Wellyopolis

February 28, 2005

A clarification

Caleb McDaniel replies to my musings about qualitative and quantitative methods with the comment:

Historians had something like the navel-gazing debate you call for during the 1970s and 1980s controversies about "cliometric" history. But since the new cultural history defenders of qualitative history seemed to win out (at least institutionally) in those debates, the question doesn't seem to come up as much anymore. Frankly, if historians were still required by professional canons to crunch numbers, I would be in deep trouble.

Navel-gazing is right. When most of the profession devotes itself to how to do what it does, rather than just doing it, the amount of new knowledge got out is limited.

Economic, demographic and other forms of "quantitative history" have been making a quiet comeback since the early 1990s (not least because of the IPUMS). More humble about what they can achieve, they have become more integrated with the rest of the historical community.

The question that interests me--and a few others, I hope, because I won't get to it for some years--is the more limited one of why some-to-many people in some disciplines sometimes overstate the difference between qualitative and quantitative methods. It interests me because I don't see the difference is worth making much of.

What matters is: is the question a good one? That doesn't suppose any method or type of data to be best.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:20 PM | Comments (0)

World cities

While looking for something on Wikipedia I found this entry about world cities.

Being parochial, I was interested to see that Minneapolis is regarded as "gamma world city." Wellington makes it onto the lowest rung of the ladder along with a diverse list of other cities like Edinburgh, Tashkent, and Winnipeg.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2005

historical census trivia of the day

Saleratus is an impure bicarbonate of potash, and a common ingredient in baking soda. In 1880, seven people in the United States said they worked in a saleratus factory. One hundred and thirteen said they worked in making baking soda and baking powder.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:55 PM | Comments (0)

Consolidation in the department store industry

Federated (owner of Macy's and Bloomingdale's) is going to buy May (owner of Marshall Field's and Lord & Taylor's). The consolidation of department store ownership continues.

Minneapolitans--who only recently saw Dayton's become Marshall Field's, and now Macy's--were sheltered from the death of the long-time name because their hometown store did so well.

When many department stores began in the late nineteenth century they were typically given the name of their founder, hence the persisting apostrophes. (Though the signs outside some stores lost the apostrophe, perhaps they are difficult for signwriters?) Most large cities had several stores.

Ownership and management passed to the second generation in the early twentieth century. Stores that felt the need to expand opened branch stores in newly developing suburbs from the 1920s onwards, with the branch stores proliferating in the late 1940s and 1950s.

The Depression of the 1930s forced co-operation in purchasing on department stores, who were able to negotiate better terms from manufacturers as a collective. Typically these groups were formed by stores from different cities, and no financial relationship beyond joint buying took place for most groups, except Federated. (1). But the foundations of consolidation had been laid, and from the 1950s onwards the family-owned, single-location department store began to be eclipsed by (a) the multiple location store with a downtown location and suburban branches, and (b) the consolidated department store holding firm with operations in several cities. Federated did well, very well, at buying up other stores.

Federated was lucky to survive its acquistion in the 1980s by Robert Campeau. Their corporate webpage understates> the near disaster.

And now they will dominate the Twin Cities department store market too. The department store is not dead, its death has been foretold since the 1920s, but its role in the retailing sector will be relatively smaller than it was at the turn of the previous century. Dayton's did well to survive the trend to consolidation for so long. There should be less lament for its passing, and more acknowledgment of its distinctiveness over a century and more.

UPDATE (28 February): The New York Times (bless 'em) finds two historians who are willing to go on record with a romantic portrayal of the department store's past.

And the Washington Post wonders what will happen to Hecht's (another apostrophe in the name).

References
McNair, M.P. 1931. "Trends in large scale retailing." Harvard Business Review 10 (1):30-39.

Posted by robe0419 at 7:57 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2005

Quali, quanti, whatever ...

Profgrrrrl who (1) I should read more regularly and (2) I assume to be a sociologist based on this statement:

[I do] ... mixed methods work, in a field where all too frighteningly often I hear people describe themselves as either qualitative or quantitative researchers

has an interesting post about qualitative and quantitative research.

Quite so. It's clear to me from reading books like Howard Becker's Tricks of the Trade, and King, Verba and Keohane's Designing Scientific Inquiry that the problem of research design for accurate inference is common to all areas of the social sciences.

