Interesting Cool & Useful – Sep 09

Personal,Politics by on September 9, 2009 at 6:24 pm

It has been ages since I’ve put together one of these posts, but a number of things have been accumulating recently that didn’t warrant a whole post (and I didn’t want to compress into a tweet).


  • High-fat food affects memory and exercise (in rats). This NY Times article highlights a study that showed high-fat food made rats both dumber and reduced exercise capacity — in as little as 4 days.
  • Exercise and low-fat diets linked to 60% lower alzheimer’s risk. Few things scare me as much as Alzheimer’s. Recent research is revolutionizing how we think about the disease.
    … the risk of Alzheimer’s was reduced by a third in volunteers who were physically active, while those who ate a diet rich in fruit and vegetables lowered their risk by 40 per cent. Those doing both lowered their risk by a massive 60 per cent
  • Healthcare I don’t know enough to have a fully-formed opinion on healthcare, but this (long) article in the Atlantic resonated with my world view on the current state of health care and likely solutions. In particular, the author highlights the true tragedy of hospital-based infections:
    “roughly 100,000 Americans whose deaths are caused or influenced by infections picked up in hospitals. One hundred thousand deaths: more than double the number of people killed in car crashes, five times the number killed in homicides, 20 times the total number of our armed forces killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”


  • A better (cheaper) educational model. The accreditation process provides an important certification step in education, but it also keeps costs artificially high. Straighter Line has developed an extremely interesting approach to introductory college education ($99 a month), that circumvents traditional accreditation requirements.
  • Self-assembling robots that might conduct internal surgeries. Seriously, a patient would swallow 15 pills, and the robot would self-assemble and then conduct internal surgeries. Granted, the technology is more conceptual at this stage…
  • Non-randomness in coin tosses Spun coins land tails up 80% of the time.


  • Picture Sharing for Groups. I’ve written before that group photo sharing has been an unsolved problem. I’ve been testing Picurio recently and have been quite impressed. Download zips of all uploaded photos.
  • Remote support. Zoho has a great free desktop sharing utility that makes remote support of your parents much easier than just using the phone alone. It gives you 5 free support sessions a month at 2 hrs each. Super, super useful.


GDP growth by political party

Politics by on October 12, 2008 at 12:07 am

Martin Manley posted a fascinating post a few weeks back that looked at a number of economic measures by presidential party. They tell a fascinating story that runs counter to the (old?) conventional wisdom that republicans are better for the economy than democrats. Democratic presidents since the 1930s have out-performed republican presidents on measures such as GDP growth, stock performance, overall employment and on Gini index changes.

The graphs are built in a few ways that I consider unusual: they are bucketed by president, and so appear to treat 8 year terms the same as 4 year terms, and they include data from ww2 and a few years prior which brings the outstanding relative performance of Roosevelt into the analysis (most macro econ studies look at data from 1947 or 48 onwards).

So, naturally I was naturally curious to understand the data in a bit more detail. Manley cites Brad DeLong, who in turn cites Doug Henwood, Liscio Report. I know very little about DeLong, but a bit of quick browsing on his blog showed that he is, um, heavily partisan. So, I’m naturally wary. To make matters worse, the Liscio report appears to be a subscription service and I couldn’t find the data used on his site either. Given the partisan source, and the partisan biasing, I presumed the data in general was probably rigged and stopped thinking about it.

This evening curiosity got the better of me so I decided to try and redo the analysis using stats and date ranges that are a bit more logical/traditional. I used the BEA’s GDP stats (in chained 2000 dollars), and BLS data for unemployment & productivity (only available from 1948 onwards). The quick takeaway is that the graphs are definitely directionally correct: over the last 60 years, democratic presidents (and Congresses) have done a better job with the economy.

On a macro level, democratic presidents definitely trounced republicans.

The numbers are even more pronounced when you compare what happened when democrats and republicans each controlled both branches:

Employment and Productivity
Generally speaking, GDP growth is largely driven by both growth in employment and growth in productivity. In both cases, democratic presidents performed better than their republican counterparts:

I wonder why graphs don’t feature more prominently in campaigns?

I added this graph based on a comment by B Raymond wondering how long a president’s economic policies take to have an impact. Frankly, it isn’t clear that their policies are having any increased or decreased impact over time at all:

Update 2
Rahul pointed me towards this really interesting analysis that shows income growth by party and income class.

Barriers a little too low to run for public office?

Politics by on July 25, 2008 at 9:37 pm

It costs a mere $1600 to be listed on the WA primary ballot for Governor or US Senator and receive a full-page in the voter pamphlet mailed to everyone of the 4.3 Million registered voters. For those calculating, that $0.37 CPM is still 5x as expensive as advertising on Facebook, but that is nothing in comparison to newspaper rates.

Alternatively, you can collect 1600 signatures. I think I’d prefer solely requiring the signatures.

