Thursday, June 30, 2005

Declining Standards In Academia

by Tom Bozzo

According to OpinionJournal, Diane Ravitch is "a historian of education at New York University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution." In attempting to score some points on an alleged decline in math education standards, her op-ed passes along what is apparently an urban legend regarding the trend in the contents of math textbook indexes.

In a purportedly explanatory e-mail from Prof. Ravitch to Kevin Drum (via the Daily Howler), Prof. Ravitch claims, "I have never seen a book with two indexes, but I suppose it is possible."

Butt well covered, I suppose. But never seen a book with two indexes?! Gimme a break. I had to reach all the way from my keyboard to the top of the pile of crap in front of my monitor at the office to locate a book with two indexes. (If Jeremy is getting neat in anticipation of his move, I am reverting to severe mess in anticipation of July 6.) That book was, for reasons that will become clearer to some tomorrow (though not via the blog), Applied production analysis: A dual approach by Robert G. Chambers (Cambridge University Press, 1988) — everything you ever wanted to know about neoclassical production microeconomics but were afraid to ask, BTW.

Like about half of the academic books on my shelf, Chambers provides a "Subject Index" and an "Author Index." I was even able to locate a book, F.M. Scherer's Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance (Rand McNally, 1970), with no fewer than three indexes: in that one, a "Law Case Index" joins the name and subject index duo.

Nor is multiple indexing clearly a left versus right issue. The edition I own of Krugman and Obstfeld's international economics text has a single index, whereas Eric Rasmusen's Games and Information: An Introduction to Game Theory offers a "References and Citation Index" (an indexed bibliography) in addition to a subject index.

As if I needed another reason to avoid the Journal's op-ed page.

Wednesday Baby Extra: Thursday Ain't My Kid Smart Edition

by Tom Bozzo

After weeks of listening to "Daddy do it!" while trying to coax John into helping assemble his jigsaw puzzles, yesterday morning John up and did a 24-piece Sesame Street puzzle all by himself. Just goes to show that seemingly futile efforts at parenting do eventually pay off. Here's the proud guy with his completed puzzle.


Now let's go for toilet training.

Since certain readers insist upon equal baby time, here's Julia's first time in the Ergo Baby Carrier, looking perhaps a little crazed but nevertheless cute. Call this the "You mean Mom has a back?" picture...


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Automotive News Roundup

by Tom Bozzo

While everyone is unapologetically blogging about whatever it is they feel like, I might as well note these items from this week's car news:

1. Senate rejects latest proposal to increase fuel economy standards

2. Chrysler repositions PT Cruiser as a small car as part of effort to jump-start sales

3. What a deal! Maybach to offer $50,000 discounts for dealer demos, resort vehicles


1. In grinding the sausage for its version of the "energy" bill, the Senate last week rejected a measure proposed by Richard Durbin (n.b.: comments with ad hominem attacks on Durbin will be summarily deleted) that would have increased CAFE fuel economy standards to 40 MPG for cars and 27.5 MPG for "light trucks" by a larger margin than a similar proposal in 2002. The Automotive News lede does not miss the irony:
Oil is $60 a barrel. Gasoline costs nearly $3 a gallon in some places. At the same time, advocates of higher federal fuel economy standards are losing ground.
A measure that did pass gives NHTSA authority to raise the standards, but forces an eleven-point test intended to thwart the use of that authority. But consider the criteria, via the American Highway Users Alliance [Editorial comments in blue]:
1. Technological feasibility; [Check. You can get a 37 MPG Accord now; then there are the Eurodiesels.]
2. Economic Practicability; [Check. The latest diesels, in particular, are not much of an imposition.]
3. The effect of other government motor vehicle standards on fuel economy; [Presumably, this is an injunction against meeting the standards with a New Trabi, but not a serious issue considering #1 and #2.]
4. The need of the nation to conserve energy; [Duh.]
5. The desirability of reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil; [Ditto.]
6. The effects of fuel economy standards on motor vehicle safety, and passenger safety; [Seems somewhat cumulative of #3, but if not, see comment on #3.]
7. The effects of increased fuel economy on air quality; [Not likely to hurt, though diesels would need particulate filters.]
8. The adverse effects of increased CAFE standards on the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers; [A better question is the adverse effects on U.S. manufacturers' competitiveness from the strategy of burning incense — or the MNF — to the oil gods in hopes that we'll see $30 oil again.]
9. The effects of CAFE Standards on U.S. employment; [See #8.]
10. The cost and lead time required for the introductions of new technologies; [I want an A8 4.2 TDI now, damnit!]
11. The potential for advanced hybrid and fuel cell technologies. [Can't make increased standards harder to achieve, presumably.]