Social scientists essentially ask the question: "Why do people act the way they do?" There are variations on how you specify that question, but it's the basic question at the heart of all social science research. [he says humbly] How do people form expectations about how the price of goods and services change [inflation]? What makes people sexually attracted to others? Why did the assassination of a relatively minor Austrian archduke lead to a bloody and costly 4 year war that dragged in countries not even remotely near Sarajevo? You can assign disciplines to all these questions, if you like, but the form of the question is the same.

The data we have to answer these questions is often incomplete, either because (1) it would be prohibitively expensive to ask everyone what they thought about the issue, or (2) things get lost. The latter is the historians problem.

So we make the leap from incomplete data to attempting generalizations about the behavior in question. The formal structure of this inference is much clearer for quantitative research, though that is not to say that everyone always remembers what they're doing and the problems inherent in the exercise.

Moreover, data are not inherently qualitative or quantitative. The researcher makes an active choice about how to analyze them. Some data go better with some analyses than others. And new insights sometimes come from approaching the same old data with a different analysis.

To take an example from my own research, I tend to think about the dissertation as involving three primarily quantitative chapters, one primarilyqualitative chapter, and one (the introduction) which is a bit of a mixture. But that's a misnomer. In chapter two I ask "how did the income earned by husbands affect whether wives worked, and how did that change from 1890-1940?" And the numbers give me a certain sense for what's going on -- husband's income had a smaller effect over time. But they mean little-to-nothing without the extra information that's provided by people writing about what they thought about what was happening.

Academics are quite uninclined to study themselves, but I think the persistence of this qualitative/quantitative debate in certain disciplines (sociology especially, history in some areas) is well worth studying in itself ... if it hasn't been done already.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:10 PM | Comments (1)

February 25, 2005

Walk up evangelism

The Jehovah's Witness are getting creative it seems.

Reminds me of a favorite time the Mormons knocked on my door. Because New Zealand and Utah both speak English [after a fashion], the young Mormons flocked down there on their missions. I always felt a little sorry for them. What the Lord giveth them in a familiar language she more than took away in a secular culture not really receptive to evangelistic religion. But still they came.

The area I lived in was rather hilly--our flat was up 104 steps--and it was summer. The young Mormons, of course, persisted in trying to ride their bikes up the hills and still maintain their dignity in their black suits with the little name badges on them. One pair of Mormons was particularly funny -- one of them was about 5'6'' and rotund; his partner was 6' and whippet thin.

One morning I heard a knock at the door. Lo and behold the persistent Mormons had come all the way up the steps. The 5'6'' rotund one, however, was mopping his brow with his white handkerchief (nice touch that, with the black suit!) and the tall one started off "Hello, are you interested ... [in the Church of blah, blah, blah]"

But the rotund one cut him off between pants as he caught his breath, and blurted, "Could I have a glass of water?"

It rather took the edge off my previous impressions of Mormon missionaries as calm evangelists of their faith with a patina of smoothness from their American accents.

"No, I'm not really interested," I said politely, and closed the door on them. As they walked back down the 104--count 'em--steps the rotund one was still mopping his brow from the exertion of the climb up. And I thought they had mountains in Utah ... he should have been used to a bit of climbing.

UPDATE: Originally it read "whippet fun" up there. I meant "whippet thin."

Posted by robe0419 at 3:06 PM | Comments (2)

February 24, 2005

A photo a mile

From classic kiwiana to classic Americana. This project -- driving across America and taking a photo at every mile marker -- is incredibly interesting.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:27 PM | Comments (0)

Stubbies

This is hilarious (mpeg). It's more hilarious if you can remember this lowpoint in male fashion. For the non-antipodean readers among you, I'd like to point out that (1) summer fashions have advanced significantly in NZ since the 1970s, and (2) the 1970s were a low point all around the western world for dress standards ...

L&P (Lemon & Paeroa) is a lemon flavored soda/pop/fizzy drink. It's world famous in New Zealand.

Posted by robe0419 at 8:19 PM | Comments (0)

Means to an end

I feel like a laggard [historian] for writing about this two days after the essay was posted at TNR, but that's how quickly these things move!

Anyway, Jon Chait argues that "[American] liberalism is, by its essence, unideological and simply committed to empiricism. [and basically congruent] with the 'reality-based community' that believes solutions 'emerge from . . . judicious study of discernable reality'."

