Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This may save you some money.

Something about this article amused me. Apparently putting prices in round numbers makes people less willing to accept the price. It is like the brain thinks about whether the least significant, non zero, digit is right, while mostly ignoring the most significant one.

Anyways, remember this if you are ever selling anything really expensive:

"The psychologists decided to check these lab findings in the real world. They looked at five years of real estate sales in Alachua County, Florida, comparing list prices and actual sale prices of homes. They found that sellers who listed their homes more precisely—say $494,500 as opposed to $500,000—consistently got closer to their asking price. Put another way, buyers were less likely to negotiate the price down as far when they encountered a precise asking price. Furthermore, houses listed in round numbers lost more value if they sat on the market for a couple of months. So, bottom line: one way to deal with a buyer’s market may be to pick an exact list price to begin with."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The NY times article ended up in me poking around the slow food webpage. I am actually surprised I have never ended up there. It does have a pretty wide range of random information. For example, I don't usually think of pigs as being like the Guinea hog which:

"were expected to forage for their own food, eat rodents and other small animals, grass, roots, and nuts, and clean out garden beds. The hogs were also kept in the yard where they would eat snakes and thus create a safe zone around the house."

Perhaps even more surprising is the Buckeye Chicken:

"They are a very active fowl and are noted for being especially vigilant in the pursuit of mice, some breeders comparing them to cats in regard to this ability. They tend to have very little fear of humans and are possibly too friendly. In fact, some males may show a little aggression during breeding season. They also seem to lack the tendency to feather-pick each other (this is a trait worthy of further exploration). The males emit a full range of sounds beyond those typical of many other chicken breeds, including a dinosaur-like roar!"

The only one of the plants they mention that I have is the Cherokee Purple Tomato. It however doesn't have any surprising stories. Just an old, and particularly good tomato variety.

A one pound Avocado, the popenoe Avocado, which is almost extinct.

Ever heard of the Pawpaw? Apparently it is "the largest edible fruit native to the US"

Another in the list of random facts I didn't know: "Wild rice is a misnomer, as it is not actually rice, but rather an aquatic grass similar to corn. "

Sheep with four horns are just cool.

Yes, I need my damn laser to start lasing again or I will lose my mind.

Slow Food

The New York Times had an interesting article today about the slow food movement. Essentially the movement tries to bring back old varieties of plant and animal that modern industrial agriculture has passed by. The article argues that one of the hardest issues is getting customers to accept something different. I guess not enough people shop like me.

The species of tomato, cucumber, and watermelon next to my window fit fairly well with the philosophy they have. It seems to me that if I am going to try to grow anything, I should grow something that is low maintenance, interesting, and really expensive, or impossible, to buy. Crops grown before good fertilizer and pesticides existed are usually fairly hardy. They are also typically something like twice as expensive in the store because of lower yields, difficulty in transporting over long distances, or other obscure issues.

I am not sure I support the movement on a really large scale though. Lower yields in crops are nothing to scoff at. The more of this stuff a farm grows, the less calories it produces, the more land must be used to produce enough food for us. I just don't think we could support the planets population without resorting to some really neat scientific tricks like industrial agriculture.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bacteria and Allergies

Sometimes the simple solution really does work. If too clean an environment increases allergy rates, than why not expose young children to more germs? There are plenty that are harmless. While I don't think the subject is conclusively understood yet, someone seems to have done just that: give babies bacteria in their diet, and lower allergy rates.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oil Exploration

"Despite spending over $100 billion on exploration last year, the five largest international oil companies found less oil last year than they pumped out of the ground." Source

There is a scary statistic, made much more scary by the fact oil production has passed up oil finds essentially every year for three decades. Before people could make the argument that this was the result of not looking hard enough though.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Having a whole bunch of on paper credentials the one that I am most proud of is the Physics B.S. degree. The other degrees were a cake walk in comparison to it. Anyways, due to an argument I had to look up some statistics on physics majors, and I noticed a curious trend. Majors that get crushed by physics majors seem to be the ones posting most the statistics about them.

For example, here is some Economics propaganda. They are bragging about how Economics majors are 4th highest in starting salary, 6th highest in average GMAT scores, 4th highest on the LSAT, and third highest on the GRE of all majors. However in the interest of fairness they of course post who beats them. Physics had 3rd on starting income, and then swept the board with the highest LSAT, GRE, and GMAT scores of all majors.

