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Fizz Buzz in Tensorflow

interviewer: Welcome, can I get you coffee or anything? Do you need a break?

me: No, I've probably had too much coffee already!

interviewer: Great, great. And are you OK with writing code on the whiteboard?

me: It's the only way I code!

interviewer: ...

me: That was a ...

2016-05-23 12:00 PM

A Simple Spot It Clone With PureScript and Pux

Long-time readers may recall that last year I wrote a blog post about the mathematics of Spot It. (For those who don't recall, Spot It is a game where you have a deck of cards, each of which has 8 pictures on it, where through the magical mathematics of ...

2016-03-30 12:00 PM

Trump Tweets on a Globe (aka Fun with d3, socket.io, and the Twitter API)

When I worked at Farecast we had a giant TV in the lobby, and up on that TV was an image of a globe, and on that globe were animated paths that (as far as you know) corresponded to flight searches that people were doing on the site. It was ...

2016-02-27 09:00 AM

Building a Stupid Data Product, Part 3: The Single-Page App (PureScript)

(part 1, part 2)

OK, so last time we built a web service that responds to GET requests with random (bogus) elementary school science questions. In this third (and last) installment, we'll create a single-page quiz app that consumes the service.

Here's a rough stab at a wireframe ...

2016-02-15 09:00 AM

Building a Stupid Data Product, Part 2: The Web Service (Haskell)

(part 1, part 3)

Last time we collected and processed the data for generating stupid fake elementary school science questions and answers. The important parts to remember are

  1. we generated two files questions.json and answers.json containing transition dictionaries mapping each word to an array / list of possible following ...
2016-02-15 08:00 AM

Building a Stupid Data Product, Part 1: The Data (Python)

(part 2, part 3)

As I'm not working right now* , I have a surfeit of time to hack on stupid things. In particular, it seemed like a good idea to hack together a stupid data product.

Inspiration (if you can call it such) struck when the Allen Institute released ...

2016-02-15 07:00 AM

Creating a Function Index Using Cycle.js

The readers of my book have been clamoring for an index of functions, so that -- for example -- when someone sees me use vector_mean on page 200 they can easily figure out where to find its definition.

It was easy enough (if tedious) to go through the book and create a ...

2016-01-21 09:00 AM

Polyglot Twitter Bot, Part 4: PureScript

[The fourth in an (at least) 6-part series, all code on GitHub as always.]

  1. Node.js
  2. Node.js + AWS Lambda
  3. Python 2.7 + AWS Lambda
  4. PureScript
  5. PureScript + AWS Lambda
  6. Bonus: PureScript + Twitter Streaming

I know, you're thinking, "I've already read three parts of this series, and I haven ...

2015-12-31 09:00 AM

Polyglot Twitter Bot, Part 3: Python 2.7 + AWS Lambda

[The third in an (at least) 6-part series, all code on GitHub as always.]

  1. Node.js
  2. Node.js + AWS Lambda
  3. Python 2.7 + AWS Lambda
  4. Purescript
  5. Purescript + AWS Lambda
  6. Bonus: Purescript + Twitter Streaming

Lambda also allows Python functions, although only Python 2.7. In practice, this won't affect us ...

2015-12-30 12:00 PM

Polyglot Twitter Bot, Part 2: Node.js + AWS Lambda

[The second in an (at least) 6-part series, all code on GitHub as always.]

  1. Node.js
  2. Node.js + AWS Lambda
  3. Python 2.7 + AWS Lambda
  4. Purescript
  5. Purescript + AWS Lambda
  6. Bonus: Purescript + Twitter Streaming

AWS has a recent-ish Lambda product, which lets you upload functions and then have them run on ...

2015-12-29 07:00 PM

Polyglot Twitter Bot, Part 1: Node.js

[The first in an (at least) 6-part series, all code on GitHub as always.]

  1. Node.js
  2. Node.js + AWS Lambda
  3. Python 2.7 + AWS Lambda
  4. Purescript
  5. Purescript + AWS Lambda
  6. Bonus: Purescript + Twitter Streaming

Like most of you, I've long dreamed of making a Twitter bot. And also like most ...