Here are a few of the highlights from this year’s pamphlet:

“Goodspaceguy wants Orbital Space Colonization to be one of the great tasks for our new 21st Century. Through NASA, we have already paid the necessary money for the start of an Earth orbiting space colony, but our leaders have not been educated in orbital space colonization, and, therefore, they have wasted and are wasting much money.” - Goodspaceguy Nelson, Candidate for US Representative
“I rise to defend the moon and stars, the air we breathe, the oceans and the rivers, the plants, and all living things upon this our Mother Earth… and you… and your children… and your sacred poem… before the salmon die, before the birds stop singing; before the bees forget how to fly.” - Mark Goldman, Candidate for US Representative
“Coercive Income tax on wage is a blatant injustice. The IRS has no code to require a wage-earner pay tax on his wages. Income tax is voluntary and stated so in its manuals. There is no IRS law saying wages are income”…”Ask your Senator to introduce a Bill to review 9/11 Press for Truth documentary. I propose these actions to correct injustices. With your help our proposals flower. Combined, with God’s help, our union can become tranquil again.” - Al Schaefer, Candidate for US Representative
“Our governor must convene a Climate Emergency session of the legislature now to enact emergency World War II-type laws: - Divert Boeing to manufacture of solar and wind power equipment” - Duff Badgley, Candidate for Governor
Finally I would like to sound the alarm, that AIPAC and other Jewish Zionist Lobbies who represent less than 2% of American People are using the United States through their mighty power in the News Media, Financial Institutions, Hollywood and Entertainment Industry, Both Political Parties, Congress and the White House as Proxy to wage war against any country perceived to be threat to Israel, like in Iraq.

I’m all for an open democracy, but the bar might be a little too low…

Things you won’t see in Seattle

Politics by on June 5, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Such an odd juxtaposition…

And I’m clearly overdue to upgrade my phone - that picture is awful.

Ridiculous Washington State Primary and Causus system

Politics by on February 1, 2008 at 5:54 pm

As a recent WA resident, this will be my first primary. As a rational voter, I had originally planned to skip the primary since the WA primaries are held after super-tuesday and I largely expected the nominations to be clear at that point.

That doesn’t look like it will happen. I now expect Obama and Clinton to be still going head-to-head, as I expect McCain and Romney to still be duking it out (although this race may be decided by the time it gets to WA).

But then I learned how the WA state system works. Here is out it works:

  • Primary: Primary ballots are mailed to every WA voter. A voter can decide to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary, but can’t vote in both (it is one ballot). Primaries are held on Feb 19.
  • Caucus: The Republicans and Democrats also hold Caucuses. These are on Feb 9.

So WA holds both Primaries and Caucuses?

Yes. Here is how the delegates are determined:

  • Democrats: 0 delegates are determined via the primary. So, voting for a democrat in the primary is a wasted vote. 100% of the delegates are determined by the Caucus.
  • Republicans: 51% are determined by the primary vote. 49% are determined by the Caucus. You can vote in both the primary and caucus (get your vote double counted!)

Since the caucuses are held on the same day, you can only physically vote for one party. The primary ballot also prevents you from voting for both parties.

However, it is trivially easy to vote in the Democratic caucus and then vote in the Republican primary. Or to vote twice in the Republican primary & caucus.

Fortunately, our state lawmakers are aware of this risk and developed a foolproof way to prevent you from impacting the nominations in both parties: ‘the checkbox’. On the primary ballot, you have to check a box that says you will only participate in one party’s nominating process:


I’m sure that the parties also share their voter registries with each other to make sure that no one is violating their checkbox oath.

Despite the intimidating checkbox, it seems like the rational way for an independent to vote in this election is to either vote republican twice, or once democratic (caucus) and once republican (primary). This process is particularly appealing as an independent that wants more centrist candidates.

Of course, I’ll be out of town for the Caucuses so it looks like if I want to impact the election I’ll need to vote Republican in the primary.

Barack parks like I do

Personal,Politics by on March 8, 2007 at 11:31 pm

I’m beginning to like Barack Obama more and more.

Reuters wrote that shortly before declaring his candidacy, Barack paid Cambridge $400 for 17 parking tickets that he received 17 years ago while at Harvard Law. That’s $23.50 a ticket - parking fines have clearly risen faster than inflation.

I’ve taken a few creative parking liberties around Boston, and have had to shell out large sums of money to pay down my tickets. Whether true or not, I’ve always reasoned that parking tickets were equivalent to garage fees - just a cost of street parking.

I had always thought (hoped) that parking tickets disappeared at some point. Amnesty, lost paperwork, digitization, systems upgrades, etc. 17 years is a long time - clearly they are more diligent than I thought.

Jam Side Down

Politics by on February 22, 2007 at 10:46 pm

Sumit pointed me towards Martin Manley’s Jam Side Down blog. Martin touches on issues ranging from economics to science to politics. Every post is carefully constructed, well-thought out and well-written. He approaches political discussion in a very reasonable, analytical manner - making him one of the few bloggers whose political posts I can stomach. In fact, I found myself eagerly consuming post after post.

Two excellent recent posts include:

  • MLK’s speech. We’ve all heard it, but when’s the last time that listened to it end-to-end? Its an inspiring speech and one that should be studied.
  • Words move markets. A great post looking first at Bernancke and then at Iran and the oil markets.

An excellent add to my feeds.

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