Saturday, January 31, 2009


Multiple Hearst papers are reporting on the Boy Scouts selling their land (often donated to them, often strictly deeded for conservation and recreation) to be logged and developed. The first article in the series, about logging. One of today's articles from the Chron, about development (both with links on the left side to many of the stories from the series). Map of reported abuses. BSA response.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Call it in the Air.

Given my research idea (and my film snobbery), this article about the box office success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop is pretty interesting.

This poll is the best poll ever. If I were a big nerd, I'd tell you that if you assume there's exactly a 50% chance that international voters choose heads, then the odds of 1857 of the 3439 international voters choosing heads are exactly 3439!/(1857!1582!)*.5^1857*.5^1582. If were an even bigger nerd I'd simplify that expression for you using Matlab, because it seems it would take me more than 30 seconds to figure out how to get google, Excel, or Stata to crunch numbers that large/small for me. Oh well.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Baseball/Movie Thoughts

I'm thinking that performance doesn't fall off after an award in baseball. Comparing MVP's and Rookies of the Year to their runners up (and multiple runners up) the winners are still better after a few years. In fact, I think I'm seeing that they get more better. So I had a thought. Perhaps I'm looking at the wrong type of award, and perhaps I need to look at getting awarded a new free-agent contract, although I'd be surprised if this hasn't been done before. There's lots of examples of people sucking after landing a big contract (Zito). I think this would help me answer the question "how is this economics?" a lot better. I'm looking at performance after awards in general, and perhaps in "award" means something different in different contexts.

As for movies (why are there so many R-rated movies when they're less profitable?), I haven't made much progress here (I got some revenue data, but I'm not to the point where I can do anything with it yet). I'm still thinking about the structure of the industry and how that could affect what movies get made. It seems that economists are the only ones that are surprised by Hollywood not being a profit-maximizer. Conservative family-oriented critics like Michael Medved criticize Hollywood as being out-of-touch and more interested in awards than what sells, and friends of friends in the movie industry tell me "of course we make more R's. Movie are art, and we make art we like." I respect that. A new idea I had revolves around big festivals like Sundance or Cannes, and the goal is to see whether big distributors view themselves as "patrons of the arts" or not. Movies come to Sundance and Cannes without much financing, but they're already finished, so they just need a distributor to hype it, print a bunch of copies, and send them to theaters. So are potential distributors picking box-office winners or movies they appreciate as art? There's not much variance in the MPAA rating of Sundance/Cannes fare, but I bet there's enough to compare PG-13 to R, and I bet this data wouldn't be too hard to find, and this question (are them maxing profit?) is easier to answer than the previous one (why are there so many?)

Thoughts? Thoughts on whether it's stupid to blog about my research ideas in their infancy in general?

Stimulus Package (the real one, not my IM football team)

Facebook is killing personal blogging, but just for (six months ago) old time's sake, here are some links.

In honor of my not liking U2's new single very much, here's a belated link to a review of Chinese Democracy by the person most qualified to write such a review, Chuck Klosterman, my hipster idol.

The true story of a lobotomy performed on a 12-year old at the insistence of his (evil?) step-mom. I learned about this from the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge, which usually isn't so depressing.

My buddy Schnapp turned me on to a great blog about transit and smart land use in the Washington DC area called Greater Greater Washington. I really like this post about the capability of transit as exemplified by inauguration day. I guess is sort of the equivalent for the bay area, but posts there don't seem to be quite as frequent.

Speaking of transit, it is getting the shaft in the proposed stimulus package. TPM says so, and GGW says so, in addition to saying that the stimulus should be less tax-cuts and more infrastructure. I could not agree more, and I wish Krugman and Reich were in charge instead of Summers. Finally, Transbayblog has a description of a possible amendment to the stimulus package to include more transit. Read it and call the head of the committee to make sure the amendment gets to the floor.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Truckee and Good Times

As is my wont, I went to Truckee for the weekend. First, this might have been a one-time glitch, but using the Amtrak MasterCard to get Amtrak Rewards points resulted in a rate of return much higher than the typical 1% from other cards. Just an FYI. More importantly, I went snowshoeing.

Scratching my head in Coldcreek Canyon

On the way up towards the ridge between Anderson Peak and Mt. Lincoln

Just underneath the ridge

Looking west towards Royal Gorge, the American River, and even the coastal range

Sure, this is a windswept ridge, but there really is a large drought.

The only tree I saw all day that hadn't phlumfed yet

Heading down Mt. Judah towards the train tracks and Donner Lake.

Sproul Plaza during the inauguration. The cheers for "data and statistics," "science," "universities," and "non-believers" were amazing.

