Sunday, December 16, 2007

In memory of Dr. Walter Rice

The day before yesterday, I received the sad news that my old economics professor--both from my undergraduate days and from the MBA program--had passed away that morning.

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 year of the 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

I saw Adrian Monk knock out Santa Claus with a candy cane...

Well, it wasn't actually the real Santa Claus, but rather a criminal who ran away after he had created a distraction by dressing up in a red suit while his accomplices robbed a nearby museum.

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

It took me so long to find out I was wrong--but I found out

As John Lennon says in the song "Day Tripper," "It took me so long to find out, but I found out." Let me hasten to say that I am not--and have never been--into drugs. (After all, tall people are naturally high.) So that is not the reason for my mistaken impression of what I, until today, thought of as "the 'Barumbumbum' song."

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!

Biggest points of the semester

This is the last week of classes for the semester. Tomorrow's lecture will include a reminder of some fundamental truths:
  • 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

A disappointing turn of events

The bozos at Yoshinoya have increased the price of the "Spicy Combo" bowl with impunity! Including tax, the cost is now 22 cents higher. That's disgusting! I wouldn't have objected so much if they had increased the price of the "sissy" combo (which I never have), but why would they increase the price of the spicy one, knowing full well that it's my favorite?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Supply, Demand, and Holiday Sales

Economic theory suggests that as demand increases, sellers will be able to increase prices of scarce products. With an increase in demand, the new demand curve would intersect the supply curve at a higher equilibrium price. Why, then, do we actually see steep price discounts during the holiday shopping season when consumers are seeking to buy a large amount of goods?

        • 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

        An extra day of profit

        This year, Thanksgiving falls on November 22, the earliest I ever remember it. The date of Thanksgiving has some significance to me since this way the day on which my family immigrated to the United States. Back in 1978, Thanksgiving fell on November 23, and I do not remember Thanksgiving ever coming earlier. It probably did at some point during the past 29 years--even with leap years, I would think that the fourth Thursday of November should happen at least once every 7+1+7=15 years--but I don't remember this ever being the case.

        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."

        Dysfunctional maybe, but gratitude nevertheless

        As thanksgiving approaches, it may be instructive to examine the case of the rather dysfunctional--but hugely successful--singer portrayed in Joe Walsh's song "Life's Been Good."

        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

        Why is gold so valuable?

        My first post on the Marketing College: Essential Marketing Knowledge blog at 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

        How many absent-minded professors does it take to change a tire?

        Surprisingly, at least in some circumstances, just one. It is not clear, however, that he or she will know when to change the tire--or get the "details" right.

        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

        What would have been a century mark

        My grandfather passed away a little less than seven years ago--on December 31, 1999, which was probably a rather symbolic date. Today would have been his one hundredth birthday. At the end of this month, we will be celebrating my grandmother's 95th birthday. As I reported in this summer's "unholiday letter," my grandmother is still active online and in Photoshop. Yes, it is somewhat embarrassing that my grandmother knows considerably more about that program than I do!

        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

        The Land of Steaks and Insurance

        This certainly would be descriptive of Nebraska, but I am not sure this is really the message they would want to portray on their license plates!

        Friday, October 12, 2007


        Last night, I had a dream that I rented a post office box in Ballard, California. My mother used to live in Santa Ynez and nearby Solving, California, while I was in college and in graduate school, and I would often visit. Ballard was nearby. However, I remember suddenly realizing that Ballard was an inconvenient location--the post offices in Santa Ynez and Solvang would have been much closer. Now that I am awake, I also realize that, as I recall, Ballard does not actually have a post office--the one in nearby Los Olivos is used.

        Anybody got any possible interpretations?

        Saturday, October 06, 2007

        A positive spin in the age of knock-offs

        A former ball player--either football or baseball--reportedly turned over what looked liked a Rolex watch to a party that had a sizable judgment against him. If genuine, the watch was supposed to have a value of some $12,000-$22,000. A jeweler, however, determined that the watch was actually "value disabled," worth only some $125 since it, apparently, was not genuine. An attorney for the plaintiffs remarked: "It was made by the finest craftsmen in China. It's a people's Rolex."

