Friday, November 30, 2007

Same Old Song and Dance

It seems like if you want to make a crappy song popular, all you have to do is come up with a dance for it. Examples:

Cha Cha Slide
Boot Scootin' Boogie (not such a bad song)
Soulja Boy - Crank Dat
Achy Breaky Heart
Electric Slide (also, not such a bad song)
Hand Jive
Chicken Dance
Chicken Noodle Soup (I know they made the song to go with the dance, but still)

Honestly, do you think these songs would be nearly as popular if they didn't come up with an overly simplified way to make white people think they can dance?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Minimum Wage Increase

For a good primer on minimum wage facts, visit the Employment Policies Institute.

Like the majority of economists, I am against raising the minimum wage. I certainly don't hate poor people nor do I want to keep them down for some personal benefit. Here is how I see the minimum wage issue... Assume that the labor market is segmented into low-, medium-, and high-skill workers. Assume further that the low-skill labor market is currently in equilibrium at price Peq and quantity Qeq. Now, raise the price of labor (wage) creating an artificial price floor (aka minimum wage) in the low-skill market. Raising the minimum wage will not affect medium- and high-skill workers who currently earn above the new proposed minimum wage.
At a price P1, the amount of workers actually hired falls from the current equilibrium rate Qeq to Qd, the amount that firms are willing to hire at price P1 (people/households "supply" the labor, unlike most other graphs you're used to seeing where firms supply televisions and people demand them).

Here's the tradeoff: people who keep their jobs earn more money, but some people lose their jobs entirely. All workers whose marginal revenue product is between P1 and Peq will be fired. However, people who do keep their jobs are likely to have any benefits reduced so that the employer can help offset the cash outflow of raising the wage. Now you're saying that minimum wage earners don't get 2 weeks paid vacation. While that's true, they could be forced to work more hours off the books after the wage increase or they could be given fewer hours per week.

It is a misconception that most people who earn minimum wage are heads of poor households. This misconception inclines people to think of anti-minimum-wage-hikers as cold hearted bastards. The fact is that around 15% of minimum wage earners are actually heads of poor households. Most minimum wage earners are earning a second (or higher order) income for the family. Many are teenagers or working mothers. Over the course of a few months, most minimum wage earners can earn a raise based on their own merit/performance. This may not be true in menial jobs or ones where you pretty much do nothing productive (e.g. Night Owls *which I heard is now discontinued thanks to Ed Fulton*). HOWEVER, if the minimum wage is raised from Peq to P1, then all of a sudden, there is an excess supply of workers, meaning that minimum wage employees are now expendable. One can be hired and another is more than happy to fill the vacancy.

More effective ways to get more money into the pockets of the working poor is through programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit that allows workers to make more money tax free or through HUD voucher programs that effectively augment family income by giving money toward paying rent. Raising the minimum wage won't be beneficial. Not now, not ever.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Too Many Choices

Hey, do you want some ice cream?

What if I asked: Do you want chocolate ice cream, cookies and cream ice cream, apple pie, key lime pie, brownies, cookies, or cupcakes for dessert?

Which question is easier to answer?

The Dutch government commissioned an experimental economic study (Schram, Sonnemans. "How Individuals Choose Health Insurance: An Experimental Analysis." forthcoming) on how people choose health insurance plans when presented with different options. They found that when people have more options, they look at more absolute information, but less relative information and end up making worse choices. I think this is true in just about every decision-making environment.

The more choices you have, the more time you take to make a decision, and you process less information about each option on average, while it's even harder to pick a clear winner.

When I was home over Thanksgiving, my mom made some (pretty bad) brownies. She said that she tried to get just plain old, regular brownies. Apparently there are 5,311 different kinds the store offers now with all kinds of options. Let a brownie be a multidimensional good B(C,K,M,T)
hocolate set {milk, dutch, dark, Hershey brand, double, white}
Kind set {chewy, cake-like, thick}
Mix-ins {walnuts, nothing, chocolate syrup, another color mix for marbling}
Toppings {chocolate syrup, icing, different kind of icing, none, nuts}
As you can see, there are too many choices for brownies (all the permutations that give you different types of Brownies = B(C,K,M,T). You stand there for hours debating which box you should pick up. They all have different properties along the dimensions of: taste, cooking time, price, ease of making, consistency, size. This is just too much info for somebody to process. I say just put out a box of brownies with nuts and syrup and icing all in separately sealed containers, so you can either choose to use them or not when you start baking. I guess you could just pick what's most important to you and come up with a time-saving choice rule (I will get the one with the Hershey brand, no matter what the other components are).

