Tue, 30 May 2006

Stripping versus Teaching?

Danielle Egan, Professor of Sociology (thank god not Economics), wonders aloud in a Watertown Daily Times article: "Why do we live in a culture where if a woman shakes her groove thing, she makes more money than an elementary school teacher or an administrative assistants?"

I could snipe at the construction of that sentence, but it's from an interview, and I know how easy it is to say silly things in an interview. So, not to be mean, but she could always go live in a different culture if she thinks it's that wrong.

Her question has three answers. One is really cheap and goes like this: "Just cuz". Why does anything cost more than something else? The exact answer to price differentials in labor is incredibly complicated and probably has something to do with the price of tea in China. But that's the cheap answer.

The less cheap answer is to hold jobs constant and vary labor. Who fills what jobs? We could choose them at random, but Danielle would probably not be the best professional basketball player since she's probably not seven feet tall. Not every person that tall is necessarily a good basketball player, but at least they have a chance at it. What if they'd rather be a professor of sociology like Danielle? How would you convince them to make use of their special gift of height? Answer: by paying them lots and lots of money.

Getting closer to the topic at hand, not every woman is well-suited (get it? Well suited?? Well birthday suited? Hahahahahahahahhaa!) for that job. Only a fraction of all women have the ability to make money taking their clothes off. Only a fraction of them have the desire. Judging from the evidence, there aren't enough, at the wages of elementary school teachers or administrative assistants. In order to persuade more women to accept this form of employment, they need to be paid more.

The more technical answer is that every job function has, at any moment, a certain number of positions. In order to fill all of them, you only have to pay enough to hire the last person hired. Why? Because if any one person already working at that job quits, then the person they hire to fill their job will probably take the job for the same amount of money as the last person hired. Or close enough. Now, obviously, experienced workers get paid more, but not an awful lot more.

Posted [02:47] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sun, 28 May 2006

Ride starting Sat May 27 19:36:05 2006

17.64 km 57865.11 feet 10.96 mi 3428.00 seconds 57.13 minutes 0.95 hours 11.51 mi/hr

Stacked wood to be productive; then went for a bike ride to have fun. I checked out the results of my hard work on the Rutland Trail. Two puddles are completely dry. Another one had its drain plug up with silt, and the ditch needs more clearing. Keeps getting plugged with sticks and leaves.

Stupid forest tent caterpillars are everywhere. If you're not running into them as they dangle from the tree, you're running over them on the road. Usually it's no problem, but sometimes a big one will make a big juicy pop and spatter your leg with bug bits. Yuck.

Posted [01:25] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Fri, 26 May 2006

Criminal Immigration

I don't quite understand what is all the fuss over immigration. Everybody who evolved here from a worm, stand up and raise your hand. Anybody? Ahhh, exactly as I thought. We're all immigrants here. How can anyone possibly espouse a policy of anti-immigration? If they think immigration is bad, they have a very simple course of action: LEAVE!. "America: love its immigration policy or leave it."

In particular, conservative opposition to unrestricted immigration makes no sense to me. You hear conservatives say "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." They understand the principle there very well. Then they complain that immigrants commit more crimes than average. Well, how about this:

"When immigration is outlawed, only criminals will immigrate."

Posted [15:14] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Thu, 25 May 2006

Ride starting Thu May 25 16:43:06 2006

15.91 km 52195.22 feet 9.89 mi 2944.00 seconds 49.07 minutes 0.82 hours 12.09 mi/hr

Had to get back quickly, so I went for a short ride. Left the hydration pack at home and .... I noticed my mouth getting dry. I think I would have drank a fair bit of water had I had it with. Warm day, nearly 80 degrees, sunny, with only a few wisps of clouds. Stopped for five minutes to push a snapping turtle off the road. No, he wasn't happy about it. Better pissed-off than dead, like the other snapping turtle I saw on a different road.

Posted [18:16] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sat, 20 May 2006

Somali shilling

I think most people know that Somalia has what is called a "failed state" in some quarters, and a "stateless society" in others. They have no central government, and yet they have police, laws, and courts (as they know them; not as we know them). They also have a national currency .... without a nation.

The Somali shilling is left over from the old government. I forget whether it was socialist, democratic, or a dictatorship. Doesn't really matter. A central government can issue currency and enforce its value by changing the amount of currency in a controlled manner. Typically, this is done by shooting counterfeiters. Counterfeiting is a very serious crime in every country.

And yet, since there is no functional central government, how can the Somali shilling possibly work? You would think that counterfeiters would simply print up more and more and more bills, since there's nobody to stop them. But that's not what happens. Yes, new bills have been printed up in the intervening years by private parties. But the currency has not suffered from unlimited inflation, and I think I know why.

A fiat currency functions because the government controls the supply of currency. Yet it also controls the denominations of the currency as well. The government can inflate the currency as much as it wants through the expediency of printing up a new bill with extra zeros, and paying its debts with these bills. By declaring that the national currency is legal tender, everyone must accept it as the equivalent of ten of the next smallest denomination.

