Sunday, December 16, 2007
Dr. Walter Rice was an old-timer at Cal Poly--going back to the days when the place was known by some as "Cow Poly." As I recall, Dr. Rice joined the Cal Poly faculty in 1964, the year in which I was born. Before then, he had first had a pre-college stint as a textiles buyer and then, after completing college, a career with the Department of Transportation (or some other state or Federal transportation related office). Dr. Rice developed a course in the Economics of Transportation, and his interest in that showed itself in other courses, too. One day, he prefaced an example by saying something to the effect that "Knowing my personality, you can probably guess that this has to do with transportation." Having originally joined the faculty without a doctoral degree, Dr. Rice spent an interlude receiving his Ph.D. at what was then (and until recently) known as the Clairemont Graduate School. He had, however, returned to campus years before I ever showed up.
Dr. Rice showed a great deal of enthusiasm for his field and was renowned for his constant references to "fat little dollars." One time, when the MBA Association had a contest for the design of an Association T-shirt, a group of us submitted one featuring capitalist pigs (with curly tails) "gobbling up fat little dollars." One time in class, to demonstrate reservation prices, Dr. Rice pointed out that you would obviously not turn down an offer from a potential employee to work for less than you would have been willing to pay. "You jump with joy!" he said instead.
Every year, Dr. Rice would start his MBA economics course with the story of Robinson Crusoe, illustrating first the benefits of investing time in making a net to catch fish and then diminishing returns to scale when more people joined Robinson in catching the fish. Robinson Crusoe was, of course, a profit optimizer. During my second MBA year--the course was featured in the first year--one of my classmates told me that a dozen or so people from my year had returned to hear his introductory story again.
Dr. Rice knew that some of us--especially those of us who did not have much of a math background--found certain aspects of his course rather difficult. Sadly, I no longer remember exactly what "isoquant" curves are about, but I remember those being especially challenging. One day, Dr. Rice alluded to the relief that many of us might feel after the upcoming exam was over. He then discussed a hypothetical scenario where, to celebrate the completion of the exam, we would head up to San Francisco. He suggested--illustrating some marginal phenomenon--that when we reached Gonzalez (probably about 75 miles North of San Luis Obispo--or some 300 miles North of Los Angeles on Interstate 101) and suddenly spotted him, we would want to be as far away as possible from him. Fortunately, it happened that at Gonzalez, there was an "arc" type road briefly running along the freeway, and going on that would maximize the distance from him.
Dr. Rice would often refer to "utils," a unit of utility. He mentioned that a meter to measure this quantity could be calibrated by pointing to the course text book. Finding that the utility for the book measured at -3.5, we would know that the meter was working properly. Dr. Rice's constant use of the term "utils," unfortunately, came back to haunt him when a disgruntled former student--with a vivid imagination--filed certain outrageous charges against him. Among her allegations was that the term was a secret code word used by Dr. Rice and a student assistant to refer to cocaine--or some other elicit substance--that they were allegedly dealing. Tragically, it took close to a year to clear Dr. Rice of these fabricated charges.
Dr. Rice did not take kindly to people who ditched class or failed to pay proper attention. Back in the days where few faculty recorded student attendance, he was a pioneer. One day, he announced that for those who were absent that day, the day's notes would be due at our next class meeting. Those of us who were present, however, did not have to worry about this. Dr. Rice took grave exception when, on the first day of classes, the caught a student looking through the class schedule during class. He expressed his vehement view that he considered such behavior "very rude." The last two words, in particular, thundered. One of my classmates who took a different section from mine mentioned that near the end of class, a student was startled by some outside noises and glanced at her watch. "Class ends when I say it ends!" came the stern and roaring reprimand. Dr. Rice liked to keep the door to his classroom open--presumably so that passers-by would not miss out on his wisdom. In my second MBA program, a very beautiful woman in the program was taking Dr. Rice's class. I knew that I could stop and admire her--deeply absorbed in the lecture--for a few moments without getting caught. Later, she told me about not daring to fail to pay full attention in that class.
To make sure that no one--despite paying close attention--missed out on his wisdom, Dr. Rice would often repeat himself. There were also certain hypothetical entities that kept coming up--e.g, the "W. E. Rice Widget Company."
I have fond memories of Dr. Rice and will miss him. I am also very disappointed that Dr. Rice passed away years before he would have had a chance to see one of his favorite students receive the Nobel Prize in economics.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Earlier in the episode, Adrian had astutely admonished Julie, his assistant's daughter, that "You wouldn't like [Christmas], either, if you hated it as much as I do."
At one point, Adrian was accused of shooting (albeit not fatally) the impostor when he was engaging in a previous failed attempt at distraction. Adrian, however, claimed that the impostor had come at him and that he only shot in self defense. When interviewed on TV, Adrian's reassurance to the children that he did not shoot the real Santa Claus backfired when he explained that there is no such thing.
Monday, December 03, 2007
In Denmark--at least until I left--I am not aware of a translation of the "Little Drummer Boy" ever being popular. At least, I do not recall ever hearing the song. Since another Christmas song explicitly refers to "the little drummer boy," I actually thought that that was the song with what title.
Imagine my surprise when--after being in the U.S. for twenty-nine years and one and a half weeks--I learned the name of the song. I also learned that the words apparently are "pa rum pum pum pum." This mistake is clearly not of the astronomical magnitude discussed in my previous post "How Could I Have Been So Wrong"--but it still stings!
- Income ≠ willingness to pay
- You do not have to make a direct profit on everything you do. What matters is TOTAL profit.
- Having a great product does not mean that consumers will (a) know this and (b) be able to find a place to buy it.
- Selling online usually costs more than going through traditional retailers
- Behavior of segments tends to differ. Averages are often meaningless and misleading.
