Sunday, December 9, 2012

Crash Course is a great example of how the internet will change education

It feels like the amount and quality of online educational resources exploded in 2012.  Khan Academy finally hit the mainstream, TED talks are now watched by millions, and Coursera is offering more classes then some small colleges.

My personal favorite recent online educational experiment in Crash Course on Youtube.  This is a a YouTube series that teaches what is essentially a high school level course on History, Biology, Ecology, and Literature.  The videos are hosted by Hank and John Green who have built up a rather large following of fans, called Nerdfighters, from their vlogbrothers channel.  The Crash Course series is also funded by the YouTube Original Channel Initiative and is so far the only YouTube funded channel that I thought was actually good.

I highly recommend checking out the world history videos of crash course.  John Green is an amazing teacher, at least in video form.  He makes world history fascinating and probably makes high school world history classes completely unnecessary.

  I have embedded the first episode below please check it out and tell me what you think.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Are ADHD drugs the way to a lower crime rate?

A new study claims that people with ADHD are less likely to committee crime if they are taking appropriate medication.  It makes you wonder how much better the world might be if everyone received proper medical treatment.

ADHD Drugs Help Curb Criminal Behavior

Older teens and adults with attention deficit disorder are much less likely to commit a crime while on ADHD medication, a provocative study from Sweden found.
It also showed in dramatic fashion how much more prone people with ADHD are to break the law — four to seven times more likely than others.
The findings suggest that Ritalin, Adderall and other drugs that curb hyperactivity and boost attention remain important beyond the school-age years and that wider use of these medications in older patients might help curb crime.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Is homosexuality a choice? Does it matter?

It is amazing how much time is spent on the question of how much choice a persons has in their sexual orientation.  Here is a great article from Scientific American on the issue.

Is Homosexuality a Choice?

Ask this question, and you will probably receive one of two responses:
Yes. People choose to be gay. They are making an immoral choice, which government should discourage. 
No. Sexual preference is biologically determined. Government should protect gay people from discrimination because homosexuality is an unalterable aspect of their identity.
These two answers have something in common: With both of them, the science conveniently supports the moral decision.
Although I find the question fascinating from a scientific viewpoint, it is a question that ultimately just shouldn't matter.  Even if sexual orientation was a choice, does that change anything?  Why would that make it any more or less acceptable?  Why someones sexuality matters to anyone else is something I have just never understood.  Why should I care who someone is attracted to?  How does the sexual orientation of someone else matter to me?

I just don't understand why people discriminate based on sexual orientation.  I can understand how someone might think homosexuality is a sin but there are plenty of other sins that people do all the time and it doesn't result in nearly the same amount of outrage.  Can someone please explain why sexual orientation is still such a big deal?

Monday, November 19, 2012

How Eastern and Western cultures approach the struggle to learn

Just listened to a great NPR story about cultural views on learning.  In the west we often associate struggling to learn a topic as a sign that you are not very smart.  In the east, struggle is viewed as more of an opportunity to show that you will work hard and figure out the topic.  Both approaches have their pros and cons and each culture could learn from the other.

In my own life I have noticed that when i struggle with a topic it can be devastating to my self-esteem and motivation.  I instantly jump to the conclusion that I am just not smart enough.  Since most things come fairly easy to me I have not yet come up with cognitive strategies to deal with struggling to learn a topic.

Link to the story is below and I HIGHLY recommend listening to it.

Have you experienced this?  Anyone grow up in the east an able to comment on the story?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Research paper of the day: Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?


Could it be that the best way to combat the epidemic of depress that we find in moder society is just to eat more vegetables?  This new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research argues it might. 

Humans run on a fuel called food. Yet economists and other social scientists rarely study what people eat. We provide simple evidence consistent with the existence of a link between the consumption of fruit and vegetables and high well-being. In cross-sectional data, happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The pattern is remarkably robust to adjustment for a large number of other demographic, social and economic variables. Well-being peaks at approximately 7 portions per day.

Well I think I am going to start eating way more fruits and vegetables, how about you?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review of the new Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome

I have been a fan of Battlestar Galactica ever since I saw the original series in reruns as a kid.  Although the acting, writing, or special effects were never great.  The story was always strong and the universe was exciting to explore.  The re-imagined BSG and the prequel series Caprica were, in my opinion, some of the best television made in the last decade.

