A Shot from the Grassy Knol

December 14, 2007

Google has announced Knol which seems to be a shot over the bow of Wikipedia. I find this challenge fascinating as it matches the Open Source community of Wikipedia against the pay-for-performance model of Google ads.

At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.

The name is pretty weird though. Is it Knol as in Grassy Knoll or Knol as in Knowl-edge? I really wish people remembered to included the pronunciation of new brand names in their announcements.

Wikipedia is entrenched but “getting paid” is a powerful incentive. I can’t wait to see how this one plays out.

If you contribute to your RRSP, you can reduce the amount of tax deducted from your pay rather than wait until tax time for a refund. Why let Mr. Harper hold on to your money when you could be helping your cash flow situation all year long. Fill out the Request to Reduce Tax Deductions at Source form and mail it to your local Tax Services Office.  The contribution limit for 2008 is 18% of your salary up to a maximum of $20,000.

The Goracle and Creation

December 10, 2007

Paul Krugman comes to Al Gore’s defense over the Creation of the Internet.

To this day people repeat the lie that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. Chris Matthews did it just a couple of weeks ago.

Al Gore, he’s the one who said he created the Internet.

Meanwhile, the reality is that Gore played a crucial role in the Internet’s creation

Yeah yeah. I don’t think there is any doubt that Gore chose the wrong words but I don’t think its a “lie” to say that he said he created the Internet.

But it will emerge from my dialogue with the American people. I’ve traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

Just because he didn’t mean it doesn’t mean he didn’t say it and it certainly doesn’t mean its not funny. It was hilarious then and it still makes me laugh today.  I’m sure George W. Bush didn’t mean to say his “Bushisms” either but that doesn’t take away from the hours of fun you can have with them.

This is mind boggling. I read the headlines that Young Chimps Top Adult Humans In Numerical Memory and I didn’t read past the first few sentences (something about people-think-they-are-so-smart blah blah blah blah). Then I saw the video and WOWZEE. The good stuff is about 55 seconds into the YouTube video embedded below. That is just an incredibly cool short-term visual memory trick. I wonder if it is unique to chimps or whether we lost that specific ability.

Clive Crook has an article in the Financial Times about the American institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Until recently it was possible to regard the US system of housing finance as one of the best – if not the best – in the world. Just as it was intended to, it has supported very high levels of home ownership, notably among the less prosperous. But the semi-public entities chiefly responsible for that success, and the financial technologies they devised and promoted, are deeply implicated in the housing market crash that now threatens the US and world economies. Will that turmoil lead to a scaling back of their role?

I find it curious that we have this natural social experiment, Canada vs. the United States, that is rarely used as a basis for comparing policy choices. As far as I can tell, Canadian culture and American culture are about as identical as any two countries in the world (though I’m guessing many/most Canadians will object to that characterization) yet the two countries have drastically different institutions. Except for goofy comparisons by Michael Moore, there is little discussion about the outcomes of the diverging policy choices in the two countries. Canada vs. the U.S. makes for a wonderful apples-to-apples comparison and it even has a handy built in 10x scaling factor for population.

I suspect that free market advocates would argue that Fannie and Freddie do nothing but subsidize bigger homes. The same argument holds for tax deductible mortgage interest (U.S. only). I think home ownership rates in the U.S. and Canada are approximately equal and this is NOT what you should expect given the very attractive incentives available in the U.S..

And the same holds true for public education. Whenever I hear an economist talk about school vouchers to fix the broken public school system in the U.S., I wonder if they think the public school system in Canada is also broken. I think public education works pretty well in Canada so why the difference?

The “Death Tax” (estate tax) only exists in the U.S. although the one big lump sum for capital gains can seem like a death tax in Canada.

Hand guns? Welfare? Minimum wage? Fuel taxes? Ethanol Fuel? Immigration? Why so few thoughtful comparisons?

Sitting Winds

December 6, 2007

An RSS summary reads

Fall sitting winds down with Alberta legislators sitting around the clock.

And for the life of me I can’t parse that sentence. What on earth are “sitting winds”? Mind you, I have trouble with generic news headlines, especially Sports ones involving ducks and predators. The trick here is that “winds” is not “blowing winds” but “unwind with a book”. Here is the article if you care about the Alberta legislature. Sitting winds. Sheesh.

Oh, by the way. The headline was “Alberta’s Marathon Sitting Continues”. Crystal clear.

Ear Bites and Broken Brains

December 5, 2007

In 1997 Mike Tyson did the unthinkable to Evander Holyfield in a boxing match:

Suddenly, with 40 seconds left in the round, the fight takes an ugly and ghastly turn: Tyson gets Holyfield in a clinch, rolls his head above Holyfield’s shoulder, spits out his mouthpiece, and then in an inexplicable and gruesome move, crunches down hard with his teeth on Holyfield’s right ear and bites off a chunk.

Everyone in the stadium is mortified, unable to grasp what they have just witnessed. As Tyson spits out the chunk of Holyfield’s ear, a bewildered and perplexed Holyfield pushes Tyson away, then hops up and down in a frenzied pain, and spins around in a circle in stinging agony.

Gruesome yes and very much against the rules of boxing. The irony, for me, is that losing part of an ear is non-consequential compared to the permanent brain damage boxing can cause. Imagine you are in a hypothetical torturer’s chair, he gives you the option of having part of your ear painfully bitten off or receiving multiple severe blows to the head that will cause your brain to impact the inside of your skull so violently that it will swell and eventually cause permanent brain damage. Hmmmm…. sounds like a no-brainer to me (no pun intended).

Now this is not a rant against boxing but an observation of the power of feeling someone’s pain. The problem with brain damage in boxing is that there are no obvious signs of discomfort, no hopping around the ring, no open wounds gushing blood. We empathize with the chomped ear. Long term brain damage is something we can understand but it does not have the same visceral impact.

This kind of visceral empathy is the mainstay of the nightly news and is used by humanitarian organizations in their plea for donations. Carnage and suffering. Visceral imagery rules.

Venezuelans defeat proposal for sweeping constitutional changes that would have made Hugo Chavez El Supremo.

The defeat slows Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired transformation of the country. Venezuela, once a staunch ally of the United States, has become a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s policies in the developing world. It has also taken the most profound leftward turn of any large Latin American nation in decades.

The referendum followed several weeks of street protests and frenetic campaigning over the amendments to the Constitution proposed by Mr. Chávez and his supporters. It caps a year of bold moves by the president, who forged a single Socialist party among his followers, forced a television network critical of the government off the public airwaves, and nationalized oil, telephone and electricity companies.

Those against the amendments won 51 to 49 percent. 49 percent voted to hand over complete control to Chavez. I’m not sure this is a result to be celebrated.