Saturday, December 29, 2007

Google and Microsoft

Some people say that Google is the new Microsoft. They usual do not compliment the business success or benefits to the users, but they mean a new, big monopoly, that will, to put it economically, extract the surplus from you as much as possible.
Google is indeed successful. Google dominates market for search, text ads, has a strong position in mail. Google offers wide range (and fast growing) of services ( list here, just take a look, you would be surprised how many. And Google enters the Instant Messaging market (GTalk), Phones ( Android) etc.
Most of these service benefit experience users, but their simplicity and well-thought design makes them attractive for low-end consumers, too. For example, Wal-Mart is selling $200 PC with Linux preloaded with many Google applications (like Google Documents instead of Microsoft Office suit etc.), and has a big success with it.
As we all know, you cannot please everybody, so some people are scared and are getting angry. Google has access to so much information about you, is becoming so strong and big that it is not hard to imagine it will become (almost) a monopoly, like Microsoft. And such monopolies are not good for consumers (nor even for security, as everybody without firewall, antivirus, anti-spyware and malware running Windows can probably testify).
Having such monopoly in information services would probably be disastrous, right?
No, not really. The reason why Microsoft is a problematic monopoly while Google is not is in the "networking" properties (in economic sense) of their services. Microsoft is building things that you want to use because others are using them. You cannot switch because your documents will not be accessible to others, you could not download as many programs as there are for Windows (who would write them for operating systems nobody is using, right). With Google, this is not true. Not only most services do not have network benefits (like Gmail - you can read your emails anywhere you want, even if I send them from Gmail; you can search with Yahoo and I can search with Google and there is no big problem for either of us because of that), but they are designed to be open. For example, Google Documents allow you to export your documents to wide range of formats so that they are accessible for you colleagues. That is something Microsoft was never serious about.
OK, it is possible that Google is doing the second part (openness) only to enter the market and will stop when it has its monopoly positions. Maybe. But the first part will be still true. I can use any Google services I want and you do not benefit (nor you are harmed) by using other services. Moreover, it is very easy to switch - the only thing it requires is for you to learn some new things (shortcuts, commands etc.) It does not require you to convince your boss that Microsoft Word is really not a good format for in-firm documents.
Therefore, I'm not particularly concerned about Google. Moreover, the part when Google would be fighting with Microsoft over the world dominance would be long (they both had cash to burn) and fun (for the consumers).

GM food and EU

Genetically modified plants are highly regulated. They are tested in a very, very thorough way. They are often beneficial. For example BT corn has a gene that allows it to generate toxin that prevents some pests to eat it ( NY Times ). Thus, there is no need to use pesticides to kill these pests. This saves other plants and beneficial insects, bees and what not.
Even though there is some theoretical danger that the special gene will "transfer" to other plants and thus create a nasty pesticide-producing (or pesticide-resistant) plants, no such even was ever recorded. Laboratory testing shows that such events are possible, but very unlikely. I also do not think that such transfer would be a disaster, even though it is not something you would like to see.
Precautionary arguments were used to forbid planting genetically modified plants. The citizens of the EU are being scared by GreenPeace and other organizations painting GMO as the biggest threat every (even more dangerous than nuclear plants, imagine!).
Because of the enormous benefits that genetic modification offers to the farmers and eventually to the consumers, the EU is probably the last place on earth where GMO are not being grown.
Of course, no "disaster" caused by GMO ever happened and it seems that the level of testing and principles of the technology are such that nothing will ever happen. The fears of the EU seem stupid, and possibly economically disastrous in the future.
Yet, I have a strange feeling when I think about the "prohibition" being abolished in the EU. You never know, something may happen (it is after all cutting edge of the technology), we do not understand everything. It is not a bad idea to have place when you do not grow GMO just in case something goes terribly wrong. Unfortunately, such precaution comes with a very price (taxes on agricultural imports and subsidies for farmers). Given that nobody really knows what the dangers are and what is the price we pay (the latter probably easier to estimate than the former), it is not clear what the policy decision should be.
[As far as I understand the technology, the best combination for us would be to allow imports of GMO products but not to grow them here. If we do not import seeds, we should be safe.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Obviously, the future is closer than I thought. I'm not sure whether I want to go with the flow or try to resist it and end up like some of these loser in the science fiction stories...

PF 2008 from San Diego

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Ivy league

The schools in Ivory league (and a few more) are successful school. Not necessarily in the education they provide, but in getting money from their students and graduates. They are actually so successful that some of them have endowment exceeding $1,000,000 per current students.
I never quite understood why they hoard such huge amounts of money (Harvard has about $35 billion) instead of spending them*.
BTW: the endowments and profits of (non-profit) schools are untaxed. It is not really surprising that some people want to take such advantage away from them. And so they should.

* My Fulbright application to spend a year at Harvard was rejected despite the (promised) fee $8,000 to the school, invitation letter and basically minimal burden I would be (no, you do NOT get an office when visiting Harvard. You get a chair in the library). Instead, I went to UCSD, for free and met much friendlier (and better, as far as I can tell NOW) faculty. The reason for me not going to Harvard was a fight between faculty and department of economics about space, reconstruction (and who knows what else) which lead the DoE to reject visiting students as much as possible (exchange programs between Ivory league schools had to keep going, otherwise H. students might have trouble to be visiting elsewhere). There seems to be something rotten in the kingdom of Harvard...

Christmas abroad

These are my first Christmas I'm not spending in Czech Republic. I don't miss the people in the supermarkets, buying presents, fried carp or bad weather. I enjoy beautiful weather (though it is cold during night). I can finally relax, just with a book, something good to eat and enjoy UPS truck passing our window, driven probably by Santa Claus, because they deliver presents.
I'm not shopping for any presents - yeah, not even for you :-) However, I bought myself a present I was dreaming about during my childhood. It's a ham on a bone - yes, the one from movies. It exactly like in the movies - small white bone inside huge amount of red meat.It is not salty and as good as it looks. It is also surprisingly cheap - about $1.2 per pound, which is about 50CZK per kg.

Designing an information system

[This is not a San Diego related post, even though I was inspired by the comparison of information systems at UCSD, CERGE-EI, and MUNI.]