- Messing with Microsoft is stupider than messing with Jim, spitting into the wind, tugging on Superman’s cape, or pulling off the Lone Ranger’s mask.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
- Demand requires a willingness to pay in addition to an interest buying in the item. Therefore, it cannot be definitively concluded than an increase in demand has actually occurred.
- There is high substitutability among many gift items. Although some shoppers are intent on buying a specific gift for an individual—such as a particular toy requested by a child—most consumers have considerably more leeway in choosing between numerous suitable gifts for an individual. A book, a DVD, or a T-shirt may all be suitable for an individual. Within each of these categories, there are a lot of choices—both among brands and retailers. The ready availability of substitutes decreases demand, resulting in a lower equilibrium price.
- Increased elasticity among consumers during the holiday season will encourage retailers to discount. Retailers which offer low prices are likely to both attract more shoppers and sell more merchandise to each. This is especially the case in densely populated areas where traffic—and finding a parking space at the mall—may be difficult, thus making “one stop” shopping convenient. Consumers may choose to other, higher-margin merchandise while in the store when they come to find the “loss leader” items. For children who may receive multiple gifts, sales may especially encourage greater quantity purchases.
- Retailers compete intensely among themselves. Each retailer competes not just with others selling the same brand and category, but with all who offer substitutes. Antitrust laws in the U.S. prevent retailers from getting together to “fix” prices. With the proliferation of discounters, everyone competes against the lowest price. Large discounters such as Wal-Mart and Target have considerable bargaining power due to the volume they purchase, so these can negotiate very low prices and, because of the high price elasticity among consumers, will find it optimal to pass much of the savings on to customers. Over the last two decades, a large number of “category killer” retail chains have emerged. Chains such as Circuit City, Best Buy, Staples, and Office Depot specialize in a limited assortment of goods. Within these categories, the “category killers” move large volumes, resulting in considerable bargaining power. In addition, many of these chains will make very large volume orders on items in targeted categories well in advance in return for exceptionally low prices. All these retailers must in turn compete against warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s Club.
- Since much of the merchandise ordered for the holiday season will lose considerable value after the holidays, it is important to “move” this merchandise before Christmas. Extreme examples of this involve ornaments and wrapping paper, but even categories such as jewelry are heavily affected since there will be few major gift occasions during the subsequent months.
- Because of a tradition of heavy pre-Christmas discounting, retailers must try to “one-up” each other to stay competitive. Historically, there were few major before-Christmas sales. Back in the days when the retail environment was less competitive, the plan was to discount little before and then hold “after Christmas” sales as needed. However, in years with a sluggish economy, retailers often got nervous over the large amount of inventory remaining and, fearing that they would be stuck with merchandise, they concluded that sales would be the lesser of two-evils. In subsequent years, then, stores had to second guess each other, trying to discount before they did. Gradually, then, these sales became institutionalized, with consumers being reluctant to buy before discounts, spurring on the vicious cycle.
A November 14, 2007, article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that discounts might be less extreme this year than they have been in recent years. Retail stores now have access to better price optimization software and are, in some cases, less dependent on the holiday season due to the growth of store brands. There may well be some modest “cooling off” this year for these reasons, but it is unlikely that discounting will decline dramatically. The retail environment is, if anything, getting more competitive. Further, with Thanksgiving falling on November 22 in 2007—the earliest it can fall in any year—many retailers may, ironically, be overly optimistic in their sales expectations and may, therefore, stock too aggressively. Although consumers have longer to shop, there is also a potential for much more merchandise to remain at critical points. Even if retailers, on the average, order the right amount, those which have over-ordered may have to discount heavily and, in return, spur on the competition. They “category killers” and discounters are here to stay, and their effects spill into the entire retail market.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The good news for retailers is that with the Friday after Thanksgiving traditionally marking the "serious" start of the holiday shopping season, this year, people will have a longer time for shopping this year. Legend has it that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower once tried to move up Thanksgiving one week to allow for a longer holiday shopping period. I am not sure how successful he was at this--that is, whether he actually succeeded or not--and, as I understand it, a lot of people resented this seeming "commercial" motivation for messing with a day marked by a long tradition. Others may take a different perspective. In an admittedly different context, an earlier President had expressed his strong approval of certain people "in the way of progress."
The singer owns a mansion. Although he has been told that "it's nice," he has never actually been there and cannot remember its price. Instead, he "live[s] in hotels" and engages in the rather socially irresponsible behavior of "tear[ing] down the walls." At least, however, he has the decency to "have accountants pay for it all." He he readily admits that "[he] can't complain" but nevertheless "sometimes [he] still [does]."
The singer owns a Mazaratti capable of going "185" (it is not clear whether that is miles or kilometers per hour). Unfortunately, he has "lost [his] license," and as a result, "[he doesn't] drive" anymore. Instead, he rides in limousines, sitting in the back. He has the presence of mind to "look the door" to guard against attack.
The singer is somewhat overwhelmed by the his lot in life, acknowledging that "It's tough to handle this fortune and fame." Although he looks "for clues at the scene of the crime," he seems to be rather clueless as to why he is actually so successful. It may have something do with his fans who "can't wait" for the release of his next albums and write him letters saying that he is "great." His office features "gold records on the wall." He is rather non-committal in saying that "maybe [he'll] call if you leave a message." Personally, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.
He is accused for being crazy, but on the upside, he "has a great time." He admits to staying late at parties "sometimes until 4 [a.m.]." Although it is not clear why he ultimately succeeds, he reminds the listener of the difficulty of leaving "when you can't find the door." People accuse him of being lazy, but he indignantly insists that his activities "take all [his] time."
