Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Zero Inspiration...

by Tom Bozzo

...so I'm going to have some ice cream and watch Doug Liman's Go, which I've been meaning to pop in the DVD player ever since I had to act out "rave" in the January blogger dinner Hoopla extravaganza.

Peddling Questionable Information to Your Children

by Tom Bozzo

When your toddler asks for an explanation of the iconography of the Fafblog! logo (viewed on the Fafmug! just placed on the dining room table), what do you do?

Brat Fest Wrap-Up: A Small Victory for the Law of Demand

by Tom Bozzo

This morning, the State Journal reports, "Brat Fest sales don't cut the mustard." Total brat sales of 181,710 were a few percent off last Memorial Day's total, and far short of a 25% increase projected by the organizers.

Organizers effectively raised the $1 price of a brat by discontinuing the practice of bundling small quantities of soft drinks with the brat purchase. Beverages were instead sold in 20-oz. bottles for $1, the upshot being that the just concluded fest raised much more money for its charitable causes than last year's. It may have discouraged a few brat sales on the margin.

Brat Fest also added some attractions to the mix that probably substituted for brat eating to some extent. The Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum (see sidebar link) stand was surely complimentary — if they return for Labor Day, which I'd encourage, I'd certainly visit them for a mustard consultation. At the old Hilldale location, the Chocolate Shoppe's ice cream offerings were the only food services in the mall that weren't hunkered down for a dead weekend; they had a stand at the new fest. Eliminating the information and exertion costs of knowing it was there and walking into the mall may have turned them from a net compliment into a net substitute: the ice cream business was very brisk.

Also cited in the WSJ was the addition of more entertainment options. Indeed, a bunch of people were standing around and not eating while a youth band wrapped up its performance on a second stage for live entertainment. One stage is more than enough for Brat Fest-level entertainment. (And turn down the volume, damnit!)

As for the location, I'd think on a really hot day, the Expo Center's grass would be far preferable to Hilldale's tarmac. The flow of cars into and out of the grounds was smoother, offset by lengthier walks from parking to the food. Otherwise, Change is Bad and I'd suspect a few people were driving by Hilldale, seeing the start of the new condo construction there,and wondering what happened to Brat Fest.

Addendum: Welcome Dartblog readers! Dane 101 has a rundown of bratwurst blogging, including pictures from Gordon Smith at Conglomerate here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Back Soon

by Tom Bozzo

It's a fine day, and I have to go to Brat Fest to find out who has been Googling the term "Johnny and the Nakomans" (the band consisting of, among others, my former next-door neighbor, a local liberal gadfly and former back-yard neighbor, and our former Republican U.S. Representative, none of whom would have had direct knowledge of this blog) among other activities. Plus, I have to figure out how to extract pictures from the camera phone.

Regular visitors may be reassured that normal posting will resume later today.

Update late Monday: Let's try tomorrow. It was a Bad Blogging Day as I forgot to bring the digital camera or, failing that, even the camera phone to snap Brat Mania at the Expo Center. Plus, I had the date wrong for the Briggs-Klug-Levitan Experience (which was yesterday). The Brat Fest website doesn't seem to have been updated with the total, so I can't tell how they fared relative to last year.

At least I think I taught John that if he scoops out custard with the spoon right-side-up, he'll get to eat more of it and wear less.

Last, Phantom Scribbler's comment suggests that there may be arbitrage opportunities in the sandwich markets. Just yesterday, I carried half a turkey sub with me on the return trip to Madison on Suzanne's behalf — poor as the pizza scene may be here, the subs are far worse.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friday Baby Extra: Not Quite Flying, But Close

by Tom Bozzo

Julia gets more air in the swing when she gets a boost from big brother (who now has a tidy haircut, as yet unphotographed, that was obtained with only minor trauma to mommy, grandma, and the staff and other customers of Hilldale Barbers). That's more flying than I've been doing lately, but I'm off to the east coast later this morning in one of those newfangled air-planes.

Never fear, though, I won't miss the entirety of Brat Fest.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On Customer Service

by Tom Bozzo

If you're a retailer, and your web site provides an e-mail contact for an internet sales person, it is useful to ensure that someone actually responds to e-mails sent to that address, particularly when the things being sold have five-figure price tags and many close substitutes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Madison School Referendum Returns: Revenge of the Fringes!

by Tom Bozzo

Brief assessment: rapidly growing, quasi-suburban Madison likes overcrowded schools! Either that, or they don't want to subsidize new Fitchburgers. Here's how the city voted on question 1, authorization of the new elementary school at the Aldo Leopold site. (This school serves parts of the south side as well as several Fitchburg neighborhoods.) Red areas voted for the referendum, blue areas against.

Amusingly, the two most property-rich jurisdictions outside the city more-or-less canceled each other out. Shorewood Hills voted just over 2:1 for the question; Maple Bluff voted almost the identical margin against. The Fitchbourgeois themselves were almost evenly split.

Income and Savings Oddity

by Tom Bozzo

The measured personal savings rate is somewhat famously low, but is also perhaps not very well measured in some respects. One not-new methodology issue, raised in this San Francisco Fed brief on the savings rate decline, is that a late-90s revision to the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) changed the treatment of capital gains distributions by mutual funds from personal income to corporate profits. This has a noticeable effect on measured savings in periods in which such distributions are large, such as periods of rising stock prices. (About 1.5 percentage points from 1995-1997.)

Seeing as such a distribution would be treated as my personal income (possibly deferred) for income tax purposes, and moreover the proceeds of such a distribution would be very income-like otherwise, my imagination is overtaxed as to why the NIPA treatment is reasonable.

Master of His Domain

by Tom Bozzo

In the occasional Greenspan: Genius or Idiot Hack watch, we have an apparent effort by the Chairman to jawbone the world towards more rational levels of real estate exuberance, FOMC minutes that evince some concern for slower growth but also higher inflationary expectations (neither a big surprise, per Mark Thoma), and in return the the 10-year Treasury yield has drifted down to 4.03% as of this writing...

