Monthly Archives: June 2004

The quotes just keep coming…

Last week’s quote:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

was correctly identified as Milton, in Paradise Lost (it’s part of Lucifer’s “better to rule in hell than serve in heaven” soliloquy). I like the quote so much that I considered leaving it there permanently…
Nevertheless, there is a new quote this week, and it is difficulty: Formidable, 4 points.

Price-Earnings Ratios and Me

According to a UCLA economist, Bay Area homes are overvalued:

Leamer calculated the average P/E for homes in several California metro areas by dividing the median price for a single family home by the average annual rent for a 2,000- square-foot apartment in each region. (You can get more and better data for apartments than rental homes, and the two tend to track each other.)
His findings: In the Bay Area, the average P/E for a house shot up to 13. 8 in the first quarter of 2004, compared with 7.2 in 1999 and 2000. Today’s ratio is more than a third higher than it was 1989, just before housing prices started a multi-year descent.

My own landlord is attempting to take advantage of this trend by putting the units in my building on the market as condos. Based on his asking price, the P/E ratio for my apartment is 21.3, high even by Bay Area standards*. On the other hand, many of the units have sold already so it can’t be as ridiculous as it looks.
The good news in the article is that rents are (still) falling, so when I am forced out of this place in the near future the trend should be in my favor.
(via Matthew Yglesias)
*Assuming this is comparable to the numbers in the article, which in fact does not seem like a strong assumption given my severely limited understanding of economics.

Factor of ten in nine months

Today I went running for three hours and twenty-five minutes, which is a ten-fold improvement over how long I was able to run when I got back into the sport last September. I mention this not to brag (gotta save that for after the marathon) but to note that this aspect of my physical condition was so far below its potential that I was able to make such an enormous improvement with a little bit of dedication. This suggests that other of my seldom-used abilities might be likewise improved with a little practice daily. This, of course, is relevant to the recently-popular topic of self-modification.
The obvious difficulties are identifying those aspects ripe for improvement, and figuring out how to train them effectively. There’s a lot more known about how to do this for running than, say, conversational skills…

Firefox 0.9

It’s out. The new theme is nice, as is the extension manager. Certain annoyances and oddities of 0.8 may have been fixed, but since they used to appear somewhat randomly I’m not yet sure. They still encourage you to nuke your old profile when upgrading, which is somewhat inconvenient (but this time I remembered to export my bookmarks first).

Change is good?

Via Eugene Volokh, some musings on “men and sexy”:

And I know a fair number of (good adjectives) single men, but [it’s generally] also clear why they’re single. They don’t listen, and won’t; they won’t get a real job; they’re boring but don’t want to acknowlege it or do anything about it. Hey, if that shirt was “in” when they were in high school, no need to see if any ads/mannequins/humans under 60 wear it today.
I don’t have a single female friend who hasn’t asked herself, “What am I doing wrong?” and been totally open — often too open, in a self-blame-y way — to the answer, and to changing the answer, often with great success. But I almost never find that men ask that question, or are even willing to hear the answer, let alone do anything about it. Instead, single men in my experience behave as if the only life possibilities are being the way they are, or acting. The idea of growth and change don’t make the radar.