Finally, I nabbed this Getty image from WaPo, just because it's awesome how Blofeldian/Strangeloveian Cheney looks in this picture.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Enlistment Up

How many other econ grad students had the thought "reg enlistment recession gibill combat_deaths afqt_requirements, robust" after reading this NYT article? OK, maybe some of the terms should be in logs. Either way, very interesting, and probably of more importance than my other sports/movie ideas.

(For non-Stata geeks, this is the code to run a regression, i.e., fit a line through points, but in multiple dimensions, to find the correlation between all those things and enlistment.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Friends from ALDHA-West alerted me to the existence of a bill currently before the floor of the Senate, S22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which would designate a bunch of new areas as wilderness, designate several trails as National Historic/Scenic Trails, and generally be totally awesome. According to Congress Matters it passed a cloture vote a few hours ago so should be up for a real vote soon.

Read the full text on Thomas.

Follow the bill's status on OpenCongress.

Use the American Hiking Society's link to tell your Senatorial peeps to vote for it.

Do any hiker friends know anything about the New England National Scenic Trail? I'd never heard of it before just now.

Drop out to Drop in

I just finished the documentary film Surfwise, and I must say, it's probably a good thing I don't surf, because it's hard enough to fight the urge to drop out of society when I do one sport that encourages me to do so; two might be impossible. Also, I learned that if you're going to raise your kids like a pack of wolves/gorillas/hippies, some of your kids will resent you if you don't at least educate them.

The film is about the Paskowitz family, the father of which, Dorian Paskowitz, is a Stanford educated doctor who for a while led a successful normal life, becoming the president of the Hawaiian chapter of the AMA and almost running for governor. But he hit a rough patch and eventually decided to drop out. (Amusingly, after first dropping out, Dorian moved to Israel, came to believe that his first two marriages had failed because he was a lousy lover, decided to sleep with 100 women and rank them on performance, but stopped when he found Juliette, who he thought no one could beat, and they were married. But that's just an example of the guy's unorthodoxy (and why the film is rated R.)) Instead of continuing the grind, he and his new wife had 9 children and raised them in a 24-foot trailer that they drove up and down the coast, surfing every single day, while never going to school and often having only gruel to eat.

The kids are in their 40's now, and the film describes their unusual upbringing as well as their current struggles to fit into regular society. Regardless of whether you like surfing or not, I think the movie is a fascinating look at dropping out, especially dropping out and bringing your kids along for the ride. Some of the kids now resent their dad for not allowing them to go to school and lead a normal suburban existence, some are raising their own children similarly to how they themselves were raised (but allowing their children more choice in the matter).

A few good quotes from the film:
"It's easier to die when you've lived than when you haven't. So I say to all young people, 'go make memories, beautiful memories. When the time comes for you to go, you will not go alone.'"

"That would be a great way to die. To be eaten by a shark. Yep...a big shark."

I have to go write Stata code in my windowless office now. Mostly I want to live in a yurt.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Norm MacDonald was my favorite comedian in high school. Blame him if you don't like my sarcastic sense of humor. In honor of my being lame and not getting tickets to see him perform in SF this past weekend before they sold out, here are two awesome clips.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


For the moment I'm telling myself that even if baseball doesn't really matter much to the economy, learning about performance after awards does say something useful about a general aspect of human behavior, so here's a table.

If I've done this right (big if) these are the ba, hr, slug, and obp for every MVP and Rookie of the Year winner, runner-up, and first and second runner-up since 1954 (these are the offensive awards that get voted on, and this is when they started recording the sac fly, and thus you can calculate obp). `stat'plusX is the given stat X years after the award, and `stat'changeX is the difference in the stat X years after the award. What do I take away from this? The winners are still better than the runners-up, and you see some convergence, which is basically mean reversion. Don't try and run very far with this preliminary result.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lately, Best Of

I spent the last few days getting trained to be part of VITA and help low-income people file their income taxes (and, importantly, get them their often-unclaimed EITC), going to the annual economist academic job-market conference (AKA the AEA's) that happened to be in SF this year, and moving back to Berkeley (I moved in with some friend from the department by the Claremont in Berkeley. I'm now about 3 or 4 blocks from the trails, so life is good.)

What I learned at the conference:
1. Academic economists have to wear suits and ties on occasion. (Damn it!)
2. The Beard thesis has nothing to do with facial hair.
3. The state of Maine has looked into the idea of creating a drug-seller registry/notification system akin to the sex offender system in place in many states. This is an amusingly bad idea.

I recently finished reading Wallace Stegner's Mormon Country, which was the best book about the desert/Utah/the Colorado Plateau I've read. My favorite lines:
What Everett Ruess was after was beauty, and he conceived beauty in pretty romantic terms. We might be inclined to laugh at the extravagance of his beauty-worship if there were not something almost magnificent in his single-minded dedication to it.