Part of me doesn't feel too bad about the CAFE vote, except that it's the only finger that can be put in the dike. Given my occasional irrational belief in consumers' willingness to respond to price incentives, I'd rather see a moderately stiff but revenue neutral gas tax (i.e., with the proceeds of the tax refunded to consumers to offset the hardship of higher pump prices), increasing over time, to get people used to the idea of expensive petroleum-based fuels without an automotive-design mandate. However, this idea has as much chance of being enacted as Bush has a chance of being impeached by the Republican congress. A boy can dream, though.

2. The PT Cruiser article highlights one of the fundamental flaws of CAFE: manufacturers have trashed the regulations' car/light truck distinction to the point of near-meaninglessness. The PT Cruiser, when it originally came to market, was at the vanguard of the effort to game the standards by classifying car-based vehicles as light trucks. That has accelerated as the SUV market has become increasingly dominated by relatively small models derived from cars' mechanical platforms, and arguably reached a pinnacle when a few mostly cosmetic changes to the Subaru Outback allowed the current model to shift into truck-land — so with much less fuel-efficient engines dominating its product mix, higher-trim Outbacks wouldn't weigh on its car fuel economy average.

The PT Cruiser is, in fact, derived from the mechanicals of the Neon economy car. With Truckageddon in full swing, the latest marketing innovation is to market the PT Cruiser as a fuel-efficient small wagon-like car. I expect it will stay a small truck for CAFE purposes to offset gas-guzzling Hemi-equipped Dodge trucks.

3. Meanwhile, if it wasn't obvious, the rich are under-taxed!

Maybach (Flash-intensive site) is the Mercedes-Benz ultra-luxury brand, offering the Maybach 57 ($327,500) and the Maybach 62 ($377,500) — same sausage, different length — intended to compete with the likes of Rolls-Royce. (The Maybach has also contributed some questionable styling details to the forthcoming Mercedes S-Class.) Maybach sales have been a disappointment so far. It turns out that part of the problem is believed to be the marketing model.

Part of what separates the Maybach from V-12 S-Class models at half the price is that the Maybach is quasi-bespoke, and buyers are expected to select from a broad array of colors and interior finishes as if they were fitting out an airplane. However, this apparently turns out to thwart a class of potential Maybach customers that happens to have at least $327,500 burning one or more holes in their pockets and wants the "immediate gratification" of buying one off the lot. Those people end up buying dealer demonstrators or cars purchased by hotels to entertain high rollers. I guess it's good to be King.

Seasonality Addendum: The Maybach story notes that whereas 244 Maybachs were sold in 2004, only 48 of those were sold in the first five months of the year. That seems to provide an answer to what one does with one's year-end bonus when splurging on a $400/head dinner isn't enough.

Second Addendum: In comments, Ken corrects me on the timing of certain year-end bonus payments. Maybe I should be thinking about the timing of NBA or NFL signing bonuses.

Monday, June 27, 2005

So You Want To Digitize Your Record Collection, Advice From Some Guy With A Blog

by Tom Bozzo

1. Don't.

2. Seriously, determine whether the material you will be digitizing is available via the iTunes Music Store or another service of your liking. (*) Ninety-nine cents per track is a relative bargain if you value your time and/or sanity at more than $20/hour or so. (**)

3. OK, so your college-era musical tastes are so out-of-print that Apple will have taken over Microsoft by the time the songs you're looking for show up in the iTMS inventory. What do you do?
Slog through it all, and you can have your vinyl rarities on your iPod in the time it takes to play back the songs, split the digital recording into individual tracks, type in the metadata, and convert the files to a useful format! What could better illustrate why we love non-secure digital media?


(*) Don't steal music, blah blah blah. I've never used any of the software sometimes used for extra-legal file sharing as a matter of computer security paranoia, so I couldn't begin to tell you what the likelihood of finding high-quality encodings of pre-digital-era esoterica on the net would be.

(**) Hence, I'll buy Section 25's From The Hip, which inexplicably is available at the U.S. iTMS, rather than make what might be considered in some districts "fair use" of the copy that's hanging on my office wall.

(***) Example for illustration only. Really. No broader offense to Duran Duran fans intended.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

It's New Computer Day (*)

by Tom Bozzo

The new iMac arrived yesterday afternoon, following a 3-day journey from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania via UPS Ground. Interestingly, a few books ordered simultaneously are still in Amazon limbo, indicating that there is no free (shipping) lunch.

The new iMac is a pretty sweet article. About the only knock I'd offer is that it would be nice if the stand were height-adjustable. Also, the design of the system unit is practically taunting me to get a wireless keyboard and mouse (see below). It'll be sad to relegate my PowerBook to relic status, though it now can be strategically positioned in the basement for the long-deferred job of digitizing vinyls for the iTunes library.

The two computers do some interfacing, and 20 GB of my digital life hop to the new machine.

Apple takes a design cue from Public Image Ltd.'s Album.

What do you do with the fancy new computer? Well, read some guy's bolg, for one. (See, something must be done about the cable clutter.)

And then there's the killer app for the toddler set: Elmo's Keyboard-O-Rama

(*) May be sung repeatedly to the tune of the "Howdy Doody Show" theme song, until spousal Looks accumulate to a critical point.

