Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Local home prices

As I am getting married there has been some talk of buying a house. So, I decided to repeat some calculations in every local market I might end up buying in.

I take the position that because median incomes have stagnated during the past decade while a huge number of homes were built and unemployment skyrocketed there is no fundamental reason for home prices to be any higher than they were in 2000. I therefore expect that they will drop to that level, either through further price drops or inflation. Also, because interest rates have been so low they have nowhere to go but up. This will also drive prices lower.

So, I decided to see just how far above 2000 prices houses in my area remain. I looked up 2000 median home prices from the U.S. Census, and current home prices from Zillow.com. From those numbers I came up with the following numbers for how overpriced homes are:

2000 $261,700
Inf adj 2000 $332,000
Current $476,000
Amount Overpriced: $135,000
Percent Overpriced: 41%

2000 $241,900
Inf adj 2000 $307,000
Current $432,900
Amount Overpriced: $126,000
Percent Overpriced: 41%

2000 $182,200
Inf adj 2000 $231,000
Current $387,000
Amount Overpriced: $156,000
Percent Overpriced: 68%

2000 $210,400
Inf adj 2000 $267,000
Current $451,000
Amount Overpriced: $184,000
Percent Overpriced: 69%

2000 $189,500
Inf adj 2000 $241,000
Current $337,000
Amount Overpriced: $96,000
Percent Overpriced: 40%

West Covina
2000 $190,200
Inf adj 2000 $242,000
Current $361,000
Amount Overpriced: $119,000
Percent Overpriced: 49%

2000 $279,700
Inf adj 2000 355,000
Current $556,000
Amount Overpriced: $201,000
Percent Overpriced: 57%

Diamond Bar
2000 $245,800
Inf adj 2000 $312,000
Current $44700
Amount Overpriced: $135,000
Percent Overpriced: 43%

Yorba Linda
2000 $346,100
Inf adj 2000 $440,000
Current $607,200
Amount Overpriced: $167,000
Percent Overpriced: 38%

2000 $194,400
Inf adj 2000 $247,000
Current $327,000
Amount Overpriced: $80,000
Percent Overpriced: 32%

2000 $173,600
Inf adj 2000 $220,000
Current $300,000
Amount Overpriced: $80,000
Percent Overpriced: 36%

Chino Hills
2000 $242,600
Inf adj 2000 $308,000
Current $462,000
Amount Overpriced: $154,000
Percent Overpriced: 64%

2000 $264,500
Inf adj 2000 $336,000
Current $469,000
Amount Overpriced: $133,000
Percent Overpriced: 40%

San Dimas
2000 $232,400
Inf adj 2000 $295,000
Current $406,000
Amount Overpriced: $111,000
Percent Overpriced: 37%

2000 $251,000
Inf adj 2000 $319,000
Current $487,000
Amount Overpriced: $168,000
Percent Overpriced: 67%

So, to make buying a home worthwhile someone would need to give me at least a hundred twenty thousand dollars which could not be used for any other purpose. Even then it could be a bad investment. After all, there is nothing magical about 2000 prices. After all, we just had a lot of construction at a time without a whole lot of population growth. Prices could always drop to 1997 levels which were a fair bit lower than the ones I am comparing to. I am just using 2000 levels since I can't see a real reason why prices will stay 40-70% above these levels.

It should be noted that this is not just true in Southern California. Nationwide housing prices are still 58% above what they were in 2000. So expect the bust to continue for quite some time.

Case Shiller Graph Updated to July 2010

My prediction of inflation adjusted 2000 home prices being where we are going was strongly influenced by an older version of this chart:

It was updated by a blogger to include a few more years of data. As you can clearly see, the end of a bubble is home prices right about the same as the start. So we are about two thirds the way through the crash. Although prices don't seem to stay at the bottom for long, a couple years is typical. The only long term deviation from this was the great depression.

Edit: I just ran into an article showing a slightly newer version of this graph.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

PHD Supply and Demand

Another article about the PhD job market. It always cheers me up now that I have a job which pays so much better than post doc positions.

Buchanan Wrestling

For the second time since I was in high school, the wrestling team I spent three seasons as a whipping boy for is in national news. The first time was when two fairly talented former wrestlers from my high school class were blown up by the same bomb. Now, one member of the team is pressing sexual assault charges against another member of the team for a move he did during a practice.

Unless things have gone way down hill since I was there, or this particular wrestler was going way beyond anything I ever saw(which from the description I doubt), I am inclined to think the freshman needs to take up chess. It is a full contact sport, and one where very limited numbers of moves are off limits. Many things done on wrestling mats would very clearly get you an assault charge if done on the street. So what? Within a week you know exactly what you are in for, if it isn't for you than just stop going to practice.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yellow Alert

In the years since it was instituted, the terror color alerts have been among the dumbest things we have seen the government do. The risk was almost always yellow. Apparently a risk of yellow means less than a 1 in 2000 chance of a terrorist attack. However no one wanted to be the idiot who set the alert to green right before a terrorist attack. Every so often they raised it, but again it was useless. A verbal description of what happened and what people should do about it would serve better in all cases.

In a stunning bout of what could almost pass as intelligence by the U.S. government it was decided wasting a decade on such a silly system was enough. Yes, they are eliminating this useless system entirely.

Predicting the recession

I only personally saw one person predict the scale of this recession correctly. While in grad school I went to a great many energy lectures. At one of these in 2006, Kenneth Deffeyes gave a short talk about peak oil. In this talk, he predicted that the world had already produced the most oil it ever would, and the result would be the biggest recession we have seen in decades. He was just about laughed off the stage.

Somehow I think he got the last laugh on this one. So far his predictions both proved correct. We produced more oil in 2005 than any year before or since, and we had the biggest recession in decades. Apparently he has a new book out on this subject, I may actually go and buy this one.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Less Jobs!

One argument that always makes me cringe is the one saying we should fund renewable energy as a way to create jobs. The energy that creates the most jobs is the cheapest form of energy.

Oil makes the clearest example of this. Sure, when the price of oil increases oil companies hire more people. However: farmers must fire people, it costs too much to run their farm equipment forcing some out of business; Shipping companies must fire people, it costs too much to run the trucks and ships making many routes no longer profitable; Airlines must fire people, fuel costs are a significant part of their costs and they will fly less planes when oil is expensive; Chemical companies must fire people, with more expensive feedstock and processes they just won't be able to pass the costs on to customers. In fact, the energy which would create the most jobs would be that which is too cheap to meter.

The reason renewable energy is so expensive is that they must employ so many people. If it ever hopes to compete, it needs to create less jobs per unit of energy produced. Once it does this, it will no longer be a significant source of jobs except in areas with large export businesses.

Forbes had a recent article which brought back this rant.

Smaller Government!

On election night, I saw an interview with a newly elected Republican politician. In it, she said we should balance the budget by cutting spending. So, the news anchor proceeded to ask if she was going to cut program after program, amounting to a vast majority of the government spending. To every single program she answered no. Then she couldn't name a single government program that she was going to cut.

This is a shame, if Republicans want to be serious there are so many useless programs to cut. Programs which do nothing to make Americans safer, yet waste millions of dollars a year and intrude into the privacy of Americans. Near the top of this list is the TSA, although the DEA is right up there as well.

September 11th could only happen once. It is no longer possible to take over an airplane with box cutters. The passengers would fight to the death. Beyond that, securing the cockpit means that only a pilot is a real security threat to an airplane. Beyond that, there haven't even been any major bombings using truck loads of explosives, which are logistically way easier. Despite what people say, the terrorists are few in number and mostly incompetent. Even if a few planes a year got blown up by terrorists sneaking in bombs(an event that happens mostly in the imagination of paranoid people), so what? Nearly three million Americans die every year, we regularly have around 30,000 deaths a year from auto accidents alone. A few planes a year falling out of the sky wouldn't make the country so much more dangerous. There are far better ways to spend that money.

