28
Sep
14

Scott Sumner makes three points

The first one is pretty subtle; the second is rather less so; and the third is about as subtle as global nuclear war.

17
Aug
14

Academic Bubbles and Those Damn Austrians

(That is, Austrian-school economists, not people from Austria, unless the latter are also the former.)

Here’s Scott Sumner on a natural experiment in hard-line grade deflation:

OK, so the Austrians are right in this case. But I still think they are wrong about 2006-09.

This in reaction to the unsurprising-at-first-glance result that students often choose their courses to get the best grades, and when a previously-profligate department tightens the GPA purse strings, those students will switch away from that department’s courses.  I say “at first glance” because grade scales are just arbitrarily-relabelled intervals; my undergraduate university awarded grades on a nine-point scale (but not a stanine), and my grad school’s 4-point scale actually went up to eleven 4.33.  Both were heavily weighted towards the top end of the interval in practice, although I suspect a handful of exceptionally deserving students scored 1s in both.

Anyway, do click through and read the whole thing.

27
Jul
14

Green power: Still what you don’t want to hear

Tyler Cowen reminds us that the most cost-effective low-carbon power source is nuclear.

If all the costs and benefits are totted up using Mr Frank’s calculation, solar power is by far the most expensive way of reducing carbon emissions. It costs $189,000 to replace 1MW per year of power from coal. Wind is the next most expensive. Hydropower provides a modest net benefit. But the most cost-effective zero-emission technology is nuclear power. The pattern is similar if 1MW of gas-fired capacity is displaced instead of coal. And all this assumes a carbon price of $50 a tonne. Using actual carbon prices (below $10 in Europe) makes solar and wind look even worse. The carbon price would have to rise to $185 a tonne before solar power shows a net benefit.

(He’s actually quoting Petr Beckmann at The Economist.)

This is a good time to remind ourselves that the majority of Green Power advocates — or at least the loudest ones — aren’t optimizing for power sources that reduce pollution; they are instead optimizing for power sources that minimize their own fears.  Climate change is scary, so coal and oil are out.  Energy corporations are scary, so natural gas (Fracking!  OMG ONOZ!) and oil (Oilsands!  Pipelines!  Greasy otters!) are out.  Nuclear power is about as scary as it gets, so that’s a non-starter even if it means reverting to all the other scary power sources (see for example what Europe’s doing right now post-Fukushima).

I’m not unsympathetic.  I don’t like scary things, either.  I’d rather avoid choking on smog during my morning commute or turning into a skin crayon as I’m dragged along the highway by a Prius driver dicking around with s/h/its cellphone.  (“Oh sorry, I’ve never seen someone use that crosswalk!”)  But, like GI Joe said back when I was a kid, “Knowing is half the battle!”  And knowing that, say, thorium thermoreactors are about as benign as anything designed to be exothermic is likely to get is rather empowering when it comes to tackling all those other fears.  (I would love to be educated on better alternatives, should any exist, in the comments.)

23
Jul
14

Vive la hellaflush libre

Oh, Québec.  You’re so… so… would you fucking separate already?!

For those among you who aren’t acquainted with “hellaflush” — and if you aren’t, you might want to stop reading now and think about something nice instead — this is basically the automotive equivalent of forbidding people from wearing saggy pants.  It’s of dubious utility and can be imaginatively construed as a safety risk, but mostly it’s associated with non-white youth who may or may not be up to no good. Therefore, it enrages and terrifies old people who, if there was a loving and merciful god out there, would be dead (or at least too deep in the grips of dementia to legislate) by now.  Did you miss my subtle implication?  This is Québec’s ruling class being racist again.

“Oh, but negative camber and stretched-out tires are dangerous!”  Yes, they are.  So is not mounting winter tires when the temperature drops below freezing — probably about a factor of ten more dangerous — but I don’t see a law about that.  For that matter, driving in rain or snow (or summer swarms of insects) with worn-out windshield wipers is about the closest you’re likely to come to vehicular manslaughter without actually trying to murder someone (or being Ted Kennedy) but nearly everyone fuckin’ does that as a matter of course.  Replacing those wiper blades every couple of seasons is haaaaaard.

Hey, how many people actually check the wear indicators on their tires more than once every never?  I’m just asking questions here.  Obviously, Québecois must be pretty up on their car maintenance if hellaflush is at the top of their road-safety hit list.

03
Jul
14

The kids aren’t just all right, they’re out of your hair

Granted that this post is part of a lasing medium, but Elizabeth Nolan Brown gives us an article with a mildly optimistic title:

(Hat tip: Coyote Blog.)

