Saturday, December 01, 2012

Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Ad Contest

A local video production company and I recently entered the annual Doritos contest and made it to the top 40 videos. Go here to vote for my video entitled "Triple Play".

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top 5 Thoughts on Kids and Money

While going through my email recently I came across some thoughts from my brother-in-law on kids and money. My response was my top 5 thoughts on kids and money (earlier):

1) There are chores you have to do because you are a part of the family. There are extra chores you can do to earn money (I think I might let my kids bid against each other on these).
2) During the summer they can do extra work for you/neighbors/businesses.
3) The older they get the longer their pay periods are.
4) Buy a piggy bank that can only be cracked open. Anything they add to savings we will match dollar for dollar (like my own retirement account). Encourage them to keep a ledger of what has gone in so they can have an estimate of when/if they want to crack it open.
5) I'd like them to tithe, so pay day is church day so they can take their "first fruits" to church that day. I'd also like to encourage them to give money away. I'm not quite sure what the kid equivalent of a tax deduction is.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Economics of the Flu Vaccine

This is the first year I've ever gotten a flu shot. This is the first year I've ever gotten something like the flu (that eventually or was always pneumonia). I have been convinced, perhaps expectantly to get a flu shot every year for now on. How you might ask?

The classic explanation for government subsidy and distribution of vaccines is externalities. We often hear the word associated with negative externalities like pollution, unemployment, or even panhandling. However there can also be things that have positive spillovers, like vaccines. But externalities is only part of the story. There are two other issues two information and temporal. Here's the information needed:

1) Cost: Most people can get it for free
2) Pain: Be a wimp like me and try the new needle so small you can't even see it and it literally cannot hurt you
3) Hassle: Bring your phone and do something useful on it (even if calling your mom is all you can)
4) Likelihood of making a difference: What I take away from this experience is that if I get 50 more flu shots and it only makes a difference for 1 person 1 time it's worth it. I've felt like crap for 7 days, I'll do a lot to keep that from happening again.

And that brings us to the other issue, the temporal. All the "hard" work of getting a flu shot doesn't benefit you immediately if at all. It benefits some future version of you. The key is to get that present you to help the future you. How do you do it? Write a blog post about how much you want a flu shot when your sick, that way when you get better you'll remember this YOU'RE ONLY GETTING OLDER AND SICKER.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Had Roses and Apologized to No One

my sick station
I've been holed up in my guest bedroom with a "flu-like virus" and a fluctuating fever of over 100 degrees since Sunday afternoon. Most recent record was 103.8 degrees and the scale says I've lost 5% of my body weight. This is the worst I've physically felt in memory. I haven't been able to keep any real food down and haven't gone to work all week. It's been an interesting contrast to the last time I took some time off, right after my baby girl was born in October.

I've been reminded of the phrase at the title of this post, "I had roses and apologized to no one", from everybody's favorite libertarian superhero V for Vendetta. There is a character dying in prison of a deadly disease, but instead of dwelling on her current state, Valerie remembers back to the few good years she had before her world went bad. So I've decided, while I'm in my sweaty, hacky, drug filled state, I'd like to remember those 3 weeks in October:

looks this good overdue
By October 10th my wife Traci was already 3 days overdue, so we decided to get out of house, grab a bite to eat out and buy me some khaki corduroy pants I'd been wanting for so long. When we got home I gave my wife free reign on a movie selection. She choose a classic Traci favorite, The Break-Up. I guess we were prepping for our real tears with some celluloid ones.

taking a stroll,
pausing for contractions
Traci starting feeling labor pains in the middle of the night Thursday morning. For the next 20 hours or so, we labored in the house with our doula and walked around the neighborhood. The actual process of contractions, although very intense, were, in my wife's own words, "not as bad as expected". And I really enjoyed the bonding of going through it together.

not all newborns are that cute 
The last hour or so of the birth was a different story. This is the only part they show in movies because it is super intense. My wife did amazing job and at 3:32 am Friday, October 12th Traci gave birth naturally to Mae Harper Brookie. 20.5 inches and 6 pounds 4 ounces, long and thin just like her parents.