This guy really seems do be doing the best he can even if he fails to comply with social norms. All this seems to suggest that being normal is not necessary for success--and may, in fact, be an obstacle to extraordinary success.
Monday, November 12, 2007
My first post on the Marketing College: Essential Marketing Knowledge blog at http://marketingcollege.blogspot.com/ addresses the question why gold is so valuable considering the fact that supply by far outstrips its substantive uses. Why is it so attractive to have gold sitting around in a bank vault?
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Today, I got a bit worried when my front right tire scratched against a cement barrier after a sharp turn, so shortly afterward, I stopped at a Staples parking lot to check out the tire. Sure enough, it looked like it might have lost some air. Luck had it that Costco, where I had been headed, was only 0.4 miles away, so I changed the tire to the spare and brought it into the tire shop at Costco. The technician who looked at it did not see anything wrong, and measured that the tire actually had a normal 26 lbs. pressure. I showed him a bit of an indentation on the side of the tire, but he said that this would not be a problem. I was concerned about how sagging the tire had seemed, but he then explained to me that front tires "always look flat" because they carry "2,000 more lbs. of weight" than the back tires. So, I ended up changing back from the spare to the "original."
Back many years ago, a tire technician laughed when he was about to put the tire he had fixed back on and noticed that I had turned the wheel the wrong way.
This is clearly not my area of competence!
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Getting back to my grandfather, he was, like nearly all of the rest of the family, a genuinely proud eccentric. A one hundredth birthday celebration would probably have been a rather mixed blessing. My grandfather, for one thing, did not really like to receive gifts. He was one person who would actually be happy to hear that his gift had been bought on deep sale or at least in K-Mart or Wal-Mart. We learned to give him gifts that it would be least unpleasant for him to receive. For many years, I would always give him a stash of pens for his birthday and for Christmas. Being absent-minded in addition to being eccentric, he would lose pens at a quick rate. My sister learned that it was a "safe" bet to give my grandfather Vitabath, the bath aromatic that he would use every day.
My grandfather was also into getting value. When eating at restaurants, he would collect all the small packs of sugar on his table to feed to his bees. For many years, I and the other grandchildren would be sure to collect sugar from the restaurants we visited so that we could bring them go Grandfather on our next visit. (At the time, dining out tended to be a relatively rare event in Denmark, so I doubt that all of us together were able to provide sugar for the bees for much more than one day per year). These gifts that had not cost us anything did not bother him.
When we were little, my grandfather used to tease us about our noses being missing. When we pointed out that we had noses still, he would say that those were not our real noses but rather ones that we had bought at the grocery store.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
Anybody got any possible interpretations?
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Friday, October 05, 2007
I have always been struck by the beauty of George Strait's song "Amarillo By Morning."
Both Don Williams and Kathy Mathea sing extremely beautiful versions of the song "Come from the Heart."
The status as the most beautiful country song I can think of, however, goes to Steve Wariner's song "Holes in the Floor of Heaven." Even the country music style grammar--perhaps necessary to maintain the integrity of the genre--does not obliterate the beauty of the words spoken to an eight year old boy whose grandmother just passed away: "There's holes in the floor of Heaven/And her tears are pouring down/That's how you know she's watching/Wishing she could be here now." As the boy grows up, he marries a woman who, unfortunately, passes away prematurely after they have had a daughter. At the daughter's wedding, she reminds her father why he should not be sad.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Friday, September 14, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
In any event, this semester, I am experimenting with recording the lecture sessions (but not the discussion sections which may contain voices of individuals who have not consented to be recorded) and posting these on the course web site. As I arrived in my first discussion section, right after the lecture session, I started the music playing and, while waiting for the time to start class to come, I started to take off my backup wireless microphone and the microphone leading to a digital recorder that I keep in my pocket. It was then the irony occurred to me that I was carrying a "hidden" recording device.
One reasonable hypotheses is that absent-minded professors usually do not make good secret agents since we may be too absent-minded to stay in character. Another hypothesis, of course, would go more at the eccentricity angle, suggesting that nothing that we do would be perceived as odd or unusual, allowing us much more latitude in behavior that, among "normal" (i.e., mediocre) people would raise suspicion.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
This reminded me of back several years ago when a student heard of my interest in obtaining a copy of the Southern California Iranian Yellow Pages. It turned out that she was well connected and, in addition to the Iranian directory, she also found two different versions of Armenian Yellow Pages, each representing one of the three main variations of Armenian. One ad for an attorney seemed to be aimed at a rather unsavory group. He or she was offering to represent defendants accused of extortion, kidnapping, and a rather explicit laundry list major violent felonies. I hope this bozo is not overly successful in getting those among his clients who are as rotten psychopaths as the crimes they are accused of--probably the great majority--off.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
Just in case you are wondering, Audy--who reminded me about this practice--so far as I remember always returned my pens. One time, I was a bit disappointed since he had put up a $50 bill in deposit.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Fortunately, it appears that the hard drive on my notebook is not actually broken, but the computer still refuses to boot. Hopefully, the nice folks at ITS will be able to fix it. It really would be nice if I could have it back "before the night is through."
Now, I wonder how the neighbors are going to feel at 7:00 a.m. on Sundays when this poor, frustrated woman can finally get relief from the injunction and tries to make up for lost time. Perhaps they can take up a collection to buy the woman an iPod.
Those of y'all interested in further discussion of country music (probably a very small group) might want to check out my "unholiday letter" at http://larsperner.com/unholiday_letter.pdf .