For the better part of a decade now, folks have been fretting about “boomerang” kids, the 20- and sometimes 30-something children of boomers who’ve come flocking back to their parents’ nests under the duress of a poor economy.

[...]

The dire pronouncements tend to be based on U.S. Census Bureau data, which does show an increasing number of young adults—more than half of those under 25, according to the most recent data—to be living with their parents. But Derek Thompson at The Atlantictears through this gloomy prognosis with one simple fact: The Census counted students who live on college campuses as living in their parents’ homes.

That almost makes me want to start reading The Atlantic again.  Then again, I’ve been pretty happy since I stopped.  Let’s roll with happy.

Brown concludes:

Even this isn’t quite as scary—or at least not as singularly scary for young adults—when you put it into perspective. When (if) the job market improves, young adults will likely have an easier time slipping back into it than their older counterparts simply by virtue of being younger and cheaper, said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding management and consulting firm.

Meanwhile millennials are only barely less employed than Gen X’ers, who make up 37 percent of unemployed Americans. The oldest Gen X’ers turn 50 next year, while the youngest hover around age 35. This is the generation in the prime of their “prime earning years.” Whither the concern for Gen X everybody?

(Emphasis added.)

I submit that “concern for Gen X”, much like “concern for Gen Y”, is being expressed in minimum wage increases, or advocacy therefor.  It ‘s after all pretty cheap for currently-employed Boomers to demand that new hires be paid more, even though this leads to fewer new hires under the drearily predictable logic of simple division.  Because I’m sure I’ll need to spell it out, here goes: If I’m an employer with a budget of $T to spend on new hires, and the minimum wage is $k, I will hire at most n = floor(T/k) people.  Increase k and n decreases, unless you somehow manage to increase T.  Any minimum-wage doves want to go publicly all-in on subsidizing big business?

(I’ll note in passing, because I haven’t been enough of a nerd yet today, that all three of those terms should be parameterized with respect to time.  Under what assumptions does it make sense to increase $T(t) to compensate for an increase in $k(t)?  What do those assumptions imply about current restrictive immigration policies?  Please show your work; you should be able to use LaTeX to mark up integrals.)

26
Jun
14

While we’re at it

Vancouver’s public transit is reputed to be the best in North America.  It’s not inconceivable that it’s the best public transit system in the Americas.

It has also pointed out to me, over every fucking commute I’ve undertaken these past four days*, that a vast number of hydrocarbons that could otherwise be put to useful purposes are locked up in oblivious idiots who like to crowd into exactly the wrong areas of every fucking vehicle I’ve boarded.  When my chosen mode of transportation makes me think of sapient — I use the term loosely — human beings as wasted plastic bags, I need  a new damn mode of transportation.

Give me a few months and it’ll probably be a KLR650.  Maybe a CB500x.  Maybe a G650GS if I’m feeling especially prosperous.  I need an Aerostich first.

Fuck commuting by public transit.  I’d rather enjoy a 40min commute than treat a 70min commute as at best a temporary coma.  Sorry, mom.

——

* It’s been particularly bad this week, but this is far from an isolated occurrence.

26
Jun
14

Misery lasers

So this is how outrage fatigue works, kind of.

Most lasers — actual devices that amplify light by stimulated emission of radiation — work by bouncing photons back and forth between mirrors through a lasing medium until — zot! — they slide through one partially-reflective mirror.  I’ll let you look this shit up on Wikipedia if you so desire, as I’m too drunk to muster the giveafuck myself.

Software lasers are a mildly fanciful generalization of the concept: They get packets bouncing back and forth between mutually-antagonistic routers (or mail servers, or whatever) until one or both of the “mirrors” melts into more or less euphemistic slag.  But the generalization is instructive.

A misery laser comes to happen when two or more people of similar political persuasion come together to bitch and moan about Things These Days.  One person will bring up a topic that annoys their compatriots; the next will riff off of that topic to reinforce the notion that Things Are Going To Hell; the third will say “yes, and…” (and elaborate!), and then the malaise and frustration will reflect off of the side of the room and propagate back towards the first person.

Efforts to inject optimism into the system are, as you might expect, doomed to failure.  You might as well shine a flashlight crosswise through a lasing medium.

Eventually, an optical laser will shoot coherent light off in one or the other direction of its major axis.  A software laser will eventually fuck up one or the other mail server (or whatever the fuck services were having a spat).  And eventually a misery laser will lead to an emotional breakdown, or perhaps (mostly) minor acts of physical violence.

This is why I don’t talk politics any more.  And when people around me do, I fantasize about being on a motorcycle, on a twisty road, half a continent away.  Continents are good for that; there’s usually a twisty road somewhere way the fuck far away.




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