Sunday, May 31, 2009

Emptying the Bottle: May '09 Links List

1) Hands down the coolest bicycle tricks video I have ever seen.

2) The atomic bomb was Plan B (after thousands of bats carrying bombs).

3) Looking for a job? See what your references say about you or what interview questions certain employers are likely to ask.

4) Penn and Teller use magic to make a point about airline security.

5) A way around smoking bans, become a "smoking research center" (thanks Justin).

6) This company takes care of your online identity when you die?

7) Great pictures from a tent city outside of downtown Fresno.

8) Economics of The Office.

9) Classical Indian music + Bluegrass = Hindugrass

10) Really cool curve ball optical illusion.

Are these links lists even worth it? About how many do you actually click on? No response might make me think you didn't even read this far, so please comment. And if you like them, then here's my daily Bookmarks.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Economics Epigraph

The authors of Marginal Revolution are releasing their own economics textbook and asked their readers for a fitting epigraph. I think they chose a good one:
Economics is the study of how to get the most out of life.
What a great explanation of how important efficiency is. Sometimes I'm guilty of portraying the market as uncaring and cold, but that's only true if the collective decisions of the people are uncaring and cold. Efficiency is letting the most people get the most good. Not too bad for the "dismal science".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Good Samaritan Swindle

Been wanting to post this for a while. It's from a BBC show called The Real Hustle, which demonstrates cons and scams on unsuspecting people using hidden cameras. See more here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let's Not Do the Numbers

If you listen to NPR's Marketplace, or most news shows for that matter, then you've probably heard them ramble off the day's stock market price changes. Marketplace even plays positive or negative music based on the up or down direction of the prices. Not only is this a waste of time for its listeners, it distracts the public from real measures of economic health. The direction of the stock market on any given day is not based on overall economic health, but is instead the result of countless decisions based on even more countless information. The daily change means nothing to the average American, what really matters is the long run trend.

The long run trend is up; that's what matters. The average person doesn't invest in the stock market to get rich quickly, they do it to get rich slowly. But here's the kicker, not only does the daily direction meaningless to regular Joes like us, it is borderline worthless to the "experts" as well. The Wall Street Journal has been running a contest since 1988 based on Burton Malkiel’s book A Random Walk Down Wall Street. In the book he proposes that "a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts." Here are the results:
The pros won 61 of the 100 contests versus the darts. That’s better than the 50% that would be expected in an efficient market. On the other hand, the pros losing 39% of the time to a bunch of darts certainly could be viewed as somewhat of an embarrassment for the pros. Additionally, the performance of the pros versus the Dow Jones Industrial Average was less impressive. The pros barely edged the DJIA by a margin of 51 to 49 contests.
So stop telling me "I'm in the Money" or that there's "Stormy Weather".

Friday, May 22, 2009

For All You Grammar Sticklers

Another insightful post from Penelope Trunk:
We should judge people by their ideas, their creativity, their enthusiasm. None of this naturally comes at the heels of good grammar.

Writing without typos is outdated. It’s impossible to proofread your own work, and it is not financially viable to produce typo-free copy—if it made financial sense, the newspaper industry would be booming. But instead, the riddled-with-typos blogging industry is booming.
A general rule I try to follow is to not spend more time producing a post than my collective readers will take consuming it. So if it takes me 30 minutes to write, it better take my 30 readers at least 1 minute to read, 1 loyal reader 30 minutes to read, or somewhere in between. That way the more popular a blog is, the more time a writer can justify spending on it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wheel of Fortune Strategy

As a follower of "The Wheel", a fan of general game strategy, and as the brother-in-law of two past contestants, I've often wondered what the best show strategy was. Who better to ask than the professionals themselves? Here is a Pat Sajak v. Vanna White April Fools episode from the late 90's:

Here are three strategies I gleaned:

1) By default, start your guesses with the 5 consonants they give you in the bonus round, RSTLN.

2) If you are not confident in what consonant to guess next, buy a vowel (Pat even commended a contestant for using this strategy on today's episode).

3) Even if you know the answer, keep going to get your maximum amount of money. Not necessarily guessing every letter, but definitely not solving right when you know it (you have an 11/12 chance of not losing your turn on the spin).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Blockbuster's Future, A Personal Story

For the first time in a long while, I went to Blockbuster. Here's my story:

Me: Hey I'm looking for Bull Durham (It's a movie that takes place in the area I recently moved to, Durham).

Employee: Yeah it's over there in the $1 movie section.

Me: $1 movie? I didn't know y'all lowered you're prices.

Employee: It just happened a couple of weeks ago.

Me: Great (It's at this time I start to question my disloyalty to Blockbuster. Maybe they've come around after all. So I go find Bull Durham, walk to counter excited to spend less than I predicted [...] 3 minutes later I arrive at the front of the line).

Employee: Do you have your Blockbuster Card?

Me: Oh, no. (Do people still carry those around?) I have one under my wife's name, Traci Brookie, B-R-O-O-K-I-E.

Employee: Is she here?

Me: No.

Employee: Oh, then you won't be able to use it.

Me: ...

Employee: Let me see if your name is on the card too. What's your name?

Me: Harrison Brookie

Employee: I don't see it. Did you get this in another state?

Me: Yeah, South Carolina.