        Friday, October 05, 2007

        The most beautiful country songs

        Several years ago, someone posted an inquiry on an online forum calling for nominations for the "most beautiful country songs." I was reminded of this because I just acquired an album containing one of my nominations.

        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.


        Tearing up the tablecloth is not good dining etiquette!

        Tuesday, September 25, 2007

        Dating myself

        Today, I referred to one of my favorite commercials--the 1980s commercial with the jingle "You can reach me at the Hilton. Just call me at the Hilton and we'll get down to your business right away!" I made this reference in the context of cultural differences in values and business approaches. I then sadly commented that 1988--when I was in the MBA program--was before many of the students were born. (These days, a lot of freshpersons and sophomores take the Marketing Fundamentals course). I don't feel that old!

        It is better to give than to receive

        That's why I was very happy to give a beautiful exam today!

        Friday, September 14, 2007

        Afghan TV

        A story on NPR this morning reported that there are actually more households with TV sets in Afghanistan than there are homes with wired electricity (with some TVs apparently being powered by generators). Saad Mohseni, one of the co-founders of the largest TV network in Afghanistan comments that Afghans have historically been "deprived of all the good things that you Americans have become used to--such as soap operas...."

        Wednesday, September 12, 2007

        A historial milestone

        Starting today, some of my web sites will be hosted on a Windows NT, as opposed to UNIX or Linux, based server!

        Tuesday, September 11, 2007

        The not so secret agent professor

        Each week, I play music of a particular "theme" as students walk into the lecture hall or classroom before class. This week's theme was "mystique," with one of the featured songs being "Secret Agent Man." (Yes, I agree that it would be more appropriate and inclusive if the phrase "secret agent person" had been used, but this song appears to be from the 1970s or before, a baser time in history).

        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

        Violent crime

        One of my favorite podcast series is Life of a Law Student with Neil Wehneman. Normally, I am most interested in constitutional and commercial law, but at the moment, I am going through the series on criminal law. The topics that we have gone through the last several days do not paint a flattering picture of humanity: rape, murder, voluntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, felony murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit unspeakable crimes.

        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

        Cola dreams

        It has now been several weeks since I kicked the Diet Coke habit. Last night, for the first time, I had a dream in which a drank one. The good news is that I did not actually relapse.

        Monday, August 27, 2007


        The other day, I received an e-mail on from a former high school classmate. This reminded me of how, when I had first arrived in the U.S. in the 9th grade, a number of rotten psychopaths would "borrow" pencils from me and neglect to return them. Therefore, I instituted a practice that students who wanted to borrow pens or pencils would have to pay a deposit. When I first instituted this policy, one student asked if he would get the deposit back when he returned the pencil. With my most cynical and doubtful voice, I said "If you're lucky." The student got somehow worried, but we agreed that he actually get the deposit back, not just if he "[were] lucky." On another occasion, both I and another student who had given his paycheck in deposit forgot about the loan, so I ended up keeping his paycheck over the week-end. $68 and change were a lot of money back then.

        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.

        Dreaming about a brief

        Last night, I dreamed that I had somehow gotten myself into having to write a brief in support of upholding Row v. Wade on very short notice. Since I am not trained as an attorney, this was not for filing in a court. Exactly what the brief was to be used for was not clear. The brief was apparently due at 9:00 p.m. EST, and it was close to 6:00 p.m. PST, so I was getting rather worried. Robert Bork was writing the brief for the other side.

        Tuesday, August 21, 2007

        Hard drive ache today

        As I have mentioned before, a broken hard drive can be almost as painful as a broken heart.

        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."