Matt Yglesias responds here and here, arguing that "pragmatic problem-solving approach to governance doesn't get you anywhere unless you first specify what the problems to be solved are."

Kevin Drum weighs in with the argument that good, competent government is a popular ideal -- look at local government -- and that the 1960s and 1970s just weren't kind to technocratic liberalism. But it's due for a rebirth! We'll see ...

What Chait's argument tends to assume is that the ends are given, and shared by the electorate. If anything should be clear from the last election, it's that the ends and goals of government action are not agreed upon by the American people.

Basing a campaign on a platform of doing X better is just no good if a large segment of the electorate doesn't want X done at all.

Moreover, technocratic politics and government becomes vulnerable to professional capture, to schools being run in the interests of teachers and principals, and hospitals run in the interests of managers, nurses and doctors.

This is not to say that government can't be involved in those things, just that presenting government as some competent outsider is not a winning political platform. Not here. Not anywhere. One reason competent-technocratic and goverment-provided social services work well and are accepted elsewhere are that most other developed western countries are smaller in geographic area and population size.

While I understand American liberals concern with equity across state lines, I think it's worth pointing out that Canada and Australia, the only other contintent-spanning western democracies retain substantial state/provincial involvement in social services. Being parochial, but with a point, people complain in New Zealand, of all places -- a country with 4 million people and as much land area as Colorado -- that central government can be remote and unresponsive to local needs.

But even at the state or local level, government is not a outsider. The structures of government are how we organize the things we can't organize in the market or the voluntary association. Governments are rarely more competent than the communities they are drawn from. A related way of putting this is that governments need their citizens to be involved with them; that ideal is loosely republican and American.

I think that the ends Chait identifies -- good schools and health care -- are shared by a lot of Americans. Improving access to those social goods is a worthy program, but it's not just about doing it better. The notion that everyone should get a good start in life through access to schooling and health care can resonate with many Americans.

The other core functions of government, as I see them, are justice, defence, and some regulatory oversight of markets, and infrastructural investments. There are huge other debates to be had about the scope and aims of those government functions.

This leaves out many things that government does do in America, such as providing significant subsidies to business, and regulation of public morals. Out of power I hope the Democrats will question whether government should be involved in some of those things. Debating the goals and extent of government action is a task the Democrats need to do to frame a better platform in 2006 and 2008 and 2010 and ...

Posted by robe0419 at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

The Onion on Minnesota nice

Funny.

Posted by robe0419 at 9:01 AM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2005

Gender, race and class

You'd think that a history department seeking to hire someone to teach " Twentieth Century United States History—Gender, Race and Class" would know that "the problems of the big city" are often perceived to be related to race and class.

Maybe they mean traffic congestion when they talk about the problems of the big city. I hope so. Because a lot of people mean the poor non-white residents when they talk about the city having "problems."

On the other hand, maybe this department really does need someone to teach them about race and class in modern America ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:58 PM | Comments (1)

It's bad for your health, he said

Bradford Plumer makes a point that few journalists ever acknowledge:

Health care costs, of course, aren't rising because of some insidious inflation mechanism that's making all our favorite treatments magically become more expensive. Nor are they really rising because we're aging as a population—that's a part of it, but only a small part. No, health care costs are rising primarily because new and new treatments are coming to the market, and people are choosing to spend a lot of money on them.

America spends 14% of its income on health care; much of the rest of the world spends about 9%. Yet, "we" (you? I suppose I'm here now, and getting American health care) don't appear to get much extra health. Tho' health is hard to measure. Americans certainly get more choice about what kind of health care they receive. I'd say that's over-rated, but what would I know, I [will tempt fate with this sentence] rarely go to the doctor anyway.

You could argue America is a rich country, and who cares what it spends its trillions on. But the problem is, what if the decision to spend those trillions is being made by the wrong people in the wrong way? That is why total national expenditure on health care is going up. Many of these new treatments are wonderful, in the sense that they don't kill you, but it's not always clear that they are wonderful enough to justify their price.

Posted by robe0419 at 1:42 PM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2005

Walk the walk

Cool story (thanks, Jim!) in the Strib about a woman who is walking every street in Minneapolis. This has less cultural cachet than walking every street in Manhattan. Minneapolis has 370 extra miles of street, however.

