27 August 2010

offloading some blogging backlog

You heard about the Moby Dick of Traffic Jams, right?
The Daily What | Traffic Jam of the Day Month

It’s official — you are no longer allowed to bitch about your commute: Motorists headed toward Beijing on China’s National Expressway 110 have been sitting in traffic for the past nine days, snarled for over 100 kilometers in a jam that is expected to last a month.

From Xinhuanet:
Since August 14, thousands of Beijing-bound trucks have jammed the expressway again, and traffic has stretched for more than 100 kilometers between Beijing and Huai’an in Heibei Province, and Jining in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China National Radio (CNR) reported Sunday.

Small traffic accidents or broken-down cars are aggravating the jam, the report said.
Didn't everyone freak out about a ten hour jam up on Penn. Turnpike a couple of holiday seasons back? Doesn't seem so bad now.

This comment from a Chinese truck driver, via Tyler Cowen, is priceless. (Har. Priceless. Get it? Of course not. You have to read the comment first.)
“Everybody has to use this road as the other is too expensive, it should be free.”
Tom Vanderbilt explains:
That’s the root of the problem here. When a scarce good is under-priced, we trade the savings in money for costs in time — more people will queue for it. The other road may be overpriced, but I can guarantee that no traffic problem has ever been solved by making a crowded road free.
Liberals (more or less fairly) ask people who habitually oppose tax increases in there is any tax increase they would actually support. I'm on board with more congestion pricing on roads. (Interestingly people who support pricing roads rarely support making transit customers pay the full cost of their rides through increased fares. Hrrrrm.)
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Peter Suderman writes about Brian K Vaughn's excellent comic series Ex Machina, which has just ended its run. It's about a superhero-turned-mayor-of-New York, and as Suderman says, it has some pretty accurate and commendable descriptions of politics.

I'm a few collections behind, but it's been one of my favorites since it started coming out. It pretty nearly coincides with when I began reading comics, actually.
Ex Machina

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I said recently that CS was a discipline that revolved around problem solving because it is all about developing procedures which explain to a computer how to solve problems for you. Of course AI takes this to the next level by more-or-less restricting the domain to problems that humans traditionally do (or do better than computers).*
dispatches from TJICistan | TJIC | Market Garden, AI, state machines, helicopter navigation, the age of sail, failed startups, MS Windows

Speaking of re-purposing mental tools from one domain to another, I was on a certain mailing list a while back, and there was an interesting post (or, I think, forwarded message, or web page, or something) written by a CS grad student studying AI. He talked about how the study of AI had made him a better thinker, not in the BS liberal arts stock-justification way (“writing all these bull-@#$ papers makes me a better critical thinker, and thus I think I’d really be an asset to you as either a fry cook, or a janitor who can clean grease traps”), but because it made him think a lot about systematic ways of accomplishing tasks, and these systems could then be applied to other domains.

* Of course this creates a bit of a moving-the-goalposts problem for AI researchers.  As soon as a computer gets better than humans at some task it more or less stops being a part of AI.  This is a definition that makes us look bad in the aggregate, but I still think it's the best one.

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The Tax Breakdown Project allows you to input how much you paid in federal taxes and see how much of your money went to each department and program. Very informative.

It would be nice if they had a description for each of the line items. What does "DOT :: FHA :: Miscellaneous trust funds" mean? There numbers seem to date from 2008, so someone get them some funding to update and edit things a little.

I think the IRS should be responsible for sending a receipt of this form to everyone each summer.

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Eric Stansifer, (formerly?) of Cal Tech CS, offers a great breakdown of P vs NP and Deolalikar's recently attempted proo". Pretty easy to follow stuff. I can see why people much more informed than I have come to the conclusion that he's probably wrong but introduced some new lines of questioning that may prove fruitful in the future.

Stansifer, BTW, is a former member of Cal Tech's DNA and Natural Algorithms Group, which does some pretty cool stuff. It's not exactly my balliwick, but anyone who starts off their manifesto with a quote from John Joseph Hopfield is okay in my book.