Unfortunately Blood and Chrome reminds me more of the original series than the newer version.  The acting is rather poor, the writing is cliche, and the special effects look like something that was made for the Xbox.  Still, the story is exciting and I am surprisingly happy to get to visit the BSG universe once again.  So far the series has improved with every episode so there is hope it might end on a high note.

I highly recommend all BSG fans to check the series out.  The first episode is only 12 minuets long and you should know if you like it pretty quickly.  If you were not a fan of BSG already then there isn't much here for you and should check out a much better and more interesting series H+.  Both are currently available on Youtube and embedded below for your enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Oregon did not legalize Marijuana

One of the few surprising things to happen in the 2012 election was the failure of Oregon to legalize marijuana.  Oregon is pretty liberal when it comes to marijuana and currently if you are found to have under an ounce the legal ramifications are fairly minor.  Oregon also has a medical marijuana law that allows just about anyone to get a card to legally smoke pot.

So why did Oregonians not support making the current laws even more liberal?  I have a few theories.

1.  Oregon hates the OLCC and this would create yet another bureaucracy just like it

For those unfamiliar with the OLCC it is the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.  I very much doubt there is a government agency that Oregonians hate more than the OLCC.  They make it incredibly hard to buy liquor in the state and have enough restrictions that music venues often have to jump through a crazy number of hoops to allow people to have a beer while watching a band.  If you move to Oregon and like to have a drink once in a while you will quickly learn to hate the absurd rules that the OLCC has.

The ballot measure to legalize marijuana would have created an OLCC like bureaucracy to manage marijuana production and distribution.  This probably would have made it more difficult and expensive to get marijuana for the average smoker and might have even hurt quality.

2.  Pot is already widely available, cheap, and good quality

Although I don't smoke, it is my understanding that there is currently no issue in getting marijuana whenever you want anywhere in the state of Oregon.  It is supposedly decently priced and good quality.  For many smokers why would you want to mess with that?  Especially if it means creating a system like the OLCC.

3.  People benefit from the current system too much

Another issue or legalization is that many otherwise law abiding citizens already make a living from the growth and distribution of marijuana.  Many of these people do so under the medical marijuana laws already on the books.  Although there would be a chance that they could profit even more from full legalization, I'm not sure if that is something you would want to risk your livelihood on.

So in the end the current system of mostly illegal marijuana actually serves smokers rather well and I'm not sure the pro-legalization people made the case that changing the law would actually improve anything for the vast majority of marijuana smokers or suppliers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

I decided that I wanted to try reading something a little different than my usual non-fiction and scifi book so when a friend of mine from Taiwan recommend A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers I figured I might as well give it a try and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed reading this book.

The book is a diary of a young woman  from China who goes to London to study English and ends up in a relationship with an older man.  It explores the issue of cross cultural communication and more generally how different people express and experience love.  In the end it is a coming of age tale about how she becomes an adult women who is fully in charge of her own life and does not let her family or lovers define her.

The novel itself is very short but satisfying and is one of the few books that I think makes me a better person for having read it.  Since I have been in relationships with people from China and other cultures the book really struck a cord and I could see much of my past relationships, both the highs and lows, in this fictional relationship.  I am not usually one for novels about relationships and emotions but this one I felt was very well done.

If you have any interest in cross cultural relationships or just want a novel that is a nice change of pace then I highly recommend A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics

China is often considered to be a bit of a paradox in the economic development profession.  It is commonly said that it did not follow the common route of development with deregulation and liberalization of the economy.  This book offers compelling evidence that China might not be that different after all.

The author digs deeply into government records to find that the key to understanding China's growth is not by studying the pro-urban state led capitalism that was done in the 1990's but instead looking at the rural entrepreneurship of the 80's that laid the groundwork for the spectacular growth that China has seen over the last 30 years.  He also dispels many myths about companies like Lenovo who are today seen as being an example of how China can create strong innovative companies but are actually questionably Chinese.

This book can at times get a bit bogged down in number and details but in the end it is a rather fast paced and exciting read that gives you a whole new view of what has been happening in China over the last 30 years, why it is important, and what challenges China may have in the future.

I highly recommend that you read this book. Right now the price is rather high on Amazon but it appears that I can loan out my Kindle edition. So if you are interested please contact me.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Research paper of the day: Can’t We All Be More Like Scandinavians?

Fascinating new paper from the same people who brought us
Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty   .    