Good luck to her! I once ran every street in the western suburbs of Wellington. It didn't take me long, and I learned that I really did prefer the trails. And that was in a city where the absence of a grid system and many undulations made the endeavor more interesting (if harder to plan). Occasionally I amble through Longfellow on my runs in Minneapolis. If you've seen one of the avenues, you've pretty much seen what the rest of them look like ...



Posted by robe0419 at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2005

More variations on the Nigerian spam!

This one is pretty inventive! As I noted a while back, it's strange it took so long for these people to add an Iraqi twist to the stories.

But this one is pretty cool. How does a woman from the Netherlands via way of Oman end up in a hospital in Belfast? And what is the Royal Victorial hospital. Perhaps Victorian.

What is "outstations"? Is that like out state?

*******************

Dear Beloved in Christ,

It is by the grace of God that I received
Christ,knowing the truth and the truth have set me
free.Having known the truth, I had no choice than to
do what is lawful and right in the sight of God for
eternal life and in the sight of man for witness of
God´s mercy and glory upon my life.

I am Mrs Maureen Clarks from Netherlands.I
am married to Dr.Franklyn Clarks who worked with
Chevron/Texaco in Oman for twenty years before he
died in the year 2001.We were married for twenty-seven
years without a child.

He died during one of the riots in the
region of Iraq where he went to work outstations.
He was held hostage and slain to death by protesting
militias of the region. Before his
death we were both born again christians.

My late husband acquired a considerable sum of money
through his resourcefulness and effectiveness through
the duration of his stay in Oman and his share of the family
inheritance, These monies are currently lodged in a finance
institution in Europe. I am desperately in need of your
assistance and guidance in the dispatch of these monies
for the sole purpose of ameliorating the suffering of thousands of
sick, poor and down trodden individuals ecumenically.

I was recently diagnosed with cancer of the lungs and
the doctors have made it absolutely lucid that this
disease is terminal. The doctors were not exact about
how long I have to live but I am in the know that the
disease has ravaged my body and left me at the mercy
of endless cocktail of drugs been administered to me.
The drugs have gone a long way in alleviating the
pains, but I still feel my life gradually ebbing away.

Presently, I'm with my laptop in a hospital where I have been undergoing treatment for oesophageal cancer. I have since lost my ability to talk and my doctors have told me that I have only a few weeks to live. It is my last wish to see this money distributed to victims of the Tsunami disaster in Asia and other charity organizations. Because relatives and friends have plundered so much of my wealth since my illness, I cannot live with the agony of entrusting this huge responsibility to any of them. Please,I beg you in the name of God to help me collect the deposit and the interest accrued from the company and distribute it accordingly.

I am currently recieving treatments at the Ireland hospital with the
address details below.:
ROYAL VICTORIAL HOSPITAL
GROSVENOR ROAD
BELFAST
BT12 6BA
ROOM 4779

I do not have any existing family member to my
knowledge to assist me in procuring these monies
before the stipulated time. I established this contact
with you solely out of need and desperation,
communication with you was completely fortuitous and
serendipitous.

I will ask that you inform me of your decision to
assist or decline, please ensure that you make your
decision based on nobility and humanity. Your
assistance will remain forever invaluable and
beneficial to thousands of children across the world.

Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I
stated herein.

I await your urgent reply.

Yours in Christ,
Mrs Maureen Clarks

Posted by robe0419 at 5:36 PM | Comments (3)

Encyclopedic!

The first batch of entries -- on "New Zealanders" -- for the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand are now available, and the website seems to fulfil its promise and potential.

Until now, the most comprehensive Encyclopaedia of New Zealand was a three-volume 1966 set. It was well-written and broad-ranging, but dated for anything after the 1960s. A one-volume Encyclopedia was published in 1983, and many will be remembered it for its colorful cover, and primary school style brevity. The one-volume Bateman seems to be well represented in American university libraries, giving Americans the unfortunate impression that a country of several million people with some notable events in its past (women's suffrage, the highest death rate of any combatant nation in WWI ...) and a stunning natural history, could be adequately summed up in 640 pages.

Kudos to the New Zealand government for not trying to make money on making information about New Zealand known to the world. (If only, their statistical agency had the same policies ... ). Although the full Encyclopedia will not be complete until 2012, the web publication will allow people access to topical areas as they are completed.

The other excellent thing the project has done is make the 1966 encyclopaedia available online.