        Somewhere in Britain

        A news story on NPR this morning reports that a British court has issued an injunction against a woman, prohibiting her from playing "country music classics" between 11:00 p.m.-7:00 a.m. One day, this woman had apparently played the same songs, including Tammy Wynette's "D*I*V*O*R*C*E" twenty times. The commentator suggested that it could have been worse (for the neighbors) since, at least, she did not play "All My Exes Live in Texas." I disagree. George Strait's song is actually much better. The former song is also very unnerving. I would also have preferred Tammy's other song, "Stand By Your Man" over the marital dissolution one (even though she was reportedly divorced three times as of some twenty years ago--I'm not sure what happened since). Or what about "Texas When I Die," in which Tanya Tucker suggests that, due to her uncertainty of whether the gatekeepers let cowboys into Heaven, the is not sure if she will go there. "If don't," she suggests, "just let me go to Texas/'Cause Texas is as close as I've been."

        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 .

        Is this news?

        A headline at NPR's web site features the title "U.S. Losing War on Terror, Experts Say in Survey." The article goes on to say that "Foreign-policy experts deem U.S. national-security strategy in disrepair, the war in Iraq alarmingly off course, and the world increasingly more dangerous for Americans." Is this news?

        A mega-nightmare

        Shortly before awakening this morning, I dreamed that I was taking a summer course in literature at UCLA. When driving to UCLA for the midterm, the 405 apparently only had two lanes, and I do not remember thinking of this as odd or knowing that it ever had more. Suddenly, the freeway was blocked by a large group of dour looking people in uniforms. I could not tell what the uniforms said, but it appeared to be a group of white supremacists, including one whose uniform had a badge with a Norwegian flag. There was a detour of the kind where, during freeway construction, the other side of the freeway is used for both directions, with each direction getting one lane. When I got to the other side, however, the freeway was still blocked. Apparently, I was still able to turn around and go back. I did not know which public transportation sources might get me there as the time of the exam (1:30 p.m.) was getting closer. It seems it never occurred to me that I was probably not the only one having trouble getting there and that the exam might have been postponed or that the campus as a whole might have been shut down.

        Thursday, August 16, 2007

        Selective Southern accent

        Today, I have been visiting my family to celebrate my sister's birthday, and my mother and I went shopping. As we were pulling into the Costco parking lot, a call came in from a Beaumont reporter concerning the extent to which the eight percent savings associated with a three day sales tax "holiday" could motive increased purchases. In the course of this discussion, I made reference several times to a similar "back to school" sales tax break in Maryland. After completing the conversation, my mother remarked that I seemed to slip into a Southern accent each time I started referring to the Maryland deal. I hadn't noticed this. Maryland is technically in the South, and you do not have to get too far away from D.C. into the Maryland countryside before an accent starts to appear, but in College Park where I lived, that really did not happen. Still, maybe there is some unconscious association. Although I only hung out in rural Virginia once while waiting for my car to be repaired, the Southern accent does seem to "kick in" rather quickly as you move south.

        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

        The Year of the Cat

        If my calculations are right, the next Year of the Cat--based on Vietnamese astrology--will not occur until 2011, but that seems a bit long to wait to make these comments on the identically named song.

        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 many any more sense to you?

        According to 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

        An endowed waiting room

        Today, I noticed that the waiting room of the Internal Medicine Department of a medical center was named after two people, presumably a couple. If that raises funds for the medical center, I am all in favor of the idea!

        Saturday, August 04, 2007

        Lifestyle change

        For the time being, I have tentatively kicked the Diet Coke habit.

        What a difference a year makes

        My nephew Thomas just turned four. Technically, his birthday isn't until Tuesday, but for logistical reasons, we had his main birthday celebration today. Thomas is going to have another one on Monday with his nanny and then another one on Tuesday, too, so it might be more accurate to say that is celebrating his birthdays in the plural.

        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.

        You can't grow corn on a sow's ear

        Although strictly speaking true, this probably isn't a proverb; at least I have never heard it spoken. If it were, it wouldn't make much sense. Still, it could probably cause some people to think for hours of what it could really mean.

        Tuesday, July 31, 2007

        Real food?