Buying a new car or choosing which candidate to vote for have the same sorts of problems. Both things are so multidimensional that it's almost sure that one package will fall short of the other on at least one dimension. You have to decide how to rank the importance of each component of the package and come up with a decision rule that lets you pick something that's available. It's just about impossible to find a political candidate that you agree with on every issue or a car that's perfect in every way.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You Are What You Do

What you do is who you are. How else could one be identified. I guess it's possible to define something by what it's not (something is dry if it is not wet...).

When I identify myself, it's always with something that I do. I'll tell you that I'm a runner (I'm starting to say triathlete), a student, a nice guy, a low-grade adventure seeker, an economist, or a chemist (usually chemist is in the past tense). I don't say that I'm white. I was born white and there's nothing I can do to change that. It's not something that I do. I am an environmentalist, but not the militant kind. That's because I do the 3Rs, ride my bike for transportation when possible, buy recycled, etc. but I don't chain myself to trees or live in a tree. I don't normally say that I'm a man or an American...once again, those are things that are either obvious or irrelevant.

When I try to identify other people, I identify them by what they do. They might be partiers or dancers, mechanics or video-gamers, impulsive or cool, birdwatchers or knitters, slackers or gangsters. I would like other people to evaluate me based on the merits of what I do.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Traffic Externality

The act of one individual driving imposes costs on the rest of society. Among them, there is pollution in the air, wear & tear on the road, increasing probability of an accident on that road, and slowing other people down. Since drivers do not take these external costs into account when deciding when/how much to drive, there is an aggregate effect of too much driving.

When I just drove for my Thanksgiving trip home, I left Tuesday night around 8:30 to get home and Saturday night around 10:30 to get back to Tallahassee. I wasn't trying to stay out of other people's way, rather I was trying to not have them get in my way. If you think about it, you don't really slow down each other car very much. However, when you add up the amount of time that every car is slowed down by you, it gets to be substantial on a non-open road. The effect is more compounded with a higher density of slow somebody down who then slows the cars behind him even more...

I'm not suggesting that you take other people's time into account when deciding how to plan your driving trips. In fact, I don't do it. I plan for myself. Try to avoid busy streets to save yourself time, gas, and frustration. Don't go somewhere at rush hour. Drive smarter for yourself and you help everyone out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Camouflaged Lizard

I love the way this guy blends in to the ant-hill/log on which he's standing. View full size for better effect.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Molotov Cocktail Recipe

Thought this was funny. Came across it while looking for fun drinks to make for one of my parties:

Molotov Cocktail:

One can Gasoline
1, burning Oily Rag

Decant gasoline into a magnum champagne bottle, stuff one end of the rag into the bottle's neck, shake well, light, and serve.

Great when served to hippies, Communists and most armored vehicles.

Obtained from alex's cocktail recipes

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No Fiat Money in Star Trek

Note: I'm not a Trekkie, so there may be errors on the sci-fi front...feel free to correct me.

Nick watches Star Trek sometimes. I've seen parts of episodes. We got in a discussion about the Federation's economy. He said that they don't have money because there's a machine called the Replicator that will reproduce anything that you put in it. Therefore, currency would become worthless because anyone could just make more and more currency. I asked how trade was possible. He said that there's a little bit of barter, but being a solitary ship in space pretty much limits how much interaction you have with other groups of people and you have to be mostly self-sufficient. I inquired if there weren't a sporadically exploitable comparative advantage in producing different goods by different societies. He said "only a little bit."

