Canada Votes 2015

The thing about elections is that the country’s basically voting on what to have for lunch for the next five years, and every option is a shit sandwich. Mostly you only get offered cat shit and pig shit and bowel-infection shit and oh god is that a tapeworm and basic pride won’t let you dignify the farce by choosing, but once in a while you’re offered a horse shit sandwich and, horrified, you find yourself thinking well at least it’s high in fibre….

At least Peter Mansbridge gets to say “Prime Minister Trudeau” again; you can tell he likes it.


There is a severe global giveashit deficit

So I log into WordPress to write a blog post for the first time in fuckin’ forever, and I’m greeted with a banner telling me:

There’s now an easier way to create on WordPress.com! Switch to the improved posting experience.

I’ve been dodging this “improved” experience for a good four or five years now.  Fuck you.  I know precisely what I mean to write and how I mean to format it.  I don’t need to be kept safe from the details of the Document Object Model. I have learned (some of) that shit, and I give a shit about what I put into it. I don’t want a smart-assed interface making things “easy” for me.

People don’t give nearly enough of a shit about the things we do.  Let me illustrate:

I recently got a new job.  I’m a programmer.  I thought — still think — that I’m a pretty damn good programmer; I’ve been bossing around computers for about twenty years now, am fluent in half a dozen languages and not incompetent in about two dozen more, and have shipped everything from jQuery chat widgets (I swear, that’s the web developer’s “Hello, world!”) to global-market ETL software to fifty thousand lines of standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants honest to balls research.

In my second interview at this new job, one of the guys asked me to describe inversion of control. I sat there with a stupid look on my face for about five seconds, then admitted I didn’t know but thought it might be related to the dependency-inversion principle from SOLID.  They hired me anyway.

Turns out I’d spent the last twelve years not giving nearly as much of a shit about programming as I thought I did.  I’d been snug in a little bubble of the same kind of C/C++ I’d learned in 1998 as an undergrad — with the occasional venture out into Haskell; I’m not a total idiot — while unit-testing practices and languages with usable reflection features built a whole new model of object graph creation.  (And, for that matter, a whole bunch of other shit I’m desperately trying to upload into my brain.)

I’d been too comfortable, sitting in my own little bubble of “good enough for the moment”, to really stretch the boundaries and get better at what I do every day.  That, right there, is what not giving a shit looks like.

Want to witness an enormous crowd of people who don’t give a shit?  Get on a bus.  Public transit is clogged with herds of people who use it every day but spare no effort to avoid getting better at it.  (“How do you ‘get better’ at taking the bus?” Thanks, you’ve proven my point.)  I commute with hundreds of people who spend a good ten hours every week on public transit and do their level best to block it out.  They don’t find a preferred car on their commuter train; they don’t find travel buddies; they don’t pay attention to which stops immediately precede theirs (or much else).  They prefer to wing it, every time, trying desperately to lose themselves in their phones but only adding to the angst of not being in control of their journey.

If you think constant giveashit — “You really expect me to pay attention to, and try to get better at, everything I do regularly?!” — is exhausting, try living with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt of constantly being a fucking-up noob.  Oh wait, you probably already do.

Tomorrow’s Monday.  Pay attention.  Give a shit.


Contact patches are important, you stupid motherfuckers

It snowed last night.  Then that snow melted, and now the molten snow has once again frozen, and I’m treated to the dulcet tones of people in FWD vehicles examining the merits of “my tires are slipping — give it more gas!

I guess I don’t really expect the ugly bag of mostly water from across the street to understand vehicle dynamics, anti-squat, and slip ratios, but I’m shocked by the number of otherwise mentally competent individuals I meet who don’t seem to give a single solitary fuck about the condition of their cars’ tires.

Listen up, y’all: Your car responds to your control inputs rather than careening into oncoming traffic if and only if  the four little patches of rubber between it and the road, each about the size of a small child’s footprint, behave as they should.  Worn-out summer tires designed to channel a few mm of water at 20degC are going to prove themselves woefully inadequate to the task of dealing with 8mm of ice crystals on top of a chaotic ice-water-tarmac interface at -5degC, which is probably about the temperature where your summer tires are thinking they’d rather not be viscoelastic but would prefer to turn into hilariously inefficient ice skates.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.)

anarchocapitalist agitprop

Be advised

I say fuck a lot



Statistics FTW