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:: Friday, December 21 2012 ::

The end of the year has been full of parties, and nationally, of guns (due to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting) and so-called fiscal cliffs. It's astonishing to me how effectively the same topics get avoided again and again. We'll see if this time things are different, on either topic, but I'm not holding my breath.
:: David (9:44 in Arkansas, 16:44 in Paris) - Comment


:: Saturday, December 8 2012 ::

So I decided to compare phone plans. Since I never talk on the phone, minutes were not of interest. I just wanted to know what the cheapest plan (with data) I could find was. I also wanted to know whether buying a phone outright made sense.

Vendor Monthly Voice Monthly Data Monthly $ Phone cost Total 2 year cost phone
T-Mobile $30 $299 $1,019 nexus 4
AT&T 40 30 70 199 1879 galaxy s3 or iphone5 or 
Virgin $35 450 $1,290 iphone 4s or galaxy s2
verizon 40 60 100 200 2600 galaxy s3 or iphone5 or 
sprint 80 200 2120 galaxy s3 or iphone5 or 
h2o 60 299 1739 nexus 4
boost mobile 47.5 369 1509 galaxy s2

Short answer: none of the big plans could compete. Even a little bit. Note that the T-Mobile plan is 100 minutes talk, Virgin is 300 min, and in general I've assumed 2gb data.
:: David (1:29 in Arkansas, 8:29 in Paris) - Comment


:: Saturday, November 10 2012 ::

The campaign is over. The votes are counted. Barack Obama will be president of the United States for the next four years. These are facts. Other facts have been making the rounds of facebook and twitter - facts like red states are poorer, less educated, and fatter than blue states (one source, but this is generally known). They also take more than they put in to the federal kitty (source). Liberals obviously say "see!?" and conservatives assert, correctly I think, that correlation is not causation. But there is a real question as to why this correlation exists. There is a lot of talk now about the Republicans needing to attract the minority vote. There is less, right now, about the Democrats needing to work on the heartland (or the south). But they are still there, and sooner or later someone is going to have to figure them out. Not just for political gain, I hope, but also because a region like the one caricatured by the 'fat, dumb, and poor' red state image put forward by some is somewhere we should all want to make better - regardless of how it votes.
:: David (23:37 in Arkansas, 6:37 in Paris) - Comment


:: Friday, October 26 2012 ::

A random thought on campaign financing: an AP story today notes that this year's campaign will run at over $2 billion. I'm pretty sure that's not a good thing. But I'm not certain what it should be instead. We have in my district a very competitive state senate race. I have given to one of the candidates, as I think many locals have. Outside groups have also been involved (I get a giant attack postcard nearly every day). I think I'm OK with me and my neighbors giving to this campaign, since we're actual voters in the district. I'm pretty sure I'm not OK with outside groups pouring money in. But overall a lot more thought is going to have to go into this issue, along with all the ways interested parties will try to get around any rules put in place.
:: David (8:44 in Arkansas, 15:44 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, October 21 2012 ::

J.K Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, did an interview on the Daily Show recently in which she noted that she was 'the best investment the British government ever made' (referring to her time on the dole). This struck me as particularly apt, and I started to speculate exactly how the American welfare system could be reworked into a 'venture capital' type of system, where net proceeds were tracked in a transparent manner to show that, really, it's ok to help people, because you're actually making money. It's a horrifying statement about a so-called 'Christian nation' (not by me, let me add) that the only way to get people to take care of their neighbours is by showing them that in fact they are getting paid to do it, but if it would help re-frame the debate to something less horrible than what we currently do, it would be totally worth it.
:: David (21:58 in Arkansas, 4:58 in Paris) - Comment


:: Friday, October 19 2012 ::

The church where Sasha and I were married got a name upgrade this year - it is now 'Their Majesties Chappell, St. Peter's Church'. This year is the 400th anniversary of the town, and so the Reverend David Raths - the Incumbent of St Peters Church in St Georges and the man who performed our wedding ceremony - was able to have the title 'Their Majesties Chappell' approved.
:: David (10:33 in Arkansas, 17:33 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, October 16 2012 ::

We headed to the Rockies for Sasha's fall break. I hadn't realized how much the altitude had affected me until the first time I tried to walk uphill. Overall it was a great weekend, despite mixed weather and a fire in the park which limited our hiking options (turns out they don't want you hiking where there's a forest fire!)
:: David (10:47 in Arkansas, 17:47 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, October 4 2012 ::

Yesterday was the 4th anniversary of the Troubled Asses Relief Program, or TARP. The popular narrative goes two ways - either this was a huge government gift to banks, or this was a program that saved the world, and turned a profit at the same time. I've heard both versions. To celebrate its anniversary, I thought I'd look into the claims.

The part a lot of people tend to talk about was the Capital Purchase Program, where the government bought preferred stock in crashing companies. According to 2012 numbers from the GAO, "[a]s of January 31, 2012, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) had received $211.5 billion from its CPP investments, exceeding the $204.9 billion it had disbursed." It's not fair to say it turned a profit, as there were several years between loan and payment, but it's not really a massive loss either. Call it even.

The takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which was really a rescue of the banks they owed money to, was not quite as successful - according to a Bloomberg article on the subject, the companies "have drawn $190 billion in aid and paid $46 billion in dividends since being taken over by U.S. regulators in 2008". So a loss - a big one.

It turns out the folks over at ProPublica have been doing these number runs too, and have a bailout scorecard which details all the rest of the bailout bits. Their numbers indicate that neither TARP nor Fannie/Freddie were profitable, and then go on to talk about all the other bailout bits, like the auto companies and AIG. Their estimate of the total cost of the bailout: $174 billion.
:: David (10:24 in Arkansas, 17:24 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]


:: Wednesday, October 3 2012 ::

Random post on the election this year - amusingly, I don't think I've said anything about it. In part, this is because I'm not excited about it. Obama has been a mixed bag, but of course the Republican candidate is completely unacceptable to me. I live in a solidly red state, so my vote won't count anyway. That said, all indications seem to be that Obama will win this one. I heard a podcast today that suggested that the economy is doing well enough to be a plus at this point, albeit a slight plus. I find that unbelievable, but then again the outliers on the 'poor' and 'unemployed' side influence my opinion more than, apparently, many people. Also, for the first time in a long time, Democrats are leading on muscular foreign policy. Combine this with a basically nonstop flow of bad Romney news and you get a conclusion that is, barring an unexpected debate performance this evening, unstoppable.
:: David (14:18 in Arkansas, 21:18 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, October 2 2012 ::

I was looking back at my blog postings from 2008, and realizing how much information is in there about the financial crisis. I assume many people like me were simply posting their day-to-day musings about what was happening as the world economy headed south, and I imagine at some point someone is going to go back through that and get an amazing amount of interesting information about what people - individuals - were thinking/feeling at this time. It kind of makes me sad that facebook and like companies have eaten that space - now our day-to-day musings are locked up in some company's database, destined to die one day due to some corporate merger or downsizing.
:: David (13:14 in Arkansas, 20:14 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, September 4 2012 ::

So in her speech to the Democratic convention tonight, Michelle Obama had a sort of 'American myth: short form" that laid out how Americans like to pretend their history goes.

If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.
I enjoy the way they built this - it's layer upon layer of clever, from having a woman talk about women's right to vote, to the allusion to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the drawing of a parallel between civil rights and gay marriage - so much happening in one paragraph. Kudos to whoever wrote that paragraph, that's all I can say!
:: David (22:58 in Arkansas, 5:58 in Paris) - Comment


:: Wednesday, August 22 2012 ::

I listen to a lot of podcasts, many of them related to economics. A recent addition to my list is Development Drums, which is dedicated to the topic of development (as in Foreign Aid and Development). The latest episode, episode 33, gives a nice overview of the various theories of how to help poorer countries that have been tried over the past 50 years, before going on to posit a new solution.
:: David (16:30 in Arkansas, 23:30 in Paris) - Comment


I'm always amused every time I see an article which asserts that 'industry X is different, because you can't ship those type of jobs abroad'. I just encountered it in this NYT article, referring to education and healthcare. And to a certain degree it's true - they are more protected than some industries. But I think there's a train a-comin', signaled for example by the excitement among many about MOOCs, or massive open online courses.
:: David (10:10 in Arkansas, 17:10 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, August 13 2012 ::

Making a full backup of the website, because I haven't in quite a while, and sometimes I edit other places, so I know some stuff is out of date. I am blown away at how many files this site has on it - over 37,000 files. I assume that's about 15,000 photographs (times two, because I always make a thumbnail for each one), plus random stuff. I've had the site now for going on 15 years - I think I started keeping it for real while I lived in Japan. It needs some serious cleaning, but it's still, mostly, functional!
:: David (18:14 in Arkansas, 1:14 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, August 6 2012 ::

I've been playing a little bit with Facebook's new version of their social stuff for websites. It's kind of funny, because I know in the long run I'll have to change it again for the next big thing, but in the meantime it helps me keep my programming chops at least slightly sharp. I've now changed it so if you are on the permanent page for this post, you can 'recommend' instead of 'like' it. Oooooooh! It also apparently will allow you to send the page, probably via facebook messaging (another thing doomed to fail, eventually).
:: David (19:00 in Arkansas, 2:00 in Paris) - Comment


We took a trip to Seattle and Vancouver last week. As usual, I posted the pictures to facebook. It's funny how effective they've been at getting me to use their service, despite the fact that it isn't very good. I think I can use Lightroom to replicate the posted materials here on the website, which I should do, because the web output is much better. In my copious spare time!
:: David (16:28 in Arkansas, 23:28 in Paris) - Comment


:: Wednesday, June 27 2012 ::

I have a massive backlog of posts I want to write, sitting in my inbox. Topics include is globalization good for the middle class, the crazy online course boom, and, of course, the rise of the drones. But I haven't written any of them because random other things are eating all my time. I expect all three of these topics will do me the favor of hanging around for a while, until I'm ready to address them, and in the meantime I'll let them percolate.
:: David (11:28 in Arkansas, 18:28 in Paris) - Comment



:: David (11:24 in Arkansas, 18:24 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, May 22 2012 ::

Recently there has been a huge debate over student loan debt. Without doubt, student debt has been growing over time - the Atlantic parsed Fed data and found Student Loans Have Grown 511% Since 1999. Many people assert, and I agree that on the face of it this makes sense, that if you sign a contract agreeing to pay back a huge sum of money, you should be held to it.