Friday, June 24, 2005

More Counterfactual Job Performance Analysis

by Tom Bozzo

Apart from demonstrating the relative efficiencies with which Republicans circle the wagons and certain prominent Democratic politicians form circular firing squads, the controversy over Karl Rove's despicable remarks highlights an irony of his boss's career trajectory.

Correctly applying counterfactual standards, that is, comparing the actual performance to that of the "next best alternative," Rove's boss has taken a lot of credit for nothing, or likelier less than nothing. No particular talent or policy insight is needed (at least not within the U.S. political mainstream, which includes the guy who got the most votes in the 2000 election) to deliver rousing speeches to unite the country in the aftermath of the Sept. 11th attacks, or to conclude that the Afghan war was necessary.

It also should not have any particular talent or policy insight to have understood that
"You really shouldn't feed dynamite to your pig," says Juan Cole, mideast expert and professor of pig studies. "Dynamite has never been a safe feed for pigs and has only resulted in disaster for pigs and the pig community."
Should things turn out anyway, it will take a lot of data to unseat my prior that it'll be the result of dumb luck.

Addendum: Excellent analysis by Phantom Scribbler.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


by Tom Bozzo

Careful viewers of the site may have noticed that I fell off the Site Meter wagon last month, and have been tracking traffic to see what had happened in the couple months since my run-in with N.Z. Bear of the TTLB ecosystem. My overall view is that traffic here is Satisfactory, and I'm very happy now to have a few commenting pixies (with apologies to Phantom Scribbler for swiping the term).

Anyway, having satisfied my traffic curiosities, the Site Meter is once again sidelined. Feel free to come and go as you please. I've also made a few changes to the blogroll. Ann Althouse is back, Bryan Smith's link now points to his personal/baby blog and you're missing out if you don't follow Economist's View to its new TypePad home.

Kelo v. New London

by Tom Bozzo

I am glad that I mentioned earlier that I can sometimes agree with conservatives (or didn't disclaim my ability to do so), as I find myself agreeing on something with a Supreme Court minority comprising O'Connor, Thomas, Scalia and Rehnquist this lunchtime.

The use of eminent domain to foster private development may be constitutional (and I'll have to bug Oscar, the con law guy, about the legal issues sometime after he's back from Europe), but that doesn't make it advisable. I would urge municipalities to resist the impulse to use their powers for such purposes.


It should be noted that the most conspicuous eminent domain case in Madison in recent memory, involving the demolition of the homes of the old Dotty Dumpling's Dowry among other Fairchild St. businesses to make way for the Overture Center's concert hall, would appear to be an old-fashioned public purpose. I nevertheless think the city and possibly the donor screwed up royal by failing to make the concert hall an anchor of the East Washington Avenue approach to downtown, where currently municipal parking lots and post-industrial blight dominate the cityscape.

In Which A Heritage Foundation Report Convinces Me That I Am Wrong...

by Tom Bozzo worry too much about the benefit/cost details of the rail transit components of the City of Madison's forthcoming master plan.

In the comment exchange following the previous outing on the city's plan, Bryan Smith mentioned a P.J. O'Rourke NYT op-ed that in turn cited a Heritage report by Wendell Cox on how transit systems can't pay for themselves — supposedly to the extent that it would be possible to lease every new rider of the new Minneapolis light rail line a new BMW X5 for the price of light rail and have money left over — and therefore, by Cox's logic, should all be abandoned in favor of "private" alternatives.

The thing is, noting Alan Schussman's post on Heritage-quality research from last week, not to mention previous posts here on Heritage's efforts to advance the administration's Social Security bamboozlement agenda, if a Heritage-sponsored analysis says something that looks like it might be in the public interest is terrible, then I should probably be looking for whatever is wrong with the Heritage analysis. (*)

In the case of rail transit systems, there are some things wrong.

I greatly mistrust Cox's emphasis on one particular cost-effectiveness measure used to assess transit programs, the "incremental cost per incremental trip." For the Minneapolis light rail line, that was estimated to be $19 before the project was undertaken. The methodology for the measure is briefly described at this DOT page. Note that the $19 figure is not the result of Heritage number mangling, but rather is a figure taken from a Metro Transit filing with DOT.

What could be wrong? Incremental cost per incremental trip appears to divide an annualized cost of rail, including capital and operating costs, by a forecast of the number of rides added to the entire transit system. If I have it right (**), it basically loads the entire cost of rail on the rail ridership drawn out of cars. Which is to say that riders diverted from buses are effectively carried for free in this method — better than free, even, to the extent that some costs of the bus network can be avoided. Since incremental riders are about 40% of the Minneapolis light rail's total ridership according to a survey reported in the Strib, if the incremental cost per incremental trip were still $19, the incremental cost per trip is a far less scary $7.60.

