Friday, March 29, 2013


The Black Swan was one of the most influential books on my thinking. I am not sure if this is because it was such a great book, or it just came at the perfect time in my life. I was in graduate school, about to drop the PhD program to take the masters degree, dating an economics PhD student so I was around a lot of economists and the economy was collapsing around me when I read it.

I had taken enough economics to realize that at my undergrad school there was no agreement at all on the subject. In the department I got a minor in every single professor seemed to disagree on everything. This wasn't like in Physics where most of the disagreement was in the new stuff. This was having neo-classical free market economists in the same program as Marxists.

Then, here comes Nassim Nicholas Taleb with the guts to say it is all bullshit, and the brains to totally deconstruct why.

Right after reading it, I decided that I agreed. Virtually all the reading I was doing was useless, and worse it was making my life worse. I needed to learn by actually doing things. So, soon after reading it I decided to stop talking to dead people.  This experiment that lasted at least a month or two, and totally altered how I lived my life for nearly two years. Unfortunately now I have completely degenerated to my previous state, but it still made for interesting times and I am not convinced that it is not a better way of living.

Somehow, despite my great respect for his previous book, I had a really difficult time purchasing his new book, Antifragile. I decided that I could not say no though and gave in and bought it.

My first impression was that his ego must have grown. Or maybe I just had completely forgotten his literary style over the years. He struck me as pompous to the point of being almost impossible to take seriously.

He then proceeded to make brilliant point after brilliant point.

Maybe I better stop talking to dead people again.

He made a pretty good case that I should actually do the opposite though. Only read what dead people wrote and ignore new books/newspapers.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another Tournament

I decided to try another Jiu Jitsu tournament. This one was mostly chosen because it is cheap and you are guaranteed 3 matches so I won't get eliminated in the first round. I am 30 in an age category which is 30-49 which can't hurt either. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Downtown LA is Improving

I  went to Downtown LA a few days this week. It really did support the idea that the economy is finally coming back. It was hardly the boom town I saw a two years ago when I was in Vancouver, but the cranes seem to be slowly returning.

This includes construction of what will be the tallest building in downtown LA as well as a great many smaller projects. Of most interest to me is that they continue to be building a whole bunch of new apartment towers and mixed use buildings. This gives me hope for the place cleaning itself up. Nothing like a bunch of wealthy locals to encourage the city to pay attention.

Having walked around many downtown areas in the last couple years, such as Vancouver, Chicago, and Manhattan, downtown LA really does stand out as the worst. A lot of it is simply not enough care for appearance. When I was in downtown Chicago I saw quite a few people on the street with a broom and basket cleaning up trash. When I was in downtown LA I saw a lot of trash. Those other downtown areas are becoming so popular though that I expect they will encourage LA to get its act together. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Energy Efficiency Upgrades

When I found out that I was buying a home, I decided to go research what energy efficiency upgrades made sense. A lot can be done with new construction which will ultimately save money in the long run. Builders have a lot of incentive to use building code minimums though so they can advertise lower prices.

The main place where you can actually save money is insulation. Air conditioning and heating costs are a big part of energy bills and insulation is cheap. So I got the builder to upgrade the insulation to:

R-38 in the ceiling instead of R-19
R-19 above the garage instead of R-13
R-15 in 2x4 walls instead of R-13
R-21 in 2x6 walls instead of R-13

This meets or exceeds the Oak Ridge National Labs recommendations for the area which seemed about as credible a way to go. I tried to get some underslab insulation, but the builder was not willing to go along with that which probably means they know something I do not about difficulty of installation.

The double pane low-e glass that the homes came stocked with actually appeared to be quite good. Triple pane glass does exist, but it wasn't clear that it would pay for itself in energy savings in this climate. 

I got a whole bunch of recessed LED lights. This lights really impressed me in home depot the other day. For some reason I touched the bulb. It was cool. This seemed so remarkable to me that I touched the bulb on the metal halide bulb on display next to it. Sure enough, it was as hot you would expect a light bulb to be. These were expensive enough that I am not sure they will actually pay for themselves, but I should be able to avoid the need for lamps in most if not all of the house which will also save some money. 

I tried to get the air conditioner upgraded and got a great lesson in government inefficiency. The builder declined to let me upgrade the air conditioning. In order to install a higher efficiency air conditioner they would have to go back to the city of [La Habra]( with amended title 24 documents. This opened them up for additional demands from the city, a risk that after all of the trouble the city caused for them they were just not willing to take. So an energy efficiency law, resulted in a home being built that was less energy efficient.

Friday, March 15, 2013

New Seeds

I have decided that my new back yard should be primarily berries and perennial herbs. Both of those share being relatively easy to grow while relatively expensive to buy in grocery stores. I got carried away though and bought too many seeds some of which are entirely random:

Chinese 5 Color Peppers
He Shi Ko Bunching Onion 
Rat's Tail
Giant Cape Gooseberry
Strawberry Spinach
Green Grape Tomato

Friday, March 1, 2013

High Speed Camera Shots

I managed to borrow a high speed camera from work and with a person who does physics demonstrations at Cal Poly Pomona I got high speed footage of a ping pong ball shooting through some cans:

The ping pong ball is being launched entirely by air rushing into the pipe to fill a vacuum. You can see that a shockwave comes ahead of the ping pong ball denting the can before the ball even reaches it.

Here is a basic description of the experiment.

Here is a normal speed video which I was not involved with:

Also somewhat impressive is their full list of Physics Demonstrations