The new paper is called "Can't we all by more Scandinavian?"  This paper outlines reasons why we can't all be like Norway with its high standard of living and comprehensive welfare state which in technical terms is called "cuddly capitalism".  The paper argues that for some nations to have "cuddly capitalism" others need to have a more harsh social policy that has stronger incentives for work and innovation.  We use the technical term "cut-throat capitalism" to classify these nations.  In simple terms the authors argue that the cut-throat nations are the ones that expand the technological frontier for the world and then the "cuddly" nations use the innovation and progress to ensure that they maintain a high standard of living.

Needless to say this is a rather controversial argument.  I personally have always wondered if a bigger welfare state in the US might encourage more people to be more entrepreneurial since they would be able to fall back on a safety net if the business fails.  Although Americans don't have the same social pressures about failure that we see in most the rest of the developed world, the financial cost to a failed business are substantial and can lead to a level of poverty that is almost impossible to achieve in Scandinavian society.

Mark Thoma has a great overview of the issues and is generally awesome so check his post out if you want to learn more.

So what do you think?  Does our cut-throat capitalism lead to a level of innovation and progress that we would otherwise be unable to achieve?  Are Scandinavians essentially getting a free ride due to the more harsh form of capitalism we practice in the US?  Could an improved social safety net actually more the US more innovative?  These are the questions that caused me to start studying economics and pushed me towards going to grad school.  I'm not sure if there is an answer to these questions but I have a feeling I might be spending a rather large amount of the rest of my life to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Journal Article of the Day: Does Money Burn Fat?

This has to be one of the best article titles I have seen in some time.

Essentially what the researchers found was that financial incentives can help people loose weight. This isn't exactly a shocking result, I would even argue that finding people didn't respond to the financial incentives would be more note worthy.  Still the concept that incentives matter is something that many people have a hard time understanding.

Does Money Burn Fat? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment

We test whether financial incentives have an effect on weight reduction in a randomized controlled trial involving 700 obese persons assigned to three experimental groups. While two treatment groups obtain €150 and €300, respectively, for achieving an individually assigned target weight within four months, a control group receives no such premium. The results indicate that the weight losses for the treatment groups are 2.6 and 2.9 percentage points higher than that achieved by the control group, raising the average total weight loss for the incentivized groups to 5 percent of the initial weight. This percentage is typically regarded as a threshold to improve the health status of the obese. Further evidence indeed indicates some health improvements. The higher reward causes only the group of obese women to lose more weight. Overall, the results suggest that financial incentives can motivate people to lose weight significantly.

Friday, October 5, 2012

I am so tired of the Boy Scouts of America not living up to the values they claim to be teaching our youth.

I achieved the Rank of Eagle Scout, worked at summer camp, and even served as the Western Region Chief of the Order of the Arrow (the Boy Scouts National Honor Society) and was a member of the Nation Committee for the Order of the Arrow.

When I was young Scouts was where you hung out with your friends and learned about camping, leadership, and how to be a better person. For me the Scout Oath and Law was a serious thing and I did my best to follow them and try to learn to live by those values. When I grew older and learned about the so-called 3 g's (Girls, God, and Gays), I was very confused about what to think about the issue. I found scouting to be a great program that I enjoyed and thought had good values but the exclusion of people due to gender, sexual orientation, and religious belief went against everything I thought I had learned in scouting.

Scouting taught me to be reverent and I thought that meant to follow your religious beliefs and respect the beliefs of others. As a Unitarian Universalist, my religion teaches me to "Respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” How can I do that when I am a member of an organization that discriminates against so many people, including people who are my friends?

The Scout Law teaches every Scout to be brave, which means that a Scout should have "the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.” I very much wish when I was active in scouting I had been braver and had actively worked to change the discriminatory policies of the Boy Scouts. I still feel that scouting is a great program that teaching important things to youth. The issue I have today is that the organization itself is not living up to those values. 

Reading about Ryan is a reminder that although I earned all the awards and high positions within the Boy Scouts, I was never as good a Scout as Ryan is right now. It sounds to me like Ryan is living the Scout Oath and Law and deserves his Eagle Scout award. 

Boy Scouts: Don't let your anti-gay policy deny my son his Eagle award

Petitioning Troop 212, San Francisco Bay Area

Boy Scouts: Don't let your anti-gay policy deny my son his Eagle award

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The nightly TED talk experiment, come hang out with us!