Meanwhile, also via the Strib, Metro transit reports a 2004 cost per LRT ride of $3.88, with a $3 subsidy. The subsidy reportedly was high in '04 because of startup costs of the line, and is expected to fall to $2.34 this year. I assume that doesn't repay construction grants, but a $1,610 annual expenditure on a 5-day/week, 50-week commute won't lease anyone an X5.

It's also fair to consider what the incremental cost of a trip by car is. If you have an expensive car and don't use it for many trips, it can be substantial. If you lease a stripper X5 and only drive it to work and back (not likely, granted), the incremental cost of the trip is $14.40 PLUS the average incremental cost of insurance, fuel, roads, and so on. The cost per trip for such a vehicle will remain several dollars even at more realistic trip counts. That doesn't include the potentially astronomical congestion prices for trips where they might be charged.

Last, if subsidy of the transit systems is so offensive, we might consider the extent to which the road network or portions thereof require subsidies from general revenues, or cross-subsidies from heavily trafficked roads. Given a method of allocating revenues to roads and construction cost figures, it's not to hard to get a back-of-the-envelope approximation to a road's break-even traffic.

For the revenue allocation, let's use the taxes on the gas burned on the roads (there are registration fees, too, though since they aren't traffic-related, allocations would be more arbitrary). Combined federal and state taxes on gas in Wisconsin are just under 50 cents per gallon, or 2.5 cents per trip mile at 20 MPG. This Virginia DOT page gives a cost of $800,000 per lane-mile for an urban street, with a 30-year depreciation life. Assume a 5% annual cost of funds, and the annual cost of the urban lane-mile is $66,666.67. If the road gets 2.5 cents revenue per trip-mile, then the break-even daily traffic for the lane is just over 7,300 daily trips. A secondary road at $250,000 per lane-mile still requires nearly 2,300 trips to break even.

You might ask how many arterial streets in Madison carry 7,300 cars per lane per day. Not many is the answer. From the city's 1999 traffic counts (scroll down at the link for PDF maps), only sections of University Avenue, Campus Drive, Park St., Mineral Point Rd., John Nolen Drive, Gammon Road (betw. Woodman's and the Beltline) and Whitney Way (between Odana Rd. and the Beltline) crossed the threshold. Wisconsin has relatively high gas taxes, so it's easier to cross the threshold here than in many other jurisdictions. Of course, traffic has probably gotten worse on all of the above. But much of the road network looks like one big welfare case.

I barely have time to mention that if the peak oil Charlie Foxtrot is only half as Charlie Foxtrotted as pessimists like James Howard Kunstler suggest, assumptions that petroleum-fueled private vehicles will be viable will in the not-too-distant future prove to be inoperative.

For the above reasons, I say, bring on the trains.


(*) Lest I have another Howard Dean moment, this should not be taken to imply that I'd disagree with everything a conservative partisans might say.

(**) I'm not an expert in this calculation, so if anyone knows for real, I'd appreciate an education.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hedonics and Computer Prices Revisited

by Tom Bozzo

So I bit the bullet and, after 4-1/2 years with my trusty PowerBook, bought a new computer for the house, an iMac G5 if you must know. Since I'm an Apple partisan of long standing, the decision was mildly complicated by Apple's recent announcement of the switch of the Macintosh line to Intel processors starting next year. The Intel announcement did cost Apple some current-period revenue. I'd probably have opted for a fully-loaded PowerBook had Apple stuck with the PowerPC family; I'd assume margins on the higher-end computers are better, too. Oh well.

New Computer Day is also as good of a time as any to take a reading on computer price deflation. The price premium for portable computers makes a comparison between the old PowerBook and the new iMac unfair. My previous desktop computer purchase, from August 1995, is ancient history as far as the Consumer Price Index goes. The CPI-U series for computer hardware and peripherals didn't even exist at the time — it started at 100 in December 1997 and stands at 13.2 as of May 2005. Splicing in the broader IT hardware and services series for the earlier period, to fill in something for the missing computer series, suggests that computer prices are now around one-tenth what they were in the late summer of '95.

This partly reflects econometric adjustments for the quality of modern computers — a.k.a. "hedonics" — and drives nuts some people who don't like the basic idea of hedonics, that better could be considered equivalent to more. It is sometimes objected that the people who bought $3,000 computers in 1995 aren't buying $300 computers now (*). Or that a fancy new computer won't allow a blog post to materialize any faster than on the old computer (**). Another objection is that quality adjustment of price changes makes the inflation picture (and, by extension, data purporting to describe the health of the "real" economy) look better than they really are, making hedonic price indexes part of <irony>a grand conspiracy to prop up the economy</irony>.