2015-12-29 12:00 PM

Stupid Itertools Tricks for Data Science

(This is a blog post version of my PyData Seattle talk, slides and code at the link.)

In my last post

2015-08-23 12:00 PM

Haskell-Style Fibonacci in Python

If you've ever done a tech interview, you're probably familiar with the Fibonacci sequence:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ....

where each number is the sum of the previous two. A relatively simple (and relatively overused) interview problem is to write a function that returns the n-th ...

2015-07-07 12:00 PM

On The Mathematics of Spot It!

Last weekend we went to a party where one of the other attendees brought Spot It! Frozen for her kids. It's a simple game with circular cards, each of which has 8 pictures in it, most of them Frozen-themed.

frozen

The setup is that any two cards in the ...

2015-06-12 12:00 PM

Data Science From Scratch: First Principles with Python

I am super-excited to announce that the book I've been working on for more than the last year, Data Science from Scratch: First Principles with Python is finally available! (buy from O'Reilly, use discount code AUTHD to save some money) (buy from Amazon).

My experience learning and teaching ...

2015-04-26 12:00 PM

2014 Year in Review

2014 was a crazy year, mostly because I took on two very large projects either of which would have made for a pretty crazy year.

1. The Book

I am writing a book. (Yes, another one.) Actually, the first draft is done, and I am right now revising it based ...

2015-01-15 07:09 PM

What Kind of Data Scientist Are You? #HereIFixedItForYou

The original said nothing to me about my life.

whatKindOfDataScientistAreYou

2014-01-24 07:33 AM

Why [Programming Language X] Is Unambiguously Better than [Programming Language Y]

Recently I have seen a lot of people wondering about the difference between [X] and [Y]. After all, they point out, both are [paradigm] languages that target [platform] and encourage the [style] style of programming while leaving you enough flexibility to [write shitty code].

Having written [simple program that's ...

2013-12-24 10:07 AM

*Thinking Spreadsheet* Free On The Web

After talking about doing so forever, I've finally "web-ified" Thinking Spreadsheet. So if you ever wanted to learn everything I know about spreadsheets but were too cheap to actually buy the book, here's your opportunity. Share it with your friends and hope that Github doesn't decide I ...

2013-09-16 07:12 AM

Constructive Mathematics in F# (and Clojure)

(Tell me what a terrible person I am on Hacker News.)

For as long as I can remember^1^ I've dreamed of reimplementing the entirety of mathematics from scratch. And now that I've finished the "Wheel of Time" series I have a little bit of extra time on ...

2013-08-26 06:23 AM

T-Shirts, Feminism, Parenting, and Data Science, Part 2: Eigenshirts

(You might want to read Part 1 first.)

When last we left off, we'd built a model using shirt colors to predict boy-ness / girl-ness.

Our second attempt will involve the shirt images themselves (sort of). For our purposes, computer images are made up of pixels, each of whose color ...

2013-06-24 08:37 PM

T-Shirts, Feminism, Parenting, and Data Science, Part 1: Colors

Before I was a parent I never gave much thought to children's clothing, other than to covet a few of the baby shirts at T-Shirt Hell. Now that I have a two-year-old daughter, I have trouble thinking of anything but children's clothing. (Don't tell my boss!)

What ...

2013-06-19 06:20 AM

Post-Prism Data Science Venn Diagram

In light of recent revelations, here's an updated version of Drew Conway's Data Science Venn Diagram:

VennDiagram2

2013-06-09 04:18 PM

ESPN, Race, and Presidents

Inspired by (and lifting large amounts of code from) Trey Causey's investigation of the language that ESPN uses to discuss white and non-white quarterbacks, I similarly wondered about the language ESPN uses to discuss white and non-white Presidents. For instance, a common stereotype is that non-white Presidents assassinate their ...

2013-05-23 06:40 AM

Three Keys to Successful Parenting

Now that Madeline is two, it seems appropriate to declare myself a success as a parent. Which means it's now appropriate for those of you with kids (as well as those of you thinking about having or abducting kids) to ask me, "Joel, what's your secret?" Which means ...

