Monday, July 26, 2010

A smart phone moment

It is strange encountering friends without smartphones, since it is hard to imagine living without one, though for them, it is hard to imagine what the fuss is about. Today, I had to get my muffler fixed, so looked up places last night (picked meineke because of Mr. George Foreman's recommendation) but didn't bother to get directions, just e-mailed the link to my phone. Used phone GPS to get here. Needed a place to hang out for a few hours while car getting fixed. Mechanic recommended the greasy diner across the street in an otherwise desolate suburban wasteland of car parts shops and discount auto repair. Google Maps though showed a gourmet grocery a few blocks away (a suburban Zabar's) and Yelp turned up suburban outposts of Jackson Hole (the Manhattan burger joint manque) and Bathlazar Bakery, and a nice 10 minute walk to a rather pleasant downtown w/ comfortable suburban Starbucks. A nice contrast to the many hours I've spent in greasy diners awaiting car repairs, in the pre-smart phone age (pre-cell phone age even).

I also have to give a shout out to the latest google maps functionality I noticed, which is that it selectively labels restaurants, businesses on the map based I am assuming on some variant of its page rank algorithm for search results. This means that looking at the map in a crowded manhattan street, it uses its limits viewing space to label only the restaurants you most likely want to know about.

For example, turned away at Ippudo's Ramen by the 2 hour wait list, it was easy to see that Momofuku Ssam bar was only 3 blocks away, google maps knowing to label that restaurant rather than the dozen or so forgettable restaurants that were closer.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Travel Time Map

Something I'd like to see would be a map of say the United States, where one inch on the map does not represent miles, but rather minutes of travel time (say as measured by google maps driving calculator). I think about this in terms of New York when people think about agglomeration economies, and the benefits of cities in bringing ideas and people into close proximity, yet in terms of travel time, New York City is not so small. You can travel clear across New Jersey in the time it takes to get from say where I live in the upper west side to my grandmother's house in flushing, Queens. So in such a map, New York City should be bigger than the state of New Jersey.

I've googled for this a bit, and have found such a travel-time map for say Japan, but not the US. Seems like a fun and easy enough project to take on.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Behavioral Economics Behaving Badly

I agree 100% with Loewenstein and Ubel's Op-Ed that behavioral economics is overused. I just think all of their examples are rubbish and reflect poor economics.

Like obesity. Obesity is only a problem if you believe people have self-control issues; thus you need behavioral economics. There is little evidence that obesity causes externalities. And the impact of corn subsides on the price of processed foods is negligible. In fact, it is precisely distortionary tariffs on sugar (that economists also hate) that make sugar (and corn syrup) prices too high relative to what they should be in a market system, not too low.

On sunshine provisions, I agree there is scant evidence that these work well, but it is hard for an economist to believe that they are a bad idea. Also, I don't know the literature on pharmaceutical industry gifts, but I suspect the econometric identification is poor on them. I do know the literature on lobbying, and know that there is scant conclusive evidence that lobbing is a problem.

It is also strange that the only health care reform it proposes, requiring patients to pay out of pocket, seems at odds with the rest of their message. That patients are unable to make smart choices when given information.

I agree with them that a gasoline tax as well but they neglect to think about magnitudes. If you look at the elasticity estimates for the impact of an optimal gasoline tax (maybe 25 to 50 cents more than today according to Parry et al's AER paper), the likely reduction in gasoline use is is also on the order of a couple percent (typical long run elasticity estimate of oil is maybe 0.4, so a 10% increase in price is a 4% decrease in quantity, actually less than that if supply adjusts which it should), very similar to the oPower behavioral economics based information about neighbors experiment, which the authors scoff at.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Master of Electrical Engineering (Ha!)

Small victories.

Out 3 year old 42" Philips Plasma TV died a couple months ago. It was $2,000 new. Found out it'd cost like $500 to repair, while a new tv only costs $600 these days. Went online and found this is a common problem caused by bad capacitors. So we bought the new TV anyway, but not wanting to just throw this $2,000 tv away, I opened up the back myself.

Went to the radio shack (literally across the street from our apartment--which I only found out after searching on google maps), bought a soldering iron and solder for $10 (which I haven't touched in 13 years), ordered the replacement capacitors from online for $2 each, they arrived in two days. De-soldered, re-soldered:


To small victories.
(Bonus points if you can identify the popped caps in the photo.)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Comic on PD of Morality

June 05, 2010: "

This pretty much sums up a lecture I do in all of the classes that I teach.