        Yesterday, I saw a television ad for Hellman's Mayonnaise, insisting that this was "real food" in contrast to many other food products on the market that feature artificial ingredients. (The ad did not mention anything about the fat content of the featured product). The ad encouraged the viewer to search with the words "real food" on Yahoo! [No exclamation was intended, but the point is part of the search engine name].

        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."

        New web site address for the Autism Society of Los Angeles

        The Autism Society of Los Angeles now has a new web site address at .

        Saturday, July 21, 2007


        My youngest nephew, Thomas, has been learning an expression from his older brother.

        Friday, July 20, 2007

        What's supposed to happen on August 11?

        No, I am not talking about some doomsday event, but please help an absent-minded professor straighten out his schedule! At the ASA conference, I wrote down the date August 11 on a small label. This was apparently the only thing I had available to write on, so I did not write down what was happening that day and where this would take place. Did any of you notify me of an event on August 11 or otherwise know of one where I ought to be present?

        Geeking out with Google

        PC Magazine suggests this as an activity. This almost certainly sounds geeky enough to make many of us squeal with delight!

        Brake pads

        Back many years ago, a friend in graduate school asked to come along as an adviser when he went car shopping. I mentioned that I did not know much about cars, but he thought I might be useful anyway until I mentioned that it was not until shortly before this that I had learned that a car cannot have both a carburetor and fuel injection.

        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

        New preferred bottled water brand for Adrian Monk

        This season's premiere episode of Monk reveals that Adrian Monk has apparently changed his favorite brand of bottled water from Sierra Springs to Summit Creek. When Adrian was in Mexico in a previous episode, he went without water for several days because Sierra Springs was sold out. He refused to go for another brand made by the same manufacturer.

        I really dislike change!

        The Big House

        For those of you who may be familiar with British English expressions, no, I am not talking about jail. I am talking about Casa Grande, Arizona. I also want to make it clear that my motivations for heading into South Arizona were very different from those of JoJo--although the trip happened immediately after the Autism Society of America conference in Phoenix.

        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

        How many windows should an old hotel have?

        Many years ago, around 1980, when I was still in high school, I was watering the lawn. I no longer remember if I actually heard or just imagined hearing the the song lyrics suggesting that "there [are] too many windows in this old hotel." (Apparently, to make matters worse, some of the rooms were "filled with reckless pride.") At first, I was not sure why this song reminded me of my friend Dan Chase, but then it occurred to me that the singer was Dan Fogelberg. (A previous blog entry discusses the associative network of knowledge, which explains this triggering of the "Dan" node).

        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."

        Arizona: One giant construction site?

        Returning from Arizona, I could not help noticing just how much construction seems to be going on around the places I visited--mostly from Scottsdale through Cochise County by way of Tucson. If Paradise is anywhere in the neighborhood, I suspect that Joni Mitchell's premonition is in serious danger of coming true.

        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.

        Should Congress repeal the law of gravity?

        Absolutely not!

        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

        Good news!

        As I explained in my un-holiday letter late last month, I usually do not get the time to send out an annual holiday letter since early to mid-December is one of the busier times of the year with the end of the semester coming up. Therefore, I have decided to start writing on an actual holiday letter this summer before the Fall semester starts. This letter is scheduled to be released in November. Having caught up a great deal with the un-holiday letter, the holiday letter is expected to be much shorter this time--not much more than ten pages.

        Someone told me the other day that the "norm" for holiday letters is about one page--two at most. The question is: Who cares?

        A succinct dismissal

        SunRocket, Inc., an Internet phone service whose market share is (or at least was) reported to be second only to that of Vonage, apparently ceased operations. A succinct message greeted callers: "We are no longer taking customer service or sales calls. Goodbye." Customers who had paid $199 for a year of unlimited calling within the U.S. and Canada are probably disappointed.

        Monday, July 16, 2007

        B but no B at the B&B

        A flier for a bed and breakfast offers the following statement: "Sorry, we no longer provide breakfast."

