enthusiasm for a primary before. We had 44% turnout for our GOP voters and 30% for the Democrats.

Paladino looks to have crushed Rick Lazio. I called this race at 10pm -- Paladino ran up a much higher margin (93% in Erie and Niagara counties, all districts reporting) with his base than Lazio did with his (60-65% in Suffolk and Nassau counties, 60% of districts reporting) . Paladino beat Lazio in some downstate counties (Dutchess and Orange) that should have been more familiar with Lazio. He looks to have edged him out with 50-55% of the vote in most other upstate counties, though we'll have to wait for tomorrow for the final numbers.

With this kind of turn out for a primary I'm betting that November is going to be huge. It wouldn't surprise me if we beat our numbers for 2008 -- we had a 60% turnout that year.

Media

Journal: Arcade Fire's HTML5 Experience

Journal by eldavojohn
There's a neat site for Google Chrome users that shows how artists will be able to liberate themselves from Flash and use HTML5 when the standard is finalized and browser independent (if ever that happens). If you're bored and have five minutes and have speakers/headphones, I hope your childhood address shows enough up on here to make it worth your while. My parent's farmhouse had nothing but my hometown had a couple images that brought me back.

Of course prior to this we would have to use flash to enjoy the Aracade Fire's sites.

Hope someone else enjoys this as much as I do.
User Journal

Journal: Motorola Providing free TouchDown Licenses to DROID X Owners

Journal by Shakrai

Well, I got my Droid-X. Imagine my surprise when my $550 phone failed to properly communicate with my employer's Exchange server. Turns out the Droid-X has some software glitches relating to Exchange. Push e-mail will not work at all with Exchange 2003 and only works intermittently with 2007 and 2010. Polling e-mail may work but there are also issues with the notification system. Your phone might download messages off Exchange but fail to notify you about them until some time has passed.

Motorola is providing a free license for a third party app called TouchDown to anyone who writes in and complains about this issue. This app normally goes for $20. It is without a doubt the best mobile Exchange client that I've ever seen. It offers features above and beyond the stock Motorola application. I would encourage anybody who needs to use Exchange to get this application -- even if you aren't dealing with the push e-mail/notification bugs. It would be worth paying for, IMHO. Getting it for free because Motorola couldn't run their Exchange application past QA before launching the Droid-X is an added bonus.

User Journal

Journal: Anyone out there with the Motorola Droid-X? 8

Journal by Shakrai

The only reason I haven't yet gotten a smartphone is because of Verizon's nickel and diming. I primarily want one for the usual smartphone functionality but I'd also like the ability to tether for some lightweight usage. Not looking to use tethering as a replacement for my home internet connection or even for web surfing. My desire is to be able to ssh and/or rdp into the office when I'm in the field. It seems kind of absurd that I should have to pay $30/mo extra for the ability to do something I could easily accomplish with a POTS line and modem. It's also absurd that Verizon expects you to pay more for the privilege of talking to an Exchange server. I guess the data packets from Exchange weigh more than the packets from a pop3 server or some such.

I've been told that the Exchange data requirement isn't actually enforced for non-Blackberry devices. Found a few posts on various forums where people claimed to successfully sync with Exchange on the $30 data plan. I've also been told that you can tether Android devices using third party applications such as PDAnet without paying Verizon's additional $30 fee. It's against their TOS but they won't find out about it unless you consume an "excessive" amount of bandwidth. Not real worried about doing that with the occasional ssh/rdp session. Can anyone confirm these two points? If they are indeed true then I'll probably be ordering the Droid-X soon.

Television

Journal: Futurama is Back!

Journal by eldavojohn
Tonight on Comedy Central, the first two episodes of the sixth season of Futurama were shown. It's been highly anticipated on Slashdot and as a fan I was satisfied with the return to television. I really liked the first episode and found the second episode mediocre.

