Thursday, December 15, 2011

Yet another reason to get a Kindle: Library books!

Recently Amazon turned on the ability to borrow ebooks from your local library on your Kindle.  This is a feature that other e-reader have had for some time and many thought would never come to the Kindle.  Now that i have had a chance to try it out i have to admit it is pretty awesome.

It took a little while for me to get this set up since my library card had expired years ago and i had been using various other methods to borrow the ebooks i wanted to read.  I did have to go down to my local library and get a new card.  Once that was done i quickly went online to find a book to read and found what might be the only flaw with this program.

Currently there is a rather small selection of ebooks available to download and the number of ones you would actually want to read is even smaller.  This ended up not being a huge issue and is something that should change over time as publishers and libraries get more comfortable with ebooks.

This means that you do have to spend some time finding a book that is worth reading and when you do find it there will almost always be a waiting list.  After you put yourself on the waiting list you will get an email when the book is available and you then get a couple of days to download the book.  Once you get the email you log into the library ebook site and click a button and the book is sent to your Kindle over wifi, no wires needed!  

I am currently reading Ian Banks book Consider Phlebas which so far is pretty awesome.

You get the book for 21 days and once that is up the book does get deleted from your Kindle.  They do give you a 3 day warning before this happens.  If you made any notes or highlights they will still be available at

More information can be found here

Borrow Kindle Books from Your Local Library

Personal thoughts on Occupy Portland from conducting a survey of Occupiers on eviction day(Nov, 12 2011)

A few friends and I had the chance to be in Chapman and Lonsdale squares on the last day that the Occupy Portland movement had their encampment set up.  We were conducting a survey to learn more about the political views of the Occupiers.  Since then I have been asked by a lot of people what I thought and any insights I might have about the movement.

Honestly I'm still trying to put together what I learned from the experience but I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my thoughts.  I am sure this will change as I go over the results of the survey, which we hope to release by the end of the month.

The first thing I noticed was many of the Occupiers supported what would be considered fringe political and social views.  I met many articulate Socialists, Greens, Anarchists and more than a few people who really can't be classified.  The only thing that I thought really united these various political views is that they are what would be considered in American to be fringe political views that tend to be marginalized in the political debate of this nation.

Now just because these ideas are not mainstream in the United States doesn't mean that they are crazy or should not be a part of the political debate.  The issue, as I see it, is more about how we have set up our political institutions.  Since we use a system of First Past the Post Voting, political views that can not get a very large number of votes virtually never win an election or any type of representation.  This results in many peoples political views, especially those in the Occupy movement, never winning an election or seeing an elected official that shares their views.  Which means that many smart people who have legitimate political views, which are represented in other nations, have no representing in the American political system.

Many people I talked with often complained about "the system" and that they didn't have a voice in our government.  Which is completely true in many cases.  I am not sure that this can be blamed directly on corruption or on the 1% holding the people down as many Occupiers argued.  I see it more as a result of how we have set up our political systems and the types of voting systems that we use.  Other nations have made different choices that results in representation of less mainstream parties such as the Liberal Democrats being part of the coalition government in the UK and the Free Democratic Party being in the coalition in Germany.

The exclusion of these politicly views results in people who support the political views of the Greens, Socials, and Libertarians being marginalized and even mocked in our media and civil debate, even though these political philosophies are arguable more developed and consistent than anything the Democratic or Republican party has to offer.

The overall Occupy Wall-street Movement is probably being helped by the fact that it appears that more and more people are feeling that the two parties don't represent them and that a 3rd party is a waste of time.  This is a very rational view of our current political system.  For better of worse our system was set up to exclude political views that are not a part of mainstream culture.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Most people would probably agree that we would rather not see a KKK party winning elections and being a part of our elected government.  At the same time though this means that groups like the Greens, who have had a large impact on public policy in Germany and much of the EU, is excluded from our political institutions and policy debates.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

T-Mobile is a "Disruptive Force" according to the FCC, now why don't more people use them?

I think T-Mobile is awesome and it looks like a few people at the FCC might agree

Loss of a "Disruptive Force"

T-Mobile is well known for providing very low cost wireless services, the FCC notes. A company with a "history of disruptive competitive conduct," the report describes the firm. "Although T-Mobile faces challenges as the industry develops and responds to the increasing data demands of consumers, the record does not support the bleak short-term outlook for T-Mobile that AT&T has portrayed in its submissions."

