Monday, February 23, 2009


Check him out here.  Now that is an arts and crafts project I can get behind.  The post is related to Mike Nelson (the dude from MST3000) taking on the challenge of eating nothing but bacon for a month. Hmmmm....bacon.

By the way, if you know what MST3000 is, that qualifies you for another nerd merit badge.  Tell Tom Servo, Crow, and Cam-bot that I said hi.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wild and Crazy Guy

This is some classic old Muppet show magic. I had totally forgotten that Steve Martin is a fantastic banjo player, and his stand up act used to vary between jokes and banjo tunes.  I need to find a copy of "Let's Get Small" again.

Your credit crisis

The cartoon version!  This is actually a pretty nice explanation of what went down. I'm thinking of playing this for my class when we get to the financial crisis in the next couple of weeks.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Be a high achiever

Get yourself some Nerd Merit Badges.  Not kidding.  Here are my suggestion for further badges (that you can pin to your authentic Chewbacca bandolier when you head to the comics convention):

1) Reciting from memory any scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
2) Fabricating your own Stormtrooper outfit
3) Replacing any home appliance with a working version built entirely from Lego
4) Finding and owning a mint condition copy of Spawn #1
5) Talking to a girl unrelated to you for more than five minutes

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Screw peanut butter....

I'm going to start using "baconnaise". Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like. Disgusting, slimy, and oh so wonderfully delicious.

Star Wars!

Thanks to mom for the pointer to this.  It has driven me to several conclusions:
a) It is impossible to over-estimate the number of nerds in the universe with too much time on their hands.  Impossible.
b) The true hero of Star Wars is Chewbacca. Only R2-D2 enjoys an equal amount of love.  But no one wants to be R2-D2.  Everyone wants to be a Wookie. (Or is that just me)
c) This single greatest defining cultural event for males in my generation is Star Wars.  It isn't even close.

Monday, February 16, 2009

No, this is not an X-files episode

One Pvt. Brandon Neely served as a prison guard at Gitmo, and recently told his story to the Associated Press. Scott Horton, in Harper's, has written a story about Neely, his story, and Gitmo. Here's a really peachy excerpt.

He describes body searches undertaken for no legitimate security purpose, simply to sexually invade and humiliate the prisoners. This was a standardized Bush Administration tactic–the importance of which became apparent to me when I participated in some Capitol Hill negotiations with White House representatives relating to legislation creating criminal law accountability for contractors. The Bush White House vehemently objected to provisions of the law dealing with rape by instrumentality. When House [of Representatives] negotiators pressed to know why, they were met first with silence and then an embarrassed acknowledgement that a key part of the Bush program included invasion of the bodies of prisoners in a way that might be deemed rape by instrumentality under existing federal and state criminal statutes.

Do you feel uncomfortable?  Did this seem inappropriate to talk about or mention?  Was this `too much information'?

Good.  I hope you have a poor night's sleep thinking about what the President of the United States authorized and ordered our soldiers to do.  I hope you feel queasy most of the afternoon.

Christmas 2010

Just a heads up to anyone who wants to know what to get me in the future.  I want one of these, a touch-screen legal-pad sized e-book reader that is all of 1/16" thick.  Oh, and it can hold a couple thousand documents, including PDFs natively.   

It's my precious.  Yes, precious. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Just for reference sake...

There has been some major Republican flak headed towards the stimulus bill for it's effect on the federal debt. The $800 billion stimulus (give or take) is a combination of tax cuts and spending that does not contain within it any inkling of how it will be paid for in the long run (that's for Abby, Maddie, and the rest of the under-10 set to figure out).

If you'll recall, in 2001, just after a new president had taken office, we were in a recession as well. This one was, compared to the current recession, almost laughably small. The newly elected President, with his party in control of both houses of Congress, decided to help out all the little people during that downturn.  You might remember it as the first of Bush's tax cut bills.  The total cost of that tax cut in 2001 during a marginally troublesome recession?  $1.35 trillion.  That is not the cost in lost tax revenue calculated by looking backwards, that was the announced, known, and voted on size of the tax cut.  See here

So just to be clear - the current Republican minority in Congress is objecting to the current stimulus bill of $800 billion because of the effect that it will have on the national debt, which is currently $1.35 trillion dollars larger than it might have been without their own actions of 2001.   Oh, let's not forget the subsequent Bush tax cuts in 2003 that lowered tax revenue another $350 billion, for a sum total of $1.7 trillion in tax cuts. 

