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Why I Can't Stand Japanese Square Dancers

Google スクエアダンス, and the first images the search engine offers are of Japanese women in frilly petticoats and Japanese men in western shirts and string ties, playing at a traditional American rurality. How did this become acceptable? more...

Home With Color

When people first learn how to customize their terminal prompt they tend to go overboard with colors and information.

Over time I've settled into something relatively simple, with color indicating which machine I'm currently on. I move between a small number of computers (laptop, desktop, a couple web servers) but with computers you don't have the normal ambient reminders of location. So, color:

more...

Ban vs Tax

If there's something we think people shouldn't be doing, one approach is to ban it. Perhaps people are buying swimming pools, which then require large amounts of water, enough that at current prices there's not enough to go around. Do we say "no filling your swimming pool during the drought" or do we charge enough more for the water that people start to use less? Or say we're trying to reduce our carbon emissions to limit climate change. Do we require cars to meet certain fuel efficiency standards or do we set a high tax on gasoline, large enough to outweigh the environmental cost of the carbon emission?

These approaches, "banning" and "taxing", are often available as alternatives, and in different situations we choose different ones. We tax cigarettes but ban marijuana. You can ration permission to drive by license plate number or use congestion pricing. In general the "tax" approaches seem much better to me: charge a high enough rate to balance out negative externalities, and then use that money to do good things.

One situation where the "tax" approach is not well suited, however, is one where people are signalling wealth. more...

Tax-inclusive Pricing

Why don't price tags show the after-tax price? In most countries this is standard, and in the US we do require it for a few things like gasoline and airline tickets. It's much more convenient for consumers because you know what something's going to cost and can have your money ready. The only advantages I can think of are relatively small: more...

Rough Marginal Costs

We pay for most things directly as we use them: to park at a meter you put in quarters; to rent an apartment you send a check each month. For some things, however, our usage is metered and we pay after the fact: electricity, gas, water. In these cases we're often not well calibrated for marginal cost, which means we're not in a good position to make tradeoffs. Can I leave the fan on all night? Should I worry about letting this frozen food thaw in the fridge before I put it in the oven? How much should I be trying to take shorter showers? Colder ones?

I thought it would be useful to compile some rough costs of these pay-later activities: more...

Consistency for Progressive Automation

I'm a pretty consistent person. If I do something in a particular way and it works out, I'll keep doing it that way. One way this has worked out well for me is allowing easier automation. For example, when I started keeping my calendar I would put lines on my webpage like this:

   <tr>
     <td>Saturday<td> March<td> 18
     <td><a href="http://www.thursdaycontra.com/ThirdSaturday.html">
       Glenside</a> contra
     <td>8:00
     <td><a href="contras/glenside/directions.html">
       Glenside</a>
When I decided I wanted to make an .ical feed, three years later, it was just a matter of writing a script to process this data. It was in a nice consistent format, so this wasn't too bad. Later this let me add first a script to add schedule entries on the command line, and then later another to let me add entries from my phone. more...
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