Yet another is that quality improvements shouldn't directly translate into hedonic price reductions, which would be a problem if they did, but they don't, as the following comparison table will show:

Feature1995 computer ($2,799)2005 computer ($1,499)
CPU100 MHz PowerPC 6012000 MHz PowerPC 970FX
RAM16 MB512 MB
Disk capacity0.5 GB160 GB
Optical disk driveCD-ROMReads/writes various CD and DVD formats
DisplayNone17" LCD
ModemNoneV.92, useless
Wireless networkingNone802.11g, Bluetooth

The main cardinally quantifiable specs have improved by factors ranging from 20 times to a whopping 320x for the HDD, far greater than the 10x deflation factor. In fact, it would be easy to run the price of a 1995 computer into the tens of thousands of dollars trying to more-or-less match 2005 specifications to the extent that would have been technically possible at the time. The upshot is that the constant-quality deflation in Apple computers is much larger than that from hedonically-adjusted price index! Considering that very few people would have paid 1995 prices for 2005 personal computer specifications, that is not a flaw in the measurement.

Addendum (geek note): The most expensive RAM I ever purchased was the 16 KB RAM expansion pack for the Sinclair ZX81, $50 as I recall. At that unit price, 512 MB (***) would be $1.638 million.


(*) The problem with this argument is that they could, or very nearly could, and would get a better computer for $300 now than $3,000 would have bought 10 years ago.

(**) The CPI data actually show much less deflation in software prices than hardware prices, partly reflecting this phenomenon. There are significant counterexamples for highly processor or storage-intensive tasks.

(***) Current retail price around $50.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I Am A Proud Daddy Blogger

by Tom Bozzo

Thanks to these kids, and the World's Greatest Wife.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Saturday Garden Extra

by Tom Bozzo

What could be more bloggy than pictures of new gardens? Nothing, say some of us in the social sciencesphere. And our previously blogged-about front design is well under way to becoming verdant reality.

Here's a shot, from our pre-delivery inspection of the house, of the pre-existing conditions in front:

Two words: big shrubs (the burning bush on the far left survived).

The hose shows the soon-to-be front edge of the bed. The plan will eventually take the plantings all the way to the sidewalk, but we aren't going that far while we have small children running around the front yard.

And after a f***ing miserable weekend of digging (last weekend, when it was beastly hot and humid). When the bed expands further, I'm contracting this work out.

Here's the aftermath, with the Heuchera ('coral bells') in place in the background. The Heuchera will be joined by Dicentra 'luxuriant' — a long-blooming bleeding heart — and Tiarella ('foamflower').

The basic composition of shrubs is present on both sides of the front steps. The designer says this is more formal than usual for him, though in line with the house's symmetrical and relatively formal facade.

Flanking the steps, a baby Viburnum 'spiced bouquet,' whose future appearance can be seen here. The name reflects a note to the flowers' scent, and it adds color to the front in the fall.

The big picture. There's a house behind there, after all. And I'm glad to be in a neighborhood where merely mowing, as opposed to dealing chemically with the expanses of blooming clover that can just be made out below, puts us in the upper tail of the yard-care distribution.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Friday Random One

by Tom Bozzo

REM, "Furry Happy Monsters," (in QuickTime) which came around again on this morning's "Sesame Street."

Made my morning!

Thursday, June 16, 2005


by Tom Bozzo

Charlie Stross's new novel is not yet available in dead tree form, but the text is being given away in a variety of formats under a creative commons license. (Via DeLong.) This also provides a good example of a substantial non-infringing use of BitTorrent.

My reading backlog is long enough that I'll probably just wait for the hardcover, though.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I Have A Cunning Plan

by Tom Bozzo

Urban planning junkies can take a look at the City of Madison's recently released draft comprehensive plan. I've just stared looking through the materials, which are voluminous, but a few interesting maps (warning: 1-2 MB PDFs) include:
Some of the redevelopment areas should amuse locals, for instance the intersection of Glenway St. and Mineral Point Road, which has a 9-hole city golf course on one corner (not to be redeveloped), and a few small offices, shops, an auto repair shop, a gas station, and the Village Bar on or adjacent to the other three corners. It's not upscale — especially the board the auto shop posts to shame check-kiters — but is far from blighted. Of greater concern is a potential zone encompassing a row of apartments on our stretch of Monroe St.

Also, while I'm a transport agnostic compared to the right side of the Madison blogosphere, my impression of the full-up Transport 2020 plan is that it will do comparatively little at great expense, particularly the proposed commuter rail line. It would seem foolish to throw a lot of money at rail, particularly for a city of our size and relatively low density, while the existing Metro bus system is perpetually cash-strapped. Plus, a cleaner bus fleet operating at higher frequencies would seem to advance much of the would-be environmental goals of the more capital-intensive alternatives.

Addendum: Phil Lewis on commuter rail, via Rob Zaleski in TCT. One nitpick: a 1998 rail feasibility study concluded that the full rail system would have an initial capital cost of $220-280 million ($1998), as compared to a $42 million figure quoted in the Zaleski column. The difference reflects significant track improvements to permit workable train frequencies and speeds.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Oshkosh Ho!?

by Tom Bozzo

Someone's been leaving their copies of Flying magazine in the reading rack at the gym, making for an interesting look at how the other half of the other half lives. (Brunch on a sunny weekend morning at O'Malley's Jet Room, where the windows look out on the Wisconsin Aviation ramp at MSN, does much the same thing, and greatly entertains toddlers to boot.)