about to leave
Our plan was to spend as little time at the hospital and get to the comfort of our new home quickly. However, I was blown away at the quality of the midwives, nurses, lactation consultants, etc (though the rumors of bad food were true). I've concluded that the last big innovation in medicine is great customer service.

resting on the porch
We got home with Mae on Sunday and thus began a wonderful 2 weeks at home together (in fact I'd been so busy leading up to the birth I hadn't really spent a full day in our new house yet). The 3 of us trying to figure out eating, sleeping, and soothing together. Cuddle naps with Mae while my wife lifeguarded to ensure everyone's safety. Friends and family brought us delicious meal after delicious meal and they were all so sweet to Mae.

family of Kiko the new baby giraffe
We mostly kept ourselves during this time, with a few trips to the outside world. Some strolls around neighborhood, church, a meal out with my family, and even got a chance to walk downtown, baby strapped to me, to say goodbye to a friend moving away. And Halloween is always more fun with a baby. I ended up only missing one Alchemy show, but the theater ran just fine without me.

Like the bad times, the good times are mostly out of our control. A year ago I came to Greenville saddened by my work load, the impossibility of finding a house we could agree on, difficulty getting pregnant, and the improv community I left behind in NC. And here I am a year later with all of those desires fulfilled. I embraced the reality of suffering then, and I embrace the reality of joy now. We shouldn't brag on the upswing or be ashamed on the down. Stop and enjoy the roses you've been given and hold on to them for the future. Apparently my baby has been smiling up a storm the last few days. I look forward to seeing it in person myself. Here's a teaser for us:

Monday, November 05, 2012

Last Minute Voting Guide

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November, the blog post of treason and links." I've put a lot less energy into blogging lately, but I did give some thought about tomorrow's election and if I had anything new to say. It's turns out I don't. So here's a quick summary what I have said over the last 4 years:

1) It's okay NOT to vote. In fact, with the general lack of useful knowledge on the issues, it may be best not to.
2) It's okay TO vote, but be honest with yourself, statistically your vote doesn't matter. It's because it makes you feel good to get out and do something to support your team.
3) The BEST reason to vote is to push the political discussion in your preferred direction. It's not about the winning vote, it's about the marginal vote towards a bigger idea.
4) Your political perspectives are always SHIFTING. Who knows, in 4 years I may be voting for someone who actually wins.

I won $20 from dad in the last election betting on Obama. It looks like I'll win another $20 on him in this election from my brother. God bless America.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Here's a short film I helped create, write, and acted in. It's a long awaited revelation that all improvised comedy is actually written, rehearsed, and performed from a script.

I'll let you figure the truth out for yourself.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Future Bigotry

The gay marriage debate rages on and no one is safe from it. Not presidential candidates, not fast food chicken restaurants, and not even improv comedy shows. Alchemy, the comedy theater I run, had one of our students and friends of the company tell stories to inspire our Local Legends improv show a few weeks ago. Walter has been a menu printer, breakfast photographer, news columnist, and yes, he is gay. His stories covered all parts of his life, including some thoughts about the Chick-fil-A controversy (you can actually read them in his worth-reading Greenville News column). It was interesting to hear a downtown (think liberal) Greenville, SC (think conservative) crowd respond to his stories.

I haven't really given the issue much thought recently and I honestly haven't really kept up with the news about the controversy (in fact you may notice from the lack of blogging here, I haven't kept up with any news recently). But his stories got me to look back at the link I posted in 2009 about when gay marriage will be legalized in each state (so far we are little behind the prediction). There's no doubt the direction of change in the debate is for gay marriage. I can't imagine anyone who thinks it will be harder to get married in 5 years. Gay marriage will certainly be more like abolition and less like prohibition.

