Archive for December, 2009

Dynamic equilibria

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

What am I going to do when I finally live in one place?

I’ve moved more than a few times in my life. During my early years I moved within New Jersey, one time that I can’t remember, and five or six that I can. Actually most of those moves were within the same town. Then at some point I went off to college, where moving in and out of one’s dorm room each year is part of the natural ebb and flow of semesters coming and going. Nowadays I find myself living in DC for some reason, and I have the feeling moving will be commonplace for the foreseeable future.

I kind of like moving around. That’s not to say I don’t like staying in one place — because I do. But there is no better way to get one’s material possessions in order than to pack them all up and head on out. One reason college is awesome is that you can pack up all your worldly belongings into a car and then drive away. There is something liberating about living with as few possessions as feasible. Then again, unpacking thereafter is a necessary consequence. I think I still have some boxes still packed in my basement from younger moves, and that’s been quietly nagging at me for years.

The truth is that packing up clears my head. There are never enough opportunities to fit the world so neatly into little boxes with cleanly demarcated edges. Some day I might live in the same house for years at a time. I think at that point I’ll need to take turns every few months boxing up a whole room and then unpacking it into a different configuration.

An open letter to Microsoft

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Dear Microsoft,

I used to not like you a whole lot. I was kind of mean, too, sometimes calling you the Evil Empire or something similar. I want to take this opportunity to apologize, and to try to explain myself.

A whole lot of people used to not like you. I admit I got swept up in the anti-Microsoft rhetoric and jumped on the bandwagon when I should have given it more thought. You know the whole FOSS-vs-MSFT posturing, people hating on Windows because it’s not free, stuff like that. I even came up with a whole tirade about the economics of monopolies and marginal cost pricing, how charging so much for Windows is inefficient. I was petty, and it was silly of me; I recognize this now.

Here is why I came around:

First, you gave $15k to Creative Commons at the end of their 2008 fundraising campaign to put them above their goal. That was big. And I know you’ve been funding CC for a while. They’re a cause I really care about, so it means a lot that you’d be such a supporter.

Second, you’re really not that bad. I read an argument that the Microsoft Windows monopoly really amounted to extracting economic rents from middle-class Americans and, through the Gates Foundation, channeling those funds to aid efforts in Africa. Not to mention, Windows gave everyone a standardized platform in the meanwhile, and that is really valuable.

Third, you’re just a profit-maximizing firm, after all. You have a duty to your shareholders to make as much money as you can, even if sometimes that means using underhanded tactics. Spreading fear uncertainty and doubt, or engaging in “embrace, extend, extinguish“, while uncool, isn’t out of the ordinary in the business world. I can’t blame you for the system you’re a part of.

So it took me this long to realize that, no, Microsoft is not evil. You’re just doing your thing, you know? Maximizing profits and all is hard work. And right now Google is in a position to do a lot more damage to freedom than you are. I hear Windows 7 is pretty awesome, too.

I hope you accept my apology. Give Google a hard time for me, okay guys?

Amicably yours,


Grad school as constrained optimization

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

I had a thought while sitting in class the other day. (This is, in fact, less common than you might imagine.) In loose terms, graduate school can be cast as a constrained optimization problem. Students have preferences over their classes, so that they prefer to spend time on the topics they enjoy learning about. I for one used to like microeconomics, but now I am leaning toward macro, for reasons to be discussed in the future. Students also prefer not to fail. So, other things equal, they will spend more time on classes that they’re doing poorly at.

I posit that, for whatever reason, not liking a class and not doing well in a class are correlated. For students who are sufficiently intelligent, and thus not close to failing any one of their classes, this doesn’t matter. They can spend the most time on the classes they like most. Those are good times.

But if you are up against the failure constraint, you will tend to be spending less time on the classes you like and more time on the classes you need to make sure you pass. It is all the worse if the classes you are doing poorly at are also those you do not enjoy very much. (This is probably the case: see above). Those are not very good times.

Here’s hoping my constrained optimization problem has a feasible solution.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.