There are several proposed reactions to this problem. For example, this article on the debt problem proposes that students need to get past the idea that big name colleges equal quality. Ironically, of course, this would mean that after graduating these students would be competing with graduates from 'big name' schools, and unless we are also hoping to change the behaviour of employers, that means they would not be getting jobs (because what employer is going to choose Boise State over Harvard?) So, lower debt, but lower income.

One of the lines of argument that have come up again and again is that people should focus on degrees that will actually net them a job when they graduate. A recent story on Marketplace reveals the weakness of this particular argument. From the story: "Just five years ago, a pharmacy degree was a near guarantee of permanent and well-paid employment. So much so that a lot of universities started their own schools of pharmacy. In Tennessee, they went from one pharmacy school to half a dozen. So you know what happens next." Which is, of course, a glut in pharmacists. The problem here is that education takes time, and there isn't a glut in the market until people graduate. So a rational consumer could look at the market, see people getting high paying jobs in, for example, Information Technology, and choose that major. If they did this in 1996, the dot com crash would have come one month before they graduated. Students who made all the right decisions would find themselves without job prospects.

This is always the difficulty in pushing the responsibility for choice to the end user - sometimes the best information lies with them, but often it doesn't. And even when it does, there is a large body of research that shows that "in certain well-defined situations many consumers act in a manner that is inconsistent with economic theory", specifically the theory that people will choose to maximize benefits to themselves ("Toward a positive theory of consumer choice". Thaler, 1980). And this theory forms the basis for all market-based solutions. Said more succinctly, the market for higher education is broken, and therefore the market for student loans is broken. As such, it may be time to revisit the idea that the individual should choose, or even can choose, the 'correct' major and correct amount to borrow for college.
:: David (11:07 in Arkansas, 18:07 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, May 14 2012 ::

The nice thing about economics is the way it gives you simplified models. Some would say the not-nice thing is that most of the models are crap, but whatever. So I started this evening to look at the cost of education. And as is often the case when you start to try to pull things apart, they get complicated, quickly. And even if you get a model you like, when you try to plug numbers in, things get crazy. Take, for example, this article in the Wall Street Journal, which asserts that the US is performing sixteen percent below where it would be, in terms of GDP, if the kids here were educated as well as in Korea. But I suspect they would not then draw the logical conclusion - if we increase spending on education, and catch our kids up to Korea, anything we spend less that sixteen percent of GDP is pure profit. So we could spend 16 percent of 14.59 trillion dollars (i.e. 2.3 trillion dollars) on education, and if our kids catch up to Korea, we would break even. Note that I think the numbers from this report are bull crap, but you get the idea. So if more education makes us all richer, and in the process makes us all smarter too, why does everyone want to cut spending on it?
:: David (21:24 in Arkansas, 4:24 in Paris) - Comment


:: Friday, May 4 2012 ::

You know what really makes me angry? When things that have no business being under lock and key are put there. When I went looking for the state's tax laws, I was presented with the following message:

Arkansas Code – Free Public Access Provided by the Bureau of Legislative Research The Arkansas Code of 1987 is copyrighted by the State of Arkansas. By using this website, the user acknowledges the State's copyright interests in the Arkansas Code of 1987. Neither the Arkansas Code of 1987 nor any portions thereof shall be reproduced without the written permission of the Arkansas Code Revision Commission, except for fair use under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and except that Arkansas Code of 1987 section text, numbering, and lettering may be copied from this website by the user.
Even worse, this is some of the weirdest text I've ever seen - is it non-reproducible, or isn't it. Either way, messages like this one have a chilling effect, and offend me in a very profound manner.
:: David (8:33 in Arkansas, 15:33 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, April 10 2012 ::

About six months ago my shoulder started acting oddly. I took some pills, they didn't help, so today I went for an MRI to see what's going on in there. It was, in a word, freaky. At the beginning they handed me some cushy headphones and a 'oh god make it stop' switch, 'just in case'. Then they rolled me in. I hadn't known why they gave me headphones, but once the machine turned on it became very clear - MRIs are LOUD! And rhythmic. It kind of reminded me of European club music I used to listen to - so much so I've been racking my brain trying to remember the song that it reminded me of. I suspect there's some seriously cool music waiting to be pulled out from the MRI cacophony. I didn't use the 'oh god stop' switch, but it was a close run thing - those machines are creeeeeeepy. I definitely had to talk myself in to sticking it out. Thank goodness it was a quick one - I can't imagine staying in there for much longer!
:: David (17:18 in Arkansas, 0:18 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, March 29 2012 ::