Some things change slowly, if at all, like the weather in Wellington ... it is still amazing to me that I grew up in a place where the variation in temperature over the year was less than the variation in a week in Minneapolis.

Posted by robe0419 at 3:00 PM | Comments (0)

Why presidential term limits are wrong

The American system of government works pretty well. In fact, name me a large country (100 million plus people) that doesn't have some level of governmental dysfunction ...

After the Bush administration is done, limiting presidents to two terms will appear a folly. I am reminded of this by Matthew Yglesias' thoughts on the lies and exaggeration in the Social Security privatization campaign.

One thing Bush has done very well is to pursue policies whose electoral and financial benefits are realized now, and their costs later. The costs for the Iraq war keep on appearing off-budget in special appropriations, the Medicare bill, the taxcuts which have sunset provisions to lower their total cost that mysteriously expire in 2009, and now Social Security ... even if Bush is successful the implementation will happen off his watch.

If Bush was able to run for re-election the perennial gambit of pushing the due date for payment out to 2009/10 would not work. Elections, in other words, provide good incentives for politicians to behave in ways that are good over the llong-term. A concern with Presidential legacy is not sufficient to ensure good behavior in office. Elections generally are.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:45 PM | Comments (1)

Don't save all the babies!

Who could be against screening babies for rare diseases?

I am. Sometimes. And this proposal has all the hallmarks of money ill-spent. Even the people lobbying for the tests acknowledge they are "extremely rare." Spending lots of money testing for "extremely rare" conditions is often, if not always, a fools errand.

Everyone wants to avoid these rare, horrible conditions. But it's likely that the money would be better spent on ensuring adequate care for lower income women and children, rather than extra-special care for already well-cared for children.

Posted by robe0419 at 12:18 PM | Comments (1)

February 17, 2005

Speedy text

Caleb McDaniel (who blogs at Mode For Caleb -- worth reading) says in comments :

To your point that people have always wanted to communicate through text, I would add that there have always been people who worried about such communication as a substitute for "real" interaction. Even letter writers in the early nineteenth century waxed long and poetical about how much they deplored the separation of their bodies, and evincing some doubtfulness about whether they could be united in mind in spite of this distance. There have always been some who say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and others who say that's a load of crap.

He's right. On a somewhat unrelated subject he's also right about Starbucks if you define right as "sort of agreeing with me"

Posted by robe0419 at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2005

when the software breaks things slow down

I noted yesterday in my little paean to technological solutions to age-old communciation needs in academia that the technology sped things up ... not today ... when the email server goes down, and your to-do list contains 14 little items that nearly all involve replying to email, or consulting some details sent to you by e-mail ... things slow way down.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:28 PM | Comments (0)

Worth reading

Stephen Walt on a "new grand strategy for American foreign policy" in the Boston Review.

I think we might be waiting a while for this policy to be implemented, but I'm happy to be proven wrong ...

Posted by robe0419 at 2:15 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2005

What's "real life" anyway?

In Timothy Burke's long, interesting post on why he blogs (read it, then come back), he writes:

After listening, one of my colleagues asked a question that’s fairly typical and yet it really made me think once again about some perennial questions. She wondered if any of this blogging stuff leads to real, human connections. (emph. added)

What are "real, human connections"? What the question implies is that the connections we make via text and at a distance are somehow less real than in-person conversation. That's a mighty strange contention for an academic to make. (Not to mention an academic historian, but we'll get to that latterly).

Think about it. Many academics spend much of their professional time engaged in conversations with people they have never met. We read things, we react to them, we do some research, we write something of our own in response. Is the other person actually there in person? Most of the time, no.

Of course, the professional meeting or conference, is intended to make up for this normal lack of face-to-face dialog. But professional meetings occupy [for most people] a few days in the year. The rest of the time we are surrounded by our immediate colleagues, who may be working on quite different things.

I should note that this is more often the case in history departments, where people specialize in a time and a place. Compared to the hard sciences and social sciences, historians largely lack a common language to talk about things. There's little methodological or theoretical core that holds history together in the way that method holds economics together as a discipline. For sure, there's the core in history that favors research in primary sources. But when I'm researching American history I'm not looking at the same sources as people in African history. Our conversations about the archives are incredibly procedural -- were the archivists nice? was the collection well-organized?