Thursday, August 16, 2007
By the way, if I really did slip into a Southern accent, it's a bit of a shame that I never took the opportunity to refer to "y'all." Having lived the first third of my life in a country whose language distinguishes between the second person in the singular and plural, using the uniform reference in Northern English tends to feel a bit ambiguous.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Although I have heard and thought about the song over many years, I was never really able to understand much more than the title and the admonition "Don't bother asking for explanations." It was only recently that I got to look up the lyrics. At first the lyrics seemed quite revolting to me. Now I am at a point where I can't even say if I am really sickened. I simply do not understand the supposed logic (if one is even intended) of the song. How do the facts and events revealed lead to the outcomes described? Do the lyrics at http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=3526 many any more sense to you?
According to SongFacts.com--a great source of information about the background behind many songs--the song was inspired by the film Casablanca. Although I know that this film is supposed to be a classic and one that should be experienced by a "sophisticated" individual, I was never able to sit through it. Maybe enduring the film once and for all might help me understand the song better.
By the way, SongFacts also reports that the studio asked Al Stewart to make another song similar to "The Year of the Cat." The result was the song "Time Passages" which Al Stewart has since admitted to not liking. SongFacts quotes Stewart: "I didn't realize truly how bad a song it was until one day I was in an elevator and I was listening to what I thought was Muzak. About 30 seconds went by, and I finally began to recognize it and said to myself, 'This sounds pretty horrible.' Then, horror of horrors, I heard my voice come on, it actually was the record. So I'm thinking, 'Oh my God what have I done, this is terrible!' Hopefully in the last 25 years I've redeemed myself with other things, but "Time Passages" has just never thrilled me." I, on the other hand, actually like the lyrics to this song. They seem rather elegant to me. Are the words " Well, I'm not the kind to live in the past/ The years run too short and the days too fast/ The things you lean on/ Are the things that don't last" really entirely without artistic and philosophical merit? It looks like I was fooled. Again, I do agree that these words and the remaining lyrics do not appear to support a conclusion of a desire to have someone "buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight," but not all aspects of songs with merit necessarily develop the logic behind each conclusion.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Last year, he really wasn't all that interested in gifts, he disliked sweets, and he would rather avoid most people, so there wasn't much interest in a b-day party.
This year, he had been looking forward with some impatience to the birthday cake he would receive, he actually enjoyed the celebration, and his greed had increased dramatically.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
When I searched as instructed, the first item that came up was a "Yahoo! shortcut." The following explanation was given: "A Yahoo! Shortcut is a quick way to get to the information you want. A Yahoo! Shortcut automatically appears when it is relevant to your search and can contain links to useful content from Yahoo!, its partners, or across the web. Some of the content may come from partners who pay to be included in Yahoo! or have another financial relationship with Yahoo!" [Emphasis added]
On Google, in contrast, a vegetarian restaurant with that domain name comes up when a search is done on "real food."
On Google, when one searches for "virtual food," the first site listed is a "virtual gift store."
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
Coming back from Arizona the other day, one of my tires hit a nail. The tow truck driver attempted to fix the tire, indicating that I would not need to take the tire in for repair. Unfortunately, the fix did not last, and it turned out that the tire would have to be replaced. While I waited to have the tire fixed, I was watching another car being serviced. This is the first time I remember actually seeing a brake pad. I had envisioned something much bigger and clumsier. In fact, even though this was actually a pickup truck, it was a much smaller and handier item than I had ever imagined.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
I really dislike change!
Back when I was in the MBA program, I was working with a professor on estimating the amount of traffic that would pass through various truck stops as a means of estimating the value of advertising exposure. Many truck stops did not have counters to enumerate the traffic coming in, so we were trying to correlate the traffic going into those stops that did have counters with the closest counter found on interstate freeways.
Anyway, it wasn't always easy to find a counter close to a stop of interest, and this process involved pouring over maps for long periods of time. That invariably meant imagining the various locations in the U.S. and Canada. Although I no longer remember most of the locations in question, I suspect that I, like James Taylor, probably went to Carolina in my mind--and to a lot of other places. One of the points of counting was near Casa Grande. The next year, while scouting out Arizona State University and the University of Arizona as possible places for doctoral work, I actually saw the exits for Case Grande but did not stop. This time, I did get to stop for lunch at a factory outlet mall. That probably wasn't the experience I had imagined, but then again, I no longer have a clear memory of what I had expected--but I had probably envisioned something a bit more exotic.
One day when I had my atlas and computer printouts spread out over the dining room table, the girl friend of one of my apartment mates asked me what I was doing. I no longer remember exactly what I said, but I imagine that it was not something like "Isn't that obvious? I'm matching truck stops!"
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Anyway, how many rooms should an old hotel, optimally, have? Does this figure differ from a that of a new hotel?
It seems rather sad that nobody lives in the hotel. Was it the excessive number of windows, the irresponsible pride, some other factor, or a combination of factors that caused the hotel's demise? The fact that the "walls [had] grown sturdy" seems an advantage rather than a disadvantage, though I have difficulty understanding why the walls would become sturdier rather than experiencing decay.
Well, at least the song provides some nice inspiration: "Seek inspiration in daily affairs/Now you soul is in trouble and requires repairs/And the voices you hear at the top of the stairs/Are only echoes of unanswered prayers/Echoes of unanswered prayers."
At least they probably won't pave the Grand Canyon. Filling it up would be way too expensive. The Puny Canyon and the Pathetic Canyon--if these entities exist--might not be so lucky.
Not being a physicist, I cannot say what kinds of "cascading" effects might affect other laws of nature if gravity were removed, but I suspect that the Earth would lose its atmosphere and probably drift farther and farther away from the Sun.