However, the bigger issue for me isn't will gay marriage happen, it will and it should, but what are the other issues for the future? I came across a two year old Washington Post article that had some possible predictive criteria:
First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn't emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries. 
Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, "We've always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?") 
And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they're complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn't think about what made those goods possible.
The writer then suggests 4 issues he thinks will one day be seen as common sense:
1) Over-incarceration, overcrowded, cruel prisons: I agree and have already posted on the issue2) Inhumane farming of animals: Although I have come to appreciate animals more, we are different. This issue will change, but not as much as the activists think.
3) Institutionalized and isolated elderly: My family is already seeing the change as the market/government/family adjusts for this demand. Though government safety net constraints will limit this.
4) Environmental destruction: As you know, I'm skeptical of overpopulation and unstoppable climate change.
Other suggestions I've read were waterboarding (already changing), high school football (Frank Deford has convinced me several times over), military drones (maybe I'm uninformed, but I don't really care about this specifically), gun control (I recently found out that I am the only member of my immediate family that lives in America that doesn't own a gun).

Here are my 3 predictions: Drugs (less restriction), debt (less socially/politically acceptable), and privacy (we'll care less about it). So what are your predictions of current beliefs that will be labeled as future bigotry?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inconsequence of Baptism

When my wife and I moved to North Carolina and  began searching for a new church, I put out a request for Useful Church Criteria. I decided then to use church doctrine as my primary measure and we found ourselves at another reformed presbyterian church. After three years there we left with very few long term relationships. So when we moved to Greenville, we used intimacy as our primary criteria. For almost a year now, my wife and I have been attending a non-denominational house church of about twelve in Greenville. The church's larger gathering has clear baptist roots and now that we are pregnant we have come face to face with church doctrine once again. I am meeting with my church leaders today to discuss the issue and I assured them I would give it significant thought. Here are those thoughts.

The New Testament introduces a new sacrament to the God's people, baptism. There are several examples of baptism in the order of conversion and then baptism: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved"“Repent and be baptized", "Simon himself believed and was baptized", etc. However, because this was a new sacrament, none of them would have had a chance to be baptized as a child and some of them had already been baptized once by John the Baptist. The issue is complicated when household baptisms are discussed: "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized"“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved —you and your household.”, "I also baptized the household of Stephanas", etc. Did these children, wives, servants all believe simultaneously? Possible, but it is unclear. Baptism is further muddled when you look at all the other ways the word is used: "in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”, "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea", "don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?", or finally “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

This post is not primarily about how I side on the issue of baptism, it is about how I think the local church should deal with it. So I will quickly explain the conclusions that I have come to agree with. Like the New Testament term baptism, the Old Testament term circumcision is used in a variety of ways. Everything from the literal act, to more figurative, and to even more figurative. And in many of these uses, they apply to those who are special to God and/or those who are submissive to God. All the men of Israel were physically circumcised, but not all the men in Israel had figurative "circumcised hearts". So there is a presidence for sacraments to be a signal of God's devotion to men, not of men's devotion to God. In fact, I see few Biblical examples of people choosing God and numerous examples of God choosing people, who then resist, and are eventually overwhelmed by God's pursuit. Circumcision, grace, and salvation are all a gift, one that cannot be denied. Baptism, I believe, is the New Testament sign of that gift for all those within his church, believers and their children.

Though my conviction in the good news of Jesus is strong, my conclusion on the issue of baptism is not conclusive. For this reason I believe theological differences of this kind are inconsequential to church membership and leadership. For the baptist tradition to not allow membership on this basis and means to prevent 80% of current believers and essentially all believers prior to the rise of Anabaptists in the 1500's from joining your community in good conscience. Is scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the collective wisdom of the global church that unhelpful? When you consider the issues worth dividing the church over, and there are certainly some, I don't believe this is one.

I understand this post lacks both depth and breadth, but I stand confident my charge to "preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." I should however clarify my likely overly controversial title. I do think baptism should have little consequence over church participation. I do not think baptism is trivial. It is inconsequential, not unimportant. It is mentioned way too often to ever be ignored. What is consequential is my church's support of my decisions as a father. I need them to trust my commitment to my family more than they trust their commitment to a specific type of baptism. That is the question I optimistically look forward to having answered at my meeting today.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Emptying the Bottle: Late May '12 Links

Here is the best of what I've shared on Twitter recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cheating Game Theory on a Game Show

One of my favorite past blog posts was the one picked up by the New York Times' Freakonomics blog. It was about the economics of the game show finale of the Bachelor Pad. I then revisited the idea mentioning another reality TV show Golden Balls. It's a British show where at the end the two contestants have to decided whether to split or steal the money. Recently, a contestant played it a little differently:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Alchemy's TEDx Improv Performance

A month ago I mentioned an upcoming performance at Greenville TEDx. The show came and went and it was incredible. I can honestly say it is one of my top performance achievements. You may have to watch the other talks of the day in order to fully appreciate it. Enjoy the show!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Baby New Blog

That's right, my wife and I are having a baby! And here's the most recent post from my new baby blog, written from the perspective of the main character:
It's official, I'm a boy or girl! You'll have to solve this word problem to find out which: 
I'm the most popular baby in the world. I charge the minimum wage in 1994 (in 1996 dollars) per hour to be baby-sat before midnight. But I get a dollar more per hour if you keep me up later. Last Friday, I earned $28.50 for being baby-sat by the neighbors until 1:30am. What time did I start? 
If it's before 8pm I'm a girl. After 8pm I'm a boy. Good luck!
And here's the first heartbeat and ultrasound!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Emptying the Bottle: Early April '12 Links

Here is the best of what I've shared on Twitter recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

"Alchemy of Laughter"

As if improv company Alchemy Comedy performing at TEDx Greenville wasn't two worlds colliding enough, here's a TED talk about comedy that actually uses the phrase the "alchemy of laughter". Like me, what the comedian Chris Bliss wanted most in life was to influence people. But people don't like to be changed. Comedy, he found, was a way to speak truth into people's mouths while their open from laughter:

Hat tip to fellow comedian Ben Burris.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Big Government to Prevent Bigger Government

I recently posted Tyler Cowen's thoughts on income inequality, but the article linked was originally sent to me by Justin because of Cowen's positive thoughts on the bailouts (which I don't support):
How about a world with no bailouts? Why don’t we simply eliminate the safety net for clueless or unlucky risk-takers so that losses equal gains overall? That’s a good idea in principle, but it is hard to put into practice. Once a financial crisis arrives, politicians will seek to limit the damage, and that means they will bail out major financial institutions. Had we not passed TARP and related policies, the United States probably would have faced unemployment rates of 25 percent of higher, as in the Great Depression. The political consequences would not have been pretty. Bank bailouts may sound quite interventionist, and indeed they are, but in relative terms they probably were the most libertarian policy we had on tap. It meant big one-time expenses, but, for the most part, it kept government out of the real economy (the General Motors bailout aside).
I actually agree. In fact, in my history classes I describe the intervention of FDR's New Deal as effective. Not because it fixed the Great Depression, but because it was the moderate choice in a time of extreme global chaos. Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco were taking over nations as the extreme right. Stalin and the communists were taking over as the extreme left. Even in America leftist critics like Governor Huey Long were writing books like Share Our Wealth. In fact, 1930's socialist Norman Thomas wrote that the "Mr. Roosevelt did not carry out the Socialist platform, unless he carried it out on a stretcher". Perhaps FDR's huge expansion of the government was the least government could do without forcing a revolution.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Income Doesn't Mean Inequality of Life

From Tyler Cowen:, who wrote a whole book about how income inequality is real, but wrote an article recently about how the implications are not that bad:
First, the inequality of personal well-being is sharply down over the past hundred years and perhaps over the past twenty years as well. Bill Gates is much, much richer than I am, yet it is not obvious that he is much happier if, indeed, he is happier at all. I have access to penicillin, air travel, good cheap food, the Internet and virtually all of the technical innovations that Gates does.
Compare these circumstances to those of 1911, a century ago. Even in the wealthier countries, the average person had little formal education, worked six days a week or more, often at hard physical labor, never took vacations, and could not access most of the world’s culture. The living standards of Carnegie and Rockefeller towered above those of typical Americans, not just in terms of money but also in terms of comfort. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Worthwhile Sentences on Writing

From Hugh Hollowell: "The thing about founding a nonprofit is that, eventually, all your dreams turn into paperwork."

From Justin Landwehr: "Words are the waste products of our experiences."