It took me until the next day to decide that all money would have to be commodity money as opposed to fiat money. Nick highlighted the obvious inflationary problems associated with fiat money. I will recognize a supply-side effect which would potentially decrease the selling price of commodity money, but I think that it could work.

I guess what the whole problem boils down to is what kind of trade-offs are made when you replicate an object. I would guess that you just have to give up the atoms that comprise the molecules that make up that object, so you can't use those same atoms to replicate other things. Perhaps in the throes of deep space, the demand structure changes inter(space)temporally frequently and unpredictably enough that the best thing to replicate is what's needed right now. Perhaps people could recycle old objects and take the atoms out to make new objects in the replicator. That would make a really cool situation where your consumption could double as savings (could you collect your poo, stick it in the replicator, and get an apple to pop back out??).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Un ligo que no veas

No mucha gente sabe que pasó al final de las últimas fiestas en mi hogar. Pues lo natural...fui a descansarme por la noche compartiendo mi espacio, sabes. Ambas veces, no pasaba mucho entre nosotros durante la madrugada, pero se puede llamarlo un ligo. La mañana siguiente de la vez penúltima, me sentí vacío. No significó nada ni fue esperado. No hice nada. Al contrario, la última vez fue increíble aun con menos "actividad". Paso unas horas con una guapa quien he admirado desde hace unos 6 o 7 años. Al hablar con ella, decidí que es bastante guay y quiero conocerla mejor. Me contó que tuvo emociones para mi desde hace años también. Al partir de ella, me sentí más lleno, más vivo y más deseado.

Tengo ganas de reunir con la última, quien me abrazó con ternura y miró tras mis ojos. En serio, palpita mi corazó más rápido por pensar en nosotros juntos. Ahorita vive en otra ciudad, pero va a volver al cabo de unas semanas. Pienso (en serio) de pedirla una cita aunque el horario puede ser un problema pequeño. Llegue cerca de la semana de examenes finales y me voy para pasar la navidad con mi familia. Advino que si va a funcionar, no serán muy fuertes estos obstáculos.

¡Ay! No puedo platicar d'esto con muchas personas, no sé porque. Tal vez sea que ella está lejos ahora y es que la situación parece lejos y no tocable.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pick #51

Copeland Davis - "Ridin' a Rainbow" from Endangered Species

Copeland Davis is awesome live. I went with Carmen to see him for free at Cityplace, courtesy of the HC. He used to play weekly, I'm not sure if he still does. I'm not sure if the album is as good as his live stuff, but I enjoy the album. Endangered Species was recorded using only live musicians in the studio, something that Davis is passionate about. He believes that truly talented musicians are in jeopardy right now as they are being poached by the music industry that pumps out sexy artists with an image who are not talented musicians. Just like alligators in Florida, we can help save this endangered species and bring them back to the point of thriving if we make an effort.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Secret Cypher

My neighbor Amanda's home for Thanksgiving now and when she came over to visit tonight, we ended up solving a cryptogram. I told her that I once invented a code more complex than simple substitution. In fact, Chris Page and I invented a cypher in the 2nd or 3rd grade. Up until this point, very few people know much more than that. I've only shown the code to a handful of special people. However, I was just thinking "what's the point of having this code if there's nobody to use it with?"

So, here's the basic idea... You divide the alphabet up into vowels and consonants. Let me write them as sets:
When you have a word, the way you write it in the cypher is by replacing the actual consonant with the element of set C that comes before it in the set (b represents z). Likewise, the first vowel in every word is replaced by the element of the set V that comes before it (u represents a). No other vowels are changed.

Economics is fun.
Adomolibr er dom.

I know it's nothing fancy, but hey, what can you expect from a kid? This isn't useful for slipping things past the government or fooling a cryptologist, but it could be at least a little frustrating to someone who is trying to figure out your code with a simple substitution.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

Nick asked last week if it would be possible to make your own M&Ms. I think not. "Then what about Reese's?" Me: "I don't know, maybe." I talked to a couple people about it and we decided that we would melt down chocolate, pour it into cupcake wrappers, coat the sides with chocolate, freeze it to let it harden up, melt peanut butter, pour it in, freeze again, then top with more melted chocolate. At first I thought that we might have a problem of the layers separating. That didn't happen. They turned out pretty good.