2013-05-08 06:15 AM

Should you get a Ph.D.?

No.

2013-04-16 08:02 PM

Vegas with a Lap Infant

Madeline is about to turn two, which is the magical age at which kids transition from fly-for-free lap infants to requires-a-ticket-and-some-sort-of-kid-specific-restraint-and-did-I-mention-a-ticket seat toddlers. Which meant we needed to squeeze in one last vacation. And since Seattle weather kind of sucks, we wanted to go somewhere where the weather was nice ...

2013-03-16 11:28 AM

Secrets of Fire Truck Society

Hi, I gave a talk at Ignite Strata on "Secrets of Fire Truck Society" and at the end I promised that for more information you could visit this blog. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to write a blog post. Here are some links to tide you over until I ...

2013-02-25 04:16 PM

On On Leaving Academia

Several people in my influencesphere have linked to this essay by a CS prof who's leaving academia to join Google in order to "make a positive difference in the world." I am, of course, wholly supportive of such a program, if not of his precise rationale, which is a ...

2012-07-24 08:51 PM

The Hardest Job There Is

One summer during college I was stringing together temp jobs in order to make money so that I could afford to go out with my friends at night and play "Star Trek" pinball. (I would have preferred, of course, to spend my summer developing my idea for a "group couponing ...

2012-04-13 07:40 AM

Why Have You Not Signed Up For BIL Already?

I'm sure you've heard of TED, which is a really expensive, really exclusive annual conference at which famous and/or accomplished people give lectures to wealthy and/or lucky people. Surprisingly, despite my fame, accomplishments, wealth, and luck, I have never been invited to attend or lecture. (Actually ...

2012-02-20 07:04 AM

Hacking Hacker News

Hacker News, if you don't know it, is an aggregator / forum attached to Y Combinator. People submit links to news stories and blog posts, questions, examples, and so on. Other people vote them up or down, and still other people argue about them in the comments sections.

If you ...

2012-02-16 06:07 PM

Hyphen Class Post-Mortem

Last fall I signed up for two of the hyphen classes: the Machine Learning ml-class (Ng) and the Artificial Intelligence ai-class (Thrun and Norvig). Both were presented by Stanford professors but one of the conditions of taking the courses was that whenever I discuss them I am required to present ...

2012-02-01 03:03 PM

What Part of Your Oath Do You Not Understand?

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to something something anymore!

It all started with Wil Wheaton^1^, who used to be the bartender (I believe) on "Star Trek", but who is now some sort of Twitter celebrity. I myself have zero tolerance for Twitter celebrities, but ...

2011-12-20 05:09 PM

Doubling the Compost Box

If you are on Facebook you have probably seen the articles about the unnamed school board member who couldn't do any of the math problems on the math standardized test (and who couldn't pass the reading section). Most of the discussion drew the conclusion that the tests were ...

2011-12-07 09:13 PM

Fiction: The Difference Principle

Jessica pointed at a pile of rags beside a dumpster.

“This is the guy?” I asked.  I looked up and down the filthy alley we were standing in.  “This is a person?”

“It is,” she said tentatively, and then she checked the little brown Moleskine she carried everywhere.  “It is ...

2011-12-03 09:29 AM

Pets.com But With Guns And a No-Knock Warrant

The government has a CIO, it turns out, and when he's not hassling us to change our passwords again or to stop BitTorrenting on company time, he's got a plan to re-invent government itself:

On Tuesday, VanRoekel said that he wants to overhaul the federal bureaucracy to become ...

2011-10-27 09:54 PM

Machine Learning Beverage

Although my formal training is in subjects like math and economics and animal husbandry, most of the money-work I do is in subjects like data science and fareology and writing over-the-top religious polemics. This is one of the reasons why I'm so sour on the value of college, as ...

2011-09-29 09:40 PM

I Am Tired of 9/11

Is it too soon to be tired of 9/11? Because I am.