William Polley is right, "conundrum" may not be a strong enough term to describe what's going on in the bond markets.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Lunchtime Notes: Oh No Not Another Car Post!

by Tom Bozzo

Vehicle driven: 2006 Audi A3 2.0T 6-speed.

In brief: The new VW/Audi 2-liter turbo four may well be be the best four cylinder engine, ever. (In addition to the A3 and A4, it will be available on the new VW Jetta, GTI, andPassat). In the front-drive A3, its power delivery is reminiscent of BMW sixes for both its strong thrust and smoothness. The engine is, in fact, so good that I can even forgive the Audi corporate schnoz, which is as well-integrated in the A3's styling as on any of its larger sibs, but still not what I'd do if I were their chief designer. The wagon-in-denial styling otherwise is attractive, like it wants to grow up to be an A4 Avant, and very practical. I liked it very nearly as much as the new 330i, not even accounting for the $10-15K price differential.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Curious Percentiles

by Tom Bozzo

A link from Pharyngula led to this fun interactive class calculator, provided as part of the NY Times' ongoing series on class issues. You enter occupation, education, income, and wealth, and it computes a percentile index of those class signifiers. I end up in the 87th percentile, with two of my responses more or less common knowledge and the others left as an exercise.

A curiosity is that what really drags me down is being an economist. The occupation is 53rd in prestige out of 447 listed job categories, which somehow translates into the 68th percentile, behind clergy, podiatrists, and commercial drivers among other occupations. Lest the sociology contingent chuckle, you're even worse: ranked 61st or 65th percentile. We would all be better off as "miscellaneous social scientists," ranked 36th.

The amusement continued when I looked at the top-ranked professions. Physicians and surgeons rank first, 99th percentile. Second-ranked are lawyers, which somehow translates into the 84th percentile. I was particularly amused by the fourth-ranking of "computer systems administrators." I will remember my place the next time I complain to ours about the internet connection not working or having to endure the latest loss of functionality to keep unseen malefactors from compromising the piece-of-crap PC in my office.

I'm very curious as to how that step in prestige ranking from doctors to lawyers is so large in percentile terms. It isn't a matter that they're combining the ranking with the number of people employed in the occupation. According to the CPS, there are about 830,000 physicians and surgeons, which is 0.6% of employment, and 954,000 lawyers. So it would look like lawyers would be ranked in the 98th or 99th percentile of occupational prestige by that method.

Perhaps this isn't just an error, and the percentiles represent the results of some prestige tournament. In that light, I suppose lawyers may engender mixed feelings (as in "kill all the") in ways that physicians mostly don't — and the social sciences are almost surely in the territory of pure bewilderment.


by Tom Bozzo

Things happen slowly here over the weekend, as regular visitors might notice. So I hadn't extracted yesterday's New York Times Magazine until just now, and was treated to the visage of the hopefully soon-to-be-former junior Senator from Pennsylvania, a.k.a Senator Man-On-Dog, trying to appear pious (for which the man's face lacks sufficient gravity).

Or, as the Times cover put it, he's "The Senator From a Place Called Faith." I hadn't heard of Leesburg, Virginia described that way before, but whatever.

I can only hope that there was some intended double-entendre to the subhead, "The coming of Rick Santorum."

Friday, May 20, 2005

I Can't Believe It's Over

by Tom Bozzo

So said a colleague of mine on the way out of Revenge of the Sith this afternoon. At least two regulars seem to be anticipating commentary, but I have to get to fish fry, so I'll just say this for now: if you are a Star Wars fan, just GO. If you have convenient access to a theatre with digital projection equipment, go to that theatre. (The nearest one to us is in Schaumburg, IL; a bit of a hike, but some of us definitely will be going.) The MPAA rating should be heeded; my children will not be seeing it for some time.

More later.

The Musical Baton

by Tom Bozzo

I feel like I've arrived, as this is the first meme that's been passed to mE! Alan Schussman's e-mail passing the meme from the wilds of Schussmazona mentioned some concern about using up social capital in the meme-passing process. To Alan, I say: never fear. It's Friday, and Sith day, and I've already written the Too Long and Semi-Important Post for the week. If I wasn't doing this, it would just have been a Random Ten.

Total volume of music on my computer: Per iTunes, 4.79 GB (1,044 tracks), mostly encoded as 192Kbps AAC; since I'm still in iPod population mode, it would be more but for the recent passing of my PowerBook's optical drive.

Last CD I bought: Low, The Great Destroyer and Ivy, In the Clear (purchased at the same time).

Song playing right now: Wire, "Ahead," The Ideal Copy. This is the last song that was playing (in shuffle mode) in the car right before I arrived at home and saw Alan's meme-passing e-mail.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:

In no particular order,
  1. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Happy When It Rains,” Darklands. Far and away my most played song of 2004.
  2. The Wedding Present, “Take Me,” Bizarro. A long-lost college friend once said it was impossible to listen to this song in the car without speeding, a lot, back in the 55 MPH NMSL days.
  3. Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi's Dead.” I haven't listened to this in years, but it marked my college-era entry into the world of strange rock-n-roll. Plus, there's its star turn in The Hunger.
  4. Mitch & Mickey, “When You're Next To Me,” A Mighty Wind soundtrack. Far and away my most played song of 2003. Who'd'a thunk writing a song like this was in Eugene Levy's repertoire?
  5. New Order, “The Perfect Kiss,” Low-Life. One of their best mid-eighties dance singles, though of those I'm more likely to listen to "Bizarre Love Triangle;" and one of the few records of mine from the era that my mother actually didn't mind listening to. Back when new-wave pickings in the format were very slim, I took the CD release of Low-Life as an indication that the format had arrived.