The constitutionality of repealing this kind of law are not clear to me. Generally, I would imagine that Congress could repeal whatever laws it passed, but I am not sure that Congress actually ever passed the law of gravity. The U.S. Constitution says something to the effect that those aspects of the British common law that were in existence at the time of the passage of the Constitution, to the extent that these are not in conflict with the Constitution, remain in force. I am not sure if a constitutional amendment would be required to remove such a common law component, but it is likely--in fact, almost certain--that the law of gravity preceded the British common law.
There might also be some implications of various treaties that the U.S. has signed. In any event, it hardly seems fair that a decision of this magnitude would be made entirely by the government of a country that represents some five percent of the world's population.
Walking up the Great Wall of China, gravity is a burden, but the solution of doing away with it is worse than the problem.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Someone told me the other day that the "norm" for holiday letters is about one page--two at most. The question is: Who cares?
Monday, July 16, 2007
Today, I visited--and am staying over at the Best Value Inn & Suites--in Bisbee, the location of the sheriff's office (fictionally, at least). Joanna is supposed to have a ranch some two miles outside town.
Bisbee is very different from what I had expected. It is an amazingly beautiful place, especially coming down Highway 80. It turns out that there is an "old" town Bisbee. I never realized that the town was really an old town accompanied by some newer developments.
Here, by the way, we have an interesting series of events. It was only about three months since I first heard of J.A. Jance. If I had not heard of her, I probably would never have ventured to this place.
Now we will have to see what--if anything--happens "by the time I get (back) to Phoenix."
The other day, I, too, had a dream that started out well. A colleague had asked me to give my exam to her class. (I love giving exams!) However, as I was about to pass out the exam, I realized that the exams I had brought had already been filled out, presumably by my students.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Friday, July 06, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
With all the time that has gone by, the letter turned out to be a little on the long side (although I have managed to keep to fewer than one hundred footnotes), so it may take a few moments for the letter to show up. Enjoy!
THE FIRST FOUR PAGES OF THE LETTER:
- Some will conclude that reading that far has been a giant waste of time;
- Some will not be able to put the letter down until you reach the end;
- Some of you will reluctantly put the letter down out of a felt obligation to feed your children a hasty dinner, then proceeding to read out loud parts of the letter as a bedtime story;
- Some will scan for selected topics of interest;
- Some of you will read the main document but skip the footnotes, potentially losing out on some of the juiciest parts of the letter;
- Some will continue to enjoy the rest of the document in small doses;
- Some will pretend to continue to enjoy the rest of the document in small doses under a rather questionable belief that distinguished professors are supposed to be profound and insightful; and
- Some of you will convince someone else to read the letter, highlighting any useful information or providing a summary.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Millicent Min, Girl Genius starts out: "I have been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things."
Here is an Amazon review by Sharon Morrison, Southeastern Oklahoma State University: "Millie, an 11-year-old with a genius IQ, is taking a college poetry class and waiting for her high school senior year. Because she never hesitates to show how much she knows about a particular subject, her peers tend to stay away. Millie's social ineptitude is a cause of concern for her parents. Against her will, she is enrolled in summer volleyball and enlisted to tutor Stanford Wong, a friend of the family. Into this mix enters Emily, a volleyball teammate and typical preteen. The girls become friends but Millie neglects to tell Emily about her genius status. Eventually the truth surfaces and Emily feels betrayed. Millie thinks that Emily is angry because she is smart, never realizing that the betrayal comes from her lack of trust in their friendship. While some readers will have trouble identifying with Millie, her trials and tribulations result in a story that is both funny and heartwarming. A universal truth conveyed is that honesty and acceptance of oneself and of others requires a maturity measured not by IQ but by generosity of spirit."
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Sadly, this involves the not very adaptive behavior of real human beings.
You're in my heart, you're in my soulIn truth, it might be more accurate to say that she was in his associative network of knowledge.
You'll be my breath should I grow old
You are my lover, you're my best friend
You're in my soul
People carry around a great deal of memories. To function effectively, we must retrieve needed information reasonably reliably when an occasion rises and we must do this without burdening ourselves too much with the information overload that would result if too much irrelevant information were retrieved at the same time. Thus, the brain functions in large part by "linking," or associating, various pieces of information with each other. (This, by the way, is how we learn.) Thinking of object or idea, then, is likely to activate another. Consider, for example, the "nodes" that might be activated in a chain of events by one individual when the notion of an elephant is introduced:
A person who has played a central role in one's life is likely to be implicated in a number of linkages. Therefore, he or she is likely to come up frequently as any one of numerous nodes are activated.
A Sufi sage was once asked what he associated with camels. "Food," was the answer. The questioner objected that one does not eat camels. "But everything reminds of food," said the sage.
It seems that being in someone's associative network of knowledge may not consistently be given the credit it deserves.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Asked by Justice Stevens if "there are a substantial number who are similar to the one that we're talking about today," the attorney for the city responded: "I won't use an adverb to describe the amount. There are some. I don't know if it's substantial or not." Then Chief Justice Rehnquist quickly set the record straight: "That's an adjective."
As naive academic coming from a rather sheltered background, I was unaware of the amount of filth that actually exists out there. My understanding had been that "arcades" are places where teenagers go to play video games. In this context, however, these are abominable destinations where people go to watch sleezy and sickening videos. On some of the machines there, one can watch replusive parts of up to sixty filthy recordings. One can also opt to watch one in its disgusting entirety. Ugh!
Monday, June 18, 2007
The reasons for the high gasoline prices we are currently experiencing are complex. Aside from the world petroleum supply per se, a major limiting factor in the U.S. gasoline supply is refining capacity. That is, buying more crude oil on the world market is not going to do a whole lot of good if it cannot be refined. Although many U.S. refineries have undergone expansion, apparently, one one new refinery has been constructed in the U.S. since the 1970s. Since refineries raise major environmental concerns, government approval to build new ones appears to be difficult, if not essentially impossible, to obtain. Can we import refined oil? Some countries may not feel they can "afford the luxury" of environmental protection, but I imagine that carrying refined gasoline in tankers may be a dangerous undertaking.