Like most of the Internet I think that TED talks are a great example of what makes the Internet awesome.  The ability to watch a short video about a wide variety of topics from some of the most brilliant thinkers of our day is just an amazing development.  If you have not already checked out a TED talk you should stop reading this and go there now.

Tonight i decided to try an experiment an do a group viewing of a TED talk about online learning using the Google+ Hangout feature.  The video was pretty fascinating and was done by one of the founders of he online learning site Coursera.  Coursera is another interesting development on the Internet that is trying to provide a high quality university education online for free.  

The talk was pretty good and went over some very interesting points about how they are dealing with issues like how to grade tens of thousands of essays via the Internet.  Overall I highly recommend checking out the video and have embedded it bellow.

More importantly I found that a group viewing of a TED talk can be pretty awesome.  We were able to chat with a person from Korea who actually uses Skype to teach English online and who had some very thoughtful and interesting insights on the subject of online learning.  Although the hangout can be a bit of a distraction I found that I paid closer attention to the video to find ideas and issues to chat about once it was done.

TED has thousands of videos and posts new ones pretty much every day.  We are planning to try another group viewing tomorrow at 9:00pm PST (4:00am GMT).  We will start the hangout at 8:30pm to get everything organized and chat a bit before we watch the video.  Please follow my twitter feed if you are interested in knowing when we are starting.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why is unemployment and underemployment so high in Oregon and the rest of the West Coast?

Interesting post over at The Oregon Economics Blog.  Patrick Emerson asks why is unemployment so bad on the West Coast?  Unfortunately it sounds like no one has a particularly good theory yet.

Underemployment in the West

Quick, what do California, Oregon and Washington have in common?  Among other things, the Pacific  Ocean and lots of good beer among them, they all have higher than average unemployment, much higher than average underemployment and, along with Nevada, the highest difference between unemployment rates and underemployment rates.
All this according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and nicely summarized by the Wall Street Journal.


Monday, July 30, 2012

A friend of mine was assaulted for wearing cycling shorts (and possible for being A Troubled Piece of Fruit)

A friend of mine was beat up a few days ago for wearing cycling shorts.  I have rarely had any fear of being attacked while going about my normal activities but recently I have been seeing more and more events like this happening in my neighborhood and to people I know.  I know that something needs to be done to stop events like this from happening but I am honestly not sure what to do.

Like many of us he doesn't have insurance and isn't exactly rich.  Please read his blog post about the event and learn what happened and how you can help.

A Troubled Piece of Fruit: Some guys beat me up yesterday.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Research Paper of the Day: Can Money Change Who We Are?

Very interesting paper from Nattavudh Powdthavee (Nanyang Technological University and IZA), 
Christopher J. Boyce (University of Manchester), and Alex M. Wood (University of Manchester).

They look at people who have won the lottery and if that event has had an effect on various personality traits of the winner.  It appear that winning the lottery can have an impact on your personality but there is a lot more research to do before we know why.

Can Money Change Who We Are? Estimating the Effects of Unearned Income on Measures of Incentive-Enhancing Personality Traits*The importance of noncognitive childhood skills in predicting higher wages is well documented in economics. This paper studies the reverse. Using surveys of lottery winners, we analyze the effects of unearned income on the Big Five personality traits. After correcting for potential endogeneity problems from prize sizes, we find that unearned income improves traits that predict pro-social and cooperative behaviors, preferences for social contact, empathy, and gregariousness, and reduces individuals’ tendency toward negative emotional states: known in economics literature as incentive-enhancing personality traits. Our results support the possibility of scope for later interventions to improve the personality traits of adults.
Can Money Change Who We Are?

Very rough draft of Occupy PDX survey report

It is amazing how much time you have to spend to get something like the Occupy PDX survey report done.  Although there is a lot more I would like to do with this project, I have to face the fact that I don't have enough time to devote to this project.

Given that I have limited time I have decided to release what we have so far.  This is a rough draft and I really do wish i had more time to polish it, but I don't.  If anyone would like to help please email me at 

This is a link to the PDF of the results from the survey

Monday, May 28, 2012

My review of Car2Go, a wonderful car sharing service that has one HUGE downside

I have given Car2Go a try recently and have to say I am pretty impressed with the service.  For those of you who have not already heard of it, Car2Go is the latest car sharing service to hit Portland.