T-Mobile has the cheapest and most flexible plans out of all the carriers.  They have a solid phone lineup and interesting technology like WiFi calling that you can't really get anywhere else.

 I hear so many people complain about their cell phone company but I have never had any issues with T-Mobile.  I guess I will never understand why so many people stick with crappy service when there are so many better options.

Unless the unemployment issue is dealt with, expect a lost generation

From the economist

Armies of the unemployed

Jobless rates in Greece and Spain are already at eye-watering levels. Among young people, those under 25, rates of joblessness across the whole of southern Europe are startling. In Greece, 45% of young people were unemployed as of August, which is the last month for which data are available. In Spain, the rate is 49%, up sharply from a year ago. In Italy, youth unemployment is 29%; in Portugal, it is 30%. Even in France, 24% of young people are without employment. 
The current rate of unemployment is insane when you look at the numbers.  I am still shocked more radical thinking about how to deal with this is not a part of the debate.  Instead we are stuck with endless debate about austerity measures and budget issues.  Maybe the OWS movement can change this, but i doubt it.

Unless we deal with unemployment the best we can hope for is a Japanese style lost decade.  I don't even want to guess what a worst case would be like, but i think the film Mad Max might be close.

Messed up Amazon book prices, How does this happen???

How do some used copies of books end up being more expensive than the new copy?  As far as i can tell there is no difference between the used and new copies.

Degrees of Control: A Sociology of Educational Expansion and Occupational Credentialism

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two MUST READ ebooks about the current and future state of the economy

One thing i love about the ebook revolution is how quickly smart knowledgeable people can now publish ebooks on the topics of the day.  We now have two ebooks that can give us a glimpse of some of the most important issue facing our economy and a good background on what might really be happening.

The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better by Tyler Cower, of Marginal Revolution fame, and Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee great examples of being able to bring out important books at just the right time.

These two books are important explorations into the issues that are changing our economy and have increased the economic rewards of the top 1% while also increasing unemployment and poverty rates.

While The Great Stagnation argues that we have hit a sort of innovation plateau which is causing our living standards to stagnate compared to what we have come accustom to.  Race Against The Machine takes a slightly different view and makes the possibly stronger argument that the pace of technological change has increased so fast that our institutions are not able to keep up, which has resulted in growing inequality and unemployment even though we have a growing economy.

Both of these books discuss the ideas that made me start studying economics.  Issues around how the economy divides up the economic rewards and how technological innovation is effecting our lives are probably the things i think about the most during my day.

These are also great books if you just want to start to understand why our economy feels stuck and unfair.  Although they do not get close to providing all the answers to our current economic problems I think these books start a very important discussion about what economic policy will need to be like in the 21st century.

If you do not have a Kindle Touch already I would highly recommend getting one and then buying these books right away.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I love the my Kindle but think the new ones suck

I am a huge Kindle fan.  I have loved them ever since the original Kindle 1 which looked like the love child of blackberry and tiger electronics.  E-ink makes reading long documents and books not feel like a chore to read, unlike LCD.  I am able to easily make notes that are saved to the cloud and searchable, download pretty much any book I want in seconds, get tons of public domain and Creative Commons licensed books, and I honestly think I read a bit faster on it.

To me the kindle isn't just about replicating a book in digital form, it is about improving on the book and brining some of the oldest technology we have into the 21st century.  But I am baffled by the latest Kindles.  To me it looks like they are a step in the wrong directions, it is like they are trying to be more like books instead of trying to transcend them.