However, that's not what happens in Somalia. There, the denominations of the bills is fixed. There is no central government to pay people with new denominations, or to force legal tender laws. Nobody would accept a new bill because "it's not money". Let's trace the state of currency affairs.

At the end of life of the former central government, there was some supply of bills. Two things will happen over time. First, the economy will grow, because any economy in which people trade is an economy that will grow. Second, the existing bills will wear out, get lost, be removed from circulation, or otherwise become unavailable. Both of these effects will increase the demand for currency. For any item of trade with a fixed supply, an increased demand will raise the price of the item, and that includes money.

So, over time, the shilling becomes more valuable. Against that effect you have the counterfeiter, printing up new bills. Initially, he will print up lots of bills, and make a windfall profit. However, as thse bills make their way into circulation, the value of the largest denomination will fall until its value matches the cost of printing. No counterfeiter will bother to counterfeit unless they can make a profit, so they will stop printing up new bills.

What makes this system different is that a government would react by adding zeroes to the currency, e.g. Weimar Germany in the 1920's, or Turkey in the early 2000's, or Zimbabwe as I write this. No new denominations can be created, so the value of the currency stays stable at about the value of printing the highest denomination. As soon as its value increases, counterfeiters will print more. Competition between counterfeiters will reduce their profit to an amount approximating their costs, so the harm from counterfeiting will be minimized. Society will have a stable non-fiat paper currency.

This answer generates questions (as do all good answers). First, that the currency will tend towards a single denomination of bill (presuming that all denominations cost equal amounts to print). Second, it suggests that the value of the largest denomination will be fairly low, so that people will have to pay with lots of bills. Third, it may be that people will rip the largest denomination of bills in half or in quarters. Fourth, people may staple ten of the largest denominations together to make a single "10" bill. I don't know if Somalis are doing this now.

Posted [03:02] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Thu, 18 May 2006

The Open Source Train

I think that people are realizing that the Open Source train has left the station. Some people missed the train. Some people are in the middle of the bridge and are (rightfully) horrified. Others don't even hear the whistle. Their company will die without ever knowing what hit it.

Posted [13:32] [Filed in: opensource] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Wed, 17 May 2006


First they came for the terrorists, and I said nothing because I wasn't a terrorist. Then they came for my phone calls, and I said nothing because I had nothing to hide. Then they came for the cryptographers, and I said nothing because I coulldn't even spel the word. Now I can't hide anything.

Posted [13:46] [Filed in: politics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Mon, 15 May 2006

Here to help you

I'm aghast that John McHugh would send out (masthead above scanned from his newsletter; red text is my own addition) a straight line like "Here to Help You" as if that were his motto in government service. Has he never heard of the Great Lie #3? "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." Has the man no sense of history? Prosperity is dependant upon the government not helping you, but instead on the government doing its best to make sure that you are left alone.

The freedom to be left alone is not the freedom to be lonely. Nobody wants that. The freedom to be left alone is the freedom not to be forced into relationships you didn't choose. For example, to have a thief take your money against your will. Or to have a politician take your money against your will. Those are the kinds of things government should be helping you with.

Posted [02:36] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Fri, 12 May 2006

Open Standards

There are many, many opinions on what defines an open standard. Here's my opinion (not OSI's opinion):

If you're distributing hardware, an open standard might include patents which need to be licensed. That's okay, because nobody gives away hardware at zero cost. For example, an MP3 decoder chip could be part of an open standard, because the license for the MP3 patent would be paid by the chip manufacturer.

If there is no hardware being distributed, an open standard can't include royalties. Software can be copied at zero marginal cost; no room for royalties there. A software open standard must include royalty-free licenses for any patented elements.

More than that, though, are incompletely-documented open standards.

As a real-life example, my Crynwr Packet Drivers are written to an open standard -- the FTP Software Packet Driver Specification. However, all of MY packet drivers include an extra feature which makes callbacks easier (the standard requires a far return; my packet drivers work with either a far return or an interrupt return since an interrupt return is easier to code without using assembly language). I have written some applications which rely on this behavior. They won't work on non-Crynwr packet drivers.

Because I implemented to somebody else's spec, you can easily say that my software is simply not up to spec, and you'd be right. However, what if it was a specification that I had written, and was claiming that it was an open standard? If I hadn't included my proprietary improvements, is the standard truly open?

Posted [12:13] [Filed in: opensource] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Secrets of the Economists

These facts are well-kept secrets of economists. The first rule of economics is: don't reveal the secrets. I'm going to take a big risk and reveal thse secrets. Don't tell anyone else!

Historically, capitalists have only gotten about a 5% yearly return on their money.