Or here, some philosophy propaganda:
"Law schools select students on the basis of evidence that the student can “think like a lawyer.” This can be vividly shown by pointing out that the major with the highest acceptance rate to ABA approved law schools is physics. Like physics, philosophy prepares students to think in this way. In fact, a recent study by the American Bar Association shows that, after physics, the major with the highest acceptance rate to law school is philosophy."
They are actually bragging about themselves by comparing themselves to physics. How flattering.

Or the ever famous philosophy majors bragging about how amazing they do on the GRE, despite still not being able to match up to the physics majors.

I shall now return to looking down upon you.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I ran into this statement today on a recipe page:

"I started looking for vegan recipes and what I found was a lot of fake food. Fake meat, fake milk, fake cheese, even fake bacon. That just made me sad. If people want to eat fake stuff, so be it, but not me!"

This is something that always bugged me about vegetarian food. It really does seem like a lot of it replaces meat with highly processed food, that lets face it is probably even worse for you than the meat itself(a quick metric that usually tells you with surprising accuracy how healthy something is, is the number of ingredients. The dozen ingredients in fake bacon or sixteen in vegan cheese doesn't sound healthy enough to really be worth it. That is right up with microwave burritos) Why vegetarian food doesn't do a better job in its own right is beyond me. Indian food certainly seems to do a good job without the highly processed fake substances.

Not one

Despite all the bitching about how bad airlines are we do, most people have ignored an amazing safety record. Last year there was not a single death on a major airline as the result of an accident! It is probably the safest place in America.

Damn Academics

I saw what is the latest in a huge series of really bad talks on what could have been interesting subjects today. The person essentially just read an academic paper rather than preparing a real talk. What was different however, was this was an Anthropology PhD. I always assumed this was entirely a science and engineering thing.

Anyways, there needs to be some serious work on what they teach PhD students. A great many people seem to be getting a doctorate without being able to give a talk on the level of an average high school Academic Decathlon talk. Since teaching is the ultimate profession for a great many of these people this seems silly. It wouldn't be hard to force them to give, video tape, and watch themselves giving a few dozen talks over the 5-10 years that is a PhD program. I would even sit through such classes if it would mean I don't have to listen to another really really bad talk by an otherwise intelligent academic.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clovis is not doing too well.

Apparently the brother of one of the only people I knew killed in Iraq, was also killed there last August. The third brother then left the military under a sole surviving son agreement, and was screwed over by the military pretty baddly.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I didn't notice the graph on that article I linked earlier today. It is pretty damn impressive:

Wonder if it is inflation adjusted. If so I would bet on housing going to the 1988-2000 average, on this graph it is about $170 000.

I suspect the falling dollar, and soaring energy and other commodity prices will mean it will bottom out at about $250 000, which I would suspect is a fair inflation adjusted similar number. Seeing it go to the 1996 average of $146 000 is probably asking too much.

Sharing the joy

"The median price for a Southern California home fell below $400,000, to $385,000. Homes are now typically selling for what they fetched in April 2004, with the median price 20% below the market peak of $505,000 last year."

Unrelated Health Articles

It has been pretty unclear for quite some time whether vitamins actually do any good when they don't come from something you eat. It is also pretty easy to get too many vitamins, which in some cases is worse than too little. Here is an article that agrees with me, Vitamins 'may shorten your life'

People spend a great deal of time worrying about cancer coming from things like cell phones, asbestos, or pesticides. Few stop to notice that the big risks of cancer have little to do with being in the modern world. Getting rid of these sources of cancer wouldn't help us much at all. Or in the case of cell phones they wouldn't help at all since it doesn't take much physics to not buy into that story. Anyways, here is the article: Why do we focus on the least important causes of cancer?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Still on time

There is nothing better than an article that agrees with your preconceived notions about the world. I found a great such article today on We really are just seeing the start of the fall in California housing prices. We can look forward to at least another 2-4 more years of such fun. This should make me just on time when I return to CA. Who says graduate school isn't good for anything?

"Last month, the California Realtors' association (folks who in October managed to "project" that prices would fall 4 percent in 2008) reported that, actually, California house prices in February fell 26 percent from a year ago. In the places where the foreclosure boom has hit hardest, it's worse."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Yes, I actually found new oil graphs!

I found these graphs interesting. I knew that those countries who have yet to pass peak oil need to increase production more than those who have passed it already drop in production. I never however thought of making it into a graph. However an article at The Oil Drum did just that.They make it pretty clear how oil production balanced out in the last two years.