From David Foster Wallace: "Writers have a queer blend of shyness and exhibitionism."

From Brene Brown: "Maybe stories are just data with a soul."

From Mark Twain: “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Improv Comedy Meets TED Talks

My intention wasn't for my 1000th post to be my last, but I'm it sure looked that way. I've been extra busy with some great opportunities that have come my way and I just couldn't make my way to the top of the pyramid to blog. One of the most exciting things is that Alchemy Comedy, which has just ended out first and sold out our second Improv 101 class, has been asked to close out Greenville TEDx. You know I love TED and improv, so I'm excited to put them together. On March 30th, we will be watching all the TED Talks and using them to inspire a series of improvised comedy scenes to conclude the day. So if you're in the area get your tickets soon, apparently they sold out the last few years. And if you're out of town, you're in luck, I hear they are going to stream it!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Emptying the Bottle: Late January '12 Links

Here is the best of what I've shared on Twitter recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Last Post!

1000 posts and over 4 years ago, on January 16th, 2008, I did my first post. Today I write my last post. Not the last post I'll ever write, but the post I'd like to have put up last. Let me clarify. I got the idea from a blogger, who asked his family and friends to publish one last pre-wrtitten post for him when he died. I figured, why wait until you are actually on your death bed? So here are my final thoughts, that I expect to update annually and would like to be reposted after I die.

1) I am doing this to ensure I get to a say in what is written about me when I die. Knowing me in person is the best way to get a grasp for who I am. Sharing stories about me is the second best. Reading this blog is probably the third best. Although my recently deceased grandfather's obituary was fine, it wasn't what I would like mine to say.

2) This is also a chance for me to finally get a legal will and updated life insurance. Your death will already be hard for your loved ones. Any future planning that can make their grieving better should be done.

3) I'd like to die how doctors die. Please spare me any "futile care". Life isn't about surviving.

4) This post isn't about being morbid. It's about facing reality. I will die. And like most of life, it will probably be unexpected. I doubt we think about too much about death and expect the opposite to most likely be true.

5) My final thoughts resemble those of James Madison's deathbed letter entitled "Advice to My Country". His greatest desire was the the United States to perpetuate. My loyalty is a little more localized. My greatest hope is that my family would perpetuate. That my loved ones be taken care of in my absence.

Although I don't want to be buried or have a grave stone, if I did, I'd like this on it: "He Really Lived. He Really Died. He Really Lived Again."

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Past, Present, and Future of Greenville Manufacturing

I love it when NPR does a story on my hometown. Just this week Planet Money did a two part series on the history of American manufacturing through the lens of Greenville, SC. Here's my version of the story:

The Past

With several forces coming together at the right time, the early days of the Industrial Revolution brought about radical economic change. Work moved from the home to factories in cities, greatly improving human life, wealth, and morality. Which meant the late 1800's and early 1900's saw huge economic growth. These increases in production, and in turn increasing wages, didn't require very much expertise (assembly lines run themselves) and could often be created by a lone genius inventor.

The Present

Then we had The Great Stagnation. The Industrial Revolution picked up all the low-hanging fruit of innovation. Printing press, cheap western land, fossil fuel powered machines, penicillin, clean water, cars, planes, basic worker education, etc. all made life better quickly and relatively easily. Computers, cancer research, alternative forms of energy, college education for all, etc are all slow going and complicated to benefit from. Also, much of the innovation of machinery and globalization of trade has replaced the low skill industrial workers of the past and it's still happening (just check this old and new video of automobile manufacturing).

The Future

If you read the full Planet Money story in the Atlantic the future looks grim. Workers are suffering in the name of profit. The poor try, but can never succeed. The reality is a little more optimistic. Every time a human is replaced by a machine (or even a cheaper human) customers benefit. And since all workers are also customers, even the replaced workers' lives can improve. The unemployed of today probably have better living standards than the employed of the 1910's because of increases in productivity. That's why I support some kinds of social safety nets (especially the kind that retrains replaced workers). I also suggest that when choosing a career be sure you can't be replaced by a machine in your lifetime (hint: don't go into the toy assembling business).

The Distant Future

Though if I did have a worry about how technology impacts society, it would be about fertility. As technology improves, jobs become more complicated. That's why the return on education is actually greater than it used to be, even non-economically speaking (especially if you weren't "supposed to go"). This increase in complexity requires an increase in education. Which is usually fine because increases in education result in increases in pay that exceed the cost of that education. But what I'm specially worried that if jobs become so complicated that they require decades of education, they could delay plans for family past the point of our most fertile years. What if we have to learn so much we can't have babies anymore, increasing the future underpopulation bust? My guess is creating a family while still in school will become a more common trend.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reader Request: Do Christians Really Believe?

I always take reader requests. Here's one from blogger and interesting thinker, Justin Wehr:
Here's one I'd like to see you respond to:
They believe that they believe, but their beliefs are of the easily disposable kind. Suppose you could take a devoutly religious person, ask him, “Are the tenets of your religion true?” and somehow convince him that the life of his child depends on getting the answer right. I’m guessing that nine times out of ten, you’d find yourself confronting a born-again infidel. The only reason that rarely happens is that there’s rarely an occasion when getting the right answer actually matters.
Quote from Steven Landsburg that I came across in this post: 
Here's what I want to know 
  • Which (if any) tenets of your religion would you hold onto and which (if any) would you discard if your kid's life were on the line? 
  • In your estimate, what percentage of pious people would become, in the above situation, "born again infidels"?
One of the things I noticed on my summer European tour is how global cultural religion is. The American South is famous for religious culture, but it exists everywhere and in every religion. First I'll respond to a specific points made in the post linked above:
If there really is a heavenly and eternal paradise awaiting us after death, one would think more people would be in a rush to get there, right?
I can only speak for Christianity, but the Church mostly agrees that although we long for heaven, we have a mission here on earth. So suicide or a reckless life does not fit with Biblical teachings. Now if the writer had complained that Christians don't live out the second half (the mission part), then that is a legitimate complaint. One that atheist Penn Jillette makes really candidly in this video.
To put it simply, most [religious people] don’t live their lives as if they absolutely believed in the words their religious texts profess. For example, if I truly believed in the Christian God, with absolute certainty, I would live my life in a way consistent with that.
I'm curious what he means by this. If he means living a "good life", that is not the description the Bible seems to describe (Old and New Testament). The Christian life is one of repentance, sin, growth, hardship, joy, etc. And for that, I have witnessed many living that life. Which I don't think this writer gets:
Most religions assert that God is watching our actions even when others aren’t watching. If this were true, my inner economist would tell me that people would avoid displeasing God at all costs.
Now to respond to Justin's blockquote. I think the opposite is true. When people's lives are on the line, we see more religious conversion than abandonment. It doesn't seem to me that this person knows many Christians. I think most I know (let's say 90%), my self included, would not waiver. The biggest belief I am personally sure of is the grace of Jesus. I know of no other way to explain my own failures and my own triumphs. The rest of Biblical doctrine is more malleable. For example I now go to a church that practice believers baptism, which I'm not convinced of. I go to a church that doesn't believe in predestination, which I am convinced of. But I still find myself connected our surety in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Proof of Gmail's Superiority

Working for the school system means sometimes I have to deal with Microsoft Outlook. Here's proof that Gmail is better for you:
We carried out a field study of 345 long-term users who conducted over 85,000 refinding actions. Our data support opportunistic access. People who create complex folders indeed rely on these for retrieval, but these preparatory behaviors are inefficient and do not improve retrieval success. In contrast, both search and threading promote more effective finding.
Yet the school system still blocks all Gmail access.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

No One's In Control

Everybody's favorite conservative, David Brooks, on Ron Paul (and really the Tea Party):
I sympathize with their sense that they have lost control of their country. That doesn’t mean that the people who have control are operating in some dark room in the Federal Reserve Building. The fact is nobody really has control. Not even Obama or Bernanke. That’s what’s nice about this place.
Via Justin Scott's Big Find.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Yawning as an Empathy-O-Meter

just try not to
A friend recently shared a CBS News segment on the sociometer, which measures a person's charisma. But what if you want to measure or improve empathy? Here's an interesting way to tell:
A popular theory for how yawns spread is that they automatically engage the empathy systems in our brains. Consistent with this, past research found that children with autism, some of whom have difficulty empathising, are immune to the contagious effects of yawns
Now Ivan Norscia and Elisabetta Palagi have developed this line of enquiry, showing that we're more likely to catch a yawn from relatives than acquaintances, and more likely to catch them from acquaintances than strangers - presumably because we have more empathy for people with whom we're emotionally intimate.
Similar to touching, it seems our brain has many ways to force us to empathize.