Or, take graduate students working on a tiny chunk of a problem for their thesis or dissertation. Most of the time, the people whose work they are directly engaging are elsewhere. Indeed, one model of a dissertation is to attack the famous author. It's a lot easier to do that in print, when you haven't actually met the author.

I will note, parenthetically, that these issues of intellectual semi-isolation are less prevalent in modern American academia. People in somewhat remote places have more conversations with themselves while reading. The qualification "modern" on America reminds us that cheap, quick transportation across the continent to meet the people in our field is a comparatively recent thing.

Other conversations that we have in academia are, in a sense, with dead people. In history (of course) and certainly in the humanities and social sciences, engaging with what past thinkers put forth is a significant part of the enterprise. Much as we'd love to meet Max Weber, he isn't going to come and tell us what he actually meant in Economy & Society.

Where are we? My point is that academia has always been characterized by people interacting via letter, book, and professional journal. It's hardly unreal, non-human interaction. Blogging is just a new way of doing what we've always done -- distributing ideas we've written down.

How does blogging fit into this? As we potter away on our semi-isolated intellectual pursuits we find the need to make contact with people working on closely related topics. This was a demand that always existed. In the past, it was satisfied by scholar X typing up her manuscript and sending it to scholar Y, who may reply in a couple of weeks.

Email sped all that up, and is great for one-to-one correspondence. You will all likely have experienced the phenomenon of the mass communication by email, where people don't reply to all, and the conversation gets disjointed. Mailing lists are, of course, an efficient way of dealing with some of these problems. But for mass distribution of ideas-in-progress the mailing list is less than ideal. If everyone posted 1000 word posts to mailing lists it would be hard to sort through the mail in the morning. (It already is, somedays ...)

So, blogging is really just the efficient solution to a demand that has always existed -- broadcasting your thoughts to the widest possible audience, being able to receive feedback, while also not overwhelming the audience. The RSS feed makes this really quite manageable for the audience.

Not all the connections we make in this way will lead to in-person meetings. But that's how it has always been! Back in the day when people communicated by letter they didn't always meet up. If the relationship got to the point where it was necessary then they did. As I note above, our ability to transform these textual interactions into face-to-face ones is heavily influenced by the price and availability of transportation.

The emergence of distant interactions, mediated by text, and propelled in other ways by the train, the steamship, the plane and the telephone cable, is hardly something new and intrinsic to blogging. Our ability to learn what people elsewhere were thinking took a great leap forward with the printing press, way back in the 1400s. It speeded up as printing got cheaper, and as steamships got quicker, and cables spanned the Atlantic and then the Pacific.

Widespread urbanization at the turn of the twentieth century also broke the norm of people's relationships largely being local, long-standing and encompassing. In the city, people were more easily able to seek out others interested in the same activities, and form clubs and associations based on common interests. Blogs are an extension of this as well, the urge to associate with people who you share an interest or hobby or cause. The internet helps extends this process beyond the city, though it certainly didn't start it.

In closing, I think that asking why people blog is letting the new word obscure the answer. People have always sought out others of similar interests for conversation across time and space, and this software merely gives them a way to have conversations they always wanted to have.

Posted by robe0419 at 4:34 PM | Comments (2)

The spammers are confused!

The Christians-singles spam I got last week, returned. This time it was, as you can see below, mixed up with gardening advice spam. WTF?! I do, however, have more interest in gardening than Christian singles.

Posted by robe0419 at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2005

getting things done

a very useful blog I just discovered the other day is Lifehacker. They have genuinely useful recommendations for software etc. that might improve your life.

Just today, for example, I found out that the old-school Mac OS X terminal can be replaced by iTerm. If you use the command line more than a couple of times a week, it's worth checking out.

The Lifehacker site [and RSS feed] is also very quick to skim. Either the stuff interests you, or it doesn't. Little time wasted following links to useless crap ...

Posted by robe0419 at 1:26 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2005

Satan in church

Google Maps is great -- nice, wide streets and clever ways of moving around the map -- but their search for local stuff option has some issues. To wit, if you search for "Satan Minneapolis," the local businesses returned are WCCO TV, the Institute of Psychological Therapies, and then some churches ...

If you search for "devil Minneapolis" some actual businesses with "Devil" in their names, and ... more churches.

The fun goes on with "Hades Minneapolis," which returns as the first result Village Schools of the Bible.

But great maps of how to get there ...