(And don't. Do not. Do not even begin to form the sentence "but tax cuts pay for themselves by increasing the growth rate".  Put down your Arthur Laffer coffee mug, your X-files "I believe" t-shirt, your honest-to-goodness picture of the Loch Ness monster, and take a deep breath.  Now. You are an idiot. It's okay, lot's of people are idiots. We'll get through this. Say this with me: "Lower taxes mean bigger deficits." Good job!  If you can do it by yourself, I'll give you some M&M's, just like we reward Madeline for pooping in the potty by herself.)

To recap, the Republican economic manifesto:
a) during mild recessions, cut taxes by $1.35 trillion regardless of the effect on the federal debt in order to help out working families
b) during severe recessions that have within them the danger of deflationary spirals, resist all attempts to stimulate economy by arguing that $800 billion is a ridiculous amount to add to national debt

Again, the moment someone informs me that the Republican party has become a party of sane, skeptical, conservatives concerned with personal liberty and smart government, I'm back in.  For now I am forced to put my faith in the idea that Barack Obama can keep Diane Feinstein and Chuck Rangel from going batshit insane.

The world knows that Radiohead sucks

I realized its been a while since I trashed my least favorite pseudo-musicians of Brit-pop synthesizer fame. I am not alone!  I have just joined with 50 others on in the aptly named "Radiohead Sucks" group.

Do not give in to the pretension.  Do not give in to the feedback fueled nausea inducing noise. It is not music.

Come back to light.  Come back to the light.

Un-cynicize yourself

This post, by Paul Ormerod, makes (briefly) the case that we should thank our lucky stars for the all the bailouts and TARPs we've had over the last year:

Why should be be thankful that the Fed and Treasury have kept these banks going?  Because without their actions, we'd be much more likely to be in a real Depression-like situation with deflating prices and massive unemployment.

How does this work. Take a few simple macroeconomic relationships.  First, we can generally state that changes in the money supply translate into changes in prices (and sometimes in the short run, into changes in real GDP). So if we let the money supply fall, then prices will fall (deflation) and we get into a world of pain.  In the real Great Depression, the money supply fell, prices fell, and the deflation ruined everyone who was in debt and basically put a full stop to all real investment activity (like building a new factory or buying a new machine tool).

The reason the money supply fell in the GD was not that the Fed didn't "print enough money".  They did increase the supply of cash.  The problem was that banks and people were so scared that they squirrelled away the cash under their beds, so the effective money supply fell. 

What has happened today? People are scared, but not so scared that they are hiding cash under the mattress (the currency to deposit ratio has remained flat over the last year according to the Fed).  Banks are *really* scared, and are hoarding as much cash as they can get their hands on.  The reserve/deposit ratio (roughly the amount of money in the vault relative to the outstanding value of checking and savings accounts) has gone from under 1% to nearly 12% in the last year. 

If the Fed and Treasury had not furiously provided liquidity to the market, then this massive increase in reserves would have brought the money supply down severely (like, a 50% drop in the effective money supply) and that would have certainly put us on the path to deflation and a much worse economic outlook.

I'm not saying this for certain, but it is not impossible that people will look back at 2008/2009 and say that the Fed and Treasury did an amazing job of preventing another Depression. 

So now what is up with the remaining TARP funds?  We may have arrested the slide, but banks are still sitting on tons of bad loans and so are still hoarding funds.  To end this and get the financial system back to "normal" (albeit hopefully with a little more aversion to risky loans) requires getting banks to come clean on where they stand, and getting them to write down the value of their bad loans.  This means a) banks will fail, and b) other banks will require additional capital - probably both public and private.  Once we get the banks clean, the reserve ratio (that 12% number) will drop and that will free up the cash to provide the loans that are necessary to make the world of business go around.  (Note that we're not talking about crazy loans to buy mortgages, but loans to businesses to make payroll while they wait for accounts receivable to clear).

No, that's not a mountain

Check this out, it's a duststorm in Australia:

From here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

You cannot resist my kung fu!

I guess I would suggest *not* showing this to my karate-class attending nephew Dryden.  Then again, could be handy during his first bar fight.

