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30 June 2007


Transformers was the ultimate in awesome goodness. It is my favourite action movie ever I think, and I like action movies a lot.

There was so much US military hardware in action. And I love military hardware. Tom and I were saying that there is no better way to build popular support for military spending than to show us movies of Raptors and tanks blowing stuff up on screen. Preferably blowing up Transformers, because they put up a good fight. And don't bleed. We don't like blood so much. Or humans dying. Although if we have to beat up Transformers with jet-fighters because they made humans bleed then we feel happy.

One of the best extra bonuses of this film is that it was funny. And properly funny. Not like normal action movie funny, which is normally closer to lame than funny. It had a good script and mostly good characters. The love interest was tough and good with cars and tow trucks and kind of made the boy character look dumb. Although there will still a lot of superfluous cleavage shots, and they did detract slightly from her Transformer beating prowess. But it is possible that bountiful cleavage and the ability to help beat up Decepticons is all that any man really hopes for in a partner. I'm not sure what the gay equivalent would be...

So much fighting though. Robot wrestling. And guns and helicopters. And smashing buildings. And that great iconic scene (which you knew they were totally setting up before it happened) where Megatron comes smashing through the old glass windows in the abandoned warehouse.

And Optimus Prime. The hero of heroes. He didn't let us down. What a champion.

The only dumb things were the Sector 7 agent and the overly made-up Australia computer expert. I liked the Sector 7 guy, but he was silly and did make the film less good.

Every person will a healthy perception of joy and destruction will love this movie and should see it.

David is 25

David turned 25 last night at a merry Spanish tapas bar on King St. It had really good sangria and potatoes. Actually that was all I ate and luckily they were delicious. We had a fun time with a funny collection of different people. Robert, Keith and I got a little scolded for our adhoc courtyard renovations. Not that you can call it a courtyard, but people were smoking so it must have been.

We complained a lot about how expensive it would be, even though it wasn't in the end. We complained a lot about hungry we would be, which we slightly were in the end. But not hungry enough to spontaneously die of malnutrition so I don't think it matters that much.

After most people abandoned us, Tom joined us and we went to the Duke. We made Tom walk all the way through Newtown to meet us, just to walk all the way back again. Tom foresaw that happening, but I was unmoved by his pleas. He didn't seem to mind that much anyway.

We sat around in the Duke and micro-managed our friend's relationship for a while. I'm not sure that SMS by consensus is an improvement, but I hope it is. It's definitely more fun.

Then we walked back to our house so the bulk of the remainder could play Wii. I didn't play, because as I told David, so far Godfather is the only good thing I've seen on the Wii. And it would be almost as good on something else. But I did drive Jo Kemp home. We had a very good chat about what is wrong with people and ourselves. Although we're both still unconvinced there is that much wrong with ourselves.

Then I drove home, drank some water and fell asleep. The sleep was instantaneous too, which was a lovely change. Maybe it's the lack of uni stress. Maybe going to bed at 2am is just better that way.

28 June 2007

Research Methods

I got my mark back for my silly research methods assignment, which I wrote nearly all of in the last 8 hours. I got 85 for it, even though I was ready to throw in the towel the night before. And the result was a mess. The writing style was appalling. Most of it didn't even get read over, so there were no drafts. I threw in whatever graphs I could think of. I hardly even answered the questions. Importantly, though, I copied as plagiaristically as possibly could from the example report. I put in everything they had ever suggested we put in a report. And it worked.

But my first assignment, which I did a lot of work on, I did crap in. I even made sense, and felt like I'd created a reasonable and useful research brief. I got 69 for that one. Stupid arbitrary world.

26 June 2007

Business Forecasting

My first and hardest exam is over. It wasn't actually hard at all. I am very glad.

Arrows Impossibility

My smug economic lecturers once told us very smugly that the problem with governments can be summarised by Kenneth Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. It's the idea that you can't ask everybody what they want and as a group do something that makes everybody happy. The gist of Arrow's paradox is that it's impossible to aggregate preferences.