Governments collect information about everything they can. You have no way to know what they have about it in their databases. Moreover, they sometimes loose some of this information.
The trouble with a loss of information in the USA (or West in general) is bigger than in Czech Republic, because what you need in the US to do things is just the information, but in the Czech Republic, you need papers.
Yet, it is clear that the future is in the databases. Government need and (unfortunately) will need information, it is easy to get and cheap to store... The question is how to manage it so that the people do not object too much. The design of such governmental information is an interesting, though purely hypothetical question, for now.
One has to consider how information is generated, how it is stored and how is it accessed (by whom etc.)
Such system would contain basically the same information that governments already collect
1. Name, birth, info about parents and children, address
2. Driving license, car, insurance...
3. Property (houses, land,...)
4. As a plug in, one might have access to information about health insurance and expenses
5. Social security (benefits), pension.
6. Taxes,
7. Personal ID and passport renewal
8. Education achieved
9. Criminal record

The best selling point of such database would be (online) access to such information. Not only each citizen could access and verify such information, but it is very easy to get rid of most stamps and bureaucracy. Any "official" transcript could be easily printed (with some ID code that would allow verification).

Making such system secure would not be easy. I would like to see password (changing portion of it would be required during login), finger print or iris scan, which would authenticate user against the system.

From the governmental perspective, users should have access using separate (dedicated) network (i.e. not from computers on internet), physically only from their offices. Each officer would have access only to a portion of information relevant for his job. Each access would be logged and will be accessible to the person in question.

[Many small things would need to be done about security...]

Even though such system would simplify access to governmental service, it will take a long time before it could be the only access. Thus, people still would need to able to have physical access. Yet, I would be great to have such system. And it would be fun to develop details of such system...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Magic pill

Finally, there is a FDA-approved weight loss pill. It has one small glitch that make it VERY effective indeed. The pill works by blocking absorption of fat in your intestine. The glitch? The lower part of your intestine does not expect the fat to come, because it should have been absorbed in the upper part. This has seemingly unpleasant effects like "oily gas" and "uncontrollable oily discharge" which is exactly as bad as it sounds.
This makes the pill the ultimate treatment: to suppress the negative effects which follow the blocking fat, you need to stop eating fat.Thus, you will loose weight. Problem solved. In fact, at the end, you do not even need the pill! Just stop eating that fat!

Wow, I wish I figured that out first... Unfortunately, the idea that not eating fat helps is, as experience showed, ridiculous. The fat is substituted with corn syrup and starch, which add calories. But hey, it is fat FREE!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Studying all-night long? Think again

I always go to sleep when studying. I never do "all-nighters". Never. I believe that it is a stupid idea, mostly because staying up and learning are two different things and brain always processes new information during the sleep and moves it from short-term memory to the long-term one. So, if you do not sleep, the information is there, but it is assorted, unconnected to other information and it is very short term.
If you are also tired before the exam (and you need to wait for it, before oral part of the exam), I believe you do worse than if you are relaxed and fresh. Maybe you could have learned 2% more, but what you already know, you know well, you can reproduce it and comment it in the relevant context.
So I don't do all-nighters. And now there is a research that confirms that :

San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park

Here are the pictures from recent visit to San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park. The best part was probably the bird show (that's why there are so many birds' pictures). Definitely worth visiting, thought it is not as big as one could expect. In 5 hours we saw most of the animals. It was amazing!
BTW: This is not the famous Zoo in San Diego, but the "Wild" version of it, because the animals are mostly not in cages. The visit to the "original Zoo" may happen over the Christmas, so stay tuned.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

IPhone and the others

IPhone seems to be a big success and every mobil phone producer is trying to find an appropriate answer. Some of them are slowly realizing on of the main advantages of the IPhone: lack of keyboard.
Yes, I mean it. Take a look at BlackBerry. It is big, the keyboard takes one half of the space and it is not even a good keyboard. Since there is a limit on the size of the phone (the size of the pockets in the suit), the screen has to be smaller if the keyboard is bigger. Yet, what for do you use a phone? I'm willing to bet that most people primarily read (and thus need big, clear screen), and maybe type a few short answers to the emails. Most email, blog posts and memos are written on the computer.
The phone is just a way to keep up with the recent developments when you are on a run (bus, train,...) and do not have access to the computer. Trying to create a reasonable good keyboard is pointless. The price is too high - smaller screen or bulkier phone.
I'm happy that somebody understood, let's just hope others will copy (as it is well known, the imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) soon and there will be choice for the consumers.
P.S. I'm not saying that the Apple was the first to completely give up on the physical keyboard, it just probably happens to be most successful one. Probably, as we know, good ideas do not always succeed at first...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Why oh Why?

Tyler Cowen:"The problem with realists is they can get depressed and feel they are not going anywhere.." via Marginal Revolution.

My feelings exactly...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

International solution to the global warming

Let's assume that there is the global warming, that it is a problem, and that humans can solve it by reducing the emissions of CO2 (or something else). Also, let's assume that we know how much of CO2 the humans on this planet can produce to reduce the problem (Ideally, you would need to know costs and benefits to choose the appropriate level of emissions).
These are all strong assumptions, but let's say they are all satisfied. The tough question is, how do you reach a global/international agreement that will lead to enforcement of the right level of emissions? It is a very difficult thing to do, because poor countries want to grow (we did not care about emissions during technical and scientific revolution, which made our progress much faster, so why should they?), rich countries do not want to reduce their living standards (which would be an effect of a significant reduction in emissions). Morally, you cannot simply cap the emission on some historical levels - this is pure nonsense that would make poor countries poor forever. There has to be a solution that will allow smooth transition, allow poor countries to grow and rich countries to slowly adjust to the new requirements.
I believe there is. And it seems surprisingly simple. Take the right amount of emissions of CO2 and divide it by the number of people (according to UN or whatever). This is what every country can produce. Establish world market for these "permissions". Establish a system of enforcement (this is tough, too, but has to be part of every system). Voila!
Currently, the poor countries produce less emission that they are entitled to, so they can sell extra permissions to rich countries who produce (probably) more than they should. As the poor countries will grow, they will be selling less of these permissions. And as rich countries will finish their investments into low-emission technologies, they will need less of them.
The system would start best if there is a cushion, that is if we(all people) produce about the same amount of emission we should. Otherwise, some transition system (say small reduction every year till the "right" amount is reached) needs to be established.
Such system would, I believe, solve many problems and seems enforceable/acceptable (depending on reduction needed by rich countries) and also helps poor countries to get richer! This might help to solve poverty (hunger,...) problems, too!
It seems to me that such system would be superior to anything I heard so far. Will see whether somebody will come with something similar on the international level (or whether I will find a mistake in the idea).