        Fiction tourism--in reality

        These days, I rarely buy any novels. There is a very large supply at my mother's house now that she has retired from the horse breeding business. Sometime ago, she recommended to me books by the author J. A. Jance. This author features several different individuals--mostly from law enforcement--as her books' main characters. One of these is Sheriff Joanna Brady on Cochise County, Arizona. Having reinstated my "tradition" of travel in the region immediately after the end of each national Autism Society of America conference, I am traveling around in Arizona at the moment. (This year's conference was in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix).

        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."

        A professor's nightmare

        Recently, the USA Network has been running a promo for the series Monk in which Adrian walks around in a near perfect world full of symmetry. There are even maintenance workers cleaning the glass on the parking meters. The dream, however, turns into a nightmare when he steps on a piece of chewing gum. The complains to his psychologist that this nightmare happened again.

        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.

        Seems it sometimes rains in Southern Arizona

        At least it did in Tucson last night.

        Monday, July 09, 2007

        Arizona? Not Arkansas?

        Going down Interstate 10 on my way to Scottsdale, I have been passing an amazing number of Wal-Mart stores. Maybe Arizona is friendlier to the chain than California is.

        Friday, July 06, 2007

        A broken modem

        A broken modem is probably not as painful as a broken hard drive, but it can certainly put a damper on the Fourth of July holiday. A colleague told me the other--on July 3--that his modem had broken down and that a new one might arrive in the mail that afternoon.

        Thursday, June 28, 2007

        It's finally here: My "un-holiday" letter!

        For many years, I had planned to send out a holiday greeting to try to catch up with many of those with whom I have not had the opportunity to maintain regular contact. Unfortunately, the end of the semester tends to be a rather busy time in academia, so for many years, this has not happened. This summer, I decided that it might be a more effective strategy to send out an "un-holiday" letter instead. I have posted this letter at .

        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!

        • 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.
        Page 2 briefly lists a few rewards afforded those who read the letter in its entirety.

        Monday, June 25, 2007

        Millicent Min, Girl Genius

        This is a book that certain girls on the autism spectrum--and a few bright ones off--along with certain eccentric (and possibly certain worthy but uninspiringly uneccentric) adults might like.

        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."

        Lunar absorption

        This morning on NPR, I heard a review of the book Feed, a novel aimed at young readers in which information is sent to people through a "feed," thus eliminating the need for things like attending school. I ordered a copy on Amazon for my nephew, hesitating only a little after reading the warning that the book contains "language ... that some readers may find offensive." I just couldn't resist the opening sentence: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

        Sunday, June 24, 2007

        Galveston, oh Galveston, do you hear your sea waves crashing?

        The Los Angeles Times today carries an article on how Galveston city officials are "poised to defy geologists" by approving the construction of some 4,000 new homes and two midrise hotel towers. Geologists have warned that this "massive development would sever a ridge that serves as the island's natural storm shield."

        Friday, June 22, 2007

        Extreme dysfunction

        USC periodically sends out "incident reports" on criminal events that affect members of the USC Community. The following is the description of the most recent one: "Two subjects approached a student, one brandished a firearm and insisted they be permitted to party with them. The Victim fled, and the subjects fled." In terms of the "disposition" of this event, "Both of the subjects were apprehended by USCDPS officers, and were identified by the victim as the ones who brandished the weapon at him.LAPD Southwest officers transported the three subjects to Southwest Division station for booking for 417 P.C./Brandishing."

        Sadly, this involves the not very adaptive behavior of real human beings.

        In the heart, mind, and soul or in the associative network of knowledge?

        Legend has it that Rod Stewart wrote the song "You"re in My Heart" with a Swedish actress named Britt Ekland in mind to move her to give up a $12 million dollar suit she had filed against him. (Reportedly, the ploy worked since she dropped the suit.) The singer reportedly later made the rather callous clarification that "It wasn't totally about Britt... it could of been anybody I met in that period-and there were a lot of them." Anyway, in this song, Stewart says:
        You're in my heart, you're in my soul
        You'll be my breath should I grow old
        You are my lover, you're my best friend
        You're in my soul
        In truth, it might be more accurate to say that she was in his associative network of knowledge.

