Saturday, July 30, 2005

Why housing is so expensive

Slate has a nice summary of work by Ed Glaeser (Harvard) and Joe Gyourko (of U-Penn) on an alternative reason why housing prices are high, growing, and so variable from city to city.

The great mystery is on the supply side. Instead of the traditional formula "housing price equals land price + construction costs + reasonable profit," we seem to be seeing something more like "housing price equals land price + constructions costs plus reasonable profit + mystery component." And, most interestingly, the mystery component varies a lot from city to city.

The answer is zoning regulations, as measured by time it takes to get a permit for all those environmental impact and fire safety and other red tape necessary for new construction projects.

Glaeser & Gyorko's paper includes some of the data behind their analysis and just eye-balling it I see that Seattle appears to be tightening up and coming to resemble cities like San Francisco more than more affordable places like Dallas. Between 1989 and 1999, Seattle went from 72 to 90 by one measure, where Dallas went from 58 to 52. Anaheim (96 to 96), Boston (87 to 86), and San Francisco (98 to 97) were more stable.

[via Marginal Revolution]

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

TV in bedrooms linked to lower test scores

TV in bedrooms linked to lower test scores

a study from the Stanford Report proves that you shouldn't let kids have a TV in their room, but giving them access to a PC is good.

Getting Things Done

Omar Shahine is a Microsoft blogger who posts a summary of how he improved his personal productivity. Of course personal attempts to organize yourself usually work for a few days or weeks and then peter out, but it's interesting to read his results of - Getting Things Done 2 months later

He uses the David Allen techniques that were reviewed in Atlantic Monthly last year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Microsoft is more popular than Sony in Japan

Microsoft tops Sony in survey according to Nihon Keizai.

Microsoft is #1 in the business survey, #3 in the consumer survey.
Toyota is #2, Canon #3.
Sony fell to #4 from it's top position last year.

I wonder how Google does in Japan?

Cell phone towers

Cell Phone Tower Search is a site that uses Google Maps to show you the nearest cell phone towers around a given location.

Unfortunately it appears that Mercer Island has only two main towers, near Pioneer Park, which may explain the terrible reception I seem to get near my house.

Bill Clinton agrees with Bush on Iraq

Speaking at the Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival Bill Clinton says: "'This is not Vietnam. I wouldn�t set a deadline [for the withdrawal of troops]. I agree with the president.'"

[from New York Metro], which adds: If anyone but him had said the same thing about Iraq, there would have been boos and hisses.

Sunday, July 24, 2005 | 07/24/2005 | In the '80s, Japan was the new big threat, like China now | 07/24/2005 | In the '80s, Japan was the new big threat, like China now

This is not an especially enlightening article, but I'm glad somebody agrees with me about today's situation with China and how it resembles the scare talk fifteen years ago with Japan. When Japanese investors were buying the major American movie studios, the Rockefeller Center, and other important icons, many people at the time talked like it was proof of the short-sightedness of Americans. Ultimately it turned out that most of these assets were obscenely overpriced, and it was really just a big rip-off for the Japanese.

Why is the recent talk about IBM/Lenovo or Unocal any different? If these companies are so strategic and so valuable to American interests that their sale should be blocked, why are American investors being outbid? Do the Americans know something that the Chinese (or the Japanese before them) don't?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Pacific Northwest accents

An interesting piece on KUOW yesterday morning ( transcript and audio (3 min)) about research at U-W and Portland State on regional accents.

  • To NW speakers, the vowels are the same in "odd" and "ought".

  • Natives often drop the ending -ed, saying "can fruit" instead of "canned fruit"

Quotes from Jennifer Ingle, who did a whole study on accents in Ballard that was written up in the Seattle PI a few months ago, which noted that Northwesterners
  • say "bucket" instead of "pail"

  • emphasize the 's' in words
  • use only 14 out of 15 American English vowel sounds.

Guess I'll have to start watching my kids carefully to keep them from losing their God-given right to all 15 vowels.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Iraq has nothing to do with terrorism (New York Times)

Why Do They Hate Us? Not Because of Iraq - New York Times: "If the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are at the core of the radicalization, why are there virtually no Afghans, Iraqis or Palestinians among the terrorists? Rather, the bombers are mostly from the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Egypt and Pakistan - or they are Western-born converts to Islam. Why would a Pakistani or a Spaniard be more angry than an Afghan about American troops in Afghanistan? It is precisely because they do not care about Afghanistan as such, but see the United States involvement there as part of a global phenomenon of cultural domination."

People forget that 9/11 (by far the worst terrorist incident in history) happened before the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq.

One Day in September

Last night I watched One Day in September, directed by Kevin McDonald. This Academy Award-winning (1999) documentary is an excellent summary of the events, combining extensive archive footage with contemporary interviews of the people involved.

The world first began to associate Arabs with terrorism through the Munich Olympics in 1972. Eight Palestinian terrorists captured and ultimately killed 11 unarmed Israeli athletes in a tragic attack that is notable for the tragically amateur way it was handled by German authorities. All attempts to storm the terrorists were doomed by pathetically poor planning and communicationamong the untrained beat officers at the scene. Only five snipers, without helmets or bullet-proof vests were assigned to shoot eight terrorists. The media swarming the area prevented additional police reinforcements. Live TV cameras broadcast the police plans and activities to the terrorists watching in the compound. Most pathetically of all, the terrorists were released a few weeks later in capitulation to a sham hijacking demand that is now known to have been carried out by the German government.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Kids spend too much time in organized activities