Posted by robe0419 at 3:13 PM | Comments (1)

Running errands

Why does this phrase persist? -- Why does any phrase persist? -- Most of the time when people say they're running errands, they are actually driving them.

Back in the distant South Pacific atoll I grew up on I used to actually run errands quite often. It helped that the nearest stores were about a kilometre (that's kilometer for American readers, or 0.6 of a mile) away from my flat. So I was often running up the hill to end a run with bananas, redbull, or liquor as the occasion (and my flatmates) demanded.

When I moved to Minneapolis I thought I'd do more of this, as the city is way more spread out than Wellington, graduate course work puts a premium on multi-tasking, and any teensy-weensy residual embarrassment about wandering round the store or the bank in sweaty clothes would be long gone in a city where I knew many fewer people. But for whatever reason, I haven't done that.

But today I ran an errand. It actually started with driving the car over to where it get its "checkup." And then I ran home. It was great, as I got to run round Cedar Lake, where I really don't run enough. (Click on the link here to see the wonderful new google maps ...)

But the guy at the dealer thought I was crazy. We can have your car done in an hour, he assured me twice. Sure enough, there were plenty of people idling their time away in the capacious waiting room.

"Oh no," I said, "I'm going to run home, and then I'll run back tomorrow to pick it up." He looked at the address [8 miles away] and repeated the offer that the car might be ready in an hour ...

"No, really, I'm going to run home and run back tomorrow. It's much more convenient ..."

At this point he accepted that the Mr. Coffee and free magazines for an hour was less attractive than running across the city in 20 degree weather, but he still seemed to be pondering it.

While I'm not challenging the car culture as much as some, it felt good to be literally running [part of] an errand.

Posted by robe0419 at 2:59 PM | Comments (3)

February 9, 2005

Aging workers

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that since, oh, mid-November my commentary on U.S. politics has been a little sparser. This has something to do with the results of the election ...

In any case, the whole Social Security debate has my attention, but I feel there's not much I can really say. Great program. Don't let President Bush lie his way to screwing it up. Brad DeLong and Josh Marshall provide excellent coverage of the economics and politics of the debate.

Now, one thing that everyone agrees on is that, yes, there will be a lot of people retiring in the future, and the ratio of workers to retirees will be dropping. What I haven't seen a lot of discussion of, is projections that maybe, just maybe, older people will of their own accord, decide to keep working.

I'm not exactly up on the fine details of Social Security, since I am (1) a long way from retirement and (2) not paying anything towards it as I'm on an exchange visa, but my understanding is that the rules of the program make it pretty advantageous to retire as soon as you are eligible.

That said, once the number of retirees starts to rise substantially there will be some pretty tight labor markets in particular sectors. Immigration will not fill all those vacancies in positions, unless U.S. immigration law changes quite a bit. Thus, for some potential retirees in some occupations, it may actually be quite worthwhile to keep working, even with the Social Security incentives to retire right away.

It seems to me that making the retirement age more flexible, and encouraging people who can to delay retirement, should be one of the easier fixes in making any minor adjustments to Social Security that keep it solvent. Like the atheism and the foreign accent, this opinion will likely keep me out of any public office in this country, as retractions like Howard Dean's show.

Posted by robe0419 at 6:40 PM | Comments (1)

February 8, 2005

On the continents and their culture

Who knew that there was another way to do simple substraction, and that it was called "Austrian substraction". Not me.

Those Europeans do funny things with numbers. Back in the day when I worked at a supermarket NZ abolished the 1 and 2 cent coins. When you paid with cash (a rarer and rarer occurence in the land of EFTPOS) change was given out in accordance with Swedish rounding. Change of 1 and 2 cent amounts became 0 cent, change of 3, 4, 6, and 7 cent amounts became 5 cents, and 8 and 9 were rounded up to 10 cents. It's curious how most of the English language links to the term are from NZ websites ...

Also apropros of the continents, my review of Giselle Byrnes book, The Waitangi Tribunal and New Zealand History, came out in History: Reviews of New Books. In the Asia section! Last time I looked, Australia and New Zealand were still somewhat distinct from Asia, but I concede that the recent earthquake may have changed things by a few centimetres. Culturally, they're still quite far apart as well ...

Posted by robe0419 at 4:16 PM | Comments (1)

February 7, 2005

Christian spam

The weird American mixture of Christian religion, commercializing much of everyday life, and a Victorian-era enthusiasm for marriage, are summed up in this spam message.