Luckily, people are starting to notice this fact. Forbes for example recently had an article arguing we should eliminate the TSA. Somehow I doubt any politicians have the guts to do the right thing however. Maybe they can at least eliminate these silly body scanners and pat downs though.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I rather like this quote from David Brooks in his recent article:

You also observe that America hosts the right kind of networks — ones that are flexible and intense. Study after study suggests that America is one of those societies with high social trust. Americans build large, efficient organizations that are not bound by the circles of kinship and clan. Study after study finds that Americans are not hierarchical. American children are raised to challenge their parents. American underlings are relatively free to challenge their bosses. In this country you’re less likely to have to submit to authority.

I remember Bill Gates once commenting that one of the biggest pieces of luck in life was being born in a country where young people are given a lot of respect. I doubt many countries would have allowed someone his age to take on so much responsibility simply based on his talent.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Simple Majority

This year two seemingly contradictory ballot measures passed in California. One requires the state legislature to get a 2/3rds majority to increase fees as well as taxes. The other lowers the requirement to pass a budget from 2/3 to 1/2.

At first I thought this was silly. Make it easier to balance a budget, but make it harder to do anything that actually would balance the budget? Then I thought about it. This is brilliant!

You see, now it only takes a majority to kill a program but it takes a super-majority to raise taxes. This means that the easier way to balance the budget is to cut spending! I am not aware of any other body of government that was designed this way, but I am at least hopeful for this one. A shame the ballot measures have tied the hands of the legislature so much that the budget will always be a mess, but a half dozen or so ballot measures such as prop 215 have justified the entire program. If there was just the requirement that all ballot measures be budget neutral, or make money for the state, than it probably wouldn't be an issue.

The state of California collects more taxes today than it did a decade ago. However I don't really see a sign they have done much of use with this additional money. Most of it seems to have gone to increasing the scope of our prisons, in large part because of the war on drugs. Or it has gone to healthcare, which in large part is just paying more money for the same services we got before, although some is real innovative but expensive programs.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


It really is remarkable how much Iraq has calmed down in the past three years. I just looked up the yearly U.S. military deaths for the war there:

2003 486
2004 849
2005 846
2006 822
2007 904
2008 314
2009 149
2010 57

While he got us into this whole damn mess, the surge in 2007 really should go down as one of the smartest things Bush ever did. We seem to be getting out of there in as orderly a manner as possible. The number of troops has fallen below 50,000 so I would imagine we will be mostly out of there in the near future.

Afghanistan is a completely different can of worms. Here are the same numbers for there:

2001 12
2002 49
2003 48
2004 52
2005 99
2006 98
2007 117
2008 155
2009 317
2010 416

Since 2006 every year has been worse than the one that proceeded it.

Senate Bill 1449

About a month ago senate bill 1449 was passed into law. This bill reduced the penalty for having less than one ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Now an adult arrested with possession will have no criminal record.

Prop 19 really drew attention from this, but it should be regarded as one of the big victories of the prop 19 campaign. Because it was so much more controversial it overshadowed any lesser attempts at decriminalization.

15 percent

Long beach now has a 15% tax on medical marijuana. This really is the path to the end of the war on drugs. Pretty soon, I guarantee that these cities will become dependent on these taxes. Once they are the local government will fight like heck to keep it legal.

3.9 percent

Every major newspaper and every major political candidate in the state of California openly opposed it. Youth turnout was nothing special. We still were only 3.9 percent away from passing prop 19! Next time I am out gathering signatures I will tell that to every person who laughs saying we don't have a chance. Considering few thought it would get on the ballot when I went to my first meeting last fall I am reasonably happy with how things went. Although not nearly as happy as I would have been with the extra 3.9 percent.

Voters under 40 supported it, voters along a line of counties from Oakland to Santa Barbara supported it. We lost Southern California though, albeit by slim margins. Of course inland areas mostly voted against it. The real problem is the over 65 crowd which opposed it by 3 to 1. Since they love to vote, this was a real problem. Still, it has gone from being parents who are the primary opposition to grandparents. A few more years of baby boomers retiring and I can't imagine we won't pull this off.

If a 2012 campaign happens I would leave most of the bill the same. One ounce in possession by anyone 21 and over, and twenty five square feet of production are both reasonable goals for legalization state wide. As is the often criticized plan to let individual counties ban sales and production. Once again, they should not touch any prop 215 laws and make the wording as explicit as possible(a lot of misinformation was spread about this during the campaign). Two big changes need to happen, one to make the hard core supporters happy, one to make businesses happy:

First, there was some very serious jail time given in prop 19 for anyone who provided someone under 21 with marijuana. Now that the state decriminalized marijuana I believe these penalties are higher than you would currently face. Tone it down a little bit. Several years of jail time should only be a threat if you are driving under the influence, performing an important public safety job while high, or were feeding it to unknowing neighborhood children; Otherwise the worst penalty for anything marijuana related should be a misdemeanor and a fine. It may actually be best to side-step the issue entirely, and just make any future ballot measure not change these laws, letting the legislature set whatever it feels is best. This would make supporters of legalization more comfortable voting for it.

Next, remove all restrictions on businesses that want to continue behaving in the way they currently are. Yes it is possible to set off a marijuana drug test a month after use, and it is unfair if a business fires someone who wasn't high at work as a result of this test. Still, save the fight for another day. Don't fight big business at the same time as you are fighting the Federal Government. Most of the anti-prop 19 campaign donations seemed to be groups concerned about this so changing it should be worth the 4% needed to pass in 2012.

An alternate plan would be to do nothing but legalize home growing 25 square feet, and possession outside of your residence of 1 ounce. Don't legalize sales at all. You lose the taxation argument for the proposition, but you just might get rid of a lot of the votes against. Also, there is no way in hell the DEA can chase down a that low level type of drug crime. They have so few agents all they can do is go after the big fish if CA legalizes.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Prop 19 is a conservative bill

I feel I need to point out a few things, because they have been lost in the debate over prop 19. When I was talking people into signing to get it on the ballot, it seemed like supporters were knowledgeable about this but somewhere in the campaign people stopped reading the bill and arguing over the generic issue. Prop 19 is a very conservative bill to legalize marijuana. It has a lot of features that were added in to give it a higher chance of passing, even though many supporters would prefer a more liberal bill.

This list of features includes:

Not legalizing marijuana sales in counties that don't want it.

Not changing driving under the influence laws at all.

Not changing the rights of people who have medical marijuana cards.

Not legalizing smoking for those under 21, or smoking in the presence of those under 21.

Not allowing smoking in public.

For some reason opponents have settled on the strategy of saying legalization is a worthy cause, but this bill is flawed. This is silly, it is not perfect by any means but it is the best we can hope for. If real problems with it come up than they can be changed later.

This was the first ballot measure I have gathered signatures for and the first campaign I have donated to, so I am very excited about next Tuesday. I only give us about 1 in 3 chances of passing. Still, when I was standing out in the streets with a sign trying to talk little old ladies into legalization I didn't really believe that the measure would even get on the ballot. I thought it had a shot, but it seemed like it would be close. Two years ago, I don't think much of anyone thought there was a chance this bill would pass. Now all it would take is high voter turnout for young people.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paying to break down

I have often heard people justify luxury cars by claiming that they are better built. I have long been skeptical, mostly from being broke paying for Jaguar maintenance. Sure enough, consumer reports showed that most luxury cars have low reliability ratings. If reliability is important to you, a Scion or Hyundai will run circules around a BMW, Mercedes, or Jaguar.

Voter registration

Well, I got screwed by moving one city too far and my car accident. I moved in July to a new place. Because of that I filled out a voter registration form about a month ago. Unfortunately this needs to be mailed in. I didn't have a stamp so I just put it in my car to mail later. Then the car was totalled in another town so I packed everything in the car away in a bag. For some reason I thought I sent it in or I would have been fine. This would have been an obvious mistake had my car not been hit, but hidden in a bag in my closet I stopped seeing the forms.

