Mike Beversluis

Friday, February 27, 2009

Recession-O-Matic

Plot the relative changes of several US post-WW2 recessions.

Also, what does it mean to be down in a time of flat-screen TV's and 4500 square foot McMansions? A Great Depression for Rich People:

What does a Great Depression for the relatively wealthy look like? If you spend lots of your budget on "luxuries" -- especially durables -- it is easy to postpone their consumption. This might cause gdp to fall more rapidly than if people were poorer. If you are spending most of your money to eat and stay alive, and a negative shock comes, you have to work harder to make up the difference.

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In which I confront the fact that there are a lot of foods that I don't even want to try

Canned pork brains in milk gravy.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Your daily moment of zen


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Things on the internet that I do not believe

This morning a colleauge's hiccups made me wonder about their purpose (the hiccups), and so I looked up hiccup on wikipedia. There I learned about intractable hiccups and their supposed cures, which led me to this article posted at the National Institute of Health: Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Message. I'm sure there's some argument about stimulating this or that nerve region, but no, I'm not buying it.

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heh

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It turns out, this is the first thing to disappear from store shelves after a nuclear attack

Nuclear Duct Tape. Check out the reviews.

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Russian Doll House


Check out this detailed model of Moscow. What's even more amazing is that there are another six models inside of it.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Christian Lander slays me

#122 Moleskine Notebooks

Since all white people consider themselves to be “creative,” they are constantly in need of products and accessories that will allow them to capture their thoughts. One of the more popular products in recent years has been the Moleskine notebook.

This particular type of notebook is very expensive and was quite popular with writers and artists in the olden days. Needless to say, these are two properties that are highly coveted in the white community. In fact, it’s a good rule of thumb to know that white people like anything that old writers and artists liked: typewriters, journals, suicide, heroin, and trains are just a few examples.

Much like virtually everything else that white people like, these notebooks are considerably more expensive yet provide no additional functionality over regular notebooks that cost a dollar. Thankfully, since white people only keep their most original and creative ideas in the Moleskine, many of them will only be required to purchase one per lifetime.

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Speaking of bets

In a recent post about John P. Holdren's confirmation as Obama's science adviser, John Tierney links to this article about Julian Simon and Paul Erlich's famous bet about the future scarcity of natural resources. This topic keeps coming up with political arguments I've been having, so there it is for future reference. Here's a brief excerpt:


Betting on the Planet
By JOHN TIERNEY;
Published: December 2, 1990

In 1980 an ecologist and an economist chose a refreshingly unacademic way to resolve their differences. They bet $1,000. Specifically, the bet was over the future price of five metals, but at stake was much more -- a view of the planet's ultimate limits, a vision of humanity's destiny. It was a bet between the Cassandra and the Dr. Pangloss of our era.

They lead two intellectual schools -- sometimes called the Malthusians and the Cornucopians, sometimes simply the doomsters and the boomsters -- that use the latest in computer-generated graphs and foundation-generated funds to debate whether the world is getting better or going to the dogs. The argument has generally been as fruitless as it is old, since the two sides never seem to be looking at the same part of the world at the same time. Dr. Pangloss sees farm silos brimming with record harvests; Cassandra sees topsoil eroding and pesticide seeping into ground water. Dr. Pangloss sees people living longer; Cassandra sees rain forests being decimated. But in 1980 these opponents managed to agree on one way to chart and test the global future. They promised to abide by the results exactly 10 years later -- in October 1990 -- and to pay up out of their own pockets.

Long story short, Simon won the bet in 1990, and if it had been made again, he would have won again in 2000. And, for what it's worth, John Holdren was one of the scientists consulted by Ehrlich to pick out the scare resources.

Anyway, just about everyone else finds Erlich's Malthusian arguments convincing, and yet they are somehow always wrong. (YET, my political opponents are shouting) Ironically, Simon is a positive, happy-go-lucky Cassandra.