Although ethanol maintains some of the air quality concerns associated with gasoline, it at least does not have to be refined. "Stretching" the gasoline supply by adding ethanol, then, offers a way to expand the fuel supply in the face of limited refining capacity. "Diverting" corn from food and agricultural markets, however, significantly increases the demand for corn, increasing corn prices. Increased corn prices, in turn, "cascade" into the food market as a whole.
One might object that Americans, for the most part, do not eat that much corn. Even if corn prices increased 50%, if the average family only buys one can every three weeks and four cobs per month, this shouldn't be a big deal. But that is not how most corn is consumed. Sodas, and many foods, are often sweetened with corn syrup. Depending on the immediate relative prices of sugar cane and corn, bottlers may switch back and forth. If the price of corn goes up, then, the price of sugar cane will, too. Corn is also fed a great deal to pigs (explaning why so many are raised in states like Iowa). This would cause the price of pork to increase. But the bad news is that even if you do not eat pork, this will also cause the price of substitutes such as beef and chicken to increase as well. And it gets worse. If the price of corn increases, it may be more economical for farmers, under some circumstances, to substitute grain for some of the corn they may have fed the pigs. Grain, as a substitute for corn, then, would face a higher demand, causing increasing prices both to bakers who buy wheat and to cattle ranches feeding corn.
With both gas and food prices rising, less money is available for consumers to spend on other purchases. In terms of food, it is often possible to switch to less expensive foods--e.g., eating more chicken instead of beef--but reducing the overall quantity of food bought is more difficult. Cutting down on gasoline usage in the short run is difficult, too, given limited public transportation options in many U.S. areas and the reluctance of many Americans to car pool. Higher prices paid for food and gas, then, leave less money to spend on thigns that can more easily be eliminated. Discount retailers such as Wal-Mart are apparently feeling this impact strongly as many consumers reduce their purchases.
When we talk about supply and demand, it is important to recognize that consumers to not respond in unison. Certain consumers may be rather insensitive while others, facing severe budget constraints, will tend to respond quite severely.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
My understanding is that is far from certain that Justice Souter actually uses e-mail. During one appearance Justices Souter and Thomas were asked about their use of word processing. Justice Thomas admitted that his clerks had "shamed" him into writing on a computer. Justice Souter enthusiastically admitted, "I am shameless." I am not sure if this was before or after he wrote the Napster opinion. Perhaps writing that might have contributed to an increased willingness to tackle "new" technology.
Now, what would be a meaningful interpreation? I don't know. This dream is more plausible than the one I had years back about my sister Anette being appointed as Secretary of the Interior, but it does not seem to make that much more sense. If it means anything, the student apparently did not have the identity of an actual student who had taken my class during waking hours.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
My computer seems to have had an annoying habit of running behind schedule, accumulating a delay of some forty minutes between the time the computer was updated, by default, every week.
These nice geeks showed me how to set the computer to update every 10,000 seconds instead 604,800 second default interval.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Friday, June 01, 2007
Thursday, May 31, 2007
On TV, at the time, there were a number of promos for the series Bonanza. The slogan went "Watch Bonanza!"
One day, I spoke with a man who indicated that he was watching Bonanza. So, someone actually did!
I then asked the man about one of my other interests: "Do you know where I can buy a safe?"
His answer was "No."
The bozo supposedly could get "decades" in prison, but there is some uncertainty as to which Federal sentencing guidelines will apply. I hope the harsher ones are found to be applicable.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Up until today, it was my understanding that Vega was the closest star to our solar system at a distance of some twenty-six light years. It was also my understanding that Vega was known as the North Star. I was also deceived by Gerry Rafferty's song "Right Down the Line" into believing that the "Northern Star" is "the brightest light that shines." Apparently, I was wrong on all three counts.
Proxima Centauri--the closest star to our solar system--is, apparently, "only" some 4.22 light years away.
The brightest star--other than the Sun--as seen from our solar system is apparently Sirius.
The North Star is, in the long run, technically not one enduring star. According to Wikipedia, this is "a title of the star best suited for navigation northwards." Currently, that status falls to Polaris, but Thuban was used some 3,000 years ago. In a thousand years or so, Gamma Cephei will apparently claim the title, but it will be another thousand years before the fit is optimal. When I looked up "Northern Star" in wikipedia, I got the name of some rock band. The real name, apparently, is the North Star. Did Gerry know of another source of light that I--and the astronomers--did not?
So, what is the big deal about Vega? According to Wikipedia, it is admittedly "the brightest star in the constellation Lyra." That, however, does not impress me much more than it would likely impress Shania Twain. It is only "the fifth brightest star in the sky."
Vega is apparenlty the star of choice "for the calibration of absolute photometric brightness scales." I have no idea how important that might be. To justify Vega's "cultural significance," Wikipedia notes that it was "first star to be photographed [and later] to have its spectrum photographed." How impressed am I supposed to be?
Now, why did I look up these issues?
An article on CNN's web site (http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/space/05/16/odd.exoplanet.reut/index.html) reported the discovery of "an odd planet the size of Neptune" which is apparently the first extra-solar system planet confirmed to have water. Although the water is estimated to have a temperature of some 247 degrees Celcius--almost two and a half the boiling tempreature at Earth sea level--the water is apparently "rock hard." Another CNN article at http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/space/05/16/odd.exoplanet.reut/index.html reports that the water at this planet can "survive" because "Smaller stars [like GJA recent article on CNN's web site 436 around which the planet orbits] are cooler and redder." I do not get why this allows the water to persist--even with the lesser heat radiated, 247 degrees Celcius is still extremely hot. It it because the greater mass of this planet results in higher pressure, increasing the temperature needed for boiling?