Nick contends that we should open a restaurant. As an economist, I see that a small-scale operation based out of the house where the patrons were, umm, the people who live here, umm, would be a good idea. It is nice that with some good cooking skills, you can make a meal at home that's just as good as something you would get out at a nice restaurant for under half the price. The downside is cleanup.

In my opinion, my roommates and I are good cooks at least 85% of the time that we try. I think that the 15% failure rate is good because it means that we're trying new things and moving outside our comfort zone. Also, let me clarify that (re)heating something does not constitute cooking. Also not cooking if it comes out of a box. Normally not cooking if it goes in the microwave (unless this is a prep step or a time-saving shortcut that replaces part of the time on the stove or in the oven). It's not cooking unless you vigorously mix something then cook it until it changes consistency; chop something up; expose food to high temperatures; kill the animal or pick the fruit/vegetables yourself; ...I think you get my point.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


This site is weird. Thankfully, it started as a joke. CheatNeutral is a criticism of carbon offsetting companies. If you click the "About" link at the top of the page, then you can read about carbon offsetting.

It's pretty easy to look at and wonder how CheatNeutral could work. The answer is that it doesn't work. I mean, I'm pretty sure nobody actually pays them and they don't pay people. But I didn't sign up as a sinle/monogamous person so I don't actually know. Furthermore, you'd never show your partner the offset certificate. Also, 2 and a half pounds is an absurdly small price to pay for cheating. Browse around the site, though.

Cheating on me has thankfully never happened before (to the best of my knowledge) and it is the one thing that would make me terminate a relationship instantly. No sort of offsetting payment could be made directly to me, let alone to a third (or, better, 4th) party.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Asymmetric Abs

The picture is a little crappy, but my camera doesn't take such great pictures without daylight.

I noticed yesterday that my top 4 abs are asymmetric. I'm still working on building up the bottom 4. I've noticed on the cover of muscle magazines that bodybuilders and really ripped dudes rarely have symmetric abs. I don't plan on being really ripped, but I guess it's a possibility if I can get in the gym on a regular basis (which doesn't seem like a possibility right now, mostly due to a lack of motivation).

It's really nice to see results from working out. Makes me appreciate the ab work that I've done in the last couple weeks. Maybe now with a better diet, I could work on those bottom ones.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Max VO2 Max

I am participating in a study at FSU that's testing the effect of static stretching on endurance runners. Today I went to get my body composition and VO2 Max tested. Next week, I'll run for 30 minutes at 65% of my VO2 Max then either stretch or sit quietly, then run another 30 minutes as far as I can without being able to see how fast I'm going or how far or how long I've gone...but I will be able to control the speed.

The old lab record for VO2 Max was 68 mL O2/kg body weight/minute. Today I ran at 77 mL O2/kg body weight/minute. Check out this website to see how off the charts that is. Also, my body fat was 7.4%...nothing to write home about, but not bad. My max heart rate was 198, but I'm convinced it was higher when I was skydiving!

Striking Similarity

I was looking at some pictures from Spain that were taken by other people. I think this one came from Mani (it was in the folder Spain Pix\Not my pictures\Espana\Granada, which I think the nomenclature of the files & folders matches his style). Compare this to the picture I posted on November30, 2006 called "Flower Light." I thought it was actually one of my pictures that somehow made it into the wrong folder on my computer. Turns out that this one is taken from a slightly different angle. I've found a few other pictures that are very similar to ones I took.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pick #50

Watched Pots - "Triple Deke" from they're more afraid of you than you are of them

You can get this entire album from dude's website. I've been listening to it a little bit lately with Triple Deke as my favorite song, but that may change after some more listens. It's free, so it's totally worth your time. Dude wants people to listen, so hook him up.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nobody to Call