I just looked at the laws. If I had moved 15 days before the election I could vote at the old polling place. If I had moved to somewhere in the same county I could still vote. I however am one town away from my former county. It is therefore not possible for me to vote, even though I registered to vote in this state within the past year.

Next election I really need to get behind a day of election voting registration ballot measure. There is no good reason for this. I have no doubt that thousands of people don't vote since they have to re-register constantly unless they have a stable residency. At the very least they should let you vote at the old site for a year after you move. This way you have a chance to realize your mistake and correct it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I spent much of last week in Nashville. It was an impressive change from LA. When I left for the airport I saw that traffic on the 91 was already backed up at 5AM! It wasn't completely stopped by any means, but it was barely crawling along.

Then I got to the airport. Despite being so early the line for security was almost out of the door. I waited around about a half hour, glad I had not tried to push my luck getting there late.

Then I land in Nashville. It was about 5PM, and I was about ten minutes from downtown. I drove to one of the major tourist attractions in the city. No traffic. Nothing that even vaguely resembles an average day in LA. I had to try really hard to not go 90 the whole way. Which I easily could have, were it not for the strangely low speed limits combined with being unsure how aggressive the local police were. The whole time I was in Nashville I never was in any significant traffic despite driving to downtown several times.

Then I went to the airport to head home. Unlike the line going out the door in LA, I doubt I spent ten minutes from getting in line to get a boarding pass, to being behind security. I wouldn't say that there was no line, but it was insignificant. Nothing like what I faced in LA.

I really don't see how California can hold up in the long run unless this gets reversed. Sure, we have no shortage of smart people here, but if they are stuck in traffic or fighting airport security they aren't doing anything productive. It seems like we have tried to abandon the car, without bothering to make anything better. Following the route of NYC and getting excellent public transportation would have been fine. Having horrible traffic, with no alternatives, isn't.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Power outlets

The Oakland and Ontario airports have put in free power outlets. This is more exciting than it should be. Being stuck in an airport sucks quite a bit once your electronic equipment dies. I doubt this costs more than a fraction of a penny a person to provide either so hopefully this becomes standard in airports.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Medical Studies

People are often surprised by how skeptical I am about a lot of biomedical science. I have a great deal of trust in some aspects of it such as vaccines and antibiotics but I generally think a whole lot of it is not understood nearly as well as doctors and biologists make it sound.

This is a pretty good article on just how bad most medical studies are.

Everything needed to install a car stereo

I just finished installing a stereo in my new car. It appears to be working, although the interface on the radio is pretty poor it does everything I need it to do. However figuring out what I needed to buy and how to install the radio was a real pain. Because of this I have listed everything needed to install a stereo in a 2004 ford focus SE with a Blaupunkt radio. The last two words take some explaining. There are two stereos which a 2003 or 2004 ford focus could have. The first is a standard one, the second a Blaupunkt radio. This one will play MP3 CDs, and has slightly different wiring. It is important to know if you have this stereo because if you buy what you need for a normal focus than you end up not having everything you need. This held up my installation for several days while I waited for parts to ship.

Here is the total list of what I bought:
Pioneer DEH-2200UB CD Receiver with iPod Direct Control and USB Input. I picked this stereo because it was about the cheapest one which could connect to an iphone with a USB cord.

Stereo Antenna Harness Ford Focus 00 01 02 03 04 . This adapter connects your antenna to the new stereo.

Stereo Wire Harness Ford Focus 00 01 02 03 04. This is what you need to install the stereo in a typical 2004 ford focus. This connects the wiring that connected to the old stereo to the new stereo. Half of the connector is wrong for installing a stereo in one with a Blaupunkt stereo. So this will not connect to your car. However you really do need the other half which connects to your stereo, so unless you find it cheaper by itself you will need this.

Stereo Wire Harness Ford Focus Blaupunkt 03 04. This is the other half of the last item. This will connect to your car. It will need to be soldered to the half in the previous item which connects to the stereo.

Stereo Install Dash Kit Ford Focus 00 01 02 03 04. This is the dash kit which the stereo sits in. You need this because the new stereo is smaller than the old one. This is not as sturdy as the factory one which worried me at first, but it seems stable enough to not be a real problem.

A Soldering Iron. If you do not have one, you will need this to solder the wires of the wire harness together. I have no idea why I cannot buy one with the wires pre-soldered but I at least couldn't find one.

Heat shrink tubing. This isn't the one I bought at Radio Shack, but it looks like the same stuff. You could use electrical tape but from what I hear the stereo will not work for the life of the car if you do that. Wherever wires are soldered together this should be used to cover the wires. It will prevent the wires from shorting out.

Dt1 Radio Removal Tool. There is currently a stereo in the car. You must remove it. This tool will make removing the stereo simple.

The first thing I was warned to do when I installed this stereo was to disconnect the negative terminal of the battery. It is unlikely this will do anything useful, but if you accidentally short something out you will probably be glad you did this.

Two things gave me trouble. The first was identifying what the mounting sleeve was. The instructions that came with the products kept talking about it. They don't bother to tell you that when you buy the stereo it comes around the stereo. For a while I thought I had to order yet one more part. You have to pull it off of the outside of the stereo. This mounting sleeve will get inserted into the dash kit. Once it is inside the car all of the little metal tabs will need to be pushed down with a screwdriver. This will hold the stereo in place.

The next problem was connecting the two halves of the wire harness together. In this case I simply connected together the same color wires on each half and hoped for the best. In the case of the ground wire I cut off a connector at the end because I couldn't see anywhere to connect it to. Instead I soldered it to the black wire on the other half of the connection.

Once I got to this point it was simple. I simply plugged all my adapters into the connectors in my car which used to go to the old stereo. Then I turned on the car to check that the stereo worked. When I saw that I could get sound from it I pushed it into the dash kit and it clicked into place.

Edit: Whenever I turned the car off the radio lost its settings and the time. To fix this I had to solder the red wires to the yellow wires. Now it seems to work without significant issues.

Most annoying iphone features

The iphone is a pretty good phone. Still, it does some stuff that drives me crazy. Most of these follow a simple theme. Iphone does something amazing. Iphone makes a simple error that makes amazing feature useless. Because of that I never use this feature.

So here is a short list of the most annoying things the iphone does:

1. The spell checker automatically changes words. A spell checker is a wonderful thing. However often you actually want to say something that is not in the dictionary. Or worse, you misspelled something in a way that is similar to another word. The iphone helpfully changes all of these words into something completely different without ever asking my permission. I found that time after time I would send a message that made no sense at all because my phone changed a word which was one or two letters away from the correct one into one entirely different. If the iphone ever lets me turn on the spell checker without auto-correct I would love to use it. Until then, I will have to work with my own spelling abilities.

2. I cannot make websites think I am on a normal computer. This might seem a small issue, it isn't. Many pages helpfully redirect your attempts to get to their real site to a mobile site which has less than half the information of the real site, but has large buttons. The best example of this I can think of happened when I was looking for a place to rent. I found a whole bunch of places to look at on a local newspaper website. I emailed them to myself and went out to look at places figuring I could look up details on my iphone later. Only instead of giving me access to the actual webpage, this newspaper transferred me to a mobile site. This site had none of the information I actually wanted! I had to drive to a real computer to do something that my iphone was quite capable of doing, but was simply refusing to do. Sometimes I have been able to make google cache give me pages that are hidden from my iphone, but more often I just cannot get to the real page. A great example of a page that limits users is forbes.com. A few months back they created a mobile site. Now, without going through some heroics there is no way to see the actual site. Sure, the articles are on the mobile site, but what if you went to the site to read user comments? I see no way at all to access these from an iphone. Rarely if ever does a mobile site include all of the information of the real site.

3. I can't turn off the anti-red eye feature on the camera flash. The camera flash is too bright. In a dark room the LED makes anyone looking towards the camera squint or rapidly look away. If it only had a quick flash this would be a small issue. I would take the picture in the short time of the flash so they wouldn't have time to cower in pain. Sure they would have red eyes, but I could remove that later with software. Instead the LED turns on for a long time, everyone cringes and looks away, then the short flash happens. So I have a flash that is mostly useful for taking pictures of objects. If I am taking pictures of people they better be looking away from the camera or be in a bright room.