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton: I'm sure I'll have to burn more blog-social capital than Alan for this, plus he already tagged some likely suspects. So let's try,

Oscar Madison, in case he has some post-Poland blogging down time.
Phantom Scribbler, in case the meme hasn't reached her yet. (Update: It had, see here.)
Scott at Semiquark.
Tonya, because I'm curious to know how many of the 'five important songs' will be by the Dave Matthews Band.
The Angry Sicilian, as I have no idea what the liberal youth of today listen to.
Bryan Smith, as I have no idea what the conservative youth of today listen to. (Update 2: make that almost no idea.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Countdown, Part II

by Tom Bozzo

Sith watch: twenty hours to go, plus the duration of previews and other advertisements.

Note that even though my colleagues and I who will attend are salaried, we won't be part of the lost-productivity cost of the event: our schedules are merely flexing to accommodate the screening.

An observation from Star Wars product tie-in land is that the LEGO shop web site says there's a limit of five units per customer on the forthcoming Death Star II set (3,441 pieces, at a $269 introductory price). I want to find out who's getting more than 5 of those and be that person. (*)

Meanwhile, Joe Malchow says he liked the film a lot over at Dartblog, and offers the non-surprising observation that the flap over the film's politics is overblown.

One nit to pick with Joe: while I don't think reasonable people in the U.S. equate dissent with treason, that is not to say that unreasonable people aren't doing so. Apart from the popular support for various abridgements of constitutional freedoms that public surveys periodically show, throwing around the T-word is a sadly common blogiverse foible — one which Joe has admirably avoided, I should add.

See, e.g., Roger L. Simon's post on the Eason Jordan flap, entitled "Is This Treason?" (no); this LGF post related to a Seymour Hersh exposé entitled "The Media Are the Enemy" (again, no); Glenn Reynolds himself calling the failed Senate effort to turn some Iraq reconstruction grants into loans (that is, loans to be repaid by someone other than the U.S. taxpayer) as "near-treasonously stupid and destructive" (once more, not in the grander scheme of things), which I found among 29 search returns for the word "treason" at instapundit.com. For that matter, Keith Olbermann's use of "treasonous" to describe the White House's efforts to bully the press via the Newsweek controversy was perhaps malapropos (mainly if used unironically, which I don't think was the case), though an official effort to stifle dissent by bullying the press is a very serious matter meriting strong language (say, "un-American").


(*) The limit is probably meant to stifle the ambitions of people who resell individual parts on the 'net.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Lunchtime Notes: The Six Million Dollar PowerBook

by Tom Bozzo

OK, so I'm not completely happy with everything I have.

Like Kos, I've been waiting for Godot the much-anticipated G5 PowerBook and, accordingly, have been trying to keep my trusty four-and-a-quarter year old Titanium model alive. This is an increasingly trying experience.

Its original hard drive (10GB) was long ago swapped for a 40GB unit to accommodate a reasonable quantity of digital music and baby pictures, as well as a logically sized OS X partition. It acquired an 802.11g PC Card so we could hide the networking hardware in the new house — the computer peripheral investment worth ten times the price. The original battery has held its last charge, and was just replaced with a high-capacity unit that would keep me in DVD playback on a transcontinental flight, except that what started as an obstinate refusal to import Morrissey's "Suedehead" CD-single into iTunes has metastasized into failure of the DVD-ROM drive. I've been through three paid OS updates (as the machine predated OS X) and a retail copy of iLife '05. A new combo drive and a copy of Tiger would mean that I've invested the price of a Mac Mini in the damned thing in the last year. And a 1.67-GHz Aluminum would represent approximately the performance increment of the TiBook over the Ti's geriatric ('95-vintage) predecessor, for several hundred dollars less than the original price of the low-end Ti config.

I'm inclined to think that all this talk about class, between the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the blogiverse, is making me feel guilty beyond normal upper-middle class liberal guilt norms. Time to negotiate some financially neutral car-computer deal with Suzanne...

Class Warfare: Are Those Hoofbeats I'm Hearing?

by Tom Bozzo

I'd held off on reading the MSB (*) for a while on Sunday (when this post was started) so I could retain the feeling of small blog triumphalism I felt seeing the kickoff of the series on Class in America in this morning's New York Times. The subject would have been old hat to anyone who had happened upon Phantom Scribbler's fine post musing on class and social mobility from last week, or this post from Raising WEG (and its sequel), much as someone might have scooped Jennifer 8. Lee had he or she witnessed the Madison men's blogger collective in action at the Harmony Bar a couple months ago (**).

Phantom Scribbler spends considerably more effort than the Times on the aspect of the issue that is of paramount interest to me, being "a one-income family in a two-income world." A related matter, the amount of labor that must be supplied by most families to maintain middle or upper-middle consumption patterns, is touched on only briefly in the opening round.

As it happens, I am doing much better than I'd have expected as a flippy-haired late-teenaged undergraduate (***) — the subsequent decision to stay a fifth year in college in order to turn English literature from a vocation to an avocation figures strongly here. Nevertheless, after the experience of being priced out of our old neighborhood when the time came to move up to a house more accommodating of Julia and the second-child increment of baby stuff, the temptation to ask where things went wrong was can be very nearly overwhelming. (****)

Part of it is an issue raised by some of Phantom Scribbler's "commenting pixies," and which would be old hat to regular readers of Rob Horning's Marginal Utility, which Brad DeLong states explicitly (though a counterpoint is provided) in his response to the first installment from the Times:
It may be a very big mistake to think that human happiness is necessarily and significantly increased by piling up larger and larger heaps of material goods... Happiness is attained when you achieve your dreams and solve your problems. Material abundance helps you do so, but it also teaches you to dream bigger dreams and pose yourself more complicated problems.
To reinforce the point, yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran three articles with at least mildly bloodcurdling implications.