I decided to run today because my achilles is feeling better. I got about 4 minutes into it and decided to turn around and walk back home. Bummer. Running feels so good, but I guess it will have to wait a little longer. I decided to ride my bike to Georgia instead. When I was about 25-30 minutes away from home, I realized that I forgot to bring money with me and that I would probably need to refill my water bottle. On the way back, I ended up getting a gas station guy to fill it up in the sink. After that, I saw a guy next to his truck on the side of the road holding a gas can. I stopped and asked if he needed to call anyone. He said that he didn't have anyone to call. I wonder if that's because he's from somewhere else...I don't remember what his license plate said. I hope that he's just far from home instead of being devoid of friends. He had put a dollar's worth of gas in his truck, but that's all he had. I would have offered him a couple bucks if I had any with me. I wonder how much longer he stood there before anyone helped him.

I'll now mention that he was a black dude, probably about 35-40 years old because I'm wondering if, statistically speaking, black people have to wait longer than white people in a roadside situation before anyone helps them. I doubt that there's a good way to measure that, except with phony, small-sample field experiments which would be plagued by all kinds of design failures that would render the results useless.

I'll now diverge on a racism note. I'm learning in my UR class that there's a lot more racism in America than I thought. We've been looking at it in the housing market and public choice. I'm not sure if it's comforting or not, but a lot of discrimination can be explained by income. However, even after controlling for income, blacks still get the short end of the stick. I wonder if this will change in the future. For instance, my parents went through race riots in high school, when integration was still in its infancy. I wonder if we'll have more equality when members of my generation are in charge of lending institutions, apartment complexes, public policy, and the like. I think that we are on average less racist than our parents. I don't know if/when that will manifest itself in better equality in our country.

Friday, November 9, 2007


Nick has a theory about food that certain colors go together. One day I was making chicken, bacon, & ranch to put in a sandwich. Nick said it looked like it wanted something green, so he threw in some green peppers. Yesterday, he put a glass of Maker's Mark in front of me and said "just look at that...I want to drink it." He said that the color just looked appetizing. I think it's kind of cool how we can eat things that are bright yellow or purple ketchup or (Sarah's favorite) blue raspberry. Those colors aren't normally good for you. In fact, instinct should tell you to stay away from them. However, we've been conditioned enough by living in our cushy non-survival-of-the-fittest-kind of world that we don't hesitate to pop some neon colored food or drink in our mouths.

Nick asked what do we have left in our repertoire of actions that could be attributed to instinct? He suggested sex. I don't know. I think that it's possible for someone who's been kept in isolation to have instinctual feelings about sex, maybe even a good idea of how to do it. However, I'm pretty sure that the sex that surrounds us on TV and billboards, conversation and radio songs, books and paintings, has led to a rewiring of that instinct. I mean, you should never instinctively even consider a Cleveland Steamer (nor should you even think about actually doing it). Nick's only valid example of an instinct is suckling. He says that babies know how to suckle and nobody teaches them. I agreed. I said what about breathing? I guess that falls in the category of nearly continuous autonomous functions, which don't count. What about getting into the fetal position to comfort yourself? Does that count?

I think that the only way you can know that something is an instinct is to react to a stimulus in a split second in a situation for which you've never been trained, conditioned, or informed. This significantly reduces the possible space of opportunities to find that you actually have some sort of instinct. Other things that we're programmed to do may fall beneath your perception. For instance, when cold water hits your face, your heart immediately slows down and your blood vessels contract in your extremities. While you may just write that off as a physiological reaction, how else would you define an instinct?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

No Such Thing as Indie Anymore

Nick told me that he heard people discussing that with the advent of internet sites like myspace, there's no longer any truly "independent" musicians (to a lesser extent artists of any kind) anymore. They might not have a major record label behind them, but they do have access to millions of potential fans through a popular website. Furthermore, any artists can put their music up on sites like or In fact, we ran into Micah (the American Studies guy) at a concert on Monday (Maylene & the Sons of Disaster, Poison the Well, Underoath). Micah clarified that it means something entirely different to be independent these days than it did 10-15 years ago.