Sunday, December 2, 2007


At a local meeting of Fulbright Association in San Diego today, I talked to about 10 of ex-Fulbright scholars, mostly US citizen. Every single one of them visited Prague! They, of course, liked it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The next small thing

Many people are trying to predict the "next big thing" - the invention that will change our world like computers, internet or mobile phones did. The successful ones will undoubtedly make big money on it.
But I have notice many small "big things" that are less known, probably less important yet very helpful, too. For example LED lights and reflective materials.LED lights are interesting because they have very large expected lifetime (around 100,000 hours) and they are very effective (no heat is generated). Notably, most trucks in the US use them already; they are also used in the street lights everywhere. The reflective materials are used on many things - street signs for better visibility in night, clothes etc. They are able to reflect the very little light that hits them back to the source (I'm not sure I understand how they work in detail), which makes them VERY visible in night.
The combination of these two is cool, too. I was riding a bike with a LED light that lasts more than 20 hours with three small AAA batteries, while generating so much light. And all street signs and warnings were so visible I did not have to be afraid of riding of the road etc.
These small things are pretty much trivial, right? Yet they improved our lives significantly for better, in certain areas.
This makes me wonder what will come next. Big hopes are on the carbon nanotubes, but something else might come first. For example, the mechanism by which certain plants (like water lilies) keep themselves clean using only water seems to be understood, allowing it to be replicated in factories. The secret lies in a special structure of their surface that makes cleaning very simple (using water and no pressure). Image the possibilities - easy to clean kitchen, shoes, cars, walls that can be cleaned from the dust or graffiti with just water hose.
This or any other small thing will not change the way we live (LEDs did not either), but it can make life much easier.


And while I'm at bashing IT companies and their services, I have an advice: Do Not Use Facebook! Read why, maybe you will learn something. I did.

(Diet) Coke

I was never a fan of "Diet" things. However, when the hormone of youth (no kidding) starts to fading out and body fat starts to kicking in, it would seems like a good idea if the taste were not too bad. The first soda I had here was Pepsi Diet Black Cherry and French Vanilla. No sugar, but tastes like syrup (sweet, but ok). Also other "diet" cokes do not taste much worse.
And the most surprising thing is that when people have choice (at lunches when everything is free), the diet sodas are gone first. Mind boggling...

ICQ -> Jabber

My patience with ICQ/AOL is over. You can read at why, but that is not important. If you want to talk to me, get either jabber account (mine is myslivec at at or anywhere else. You can also use Google Talk (via to contact me at myslivec at gmail dot com. I'm not going to use ICQ anymore, even though I might reply to your messages if I receive them.
This is a take-it-or-leave-it offer. If you don't like, don't talk to me. It is stupid to use ICQ anyway, so I'm in fact making you a favor. You are welcome.


The great idea of E-voting is spoiled by corrupt and/or incompetent politicians, as article and its predecessors document. I can understand that the voting system (purely paper ballot, hand counting) can be problematic in country where a significant share of population does not speak English and some 200m people might come to the elections. So the proposed solution is the "paper trail", when the machine taking your electronic vote will print on a trail of paper your choice. This is obviously absurd, because you can get to know who voted for whom simply by knowing the order of people.
Ok, so lets fix it. The E-machine has to print something, but it should not be in fixed order. So what about e-machine printing your ballot on a paper. You will take this paper, check whether it looks ok (is there a name of the guy you wanted to vote for?) and put it into the box (the same we put paper ballots now). This combines the advantages of e-voting (immediate results, easy voting) with verifiability of the "correctness" of the results - you can randomly select machines for "recount". This itself can be very fast, because paper have nothing written on them, everything is printed, so OCR can achieve VERY high precision.
This clearly cannot be path-breaking idea. So why I have never read about it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Lara Shipley via Megan McArdle:
"No one would ever do anything if they realized how much they suck."

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gadgets and pricing

Some gadgets are cooler than others. This one, Sony Reader is on the better side of the world. The most shocking thing about electronic book reader is the pricing of the books. You can buy a mass market paperback on for 7.99, usually in 4-for-3 discount, so you can get to 6 dollars easily (yeah, that's a half of what you pay in Czech Republic).
Electronically, it costs about $5 or more. That's just crazy. Where is promotional pricing? Where are the printing, storing, selling costs? Why would I buy DRM-protected book for $5, if I get a physical, paper copy for $6?
It looks like another good idea (e-books) will be killed by MBA/big CEO style pricing. A song costs $1, a TV show costs two, and these have negligible printing (etc.) costs. So just sell the books for $1-2 and you will sell them much much more. Because even people who just plan to read the book will buy it.

Driving lessons

I have a driving lessons. I learned how to drive in a car from 80s (Skoda 120L, you probably never heard about it, if you are not from Czechoslovakia). I had a stick, terrible (no boost) breaks, no boost control, no ABS, nothing. It was well preserved car, so it was possible to learn to drive (it was impossible to like it, though). Then I drove my father's car. If you have the choice to do that, never ever even thing about it.
My father's car was the same type, but in much worse shape. He drives it till today despite several (small, but not pleasant) accidents I had in it. After that, I just gave up on learning to drive.
Until I came to California. There is simply NOTHING to see without car here. The public transport is sparse if any, and the distances are such that nobody walks anywhere. Some crazy guys ride a bike (like me or my my local boss ), but if you want to see something (or I better say anything), you just have to drive.
My plan was to borrow a car and learn to drive with, but it was not a great plan, because, well, you need to get out of the parking lot.
But my landlady (she had 2 sons, so she knows how to teach driving) helped me. I started on the parking lot and slowly get to the highway in the night. Slower speeds and generally more thoughtful and experienced drivers helped, too. But the biggest help was the car - Toyota Prius. It is 3-4 years old but feels like new. Smooth, smart, efficient (40Mpg easily).
Today, I passed the ultimate test. I drove to the airport alone, and back, in a pitch black night. So if you want to practice driving, just come to California.