On page 1, there is "Extra Credit: Lagging Behind the Wealthy, Many Use Debt to Catch Up," itself second in a series that is looking more trenchant than the Times's. A graph accompanying the article shows a gap between median spending and median household income, notably large for the Bush years, accounts for a good part of exploding household debt. (Very low real interest rates play a role, too, but those are also unlikely to last forever.) A bankrupt low-middle earner from Salt Lake City, living in an upscale neighborhood, offers what may be the founding motto of Bushonomics:
"We came to rely on credit as part of our income, even though it wasn't part of our income... I looked at $1,000 on my credit card as disposable income."
In Utah, which has markedly above-average bankruptcy rates, Mormon elders are justifiably concerned (reflecting an interesting institutional "ambivalence toward debt"):
Thomas Monson, the church's second-ranking leader, said [in an April speech] he was "appalled" at advertising for home-equity loans that is "designed to tempt us to borrow more in order to have more."
Indeed, there's an ad from a large bank with a local presence that runs fairly often on Madison TV in which the banker hands over to the seemingly single mom with tween daughter an equity-line-tapping debit card, which the subsequent dialogue suggests could be used for a foosball table or soccer-team party; not quite what you'd call teaching responsible credit use. The profiles of SLC debtors in the article suggest that marketing has the upper hand on official disapprobation, though.

To add some additional irony, the spread including the continuation of the story includes ads for:

A second piece, relegated to the front of "Personal Journal," provides a partial answer to the question of "If I can't afford those wildly overpriced houses, who the hell can?" In short: they can't, at least by fuddy-duddy standards of affordability. New data from the Mortgage Bankers Association show that two-thirds of mortgage originations are interest-only or variable-rate mortgages. A third, inside Personal Journal, shows that in the first quarter, double-digit year-over-year house price increases spread to nearly half of the MSAs surveyed by the National Association of Realtors. I was gripped by the fear that the real estate market is, in fact, in the process of running out of suckers.

I don't mean to excessively dump on advanced financial intermediation. Some of it does, as sky-is-blue types would say, "democratize" credit. The dark flip side to the equity-line ad is that in bad old days that I can remember, the mom depicted there would have been in the role of supplicant to the banker.

For my part, I did plenty of what economists would describe with the euphemism "consumption-smoothing" in grad school, which for better or worse put me in the position of seeking a low down payment variable rate mortgage... in early 2000, when I was highly confident of the near-term direction, if not magnitude, of interest rate changes. Some people do have a rational expectation of limited tenure in their current houses, or income patterns that favor maintaining low required payments (e.g., people for whom a large fraction of income comes from annual bonus payments). I'll go out on a limb and say that those categories can't account for two-thirds of mortgage originations.

It is also easy for me to say "be happy with what you've got," from the position of having what I've got. Doesn't necessarily make it bad advice, though.


(*) Mainstream blogiverse.

(**) Strictly speaking, having pizza and beer in a bar may not count, so maybe Oscar and I should take Jeremy to L'Etoile for a sendoff-to-Harvard dinner to test the "man date" waters.

(***) The existing pictures from the era, mercifully, are not in a digital format.

(****) That I'd say such a thing from the perspective of someone who can afford to worry about which three-liter engine my next BMW should have may provide some insight to readers as to why I'm so down on Social Security privatization and other efforts to dismantle economic safety net programs.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

King Diesel

by Tom Bozzo

Autoweek reports that a trio of Mercedes E320 CDI sedans set diesel speed records for distances of 50,000 km, 100,000 km, and 100,000 miles. Average speed for the 100,000-mile record was 139.699 MPH. More amazingly, the fleet reportedly observed "nearly 18 MPG" in the runs. That is very approximately what my gas engine returns for loafing around town at an average speed of just over 20 MPH.

Temporary downside: the ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel required for the CDI V-6 (with particulate filter) to possibly meet 50-state emission standards won't be mandated at retail service stations in the U.S. until September 1, 2006.

'Arrested' Lives!

by Tom Bozzo

The best show on television has been renewed! Hooray!!

A big smooch goes from the M.U. (Wisconsin) family to Peter Liguori, Fox Broadcasting President, Entertainment.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Lunchtime Notes: An Automobile Marketing Oddity

by Tom Bozzo

Car geek stuff here.

Many cars with alphanumeric monikers advertise their engine displacement in their names somehow — unless one, in the Euro fashion, deletes the model badge to avoid showing off as, variously, a gas-profligate or a cheapskate. So my car has a 3.0-liter engine (2979 cc to be precise) and is labeled a "330Ci." Had I opted for the "325Ci," I'd have had a car with a 2.5-liter (2494 cc) engine. All nice and logical so far.

During my adventure in BMW land the weekend before last, one thing that caught my attention was an offhand comment from the salesman that in the U.S. E90 3-series, the 325i and 330i, which one would expect to be separated by a half-liter of engine displacement, both have three-liter engines. Since I was driving, I don't think my reaction was anything more than a "heh" (no "indeedy," thanks), but I was thinking something like "surely you mean that the cars have basically the same engine block but different crankshafts, or something like that, but I don't really know myself and I'm too polite to correct you anyway."

Well, I apologize to the Motorwerks salemsan for that which I didn't say: he was right per specs on bmwusa.com, and it's not a typo according to a bimmerfest.org administrator. This apparently helps them meet U.S. emissions requirements. (In the rest of the world, apparently, a 325i has an actual 2.5-liter engine with nearly identical output to that which the 3.0-liter U.S. 325i is tuned to produce via a more restrictive intake and exhaust than the 330i's.)

This isn't the first such displacement demotion I've heard of. The "323" models of the previous E36 and E46 generations had 2.5-liter (gas) engines, and were renamed apparently to avoid confusion with a 2.5-liter diesel model; that also widened the named-displacement gap to that apparently magical half-liter. It's hard to imagine someone walking into a showroom and walking out with a 325d when they really wanted a 325i. Not that I'd complain if someone swapped my car in the middle of the night for a Euro-spec 330Cd, which is amply fast, is in essentially the same UK CO2 tax band as the anemic 2-liter gas four (not sold in the U.S.), and gets 26 MPG on the EU urban loop to boot.