When interpreting those graphs it is good to remember that oil prices were under $30 a barrel until 2003. Then rose every year after that. In 2004, and 2005 the high prices were causing producers to squeeze out all the production they could. However they appear to have stagnated for a couple years. There was a fairly dramatic increase in production at the end of last year(which was only enough to almost counter the low production at the start of the year) however, and the average price for this year is currently over $100. Whether that is enough to drive production to increase when the increases from 2005-2007 were not is anyone's guess.

No, I don't need a new hobby. Yes, I do realize no one has ever posted a comment about my oil statistic rants because no one else in the world stares at graphs for a hobby and therefore they groan and move onto the next blog entry upon seeing a graph with the word oil.

Water Power

This is among my favorite clean energy technology:

Simply put a turbine under water in a river. More consistent power than wind, less environmentally damaging than a dam. I suspect repairing these will be a real pain though. It is bad enough with wind turbines. If they can get a simple enough system though it should make traditional dams a thing of the past.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Apparently being a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism makes me part of the largest private army in the world.

I can't exactly prove this story, as it rather fits the urban legend model, but apparently a few years back the FBI heard about this, but misread the name to be the Society for Creative Anarchism. Of course that got us investigated by an agent expecting to see a bunch of Anarchists. Luckily a little common sense quickly showed that we were of little risk of overthrowing the government. However knowing we were investigated by the FBI makes the article: Society for Creative Anachronism Seizes Control of Russia that much better.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Wonder how long the current "scientific model" of child raising will hold up. Over a hundred years of fads by top psychologists really doesn't give me all that much hope that this is any different. Some of it makes a fair amount of sense though.

Friday, April 11, 2008


One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the ability of people to decide that things that have been part of quite stable, and legitimate societies is evil and should be stamped out. Whether it is eating dogs and horses, deciding professions at birth, making golden cows, homosexuality, or covering your face in a veil. People seem to have an inability to see that people living under different social orders are usually about as happy as any other one. Often the social order that came out ahead got that way not because it made its members happier, but because it militarily and scientifically crushed its opposition.

Watching the events in Texas makes me think of this. A large group of polygamists living much as people did for most of history. Now, it sounds to me like that group has a lot of really strange beliefs but the general model isn't unusual. The pattern of girls entering in arranged marriages with older more established men who already have several wives as soon as they are old enough to have babies has been repeated throughout history, and around the world. While it isn't as common as monogamy(or perhaps more realistically serial monogamy like it is generally practiced here), I feel safe in saying people evolved to get along just fine in this sort of society.

It is also about as against what most Americans believe people should be doing as you can get. The only real reasons we think this though are education being a requirement in modern society, birth control being easy to use, and the fact that we happen to live in a society that monogamy is the norm. Is there any reason to believe people in societies where these things are not normal are less happy though? I personally don't see any, although I have honestly never seen real study on the subject. My money is on the men who are on the bottom of the social order being less happy, and little difference in the rest. It clearly would be a model of society with a lot less of the social isolation that seems to happen in America.

It certainly is not the best model for a thriving industrial society. As it does not get much work out of a large number of its members. Does that justify storming the homes of those who don't feel like going along with that model of society though? My general view is to leave them alone. I am biased since I am not happy when the government wants to step on what I want to do. I therefore don't like telling the government to step on groups in society who are unpopular.

The best fix in my eyes is to legalize polygamy, but enforce laws about underage marriage, and forced marriage. This would make them follow the general habits of modern Americans enough that they would probably get accepted. Americans will always say that they were brainwashed into wanting to live that way, while failing to notice the same happening to us, but if swingers can be a mostly accepted part of society I suspect polygamists can too. Although it will never be common outside Mormon splinter groups, and Muslim immigrants. I cannot imagine just about any girl I know entering into that deal. I also don't think that there are many men capable of figuring out how to make that work if they were not raised around it. The reverse of two men marrying one woman seems even less likely if for no other reason than a shortage of bisexual men.

Itunes Store

And apparently it was too good to be true. Any Audiobooks(or for that matter music) from the itunes store is copyright protected so it can only work on a limited number of computers. Not only that, but it only will work in itunes, no non-Apple program can run it! Until Feb 20th there was a crack out there for those files, but they got shut down and from what I can tell I have little to no way of getting past the copyright protection. The only possible exception would be to burn CDs, and re import them.

Oh well, from now on I buy real CDs and will only use Itunes Store for free stuff.

Edit: apparently this, and this can remove the protection. If I had hundreds of dollars in stuff I would buy them. However as it is I don't see a reason to pay. I might try the burning a fake CD method.


