Wed, 31 Aug 2005

Voting with their lead feet

I had occasion to drive on both I-90 and I-81 north and west of Syracuse last week. The usual speed on I-81 was 75MPH. The usual speed on I-90 was 80MPH. I think it's fair to say that drivers are voting with their lead feet to change the 65MPH speed limit on both roads.
Posted [10:49] [Filed in: politics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Tue, 30 Aug 2005

Economics Education

A fellow brought to my attention an article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics. He was shocked and horrified that Stiglitz would say:

The growth of the 'Open Source' movement on the Internet shows that not just the most basic ideas, but even products of enormous immediate commercial value can be produced without intellectual property protection.

I asked why he was so upset, and he explained that he was afraid that naive people would think that "Open Source = Public Domain". He suggested that this statement is false. He's right, the statement is false (not completely true). It's false in that only a vanishingly small amount of open source is actually in the public domain (without copyright). The statement is mostly true, though: Open Source is a success because it gives up most intellectual property protection. In context, it's true enough and for the audience Stiglitz was writing for, it wasn't worth explaining the difference.

Brian Ruth carved an eagle's head out of a log (Thumbnail)
It's very easy when writing about economics to get so detailed that you completely lose your audience. I present as evidence the fact that so many people have no clue about economics. Bad economics education. Explaining economics is like carving an eagle out of a log with a chainsaw. I saw Brian Ruth do this last week at the New York State Fair. First he roughs out the shape, when he goes back and adds more and more details. You can't present every last detail to people and expect them to comprehend it all. You have to start with the big ideas and help people understand them first.

Posted [20:12] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Mon, 29 Aug 2005

Ride starting Fri Aug 26 10:22:37 2005

61.85 km 202927.66 feet 38.43 mi 20283.00 seconds 338.05 minutes 5.63 hours 6.82 mi/hr

Rode the Ontario Pathways trail from Canandaigua to Phelps Junction. Parked the car at one end of the trail just south of Phelps Junction. The associated railroad is the Sodus Bay Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It crossed the New York Central at Phelps Junction. After it was abandoned, a portion of it was converted into a siding off the New York Central, so the rail-trail actually begins shy of Phelps Junction.

Bicycled to Canandaigua on county roads. Once there, I found the western end of the rail-trail. Starts right in the middle of town next to the existing FGLK line. Parallels it on the south side for a while, then turns to the south. This is the first rail-trail I'd ever been on which is both mowed and has no ATV traffic. They have the entire railbed gated off to exclude ATVs. Without much traffic, the railbed is given over to grass. Some bicyclists have worn a narrow strip of dirt. Even that is missing in some spots, so if you bicycle this, count on several miles of riding on grass. There's a short section where they couldn't get ownership or an easement, so they negotiated access from a neighboring farmer. Further on, they built a complete new deck for the bridge over Flint Creek. Fortunately, the steel was still in place, and they were able to reuse most of the bridge decking.

Stanley is an interesting place, because three railroads come together at one point. The Lehigh went from northeast to southwest, and the Pennsy went from northwest to southeast. The Lehigh seems to be completely overgrown, and the Pennsy south of town is grown over. The Pennsy bridge over the county road is gone, but the abutments remain. Interestingly, all the grading on the south side of the abutment has been removed, so the abutment looks more like a concrete wall than anything that ever held up a bridge.

The rail-trail turns a sharp corner to head northwards towards Phelps Junction where I had parked my car. Before too long, you hit a closed section of the trail. They need to rebuild the bridge deck over County Route 5. Don't take the railbed once you hit Flint Rd. The railbed crosses at a very sharp angle, and there's no Ontario Pathways gate on the other end. Stay on Flint Rd. until you get into Flint. You can climb up the embankment like I did, or follow the approved path and take the first right after passing underneath the railroad bridge. Look for the Boces office; there's an access trail at the back of it.

After you cross Ferguson Rd., but before you enter the woods, keep your eyes out for the Rochester to Geneva trolley line that crossed the railroad. I didn't plan this ride well enough and didn't know exactly where the trolley line was, so I missed it. In Orleans, check out the old water tower next to the railbed. It's still being used by the fire department now. At this point, the railbed is again closed. Ontario Pathways owns a ways down the railbed, but they haven't improved it since it soon dead-ends in a section they have no access to. So if you ride down this way, the trail soon peters out into brush after you cross the old highway bridge.