A short item in the May issue noted that Burt Rutan's X-Prize-winning Space Ship One will be flown by its carrier plane to the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh next month, en route to the Air and Space Museum collection. The AirVenture site confirms this and notes that the Virgin GlobalFlyer (in which the first nonstop solo circumnavigation of the globe was recently flown by Steve Fossett) will appear, too. This is a great opportunity to see these unique aircraft in the wild — the question being whether driving in to the fly-in will overwhelm the 2.75-year-old, who is otherwise enamored of all things vehicular.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mini (Mac) Mk. 2 Imminent?

by Tom Bozzo

Over at the online Apple Store, ship dates for the basic Mac Mini configurations are now reported as 6-8 business days, versus same-day shipping for the rest of the Mac lines. That's a tell-tale sign of an imminent product update. The Mac rumor sites are silent as of this writing, though that may have something to do with Apple's efforts to stifle non-sanctioned leaks of new product information via litigation. (To whom it may concern: I have no non-public information.)

If this is the case, it's good for me. I'd basically decided to bridge the transition to Intel with a Mini plus a small HDTV (w/ DVI input) for a monitor; a little more CPU and a little more standard VRAM would sweeten the deal.

The other Mini is expected to grow a bit for a MY2007 update, too, but that's less of a secret.

Tuesday Afternoon Update: Ho-hum. I'm grateful that I don't have to read the Apple tea leaves for a living.

Saturday Update: ThinkSecret says no mini update is forthcoming, and the ship time variation is an end-of-the-financial-quarter inventory adjustment matter.

Monroe Commons Update: It's (Unofficially) Trader Joe's

by Tom Bozzo

So reports Madison's superior newspaper. As signing of the grocery store lease was the last hurdle for the development (to meet TIF conditions), demolition of the old Ken Kopp's building should quickly follow a formal announcement.

Update 10/20/06: It's open.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

More Uses For My Copious Spare Time

by Tom Bozzo

For no good reason, I've never gotten into graphic novels, though that might have to change. Apart from discovering that another of my neighbors from the early college era is in that business, I see that the latest inspiration for the LUGNET .spacers — i.e., other grown-ups who build LEGO spaceships in their spare time, copious or otherwise — is Ministry of Space by Warren Ellis, Chris Weston, and Laura Martin. Apart from having an interesting alternative-history plot, in which the British instead of the Americans capture the cream of German rocket science at the end of WWII, its artwork appears to amusingly take off from the wonderfully wacky designs of postwar British aviation, for which I harbor a long-standing soft spot (my favorite is the English Electric Lightning).

Friday, June 10, 2005

Summer Vacation!

by Tom Bozzo

This will ratify what some visitors may have already noticed in the content of posts, but in honor of the end of the school year, Marginal Utility is going on summer vacation. This does not mean that there won't be regular posts, though for better or worse you can expect more of the whatever-crosses-my-mind variety and less of the important-issues-of-the-day variety (unless the latter happens to be the former). To the extent commentary is deemed necessary:
  1. George W. Bush is the worst president of my lifetime, if not ever, and people (corporate titans possibly excepted) who voted for him and don't regret it are somewhat stupider than they think they are slightly nuts.
  2. Social Security privatization is a bad idea that hard-headed analysis shows will make most people worse off.
  3. Bush foreign policy is more dangerous, misguided, and incompetently executed than Bush domestic policy, which is saying something.
  4. Visitors to financial markets should wear hard hats and other appropriate safety gear.
  5. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequel trilogy by far, and not that much worse than the OT.
Edited to make intended sarcasm more apparent.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Thursday Baby Extra: Return of the Pink Paisley Blanket!

by Tom Bozzo

From a play group yesterday, Julia demonstrates a toy to visiting Baby J.

Note to newer visitors, the pink paisley blanket seemed to be somewhere in nearly every picture of Julia early on.

Indeed, if you search the term "pink paisley blanket" at, three of the top four returns are pictures of our happy baby. Like Phantom Scribbler, I've been observing periodic visits that lead from the Google image search to various pictures in the baby archives. This phenomenon was not new to Nina, who had search visitors for some of her travel photography some months ago, but who also used somewhat descriptive filenames for the pictures.

Apart from being the path of least effort, I figured that maintaining the camera names would help thwart random searchers, but as it happens, Google image search is smarter than that, drawing in information from the surrounding web page to supply context when necessary. Damn them!

I'm still deciding where the dividing line is between freaking out and being happy that I'm linked enough that this stuff shows up as high-ranking search returns. For now, I'm leaning towards the latter. However, I should probably be alert to the possibility of a second career pursuing copyright violators.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Turns Out You Can Give Them Away

by Tom Bozzo

One cause of the s l o w blogging has been the call of the outdoors. There's only so much pleasant weather up here, even in too-hot conditions as are presently prevailing, and the Internets tend to lose out in the utilitarian calculus.

