Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Should Mubarak Do?

Observing the current turmoil in Egypt, one obvious question is what tactics would work best for Mubarak, assuming he wants to stay in power. The official U.S. government answer is that he should be a good guy—permit more freedoms, reduce corruption, not prevent demonstrations or arrest opponents or try to shut down sources of information critical of him.

It's the obvious thing for Obama and Clinton to say, given that they are playing mostly to the American public. And it is what most of us would like to believe. But is it actually good advice? Are there examples of dictators who responded to mass opposition by shifting towards a freer and more democratic system and stayed in power as a result, or is such a move interpreted as evidence that the dictator is on his way out, hence a reason for more people to join the opposition?

The current Iranian government, faced by mass opposition, took the opposite strategy and is still in power.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Found: Case for my Macbook Air

In an earlier post I commented on my desire for a suitable carrying case for my new toy, an 11" MacBook Air (yes, I own stock in Apple). Today I stopped in at a luggage store on the unlikely chance that they would have something suitable, and they did. Not only did they have an attractive padded case of just about the right size, complete with shoulder strap, but when I mentioned that if I were designing it the case would hang vertically rather than horizontally, the nice lady at the store pointed out a model that did so.

For anyone else frustrated by the lack of a suitable case, the one I got was "Finatex for Netbook" by Tuscano. It is apparently intended for either an iPad or a 10"-11.6" netbook.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The More Things Change ...

A recent NYT article discusses the perils of going to law school, accumulating debts, and then being unable to get the sort of job that will pay them off. Part of its explanation is misrepresentation by law schools of how well their graduates can be expected to do, but it suggests that much of the fault is with the students. Even if they know that most law school graduates do poorly, each student believes that he is the exception, that when he graduates he will end up with one of the handful of really good jobs. Relevant quotes:
"Independent surveys find that most law students would enroll even if they knew that only a tiny number of them would wind up with six-figure salaries. Nearly all of them, it seems, are convinced that they’re going to win the ring toss at this carnival and bring home the stuffed bear"

"“This idea of exceptionalism — I don’t know if it’s a thing with millennials, or what,” she says, referring to the generation now in its 20s. “Even if you tell them the bottom has fallen out of the legal market, they’re all convinced that none of the bad stuff will happen to them."
Which reminded me of an earlier discussion of the same issue:
"The lottery of the law, therefore, is very far from being a perfectly fair lottery; and that, as well as many other liberal and honourable professions, are, in point of pecuniary gain, evidently under-recompensed. Those professions keep their level, however, with other occupations, and, notwithstanding these discouragements, all the most generous and liberal spirits are eager to crowd into them. Two different causes contribute to recommend them. First, the desire of the reputation which attends upon superior excellence in any of them; and, secondly, the natural confidence which every man has more or less, not only in his own abilities, but in his own good fortune.


The contempt of risk and the presumptuous hope of success are in no period of life more active than at the age at which young people choose their professions."
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.


P.S. Apropos of an earlier post, it occurs to me that the Smith quote could be taken as an early example of behavioral economics.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Beards, Razors, and History

I have been traveling, carelessly forgot to pack my electric razor, and so had to make do with a safety razor—an experience that suggested an interesting conjecture. A safety razor is easy to use on flat parts of the face such as cheeks and temples. It is harder to use and more likely nick you where the face is more curved, for example on the chin. I have never shaved with an old fashioned straight razor, but I assume the same pattern would hold.

The conjecture is that styles in men's facial hair are in part influenced by which parts of the face are harder or easier to shave. A mustache plus goatee, for example, leaves unshaven precisely the parts of the face that are hardest to shave, judged at least by my experience. If that conjecture is correct, the invention of the electric shaver ought to have resulted in some shift away from that style in favor of others.

Actually testing the conjecture would require a good deal of work, so I will leave that part of the project to others.