Employee: Oh, well that's the problem. You'll have to get another account from this state. Just come over here (to an entirely new desk across the room) and fill out this form (that has at least a dozen information questions. It's at this point I realize my hope for Blockbuster has been dashed. I quickly fill out what I feel is the bare minimum and hand it back.).

Employee: Don't forget your license number.

Me: ...OK

Employee: Oh and your debit card info.

Me: ......OK

Employee: And your contact number.

Me: .........OK

Employee: And also your home address.

Me: You have my license number, debit information, and my cell phone number, why do you possibly need my home address?

Employee: We need to know where our products are going!

Me: ...

Employee: Look, you don't have to do anything you don't want to.

Me: This is why Netflix is kicking your ass (I may have said "Redbox", but either way, I definitely said "kicking your ass").

Employee: Uh, well actually no their not (others would disagree, so would the facts).

Me: Ok here... (I hand him my filled out sheet with everything short of my social security number and he hands me a laminated card. I guess I'm supposed to file this with my BILO Bonus Card and CVS Extra Care Card in the annoying things to hold on to box).

Employee: Thank you, now just show that to the cashier (I head back over to the original line. [...] 3 minutes later I arrive at the front of the line. I give him money. He gives me the movie).

Employee: That's due back by midnight tomorrow (Which means I had to drive back up there again the next day. Luckily it was the last time).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Economics of Occupational Licensing

Here's a surprising fact from a economics paper I came across:

in 2006, 29 percent of the workforce was required to hold an occupational license from a government agency

Here are some examples of jobs that need government permission:

In Alabama it is illegal to recommend shades of paint without a license. In Nevada it is illegal to move any large piece of furniture for purposes of design without a license. In fact, hundreds of people have been prosecuted in Alabama and Nevada for practicing "interior design" without a license. Getting a license is no easy task, typically requiring at least 4 years of education and 2 years of apprenticeship.
These extreme examples show the absurdity of government licensing. It only blur the lines of competition by increasing the costs of entry, which raises the price of goods for all consumers. Pay attention and you'll notice that the major advocates of licensing are those who already have it. There's no reason to think that market competition can't give us the information we need on our professionals. I think there is a huge demand for cheaper, lower quality professional work that is kept out of many professional jobs. In fact, I can't think of any job where I want government certification, not even public education (and I'm already certified).

Libertarian Reluctantly Calls Fire Department

From the Onion:

CHEYENNE, WY—After attempting to contain a living-room blaze started by a cigarette, card-carrying Libertarian Trent Jacobs reluctantly called the Cheyenne Fire Department Monday. "Although the community would do better to rely on an efficient, free-market fire-fighting service, the fact is that expensive, unnecessary public fire departments do exist," Jacobs said. "Also, my house was burning down." Jacobs did not offer to pay firefighters for their service.
Hat tip to Justin.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Worthwhile Sentences on Regulation

From Inclined to Liberty: "There are those inclined to liberty--freedom of the individual to live his or her life in any peaceful way. And there are those who are inclined to mastery--permitting others to live their lives only as another sees fit."

From Arnold Kling: "When people lose confidence and trust in one another, their confidence in government increases. Thus, government failure that undermines confidence winds up reinforcing the demand for government!"

From Milton Friedman: "The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a good measure of both."

From Arnold Kling: "Regulation is a chess mid-game, not a math problem. With a math problem, once you solve the problem, it stays solved. In a chess mid-game, new opportunities and threats arise constantly. You try to plan ahead, but your plans inevitably degrade over time."

From the Amateur Economist: "Do politicians have crystal balls? I doubt it, but at times it sure seems as though they have brass ones."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Swine Flu Goes Viral

Thanks for Google Insights we can see how items searched changes over time. Here are searches for "swine flu":

The numbers 0-100 are not absolute search numbers, but are instead how many searches have been done relative to the total number of searches on Google over time. As you can tell searches for "swine flu" go from 0-100 in only 8 days! Also, it seems America is responding to the news that this flu may not be that deadly after all.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Perfect Game, Cake

The board game Settlers of Catan has become the Brookies' new pastime. It's like Monopoly plus Risk, without the problems of Monopoly and Risk:
the reason we don't play much Risk and Monopoly as adults is that those are actually poorly designed games, [...] "Monopoly has you grinding your opponents into dust. It's a very negative experience. It's all about cackling when your opponent lands on your space and you get to take all their money." Monopoly, in fact, is a classic example of what economists call a zero-sum game. For me to gain $100, you have to lose $100. For me to win, you have to be bankrupt. Gouging and exploiting may be perfect for humiliating your siblings, but they're not so great for relaxing with friends.

Monopoly also fails with many adults because it requires almost no strategy. The only meaningful question in the game is: To buy or not to buy? Most of its interminable three- to four-hour average playing time (length being another maddening trait) is spent waiting for other players to roll the dice, move their pieces, build hotels, and collect rent.

"Settlers" is much more enjoyable:

Instead of direct conflict, German-style games tend to let players win without having to undercut or destroy their friends. This keeps the game fun, even for those who eventually fall behind. Designed with busy parents in mind, German games also tend to be fast, requiring anywhere from 15 minutes to a little more than an hour to complete. They are balanced, preventing one person from running away with the game while the others painfully play out their eventual defeat. And the best ones stay fresh and interesting game after game.
Although playing online (user name HarrisonBrookie) is fun, nothing beats playing with friends. This is especially true when its your wife's birthday and she has a Settlers of Catan cake to go with it: