Updates from May, 2010 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 10:57 am on 31 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Ben, if you’ve ever got an hour to spare, I’d love to hear your thoughts about a recent episode of NOVA called “Mind Over Money.” It’s about the debate among economists and social psychologists: can economic theory rely upon the assumption that people will act out of rational self-interest, or must we recognize that people are emotional and make bad decisions? (I guess it’s basically Smith versus Keynes, though I wouldn’t have understood that before.)

    It’s interesting, and I learned a lot, but there were a number of things that bothered me throughout. Although both sides of the debate were presented, to me there seemed to be a clear bias toward the “people are irrational” view — and worse, an unspoken assumption that we must therefore regulate markets to guard against bad decisions. No one they spoke to even suggested the wild notion that perhaps people should be free to make bad decisions.

    Also troubling to me was the assumption that the 2008 market collapse was caused entirely by irrational behavior (and, therefore, a failure of regulation). Not one word was spoken about the possibility that government interference with the market might actually have caused the problem.

    I was also bothered by an experiment they depicted toward the end of the show, wherein students were asked to trade on a simulated market for assets whose “fundamental” value was programmed to decline predictably. The result was a classic bubble, with prices climbing well above this fundamental value and then collapsing when the assets were declared worthless. But I was waiting for an explanation of what this “fundamental” value was supposed to mean: what is the value of an asset, if not the amount you can get for it on the market?

    I guess I have trouble with the idea that market bubbles are inherently irrational. If prices are going to climb for a while and then collapse precipitously, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s necessarily irrational to gamble on the possibility that you can get in and get out before the collapse happens. Sure, someone will lose the game, but does that mean that it’s irrational to play at all?

    But my entire education in economics consists pretty much of this 52-minute NOVA. So what do I know?

    It’s not on Hulu, unfortunately, and I couldn’t get it to work through PBS’s site either; but you can watch it through WGBH here.

    • Hober Short 11:20 am on 1 June 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Not having seen the episode (although I plan to watch it and take notes), the obvious flaw is the Incorruptible Politician Fallacy.

      If the episode argues that, despite all our protestation and demonstration, people engaging in consensual economic exchange are inextricably emotional, then why should we believe the protestations and demonstrations from politicians and regulators that they become emotionless Vulcans when they go to Washington?

      If we can’t be rational, why can they?

      • Pat 12:14 am on 6 June 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Because they are better than we are. I’m sure nobody in the NOVA episode was willing to say so on camera, but what advocates of the “people are irrational” view REALLY believe is this: “OTHER people — you know, the unwashed masses — are irrational, but we, the elite, the chosen few, are smarter and wiser and better informed that those yokels, and should be allowed to make all of their decisions for them. For their own good, of course.”

  • Hober Short 11:40 pm on 16 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Dad, the ridiculous article you talked about at dinner was linked to from Slashdot, so I had to read it. The article concerns artificial light (including computers) disrupting natural circadian rhythms. But I lost it here:

    Such concerns are not entirely new: One sleep researcher said Thomas Edison created these problems when he invented the light bulb. [Because we didn’t have artificial light before then… -HZS] But they’ve been revived by the popularity of Apple’s new slate computer, the iPad, which many consumers say is good for reading at night in bed, when the brain thinks the environment should be dark.

    Unlike paper books or e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle, which does not emit its own light, the iPad’s screen shines light directly into the reader’s eyes from a relatively close distance.

    That makes the iPad and laptops more likely to disrupt sleep patterns than, say, a television sitting across the bedroom or a lamp that illuminates a paper book, both of which shoot far less light straight into the eye, researchers said.

    Oh shit! It beams light right into your eyeballs. It is shooting your retinas. With light! They’re in your eyeballs, killing all your mans! With light!

    Seriously, though. We humans have a measure for how much light a device beams (nay, blasts!) into our eyes: brightness. If the iPad were that much brighter than a TV, it would be uncomfortable and unusable.

    Except it isn’t!

    • Pat 12:22 am on 17 May 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Exactly. There is nothing new here at all. But the CNN reporter has to pretend otherwise, so that he can say “iPad” a lot.

    • Pat 12:36 am on 17 May 2010 Permalink | Reply

      And the “researcher” who said Edison “created these problems when he invented the light bulb” is a moron. The incandescent bulb was not the first artificial light source. Before it was invented, humans used gas jets, oil lamps, candles, torches . . . or are we supposed to believe that there’s something different about light generated by electrons? Where is the evidence of that?

  • Hober Short 11:25 am on 14 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Sony’s recent decision to change their mind about allowing people to run alternate operating systems on their PS3s (dubbed the “Other OS” feature) is problematic: on the one hand, it seems an obvious parable about trusting a closed system that can be changed by fiat.

