Assorted Links 12/12/09

A scene from Mr. Hulot’s Holiday

Fun Biz Markie commercial for TuneUp

  • Research Tools and Techniques: Refining Your Online and Offline Searches, with WiFi Classroom, December 15, 2009
  • Word Workshop: Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing , January 28, 2010
  • Update on The 111th Congress, 2010, January 29, 2010
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, February 10, 2010
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, February 11, 2010
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, February 18, 2010
  • The President’s Budget, February 23, 2010
  • The Defense Budget, February 26, 2010
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, March 3-5, 2010
  • Online Education and the Market for Superstar Teachers – “I have argued that universities will move to a superstar market for teachers in which the very best teachers use on-line instruction and TAs to teach thousands of students at many different universities. The full online model is not here yet but I see an increasing amount of evidence for the superstar model of teaching. At GMU some of our best teachers are being recruited by other universities with very attractive offers and some of our most highly placed students have earned their positions through excellence in teaching rather than through the more traditional route of research.”
  • The implausible Quantity Theory – “Suppose the gold industry was a government monopoly, and also suppose the demand for gold was unit elastic. Now suppose the government monopoly suddenly doubled the supply of gold. What would happen to the relative price of gold in terms of other goods? It would fall in half, wouldn’t it? And that is true regardless of whether or not gold has any role as money. We would get a sort of “gold inflation.” Stuff would cost more in gold terms. But not in dollar terms.

    Now suppose that at some point gold was no longer used for anything other than (full-bodied) gold coins. No more gold teeth and no more gold jewelry. Now what happens if the government doubles the amount of gold, say from $100 per capita, to $200? Again the value of gold would fall in half in terms of all other goods. But this time prices wouldn’t just rise in terms of gold, prices would double in nominal terms, as gold is now money. And this is true no matter how small a fraction of our wealth is held in the form of gold. ”

  • Thoughts, from Victor Niederhoffer – “Who is the naive party in the Uncle Remus story and the market story that believes all these stories, and pays 100 cents on the dollar to forestall these terrible outcomes? ”
  • Big Out-of-Control Government Has Had Better Days at the Supreme Court – “Two curious notes from the argument: 1. Petitioners’ counsel Michael Carvin referenced Cato’s brief in discussing PCAOB’s overreach internationally — seeking to regulate even foreign accounting standards — without oversight from the State Department or the SEC, let alone the president; 2. PCAOB brought its own lawyer to argue alongside the solicitor general, begging the question: if PCAOB is subservient to the SEC and/or the president, why does it need its own counsel to represent its own views?”
  • Zombie Buildings – “Although Corfman is discussing commercial office buildings, the same idea applies to residential real estate and loan modifications. Homeowners with significant negative equity own zombie houses – the ‘owners’ are really renters and will defer maintenance as long as possible.”
  • Nothing Down Flamed the California Real Estate Bonfire: 40 Percent of First Time Buyers in 2006 and 2007 went with Zero Down in California. 4 out of 10 Purchases in California now Backed by Almost Nothing Down FHA Insured Loans. – “The no money down idea was shifted from the seedy late night infomercial crowd and became common place. We are hearing many ideas being thrown around on Wall Street and D.C. but no one will dare touch the notion that we should increase the down payment option.

    I believe a big part of the housing bubble fuel was the ability for people to purchase homes with little to no money. In California, this was the accelerant that created the biggest housing bubble we have ever witnessed.
    . . .
    What is even more perplexing is the number of repeat buyers that went with zero down in California. In other words, people were selling their homes into the bubble and buying other bubble homes with no money. It was a Ponzi scheme that would make Bernard Madoff proud. Nothing down was a large culprit of the housing bubble. Don’t be fooled by those in the industry talking about how nothing down was somehow standard in the industry. It wasn’t. Not even close. It started in 2001 with the Federal Reserve dropping rates to historical lows:
    . . .
    Nothing down is such a horrible idea. First, it takes away the actual punch of a home price. If you even needed 10 percent down, buying a $500,000 home would require $50,000 saved up. That would take time and show some financial discipline. The way things stand today, you would only need $17,500 to get leverage up to $500,000. Didn’t we learn with Lehman Brothers that maximum leverage can be devastating?
    . . .
    The nothing down addiction is a reason FHA has now become the first time buyer choice in California.”

  • Whacky, or Wacky? – “‘It goes to show you how whacky the median price is for an indicator,’ [Real estate agent Jim Klinge] said. The median, which is the point at which half the sales prices were higher and half were lower, can be skewed when buying activity shifts to varying sectors of the market.”
  • Federal Salaries Explode – “That’s the subject of a USA Today analysis, which reveals an outrageous increase in salaries at the top levels of the federal workforce. I’ve been complaining about excessive federal pay for some time based on one set of data, and now Dennis Cauchon provides strong support for my thesis using a different set of data.

