Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hillary really is more negative

It's long seemed to me like Hillary Clinton was a relentless attack dog while Barack Obama tried to position himself above the fray, but playing Devil's Advocate on myself, that could have just been my perception colored by my support of Obama. Electoral politics blog, however, took a look at some data that back up the notion that the Clinton camp attacks Obama far more than the other way around.

Flotsam tracking

This is a fairly long video, but it's pretty interesting. An oceanographer tracks ocean currents by where floating trash washes up ashore. It turns out there's a big collection of trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Central America, and when a cargo ship loses 80,000 Nike shoes, it's a scientific bounty of data points. Even stranger, left shoes and right shoes end up getting steered toward different beaches.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hypothalamus, that's the brain for me

1. Scientists say that starving yourself before a flight can help you restart your circadian clock and overcome jet lag.

2. A Chinese policewoman is making headlines for breast-feeding infant victims of the Sichuan earthquake.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hey, Economics People

Just wondering... what are the most important consequences of the weak dollar, and what are the best ways to deal with it?

I can see some of the effects... obviously it made my purchasing power in Canada a lot lower, and for commodities like oil, if the U.S. dollar is weak, then we're paying more vs. the countries with stronger currencies. What about more long-term effects like those on the national debt? How does it affect that? I can't imagine it's good. And what about secondary effects?

I suppose there are also some positive aspects of it, too, if you're working in the domestic tourism industry. What about manufacturing? It makes goods more expensive for us, but conversely, I suppose, this would encourage companies to keep factories in the U.S.

So anyway, at this point, all I know are little tidbits. Could anyone out there help me with a more comprehensive understanding of the subject?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Weighted Density

Blogger Austin Contrarian has come up with and calculated a very useful metric he calls "weighted density." What this is is the average density of an urbanized area, weighted by the population of each census tract. The relevance of this is that this is, roughly, the population density experienced by the typical resident of the area, as opposed to standard measures of density, which measure the average number of people found in a typical piece of land within an area.

What's the relevance? In brief, it does a better job of measuring the phenomenon of population density as people experience it. The canonical example is that using standard methods of measuring density, the Los Angeles urbanized area is the most densely populated in the country. How could L.A. be more dense than New York City? The island of Manhattan is certainly far more dense than any area of comparable size in L.A., but the suburbs in NYC are much less dense than L.A.'s suburbs.

In L.A., new suburbs on the edge of development have plenty of tracts developed at densities of 8 dwelling units per acre, which is what you see a lot of in L.A.'s older, inner-ring suburbs like Boyle Heights or Echo Park. Now, it would be wrong to say that density in L.A. is completely homogeneous. You see a lot more multi-family housing closer to the center, and there are people in Chatsworth or Malibu living on fairly large lots. But overall, if you were to look at a graph of population density in L.A. vs. distance from the center, it would be a fairly shallow curve that would basically drop off to zero once you hit one of the natural barriers that enclose the urbanized area.

In New York, on the other hand, you'd see a big spike in the center that would fall off rapidly, and then trail out and get a lot less dense than L.A.'s suburbs after a certain distance. Just think of starting in Manhattan and then heading out Long Island to Brooklyn, then Queens, then Nassau and Suffolk Counties. It's like the Long Tail. Out East, if you're traveling from one city to another, you may be go through rural areas, but you're never far from some kind of town or village. Here in the West, once you get out of the city, you can pass by hundreds of miles of almost unpopulated landscape.

This is important to understanding issues related to sprawl and transportation. Mass transit needs certain densities in order to function efficiently, but you can't just look at a region's overall density to get a meaningful analysis. What matters is the distribution of that density, and weighted density is a good overall measure of that.

Vegas Roach Trap Update

A year and a half ago I mentioned the low-cost Vegas Roach Trap. I just received a comment alerting me to what is said to be an improvement upon the design.

I should perhaps also note that last year, due to an unfortunate misplacement of an old candy apple, I had an infestation of fruit flies in my apartment. Until eliminating the actual source of the flies, I was able to keep things under control with a simple, cheap, and effective flytrap recommended by my younger sister Dorothy. All you have to do is fill up the bottom of a bowl with a shallow depth of apple cider vinegar, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in the top with a fork. This worked far better than any commercial remedies I tried. The flies are attracted to the vinegar, get inside through the holes, and then get stuck. You may want to ensure effectiveness by squishing them under the plastic as they crawl along the edge of the bowl.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mortgage Bailout

Let me preface this post by saying that I really know very little about big money issues. But from what I do know, I can't see any way in which the Democrat-sponsored bill to reduce foreclosures is anything more than, as the article says, a "bailout of lenders, speculators, and irresponsible homeowners" who bought houses they couldn't afford. In the "credit where credit is due" department, President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation. Good for him.

Look, nobody wants people to go homeless or for empty houses to become attractive nuisances in neighborhoods. I could maybe imagine some kind of small government program to ease transitions like that. But besides going after predatory lenders, it seems to me the best way to prevent the negative effects of the subprime mortgage crisis is to let housing prices drop back down to reasonable market levels, not by propping them up with bailouts of bad deals. If you can't afford the house you're living in, buy or rent a cheaper place. Propping up prices prevents those cheaper places from coming into existence.

Where are they now?

Remember Blair's cousin Geri with cerebral palsy on The Facts of Life? Remember how conducive she was to Very Special Episodes? Well, Geri Jewell's latest role was on the HBO Western Deadwood, which I've never watched, but which I understand is a bit grittier than The Facts of Life, even the episode where they go into New York City and a teenage hooker tries to recruit Tootie.

You could have seen Mindy Cohn, by the way, earlier this year in Daniel Waters' Sex and Death 101, where she plays the lesbian assistant to a womanizing restaurant exec who receives a mysterious e-mail listing all 101 women he has—or will have—slept with. Ol' Natalie's still as spunky as ever. See the trailer here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Two things

1. I'm back from Canada. Photos to come later. Toronto was a cool city. Niagara Falls was awesome.

2. Sean O'Neal of the Onion AV Club writes of having nightmares to this day based on an episode of "Too Close for Comfort" he saw as a kid. That one pretty much takes the cake for banal origins of phobias.