Thursday, June 29, 2006

More thoughts on the MacBook

Recently, my beloved iBook bit the dust and I had to buy a new laptop. I bought a MacBook and posted some of my thoughts here.

After using it for a week, here are my updated thoughts.

1) The keyboard really is better than the old iBook keyboard, but the old iBook keyboard was really bad. The best keyboards, IMHO, remain the IBM ThinkPad ones, even though I did not like their carpel tunnel inducing nipple.

2) Rosetta is a memory hog. My system kept slowing to a crawl, and top revealed that I had plenty of CPU left. Looking at the memory register, though, I saw that Rosetta programs were using up huge amounts of memory, thus the performance death. I upgraded to 2GB of RAM, and now things are better.

3) Don't buy RAM from Apple. They have a stupid policy in their stores where you pay them for a RAM upgrade and they charge you for the new RAM plus installation AND charge you for the old RAM too (even though you are not going to use it). if you buy RAM from the Apple online store, they do not charge you for the old RAM, just the new. However, you should not be buying RAM from Apple anyway as it costs twice as much as if you buy it from a third party like OWC, Tigerdirect, or Newegg.

Apart from that the new computer is almost exactly like the old one. And I mean that in a good way.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The true cost of eBay

There are no deals on eBay. There is lots and lots of stuff but no deals. I find that I only buy from eBay when I'm searching for something really obscure (they are bound to have it) or when I'm selling something (I know I'll get a good price).

Not only is the closing price on eBay usually the fair market price, but sellers often have large shipping and handling charges. I substract out S&H when calculating my willingness to pay, but I doubt many others do.

More annoying that usurious S&H is the incredible time cost of using the service. You need to sit at your computer waiting waiting waiting for the auction to end so you can jump in with a bid at the last moment. This is called sniping and it makes eBay an expensive place to shop.

When I'm selling, I try to schedule the auction so that it will close when people have lots of time to sit at their computer and snipe.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bogus corruption?

I've never driven in, or even been to, India, but I imagine that the vehicular chaos on the streets is similar to that of Karachi, Pakistan, where I have been many times. In Karachi, rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and even the occassional donkey or camel careen about at high speed in very close proximity to one another. There is one major roundabout in the city that goes clockwise and anticlockwise at the same time. Cars often reverse down entire stretches of street. It's quite exciting.

Therefore, I cannot take Slate's account of the negative effects of corruption at the Indian DMV too seriously.
This study confirms the view of the World Bank, which "has identified corruption as among the greatest obstacles to economic and social development." Payoffs at the Indian DMV may save some qualified drivers some time. But it has the bad direct effect of allowing unsafe drivers on the road. And it has an even more corrosive indirect effect: If bribes are more likely to get them a license than driving lessons, applicants have too little incentive to learn how to drive before hitting the road—and each other.
Ummm, I think anyone on the road has plenty of incentive to drive well and safely -- namely the risk of breaking your neck and damaging your car. I don't think that having to qualify for a license changes those incentives much.

Moreover, I don't think that driving lessons do much good in a place like New Dehli (or Karachi) given the chaos on the roads. People don't follow any rules, they just drive, at high speed, wherever they want. You need nerves of steel, cobra fast reflexes, and am ambivilent attitude towards living to drive well there, not the highway code.

Monday, June 26, 2006


I love this Businessweek essay on creativity.


My trusty old iBook, after years of frankly astonishing performance and service, has finally succumbed to the logic board error that plagues its ilk. *Sigh*.

I bought a MacBook to replace it (base model, white) and these are my first impressions:

1) The glossy screen is too reflective, making the machine more annoying to use.

2) They new keyboard is fine. I think I like it a little more than the old one, but I'm worried that it will be harder to keep cat hair out of it since there is no iSkin I can use to protect the keys.

3) It runs pretty hot. Even if I had an iSkin, I may not want to use it on this.

4) The edges of the computer are really really sharp. It is painful to type on if the bottom of your wrists touch the lower part of the machine at all.

5) Internet stuff renders much faster on this new machine than the old one. It should too, given I was six generations of processor behind.

6) Application switching is slower on this machine than the old one. Maybe it's because I'm not using some universal binary applications, maybe it's because the cache hasn't broken in yet, I dont know, but I'm still getting beachballs. I'm going to up the memory and see what happens. This is rather sad, given that the old machine was six generations behind.

7) The widescreen is nice, but I think I prefered the tiny iBook formfactor.

8) I have not idea where to keep the remote control they sent me along with the computer.

My recommendation -- wait until the next generation or two before buying. I would have if my old iBook had just hung on for a few more months.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I met Imran Khan in Penn Station yesterday. I got his autograph -- it looked exactly the same as the one I got from him at Sharjah when I was eight.

More US and soccer

A good friend of mine, and winterspeak reader BR, saw my post on why the US should always lose at soccer, and writes back:
But the us regularly beats mexico in soccer now. I think they are 7-3-1 (or something like that) against mexico under Bruce Arena, the US won the regional qualifying tournament, and the US won head to head when it mattered most in WC 2002...and yes, losing to the US in the world cup caused a national crisis. It's even better that the us is trying pretty hard to get better and is not succeeding.
And still, the average American does not care -- this is excellent.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

US should stay mediocre at soccer

The US lost to Ghana in today's World Cup match. This is a wonderful outcome!