The apocalyptic impulse is deep rooted, probably because it is so egocentric. Our society is shallow and decadent, and so of course the arctic ice-caps will melt and send tidal waves roaring through Manhattan, where they'll chase Jake Gyllenhaal around. And it's not just the greens and the cults with funny hair cuts - consider the Terminator movies, where demonic robot gods throw us into an everlasting nuclear fire to punish us for our sins (of making them, I guess), or The Matrix, or The Lord of the Ring series - same deal, really.

The egocentric part is to think that my time, right now, must be the last age, as I am the pinnacle (or nadir, which is a lot cooler, a la that twit Oscar Wilde) of human existence. I think the universe is more sanguine.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Just to make it official

I will pay my sister $100 if I do not lose 5 pounds by March 23. I'm intrigued by "diet betting," where you artificially create an outward commitment to accomplish what self-discipline apparently can't. I figure my goal is eminently doable, at 1.25 lbs/week, or 640 drams per fortnight, but we shall see.

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How to make money in a down-cycle

Here's one easy way...

Here's the an approach that would work (literally)
.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Another exercise in translation

I know: there are plenty of newspapers from where you can take information and commentaries. But I don't have much to talk about, don't know what to write about and so proceed with an exercise in translation. The piece is from today's Corriere della Sera. I do not have the competence to discuss its merits but it looks reasonable and certainly one thing is correct in my opinion: that the world is not different now from what it was one year ago (including material goods and technical competences).

Come salvarci dall'abisso (How to save ourselves from the abyss) by Francesco Giavazzi.

We drove ourselves into an absurd situation. The prices of the financial activities, and therefore the wealth of families, plummeted abruptly, as if the world economies had all been razed to the ground by a global bombing campaign, as happened to Germany in 1945.

In a few months in the world wealth evaluated at about 40 trillion dollars has been burned away. In a week Wall Street has lost about 13 percent; in a just a little more than a year the value of American stocks fell by one half. But there has been no bombing: the companies are still all around, as well as the houses, and our natural resources, and workers have today the same level of experience they had yesterday. It is lack of confidence that pulled the world into this absurd situation and it is just from there that we need to start over. Next week will be a crucial one

If the fall of Wall Street does not stop, the vortex risks gaining power: a further fall of the wealth of American families would slow down consumption even more and would erase the effects of the exceptional fiscal plan approved last week by Congress. What to do? First of all we should not be forgetting that (thanks to globalization) never the world had grown so quickly as in the ten years preceding the crisis. And not just the rich countries: for the first time sub-Saharan Africa as well had started growing. Certainly there were many weaknesses: the price of housing in some countries had risen too much; in the United States some recent immigrants had been granted mortgages that were outside of their means; banks had deluded themselves that they had diversified risk and on the opposite they often had not done it; regulations were leaky; Congress had permitted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that should have been just simple guarantee funds, turned themselves into aggressive speculators, transferring risks on unwitting subscribers.

But all of this does not justify the abyss in which we have fallen. Mortgages in the US today have practically zero value and however the price of homes went down just by 20/30%, did not go to zero. In the American cities the houses did not disappear, they are still all there: maybe their worth is less than two years ago, but I doubt it is zero. How to bring back the world to reason, how to stop this wicked spiral? It is possible, and it could turn out to cost nothing. The downturn in which Stock Markets have been taken in depends on banks: in a week Citigroup lost half of its value and today one share is worth less than two dollars (it was worth 50 one and a half years ago). But the bank did not go bankrupt: it would be so if we thought that American houses and companies did not have any more any worth, but it is not the case. In order to get the markets out of this lack of confidence downward spiral the American government should put its guarantee on all of the financial activities linked to the real estate market, that is it should commit to buy them at a pre-fixed price, higher than the market value.

Such a guarantee would immediately push prices up and with that the wealth of families. It would solve as well the problems of the banks. Just as for Citigroup, whether or not American banks are bankrupt depends on the prices of the assets in their balance sheet: if the price of these assets is zero they are all bankrupt; if the price is reasonable none of them is (yesterday Governor Draghi [see note at the bottom] proposed guaranteeing not the assets of banks but new loans, an action that goes in the same direction and would help to get credit to restart for our companies). What is the price at which these guarantees should be offered? Certainly not at the prices before the crisis, but also not at the prices of today, that for many assets are close to zero. One possibility is to use the prices just before the Lehman bankruptcy, that is when the markets were already feeling the crisis, but before the collapse.