(By the way, got this link from here)

No more gigantic snot balls

No really. Apparently that's the wrong way to deal with a cold.  This article says that blowing your nose when you have a cold just shoots snot into your sinuses and increases the chance of secondary infections.  Use decongestants and blow one nostril at a time is the advice given.

I have no idea if this is medically compelling, but with the number of runny noses and sinus infections rolling through our house, I am willing to try anything.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This is almost too much

Check out the tasty tidbits here.  I think my favorite might be the Turbaconucken.  You heard me - duck inside chicken inside turkey all wrapped in bacon

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Financial Stability Plan

Today Tim Geithner accounced the Administration's plan to.........well, I have no idea what exactly the plan is. From what I can tell, they are getting organized to "fix" the financial system by "dealing" with the toxic assets (the mortgage backed securities that no one knows the value of).

There were no details, and absolutely no commitments to any specific policy or action. I think this is why the stock market was dropping.  It's not down because the plan sucks, its down because in the time between Election Day and now, the Treasury has come up with nothing specific. 

Just pull the trigger.  Take the remaining TARP funds and buy up the toxic assets.  Pick a freaking price out a hat if you have to, but buy them up and get them off the banks balance sheets.  If the price the Treasury pays is too high, then the taxpayers take the loss.  If the price that Treasury pays is really low, then the shareholders of the banks get shafted.  Honestly, I don't care, because the lack of a coherent plan is causing this recession to be so severe.  Banks won't lend so long as they have these toxic assets on their books, so get them off.

[Note that this presumes you care about banks not lending at all.  It's perfectly defensible to say "screw the banks" and let them figure it out for themselves. This just means a distinct lack of bank activity and that will likely cause further contractions in businesses while they try to find new sources of funds.  But if you're okay with that cost so that we don't bail out the jack-offs that caused this, fine by me.]

Without certainty, the recession will continue for longer than necessary. Make a decision and go with it.

Enough A-Fraud

Alex Rodriguez took steroids. He hit lots of home runs. Why should I care? Honestly, I can't get my hackles up about this. Someone needs to explain to me how taking steroids to "unnaturally" improve your performance is any different from having Tommy John surgery, which "unnaturally" embeds a tendon from your foot or forearm into your elbow.  Should everyone who's had Tommy John surgery (or a repaired ACL for that matter) have an asterisk next to their name too?

History doesn't repeat itself - but it does rhyme

This was written by some blogger about the attempts to pass the economic package through Congress. Take a look.  Then look at the date.

Not for Mom. Or Work. Or the Kids.

27 minutes and every single curse ever uttered on the Sopranos.  I made it about 3 minutes before I couldn't take it anymore.  On the plus side, it's kind of a rapid-fire synopsis of the show.

the sopranos, uncensored. from victor solomon on Vimeo.

Love me some Argentina

The real-life Argentinian food pyramid:

We don't need no stinkin' vegetables!  Or whole grains.  Or fruit.  Or really much in the way of bread or pasta. 

The biggest issue, though, seems to be the distinct lack of bacon. Ham is great, but where is the bacon?  This is what happens when you live south of the Equator and the toilet flushes backwards.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Satchmo and the Man in Black

Not two people I would have expected together, but I guess I underestimate how close the blues and country music are to each other.  Plus, it's just really cool to watch Louis Armstrong play.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Even Stupider

If housing stimulus is dumb, then the "Buy America" provisions in the stimulus bill are galactically stupid. This is idiotic, economically-ignorant, pandering bullshit of the Nth degree.

Let's count the ways in which this is so colossally retarded:
1) It's illegal.  We signed a whole bunch of really fancy treaties that say we won't do this.

2) It's useless. Trade deficits arise because we are less patient than other countries.  We would like to consume goods today, while they are willing to wait until tomorrow.  So they sell us the stuff today (a trade deficit), with the agreement that we'll pay them back with other stuff tomorrow (a trade surplus in the future).  We like to have stuff today rather than tomorrow.  If you say that the stimulus money has to be spent on U.S. goods, great.  We'll still have a trade deficit unless our savings behavior changes.

3) It's inefficient.  The reason that U.S. steel and concrete companies are struggling is because they suck at what they do.  They charge too much for their product, and so people buy their steel and concrete from the cheaper Chinese and Mexican firms.  If you buy only U.S. steel and concrete, you are literally burning up money.  Say we need 1,000 tons of steel to build a new bridge.  If we buy only U.S. steel, this will cost us $200,000.  If we buy Chinese steel, this will cost us $100,000, leaving $100,000 left over to buy other new things (like a school).