Money Can't Buy You Votes

With the Republican primaries dominating the news these days, it's worth taking a look at. But unlike most reporting which feels more like sports commentary based on either hunches or the obvious, the boys at Freakonomics ask an important and interesting question: Does Money Really Buy Elections?:
When a candidate doubled their spending, holding everything else constant, they only got an extra one percent of the popular vote. It’s the same if you cut your spending in half, you only lose one percent of the popular vote. So we’re talking about really large swings in campaign spending with almost trivial changes in the vote.
So even though I'm a big supporter of publishing who gets what money from where, what I thought in 2008 and  2010 still stands. Campaign donations are like voting, they are a way to show your support, but they don't matter much.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Worthwhile Sentences on Relationships

From Justin Landwehr: "Maybe I don’t want to care about impressing you, but I sure as hell want you to care about impressing me"

From economist Al Roth: "Let’s just say that marriage is a dynamic game that you play over a lifetime."

From the Simple Dollar: "The trick to a good presentation is to realize that the audience mostly just wants for the presentation to be over so they can do other things"

From Leela Turanga Turanga Leela: "Society is never gonna make any progress until we all learn to pretend to like each other."

From Anna Jonathan Franzen: “Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Difference Between Conservative and Liberal

A while back I did a two part series on Why I'll Never Vote for a Democrat (because big government has done more horrible things than big business) and Why I'll Never Vote for a Republican (because most change in American history has been good). Though I'll probably eventually vote for both parties (if I vote at all), I have very little patience for the talking points of each (and so do about 30% of Americans). But I talk a lot about political parties and especially political ideology, so I think it's important to put down specifically what I mean when I use the words conservative and liberal (full disclosure I claim to be a libertarian, but most see me as a conservative) .

As I've mentioned before, the two words are used so much and so differently that they have almost lost meaning. At the heart of each word is their definition. Conservatives literally want to conserve. They want to keep things the way they are (or if they're lucky bring them back to where they were). Traditional is praised. Change is pessimistically feared. Liberals literally want liberty. But by liberty they mean freedom to live the life one desires (freedom from harmful controlling forces). The future is praisedChange is optimistically pursued.

But this all gets confused when looked at within a nation (especially one as unique as the United States). Our Founding Fathers were a mix of Conservatives (like the architect of our central banking system Alexander Hamilton) and Liberals (like the ardent freedom fighter Thomas Jefferson). But even these men would not fit into our modern usages of the words. I doubt Alexander Hamilton would consistently support (or could even imagine) the amount of government regulation we have today. And I doubt Thomas Jefferson would consistently support (or could even imagine) the level of personal freedom we each have with the internet, automatic machine guns, and international connectivity. And if you look back in time and support either of these two, it is by its nature Conservative.

So how can we accurately measure relative terms that change based on time, geographies, and issue? I suggest looking to at how we order from menus. A Conservative, who by nature expects future uncertainty to be worse than past certainty, will order what they always order. In my case, bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries. A Liberal, who by nature expects future uncertainty to be an improvement on past certainty, will order something new. In my case, bacon cheeseburger with a side of seasoned fries. Well, I guess by my example you know where my heart is. I don't do well with change.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Major Problem with the Gold Standard

Ron Paul is back and so are his calls for the gold standard. I've talked before that even though gold is the best element for exchange, it still can be gotten rid of, so has similar problems of a fiat standard. However, Tyler Cowen (the only person with his own label on my blog) thinks it has more foundational problems:
The most fundamental argument against a gold standard is that when the relative price of gold is go up, that creates deflationary pressures on the general price level, thereby harming output and employment. There is also the potential for radically high inflation through gold, though today that seems like less a problem than it was in the seventeenth century.? 
Why put your economy at the mercy of these essentially random forces? I believe the 19th century was a relatively good time to have had a gold standard, but the last twenty years, with their rising commodity prices, would have been an especially bad time. When it comes to the next twenty years, who knows? 
Whether or not there is “enough gold,” and there always will be at some price, the transition to a gold standard still involves the likelihood of major price level shocks, if only because the transition itself involves a repricing of gold. A gold standard, by the way, is still compatible with plenty of state intervention.