The way this service works is very simple.  When you need a car just check the website and reserve a nearby car.  Then you go to the car, use the membership card they send you, and your off.  You can use the car as long as you want and drive pretty much anywhere.  They charge you $.35 per minute that you use the car.  For short trips this makes it very comparable to taking the bus.

If you want to learn more of the details just click the link below the picture.

The first thing that people notice about Car2go is that they use only small Smart cars.  I have always been curious about these cars and one of the top reasons i signed up for the service was so I could drive one around.  Although it felt a bit like driving a big golf cart, I still thought it was a lot of fun.  They feel safe and have more than enough power to drive on the highway just fine.

The cost is very affordable at 35 cents per minute   This means that a 15 min. trip will cost you $5.25.  That is more than double what a bus trip would cost but you save a lot of time.  Also if you are traveling with a friend the trip becomes very competitive with taking Trimet.

Now there are a few downsides I should warn you about.  First there is no guarantee that a car will be near you.  Several times I have been on the PSU campus and thought about using Car2Go only to find that there were none anywhere close to where I was.  Usually if you keep checking one will pop up, but you can't count on that happening.

The bigger downside for me though is the fact that I still have to drive.  I personally hate driving.  I find it stressful and a total waste of my time.  The reason I take mass transit isn't due to cost but the fact that it allows me time to read, catch up on email, focus on a podcast or lecture, write notes to myself, ect.  Mass transit gives me time to work on things I might not otherwise get to.  If I use Car2Go for a trip, I am stuck driving again and start missing out on all the things I could do if I had just taken Trimet.

The fact that I still have to actually drive is a serious issue and will mean that I won't be using Car2Go all that much in the future.  Although I somewhat save travel time using Car2Go compared to taking Trimet, the loss of productive time is a huge hidden cost.  I highly value being able to do many other activities that I just can't do if I am driving.  This actually makes Car2Go not such a great value for me.

Overall I was happy with Car2Go and will probably keep using it in the future if me and a friend want to quickly get around town.  If I am by myself and not in much of a hurry though, I will be sticking with Trimet.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My HTC One S review

I finally have a new smartphone and it is amazing!  I dropped and cracked the screen of my Samsung Vibrant a few months back and have been waiting for the HTC One S to come out ever since.  I have to say it was well worth the wait.  The phone is exactly what I want from a smart phone.  Here is my review.


I love the design of this phone.  It is super thin but doesn't feel cheap.  The American T-Mobile version of the phone is called Gradiant Blue which has this smooth gradiant change on the back case from a cobalt blue-like color to black.  I think it look nice but still personally prefer the international Black version. Still, this is the best design I have seen yet from an Android device and I like it better than the iPhone.


This might be the only downside to this phone.  The screen is a nice 4.3 inch AMOLED screen. This means it is on the bigger side (but not too big) of screen sizes yet still retains the vibrant colors and deep black levels you would expect from an AMOLED screen. The only issue is that it is a Pentile display.  Please check out the link for the technical explanations for what that means. What it means for me though is a noticeable type of pixilation around the edges of images.  Many people don't notice this so your milage may vary.  This is one thing you should check before getting this device.


This is the best camera I have ever seen on a phone.  Here is a sample photo and video I took with the camera.  Unless you are serious about your photos this should your replacement for any point and shoot camera you currently use.

Battery Life

So far the battery life has been great!  It easily lasts the whole day on a single charge.  Even under heavy use it has done great, which is good since the battery can't be replaced.  This is an issue some people have had with the phone.  Although this is the way the iPhone has always been, Android phones have usually had user replaceable batteries.  Traditionally Android phones have had TERRIBLE battery life and many users even started to carry around an additional battery in case they ran out of power at the wrong time during the day.  I never needed to do anything like that with my Samsung Vibrant and so far the battery life on the HTC One S is far, far better.

Custom UI

HTC uses a custom UI for android called Sense.  With this phone you get Sense4 which is a very welcome upgrade from past versions.  Although Sense has always been better than TouchWiz from Samsung and MotoBlur from Motorola it has never been better than the stock android experience you can get from Google.  I think that has changed now and personally i like Sense4 much more than stock Android 4.0.


