Saturday, May 27, 2006

Richer Than We Know

Topic: Economics, Wealth

The $10,000 Light Bulb Or, why it's so hard to measure inflation by Tim Harford:

A highly influential paper by Yale economist William Nordhaus made the point forcefully. He studied not commodities like bicycles or spoons but a service: light. By tracking lighting technology from campfires to oil lamps to today's energy-saving light bulbs, he estimated that the real price of light had fallen 10,000-fold in 100 years. Partly because of Nordhaus' work, many economists believe that the official statistics on wages underestimate how much richer we have become.

I have trouble seeing with confidence what the future holds economically for workers in the USA. I think people in the USA have much more reason to be fearful of maintaining high paying jobs decades into the future (than they did say in 1960).

I actually believe the most likely way to maintain a high standard of living is that the world gets so good at producing that the cost of living well is very low (along the lines of what the article above makes a case for). I also think this is true already in many ways we just don't seem to realize it. The wealth of the middle class of the United States today (in terms of houses they live in, comfort [heat, A/C, electricity, plumbing], health, food, transportation, communication [cell phone, email], access to learning [schools, the internet, libraries, books], physical safety...) is extraordinary but seems to be taken for granted. Most of what is taken for granted today was not available to the rich 50-100 years ago (and much worse alternatives had to be accepted, even by the very rich) and most of the rest of the world today (while the geography based economic gap is shrinking incredibly rapidly it is still quite large for most of the population of the world).

Another alternative future is that the society generates massive excess wealth that then allows the society to subsidize large parts of the society (not exactly the traditional American way - but if the "tax" is minor because of the massive excess wealth this may work). Another alternative is that we don't live as well (or at least large portions (say over 1/3) don't.

And another alternative is I am just wrong about all this things just continue as they are and everything works out well. Predicting into the economic future is difficult to do accurately.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Stupid Interview Questions - IT

Stupid Interview Questions

Q. What if the destination file already exists?
A. It won’t.
Q. So the caller ensures that?
A. Right, sure.
Q. So if it does exist, I can just terminate the program, then? Obviously this would be a violation of preconditions, and who knows WHAT is going on.
A. Sure, whatever you want.
Q. What about alternate data streams?
A. Do whatever you want!
Q. Look, I’m sorry if you feel put-upon here, please don’t get hostile. I’m just trying to get a clear picture of the specs I need here. Obviously if I’m going to write a file copy method, instead of using one of the many extant file copy routines in various libraries and frameworks, it’s going to be fulfilling a specialized set of requirements, and I’m going to need to have good answers for these questions. If you want, I can hack something together in a minute, but I’d have to note that there were many unresolved issues as to requirements and purposes.

Mission accomplished.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Anti Competitive Lobbying

Crushing Competition by Lawrence Lessig

Imagine if tire manufacturers lobbied against filling potholes so they could sell more tires. Or if private emergency services got local agencies to cut funding for fire departments so people would end up calling private services first. And what if private schools pushed to reduce public school money so more families would flee the public system? Or what if taxicab companies managed to get a rail line placed just far enough from an airport to make public transportation prohibitively inconvenient?
Soon after ReadyReturn was launched, lobbyists from the tax-preparation industry began to pressure California lawmakers to abandon the innovation. Their opposition was not surprising: If figuring out your taxes were easy, why would anyone bother to hire H&R Block? If the government sends you a completed form, why buy TurboTax?

But what is surprising is that their "arguments" are having an effect. In February, the California Republican caucus released a report highlighting its "concerns" about the program - for example, that an effort to make taxes more efficient "violates the proper role of government." Soon thereafter, a Republican state senator introduced a bill to stop the ReadyReturn program.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Unlikely Pandemic?

The silliness of bird flu panic by Gregg Easterbrook

This article makes the case that an avian flu pandemic is unlikely.

All this for a disease that since 2003 has killed 113 people worldwide. During the same span, about 4 million have died worldwide in traffic accidents. The number of these deaths is rising steadily in most nations, with road fatalities on track to become the world's third-leading cause of death - —that is, traffic accidents look exactly like a pandemic. Also since 2003, at least 6 million people worldwide have died of diarrheal diseases, with about 1.5 million of those deaths attributed to rotavirus, which has spread in pandemic fashion. Yet the panic button has been pushed only for bird flu.

Interesting statistics. It would be nice to have been provided the source for them. Also seriously doubt the traffic deaths look like a pandemic. I find it very unlikely that traffic deaths include the rapid increase over time portion of the pandemic description - even without seeing the statistics I would be very surprised if the increase was not fairly small compared to the underlying total. But data showing the deaths over time would show whether a pandemic comparison is sensible.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

How to Save Gas (and $$$)

What Really Saves Gas? And How Much?

Our tests showed that the most significant way to save gas is: you. And we're talking massive fuel economy gains. Think you need a hybrid? Chances are you've got hybrid-style mileage in your gas pedal foot. Don't mash the gas when you start up. Take the long view of the road and brake easy.

Other tips include: lower speeds save gas (average: 12% savings), use cruise control (7%).