4. No dvorak keyboard. This would be easy for them to add as a feature. I doubt it would take a programmer long to install the feature. To my knowledge there is no way to do this though.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nagging electronics

I hate electronics that try to nag me to do what it feels is necessary.

I just got an iphone 4. So far it seems pretty much exactly like my iphone 1 except it is a little better at doing everything the iphone 1 could do. Really it doesn't seem revolutionary in the way the first iphone was. However, it has done some random changes in the settings for no apparent reason. The most annoying one of these was enforcing a voice mail password.

Now, there are several things on my iphone which I would rather no one use:

First on this list is facebook. Someone with my facebook application could generally make a fool of me to a very large audience and in a generally believable way.

Second on this list is my email. It is not terribly unusual for things to be in my email that don't need to be public knowledge. For example I wouldn't be surprised if at some point a credit card number or social security number has slipped into my email account.

Third would be my text messages. There is just a lot of data here, also there is the ability to send messages to essentially everyone I know.

Forth would be the notepad. I often use it to record large amounts of semi-private information.

However none of these have a default password. Anyone could steal my iphone and get to the information. Now, I am sure if I cared enough I could get a password for all of this but really, you aren't going to find anything that exciting.

However my voicemail has a default password. It also seems to be one I didn't set. It just made up one and I had to waste a half hour trying to figure out how to remove it. Why would I care though? unlike everything else I use on the iphone this does not include any of my information. It is all other people's information, and seriously, how much do people put in a voicemail that matters? I can't think of a single voicemail I have got ever that anyone would care enough to spy on. The only reason I can see anyone caring is if they are cheating. And if you are cheating, you probably need to worry far more about your email and text messages than your voicemail.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Baby videos

All of the studies I have seen on babies watching videos intended to teach them vocabulary show that babies essentially pick up nothing. This always seemed a little odd to me, I mean they are watching shouldn't they learn some of the new words?

I have spent most of the past year listening to Spanish radio when I drive. This was a combination of my car not working well to play MP3s and getting annoyed over all of the celebrity gossip and repeating the same five songs so much. In that year of Spanish radio I perhaps learned 10 words. Essentially nothing. Now it makes more sense how those babies don't manage to pick up much of anything.

Used Ford Focus

I am now fairly certain I will buy a 2002-2005 ford focus. Probably a 4 door hatchback. One of the things I have most been hearing is people concerned that buying such an old vehicle I will have poor reliability and spend a lot on maintenance.

I just found estimated repair costs for major repairs on the vehicle:

It includes all of the typical major repairs. The exhaust system, A/C, transmission, brakes, timing chain, shocks and so on. In total the list covers 10 different major repairs. If I add up the cost of all ten repairs, I get a number that is still less than I have spent on maintaining my old Jaguar S type over the last 13 months. I really could buy quite the lemon and still save money this year.

Google Maps

Messing around on google maps looking at parts of the world I know nothing about is always interesting. Some things just don't look like they should exist:

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That is right in the middle of the Sahara desert. Clearly they have managed to procure water and grow crops but just on those little circles in the middle of a wasteland.

This is apparently a common practice in the desert as I was able to find quite a few similar places:

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There seem to be no shortage of places on earth that don't look like they could be real:

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I guess the orange leaves on the trees made that area look bright orange.

It is also impressive how much information of potential military significance you can get.
Here is a cute little town just inside North Korea:

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Here is a nuclear power plant:

View Larger Map

I guess they know they can't hide something so big, so why bother.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

$5000 car

I just found out the hard way that the minimum insurance you must have in the state of California is $5000 dollars. That really inspires me to have a $4000-$5000 car.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cost of College

one of my fantasies is starting a college, but running it like one from 1980. While the inflation adjusted cost of college has nearly tripled, there is nothing that makes a 1980 style college impossible. In exchange for tenure there is no shortage of PhDs willing to teach. All the education at a third the cost must still appeal to someone these days.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Car

I woke up today to find that my poor 2000 Jaguar S type with 260,000 miles had been rear ended. The bumper and trunk were torn up pretty bad and broken glass was all over the ground. I have a card from the police department saying "your vehicle was hit by a suspected DUI driver"

I haven't been able to get any information about the insurance for the other company. So it is hard to say what will happen. However at least an 80% chance they will total it. Hopefully I can talk them out of at least the last six months of repair costs for the car(close to 3k) but it is hard to say.

Anyways, barring a miracle giving me a new bumper and roof to my trunk I am in the market for a new car. Actually I am in the market for a used car. Five years of the Jaguar make me want the cheapest car to maintain I can get. Having a 1000+ dollar repair every few months has got really old. This year has been an easy one compared to the last two, yet I have still payed over $3500 in maintenance I have little remaining tolerance for blowing money on high cost status symbols.

I have decided on a few criteria:
I want a 4 door car.
I want high gas mileage, over 30mpg would be ideal, but really 25 would be acceptable. I drive the LA to San Jose drive a lot and making that drive cheaper would really help be.
I want power locks. I realize this is an odd one, but really it is too easy to leave cars unlocked with manual locks.
I want a working AC. I have never been able to afford fixing the AC on the Jaguar. The repairs it typically cost just to keep it running was all I could justify.
I don't want a hybrid. I just don't think that the cost of the battery makes sense. High mileage cars without them just seem to make more financial sense.

So far my list of potential cars consists of the: Ford Focus; Toyota Corolla; Honda Civic; Toyota Camry; Mazda Protege; Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Elantra.

I suspect I will limit myself to about a $5000 car. I just don't believe in digging myself into much more debt. Four years in a $5000 dollar car should really be enough for me to pay off my credit cards, pay off my student loan debt, and perhaps save up for a $10,000 car. Or perhaps a second $5,000 car while I save up for a house.

Right now a Hyundai Elantra is the top of my list. They have depreciated really fast. A 2003 one is something in the range of $3000-$4500 while a 2005 one is $5000-$7000. This seems to be more based off of poor image of the company, than an actual deficiency of the car. This seems like something I should take advantage of. Also, I shouldn't be paying much for future depreciation which is the most expensive part of owning a car. I still haven't driven one though. I may decide that this is a little too wimpy of a car even for me.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Stuff White People Like

Okcupid's blog just came out with an article seemingly inspired by blog about what white people like. When users create a profile, they put down a list of things they like. Since there are millions of profiles, a half million were picked and they were sorted by race. Then they did a search for the most common phrases found in these profiles. The results were rather amusing, and really did support a whole lot of stereotypes.

More interesting, they then did an analysis of writing level. They then showed how several races and religions compared to each other:

Not only am I a stud, apparently I should be an elitist stud... Poor white people though. Comparing there interests and writing levels to those of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern people it is easy to see why these people make more money on average.

More evidence I am a Stud

Okcupid's blog continues to put out some amazing things. They just have so much data, that it is easy for them to convince me that I am a stud.

The latest line of evidence comes from a graph of how often women contact men of various incomes:

Pretty much, it is really tough to attract women as a male making less than 30k a year. Once you get to my current income, it is enough money to be above average at attracting women, even if I went several decades with no raises.

As an interesting aside, I suspect this has something to do with the low number of men in college. As a student, you will be bottom of the barrel when it comes to dating because you make so little money. Of course most well paying jobs require college, so eventually the well educated people come out ahead.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Craiglist being harassed

Craigslist has been under a whole lot of pressure recently to shut down its adult services section. Apparently it was a popular place for prostitutes to advertise. Today, they gave in. Sort of. They replaced the adult services section with big black lettering saying Censored. I imagine they will put it up again, but if not than this whole thing is ridiculous. If there are prostitutes standing out on a street. you don't bulldoze the street!