(There’s more, but this is the core of it.) I’m less interested (at the moment) in the differences between male and female approaches that are the focus of the piece, than in the idea that one should change oneself to become more attractive.
I’m a great believer in the mutability of personal identity; the alternative for me is despair, because if I don’t change who I am on a timescale of five years or so, I anticipate ending up in a very unhealthy situation. So, I consider myself a work in progress, and am in principle dedicated to certain self-modifications, although in practice these often turn out to be very difficult to achieve.
Furthermore I’m unlike “most” single men as this piece would have it* in that I’m fully aware that fundamental aspects of my personality are major factors in keeping me single — overwhelmingly so. I’ve blogged about this before, and it all still applies.
So far, so good. But, something’s bothering me about all this: Given the circles I travel in, I meet a lot of quirky people. And, in my experience, quirks are not attractive. Most women find quirky guys off-putting. Nevertheless, most if not all of the quirky guys I know feel no need to suppress their idiosyncracies to be more socially acceptable, and my gut feeling is that this is an admirable trait.
Now my gut is an inveterate liar, and therefore I tend to submit gut feelings to a barrage of skepticism. In this case, my viscera defend their intuition as follows: Quirky behavior is valuable because it makes a person unique. The person who takes pride in his quirks is asserting sovereignty over his own identity, whereas the one who suppresses his uniqueness in favor of attractiveness is in effect submitting to majority rule of his personality. So I admire a proudly quirky person because he is his own man.
On the other hand, there’s no evidence that the author of the piece quoted by Volokh values uniqueness or individuality, because she does not distinguish between healthy personal growth and conformal to social norms; in effect she is encouraging homogenization. She says, “[t]he idea [sic] of growth and change don’t make the radar,” but look at what she means by this:
They don’t listen, and won’t – Classic self-absorption; for a guy to change this would be a good example of growth.
they won’t get a real job – There’s a whole quagmire awaiting me in the interpretation of “real job”; I am going to avoid it by assuming that the key word is “won’t”, and this bit is aimed at the guys who live in their parents’ basements and are temperamentally opposed to working for a living. If that’s what’s meant here, then it’s another example of room for growth, but it describes a tiny fraction of single guys rather than most guys. Perhaps the author spends too much time at Star Trek conventions?
they’re boring but don’t want to acknowlege [sic] it or do anything about it. – But this is very different from the previous two items, because boring-ness is not an intrinsic property of a person: it arises from the interaction with an observer. While no one is objectively boring, a guy could have the misfortune of being found boring by the vast majority of single women. This is certainly a problem, but solving it is an issue of homogenization rather than growth, and there are trade-offs. In my case, my line of work is extraordinarily uninteresting to most women, and by leaving physics for something more exciting (for them) I could increase my chances of hooking up. But I like physics, doing physics makes me happy, and doing something else just to get laid doesn’t make me a better person, it just means I’m selling out.
Hey, if that shirt was “in” when they were in high school, no need to see if any ads/mannequins/humans under 60 wear it today. – And fashion decisions are just thrown in with the other items as if they all go together. Are we talking about “growth and change”, or are we talking about changing my shirt? Is this discussion about character flaws, or being found boring by the general population, or having matching socks? When you say, “single men in my experience behave as if the only life possibilities are being the way they are, or acting,” can you explain how I can change my wardrobe in a sincere way as opposed to “acting”? This one sentence makes it very hard to take this piece seriously.
In the end I think this piece fails to acknowledge distinctions in the ways one can change oneself: superficial vs. fundamental, growth vs. conformity. If I make a deep change in who I am just to be more attractive, I lose part of myself in the process – as well as any claim to being my own person.
(Damn, it’s been a while since I had a good rant.)
*I have no idea whether the author is correct about this; I hesitate to generalize from my own example, as I’m hardly typical in other ways.


The AP’s writing some terrific satire these days:

“I’ve always said I think it’s very important for someone not to try to take the speck out of somebody’s else’s eye when they may have a log in their own,” Bush said, invoking the same biblical passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew that he had used when asked about gay marriage in July 2003.
“In other words, I’m very mindful about saying, you know, ‘Oh, vote for me, I’m more religious than my neighbor.'”

Later the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign unveiled their new slogan: “Bush/Cheney: More religious than John Kerry.”

Last Pledge Case Post?

The Supremes ruled that Michael Newdow doesn’t have standing to sue for removal of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance:

The court held today that the plaintiff, Michael Newdow, did not have standing to bring a suit challenging the pledge as presently worded. Eight justices agreed that Dr. Newdow, a nonpracticing lawyer who is also a physician, cannot qualify as a legal representative of his 10-year-old daughter, on whose behalf he filed suit.

I think this is probably the best outcome, all things considered. If they had ruled the phrase constitutional, we would have to deal with this precedent in the future; whereas if they had correctly declared it unconstitutional, Bush would have this stick to beat atheists with (and by extension, liberal Democrats) in the hope of energizing his base.
Ok, more than just his base, since 90% of Americans think “under God” belongs in the Pledge. I try not to jump to any conclusions about what this number means, because the ones that come to mind will just set me on the path to Dr. No-style supervillainy.

Ridiculous-Looking Birds

Last week’s quote was from The West Wing:

CJ: What’s your Secret Service code name?
Sam: They just changed them.
CJ: I know. What’s yours.
Sam: Princeton.
CJ: Mine’s Flamingo.
Sam: That’s nice.
CJ: No it’s not nice.
Sam: The flamingo’s a nice-looking bird.
CJ: The flamingo’s a ridiculous-looking bird.
Sam: You’re not ridiculous-looking.
CJ: I know I’m not ridiculous-looking.
Sam: Any way for me to get out of this conversation?

This week’s difficulty is Hard; 3 points.