And how much these guarantees would cost for the governments? It is quite likely that on some of these the government would suffer a loss, that is that the market prices at the moment of buying would be lower than the guaranteed value. But for the most part - when the world will come back to behaving reasonably - the market price will be much higher than the guarantee value: in these cases it could be possible to put a tax on the capital gains.

It is not just the guarantees could cost nothing: for the contributors they could turn out to be a great deal. In this weekend in Washington another idea gained strenght: and it too could block the downward spiral without costing nothing. Ricardo Caballero, an MIT economist, proposed on the Washington post that the government commit to buy in two years time twice as many of the shares of the four major banks at twice their value of today. The first effect would be that of doubling the capital of the banks through private funds.

At the same time the stock prices would immediately rise up next to the level of the public guarantee, raising up in this way the whole market. This measure as well would cost zero to contributors, unless we really think today that American economy be like Germany's in '45. The advantage with respect to the guarantees on banks' assets is that in this case an announcement is sufficient: it could be done tomorrow. Guarantees on banks' assets will be needed anyway, but for those there is a little bit more time (a few days, not a few months). What on the opposite makes the spiral go faster is talking about nationalizations. Nationalizing a bank means erasing (or at least greatly decreasing) the capital of stock holders: one should not be surprised if this risk causes a Stock Market collapse. Luckily yesterday the Obama administration distanced itself from those who ask for nationalizations. In the most famous scene of Mary Poppins, Mr. Dawes, the aging bank employee, scares off Michael by trying to snatch a penny out of him. People do not understand, panic and sweep out the bank. It is just to avoid these panics that public guarantees on bank deposits were created. Next week the world could carry itself into a depression, but if that will happen it will be only our responsibility, that is of our governments. The world is not radically different now from how it was one year ago, it is just that confidence has been lost. The rebuilding work should start from this observation.




* Mario Draghi, the Governor of Banca d'Italia

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Results shown are not typical


ESPN could do the same with their "analysts" too, although maybe with dogs instead. Dogs who play poker. Or just regular dogs, who roll in their own feces.

[Via]

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

The entirety of Dilbert condensed into a single sentence

Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand.

Putt's Law

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I've totally lost my Snow Legs

So, in the 'tis better to have love and lost vein, do I need to move somewhere really cold again so that a little bit of extended cold doesn't feel bad, and perhaps feels good? (side note; brief snow flurries this morning, and it's been more or less cold since Fall - quelle surprise)

When I did live in a cold place, you expected it to be cold all winter long, and there wasn't the sense of getting cheated; and furthermore, I would acclimate (somewhat), so that a merely brisk day was as invigorating as a breath-mint commercial makes it out to be. But just because it works, do you have to suffer in order to appreciate good things? What's the right way to renormalize your expectations without turning into a sadomasochistic fiend?

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

This cannot happen soon enough

Universal Charges to Finally Become a Reality
Mikael Ricknäs, IDG News Service

An initiative backed by both mobile phone manufacturers and operators will result in a universal charger based on the Micro-USB interface for new mobile phones.

Moving to a universal charger will be a boon for both users and the environment by reducing the amount of waste, since fewer chargers have to be thrown away. It will make life a lot easier for users, who will be able to charge their mobile phones using any available charger, and when they buy a new phone they won't have to get a new charger.

The group agreed that by the January 2012, most mobile phones will support the universal charger, according to the GSM Association, which is leading the initiative.

Unmentioned in the story is a compelling reason why they are all agreeing to do this - Okay, "It's for the environment," but it seems counter-intuitive to me that they would give up their lucrative business of selling very specific adapters. Any thoughts?