The peculiar thing about Everett Ruess was that he went out and did the things he dreamed about.
I watched a bunch of movies during the break, and the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk was hands down the best. Seriously, go rent it. UPDATE: Or better yet, just watch it free online at

In the sense of a brief best-of for 2008: my favorite run was setting a PR in the Diablo 50-miler, my favorite books of the year were Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan and Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals by Peter Heller, my favorite movies (that didn't necessarily come out this year) were Gone Baby Gone and Vera Drake, and two of my favorite moments on TV are below:

Skyline to the Sea x2

Last Friday I went down near Santa Cruz and celebrated the new year by running the Skyline to the Sea Trail from the beach to the crest and back. Wikipedia says it's 29.5 miles each way; my friends that measured it with their own measuring wheel say it's only a little over 26. It took me 15:58 to do it both ways. I made plans a week ahead of time to get a ride with a friend that was going to visit family in Santa Cruz, and the day we picked unfortunately ended up being the only rainy day all week, but it was still a pretty good run. I've heard some people be very enthusiastic about this trail, and not to be too disparaging, but I think those people just haven't hiked on the JMT. I mean, it's kind of a cool trail, there are some gigantic trees in the miles closest to the ocean, and I had a good time, but a lot of the trail is paralleling highways 236 and 9, and a good portion of it just has gigantic tree stumps as opposed to gigantic trees. If the Lost Coast and the East Bay Regional Parks made a baby, it might be the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Maybe I'm not giving it a fair chance because the views were socked in by the rain the whole time, but it didn't seem that it even had that many places where I would've had a view.
the turnaround
your average size blowdown
your average size mushrooms
1980's car off cliff
Berry Creek Falls
best view all day
closest the sun came to coming out
1970's car off cliff

I got a 2-map set from the Sempervirens Fund. They're not waterproof, and you don't need them, because everything is very well signed, so I wouldn't buy them. Also, my friends hold a race on the trail in late April, so they've made a map of it.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Good Riddance

Happy New Year. 2008 was OK as far as school and running went, but it was lame as far as hiking. I enjoyed the last two semesters of grad school more than any of the previous four, but my summer and winter breaks contained no hikes longer than a hundred miles and therefore kind of sucked. I can think of only 13 nights I spent outside in 2008, while 2007 had 178 in a row, plus I was living abroad for the first 58 days of the year. However, I did finally pass my second field exam and thus got my master's degree, and I did run more races than I've ever done before: five 50K's, two 50-milers, and a 24-hour (not to mention stuff on my own: fast-packing the WS course and running to Diablo and back twice).

I set four big goals after finishing the CDT; I completed two: running Diablo fast and passing the Law & Econ field exam. I didn't run St. George fast, nor did I even enter the race, because I've decided I don't like running on roads, nor do I have a date set for my oral exams. That is (or rather, should be) my number one priority right now.

As far as races go, I've got a list of those I want to run in '09:
Sequoia 50K, Feb 28
Pirates Cove 50K, Mar 21
Diablo 50-Miler, Apr 19
Miwok 100K, May 2
Lake Merritt 12-hour, Jun 13
San Juan Solstice 50-miler, Jun 20
Hard Rock 100, July 10
Sequoia 50K, Jul 18
Headlands Hundred, Aug 8
Redwood 50K, Sep 5
Wasatch 100, Sep 11
Firetrails 50, Oct 10
SF One-Day, Oct 24
Stinson Beach 50K, Nov 14
Muir Beach 50K, Dec ?
Rodeo Beach 50K, Dec ?

Obviously there are some issues, namely: Is two weeks between Diablo and Miwok OK? Is three weeks between San Juan and Hard Rock OK, or actually just perfect? Will they even let me into Hard Rock since the only 100 I did was in '06? How the hell am I supposed to get a copy of the September '06 issue of Ultra Running magazine to prove that I did in fact run said 100? Could I really run Wasatch in September once school's started? Do I really want to go to Utah? How boring did I really think Firetrails was?

There's also the fact that I would really, really like to do a big trip in summer '09, which would obviously interfere with some of the races. I try not to think about that too much (Bike x-country? PCT for speed? Indonesia? AZ-UT-ID?) because I don't know what will be going on with work/school (GAO? Seminar in Uganda? Nothing because it's only two months without pay so I'll totally be able to afford to go jobless?) What I dream will happen is that I'll pass orals right around the the end of May, come up with a plan from scratch the next day, start hiking the day after that, and finish up the day before Fall semester starts. We'll see.