As it happens, BMW sells about 2-3 325s for each 330, and according to marketing material provided to me in lieu of a brochure, they'd really like to upsell more people to 330s (currently at a price premium of roughly $3,000). The 330 premium is actually lower compared to the outgoing model, so it'll be interesting to see how the sales mix responds to the combination of the lower price differential and the badging obfuscation.

Those of you following the expanding blogosphere discussion of class issues may note now, if you haven't already, that this sort of concern in my life pretty much identifies me as upper-middle class. Perhaps even "yuppie scum" in some circles. Though, to echo a point raised by the Phantom Scribbler, I'm in that part of the upper-middle class that still feels guilty about some upper-middle class consumer amenities, so I care about Hondas, too; just not quite as much.

I'll have more about the class mobility topic later.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


by Tom Bozzo

On this afternoon's diaper run to TRU, the place was all Star Wars, Star Wars, diapers, Diaper Genie re-fills, Star Wars, and Star Wars. As a ticket to the 1 P.M. Friday showing on the Point Cinema UltraScreen has been burning a hole in my wallet — yes, hooky will be played — I joined in the product tie-in mania by picking up the Droid Tri-Fighter. That entitled me to a bonus Mini ARC-170, which can be swooshed around the office more discreetly than the maxi ARC-170 down in the basement.

Ratio of diaper-related to Star Wars-related expenditures: 6.2. John will be out of diapers soon-ish...

Still holding out hope that the movie actually will be good (a voyage to Schaumburg for a digital screening is a given, regardless).

Why People Going The Wrong Way At Farmers' Market Were Smiling At Us, Even As We Ran Them Down With The Double Stroller

by Tom Bozzo

Julia, in full Mary Sunshine effect.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


by Tom Bozzo

Just below the Capital Times masthead from yesterday, there's a picture of John Kerry and Bruce Springsteen embracing at the big Madison rally in October (scroll down to October 28). Doug Moe reports:
Springsteen told the [Star Tribune] he found "a lot of idealism out there, a lot of people interested in moving his country in a different direction. I sat in front of 80,000 people in Madison, Wis., and it was probably one of the most amazing days of my musical life. There was a lot of hope ... There's a lot of thought and energy out there; it just hasn't coalesced around a focal point."

If you were one of those 80,000, you know what Springsteen is talking about. I was in the crowd and wrote later that day: "How cool was it? For once, the students were in the luxury boxes. The porches of the student housing along West Wash were packed with kids. Young, old - grandmothers bringing their grandchildren, husbands with wives, young moms with babies."


(Image via johnkerry.com.)

Friday, May 13, 2005

Friday Random Ten: Lunchtime Spot the Pattern Edition

by Tom Bozzo

Fire up digital audio player, etc.

The lunch shuffle loves female vocals (#1, 3, 4, 8; backup on #9) and Kiwis (#5, 7). In honor of David Horowitz's problems with control-C, I am here too lazy to use the shift key:

1. air miami, afternoon train, me me me.
2. buzzcocks, just lust, singles going steady.
3. mekons, ghosts of american astronauts, so good it hurts.
4. ivy, ocean city girl, in the clear.
5. the chills, frantic drift, kaleidoscope world.
6. the mighty lemon drops, my biggest thrill (live), happy head and out of hand.
7. the chills, dead web, submarine bells.
8. velocity girl, the all-consumer, simpatico.
9. the pastels, baby honey, up for a bit with the pastels.
10. versus, solar democrat, the stars are insane.

And did you think I would let this meme die? In honor of friends presently across the ocean, le googlation anglais-français-anglais:

1. air Miami, train of afternoon, I I I.
2. the buzzcocks, covetousness right, chooses outward journey regularly.
3. let us mekons, phantoms of the American astronauts, so good it wounds.
4. .ivy, girl of town of ocean, in open space.
5. the cold, unrestrained drift, world of kaleidoscope.
6. powerful lemon falls, my greater quiver (live), happy head and out of any reflexion.
7. the cold, died sequence, bells submarines.
8. girl speed, the all-consumer, simpatico.
9. pastels, honey of baby, to the top of for a little with the pastels.
10. against, the solar democrat, the stars are alienated.

Wisconsin Blog Post Of The Week (At Least)!

by Tom Bozzo

Via Stacie at the Vast Dairy State Conspiracy, I see that Milwaukee's folkbum gets a nod from professional right-wing ass David Horowitz. Congratulations, Jay! Jay's post, which deserves to be read in full, highlights a few neat tidbits:
I hope he feels the sense of pride I got when I was dissed by the Discovery (sic) Institute a few months ago.

Unfortunately, though, an update in folkbum's dKos diary indicates that the Horowitz fan club seems to be less nice, on balance, than the creationists.


(*) It was always fun in the early days of the blog to see which A-list-ish bloggers, when linked, would inevitably track down the link, determine (I suppose) that insufficient taking-of-name-in-vain was occurring in the microbial regions of the ecosystem, and leave quietly.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thursday Baby Extra

by Tom Bozzo

Here's the result of my trip to the LEGO store at the Mall: track for the LEGO trains. This is dual-use technology in that it both feeds one of my geeky hobbies and provides John with nearly endless entertainment.

He plays with his sister too, though Julia is looking a little frayed here. Naptime!

If I Didn't Know Better, I'd Say The Airplanes Are Snuggling

by Tom Bozzo

From the Star Tribune, a close one: a ground collision between a Northwest DC-9 and a parked A319 at MSP.

There were a few minor injuries in the mishap, but that was a somewhat lucky break owing to lack of an ignition source. The picture shows a refueling stand just off the nose of the DC-9, and indeed spilled jet fuel entered the DC-9's cockpit.

Befitting the reeling industry, descriptions of the incident in the story are a model of understatement:
Northwest management declined to comment on the fuel in the cockpit and the potential hazard it may have posed to the passengers and crews on both planes.