A week or so ago, my laptop died. Some playing around determined the video card, a Quadro NVS 140M, was mostly dead. Since the laptop was 5 years old, I decided to strip it for parts, sell the rest, and get a swanky new laptop. Which was when I discovered that at some point computer manufacturers had decided that the place to cut costs was in the screen. Since my laptop is my primary photo editing and organizing platform, and since I had wedding pictures I wanted to get up, this change made me particularly unhappy. Then a wonderful thing happened: a sale! So now I have a new laptop in the mail to me, with a quad core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a swanky video card as well, not to mention a 1080p screen. We'll see how it goes - I'm not going to name the brand just yet - we'll see if the computer actually works out before naming any names.
:: David (8:30 in Arkansas, 15:30 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, March 15 2012 ::

Last August, a computer error between Orbitz and Continental (now American) Airlines resulted in my wife being stranded in London, not sure if she was going to make it home. Obviously, as soon as she did manage to make it home, we re-contacted both parties (it goes without saying we had contacted them frantically from London the day of the event, which taught us that you should never book with a company that doesn't have a phone number local to the country you are going to - being put on hold when you're paying a dollar a minute makes you extra mad). After cross-finger pointing, American/Continental seemed to accept responsibility, and offered us a puny voucher. This took several months, and at one point I waited several weeks, before receiving a message from the helpdesk person (excuse me - Senior Executive Specialist) saying my message had been delayed in the now merging Continental and American email systems.

All of this is background to the phone call I received yesterday, which was this woman, once again saying my message had been delayed. I just checked, and the message was sent in November. I was actually so confused I just laughed. So there's customer service for you. In theory, we'll be receiving a voucher. I wonder if they'll beat the one year anniversary?
:: David (23:00 in Arkansas, 6:00 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, February 27 2012 ::

Start with the basics: what do we all, more or less, agree on? A job should allow a person to live. If someone works 40 hours per week, or whatever a 'full time job' requires, they should be able to afford to feed themselves, clothe themselves, and have a place to live. I think we even agree that at some point that person should be able to retire.

Is that a basic tenet of modern life? If so, where does part time work fit in? If someone works two jobs at twenty hours a week, do they deserve the same thing as someone who works 'full time'? I would assert yes. Which means two things: one, we can't treat part time work differently than full time work - any amount of work at any number of jobs should, if added up to 40, give the same benefit. But - and here's a catch - if we do that, we need to move a lot of things off the employer. Things we might not expect - like sick time and holiday pay (if we think those are things people should have). Health care (no question there - especially as it gets more expensive, we can't expect employers to foot the bill). Obviously retirement. We can let employers add to the basics to attract workers, but whatever we consider the minimum should not be left to employers if there is any way for them to opt out. Otherwise, as a rational business, they must opt out.
:: David (21:47 in Arkansas, 4:47 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, February 12 2012 ::

So... more on the Greek / European debt fiasco. I tried to avoid it - I now know how Kai Ryssdal feels when he says he won't talk about it until the real-real-real deadline sometime in March. But it's the gift that keeps on taking a crap under your Christmas tree (I probably need a better metaphor there). Now reports are that a harsh austerity bill has passed, and there are riots everywhere. And there should be. These kind of crisis-driven cuts are exactly the kind of crap the IMF likes to pull. A "22 percent reduction in the minimum wage" is not the way to win friends and influence people, and it's not the way to get the Greek consumer spending again. One Greek noted on Google Plus that "[t]hese austerity measures that are being forced to Greece right now will only suffocate it's people", adding "[n]ew austerity measures are being applied every 3 months, because the measures before them didn't deliver the desired results...And how could they, when all the measures are about taxes, taxes, taxes...". And there's a real question about who exactly we should blame for all this anyway - as one article notes, it wasn't Greek banks playing all fast and loose with kooky investment schemes. "Punishing Greece is like a perverse confirmation of the EU’s inherent powerlessness, and a confirmation of the fact that the EU is mainly a bureaucratic institution that fails to act politically when it has to in order to stave off catastrophe."

The above article also shows another side to this whole mess: European countries are getting angry at each other. The stereotypes that used to be just jokes on the street are starting to be taken a little too seriously. It's not hard to imagine things going off the rails in many of these places - Sarkozy and Merkel both have tough fights coming up soon, and the right wing in Europe is always hanging around, waiting to be taken seriously again.

On the same day, Portugal also had major protests, for the same reasons: "Spending cuts and tax hikes needed to meet the fiscal terms of the bailout have caused the worst recession in Portugal since the few turbulent years that followed the 1974 return to democracy. Unemployment is at a record of around 13 percent."

The funny thing is that I have to believe that everyone believes austerity works, else why would Britain do it to themselves (and how's that working out, then?) The old 'insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome' would seem to apply in spades to this, and yet, here we are again.
:: David (23:13 in Arkansas, 6:13 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]


:: Thursday, January 19 2012 ::

I use Google Plus. I admit it. I kind of like it better than facebook. I know - that's weird. But I do. I like the circles - I like being able to use it like twitter and facebook combined.

Since I do use it a bit like twitter, I tend to make my posts public. Not all of them, but many of them. And since I am nearly the only person who uses Plus, I figured I might as well push my public posts to twitter and facebook as well. Why not? And this is where things started to go off the rails.