Hutka is an idiot

Jaroslav Hutka is an idiot*

So there is a guy, Czech singer, lets call him Mr. X. This guy was a singer basically whole his life, even during communism. Many of his friends in the entertainment left Czech Republic to live free. He stayed. He could not see them. He could not talk to them. He could not travel (as most of the Czechs at that time) to visit them.
But he got an offer. Go and see them and then tell "us" how they are doing. If it where your cousin asking you to visit your grandma and tell him back how she is doing, you wouldn't hesitate, right? Right.
He probably did hesitate (but who can really now), because it was not his cousin asking but a secret state police. They ask him to report on his friends living abroad. No, no real secrets, just how they live. His friends weren't any important (it terms of military or technology influence). They were just signers like him.
So there he is, 20 years back, facing the choice. Can I see them, talk to them, possibly last time for the rest of our lives, but only if I report what they have for breakfast and where they live. Or not - don't see them, possibly ever.
Oh, wait a second. Maybe the secret police could send these friends friends to gulags or prison or uranium mines, right? Wrong, these friends lived in the West, free and democratic countries and the whole point of this "reporting" back was that the secret police could not get (at a reasonable cost) at them, or even to cause them a significant harm. Definitely not as easily as they could to anybody in the Czechoslovakia, at that time. "Reporting" on people living withing a Czech Republic is, IMHO, much severe thing, because there is a possible immediate harm. Not so reporting on those living in the west.
In an ideal world, one would probably consider this matter hard and it is possible that some people would reject it. Most people would not and it is understandable - you do not cause any harm to them (just to your conscience, possibly). In an ideal world, there would be no secret police, of course, so you would not face this problem anyway. But this is not an ideal world. So Mr.X. made a choice. He went to a visit and reported back.
He probably did not feel good about it (who would?). He even might have regretted it. But he did it and there is no way how to take it back.
OK, 20 years are gone. Those who had left the republic could come back, the democracy is here and even though it sometime sucks, live is good, right?
Not really. Some people found about all this and since this guy is publicly known, they inform the public. No, the guy is not a politician, he is not a judge or policemen (there, cooperating with STB seems OK). He is just a guy who sings and writes his song. If you don't want to listen to him, you don't have to. If you don't like our current president (e.g.) your problem. If you don't like Mr.X's songs, just don't buy his CD. So what's the big deal?
Obviously, some people thing that now is the payback time. This is the time where Mr.Y writes a song about how terrible, terrible Mr.X. is. Why not, right? Who cares that it is 18 years old news? Who cares that Mr.X. did not cause (nor intended to) any harm to anybody? Can everyone be so certain that s/he would do the "morally right" decision (if there is one)? Did we faced that situation/choice? Maybe you did. I did not. Nor did Mr.Y., because he left (or have been made to leave) the republic. If this guy Mr.Y thinks he is better, couldn't he just let go? Forgive?
No, he could not. He probably has a new album out and any news is a good news.
So this makes me wonder. Who is worse? A guy who makes maybe a questionable decision under pressure from the secret police, or a guy who kicks this guys as much as he can, on his free will?
The answer is clear. Mr.Y. actions talk about his moral standards more than anything I could imagine. This would not be a bad thing, if it did not hurt other people. an idiot is a catchy phrase borrowed from a TV show, it is not meant to be particularly offensive.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thinking out of the box

This expression describes creative thinking, something more then usual. Yet, it is basically an euphemism for just "thinking". We basically call "not thinking" "thinking" and "thinking" is called "thinking out of the box". Sure, nobody wants to hear that s/he is not thinking, even though s/he is not. The usual "thinking" is simply applying traditional (ie. old), well-know methods to solve a problem, that is basically not thinking. Maybe the time when computers will be able to "think" is not far away. The only value of people will then be in "thinking out of the box". It's a pity that it hurts so much, isn't it?

Writers on strike

Writers are on strike. For the first time since 1988 and it looks like it will last. The strike has immediate impact on daily shows, which are based on recent news (like Colbert report. If the strike goes on for long time, it will impact also weekly show, who have some, but rather small, reserves.
The strike is, in some sense, the usual one. Employees of a firm take customers as a hostage in negotiations with the firm for higher pay and what not. But it may also teach the consumers something. It shows that the actors, who are usually VERY well paid are not the important guys. Yes, somebody has to play the roles, but that is similar to the fact that somebody has to write to tell them what to play. And yet the former receive huge wages, occupy front pages of magazines and bother us with their life stories.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Prediction markets?

Prediction markets are a hot topic among economist (good choice, Katka).From "what is it?" to "everybody knows it works" in a couple of years is impressive. The latest prediction market is Predictify and you can, of course, try for free how good you are in predicting things. It's a cool idea, but there are couple of reason why I think (predict;-) it fail.
First, predicting is free. The only thing you actually risk is your reputation, which is not much. Of course, there is a liquidity problem (you need to attract a lot of people, hopefully plenty of those who have an idea what they are actually answering), so this is probably necessary and it is not the main problem.
Other problem is the lack of interesting questions. After a couple of weeks from the take-off, the trivial ones (who will be the next president of the USA) were already asked and often are buried deep in the "trash" of question like "What will be Rotten Tomato Scores of movie X", where X goes through all premiers plan for this fall. Since it is hard to distinguish good (=interesting) and bad (boring) questions, and since there is much more of the latter ones, the relevant question are unlikely to get large audience. It does not help much that by asking (for free) questions you get points for your reputation. It is good for attracting new questions, bad for attracting good ones.
Also, the number of people who can answer is limited to 100 for free question and there is a fixed price for answer in paid questions ($1 per answer). Regardless where these fees end up, you have a bunch of people who play a lottery with your money. They get the tickets for free and these tickets cost YOU dollar a piece.
I don't know what is the best way to fix these problems (or if there is any), so I'm not suggesting any. It is certainly a nice attempt, unfortunately I cannot believe that it will be successful.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


