Saturday, April 24, 2010

CFL Lightbulbs and Non-Behavioral Economics

GE Lamps 48690 100-Watt A19 Reveal Bulbs, 4 PackWe are covering Behavioral Economics in my Energy/Environmental class this week, and people in general like to point out the slow adoption of CFL (florescent) light bulbs as evidence that people are irrational, and thus justifying the law that banned incandescent lightbulbs. (for those of who are not aware, Congress passed a law in 2007 that will ban regular lightbulbs by 2014.)

Still, studies that say CFL light bulbs are obviously better, depend on the assumption that they don't burn out, thus justifying their much much higher prices. Today, I had the third that's burnt out in less than a year of use, and now I have to again figure out how to recycle the d$@# thing. I wonder what the full costs are of government and activists trying to "fix" our irrationality.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Postman Reviewlet

The PostmanI watched Kevin Costner's much derided Postman recently. I normally try to work on my long bus commutes, but sometimes that's hard when I wind up on the crappy bus so movies pass the time.

So I bought the DVD (out of a bargain bin) because I loved the concept. And while the movie lived up to its crappy reputation, it also delivered on the excellence of its fundamental premise: the power of institutions.

In a post-apocalyptic mad max world, where civilization has returned to a Hobbseian State of Nature where might makes right. The premise is that terrorizing dictators can be overcome not by violence, but by an institution: the idea of the postal service, in this case representing the idea of the United States and the idea of democracy.

Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions)Using Greif's framework for analyzing institutions, the hero in the movie, the Postman (played by Costner), wins over dictatorship by establishing a new institution with two key institutional components, 1) the belief that the dictatorial institution is going to end, and 2) introduction of a simple Rule, that a postman can create a new postman.

I think the credit mostly goes to the source material, David Brin, sci-fi novelist, who has consistently made great points along these lines. I've never read his books but two of his essays have influenced me a lot on how in Lord of the Ring, the elitist aritocracy of elves and rangers wins over Sauron's meritocratic (and even democratizing) forces of technology; and similarly, how Star Wars glorifies the elite master race of Jedi, over the democratic institutions of the Republic that the Emperor represents.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Manet's Olympia and X-men's Nyx

NYX: Wannabe (collects NYX #1-7)When I do read comic books these days, I try to go for more high minded stuff like Asterios Polyp that muses on Art and Love or Logicomix that muses on Math and the Human Condition. But every once in a while, I pick up a volume of X-men for old time's sake, which actually isn't nearly as Trashy as it used to be, mostly because as the average age of comic book readers aged, so did the comic books. But its still X-men.

However, a recent new X-men spinoff (Nyx) showed me something about a 19th century French Realist painting by Manet: his painting of Olympia, or similarly, his painting of Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (lunch on the grass). We learned in art history class that these paintings were shocking because though there have been paintings and sculptures of Nude women since the birth of Western art, Manet was the first to depict a Naked woman. As in a real person, instead of some idealized goddess. And it was disturbing. I think over a century of aging has made Manet's paintings lose its impact, to my modern eyes, it looked much like other stuffy old paintings, but revolutionary at the time.

I finally understood (really felt) the impact that painting must have had when reading Nyx. Nyx is the latest X-men spinoff about a new team of teenage mutant superheroes. The difference was the art. A hazy realist art, that aimed for realism, a cartoonish realism, but realism, unlike the cartoonish idealized images that is standard for superhero comic books. And that made the same images of scantily clad teenagers (which have been the staple of comic books for decades) more than a little disturbing.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Philips TV = Crap

Philips 42PFL7432D 42-Inch 1080p LCD HDTV with AmbilightOf course I have no evidence that Philips is any worse than other manufacturers, but our 3 year old Philips Ambilight 42" TV died yesterday. Doesn't power up, just has a red blinking light.

Though on the consumer affairs site, it seems like they get a new complaint every day or so with the exact same problem on the same TVs. With Philips not offering to help. And with the repair bill ($500+) costing almost as much as the cost of a new TV.

I contrast that with Bose and Apple who both replaced the headphones I bought from them for free, even after the warranty expired. Though I suppose those headphones were on the order of $100, and the TV on the order of $800, but still.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Overpopulation? Bah.

A nice calculation on how few people there are in the US (and in the world for that matter). People still worry about over-population, but really, the world is an empty place. Just driving across the US will make that obvious. Plus population growth tends to decline as countries grow in income (see Europe where 1 child per couple is the norm).