It is the responsibility of police to police things, it is not the job of craigslist to play police officer. If we as a society think it is worthwhile to have prostitution illegal, than spend the money to hire a few police to arrest prostitutes advertising on craigslist. Don't shut down a legitimate service because it can be misused.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Birthrate Collapse

One statistic I have been waiting to see was what the recession did to the birthrate. Some of the lowest birthrates we had in the United States were in the Great Depression. Surprisingly this happened before the invention of the birth control pill and abortions were not nearly as common.

So I have been expecting a huge drop.

Sure enough, birthrates have dropped to the lowest levels in the past century. There were about 200, 000 less babies in 2009 than in 2007.

Quite interestingly, from the perspective of the person being born, it really would be better to be born now than in 2007. The number of positions in colleges for people born in 2009 will be the same as for those born in 2009. The same is true of entry level employment opportunities. However there are 200, 000 less people competing for these same spots. Sure the recession means your parents will be poor while you are a baby, but on the twenty year scale it is unlikely things will be bad.

Another thing to note, is that lifetime fertility rates just dropped below 2.1. Meaning that the population is theoretically in decline unless high birth rates in the future make up for it. However when you look at the actual report, you see that the total number of deaths a year is about 2.5 million. While the total number of births is 4 million. So population is increasing by 1.5 million a year. This is because our population is still skewed towards younger people.

Following my expectations

The real estate market in Riverside County appears to really have come close to hitting bottom. I anticipate that bottom means inflation adjusted 2000 prices. To get inflation adjusted 2010 dollars based on 2000 dollars this calculator claims that the conversion factor is 1.28.

According to Zillow, In September 2000, Riverside home prices were averaging 153k, and in Corona they were 204k. So if they tracked inflation, I would predict current prices would be 196k, and 261k respectively.

The actual prices Zillow gives are 207k, and 299k, down from a peak of 421k and 527k. So really, I would feel safe buying a home in Riverside county. The bubble is over... In reality, I expect that they will overshoot a little because of a combination of low expectations, strict lending requirements, and student loans limiting the willingness of buyers to enter the market. This is still a pretty safe place to put your money though.

Orange county is another matter. It probably has another 150-200k to fall. In 2000 median home prices in Orange were 290k, and in Huntington beach they were 330k. So if they tracked inflation today they would be 371k, and 422k. The actual numbers are 500k and 595k.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Here comes the rest of the fall...

I have been predicting for years that home prices would hit at least 2000 inflation adjusted price levels. Median incomes have not increased since then, while spending on health care and education have dramatically increased leaving less money for housing. I just don't see how we can support prices above 2000 levels.

For a few months though I was really starting to wonder if I was right. The government had been propping up home prices through tax credits. Today I am feeling a whole lot more confident though. Home sales have fallen to numbers that have not been seen in a decade, while the amount of time it would take to sell all of the homes on the market is the longest it has been in my lifetime. Still, I better get to saving, within five years we will have a great opportunity to buy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Japanese Stock Market

This graph is almost scary enough to make me give up on stocks as entirely speculative. It really is remarkable just how far stocks can drop after a bubble. Twenty years later, and they still are worth a third of what they were at the peak.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Health Care Costs

During July the price of medical care fell for the first time in 35 years! Hard to say if Obama had anything at all to do with that, but a combination of the weak economy and so many people focusing attention on the dramatic increase in the cost of health care seems to have done at least something.

This is a really big deal because the cost of medical insurance has the potential of eating the entire increase in income that workers have been getting:

In reality health care costs will almost certainly level off, but if present trends continued than it really would be an issue.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Military research is not a corporate subsidy.

This statistic bugs me:
From 1943 to 1999 the U.S. government paid nearly $151 billion, in 1999 dollars, in subsidies for wind, solar and nuclear power, Marshall Goldberg of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a research organization in Washington, wrote in a July 2000 report. Of this total, 96.3 percent went to nuclear power, the report said.
Note the starting date of that statistic. 1943. The subsidy they are claiming we gave the nuclear industry was clearly the Manhattan project. It was not until 1957 that we built our first civilian nuclear reactor. That whole period until then was almost entirely military research. Even in the time since then much of this subsidy was military research that happened to be relevant to civilian applications. This research more than payed for itself. The United States Navy operates more nuclear reactors than any other organization in the world. You are not going to power an aircraft carrier on solar and wind, so this is a damn good use of money. Also, a lot of the remaining subsidy is entirely payed for by taxes on nuclear power plants! This was particularly true of the work at Yucca mountain. You can't seriously call money taken from an industry to pay for related infrastructure a subsidy.

Even if this statistic was accurate, it is still meaningless. There are about 100 civilian nuclear reactors in America. This, clearly grossly inflated, subsidy number only works out to about a billion and a half dollars per reactor. With a mere 150 Billion dollars in government subsidies we manage to produce a fifth of our electricity. The several billion we have spent on solar still only produces four hundredths of a percent of our electricity. With a payoff as low as that it is no wonder that the government chose to support nuclear instead of solar...

I don't buy into the case that nuclear energy is uneconomical. It rests entirely on the assumption that new reactors will be many times more expensive than the old reactors. The reactors we built in the fifties through eighties have managed to not kill a single member of the public with radiation poisoning while costing a small fraction of the 10 Billion that people are projecting new nuclear will cost. We could just build duplicates of these reactors at similar prices to what was payed back then and do just fine.

This discrepancy is magnified by the fact they project the cost of the first new reactor we build. Yes the first reactor we build might be 10 Billion dollars because we have to reinvent the wheel. However all that design work can pretty much be copied exactly for dozens of future reactors. Any reasonable projection of cost for the tenth, hundredth, or thousandth reactor is significantly lower than what costs were for the existing reactors we operate. Standardized designs alone would be enough to ensure that is true.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tricking Conservatives

This may be the funniest attempt I have ever seen to try and manipulate conservatives into believing in global warming:
Climate change linked to possible mass Mexican migration to U.S.
Of course it is complete BS. Even if we could predict the effect of global warming with sufficient accuracy to make such a prediction, demographics would kill it. This is almost certainly the end for mass Mexican immigration to America. While I am sure people will always want to come here, there has been a huge demographic shift in Mexico:
The population's annual growth rate has been reduced from a 3.5% peak, in 1965 to 0.99% in 2005. While Mexico is now transitioning to the third phase of demographic transition, close to 50% of the population in 2009 was 25 and younger. Fertility rates have also decreased from 5.7 children per woman in 1976 to 2.2 in 2006.
With a population that is no longer growing it is unlikely Mexicans will be trying as hard to get out of the country as they do now. Even if they do, there will simply be less Mexicans which leads to less immigration.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Locking people up

Pretty consistently the Economist is the news source I agree with the most. They just seem a whole lot more rational than the media we have here.

Anyways, I rather like this article on how many people we are locking up.

An exciting election this fall...

I don't know if we really have a chance at passing proposition 19 in the fall. I also don't know if the Federal Government will continue to step all over the 10th amendment and block the effort even if we do pass it. This sure will be an exciting election though. As far as I can see the pro-legalization proponents are putting up a good fight, but it really will just come down to which side cares enough to show up to the polls. Clearly there are enough Californians who support this issue to pass the ballot measure. However I have no idea which side will manage to attract the most voters.

Anyways, the SF Gate has a pretty good article on the subject, as does the LA Times, San Jose Mercury News and The Economist.

One thing that worries me is that it does not seem to have gotten around just how conservative this bill is. It does not make it legal to smoke in public, does not alter driving under the influence laws, does not make it legal to sell or grow for sale in counties who do not allow it(although it does make it legal to transport it, and grow for personal use), so the final effect will be that it is only entirely legal in perhaps a dozen counties in the state. Maybe as few as two or three.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Buchanan is dangerous

I just clicked on a listing of California's War Dead after hearing another person in my high school class was killed.

Buchanan High school appears to have had more war deaths than any other high school in the state(and that was before the death of Brian Piercy on Monday). My class has lost four people so far. Still no World War 2, but rather scary nonetheless. I strongly suspect in my high school class that war deaths are the leading cause of death since graduation.