"When you have fuel on board, there is always a potential for a safety event to happen," said Ernie Kiss, national safety and standards director for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).
The picture also shows an oddity of the new Northwest livery. Note the tail and forward fuselage of the A319. The triangle had made the "W" in a stylized "NW" in the 1989 design (a clear comparison of the designs can be seen here), as well as pointing northwest on a stylized compass. The new livery deletes the "N," leaving the compass icon which, on the left side of the plane, still points northwest, as shown on this 747. But on the right side, as you can see in the accident photo above, NWA is directionally Northeast Airlines. (Amusing side-note: Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan probably really meant to fly to Ireland and not California.)

I have to say that the triangle, without the "N" part, reminds me of something else, too. Good for the graphic designer who slipped that one past NWA management!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Truckageddon Meets the New Urbanism! (Or, Incentives and Planning Matter)

by Tom Bozzo

Behind last week's Ford and GM debt downgrades, still shaking the financial markets, were continuing signs of the gas price driven SUV sales apocalypse. In GM's April sales figures, large SUVs led a 17% year-over-year decline in truck sales. Versus April, 2004, sales of Cadillac trucks were off 20% (led by the Escalade); Chevy Suburban, down 32%; Chevy Tahoe, down 36%; GMC Yukon, down 39%; GMC Yukon XL, down 34%; Hummers, down 28%; Pontiac Aztek, down 78% (*).

It's perhaps instructive to revisit what may be GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz's Famous Last Words:
For "the median income of, say, a Suburban or a GMC Denali buyer, probably the best demographics of any vehicle we have, or a Cadillac Escalade, you're looking at people with a household income of $150,000 to $200,000," he said. "Do they care whether their gasoline bill goes from $20 a week to $40 a week? The answer is no."
If the gas bill increase is believed to be transient, then Lutz is probably right that the increase doesn't matter. If, on the other hand, SUV buyers expect the gas bill to stay $40/week in perpetuity, if not get worse — not a totally unfounded concern — the increase in operating cost over the life of the vehicle becomes nontrivial. Since relatively few large SUV drivers have any real need for a large SUV, it's just economics 101 that some will respond to the increase in the effective price of the large SUV by substituting a smaller SUV or even a good old car. I assume the laws of economics have not been repealed such that the shadow value of SUV "fashionability" is not finite.

There were some other pricing and product cycle factors in play for the month, including an effort to restrain sales incentives, so it will be interesting to see how this continues to play out.

Right around now, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with New Urbanism?

To borrow liberally from a must-read post (particularly for Syracuse readers, who may be amused by the take on the DestiNY USA mall boondoggle; link via James Wolcott) at Jim Kunstler's Clusterf*ck (**) Nation, planning on an unending SUV gravy train is fine under the assumption that gasoline will stay "supernaturally cheap" forever. But faith in the unsustainable is not a plan.

Meanwhile, in Madison Blogistan (the right side of the Madison blogiverse, like some blocks in Maple Bluff; apologies to Max), Bryan Smith and the anonymous Random10 are up in arms in the wake of a lengthy State Journal article on the city's use of tax increment financing, or TIF. (Random10 does note usefully that there is a risk of the unintended consequence of pushing some development to exurban open spaces.) A big part of their beef is the use of TIF financing to foster dense infill developments in central neighborhoods, or as Bryan puts it,
(ab)use of TIF money to spread [Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's] vision of trolleys and neighborhood grocery stores, rather than for developing poor areas.
This does not seem to be a particularly fair summary. As the article notes, Madison devotes a smaller share of tax revenue to TIF districts than the state average. A TIF district encompasses the Allied Drive neighborhood, perhaps the city's poorest and most crime-ridden, and garners proceeds from the Nakoma Plaza redevelopment; the city also delivered a large subsidy to developer Gary Gorman for an affordable development in the district on the east side of Verona Road. A district in the East Washington Avenue corridor would encompass some of the city's most conspicuous post-industrial blight. There's also a risk of a hindsight obviousness bias for the success of the districts encompassing Capitol Square condo-land.

The "trolleys and neighborhood grocery stores" part of the critique, though, seems to be just that the city has planning policies that foster urban, rather than suburban, development, and (make sure you are sitting down) is directing public funds to implement those policy priorities. Going back to Kunstler, if it turns out that increases in the relative price of commuting reduce the viability of suburban sprawl, the city will appear to be visionary.

Bryan may wish to make the point that he simply objects to the public sector interference in the "market." That is fair enough, but as a matter of religion it's no more valid a position than Mayor Dave's. I will also believe more strongly in his good faith if he would post that if I determine that the market would support a convenience store next door to his house, he will not only support the conditional use before the various city planning agencies, but also actively solicit his other neighbors' support, too. Bonus points if he survives to tell the tale.

I think, though, that most of us in Madison are happy that not all of Madison resembles Houston.


(*) Not a large SUV as such, just a monstrosity.

(**) Term defined here at UrbanDictionary.com, apparently of military origin; or as noted in comments here: "any operation with too many leaders leading too many people at cross purposes and laboring under the illusion that there is a unified purpose and a brilliant plan."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Set Reasonable Goals

by Tom Bozzo

Here's the lede from a Saturday Star Tribune article on things afoot at the U:
University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks on Friday unveiled "the most sweeping recommendations" to come out during his long tenure there -- changes that will affect "every facet of academic life." The goal: to become one of the top three research universities in the world. [Emphasis added.]
What will affect "every facet" of life at the U and turn it into Harvard on the Mississippi? Reorganization of the U's colleges, which is expected to save as much as $20 million over the next four years and make the institution "leaner" and "better functioning."

Prediction: Bruininks will be disappointed by the outcome.

Belated hat tip: Oscar's incomparable motto.

Monday, May 09, 2005

(I Like) Fast Cars (Within Reason)

by Tom Bozzo

Saturday was Consumerism Day for me up in the Twin Cities (*). Apart from an errand I ran to the veritable Crystal Cathedral of the retail economy — something I only did the day before Mother's Day because it has both an Apple Store and a LEGO store under one roof — I stopped by Motorwerks BMW in Bloomington and took the new 2006 (E90) 330i for a spin. The postmodernity of the Motorwerks car-selling experience will rate a post of its own at some point.