First off, there's the question of how do I even get things across the platforms? Thanks to the fact that a lot of money rests on which social network 'wins', it's not that easy. I finally found a tool (Rob McGee) that pushes things across. But, of course, if I'm pushing things to twitter, I need some sort of link shortener. And since I also like to know whether anyone is reading what I write, I used one that lets me track clickthroughs - bit.ly.

So now let's review - say I'm reading an article on how other animals are much better dancers than penguins, and I want to share it. My current workflow is: (1) copy the story URL and (2) paste it into the bit.ly box. (3) Copy the shortened URL and (4) post it into the Google Plus status update box. (5) Write something pithy that is less than 140 characters. (6) Add Rob McGee to the post so it will be sent to twitter and facebook, and, finally, (7) hit the post button.

On my phone (and I'm sure I could find a plug-in for my browser), I can hit the menu on my browser and say 'share this to facebook'. Someday I hope - I really hope - I can do the same with all my social networks at once. But I've a sneaky suspicion it's going to get worse before it gets better.
:: David (9:38 in Arkansas, 16:38 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]


:: Wednesday, January 18 2012 ::

Fads or phases in music are funny things. I heard a new (to me) artist on the radio, Rachel Platten (the song was 1,000 Ships), and she reminded me of Regina Spektor (of Fidelity fame, among others). Which made me wonder if in fact there was a 'Regina Spektor school of music' that had been kicked off. Further research reminded me that Regina Spektor was, at least in some circles, seen as a progeny of Tori Amos - which seemed a bit of a stretch to me. But I do remember Amos seeming to kick off her own cycle of female musicians (and being seen as a descendent of Kate Bush, which also seemed a stretch to me at the time).

But it's also worth noting that right now the female vocalist is fairly popular - something to do with Glee and Adele, I think. It's all crazy complicated, but the idea that all of these pop phenomena feed each other and lead to each other is fun, if complicated to work through.
:: David (17:59 in Arkansas, 0:59 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, December 20 2011 ::

Whups! Someone linked here, and my last post was an incoherent mess relating to the ongoing development I'm doing on the software running the blog. Guess I should write something sensible. Probably about Kim Jong Il, since that's the big news this week that everyone should probably be talking about. But frankly, it's kind of pointless, since noone knows anything, and I'd just be repeating what other people who don't know anything have already said. To demonstrate, I'll point you to this short interview with Marcus Noland, an expert on North Korea, who says 'we don't know anything'. And then proceeds to speculate.
:: David (21:44 in Arkansas, 4:44 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, December 19 2011 ::

Still not there, but it's getting a lot better. I feel ok about the fact that the styling isn't where I want it to be - if I can't see everything right now, at least I can see it becoming what I want it to be. I think I'm done with the programming on this side for right now - just the styling now. At least for this particular function - I still need to update it so comments display on the same page as the permalink, instead of having two copies of every story someone comments on. Ideally, I'll figure out how to use facebook's silly stuff to do comments, and allow those to be posted but without having to use the FB comments for everything. We'll see how that all goes at a much later date.
:: David (22:16 in Arkansas, 5:16 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, December 18 2011 ::

In the spirit of the weekend, I did some crazy programming on my blog. It's not done yet, but I've done it in such a way that I don't need to finish it all at once. Which is good, because although I had it working hours ago, styling it and making the facebook plugin work on it is killing me. So I'll leave it where it is, and we'll see if this posts, or blows up terribly!
:: David (23:13 in Arkansas, 6:13 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[1]


:: Saturday, December 17 2011 ::

I've been thinking for a while that it would be nice to be able to post to my blog as easily as I post to social media sites. Blog posts would not be fun from my phone (I can already do that, anyway), but being able to post a photo from my phone would be nice. So I decided I would write an app. And this is where things went off the rails. This post will get technical from here, but I'll try to keep it readable by non-tech folk.

The first thing I needed to do was to figure out... well, what I needed to do. So I hit a few websites, basically looking for directions on how to write my first app (by tradition, this a program that simply prints "Hello, world!" on the screen). I found several pages that all told me the basic steps (this one is an example). Sadly, although the information in the post was good, Google's support of developers does not seem to be - their servers spent most of a day rejecting requests for the files. So eight hours later I'm no closer to being able to write a program than I was when I started. I'm considering giving up for the day and doing something more fun than watching paint dry.
:: David (16:05 in Arkansas, 23:05 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]


:: Friday, December 9 2011 ::

It would be tremendously funny if it weren't... not funny: I just noticed my post from November 1st commenting on the European debt crisis. One month later... same old, same old. It's amazing how these things go. On some level, I wonder if it's not the old 'how to boil a frog' business - rates creep upward, and nobody pays attention until, hey presto! you're boiled!
:: David (8:23 in Arkansas, 15:23 in Paris) - Comment


:: Wednesday, November 9 2011 ::

Possibly as a reaction to the whole Greek/Italian debt fiasco, I decided to do something completely different: I wrote a small article answering the question Is an "audiophile" turntable really better?
:: David (10:15 in Arkansas, 17:15 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, November 1 2011 ::

I swear if someone were actually writing the script, this whole Greek debt fiasco could not look more like a keystone cops caper. Germany wants a deal, no they don't, yes they do. Greece wants a deal, no they don't, yes they do. And the whole time, like a zany flagpole sitter losing his balance, the stock market is up, then down, then up, then down.
:: David (21:48 in Arkansas, 4:48 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, October 27 2011 ::

Vaccines are important. If you do not maintain full vaccination, you get outbreaks. Like below...