*Spoiler Alert*

The first episode, Rebirth, had a lot of elements that Futurama episodes of yore contained that made me love it: social commentary, extrapolation of current technology into future technology, apparent deaths, sci-fi twists and a bit of character development. The trivial elements are certainly present like Fry's homeresque stupidity and cheap jokes but that's not something that distinguishes Futurama from other comedies. I think that the professor's quirky inventions and old age behavior remain strong in this series and for some reason never loses its humor with me. The professor can (and often does) invent anything that is necessary for the plot as well as sending the crew anywhere in the universe to deliver a package. Rebirth has a lot of those classic elements when the professor plays god with bringing the crew back to life as well as going to the cyclophage habitat planet to sacrifice Leela. If this sort of predictable formula annoys your or bores you, Futurama probably got old a while ago but for me the high quality of animation, music and voice acting really make willing to belly up for every contrived new world that is conjured. Rebirth also addresses Fry and Leela's loneliness and isolation but has a cheap cop out (the ones in love turn out to be robots) at the end to avoid any permanent character development at the end.

Episode Two, In-a-Gadda-Da-Leela, was less satisfactory for me because it dealt with an old card: Leela engaging in coitus with the Zapper (and his insecurities). While some parts made me smile, it just wasn't as funny or memorable as the older episodes. Some parts had their moments (Obi Wan Kenobi GPS with a different voice saying the wild cards was a favorite) but the overall story and plot didn't really pass muster for me. I enjoyed the cheesy black and white "The Transcredible Exploits of Zap Brannigan" (reminded me of many MST3K episodes) and of course you have to love Zap heavy episodes with his ill formed sentences and logic. But aside from that, we get a cookie cutter invention from the professor and nothing too impressive with the explanation and resolution of the V-Giny death sphere. I think a lot more could have been done with that.

All in all, not bad. I was hoping for more secondary characters that I've loved from the first four episodes like Roberto or Scruffy. These secondary recurring characters have always been a favorite of mine and a strength of the show. I guess I can't expect them to put one in every episode but I was disappointed there weren't a whole lot from the movies and none from these two episodes. Definitely worth my time to watch and for those of you outside the United States, you can find torrents out there online by searching for Futurama S06E01 and S06E02. I hope they make it all the way through this sixth season and I also hope Comedy Central ponies up for a lot more after that. If there's one show with usable potential, it's Futurama and its endless possibilities. I mean with the amount of money being dumped on other crappy shows, you'd think a fraction of that could be afforded for a show with a highly devoted following. Then again Firefly is long gone.
User Journal

Journal: George Will Has Really Soured on Afghanistan 20

Journal by Shakrai

New op-ed, titled McChrystal had to go. Will makes some pretty compelling arguments against our strategy in Afghanistan. Some highlights:

It may be said that McChrystal's defect is only a deficit of political acumen. Only? Again, the mission in Afghanistan is much more political than military. Counterinsurgency, as defined by McChrystal's successor, Gen. David Petraeus, and tepidly embraced by Barack Obama for a year or so, does not just involve nation-building, it is nation-building.

This does not require just political acumen; it requires the wisdom of Aristotle, the leadership skills of George Washington and the analytic sophistication of de Tocqueville. But, then, the grinding paradox of nation-building is this: No one with the aptitudes necessary for it would be rash or delusional enough to try it.

The McChrystal debacle comes as America's longest war is entering a surreal stage: The military is charged with a staggeringly complex task, the completion of which -- if completion can even be envisioned -- must involve many years. But when given the task, the military was told to begin bringing it to a close in a matter of 18 months.

It's a pity that we weren't smart enough to avoid this whole mess back in 2001. We ought to have used our own troops (along with the aerial mines that Bush and Rumsfeld refused to approve) at Tora Bora, captured or killed OBL, left the keys to the country by the door on our way out along with a note that said "If you host terrorist organizations again we'll come back and mess you up again." It should never have been our mission to try and spread our system of government or moral values to a region of the world that's effectively living in the Middle Ages.

BTW, I believe that the President handled the McChrystal mess effectively. He clearly had to go. I also think that Petraeus is the best man for the job though I'm in agreement with George Will's assessment of it as a fool's errand. Petraeus was successful in Iraq because the Iraqi people decided that bombing their country back into the Middle Ages was not an effective long term strategy. The Taliban leadership seems to desire such an outcome. It remains to be seen if the American people or our President have the stomach to stay there long enough to find out if the foot soldiers of the Taliban desire the same outcome.

Why did the Roman Empire collapse? What is the Latin for office automation?

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