I'm tired of not being able to bring my pinking shears on plane trips. I'm tired of conspiracy theories (except for ones involving reptilians.) I'm tired of pointless wars that waste trillions of dollars ...

2011-09-11 11:42 AM

College Savings Plans are the Modern Dowry

Because baby Madeline is half-Indian and half-regular-person, she has both Indian friends and regular-person friends. The parents of her Indian friends worry about dowries, which are expensive gifts that they have to hand over when their daughters marry, and that they have to save for until then. The parents of ...

2011-08-07 08:11 PM

Google, Plus

If you have been living in a cave without Internet access, you might not be aware of Google Plus, which you might think of as Google's answer to Facebook (if Facebook were a question). After playing around with it a bit, it seems to have several advantages:

  • not operated ...
2011-07-11 07:38 AM

If Trees Could Scream

So far parenthood isn't all that different from non-parenthood. I still eat at the same five restaurants and drink myself to sleep at night and occasionally get peed on. I just now have a car seat wedged into an upside-down highchair, am less discriminating about my liquor choices, and ...

2011-05-05 08:16 AM

On the Education of Joelene, Part I: Introduction

Although little Joelene is expected to arrive in about 10 days (which means that she could show up today if she really felt like it), I toyed with fate and flew down to Long Beach last weekend to attend the BIL conference, which is (in some sense) the open-source equivalent ...

2011-03-10 09:24 AM

Too Much Grope

The last time I flew anywhere was ~~January~~ May 2010, which predated all of the "don't touch my junk" craziness, toward which I've maintained an extremely passive sense of outrage.

Somehow I assumed that only some small fraction of travelers were getting X-rayed, but I arrived at Sea-Tac ...

2011-03-04 01:50 PM

Spreadsheet Book Now Available

One reason I haven't been posting here very much is that I've been scrambling to put the finishing touches on my spreadsheet manifesto. I'm pleased to announce that it's now available:

I'm hoping this means more time to write about non-spreadsheet-related topics.

2011-02-26 09:50 AM

Endogeneity, or "The Skill of the Brewmeister"

The latest OkCupid blog post is one of their more interesting ones:

No matter their gender or orientation, beer-lovers are 60% more likely to be okay with sleeping with someone they've just met. Sadly, this is the only question with a meaningful correlation for women.

Of course, once every ...

2011-02-09 07:27 AM

I Hate Running

I hate running. I ran on the Cross-Country team in high school, primarily because I thought it would look good on my college applications. I was totally one of those kids who did things because he thought it would look good on his college applications. (Adopting a Cambodian orphan sounds ...

2011-01-15 04:21 PM

Fiction: Dribman's Army

Every few months NPR has a Three-Minute Fiction short story contest. The "Three-Minute" really means "600 words," and each contest consists of one or more constraints that the story has to satisfy.

The October contest (which was the first I heard about) specified the first and last sentences of the ...

2011-01-08 08:35 AM

Lessons Forgotten

1. Recently I gave a talk at Ignite Seattle on "How to Be Funny." For the most part the talk went well, although I had technical difficulties. To be clever, I had put an animated GIF on one of the slides. This somehow caused Powerpoint to get "stuck" showing that ...

2010-12-20 08:36 PM

Election 2010 Post-Mortem

Everything is different now. The dreadful "Patty Murray loves Dino Rossi" and "Dino Rossi loves Patti Murray" commercials they've been interrupting my football games with have overnight been replaced with commercials for Cialis and Levitra and new, less side-effect-y gout drugs. Our lack of a state income tax is ...

2010-11-04 08:13 AM

Everything I Know About Accounting Fits in a Blog Post

When I'm not writing books or arguing on the Internet or playing Spelunky, I run a small publishing company. By "small" I mean "zero employees" small. By necessity, I have to wear a number of hats.

I'm the CEO, but I'm also the janitor. (And the janitor ...

2010-10-12 03:51 PM

Sam Harris is Nonsensical in Principle

In my younger days, when I was full of libertarian bluster, I used to formulate arguments in terms of "Natural Rights." Murder was Wrong (with a capital 'W') because it violated your "right to life." I used to go on like this all day, until finally my friend Cesar (I ...

