Saturday, March 19, 2011


I am really not sure what to make of the meltdown in Japan yet. As best as I can tell it lies somewhere between Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. It does seem that quite a bit of radiation is being released, but if I had to guess I would say that in a few weeks people will be moving back in and everything will go back to normal.

It is really hard to find information that is neither alarmist, nor clearly propaganda on one side or the other. Surprisingly XKCD has one of the best charts I have seen to put everything into perspective. We really won't know for sure if this is relatively minor or severe until the radiation release drops to near zero though.

Tin Foil Hat

I wear a tin foil hat. Well, not quite, but close. I do most of my shopping in cash. I refuse to get rewards cards from any company at all. I even go as far as writing bad reviews about places which want me to sign up for their cards to get special deals. If they can't be bothered with giving me a good deal, I can't be bothered with carrying around their card.

This particular habit usually saves me money. Paying data miners is something stores would only do if they make more money off of customers by doing it. I don't want stores to take more of my money, so I don't want to shop at these stores. In my particular area, the cheap stores such as Food For Less, Superior, Henry's, and 99 Ranch don't have rewards programs. The expensive stores such as Costco(yes, Costco is expensive compared to where I shop) Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons all want me to sign up for cards so they can track me.

On the internet I run the track me not, and taco applications in the hopes to make me harder to track as I move around the internet. My bad habit of staying logged into facebook and google probably kills this attempt though.

Still, I doubt if this does more than thwart a handful of companies. I still shop on on occasion. So they have a huge database on my preferences. I still use a debit card on occasion for expenses like car repair and I pay all bills in checks so I am willing to bet my bank account is spying on me. I have hotel and airline rewards programs, although those are almost entirely for business travel so I am not sure they can find any information they can really use to extract more money from me.

Anyways, here is an article about just how large a foe I am up against. They can't track my cash purchases, but I would be shocked if they don't have all the demographic information they could ever want.

Yet we still live longer

I have long thought that despite all the bitching people do about the world decaying, things are doing better than they ever have. Sure there are issues, but for the most part they are issues people two hundred years ago really wish they had.

Another sign of this came out recently. Life expectancy in the U.S. is the highest it has ever been. So much for all those death panels killing us off.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


One of the more shocking things moving to Southern California was just how segregated it was. My noting of this probably had something to do with the fact I lived in an almost entirely Hispanic area while working in an almost entirely Asian area. There were also Black and Indian parts of town only a short drive away. Within a very short distance the demographics flip. One minute you are in an expensive part of town, the next you are in a run down part of town.

Anyways, here is an interesting article on the topic I ran into.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We didn't overbuild much

The number of housing units in California increased by 12% since 2000. The population in California increased by 10% since 2000. Now, I am willing to bet the newer units were larger than older ones, but still that isn't nearly as much overbuilding as I expected.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lower Barriers to Entry

One simple thing we can do for unemployment I haven't heard much about. That is lower barriers to entry into careers. Many have pointed out this problem in the Greek economy but few in the American Economy.

If barriers to entry are too high, when one industry dies workers in that industry are blocked from switching careers. That seems to be happening right now. Still, barriers to entry often have some good reasons. No one is saying that you should be willing to go to a doctor who three weeks ago was a construction worker. Still, members of any profession have a strong incentive to increase barriers to entry above what are needed. By doing this they almost certainly increase their income. So many barriers exist just for the sake of limiting entry to the profession.

I am not familiar with many professions but I will give two examples: Teaching and engineering. In both cases the barriers to entry could be reduced with no reduction in quality.

For teachers in most states a Masters degree, or other post Bachelors degree classroom education, is required. There is one problem. Masters degrees don't teach any skills that teachers actually need to know. It has been well established that teachers who go through these programs are no better than those who only have a bachelors degree. So the answer is simple. Eliminate the requirement. Make teachers have a Bachelors degree then send them straight off to student teaching. If anything this will up the quality of teacher as schools will be able to choose from a much larger pool of qualified individuals.

Engineering licensing usually goes through four milestones. ABET approved engineering school, EIT test, several years of work experience, PE exam. The EIT test essentially tests all the information you should have learned in the first two years of engineering school. The PE exam tests the more specific information you should know to practice in your particular branch of engineering. After passing that you are a licensed engineer. All states allow that track. Some states however allow a back door into the field though.

In the state of California if you can get a job as an engineer and work for three years you can take the EIT and PE test without a bachelors degree from an ABET approved program. In a few other states, anyone can take the EIT. Then if they can get three years of work experience they can come back to take the PE exam and be a licensed engineer. Why is this useful? Because there are a great many people who know a whole heck of a lot about engineering but don't have an ABET accredited engineering degree. This includes physics and chemistry majors who take very similar coursework to engineers, people from engineering programs such as engineering physics or biomedical engineering which ofter don't bother to get accredited (this licensing is only really required in engineering work which does not cross state boundaries so in many branches of engineering the programs don't bother to get accredited even though they teach the same engineering fundamentals. This won't hurt you unless you try to switch branches of engineering, which is quite common.) and people who have many years of experience working as technicians.

Several of the best engineers at my company took one of these nontraditional routes so I feel safe in saying anyone should be able to take the EIT. It won't hurt the quality of work done. The advantage to letting them take the EIT before job experience is that if someone knows the information they have a way to prove it to employers. Then it becomes much easier to get the three years of engineering experience required to get the final engineering license.

Low Voltage

Apparently that Volt I saw was more than a bit lucky. There have been less than a thousand sold in America! Less surprising, Chevy has sold about five times as many Volts as Nissan has sold Leaves(Leafs?).

I still hold out hope for the Volt. It is still getting good reviews. I would buy one myself if I wasn't so cheap. It really would prop up my industry and since you can get a separate meter for it the electricity will mostly come from a low tier and be a lot cheaper than gas.

The Leaf was silly from the start though, no one wants a car that costs over $30,000 but can only drive for 73 miles. Maybe if it cost $5000 I would consider it as a spare car, but that is about it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Vacuum Maglev

I am rather disappointed that I had never given serious thought to this idea. A maglev train inside a vacuum. Literally no friction to fight against.

It really doesn't sound so expensive as to be unreasonable. I am surprised that no country has had the guts to seriously propose a demonstration project. The Wikipedia page about vactrains does link to a train China is proposing though.

The most likely thing holding it back is safety. Even good technologies suffer some pretty horrible accidents while everyone is learning the ropes. When the technology is a thousand mile per hour train inside a vacuum tube no one wants to have to go through those growing pains.