4) It'll backfire.  Companies in the U.S. sell a lot of stuff overseas.  I know we have a trade deficit, but we happen to export about $1.5 trillion worth of stuff every year.  If we pass this stupid rule, then you know what? Other countries will do the same thing, and our exports will collapse.  You know what happens when GE and Catepillar can't export anything?  They fire people.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

Housing Stimulus Provision

The Senate, according to this, is thinking about several measures to boost the housing sector.  Why on earth would we possibly want to do this?  The whole point of the financial crisis was that the housing market was way over-valued, and the realization of this led - all at once - to a big drop in housing prices and put a lot of banks in a bad position.  But that doesn't mean that the drop in housing prices was unwarranted!

The problem with a financial crisis/recession is that not only do the financial Einstein's who made the wrong bets on housing get hosed, but so do lot's of innocent people in the rest of the economy.  So I understand the need to stimulate the economy and cushion the blow to those innocents.  This may require us taking stakes in banks or bailing them out.  But I don't understand how trying to re-inflate the housing bubble has any value whatsoever.  We want to ease the transition into a future in which real estate is fairly valued, not over-valued.

This all just sounds dumb, but then again it is the Senate.

It's always about the cows

Here you go, just about the simplest explanation of how a giant financial company can destroy itself:
"You have two cows.
John Paulson borrows one cow so he can sell it for $100. He gives you $10 as collateral.
You buy your neighbors cow for $100, which you finance by taking out a $90 loan from the bank and use John's $10 to make up the rest.
You brag to everyone about your financial health. You have assets--two cows you own, plus one Paulson owes you--worth $300, and liabilities of just $100.
A third of the country goes vegetarian.
You thought your two cows were worth $200 and now they are worth $140.
You express confidence in your financial health. Your assets are now worth only $200--your two cows plus the one John owes you--but your liabilities are still only $100. If necessary, you could sell the assets at this distressed price and pay off all your loans.
You hold onto your cows because you are sure the market is "dislocated." Some day someone will want to eat beef again.
The rest of the country goes vegetarian. Your two cows are now worth $2 each to guys who want to make dog food.
John Paulson buys a cow in the market for $2 and he gives it to you as repayment of the loan. You now have three cows worth six bucks.
John wants his $10 back.
The bank calls. It wants its $90 back.
You call the Federal Reserve and ask for a bailout."
Alright, this is cool, but doesn't it leave out the most important question: why does everyone go vegetarian?  Was it obvious that the country was going to go veggie? Should you have seen this coming? Did you willfully ignore the vegination of the country, or was this really a big surprise?  
It seems that this little story is missing out on the fact that we could all tell that the beef industry was in a boom and that vegetarianism was on the horizon, but no one stopped buying and selling cows. 

Your Credit Rating

This is interesting - the formula that determines your the FICO score in your credit rating is being updated. See here for details, but the interesting ones to me are:

4. Having more available credit will increase your score more
6. Closing accounts will bring down the score.

These are simply saying the same thing, in some way.  If you reduce the amount of credit that you could use, then people will apparently be less willing to extend you new credit.

So if people are rationalizing their spending these days and trying to live within their means, wouldn't they close down unused credit accounts (if only to stop themselves from spending more).  And then their credit score will go down, meaning that they'll be less able to access credit and buy things like cars, houses, and major appliances.  Won't that make the recession worse?

One big problem with the FICO is that they have information only on your credit payments, not on your income. So it's not clear to a prospective lender whether your amount of credit is appropriate to your income or not.  They are basically hoping that because other people are willing to loan to you, you are a good credit risk.  But if this is how everyone operates, it seems like there is a really big potential coordination problem. (If no one lends you money, you can't get credit, even if you have a stable job and are really responsible.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Last name map

So this is pretty cool.  You enter your last name, and they map out the distribution of that name across the U.S.

Create your family tree at
Distribution of the surname Vollrath
Distribution of the surname Vollrath
Where does your name come from?

We're big in Wisconsin and Florida, perhaps not surprisingly.  Not sure about that Missouri thing, though. Probably the red-headed step children.