The US is the country of discrimination. No, I'm not talking about racial discrimination - I haven't seen any, so I can't really tell. I mean price discrimination.
First, it is everywhere. And it is huge. And it has many levels.
It starts with "club cards". Many shops offer (excessively) high prices, but reduce them significantly for members of their "club". It is usually free and requires your address etc.Even with this card, some discounts apply only if you buy larger quantities (but not always, even when you see 4 for $4 you pay $1 for 1, regardless how much you buy).
Then, there are coupons. There is plenty of them. The discount differs based on how difficult it is to get them. The easiest are available at the stand with the particular food - you just take it. Others come in the mail or with Sunday newspapers. Some of those can be copied or doubled, but those really valuable cannot. Some even impose minimal purchase.
Also, there are hidden offers. Starbucks has "short" coffee that you cannot find on their menu, but you can ask for it. It contains less water but the same amount of coffee as the "tall", but is cheaper. Similarly, Amazon has offer that are almost impossible to find - sometimes offered by other sellers on Amazon marketplace.
There are also mail-in-rebates, which take long time to get the discount, but sometimes it is significant.
Last, but not least, there are various time-limited offers, offering various discounts. One of the most famous is, the type one day, one offer, where they sell limited quantities for really discounted prices. Except you do not know what they will sell tomorrow and how fast it will be gone.
This is an example of a developed market. There are very rich customers around here, who simply do not care and thus pay high price and poor ones who do. Price discrimination allows one shop to serve both and make nice profit on both.

Tmou - Prahory

As a founding member of the "legendary" team Prahory, I'm happy to see that they finally managed to win also legendary Tmou . I could not play with them this year (and maybe that's why they won), but I'm still happy for them (us?). My dream right now is to win the next year (10th) with them.
Their victory and comments on the Tmou's forum made me wonder how different is an experience of players in team like Prahory, basically always aiming for the victory or at least top 10 (5?) positions and "the rest" of the field, teams that quit in the middle, most of them never finished any game etc. One thing is clear - none of them is "better". Playing for fun makes sense as well as playing for victory.

Friday, November 2, 2007


There is always medium traffic on the road I take to (and back from) the UCSD. There is also usually heavy traffic on the I-5, 7 lane highway going in the same direction. Now what do you think that happens if they close the I-5 because of the bomb threat?
I'm faster home than people in cars...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Free Food

I always thought that my everyday quest after the ultimate source of free food was specific to my preferences, while in fact, it is specific to my status of a PhD. student. I feel much happier now, knowing I'm not nuts and/or alone. Moreover, there is some chance that one day, it will be over.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fires - a summary

As far as my life is (directly) concerned, it is over. It started last Sunday by a "strange smell" in the air, blazed in Monday and Tuesday, slowed down beginning Thursday and ended up with terrible smell (again - coming back from sea) over Friday to Sunday.
It wasn't fun, not even on those days we did not have to watch every news to check whether to evacuate or not. Fortunately, we were not affected and even those who were experienced well prepared organization.
The "IT" conclusion for me is that have a dedicated server for local emergency news is pure waste of money, especially if it is well know to public. The trouble is that these servers are rarely used when there is no emergency and totally overloaded when there is. Instead, the most useful thing was Google Maps. The local emergency followed up with a local surge of demand for it did not significantly affected these servers, because they manage high loads from every day from all over the world. Local crisis, no matter how big, is a small "blip" that rarely affects the stability. For us, it was the most reliable source of detail information - unlike TV who had "terrifying pictures" but no local info or "" that was constantly overloaded. Maybe it would be a good idea to use this effect in general - simply pay some "insurance" fee to big hosting company for running a very low load server most of the time and high to extreme load very exceptionally.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The situation is significantly improving. The wind is almost non-existent, definitely much slower than yesterday. Therefore, people from large areas previously required to evacuate are now allowed to return back. The evacuation center stopped accepting further donations, because they have enough of everything they need.
The small problem is of course looting.

Being stupid. Or smart.

Well, we did not evacuate, even though told to do so. Many people did not. Are we stupid? Yes?
Think again. What are the incentives for the mayor / fire department etc. to evacuate (or not) any given area? If you do not evacuate and a fire gets there, you are in a really big trouble! If you tell people to evacuate and nothing happens, you are safe (unless you exaggerate absolutely excessively) as a bureaucrat.Of course, we are "smart", we know that. So we evaluate the signal "evacuate" with this knowledge. And we do not move. We wait for either information that the fire is close (the map is almost real-time and the fire is still far away and there is no wind) or the "real evacuation", when somebody comes here and kicks us out.
Another incentive to evacuate is that it makes the situation seem worse than it is, motivating more people to bring additional resources(National Guard, firemen from other states and federal funds)
The conclusion? The "evacuation" lost its meaning. If I knew that they evacuate us when the real need is here, I would not hesitate any minute. But with fire far away, sky clear and air fresh (neither of those were true yesterday), we do not see the reason.

Evacuation? Not so fast

So we have not left yet. There are couple of reasons. First, the fire is far away (yes, this is quite stupid reason, given the speed of wind etc.). Second, my landlady PW has a lots of animals, including large number of small birds and some of them might die if moved. So we decided to wait and watch the news.
We have all things ready, everything is packed and we (mostly Jun - many thanks!) were keeping watch guard, watching news, radio, internet etc.
BTW: on the map two posts bellow, you can see the whole area, including many details. You can also see where the fire is (the red area). It is allegedly the biggest fire EVER here.

Monday, October 22, 2007


It looks like we have been put into mandatory evacuation status. Even though the two major fires threating our area (Del Mar) had been contained, the new one has been spotted much closer to us. I'm going to pack. Hope to be able to tell you more soon.

Fires and evacuation

Here is the map that can give you an idea what is going on.

View Larger Map

The number of evacuated people reached 250 000 and is likely to increase further as the fires will be spreading.
For quick news, see if you are lucky and the website (basically text only) is not overloaded.
If you zoom in, I will on the west side of I5 (east side was evacuated), just next to it.

