Too Stupid to Live

I hope I’m missing some key piece of information, but it looks like Darwin has claimed three women who called a friend instead of 911 when their SUV (natch) went into a river. OK, panic reaction, you call the first person you can once you get out and get to shore if you’re not knocked unconscious, right?

Au, contraire. The stupidity went further than that. They did this IN the car instead of, you know, trying to get out in waist-deep water.

Rafael Miranda said he saw the Jeep go off the road and into the water. He grabbed a flashlight and ran to the vehicle, banging on its roof and windows as he attempted to free the victims.

“I tried and I tried and I tried, but I couldn’t do it,” Miranda said. “They were conscious. They were screaming, screaming ‘Help me, help me!”‘

So they sat around and waited for somebody to help them instead of just rolling down the windows or breaking the glass and getting out.

Apparently, they had just come from a party, and one of their number works as a drug counselor, so I’m thinking that psychoactive substances were involved. Whether alcohol or THC, just ‘cuz I think they should be legal doesn’t mean use of them in all situations is smart. And I’m thinking there was a hefty hurdle of “stupid” to overcome here.

Despite This, I Still Think You Should Get a Mac

The Beeb has a piece describing how Macintoshes were used to clean up the original Star Wars Trilogy. In this case, literally, as the main problem seemed to be dirt.

John Lowry, CEO of Lowry Images, says the biggest single problem with the Star Wars series was dirt.

“The films have been, as everybody knows, extremely successful, and success means dirt, scratches, handling of the film.

“Film is, in fact, a very delicate medium. A New Hope, for example, which was the worst of all, had maybe a million pieces of dirt in the first couple of reels of that movie. Unbelievable.”

The praise given to the G5 for video editing should pretty much remove my colleague Corey to have a last-second renunciation of the Dark Side, much like Anakin Skywalker in the last installment of this trilogy.

For me, on the other hand, anything having to do with George Lucas ripping me off for any more money or bastardizing and pussifying his old films (Sorry, George, Han is a much better hero if he shoots first, because then he has what we like to call a “character arc.” This is from a process known as “writing” which has nothing to do with scripting computer graphics.) is anathema. So while these may be marginally the best Star Wars movies, I’m going to give this a miss as Lucas already has too much of my and my parents’ money that he doesn’t deserve, and more importantly, several hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

In spite of this, I still think Macs are cool. If this technology could be used for evil, maybe some clever souls out there could take the DVD and restore the original scenes, or even restore the movies of a better director.

Alcohol Freedom Index

My brother and I were co-ranting about some of the injustices of state alcohol restrictions, when I casually mentioned that it would be great to have an Alcohol Freedom Index so states could be ranked by the freedom you have to purchase and consume alcohol. I did international relations, rather than political science, but some of the techniques to operationalize such an index would be similar.

The tricky thing would be figuring out what goes into the index. The more difficult thing for a lazy SOB such as myself would be doing the grunt work to collect the data for all 50 states. Weirdly, it looks like the US Army has made that a little easier.

As to the tricky thing, I can brainstorm a few but additional measures would be welcome.

  • Are beer and wine sold through special state stores?
  • Can localities make themselves “dry”?
  • Is liquor sold through special state stores?
  • Can individuals receive shipments of alcohol?
  • Does the state only allow the importation of “approved” beverages?
  • Do state labeling requirements block the sale of many beers, particularly imports? (Texas, I’m looking in your direction)

Such an index would be useful in turning the tables on modern-day prohibitionists, left and right. You could easily see examples of laws that serve no public safety or food quality purpose and be able to set state governments against one another. Prohibitionists might attempt to use the index for the opposite reason, but I suspect once Marylanders find out that Virginia is not a drunken hellhole because beer and wine can be purchased in grocery stores (certainly it hasn’t affected property values relative to Maryland), the prohibitionists’ arguments might look silly, and the laws themselves would be revealed for what they are: taxation and middleman job security measures.

I could even see cases made that alcohol restrictions aid alcoholism: when beer is only available from state stores, then any time you go to purchase beer you have an opportunity to purchase a case, rather than a six-pack. Good way to market binge drinking, Maryland! “See the Terps and Tie Twenty-Four On!” It’s even worse in Pennsylvania: you can’t even buy small quantities of beer.

Right now, politically-connected middlemen (such as beer and wine distributors) have a reason to pressure their legislators to preserve their business model, but there’s isn’t an easily-digestable way for the average citizen to realize how much they’re being screwed in favor of a tiny, well-off portion of the population. An Alcohol Freedom Index might be a way that Texans could take a good, hard look at their government and ask why the state that celebrates its independence from Mexico is less free than next-door New Mexico.