OK, so what does this have to do with anything, let alone distances from the solar system? The article said that this planet was only some 33 light years away from us. I wondered how likely it would be that some other solar system would be found so close if, as I mistakenly assumed, the closest star to Earth was 26 light years away.
At first, I attempted to calculate the area of a circle with our solar system in the center. I then examined the ratio of area covered to distance. Going from 26 light years to 33, the ratio was only 1.61. That is, one might expect only sixty-one one hundreds of a star to be found there if one assumes that the distribution density of the first star is representative.
It quickly dawned on me that space travel is, realistically speaking, likely to be at least three dimensional. (I say at least because Supersting Theorists might suggest that there are more dimensions involved, but only the three, so far, seem to involve a major distance. For now, I am ignoring the time dimension, holding it constant). Now, "inflation" happens much more quickly:
Still, going from 26 to 33 light years only increases the volume ratio to 2.04. That is when I became suspicious.
Now, when we examine the increase in volume, going from four light years to thirty three, we see the volume ratio increase to 226.87. Even going with the three dimensions, however, 101,540 light years cubed does not seem like all that much. I'm sure, however, that this neighborhood is bigger than it sounds. In a lifespan of some 100 years, one could only expect to be able to travel 1/540 of the distance of one extreme to the other going at the speed of light--if that is even possible. As Crossby, Stills, Nash, and Young remind us, it only takes "trav'ling twice the speed of sound" for it to get "easy to get burned."
Saturday, May 26, 2007
There is nothing new on going on a trip against a society that seems to encourage war in this way, but I am still tempted to think about the concept of a Peace Planets movie series. How many people would this attract? Is this an unrealistic idea, perhaps in part because the Peace Train has limited capacity and is likely to be confined to terrestrial travel?
One might argue that the analogy is flawed for complex grammatical reasons. Is there, for one thing, a meaningful plural of "peace," or is peace a default phenomenon that is not readily separable into discrete events? Nominally, "wars" in "Star Wars" is in the plural. "Star" is technically singular, but as a matter of pragmatics, the word becomes plural by implication when the context is considered. One could envision one peaceful planet, but once plurality is involved, at the planet level, the grammatically correct expression nominally has to be distributed exactly oppositely to the "star" version.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Two thirds of all people reportedly gossip. Again, I have no idea what geographic scope is included in this statistic and what the criteria for "gossip" are.
Oprah went on to talk about people stealing from hotel rooms. She claims not to have taken anything other than shampoo samples hersef, but someone else reported that he at least somtimes took the "Do Not Disturb" sign. An industry insider suggested that was OK, and Oprah apparently thought this was a rather "cool" idea.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Realistically, keeping Gilmore Girls going now that Rory would be on the road would probably be too difficult. Sure, Lorelai and Rory could talk over the phone, but part of the series is, of course, about their shared experiences.
I am torn. Maybe it is best that we each get to imagine how the story progresses. There were just so many issues left unresolved:
- Will Rory ever get a position at the New York Times?
- How will things turn out between Lorelai and Luke? Did the last episode strongly hint that they would remain "friends plus" with nothing more?
- Will anything happen between Rory and Logan? Their last encounter, when Rory turn down Logan's proposal, was rather surprising. Both Rory and Logan have been known to reverse themselves.
- Will Luke and his daughter be able to take the boat trip next year?
- How will things turn out with Lane's two babies? What will be the relationship with their grandmother?
- Will we ever see Lane's father? Lane has repeatedly referred to "my parents," but we have never seen the father. Wouldn't he at least have some obligation to show up for his daughter's wedding?
The number of truly eccentric people on TV has been considerably reduced with the passing of Gilmore Girls. I just hope they don't cancel Monk anytime soon!
The real trouble was that I had not clarified ahead of time whether my Blackberry would function in Denmark and, if so, what any roaming charges would be for use.
A judicial communications offer has now clarified that "Mr Justice Openshaw is entirely computer literate and indeed has taken notes on his own computer in court for many years. ... Mr Justice Openshaw was simply clarifying the evidence presented, in an easily understandable form for all those in court."
This raises the question of whether the question was a rhetorical one or, if, instead, the judge raised the more subtle question of categorization. What criteria must an entity meet to be a web site? Not all web sites have the "www" prefix. Some web site use the secure "https" preface. Not all URLs are web sites--they could be single files or addresses for FTP transfer.
There is also the issue of graded structure--which entities are the "better" exemplars of the category? Is a blog hosted on Blogspot a web site, or is the blogger.com as a whole better seen as the web site, with each independent blog merely being a division of the site? Is my site at http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~perner/ a web site in its own right? What about the backup site for my class immediately below the main site at http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~perner/buad307/?
With the evolving technology and terminology, who really knows what a web site is?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
This semester, I will have to say that some of the answers to one question were rather spacey.
This semester, I can no more blame the students for the exam answer outcome than I could last time. In the Fall, I had a question about the diffusion of hybrid corn. This time, I had a question about perceputal maps.
This marked the first time that an exam of mine did not feature any questions about fictional rap musicians. I am not sure why; somehow, the questions just did not emerge. It was more deliberate--given a rather tragic event recently in the news--that I did not feature any questions about Avenging Ammo.
So what did I have this time? There were some beautiful questions about:
- Optimal pricing of cookies sold by The Greedy Girl Scout Group.
- Effective public relations methods by Sigma Sigma Sigma, also known as the Sorority Sister Surfers.