Let me dispel any fears you might have had about what might have been done to the 3'er and say that the example I drove, with the stock tires, six-speed automatic, and none of the widely unloved technological gewgaws that occasionally raise the ire of the automotive press, was awesomely awesome. (**) Basically, it felt just like the 330Ci, except that it generally went faster because I wasn't trying to shift the gears myself.

I'm reminded of the one thing I can remember from Real Men Don't Eat Quiche apart from the title, and maybe the book's one funny suggestion: real men drive cars with automatics (i.e., they are capable of shifting their own gears, but are comfortable enough to leave it to a machine).

When I got my first car, three years after the publication of Quiche, that could be profoundly stupid as buying advice. My 1985 car had a 1.5-liter four making all of 69 horsepower, SAE net; and with the 3-speed automatic, which I test drove but did not order, it could easily get dusted by an Old Beetle. With the automatic and the a/c running, you might as well have gotten out and walked. (Economy cars have improved so dramatically over the last 20 years it isn't funny.) With the 5-speed, it could be flogged into a semblance of fun, at least within the range of legal speed. For you young'uns out there, that topped out at 55 mph back then. The one automatic I have owned, in a 195-hp Honda, seemed to have been geared expressly to frustrate the engine's tuning.

But I have to raise the white flag with the latest many-geared automatics: drivers who can outshift the damn things should consider a career in race-car driving. Though serious race cars no longer require their drivers to work the clutch.

The test drive also convinced me that the horsepower wars are completely out of hand. Somewhere on a car-oriented bulletin board, right now, someone is criticising the new BMW 3-liter for making "only" 255 hp. You can, after all, get a 255-hp Honda Accord. Power outputs that were the province of exotic sports cars when I started driving are available at mass-market prices as far down as the Bitchin' Camaro market segment, and something just short of exotic car buckage now buys race car power — in a big, comfy sedan if you'd like.

This is just the Free Market at Work up to a point. There's also most definitely such thing as too little power, not just in older economy cars (though my old car's 69 hp only needed to drag around about 2000 pounds of car, thanks to the absence of what modern sensibilities would consider to be safety), especially when one is trying to knife one's way through the Cities' increasingly miserable freeway traffic. Note to Subaru Outback intenders: spring for the turbo or the six.

However, absurd extremes beyond which a truce must be called have been transgressed. For one thing, more power-to-weight than the 330i's is nearly useless on the road. Nothing will stop a 600-hp supercar from losing a stoplight drag race with an econobox when the former's owner is busy yammering into a cell phone at the change of the light. Actually tapping into 600 hp in anything other than a straight line invites communion with hockey players who wrapped their 911 Turbos around trees back in the days before electronic stability control, and regular appearances in traffic court otherwise.

Anyway, if you've read this far, you may have figured out that I've problematized my present car situation to the point at which I've sold myself on something. Alas, helpful anonymous commenter, I have near-luxury fever and whatever I'm driving next winter probably won't be an Accord. The question is whether giving the color choice to Suzanne, with the accompanying risk that the car won't be silver, and getting the automatic (the present car's 5-speed being a barrier to sharing), will be enough.


(*) In the off chance anyone was wondering what happened to the posting schedule over the long weekend, that's where I was, for my mother-in-law's birthday.

(**) Even in its elemental form, there are a couple of control innovations that have made their way down the line to the E90 (e.g., the turn signals don't work as you'd expect, unless you have a recent 5-series), and the trendy stop/start button thing is not the easiest way to start and stop a car. But quibbles on those fronts hardly dampen the overall experience.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mother's Day

by Tom Bozzo

Enjoy your days. Regular posting to resume soon.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Friday Baby Extra

by Tom Bozzo

Hey, I'm sitting up!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

This Will Keep Me Out Of Trouble

by Tom Bozzo

This morning, not one but two!! special issues of the Journal of Econometrics landed in my mailbox:

Vol. 125 (2005) no. 1-2: Experimental and non-experimental evaluation of economic policy and models.

Vol. 126 (2005) no. 2: Current developments in productivity and efficiency measurement.

I leave it to the reader to draw the appropriate conclusions from my excitement at the prospect of reading papers entitled "Estimation of a panel data model with parametric temporal variation in individual effects" and "Panel estimators and the identification of firm-specific efficiency levels in parametric, semiparametric and nonparametric settings."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Troublesome Army Song

by Tom Bozzo

Here's the Googlish phrase of the day (or Babel-Fishing, if you will).

Secretary Rice (link via MaxSpeak):
I don't think anyone is confused about the ability of the United States to deter... North Korean nuclear ambitions or gains on the peninsula.
Google English-Korean-English machine translation (*):
North Korea nuclear ambition or it is born the fact that it is soul east regarding the royal tomb power of troublesome army song United States which restrains a profit in the insurgent, it does not think.
Nobody would be confused by that.

Rice reality check: "Myers: Iraq, Afghan Wars Strain Military" (AP, 5/4/05)

(*) The Korean translation feature is marked "BETA." To get this translation, I expanded "don't" to "do not" and eliminated the ellipsis. The translator didn't like the contraction at all.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Tuesdays With Googlation

by Tom Bozzo

It's the latest craze to hit the Internets! (Or at least it should be!) Take a phrase, use Google language tools to automatically translate it into another language, and then automatically translate the result back into the source language. (Via Oscar at The Columnist Manifesto.)

This Capital Times headline made me think for a moment in the original English:
Garbage entrhalls Madison with a killer show
After English-French-English Googlation:
The refuse fascinates Madison with an exposure of killer
Several of the translaters refused to translate "enthralls," for whatever reason. As a result, the Spanish Googlation, which transformed "Garbage" into "the captive sweepings," was verbless nonsense.

As it is sometimes my role, I should offer a couple of propositions without proof by way of establishing a Theory of Googlating.