I rode on Route 488 around the closed section, but I might have done better to turn right and go down Wheat Rd on the other side of the creek. Wheat Rd. is used to gain access to the railbed again. Flint Creek, which I've crossed twice already, is now on my right. There's another bridge to cross Flint Creek, and immediately after that is the Lehigh Valley mainline out of Geneva. There's no sign that it's open as a rail-trail (informal or otherwise), and the bridge is out and there's no way to cross the valley there. You would have to route the trail down to creek level, cross on the Ontario Pathways bridge, then make your way back up to the level of the Lehigh.

Shortly after that is another bridge over Flint Creek (four in all), the end of the rail-trail, and my car.

Posted [01:29] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Ride starting Thu Aug 25 09:16:24 2005

73.72 km 241872.59 feet 45.81 mi 18361.00 seconds 306.02 minutes 5.10 hours 8.98 mi/hr

A very fine ride on Thursday. I was staying at the New York State Fair chaperoning the boys from our county's 4-H program. Each county spends four days total running a booth at the state fair. The booth contains the best projects of the county's kids. The teen leaders staffing the booth spend their day running activities to entertain visitors.

I, on the other hand, being superfluous during the day, went for two rides on Thursday (this one), and Friday's. This ride involves two different rail-trails: the Cato-Fair Haven Trail, and the Hojack Trail.

The Cato-Fair Haven Trail is a reasonably managed trail. In spite of the signs that say "No Wheeled Vehicles", bicycles are encouraged to use the trail. The sign seems to be referring to "No Motorized Wheeled Vehicles", because snowmobiles are allowed to use the trail in the winter. In spite of the sign, ATVs are indeed using the trail. Maybe they're a small set of riders allowed on the trail to keep a section of the trail free of grass? They mow the trail with a brush-hog; indeed they were mowing it on the day I rode the trail. There are a number of missing bridges; at least two railroad bridges over the highway had been removed and have been replaced by ramps down and back up. One highway bridge over the railroad was removed and replaced by ramps up and back down. A bridge over a creek is missing and has been replaced by a ramp around the abutments and down to a culvert. Not once did I have to get off my bike, though.

The Hojack Trail needs more mowing than it's currently getting. There were some places where I had to slow way down because I couldn't see the surface of the trail for the weeds that had grown over it. Unfortunately, the trail is really just a Cayuga County trail. It goes into Oswego County a little ways, but even though they own some portion of the right of way and it's free of brush and trees, they've closed it to public access. There have been wash-outs and on the privately owned sections, development, or so reports the Oswego County Tourism Director. The extent of the trail on the map below shows all of the officially open sections of the trail. It's possible that the trail goes beyond the Cayuga County line to the south-west, but if so, it leaves the railbed to do it.

Interestingly, the Ira Town Offices in Cato (southern end of the trail) are in a modern building with railroad station detailing. I suspect that it's built in the same spot as the old Cato railroad station.

Posted [01:29] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Mon, 22 Aug 2005

Ride starting Mon Aug 22 18:20:06 2005

20.60 km 67593.94 feet 12.80 mi 3703.00 seconds 61.72 minutes 1.03 hours 12.45 mi/hr

Decent pace but a short ride. Here is where I keep whinging about the shortening day. Looking forward to riding the Cato-Fair Haven Trail later this week while we're at State Fair. Also might ride the Ontario Pathways trail from Canandaigua to Newark.

Posted [22:14] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sun, 21 Aug 2005

The Law

Everyone who thinks government is a good thing and more government is a better thing should read The Law, by Frederic Bastiat. Amazon has it. Or listen to the free audio book recording of it. Or read it online.

It's hard to learn what good economics entails -- because you have to give up a comfortable ignorance to do it. Once you learn and understand economics, then you'll become a misfit among your Friends. You'll realize how many of them are pursing actions which are at odds with their goals. They want peace but support a powerful government even though it should be completely obvious that the bulk of society (who are not pacifists) will support the use of that government to wage war.

On the one hand, I don't like being at odds with my Friends. On the other hand, I wouldn't have my ignorance back.