:: David (13:37 in Arkansas, 20:37 in Paris) - Comment


:: Wednesday, October 19 2011 ::

One of the things I've been reminded of since the economic crisis started is the way that the ... I'm actually having trouble deciding on what to call them - progressives? - have been reacting to the right by adjusting their rhetoric to one of two levels - understated or shrill. The fact is that since the whole 'war on terror' mess began, everything spoken at a normal volume - concerns, for example, about the AAA status of certain investments - was ignored. So people got hyperbolic about it, and then they were dismissed as crazies. So they tone it down, and then get ignored because their concerns are isolated, or just not that important / concerning. So you end up being damned either way. I raise this because of the recent arrest of Naomi Wolf. Now I will confess I have a soft spot in my heart for Ms. Wolf - everything I learned about, well, a lot, I learned from her books in my late high school / early college years. But as I've grown older I've also come to recognize that she can be a bit 'over the top', as it were. And the article linked above is no different - it tells the story of her arrest, and closes with a paraphrase of a quote that gets used a bit too often, in too many situations: "first they come for the 'other' – the 'terrorist', the brown person, the Muslim, the outsider; then they come for you". In a related article she calls the permit system put in place to prevent groups from gathering as "Stalinist". But again, how do you say, politely, 'many of our civil rights are being eroded, and noone is doing anything about it' - and once you've said it, and been dismissed, how do you keep saying it politely?
:: David (21:07 in Arkansas, 4:07 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, October 17 2011 ::

The Occupy movement seems to have seized the attention of the nation for the moment, which has been interesting in a number of ways. Locally, it is clear there is a contingent that still think the first protestors (that is to say, the ones from 1968) were mistaken. Whoa. But then there's the current environment, which has some pointing out, correctly on some level, that they are an unorganized rabble, versus those who believe they are the real standard-bearers of popular sentiment. The former is best represented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who called them "mobs". The latter appears to be voiced in part by Paul Krugman (for example, here). Some are even calling it Krugman's Army. (An unrelated aside - Krugman's smack down of Russ Roberts made me smile a lot) Now the movement has traction, and some are pointing out that defending wall street is not a winning strategy, most likely. Meanwhile others are trying to figure out how corporate America should respond. All in all, this is a nice time to be an American. We'll see where we go next...
:: David (18:35 in Arkansas, 1:35 in Paris) - Comment


:: Friday, October 7 2011 ::

So many people find the site via my anti-globalization paper I wrote back in grad school, that I feel I should update it for the current era. Apparently, and unexpectedly, I need a sabbatical!
:: David (0:08 in Arkansas, 7:08 in Paris) - Comment


:: Wednesday, October 5 2011 ::

Steve Jobs has passed away, which feels both like the end of an era, and like the beginning of the end of an era - sort of like the elves passing to the West - it's hard to think of Jobs without thinking of Gates, and although Gates has already 'diminished' (by moving on to arguably much more important work) he has not left us. I grew up with both their work: my first computer class was on an Apple II; my first computer was a Packard Bell 80286 running MS-DOS 3.3. We're in a different world now, one that I think Steve, in part, led us into. Rest in peace.
:: David (22:06 in Arkansas, 5:06 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, September 22 2011 ::

So I have a swanky new Google Plus widget I was going to add to my website:

but it turns out I don't have FTP access to my server. Nor have I for the past three days. I really need to move to another server - I also really need, one of these days, to figure out what sort of development platform I want to use to run this thing on, and get all that set up. All in my copious spare time...?
:: David (11:58 in Arkansas, 18:58 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]


:: Thursday, September 8 2011 ::

So I went looking for information to debunk my theories on negative real interest rates. First, let me share those: if the government can borrow money at two percent (which is the current rate on the 10 year treasury), then if the government can make an investment which exceeds a two percent annual rate of return, it should borrow the money and invest it, and turn a profit. This seems like basic, simple math to me. What I found were crazies who said this was crazy math because Democrats like to tax and spend. Which made me sad, because I'd really like to know if it is that simple, and if so, why we aren't borrowing up a storm?
:: David (21:54 in Arkansas, 4:54 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, September 4 2011 ::

The August jobs numbers confirmed what has been in the wind for a while - the economy is not getting stronger, or at least not in the way that matters - creating jobs. I was talking to Sasha the other day about how I feel that I already know what historians will say about this period in the future - the same thing we say about 1937. Rather, I should say, I expect them to say the same thing Keynesians say about it. Perhaps it's too simple an answer, but to me, when all the job losses each month are due to the government firing people, and every time a down month is announced the stock market tanks and confidence is shaken, perhaps you should stop firing people.
:: David (23:05 in Arkansas, 6:05 in Paris) - Comment