2010-10-03 05:53 PM

Political Satire

Once I left Microsoft I joined a Daytime Writing Group meetup, mostly as an excuse to get out of the house. Every week I'd go and share the latest chapter of my "Ayn Rand meets J.K. Rowling meets Joseph Heller meets Tom Wolfe" novel-in-progress and listen to everyone ...

2010-09-28 08:15 AM

Correlation and Causation

Another day, another plan to spend more money on education:

President Obama said on the "Today" show Monday morning that American students attend school a month less than kids in other countries -- contending that the school-year gap puts them at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy. "The idea of ...

2010-09-27 09:24 AM

Converts Are the Worst

The other day I was in the midst of killing a party by talking about my book when someone asked me for my favorite religious joke. It is, of course, Emo Philips's funniest religious joke of all time, and off the top of my head I did it very ...

2010-09-23 10:31 AM

Using Statistics to Coddle Vagrants

I left Microsoft at the end of May, largely so that I could write my opus magnum book on Excel. At the time I set a September 1 deadline for having the first draft done. That seemed like the right amount of time, but I failed to predict that I ...

2010-09-22 01:02 PM

Blasphemy and Forced Reverence

On Facebook I list my Religious Views as "irreverence," which is pretty perfectly descriptive. This means that you can believe any crazy thing you want, but I'm allowed to make fun of you for it if I like. Basically, I'm under no obligation to "respect" your beliefs just ...

2010-09-10 12:02 PM

Book Burnings and "Americanism"

You have, I'm sure, heard the news that a church in Florida plans to acquire multiple copies of the Quran and burn them. The reaction I've seen from the "Muslim world" ranges from "that's how you dispose of them anyway, so knock yourself out" to "I'm ...

2010-09-08 08:56 AM

Catholic Iconography

My grasp of Catholic iconography apparently isn't what it used to be, as I can't for the life of me remember what the mop is supposed to symbolize:

2010-09-07 11:27 AM

Reflections on the KTRU Transmitter

I like radio more than most people do. I only ever listen to it in the car, of course, and I don't actually drive very much, but I try to plan trips to coincide with favorite programs like Saturday's "Lunch With Led," Monday's "Think Pink," Thursday's ...

2010-08-17 09:06 AM

Toys "R" Us and/or the Chinese are Trying to Kill Me with Poison Monkeys

For Christmas I bought my girlfriend a matched set of pink-and-purple monkeys at ToysRUs. I thought they'd make a good gift because she likes purple and she likes monkeys.^1^ We named the pink one Gulab ("pink") and the purple one Jamun ("purple") and they quickly became an indispensible ...

2010-08-10 06:33 PM

Will Someone Please Invent the Virtual Locker Room

Bill Gates, always a man with big ideas, suspects that the internet is going to shake up our educational system:

“Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world,” Gates said at the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe ...

2010-08-09 09:02 AM

The Cornerstone of Democracy

Most towns have some sort of "school board," which is tasked with deciding which subjects need to have Biblically-influenced syllabi, taking kickbacks from textbook publishers, and not firing incompetent and/or criminally negligent teachers.

They run for election every few years, filling our medians with campaign signs festooned with grade-school-evocative ...

2010-08-07 07:36 AM

A Sky Daddy Is a Sky Daddy

Apparently a bunch of people want to build a new mosque somewhere or another, while a different bunch of people want them not to build it. This not only provides fuel for resuscitating our dwindling 24-hour news cycle, but also creates opportunities for feel-good speechifying, proclamations of "pride" in one ...

2010-08-04 02:44 PM

Bicycle Race

This weekend I am participating in a charity bicycle ride. This is hilarious on several levels: primarily the "charity," "bicycle," and "ride" levels. (The "participating" level is pretty funny too.)

I've got my trusty old REI bicycle, an aftermarket memory-foam seat designed to stave off groin-numbness, an iPhone full ...

2010-07-29 08:00 AM

Republican Tea Party Contract on America

The Democrats seem to have decided that their strategy for this fall will be to conflate the Tea Party with the Republican Party. Toward this end, they've crafted a ten-point "Republican Tea Party [sic] Contract on America."