Posted [23:06] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Fri, 19 Aug 2005

Burning Man

I notice that the Burning Man art festival has an awful lot of rules. Some of these rules are imposed upon it by external authority. Other rules, however, are necessary to keep people from coming to harm. The Burning Man organizers have created their own police, their own hospital, property rights, noise abatement laws, and a planned community.

Some people would say that this is evidence of a need for government. I don't think so. What is happening instead is a very large community is created from nothing in a very short period of time, and then is disbanded. If a community grows slowly on its own, or else is a permanent community, it will create its own spontaneous order. Burning Man has neither of those. The organizers end up being the source and repository of the spontaneous order. They started with no rules, and over time, having made mistakes and learned from them, they have put rules in place.

Posted [04:02] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Wed, 17 Aug 2005

Ride starting Wed Aug 17 15:13:21 2005

First portion: 49.28 km 161684.31 feet 30.62 mi 10454.00 seconds 174.23 minutes 2.90 hours 10.55 mi/hr

Second portion: 9.21 km 30218.65 feet 5.72 mi 1837.00 seconds 30.62 minutes 0.51 hours 11.22 mi/hr

Rode over to Canton today to pick up vitamins and the new glasses. I had multiple female friends tell me that my glasses look dorky. Worse, they both said "dorky". They weren't just dorky, they were doubly dorky. See my home page for the old glasses. Don't have a picture of the new glasses yet.

Stopped by some Friends (Brent and Rebecca) to see how they were doing. Brent has gone over to the grey side of the force and purchased an Apple laptop. Many open source folks have done the same thing. After all .... it's running Unix, right? Stayed long enough that my GPS software decided I'd started another trip, so the times and distances got split into two trips.

Posted [21:33] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Mon, 15 Aug 2005

Trust Free Markets

Dikalosunh writes:

My hunch is that, if low food production is a chronic but cyclical problem, the government should (and should be encourage to) put in place a system for subsidizing grain purchases in lean times - the temporary subsidization would not distort the market too much overall, I suspect.

Alas, it would completely distort the market. You see what happens is that farmers need to sell their grain every year, because they need to get cash out to purchase resources to plant new grain. The price that farmers will get changes from year to year depending on the amount of grain grown and brought to market. And yet customers don't want to have to pay huge amounts of money for grain products one year, and small amounts the next year. You end up with a situation where rich people pay the farmers a smaller total, and charge the customers of grain products a larger total, and smooth out the difference.

I suggest that many people have a problem with this because you have rich people getting richer on the backs of farmers and consumers. The only thing that can make it fair and just is when you have the competition that only free markets can create.

Trying to reproduce this process through government action cannot possibly work, because government players 1) don't have the freedom to risk taxpayer's money (and that is as it should be), 2) don't have the information that the prices produced by free market competition, and 3) government employees have zero incentive to succeed and all the incentive to not fail. "Success" and "not failing" are completely different things.

I want to be clear here: I don't worship free markets, just as I don't worship my automobile engine. I am confident that my automobile engine will get me to the places I need to go. That's not worship, that's just confidence. I feel the same way about free markets, because ultimately, the engine that drives free markets are individual's decisions, backed up by their expectations of success or failure. I don't trust systems, I don't trust magic wands, but I do trust people.

Posted [23:11] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Rutland Trail

Created a webpage for the Rutland Trail a few months ago. That's not news anymore. However, I also figured out how to use Google Maps' api, so the map image now links to a gmap using blue vectors to show the route of the trail on a map. I liked that so much that I took my database of NY railbeds, and put each one of them on its own gmap.

Posted [02:02] [Filed in: railroads] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sat, 13 Aug 2005

Ride starting Sat Aug 13 17:29:18 2005

38.02 km 124736.17 feet 23.62 mi 8732.00 seconds 145.53 minutes 2.43 hours 9.74 mi/hr

Another Rutland Trail ride. Went from Knapps Station to Winthrop. Put up a good pace considering that I mostly rode on the trail. Depressingly, it's starting to get dark around 8PM these days. Early dark means that fall is coming, and when fall comes, so will the cold, and when the cold comes, so will the snow. Then comes six months of bad bicycling.