Monday, June 28, 2010


At last! after all my years of searching. I have found yams!

Ok, fine, I just found yam powder. Still, it is the only form of yam regularly available in America so I am doing as well as can be expected.


I have discovered my block when it comes to writing yelp reviews. I was writing on subjects I know nothing about. Or more appropriately I don't care about them. I was writing about restaurants when really, there are only three or four restaurants I find special enough to rant about. I should be reviewing nurseries, pet stores, ethnic markets, state parks, and other such things.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Edible Leaves

Some nutritionists have made the argument that Americans should eat a lot more leaves. Since they have low Calorie densities and people seem to control the weight of food they eat better than the Calories this makes sense to me, although to this day nutrition seems governed mostly by fads so I wouldn't be surprised if this doesn't hold up.

Still, this seemed overly restrictive to me. There are just not that many leaves sold in the super market. I rarely see a store with more than perhaps twenty. 

This seems to be more an issue with the supermarkets than the leaves though. There are literally hundreds of plants with edible leaves.

Being back in a place with a back yard means that I can finally garden, sort of. There is tons of empty concrete. So I could literally put fifty or more potted plants in the yard. So I have decided to grow plants based around the theme of edible leaves. 

Currently I have, or have ordered, seeds, or plants, of the following species:
Pineapple Sage
Basil-whatever generic type home depot has.
Basil, Thai Holy
Japanese Giant Red Mustard Greens
Sheep Sorrel
Pepper Cress
Vegetable Amaranth

I am looking for, or considering purchasing:
Bay Laural
Miner's Lettice
Anything else I can think of with edible leaves that is expensive, hard to find, or easy to grow in a pot.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Walking home

I had to rent a uhaul the other day. This lead to a few odd situations happening.

First, I found a cell phone in it. The battery was not yet dead, and I was about to drive to Corona, so I just turned it off put it in my pocket and went on with my day. I figured I would call them later.

Then, after unpacking in Corona, I was faced with the dilemma of how to get home. It was late and I needed to drop the uhaul off before work the next day. It opened at 7am, and I needed to leave for work at 7:20AM. The place was about a mile away from my old apartment. My car was at home. So, I was going to have to walk the distance once or rent it for another day. I determined that my best plan of action was to drop off the uhaul on the street next to the store, walk home, then drive to the shop the next morning and pay for it. There just wasn't enough time to walk home the next morning, and still get to work on time.

Next let me say a few things about Pico Rivera where I lived. It was the sort of town illegal immigrants congregate in. About 90% of the population is Hispanic, Spanish is almost a first language. Which is to say it is quite safe. Illegal immigrants are generally too afraid of getting kicked out of the country to commit any crime, and most of them come from quite peaceful places anyways. So, crime rates are about at the national average. However it is the sort of place that most white people avoid because it is different, and therefore I really stand out.

So, it is a bit past midnight and I am walking home. About half way I see a car right behind me slow down. Now, that has me a bit worried, I am along a major road and have never even witnessed a crime in my town but it is late at night. I half expect to see someone pull a gun on me. I turn my head to find a police car coming up next to me.

He asks me what I am doing. I try to explain that I needed to walk home from the uhaul place so I could drop it off in the morning. He says I am slurring my words and asks if I have been drinking or using drugs. I hadn't been, so I say no[upon further reflection, I am pretty confident that he tells everyone that in the hope they will confess something]. He asks me if I am carrying any weapons. I say no. He asks me if he can search me for weapons. I am dumb and say yes figuring that he will quickly go away.

He tells me to put my hands on the hood of the car. I am standing next to his car, and put my hands of the roof of the car. He repeats his command as if I am an idiot, and I walk forward to put my hands on the hood of the car. I suppose most of the people he stops know the drill.

He goes into my pockets and pulls out: a wallet; my giant set of keys, the keys to the uhaul, a garage door opener, the ID for my work, and three cell phones. Shit, the cell phone, I forgot I had property on me that wasn't mine!

I mention that I had found the one cell phone in the uhaul. The other was my work phone, and the iphone was my personal phone. I don't remember his comment, but it was something about me having a stolen phone on me. Now, he is sure he can get me on something. He has me put my hands behind my back, and get in the back seat of his car.

I probably should be freaking out right about now, but I find the whole situation hilarious. I don't think this helped me. As soon as he got me into the car he has me close my eyes for a moment, look at him, than open them into the flashlight. I guess I passed the sobriety test, because he just grabs my wallet from the hood of the car without saying anything and heads into the cab of the car.

He then starts going through the wallet. Takes my ID, and begins the process to search for any warrants out for me. He asks me to spell my last name, asks my address, and so on. I answer, than ask him if he can give me a ride home. That didn't go over too well, but didn't get more than a grunt of annoyance. Apparently the neighborhood isn't safe enough for me to walk in, but driving me a half mile is too much trouble for him.

He then goes to the hood of the car, and starts poking through the other stuff I had. The iphone was of particular interest. He again asked if it was mine, and started to poke through it. I have no idea what he did on it, but after a minute he put it back. Maybe there is a way to see who owns it, perhaps he just looked to see if the pictures were of me.

Next it is back to the cab, where he asks me where I work. I tell him the company name. He asks me what I do, I tell him I am an Engineer. He makes some smart ass comment about how unlikely an Engineer would be walking around Pico Rivera at 12:30 at night. I just smile and wait around to see what happens.

He returns to the hood of the car, and takes the cell phone he found in the uhaul. He asks me if this is the one I found in the uhaul. I tell him yes. He tells me to get my stuff, and walks back to his cab. He drives off without saying anything else, clearly convinced I was up to no good, and annoyed he couldn't find evidence worth arresting me for.

Anyways, I had not realized how aggressive police are in bad neighborhoods. In the future I shall only give police as much information as I am legally required. I had seen the video on why you should never talk to the police, and after that experience it makes a whole lot more sense to me. There is nothing to be gained in cooperation beyond what is legally required. If I have something so important to tell them, I will do so in writing, and probably through a Lawyer.

Water wings

Flotation devices for little kids are really dangerous. I saw a kid almost drown yesterday because of one. He had is water wings on, and had been swimming around the whole pool with them. He then jumped in, had his wings come off, and fortunately someone was paying enough attention to pull him out.

From watching later in the day, he obviously had an overprotective mom who almost certainly mandated the silly things thinking he would be safer. All this did though though was remove all fear of water in someone who can't yet swim. Few things are more dangerous than this.

Now if I could only talk Makayla out of her life jacket that her grandma has talked her into thinking she needs...

The End of Men

The Atlantic has a fairly entertaining article titled The End of Men. I must admit to having seen a lot of the trends they talk about. I rather suspect this is temporary, men will move into new industries and do just fine. However I am not entirely convinced. Society usually seems to have segregated sex roles to some degree or another. It wouldn't surprise me that much if so many women going to college and getting jobs gets that behavior labeled as girly.

I once joked with a female doctor I know that men were trying to set up the same sex roles as male lions. The hard part was convincing women they actually wanted to do all the crappy jobs we were stuck with, we seem to have done a pretty good job of that already though. Pretty soon we will be able to just sit around playing video games, confident in the knowledge our women will take care of us.

More seriously, this trend probably has helped me more than any other. It seems to me that being a good student has been labeled as girly, making dating while in school a whole lot harder for guys than girls. I could have had a much better late teens and early twenties joining the military, or trying to become a police officer or fire fighter. However having a good job is still considered masculine, so after you get through that hump dating gets a whole lot easier.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


A large percentage of the people I started Cornell with have just graduated, or will do so in the next few months. Since they have mostly got Engineering degrees I imagine they will survive this crazy job market. Still, reading articles about how bad the job market is for PhDs always makes me feel better about the whole thing. I certainly have known my share of PhDs from big schools who haven't done as well, although mostly this is people in the life sciences which are a bit of a trap.


