Monthly Archives: January 2010

Today’s Links

What I’ve been reading lately:

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Today’s Links

What I’ve been reading lately:

  • I surrender, Comcast – In case there was any doubt, Comcast service is still an epic fail. Especially if you just want internet.
  • Language Log » Modal deafness – Not everyone hears music in the same way. Many people, even musically trained ones, can't reliably tell the difference between a major and minor chord when they're played side by side. Stick the same chords into a sequence though, and they're able to tell them apart again.
  • Schneier on Security: The Abdulmutallab that Should Have Been Connected – Schneier on "connecting the dots." It's only obvious in hindsight.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy » Blog Archive » Money and Speech – A nice alternative to the "sky is falling" coverage that NPR has been giving to the recent campaign finance decision from the Supreme Court.
  • Exploding Term Sheets Prompt Y Combinator To Sync Acceptance Dates With Competitors – Does the startup world need its own NALP? For the non-lawyers out there, NALP is the organization that sets rules for law school recruiting, basically telling firms interviewing at participating law schools when they can start interviewing, and how long they have to hold offers open. This article from TechCrunch points to a similar problem in the VC world, with competing firms moving their offer dates earlier and earlier, and using exploding offers ("accept in 48 hours or we withdraw it") in order to force the offerees' hands. Entrepreneurs: Just say no. A firm that gives you an exploding offer is not the kind you want to sell your soul to. This is NOT your one and only chance to make it. Investors: Beware of selection effects. The companies most likely to accept your exploding offers are the ones least confident in their ability to get funded elsewhere. Is that what you intended?
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The Roots of the Pension Problem

Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy points to a Wall Street Journal op-ed with this stunning fact:

…over the past decade pension costs for [California] public employees increased 2,000%. State revenues increased only 24% over the same period.

Part of the problem is retiring baby boomers.  A bigger part is the excessive generosity of the retirement benefits, and the fact that they’re structured in a way that can be gamed by juicing up the retiree’s income in the last year before retirement.  What’s not reported is that the union’s retirement agreements are themselves the result of a game between politicians and unions.  As I learned in my Local Government Law class a few years ago, if a government faces a tight budget when it goes into negotiations on a new union contract, it’s much more likely to agree to increased retirement benefits than increased wages, because the retirement benefits won’t show up in that year’s budget.  Repeat this over enough years and you get the situation we have today.

Today’s Links

What I’ve been reading lately:

  • Hillary Clinton Extends Foreign Policy To The Internet And Wants Your Help – I wondered in a recent post how the State Department felt about Google being the leader in recent developments in our foreign policy with China. Judging by this post, the answer is "left out."
  • The Chess Master and the Computer – The New York Review of Books – A fantastic article from Garry Kasparov about the interactions of humans and computers in the world of chess. Favorite quote: "The moment I became the youngest world chess champion in history at the age of twenty-two in 1985, I began receiving endless questions about the secret of my success and the nature of my talent. Instead of asking about Sicilian Defenses, journalists wanted to know about my diet, my personal life, how many moves ahead I saw, and how many games I held in my memory.

    I soon realized that my answers were disappointing. I didn't eat anything special. I worked hard because my mother had taught me to. My memory was good, but hardly photographic. As for how many moves ahead a grandmaster sees, Russkin-Gutman makes much of the answer attributed to the great Cuban world champion José Raúl Capablanca, among others: "Just one, the best one." Via Tyler Cowen.

  • New World Notes: Wanted: an SL World Trust for Great Builds in Jeopardy – Hamlet Au argues that we need some kind of preservation society to prevent virtual world content from disappearing forever when the servers power down. I think of it as an archive.org for virtual worlds. The problem: anytime someone comes up with a tool for making something like this possible (like Rezzable's tool for saving an entire region state), people get all up in arms about the possibilities for "content theft". The fact is that archive.org doesn't ask for permission before making copies of sites across the web. Technically, what they do is almost certainly copyright infringement. It's also a valuable public service.
  • Web Security: Are You Part Of The Problem? – Smashing Magazine – A dauntingly-comprehensive explanation of all (or most of) the ways that you may be part of the security problem.
  • One Mutation per 15 Cigarettes Smoked « bunnie’s blog – From Bunnie Huang, an awesome summary of an article in Nature explaining the cumulative carcinogenic effects of smoking. And a very, very pretty graph.
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Today’s Links

What I’ve been reading lately:

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Government Work

Ben Casnocha says you can find out a lot about a society by asking its youth “Do you want to work for the government?” That leaves me wondering, what exactly do you find out? Some reasons for people to answer “yes”:

  1. If a lot of youngsters want to work for the government, maybe that’s because there is little opportunity for private employment in the country and the prospect of starting your own successful business is unrealistic.
  2. Along similar lines, in many authoritarian countries “working for the government” may mean you’re one of the guys carrying a gun instead of one of the guys with a gun in his face.  Neither sounds very pleasant to me, but I think I’d like to not get shot.
  3. On the other hand if you ask the question in a high-tax, high-service country like Sweden, government workers may be respected as a vital part of society.  In such a country, the person being interviewed is more likely to have a friend or relative that “works for the government.”

And reasons to answer “no”:

  1. An idealistic youth living in a country with rampant corruption may say “no” in order to express his displeasure with the government.
  2. In a country like the US that lauds personal achievement and entrepreneurism I expect you would hear more “no” answers.

I really think the question needs a follow up “Why, or why not?”

Romance Novels

They’re wildly popular, accounting for something like 40% of paperbacks sold. Ben Casnocha calls them “women’s pornography.” As the economy has slowed, romance novel sales have boomed.

Given their wild popularity and salacious subject matter, you’d expect there to be an outcry against romance novels similar to the one against porn. Why don’t we hear that?

Today’s Links

What I’ve been reading lately:

  • Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion: A Talk With Jonathan Haidt – If I had a list of "people who I wish had blogs," Jonathan Haidt would top it. If you like this article, read his book The Happiness Hypothesis.
  • Massachusetts: Dem attacks on Coakley get personal | Washington Examiner – Until today I had only been peripherally aware of the Senate race in Massachusetts to fill the seat vacated by the late Ted Kennedy. The Democratic candidate doesn't sound too popular: 'The strategist … quoted a fellow Democrat who said, "'I'd rather have Scott Brown for two years than Martha Coakley for the rest of my life."' Inevitably, most of the articles on it that have popped up in the last few days have focused on the horse race: who's ahead in the polls and how a loss will break the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate. I hate horse race stories.
  • Language Log » Ludicrous, even derogatory? (Gendered occupation names) – In old legal opinions you often run into terms like "executrix" and "prosecutrix" to be the female equivalents of "executor" and "prosecutor." I think English is poorer without these words. The only place where the "-trix" suffix seems to have survived is "dominatrix." Is that progress? The use of "actor" to mean both males and females also bugs me. I'll agree to it when the world's female actors also agree to have just one "Best Actor" category at the Oscars, and eliminate "Best Actress." Anyway the article reports how Spain and Italy handle these issues differently from each other. Italians think it's demeaning and/or ridiculous to stick a feminine suffix on a traditionally masculine noun (eg ministra in place of ministro), whereas the Spanish do it all the time.
  • Dinosaur Comics Compressed Song Lyrics – Lady Gaga – I like to think that Dinosaur Comics is a new form of haiku. The images in the 6 panels never change. The text rarely has anything to do with the images. But there's something very Zen to me about dinosaurs having esoteric conversations while stomping things.
  • Hypocrisy, Same-Sex Marriage, and Televising Public Interest Litigation – I was unconvinced and disappointed by Slate's coverage of the Supreme Court's decision to prohibit broadcast of the Perry v Schwarzenegger gay marriage trial. Both Dahlia Lithwick's and Emily Bazelon's pieces seemed one-sided, argumentative, and shallow. Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy gives a more balanced take here.
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Today’s Links

What I’ve been reading lately:

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Today’s Links

What I’ve been reading lately:

  • Plastic Flashback | The Big Money – Most economic models depend on the assumption that consumers are well-informed, rational, and self-interested. The 23914077th example of this assumption failing comes from The Big Money's pictorial history of the credit card: “People are picking out a card because they can have a picture of a cat on it rather than looking at the terms…” Or are consumers rational after all, consciously deciding that they value cat pictures more than a lower credit card interest rate?
  • Gay Teen Worried He Might Be Christian – Can you guess where the article's from?
  • JJinuxLand: Rails: The REST Religion – I didn't know people even tried doing RESTful routing on browser-driven sites, having never tried Ruby on Rails. I like REST for APIs that other computers interact with behind the scenes, and use it frequently in that context. But I agree with JJ in thinking it doesn't fit well in a browser.
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