- A possible strategic problem for MySpaceInTheCorner.com, a web site that would not allow children who had misbehaved to go to any other web destinations until they had (1) written for at least five hours about why they were being punished and (2) left comments on at least fifteen other children's entries on how much they deserved to be punished.
- Traitor Joe, a rather repugnant fellow engaging in severely objectionable import and export practices.
Some boxes were going to hurt my back
Before the day was through
There is a backache today
Backache today, I know
There is nothing I can do
Except to continue to take aspirin
Hoffman Hall in the Marshall School of business is undergoing renovation. This has set in motion a large chain of events of office relocations. Yesterday, it was my time to move. The song lyrics above hint at the more salient collateral consequences for me. My new office is considerably smaller than my old one, so I have to move a large number of items into storage. For now, my office is littered with boxes, but my back is probably not going to allow for this straegic relocation today.
To paraphrase Call Sign Charlie in Top Gun, "It's a good thing that [I] don't have to make a living as a singer."
Does it take an eccentric to have a nightmare about fax machines? It probably doesn't. These things are probably a very rare event that happens with the same limited frequency among eccentrics, "normal" people, and "others." That is, the null hypothesis that the conditional probability is the same for all three groups is probably the same. The event probably follows a Poisson Distribution.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Assuming that evils are normally distributed, one is a lot better off having seventeen--rather than two--to pick from. This is evident in the following chart, ranking random samples of the lesser of two, and seventeen, evils, each with an expected mean of 1.5:
On avearage, the lesser of two evils was 1.229. The lesser of seventeen evils was only .534.
Why the number seventeen? I could say that seventeen is the largest prime number less than nineteen, or the third smallest prime number that can be expressed in two digits, but neither of those two reasons would be particularly persuasive. Seventeen was just the number I thought of.
This appears to be a new--or at least new to me--piece of slang. I am well aware that, for many years, that referring to a meal that someone has prepared as "baad" is actually used as a tremendous compliment in African American slang.
It's just difficult for me to imagine how being thought of as excrement can be complimentary, but one lives and learns--or at least should live and learn--every day.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
The United Ad is illustrative of important issues for both marketing and autism. It is interesting how these illustrations are related.
In terms of marketing, this is the strongest illustration I have seen yet of the means-end chain. It is made clear that the passenger flies not for the purpose of flying, but rather to get to a destination to undertake activities. This illustrated in the closing comment: "Where you go in life is up to you. There is one airline that can take you there: United."
In terms of autism, this is a splendid illustration of the idea of theory of mind. People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty relating to what other people are thinking, and sometimes even to the idea that others have ideas and thoughts different from one's own. In this ad, we trace a man's experience with some interesting cues to his thoughts and feelings. The only spoken words are the closing comment mentioned above. It is apparent, however, that the man is quite overwhelmed with the large building in which his job interview takes place. It appears that he is asked tough questions in the interview. On the way down from the elevator, the man clearly looks exhausted, dejected, and unoptimistic. As he walks on the street, however, the man's cell phone suddenly rings. Seeing the man's jump with joy, it appears he got the job.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Friday, May 04, 2007
In the news today, there is a story about paying attention that does not answer that question, either. It was interesting to hear, however, that some French hotel woman had been given a forty-five day jail sentence for driving with a suspended license. Showing some measure of remorse, the hotel woman allegedly said that "I'm very sorry and from now on I'm going to pay complete attention to everything..."
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
One attendee related his experience of having gone to Starbucks only to be told that they had no coffee. At first we were indignant, finding it difficult to believe that this chain would fail to deliver on its core competency. Of course, one might be prepared for the unusual since a sissy place like Starbucks is not all that congruent with the idea of Texas but then again, there is some diversity in most areas. After thinking about the issue for some time, I started to realize that maybe my "paradigm" may at best a bit traditonal and quite possibly overly too narrow. Wouldn't it broaden a person's perspective to drink some exotic tea, or some imaginary berry mix, rather than the habitual coffee? And if they happen to be out of those beverages, too, what is wrong with a plain cup of water? Isn't Starbucks mostly about the atmosphere?
What was wrong with me? I stand corrected!
Monday, April 30, 2007
Saturday, April 28, 2007
This raises two questions:
- Is this eye contact supposed to be mutual?
- Is there such a thing as "impersonal belongings?"
Fortunately, I did have some Supreme Court oral arguments on a thumb drive that I could play on my notebook computer. Unfortunately, I did not get the occasion to listen when it would have been convenient to boot up.
The iPodless life is definitely not something that I would like to endure frequently, but I managed this time.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
- "Knows how to add and subtract."
- "Shows a new kid where the bathroom is."
- "One who is perfect and does no wrong."
Nevertheless, the coming months will allow me time to catch up on a number of things:
- Writing my "un-holiday" letter. I have several years of events and issues to discuss.
- Building up the Autism Education Foundation, whose purpose is to make educational materials on autism, for a variety of disciplines, readily available on the Internet so that instructors at junior high, high school, and college levels will find it convenient to cover the topic. I will now have the chance to send out solicitations for contributions.
- Finally making some major updates to my ConsumerPsychologist web site.
- Finishing my book Orbiting the Autism Spectrum: Looking In, Looking Out.
- Catching up on my color research.
- Reading a large stack of books that have been piling up during the academic year.
- Preparing for the Fall semester.
- Making more blog entries.
This summer, I also plan to reinstate the "tradition" I started in the summer of 2005 of doing some traveling right after the Autism Society conference in July. The conference can be quite emotionally draining, so I realized that the week after the conference probably would not be all that productive anyway. Last summer, with the move, I did not find time for the diversion.
This year, by the way, will be the first time in many years that will not make any presentations at the ASA conference. It got too busy this fall to submit anything. There is plenty to read on my web sites.