Like Tina of Pub Sociology and her family, we've recently had a landscape plan drawn up (click the image above for a high-res version of the front/side plan) and have in fact been working on the installation of the first wave of plants. I can only describe retaining of a good landscape designer as Money Well Spent for anyone dealing with challenging growing conditions, starting from scratch, wanting to have plants that looked interesting throughout the growing season, or all of the above (as was our case).

Our predecessors may have had decent taste in solid-surface countertop material, but they were not gardeners, almost scandalously so if you talk to some of our neighbors. That is, they attacked a well-developed shade garden in the back yard with Round-Up and a weed-whacker to accommodate a play system and trampoline. Their predecessors reportedly told some neighbors that they wouldn't have sold them the house had they known that was what they were going to do with the yard. Meanwhile, the front and side gardens did nearly nothing, with a bunch of overgrown shrubs and a line of hostas in front of the front shrubs — upper Midwestern boring, in short.

A tree service made amazingly quick work of the shrubs earlier in the spring. When the first of the new plants arrived, though, the line of hostas was still there. Our designer asked whether we missed the shrubs. We didn't. He was a little concerned that the hostas weren't going to go. I reassured him that they were soon to be history. He suggested that the basic vareigated green-and-white-leafed hostas lining our beds could no longer be given away.

That turns out not to be true. We dumped a great amount of dug-up plant material at the end of the front walk on Sunday afternoon, with a hand-printed sign reading "FREE HOSTAS" in front of the pile. After work on Monday, I was thinking that most of them would end up as compost. But things picked up Tuesday morning, and the last ones migrated to a garden being planted in the terrace along the street a couple doors up earlier today (alas, the sign with an added "Thanks! :-)" was recycled before it could be assessed for bloggability). There is something to be said for zero price.

Monday, June 06, 2005


by Tom Bozzo

With Mac-on-Intel now confirmed to be happening soon-ish, what's a boy with a tired first-generation PowerBook G4 to do?

In the territory of questionable sanity, upgrading my ADC membership to a level that would let me obtain a "Developer Transition System" has crossed my mind...

Monday is "Meme" Day

by Tom Bozzo

The second "tag" feels like less of a novelty, but this one, from Jay at Folkbum, is not an imposition.

Number of books in my collection: around 350 in Madison, maybe half that again in old paperbacks are still back in Delaware.

Last books bought: I can't remember anything since blogging about the purchase of China Miéville's Perdido Street Station and The Atrocity Archives by Charlie Stross.

Last books read: Fiction: The Atrocity Archives. Non-Fiction: Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser.

Currently in progress: This is my addition. I am finally gaining some traction in Neal Stephenson's The System Of The World, which I had started out reading with about the same alacrity with which a prominent public figure assailed I Am Charlotte Simmons. However, I am now making what is by comparison progress at superluminal velocities, and may yet crack Jonathan Strange (or finish re-reading Vineland) by the end of the month.

Five books that mean a lot to me: Alphabetically by author:

Pierre Franey, The Sixty Minute Gourmet. This book played a central role in keeping me fed to the standard to which I'd become accustomed growing up when I was on my culinary own in grad school. As a result, I never stooped to preparing abominations like "gloop," a former housemate's (an English Lit Ph.D. student!) term for the mixture of boxed macaroni and cheese and instant mashed potatoes — it's worse than it sounds. Franey's adaptation of the Escoffier chicken sauté makes regular appearances on our dinner table. It's amusing to note that in the late 70's, sixty minutes was considered quick for serious cooking, but now is an eternity in light of various works promoting edible meals that can be prepared within a half hour. Ah, progress.

William Gaddis, The Recognitions. I am congenitally unable to finish this book. I've made three main attempts, of which the last — an early-90s effort on the Metro commute to an after-school job in D.C. — took me about 3/4 of the way in. I'll probably first try to pick up JR from where I left off a couple years ago.

Thomas Hardy, Jude The Obscure. Jay offered Tess for one of his five, but for me Jude, perhaps my favorite book I'd been compelled to read, epitomized what I'd do for literature — in this case, wage total war on my freshman year roommate. It was beastly hot the first week of college, and he, being from a part of Connecticut that apparently doesn't get hot, kept me up one night when he couldn't sleep telling me all about himself. The breaking point was his confession that he considered literary criticism to be a waste of time, as he was incapable of detecting meaning beyond the literal text of a work. He illustrated the point with Jude, and I snapped. In retrospect, I probably should have just asked him to be quiet, and I'm also perhaps lucky he didn't kill me in my sleep at some point in the intervening conflict, as I dimly recall that there was an Intervention by our next-door neighbors (n.b., the dorm was alternating-room co-ed). Despite witnessing that teenage angst bull**** in action, one of the neighbors remains a good friend, and perhaps not too surprisingly, has a job ministering to first-year students — as the term of art now goes — at an elite college.