This "Contract on America" is interesting for a couple of reasons. The ...

2010-07-28 05:07 PM

Equal Protection, Sex with Teachers, and Student-Athletes

Call me an old softie, but it always bugs me when different laws apply to different people. For instance, during the most recent student-teacher-sex-scandal I learned the following:

While the age of consent for a sexual relationship in Washington state is 16, it is criminal for a teacher or anyone ...

2010-07-23 08:48 AM

Why Software Testers Should Run for Congress

In my previous post "Why Software Developers Shouldn't Run for Congress" I poked fun at the idea, proposed by a pie-in-the-sky, government-would-work-well-if-only-it-were-run-by-my-kind-of-people type, that an influx of software developers would noticeably improve the quality of our laws.

During a subsequent Facebook discussion, I came up with an ...

2010-07-22 08:51 AM

The Gold Standard of Health Care Reform

Back during the debate over the Obamacare bill I vehemently insisted that it wouldn't be "real" health care reform unless it addressed the shameful practice of not requiring people who buy and sell gold coins to file IRS form 1099 for most of their transactions. Thankfully, it looks like ...

2010-07-21 09:42 AM

Why Software Developers Shouldn't Run for Congress

Over on his blog, Clay Johnson gives five reasons why software developers ought to run for Congress:

1. They're underrepresented. (Similarly, so are people without college degrees, so perhaps they ought to run too.)

2. Congress could use their expertise. For example, think about the more-than-1000-page Stimulus Bill. Not ...

2010-07-19 11:33 AM

Uncle Joel's YouTube Concert Series: Songs from before I was born

The YouTube is possibly the greatest boon for music lovers in the history of the world. Some might point out that Napster or BitTorrent or iTunes made it easier to acquire and collect music, but acquisition and collection are not the same things as love.

Here, then, is a lovingly-curated ...

2010-07-18 09:48 AM

The Validity of Keynesian Economics

This morning I saw a bus ad for City University reading "This traffic jam proves the validity of Keynesian economic theory."

This is actually one of the better defenses I've seen of Keynesian economics; nonetheless, there was no traffic jam at the time.

2010-07-15 11:43 AM

Fiction, Non-fiction, Humor, and Religion

Occasionally someone will express to me a desire like "I want to climb Mount Rainier" or "I want to be a guest on 'The Price Is Right'" or "I want to record a swing-band cover version of REM's 'Everybody Hurts'," and then when I ask them why they say ...

2010-07-13 08:30 AM

Smash the Synthesizers

There's a scourge stalking Broadway. It's called the "synthesizer," and it uses "technology" to generate sounds that heretofore could only be generated by human "musicians." And like other human-supplanting devices such as mechanized looms, grain threshers, and sex robots, the "synthesizer" must be stopped.

So warns violinist Paul ...

2010-07-11 03:07 PM

Tough Times for Generation Y

Another day, another sob story in the New York Times. Today's involves Scott Nicholson, who -- like so many in his "lost generation" -- had his expensive political science degree completely paid for by his grandparents, turned down a \$40k/year job because it was less than his brother makes, and ...

2010-07-07 08:28 AM

The Modern Panoptic University

I've attended two schools with honor codes. At Rice, where I was an undergrad, we used to pledge in writing not to cheat on exams, all the while taking an in-retrospect-bizarre pride that the "honor code" (and by extension "honor") applied only to schoolwork and not to (for example ...

2010-07-06 03:37 PM

Cars + Freedom = Taxpayer-funded Bailouts?

Next time we take several billion dollars from taxpayers and use it to bailout a private automaker, we should probably think about attaching a condition that forbids that company from running jingoistic commercials depicting a Dukes-of-Hazzard-style revolutionary war battle with George Washington driving a black Dodge Challenger, all while the ...

2010-07-04 06:06 PM

Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Illinois Legislature

There are a number of somewhat incredible articles floating around about the grotesque insolvency of the state of Illinois. Many parts are appalling, but what leapt out at me most was the following:

The state’s last elected governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, is on trial for racketeering and extortion. But ...