        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.

        A rather mundane dream (to non-geeks, anyway)

        Last night, I dreamed that I found some basic computer speakers--nothing fancy--in my cabinet. Would this, by any chance, be good material for a country song?

        Thursday, June 21, 2007

        Enemies of the Library?

        Living in a community with such an organization would really make me feel uncomfortable!

        Wednesday, June 20, 2007

        Not even a blue submarine

        In the town where I was born, there was, so far as I recall, no yellow submarine. I doubt there were even blue, red, prink, or green submaries. I never really thought much about this before, and I can't honestly say that now--when I reflect the situation--I have any significant feeling of deprivation.

        Green stuff

        Our department financial administrator informed me today that she will have a travel reimbursement check for me tomorrow.

        "Good!" I enthusiastically replied. "I love money!"

        "I know," said the administrator.

        Filthy stuff

        Yesterday, when driving back to Los Angeles from a meeting in Los Angeles, Iwas listening to oral arguments in the Supreme Court case of the City of Los Angeles v. Alameda Books, Inc. This case involved a challenge to a Los Angeles municipal code which required a "dispersion" of filthy establishments to avoid the adverse results suggested from a "landmark study" of a concentration of sleeze in certain locations. At issue was the constitutionality of an amendment to or revision of the original ordinance mandating that only one type of business could be contained in any one building. That is, "mega stores" featuring more than one filthy kind of product or service would not be permitted. You could not show--for a fee--filthy movies in the same location that offensive periodicals were sold. Neither could you offer a massage.

        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

        Gas, food, substitutions, and grocery bills

        An article in today's USA Today reports that food costs in May had increased 3.9% from the prior year. This is 1% more than inflation in general. Part of this increase, apparently, is driven by the diversion of corn to the production of ethanol which can be mixed with traditional gasoline to reduce the need for refined oil.

        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

        Not a nightmare, but still a strange dream

        Last night, I had a dream that one of my students copied me on an e-mail she had sent to Supreme Court Justice David Souter in which she alluded to a lunch they had had.

        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.

        Fake peanut butter?

        Today, I noticed a box of energy bars in Costo whose label proudly complained that the bars were made with "real peanut butter." It never occurred to me how much fake peanut butter may be floating around out there in other products. I now consider myself warned!

        Thursday, June 14, 2007

        If your computer is on Tulsa time...

        If the time shown in the bottom right corner of your Windows XP screen--or elsewhere in your computer--is in accurate, the nice folks at Help With Windows ( have a solution for you at

        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


        According to USA Today, Pepsi will introduce a cucumber flavored drink in Japan.

        Tuesday, June 12, 2007

        2007 Global Ink Jet Conference

        Yes, apparently there actually was such a thing. Talk about narrow, specialized, all-encompassing interests! ;)

        Tuesday, June 05, 2007

        Republican scandal

        As previously mentioned, if a scandal has to occur, I much prefer if the perpetrators are Republicans. In the news today, a moped riding bozo who used to be a high ranking Bush Administration official has just been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison: .

        Friday, June 01, 2007

        My nephew's depiction of me

        My sister just sent me the following depiction of me that my nephew Thomas (4 3/4 years old) drew of me:

        Thursday, May 31, 2007

        CB radios, Bonanza, and safes

        When I first arrived in the U.S., I was into CB radios. Talking on a CB was, of course, a great way to learn more English.

        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."


        A news item today indicated that the daughter of one of the Supreme Court Justices entered into a plea bargain entailing probation for a DUI. Not being one to gossip, I am not going to mention which justice--or which daughter--is involved, but sufficice it to say that I always live in fear that there will be a scandal involing one of the good guys. That was not the case this time. It was not one of the four good justices. And, fortunately, among those I do not need to worry about any scandals involving children of David Souter.

