Category Archives: humor

Energy Density of a Bytestream

There is a delightful state just before sleep, but it requires a certain absence of anxiety. A place where threads in your head can intermingle in amusing ways. Last night I spent some moments there and cloud servers became entangled with the density of energy storage. I’m liking the idea that server farms in isolated venues convert low value electricity into high value byte streams, much like an aluminum smelter converting cheap power into energy dense aluminum foil. A unit for information goods: watts/byte. I see server farms beyond the cloud, in orbit, drawing disintermediated power straight from the sun.

Secret Project Killers

I’ve been musing recently that there are a few words which you can use to kill most any software project:

  • Safe – As in “What could possibly go wrong?”
  • Scalable – As in, “How do you plan to make that approach scale?”
  • Social – “Shouldn’t the account management include a social network?”
  • Socialize – As in “But first, let’s socialize this idea in the organization.”
  • Semantic
  • Sustainable – “I don’t understand your business model.”
  • Simple
  • Standard

I needed to post this so I stop seeking more S words to add to the list.

Self Trading

When hanging out in the world of ideas created by Ainsle’s work Emerson’s cliche “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” offers a nice perspective. Possibly Emerson’s point was that given a larger mind you can house yet more than one hobgoblin.

In related news I see that when they cleaned up the data from Google prediction market they discarded some trades, including “self-trades (which resulted from the fact that the software allowed traders to be matched with their own limit orders).” I wonder how much of that goes on in real markets. It’s clearly a sign of the temporal inconsistency which Ainsle’s work focuses on.

These trades took place between the hobgoblin that decided to place a limit order, and a later hobgoblin that decided to make a trade at that moment. It isn’t clear to me exactly why it’s best practice to remove the trades between these hobgoblins just because they were housed in the same person’s corporal body.

There is a wonderful classic poem, Goblin Market, here’s a bit of one of the many beautiful illustrations it’s engendered over the years. In this scene the heroine, after attempting to act as a middleman, has drawn down upon her the rage of the merchants.

Hybrids make you fat!

Sometimes a scientific paper makes me giggle.  The paper by Charles Courtemanche which I’m skimming this morning has a few examples of this.  For example it says that people tend to under report their weight and over report their height; but more the former than the latter.  It also includes this phrase “the food variables are left-censored at zero” – which means to say that the French fries don’t come out of your mouth, they only go in.  This formula where on term is aproximately salads and another term is meatloaf is a hoot.


I don’t know were this guy get’s off announcing that meatloaf isn’t health!  The author took two large data sets, one for prices (that’s gas price in the formula) and one for health behaviors.  The health behavior data he used is collected by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System of the CDC.  It’s a telephone survey conducted by state health departments.  That survey is full of interesting facts, for example here is a map showing the states and metro-regions where people lack health insurance.


In anycase, he was looking to see if there was some corrolation between gas prices and obesity; and yes cheap gas makes us get fatter.  Given that the next question is “How so?”  The behavior data has lots of info about various things people are doing he can look for patterns there too.  Thus we can can learn the valuable and amusing fact that “A rise in gas prices appears to increase the frequency of hamburger consumption…” and “a small increase in salad consumption”.  From now on when ever I see that the price of gas has gone up I’m going to think “hamburger?”  Generally higher gas prices don’t lead to healthier eating.

People lost weight when gas prices rose for two reasons.  Where they ate changes; they ate more at home.  And they walked more.  I.e. higher gas prices reduced driving; displacing driving to the resturant and increasing walking as a substitute.

His conclusion:

In this paper, I provide evidence of a causal link between gasoline prices and body weight. Using data from the BRFSS, I find nd that a $1 increase in gas prices would, after three years, reduce U.S. obesity by approximately 15%, saving 16,000 lives and $17 billion per year, a  magnitude which offsets 16% of fuel consumers’ additional expenses. I also estimate that 13%  of the U.S.’s rise in obesity over the period 1979-2004 can be attributed to falling gas prices  during that time. Finally, I find that a rise in gas prices increases exercise and decreases the amount people eat out at restaurants, explaining their effect on weight.

This paper is actionable on a personal level.  Lose weight, buy a gas guzzler! But then it is probably twice as effective to buy a car you hate.

The paper is here (pdf), and a nod to the ever facinating Paul for his post about it.


I found myself sitting next to a copy of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” recently. I’d forgotten how much raw clarity and passion ran through the movements (anti-war, civil right, black power, feminism) of that era. Curious that having lived in that time one would forget.

There is a very sweet, though deeply sexist, section of the book about how he came to marry his wife. It includes this paragraph:

Mr. Elijah Muhammad taught us that a tall man married to a too-short woman, or vice-versa, they looked odd, not matched. And he taught that a wife’s ideal age was half the man’s age, plus seven. he taught that women are physiologically ahead of men. Mr. Muhammad taught that no marriage could succeed where the woman did not look up with respect to the man. And that the man had to have something above and beyond the wife in order for her to be able to look to him for psychological security.

Which I took note of because I’m currently excessively fascinated by the personal rule sets that people accumulate.

Imagine my amusement to see one of those rules appear in today’s comic!. Times change.

Progressive taxation is the enemy of the Professoriate

This is rolling on the floor funny:

” … Theorists love the model of job market signaling . In this model agents perform a costly effort which produces nothing useful. The only point is that it is less costly to the able. Thus an equilibrium exists in which the able signal their ability by performing the costly effort (the example is obtaining a BA). Employers require the lowest level of signaling such that it is not optimal for the less able to produce the signal of high ability. The able can save on pointless effort by paying the less able to be honest. This is a collective action problem. They can implement this strategy by taxing each other to pay a subsidy to those who admit they have low ability and, therefore have low incomes. Obviously the policy helps the less able (they get something for nothing). Therefore, in a model of job market signalling a progressive tax and transfer program can be Pareto improving …”

So true!


Dick Hardt from Sxip Identity draws our attention to a new light weight identity solution from, your not going to believe this, 3M! I agree with Dave Wiener’s point that the emerging Internet generation treats identity in fundimentally new ways, so while this solution is not conformant with standards, on many levels, it is both long tail, user centric, and quite sticky. Update: you may need to widen to get the big picture.