1. Googlations of idiomatic expressions and terms of art will differ most from the source text, provided the source text doesn't contain jargon that isn't in the target lexicon.

For instance, the French Googlation of "Jack and Jill ran up the hill" is "Jack and Jill ran to the top of the hill."

The automatic translation tools appear to either refuse to translate, or will sometimes even drop certain words (see above).

2. Exceptions to Proposition 1 have high comic value.

3. The French aversion to English-derived jargon implies that Googlations of French source texts will have above-average comic value.

Addendum: Joe Malchow traces a form of Googlation to the sitcom NewsRadio. (He also reminds me of the existence of the Internet2, the wonders of which have yet to trickle down to us retail commercial users in any obvious way, grrr.) There being 10 million blogs and all, I do wonder where else this might have arisen as an internet(s) meme.

Second Addendum: Scott at Semiquark does more digging, and not surprisingly finds (via Google search, natch) references from the pre-blogging (*) internet to round-trip translations of texts using AltaVista's Babel Fish service. This raises interesting questions about the meme life cycle. Why would this one have seemingly faded? One thought is that it takes more skill to do an interesting Googlation than to dump a list of tracks from your MP3 player.

Scott gets a quite nice result from a Googlation via French of part of this post (and more of his own):
3. The French aversion with the jargon English-derivative implies that Googlations of the French source texts will have the comic value with-top-average.

(*) At least, when proto-blog sites weren't widely called blogs.

Finally, Something I Can Get More Easily Here In Madison Than In New York City

by Tom Bozzo

In last Sunday's New York Times' "T" magazine supplement comes word that the great city has no frozen custard scene to speak of...
even though [frozen custard] rose to fame on the Coney Island boardwalk in the 1920's. But Wisconsin is called the Dairy State for a reason, and anyone visiting Madison must go to Michael's Frozen Custard...
Ha! We are just five blocks from the nearest Michael's. Since my pedometer read a measly 3,300 steps as of the kids' bedtime last night, I might be better off walking the ten block custard round trip, provided I didn't get too much custard at the turn.

Meanwhile, Washingtonian friend C.B. also sent me a link to this Washington Post travel section article, of the "Madison is so wonderful and quirky (shame about the weather)" variety. The author hung out with Michael Feldman for the story, leading to the following, partially true, statement:
"If you don't factor in the weather, Madison is number one for everything," says Feldman. "If you do consider weather, it's 159th."
That implies that if global warming hits soon enough, I may be able to sell my house for an ungodly sum of money to someone fleeing one of the inundated coastal cities (i.e., someone who wasn't too property rich and everything else poor) who also wants to be close to a frozen custard stand.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Monday Deterministic One and Other Pseudorandom Thoughts

by Tom Bozzo

1. I finally had to RTFM to see how to engage randomly ordered playback with my car's hardwired iPod adapter (the only way to pod one's ride, BTW), and was amused to find an apparent firmware bug in the adapter. In "random" mode, I get the first track from the library — ordered by artist, then album — currently A Certain Ratio's "Only Together" from Force (Factory Records FACD 166, 1986). This may be the first track for some time, since I don't know of any other bands whose names begin with "A[space]" in my collection. While this gives my car listening (in shuffle mode) a slightly funky start, it's getting old fast.

From then on, the play order seems to be suitably random, though pattern-matching bias has me noticing clusters here and there. Friday in the office, I was getting "lots" of Spinanes and Wygals (consider this a click-through advisory to certain sociologists who may visit on occasion); on the drive in this morning, the random ten had two Buzzcocks songs, of which I actually listened through to "What Do I Get?" (1978). I have to drive through Shorewood Hills police territory, so I should probably skip "Fast Cars" when it comes up...

2. Toddler-free early Spring Arboretum blogging par excellence is available at Other Side of the Ocean here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (now that deep links to the Camic archives work).

3. Somehow or other, volunteering to sit in on the UW's Joint West Campus Area Committee on behalf of my neighborhood association led to a role in founding a neighborhood walking group. This has led me to meter my pedestrianism. I fear that I will prove to be well shy of 10,000 daily steps in my normal weekday activities. From the computer alcove in the house to work and back, I barely managed 2000 steps on the pedometer. The problem: it's 58 steps roundtrip from the office to the coffee pot/water cooler, 75 steps to circumnavigate the floor, and ~250 to my parking space (taking the elevator; ~350 via the stairs). I drink, as it turns out, somewhat less coffee than I'd have guessed. (In contrast, a round trip from home to the edge of Vilas Park at the Edgewood Park and Pleasure Drive is ~5500 steps.) Meanwhile, it's back to the gym...

4. Pecuniary incentives matter. My health plan has a program whereby they offer up to a $200 rebate of health club fees to members who regularly use the facilities, structured as $100 for each consecutive six months with at least ten visits per month. Missing a month resets the count. This has raised the watercooler conversation topic of whether the program offers a real incentive for increased gym attendance, or simply rewards people who would go anyway. (I would note that, to the extent it reveals some healthy behavior information, in principle it could be worth up to $200/year to the health plan.) At least for me, this makes the marginal cash value of certain visits high enough that it kept my nose to the grindstone through, e.g., Julia's newborn stage.

Anyway, I hit the six month mark a couple months ago, and was waiting for my $100 (having previously collected $200 at another facility), and waiting, and waiting. I looked at the fine print, which suggested that $200 might be the maximum total, rather than maximum annual, benefit. Logged April trips: 0.

The April check arrived in the mail on the 29th. Planned May trips: at least 10.

5. For the lexicon: Googlation. That's the act of translating a text from English (or another source language) to a target language and back, using an machine translator such as Google's, which hours long and forms hours of the fun (*). Oscar creats some Googlation art from the words "the Bush Administration" at the Columnist Manifesto, in the latest example of why his blog deserves one hundred times its average daily traffic.

(*) That's "which makes for hours and hours of fun," translated from English to German and back to English, using Google's translator.

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