I reckon it's a bit of a silly paradox, for two reasons. The first is that, for lots of stuff, we have to aggregate preferences. Even imperfect aggregation is unimaginably better than not aggregating. Airports might be one example. So saying we can't aggregate perfectly isn't very helpful, because we're going to do it regardless. The theorem is used as an argument against government intervention, but markets and governments are simply two different ways of doing a similar thing. Markets probably aggregate preferences more "neatly" because dollars are more divisible than votes, but that doesn't necessarily make the outcomes better. You could divide votes up more if you wanted, so they functioned more like money. The problem with that being that we'd become more democratic and we don't want that because the people can't be trusted to know what's right.

I quite like the way the market works things out. I like the way it gets a whole lot of smart minds working at solving problems and sharing in the benefits. And I actually do think that for the smart minds at least, they do share in the benefits. I reckon that if you have a way of redistributing wealth than it's hard to beat most market outcomes. But there are also plenty of ways where I suspect the market is worse than governments (even mediocre governments) in terms of both fairness and efficiency. Aggregation is a very tough thing to do, whoever is doing it. There are lots of areas where making all your best brains work together will get you a better outcome (probably a lot of research). And areas where I don't think your wealth should equal the number of votes you get (probably all health care and pre-tertiary education).

Update: My original point I forgot to make. If it's interesting to anyone at all, it probably only is to people who already know how the theorem decides it's impossible. And they've probably already thought of the same point themselves.

Ahem. Ahem. I have a theory. And it is that the voting system assumed by the Impossibility Theorem only collects a limited amount of information about people's preferences. It asks people to order a list of things and a thing's place on the list represents their vote. But you can definitely collect more information about someone's preferences than that. Although it will be more complicated and might involve fractions. Alternatively, sticking a bunch of people in a room and not letting them out until they can collectively tell you what they want you to spend this year's tax revenue on also works. Preference aggregation isn't about making everyone happy. At the best you hope that everyone will feel the outcome was reasonable.

Who Killed the Cookie Jar?

Cookie Jar, which Jack Johnson sang, is quite a bit like Who Killed Davey Moore?, which Bob Dylan sang. Except that Jack Johnson tells you who killed Davey Moore at the end of the song. Which I suppose is his style.

Update: Bob is well good.

John Loves You

John Howard made a very good speech last night to the Sydney Institute about his indigenous NT plan. I agree with most of his suggestions, but I don't trust his motives. Him being John Howard and all and being a few months out from an election. And I don't generally believe that good things happen for bad reasons, although I wish I did. Events has a pretty posh events setup these days. It will look at the music you like and find music events that you might like. It does a pretty good job too. All three of the gigs I'm actually going to in the next couple of months are on the list. And three more of the gigs I'd really like to go to are there too.

25 June 2007

Foxit PDF Reader

I found an alternative to Adobe Reader. I've been using it for a week (which is a lot of documents in a study week). It's called Foxit Reader and it is good.


There's a good one man band called Gotye and this fellow has a very good album called Like Drawing Blood. Well good indeed.

Feliz Cumpleaños Emily

Happy Birthday Mil. Twenty-five is a pretty good age. Although tough to say if it's better than twenty-four. Definitely better than twenty-two.

24 June 2007

Swans Vs Magpies

Dad, Matt and I went the Swans match tonight at Telstra Stadium. It's an excellent stadium. I like the circular ramps. And the station queuing. Although the whole stadium only has one ATM. And it happened to be right at the bottom. And we were right at the top. There was a big queue. I suppose that's what happens when you make 100,000 people all share one ATM. They have to queue for it.

It was a sad match. Everyone played badly. But Sydney played much, much worse than Collingwood. Much worse. They lost. Quite badly, but not as badly as we'd expected.

It was probably good Ma didn't come. It was very cold. And her team lost.

23 June 2007


I wonder if the reason that markets don't investment properly is because the costs of over-investing are different to the costs of under-investing. Firms do well if they are good at predicting the optimal level of investment. If they can guess it perfectly their profits will be higher than for any other level. As their guesses get worse, their profits drop. But profits drop more if they are too optimistic than if they are too pessimistic. If they over-invest not only do they have to pay money for their investments, but the price of what they're selling will go down. If they under-invest they don't actually lose anything except revenue foregone. This probably suggests that the average investment error won't be zero.