2010-07-04 09:36 AM

On the value of a college degree

I believe this is what they call "throwing good money after bad":

She's making so little money with a college degree, she's considering returning to school for her master's.

And don't even get me started on how a BusinessWeek writer has absolutely no clue what ROI ...

2010-06-29 02:44 PM

Seth Godin on Postal Monopolies (sort of)

Seth Godin discovers that stamps.com is trying to scam him out of money and asks:

How is that a sleepy, conservative organization like the postal service ends up licensing its brand to a company that can't resist every honey pot scheme and opt out technique in the book ...

2010-06-25 04:22 PM

Cleaning Out Elena's Inbox

The Sunlight Foundation has set up Elena's Inbox, a site that makes it easy[er] to browse through the dump of Elena Kagan's Clinton-era emails.

However, it looks like they've certainly held something back. Can it really be that she sent no emails containing "lol" or "rofl ...

2010-06-23 09:10 AM

Department of Lousy Journalism

How on earth can you write an entire article about the growing "market power" of Chinese women looking for husbands without even mentioning China's severe gender imbalance?

2010-06-22 08:03 AM

New Coffee Plan Is Bad Karma

People throw away a lot of coffee cups. That was the motivation behind the BetaCup Challenge, a competition to create a more "sustainable" alternative to the disposable coffee cup.

If I'd found out about the competition while it was going on, I might have entered my "dig paper cups ...

2010-06-21 08:49 AM

Dear Facebook, I am skeptical of your claims.

Don't get me wrong, I like data mining as much as the next guy, and without your help I might never have realized that "People who like Reason magazine also like Rand Paul" and that 13 of my friends like something called "Burn Notice."

Nonetheless, for some reason your ...

2010-06-20 12:56 PM

On the Proper Role of Government in a Free Society

There are various opinions and debates over the "proper" roles of government, but I'm pretty sure that combing the Indian Ocean to find a missing 16-year-old who's sailing around the world by herself in order to break a world record isn't one of them:

Abby Sunderland's ...

2010-06-10 12:41 PM

Organizing for Louisiana

I live in a city that's full of Obama supporters. (The two notable exceptions are me and the guy in front of me on the freeway the other day with three different Dennis Kucinich stickers on his car.) And so during the 2008 elections I had ample opportunities to ...

2010-06-08 07:40 AM

Great Ethicists, Webcomics, Game Theory, and the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma

The webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal today covers one of my favorite topics: Game Theory and the Social Contract.

The game theory, unfortunately, is not done very carefully. Here's the Prisoner's Dilemma setup:


                      RAT OUT                 REMAIN SILENT

RAT OUT Both get 1 year in 1 goes free, 2 ...

2010-06-05 06:26 PM

How I Became a Published Author, Part 1

Once upon a time I wasn't much of a writer. In high school I wrote crappy requisite five-paragraph essays about T.S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald and The War Against Northern Aggression, but they were unimaginative and mostly aimed at satisfying the teachers' expectations.

In college I went ...

2010-06-05 08:21 AM

Time Is Money

I just had an awesome idea for getting the economy going again. Instead of trading money for things, we'll just trade "time" for things. I know what you're thinking -- that sounds a lot like barter and we'll just run into the double coincidence of wants problem. But ...

2010-06-04 08:13 AM

Helping BP Stay in Business

In an upcoming New York Times piece, David Leonhardt points out that people aren't good at reasoning about low-probability events:

We make two basic — and opposite — types of mistakes. When an event is difficult to imagine, we tend to underestimate its likelihood. This is the proverbial black swan. Most ...

2010-06-01 05:13 PM

How Megan McArdle Is Ruining the Future of Entertainment

Megan McArdle has just returned from a time-machine visit to the year 2000, and she's worried about a new scourge called Napster:

People have been pirating intellectual property for centuries, but it used to be a time-consuming way to generate markedly inferior copies. These days, high-quality copies are effortless ...