Marginal Revolution: Why are we organizing our kids so much?: "Since 1995, the portion of children ages 7 to 11 who swim, fish or play touch football has declined by about a third. Canoeing and water skiing are down by similar amounts.
The relationship between kids and their bikes is especially telling. In 1995, 68% of children ages 7 to 11 rode a bike at least six times a year. Last year, only 47% did. The sales of children's bikes fell from 12.4 million in 2000 to 9.8 million in 2004, a 21% decline, according to Bicycle Industry and Retailer News,an industry magazine...
Children today tend to get outdoor exercise by appointment. "

This quote and analysis comes from USA Today , but they don't look closely enough at what I think is the bigger issue: kids today spend 6-8 hours a day watching TV during the school year. The most popular show among kids isn't on one of the 14 TV networks devoted to kids: it's American Idol. If you take away that TV watching (which we do), they have plenty of time for both organized activity and free playtime.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Google maps nuclear explosions

HYDESim: High-Yield Detonation Effects Simulator is an application that uses the Google mapping API to calculate the places that would get destroyed by nuclear explosions in various American cities.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Why are flies so hard to swat?

Flight of the Fly from gives a short explanation, including this video.

Gwyneth Card of the California Institute of Technology presents the results of her experiments at at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Main Meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

Answer: flies jump; they don't fly.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Simply Audiobooks - the NetFlix of Audio books

Simply Audiobooks - North America's Audio Book Rental Company

$19.95/mo and you can rent as many audio books as you like. The service works just like Netflix: return in a prepaid envelope and get the next one in a few days.

Cool watches

What? Your Watch Only Tells Time? - New York Times

suggests as a place to get info about very cool new watches.

Two reliable online watch sellers in Japan are: and

MS Word tip of the day (sorting paragraphs) - Mossberg's Mailbox has a great tip I'll have to remember.

Let's say you've got a bunch of entries for a bibliography or another list that you want sorted. For example, maybe it's list of people you're tracking for a party invitation or mail merge.

Just enter all your information in separate paragraphs like you do normally. Then select Table / Sort and Word will sort it by paragraph. Easy!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Car seats are no better than seat belts

From a brand new paper by the author of Freakonomics:

"Using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) on all fatal
crashes in the United States from 1975-2003, I find that child safety seats, in actual
practice, are no better than seat belts at reducing fatalities among children aged 2-6."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Wolfgang Puck self-heating cans

My wife bought me one of those self-heating coffee cans, and now I see that MAKE: Blog has instructions for how to take one apart and use it for other purposes.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Child kidnapper's blog

Disgusting! Joseph Duncan, the guy who brutally killed the family of a little girl in Idaho, has a blog. There's a point-by-point summary at The Jawa Report: I Kill, I Molest, I Blog: Joseph Duncan's Frightening Weblog

Debunking Super Size Me

Looks like a lot of people have done fact-checking on the Morgan Spurlock movie that I watched this week.

  • TechCentralStation runs a page called SuperSizeCon that is full of lots of summaries debunking the movie and book.

  • SpurlockWatch is a blog that regularly updates fallout from the movie and books.

One interesting link is by Ruth Kava, Director of Nutrition in the American Council on Science and health, who documents the case of two people who did the 30-day McDonalds-only diet and actually lost weight. She notes that these people chose their McDonalds food more judiciously than Morgan Spurlock apparently did, and they combined their eating with sensible exercise.

Another Freakonomics idea: does Roe v. Wade make more Republicans?

The recent book Freakonomics popularized the thesis that legalized abortion explains much of the drop in crime that began right when the first descendents of Roe v. Wade would have hit their unruly teenage years.

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal claims the same effect is reponsible for more Republican voters over time. Not only are abortions performed more among traditionally Democratic groups (thus over time resulting in proportionally fewer blacks, hispanics, and other pro-Democratic constituencies), common sense indicates that children generally are more likely to grow up voting similarly to their parents. If those children were never born in the first place, they'll never vote.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005 - Kodak Sharpens Digital Focus On Its Best Customers: Women - Kodak Sharpens Digital Focus On Its Best Customers: Women: "When film ruled home photography, women took about two-thirds of all pictures and ordered most of the prints, according to industry statistics. But things changed when digital cameras began horning in on film's turf: Suddenly men got behind the camera -- and many of the shots ended up trapped inside a computer."

Photography is an interesting field to compare gender roles and preferences. Are men typically more involved when the endeavor involves cables and lots of buttons?

Super Size Me

Directed by Morgan Spurlock

Super Size Me is a humorous portrayal of the fast food industry as seen from the eyes of somebody who decides to eat nothing but McDonalds for a month in order to test the claim that Big Macs can be part of a healthy diet.

The movie is of course easy to criticize from a libertarian perspective, because after all who really gains besides lawyers when a fat person sues McDonalds? But I have two thoughts, one critical and one sympathetic.

First, note that Spurlock borrows a technique from Michael Moore, one that I detest: assume that everyone (except me) is dumb and that a wise Leviathan (controlled by people like me) should tell others what to do, for their own good. His vegan girlfriend is somehow wiser and just plain better than the poor sops in the plebian underclass who stupidly eat everything that the Fast Food industry shoves down their throats. Thank goodness we're so much better than they are. In fact, let me get a camera and through the magic of selective takes, I will prove that they are stupid and I am wise. It never occurs to him that these people may legitimately value things differently than he does. America as a whole is an amazing and wonderful place; the same thing that gives us McDonalds gives us a democracy that is the envy of the world, so pick on it at your peril.

On the other hand, what if somehow we had a society where fresh fruits and vegetables were emphasized as much as fast food? I personally would love it if there were a variety of great-tasting, fresh, healthy foods everywhere. Is there some way to engineer society to make that happen, in the same way that judicious zoning laws, though seemingly anti-libertarian, can make a city more liveable?