Many Android users like to be able to "root" and fully customize their phones.  The HTC One S is a bit of a mixed bag at this time for full customization.  You are able to unlock the bootloader and put on a custom ROM, but due to the lack of true S-Off there are some major limitations to what those custom ROMs can do.  Right now popular ROMs like Cyanogenmod and MIUI are still very much a work in progress.  This should change in the near future with the full release of the source code from HTC.  Until then you are a little limited with the number of ROMs available for the device.


This is the first Android phone that i will honestly admit to being better than the iPhone.  You don't have to root it and put on a custom ROM to make it into a decent phone like you do with most other Android phones.  Everything is pretty much perfect with the small exception of the display being Pentile.  I think this is the phone to get right now and personally think it should handle itself nicely against any upcoming phones.

PROS: Amazing design, great battery life, custom UI is actually good, free Dropbox space, camera

CONS: Pentile display, no S-OFF yet, large amount of bloatware

Monday, April 23, 2012

Is there a connection between Democracy & Economic Equality?

I have always wondered if there was a connection between how Democratic a county is and the level of economic equality in that county.  It is easy to think that Democracy could lead a country to being more equal since the poor would have a political voice and would most likely vote for their economic interests.  It is also easy to see how the upper class in a society could take over democratic institutions and entrench the existing economic distribution of wealth.  I decided that instead of just doing the normal google searches for academic papers on the topic this time I would actually try to do something with publicly available data.

To measure how Democratic a nation is I used the Democracy Index which is complied by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

To measure economic equality i used the Gini coefficient as put out by the world bank

I decided to do a scatter plot of those two pieces of data and see if any obvious correlations could be seen.

First i did all nations.

Not seeing anything obvious here.  So next i decided to just look at poorer nations.  To do this i only looked at non-OECD nations.

Again no real obvious correlation here.  Next i decided to look at rich nations so i looked at just the OECD countries.

Well there might be a very small correlation but nothing is very obvious from this.

So after all that work the results could best be described as nothing.  I didn't find any obvious correlation between level of Democracy in a country and the level of economic equality in that country.  

This doesn't mean that there is not some type of correlation.  I would almost certainly imagine there is some type of link between these two things but that this very simple exercise didn't find anything.  Both the indexes i used have their own issues which you can read about on the wikipedia pages i linked to.  Also we would probably need to look at the data over time if we wanted to really know how Democracy might influence economic equality.

If you want to look at the data i used here is a link to the google doc

Also I would love to hear what people think about the connection between Democracy and economic equality in the comments.  Do you think there might be a link?  Why or why not?

Please remember that this was a random project and should NOT be used as any type of evidence for anything.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is Kickstarter the future of scientific research funding?

I love Kickstarter!  A web platform to crowdsource the funding of crazy ideas is just awesome and a great example of what the Internet was made for.  By being able to bring together people who have an idea with others who want to support/fund/mentor the idea, Kickstarter has created something really special.

Right now I want to focus your attention on one projects that I think might be very important.

What Works in Development: 10 Meta-Analyses of Aid Programs

Have you ever wondered whether aid programs actually work? Wouldn’t it be useful to know how effective programs are in achieving their objectives (e.g. reducing poverty, improving health, improving education)? This book will review the quantitative evidence on the effectiveness of aid programs in a very thorough and rigorous way, using meta-analysis. After explaining this method and its merits, each of ten chapters will apply it to a different type of aid program. Throughout, the lessons that we can draw from these analyses will be discussed using plain English.
This is a really awesome project that would fund real research into economic development.

The more interesting question is if this might be the future of funding for scientific research?  With the recent economic downturn and the fact that science does not appear anywhere near the top of the list of priorities for the major political parties in the United States, science funding will probably only get smaller in the foreseeable future.  This is forcing many researchers to get a little more creative with finding ways to fund their research.

Will the future of scientific research funding be kickstarter?  For most research i would say no.  The amount you can actually raise is still way to small for most fields and I am not sure how people would feel about raising a ton of cash for a project that ends up not yielding any results.  The place where this type of funding might work though is in the Social Sciences.

The project I linked to above is a great example of a research project that doesn't need much funding and could have a real impact.  Unlike the harder sciences which tend to require a rather high cost to doing research, Social Science tends to be cheap.  When I was working on developing the Occupy Portland Survey I actually thought about putting up a Kickstarter.  Honestly just $1000 would have be amazing and we could have done so much more and would have a finished report by now.  Unfortunately we went the crazy cheap route which means everything takes much longer since we are a 100% volunteer effort and everyone is already busy.