    Cauchon finds that since the economy fell into recession, the number of federal workers earning more than $150,000 has more than doubled. The federal government has become extremely bloated and top heavy, even as families and businesses across the nation have had to tighten their belts. With 383,000 workers earning six-figure salaries, the government has become an elite island of overcompensated administrators immune from the competitive job realities of average families.

    There are a remarkable 22,000 federal civilians earning salaries of over $170,000, illustrating that Big Government works for the benefit of well-off insiders, not average Americans. And Cauchon only looks at salaries and wages. Average annual federal benefits are more than $41,000, which pushes total federal compensation even further ahead of the private sector average.”

  • High public sector salaries and fake pointsettias in New Jersey – “What is truly depressing is the difficulty of reining in public sector salaries. According to the Asbury Park Press the median public sector salary for New Jersey’s 398,000 state and local employees (excluding police officers) is $49,164. That’s less than the median salary for New York City’s (251,000 public employees) of $48,076. New York City has a population of 8.3 million, slightly less than the entire population of New Jersey. The highest paid public servant in New Jersey earns over $290,000 as head of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission.

    If municipalities really want to save money, take a cue from holiday cutbacks and reduce the public sector’s footprint on the local economy. It’s likely many currently public jobs can be provided by the private sector or non-profits. Lower property taxes will more than make up for missing tinsel.”

  • Because taxpayers and creditors haven’t given enough – “‘The House approved legislation on Thursday that would grant Chrysler and General Motors dealerships the right to challenge the companies’ decisions to close them in third-party arbitration.’ The measure apparently has the support not only of Democratic leaders but of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).”
  • Inflationary Fears Creep Back into the Market – “Despite gold’s recent plunge, yesterday’s auction tells you that the bond market remains extremely worried about inflation.
    . . .
    It’s pretty simple folks:

    The bond market is scared to death of inflation. I mean who wants to hold a 30 year bond at 4.5% when inflation could rise 10% a year as we power up the printing presses?

    You must also assume that the bond market presumably expects the US to continue to spend themselves into oblivion. In my opinion, it becomes increasingly obvious that we cannot eliminate all of our debt without printing out of it.

    Thursday’s auction was very ominous: If we cannot sell our debt, the jig is up. In my eyes, this was a warning shot across the bow from the bond market.”

  • Politicians Investigating Leaks Sites… Not Leaks – “It was rumored recently that some politicians were going to investigate Wikileaks for some leaked documents that were posted there. The details weren’t clear, and I was hoping something was lost in the translation, and they meant that the politicians would be investigating the leaks not the site Wikileaks for posting it. No such luck apparently. Three Congressional Reps have apparently asked Homeland Security what can be done about sites that post leaked documents, including not just Wikileaks, but Cryptome as well.”
  • Stuff Journalists Like: #92 fedoras – “Like journalists themselves, nowadays fedoras are slowly fading from the newsroom, instead turning up on effeminate pop stars. However, journalists still wear fedoras, you just have to know which empty desk covered in dusty boxes to look behind.

    There will sit an old curmudgeon cursing at the computer while punching the keyboard with two fingers, fedora slightly askew and whiskey seeping from the pores. This journalist may not know a blog from a RSS feed, but he makes that fedora look damn good.”

  • The Ten Best Days of the Year to Buy a Car – “The car pricing people at TrueCar ran the stats and discovered December is the best month of the year for buying a car. Six of the ten best days fall in the last month on the calendar, with December 24th being the best of all. Walk into a showroom on the day before Christmas, says TrueCar, you can expect to get a 7.25 percent discount on the cost of the car.

    The best day for scoring a deal is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. But the December discounts run anywhere from 6.90 percent to 7.25 percent.”

  • Season’s Greetings from William & Mary – “Annual Yule Log Ceremony: Festivities will include music by the Gentlemen of the College and the William and Mary Choir and seasonal readings from different faith and cultural traditions. There is a rumor that Saint Nick will join us for the annual reading of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” As in years past, everyone will receive a holly sprig to toss on the Yule log. Refreshments will be served. Those attending will be asked to contribute $1 to a campus charity drive.”
  • The Tiger Crash – “Much like a Fed-induced credit bubble, the mainstream press has inflated a Tiger bubble. Built mostly on a foundation of tabloid-level reporting, the higher-paid ‘journalists’ and pundits on the food chain perform two basic functions: (1) repeat the tabloid reports, and (2) continually insist this is a major story and that everyone must pay attention.