        Disgusting spammer arrested

        USA Today reports that Robert Alan Soloway--described as "one of the world's most prolific spammers," or, as I would put it, a disgusting, no good, reprehensible, psychopathic SOB--has been arrested and is being held pending his a hearing on Monday. One apparent result of this arrest is that "computer users across the Web could notice a decrease in the amount of junk e-mail."

        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

        How could I have been so wrong?

        The title of this post would normally lead one to suspect that a sad love story is coming. It's not that bad at the moment, but the mistakes I made were literally astronomical in size.

        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 ( 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 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

        Peace Planets?

        This week, the Staples Center is hosting a Star Wars event. I am not sure of the details, but when talking by today, there were long lines. There were also people wearing strange outfits and weapons--albeit toy ones.

        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

        Do one hundred million people gossip every day?

        This was a statistic offered on the Oprah & Friends show on XM Radio. No source was offered, so I am now sure how reliable this statistic is. Also, is this just in the U.S.? Do Canadians not even count? How many people gossip every day around the World? Reportedly, several municipal employees in New England were fired for gossiping during their lunch break.

        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

        The bozos cancelled Gilmore Girls

        As the late Jim Croce said, "It was bound to happen--just a matter of time." Hopefully, the decision the bozos made was "one of a painful kind."

        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:
        1. Will Rory ever get a position at the New York Times?
        2. How will things turn out between Lorelai and Luke? Did the last episode strongly hint that they would remain "friends plus" with nothing more?
        3. 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.
        4. Will Luke and his daughter be able to take the boat trip next year?
        5. How will things turn out with Lane's two babies? What will be the relationship with their grandmother?
        6. 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?
        I had feared this would happen when Rory went off to college. Harvard would have been a considerable distance from Stars Hollow, but then we got a reprieve when Rory decided on nearby Yale instead. But, with Rory now on the road, "[writing] us out of this" one might have been too difficult even for Joan Wilder.

        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!

        Nightmare of the week

        Tonight, I had a nightmare involving travel. First, there was, again, some question of getting on the right plane at the right time, but that seemed to be resolving itself.

        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.

        What is a web site?

        A British judge presiding over a terrorism related criminal trial apparently shocked the public when stating "The trouble is I don't understand the language. I don't really understand what a Web site is." That comment did not make the judge seem particularly competent, especially in the fifth week of the trial.

        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 as a whole better seen as the web site, with each independent blog merely being a division of the site? Is my site at a web site in its own right? What about the backup site for my class immediately below the main site at

        With the evolving technology and terminology, who really knows what a web site is?

        Wednesday, May 16, 2007

        A rather morbid link

        It has come to my attention that there is a link to my basic marketing section on from the "MORT 3016: Funeral Service Marketing and Merchandising" course page on the University of Minnesota Biomedical Library web site.

        Tuesday, May 15, 2007

        Who doesn't love a surprise?

        Suki asked this question tonight on the season finale of Gilmore Girls.

        I, for one, do not! As someone very insightfully remarked when asked about the nature of Hell, "Surprises!"

        Spacey exam answers

        At the conclusion of the Fall semester, I commented that a number of students had written rather corny answers to one of my final exam questions.

        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, 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.

        Backache today

        With apologies to the Eagles:

        Some boxes were going to hurt my back
        Before the day was through
        There is a backache today
        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."

        Fax nightmares: Poisson distributions and conditional probabilities

        Last night, I had a dream that I had a notice on my answering machine with instructions on how to deliver a fax. As it turns out, I have not had a fax machine connected to my phone for many years now and, now that I think about it, although I have sent a handful of faxes during the last year, I am not sure that I have actually received a fax at work during the last six months (or during the last year, for that matter). Anyway, the message set to press some buttons (as one would do to use a fax on a shared voice phoneline), but somehow, I did not have a fax connected. So far as I recall, it wasn't that I was actually expecting any faxes, but it appears that I heard the answering macine go off. (These days, I give out my more permanent cell phone number rather than my home phone, so there is usually no reason for me to answer the phone at home--statistically, it is very likely to be a wrong number or a "spam" call).