First I want to talk about the cheaper one just called Kindle.  At first I was impressed with this device.  It was light and thin which are two of the top things I look for in gadgets.  The screen was nice and responsive.  At $79 how can you really complain?  Then I tried to type something and learned this was not the kindle for me.  It is frustrating to type anything but the most simple of words.  Maybe you could get used to it but I doubt it.  This makes one of the chief things I love about reading on a kindle.
With real books I was taught from an early age to not write in them.  I am sure I just had some stern librarian at my elementary school or something.  To this day I am rather sparing in my written notes inside books.  With my Kindle this isn't an issue and I love marking up my eBooks.  I highlight all the time, I write all sorts of notes.  Since I am able to review all of this online and easily search my notes I think it is a VERY valuable feature.  Especially for nonfiction readers like myself.
The new Kindle basically destroys this and doesn't care.  Now I would imagine many people who are buying a kindle just to read fiction are probably not going to mind this lose.  But I feel this is just making the Kindle into more of a normal book.  I feel we should be giving people the chance to engage with the content they read in a deeper way with notes/tweets/sharing.  It is something that I didn't think I would do all that often with my original kindle, but now do all the time.

Kindle touch

I just don't understand the drive for touch interfaces on e-readers.  It honestly doesn't bring much to the experience and right now with current e-ink technology it is just a nuisance.  Ever since the introduction of the iPhone people have been trying to bolt on touch interfaces to everything they can with mixed results.  To my knowledge Sony was the first to release a touch e-ink device and it was terrible.  The e-ink was slow and the overlay they used to make touch work caused the text to be hard to read.

We have come a long way since then but I still maintain that touch is not right for e-ink.  The biggest reason is more to do with expectations rather than the actual experience.  You expect it to act like an iPad and it just can't do that (yet).  With the kindle touch there is enough of a lag to be annoying and the UI is sometimes unresponsive and confusing.  I am sure you would get use to this but it just isn’t a joy to use in the way I find my Kindle Keyboard to be.
Right now the Kindle Keyboard is the way an e-reader should be.  It allows you to not just read the book but to engage with the book on a level that I just don't feel a paper book allows you to do.  Sure this is much more important for non-fiction books but I think it is worth it.
If you are going to get an e-reader  please consider the Kindle Keyboard.  The newer Kindle might be cheaper, and the kindle Touch might be cooler, but the Kindle Keyboard is the only one that is a real kindle in my book

Occupy PDX Survey on November 12th 2011

Some friends and I decided that we wanted to learn more about the Occupy Portland Movement and so we did a survey!

We all work in a Survey Research Lab at a local university and thought we could use our skills to learn more about the movement and possible compare it to another survey done in New York with the Occupy Wall-street movement there.  We did this completely independetly of our jobs and just for our own personal interests in the movement and also so we could get a chance to use the skills we have on something we are all interested in.

We were able to collect surveys from 8:30am to 9:00pm on November 12th, 2001.  This was the day that the City of Portland had set as the last day they would allow the camp to remain.  That night at 12:01 the Portland Police were scheduled to evict everyone from Lownsdale and Chapman Squares

It was pretty obvious when we got there that some of the Occupiers were already packing up their tents and taking things down.  There was also a very heavy police presence with at least 2 officers stationed at each enterance to the parks and more walking around the area.  We also saw more than a few people just walking through to check out the camp before it was gone.

We usually had 1 or 2 people in the park who approached everyone they could to complete the survey.  The survey was rather long at 3 pages and took people from 5 - 7 minuets to complete on average.  Overall people were, for the most part, happy to do the survey and many expressed words of support for our work and said they are looking forward to seeing the results.

Right now we have 134 completed surveys that we are working on getting entered into a computer so that we can start analysisinp the data.  I hope that we can get this done sometime next week.

Here is a link to the survey we did.  We unfortunately did not have a lot of time to put this together and I feel if we had a few more days we might have been able to have a better survey.

Here is a link to the survey we are trying to compare to.  Our use of this survey should in no way show any support for it or how it was done.  The whole team had issues with this survey but at the time we were drafting our survey we could not find any other Occupy survey that we could use to compare against.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Must read for anyone who thinks the stimulus package failed

In the debate over the effectiveness of the stimulus plan, i feel that simplistic ideological thinking has basically taken over the debate.

Just about everyone you hear talk about the stimulus plan today says it didn't work but rarely has much to back up that claim.  They usually point out that the economy still sucks for many many people.  Although I will not disput that fact it still is not enough to prove that the stimulus plan failed and only shows how simple minded some of those people are.

Now the always amazing Christina Romer has put the record straight on what we know and don't know about the effectiveness of the stimulas.  This should be required reading for anyone who thinks the stimulus failed.