Fires 2

The fires did not stop during the night. In fact, everything got much worse. Area just to the other side of the highway I-5 was evacuated (according to the local radio station), the electricity was off for some time, the ash is falling down, cell phone networks are overloaded.The projections are that it will take at least 2 days before it will start getting better. And btw: fires are mostly not contained, which means that the firemen did not get them under control.
UCSD is at Red Alert, but we are not in any immediate danger. All classes have been suspended, though. All courts in SD are closed, most of the schools as well. Qualcomm stadium has been designated as one of the evacuation points. It is this huge
View Larger Map

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The fact of the day

NY TImes: As the investigative reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele observed in the October Vanity Fair, America has to date “spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan — an industrialized country three times Iraq’s size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs.” (And still Iraq lacks reliable electric power.)

The Drought

South-west of the US suffers from one of the worst drought in the history. Or maybe not - maybe it is just a climate change. Anyway, it's getting scary. Warning, that NY times article is long. Worth reading, though.


Well, so it is here. The winds called "Santa Ana", flowing from east to west (opposite to the usual direction), very hot and very dry, caused a couple of fires around SD. Nothing really close to us, but we can smell the fires, and the visibility is significantly lower. It gets worse - the conditions that caused these fires are likely to continue for next couple of days and further accelerate the spreading of fires. But don't worry - except some difficulty with breathing, everything is OK around here. Or at least it seems so.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Obesity and health

Even though there are not many really fat people at UCSD (most of fat people around here are non-faculty staff), most people seem to be slightly above the ideal BMI. This is hardly surprising - we all know that obesity is on the rise. Well, it is no wonder, if you can have a lunch (i.e. full meal) composed of junk food for $1 or $2, but regular good meal will cost you $4 at least. In fact, cookies for $0.50 are sufficient for lunch (of course, you cannot do eat them for lunch very often - at least I don't) in their energetic contents. And they are good.

US Patent System?

No surprises. Washington Post via Slashdot. Maybe some Econ 101 would not be a bad idea for the managers at USPTO.

Good question, no answer

Will Bicycling to Work Get You Killed? No answers yet.

Stephen Colbert in South Carolina

Do you think that there are 3000 people in South Carolina, who do not own a gun or a bible? If so, maybe Stephen Colbert has a chance.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bird show

We spent lovely Sunday at the local "Exotic" Bird show. I made couple of pictures. The event was quite overcrowded, so when I was trying to take a picture, somebody was often in my way. I saw some lady - owner of one of the stands - to say something about me and taking picture to her husband. Naturally, I though she does not like me taking picture of her birds (I always expect the worst). In fact, she was telling her husband to move away from my view so that I can make better pictures :-)
Quite a difference in cultures. (I remember when I was putting a film into my old camera on a street in Brno, and a very angry lady came out claiming that I'm making picture of her house to rob it later. She had to be mentally ill, because I was not even taking pictures and anyway could not explain to her that I have all rights to take pictures from public land.)

Fun about Nobel Prize

This is how Comedy Central depicts Oslo, Norway:

For readers who did not get it even after reading left-upper corner, this is not in Oslo or even in Norway. Look closer to the center of Europe

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Quality distribution

I just came back from a Micro Theory Lunch, which is a great thing here in SD. It is similar to Brown Bag seminars, expect the food is provided by school (and it is good - sandwiches, cookies, sodas). It has a regular schedule and it takes about an hour. The usual presenters are students, even though faculty members like to present, too. This time, the presentation was by my office mate Jim. He is a very smart and curious guy, but the presentation itself was, given my standards, bad. There was almost no structure, it was really hard to understand what is the main point, where is it all going. He also spent a lot of time on motivation but did not link its content with the theory he (very shortly) presented afterwards. It made me wonder what is the actual quality distribution of people (and their presentations) around the world. Maybe CERGE-EI is not that bad after all. Or at least, the good guys at CERGE-EI are better then the average elsewhere.


You probably heard the news - a band called Radiohead (never heard about them) published their album on the web. You can purchase(i.e. download) it for any price you want. There was a big fuss about it and lots of speculation whether it will be a success or no.
Well, it is definitely nice experiment, but the experience itself is appalling. The website is terribly slow (and I mean terribly) and very, very confusing. If you still manage to obtain a code to download the album, the code does not work.
This is not a way to go. Downloading from P2P is as easy as a one mouse click, so this is no competition. Even though somebody is always listening, it is so much easier to download it this way than to try to pay for it 0.0 pounds. Anyway, Nohavica way is simpler - just let people download it and encourage them to use P2P to reduce the burden for your servers.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Baby changing station

I love it - there is a baby changing station in the men's restroom in the swimming pool. I called that compete gender balance.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Presentation skills

Today, I finally had the opportunity to compare the quality of our (CERGE-EI) graduates to those of UCSD. Based on the small sample of one girl going to the job market and her first presentation, I would say we are roughly comparable. Her (empirical micro) paper was interesting, but the presentation itself was quite confusing and several problems were discover (and to many questions, she simply had no answers). Still, I admired her english. Much, much better than what we see at CERGE-EI.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The shows, the magazines and the ads

When I'm eating a dinner, I like to watch some TV. Everyone who saw a show in the US will confirm that the ads are way more frequent and longer than in the Czech Republic. They come every five to ten minutes and last almost as long. The show that has 40 minutes is scheduled for 60 minutes, so you get the picture.
Similarly, the magazines (The Economist, but also the Time) are full of ads. In particular, The Economist is about 2x thicker in the US than in the Czech Republic, but the actual content is almost identical! In the Time, you can go through 10-15 pages before the first article comes!
I have a feeling that the US is in a bit different equilibrium than the rest of the world. Ads are quite cheap and so everyone has a lots of them (and can them aim better to a specific groups of readers). In the EU, the ads are more expensive and there is much less of them.
I just hope the Europe will not converge to the former equilibrium.

Swimming suit

I came to the US knowing that the Speedo-style swimming suits are not OK in here. If you live with the same belief, I will reveal a big secret: they are ok. They are not typically worn on the beaches (where most people go to the water in shorts and T-shirts), but they are acceptable as "distinctly European". But when you go to the swimming pool, you are expected to wear them (the Speedos). Why? Just try to swim in the shorts and you will understand...

Getting used to...