    It’s easy to condemn the ethics of, say, ESPN for relying on tabloid reports, but there’s clearly consumer demand for tabloid gossip about well-known celebrities. The economic question here is, Why should ESPN pay expensive writers like Rick Reilly ($2 million per year) and Bill Simmons ($1 million per year) to pontificate about a subject where the cheap tabloid reporters are at least three steps ahead of the actual story? Where’s the value in paying a premium for writers who do little original reporting and contribute primarily to self-sustaining hype?

    Reilly, Simmons, and their top-columnist brethren are the $3 gourmet cupcakes of modern media. Sure, they might have fancy resumes and ingredients, but they’re still just cupcakes. In the long run, more consumers will get the same sugar rush from 50-cent cupcakes from the grocery store.”

Cool Video: Suzuki Motorcycle Assembles Itself

  • 1970 History and Events – “US males who turned 18 in 1970 were subject to the draft lottery.

    The President of the United States was Richard Nixon.”

  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado”
  • Small LDL: Perfect index of carbohydrate intake – “Measuring the number of small LDL particles is the best index of carbohydrate intake I know of, better than even blood sugar and triglycerides.

    In other words, increase carbohydrate intake and small LDL particles increase. Decrease carbohydrates and small LDL particles decrease.


    Carbohydrates increase small LDL via a multistep process:”

  • The new html edition of Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide – “Currently my two favorite places are Sichuan Pavilion and Abay Market (you now can and indeed have to order vegetables in advance), with Thai X-ing a perennial. Komi is the ‘finest’ dining and Bourbon Steak is the place most likely to be better than you think.”
  • Foodzie Lands The Man Who Invented Google Gadgets As Its VP Engineering – “Foodzie helps speciality food vendors get exposure by giving them a central online marketplace to sell their goods. Foodzie takes a cut of each sale, but the vendors are still left with more than they’d get if they sold their goods through traditional speciality food sites.”
  • Shopping styles of men and women all down to evolution, claim scientists – “The two approaches to how we used to obtain food mirrors how we shop in modern times, the study believes.

    He said women would spend hours trying to find the right outfit, present or object, because they had in the past spent ages trying to find the best quality and health giving foods.

    Men on the other hand, decided in advance what animal they wanted to kill and then went looking for it. Once it was found – and killed – they returned home. ” ht ALD

  • 99 10 Red Balloons – “Earlier this week DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, moored ten, 8 ft red, weather balloons in undisclosed locations across the United States.

    The DARPA Network Challenge offered a prize of $40,000 to the person or group who first identified all the locations.

    The MIT Group which won the challenge used a clever pyramid incentive scheme.”

Replace battery in Nike+ sensor for under $5
Or just take it back to an Apple store for replacement….

  • I WISH IT COULD BE THAT EASY – “The Huskies might be the Chicago area football team with the largest following, trailed by Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Northwestern (in that order) but turnout at those Soldier Field games doesn’t persuade me there’s any advantage in holding games there. That student journalists and DeKalb residents are questioning the university’s continued participation in the positional arms race called college football suggests to me that, pace Ms Shaw, the use of tax funds to crowd out private universities by way of big time football isn’t a sensible public policy.”
  • 2009 TechnoLawyer Holiday Gift Guide: GPS PND, Earphones, and iPod/iPhone Speaker System – “The Ultimate Ears 700 do not sound as good as the 10 vi, but they sound very good and they’re also a fraction of the size. In fact, they’re the smallest dual driver earphones in the world (last time I checked). As a result, they virtually disappear in your ear canal. You can lay sideways on a pillow while wearing them.

    My advice? Buy the Ultimate Ears 700 for music lovers, especially those who don’t want to sacrifice quality while exercising, travel frequently, enjoy listening to music while laying down, or don’t want to look like a nerd.”

  • Composer reinvents the piano – “For a non-pianist, the idea of a microtonally fluid piano might seem either no big deal or baffling. But this weekend a composer will reveal the result of a 10-year mission — nothing less than the reinvention of one of the most important instruments in western music.

    Geoff Smith believes he has come up with the first multicultural acoustic piano — what he has trademarked as a fluid piano — which allows players to alter the tuning of notes either before or during a performance. Instead of a pianist having a fixed sound, 88 notes from 88 keys, Smith’s piano has sliders allowing them access to the different scales that you get in, for example, Indian and Iranian music. For good measure, Smith has included a horizontal harp.”

  • Wedding Police – “News flash: Catholics are allowed to go to other churches and denominations and sit in attendance at whatever is going on there short of genuine evil and Satanic rituals. Once they avoid anything involving Ouija Boards, Catholics can trot on over and celebrate the weddings of their Separated Brethren, be they Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian or Mennonites.
    . . .
    You’ve missed your window of opportunity for scolding. All that is left is to try love.”

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