    This is an issue for people like the Air Force and an NCSU Professor, who built distributed super-computers out of PS3s. See, Sony (as do all console manufacturers) sells the console for below cost and makes it up with profits on game sales.

    However, if you buy a bunch of PS3s and no games, install Linux with the Other OS feature, and start trying to cure cancer with your super-computing cluster, you’re losing Sony a bunch of money.

    The same reason that the idea of a PS3 supercomputer is an attractive idea, that you get abnormally-cheap and powerful hardware, is exactly the same reason that Sony probably removed the Other OS feature: it was hemorrhaging them money.

    Of course, there does seem to be an obvious solution to this: sell PS3s with the Other OS option enabled for a high enough price that Sony still makes money and people with significant investment in PS3 computing clusters like the USAF can keep their clusters running.

  • Hober Short 2:13 am on 13 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Rockstar Games has put up my beloved Max Payne 2 on Steam for digital download, which is awesome. However, since Steam has its own method of access restrictions, and someone buying the game through Steam wouldn’t have the disk that the game normally checks for, Rockstar had to stop the game from checking.

    So instead of the Steam user downloading the game executable that comes on the disk, they get the no-cd crack version from notorious cracking group Myth.

    As you can see there’s an ASCII “Myth” logo, which is an old cracking team that were quite prevelent a while back. Seems Rockstar got a little lazy and used this crack instead of recompilling their executable without DRM.

    Oddly enough, Rockstar has used Myth’s crack for just about the only use they could possibly object to: profiting from it.

  • Hober Short 2:58 pm on 12 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Presented without comment: Texting while driving ban results in few tickets:

    Texting while driving became against the law in North Carolina last December. But enforcing the texting-while-driving ban has become a law enforcement challenge.

    Since the law took effect, the state Highway Patrol has issued two citations in Wake County, while troopers in Durham County have written one.

    “It’s an excellent law; it’s just that a trooper has to articulate that a person is in fact texting and not looking at their phone number or making a phone call,” Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Gordon said.

    • bxojr 5:11 pm on 12 May 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I never really thought about it before, but yeah, how do you actually define the act of texting? Can I legally type a memo into a notepad application while driving? Can I type an SMS message but not send it? What if I type the message before I leave, but press “send” while I’m on the road?

      I’m guessing the legislators never thought about it either…

  • Hober Short 11:01 am on 12 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Today’s XKCD comic depicts a fictional Wikipedia page as a satire of Wikipedia using certain words a lot, like neologism and portmanteau.

    Of course, a completely separate satire has erupted as people try to create the page as depicted in the comic. From what I can tell reading the talk page, some rabble created the page before unsuspecting admins could stop it, but they have since deleted it, and are holding firm that the article isn’t notable or worthy of being on Wikipedia just because a bunch of people want it to be there.

    Boy, this whole thing seems kinda… familiar:

    As we know, the internet fundamentally requires a model where you accede that there is too much information for humans to keep track of and just assume that efficient searching will allow you to turn up what you want. Ironically, these die-hard deletionist Wikipedians, who spend hours on the web, miss that point.

    No, deleting articles that you deem “unencyclopedic” seems pretty obviously to just be another form of internet bullying.

  • Hober Short 2:25 am on 11 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Bob, the appropriate nature of this just occurred to me, given your much-hyped post-procedure luminescence:

    It’s a radiation vibe I’m groovin on
    Don’t it make you want to get some sun
    Shine on, shine on, shine on

    • bxojr 5:01 pm on 12 May 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I really should’ve thought of that. It would have been very appropriate to crank that song really loud while driving around last week.

  • Hober Short 9:36 pm on 10 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    That’s a heck of a correlation:

    The president went to Harvard, and barely defeated a primary opponent who went to Yale. His predecessor went to Yale and Harvard, and defeated opponents who went to Yale and Harvard, and Harvard, respectively. The previous two presidents also went to Yale, with Bush I defeating another Harvard grad for the presidency. And once Elena Kagan gets confirmed, every Supreme Court Justice will have attended Harvard or Yale law schools.

  • Pat 11:20 pm on 8 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    J. Eric Holmes, author of the 1977 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, has died at the age of 80.

    D&D Basic Set

    The 1978 printing of that Basic Set was the first version of D&D that Bob and I played with in the summer of 1979, when we introduced the proto-GNO group in Rock Hill to the game. It included module B1, “In Search of the Unknown,” which Ben ran an adaptation of last year for some of the same people.

  • Hober Short 1:57 pm on 7 May 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    John Stossel’s latest column has hit me right in the kisser.

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