        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

        The lesser of seventeen evils

        The title of this entry seems rather pessimistic at first glance, but it should actually be a cause for optimism. Here's why:

        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.

        I'll take that as a compliment

        Yesterday, a student sent me an e-mail saying "You are the [excrement]." At first I thought this was a student who was about to complain about her project scores. It turned out to be a highly complimentary note, however.

        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

        United Airlines, the means-end chain, and theory of mind

        My all time favorite advertisement is the United Airlines black-and-white cartoon ad featuring a man flying out for a job interview, leaving behind his dog while he goes. It has been posted on Youtube at . (A close second is the Wausau Insurance ad featuring Fred Fox, the very concise "world renowned expert on efficiency and effectiveness.")

        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

        Another brush with the iPodless life

        Yesterday, my iPod stopped functioning. It was not easy to find repair information on Apple's web site. In fact, I did not find out what to do. It appears, however, that it was my charger that was the problem. When I recharged while driving, the iPod came back to life!


        My students are not going to like this! Last night, I had a dream that I was going back to school--I think in International Business--at UCLA! It actually did not feel like a nightmare.

        Friday, May 04, 2007

        Paying attention

        My mother once reported an experience riding with a rather obnoxious woman who kept telling her horse "Pay attention!" My mother said that she continuoulsy held her tongue rather than asking, "How much does attention cost?"

        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

        I'm so blogging about this!

        That's what I heard someone saying today. Shows some interesting linguistic developments over the last decade!

        Price sensitivity (high, moderate, low)

        In a sample assignment I posted to illustrate an assignment on segmentation, targeting, positioning, I included price sensitivity as a variable, listing the values of high, moderate, and low. The vast majority of students seem to have jumpled on the bandwagon, including this variable with exactly these three levels. Does this segmentation division seem to be rather universally applicable, or are we dealing with a strong force of conformity?

        Unprofitable social irresponsibility

        A very insightful ed-op piece in Forbes, written by two Marshall professors, suggests that paying low wages may not be such a bright idea after all. Right on!

        No coffee--at Starbucks?

        Last week-end, I attended the Marketing Educators' Association conference in San Antonio. (A previous post touchingly detailed my iPodless existence there).

        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

        CNBC Interview With Dr. Vernon Smith

        Those of you who have not yet had the chance to view the 2005 CNBC interview with Dr. Vernon Smith, 2002Nobel Laureate in economics, may want to check out .

        Saturday, April 28, 2007

        Personal belongings and eye contact

        A new message repeatedly relayed over the PA system at LAX (at least in the American terminal) calls on passengers to "Maintain eye contact with your personal belongings at all times."

        This raises two questions:

        1. Is this eye contact supposed to be mutual?
        2. Is there such a thing as "impersonal belongings?"

        The iPodless life

        Last Wednesday night, as I was waiting for the airport shuttle to pick me up, I realized that I had left my iPod back at my office. Not a particularly unusual thing to happen to a member of my profession, but a matter of some concern nevertheless. This meant that I would not have an opportunity to listen in the airport, on the plane, and during any other appropriate moments during my conference.

        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

        Qualities of a good student

        Back in high school, a teacher once posted a list of attributes identified by writers of an essay on the topic of "Qualities of a Good Student." I do not remember most of the entries, but three that I recall are:

        1. "Knows how to add and subtract."
        2. "Shows a new kid where the bathroom is."
        3. "One who is perfect and does no wrong."

        An occasion of some sorrow

        Yesterday was my last class meeting of the academic year. This was a matter of some sorrow to me, and possibly more so to many of my students. Yes, I know some people may consider me rather naive. ;)

        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.
        Except for a week in mid July discussed below, please do not call this my "vacation!"

        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.