We took a nice trip to Malta this summer - at some point I hope to post the photos here - I've been using the social networks (facebook mostly) for photo sharing, which is faster and easier, but also means that the photos aren't really mine, at least online. Yet, somehow, publishing a bajillion photos here seems ... unprofessional? something like that. So in my head I'll choose the best, eliminate the rest, and make an amazing page of the pics. But really, it's hard to say if that will happen or not.
:: David (22:55 in Arkansas, 5:55 in Paris) - Comment


:: Saturday, July 2 2011 ::

I just finished watching 'The Smartest Guys in the Room', which is a documentary about the rise and fall of Enron (the wikipedia article has a good overview of the crash). It was truly creepy in how much it predicted the so-called great recession. There were several amusing moments where individuals said (in 2005) 'this could happen again' because the financial malfeasance was so widespread and the oversight so lax. They were right, and sooner than they probably thought. It also reminded me once again what an utter catastrophe in every possible sense the Bush years were. I look forward to the day, though I expect I will not live to see it, when people recognize what a failed experiment this whole business was, and the systematic way in which people were corrupted by greed. Unfettered free markets have always been, and will always be, a disaster. I like to imagine someday that will simply be recognized fact.
:: David (22:38 in Arkansas, 5:38 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, June 30 2011 ::

I've started using Google+, as they are calling it. It seems like it could be a contender, but then, so did Buzz. We'll see. In the meantime it makes me want to soup up my blog - add some likes, permalinks, etc. etc. As Sasha has left for London for a month I have some spare time, but I also have a list of projects three miles long. We'll see what, if anything, gets done. In the meantime, I think this should just drop a plus one right here:


:: David (21:29 in Arkansas, 4:29 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, June 26 2011 ::

We've spent the past several weekends getting to know Little Rock, exploring places we haven't visited before (and burning through a number of Groupons at the same time). This weekend it was Little Rock Central High, a national park devoted to civil rights (think the Little Rock Nine). Last weekend we finally found the art museum, and saw a travelling impressionists exhibit. We also found some super cool used goods at a place (Galaxy Furniture) in North Little Rock (we got an ash tray for the back porch). We also managed to swing by the home of some friends we have in Little Rock, who don't make it out our way as much now that they have twins to take care of. Overall we've had a busy couple of weekends, which has been really nice. And now we're gearing up for Sasha's trip to London and my month of grilling and home repair (or whatever it ends up being...).
:: David (22:32 in Arkansas, 5:32 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, June 7 2011 ::

June, 2011. We're fast approaching three years since the economy took a tumble (we're past by some measures, but September 2008 seems a good time to mark the date of public recognition that things had really gone off the rails). If there is a recovery, it's being awfully slow. The really distressing thing is that nothing is being done. The stimulus was weak to start, stopped too soon, and now everyone is talking further cuts. The incompetence of today will have repercussions for decades to come. And the most horrifying part is how the authors of the worst policies will continue to be elected, for those same decades.
:: David (23:47 in Arkansas, 6:47 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, April 28 2011 ::

Over the past few weeks I've become quite entertained by the precious metals market. I dipped my toes, made a killing as silver shot up, and got out. I've since taken the profits I made and put them back in, betting against silver. In general, it's always interesting when a bubble is clearly visible (the term I've seen is 'going parabolic', because that's what the graph starts to look like, as the value goes straight up). People will argue fundamentals, and to some degree may be right, but on the other hand, other folks recognize that straight up is not how a stock should behave. And yet, 'missing out' is something you don't want to do, so you go in, even though it's going straight up. This doesn't really seem like a good way to run an economy.
:: David (15:01 in Arkansas, 22:01 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, April 17 2011 ::

I'm kicking around the idea of writing a book. I'm not sure I have the stamina, given how often I can be bothered to even write a blog post. Of course, it's planting season now, so I have outside things to do, and those don't necessarily translate well to a blog. The story of the gate repair might, as it went from 'please fix this' to 'oh lord this will never be fixed ever' to 'close enough!', but somehow posting home repair stories isn't something I envisioned myself doing, ever. Not that I pictured much of this, ten years ago (I was wrapping up in Japan, and the world was literally my oyster. My scary, what do I do now, oyster). So if you'd like to picture my life in Arkansas, think of all the things a homeowner does, and repeat. Not yet ad nauseum - I'm still quite enjoying the house, and all the mysteries thereof.
:: David (22:58 in Arkansas, 5:58 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, March 28 2011 ::

Hm. Hackers got me again. I'm beginning to wonder if I need to move hosts...
:: David (23:02 in Arkansas, 6:02 in Paris) - Comment


:: Saturday, March 5 2011 ::

The word on the street is 'falling wages' (yes, I know - two words). For examples see here, here, and here. This has always been part of the globalization deal - as competition comes online from places where workers are able to work for less, wages have to fall. Eventually the cost of living in, for example, China rises, causing wages there to rise, and eventually meet our new lower wage level, and equilibrium is again achieved. But this all happens slowly. All of this is basic economics, and the argument for open markets has always said that some people will lose in the short term. I heard one economist note recently that those people have stopped believing people who tell them they will gain, because they've never seen the gain, only the loss, and the theoretical transfers that your Econ 101 textbook posits as a solution to the problem never materialize. We just stick it to some people, and revel in our cheaper goods. Now the effect is being felt a little more broadly....
:: David (23:43 in Arkansas, 6:43 in Paris) - Comment


:: Wednesday, March 2 2011 ::

I'm kicking around the idea of incorporating facebook's new commenting system into the blog. For those of you that haven't heard about this, it posts any comments you make back to facebook, and then, and this is the crazy part, posts any responses your friends make on your facebook page back to the blog. Pretty viral. Maybe a little scary.