Monday, January 09, 2012

I Don't Want to Buy Anything

Loyal reader Free Spirit recently asked how the transition has been to my new smart phone. I'd break my use down to 25% email reading, 25% blog reading, 25% gps, and 25% other (camera, games, social networking, calculator, flashlight etc). Mostly things I was already doing right when I got home, but now I can do them on the go, in the line, and on the toilet.

But the biggest change has been my purchasing satisfaction. In the last month I've bought the two things I've been researching and reading about for almost 4 years, a smart phone and a nice TV. And since I've bought both I literally haven't wanted much else. I recently realized that if my income went up $50,000 I'm not sure what more I would buy. Unless you can tell me some thing I'm missing...

Emptying the Bottle: Early January '12 Links

Here is the best of what I've shared on Twitter recently:
As always, feel free to email me anything interesting you come across.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Why Losing Weight is So Hard

Because your body fights it:
A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.
This is why it's important to be active and never gain the weight. But that's hard.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Alien Life Letdown

For the longest time it seemed obvious to me that alien life did not exist. Extraterrestrial life seems important enough to have either science or religion saying something clear about it. Then it occurred to me: what if alien life isn't a big deal? What if life on other planets exists, but it's just some simple cell or bacterial life? Or maybe if we're lucky, it's grass. Alien grass, that would be, well, something.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

You Can't Multitask, But You Can Divide Your Attention

One thing I've noticed as I simultaneously entered the world of smart phones and texting is the impossibility of multitasking. Something else I've noticed is the possibility of dividing your attention. There is a difference. Multitasking implies the ability to do more than one thing at a time as well as you would do it by itself. This has been shown to be not possible. When ever you do a task, your brain puts a certain percentage of it's effort towards it. For example, let's say normal driving requires 75% of your brain and texting requires 50%. That means when you do both, you are really doing neither very well. Oprah agrees.

However, I believe it is possible to divide your attention. That is, to do two tasks that require very little percentage of your brain. For example bad TV, which I estimate to require about 35% of your attention, and playing Pocket Tanks on my iPhone, which requires about 25%. I can easily do both of these tasks, even counting for the deadweight loss percentage probably required to switch between the two. So be careful not to overload your brain, but also because not to waste those valuable percentage points.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Diversified New Year's Resolutions, 2012 Edition

For 2010 and 2011 I made several New Year's Resolutions. Both years I was only halfway successful. But as I was sitting down evaluating my past goals I noticed something. They haven't really changed. Here they are, originally from December 30, 2009:
1) Moderate exercise for 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week. From what I have read this is the minimum time needed to remain nominally healthy. Hopefully I will work my way up from here, but it's good to start small. 
2) Drink 0-1/2 a soft drink daily in my home. Again, the plan is to work down to zero, but there's a good chance I'm addicted to caffeine. 
3) Read the Bible every weekday. Not many exact parameters on this one yet, but I would like to open and read a portion of the Bible 5 days a week. I claim to believe it's valuable, but my actions say otherwise. (here's the blog I intend to keep up
4) Pray regularly. Same details as the previous one. 
5) Allow my wife to pick one for me. She knows my flaws better than anyone and I trust her more than anyone. Who better to help me improve? (she choose for me to do 10 minutes of house cleaning a day)
And this year I'd like to add one more: 6) Be on time. I've come to the conclusion that in order to be on time for everything you have to be early for most things. And thanks to my new smart phone I'll have something to do while I'm waiting.

Oh and just to be sure I don't feel like I've accomplished anything by posting this, assume I've failed.