Apparently some folks get upset when you suggest that their fav indie band is not actually "independent." I'm not entirely sure why you'd get upset about a thing like that. I guess it's like the thing when there's a song that's been your favorite by that band and then you hear it on the feel like something that you had an intimate connection with is now property of the masses (who obviously don't deserve proprietorship of this item). Maybe it's just a subcultural thing that you don't want to have tainted by the grimy hands of the masses. I guess I can agree that it's a bad thing for an "independent" band to blow up, sell out, and start making suckier music. However, I think major-record-label-signing would be a positive phenomenon if bands could maintain their style and everything else that the fans love them for.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Monitor on its way out...

My beautiful Planar monitor that some of you know and love is on its way out. In fact, it's been messing with me in small ways for a couple months now and it finally took a big plunge. The screen would freeze on occasion and power cycling the monitor wouldn't fix it. Sometimes the screen would be monochromatic and wouldn't reset until I plugged in another input (Nick's laptop). After a reset, it would work fine for an undefined period of time. I currently have my CRT monitor that I've been trying to get rid of hooked up as my computer's monitor. I actually had to move my desk out from the wall in order to get it to fit.

I'm kind of disappointed that my monitor has died after only 5 and a half years of use. When I got my computer upon graduating high school, I planned on having it for the next 8 years. I meant the tower-monitor combo for 8 years. I was thinking about it, though and it's been moved around a lot (possibly incurring small damages each time) and it was one of the early flat panels. Hopefully now they're built to last longer.

I'm replacing the monitor with this one from Planar. I hear that widescreens can increase your productivity, which would be pretty sweet. I also thought about watching movies on it being cool, but now that I have a TV, that's not such an issue anymore. I'm looking forward to having the extra screen room (and higher resolution).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

New Weekly Feature?

I think it would be cool to add another weekly feature to the blog, aside from the "Pick of the Week" song. Leave a comment with any suggestions. BTW, make it something that you think would be "Austin" enough for me to cover.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Corner Gas

Superstation WGN is airing Canadian sitcom Corner Gas at midnight Sunday through Thursday (maybe Friday too). It's a show about the small town of Dog River, Saskatchewan, Canada. Basically nothing big ever goes down and the episodes focus on one or 2 out-of-the-ordinary events that pop up. I like the humor. I think that most of those things are funny because they're things that I imagine myself doing. I recommend you give it a watch. BTW, there's a hot chick on there...Lacey the diner-owner-lady is played by the beautiful Gabrielle Miller. I don't think I could date her character, though.

Also impressive is that they get high ranking members of the Canadian government to be on the show. Two ACTING Prime Ministers have appeared on the show, and at least one (what-do-you-call the head of province dudes??) was on there. If you don't like your first episode, give it one more chance before giving up on it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pick #49

Lazlo Bane - Overkill, featuring Colin Hay

it's a cover of the Men at Work song, but Lazlo Bane got Colin Hay (singer of M@W) to collaborate on this song. I really liked it when it came out, but forgot about it for years. I saw it last week on Scrubs and was reminded of how awesome a song it is.

Friday, November 2, 2007


There is NO SUCH THING as unlimited cell phone minutes. The claim that someone can use an "unlimited" amount of airtime in a month is preposterous. Of course the amount they can use is limited by the number of minutes in a month (on the order or 43,000).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Subscribe to MY Atom Posts

Alright, if you have a feed reader, I just put up an Atom feed. Go to the bottom of my page and click the subscribe button! Then you'll be able to see ~ the first paragraph of a post, but you just click the link to go to my site and read the whole thing.

If you don't know what I just said, let me explain. A feed reader is a program (like Google Reader) that searches (multiple) webpages and lets you know which ones are updated. Pretty much, you can check a program that checks multiple sources and lets you know which ones are updated. This beats surfing to my page and just checking if it's updated or not. I don't know a whole lot else about it, but I just had my last midterm of the semester today and decided to goof around online.

I've already subscribed to a couple blogs, including my own. Hopefully that way I'll be able to see if it's doing what I think it should.

I'm not sure what the advantages/disadvantages are to using Atom vs. RSS. I don't know if it's possible to output feeds in both formats for the same blog or not. If you know anything and have a suggestion, let me know.