Of course, at the same time, I'm considering whether or not I should stick with facebook. They've now said they're going to start selling our phone numbers and addresses, which is not really kosher to me. So I'm back to the question of whether or not I'm willing to continue allowing FB to have that info....
:: David (14:55 in Arkansas, 21:55 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, February 27 2011 ::

You know, this is anecdotal, but I just noticed that in my traffic, almost all of the top ten search terms that bring people to the site are variations on 'anti globalization movement'. This is interesting to me because before the economic downturn, that traffic had waned - I actually thought the whole concept had passed (don't get me wrong - I didn't think the problems had all been solved, merely that noone was talking about them anymore). And now here we are, the world economy in a mess, and people, it would seem, are moving back to some of the bigger questions. I'll be interested to see how this plays out. Not only in the short term, as it looks like humanity has lost this round, but also in the long term - I think that will be more interesting, as we see the impact this has on peoples' psyches.
:: David (22:44 in Arkansas, 5:44 in Paris) - Comment


:: Sunday, February 20 2011 ::

I kind of want to start a blog called 'omitted variable bias' which looks at all the ways in which, before any analysis of a situation occurs, people have already made assumptions about the causes which lead to everything they say being wrong.
:: David (22:11 in Arkansas, 5:11 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[3]


:: Saturday, February 5 2011 ::

As the economy continues to creep along, slowly, slowly improving, a blip has seemingly appeared: in January we barely created any jobs at all. Calculated Risk notes that "This was significantly below expectations for payroll jobs. Weather may have been a factor", a sentiment I heard echoed on NPR. 'The economy is good, it's just that there was too much cold, snowy weather.' My first thought to this was to wonder what exactly was good about an economy where not only had people not gotten jobs, they had also been exposed to terrible winter weather (and one presumes, another month of high heating bills, with no income to pay them with). changed the way they measure unemployment, specifically "a change affecting data collected on unemployment duration was introduced in the household survey in January 2011. Previously, the Current Population Survey could record unemployment durations of up to 2 years. Starting with data collected for January 2011, the survey can record unemployment durations of up to 5 years." Ouch.
:: David (16:59 in Arkansas, 23:59 in Paris) - Comment


:: Thursday, February 3 2011 ::

Terror Alert Level
Good golly - after all this time, my logo for the terror alert level is finally becoming outdated! The new system, which I'm sure will be at least as useful as the old system was (?!) is apparently called the National Terrorism Advisory System, or NTAS (as the LA Times put it "pronounced NTAS"), and I assume as soon as anyone knows what the heck it will be all about, they will post it to the wikipedia article on the subject.
:: David (23:06 in Arkansas, 6:06 in Paris) - Comment


The developments in Egypt have consumed much of my time over the last week (well, along with work etc.) - at one point, and I think this is the way you can tell when something important is happening in the world, we were all stopping to watch the news on the TVs at work to see what the latest was. It's fascinating to watch, but also scary - what does happen when a dictator who has destroyed all the other political parties steps down. Common wisdom is 'chaos'.

It's funny when a country changes governments like this - you feel, from the outside, like anything is possible. In fact, many of the same old forces are in play, just in new ways. I don't, in my mind, expect some crazy group of terrorists to take over - I think there are those who would like you to see that as a possibility, but I don't think it is one. On the other hand, a little hostility towards the Western governments who have propped Hosni Mubarak up over the past 30 years might be expected.
:: David (22:34 in Arkansas, 5:34 in Paris) - Comment


:: Tuesday, January 25 2011 ::

This man needs to resign right now. The worst part isn't his reckless behaviour, though, it's every other part of the story. Elected officials immune from the law, a standing ovation from his colleagues in the senate for apologizing, it's all exactly how you think a corrupt, broken system should look. This is a farce, and a black eye for the state of Arkansas.
:: David (22:23 in Arkansas, 5:23 in Paris) - Comment


:: Monday, January 24 2011 ::

A long radio silence, as we spent December learning to SCUBA (the caps are apparently necessary-ish, as it is an acronym)(though I suppose if I'm using it as a verb, it is no longer an acronym...). We spent a week doing the books, a weekend doing the classroom time and pool time, and the rest of the time prepping for our crazy Christmas vacation to everywhere, which took us to Kalamazoo, Curacao, Aruba, and Boston. It also took us to several unexpected cities like Houston and Dallas when our flights were snowed out both going and coming. Although I managed to forget my real camera in the trunk of the car of the person who drove us to the airport, we did have Sasha's (formerly my - *sigh*) this video, which, if you skip the first two minutes, covers the place fairly nicely. Overall it was quite a trip, chockablock with random stories that I'm sure I'll think of as soon as I post this!
:: David (18:52 in Arkansas, 1:52 in Paris) - Comment - View Comments[2]


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