One thing I regularly do is use the internet to choose things. Amazon.com reviews for example are the best source of information I have found on a huge range of products. Following this theme I recently started using yelp.com as a way to find restaurants. So far it has proven one step up from randomly choosing based on signs, but nowhere near as good as amazon.com reviews. Since it allows you to find the most popular places in any town it is worth looking at as a way to learn a neighborhood.

So I decided I would write reviews. I learned one thing, this is really hard. Most restaurants are more or less the same: You pay some cute girl to be really nice to you, and bring you really good food. They do so. You go home and wonder why you are getting fat. I kept going since I felt like I should improve the statistics of the site, but don't think I will be quitting my day job to review restaurants any time soon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

4.2 million children saved

In another sign the world is not degenerating into chaos, child mortality rates have been dropping dramatically over the past twenty years:

SOME 7.7m children under the age of five will die in 2010, down from 11.9m in 1990, according to a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
This is even more impressive in percentages since the population is larger today than it was then. South America and Asia are leading this trend, although most countries is Africa have at least improved a little bit.

Following people with cameras

I am a sucker for big studies trying to answer big questions while using straight forward methods. I ran into a particularly good one recently in the New York Times. Some social scientists spent about $9 million dollars following around 32 families with cameras trying to video tape almost everything they did for a week.

They then spent years recording every little detail from all of this video footage. This allows them to make statements like:

Outside the homes, the yards were open and green — but “no one was out there,” said Jeanne E. Arnold, a U.C.L.A. archaeologist who worked on the study. One family had a 17,000-square-foot yard, with a pool and a trampoline, and not even the children ventured out there during the study.


The couples who reported the least stress tended to have rigid divisions of labor, whether equal or not. “She does the inside work, and I do all the outside, and we don’t interfere” with each other, said one husband.
As I think about it, yards really don't seem all that important if you don't plan on throwing a lot of big parties or do a lot of gardening. I probably have spent as much time in neighborhood fields, and parks as I have in the yard.

Safer still

In between all the articles about some sensational crime, came the report. Once again crime rates have fallen. Murder rates fell by 7%, and property crimes fell by 5%. In southern California the drops are even steeper, closer to 10%.

It really is shocking to me how few politicians have tried to take credit for this. Rather than taking credit for a stunning decrease in crime rates over the past fifteen years, they would rather try to scare the voters about some subject or another.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Right age

As another reason for my greatness, I would like to add that I am the ideal age:

This graph was made entirely for people with profiles on okcupid, but I have another nine years before I am less desirable than a twenty year old!

The graph for girls is likely to be a bit skewed. Guys spend a significant fraction of time chasing after girls younger than they say they are interested in:

Monday, May 10, 2010


I got a home internet connection for the first time in 8 months.

The amount of sleep I get has been reduced by an hour a night, and until 20 minutes ago my apartment was the most messy it had ever been...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ranting old men

I was sitting in a hotel bar in palmdale. The holiday inn gave out complementary beer with the room, so I went to the bar and worked physics problems for a couple hours.

While I was there two old men came up to a nearby table. They started ranting about Obama. It started with talking about how having a socialist in office was going to kill medicare (how exactly a socialist is an enemy of a socialized medicine program I never quite got). Then they went on to talk about how he didn't care at all about the economy and was going to result in the economy continuing to decline. So far, I would disagree but at least it wasn't completely unreasonable. Then they started talking about the secret police that the health care bill created and how they were going to be spying on all Americans. Then they started talking about how Obama was almost inevitably going to declare martial law.

At this point things started sounding really familiar. I realized that every single thing they said about Obama, I had heard Hippies say about Bush. He is taking away our freedom! he is ruining health care! He is killing the economy! He is spying on Americans! He will declare Martial Law!

Can't Americans think up some new crazy conspiracy theories? it sounds pretty silly when both parties are convinced that the other party is going to do the exact same things.

We really do have a problem with telling the difference between someone who is wrong, and someone who is an evil genius bent on setting up an empire.


There is a general trend that economists completely fail to predict when recessions occur, how deep they will be, and when the recovery will happen. Typically experts do little more than expect a continuation of the recent past. In fields where prediction of the political or economic future go, educated people with only a passing knowledge of the subject do just as well as experts at making predictions(which is admittedly a horrible job)

So I am going right ahead and making a prediction of my own. Sure, my prediction that spring 2007 would be a great time to buy stocks never worked out. That hasn't stopped me from having strong--if uneducated--opinions about the future though.

My prediction is this: employment reached a minimum at some time in the past three months. Unemployment rates will recover from this point on. The rate of this hiring will be approximately the same as the rate of job loss was in the past two years, meaning that in 2012 unemployment rates will be back down to normal levels.

I base prediction this on a few things. Mostly though I make this prediction because this is what usually happens. Looking at past recessions the rate of unemployment drop after the recession is about the same as the rate of rise at the start. Sure this recession might be different, we might be in another great depression, but the most likely assumption is that it is a completely normal recession, which will be followed by a completely normal recovery.

I however am not going soft on two issues: oil, and housing. Oil prices will stay high, housing prices will continue to drop until they hit inflation adjusted 2000 prices. I have no idea where the hiring will happen, just that it will happen somewhere.

There are many other people who share my opinion. Here are a few articles supporting a strong recovery:

Why So Glum? Numbers Point to a Recovery

Polls say the economy is heading in the wrong direction. Markets say it's back on track. This time, the markets are right

How America pulled itself back from the brink—and why it's destined to stay on top

News of America’s death is greatly exaggerated. In reality, the U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival.


It took me nearly a year, but I finally finished the last odd electromagnetism problem in an old edition of Serway's physics textbook. OK, there are a few that completely beat me. There were another dozen or so where I was absolutely convinced the answer at the back of the book was wrong. Still, I got a whole lot more than I missed, and there were no sections where I didn't get most of the answers correct.

I realized when I got a utility job that most everything can be understood by basic physics. I also realized that I didn't remember anything from the two semesters of electromagnetism I have taken. So I went for the direct method. My old high school physics textbook had answers to every odd problem, and eleven chapters on electromagnetism. Each chapter has about 70 problems in total, but doing problems you don't have answers to just builds up bad habits. So I decided to try and do every odd problem in those eleven chapters. Something close to 400 problems.

After that I can't say I really understand electromagnetism all that well. However I at least learned enough to feel safe going on to an advanced undergraduate text. Two or three of those, and maybe I will work up the nerve to take on Jackson.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Feynman Art

I was listening to the audiobook Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman last night. He was talking about his adventures as a painter. Realizing that this stuff must now be all posted online, I decided to search for it. Sure enough, i found a site showing most of his work. True to his reputation the man seems to have used his art mostly as a way to get girls out oftheir clothes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Board Games

I played Settlers of Catan for the second time last weekend. I played it once in grad school, remembered it as awesome, so immediately grabbed it out of a box of games a friend brought when I saw it. It took forever to figure out the rules, but once you get going it is an amazing game.

While I don't know a lot about it, my understanding is that Settlers of Catan helped kick off a boom in game making which has produced a lot of great games. Some day I need to buy some of the other highly rated games such as Puerto Rico, or Power Grid.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Safest highways ever.

While the media has irrationally focused on the problems with cars made by Toyota (Toyotas are still very safe cars) the real story gets very little attention. Highway death rates are the lowest they have been since we started keeping records, in 1954. This drop has saved tens of thousands of lives, and the rate of decline is As high now as it has ever been.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Predicting Performance

The list of things that do not predict who is a good teacher always impresses me:

Among the factors that do not predict whether a teacher will succeed: a graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try.


Essentially everything people think they know about predicting performance appears to be wrong.

Cutting back on gasoline production

If there was ever strong evidence for peak oil, this is it. Even oil company insiders are realizing they have too many refineries for the amount of oil they will be producing in the near future.

Of course they typically blame demand. This is silly though. Five years ago many smart people were predicting $30 a barrel oil for decades. After all oil had stayed that price for decades, why would it change?

