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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Affordable housing!

The Indianapolis area is tied for #1 for affordability of homes.

The median sales price of all Indianapolis homes sold in that time frame was $116,000.

This won't come as a major shock, because Indy had spent the previous six quarters at the top, including all of 2006.

The Youngstown, Ohio area is tied for first with Indianapolis-Carmel, with a median homes sales price of $78,000 affordable because of household incomes of $51,400.

All you New York City, Chicago, and California residents? Enjoy your overpriced homes. I hope those cultural amenities are worth it.

Once again at the bottom of the affordability scale was Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif., where just 3 percent of homes sold in the first quarter were affordable to families earning the metro's median household income of $61,700.


That didn't go well....

Projected 2006 lottery pick Josh McRoberts, Duke power forward and star at Carmel High School, fell all the way to the 37th pick in the second round of the NBA Draft (to many boos). Sorry, no three year guaranteed contract for you. But it still will be amusing to see a white kid from a rich suburban Indiana high school in the NBA.

That's a pretty hefty fall. But I guess that's what you get for playing for Dook. :)

But it might end up well, as he'll be playing with former AAU teammate Greg Oden for the Portland Trail Blazers.

As a graduate of a rich suburban high school, where our winning teams were never in football or boys' basketball, it seems so strange to see an athlete go play in the pros. That would never happen. Wait....

Is health care in the U.S. as bad as some claim?

Stuart Browning has a good piece on the eternal debate on the quality of U.S. and foreign health care systems. Browning addresses Krugman specifically, but provides some interesting information on the two most common talking points, infant mortality and life expectancy.

On life expectancy:

Blacks have shorter life expectancies than whites, hispanics or asians. The black population of Canada is numerically insignificant while black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population. Japanese females have the longest life-spans of all - regardless of whether they live in Japan or in America - i.e. regardless of the health care system they live under.

On infant mortality:

Several factors are known to increase the likelihood of low-birth-weight babies, but the most significant is race. African American women deliver very small babies at twice the rate of white American women, This is true even when controlling for the mother's age, income and education. It is even true holding constant the number of prenatal medical visits. Why some ethnic groups have disproportionate numbers of low-birth-rate babies is not fully understood.

Both interesting statistics I hadn't heard before. They're surprising, and perhaps closer analysis might explain them away. (There are probably a small number of Japanese women in the U.S., and they're probably above average in income, which may not be controlled.) So for those who argue like Krugman: You have your work cut out for you!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

1908 meteor found?

We may have an answer to the mystery object that hit Tunguska, Siberia in 1908!

In late June of 1908, a fireball exploded above the remote Russian forests of Tunguska, Siberia, flattening more than 800 square miles of trees. Researchers think a meteor was responsible for the devastation, but neither its fragments nor any impact craters have been discovered.

Astronomers have been left to guess whether the object was an asteroid or a comet, and figuring out what it was would allow better modeling of potential future calamities.

Italian researchers now think they've found a smoking gun: The 164-foot-deep Lake Cheko, located just 5 miles northwest of the epicenter of destruction.

"When we looked at the bottom of the lake, we measured seismic waves reflecting off of something," said Giuseppe Longo, a physicist at the University of Bologna in Italy and co-author of the study. "Nobody has found this before. We can only explain that and the shape of the lake as a low-velocity impact crater."

This is one of those fascinating mysteries that I'd love to know the answer to.

And if another large meteor hit? It could send enough particulate matter into the air to drop global temperatures. Kept suspended in the air too long, it could cause an ice age! (That was the back story of an old computer game called Midwinter. A comet strike also featured into the background of S.M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Air travel horror stories

Here's another article with travelers' airplane horror stories, with a primary focus on the rapid decline of United's customer service. The worst of the stories:

Passenger Carolyn Smith of Singapore complained to the DOT after what she calls a "flight from hell" from San Francisco to Hong Kong in January. Eight hours into the 14-hour flight from San Francisco, the United crew announced none of the lavatories in coach were usable, she says. Only the business cabin bathrooms worked, she says. The crew asked passengers to stop drinking so they wouldn't need the bathroom and did not serve the second meal, Smith says.

The captain told passengers there would be food and beverage waiting in Hong Kong when they arrived, but there was not, she says.

United responded to Smith's e-mailed complaint three weeks later — with an apology but no explanation for the toilet snafu. United sent her a $200 voucher; Smith would have liked a refund.

Also of note is that customer service was outsourced to Poland, the Philippines, and India. While I don't have a problem with outsourcing, customer service is one of the worst things to outsource, in my opinion. I'm probably not alone in having difficulty following accented English, especially over a long distance connection. A wise company should keep a large number of customer service representatives, native speakers of English from the United States or Canada, for escalating calls.

I travel by plane about once a month, and stay remarkably free of travel problems. Perhaps it's when I fly, most often evenings, and avoiding problem airports like Chicago O'Hare. Despite the problems people associate with those airlines, I've done most of my travel on Northwest and USAirways.

Update: I got a call from someone doing a survey. I normally enjoy answering surveys. But since the person calling had a strong accent, I was not interested in answering this survey.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

They can't be 4Real....

A little sensible behavior from a judge in New Zealand! He stopped a couple from giving their baby a name rejected for some 90's boy band:

One New Zealand judge even blocked one family from using the name it chose. The judge said the name was unfair to the child.

"Initially, the reaction is, 'Are you for real?'" said Pat Wheaton, the New Zealand father who was blocked from naming his son 4Real.

Wheaton said the idea for the name came when the couple saw the first scan of the child.

"We started thinking 'Jeez, he is for real?'" Wheaton said.

But when the parents filed the name with New Zealand's Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, they were told names beginning with a number were against the rules.

Registrar-General Brian Clarke said the rules are designed to prevent names that are "likely to cause offense to a reasonable person."