Since I now know just how important a few dollars can be to doing research, here is a list of Kickstarter like sites that specialize in Science/Engineering.  I HIGHLY recommend getting involved in these communities.  You don't often find a place where a small donation of $5 can much such a huge different.  Also just tweeting about the interesting things you find can mean so much for a project.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Word Cloud of the responses to "What frustrates you the most about the political process in the United States?"

I was playing around with the data file from the Occupy Survey we did and ended up making this word cloud of the responses to Question 28 "What frustrates you the most about the political
process in the United States?". I thought it was interesting so here it is.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Occupy Portland Survey Data File

One of the reasons I started this blog was so I would have a place to release information related to the survey I helped do of the Occupy Portland Camp on November 12th, 2011.  Which was the same day Occupy was evicted from Lownsdale and Chapman Square.

Since that time I have not had a lot of time to work on this project.  Between work, family, applying for grad school, and a few health issues, I just have not had a lot of time to work on this.  But I wanted to make sure that people who wanted to take a look at the raw data would have an opportunity to do so.  Which means i am releasing the data!

We ended up getting 134 people fill out at least some of the rather lengthy survey we created.  

If you want to look at the survey we used you can download it here (  We based it off a survey that was done at the New York Occupy camp (

We are still working on the report of what we found.  If you would like to help us with the report or just look at what we currently have please contact me at

Please feel free to post in the comments anything interesting you find in the data file.  I consider this data to be completely in the Public Domain so please feel free to use it for any project you would like.

Occupy Portland Survey Data File (ODS format) - 

Occupy Portland Survey Data File (Excel format) -

UPDATE:  I am going to start posting anything interesting i find on my Twitter feed!/mulderc

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It is time to FREE TriMet

With the looming cuts to service and increase in fares for the TriMet system (TriMet budget-balancing plan: Longer waits, higher fares) It time to rethink TriMet at all levels and make sure that we have a 21st century public transit system.

We should start by making Trimet FREE!!!

What I propose is that we increase the payroll tax that supports TriMet enough to cover the 24% of the TriMet budget that currently comes from fares.  We try this for one year and then let people vote to keep the free yet higher tax system or revert back to the older system with yearly increasing fares and services cuts.

This would not just benefit people who use TriMet.  Drivers would see an additional benefit of less congested roads which would make travel time in a car shorter and possible safer.  We would also see improvements in air quality that would benefit everyone!

So what do you think?  Would it be worth trying an experiment to see what a free public transit system would be like?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Everyone Hates The Fed!

I was approved for a Kickstarter project today!

My project is to write an eBook about the history of American public opinion towards the Federal Reserve tentatively titled "Why Everyone Hates The Fed!"  

While working on a survey I did of Occupy Portland I noticed that many people would write comments about the Fed.  I found this curious since anti-fed rhetoric tends to be more of conservative/libertarian talking point.  Yet my research would appear to indicate that this might be an area of agreement between the Occupy Wall-street and the Tea Party.

The Federal Reserve has always been at least somewhat controversial.  The mission of the fed is not well understood even by people who are otherwise knowledgeable about our government.  Honestly unless you work for the Fed, I doubt you truly understand what it does.  This has created a pretty impressive number of conspiracy theories that would be funny if they were not a troubling sign of how misinformed the public might be.

The Fed is also a bit odd in that it is the central bank for the United States but parts of it are privately owned.  It technically is a public agency, yet congress had limited oversight of it.  It has a dual mandate of price stability and full employment in the economy but these goals often conflict.  I think the Fed is probably the most important and least understood government institution in the world.

I am still working on the details of the project but biggest thing I wanted to do is get enough funding to do original research on the current public opinion in regards to the fed.  This would require a minimum on $20,000 to do a nationwide survey and closer to $200,000 to do a comprehensive survey that would allow for cross-state comparison.  I have no idea if this is reasonable at all.

I have a feeling getting up to $5,000 would be doable.  Any more than that might be asking way too much.

So what do you think?  Can I raise enough to make this project worthwhile?   

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Can the economy keep growing? This paper says no

I just finished reading the rather short yet very interesting journal article Entropy, Substitution and Sustainable Economic Growth found in the open access journal Research in World Economy.

In the debate over sustainable economic growth, two critical issues are elasticity of substitution and technical change. Due to entropy increasing law in MEI system, the elasticity of substitution between any two resources must decline to zero and the efficiency improvement of resources from technical change is also limited. Therefore, substitution and technical change can not sustain economic growth forever.