Philip Mirowski, More Heat Than Light. This is a very entertainingly written and mostly sharp critique of "physics envy" in economics, which I read at a point of late-second-year crisis with economics. Somewhat ironically, I went from More Heat Than Light — which ends with less than a bang, as Mirowski really didn't have much of a counter-program to offer at the time — to envy different kinds of physics, on the basis of which I conclude the story of monkeys showing some understanding of the concept of money from the debut Freakonomics column in the New York Times Magazine is not totally inconceivable (*). In retrospect, I recognize that I made a Bad Career Move for obtaining a tenure-track academic job, but feel no regret light of a counterfactual comparison of the job I got (and still have, nine years later) to the next best academic alternative.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49. I was pointed to this in senior year of high school as "serious" fiction that would appeal to SF sensibilities, so Lot 49 was the gateway drug to the postmodern American novel, which for a while I studied pre-professionally. My first girlfriend was besotted with F. Scott Fitzgerald and gave me a copy of The Great Gatsby for my (17th) birthday, and I reciprocated with a copy of Lot 49, which reportedly was not appreciated at all. My copy mysteriously vanished in our move last year.

I pass this on to Jeremy.


(*) In '94, I'd heard a presentation by a couple guys who claimed to have evolved a system of exchange with credit in a computer model of locally interacting economic automata.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Sorting by Class

by Tom Bozzo

The penultimate installment of the New York Times series on social class issues — describing the life of an upper-income family from Hell, USA (*) — tells me something to which I might have been attuned were I in the sociology racket. Those price points you'll see in the advertising for new housing developments (as in "from the 200's," "starting in the upper $300's to $499,000," etc.) are not there solely to signal me that I don't want to live in that neighborhood because the $200,000 house has tacky vinyl siding and low-end kitchen appliances.

The true horror is that in part they're also signaling that if you can afford to be in the neighborhood of $400,000 houses, an additional amenity is that you don't have to live near people who can only afford the $200,000 house. That makes me feel a little bad about cracking wise about Middleton Hills, the Madison area's first 'new urbanism' development, where the lower-upper-middle to upper-upper-middle classes do indeed choose to live at least as close to each other as we do in our old urbanism neighborhood.

The series ends tomorrow with a profile of the "hyper-rich," as if we really need to learn about how hard it is to choose the right mega-yacht. Still, it was interesting to get the Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2005 survey (**) and see a suggestion as to the class distribution of the opera-subscribing audience. Most consumer surveys will try to separate basically middle-class income levels, and lump the working well-to-do with the truly rich in a top category. Not the Lyric! Their survey has only four categories to cover household incomes up to $99,999, has five categories covering a bit more than 2% of the general population (those making more than $200,000), and to make the top category a subscribing household needs an income exceeding $2 million.


(*) The Atlanta suburbs, but lest I seem like a Yankee snob (which I am, but that's beside the point), the story seemed to have sufficient generality to be able to be transported to any recent suburban development.

(**) Being administered, as fine print notes, by the University of Chicago's survey center, and providing an Insitutional Review Board contact number if I feel my rights as a respondent have been violated by being asked how frequently I'd like to have a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in my subscription. The survey administrator may hear about some shortcomings in the questionnaire design.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Note to Joe

by Tom Bozzo

Keynes saved your guy's butt on Nov. 2, 2004. That is all.

Addendum: I meant to say sorry butt.

Quick Truckageddon Update

by Tom Bozzo

The view from Toyota (where truck sales in May were strong):
"The pendulum of consumer preference is swinging in favor of smaller SUVs, crossovers, hybrids and passenger cars," said Jim Press, [Toyotal Motor Sales, U.S.A.] executive vice president and COO.
Not a moment too soon, as some a****** who could only have been in a Tall Vehicle popped (another) big ding in Suzanne's poor wagon.

Thursday Baby Extra: One of These Children Is A Little Under The Weather

by Tom Bozzo

Is it Julia?

No, don't think so.

How about John?

At least he has a balanced breakfast.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Experiment: Throw A Rock...

by Tom Bozzo

It's a measure of the distance from my former D.C.-area life that the only 9:30 Club I remember is the one that was actually located at 930 F St., NW. Still, it's amusing to see the blogiverse well-represented at Kraftwerk's Nightclub 8:15 show. Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution reports running into Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell — as they're both D.C.-area academics, not the world's lowest probability thing, though seeing any Maryland economics faculty at the old 9:30 would have been news. Plus Rob Horning of the NYC Marginal Utility attended and has an extended review here.

In the process of wondering whether any non-bloggers were present for that Kraftwerk appearance, I reminded myself that there were a few weeknight shows at the old 9:30 Club where it seemed like the entire audience consisted of college radio DJs.

What Horning describes is far on the non-performance end of the "live" pop music spectrum, and largely explains why I didn't see much live techno-pop. Though in fairness, live performances in some guitar indiepop genres (e.g., shoegazing) were always highly dependent on digital effects boxes.

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