Saturday, March 8, 2008


There are good reasons why I don't like Microsoft, but I don't want to turn is forum into M$ bashing site. But when you read something like this

Exploiting a little known feature built into Firewire port specifications, Adam Boileau released the source code to a utility authored in 2006 that allows anyone to bypass the Windows Authentication dialog box on any PC with a Firewire port.

Wait, it gets even better

Boileau says he decided to release the script now, two years after it was initially unveiled, because Microsoft had not acted to patch the vulnerability. Boileau considers his tool a “party-trick demo script thats been lying around my [home folder] for two years gathering dust,” and considers it “a pity to write code and have no one use it.”

I'm not sure why but "Open Source" sounds pretty loudly in my head right now.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Eating healthy and bacteria

There are two pieces of a puzzle that finally fit together. First, there was a public debate (in Congress) following widespread use of anti-biotics in home cleaning products that followed reduction of price of this anti-biotic due to the end of patent protection. Second, Danone have started to advertise its "Activia" and DanActive, which are products widely used and advertised in Europe as containing healthy bacteria. I was surprised to notice that the word "bacteria" does not appear anywhere in the commercials.
Then I realized that most products sold here are "anti-bacteria", so nobody knows that bacterias can be good as well as bad. The idea that you voluntary eat something that contains those horrible, invisible bacterias is clearly unimaginable and would certainly bad way to sell.
P.S. I just saw another ad offering "living cheese" or something like that.
P.P.S. Most of the yogurts sold in the USA are really "dead" - there is nothing living in them (and I doubt that there ever was).

Limits of patriotism

I came to the USA expecting high levels of patriotism, emotions usually not publicly expressed in Czech Republic. Yet, I was not really expecting to see that "USA" written on the road that is about to be repaired.

To explain: before the road is being fixed (or dig into), signs appear to mark the beginning, end, where some utilities (gas, water etc.) go and so on. Almost every single sign ends with "USA". I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Probably it has some meaning I'm not aware of. Or people are just crazy.

No comment

“A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare,” the judge [in California] wrote.

Hat tip: Fey Accompli

Quality of Czech Journalism

I prefer not to comment on most cases of mistakes Czech Journalist make, mostly because there is too many of them. In this case, I have to make an exception.
Background: Czech Ministry of Education is preparing so called "White Book" of tertiary education (i.e, universities, colleges...) Part of the proposal is deferred tuition, which is generally a great idea: every student can study for free, accumulates the debt that he has to repay only when his income is bigger than a threshold (e.g, 1.5x average wage). If he never exceeds that, (s)he studied for free. He can always pay in advance (and save) or he can repay faster. The idea is better than regular tuition for risk averse population (probably very usual in EU), because if you get sick and can't repay, no big deal (plus you get a free health care anyway).
The White Book proposes general mechanisms of this idea. I was somewhat involved (yet prefer not to discuss the details) in preparing it and it was pretty intensive for a short period of time. I re-read it about 6 times during 5 days or so. As I said, the idea is still rather general, so there are no specific numbers, interest rates, thresholds etc. proposed, just "almost random" examples are given.
It's kind of surprising to read then that the limit on the tuition is fixed to at most 30 000CZK (per year, about $1600). Well, I guess the journalists know more than the authors (and their teams). I hope if they knew the truth and bothered to report it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cultural differences No. 2.

One Czech cabinet member proposed a law that will make slapping a child illegal. Later, she had to apologize (or "soften her stance") by saying that occasional slapping of a child is OK.
In case you didn't know, it is a "best practice" to sometimes slap your child in Czech Republic*. And as you can see, politician should not even suggest that it should be made illegal. (Physical abuse/violence is of course illegal).
I cannot possibly imagine any politician admitting that occasional slap on the face is OK. Usually, the cultural differences are understandable / comprehensible. But in this case, we are so far away that one cannot even talk about it (in person, it's ok on blog).

* I vividly remember the discussion we had about physical punishment on high school. We ALL agreed that physical punishment were the most pleasant ones. You do something stupid, you get slapped, in 10 seconds (or earlier) it's over and everything is forgotten. However, if you did something REALLY stupid, there was no punishment, your parents were angry for days or even weeks and you felt much, much worse. The "psychical" punishments were significantly worse.
I guess our parents knew that increasing the severity of physical punishment. One cannot hope to expect members of a nation that need to be warned about putting cat into microwave oven to be able to make that distinction. And it probably saves some kids' lives if it is considered totally unacceptable to punish your children even a little. But I know that none of my friends will raise their children in the US. For what is OK back home, you can easily end up in prison here (no, I don't meet weed).

Quality rules. Not.

One of my colleagues from UCSD office came to me with question whether I know anything about Stata. Yes, as a theoretical micro economist, I know (very) little* about Stata. And the reason why she asked was that she is going to teach a course in econometrics, heavily based on Stata, in two weeks.

I have to say that this was the last piece necessary to crack my mental health today. Why should I even try to write a decent paper/dissertation? The world is probably ruled by people like this lady, who are paid (and will surely embellish their CV) for doing something they have no idea about, who cannot possibly do a good job for the students yet do it anyway. When the rule "If you want to teach something, you should know something about it!" lost its power?