Posted [20:11] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Wed, 10 Aug 2005

Not really. Employers in the USA have always had considerable

latitude in controlling workers off-the-job behavior. On the other hand, workers in the USA have the ability to tell the employer to sod off. I was surprised to find out that a friend in Germany didn't have the right to quit. Here in the USA, you don't even have to give two weeks notice. There is a fundamental conflict between political and economic protection of workers. The more political protection, the weaker the economic protection. A friend of mine has employees at her plant nursery. She also had to make a wall chart of all the deadlines for this form, and that filing, and the other payment. All of the things that are done in the name of worker protection also have the characteristic of making it harder to employ people. Political protection of jobs reduces the amount of jobs, making political protection more necessary. Another path that the USA could go down is to eliminate worker protections, making it extremely easy to hire someone. This would increase the number of employers looking for employees, which would inevitably allow workers to pick and choose among the best jobs, and prevent employers from abusing their workers. Counter-intuitive? Sure! Economics is a science and any science worthy of the name will create counter-intuitive results. If it didn't, why would anybody bother with it? Who knows what's best for workers? A bureaucrat? Or the worker themselves? Are workers adults, able to look out for themselves? Or do they need protection like babies?
Posted [23:13] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Ride starting Tue Aug 9 19:32:22 2005

12.36 km 40553.52 feet 7.68 mi 4558.00 seconds 75.97 minutes 1.27 hours 6.07 mi/hr

Stopped by to visit Robin McClellan. I always knew he lived somewhere down one of the dirt roads to the west of Old Market Road. Thought I'd drop in on him to see what he was up to. He had told people about the availability of lots of slabwood, so when I saw it piled up, I knew I was down the right road. He showed me his new wood shop, and the hole where his new house is going to be. And then as it was getting dark, I had to be on my way.

Posted [01:18] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sun, 07 Aug 2005

Does Open Source Software save money?

People often ask us if Open Source Software saves money over proprietary software. It would be great to always answer that question in the affirmative. Unfortunately, you can't directly compare open source software with proprietary software. It's like comparing apples and oranges. In many ways they are the same: fruit, spherical, reddish-orangish-greenish, sweet, nutritious, high in fiber, a good source of vitamin C. In many ways they are different: cold tolerant vs intolerant, many varieties of apple vs few of orange, thin skin apples vs thick skin oranges, many eat applesauce but nobody eats orangesauce.

In a perfect world, everyone knows everything. In this perfect world, everybody uses the correct mix of proprietary software versus OSS. By definition, in this world, nobody would use OSS unless it really saved money by reducing the business's reliance on somebody else's monopoly supply of software, or by using software which is easily customized for the enterprise, or by using software with no licensing fees.

We don't live in a perfect world.

The lack of perfection means that people will make mistakes. They won't switch to OSS even though it will save them money. Or they'll switch to OSS even though they would have been better off staying with their old proprietary solution. There is no one set of advice that works for everyone which will help them save money.

The most general advice is to look at the money saved from paying licensing fees for proprietary software, the risk avoided by not depending on a proprietary vendor, and the flexibility gained from having the source and permission to modify it. Against that you have to weigh the cost of modifying the software to meet your needs. This cost can exceed the license fees saved.

You don't always spend less money on software with OSS. In any enterprise, you spend money on the mix of inputs which generates the most value. If you are using proprietary software, and you switch to OSS, you can often modify or configure the software to better fit into your organization. This changes the best mix of inputs. When OSS creates more value for your organization, you would be wise to spend MORE money on software.

Many people have saved money with OSS. A few have not, and proprietary software vendors are happy to give voice to stories as cautionary tales. They are correct: there is non-zero risk involved in switching to OSS. It's possible to botch the job. The benefits available, however, are so large that switching to OSS is always the best advice.

Posted [21:12] [Filed in: opensource] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Reducing the influence of big money in the political system.

Some people think that big money has too much influence in the US political system. I disagree. As long as the government does things, and as long as it's democratic, the public will rightly seek to influence what the government does. This public includes non-profit and for-profit corporations.

The problem is that people expect government to do too much for them. People need to understand that they can and should do things for themselves. They do a better job for themselves because they care more about themselves than anyone else can. Providing for themselves is better for their character. Good character leads to good morality.

A strong government has the effect of infantizing adults. This cannot be a good thing.

Posted [20:24] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]