The Cato Institute would be the logical think tank to publish such an index, and it looks like Radley Balko would be the logical person to compile it.

What a Crappy Investment

According to CNN:

LONDON, England — A 1,200-year-old Anglo-Saxon penny has sold for �230,000 ($409,000), setting what the auction house said was a new world record for the most expensive British coin.

Curious, I put in a penny in a compound interest calculator at an APR of 3% for 1,200 years, which I thought would be fairly conservative for the range of time. The result?

That original penny, had it been invested, would be worth $25,390,406,045,714.81, which is considerably more than the net worth of the planet as near as I can tell. $25,390,406,045,714.81 is slightly more than $409,000.

The Economics of Open Source Software

At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux writes about cheaper versus costless goods, and how costless is better than cheaper for the overall economy. His main point is about eliminating some of the fear over global trade, but I noticed it’s a nearly perfect analogy for Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS — a catchy, but not sexy acronym).

His hypothetical scenario is thus:

Suppose a housewife one day accidentally discovers that a gallon of tap water combined with a dash of salt, a pinch of flour, a drop of ammonia, a splash of cooking oil, and tiny bits of several other ordinary kitchen ingredients will produce a concoction that cleans and sanitizes dishes, clothing, countertops, sinks, windows, automobile exteriors and interiors, household pets, and infant children. It also is astonishingly effective at fighting cavities, whitening teeth, and keeping gums healthy – and it keeps breath fresh for 24 hours. This remarkable all-purpose cleaner is 100% safe and totally effective. The cost of producing each gallon of this stuff is $0.02.

Further, in a fit of magnanimity, this resourceful woman publishes her finding on the Net, free of charge.

He then contrasts this against her other option, if she chooses to go public:

Now change the example just a bit. This housewife makes this discovery but, in a fit of self-interestedness, she keeps the concoction secret and starts producing it herself, selling it retail at, say, $5.00 per gallon. Its popularity is immediate and immense.

Notice that in both cases the source of innovation is not the production, but rather the recipe for production. In the first example she gives the recipe away, and production is done by anybody who finds it on Google and makes it in the kitchen. In the second example, it’s secret, and she sells the resulting product.

This is identical to FLOSS software. The recipe (code) is given away, and production (installation, sometimes compiling, and configuration) is done by the end-user. So the money that would have been spent on that software is now free to be used elsewhere. The overall economy is better, as other industries can benefit from this efficiency and the money will likely be spent there, and wealth will be created.

Note that only the cleaning products the woman obviates will be affected. Other cleaning products may see growth as people have more to spend. Similarly, programmers at Microsoft may see cutbacks from FLOSS software, but software development will likely just move up the chain. As operating systems become free, businesses may spend more on collaboration software.

Obviously, that’s what I’m betting on with my job. We provide our platform, Syntax CMS for free to anyone who wants to download it. I’m paid to:

  • Further develop the platform for use by my company for our clients’ needs
  • Provide advice on how best to use the platform to implement strategies we come up with for our clients
  • Program new, unrelated software
  • Program new applications using our platform

Our clients also pay us rather than do it themselves as it’s worth it to them to leave the configuration, programming, and hosting to us rather than manage that in-house. They’re experts at policy and other non-profit activities, generally, not software implementation, development, and maintenance. In other words, they outsource to us. And the reason they pay the premium for me to do it as opposed to a guy in Bulgaria or India is that I’m nearby, understand their organization, know the system better because I help develop it, and come up with creative solutions that push the limit of the software.

The time may come when CMSes are a dime a dozen, but then again, we’re not exactly waiting for that time to come. The reason we open-sourced our CMS is that we don’t see much benefit in keeping it secret. There are plenty of other programs out there. We wanted to remove that issue and focus on what makes us worth hiring.

Time will tell, but it’s nice to know that at least some economists think I’m doing the right thing for the economy, not just the right thing for policy-oriented non-profits.

I Will Not Share the Road

I will not share the road with bicyclists until I see at least one per month actually attempt to share the road with me. This means I want to see them stop for stop signs and red lights, and actually signal what they’re about to do. It’s not hard. Oh, and stopping for stop lights means you can’t go–not that it’s a stop sign for the annointed dorks in their unfortunately-form-hugging spandex.

I will not share the road with SUVs just because some dumb bitch (and, natch, nobody else inside) doesn’t know how to fit her earthraper into a normal lane and wants to use mine, too, even though she has plenty of room to her right. Learn to drive it or get a car you can steer and go on the diet necessary to fit your gargantuan ass into it.