Posted [11:57] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Tue, 09 May 2006

Ride starting Tue May 9 18:44:23 2006

25.25 km 82848.76 feet 15.69 mi 4925.00 seconds 82.08 minutes 1.37 hours 11.47 mi/hr

A nice early summer ride. Seventy degrees, the daffodils are mostly gone, the trees are mostly leafed out. Felt good towards the end, like I could have kept on riding another 15 miles. Pretty good pace, given that the first leg of Old Market Rd. is an abandoned dirt road.

Posted [20:26] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Sun, 07 May 2006

Ride starting Fri May 5 16:16:06 2006

27.08 km 88847.83 feet 16.83 mi 6825.00 seconds 113.75 minutes 1.90 hours 8.88 mi/hr

Went out surveying signs on the Rutland. Somebody put up directional signs on the trail a few years ago. Only some of those signs remain, and I took pictures of where the missing ones should be. They're all georeferenced, and I'll be making a list and checking it twice. Also took photos of some of the places that need the most work. For example, the trail junction just north of "North Stockholm" (which the rest of us call Knapps Station) (even though the station isn't there anymore) (and even though it truly is the North part of Stockholm) (what was I talking about??) (Oh, right, the trail junction) has destroyed the drainage ditches on both sides. The south side looks to have been destroyed by somebody dumping a pile of dirt to close off the old road to the south. The north side probably got destroyed by somebody trying to create a junction without a culvert. So .... the uphill now drains downhill by running through the middle of the trail, which has created a HUGE mudpit. The only way to fix it is to re-create the ditches from scratch.

Posted [03:03] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Sat, 06 May 2006


It's 46 degrees in Potsdam.

The ice cream store is open.

People are lined up to buy.

Posted [21:32] [Filed in: life] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Fri, 05 May 2006

Ride starting Sun Apr 30 13:44:36 2006

23.58 km 77358.60 feet 14.65 mi 5229.00 seconds 87.15 minutes 1.45 hours 10.09 mi/hr

Went for a ride on the privately-owned section of the Rutland Trail to see what hazards require signage.

Posted [01:04] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Ride starting Thu May 4 11:06:06 2006

9.00 km 29512.74 feet 5.59 mi 1732.00 seconds 28.87 minutes 0.48 hours 11.62 mi/hr

Two rides in one, really. First one was from home up to Clarkson, to see Ed Sazonov.

Ride starting Thu May 4 13:04:24 2006

12.50 km 41018.82 feet 7.77 mi 3360.00 seconds 56.00 minutes 0.93 hours 8.32 mi/hr

Second ride was back home again, stopping off to watch a train rumble through town and again at P&C to pick up groceries.

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

Thu, 04 May 2006

Poor Protocol Design

Why do chip designers design poor protocols? You'd think that with the millions of dollars spent on a typical large chip design, they would at least ask a protocol designer how they're doing. But no, they have to design their own protocol, and frankly, they're chip designers, not protocol designers.

Here's the bee currently in my bonnet: The Intel 8254x Family of Gigabit Ethernet Controllers has microcode on board to clock bits out of the serial EEPROM containing the chip's configuration. That's fine. They even reuse that code by making it accessible via the PCI bus through a register. Unfortunately, the protocol design is wrong. They have an EEPROM Read Register with the following bit definitions:

Can you see the problem with this protocol? The microcode has to be faster than the CPU, otherwise you can have a race condition between the CPU and the microcode. If the CPU is faster, it can read the old DONE before the microcode has read START. Now, you might, as a chip designer say "Oh, but my chip is so sTuDlY that it will always read START before the CPU can read DONE!" That's foolish, since you can use a simpler design with a simpler protocol that has no race condition.

Use just one bit which indicates the "owner" of the register. When the bit is zero, the CPU owns the register, and is free to write a new EEPROM address. As it does so, it sets the bit, which indicates that the microcode owns the register. It leaves that bit set until it has read the EEPROM register, at which point it resets the bit back to zero.

No potential race conditions; simpler to describe; simpler to implement.

Posted [16:22] [Filed in: opensource] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Tue, 02 May 2006

Subsidizing Transport

Many countries, the USA included, subsidize all forms of transportation: road, air, canal, and rail. The problem with subsidizing things is that you remove individual choice from the equation. Individuals matter because individuals are the ones who have to use these services. The trouble with evading the price system is that prices work very well to direct resources to those things that people really want. Not pseudo-want, when they say "Oh, yes, people (that is, other people) should use public transit more." Not pseudo-want, when they lobby their legislators. Spending money is the most honest sentiment a person can express, because they had to give up a part of their life to get that money.

Roads, airports, canals, and railroads: none of them shoulld be subsidized. Users should pay the entire cost of their carriage. Why? Because those four technologies are each over a hundred years old. If all forms of transportation are subsidized, then the competition (such as the RUF and many others) can only succeed by getting subsidized. And yet politicians are very bad at choosing new technologies. Most of them don't work out, and politicians are chary of failure.

Posted [10:47] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]