This paper is only 5 pages long and is an example on how brevity can sometimes make things less clear.  Essentially it argues that economic growth can not continue forever due to entropy.  As we use more capital and labor we will see more entropy which will result in the use of more capital and labor for maintenance of capital and labor.  This results in decreasing efficiency of production which means that there is an upper limit on how much we can increase economic growth.
The paper goes on to argue that technological change faces the same issue.  Fundamentally technology change doesn't increase efficiency but rather moves from using one resource to another to create the same output.  This means it would be subject to the same forces of entropy and thus, in the long run, would not be capable of sustaining economic growth.
I'm honestly nor sure what to make of this argument.  Again it is just too short of a paper to really be able to tell if this is a valid critique of long term economic growth.  Statements like this one "As a double-edged sword, technical change can’t fundamentally improve the efficiency of resources." are just not well backed up and need a much longer explanation.   
My feeling is that it might be a valid issue, but the theoretical future end of economic growth due to increasing entropy is so far away as to not be a realistic concern for centuries.  Still it is an interesting and short paper that I hope others will properly evaluate.

Friday, January 6, 2012

What I have been thinking about all day: The Future of History

I got my first issue of Foreign Affairs today (Thanks! @shultzc) and i can't stop thinking about the article The Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?

Essentially Fukuyama argues that we have a serious lack of new ideas for our political and economic systems which could cause us to lose our Liberal Democracy and with it a Middle Class.  Without some type of new ideology we might see the developed world become more unequal and move toward either a totalitarian political system like China or a more nationalist/populist regime.

I can't stop thinking about this.  I think the link above is gated, please post in the comments if you find an ungated version.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Never read any Philip K. Dick? Now is a great time to start for FREE!

Philip K. Dick is widely regarded as one of the best Science Fiction writers ever.  He also might have been insane, which would explain many of his stories.  Even if you have never read a single one of his stories you have undoubtedly watched one of the many movies based on his books such as Minority Report and Blade Runner.

Now you can read 11 of his short stories for free!!!  So if you have no yet checked him out, now is your chance.

Free Philip K. Dick: Download 11 Great Science Fiction Stories

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Things I want to learn more about: The Incan Economy

During my daily internet browsing I found this interesting article on io9.

The greatest mystery of the Inca Empire was its strange economy

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Inca Empire was the largest South America had ever known. Centered in Peru, it stretched across the Andes' mountain tops and down to the shoreline, incorporating lands from today's Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, Equador, Argentina and Peru - all connected by a vast highway system whose complexity rivaled any in the Old World. Rich in foodstuffs, textiles, gold, and coca, the Inca were masters of city building but nevertheless had no money. In fact, they had no marketplaces at all.

The article mostly focuses on the fact that the Inca did not use money, nor did they have marketplaces.  Anyone who has visited ancient Greek and Roman cities usually see how central the marketplace was in those societies.  So this makes the utter lack of a marketplace very unusual for such an advanced society.

The article bases it's information from the book The Incas: New Perspectives by Antropologist Gordon McEwan.  I am curious if any economic historians have written books about this.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My review of Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks

This might be the first book I have finished and cannot think of a reason why I stuck with it to the end.

Consider Phlebas is the first book of the well regarded Culture series from Iain Banks.  It is about a small event that happens during a huge intergalactic war between the religious zealot race called the Idirans and the Culture who is an anarchist/socialist utopian society largely run by AI's.

The main character is a human(ish) who works for the Idirans because he feels that the Culture is philosophically wrong and a dead end for humanity.  He is to track down an AI that has hid itself on a dead world and is important to both sides.  While attempting to do his mission he gets side tracked into a variety of different adventures that allow us to see more of the universe and the insidious effects that the war has had on it.

The issue I have with this book is that it is essentially a ton of distracting side quests that I never felt really gave the reader much more insight into what was happening in the universe.  At the same time the bigger questions of why Horza, the lead character, is so anti-culture is never truly explored nor is the reason that the AI is so important.

I will admit that the writing is good and the book is fast paced.  For being Banks first scifi novel, it is a worthy effort.  But in the end i just can't recommend this book to anyone.  The big ideas that this book does have are great, but they are few and far between.  It is mostly a lot of running around that it just gets boring and repetitive.