2010-05-30 08:25 AM

Fix-It Faith and Technocracy

Tonight at dinner I ~~started~~ got into an extended argument about technocracy, during which it was asserted to me that whatever faults I might find with our government could be quickly resolved if only we started electing really brilliant people to office.

This not uncommon belief that enlightened technocrats and ...

2010-05-30 12:32 AM

In Which Joel Gives Advice to the New York Times

If you're going to write a detailed column about a young college graduate who borrowed \$100K to attend NYU and can't pay it back, you probably shouldn't wait until the 30th (!) paragraph to let us know what sort of useful degree she got for her money:

She ...

2010-05-28 04:57 PM

Bootleggers, Baptists, Unions, Unions, and Small Grocers

Here in Washington State, hard liquor can only be purchased at dreary, state-run liquor stores. Most have DMV-ish levels of charm, DMV-ish levels of customer service, DMV-ish hours, DMV-ish selection, and DMV-ish prices.

Every few years someone will propose getting the state out of the liquor-store business, or at least ...

2010-05-27 08:31 AM

Off & Away, Gambling, and the Strategy of the Dollar Auction

A common demonstration in economics classes is the dollar auction, in which the teacher offers a \$20 bill to the highest bidder. The twist -- when economists are involved there is always a twist -- is that both the highest bidder and the second-highest bidder have to pay their bids, although only ...

2010-05-26 02:30 PM

Big Change

Today is my last day at Microsoft, as I will be leaving to pursue my boyhood dream of ~~eating the world's biggest hoagie~~ becoming a famous author someday. I'm sure you have many questions about this move, many of which I've preemptively answered below:

Frequently Asked Questions ...

2010-05-20 07:58 AM

We Learn to Give Each Other What We Need to Survive

If there's one thing we've learned from the song "Ebony and Ivory," it's that people are the same wherever we go. Alas, the educational establishment has been reluctant to embrace this truism, insisting on people-are-the-same-wherever-we-go-denying practices like tracking and electives, and (grudgingly) allowing charter schools a limited ...

2010-03-13 08:25 AM

Coffeefiltering the Coffee Party

Yesterday the Facebook News Feed was moderately functional for a change, which is how I discovered the existence of the Coffee Party, which had been Facebook-fanned by several of my Facebook friends and/or stalkers and/or stalkees.

Given that I drink approximately 10 cups of coffee a day, you ...

2010-03-01 10:12 PM

Movie Review: Avatar 3-D

I very rarely go to the movies. Sure, I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince out of a misguided hope that they'd depart from the source material and have Harry snog Luna, but for the most part I'd rather stay home and watch Conan the Barbarian over ...

2010-01-03 03:55 PM

Movie Review: Change Congress Chronicles, Volume 1

Inspired, perhaps, by Quentin Tarantino's multi-part epic Kill Bill, auteur Larry Lessig has begun work on the not-dissimilar Change Congress Chronicles.

Volume 1, "Congressman Campbell is a Friend of the Auto Industry," chronicles Congressman John Campbell, who is a friend of the auto industry.

The film quickly establishes the ...

2009-11-08 10:14 AM

The Corporate Shill and the Ideologue

Seattle, in case you don't follow our local politics, has got a mayoral election going on. (Technically it was last Tuesday, but they're still counting the ballots.)

It's a fairly interesting election, as elections go, if only because we junked the good-for-nothing incumbent in the primary, mostly ...

2009-11-07 08:19 AM

Obama: Let's Borrow Money and Give it to Old People

Great news, Senior Citizens! President Obama wants to give you \$250!

Why? Probably so you'll vote for him again come 2012.

There's some sort of nominally non-tawdry reason, too.

You see, by law, Social Security payments increase each year in a manner pegged to inflation. When Rascal Scooters ...

2009-10-14 06:41 PM

Got My Domain Back

Due to a combination of carelessness, disorganization, and ineptitude, I let my domain expire a couple of years ago.  For many dark months, it pointed at a page of useless ads that I can't imagine anyone being willing to click on.

Recently I checked and discovered that it was ...

2009-10-07 09:02 PM

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