The Wheaton's idea for a name came naturally, but many parents are feeling the pressure to be different.

I can't fathom having such a desire to be different that one would possibly subject one's child to years of humiliation.

I've always been in favor of normal names, the kind of names that were commonly thought of as names fifty years ago, and will be commonly thought of as names fifty years later. And while I think of restrictions on names as being pretty lame, I still feel the judge made the right decision here.


Smoking bans: an interesting comment

Atlantic City recently enacted a partial smoking ban, which Melissa Fine argued against in an editorial in Casino Player. A letter to the editor from Jim Glasheen offered an insightful comment:

Her comments to non-smokers to "suck it up or move away" is the same narrow-minded comment I hear from the smokers who can no longer smoke in bars. For years it was legal to smoke in bars and they felt it was all right to say to me, "If you don't like the smoke, don't go to the bar." Now that the shoe is on the other foot, all I hear is about their rights. They never cared about my rights before the ban.

I agree with this assessment. Let's face it, selfishness is an ingrained part of human nature. You always want what's best for you, all else equal, and so I'm not surprised people will make these arguments.

I'm actually not a fan of the typical smoking bans; here, you can only smoke in establishments restricted to 21 and older. I say this because the technology certainly exists to have separate air systems for a smoking section. However, realistically, low-margin businesses like restaurants aren't going to be willing to make this kind of investment.

Still, I'm happy when establishments are non-smoking. While fresh tobacco has a pleasant smell, burning tobacco and especially stale tobacco smoke smells awful.

Monday, June 11, 2007

To save Africa

Kenyan economist James Shikwati is interviewed by Der Spiegel. Upon mention of economic aid for Africa, he immediately responds "for God's sake, please just stop." He then goes on to describe the consequences to African farmers and tailors when donations of food and clothes arrive on their shores.

It's well known that decades of foreign aid haven't worked. I've often attributed that to the extensive corruption in Africa. Shikwati's interview highlights the basic economics that also contribute to this reality. Read the whole thing!

Via Instapundit.

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Here's an interesting teddy bear!

The US military is developing a robot with a teddy bear-style head to help carry injured soldiers away from the battlefield.

The Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR) can scoop up even the heaviest of casualties and transport them over long distances over rough terrain.

New Scientist magazine reports that the "friendly appearance" of the robot is designed to put the wounded at ease.

(I don't think the soldiers really need to be coddled like that, and frankly, if I was in a pain- and drug-induced haze, this robot might freak me out!)

The 6ft tall Bear can cross bumpy ground without toppling thanks to a combination of gyroscopes and computer controlled motors to maintain balance.

It is also narrow enough to squeeze through doorways, but can lift 135kg with its hydraulic arms in a single smooth movement, to avoid causing pain to wounded soldiers.

While the existing prototype slides its arms under its burden like a forklift, future versions will be fitted with manoeuvrable hands to gently scoop up casualties.

Sounds expensive, but helpful.

Now, if you've played Dungeons & Dragons, you might find interesting the name of the company developing this robot: Vecna Technologies. Shouldn't this BEAR robot be missing a hand and an eye?

Another victim of discrimination?

Actor Wesley Snipes is a victim of "unscrupulous tax advice" and is being selectively targeted for prosecution on federal tax evasion charges because he is black, his attorneys argue in a motion to dismiss the indictment.

Oh, really? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that his tax evasion is at the root of these tax charges. Just look at the details further in the article.

According to the indictment, his taxes were prepared by accountants with a history of filing false returns to reap payments for their clients. The firm American Rights Litigators would receive 20 percent of refunds from clients, according to the indictment.

Those who live in the world of fantasy, where people are told they're better because they look good and can convincingly portray different roles, might just believe that they're special enough to make use of superior tax breaks that ordinary people don't get.

Those of us who live in the real world recognize a potential scam when we see it. The key is this company does not receive a flat fee for services rendered, indicating a strong motive to be overly aggressive. At the very least, if I had tons of money and was given an offer like this, I'd get a second opinion. Since I live in reality, I know that it's ultimately me that will pay the price if these accountants passed from accountancy's grey areas to breaking the law.

So... Is American Rights Litigators a subsidiary of Bendini, Lambert & Locke?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Global Warming secrets revealed!

It's true! Al Gore is part of a sinister conspiracy. He knows what's really causing global warming, and he wants to make sure it continues.

The cause? Fireworks.

And don't you wonder why last year was so cold?

"Don't you realize what you are doing to me!" he gasped. "The 9 years your [fireworks] party was held are highly correlated to the planet's global warming. All it took was the one year you skipped your party for that trend to reverse. I've been able to squash the story in the mainstream press, but I can't do it forever. Why do you think there were hardly any hurricanes last year? I've been using my private jet to circle the globe burning tens of thousands of gallons of jet fuel, heating and cooling my huge mansions yet I can't seem to make up for those damn creamer bombs of yours!"

I was confused by what I heard so I asked "I don't understand. Global warming is reversing and somehow that's a bad thing?"

"You bet your pyro butt that's a bad thing! My book sales are hanging in the balance here buddy. You've got to have your party again. And this year, I'm expecting even more creamer bombs."

(Remember, kids, non-dairy creamer is flammable.)

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Gaming the Car Rental System

The Consumerist offers "9 Confessions from a Former Enterprise Rental Salesman," with tips for gaming the system to your advantage.

Now, these tips would be more useful if I didn't choose a rental car by the lowest price from a comparison Web site. Not surprisingly, given the article, Enterprise never wins out in those comparisons.

Friday, June 01, 2007

22 months

That's the answer to the question, "I'm curious to see how long it will take," posted here.

In a mere 22 months, I listened to all of my CDs once. (And a few more than once.)