It is about a month since I arrived to SD and I'm very surprised by these two things. First, how fast the month went by and that I'm still not used to life here. Everyday I discover something new - new restaurant, new food, new place... I hope ten months will be enough :-)

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Well, you knew it was coming. The Wal-Mart has a shop near the Social Security administration, where I had to go anyway.I couldn't miss such opportunity.
The Wal-mart's shops are probably the largest shops, but they do not seem to be particularly large to me. You could compare it to the Tesco outside of the city center (the biggest ones). The prices are good (sometimes very good), they have a good selection of cheap clothes, which I usually hate in these shops, but they have excellent prices as well as good quality, colors and materials. Except for that, nothing special. Sometimes, they were even poorly stocked on things. And it was next to impossible what you actually came for.


I had to apply for social security number and it was worth the experience on its own. To get to the closes office, it took me about 1.5 hours. There, I took the number and waiting. The room was full (about 60 people) of old, sick, poor, unemployed and generally no-English speaking people. Just two "windows" were open. Even thought the workers at the office were generally reasonably smart, dealing with very old and sometimes very confused people is difficult. So I was happy that after about another 1.5 hour waiting, I delivered my documents and left after a few minutes.
I just hope that the card will actually arrive, so that I don't have to there again.


It took me two weeks to gather courage to use the public transportation, especially after warnings from my landlady Patricia. She actually said that her sons never used public transport in their life.
I found out that I can use it for free (parts of it sponsored by UCSD), and that the bus should take my bike. I went to the other side of the city to get a Social Security Number (see other post) and I needed to change once. Well, the buses are coming every 30 minutes but they are always late (I mean ALWAYS). The drivers are nice and even though they do not help you to put the bike on the rack in front of the bus and secure it properly, they can at least explain. Moreover, once you do it properly, it is actually very simple. The down side is that the bus can take only two bikes, so sometimes you have to another 30 minutes for the next one.
The passengers are mostly poor, often black, unemployed and sick (sometimes mentally) people. They tend to do all kinds of things in the bus (eat, make-up, etc.), but they are very friendly and easily start to talk to each other (about absolutely uninteresting things).
The other "funny" thing is that all stops are "on-demand", and you request a stop by pulling a "cable" on both sides of the bus. I guess the point is that you don't need to stand up before the bus stop, because, you know, this is too much work. And of course, you have no idea what stop is next...
Except of all these shortcomings, it was great to use the bus instead of bike. Especially when you go to the public office and shop.


I have a theory that the dreams are related to how the brain sorts and stores information you learned during a day.So when you learn/see a lot of new things, you have more dreams in night.This makes me happy when I have a dream - it means I did not wasted the previous day completely.
Since changing the place where you live exposes you to a lot of new things, it was no big surprise to me that first couple of nights I had a lot of dreams. Still,I have a lot - so far no surprise.
What is beginning driving me crazy is that I keep having a nightmare. It is not the same nightmare over and over again, as it often happens, but it always a different one with the same topic!
The topic is that I flew back to CR after about a month here. Then I'm in CR, wondering why I wasted so much time (and money) on completely pointless trip back?
I'm not sure what this recurring nightmare is trying to say. Either I love it here and I don't want to go back, or I hate it here and I want to go back. On the conscious level, I don't feel either way, so I really cannot tell.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Delivery services

I ordered quite a few things from Amazon and its sellers, so I gained some experience in how the thing are being delivered. First, I bought a headset and books to quality for Free Shipping. It should have come in one package, but instead, it was delivered in two (both for free). The headset came first and very fast - it was basically next day. Books took more time - about 3 days. Then I bought bags for my bike. This took one week to deliver, because it was sent from the East Coast to the West Coast, while the previous packages were sent from Nevada to California - not a big distance, really. All three shipments were done by UPS. You can track UPS packages online in basically real time - you can see where it is, when it was picked-up etc.
Finally, I ordered watches. There were in stock, so I expected them to be shipped quite fast. The first information was that it will take a week just to ship them (give to the carrier). That was bit of a shock - I was really hopping to get them earlier. Fortunately, they have been shipped in two days.Instead of UPS, the USPS is used and the Amazon shows expected arrival on October 15th! I guess it will arrive earlier.
Overall, it seems that the Amazon is slightly overestimating the time it takes to deliver a package. I guess they use the least optimistic estimates in order not to make the customers disappointed. But I'm also wondering whether the use of carrier depends on the amount you spend and how long you are a customer of Amazon.I prefer the Free Shipping, but first few packages arrive very promptly. Now, it is getting worse. I'm wondering whether this could be intentional - make you used to good service, then deliver the bad service for free, hoping you will prefer to buy the better service next time.
It makes sense, especially because I know that when I finally decide to buy something, I want it as fast as possible! The decision itself can take couple of weeks or months (or a year), but I want the delivery itself to be fast. Well, I don't want it badly enough to pay for, though.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Red light and driving

California is one of the states in the US where you can make a right turn against red light. Before you do that, you have to stop and yield to pedestrians and other vehicles. It sounds like an incredibly dangerous idea, but in fact, it smooths the traffic and is probably safer at the end.From the perspective of a bicyclist. When there is a car on my left when I go straight ahead, the car can pass me (turn right in front of my) and thus I don't have to be afraid of the car crossing my path when I have green light.
I guess it works because drivers are more careful and tolerant in comparison to what we can see in CR. Also, roads are wider, so I feel safe driving to school on bike, when I have to go a few kilometers along three line road (three lines are not enough for the name "highway" here).
P.S. I read the Driver's Handbook and I could not believe what I saw. First, I'm not sure that such thing even exists in CR. Second, it is not a list of rules, but list of thing you should do for your own safety, safety of other etc. Instead of looking like a list of threats, it reads like a list of recommendations that mostly make very good sense.


I love good olives. I was surprised to find that black olives are typical in the US, while I was used to green olives in the Czech Republic (for the description of the difference, check Wikipedia). The cheapest olives I found (Safeway) were probably the best black olives I have ever had. Moreover, they were not salty, which is the thing I hate the most about the green olives you can often buy in CR (try to find green olives that are not salty and let me know).