One thing that rather bugs me is juice. For whatever reason juice has a reputation of being a healthy drink. This reputation is undeserved. This is particularly true of most juice on the market since it is actually often as low as 5% juice with the rest being sugar or HFCS. There is absolutely no reason to expect those drinks to be any better for you than a soda.

Even 100% fruit juice is a mostly modern addition to the diet. Essentially when you juice a fruit you are extracting the soluble molecules from it. The main molecule that is extracted? sugar(mostly fructose). All this sugar leads fruit juice to be about as high a Calorie drink as you can find. Since the main increase in Calories in the American diet over the last 30 years has come from beverages there is good reason to expect that replacing water with fruit juice has been part of the reason for our expanding bellies.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A duel

I was in gymnastics swinging rather aimlessly on a bar when this little Asian girl whose name escapes me walks up and says "I challenge you do a duel" Not being one to back down from such things I say "sure, what at?" "pullups" she says. Now, as exercises go thats probably as high a probability win for me against a girl I can find. Few girls have a lot of upper body strength, and while my body fat percentage isn't terribly low for a guy, for a girl it is world class athlete level though. Both of those two things mean probably no more than the top 2% of girls can compete with me, as opposed to say running where I bet the number is closer to 10-15%, or cartwheels where the number is more like 60%(the only real numbers I found were for high school students where the 85th percentile girl can do 3 pullups).

So, I go first. I was messing around with the bar for a while, and this was the end of class. I still pull a respectable 10 pullups. No gain on a year ago, and not the 12 I have done at my best, but I was tired so I won't dwell on that. I am confident I won off of that showing.

She doesn't look phased and proceeds to go and do 12, almost 13. Remind me to fear little Asian girls


Correlation does not imply causation.

The media rarely understands this, but looking at an article on eggs today it was particularly bad. It talks about people eating a lot of eggs being more likely to die than those who did not. Possible I suppose, but a remarkably hard question to answer. The article looks plausible until it gets to the last few paragraphs:

"Men who ate the most eggs also were older, fatter, ate more vegetables but less breakfast cereal, and were more likely to drink alcohol, smoke and less likely to exercise -- all factors that can affect the risk of heart attack and death."

I haven't looked at the real paper. However I would be willing to bet that people who drink and smoke more, and exercise less are more likely to die. Oh, and this group just happened to eat more eggs. Sounds to me like a classic example of a random correlation that is the result of cultural values. Sure they might have done some clever things to account for this. Given the track record of epidemiology I am not betting on them doing a decent job though.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I am pretty tired of articles like this one speculating whether or not we are in a recession. By the only definition that has any relevance to the lives of individual Americans, GDP per capita, we have been in a recession.

"Once you accept that growth in GDP per head is the best way to measure economic performance, the standard definition of a recession—a decline in real GDP over some period (eg, two consecutive quarters or year on year)—also seems flawed. For example, zero GDP growth in Japan, where the population is declining, would still leave the average citizen better off. But in America, the average person would be worse off. A better definition of recession, surely, is a fall in average income per person. On this basis, America has been in recession since the fourth quarter of last year when its GDP rose by an annualised 0.6%, implying that real income per head fell by 0.4%."


Just another link to an article about the connection between lack of sleep and obesity.

It's a new person!

I gave in and bought Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert off of the itunes store. This was one of the psychology studies he mentioned in it:

A psychologist claiming to be a tourist walks up to a person and asks a couple questions. In the middle of the conversation two construction workers with a big board walk between them so the person being asked questions cannot see the tourist. While this happens, the psychologist runs out of the room and another person runs in without the unsuspecting stranger seeing. This second person looks nothing like the first, is dressed nothing like the first, and does not have a similar voice. However if that second person continues the conversation few people notice that they are talking to an entirely different person!

And as an extra bonus. Here is the Daniel Gilbert TED talk.

Let there be light!

One thing that being in this apartment has done is instill a great deal of stereotypical male knowledge in me. two lights were not working in my apartment for what turned out to be entirely different reasons. It turned out that one light fixture was broken, and one light switch was broken. Now they are both working though :)

Household repairs are both very scary to be, and usually not all that difficult in any real sense. Although removing my old most likely lead paint and painting over it, what this apartment needs the most, will probably not happen until I move out.

Nicholas Kristof

Nicholas Kristof came to Cornell today to talk about Sudan. It was a fairly impressive talk. What you would expect from someone who is a good speaker talking about a conflict killing hundreds of thousands of people in particularly horrible ways.