(Note: For humor only, you too can click on the image for God's help with romance ...)

Posted by robe0419 at 2:50 PM | Comments (2)

Quite right

As was clear well before the actual broadcast, the nation's children were subjected to about five minutes worth of suggestive advertising for "erectile dysfunction." Last year if the children happened to be looking at the right moment, they saw about 2 seconds worth of nipple. Yet not a peep from the self-appointed guardians of the nation's morality about the shocking obscenities children were forced to see when watching a family-friendly sporting event.

Anyone who has been awake in a graduate social science or humanities course in the past decade may be able to discern the influence of gender in this chain of events.

Anyone who has been paying attention the past four years to what guides and motivates the nation's politics might also note that erectile dysfunction drugs are produced by pharmaceutical companies who give large donations to the current ruling party. This may have something to do with the absence of outrage at such early-evening broadcasting of sexual content.

The Ameriquest ad with the not-dead, just-covered-in-sauce cat was the best. Indeed, all the Ameriquest ads were good.

The military parade and fly-over at the start was a little worrying. As was the "Thank-you" ad from Anheuser-Busch. I will never get elected to public office in most parts of the country with that attitude, but that's ok!

Posted by robe0419 at 12:58 PM | Comments (2)

February 4, 2005

What is Waitangi Day?

If you have a calendar that includes a wide variety of international holidays, you might be wondering on Sunday what Waitangi Day is.

Waitangi Day is New Zealand's national day. Now, here's the catch for American readers! Whereas in America, and [I think] most of the non-white Commonwealth, the national day is the day the country became independent of Britain , in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the national day celebrates when the British formalised their status as colonizers. This says quite something about the political and social culture of those countries. [The Commonwealth: that's what the British Empire has become, a free Commonwealth of independent ex-colonies, and Britain]

Anyhow, Waitangi Day is always February 6. It's never Monday-ised, so when it falls on a weekend, sorry, no day off!

Waitangi is pronounced why-tungee.

It's also a place, and the Treaty House, outside of which the Treaty was signed is still there. It's in good shape.

The day remembers -- celebrates is probably the wrong word now -- the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which gave the British "governorship" of New Zealand, but left the [indigenous] Maori population with sovereignty.

As you can guess, it's been a mess ever since trying to work out how you can divide governance and sovereignty! Indeed, there's a whole government tribunal that's devoted to doing just that. Understandably they cop it from both sides.

Your next opportunity to learn about strange Antipodean holidays will come on April 25 with ANZAC Day ...

Posted by robe0419 at 5:37 PM | Comments (1)

February 3, 2005

A rather rural area

The Twin Cities have pretensions to be a major sophisticated, cosmopolitan, metropolitan area, but really, these were some of the headlines on the website of the area's major paper this morning.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:44 AM | Comments (1)

More fun and education

If you thought the original place-the-states game got too easy, try the advanced version. The states you've already placed don't show up. As always, if you get coastline -- including lakes -- or wiggly southern borders you're golden ... it's those dang interior states that get you.

Posted by robe0419 at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

things I can never remember

When you're reading in text files to SPSS, SAS or Stata it's a teeny weeny bit annoying that they all place the indicator that a variable is string rather than numeric in different places.
SPSS: <variable name> <begin-column> - <end column> (a)
SAS: <variable name> $ <begin-column> - <end column>
Stata: str(n) <variable name> <begin-column> - <end column>

If this means nothing to you, be glad ...

Posted by robe0419 at 9:59 AM | Comments (0)

February 1, 2005

You don't need a weatherman

Thought for the day. I noted a while back that the Strib ran an article that said 2004 was "wacky year of extremes" in Twin Cities weather.

But, actually, if you think about it a little, the summer was remarkably cool, compared to other summers; and fall was pretty warm compared to fall in years past ... which means that the temperature was less variable in 2004 than in other years.

A wacky year of moderation, not extremes.

Having grown up in a place where 50 was cold, 45 meant complaints that you had to put on liner gloves, snow was something you drove 4 hours and 200 miles to, and 75 was a scorcher, I know a little about temperate weather patterns. However moderate it was in the Twin Cities in 2004, we ain't temperate yet!

Posted by robe0419 at 2:25 PM | Comments (0)