Since everything is bigger in America, also stoves are larger than I'm used to. But the one we have has other advantage, probably much more useful than its size. It is a system that generates sparks automatically, when needed.So you do not need matches or lighter and if the fire stops (whatever the reason) but gas continues to flow, it automatically restarts. WOW.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Drive-in drop-off

In UCSD, the main library has drive-in boxes into which you can drop-off your books when you want to return them. I got use to the notion of drive-in ATM, but this really made me laugh. It is actually not a bad idea if you think about it, because there is not enough parking space on the campus, so if you drive to school just to return books, it certainly saves you 30 minutes of walking from a distant out-of-campus parking lot.


As you probably know, there is no VAT tax in the US, but there is sales tax. But the prices you see at the selves do not include it, which unfortunately means that you do not know how much you will pay at the counter.Unsurprisingly, there is some research out there showing that including the tax in the price posted on the shelve would decrease your consumption of that good.

First rain

So it actually rains in San Diego. First time since April, it rained. There was a LOT of talking about it, everybody got very excited etc. Yet, these 2.0mm were not worth it. Now, it is 9am, and the sun is shinning.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I sometimes make myself a sandwich for lunch - just bread, butter, cheese and tomatoes. All kinds of cheese I had so far were great. But I was really surprised when I check the contents - each slice (!) contains 25% of recommended daily intake of fat! You cannot possibly expect me to have just one slice of cheese for a lunch (three are more like it), so I get 75% just for lunch. And that does not include bread and butter.
PS: The candidate for funniest label on the food is "99% fat free". You could also call butter 18% fat free.

Flat tire

So I had my first flat tire in the US. It came as expected, in the middle of the trip to school. I walked the rest (about 5km) and changed not just the inner tube (literal translation "soul" in Czech), but also the tire itself. Hope it will take some time before it happens again!

Monday, September 17, 2007


Today is the official beginning of my stay in SD, because the Orientation for International Students was today. The only interesting thing was that it was almost impossible to find white students there, so I felt kind of isolated. Most students come from China, South Korea and India. For lunch, we had a bbq ($7), which was great. Hamburger was quite thick, but tasty, there was some vegetables etc. Since I did not carry my computer to school today, I could bring a camera, so you can find some pictures here. The usual way I take to school was closed, so I used the main road, but it was OK, because the bike lane is wide and cars drive reasonably safe. The pictures are thus not from my typical route, but they show school and overview from cliff near the school.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Beach

Today, I spent some more time at the beach and in the ocean. The waves were quite high, so it was quite difficult to swim near the shore. But as you get further into the ocean, the waves become manageable and it is possible to swim - you just move up and down a lot. It is quite unnerving feeling that the next thing in front of you is Japan, which is about 9000km far away. Of course, there is a bay watch, and the chopper above you to keep you save. Still, you never know.


With my non-European swimming dress (which means shorts that dry fast), I went to the beach. There were quite strong waves, so I couldn't (did not know how to) swim, but playing with the waves and water was fun. Even for Saturday, there was not that many people, which was great. When I was leaving, I was really surprised to find a (working!) fresh water shower (and clean toilets), of course for free.It's probably paid by those who came buy car and pay the parking fee ($8, re-entry possible but not guaranteed). And yes, there was a Bay watch (and it was a girl).


When I was packing for the US, I was quite efficient - I throw the oldest cloths away, left at home those of "middle age" and took only the new ones. So I needed to buy some more here. Fortunately, my landlady was so kind that she took me to an outlet, where for about $150 (3000CZK) I was able to buy couple of shorts, some T-shirts, swimming suit, socks and pair of sneakers. Given that (almost) each of these things ALONE would cost me somewhere between $50-$100 and that they are "branded" (nike, Adidas, Reebook, Ralph Lauren etc.) it was a good bargain.

Friday, September 14, 2007


So far, I was painting San Diego as paradise. Yet, there are also negative things here: My landlady recommended three-berry muffins (a specific brand) as the best she ever found. I have to say that I was very disappointed. They are fatty (not butter-like fatty, but vegetable oil-like fatty) and sweet so that it kills the taste of the berries. Moreover, one is not enough for the breakfast, yet if you eat two, you got 50% of recommended daily intake of fat. That is not even a complete first meal of the day...

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I was expecting better bank experience in the US than in Czech Republic. Still, I was quite surprised.I became a member of a local bank (USE Credit Union)and for free I got the checking account, debit card, online banking, electronic statements and automatic saving account. For fee $10, I got access to money market saving account with 3.5-4% interest rate, which I can transfer money to and from instantaneously (using internet banking). Also, I earn interest on checks even before cashed (transfered to my account). I'm waiting for the catch, because there simply has to be one :-)
PS:As a proof of my address (that I'm actually living there), an issue of The Economist with my name on it was enough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I spent the day arranging things. I needed to pick up my Fulbright welcome package, register at the International Student Center, get an office, obtain an access to the university network, create an UCSD email and to get an university ID card, library card, stamp for public transportation and create a bank account. Well, except the last think on the list, it all went surprisingly well. So well, that I was done at midday. I did not manage to open an bank account, because I did not have a proof of address (I did not know I need one, but it seems reasonable).
On all places I have been today, people were nice, friendly and helpful. When somebody said "this and this is enough", then it was indeed enough. So far, so good.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Safe from my new home, I can say it was easier than expected. Immigration officer was eager to left for a break; planes were on time; my landlady picked me up at the airport as promised etc. House is too close to highway to love it, to nice to hate it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Leaving CERGE-EI

Leaving CERGE-EI is a very funny and very "pleasant" process. First, you have to pay for your office-mates phone calls, even for time when you haven't been in that office. Second, you have to return the books, including those you bought from you own grant.
Finally, you have to acquire full page of signatures for other things. The beginning of that paper says "Dear Student, as you have decided to quit our program". Well, I'm not quitting the program, I'm going for a mobility and I managed to get my own funds to do so (as I was encouraged to do). This is my punishment for a good deed.
P.S. As it turned out, if you are patient and persuasive, you can keep your books and you don't have to pay for others phone calls.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

My New Home - a map

Here I should spend next ten months:

embed Google Maps -

To see the campus, scroll a bit down (southward).

10 days to go

And finally, I have my visa.