Listening to the people in the question and answer session I remembered I was in a room full of hippies. Since hippies typically have a view where the military can do no good I decided to ask the question: "The only examples I can think of where a genocide was interrupted were the end of World War 2, and the former Yugoslavia. In both of these cases there was a huge job for the military. Is there a similarly productive role for the military in this conflict?"

He gave a typically well thought out answer to the question. Our ground forces are pretty stretched, and we just invaded two other Muslim oil producing nations. To go in with ground forces would be a bad idea. However to put pressure on the government, and hopefully hinder their efforts a no fly zone over the country would be a good idea. Also the UN forces there should be strengthened to the point where they can be of some use.


This is a subject that should make for an interesting next few years. For quite some time people have assumed that cholesterol leads to heart disease. However now there are a lot of drugs that lower cholesterol levels and don’t seem to be lowering the rate of heart attacks. It isn’t conclusive either way yet, but it is quite likely high cholesterol levels are a meaningless statistic.

""There’s something called the ’cholesterol hypothesis,’ " Hoffman says. "That’s the idea that heart disease is caused by cholesterol. But it’s not called a hypothesis by everyone. In most of society it’s accepted as truth." In fact, he says: "There’s no evidence anywhere that fixing your cholesterol helps you as a human being.""

Sunday, April 6, 2008

At several times in the past I have considered making a graph like this one.

If video games make people more violent, than there is some other trend really really canceling out the effect. More likely however video games have simply lowered crime rates. People sitting in their rooms playing video games really don’t cause that much trouble.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


In honor of me finally making a decent stout, I give you an article on the health benefits of beer.
It really amuses me watching the supporters of affirmative action try to figure out what to do now that a proper affirmative action program in college would kick out about 10% of females so the college sex ratio could be equal(pretty much all the guys who want to, and are capable of, being in college are. The only way to even the sex ratio is not letting qualified women in. Much like title 9 was mostly met by eliminating mens athletics). Not only that but a lot of Asians need to be kicked out to make the race ratio equal the percentage of the population. When it was White Males who were being picked on by affirmative action it was moral. Now that it is Asian Females it isn't nearly as politically correct.

Article that inspired the rambling
""Why aren't they marching in the streets? That's the part that slays me," Delahunty says. "It isn't fair, and young women should be saying something about it not being fair.""

I bet if white males were marching in the streets a decade or two ago over affirmative action that lady would have been just as up in arms.

Oil Discovery

This is one of my favorite graphs.

Oil discovery is in the bars, production is the black line. What this graph shows? That it has been nearly 30 years since we have had a year where we found more oil in the ground than we pumped in an individual year.
Source(I admit thats a horrible source as far as credibility goes, but I have seen this graph many places, that one just happened to have a pretty one. The data itself has a source listed on the graph itself)

Friday, April 4, 2008


One of the things the Republicans absolutely have to have happen for them to not get crushed in the fall is a general impression that Iraq is working out alright. A year ago, this seemed pretty far fetched. We are now on 6 straight months of 40 or less soldiers killed a month in Iraq though. This is well below the normal levels for the war, and is happening when we have been increasing both the number and visibility of the troops. Another six months of this, and we may well have a president McCain.

Hmmm... I didn't notice how funny looking a trend curve I had when I made this graph. It doesn't actually touch most the extreme data points. Oh well, it does a good job of illustrating the point. Oh, and the source for my data is this.

I wonder if I do this

"The average American consumes a shocking 150 pounds of sugar a year, or roughly 20 teaspoons every day."

Is the world this insane?

It is pretty depressing to me that we have degenerated to the state where this article is controversial. Kids that age are smart enough to work alone in factories doing dangerous jobs, or lots of farm work. The only reason they don't now days is we decided they need more education to be of value to society. The idea that they might not be able to wander alone in public at a time in American history when crime rates are at a 40 year low is absurd.

The only real risk they face is the police.

Oil for Dollars

This is something that has rather bugged me recently. People seem to believe oil is rising because of the falling dollar. If that was the case oil wouldn't have risen so much against even the euro. This quote pretty much summed it up:

"Moving on to the weak U.S. dollar as a primary cause for skyrocketing oil prices—there is "some" truth in that statement. But consider this: The dollar has depreciated 30% against the world's currencies since 2002, while the price of oil has gone up 500%. So is it the weak dollar that has caused a 500% increase in the price of oil, or is it the extra $241 billion worth of speculation? You can make the call on that one."

Most of that article is clueless, but the part on the dollar hit the nail on the head. The rest of the article he seems to be assuming oil supply will increase dramatically this year(ignoring that it has been 3 years since it has done so) then saying: look! there is no supply problem!