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Investing advice I think I will be carrying with me as I age and save:
EconLog | Arnold Kling | Two from the New York Times

As a non-state-employee taxpayer, your stock market beta is double. If stocks go down, not only does the value of your portfolio go down, but your future taxes to pay state pensions go up. The state does not make up your losses. But you make up the state's.
This is less applicable, but still worth noting:
I agree with [Edmund] Phelps that the focus on aggregate demand is misplaced. I also really like the idea of tax credits for employing low-wage workers. Of course, as Greg Mankiw pointed out, the minimum wage is like a subsidy for low-wage workers paid for by a tax on firms that hire low-wage workers. Repealing the minimum wage and replacing it with a straight subsidy would be better.
If we — as a collected society — decide that low-productivity workers should make more money than they can command in the market then we — again as a whole — ought to shoulder that burden, rather than putting it on the employers who are willing to hire these folks at some price.

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This one is for Mrs SB7 as she starts her teaching certificate program:
View From The Porch | Tam | ...and they vote.

It's often been joked that you can ascertain someone's politics by asking them how they feel about prayer in public schools. If they say "I'm against it!" you have a liberal; if they say "I'm in favor of it!" you have a conservative; and if they say "Public schools?!?" you have a libertarian.

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The headline alone in this story is enough to scare the shit out of me:

Daily Mail | Fay Schlesinger | Prince Charles: 'My duty is to save the world'

I don't want your goddamned saving, Chuck.
The savior who wants to turn men into angels is as much a hater of human nature as the totalitarian despot who wants to turn them into puppets.
— Eric Hoffer
The pagentry of the Queen's Guard is the only redeeming quality of the Crown.

(Via Random Scrub)

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LabRat offers a good rant about people who are tremendously insulting but don't use profanity, and thus somehow think they're being polite and better than someone who just lays it out there. I agree completely.

I'll aim the same contempt at people who say insulting things, but preface them with "not to be rude" or "all due respect" and think that makes everything okay.

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Since we're talking about politeness, this week's Martini Shot was about AT&T customer service, who were exceedingly polite but utterly incapable of fixing Rob Long's problem. Apparently reassuring him a thousand times that they aim to provide great service makes up for the fact that they don't actually give him any service. As he said, "I'll take rude and effective over polite and impotent." I got the same treatment from Amazon recently. Their representatives were almost maddeningly polite, but it still took them six weeks to resolve my fairly simple issue.

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This SMBC comic should be nailed to the Supreme Court doors so that it's in the background of every numbskull protest on their steps.

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Warning labels for bad journalism.  Love it.  Way to go, Tom Scott.
Warning! Journalist hiding their own opinions by using phrases like "some people claim"

Warning! To ensure future interviews with subject, important questions were not asked.

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From the obits:
Washington Post | T Rees Shapiro | Bill Millin, bagpiper who accompanied British troops on D-Day, dies at 88

Bill Millin, 88, a Scottish bagpiper who braved mortar shells, raking machine guns and sniper fire to play morale-pumping tunes for his fellow commandos from the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, died Aug. 17 at a hospital in the English county of Devon after a stroke. [...]

Dressed in the kilt his father wore in World War I and armed with only a ceremonial dagger, Mr. Millin was a 21-year-old soldier attached to the 1st Special Service Brigade led by Simon Fraser, better known by his Scottish clan title, Lord Lovat. [...]

Mr. Millin was the only bagpiper to take part in Overlord, because British high command had banned pipers from the front to reduce casualties.

"Ah, but that's the English war office," Lovat told Mr. Millin. "You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn't apply."
Bill Millin, you have the biggest brass balls of the century.

It's no wonder he went to work as a nurse in a mental hospital later in life. It's always the crazy ones attracted to psychiatric work.

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The NY Times concurrently wins Most Egregious Abuse of Scare Quotes of the Year and Greatest Misunderstanding of the Code of Law of the Year:
The Volokh Conspiracy | Jonathan H Adler | Only Legal Because It’s Legal

From today’s NYT editorial on the Justice Department’s decision not to bring charges against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay comes this gem:
Mr. DeLay, the Texas Republican who had been the House majority leader, crowed that he had been “found innocent.” But many of Mr. DeLay’s actions remain legal only because lawmakers have chosen not to criminalize them.
Well, yes. That’s the way it works.

(Hat tip: Ramesh Ponnuru)
In other news, my ham-and-cheese sandwich remains legal only because lawmakers have chosen not to criminalize it.


  1. I agree with your issues with the "no offense, but..." construction for presenting rude things.

    I do, however, approve of the use of the phrase "with all due respect." This must, of course, be said dripping with contempt, thus implying that while being insulting and disrespectful, you are according them precisely the amount of respect they are in fact due.