 Had a drop in demand been to blame economics 101 says oil prices today would be even lower than they were in 2000. Instead we find prices around three times as high. I see no evidence whatsoever that the world wouldn't consume as much $30 dollar a barrel oil as these refineries could produce. If demand is the problem why don't refineries lower the price of their product?

The answer is of course the raw material is too expensive. Refineries are  converting crude into gasoline at about the same cost they were a decade ago, but oil fields can, or will, no longer produce crude at this price.

The only two reasonable explanations for this are OPEC is finally restricting supply, or we are hitting(or more likely already hit) peak world oil production. As the biggest declines in production have come from the United States, the North Sea, and other mature fields peak oil is far more likely.   

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Young and Unemploiyed

I really know a ton of unemployed people. Still, I didn't realize how few people in my age group have jobs:

Only 41 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds reported having a full-time job in 2010 compared to 50 percent in 2006


it isn't just 22 year old college students skewing the statistics either:

In November, 19.4 percent of all men in their prime working years, 25 to 54, did not have jobs, the highest figure since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the statistic in 1948


Dying HIV

Here is a graph that rather surprised me. A lot of people talk as if HIV is still getting worse in America.


I knew HIV death rates were falling, but we have been getting better about diagnosing it, not worse. So there really has been a decade long retreat of the virus.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I went to an IEEE meeting today. When I walked out I saw a tiny little sports car by the door. I actually don't notice nice cars that much, but this one just looked expensive. So as I walked past I looked at the back to see what it was. I must admit to being quite surprised to see the model name. Tesla.

I am actually rather sold on the idea now. Sure, the car is useless as a car, I could never fit it in my day to day life. That isn't the point though. No one spends that much money on a practical car. You spend that much money on a car so you can attract a girlfriend half your age. Most such cars however chase off quite a number of hippy girls even as they attract gold diggers. With the Tesla you get both.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Obama has it made

The Democrats in congress are going to get crushed. There is no way around it, they have nothing to run off of this fall. The only decent legislation they managed to pass was the credit card bill, and since it resulted in the credit card companies raising the interest rates on most cards few people are yet going to be thankful for it(it banned what the credit card companies just did, so of course they did as much as they could before the law stopped them).

Obama has it made though. There is absolutely nothing that is better for a president than a recession during his first year. He managed to take office right as the economy was at its worst:

Source (click to enlarge)

The economy has three years to continue the track it has been going on. All he has to do is get out of the way and watch it grow. Even if he cannot get Congress to produce any decent legislation the average worker will be better at the end of his term, than they were at the end of the Bush administration. With a track record like that, he will have no trouble in the next election.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What would a self sufficient colony need

A self-sufficient colony in space capable of expanding on its own should be the ultimate goal of NASA. Sure, this goal may take a hundred or more years to reach, but it is certainly possible. Once it happens we will quickly settle the solar system, and it opens the real possibility of travel to the stars(if perhaps travel that takes many generations).

What would it take to be self sufficient though? In the abstract, you need access to energy and raw materials in space. Then you need the technology to convert those materials into the form you need, using the energy that is available.

A large colony, with several small factories, will be necessary. Luckily building space ships intended to stay in space is comparatively easy relative to ones that need to take off from earth. The pressure they need to hold in is only 1 atmosphere. They won't be subjected to large forces, as accelerations can be done over long periods of time through solar sails or electric propulsion systems. Radiation and meteorite protection can simply be done by using large masses of whatever material proves cheapest around the ships.

Right off the bat, we know if we are going to expand without help from earth we need mining equipment, something to mine, and facilities to convert that raw material into the form we want it in. An asteroid or low gravity moon seem ideal to me. I admit to knowing little about mining, and I suspect many of the methods we use on earth will not work well in space. Still, if we want a colony capable of growing on its own, it is safe to say we need at least a few dozen people employed in collecting raw materials, and likely many more for converting that material into the alloys, gasses, and liquids we would need to build more ships.

The ability to build solar cells is high on the list of uses for that material. Since the cells will last so long, it is not really necessary to be able to build them quickly, but you will need to build them if you want to expand. I suspect this facility would be hard to operate using less than a dozen people.

Metal parts of all kinds will be needed. Modern Computer Numerical Controlled systems can really do amazing things. A model could probably be designed that can be built through the work of only a few dozen people. Many of these could easily enough be operated to create most metal objects.

Computer chips are also likely to be needed in such a colony. These would not need to be the most high-tech devices, but they should be robust and be capable of being used for a wide range of applications. Fabrication of these chips is complicated, once again I couldn't imagine that a factory could be run with less than a few dozen people, and maybe many more might be needed. Because of the light weight of computer chips, and their complexity, early settlements probably would just go ahead and import them. To be fully self-sufficient it would be best that they could build their own.

Food could be a real issue. Access to energy in such large amounts means that it probably will prove best to grow them indoors using artificial lighting, although that adds another factory to the list of what is needed. A lot of research has gone into this subject, so I suspect it can be beaten easily enough.

In the end, I imagine a colony of 1000 people could be designed to take care of itself. It may require a whole lot of primitive living at first though. Still, as the colony grows it will be possible to increase specialization. By the time the population reaches a million, standards of living would be quite high. By the time it reaches 10 billion, space will be the place to live.

Wikipedia is amazing as usual, and has a particularly interesting article on the subject of space colonization.

Places to start settling

It has been clear to me for quite some time that open space is a far better destination for human colonization than any other planets. The reason for this is that in open space it is relatively easy to generate artificial gravity through rotating space ships. On Mars, the most likely planet for settling, you are stuck with the low gravity.

It also is clear to me that the most important thing that needs to happen before permanent settlements in space appear is cheaper travel into orbit. All that effort going to exploring the outer planets, and science done on the space station is mostly meaningless. It is the people building new generations of space ships that matter.

It has also been clear that once we get our first self sufficient settlement in space, it will only be a couple generations until we inhabit the entire solar system in huge numbers. Exponential growth will spread us quickly through the inner solar system, and mining is likely to occur in the outer solar system once we use up the building material closer to the sun.

In space access to energy is virtually unlimited. Once constructed, solar cells can survive millions of years because of the lack of corrosion. Once pointed at the sun, they will never have to deal with cloudy days, or nights. Also radiation from nuclear reactors really isn't the threat that it is on earth. This is why space is such a good place to settle relative to the bottom of the ocean, or Antarctica. While easier to get to, and rich in building materials, those are both energy poor places, while space is rich in both energy and building materials. Having access to so much more energy than people on earth can easily construct solutions to the obvious disadvantages of space.

But once we can get into space cheaply enough, then what? where do we start and what do we do?

The first thought I had was to start on our moon. It has a whole lot of building material, that could be sent to space using an elevator for construction of other ships. This is quite feasible, but the gravity on the moon is just enough to be annoying, and not enough to be helpful. The escape velocity of 2.38km/s is still going to cause trouble. A settlement at a lighter body could ultimately beat it.

The next thing I thought was the asteroid belt. The total mass of the asteroid belt though is only 4% of that of the moon so as a mining destination it is not quite so rich. Still, billions of people could live in ships constructed from those asteroids. A third of that weight comes from one individual asteroid. Ceres. Now we are talking, the gravity is only 0.02g so things could easily be shipped off of it to build space ships. Its mass is 9.43 x 10^20kg. This is huge. For comparison the world only produces 1x10^12kg of steel in any year. While we probably would have too little of certain elements, and will need to mine other asteroids for them, it is safe to say we could support more people from the remains of Ceres than currently live on earth.

Another way to go would be the moons of mars Phobos and Diemos. These are actually a whole lot smaller than Ceres, 1x10^15-1x10^16kg. Escape velocity from the smaller one is only 11.3 meters /second. I can almost jump that fast! They have an advantage over Ceres too since they are somewhat closer. Here it really would be practical to put a rotating ship in orbit only a few thousand feet above the moon, then have miners spend days on the moon, before returning to the ship at night.