Category Archives: Economics

go read

From this Gizmodo’s How a lone coder cloned google reader.

Go Read is a web-based RSS reader.It is designed to be as useful as Google Reader.

When you built your house on sand and then you find your house collapsed, it doesn’t seem so smart to rebuild your house on sand, but taller. So I just wonder about writing your google reader clone in a language designed by google and hosting it on a hosting platform run by google, where the only way to sign in is to use google.

Is your internet provider cheating you?

The FCC has a tool you can use to find out if your broadband provider is advertising better speeds than they provide.Check it out over at

This seems like a nice crowdsourced way to catch cheats. It will work better the more people participate, so go over and take the test.

Also of interest is that they are using open source software to provide the tests – software that can be independently verified.

How to make money from market volatility

A friend recently wrote me about a strategy he heard for exploiting market volatility.  I get these questions sometimes because I’m in finance, and because I’m in finance let me be up front.  I’m not giving you financial advice here.  I’m not an advisor, I’m not competent, you should probably close this page now and burn your computer.  Past performance has no correllation with future performance, as everyone should have learned in, oh, 2008.

That said, let’s have a little fun with these ideas.  To paraphrase my pal’s email:

Apologies in advance for what I hope is a not-too-complicated financial question.  So you ever heard of something called volatility drag?  Something to do with how over time double- and triple-leveraged ETFs always lose money. I found an investment opportunity that uses this principle to make money.  The pitch I heard says that the strategy is sound and has data to back it up since the 90s.  I find it hard to believe that something that automatically mints you money (admittedly at a “watching paint dry” pace) exists, yet it seems so from what I can tell…

I hadn’t heard of volatility drag before but it was fun to learn about.  Under the fold:  Charts! Definitions! Sage Advice! Links to books!

Continue reading How to make money from market volatility

Some good advice to my friends who are terrified of this job market

Don’t try to dodge the recession with grad school.. Many of my friends are considering this sort of move. It’s a sucker bet for a number of reasons that Penelope outlines. My basic argument is her last one.

Graduate school forces you to overinvest: It’s too high risk.
In a world where people did not change careers, grad school made sense. Today, grad school is antiquated. You invest three to six extra years in school in order to get your dream career. But the problem is that not only are the old dream careers deteriorating, but even if you have a dream career, it won’t last. You’ll want to change because you can. Because that’s normal for today’s workplace. People who are in their twenties today will change careers about four times in their life. Which means that grad school is a steep investment for such a short period of time.

You put in many years of avoiding adult life and prolonging adolescence, then commit to a career you have no real idea about. When I thought I might want to be a lawyer, I worked for a law firm and was firmly told by many lawyers that this is the worst job ever. When I thought I wanted to be on the news, I became a news reporter and learned why the news structurally has to be terrible. You learn more by doing.

Of course, that’s coming from a guy who hasn’t gone to graduate school. I still think though, that if you are lost, or unsure, the general best bet is to say yes to lots of opportunities and ditch the ones you hate. You will get somewhere by staying in motion, and learn more things.

Books: Supercapitalism

Robert Reich wrote a very surprising book on the interplay of capitalism and democracy. His argument is that we’re seeing a lot of problems in our democracy because we have demanded too much of corporations. If, instead, we strip away some of our fiction that corporations are people, we won’t expect them to be noble, or fair, or honorable.

Instead, we should see corporations for what they are. They are legal contractual agreements between groups of people in order to generate profits. They have no purpose or concern other than the flow of capital and profit. Just as we don’t ask a gun to distinguish between good directions to shoot in or bad directions to shoot in, we shouldn’t ask corporations to do anything but obey our laws and generate as much money as they legally can.

At the same time, we shouldn’t allow corporations any entrance into democratic policy, since they aren’t people. Corporations shouldn’t have the ability to sue to overturn laws or any rights to free speech. Since they are legal agreements without morals, without any concept of right or wrong, corporations have no business participating in democratic politics. They aren’t, after all, people.

People can say things like: “I quite like cheap sneakers, but I don’t want to allow anyone to employ children to make them.” Corporations can’t do that. So people can get together and decide what rules corporations play by.

Now, this is good. It’s a good thing to have a book that connects the dots between corporate influence on politics, the changing marketplace, the economics of globalization and the legal concepts underlying corporations. I just wish it didn’t take so long. The last chapter, “A Citizen’s Guide to Supercapitalism” contains the only real proposals and it is 16 pages. The previous 208 pages are all lead-in. Frankly, I got it early on. The book didn’t need quite that much paper.

To be fair, I did have some good insights while reading.

  • A good portion of the decrease in economic security resulted from container ships and other technological advances which led to a decrease in the security of large corporate profits that supported the deals between labor and management.
  • People want to live on charming Main streets, but the people who work there can’t afford to live there. My neighborhood, Cobble Hill, is fantastically charming, but I couldn’t work there and afford to live there. On the flip side, I can afford to pay rent there, but I couldn’t afford to buy there. I earn around 5 times my first salary, but I can’t afford to purchase in the neighborhood I rent in. Oh, how I’ve worked the numbers but it ain’t happening.
  • Fascinating nugget: Sam is a City employee, and her pension is administered by William Thompson, the city comptroller. He has heavily invested in the Fremont Mining Corporation which owns open pit gold mines in Papua New Guinea. They seem to dump toxic waste in fragile river ecosystems, which is legal since they seem to bribe the local officials to make it legal. This sucks, and Sam would never support it but Bill Thompson (he’s now a potential mayoral candidate) just is in charge of maximizing Sam’s pension.

Math Everywhere: How Many People at a Good Party?

Doing some last minute shopping for Sam and ran across Apartment Therapy’s post on Party Density.

Seems like they’ve got it down. I’m having a dinner party on December 25th, I’ll have to check the math for the space…

The unanswered question, of course is how many people you should invite to achieve good density of people who actually show up. One strategy of mine is to make my invitations personal if possible rather than sending out a mass evite. People I like will tell me if they are coming or not and I know what’s going on that night.

I don’t throw barnstormers in my living space anyway. I’d rather throw them at other people’s apartments and pay for food or liquor and they provide the space and the cleanup the next day.

The problem of spam

Been reading a lot about spam problems lately.

It isn’t a problem for me, since I’m not a high value target for spam. The other reason is that I’ve raised the bar by a very tiny amount. CAPTCHAs (those type the letters in the picture tests) are designed to raise the bar for spammers, and I’ve got kind of a unique one on this blog.

My comments aren’t hosted on blogspot, but rather on a site called haloscan. That tiny little difference has meant that I have never displayed a single comment spam ever. Automated comment spam occasionally is done, but it is always done using the normal blogspot comment fields. I get notices of these when they happen, but they aren’t a worry because they aren’t displayed ever or crawled by search engines.

This works because spam is a problem of economics. It takes very little work to be not worth the effort.
This is also a reason that firefox tends to be more secure than ie6. Fewer folks use it and therefore its less lucrative to write firefox exploits. So one of the surprising things that would tend to make ie6 and the web more secure is if opera, safari, and firefox took off!