Incidentally, and sorry if I've mentioned this before, but if you do lose yours, pop into a hotel and say you left your charger behind (technically true), and ask if you can look through their lost-and-found box. They all have dozens of them sitting somewhere back there, so you might be able to luck into your brand and model.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

The beat goes on


My irrational love continues: 1967 Volvo 123 V-8

Might be crazy, but I'm not alone (on this one)

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

This is six kinds of crazy

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Friday, February 13, 2009

World's Largest...


That's pretty cool. Space is a good vacuum, so I wonder how low they have to go - I imagine not very low. Things get very hard when you get to very low pressures, because the residual outgassing of all the wall materials will exceed even the best pump's abilities to remove them. And since they only need a vacuum to accurately simulate heating and cooling cycles without conduction, it shouldn't have to be too perfect. Hence nature is only dislikes it, and hasn't gone in for the usual abhorring.

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From the Deptarment of Ignore What Mike Says


Previously: I thought that the chances of a space collision were pretty small.

Today: US and Russian satellites collide.

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The Wrassler


Succinctly, Aronofsky's The Wrestler is a route and cliched downer that was well-shot, and has affecting performances by Rourke and Tomei. Critics have been impressed by Rourke's acting, but really, he's only playing himself. Of course the subtext is Hollywood itself, and a lot of the empathy the movie is supposed to evoke is really only the actors and everyone else feeling sorry for themselves. That said, he's rather endearing, and I was rooting him even with the paint-by-numbers plot. Tomei is an equally predictable stripper with a heart of gold, but like Rourke, is charasmatic. Lots of sex and violins, Can't really recommend it. Aronofsky seems like he could really use some Prozac.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

America's Fattiest Fat Fat*


This is why you're fat. Featured is one of the infamous Rochester "garbage plates.'

*my sister's nick-name for a certain popular weight-loss themed television show

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The anti-Wobegon


Wondermark
is hilarious.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

The Portable Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole was a bit of a gadfly and rather quotable.

Life is a comedy for those who think... and a tragedy for those who feel.

The Methodists love your big sinners, as proper subjects to work upon.

By deafness one gains in one respect more than one loses; one misses more nonsense than sense.

I avoid talking before the youth of the age as I would dancing before them: for if one's tongue don't move in the steps of the day, and thinks to please by its old graces, it is only an object of ridicule.

I never found even in my juvenile hours that it was necessary to go a thousand miles in search of themes for moralizing. [e.g.]

Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he isn't. A sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is.

etc. He also coined the word "Serendipitous." Is serendipity, as a difficult to translate single-word sociological observation, the English schadenfreude? I think so.

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The spice must flow




My inner-ten-year old thinks this is awesome.

[More]

With the really big loads, Hanson said, "logistically it's a nightmare." Pilot cars are often sent out in advance to map out the entire route, to make sure the roads and bridges can handle the loads.

"You don't just take off down the highway with one of these loads and hope for the best," Hanson said.

No kidding.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

That's just not right


Who would..?? Why..?

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I want a hambaaga too


Chubby Hubby: I rabuu Hambaaga. Although, when we made meat-loaf, we never used Waygu or Berkshire pork belly. The truth is, regular hamburger is made of lots of steak trimmings, and is better quality than you think.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

The large-face watch trend is getting ridiculous


Granted, that is a tiny woman. [via]

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The man behind the curtain

The Hardest Job in Football


If the production crew of a televised football game is like a symphony orchestra, Bob Fishman is its conductor. He sits front and center in the dark trailer, insulated from the sunshine and the roar of the crowd, taking the fragments of sounds and moving images and assembling the broadcast on the fly, mediating the real event into the digital one. He scans the dizzying bank of screens to select the next shot, and the next, and the next, layering in replays, graphics, and sound, barking his orders via headset to his crew, plugging into a rhythm that echoes the pulse of the game.


I do wish they'd show more of the field each time they snap the ball - they are always too tight to see what the secondary's doing. If I ever really want to learn what's going on, I think I'll have to buy a NFL game - I suspect they're pretty close to the real thing in terms of formations and whatnot.

The winter of our discontent

Robert Duquette, of the Daily Duck, passed away this weekend. RIP.