Battlepanda: November 2007


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

25 Most Baffling Toys

With the Christmas toy-buying season rapidly approaching, has created a list of the 25 Most Baffling Toys from Around the World. And as they said, "not all of them are from Japan."

But these are. They appear to be some sort of "Beatle Bear".

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Strangely, the list does not include the fulchau. I actually owned one of those in college, purchased at a dollar store in the much-missed Mall of Memphis.

Hedging against Pascal

Prof. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution links to a summary of a debate on "wealth and happiness" in which he was a participant. But the interesting bit was what followed the debate:
Justin Wolfers of the Wharton Business School spoke on Pascal's Wager, saying that if one believes in religion then the greatest risk is choosing the wrong one. And how to hedge against such a risk? Mr. Wolfers advises the following: Have lots of children and bring each one up under a different faith. That way, if people don't get into heaven themselves, at least they will have maximized the chances that one of their children will.
Now usually the comments at MR are worthless, but there are quite a few funny ones in that thread. I especially liked this one:
What kind of degenerate excuse for economics is that? Where are the covariances of the kids' doomed immortal souls? Where is the higher-order game theoretical intractability proof? Where are the nonlinearities of utility functions under the possibility that an omnipotent God can create payoffs so large that even he can't compare them? It sounds as though it might have involved no Greek letters at all...

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Stripping for spam

I would be applauding this as an ingenious workaround if spam was not so evil:
Spammers have created a Windows game which shows a woman in a state of undress when people correctly type in text shown in an accompanying image.

The scrambled text images come from sites which use them to stop computers automatically signing up for accounts that can be put to illegal use.

By getting people to type in the text the spammers can take over the accounts and use them to send junk mail.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Filtering Stupidity on the Internet

The StupidFilter project aims to create an open-source Bayesian filter to "detect rampant stupidity in written English." This filter could be used on internet comment boards to eliminate comments that have little or no meaningful content. For examples of the sort of thing they're looking to eliminate, you can view a random entries from their stupidity database, collected from comments on YouTube.

A few questions and answers from their FAQ:
Isn't filtering stupidity elitist?

Yes. Yes, it is. That's sort of the whole point.

So what do you plan to filter?

The idea is that the most egregiously stupid comments will also be the easiest to detect while remaining ignorant of context; comments with too much or too little capitalization, too many text-message abbreviations, excessive use of "LOL," exclamation points, and so on.

Won't people just try to defeat the filter, the way spammers try to get around spam filtering?

We certainly hope they will -- that implies they're no longer generating text statistically likely to be stupid. It's true that an obvious attack on the StupidFilter would be to salt a short, stupid comment with a long excerpt copy-pasted from, say, Project Gutenberg, but we think it's reasonable to count on the laziness of the stupidest commenters not to do this.

Aren't you just trying to eliminate comments and discourse that you consider to be stupid?

As much as that might be nice, no. The StupidFilter does not understand, in a meaningful sense, the text that it parses, and our graders select comments that are formally stupid -- that is, their diction, not their content, marks them as stupid. It is not our intent to eliminate debate or disagreement, but rather to programmatically enforce a certain quality of expression. Put another way: The StupidFilter will cheerfully approve an eloquent, properly-capitalized defense of mandatory, state-subsidized rocket-launcher ownership for all schoolchildren.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Progressive taxation as insurance

The mysterious knzn contemplates the incentive effects of progressive taxation on entry into risky professions, i.e. those which produce a great deal of income for a lucky few, but not so much for the vast majority.
Does progressive (labor) taxation at the high end reduce the incentive to engage in high-value activities? It seems to me that (to the extent that highly lucrative activities really are high value) it actually increases the incentive. Most of the people with the highest compensation -- movie stars, star athletes, CEOs of large corporations, successful hedge fund managers, successful entrepreneurs, etc. -- have that high compensation not just because of decisions to engage in (ostensibly) high-value activities but because of a combination of an intentional occupational choice decision and unpredictable outcome of success in that occupation. The ones who made the same occupational choices but weren't so successful -- ordinary actors, minor league athletes, middle managers of large corporations, hedge fund managers without a lot of assets under management, entrepreneurs with limited or no success, etc. -- don't get that ultra-high compensation.
In essence, knzn argues, progressive taxation acts like a form of insurance for those entering the risky profession.
If you're successful, you make gobs of money, and you have to pay a lot in taxes, but you still end up with gobs of money; if you're not so successful, you don't make so much money, but you get an insurance payment in the form of a reduced tax bill. If the government were explicitly providing an at-cost insurance policy for actors, athletes, business people, hedge fund managers, and so on, I don't think there would be much question that the policy would encourage, rather than discourage, entry into these occupations.
(For obvious reasons, such an insurance system has to be mandatory. No insurance company will ever offer "failed rock musician" insurance.)

If the tax rates were flat or regressive, so that the failed rock musician had to pay as high a rate as the successful one, there would be fewer people entering the profession. The aspiring rock musicians wouldn't quit their secure day jobs for a shot at the big time.

Of course, if you're a Dark Satanic Millian, this is a feature of flat/regressive taxation, not a bug.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bad boys, Bad boys

Watcha gonna do? Ex-narcotic officer will tell you:
Morning Edition, October 31, 2007 ยท A former top narcotics officer, credited with over 800 arrests in eight years, is now selling a DVD that shows marijuana users how to avoid arrest when traveling with a stash. Law enforcement officials are outraged. [snip]

The DVD is called Never Get Busted Again, and these pictures are from Barry Cooper's previous life. That's what gives him his unique credibility. As a narcotics officer in West Texas, Cooper was a law enforcement star. That was partly due to his work ethic: Stopping 30 cars a day on the highways was routine for Cooper and his K-9 companion.

"We would pull over cars that had college bumper stickers, because we knew college kids often partied with marijuana," Cooper says. "We would pull over 'Vietnam Vet' plates, because a lot of our vets developed a habit over there."

"I feel bad about it," he admits. "I would look for Mexicans. I would look for black people. It works."


Cooper plans to make a second DVD called Never Get Raided Again.

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