Jeff Kaufman  ::  Blog Posts  ::  RSS Feed  ::  Contact

On not making assumptions

When people start trying to codify social interactions it's common to end up with rules that seem on their face like a reasonable description of what we should all be doing, but actually involve a major reworking of how people interact. For example, I might notice that lots of things that go wrong at a contra dance involve people making assumptions:

  • I might assume from your gender presentation that you would want to dance the "lady" role, and respond by taking on the "gent" role, even if we would actually both be happier dancing the opposite roles.

  • I might assume from your age that you would enjoy a very flourishy dance, and try initiating different variations at every opportunity, when actually you prefer the trance-like feeling of doing the dance exactly the same way over and over.

Assumptions seem bad, so I propose adding "don't make assumptions" to our list of how people should interact at dances. Except it turns out that things are more complicated than that. more...
Blogging Thresholds

How to blog: lower your threshold until you start writing.

People often run into problems where their "good enough to post" threshold creeps up and up. They write something really good, people read it, they feel proud, great! That should be motivating! Except now they don't want to write anything worse. They have ideas, but the typical idea will always be less insightful than the best one, and so putting out something new gets harder and harder.

In some ways this makes sense: if you want people to think highly of you as a writer, the best strategy is probably to write a very small number of truly excellent pieces. But writing is a skill that needs practice like any other; the few best posts depend on the many lesser posts, the ones that developed the ideas, the phrasing, building an ability to transfer ideas to others through the low bandwidth medium of simple words. more...

Mike Mulligan and His Obsolete Technology

Mike Mulligan had a steam shovel. It was very powerful, but it was also very polluting. When it was new people were willing to take this tradeoff, but as more efficient earth moving machinery was developed cities started to ban coal-burning construction equipment.

Mike Mulligan was sad. He really liked the amount of smoke he could put out with his steam shovel, and diesel powered shovels didn't appeal to him. The cities, with their concerns about asthma, air quality, and global warming, were too liberal for him, and he struck out with his steam shovel, looking for a rural area where pollution laws were poorly enforced.

When he found the town of Popperville he felt right at home. The skies were blue, the grass was green, and a little coal smoke wouldn't hurt anyone. more...

Handling CD Money

Like many small bands we paid out of pocket to create our CD. This was a big investment for us, which we split evenly, and until September all the CDs we sold were going toward paying ourselves back. But what should we do with the money now that it's paid off? [1] more...

Effective Marginal Tax Rates

Let's say you're starting a social program. Maybe you want to help people with food, or health insurance, or housing. You have a limited budget, so you want to target the people that most need your help. The most straight-forward way to do this is to set an income threshold, and anyone earning less than that qualifies. So maybe you say anyone who applies who is earning less than $10k will get $2.4k ($200/month) in food assistance.

This does mean you're mostly helping the people who need it, but you've set up weird incentives around your threshold. Someone earning $9.5k gets the $2.4k/year for food, for an effective income of $12k. If they get a raise to $10.5k they lose the food assistance, and their effective income is just $10.5k. Even though they were earning more money, crossing this threshold left them with less:

more...

Reading about guns

I grew up in a family that didn't own guns, in an area where few people owned guns. I haven't ever picked one up, let alone shot one, and I can't think of a situation I'd likely be in where it would make sense for me to own one. I think this is not that unusual among left-leaning people: we don't have any experience with guns, don't know what the types are, and don't know why people care about them. This sort of ignorance seems unlikely to lead to the kind of understanding that makes political progress, so I decided to read more about them. more...

More Posts


Jeff Kaufman  ::  Blog Posts  ::  RSS Feed  ::  Contact  ::  G+ Profile