More broadly (and depressingly) - what I'm doing here? Why didn't I go to the beach (or National Park) like a friend from unnamed Central European country, who came as a grad student with a finished PhD. and who keeps complaining how little opportunities we have here in San Diego "to socialize". (BTW: he even complaints about how much people from his country complaint.).

I hate days like these...

* There is no field further away from Stata then theoretical microeconomics.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Fairy tale

Let me tell you a fairy tale about one not-so-poor family. There is a husband, who makes gizmos and sells them to other families. His wife cleans his home, cooks etc. They are a strange family so they pay each other money for everything they do. Wife gets money for cooking a dinner from husband, he gets money from her when she uses a gizmo etc.
Both of them are buying lot of crap - new large HD TV, new Ipods, IPhones,Italian shoes, French wine cars and other rather useless stuff they just have to have. They spend much more than they earn. But it was not a big problem because other families believed that the gizmos the guy was developing will be selling well and so he and his wife was able to borrow a lot. Because they were a rich family, they had their own money unit (say dollars). So all their outstanding loans were in dollars and they were able to print more, if necessary.
They lived happily and borrowed merrily until a crisis came - there was nowhere to borrow!
They had two options - stop spending, start saving. It would not be easy, because if wife does not uses a gizmo, the husband does not have money to pay for her cooking. So it would hurt a little.
But since they could print the money and borrow them, there was a second option that seemed so much better - just borrow from their own little printing machine and keep spending. Some might say that those money circled a little and left their happy family for some larger HD TV, but that would ruin this fairy tale. Instead, they kept borrowing from their printing machine, until ... It's time to go to bed, kids!

If you don't understand what this fairy tale is saying, you have probably lived on a remote island for a last year or two. Or you study economics. In any case, read guru Krugman. If you think spending will get us out of the mess it get us into, you should get a PhD, too. Honoris causa.

Dry air

The weather in San Diego is probably as pleasant as it possibly can be. Usually, we have winds from the ocean towards the land, which brigs warmer (in winter) or cooler (in summer) air with reasonable humidity.
Sometimes, however, the winds "turn around" and move from deserts in the east towards the ocean. They bring hot air, sand/dust, and low humidity:

It's no fun to bike or run in this weather. Even though it is not hot, your nose gets dry, lips crackle, sore throats and head aches. Fortunately, it is usually over in a few days.

VK is right again!

Unbelievable, that guy is unstoppable. This time, he enriched the world by saying "We should not panic about Global Warming".
He is absolutely right! We should not panic about Global Warming. We should not panic at public decisions at all! So how can you prove him wrong?
P.S. I'm surprised how many people put equality between Global Warming and CO2. I have always considered this debate as much broader. The CO2 is the least harmful element in your environment (even too much oxygen in worse!), and its impact on our world is probably the least understood. Since more and more people are rich or getting richer, and thus much more people produce all forms of pollution (among which you may include CO2), and because rich(er) people care more about the environment (and live longer to get sick because of the pollution), it is a great time to start anti-pollution campaigns. But we should not focus all our attention on CO2. In fact, we can do so little about it (and so much more about other pollutants) that it is ok to develop mechanism to fight variety of polluting chemicals and test them on known, harmful substances (some successes are SOx and NOx in the US, but small particles seems to be very dangerous and almost unregulated) and finance research on other, less understood mechanism (like CO2). Well, I guess I was naive.

Comments and spam

I'm happy to see first comments coming to my blog. Unfortunately, some of them are strange. Their structure is some like "Your blog is great, I also write about X,Y,Z". I think the sole purpose of these comments is to create links to their blogs and thus to raise their page rank (authors of these types of comments typically have also a blog on SEO).
If there is no other content than the above mentioned, I won't publish them, since they are more spam than anything else. Other comments are more then welcomed.


When the cut creep into the basket with your dirty cloth, lies down comfortably and begins to pour loudly, you know you are being loved.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Spring is here. The flowers bloom and smell beautifully, the wind is warm, sun is shining and girls wear bikini. Life is worth living again.

How you can tell you are living in the future

Well, it is sort of obvious when people start (plan) to teach crows to pick up trash. I guess no sci-fi writer guessed that crows will come before robots.

Global Warming, Czech Republic and Vaclav Klaus

Vaclav Klaus has somewhat extreme opinions about global warming - he says it does not exist, and if it it did exist, it would be best solved by "free markets." Especially the second part is quite popular in Czech Republic, despite trivial number of Chicago Economics Department graduates is trivial. The reason is that many former "Marxists" simply substituted one ideology for another and thanks to VK they have a big say.
In some sense, one always feel good about dissenting voice - it suggests that we are indeed looking for truth, that all facts are being considered. Global warming issue is especially problematic - nobody knows how much of it is caused by humans, how fast it will progress and how costly it will be (both in damages and preventive costs).
Yet, VK does not reach level of Bjørn Lomborg. In fact, he does not reach any (positive) level - he does not bother with data, facts, observations, he just repeats the mantra "free market will solve everything" and that regulation of pollution is worse than communism (no kidding). Moreover, he likes to create an impression that he is known in the world for this opinion, while in fact, he is not. Brilliant article by Jiri Zlatuska (former rector of my alma mater - Masaryk University in Brno, senator,...) shows that the emperor is naked. Why does it have to be our emperor?

P.S. Czech Republic is small, beautiful but unimportant country, so we will not be any significant obstacle on the difficult road to first attempts to tackle the global warming on the international level. Thank God.