Thursday 22 September 2011

What do do about the post office?

The PO has a real problem that it has a lot less business than it used to.  UPS and Fedex have taken away much of the package delivery business, and the number of letters has dropped significantly as people and businesses switch to electronic delivery of bills, checks, and letters that used to be sent by mail.  But they still are required to deliver every day to every address in the country, and have a variety of other requirements put on them by Congress. As a result, their fixed costs are large, their variable costs relatively small, while their revenue is entirely variable, depending on how much mail they handle.

Friday 9 September 2011

The magic of the health care market

Here is a bill I just got from a medical lab for a throat culture. They charged $55, which seems a little high. But wait! Due to the kind of insurance I have, they send the bill to Blue Cross, BC then adjusts it to their negotiated rate, and I pay that. So they adjust it by, hm, 77% to $11.43. So the $55 is really just the sucker price for people who don't have a large corporation to negotiate on their behalf.

Remind me again why this is better than single payer?

Saturday 6 August 2011

Listen to Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin was both the first best-selling novel in the US, and the book that made the Civil War inevitable. I recently found an excellent public domain recording of it, and can report that despite its reputation as a classic, it's a surprisingly good book, one that every every high school age kid in the US can and should read.

For those of us whose high school education was lacking, and have more spare time in the car than spare time with the Kindle, I unreservedly recommend this recording by John Greenman which you can download and put on your iPod or burn to CD. It is at least as good as many I've paid for at Audible:

Wednesday 3 August 2011

What does the Tea Party Want?

The Tea Party doesn't care about the costs of what they want.  As far as I can tell, belief in arithmetic is a sign of submission to the Devil, like belief in Evolution, or belief that half of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were slave owners.

Saturday 23 July 2011

What is Greece?

Greece isn't a European style welfare state like the major EU countries.  It's an odd little middle eastern country that happens, due to its location on the European side of the Bosporus and the historical accident that it's Christian rather than Muslim (unlike some other countries physically closer to the rest of Europe), to be technically European. This Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis is the best explanation I've seen of the utter dysfunction of Greek society:

At the moment I am in southern France, an actual European-style welfare state, where they have been doing whatever the French do for at least 40,000 years and have the art to prove it.  The day to day medical care, 
according to the Americans who own the place we're staying and spend half  of their time in Palo Alto, is so much better than US care that it's not funny.  The food is fabulous, at least if you're not a vegetarian. The roads are paved, the trains run at 200 mph, the schools teach their kids. It's not perfect, but one could do a lot worse.

Thursday 30 June 2011

The 90 - 90 rule of project management

The first 90% of the work takes the first 90% of the time.

Then, the other 90% of the work takes the other 90% of the time.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Content farm: How to Open a Jar of Applesauce

  1. Check the label on the jar, to ensure that it says Applesauce.
    NOTE: If the jar does not say applesauce, you can still open it, but it may contain something else.
  2. Place the jar securely on a table or counter
    NOTE: A water-resistant non-slip surface is preferred.
  3. Grasp the jar firmly with your right hand.
    NOTE: If you are left handed, you may instead grasp it with your left hand.
  4. Inspect the lid to ensure that the jar is still sealed, and that its security dimple has not popped up.
    NOTE: If you or another person have opened the same jar on a previous occasion, you may skip this step.
  5. Grasp the lid firmly with your left hand.
    NOTE: If you have grasped the jar with your left hand, you may grasp the lid with your right hand.
  6. In a smooth motion, use the pressure of both hands to rotate the lid counterclockwise while keeping the jar motionless..
    NOTE: If you have grasped the jar with your left hand and the lid with your right hand, you may find it difficult to exert enough pressure in a counterclockwise direction. If that happens, you may release the jar and lid, grasp the jar with your right hand, grasp the lid with your left hand, and repeat this step.
  7. Continue rotating the lid to the left until it is free of the jar.
  8. When the lid is free of the jar, stop rotating, lift the lid off the jar, and place it upside down on the table or counter.
    NOTE: Placing the lid upside down lessens the chance of spilling applesauce on the table or counter.
  9. When the lid is securely on the table or counter, let go of it.
  10. Let go of the jar.
  11. You may now use a spoon or other utensil to serve the applesauce. See Content farm: How to Serve Applesauce from a Jar

Monday 2 May 2011

May Day

Did you celebrate May Day by
a) dancing around the may pole?
b) singing the Internationale ?
c) singing the Internationale while dancing around the may pole ?
d) something else?

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Politics as religion

Some politicians pride themselves on never flip-flopping, or otherwise changing their position. This is an extreme form of politics, but we have a perfectly good term for a set of beliefs that one holds without, or in the face of, evidence: a religion.

Successful religions tend to have beliefs that aren't susceptible to checking against evidence (reincarnation, salvation) and precepts for the faithful that have long term social value (honesty, kindness, fidelity.)

Unsuccessful religions tend to have beliefs that are easily found to be false (creationism, global warming denial, supply side economics) and sociopathic precepts (draconian punishment for minor crimes, torture for political prisoners, tax cuts for the rich, hunger and death for the poor.)

While successful religions have often formed the backbone of long lived cultures, religion is a really bad form of government, at least if you think that a government should deal with the events it faces. So a politician who prides him or herself on never ever changing has basically self-identified as incompetent.

This is not a new problem. One of my favorite examples is Hiram Johnson, who after saddling California with the disasters of initiative and referendum spent decades in the Senate as a rigid isolationist, fighting all attempts to prepare for WW II. Dunno if he'd come around by the time he died in August 1945.

So here are two quotes about the merits of flexibility:

"Oh, Master, make me chaste and celibate - but not yet!" -Augustine
"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" -Keynes

Sunday 10 April 2011

Truth in advertising

Seen in a recent spam:

Date: Sun, 10 Apr 2011 21:42:29 +0100
Reply-To: [throwaway webmail address]


Sunday 3 April 2011

Snark du jour, ICANN edition

There's endless arguments about whether ICANN's long delayed (for about a decade) plan to permit large numbers of new top-level domains is a good idea.

The reason I am involved with ICANN is the blooming of a 1000 blooms

We all have our favorite metaphors, although in this case I think the swarming of a thousand blood-sucking insects is more apropos.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Snark du jour

An acquaintance asks about procmail, the mail sorting program that nerds have been using, almost unmodified, since 1990:

And why isn't there a WYSIWYG version of procmail if it is so good?

More or less the same reason you can't get training wheels for a Harley.

Thursday 27 January 2011

Book club: Nineteenth St NW, by Rex Ghosh

The first in an occasional series, with the occasion being that I finish reading a book.
Nineteenth Street NW, a financial thriller by Rex Ghosh, an economist at the IMF. There's a rule of thumb in the book biz that the cover blurbs on good books are reviews of the book by real reviewers, on so-so books are reviews of the author's previous books, and on bad books are by the author's friends. This book's blurbs are by Simon Johnson and Paul Volcker. Uh, oh.

Friday 21 January 2011

A history of copy-on-write memory management

In virtual memory operating systems, copy on write (COW) is a well known technique to save time and space. The idea is that several processes have logically separate writable pages of data that happen to have the same contents, because they were initialized from the same source. So long as nobody writes into a page, all the processes can share the same copy. If a process does write into it, the operating system makes a separate copy of the the changed page. The best known application for COW is the Unix fork() primitive, although it also is useful for writable program data that is initialized from a file, a common situation in modern operating systems with shared libraries.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Can a state go bankrupt?

The Constitution says that the Congress can enact bankruptcy laws, but it doesn't say it can apply those laws to the states.