Governments wouldn't have this bias so much because the costs to society of over-investment and under-investment are symmetrical. At least I think they are. Actually, they probably aren't. Over-investing in infrastructure by 10% costs society less than 10% of the optimal investment. Probably quite a lot less, because over-investing still provides returns, just not net returns. But who knows how much under-investing by 10% costs us? Maybe vast amounts.

So mostly just ignore what I was saying in that second paragraph. I still think that the private sector will systematically be biased towards under-investment. Which is bad, but who knows if it's worse than systematic over-investment.

My grandma is a piker

Ma had said she would go to the football with us this evening. But just because she's 93 and just because it's forecast to snow she's decided she isn't going to come. So it's just going to me and my dad and Matt.

Oceans 13

It was better than the first two, but still pretty average. If you ask me. Not you would. Everyone loves the Oceans movies.

22 June 2007

Calculating a Bond Yield

> f = function(y) (5/(1+y) + 5/((1+y)^2) + 105/((1+y)^3) - 88)^2
> optimize(f, c(0,1))
[1] 0.09807912

[1] 8.321122e-06

Two lines. R is so sweet.

But gay people are different

In relation to other issues we certainly aren't a government that supports discrimination.

John Howard

Centrelink Daily

I've read a few different places that one of the "problems" Centrelink has with payments to Aboriginal communities is that people tend to give their money away or spend it all at once. That isn't necessarily a bad sort of wealth-management. If you get new wealth every day, as Aborigines did for a long while before whities arrived, then eating it all at once and spreading around particularly large amounts of wealth is a pretty sensible idea. And for people with enough to live each day, giving away large amounts of money is fine also. It probably strengthens communities and is a productive form of mutual insurance. However, if you don't have a enough to live each day you need to hoard wealth to survive. All a bank does is enable us to easily hoard wealth for themselves. And fortnightly Centrelink payments dictate a hoarding mentality if you want to live reasonably for the whole period. But what would be wrong with daily or twice-daily payments? It's not going to cost them any more - it's all electronic. If people use the fortnightly payments as a way of forcing themselves to save (like I do), you could easily offer people loan schemes or saving schemes by reducing their daily payment slightly. Someone who saves a percent of their fortnightly payment and then spends the remainder slowly is doing the same thing.

It would also require partners who steal/drink/gamble money to be stealing, drinking or gambling it every day. They can't just show up once a fortnight and take the whole lot. It probably also smooths out slightly drinking binges. If you wanted to have a really good binge, you'd actually have to save up specially for it. And that probably isn't going to happen.

I reckon it might also be quite good if for kids more food was never more than 24 hours away. I've known families who weren't even that poor, where the kids were hungry by the end of the week/fortnight because the family had mis-budgeted.

This doesn't just apply to Aborigines. I would find it helpful. Especially if there weren't transaction costs, which there needn't be. Perhaps it could apply to everyone unless they requested fortnightly payments instead, and possibly explained why fortnightly payments would be better.

My main point though is that the wealth management paradigm white people respect is only one sort. And not even a particularly brilliant one. But because the paradigm we like chosen doesn't fit that well with the one used by Aborigines, we label them as bad at managing wealth. The system they used was almost definitely optimal in historical communities and may still well be if the income patterns weren't chosen by the government for its own convenience.

I'd be really interested to know how much communal spending on alcohol occurs. I wonder if there is social pressure to spend "windfall" income on whatever it is that the social group most wants at the time. It's possible that daily payments would just ensure that every single dollar got spent on alcohol, because it would be physiologically feasible to drink every dollar as it arrived.

Centralised Bureaucratic Direction

This is from the introduction to the recommendations of the Little Children are Sacred report. What I've read of it so far is good.

And one of the things I think we should have learned by now is that you can't solve these things by centralised bureaucratic direction. You can only educate children in a school at the place where they live. You can only give people jobs or get people into employment person by person. And I think my own view now is that the lesson we've learned is that you need locally based action, local resourcing, local control to really make changes.

Fred Chaney, in 'Report of the Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse'

21 June 2007

Dam Levels


What a cool graph.

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