I think that for the sake of World Peace, the US should remain good enough to get into the World Cup, but not so good that they ever actually win. The US already beats the world in many things, think how unhappy Mexico, Argentina, or Brazil would be if the US started beating them in soccer too.

Moreover, it's not like American's care about soccer very much -- it's something you play in middle school and then you switch to "real" sports like football, baseball, basketball (and maybe hockey) in high school and college.

Given the high utility the US gives the rest of the world, and the negligible cost it incurs, I think it's best for all if the US goes to the World Cup, plays hard, and loses. Go Ghana

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More honest account

I've often wondered why those pushing for social security reform do not first push for honest government accounting. The major argument against social security reform is that the system is just fine the way it is, in fact it is in surplus, and if we kept that surplus in a lockbox then we would have enough money for the boomers to retire. If we were to switch from the current pay-go system to a personal savings system, then there would be some "transition" costs involved and where would that extra money come from?

The truth is that there is no lockbox -- money is fungible -- and that the "transition" costs involved when switching systems is merely the current implicit shortfall being made explicit. Social Security is short on money now, and this is hidden because the government uses cash accounting (only looking at money coming in and out in a year) instead of real accounting (which takes obligations in the future and seriously as obligations today).

Angry Bear has a post arguing that Bush's recent deficit cutting is bogus because it's only looking at Unified Budget Deficit, which looks at current borrowing, but does not factor in future obligations, and does include Social Security surpluses. The General Fund deficit, however, does not factor in future obligations either, but also excludes the social security surplus. Angry Bear thinks Bush is misleading on reducing the budget deficit because he's referring to the unified Budget Deficit, and he should look at the General Fund deficit.

I think both of these measures are bogus -- you should look at a number that actually factors in long term obligations.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Market for lemons

Used cars are the prototypical example given in information asymmetry arguments. Information asymmetry states that markets can collapse when sellers know more about the product than buyers, so if someone is trying to sell a car they know whether or not it's a lemon, but buyers do not. Therefore, buyers will be less likely to pay the price of a quality car and the only people willing to sell at their price will be those trying to unload lemons. As good cars exit the market, and only lemons remain, the prices buyers are willing to pay drop further, making more good cars exit and increasing the concentration of lemons further. This downward spiral results in no market at all.

Carmax tries to improve the used car experience by offering no haggle pricing, competitive financing, 12 point inspections, and good deals. I guess that they charge some premium for this quality insurance.

I'm in the market for a new car, and have had good experiences with Carmax in the past, so am thinking of buying from them again. I went to used car aggregator AutoBaron and pulled down data for the model of car I was looking at for four years, along with prices and miles. I then ran a regression on this with price being the output variable, and age and miles being the parameters. For my car, the price began at $24K and it lost about $1.5K/year in depreciation, and $50 per thousand miles (I am sure my regression was lousy as age and miles are correlated, but I did have some low mileage old cars and some high mileage new cars, so maybe it's not so bad. My standard errors were within 10%. Eh).

I then took these figures and punched in the cars listed on Carmax -- is Carmax offering a better or worse deal than the aggregate. I found to my surprise, that every car listed on Carmax was actually selling for less than the price predicted by my simple model. So, people on Craigslist are listing their cars for more than Carmax is, instead of Carmax charging a quality premium, the offer the quality and charge less for it.

Not what I expected.

It may be that the listers on Craigslist have hiked up their prices so they can reduce them through haggling later and the actual (spot) price is much lower than the listed price, but I don't know how much of a factor that is.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More lousy software on phones

Palm began as a software company hoping to sell its writing system and OS to palm top device manufacturers. Unfortunately, all of the device manufacturers failed, so Palm invested a great deal of time observing how human beings might use such devices, and then launched the Palm itself.

Although Palm was extremely successful for a while, and the Palm OS continues to set the standard for small device ease-of-use, it seems to be eclipsed by Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system. This is a shame, because Windows Mobile is horrible to use. David Pogue writes about the how ghastly the new Motorola Q phone is to use:
Example 1: After you take a picture with the camera, what options would you want to be immediately available? Maybe Save, Send and Delete? Not on this phone. These options are all hiding in menus; activating Send, for example, requires four more button presses. (On the Treo: one.)

Example 2: What if you want to edit an entry in your address book? Hey — it could happen. You can't just highlight a name, open the menu, and choose Edit; there's no Edit command. Instead, Microsoft wants you to open that address book "card" first and then open the menu. Total steps: four. (Treo: two.)

Example 3 (this one is really annoying): Q comes with about 25 preinstalled programs: Tasks, Voice Notes, Internet Explorer, Solitaire and so on. You get to them by pressing a button labeled Start, a riff on the familiar Windows Start menu.

If only it really were a menu! Instead, you see jumbo icons. Only six of them fit on the screen at once (three across, two rows). If you want a program on the last row, you have to scroll seven times, pausing each time to make sure you haven't overshot, by pressing the down-arrow key (or turning the notched thumbwheel).

Why no list-view option? Better yet, why can't you type the first letter of the program you want, as on the Treo? On the Q, that whole alphabet keyboard just sits there, wasted.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Why does Communist propaganda not repulse us like Nazi propoganda?

PS. Blogging has and will be non-existant for a while -- lots of work.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Simpler cell phones! The article gave no details, though on which network it would run on. The key thing that people want to do on their cell phone is talk to other people. This means 1) great reception, 2) great sound quality, 3) handsets focused on making and receiving calls.